Now that I’m getting a feel for how things work here, at least in the IACS bubble, I’m starting to find small adventures throughout Surabaya. The program itself shows no sign of improving; even after the encouraging meeting with Pak Azis before our Malang trip, the arts center director is refusing to change the program to give us more experience with the other arts. We came here to learn a little of everything, but it is unlikely we will in our formal classes. I will keep pushing for balance in our schedule, but have also accepted its improbability.
Our problems do not exist with most people in Tydif, just the top, which is largely insulated from the group. Interacting with the rest of the team, however, is a great experience where we can actually learn about how Indonesians think and interact with each other. The instructors that work with us every day are a wealth of information and entertainment.
It’s time to just take advantage of the opportunities that our hosts represent and make something good out of our situation. There is still plenty of excitement and experience to create just by interacting with our instructors and Indonesians we meet along the way. Participants can make as much or as little as they want out of Surabaya. All we have to do is ask.
This outlook has already led me to a few adventures in one week. My first came last Tuesday night when I had asked Cynthia, a university student heavily involved in the Tydif studio, to bring me to her school to question research taking Pencak Silat lessons at night. We rode to the student center on a motor bike, my first time ever on such a machine. Also, if you’ve read my Unity in Traffic post, you’ll know that this in itself is quite an experience.
We found one of the school’s four Silat teams and came in to ask a few questions, not knowing what to expect (as usual). I was surprised (also, as usual) when the team, despite speaking very little English, invited me to start training with them right away, for free. They even provided my uniform right away, and then promptly began taking pictures with me (not surprising). I stayed for the first part of practice, but had to leave early because Jiuta (nicknamed J), our Fijian participant, had come along with Ucan (oo-chan) to find his own exercise possibilities.
As we walked out of the student center, Ucan asked if we would like to try nasi goreng jancuk, which translates, more or less, to “fuck you/holy fuck fried rice”. It’s really spicy. So naturally we agreed to give it a shot, rode over to the Surabaya Plaza Hotel and ordered a bowl. The server asked if we wanted spicy or extra spicy, and I, not understanding the magnitude of 1 oz of chili, replied that of course we’d try extra spice. She looked terrified at this response, as did Cynthia and Ucan. In Indonesian, the server and Ucan worked out making the dish “slightly extra spicy”, which probably saved J’s and my digestive systems from combusting.
Expecting a normal sized bowl per person, it turned out we had to eat our way through this behemoth:
|If it were possible, it would have been about 4 plates per person for 4 of us|
|All of those red and orange highlights are chilies. It’s a lot.|
That would be filling anyway, but the chili made it impossible to finish two plates. The first two forkfuls were pleasant, with a strong but manageable burn throughout the mouth. With number three, however, things started to get really hot. Eventually I was sweating profusely and the spice was so intense that not only was my entire esophagus on fire, my body was numb. My fingers tingled with every movement. It felt like a weird state of drunkenness; my mind was very clear but my body felt slow and uncoordinated.
|That is sweat and tears|
|Look how much fun we’re having!|
Thankfully that only lasted half an hour after the final bites, as J and I nursed our throats with iced tea and deep breaths through the mouth. We took about half the bowl home to trick the rest of our group members into eating, which was good fun. As a side note, I’d try it again.
Before going home, Ucan decided to take us around the city, specifically to the red light district. In Surabaya it is known as the “Dolly District” and is the largest in Indonesia. The part we rode through (and did not stop at all) was a shady back alley, with open shops where you can see made up girls sitting on high couches, waiting for customers. Creepy guys milled outside in the street and every once in awhile I saw someone enter by slipping cash into a door attendant’s hand. The whole place was weird and disconcerting. I know prostitution exists everywhere, but actually seeing it happen, especially so blatantly, really took me aback.
After the alley, we drove through a cemetery that I had gone through the previous day. At night, it turns out, this graveyard is also an extension of the Dolly District, where one can have some fun at a discounted rate among the gravestones. Thankfully I did not see any stage of these interactions.
By the time we left the cemetery, it was late enough for the roads to be fairly clear, so Ucan and Cynthia picked up their speed. It was a liberating feeling to rush down the street fully exposed to the breeze. I had the same feeling as going down Massachusetts Ave in DC on my bicycle. The ride was cathartic, giving a sensation of freedom and adventure that I hadn’t felt for some time.
On Friday, at the suggestion of our music teacher, a few of us went to see an East Javanese style play. It took place on an open air stage with just a roof above it and most of the seating. There were few props, as the entire performance focuses on the actors’ dialogue, with occasional gamelan accompaniment for songs or scene changes. The style of play, called ludruk (loo-drook)¸ is mainly comedy, and tells the story of everyday Indonesians.
|Gamelan player at performance|
Most of the dialogue is in the Surabayan language, so we largely had no idea what was going on. Not even Aprina, our Indonesian participant, could help us figure out the situations, since she is from Sumatra, which has its own set of ethnic dialects. However, I managed to pick out a few jokes with my very limited vocabulary by watching their gestures. Despite the fact that I couldn’t understand 99% of the play, I still managed to appreciate its comedy. The actors elicited uproarious laughter from the crowd, and were brilliant in using gestures to convey as much as possible, allowing me to pick up on some of the punch lines.
Attending the performance allowed me to see a way of Surabayan life, to experience a form of Friday night entertainment, and see a very old tradition that has maintained itself over centuries. Friday showed me the essence of local culture and it is fascinating how modernity and tradition have managed to blend themselves together so seamlessly.
Sunday morning we attended the Yosakoi Dance Festival to see some of the younger Tydif dancers perform. The event honored Indonesia’s diplomatic ties with Japan, specifically Surabaya’s relations with its sister city in Japan. Every group performed to the same song, but the variety in the choreography was incredible, even though the dancers were as young as four years old. They already do it way better than I think I ever will.
The costumes were beautiful; the morning air seemed to sweat color onto the stage as dresses and flags fluttered around to the clack of wooden clappers the dancers used as part of their performance. So many people here spend uncountable hours on dance for any number of circumstances, again blending traditions with contemporary styles to preserve history and progress the art at the same time.
|The Tydif Dancers|
|Two of our choreographers|
|Traditional clothes, contemporary shoes|
After seeing so much over the week, I finally have a better sense of Surabaya. Adventures abound and there is a strong arts culture here in all ways. Batik, music and dance all seem to be prolific if you look for them. The Tydif dancers constantly have performances, all of which are contemporary versions of traditional styles, I’ve heard instruments such as gamelan all over the place, and everybody wears batik. Now that I’m opening myself up to the many possibilities that exist, I can see how much opportunity there is to find great things here.