I’ve only been to Indonesia once. I didn’t go to Jakarta, I didn’t visit Bali and I failed to lay eyes on any Orang-utans. You see, I was playing the role of ‘tag-along’ as my Father was going there on business and rather than stay at his house in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, I thought why the hell not pop along too.
I mean, you just would, wouldn’t you?
So anyway, my experience of Indonesia is probably quite different to that of most people who go there as I doubt many bother with the industrial hub that is the city of Surabaya.
We arrived at Surabaya airport, were picked up by a driver and taken to the Marriott hotel. So straight away I’m out of my comfort zone but hey this is how the other half live… It was nice!
As we got closer and closer to Surabaya, the contrast to KL was instantly obvious. I’m not sure if I was expecting to see as much poverty as I did, but whether or not that was the case, I was certainly taken aback by it.
I mean, I’ve seen poverty on the road before but it had been a while this time. Each time I see it, for me, it’s like seeing it for the very first time and this was definitely the first time I’d seen it from the confines of an air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven car.
There’s nothing like the sight of a family of four on a solitary scooter, hurtling and slaloming their way through impossibly dense traffic (and wondering where they could be going) or a watching a huddle of malnourished men, probably in their 30s, all smoking and attempting to sell grey fruit from creaky tables under dark, fumy bridges.
The Marriott hotel was ridiculous. I’ve never been in one before and probably won’t again for a long time. It’s odd how my pristine, comfortable surroundings made me feel, well, uncomfortable. It’s a hard one to explain but I suppose I just didn’t feel like I belonged.
One of the few ways I found to spend my leisure time in Surabaya was to go to the cigarette factory – House of Sampoerna. Within the grounds of the factory was the museum and when I got there a girl, who was to prove herself very knowledgeable indeed, happily showed me around and enthusiastically talked to me about everything from the Sampoerna family, who founded the tobacco products, to the machines they use to make it.
I found it very interesting and they certainly know there stuff. Not only that, there is clearly a pride in everything that goes on there. I’m talking about the factory itself.
As I went up the staircase, I was greeted by a small room in which sat about half a dozen women each with their faces down and their fingers moving a mile a minute putting cigarettes through machines and smoothing them down amongst other things.
It was a well-oiled production line I can’t imagine sitting there for eight hours at a time doing that – despite the nature of the work I’m betting repetitive strain syndrome is a complaint that doesn’t dare crop up too often.
As I advanced beyond this little room to the railings I was eager to see what was below me in the vacuous warehouse. It was row upon row upon row of what I had just seen with the only visible difference being that at the end of each row was a man (every other job was taken by a woman) who was doing the packaging of the finished product.
“Do they get free cigarettes?” I light-heartedly asked the girl showing me around. She responded with a “no” and a chuckle that indicated it was a ludicrous suggestion. I tried again, “what about samples?” but back came the “no” with a slightly more forced laugh. I left it there.