THE CITY OF SHARK AND CROCODILE

In October 2012 during the last weekend of my internship in Indonesia I visited the second largest (after Jakarta) city in this country – Surabaya. I went there together with a friend from Romania, who was also an intern in Indonesia. Due to some transport challenges (transport system in Indonesia is terrible!) I almost missed the bus, but in the end all turned out well, and we departed to our destination.

Surabaya is situated to the east from Semarang, the place of my internship, in the eastern part of the Java island. This is one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia hosting around 2.7 million residents.

The city’s name Surabaya comes from two words – “suro”, which means shark, and “boyo” translated as crocodile. According to a local myth, this is the place, where these two creatures fought for the title “the strongest and most powerful animal”. In the end they both died. One can see the statue of the giant shark and giant crocodile fighting each other near the city zoo. There are also other interpretations of this symbol, such as the battle between two heroes – Sura and Baya – over the status of the king of the city. Some people align the fight of the shark and the crocodile with the Battle of Surabaya between the Indonesian soldiers and the British and Dutch troops in November 1945.

In Surabaya we visited a lot of interesting places. The first one in the plan was the cigarette museum called the House of Sampoerna. However, as it usually happens in Indonesia, the plan went not as expected. We explained to the local people that we want to get to this museum, and they told us how to get there. “Oh, museum!” – they exclaimed and showed us the way. But soon it turned out that we went to a totally opposite direction and arrived at Bonbin Surabaya, the city zoo. “Yes, mister! Museum!” – the last person we had asked about the cigarette museum nodded happily and showed at the entrance to the zoo.

I do not know about the three Polish Ladies accompanying me, but personally I was happy about such turn of events (although generally I do not approve the idea of zoos). In the zoo we saw camels, monkeys, hippopotamuses, elephants, deer, wallabies, and many species of birds.

I also noticed a rabbit wandering freely around the zoo in search for food.

And on one of the trees we observed this cute couple of gibbons (Hylobatidae):

But the most interesting meeting for me was with the Komodo dragons / monitors (Varanus komodoensis). These incredible lizards from the Komodo island reaching the length of 3 meters and weighting up to 70 kg are one of the largest reptiles in the world. They eat invertebrates, birds, mammals, as well as carrion. Occasionally the Komodo dragons attack even Indonesian people, but these are mostly provoked attacks. The Komodo monitor is considered a vulnerable species and is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Despite the misunderstanding between us and Indonesians, we still managed to visit the House of Sampoerna. This is a relatively small museum and one of the cigarette production factories of the largest Indonesian tobacco company PT HM Sampoerna Tbk. There we were introduced to the history of the company and were shown the inside of the factory, where many Indonesian women make cigarettes for smokers.

Besides the Surabaya zoo and the cigarette museum, we also saw the Submarine Monument (Monumen Kapal Selam), represented by a retired Russian submarine standing in the city centre, the Heroes Monument dedicated to those died during the Battle of Surabaya, and the Dolly district, which is the largest red-light district in Southeast Asia with about 2000 prostitutes working there.

Overall, we spend 3 days in Surabaya – we came on Thursday morning and left on Saturday evening. Three wonderful days in the City of Shark and Crocodile.

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