Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trip to Surabaya

Hey all, I wanted to jump on here and give you an update of our weekend excursion to Surabaya. One legend states the city is named after a shark (sura) and a crocodile (baya), which fought for the title of "World's Toughest Animal." I'm not sure how they forgot to include the tiger in this contest, because I think the tiger could take out either a shark or a crocodile, assuming a neutral start, where neither animal had an advantage. The toughest part would be deciding how to start the fight. In a high school wrestling match they have that slightly awkward starting point where one wrestler sort of mounts the other. Well, what we need is something like this for a land based mammal that attacks with its claws versus an amphibious reptile that attacks with its teeth. Maybe start them off in an open field with no grass, but then the tiger gets a slight advantage because of it's ability to run. Then again, if you have water involved you give a huge advantage to the crocodile, who can just sink below the surface and set up a surprise attack. It's a difficult scenario to work out, and believe me, I have though about it for quite some time. This was a big topic of discussion in the bachelor pad of '05, with Ted, Doug, and I, and the discussion continues on today, unresolved, even after video proof on YouTube that the Tiger handily dispatches of the crocodile in an open field fight. Sorry Doug, but the crocodile just doesn't have what it takes to match up to the unstoppable force of the tiger.

Back in the bachelor pad, we never broached the subject of crocodile versus shark, as the city of Surabaya has. Though now that I think about it, it would be an interesting fight. At least in croc vs. shark, the obvious neutral starting point would be a water based fight. I'd put my money on the shark, but if the crocodile was able to clamp down and put the shark into a vicious death roll, that could turn the tables quickly. Also remember, the shark needs to keep swimming to keep the flow water moving through it's gills. If the crocodile was able to figure this out, it could just grab hold of the shark's tail and stop it from moving. However, I don't know if the crocodile could figure this out with it's walnut sized brain. I'm sure the tiger, with it's larger brain, and natural superior cunning and intellect, could likely figure this out in a jiffy, if it didn't decide to simply annihilate the shark with brute force.

Needless to say, this type of legendary background instantly qualifies the city of Surabaya for high marks in my book. But look! In all this prattling on, I haven't even told you a single thing about our trip! Silly me! Let's take you back to the story.

When we left off, we technically had not even started, and thus we resume at the very beginning of the story. Grace, Natalia and I flew into Surabaya on Saturday morning on Garuda Airlines. Jane, Natalia's sister and her husband Heromin picked us up, along with their little girls, Catherine and Celine. The ride back was fun because I got a chance to meet my new nieces and brother in law, and was good to see Jane once again. Catherine and Celine were singing, so I joined in for a few rounds of ABC's, Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and a few other childrens' songs. I thought I could maybe teach them a few, but they seemed to know all of them already. They tried to get me to sing the Barney song, but I refused, but I sang every other song with them, and they knew all the words.

We arrived at Jane and Heromin's house and got the grand tour. Similar to Grace and Berthus' house, Jane and Heromin's house also functions as a business. They do gift box construction, calendar printing and binding, and book binding. There were about 50 workers there, and they had several assembly lines with conveyor belts that were being used at the time to construct boxes. There were many young workers folding boxes and placing them on the assembly line, with one "efficiency expert" at the end, overseeing everything. I thought it would be cool to tape the assembly in action, so I went up and got my video camera. I must not have heard the lunch whistle because once I got back with my camera many people were resting, some were sleeping, and things were not nearly as exciting. I taped the equipment anyway, and the people resting. I could tell that some people were happy to be taped, and others were not. I told Heromin later that I didn't mean to embarrass anybody if I did. He said, "What, are you afraid they are going to sue you?" :)

Heromin and I had a very interesting conversation about his business. I asked him if he ever considered exporting his products to the US or elsewhere. He said he had thought about it, but the problem is the Indonesian exporting "standards" are sometimes known to change. It seemed to me, as Heromin described it, this would make the export process unreliable. One shipment may be approved, and the the next shipment, produced exactly the same, might not be approved. The other option would be to import the raw materials from the country you eventually wanted to export the final product. Apparently the export authority in Indonesia takes into consideration the fact that the destination of the final product is the same as where the raw material came in from. Basically, if we get the raw materials from the US, then they should have no problem importing the final products. The only problem with this option is that the extra cost of shipping in these raw materials would decrease the profit margin enough that it wouldn't make it worth the while to do this, according to Heromin.

Once we went back up to the house the girls were ready to perform. Catherine played the piano impeccably, while Celine dance beside her. I also got this on tape. I realized later that while I was taping everything, I wasn't doing a good job of taking pictures. However, I did end up with some good pictures later on in the trip, which I will share with you.

Jane and Heromin had a full day planned out for us, and we started off by heading to the mall. The first stop was the hair salon, where Natalia, Jane and Grace got the full treatment. I call it a hair salon, but it was really more like a massage parlor. Natalia pointed out that I could stick around for a hair cream bath, which would help to fortify and strengthen the roots of my hair. I thought, "Wow, sounds great!" This was before I knew you could get a full back, foot, and arm massage at this place. When I found that out, I asked Natalia how much this cost. She told me 65,000 rupias, which sounds expensive, right? Well, it's actually about $6.50. For the foot massage, they focus on the pressure points on your foot, which there seem to be several right behind the ball of your foot, and some right on the front of your heel, and some on the ends of your toes. Those were the ones I noticed mostly, at least, because you can definitely feel it when they apply pressure. I told Jane the girl had "thumbs of steel." I thought the massage was pretty good, but wait until we get to day 2, and I'll tell you about the other massage place we visited....Hey now, don't get the wrong idea!

That evening we ate at a Korean restaurant where we sat on the floor, with a gas stove built into the table. We ordered a "family style" meal (I'm sure there's a name for it, but I don't know what it is), and they brought all types of food, and a soup that they cooked on the burner in front of us. The soup was my favorite, and it tasted like some sort of delicious cabbage stew. Hey, what can I say, I've got Scotch-Irish blood, I like the cabbage.

Here's Natalia, Catherine, Celine, and I after we ate. Aren't they so cute?

That evening we stayed at a resort hotel, which was very nice. I woke up in the morning to sounds of Catherine and Celine playing outside the door, asking when "Paman Adam" was going to wake up. This means "Uncle" in Indonesian.

Here's a view of the pool from our room. There were about 3 or 4 different sections to the pool. I was still in "taping mode" so I didn't get any pictures of the pool or resort up close. You'll have to see the tape later.

We went outside and enjoyed the pool for a while. It was about 7:30 in the morning but it already felt like it was about 80 degrees. The pool felt great, and then Natalia and I hit the sauna. What a morning. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we walked into the lobby for the free breakfast. This was the continental breakfast to end all continental breakfasts. There were about 7 different tables, including the main table with a standard Indonesian breakfast with rice and vegetables, and various meats. On the other side of this table was a more American style buffet. The side tables included a full milk and juice bar (not just O.J and grapefruit. I'm talking Mango, Papaya, Pineapple, among a few others). They had an omelette station, and beside it they had a pastry table. I can't remember what all they had. I think they even had a smoothie station. I taped it all, being the good tourist, so I'll have to review it and then give you the full list. It was really above and beyond what I would have expected, and I guess what I have come to expect in general.

Here goes my take on the difference in what to expect as far as service between the US and Indonesia. In Indonesia, you can't always expect the same level of amenities, i.e. the hotel rooms might not have a t.v., the bathrooms might not be as nice, it might be hot as heck because there is no A/C in some places, but I can almost guarantee the employees will fall over themselves to try and better your experience, which to me seems quite rare in the US. This might be because many of these types of jobs in the US are held by employees who might be working towards bigger and better things. College students, and the like, who maybe do like their job at the mall, but it's not their life. In Indonesia, the same mall or waiter job might be the only job some folks can aspire to. They care about the job more deeply, and this really shows in their actions at work I realize there is likely a flipside to the coin that deals with the social and economic status of many folks in Indonesia--many are poor. Instead of veering further off course, I'm going to get back to the story of our trip to Surabaya, with the promise that I am going to try to find what all contributes to these differences in service I see between Indonesia and US.

After the exceptional breakfast we checked out and headed to another mall. Little did I know we were headed towards another foot massage. This was a reflexology place where all the masseuses were from China. There were two to a room, and I was in the same room as Heromin. This massage started with a foot bath, and they dried your feet and wrapped the one they weren't working on at the time with a towel. They also focused on the pressure points like the place from the day before, only they did it with even more pressure. It was about an hour long, and it was excruciating. It felt like they were taking scoops of flesh out of the bottom of your foot whenever they poked the knuckle of their pointer finger into it. It hurt like heck, but then they would give you a break for a while and rub your feet. I came in feeling kind of drowsy, and this really woke me up. I looked over at Heromin and he seemed to be falling asleep while getting the same foot treatment. What a pro. I tried to remain stoic during this intense session, but the masseuse detected a few times, through either my flared nostrils or the my raised eyebrows, that I was suffering. I wanted to get the full effect of the massage, so I didn't want her to back off. Heromin told me how to say, "More pressure" in Chinese, and I didn't bother learning how to say "Less pressure," I just told them I would emit a loud scream if it got too intense, so they should just listen for that. At the end of the massage, my feet felt sore in some spots, but felt great overall. I'm pretty sure this type of foot massage is intended for long term benefits rather than any sort of instant pleasure. Five days later my feet still feel great. I can't really describe it, they are just sort of loose and comfortable now, and I feel like they could handle lots of walking. I would definitely recommend this type of Reflexologie massage. 120,000 rupias ($12).

After this visit, we looked around the mall for a while and then visited the food court, which was in the shape of a big circle (wow, different!), only this food court had kiosks that were themed after different areas in Indonesia, so you could get food from virtually any area of Indonesia. There were many, probably close to 50 different food kiosks. I thought this was pretty cool, but I was unfortunately not hungry enough to try all of them.

We headed out to the airport and took Lion Airlines back to Jakarta. It was a great trip, and we all really enjoyed it. Thanks for your hospitality Heromin and Jane, and I loved meeting you Catherine and Celine. I can't wait to see you again.

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