The Indonesian Reading Revolution in Surabaya

Location MapSurabaya was not somewhere I intended to stay long, but then again I guess I never really went into the city itself anyway. Good company and a nice hostel on the outskirts of town near the airport kept me there for 5 days when I had only intended to stay overnight. It was there that I met Asoka and learned about his Indonesian Reading Revolution.

I arrived late in Surabaya on a flight from Singapore. I had read on WikiTravel that the airport taxis were dodgy and only negotiate fares rather than using the meter so at least I was prepared. The fare to the city was supposed to be 100,000IDR but I wasn’t even going half as far. It was a waste of time talking to anyone at the counter and I found a guy who would do the trip for 70,000IDR. I actually had to direct him in the suburbs which was a common problem the entire stay in Surabaya.

We had a good chat on the way to the hostel though and he taught me some Indonesian so I gave him the full 100,000IDR anyway. I don’t mind paying a bit more as a westerner, just don’t try and rip me off and I’ll do it on my terms. It’s much more enjoyable for everyone that way but in my experience almost every service provider in Indonesia is dodgy.

I stayed at Da Rifi Guesthouse (75,000IDR for dorms) near the airport. The owner, Dyana, is extremely kind and willing to help with everything. Free breakfast, free water, free laundry and she even brought us fried rice sometimes. There’s also a funny little gecko who lives under the toaster.

Shortly after I arrived a young Indonesian guy called Asoka stopped by. He told us very passionately about his desire to help Indonesian children learn to read, learn English and build better lives for themselves. He offered to take us to his library in the village to meet the children so this became the first extension to my stay.

The next day he stopped by to pick us up. Some other people from the hostel, Guillaume and Marine, also came along.

I rode with Asoka on his motorbike and learnt a little more about his story. It’s kind of scary to think that I don’t even hesitate to jump on these motorbikes now without a helmet. It was a long ride and I’m pretty sure we drive further from the city to get there.

We grabbed Asoka’s bike which has heaps of compartments to carry books and rode out into the middle of the village. I think the children had just finished school so they began coming from everywhere to grab books.

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Riding to the village centre where the children came to grab books

The kids were all very happy, but very shy. Asoka really had to prompt them to come and say hi to us and use their English to introduce themselves. Usually they just giggled and ran away, but he did convince them to practice a few phrases.


Boys from the village

Guillaume’s bag is like a travelling circus and so out of it he pulled a slackline and some juggling balls to entertain the kids. The kids were ecstatic and were instantly climbing all over it, jumping and mucking about. The must have been about a dozen kids on it at any one time and so the tension actually pulled one of the volleyball posts out of the ground. Oops… We destroyed the village…

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Taking kids across the slackline

It seems the easiest way to communicate with the kids was via selfies. I have to say it was a really enriching and unique experience that we got to share with the kids. There is no way we could have planned something like. The beauty of travel is spontaneous things like this.

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Everyone loves selfies

Later we chilled at Asoka’s house for dinner with his friends and some of the kids. Guillaume had another trick up his sleeve and busted out some illuminated juggling balls. I think everyone had a good laugh having a go.

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I think everyone enjoyed the juggling

We said our goodbyes in the street and headed back. On the way we got caught in a good old tropical shower. The roads became rivers, motorbikes drove past like jetskis and us, well we looked like we’d fallen in the pool with all our clothes on. Fun times!


Happy feet

Indonesian food in the area around the hostel was simple but nice. Just look for a warung and enjoy! I don’t think I’ve found it so easy in a country to just eat the local food day in and day out.

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Nasi ayam penyet with chilli and lime and a Bakso soup without the noodles

There were also some interesting abandoned houses in the suburb. I love seeing nature take stuff back.


Abandoned house!

Day trip to Malang

While we were there we made a day trip to Malang as well. In short, I’d say that Malang is probably better used as a base to see other places nearby like the southern beaches or Batu.

To be honest we walked around Malang for a few hours feeling a bit bemused. It didn’t seem as interesting or as cultural as we’d been led to believe. Maybe we needed to go to other places, but Alun-Alun park in the city centre was quite modest and a taxi ride down Ijen Boulevard wasn’t all that interesting either.

We enjoyed some mixed juice with avocado and the best part was walking around the old town village centre at the end of Ijen Boulevard.

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Malang's old town village centre where they love plants

Buses leave Surabaya Bungarasih bus station pretty frequently for Malang. They apparently go all night, but you have to wait for enough passengers. Just 25,000IDR each way for A/C non-ekonomi buses.

From here I left my bags and headed to Mt Bromo and unexpectedly the Ijen Crater in East Java

You can read more about my Indonesian trip here


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