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Indonesia - Sidoarjo, East-Java - A modern-time Pompeii

I felt the need to spend some words on a tragic, probably man-made disaster

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After a full day of visiting my daughter’s boarding house, friends and the university, I got up early. My daughter and her local friend Stephanie had invited me to join them on a popular day trip for Surabayans: a nature/safari park in the mountains, a few hours south of the city.

On the way down there we passed through a town where something tragic happened in May 2006. It hardly made the news in Western media, but the story made an impression on me, so I wish to write a few words about it.

I saw the first signs of this when we drove near a town called Sidoarjo. Everything became more and more muddy in color. Along the left side of the road there was a long and high levee, like the dikes that we know in the Netherlands. However, here everything was brown, grey, dirty and muddy. People stood on the levee at several places, staring at something. We passed some desolate, dirty villages, a few shops, and there were many political slogans. The typical Indonesian smiles were not to be seen on people’s faces here. The whole place gave a feeling of sadness and apathy all around.

Steph explained: On that day in May 2006, a big oil company was drilling for gas in what used to be a productive agricultural area. Something went terribly wrong. Ever since that day villages have been destroyed completely, slowly but unstoppable. The lives of the people have changed in a dramatic and sad way. In fact, the biggest mud volcano in the world was created here. The word “created” seems appropriate, at least according to the local people and many scientists.

A huge so-called blowout happened, when the oil company was doing deep test-drilling. Suddenly, hot volcanic mud and toxic volcanic gases started to erupt. This phenomenon spread at more and more places. In a few days the mud eruption reached its peak with 180,000 cubic meters (!) per day, and this continued for years. Any idea how much that is? These 180,000 cubic meters equal 2,700 forty feet sea containers of hot and toxic mud; every day!

Most people here are convinced that it was caused by this human activity, and not by natural earth tremors, as the oil company tries to tell people.
The mud soon took several villages, more than 16 of them. Destroying homes, crops, farm land, rice paddies, fish ponds, ecosystem, infrastructure and nature. Eight villages were completely lost at the very beginning. More than 11,000 people had to leave their homes and land. The entire evacuated area of many square miles had to be surrounded by levies to contain the continuously rising mud.

Five years later, in 2011, the quantity of the daily erupted mud had declined to about 10,000 cubic meters per day. That is still a lot, and the mud flow continues. Also, explosive toxic gases continue to come out every now and then. The geological structure of the area has cracked and weakened. Nobody really knows what is exactly developing, just under the surface. The whole area has become a caldera. Some scientists believe the underlying bedrock may eventually completely collapse under the growing weight of the mud.

There are also risks for major roads (the road from Surabaya to Probolinggo for example) and for railroads, which need continuous extra monitoring.

I did not take any pictures. However, I would like to make an exception to my own rule, by posting a picture from Wikipedia here with the appropriate credits to the owner/creator of the photo.

I hope the website allows me, because I believe this picture is more illustrative than all my words, to describe what has happened to what once was fertile, rich, green and lush agricultural land, on which more than 40,000 people made their living.


Credits for this picture: By Crisco 1492 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30736065

The oil company still maintains that it happened because tremors of from a distant earthquake. Many scientists and the general public are convinced that irresponsible drilling caused this to happen. No wonder that many controversies and political disputes have arisen ever since.

Wikipedia gives an extensive overview, also about the controversies: please click here

This website tells about the status per end of 2016:
click here

And to get a visual impression, see this website:

It is up to everyone whom to believe about the cause and the aftermath. I just did not want to leave this unmentioned. We were underway to a nice location, and I will write about that in my next entry, but passing through here made me silent for a little while.

Posted by westwind57 17:47 Archived in Indonesia Tagged villages indonesia java roadtrip east_java disaster caldera surabaya mud_volcano geological sidoarjo mud_flow oil_company man_made Comments (2)

Indonesia, Surabaya - East-Java - Dinner with two ladies

Chili crab, cheerful conversation, and civet cat coffee

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Even when they are adults already, as a parent you always want to know that your kids are doing well. I enjoyed seeing how the students in the student house where my daughter was staying went along with each other, and meeting the people at the student office at the university.


Then my daughter and her local friend invited me out for dinner in a restaurant at a pond which seemed to be called Swan Lake (well the Indonesian name for it of course). They came to pick me up by car and we had a very nice dinner (fantastic chilli crab) outside.


After dinner we went to a street that seemed to be somewhat of the nightlife spot called Citraland. We sat down outside a place is called "de Kasteel" which is the Dutch word for "castle". It imitates a medieval European castle or royal palace, with bars, dining areas, all decorated in medieval royal style. Outside are even a couple of gypsy caravans that groups can rent for their private parties. Most of the people there were the more affluent young trendy people.


The reason why we went there was coffee luwak. This is a pretty unique coffee that not everybody may like to drink, after hearing how it is produced. It is made from coffee beans that are eaten by civet cats first. The cats' digestive system does not digest the coffee beans but instead, inside the cat a fermentation process starts, before the beans leave the cat "in the natural way".

The beans are then collected and used for coffee luwak, which is brewed strongly to a point that it is slightly thicker than normal coffee. Apart from the coffee aroma itself, there is a slight sour note that gives the coffee a unique character. This production process is very expensive and good coffee luwak therefore is the most expensive coffee you can buy.

After a long day, when back in my hotel and after taking a bath, I almost fell asleep instantly.

Posted by westwind57 17:19 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya kopi_luwak de_kasteel clark_quai Comments (0)

Indonesia - Surabaya, East-Java - A visit to my daughter

A wonderful time with my little lady and an intriguing history about the hotel

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After landing at Juanda airport of Surabaya, I was of course happy to see my daughter and her best friend there who came to pick me up, and they drove me to the hotel that I booked. My daughter was staying at a "kos", a student home close to the university, where I would visit later.

I was really hot, and although I usually don’t like air conditioning that much, it was very welcome now at the place where we stopped for a strong cup of coffee, which was equally welcome. I will be the first to admit that the late night out with my ex-colleague in Singapore may, just may also have had a little bit to do with that.

The roads were unbelievably crowded, especially with mopeds, becaks and motor bikes. It looked like a miracle that everything still moved. And this was not even rush hour yet!


Hotel Majapahit, where I stayed, turned out to be in the very center of Surabaya, close to Tunjungan Plaza shopping mall. Although the style is Dutch colonial, the first feel when entering it was very much like the Raffles in Singapore. Everything breathed the old times, like many Dutch people know it from stories and movies.


The hotel was built in 1910 as the Oranje Hotel by architect Lucas Martin Sarkies, whose Armenian family used to own the Raffles, and the Strand in Rangoon, and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang. So, this was why it reminded me so much of the Raffles.
The history of the hotel may be just around 100 years, but fascinating. Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard stayed here in the 1930's. It was occupied by the Japanese in World War II (who renamed it into Hotel Yamoto). But what happened here right after the war makes me feel humble as a Dutch.

After the Second World War the call for independence in Indonesia got stronger and stronger. At the time, this hotel that was used by the Dutch colonial power. It was a provocation when the Dutch flag was raised at the building. The Dutch wanted to make a statement against Indonesia’s proclamation of independence. The angry local people gathered in front of the hotel, and they tore the blue ribbon from the Dutch flag, so that the red and white of the Indonesian flag remained.

A turbulent time followed with riots, and the unrest lasted until November 10, 1945 when the local people stormed the hotel and took it over. That day is remembered by the Indonesians as Hero's Day. The Oranje Hotel was then renamed as Hotel Merdeka (Liberty Hotel).
Later it was taken over again by the same Armenian family that built it, and was called Hotel L.M.S. (the initials of the founder). When Mandarin Oriental took over the hotel, it got its present name The Majapahit Hotel, after an ancient kingdom at Java. It is now owned and managed by independent management.


I learned this from one of the old waiters while I stayed there. Knowing the hotel’s turbulent history, it is quite special that all people in the hotel, as well as generally in Surabaya and in Indonesia, treat us as Dutch visitors so friendly and welcoming. I did not feel a trace of resentment during my entire stay. Not even from the elderly people. Many must have very bad memories from the colonial times, but some of them even wanted to speak Dutch with me. Even today, when remembering the people I met on this trip, I am still thankful for their warm welcome.
After checking in I was offered a pineapple cocktail as a welcome drink by the hotel. Because my daughter and her friend were still there we all got one. I needed a shower and fresh up a little bit, before going out with them later that day.

Posted by westwind57 17:12 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya clark_quai Comments (0)

Singapore - a nice evening spending my stopover to Indonesia

One night stopover in Singapore, meeting up with my ex-colleague

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While on a planned trip to Hong Kong, I decided to take a few days to visit my daughter, who was studying for half a year in Surabaya, Indonesia. It’s always a sport to find competitive rates and still book Comfort Economy for the long stretches, but it worked out fine. My itinerary ended up like this: Amsterdam – Hong Kong - Singapore - Surabaya – Hong Kong and back to Amsterdam.

The stop in Singapore gave me the chance to meet up with an ex-colleague as well. Singapore is pleasant for just a few days. Very safe, very clean, and very organized, although it might get a little boring if staying there too long. On the other hand, to live there as an expat like my former colleague, does not seem so bad. None of the expats that I know who live in Singapore, would complain about living there.


Arriving at Changi airport, year after year chosen as the World's best airport, I took the free shuttle to the hotel in Changi Village that I had booked for this one night, Changi Village Hotel. Reasonably priced, a comfy room and bed, a nice bathroom, great breakfast and not too far from the airport.


After a shower I took a taxi to the Central Business District where I met my ex-colleague at his office. We decided to go out for beers and dinner at one of the places at Clark Quay, and had a good time talking about the old days, common friends, gossips and his new life in Singapore as an expat.
Time went fast, sitting outside, eating and drinking with such a nice temperature and a soft breeze. By the time we left there was no public transportation anymore, so we must have been sitting there for more than six hours…

Posted by westwind57 07:09 Archived in Singapore Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya clark_quai Comments (0)

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