2016
07.03
ARAB QUARTER

ARAB QUARTER

SYNOPSIS:  A glimpse of life in the back alleys of Surabaya’s Arab Quarter (Kumpung Arab).

It is like a world apart from the “New York” part of Surabaya but it is also a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the business streets in the Arab Quarter.  Small gates lead into narrow alleys into which not even motor bikes venture.   It feels as if you are walking through people’s living rooms.  Men are only half dressed, women are dressed casually, children are playing, laundry is drying, short-tailed cats are roaming. 

I am not entirely comfortable to photograph people in these settings unless I have made a connection with them. I am an intruder in this world.  When I was far enough, I took pictures.  Never when I could peek into their homes and catch people at private moments:  sleeping, washing, cooking.  Within minutes I would usually have a whole string of kids following me along one of those alleys.  Once I would leave their corridor, they would stay behind and I would soon pick up a new crowd, screaming something or another.  Occasionally, there was a “Hello Mister”, a “Yes”, or a “Thank you very much”  or even a “What’s your name?” — showing off their English skills. 

There must have been the occasional insult thrown at me too, as some of the older kids at times would shush the younger ones and apologize when they had shouted out something I could not understand. 

A man was tending to newborn chickens near a chicken coop.  I stood and watched him for just a moment when he noticed and started to pull more babies out of the stall to show them off to me.   I tried to prevent him from doing this, but a crew of children who had followed me cheered him on.   I had a good time zigzagging through these alleys.  But it was also exhausting as twenty of these kids produced enough noise for a hundred. 

This is life as it must have been 100 years ago.  What has changed is the cellphone.  Seeing everyone here bent over their smartphones makes me wonder what effect this will have on their lives.  Vendors hardly pay attention to approaching customers.  People on the trains don’t talk but text.  The boys at the hotel are absorbed with their phones.  Even in the mosque, people squat in every corner scrolling through their phones rather than listening to the sermon or participating in the prayers. 

Walking in the heat got to me.  I checked in for another nap, carefully checking every crevice for bugs.  Much of the rest of the day was spent writing.  It takes a lot of time…

Computer speeds that had been good in the afternoon (30 seconds per picture to upload to the blog) dropped to nearly unbearable levels (2 minutes per picture).  The lobby was full of mosquitoes.  By the end of the evening I counted 7 bites on just one hand!  Shoulders, arms, knees, ankles, there were dozens more.  Unbearable!

Just one more night and I will be off to Sulawesi.  I hope there are fewer mosquitoes.

Good night. 

3 comments so far

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  1. Loved the pictures of the Arab quarter and bazaar. They make me want to stroll around these narrow streets…

  2. I’m itching just reading your story and hope there are fewer mosquitoes in Sulawesi . Oh, for a can of Off.

  3. “Even in the mosque, people squat in every corner scrolling through their phones rather than listening to the sermon or participating in the prayers. ”
    That is a good sign!!!