Wonoayu, from the eyes of a stranger

Written by Akmala Firdausi on December 11, 2021. Photos are also taken by the author.

As someone who has lived for more than 17 years in a suburban area a mere gang (alley) away from Jalan Wonoayu, I probably should not feel any ounce of confusion when the name of the street was mentioned. It was, after all, thrown out a lot in this part of Surabaya; everyone living in houses within the kilometre would know the shortest route to reach the street, unless they have yet to stay for more than a year. Jalan Wonoayu and its alleys have long been famous for its many vendors, offering products and services at affordable prices.

Yet feeling more than an ounce of confusion when the name of the street was mentioned, I did.

Picture 1: Jalan Wonoayu Gang 6, the very alley connecting Perumahan YKP (Yayasan Kas Pembangunan, lit. Development Cash Foundation; a real estate developer owned by the government of Surabaya) with Jalan Wonoayu

Here’s the thing: the memories I have of Jalan Wonoayu were recorded by the eyes of a disinterested suburban child. There’s this one of 4-year old me being told that the street was the only access to the ‘kampung’ (without knowing exactly which kampung was referred to) as I accompanied my old nanny to pay the electricity bill at the KUD (Koperasi Unit Desa, lit. Village Cooperative), several of 12-year old me going to a teacher’s house for supplementary English courses, and some more of the late-teen me sitting half-asleep on an antar-jemput (private school bus service) car as the driver went on his route to pick up my anjem-mates. They all share one thing in common: their lack of significance. 

A person grows, though. People change. So do their views of things, given the drive and the chance to re-experience them. And COVID-19, with all the chaos it prompted, was one hell of a drive.

Picture 2: Writings on the wall of Jalan Wonoayu Gang 2—”Choose [one of the two:] Lockdown or Ride in Weewoo-weewoo [onomatopoeia for police siren]”, referring to the lockdown policy erected during the first wave of COVID 19 in Indonesia

It went like this: it was so, so very easy to get bored during quarantine. Boredom gives way to a lot of things, such as iseng, and iseng gives way to so many things; and in my case, it was self-imposed compulsory morning strolls. And these compulsory morning strolls, coupled with boredom and iseng, made me notice a lot of things I did not notice before. Case in point: Jalan Wonoayu.

I rediscovered Jalan Wonoayu in one such morning strolls; one in which I deliberately applied a very loose take on the ngalor ngidul philosophy. With a fixed starting point and finish line, I tried to take every possible route I could come up with, including Jalan Wonoayu in every single one of them. I have yet to try every single one of them, but even so, I have learned a lot about the street; enough to revise my prior knowledge of it.

Jalan Wonoayu is not the only access to the ‘kampung’ (which seemed to be a blanket term for the region east to the street, be it the kampungs or the slightly more exclusive small housing areas); but it’s still the biggest gateway, given its many alleys. Most of the alleys were normal, numbered alleys (despite the unclear system of numbering; there is a Gang 7B with no sign of Gang 7 in sight), but there are also alleys named following a toponymic approach that is decidedly more ‘fun’. The KUD, for one, is located in Gang KUD (officially acknowledged as Jalan Wonoayu KUD), which was named after the very establishment. The same toponymic approach I believe, was also applied on its Gang Musholla, where a musala (small mosque) is located in. Other alley names worth noting are Gang Lebar (which probably was named after its width) and Gang Mbah Man, of which I have yet to discover the origin.

Picture 3: the entrance to Gang Mbah Man. Funnily enough, the few residents I talked with didn’t even recognise the alley by name.

There are also things I learned from back then that remain true to this day. Jalan Wonoayu does have pretty much anything you need. Bored with your usual breakfast? Walk down the street, and you’ll find many street food vendors with several menus to choose from. Not one for the heavy carbs? Worry not, Gang KUD and its many choices of jajanan pasar will not disappoint. Need to get a refill for your galon? Broke your last pen when you’re in dire need of new ones? Jalan Wonoayu has got you covered! 

Picture 4: Gang KUD and its many street vendors

These are small things I have found during my walks. There is still a lot to be discovered, like the lore behind Gang Mbah Man’s interesting name and the mystery of Gang 7. Take your own trip down the street—who knows, maybe you’ll learn of them before I do.

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