NOTHING ONLINE INDICATES that Ken Park, a huge swath of land in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, is actually abandoned. But you’d be blind to think it isn’t. There are signs for hotels that don’t seem to exist, enormous dollhouse-style corridors devoid of people, restaurant stalls left unattended. And it feels even emptier because of how silly it is to try to cross the park by foot; the streets are massive and car-less, and the park fields are overgrown with weedy grass. It honestly resembles North Korea.
But something in the park changes at night. After sundown, men on scooters come streaming in, all with girls riding on their backs. They pay the 8,000 rupiah entry fee, find a quiet spot in the dark to park their ride, and talk. Maybe, later in the night, they do more; mostly it seems they sit with a view of the water or on a mat on the grass and have a conversation in near-perfect darkness.
The park’s intended purpose was a safe haven for families, set apart from the traffic and crime of Surabaya’s streets. But it’s appropriated purpose becomes clear past sundown: this is perhaps the best place in the city to grab a drink with a date. It is one of the only spots where everyday Indonesians are afforded a modicum of personal space. In a grossly overpopulated country run by one of the stricter religions of the world, it’s easy to understand that value.
Don’t get me wrong: Ken Park is totally creepy. But it’s also kind of sweet. The same darkness that could be terrifying is transformed into something safe, even romantic. That duality is inescapable and really, really cool.