Surabaya, City of Heroes, is tucked into the north shore of eastern Java, flanking the Madura strait. Lounging at the mouth of the Mas River, it is Indonesia’s second-largest city and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.
Like its northern neighbor Jakarta, Surabaya is characterized by water. Unfortunately, its location in a river delta, coupled with an aging and inadequate city infrastructure, makes the city prone to flooding. Indonesia is principally Muslim so, as with elsewhere in the country, your slumber will be gently broken by reverent strains of the 4:30 a.m. call to prayer. While you won’t be expected to leap out of bed and prostrate yourself, expats moving here should make the effort to observe social norms, such as covering up shoulders and not baring too much skin.
Despite Surabaya’s residents being predominantly Muslim, you can buy and consume alcohol here, albeit at a relatively high price, and bars and clubs abound.
Surabaya is a port town that thrives off its major exports of tobacco, sugar and coffee. If you are ever gripped by the unlikely urge to visit a cigarette museum while you’re here, you are in luck: Surabaya has one. The former orphanage later served as a theatre that played host to Charlie Chaplin and President Sukarno, back in the 1930s.
By day, Surabaya and its residents will dazzle you with color. By night, the "Sparkling City," adorned with festive lights owing to local government’s latest tourism thrust, literally bursts into light as the sun dips below the horizon.
What is special or unique about your city?
Surabaya is Indonesia's second-largest city, and the capital of the province of East Java. It is located on the northern shore of eastern Java at the mouth of the Mas River and along the edge of the Madura Strait.
To Indonesians, it is known as "the City of Heroes," due to the importance of the Battle of Surabaya in galvanizing Indonesian and international support for Indonesian independence during the Indonesian National Revolution.
As the main seaport and commercial center in the eastern region of Indonesia, Surabaya has become one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia. Today, Surabaya's population is around three million, and the surrounding rural area houses at least 7 million. The areas surrounding Surabaya include Lamongan to the northwest, Gresik to the west, Bangkalan to the northeast, Sidoarjo to the south and Mojokerto and Jombang to the southwest.
The Suramadu Bridge between Surabaya and the island of Madura is currently the longest bridge in the country. Madura can also be accessed by a ferry service that operates regularly from Surabaya's port, Tanjung Perak.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Typically the first impression on newcomers is bad traffic and air pollution. Major traffic jams occur on a daily basis especially during the busy hours of 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Are these impressions likely to change?
The only first impressions that usually change are people's initial anxiety about the climate and hectic traffic. Everything else stays the same: great fondness and admiration for a city with a great history and culture.
What is the local language?
Bahasa Indonesia, which is a variation of Malay, is the official language of Indonesia. Meaning “language of Indonesia,” it brings together approximately two million people whose native tongue may be one of over three hundred different languages. Even though each region has its own language, about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim and many can read the Koran, which is in Arabic. Also, many Indonesians speak English and Dutch.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
Indonesian people are very friendly and when they hear someone trying to speak their language, they will be very helpful. After you live here for a while, it will be very easy to learn the common language because it has the same letters as English. Another good thing is that it is usually pronounced the way it is spelled. English is widely used in business, especially in multinational companies.
Throughout the city, knowing a few key words in the local language will be beneficial, however, not necessary as most expatriates speak English.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Some tips to avoid offending residents of Surabaya are:
On greeting and departure it is customary _ to shake hands
- Saying someone's name is important in Indonesia and you should never laugh at a person's name
- Before sampling food when in someone's home, wait until it is offered
- Indonesians are not known for their punctuality and offense should not be taken if events do not start on time, or if a guest arrives late
- The left hand is considered unclean in this culture. You should use your right hand at all times and whenever possible in public
- Feet are also considered unclean and you should never point with them or put them on tables or chairs
- Some Indonesians also consider it rude to point with a finger, so this should be avoided
- Do not pat adults on their head as this considered offensive
- Indonesians generally are very physical in their personal relations, patting acquaintances on the back, putting a hand on their shoulder and so forth
- Do not chew gum in public; this is considered rude
- Restrain yourself from eating or drinking in front of fasting Indonesian Muslims
- Women are expected to be sensitive to the Muslim and Hindu beliefs and, therefore, wear clothing which keeps the majority of the body covered up
- Personal questions regarding salary, education and family life should be expected and politely sidestepped if you do not want to answer them
- Very little is said during meals as Indonesians like to concentrate more on their food
- The subject of birth control is openly discussed, although discussions about sex should be avoided
- Topics to avoid are: human rights, politics, religion, military influence, corruption, personal success, sex/role of the sexes and criticism of Indonesia
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Being located near the equator, the Indonesian climate is divided into two seasons: hot and rainy. This type of weather causes it to be very humid. Up in the hills and mountains, the temperature drops dramatically in the evenings and during the night it can be quite cold.
It is important to give yourself time to adjust to the climate and to drink plenty of water.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Surabaya people tend to be family-oriented and work side by side.
The city is in the middle of the process of going GREEN; the government is building more gardens all over the city and doing their best to maintain the green environment.
A modern lifestyle can also be seen from various shopping centers, international food vendors and night life entertainment.