A new wave of passionate young creatives are rediscovering the capital of East Java. Colours explores Surabaya in two unexpected ways: through music and on foot.
We arrived late in the evening. It was a warm night and I was eager to see Silampukau perform on stage. We were at a private party held by a group of awkward sociology students, and Silampukau – a folk music duo consisting of Eki Trinowening and Kharis Junandharu – had been invited as the evening’s special entertainment.
Their songs paint pictures of middle-class life in Surabaya: the honest, everyday experiences that come with life in the East Javan capital. Protest and angst can be heard in their songs, but they are concealed in funny, satirical lyrics that often play out like monologues simultaneously poking fun at themselves.
“Through music, we are trying to capture Surabaya, the city we call home,” said Kharis Junandharu.
Silampukau’s songs take familiar scenes of Surabaya, like bustling Ahmad Yani Street and kitschy local attractions like Taman Remaja Surabaya, and put them vividly into context, creating a ﬂuid narrative that reﬂects the city and its constantly evolving identity.
While Silampukau explores Surabaya musically, Anitha Silva, who prefers to be called Tinta, invites visitors to discovers its identity through space: the intersections of old and new structures, connected by roads and bridges and hidden laneways.
“Most tourists pass through Surabaya for one night or two on the way to Bromo or Bali, but they’re never quite sure what to do or see in the city,” said Tinta.
So she started www.surabayawalk.com, curated pedestrian tours of the city that take curious travellers oﬀ the beaten path. “In a city as hot as Surabaya, most people hesitate to travel on foot. But the local government has made recent
eﬀorts to improve its pedestrian infrastructure; pavements have been expanded, unregistered food stalls and parking have been organised, and more and more trees are being planted along roads,” explained Tinta.
Tinta has loved walking around the city since her college days. For her, Surabaya is the perfect size for pedestrians, and is not as expansive as Jakarta. And there are many alternative paths through colourful neighbourhoods that are real hidden gems in the city. “Walking through tucked-away laneways here you’ll stumble upon many surprising stories and quirky ﬁnds,” she said.
She was kind enough to take me on one of her impromptu, unstructured tours. Stops on her regular tours include Kampung Pendeleh, one of the oldest inner-city villages in Surabaya. Here you’ll ﬁnd food sellers cooking in the streets, colourful mosques and murals, toys for sale, and laundry drying on clothes lines. Soekarno, Indonesia’s ﬁrst president, was born in a house here that his parents rented on Jalan Pendean.
Tinta’s other favourite spots to explore when taking customers for a tour include Pasar Atom and Pasar Pabean, Chinatown and the Arab District. But for this walk she was trying out on a new tour route that she was still developing – her favourite part of the job.
Celcea Tifani, a young illustrator working on a pedestrian map of the city, joined us for the walkabout. Starting on Jalan Rajawali, we walked around Kalisosok Prison – a defunct remnant from the colonial era now covered in vibrant street art – to reach the Bank Indonesia Museum. Opened in 2012, the museum occupies a building formerly known as De Javasche Bank, the central bank of the Dutch East Indies. The building has been beautifully restored and houses a vast collection of old currencies and displays on the history of banking in Indonesia.
Best of all, admission is free.
As we continued, Tinta pointed out an old house that she had never noticed before. On the front wall was a weathered signboard that read: ‘CV Elka – producing negatives/plates since 1949’.
Driven by curiosity, Tinta poked her head in to ﬁnd a portly old man sitting inside. His name was Herman. Tinta struck up a conversation and Herman told us all about CV Elka, which was founded by his grandfather. It was a printing company, one of the most popular in its heyday. They mostly printed packaging labels for commercial products such as soy sauce, bread, syrup, soft drinks, and even local ginseng wines. Most of the brands no longer exist today, but we were positively fascinated by the stack of vintage company prints kept by Herman in his archives. Celca was particularly thrilled to ﬁnd some authentic insight into the graphic styling of a bygone era.
“These small discoveries and surprises only happen when you get to know a city with your own two feet,” Tinta smiled.
Jakarta to Surabaya
Flight Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Frequency 112 ﬂights per week
5 Senses – Taste
In the last two years, a number of well-designed cafés have emerged in Surabaya. The newly opened Kudos (Pakuwon Square AK 2 No. 3) is a prime example. It serves great coffee in addition to a tasty menu of local bites in a modern, homey space. Of course, creatives are drawn by the architecture and interiors. Other must-try cafés are Society Complex (www.society.co.id) and Communal (instagram.com/communal.sby).