February 29, 2020 - Saturday
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How Surabaya captured my heart

January 25, 2020 - Saturday 6:01 PM by Leebai Sinsuat Ambolodto

Article Banner Image One of the many beautiful Masjid's in Indonesia

How do we identify ourselves? Personality or culturally? Do we define to live it? Or live to define it? 

A planned rendezvous bought me to the steps of the airport. With a packed trolley in tow and a backpack with my personal essentials on my back, I was ready to get lost in the streets of Surabaya. 

I have never really been to the place. For one, I know it is in Indonesia where halal tourism is a way of life. Further, I've seen images of the place and instantly fell in love with the urban-rural setup it has. And yes, Indonesian food has always been a favorite.

INDONESIAN FOOD IS LIFE. My ultimate go-to, Nasi Uduk.

Aside from creating memories, I was ecstatic because the trip cored upon a close subject in my life -- religion. It was, after all, a religious pilgrimage highlighting the culture, tradition, and Islam in Indonesia -- specifically in Surabaya. 

In Surabaya, it was like going back in time. I was in awe of the many things I learned and re-learned. Everyday became more and more exciting. And it was in Surabaya that I began emptying my baggage. For the days I was there, I felt better than I was when I left home. 

A devotee inside the Sunan Ampel masjid.

Surabaya taught me to let go, move forward and cherish life as it is. It was in Surabaya that I learned to fall in love.. fall in love with myself again. 

City of Surabaya: Places to fall in love with
Located in East Java, Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia (next to Jakarta). Though not as well-known in terms of tourists, Surabaya has a rich historical background that range in terms of attractions, culture, people, food, and tradition that makes it worthy of a visit.

KRUPUK COUNTRY. Never leave Indonesia without some crunchy krupuk.

Waking up in Surabaya and exploring the depths of this enigmatic city, one gets a taste of how an authentic Indonesian life is -- one that's away from tourists spots, commercialized attractions, and the fast paced urban life. I belonged. 

A trip to Surabaya won't be complete without visiting the House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory -- a triad composed of a dedicated cigarette factory, enchanting museum, and a quaint coffee and souvenir shop. For one, Indonesians love their coffee and yes, cigarettes. Sampoerna produces kretek (a famous brand of cigarette in Indonesia) which are made from a blend of aromatic cloves. The factory will walk you through its history and yes, see how the cigarettes are made -- by hand. 

Inside House of Sampoerna Cigarette Factory.

Russian submarine in Surabaya? OH YES! What was once a submarine used by the Indonesian navy (until it was decommissioned in 1990) is now a museum for everyone to enjoy. Climb aboard and let your imagination go wild. Tour the insides of the Monumen Kapal Selam (submarine) and be amazed on how it used to function. Oh and don't forget the photos! 

TORPEDO FIRE. Exploring the Monumen Kapal Selam in Surabaya.

Spend the night at Bumi Surabaya City Resort or Hotel Majapahit. Two of the most iconic hotels in Surabaya, Bumi and Majapahit both have a different vibe -- a different feel, that is. Bumi is relaxing and exudes a resort feel amidst the noisy downtown while Majapahit is classy, luxurious and bourgeois. 

CULTURE AND TRADITION. The author at the Masjid Muhammad Cheng Hoo

And the food? Extraordinary. Bumi has a nice spread of traditional Indonesian dishes and an al fresco dining spot that'll transport you into the jungle. Majapahit, on the other hand, had a mix of western and local palate satisfiers. Best thing? Their dining area is very posh. 

One notable place of worship that left a mark in my heart is the Cheng Hoo Mosque. Surabaya has a large Chinese population and as a result, Chinese Indonesians created the Cheng Hoo Mosque that has a mixture of Chinese and Islamic influence. Aesthetics alone will have you gasping in amazement. It's both colorful and intricate -- very distinct from what I've seen.

It was not all fun and food. My trip also included enriching my faith. Visits to multiple Wali houses, tombs and mosque all around Surabaya, Central Java until Jakarta opened my eyes, mind, and soul to the vastness of our religion, Islam. For a not-so conservative Muslim, the trip was truly an eye opener. 

The Tasbih (pasbi) is a form of dhikr involves the repetitive utterances of short sentences in glorification of Allah SWT. Wikipedia definition

Culture: Exploring the Nine Wali
As it was a pilgrimage, it included several trips to the tombs and mosques of the Wali Songo. Wali means civic leader (saints); Songo means nine. Each man is often attributed the title sunan (Javanese) which means honored. The graves of Wali Songo are known as ziarah (ziyarat) or place of pilgrimage. 

Every place gave us a deeper understanding of how Indonesian's pray and celebrate life. 

Wali Songo are known throughout Indonesia as wise men who helped spread Islam to Java and the other islands in Indonesia. They rose to prominence along the north coast of Java as the Majapahit empire, predominantly Hindu, was fading. 

Sunan Ampel was believed to have been the leader of the Wali Songo and his mosque, Masjid Ampel, is considered one of the most important in Surabaya. Two other Wali Songo, Sunan Bonang and Sunan Drajat, were his sons. Sunan Gresik, on the other hand, is the father of Sunan Ampel and is believed to have originated from outside of Java, notably Kashanm Persia (Iran). 

MASJID VISIT. The streets leading to Sunan Ampel's Masjid.

Sunan Giri is known to be the son of a Hindu princess from Blambangan and a Melakan missionary. He studied in Melaka and is credited with spreading Islam east to Sulawesi, Lombok and Malaku. 

Sunan Bonang, the son of Sunan Ampel and brother of Sunan Drajat, tried to make ordinary Javanese familiar with Islam through art. For one, he incorporated and changed traditional Javanese songs with Islamic thought. Also, he used gamelan as a medium of Islamic learning. Like his brother, Sunan Drajat composed gameln as a means for spreading Islam teachings in Java. One notable example was the tune Gending Pangkur. 

The antique drum inside Museum Masjid Agung Demak

Sunan Muria is the son of Sunan Kalijaga and Dewi Soenjinah (sister of Sunan Giri). He had a very close relationship with people which he used to spread his teachings in rural and remote areas -- including teaching them about agriculture and fishery. 

Sunan Kudus's tomb lies behind the Masjid Al-Aqsa which he built. Traditionally, every year, on 10 Muharram in the Islamic calendar, the curtains around his tomb are changed. The date is a holy day in the Shia calendar. 

Exterior of Makam Kangjeng Sunan Kudus

Sunan Kalijaga was the son of a Duke of Tuban in East Java. His teachings and beliefs are more sufistic (a Muslim mystic, Sufis or Sufism) than salaf (often taken as the first three generations of Muslims: Prophet Mohammad and his companions (the Sahabah), their successors (the Tabi'un) and the successors of the successors (the Taba Tabi'in). 

Sunan Gunung Jati founded the Sultanate of Banten and the Sultanate of Cirebon on the north coast of Java. 

So, how do we identify ourselves?

I say, live it. But also, learn to let go. It's not a sign of weakness; it is you accepting that there is more to life than what you have now. And that includes letting go of people. 

Terima Kasih to everyone who made this trip memorable. To my fellow Islam believers, we are no longer strangers on the same trip -- we are now family. Pak Odin, Pak Adjie, Vernon, Royal Brunei Airlines, and Aneka Kartika, maraming salamat for allowing us to see the other side of Indonesia. Truly, there's more to this country than Bali.