My Trip to Surabaya

by Shawnong

“Now it’s your turn to tell me your dream.”

Tommy (a student guide) and I were talking in the showroom of a local furniture company after we had went on a tour of their factory. He shared with me his dream of building his own company to provide jobs for more Indonesians. The way he casually chatted about his ambitions with such sincerity amazed me. Similarly, another student guide told me he wanted to study at NUS for his MBA and work in the States one day.

I was wondering why were they so ready to verbalise their dreams and aspirations. Was it their culture? Or was it because they were filled with hope?


10th November 1945

24,000 British troops invaded Surabaya and bombs were dropped mercilessly. The Indonesian resistance fought valiantly, drawing the battle on for 3 weeks, resulting in over 16,000 Indonesian casualties and majority of the local population fleeing.

The Indonesians fought with hope. Hope, the fuel to get back on their feet when they have fallen; the voices to their spirits when they charge onto the battlefield; the steeling of their hearts when surrounded by enemies’ bayonets, defeated; the quiet melody singing the anthem of a better future.

“Freedom or Die!”

18th September 2014

We visited the Heroes Monument dedicated to the people who died in the battle. A tall phallus-shaped landmark erected in honour of those who died during the battle.

We then moved on to the 10th November Museum located beneath the monument and saw historical artefacts and video recordings of the battle. Amongst which was a sculpture of Indonesians on the battlefield, fallen but still flying the flag of Indonesia with pride. The attention to detail of the sculptor was frighteningly accurate. It recreated the feelings of the soldiers and conveyed them to the viewer through a lapse in time. I felt as if I had been standing on the battlefield and witnessed the tears roll down the cheeks of the soldiers and heard their battle cries and felt the uniform cling to my skin, drenched in perspiration and humidity.


The sculptor definitely succeeded in conveying emotions. But what I think he did most importantly, was to pass on the spark of hope of the soldiers.

I won’t let you bury it
I won’t let you smother it
I won’t let you murder it


Sweaty manual workers were lifting heavy objects by the roadside, 3 boys in soiled uniforms were walking across the top of a cement wall to cut through a field to get to school, technicians with greasy skin were repairing motorcycles in the hot weather. They may have been living in grimy conditions with filthy clothes, but they wore the purest smiles I had ever seen. And I personally think they were smiling because of hope. Not of hope for a better GPA, more money, an iPhone 6, more likes on their Instagram or retweets on Twitter. But maybe for health, happiness and freedom for another day.


Leaving Surabaya has taught me to hope; an internalised metronome driving the piece of music even though it doesn’t see the full composition. We may not be able to agree on what hope is, what it is for, or where it comes from. But maybe we can agree on this,

“Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

― Stephen King