Surabaya is Indonesia’s second most populous city, and is home to several English language schools. Described by Lonely Planet as “a hot and dusty, crowded city with precious little to see”, a description with which I would concur, you may wonder why I have spent almost two years here. Despite the downsides, this is a place where one can experience a real Indonesian city largely untouched by tourism. As a result, the locals see you more as a source of fascination and entertainment than as a cash cow. Travel to Bali or Yogyakarta, and you will be plagued by people harassing you to use their taxi, or buy their products. Often they will walk right up and interrupt you while you are talking to a friend, demanding to know where you are going and waiting impatiently for an answer. It can be very frustrating as one doesn’t want to be rude, yet offering even the most basic politeness in refusal will often lead to more harassment.
No such problem in Surabaya, where the local people have never had tourists to make a living from. They don’t rely on making as much as possible during high season to see them through the rest of the year. Instead when they see a foreigner, they just want to be as friendly as possible, and they are very easily amused. Some find this patronizing, but I find it quite endearing. It is not unusual to be “drive-by Hello Mistered” as I have termed it. You are walking along the street and hear “Hello” behind you followed by “Mister” in front of you as a motorbike whizzes past, its driver looking over his shoulder at you, evidently more concerned with addressing a foreigner than keeping an eye on the road.