Many of us take our identity for granted. What does it mean to be an Indonesian? Is it the birthplace, the heritage or the citizenship? Against the backdrop of growing discussions about what it means to be an Indonesian, and the value of the Indonesian diaspora, the 2016 ICN Cultural Production included three Singaporeans with Indonesian connections in its recent musical production: Nirwata.

After Nirwata wrapped, we chatted with Kimberly Lie Zi Ying, Irfan Silalahi and Erika Kesuma, the first Singaporeans to be included in the ICN Cultural Production, a group consisting of over 100 Indonesian students from Nanyang Technical University (NTU).

Kimberly, also known as Kimie, has a pretty unique story: she holds Singapore citizenship, but grew up in Indonesia. Her father, who hails from Pontianak, met her mother, who is half-Singaporean and half-Indonesian, while he was studying in Singapore. After they got married, the couple decided to move to Indonesia’s bustling capital city, Jakarta, and has stayed there ever since.


To this day, Kimie can’t go through a day without eating rice and believes that kecap manis, a type of Indonesian sweet soy sauce, is the panacea to improve any dish.

Every public holiday, or whenever there is a discounted airfare, and when she is not busy with schoolwork, Kimie would seize the opportunity to fly back and visit her parents.

“To me, Indonesia is my home,” she said. “I would really like that Singaporeans and everyone else of other nationality explore the culture of my beloved home.”

It has only been a year that she left Indonesia to study at NTU, but Kimmie missed home so much that she decided to take part in ICN Cultural Production. Despite being quite shy, she made a huge leap out of her comfort zone to join the Marketing and Ticketing team. Her biggest obstacles were approaching random strangers to promote the production. But she was glad that she confronted her fears.

“Choosing this role was definitely not a mistake. The people I met were all amazing and talented, and I would say I have learned a lot from them,” she said.

Unlike Kimmie who decided to explore something new, Irfan knew he wanted to be a scriptwriter.


Thirteen years ago, Irfan and his family packed their bags and left their home in Medan to migrate to Singapore. His love for books began when he was young. Realizing this, Irfan’s parents decided to share Indonesian culture through story books and movies, which always fascinated him.

His first exposure to the Indonesian student community was through an Indonesian freshmen student orientation camp organized by the Indonesian student association, which he joined in his second year in NTU to make more Indonesian friends. During his time with the Indonesian students association, he learned about the ICN Cultural Production.

“I was told that Nilam [a musical produced by ICN in 2015] was written by an Indonesian student and I thought, ‘Wow, it would be nice to have a story of yours staged!’,” Irfan reminisced.

While passion was what fueled Irfan to sign up as a co-scriptwriter for Nirwata, it was curiosity that pushed Erika to audition as a cast member and eventually landing an important role as Gianetha, the lead female protagonist’s best friend.

Erika was born and raised in Singapore. Her mother was from Medan, while her father was from Palembang. Her parents moved to Singapore more than two decades ago, where they got married and eventually started a family.

Erika Kesuma (Communication Studies ‘19), Actress (playing as Gianetha)

Despite living in Singapore, Erika’s parents have never forgotten where they came from. Their home in the Lion City is decorated with Indonesian elements, such as batik. Erika and her two siblings grew up playing Indonesian traditional games, consuming Tolak Angin whenever they were sick, listening to Indonesian music and enjoying Indonesian food when they can.

“I love pempek!” Erika announced proudly. “Yeah, gue Palembang!”

Erika had always been curious about what it would be like to be surrounded by the Indonesian community.

“I wanted to make more Indonesian friends!” she admitted with a laugh. “I guess growing up in Singapore in an Indonesian household really made me wonder what it’s like to be part of a larger Indonesian community.”

She was initially encouraged by her friend from National University of Singapore (NUS) to take part in ICN after watching a similar musical performance. She soon realized that ICN is not only a platform to celebrate Indonesia’s rich and beautiful cultures–it united the team to strive towards a common vision and dream, regardless of their race, ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic background and family history.

“I feel that’s what the people of Indonesia need. A country can progress much faster when the people unite to strive towards a common dream for the betterment of its society,” she said.

Interviewed by Theresia Martin.
Edited by Kirana.