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Chinese Paint Jakarta Red

Below is the article prepared by twelve cub reporters 2012 in the Jakarta Post, including me :)
Enjoy our work!

Chinese Paint Jakarta Red

Photo by JP/Yuliasri Perdani
A worker makes lotus-shaped origami at Boen Tek Bio Temple, Tangerang. 
The Chinese New Year is here and Jakartans of all ethnic backgrounds, not just Chinese, celebrate the event openly, in marked contrast to when the holiday was largely a closed-door private affair 15 years ago. This and the articles on page 22 look at what has changed, based on reports prepared by Amahl S. Azwar, Anggi M. Lubis, Corry Elyda, Dhenok Pratiwi, Fikri Z. Muhammadi, Hans Nicholas Jong, Muhammad Rizqi A., Nadya Natahadibrata, Pras Gustanto, Satria Sambijantoro, Tassia Sipahutar and Yuliasri Perdani.

Members of the Tan family lined up on Chinese New Year’s Day (Imlek) before their patriarch, 93-year-old Tan Kho Tjiang. First, they wrapped their hands before their noses and said “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (Congratulations and Prosperity), and then they hugged him.

As is with tradition, each of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren — more than 100 in all — received an angpao, a small red envelope filled with money, and some words of wisdom.

“How’s your medical study? Where do you practice?” Tan asked Farell, one of his grandchildren. The widowed Tan remembers the names of all his 10 sons and daughters and their spouses, all his grandchildren and some of the great grandchildren.

The Tan family, most wearing bright red outfits — even the babies and toddlers — celebrated the arrival of Chinese New Year at Riung Tenda, a family-owned Sundanese restaurant in Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta. The special room they used at the back of the restaurant was decorated with red lanterns and trees from which red envelopes hung. Chinese music played softly in the background.

Chinese Indonesians, a small ethnic minority, have been celebrating Imlek in the open, without fears of retribution these past few years. During the three decades of Soeharto’s rule until 1998, they were forced to conceal their cultural identity under the regime’s forced assimilation policy. Chinese New Year was a very private affair for most.

Although they represent a small minority — most estimates put them at about 3 percent of the total population of 240 million — Chinese Indonesians are highly visible, especially in big cities. Until the recent rise of indigenous businesses, the Chinese were also seen as overwhelmingly dominant in the economy, making them prey to recurrent attacks whenever the economy headed south.

The political reforms that began in 1998 have made Indonesia more open and amenable to cultural differences. It was president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid who made Confucianism the sixth religion recognized by the state in 1999. His successor Megawati Soekarnoputri followed it up by making Chinese New Year a national holiday.

Over in Bogor, in a two-story mansion overlooking the Rancamaya Golf and Country Club, the Xie family marked the coming of the Year of the Water Dragon in style. A stage with a Chinese gate set up in the spacious living room was used as a backdrop for family photos.

The Xies keep a neat record of their family tree that takes them back all the way to their ancestors in San Tao (north China). The current crops of Xies have 137 family members belonging to the 25th to the 28th generations.

“Years ago, we would go to Singapore or Hong Kong,” said Au Bintoro, the house’s owner from the 26th generation. “Now, thanks to Gus Dur, we are celebrating the New Year here in Indonesia,” added the man, who at home goes by his Chinese name, Xie Jia Yu.

His daughter Imelda Fransisca, Miss Indonesia 2005, who acted master of ceremonies at the event, added: “I remember I had to skip school just to be able to celebrate the New Year.”

Although Chinese Indonesians today mark the Lunar New Year more openly than in the past, some families still have reservations about the openness of society toward the Chinese expressing their cultural identity.

Udaya Halim, whose Chinese name is Lim Tjin Peng, celebrated the New Year with his wife and four children in his home in Benteng, Tangerang. He feels that the Chinese as an ethnic group remain marginalized, even after nearly 14 years of political reforms. He took his family to Australia in 1997 just months before one of the biggest and bloodiest anti-Chinese riots rocked Jakarta, which eventually led to the collapse of the Soeharto regime.
Photo by: JP/Tassia Sipahutar
The 18 million candles in the Boen Tek Bio Temple, Tangerang

In the Senen district of Central Jakarta, the family of Jong Herwin Octora marked the coming of the New Year in their modest two-story house on a narrow street lined with printing shops.

The 47-year-old, his wife and three children enjoyed a mix of Indonesian and Chinese cuisines. Their favorite is homemade kue keranjang or basket cake, a gelatin made with coconut and palm sugar.

There has been a greater degree of acceptance of Chinese among Indonesians today, said Benny Setiono, chair of the Association of Indonesian Chinese (INTI).

“The Chinese language, the barongsai [lion dance] and Chinese cuisine are now part of the evolving cultural landscape in Indonesia,” he added.

There is also a lot of acculturation going on between the Chinese and various indigenous ethnic groups in Indonesia. One example is lontong cap go meh, a dish of rice cake served with either chicken or vegetable curry, a fusion of Chinese and local cuisine found in many parts of Indonesia.

“We are seeing a positive and interesting acculturation process,” Melani Budianta, an English literature professor from the University of Indonesia, said. “The results will become part of the Indonesian cultural heritage,” Melani, who celebrated the New Year in Malang, East Java, told The Jakarta Post by phone.

Imlek is also openly celebrated today in various Chinese Confucian temples, which under Soeharto had to mask themselves as Buddhist temples.

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo visited the Kim Tek Ie (Golden Virtue) Temple in Jakarta’s Chinatown of Glodok on New Year’s Day, donning a traditional Chinese dress and cap that the organizers described as “emperor-like”.

He gave a brief but reassuring speech to the Chinese, saying: “Every citizen has the right to live without being discriminated against. We are the government of the people, and it is our job to guarantee the security of everyone.”

The visitors on that day were not only the Chinese who came to pray, but also hundreds of beggars and tourists, including expatriates.

At Boen Tek Bio (Virtue Fort) Temple in nearby Tangerang, the administrators expect more than 15,000 visitors to offer prayers to the Goddess of Compassion, Kwan Im, comprising food, flowers and golden paper to candles, including the largest that cost Rp 18 million (US$2,000) apiece.

“Now we see far more people than before,” said Oey Tjin Eng, the 68-year-old public relations chief of the 17th-century temple. “It’s certainly more open. And it involves non-Chinese, including traders,” he added.

The public has also caught on to the festivities, many thronging malls to take advantage of the holiday and to partake in the New Year’s celebrations.

Photo by: JP/Dhenok Pratiwi
An acrobatic group from Beijing, China, performed at Pondok Indah Mall  2
attracting visitors both from Chinese Indonesians and non-Chinese Indonesians alike
At Taman Anggrek Mall in West Jakarta, the main hall at the center was converted into a little Chinatown, and the area was practically painted red. Illustrations of the 12 shio (Chinese zodiac) told visitors about the personal characters of those born in different years. There was also a photo booth for visitors to pose wearing Chinese garb.

At Kelapa Gading Mall in North Jakarta, one department store offers Imlek sales with discounts of up to 50 percent. Those who spend more than Rp 1 million in the mall can give their receipts to be hung on the angpao tree. There will be drawing with prizes that include smartphones.

For most people, particularly non-Chinese, the chief attractions in the malls are the barongsai (lion) and liong (dragon) dances.

In the three-story Summarecon Serpong Mall just outside Jakarta, the main hall is decorated with an 80-meter-long dragon that goes all the way to the top floor. A troupe of dancers performs acrobatic lion and dragon dances. The troupe tours the mall and goes into the stores to entice shoppers.

The changing atmosphere facing the Chinese did not escape the attention of a longtime expatriate during a Jelajah Kota Toea (Tour of the Old City) in Jakarta’s old Chinatown on New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve been here more than 20 years. The Chinese culture was banned under Soeharto. It’s nice to see it making a comeback,” said Briton Geoff Tucker, 49, who is married to an Indonesian Chinese and lives in Cipete, South Jakarta


Read other articles about Chinese Indonesians, part of the special reports, prepared by Jakarta Post's cub reporters 2012:  When Cultures Collide, What Do Chinese Do? and What's in Chinese name?


  1. well done..
    this post sounds so journalistic..

  2. I googled *random* my name and find your blog, cah solo :))


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