23 February 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday February 13, 2008
Nasi tumpeng for all occasions

MAY I take this opportunity to wish all Malaysians, Gong Xi Fa Cai! It might be funny not to be race-specific wishing people that, but thus far every non-Chinese I’ve wished has automatically wished me back. So maybe, being the only non-religious festival we have here, Chinese New Year is the only Malaysian holiday we have.

I have just returned from a holiday in Indonesia, exploring the cities and countryside of Central and East Java and Bali. Most people who don’t know much about Indonesia – or at least Indonesia as it currently is – may think that Chinese New Year is not celebrated at all there.

After all, during the Suharto years, the Chinese minority were discouraged from having Chinese names (although not everybody complied) and nothing written in Chinese was allowed.

This translated across the water over here as absolute discrimination towards the Chinese minority, underscored by the terrible witch-hunts and rapes that occurred during the economic crisis that led to the downfall of Suharto.

In fact, there has always been a thriving Chinese community in Indonesia. Chinese-Indonesians founded some of the largest corporations, such as the Lippo Group.

Ong Hock Ham, who recently died, was a prominent historian. Josephine Komara, the batik designer and promoter, is also Chinese, as are many others in the textile and fashion industries.

In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is called Imlek, a word I have not been able to find the origin of. Although there aren’t as many decorations as we have here, you do now find shops selling red lanterns and other festive decorative items.

What was even more surprising for me was that on TV, there were Imlek specials to celebrate the occasion.

We visited the home of a Chinese friend who is also an antique dealer in Malang, East Java.

In so many ways, our friend and his wife are exactly like our friends back home with one exception; their very strong Javanese accent.

I guess to us, it’s a bit like listening to a Chinese person with an American, British or Australian accent, except that when they’re in Asia, you expect them to sound more familiar.

But the Javanese accent can be very thick and not always easy to understand. It does make you realise the folly of ignoring diversity within communities.

One thing that is common among the Indonesians, regardless of ethnicity, is the inherent courtesy that everyone seems to have. Unlike in many countries where you feel constantly hassled because you’re a tourist, in Java we never did.

People tried to sell us their crafts, but never so aggressively that it was off-putting. If we asked to see something, people smiled and said “monggo” which means “silakan” or “please do”.

Whenever we stopped to ask for directions, which was often, since signage in Indonesia is no better than in Malaysia, people always tried to be helpful. In the hotels we stayed in, the staff members were unfailingly polite and went out of their way to assist us whenever we needed it.

What became clear to us on this trip was that Indonesians have an abiding awareness of their culture and their history. There are historical monuments everywhere and streets named after heroes that people actually know about.

In the smaller towns, not everything has been torn down to make way for shiny new towers.

As a result you still get to see beautiful houses built in the style of a bygone era, even if some of them are no longer residences but used for commercial purposes.

As always, food is a unifying factor. Food stalls and simple restaurants abound, and all are delicious. Traditional music groups sing at nasi liwet stalls, dressed in sarong kebaya. You can still hire kerongcong groups to come and sing at home when you have dinner guests.

Visits to the keratons or palaces in Jogjakarta or Solo are true cultural experiences because the people who work there have done so for generations, and the rituals and dances are practiced as part of palace life, and not just for tourists.

It’s amazing that a country so much more culturally rich than ours can be so poor at marketing itself.

Our holiday wound up in Bali on the eve of Chinese New Year so we didn’t experience what it was like to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Rat in Muslim Indonesia.

But on the front page of the largest newspaper Kompas, there was a photograph of Chinese-Indonesians praying at a Jakarta temple on New Year’s day.

What was interesting to me was the offering they made at the temple; nasi tumpeng, yellow rice shaped into a cone, surrounded and decorated by all sorts of accompaniments.

It’s a Javanese dish that is typically presented at every festive occasion regardless of religion or community.