Wednesday, September 08, 2004

TEMPO's Special Report: Chinese Indonesians (5 of 14)

After that Dark Age...

In one corner of a slum somewhere in the eastern part of Jakarta, Kam Hok An starts the day by kneeling before the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Im, the Buddha, and Confucius, praying to them for keeping their promise that he would come through the "dark age."

The New Order has been thrown into the dustbin of history since 1998, allowing Belpas, his lion dance troupe, where he can express himself and earn a living, to resume its activities. For 32 dark years, every activity that reeks of Chinese, including the open and festive celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year highlighted by the multicolored lion dance performances, was banned.

Kam Hok An went through this bitter dark period just like a guerrilla. While still performing the lion dance once in a while, he worked as a salesman in an office stationery company. He had to spend his modest income feeding his five children and funding his lion dance troupe. This 53-year-old went through this bitter life between 1973 and 1998.

Today he devotes all his time to his lion dance troupe. He has invited youngsters from various ethnic groups-Javanese, Sundanese, Ambonese-living around his house behind the Jatinegara Market, East Jakarta, to join his troupe. This traditional Chinese art troupe has resumed its activities. He has received a lot of offers to perform. "I'm really very happy because the lion dance can be performed again now," he said, beaming.

Liem Hok Gie, 65, also has his own story of the past. Along with 125 ethnic Chinese Indonesians somewhere in Ranca Bungur, Bogor, he lived in poverty for years. They were never included in the government's poverty alleviation program just because they were considered different. Rice aid for the poor did come to their village but this aid came only once in two months.

In his advanced age now, Liem Hok Gie does anything to feed his family. Sometimes he works on a chicken farm and at other times he works as a farmhand. If he is lucky, he can earn Rp2,000 a day. The only thing left that cheers him in his house, which has plaited bamboo walls and whose floor is not tiled, is to be together with his family, taking a rest and smoking.

Somewhere in Tanjung Burung, Teluk Naga, Tangerang, there lives a 46-year-old man called Te Cun Wat. Living in poverty, he also does anything he can to support his life: gathering wood around his village, working as a casual laborer in a dockyard and raising 15 pigs. "I don't earn much, though," he said in a low and soft voice. "That's why I prefer to say that I keep pigs, not breed them."

In various corners of Indonesia, they live like most Indonesians: just trying to survive.

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