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Is there no place for a Chinese in Indonesia?

I kinda like this article because it sorts expresses my feelings :-)



How Indonesian am I? Let me put it this way. the other might when a rainstorm woke me up in the middle of the night, my first thoughts were "Wonderful! Maybe it will help put out the fires in town".

In what town? The fires were in Jakarta. I've been living in Hongkong since last year. So, yes, I'm Indonesian, all right.

But I am also ethnically Chinese. Some people think I can't be both. Not completely, anyway.

I feel as Indonesian as any indigenous "pribumi". I was born in Jakarta. So were my three sisters and one brother. And my mom and dad too.

We speak Indonesian at home. My roots and my future are there.

I'm passionate about the country --- from the culture to the beauty of the countryside to the mysteries of its political life.

For me, China is an exotic faraway place, somewhere I would love to visit. But that's all.

My parents went there once and I got teh impressoin that for them it was a bit like, say an Australian going to Europe to see where his ancestors had come from.

Since the rioting started, I have been in touch with my family regularly. They are frightened of course, but they are fine.

They say there has been no trouble in the mainly "pribumi" area where they live. But elsewhere in town an aunt's house was attacked with rocks and storeyhouse owned by a friend was burned to the ground.

"It's finished, totally finished," my sister said on the phone. She was too distressed for me to establish whether she was talking about our friend's business or the country.



But now a confession. For all my "Indonesian-ness", I was brought up almost in a different world from the "pribumi". Chinese schools are banned in Indonesia (as are the public display of Chinese characters and the celebrating of Chinese New Year among other things), so most Chinese go to private Christian schools.

At the one I attended, the only other children were Chinese. There were "pribumi" living on my street, but I can't honestly say I knew much about them. A brief "Hello" here; a "How are you?" there. Anyway, like most Chinese parents, my mom and dad cramped my after-school hours with so many classes (English, music and others) that I didn't have a lot of time fopr socialising with anybody.

It wasn't until i returned from studying in the US and took a job in journalism that I got to know any "pribumi". Now I count a number of them among my closest friends.

But I am an exception. For most Chinese, the only "pribumi" they ever get to know is their household maids, their "pembantu".

Once they reach adulthood, there is almost no further social contact. Even in professional life, the two groups rarely mingle.

Is it any wonder, then, that there is suspicion and prejudice on both sides? I have never had any racist remarks directed at me personally, but I know the Chinese are accused of being concerned with only their own welfare and with making money.

As for Chinese attitudes about the "pribumi", I remember when I was young, I asked my father why they were referred to as "fangui" (literally "rice devils" but meaning inferior).

"We eat rice too," I said. "So we're also "fangui" right?" My father just smiled. It was too difficult and probably too embarassing to explain.

And so it goes on. If I am seen on the street with a Chinese male, no one pays any attention. If I am with a Westerner, people may look but no more. But if I'm in the company of a "pribumi", we draw stares --- hostile looks that suggest that there is something distasteful about our relationship.

Those glares hurt, of course, but they are also saddening. Do they mean there is no place for a Chinese in Indonesia --- even one who wakes up worrying about her town burning down?

(NB: The writer is a Chinese-Indonesian based in Hongkong, while her family lives in central Jakarta.)