This morning we went to Vihara Dharma Jaya Toasebio, the oldest Chinese Buddhist temple in Chinatown, Jakarta. Most of the people who we saw visiting the temple were people of Chinese ethnicity. This elderly lady started speaking to us in Chinese and we later learned that she has lived her entire life (80 years) in Indonesia and that she’s a second generation Chinese Indonesian. She was quite eager to talk to us, probably because we could speak in Mandarin. She’s never been to China before and her parents moved from Fujian province. Previously, she taught Chinese in her earlier years, which is why she could speak Chinese. She comes to the temple very often, using her bicycle. After we talked to her for awhile, we weren’t sure whether to ask her more questions, but she started to open up about the 1998 riot against Chinese people. She said that during the mass riots, her brother did not help her, because he was afraid of his wife, so his priority had to be their family. She said she saw that many Chinese Indonesians were dragged out of their houses, murdered, their houses were burnt, and looted, and many Chinese women were raped then murdered. She was very afraid, and many people went to the docks where the police protected them so she went with them, after people took away her house, looted her belongings, and she had no money or property left. She said this mess started when a mentally ill (Chinese) killed an Indonesian, so the Indonesians used this as a reason to start the riot in the Chinatown area, killing many thousands of people. However, I’m surprised that within 20 years, Chinese people and Indonesians can live in the same area again, as I saw while walking down the streets. Another interesting fact about this temple is that it is a “silent witness to the ethnic Chinese massacre in Jakarta”. The name “Toasebio” means “message” and “temple” (Toase and bio), meaning that this temple respects the message brought from China. The monastery was onced burned by the Dutch in the 17th century and then rebuilt in 1751, written on the inscription, during the Dutch colonial massacre of ethnic Chinese and mass burning action in 1740 [known as the Angke’s Bloody tragedy]. The man with this gallant-eyed stature also described the horror of the moment, and this story is known from generation to generation. Ethnic Chinese people were slaughtered near the Angke River, and thrown into the river– the reason has always been politics. 10,000 ethnic Chinese died from this massacre; all the houses and trading centers were ransacked and burned. Another distinguishing feature is the location- the temple is adjacent to the market, river or sea because ethnic Chinese people came to Jakarta through the river and wanted to make a place to pray. After reading this article, it made me realize maybe Chinese Indonesians feel safe in the monastery, maybe that’s why the elderly lady was willing to talk to us about the massacre and the bloodbath that occurred and her experiences. Outside the religious setting, it may not be safe to discuss this as it may cause conflict with Indonesians of other ethnicities. The buddhist temple is perhaps a place where they can silently pray and gain safety from all the political conflicts occurring outside.
In Chinatown, there were also some lower class Chinese Indonesians that were living with the native Indonesians. They did not wear a lot of jewelry and use branded bags, and they used motorbikes as a transportation like the others, which was surprising to me, because all the Chinese Indonesians I know have private cars and drivers, so it was my first time seeing Chinese people with a different socioeconomic background. It felt like those Chinese were more assimilated to the Indonesian community, and stood out less than the Chinese Indonesians I knew. Perhaps this is because there were some Chinese Indonesians involved in trade in the past, but there were also others that were engaged in farming and fishing, hence creating a class distinction. Also, while we were walking around, we saw lots of traditional Chinese medicine shops, and went into one of them, and the lady (approximately 50 years old) spoke in Chinese to us, which was interesting because about 40 years ago, all Chinese characters and traditions were banned, so the fact that the language/culture was maintained past the dark era of Chinese oppression in the 1970s to 1999 was a bit shocking, particularly at an area like Chinatown, one of the central areas where Chinese people were oppressed.
Throughout the day, I noticed that there were many traces of Chinese cultural influences in Jakarta. This is seen largely through the wet market, which sells things like bird nests and shark fins (the pasars in Chinatown); Chinese medicine, St Maria de Fatima Catholic Church which is a Christian church renovated from an old Chinese mansion [a lot of features of Chinese domestic architecture]; some plates and bowls in the Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum, which came from the Ming and Qing Dynasties; the Puppet Museum which had a few puppets that looked quite Eastern Asian. We also passed the Jakarta History Museum and I’ve been to the museum 3 times, but it was the first time I learned that the courtyard behind the museum was the scene of a massacre of 500 Chinese women, men, and children who had been brought there for protection from an enraged mob in 1740. It made me realize how Chinese oppression is a large part of the Indonesian history and this is also because Chinese people had and still has a large influence in Jakarta. Lots of Chinese people used to live near the ports in case of conflict, which would allow them easy access to escape, although there is a lack of literature on this (learned this in IB Geography). Today, I came to realization that Indonesian history is very complicated, with influences from the Middle East, India, Portugal, the Netherlands, Japan, Britain, and China, and that focusing on Chinese influences does not explain the full story of the country.