The Past and the Present

Despite only being a three hour plane ride away, there are drastic differences between Manila and Jakarta in terms of Chinese integration, the relationship between the Chinese and the “indigenous”, land ownership, the atmospheres of the cities, (AND FOOD! → they don’t use a lot of spices here, so most of the food isn’t spicy at all; they do use a lot of sugar however, particularly in their drinks). Anyways..


During colonial rule in Jakarta (or what they called Batavia) when the Chinese outnumbered the Dutch, the Dutch created ethnic tensions between the Chinese and the “indigenous” by segregating them, and murdered lots of Chinese people. Similarly, in Manila, when the Chinese started to outnumber the Spanish, the Spaniards decided to kill large numbers of Chinese. Despite both the Spaniards and the Dutch needing the Chinese for their skilled labor, when they started being outnumbered, they felt threatened and in order to retain their top position on the hierarchy, they tried to get rid of the large number of Chinese people living in those societies. Even though there are similarities in the colonial histories between Manila and Jakarta, the result of it is quite distinct as of today, which was not expected at all. In Manila, there is a very strong patron-beneficiary relationship, meaning the Filipinos work for the Chinese and are loyal to them, because they know their amos (meaning boss) is superior to them, so they will protect them when they need. Essentially, the Chinese have replaced the Spaniards on the hierarchy in the patron-beneficiary relationship, hence in my opinion, the Philippines is still being “silently colonized” [modern colonization?] without them realizing it, because the majority of Filipinos don’t think of starting their own business, they think the Chinese and the Westerners are superior to them, and they glorify westernization. A clear example would be the fact that most Filipinos in Metro Manila speak the English language, because they embrace the Western culture; another example would be the richest city in Metro Manila – Bonifacio Global City, which is undergoing mass constructions to become more like Singapore in terms of the layout and pavements of the city (when I was walking down BGC, I couldn’t tell if I was in Bugis or in BGC). Because the Filipinos think their own culture is inferior, it makes “colonizing” them easier, which means it was easier for the Chinese to integrate in Manila than in Jakarta, because of the difference in mindsets in the two societies. In Jakarta, the “indigenous” (I hope using this word is not offensive because I read it online and that’s what the Filipinos/Indonesians were called a few decades ago) have an idea to start or want their own business, and they do not want to be working for someone for the rest of their life, which has resulted in a good amount of rich Indonesians, some even as rich as the Chinese Indonesians. On the other hand, the Filipinos are happy with being employees and not employers (as our third interviewee mentioned)- they won’t arrive early in the morning or stay after hours, because they want to enjoy their lives with the income they earn.  Perhaps because of this amos relationship, there is a lack of ethnic tension between the Chinese and the Filipinos, whereas in Jakarta, there is a stronger resentment against the Chinese, for “taking over” the economy (when in fact, without the Chinese, the economy would not have thrived in the first place or continued to thrive today). This is one of the reasons why the Chinese in Indonesia are economically privileged and superior, but are ethnically discriminated, because the Chinese hold a lot of power, and a lot of their beliefs don’t align with the “indigenous” beliefs (religion is a large part of this), but the Chinese here don’t face the same ethnic discrimination because the majority of people here are Catholic. During Spanish colonization, the Spaniards tried to convert everyone into Catholicism, so the majority of Chinese here are Catholics (eliminating religious differences). Another way that the Chinese and the Filipinos (more than the Chinese and Indonesians) were united because they came together to go against colonization and try to gain independence, whereas in Indonesia, the ethnicities were segregated to a larger extent, so this bond is not as strong.


** It is also important to note that all the interviewees we had in Manila were males and the majority of interviewees we had in Jakarta were females, which skews our qualitative data, because men and women experience discrimination and migration differently, and have different relationships with the “indigenous”.  Also, most of our interviewees in the two cities were above 45 years old, which also skews our data, because I feel that the younger generation integrate into the Indonesian/Filipino society better, because with each generation, it feels like there is an elimination of a layer of “Chineseness” and an additional layer of “Filipino-ness/Indonesian-ness”.


What was really interesting to me was our third interviewee and his son, who have preserved their Chinese culture quite well in terms of language and education, but continue to be very Filipino, in terms of how they have integrated into Filipino society. At family events, they still refer to their aunts/uncles and other family members with the traditional Chinese names, showing Chinese courtesy. Both the father and the son have went to Chinese schools til they graduated high school, and the father speaks fluent Hokkien (with the son being able to understand but can only speak a little). However, they are also very familiar with and is part of the Filipino culture because they both went to university in the Philippines, indicating that the Chinese have integrated quite well into Filipino society. However, in my opinion, when you’re gaining another country’s culture, it’s not possible to preserve all your Chinese culture. For example, apart from Chinese New year reunion dinner and eating Chinese food in restaurants (not really at home; depends on the help), they don’t really celebrate any Chinese traditions/customs, and have only been to China twice (for cultural exchange program/business), which shows how in gaining a Filipino identity, they have lost parts of their Chinese identity. This is mostly an environmental influence, because it’s not possible to completely be restrained to a bubble and only speak Chinese, eat Chinese food, have Chinese friends, etc. It’s inevitable that another identity would emerge, although at the cost of the other identity.


Another interesting thing I learned from our interviewees was that the land in Manila is “owned” by families, meaning if people want to build on certain pieces of land, they must pay the “landowners”. In Jakarta, the land is owned by the public, so it is cheap and affordable by the majority. This means that there is a differentiation in the term “rich” in Jakarta and Manila. Even though there are lots of trade and business in Manila, it feels the ones on the top of the economic hierarchy are there because of their land ownership (when their ancestors purchased land at a cheap price decades and decades ago) rather than their business; and the Chinese in Jakarta are at the top of the economic ladder because of their continuous efforts at making their business thrive (because their ancestors focused more on family businesses rather than land).


Even though you could call Manila “another city in Southeast Asia”, I feel like the atmosphere of Manila and Jakarta and Singapore are all very different. Even though a lot of how things function here in Manila are similar to those in Jakarta, but this city feels less concentrated whereas in Jakarta, there is a clear “city center”. This isn’t particularly just a “vibe”, it’s the remnants from colonial rule, from war, and from its bloody past. Going on a tour with Carlos Celdran in Intramuros (particularly Fort Santiago) changed my whole view of why Manila is the way it is today. To explain this concisely, the Philippines was caught between the crossfires of two parties, and was bombed completely (the San Agustin Church was basically the only building left standing after the World War II because it was the site for the red cross, so they were not allowed to bomb the church) and because of this crossfire, lots of innocent people lost their lives. Intramuros used to be the heart of the city, so it was lively and beautiful, full of feistas, but now it is a reminder of all the Filipinos that died during the war, so no one apart from tourists and those working for the tourism industry go there. It is a daily reminder that the Japanese murdered the Filipinos using their hands and later on, bombs, simply because they did not want to waste their bullets- they killed 70,000 people and at the end, 100,000 had died. Fort Santiago is now a reminder of the horrible past and this is why Intramuros is no longer the “city center” anymore. Carlos said “Intramuros is the Angkor Wat of Cambodia, the Borobudur of Indonesia but it was bombed”, so the Philippines “has nothing left”. This left me in a really emotional state but I will never understand completely what the Filipinos have been through.


Next stop → Ho Chi Minh City!

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