On Wednesday, I head out of the city with Rudy and his daughter Angelique, who’s about my age. Rudy, a third-generation Chinese Indonesian who became active in politics after the 1998 riots, is taking us to to Taman Mini, a park where you can tour Indonesia’s different ethnicities. In Taman Mini, a retired brigadier general named Tedy Jusuf is building a mini Chinese village — the first Chinese addition to the cultural park.
My meeting with the brigadier general is at 10am, but because traffic in Jakarta is always bad, we decide to set off from Jakarta at 8am. Taman Mini is just 11 miles east. That’s planning for an average driving speed of about five miles an hour!
On the way, we pass through an area called Klender, where, Rudy explains, a big shopping mall called Yogya Plaza was burned down during the May 1998 riots. (I do a Google search later and find out that nearly 200 people — many of them probably looters — died in the fires.)
I discover that Angelique, who’s in her 30s but looks like a college student, has lived outside of Indonesia since she was 12. She moved to Paris, then to Texas for university, then back to France to work. “My dad didn’t want any of his daughters to live in Indonesia,” she says.
We arrive at Taman Mini, which is huge and reminds me a bit of Disneyland. Each village features a different ethnic group in Indonesia, with distinctive houses and performances for visitors. At the Chinese village, which so far includes a few buildings, some pagodas, and a statue for the Chinese admiral Zheng He, a sign by the gate shows an ambitious master plan, complete with a lake and a Forbidden City-style palace.
The brigadier general arrives and we talk in Mandarin while sitting around a huge, intricately carved wooden table; on the wall hangs black and white photographs of the earliest Chinese Indonesian leaders.
What’s the appeal of the park to Chinese Indonesians, I ask, since most of them have lived in Indonesia for generations? That’s exactly it, the brigadier general replies. The park is for all the Chinese Indonesians who’ve never been to China, he says. After three decades of cultural suppression, many relish the opportunity to connect with a culture that had previously been forbidden. A lot has changed since Suharto fell from power, the general brigadier says, Chinese New Year is publicly celebrated, and even non-Chinese kids are learning Mandarin.
As we talk, though, it becomes clear that as much as things have changed, the general brigadier — along with many of his generation — believes the tide can turn any minute.
“The riots can happen again,” he says. “The Chinese are wealthier. And the Muslims still aren’t used to living with non-Muslims.”
This is why Angelique has spent most of her life in Paris, and why her two sisters both live in Texas. When I ask Rudy why he doesn’t want his daughters with him in Indonesia, he says, “It’s because I am Chinese, and I was born here.”