Please Wake Up, Indonesia!!!

I write this in response to the recent protest against Ahok in Jakarta because I also write this because the incident reminded me of the Chinese-Indonesian Riot I experienced in 1998.

Apologize that it is in English but my Bahasa is really rusty now I can’t even….

Disclaimer: I do not mean to offend anyone by writing this post and explicit words + pictures are used here and there to express my dismay and thoughts of the incident and my reflection on the 1998 riot. 

I was six when the 1998 Chinese Indonesian Riot happened. I had heard of the looming violence but did not expect it to affect us. Then, to my six-year-old self, the world was nothing but a pop-up storybook filled with catastrophic events. It was only while watching the news with my parents and when dad pointed out that it was his office they burnt that my perception of the world and its disastrous happenings began to change.

“They burnt our office,” I heard him whisper to mom. I tried to act like I didn’t understand because I didn’t want to make the matter worse and have my parents comfort all of us when things are actually pretty shitty. Deep down, I kind-of-sort-of knew that this time, it is a big deal.

The next day, my parents left to the burnt site. I had wanted to tag along but they told me I was better off at home.

“You’ll not like what you see. This isn’t the same. We are not leaving to work. We will be in for an ugly scene,” mom said.

I also remember seeing the sadness in dad’s eyes.

“Everything. Everything is there. They couldn’t have…” his voice croaked.

“Let’s go. We might find something,” mom comforted.

Days after that were a total blur and scary. Everyday I could see the fear written all over my parents’ face. One night, we heard they (the rioters) were coming to our neighbourhood. My dad and our other male neighbours left with frying pans and other kitchen tools that could help counter attack them just in case they tried to enter our house. I prayed hard for his safety and thank God, he came home in one piece.

The next morning or so, we left to Singapore.

Since then, it was never the same. There was this unspoken feeling of bitterness that lingered in my family for a long time. We were and are still grateful to have survived the riot without harm but I think dad was still terribly hurt and shaken for losing almost everything. He said nothing about the incident but worked and worked again.  We stopped having our weekly getaway. There were less family outings and not long after, I moved to Singapore.

The riot has not just affected me. It has affected almost a lot of the Chinese-Indonesians I have met.


The above image is just a more PG version of the 1998 ethnic cleansing.

Yes, it was fucking brutal with a lot of the Indonesian Chinese girls raped and killed.

The riot has also rendered my identity and a sense of self. For years, I’d look at myself in the mirror and felt different. I would look at the local Indonesians who generally have bigger eyes, darker skin tone, fuller lips and wished I could be like them. When I was told that we do have tiny bit of native blood, I somehow wished I inherited those features. I also became more petrified with my each visit to Jakarta. Petrified for the littlest thing like taking a cab, leaving my house or talking to a native Indonesian on the street.

People would ask where I am from and I couldn’t really say Indonesia without a quick heavy pause. After all, how could you be proud of where you were born in when your very own country has snatched that pride and a sense of belonging from you? Also how the fuck do you say you’re an Indonesian when your Bahasa has truly gone down the drain? Shame on me.

It did take quite a while before everything felt better. My family did not get back everything we lost but we did it. My dad did it.

Three years ago, I finally saw dad smile as he drove me around our neighbourhood.

“Do you remember what this was a few years ago?” he pointed to the park in front of us.

“I don’t know. Weeds and ugly plants?” I answered.

“Yes, it was a garden that was never taken care of but now look! Jakarta has changed eh,” he chuckled.

Everything was getting better. I was feeling a tad safer in my hometown… all until I heard of this protest a few days ago.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you? Just when Jakarta is advancing, we are finally fighting the corrupts, having a more efficient public transportation system and finally… finally having politicians who care about the city’s well-being and making it a better place… like you know, wanting all that pretty things a city should have…you have to be angry? Just when I thought you are being more open-minded and we are all trying to reach the same goal of making our city a better place, you demand Ahok jailed?!

Again, what the fuck is wrong with you?

Don’t you want to live a better life? You are angry because you feel Ahok insulted the Muslims. Yet, you jeered at Christians and burnt churches. You are angry because someone is finally doing something right. Someone cares enough to want to make a difference in Indonesia. As a Chinese-Indonesian, do you know how brave this man is? Ahok is not just a talker, he is also a doer.

I think the two very important things he has done (Imo) are:

He fights corruption

He exposes corrupt officials, and blatantly revealed that Indonesia government is slow and inefficient. He imposes strict punishments for corrupt officials and works to fight corruption in Jakarta – a big problem that has slowed down the progress of the city.

He reduces major floods in Jakarta.

Flooding used to occur almost on a daily basis – so much so that for our new house, dad has made sure that the pathway leading to our house is so steep lest our house is flooded. However, recently,  I haven’t heard my parents complain about flooding and what not. Ahok and his orange team have worked hard to clean the filthy river.

Besides, did you know? Islam is not about violence. The word is Islam is derived from the Arabic word, “peace”. My Muslim friends have been one of my best friends and I have never felt threatened by them. What you are doing now – rioting and creating havocs – are just displaying your lack of religious values. Really, is this your kind of peace?

In conclusion, I believe we all have a choice in everything we do. For this issue, you have a choice to act rationally and choose the right leader who honestly and truthfully cares about the country, or focus on trivial issues and bring your country down by voting for the wrong leader.

Find me a leader like Ahok that cares enough to make a difference and do what they say not just say what they are going to do and I will stop my anger towards this brutality against a rare leader like him. Please, wake up Indonesia.


Below are pretty good information and answers regarding Chinese Indonesians and the 1998 riot.

More about the 1998 Riot:

“In the years before the Asian financial crisis, Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) was growing at 8 percent every year under the Suharto leadership, but as soon as the crisis hit in 1997, and the Thai baht fell, so did the Indonesian economy. Economic growth staggered from 8 percent to a mere 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 1997. Gas prices rose 70 percent and the Indonesian rupiah dropped to one-sixth of its original value.

In an attempt to restore faith in the Indonesian economy, Suharto urged all of the richest businesspeople in Indonesia to give to a communal fund to help the economy, which merely put on display the amount of wealth and which large companies particularly Chindo businesspeople owned in Indonesia. When the riots began, the Chindos were targeted with a total death toll of more than 1000 people and 150 rape allegations by Chindo women, where to this day has left a scar on Indonesian history.” (Source: Why it’s important to talk about Chinese-Indonesians or Chindos)

Are Chinese-Indonesians generally more well-off?

A good answer from Quora and taken from the same article that answered the above question:

“As a child, I once asked my father this exact same question. He answered my question based on his anecdotal experience, which is probably not accurate, but could give some insight. His answer was: When I was just a little boy, Chinese-Indonesians were just as poor as the rest of us. They started as small businesses. But what made them able to expand their business more rapidly was because they invested heavily in their business. They gave their blood, sweat and tears developing their family business so that their family could one day live comfortably. If they earn Rp 1000, they will only use Rp 100 to indulge on their personal hobby. They will then use the rest of the money to expand their business. They were more than happy to hold off buying fancy shirts and jewelry. In short, they were willing to give up personal possessions to expand the business.”


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