Name: Chen (We chose this name, her real identity will kept
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
Indonesia is a country with many different cultures and ethnic
groups. Many have to withstand discrimination about their origin,
race, or even religion. One such people are the Chinese, who live in
Indonesia as some of the most successful in commercial business, but
who are also denied some of the same rights as the native Indonesians.
Our team interviewed one such woman. She is a daughter of a Chinese
family that lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. She gave us a perspective of
a race that is looked at as the scapegoats of the country by the other
ethnic groups, but she showed us how a family can live on and be
prosperous in their individual lives. This young woman is very
intelligent, and she shared with us the happenings in her area and her
She requested to be kept anonymous, so her real identity will not be
given. Throughout the interviews and letters from her below, she will
be referred to as Chen. We will use this name throughout.
In March of 1999, we contacted Chen in Jakarta and requested that we
could correspond with her: "I would love to speak with you and learn
about your country, what has happened there.to hear it through the eyes
of someone who lives there," wrote one of our team members, Jocelyn,
who conducted the interviews. What follows are direct quotes from
Chen's letters during our correspondence.
Reply: March 31, 1999
Thank you so much for your email. I am so impressed that someone as
young as you have very broad mind and good mission. To tell the truth,
I might be one of the person who doesn't really care what is going on
in this world. I would love to share with you my experience and life.
FYI, I am an Indonesian from Chinese ethnic. My ancestors came over
from China years ago and settled down in Jakarta. Even my dad was born
in China, got to Indonesia when he was 9 years old. You might think we
are very Chinese, well yes and no. Meaning that I do look very Chinese,
fair skin, small eyes etc. but the way we live our life is very
Indonesian ways. We don't speak Chinese at all, our parents don't teach
us how to speak the language. At that time, during the previous
government (Suharto era) we were not allowed to learn the language. No
Chinese characters were allowed in public, no advertisements,
billboards and so on. Even some books in Chinese should go through lots
of screening and censoring before they can get released to the public.
Well, actually life in Indonesia for us is not that hard or bad.
Especially in Jakarta, the capital city.
Most people from different races and religions live together here. We
used to have good life here, even though we got different treatments
because of we are. You know that Chinese are the scapegoats of the
nation. We manage to live through that. Most Chinese are prosperous,
this is the source of envy and jealousy of the native Indonesians.
Although not all native people are bad. Many of many friends are native
and they are nice. Apart from that, life here was nice and peaceful.
Over what happened during the May '98 riots, when the Chinese
ethnics were being attacked and killed, I can't tell you how it was and
felt because I was not in Indonesia at that moment. I was in Sydney,
Australia, on study for 2 years. According from friends, Chinese or
native, it was a very horrible event.
In fact, a former colleague, died during that May riot. He was beaten
up to death by the mob in the street when he tried to drive home from
work late that night. He was taken out of the car and beaten (because
he was Chinese) and then left alone to death after they burnt his car.
He passed away the next day in the hospital.
Business in Indonesia used to be very booming and had good
prospects. We had lots of foreign investments, big well known worldwide
companies, restaurants, shopping centers and so on.
But now since the economic crisis hit Indonesia and followed by the
social & political crisis, everything turns upside down. We are slowly
trying to get back to where we used to be. I'm sure if the future
government manages to secure the country, in term of social safety and
offers good governance, the economic side will be back to normal in
What we feel at the moment is uncertainty over the future, over
what will happen. Our election is coming very fast (in June) and we are
afraid of the safety during the campaigns. Some predict that there will
be more riots, killings and burnings. Only few people are optimistic
enough that everything is gonna be okay and runs smoothly.
Well, that's all for the moment. It's time for me to get back to
work. I'm writing from office. FYI, I'm going to be 28 years old this
year and working in finance industry.
Can I ask you a favor? I love to correspond with you but I'd
appreciate if you don't quote my name on your web site, I want to be
anonymous. Please let me know if you have other questions, I'll try my
best to reply.
Gotta go now. Hope to hear from you again.
Jocelyn's Reply: March 31, 1999
Thanks for your reply to my letter! I found what you had to say
interesting, and I am glad that I can correspond with you.
What you say about the ethnic Chinese and native Indonesian
population interests me. I noticed you mentioned even though we got
different treatments because of who we are. What kind of treatments?
How did they differ from the treatment of native Indonesians? What
you say of the ethnic Chinese and native Indonesia reminds me a little
of how it used to be in the USA.way back.Americans started shipping
slaves from Africa. The poor treatment of slaves along with other
issues mounted up to the Civil War in the 1860s, when our country was
split in half, both sides fighting, brother sometimes against brother.
The north (Union) won, and the country stayed a whole. Slaves were
emancipated and set free. But the treatment stayed very prejudice in
the south. African Americans continued receiving prejudice, up into
even the 1950s and 60s. They weren't granted all the rights that
whites were - public bathrooms were separate for each race, so were
fountains, and many other things that ran deeper than that - it was
really shameful, that that would happen in a country where all men are
considered equal.look at many of the issues happening around the world,
and the wars that have come about because of race, and religion.
People can't get along peaceably because they're taught.they're
neighbor is the enemy - but no.That doesn't have to be. People can be
taught the truth.
What is the government like there in Indonesia currently?
Chen's Reply: April 5, 1999
I'm happy that I can be a help to your project. But I might not be
able to give you all answers and information you need. Not because I
don't want to, but there are some that I don't know myself. As I told
you earlier, I am a very ignorant person. I don't pay much attention to
politics or the ways the government rules the country and so on.
The treatment of Chinese people here in Indonesia is much much
better than what the African Americans faced. We don't have separate
toilets and things like that. We are treated differently in the ways of
civil right. For example, no Chinese is allowed to be president of
Indonesia, or even ministers, or army. Chinese have to pay more than
the native, for government services. Most talented or bright Chinese
students are not selected to enter state-owned universities. We have to
go to private-owned universities, which are very expensive. Some native
call us by our race whenever they see us. No chinese-related activities
are allowed in public, such as Dragon Dance during Chinese New Year is
prohibited. Apart from that, we live as Indonesians. Fortunately, many
Chinese live in prosperity because of our nature of hardworking, but
again unfortunately, this is the source of envy for the native. They
also have bad thinking that most rich Chinese got their fortunes from
collusion, nepotism and corruption. We are reluctant to assimilate with
them because they always treat us differently, but they think we don't
want to assimilate because we are arrogant. Another reason is religion.
Most Chinese are non-Muslims, while 90 % of Indonesians are Muslims.
Those are the 2 sins of Chinese in Indonesia. All this
misunderstanding have been going on for generations. I say it would be
very difficult and take years for us to really live in harmony.
Yes, there have been some violence ethnic disputes and riots in
Indonesia recently. But this time the target is not Chinese. They kill
each other among themselves. I just don't understand at all, these
people are losing their minds, their compassion and their feelings.
They just kill and kill.
Well, that's all for today. I'll see you again in the next email.
Jocelyn's Reply: April 10, 1999
It is shameful that Chinese are considered lower than native
I was wondering, do you think it would be available for me to send
a compilation of questions for your family to answer?
I wanted to ask you - has the economic crisis in your country much
affected you and your family personally? Being in the finance
industry, you must have a good opinion of what is going on. What do
you feel has been the cause of this? What do you think will help it?
Let me know what you think.
Talk to you soon,
On April 21, Chen wrote:
I'm terribly sorry for not replying sooner. I'd been busy these
Now, I am a bit relaxed :o)
Yes, you can send me your questionnaires. I'll try my best to
There had been some bombing incidents in Jakarta recently.
Yesterday, a time bomb was planted inside the Istiqlal Mosque complex
(Istiqlal is the biggest and grandest mosque in South East Asia - the
pride of Moslems in Indonesia). The explosion destroyed 30 rooms and
wounded 7 people. No one killed though. But the mosque itself was okay.
No one or group comes forward to claim the responsibility. It always
works that way, here in Indonesia. You know what I mean? Some
irresponsible people do their dirty work but they are too coward to
admit what they have done. All remains unsolved. What these people
tried to do was to create chaos and panic, to deter the coming election
and to disintegrate the various groups of people. Last information I
heard, some Muslims burnt some churches or Christian community to
retaliate the mosque bombing incident. What a joke!!! They didn't even
try to investigate who's responsible behind all this, they just put the
blame on the Christians. Last year, hundreds of churches and Christian
schools were burnt by these people.
But this morning I read from the newspaper that 2 men were arrested
for interrogation regarding the bombing. It was mentioned that these
people were members of Mujahidin Militant Moslems. Very confusing!!!
The economic crisis has had its effect on everybody, including my
family business. Business goes slower than before, prices increase and
profits are not so good. But somehow we manage, I mean it doesn't
affect us too much. Maybe because my parents' kids are all grown-ups
and we have our own source of income. So not really a big issue for us.
I have to go now. Promise to write you more next time.
Take care and see you later!
During our interviews, we developed a set of questions to ask. Chen
gave us some very interesting answers, and the whole interview can be
viewed by clicking the link below.