Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Chinese New Year marked solemnly

JAKARTA (JP): The Chinese New Year was marked with solemn and restrained celebrations across the nation on Saturday.

Thousands of Chinese-Indonesians in Jakarta marked the New Year, the first free from the restraints placed on the celebrations by the New Order regime, by praying at temples.

The only formal Lunar New Year (Imlek) celebration was organized by the West Jakarta mayoralty at Fatahillah Park in front of the Jakarta Historical Museum on Saturday night. The festival featured the traditional Chinese barongsai (lion) and liong (dragon) dances, Betawi tanjidor and gambang kromong musical performances and the cokek Chinese-Betawi folk dance.

Business came to a standstill at a number of shopping areas in the city, including Jatinegara in East Jakarta, Chinatown in Glodok, Kota in West Jakarta and Central Jakarta's Krekot and Sawah Besar.

Most people celebrating the event chose to hold family gatherings after praying at temples. This was the case at homes near the city's oldest Chinese temple, Wihara Dharma Bhakti, in Petak Sembilan, West Jakarta.

Businessman Burhanudin Ie said the subdued atmosphere was due to the belief held by many ethnic Chinese that Saturday was an inauspicious day.

"It is a common belief that Saturday and Tuesday are bad days for celebrations. Moreover, my spiritual teacher said the flame of the golden dragon (which symbolizes this New Year) is too hot and that if we take part in festivities we will experience bad luck," he said.

That was likely the reason why several shopping malls and amusement centers, including Megamal Pluit, Mal Kelapa Gading and Ancol recreational park, all in North Jakarta, chose to stage Chinese cultural performances on Sunday.

An ethnic Chinese resident of Pluit in North Jakarta, Gunawan, expressed hope that the government's new openness to Chinese culture would eventually lead to acceptance by all Indonesians.

"I hope the government's stance will be followed by a general acceptance of the culture," he said.

The sentiments and mood were similar in Tangerang, as hundreds of Chinese-Indonesians gathered at the city's Chinese temples -- Boen Tek Nio Temple, Vihara Nirmala and Vihara Vadu Mutara -- to celebrate the New Year by lighting red candles.

In the Central Java capital of Semarang, thousands of ethnic Chinese residents thronged to the city's temples in the morning and afternoon. The temples were also crowded by beggars, who patiently waited for celebrants to distribute ang paw (envelopes containing money).

Meanwhile, shops in the city's mainly ethnic Chinese residential areas of Kranggan, Pekojan and Johar were closed, as were schools with a majority of ethnic Chinese students.

"I'm happy to be able to celebrate Imlek after more than 30 years of the government's ban.

"In the past, we had to go to Hong Kong, Singapore or China just to see the New Year's celebrations. Now, not anymore," Christanto, the chairman of the Central Java chapter of the Tionghoa (Chinese-Indonesian) Association, told The Jakarta Post.

In Medan, North Sumatra, celebrations centered around downtown's Vihara Adhi Maitreya.

For others, preparations for the New Year began days earlier, as people booked airline tickets to celebrate the special day out of town.

Cinabundo, a monk at Vihara Borobudur on Jl. Imam Bonjol, said this New Year was special.

"The year of the Golden Dragon, which occurs once every 60 years, brings luck to the people. No wonder more people are celebrating it this year," the 54-year-old Cinabundo told the Post.

Another Chinese-Indonesian resident, Ayung, praised the government for allowing people the freedom to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

"But people may still be half-hearted in greeting the government's new policy. I believe the celebrations will gradually become more exuberant," Ayung, 27, said.

Ayung's friend, Yeni, said she expected to enjoy better luck in the new year.

Meanwhile, Suyono, another ethnic Chinese resident, said Chinese-Indonesians must not overreact to the government's positive gesture.

"We must respect others while celebrating Imlek. Don't make people of other religions feel uneasy with our attitude," the 30- year-old Suyono said. (39/41/har/ind/sur/imn)