Thu, 30 Jan 2003

The government has declared Chinese New Year, or Imlek, which falls on Saturday, a public holiday. The Chinese community are happy as they feel that their existence has at last been recognized. Yet, many still experience discrimination. Some of them related their experiences to The Jakarta Post.

Fifi, not her real name, 30, is an elementary teacher in West Jakarta. She lives in Meruya, West Jakarta, with her husband and son:

I won't celebrate Imlek in any special way. Frankly, I'll just follow the usual custom.

Probably, I will gather with the whole family and relatives of my husband's on the night before Chinese New Year. After that, maybe I'll visit some relatives here as part of the tradition.

I have no problems with discrimination, especially at my workplace because there are so many Chinese at my school, so it is OK for me.

I face discrimination, particularly when I have to deal with the bureaucracy. For instance, when I have to sort out my ID card here.

The neighborhood unit chief seemed to make the procedures especially difficult for Chinese like me. He said at the time that he didn't want to issue a letter of recommendation to the district office, which is part of the requirement to get an ID card.

He also asked me for some money for the letter.

Finally my husband and I paid Rp 400,000 and we got our ID cards two weeks later.

It was a little quicker because I called and persisted with him every day. Otherwise, it would have taken much longer, as my brother-in-law experienced.

He got his ID card after he was forced to pay the neighborhood unit chief in Kedoya more or less Rp 1 million. He actually had it in his hands after a year-long process -- it was ridiculous!

But this is rather different compared with when my husband got his driving license, as he only paid around Rp 100,000 to a middleman. That's normal, right?

Chang Yun Ai alias Eka, 21, works at the Egyptian Embassy. She lives in Karet, South Jakarta:

Celebrations of Chinese New Year will be quite joyful, I guess. This is the first time the government has declared it to be a national holiday.

But I still feel discriminatory treatment, particularly when I converted to Islam two years ago.

It was always a nightmare for me every time I entered a public mosque as many Muslims stared at me as though I were a complete stranger. They way they stared showed that they had great suspicion of being spied upon by a person of another religion or ethnicity.

I therefore felt quite uncomfortable when I performed my prayers there. Some of them even asked me whether or not I was a Muslim.

In a way I could understand their behavior, but I can't stand that kind of treatment any longer. Therefore I feel more comfortable going to a mosque where the majority is Chinese.

Now I have managed to adapt myself to society so as to be acceptable. Using a personal approach works. People no longer stare at me as though I'm a stranger due to my ethnicity when I'm in an Islamic community.

Stephanie, 16, is a senior high school student at a private school in Tomang, West Jakarta. She lives in Muara Karang Indah, North Jakarta, with her family:

My family will not celebrate Chinese New Year in a very special way. We will spend most of the time visiting older relatives. My mother is the youngest of her siblings and relatives.

Maybe we will simply have a special dinner on Friday evening with my family.

I have no problems with my friends at school because almost all of them are Chinese.

Sometimes it happens on my way home from school or when I cross the road. Passersby shout at me, calling me a Chinese. In a way, I can tolerate that behavior as long as they don't touch me.

Usually the construction workers at my housing complex treat me in that kind of way, but I have no hard feelings about it.

Even at my school of music, where the majority are not Chinese, I can get along well with the musicians thanks to the government, which has recognized the existence of the Chinese here.

I do agree, though, with equal treatment, despite the various ethnicities here.

If Chinese culprits are found guilty of wrongdoing, law enforcers should not excuse them from punishment! We are all the same here in this country.

-- Leo Wahyudi S