Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I have been reading 'Dulari' in the train in the last few days. It is written by Usha Marhe.

It is about six women who tried to look back at their past with Hindustan background. I am happy to find this book since I have been curious for some time about the Hindustani culture. Why?

When I was in Medan, Indonesia, I liked to visit Kampung Madras, an enclave of Indians. It is an interesting area to visit with a traditional market, restaurants, buildings, temples and the smell of Indian scents everywhere. And we won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Merit in 2003 for fixing the Tjong Yong Hian bridge in this area. The bridge for a Chinese Mayor in an Indian area, what a special mixture. And for several years with my friends in Sumatra Heritage Trust we have done a research about Kampung Madras; beautiful pictures about the people and their Indian culture.

And in 2005 I joined IFSAH (International Field School of Asian Heritage) by visiting India for two weeks. I met and talked to heritage movement activists in several cities in India. It left me with a deep impression. I admired them, I was inspired by them and I wanted to visit India again. See http://www.ifsah.net/ifsah3.html

And through Dulari, I got a little bit of idea about Indian workers in plantations in Suriname and Guyana, brought by the Dutch several centuries ago and printed their heritage to these days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saint Nicolas Came Again....

Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas) came again to the Netherlands from Spain last Saturday, 15 November. The official Sinterklaas, it means the Sinterklaas who was officialy organised by the Dutch government, came to Almere Haven. But hundred of other Sinterklaas-es came to other places, too, including to Weesp where we were last week. We came to Weesp every year to welcome the Sinterklaas. For the first two years I was waiting for the boat with Sinterklaas on it and his assistants, the Black Piets, to come. But this year its magic has disappeared and I asked my husband to take care of Dian and I went shopping nearby.

Then I sat in front of a bakery waiting for Dian and her friends to come, all of sudden I heard music and people danced everywhere. The atmosphere became very cheerful and happy. And I saw the Sinterklaas with his white horse, Amerigo. Spontaneously I made a lot of pictures and started to appreciate this Dutch culture. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, remembered all the songs and this celebration really touched the collective memory of the community. Most mayors involved in organizing the coming of Sinterklaas in their cities. The Mayor of Weesp gave a speech from the balcony of his office continued with the Sinterklaas. And everybody listened to them and even sang together some Sinterklaas classic songs. The children were so hypnotized by the old man in the red dress with a long white beard.

If it is not in the collective memory of the Dutch society then the Sinterklaas celebration will not be this merry. Since early November the Dutch television broadcasted "Sinterklaas Journal" everyday for the children. And on 5th December evening is called "Sinterklaas Pakjesavond" means Sinterklaas will visit every good-behaved child discreetly to deliver a present. The whole family will sit together, open the presents and exchanges personal poems for every member of the family, describing a funny character of a person or something special about this person.

I always thought that Sinterklaas celebration is a beautiful conspiration of adults ever in the Netherlands to make children happy. As long as a child still believe in Sinterklaas then the whole family automatically involve in this conspiracy to make sure that Sinterklaas really exists and visits the country all the way from the Spain. This month until early December every parents with small children will run around discreetly, too, to find presents for their children and pretend that the presents really come from the Sinterklaas.

In that evening after Sinterklaas came to Weesp, Dian put a shoe in front of our door before she went to bed. With a big carrot in it, because that what the Sinterklaas has asked the children to do. And the next morning when she woke up, she run to the door and found a small souvenir in the shoe and the carrot for Amerigo has gone. Dian got a cute bracelet from Sinterklaas. And on the evening of 5th December Sinterklaas will come again with another present, usually a bigger one.

It came to my mind probably we could create a story that the Sinterklaas would love to deliver the presents to less lucky children in poor countries. But how to insert this new scenario into the collective conspiration of the whole country?

Shared Culinary Heritage

Lately I had a lot of discussions with my heritage contacts about shared culinary heritage between Indonesia and the Netherlands. We want to do something about it because it is fun, enjoyable and touch everyday life of everyone in both countries. Besides, it is not part of heritage that has been much discussed so far.

Everyone both in Indonesia and the Netherlands can easily mention something that possibly crosses both cultures. During the Moslem's festivity in Indonesia, almost every house has kaastengel or naastar. And in the Netherlands, you can buy spekoek (lapis legit) or sambal in every corner of a city. Those are only a phenomena on surface but deeper it actually reflects a long history, bitter or sweet, between the two countries. We could have hundred conferences and never-ending discussions about history but what we eat from day by day is happening without force from any side. People simply eat and cook what they like. If the Indonesians still make bitterballen and croquette until now that because they like them. If the Dutch loves nasi goreng and rijstaffel, that also because they find them delicious. History? No need to discuss history on the dinner table, just enjoy. But aren't all those food a true reflection of what has happened in the past?

To be back to the fun side, I shared with you some pictures from my favorite bakery "Sweetheart" in Bandung that I took two weeks ago. And a picture from Kebon Kawung Street about that Klappertaart. When I saw all these cookies I wondered if I ever flew 14 hours from Amsterdam to Bandung?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Root and Home

I was born in Semarang and grew up for the first 26 years of my life in Bandung, in a house in Oranjeplein or to be precise, Riau street number 112. The new name of the street is LLRE Martadinata. After 26 years I moved to several places either in Indonesia or outside Indonesia until I reached my current coordinate in Amsterdam. If I think of my root in term of place then I will always think of that house in Riau street. I have stronger memories of my childhood there than other period of my life. If I could recall what a home was, it would be also that same house.

When Dian and I moved to the Netherlands in 2005, the hardest decision I had to take was not about myself but the realization about root and home for Dian. I realized that if Dian grows up and lives in the Netherlands, it would be her root and home with all their consequences : language, norm, value, lifestyle, way of living, way of thinking, culture, habits. To some degree naturally she will receive Indonesian influence from me as her mother but in the years to come she will counts where she grows up as her root and home. At least in term of place. She is born in Indonesia but she lives too short there to have memories. Similar to my experience with Semarang, I have barely memories about Semarang.

At the end I realized that nothing wrong for Dian (or any other children) of being someone with different root and home than her mother. Any root is fine, any culture is equal, any language is fascinating, and as the lyrics of 'Ebony and Ivory' said, "We all know that people are the same where ever we go."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Taken for Granted

From my last visit to Indonesia, I noticed that I took pictures of things which I never did before. See here pictures of my lunch in Sogan Village or bunch of tropical fruits. I took more pictures of simple things like this as if I was a tourist. I had to laugh to myself. The truth is I don't take things for granted anymore because in the country where I live now, the Netherlands, I don't see this type of mango or having the same type of lunch as I had in Yogyakarta.

Before, when I visited the Netherlands, I took a lot of pictures of everything, from windmills to street furniture. Now I accompanied a lot of guests and no single picture I have taken.
Again, this is what Pak Tukiman said to me during our walk in Sogan Village two weeks ago. We have a tendency to neglect the near heritage and look for something far away. We have a tendency to take things for granted until those things disappear and difficult to get.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Heritage Education in Indonesia

Between 1-5 November 2008 the Indonesia Heritage Trust (BPPI) and the Netherlands Institute for Heritage (Erfgoed Nederland - EN) organised a training of heritage education for 12 elementary schools around Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia.

In 2006 I drafted the idea to introduce heritage education in Indonesia. I have brought the proposal to Elisabeth Wiessner as my "date" of Stepping Stones program. She works for EN and has experiences about heritage education in the Netherlands. We worked out the proposal together, back and forward finalising it and looking for possibility of funding. It took almost a year when finally EN decided to fund the project itself.

January 2008 we started the project and supposed to end it at September 2009. This is a pilot project to find out a method and materials for heritage education in Indonesia with a trial location in Yogyakarta and surroundings. We showed the materials from the Netherlands and also shared the experiences in the hope that can accelerate the process and avoid the same mistakes if there is any. Cees Hageman joined the force and also a big group from Yogyakarta. In May 2008 the EN and BPPI team met in Jakarta and signed an MoU in the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

The Training in Prambanan area this November attended by teachers and headmasters from 12 elementary schools. For five days we introduced what heritage education is and how to introduce it to the students as an insert to the current curriculum. The BPPI team has worked hard to define the best way to conduct the introductions, not only in the conference room of Hotel Galuh but also visiting sites. The site visits were once under the heat of the sun and the next day was constantly under the heavy rain. Despite of the harsh weather, the participants were enthusiast and kept moving from one program to another program. We started mostly at 8am and back to our bed at about 11pm. Long days.

I enjoyed and learned a lot from my interactions with the participants and the resource persons. The participants are the elementary school teachers who never heard even the word 'heritage.' Sometimes their comments or opinions could be surprising and also refreshing, a kind of reminding for me and other heritage freaks that not everyone out there knows what heritage is. When we had a site visit to Sogan Village, Pak Tukiman talked to me, "Why is this village a heritage? I live in this kind of village, too. When we played the music using the rice sticks from wood, I have that, too, at home. When we saw how the soybean cake -tempe- was made, nothing is new for me because I eat tempe very often. For me, what interesting is to see city or computer with high technology. " The heritage freaks from city thought that Sogan Village is an interesting example of cultural heritage, but Pak Tukiman didn't understand why it is cultural heritage. For him, a tour should be a place where he could see something new and unusual. The awareness of heritage is too abstract to define and also depend on who's point of view. That kind of comment was refreshing for me. It was honest and made me realised that who we are to say that this or that is a heritage.

From the plenary sessions, I got an idea from all presentations that the participants understand heritage as a form of traditional cultural creations such as batik, wayang (puppet), old recipes, etc. It is promising that everyone agree on taking the Javanse language as a communication means at school on certain days. I have to admit that heritage has a very broad definition and scope. It is possible to classify almost all aspects of life as heritage as long as they contribute to identity formation of a community. But the most important is not finding the best definition but catching the essence of it and live with it day by day.

It was rejuvenating to be back to the heritage habitat, even better because it represented both Indonesia and the Netherlands. We are all struggling to the same destination : a future generation with a better understanding about their heritage.