Friday, January 30, 2009


Yesterday (29 Jan) I was invited to the opening of exhibition about "Wayang Superstar" (wayang is puppet) with the 'dalang' (player) Ki Enthus Susmono. It was in the restaurant of Tropen Museum, Amsterdam. The guest were welcomed by traditional Indonesian drink, 'cendol' or 'dawet' and Indonesian snacks. And in this kind of occasion for sure I met a lot and a lot of friends and acquitances from cultural heritage network.

Back to Ki Enthus, he delivered his speech in a special way with a self portrait puppet and a translator because he doesn't speak much of English. He didn't hesitate a bit to tease the female translator in public; his puppet did it but who moved the puppet? Him.

Ki Enthus is nowadays popular in Indonesia because of his unconventional approach to perform his puppets. He made contemporary profiles like Saddam Hussein, George Bush, etc. He created also different kind of stories for his various public segments : young, old, urban, village, believers. It is not that he did all of that without barriers and problems, but he said that is his way to save puppet tradition in Indonesia.

The big amusement yesterday was when he said that he didn't want to be called a superstar because usually something terrible happens to a superstar, for example, someone threw shoes on George Bush, he mentioned one. He said that while took his shoes to the table. We had a good laugh.

During the cocktail party, I had a chance to sit next to him and talked to him. He was very funny, I couldn't make difference anymore which one serious and which one jokes. This kind of spontanity, I have to admit that I miss it here. Ki Enthus is interesting because he is so simple, honest and to the point. He said as simple as "Before, the Dutch were my enemy because they were colonial, but now they are my friends."

Ki Enthus this time only stayed for few days but in June he will give a big performance in Tropen Museum. I am looking forward to laughing again then.

(pictures resource :

Friday, January 23, 2009


Today ten years ago, an article about Sumatra Heritage Trust and built heritage in Medan appeared in the largest newspaper in the Netherlands, de Volkskrant, written by Wiecher Hulst.

MEDAN koestert zijn erfstukken
de Volkskrant, Traject, 23 januari 1999 (pagina 3)

Several readers have contacted me and we keep in touch with each other even until today. With some, we become almost like a family. We exchanged places to stay, we shared new friends and at some point tried to conduct projects. What I have learned later, that friendship and project do not get a long together, so the projects were not realized, but our friendship stays.

Coincidentally at the same year, 1999, I also visited the Netherlands for the first time invited by the Netherlands Architecture Institute, NAi, in Rotterdam (thanks to my friend Soehardi who organized it.) With several Indonesian architects we looked around about heritage conservation and urban renewal projects in some cities. Continued with meetings to learn about the Dutch institutions for heritage conservation and hunting for archive materials about Sumatra. It was a very productive three weeks visit for me. It was winter, we arrived at 5th December early morning and stayed in a guesthouse Leiden as the first stop. It was dark, cold and rainy day. I was caught by the picture of Dutch houses by the canals and that was exactly Holland in a postcard image. Later that day I wanted to have some fruits so I went out. I saw a fruit shop with a sign 'gesloten.' I had no idea what it means but I went in anyway. I got some fruits and continued to an Indonesia restaurant for a dinner with friends. Now I had to laugh about it because I understood the meaning of 'gesloten' : closed.

Other important event which stayed vividly in my memory was when I saw the statue of JP Coen in Amsterdam, the former Governor General in the colonial era in Indonesia. It was a small statue and placed invisibly under trees and behind apartments. Somehow it made me realized that all history lessons that I have learned was not a fairy tale anymore. They are real. And this statue is a man who once led all those actions and happenings in the history. Now sound exaggerating but then I had problem to hold my tears although only for a while. It was an emotional moment. I have experienced more moments like this afterward every time I was encountered with facts about our past, but this first experience remained the strongest.

After that visit, I came back to the Netherlands almost every year and sometimes more than once a year. Often I felt like I travelled back to the past, to my childhood when my parents were still alive in our Dutch house in Oranjeplein, Bandung. I travelled back to the times when I sat on the bike of my father, when my mother scolded me by being 'slordig' (careless) and all those conversations at home with a lot and a lot of Dutch words in between. And the Dutch entered our kitchen also with their 'bistik' (beefsteak) and 'kaastengel' (cheese stick). Many of my father habits now I understood where they came from.

Tonight, I will have 'Indonesian rijsttaffel' ( is an elaborate meal consisting of many -forty is not an unusual number- side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways) with friends who contacted me ten years ago. Nothing emotional, it is a celebration and being thankful for our friendships which started by an article.


Millions of people in the world watched the inauguration of Barrack Obama on Tuesday, 20Th January. He has given a wonderful speech and every statement was delicately evaluated by God knows how many critics, but for me this statement was the most interesting :

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness."

I don't have to explain more, it is simple and clear. But probably I could tell why it attracted my attention.

First of all because I am attracted to the word 'heritage' itself, everywhere and anytime. I know it sounds crazy but nothing to be ashamed I guess.

Second, being in the Netherlands, I was encountered with a lot and a lot of discussions about multicultural society. The Dutch people is known of being open minded and friendly to newcomers but then in 2002 the politician Pim Fortuyn and in 2004 the film director Theo van Gogh were assassinated due to their concern about Islam in the Netherlands. Since then multiculturalism is in question until now. I personally didn't feel any discrimination so far but looking at the intensity of the discussions in the media, other group of newcomers must have different experiences. But on the other hand, I could imagine also why the Dutch acted defensively to the immigrants after those assassinations. They are threaten to the freedom of speech and thinking which are highly valued by the Dutch society.

Take this illustration, if you are a guest in someone's house, you are expected to behave and to follow the rules of your host. If you want to apply your own rules then you can do it at your own house. Forcing the host to accept your rules in his/her house is not natural and nobody is willing to accept it. The Dutch values the freedom of speech and everyone is free to express their thoughts; someone may not agree about it but that is the fact. As an immigrant, you adjust into it, no choice. As blunt as this : take it or leave it. What happens now is the tension that every group would like to force and prioritize their own values, customs and cultures. Everyone thinks they deserves to be the first and foremost in the society. Multiculturalism is a threat instead of a strength. (source :

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The Indonesian heritage network discuss a lot about class action lately, triggered by the Trowulan case.

In law, a class action or a representative action is a form of lawsuit where a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court. This form of collective lawsuit originated in the United States and is still predominately a US phenomenon, at least the US variant of it (Wikipedia)

I do welcome the suggestion to do a class action in Indonesia although based on my own experiences so far it stays as an impulsive idea without a follow up action. Why?
First of all, the idea mostly came from a discussion platform where nobody has an authority to take an action. Nobody is responsible to follow up an idea. It is a free forum where freedom of expression is guaranteed.
Second, when my colleagues and I once were serious to do a class action in the case of Mega Eltra building demolition in Medan in 2002, we didn't have sufficient resources to do it properly. We have prepared some papers and documents and were in a good standing in winning the case. This case was succeed to wake up a lot of people and we all screamed loudly, protesting the government who launched the permit of demolition, the investor who had the capital and the owner who couldn't appreciate the historical value of the building. The press and as if the whole city of Medan stood behind us. The challenge was when we prepared the class action, all of sudden nobody left except Sumatra Heritage Trust. It was a whole lot of work to prepare documentations and where were all those people who went to the street and screamed so loudly? The lesson I learned : screaming and working are two different things. The second challenge, we couldn't find a lawyer who understood the heritage conservation law and most of all there was no lawyer who was prepared to work for completely free, as the heritage volunteers all did. Even after a very good discounted fee, we still couldn't find money to pay the lawyer. And all the lawyers we met were part of an NGO in laws so they were also lawyers with idealism and philantrophy spirit, but work for nothing at all?

I could completely understood the logic and blame nobody. I was just frustrated by a fact that we couldn't make a further step to draw a firm line when something wrong happened. We didn't have a jurisprudence in heritage case so far. I was told that in Yogyakarta there is a class action case at this moment. I do hope this news is true and I am curious to hear more about this. And I was told also that it is still possible to have and find lawyers who will back us up in the Trowulan case. I would believe it when the class action really happen. I do hope we all have strength and commitment to do it together; it has to be a collective effort, impossible to do it single handedly. Who shall start? (Why do I feel that I get back to the zero point?)

Friday, January 16, 2009


This is not exactly about heritage but related to the the job I do, at least 8 hours per day. When I came to the Netherlands, I needed to learn from scratch about management culture here. It is still going on but in general I have got some idea about it. Then I read an article in the Expatica about this issue and I will give some hints what I like about habits on the work floor here. Something completely different from my own experience in Indonesia.
  • Executives do not usually display their power – the boss is part of the group.
  • The Dutch are known to be forceful, stubborn and tough negotiators, while honesty and reliability are perceived as vitally important.

  • Missing an appointment or being late at a meeting is not only experienced as annoying, but also as unreliable.

  • In the Netherlands, dress codes can be amazingly informal. In the summer, jeans, blouses and t-shirts and even trainers are not uncommon.

The point number one is a magic. Coming from a culture where bowing to authority is a common thing, I had to learn what a true egalitarian on the work floor is. It is not that is something difficult to accept but it almost too good to be true that egalitarian exists in the real world. A positive culture shock.

And the last one, about dress code I like it a lot since I don't have to worry to wear jeans to the office and also nice to see people are so casual despite of their positions and responsibilities. For me this is a sign of less pretentious. You show who you are by your attitude and achievement.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I have been reading 'Indische Duinen' (Indonesian Sand Hill) by Adriaan van Dis in the last two weeks. It apparently one of his masterpiece which almost everyone in Holland is familiar with. Basically it tells about his experiences as a member of family who went to the Japanese camp in Indonesia around the Second World War. He himself didn't go to the camp but the rest of the family did, so to some extend he had a burden to be 'an outsider' of their collective memories. There are Indonesian words here and there and it is amusing to see how these 'foreign' language flow smoothly amongst the Dutch expressions as if they are part of the Dutch language itself. Simply a proof how two cultures and languages melt together easily as prejudice didn't exist. I appreciate this book in helping me getting some understanding about emotions of the Dutch towards Indonesia, Japanese and and the past. It is a fiction, though, but to some extend I am sure it is based on a true story (I knew it from his previous book which I have read.)

The second is a film titled "Contractpensions" that was just released last week in
the Netherlands, with the Director Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmrich. It is about a migration of 300 thousand Indonesians to Holland in 1950's as consequence of the end of colonialism in Indonesia.
They must temporarily stayed in different accommodations called "contractpensions." Mostly these houses were run down hotels in touristic area and the new Dutch-Indonesians had to live in a modest situation until they found ways of a better settlement. The process of integration into the Dutch society is told through this film. One of the illustration is, they received a brochure called "Jangan Loepah!" (Don't forget!) It was a guide how to conduct life in the cold country who mostly eat potatoes. Indonesians peal potatoes with a knife to the outside direction and they were told that the Dutch peals potatoes with the knife to their body direction. And this new Dutch-Indonesian asked, is the taste of the potatoes change if they change the way they peal them?

Friday, January 09, 2009


One of the highlight of my role as the guest lecturer in the Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam, is when I meet and talk to a bright student. And many of them are bright students. Students with visions, ideas and maturity to know what they want to achieve.

Last December in the Hague during a conference of Blue Shield, surprisingly I met Marjan den Visser, one of the student. And at the end of the year I received a greeting card together with a brochure about her restoration atelier in the Hague. Marjan is a painting restaurateur. In 2006 she even had an assignment to work with the Affandy paintings in Jakarta.

I salute the spirit of entrepreneur of Marjan and also her persistence to do her important work while pursuing a masters degree in the Reinwardt. I am to some extend also inspired by her effort.

(source :


Fon Prawira, the grandson of Tjong A Fie (TAF), has informed BPPI that he is going to organize an exhibition to commemorate 88Th year of TAF. For those who is not familiar with TAF, probably this information will be helpful.

(source : KITLV Leiden)

Tjong A Fie - a Hakka entrepreneur and one of the founding fathers of Medan - came from Canton in 1875 and made his fortune in the plantation industry together with his brother, Tjong Yong Hian. He built up good connection with the Sultan of Deli and the Dutch planters and was appointed as 'Majoor der Chineezen' or the Chinese community leader. He was a famous philanthropist which became one of the founders of the Colonial Institute (the present Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen or the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam). His house in Kesawan was completed in 1900, a hybrid Chinese - European - Art Deco court-yard house. The design of this house is very similar to his relative's mansion in Penang, a more famous tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze. He initiated the opening of the railroad to connect Medan with the port of Belawan which later became "Deli Spoorweg Maatschappij" (Deli Railroad Company). In 1913 Tjong A Fie donated the bell tower for the old City Hall building.

Fon and other members of the TAF Family struggle for years to save their grandiose Chinese Mansion in Ahmad Yani Street, Medan, Indonesia. And also to keep the history alive after decades of the good old days. Everyone who knows the history of TAF and sees the Mansion agrees about importance of this heritage. And many stakeholders tried to do something, tried to raise awareness, but the real conservation of the building itself and good marketing of the TAF history somehow don't happen yet. Especially if I think about the similar mansion in Penang, Malaysia, Cheong Fatt Tze, which now becomes a boutique hotel and well-maintained or how Singapore sells their Chinatown to the international tourists.

I wish all the best for the TAF family who has just established the TAF Memorial Institute and launched its website. Hopefully the Exhibition will rejuvenate the spirit to conserve the Mansion, the area around it (Kesawan which is architecturally interesting) and the history of Medan.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The Indonesian heritage network is being fired lately by a case of Trowulan. The government body wanted to build the "Majapahit Information Centre" on the archeological site in Trowulan, Mojokerto, East Java. (For the masterplan of this Centre take a look at the above source)
The intention is good but most people thought that the logic behind the plan is ridiculous. The intention is to spread awareness about history of Majapahit Kingdom but if it is built on the site then some historical values will diminish. It is against the principle of conservation.

The Indonesia Heritage Trust tried to 'remind' the Dept. of Culture and Tourism, Directorate General of History and Archaelogy, about the mistake. In cooperation with the largest national newspaper, Kompas, the reminding seemed effective and heard. The project is temporarily stopped and nowadays several meetings are organized in Jakarta amongst various stakeholders. To follow all the discussions and opinions about this issue is very interesting. In one hand, all loud voices gave me an optimism that many people care and understand the importance of heritage conservation. On the other hand, the watchdog group is always noisy when something wrong happen with heritage conservation. It never happen that a plan is approved by all stakeholders in advance, through exchanging thoughts and expertises. This shows that coordination and cooperation hardly exist and maybe an utopia to expect this to happen but again, why in other places outside Indonesia they are possible to implement? It takes ages probably but saves all headaches and worse situation in a long run.

Since the government agency has an authority to initiate an action, I think it is time to realise for them that community movements in Indonesia is getting stronger. The community is more enlighted and responsible about their life. The government can not afford to neglect opinions of the community sector. Sometimes I get an impression of arrogancy from authority if they are already backed up by capital holders (private sector) and then as if it is not important anymore to ask what the community's aspirations. Well, development is for the community, isn't it? Community can not be use simply as justification in a masterplan draft. It is time to communicate.

(Up-date per 15 January 2009) I got news from Indonesia that finally the Minister of Culture, Jero Wacik, has asked his staff to stop the development of the Information Centre and later will move it to other place. This happened after involvement of national newspaper & a lot of input from different sectors. Well done.