My mother and father were both born on the island of Java, but they both left for educations in Holland shortly after the war and when they were teenagers. They met as students at Leiden University and returned only once (much later in life) to visit the land where they were born, which at that time was still a Dutch colony. Because of the Dutch influences on my parents’ lives, as children my siblings and I (10 in all!) would visit The Netherlands to see our aunts and uncles, and Dutch was the language my parents spoke around the house. Despite having much stronger ties to Holland than Indonesia, I have to admit that I feel some attachment to Indonesia now that I’ve had the opportunity to see and touch the culture. Although I can’t speak Bahasa Indonesia, there’s a certain personal enjoyment I get when strangers we’ve come across in our travels come up to us and immediately begin speaking to me in Bahasa Indonesia. It feels good to be considered (at least initially) as one of them even though at times I feel a little stupid because I can hardly speak a word of it in return.Even though the fact that I have a purely American background and upbringing quickly becomes apparent, the Indonesian people seem to place value on the fact that my parents were born in Indonesia (or maybe it’s my four children that makes them hold us in higher regard). I don’t really know, but I have to admit that I feel a certain mutual respect for the Indonesians as well.
As a people they are genuinely friendly and seem so content in their daily lives. They might not have much wealth or material belongings, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much as family and friendships. Or perhaps it is their obvious love and affection for children (and not just their own) that I like so much. Whatever it is, it felt good to be in the land where my parents were born and to feel some connection with the people and culture that they initially grew up with. Maybe the fact that my complexion is darker than a typical man of Chinese ancestry has something to do with how I was received in Indonesia, or maybe that’s just how the Indonesians treat friendly foreigners. Either way, I think it will be interesting to see how we fare and the connections I feel once we arrive in China.