It’s almost 19 years ago when I said “I Do” to the man whom I called my husband, a man full of surprises and who’s living with a constant negativity towards his society.
As an Indonesian-born Chinese, my husband, a second-oldest and the only son in his family, was raised under his mother’s wings due to his poor health condition. He got asthma since childhood and never been better ever since. But it was his Chinese attribute that made him a good target for bullying. He once told me that his quick walking was a life-presented-gift from running away from people who tried to bully or rob him.
My husband was educated in a Catholic school right from elementary up to university. The reason was because the quality of Catholic school and because his mother is a devoted Catholic. The second one is part of many best qualities I admire from the Chinese.
Like many other overseas Chinese, my in laws try to keep their originality and ‘purity’ by marrying other Chinese. From that point of view, my husband is a total failure. I remember one of my brother’s friend, a native Indonesian, who was in relationship with a Chinese man, and to double the trouble, her boyfriend’s family, especially his mom, hated her to the moon and back. She nicknamed my brother’s friend “an indigenous devil” (setan pribumi). But after 6 years of their relationship, her Chinese boyfriend proposed to her, and this year marks their 30 years of happy marriage! I once asked my husband, “Why did you choose to marry me against your family will and expectation?”. His answer was precious, “Because you – skin color, hair, eyes, and family upbringing – are different (than me)”. To be honest, I married him for the same reason.
I fall in love with ‘everything Chinese’ since middle school. It’s all started with Hong Kong Kung Fu series. Yes, I was – and still – addicted to them!
I rent dozens of them, I read the history of China, and took private Chinese language course – since a formal Chinese language course was still prohibited by Indonesian government during that day. If you ask me now, what makes me ‘crazy’ about China, or Chinese, then my answer will be: because their skin color, hair, eyes, language, clothing, and gesture are different than mine! … and later on those days, I started to make many Indonesian-born Chinese friends.
What I – and many non Chinese who got married to a Chinese – experienced in our inter-cultural marriage is worth a lifetime. The thing is although we speak the same language (Bahasa Indonesia), educated in the same school system, and live in the same country, our upbringing is totally different. I didn’t realized it until the very moment I stepped into my husband’s life.
First, values of life. In my own family, one is dutiful to help another (basudara lain sayang lain). So when one of my siblings, or uncles and aunties, or cousins, asking for help – time or money – we have to help them without hoping for a favor or repayment; while for the Chinese, if you borrow someone else’s time or money then you are obliged to repay them, no matter how close your relationship to that person.
Second, value of money. The Chinese is a good saver. My in laws can save 40% to 50% of their monthly earning; while my own family can only save 5% to 10% of our income. My husband, for example, was saving his pocket money (uang jajan) for about 200,- Rupiah (around 0.20 Dollar) every week since middle school, and at the age of 22 his saving had reached 5,000 Dollars!
Third, feasting. Chinese loves dining together. Guarantee. My own family loves to dine too but our dining style is somehow different than my in laws’. While we celebrate each other birthday with cake, my in laws embrace each other birthday with noodle and cake; and while my family celebrate only Christmas and New Year, my in laws celebrate more festive – Chinese New Year, Ching Ming Festival, Cap Go Meh, Moon Cake Festival, Christmas, and New Year.
Fourth, work ethics. The Chinese are very well known for being a hard worker, so even though they make friends and love to joke like anybody else but when they are into their job, they are very focus. From my previous experience as professional HR, I rarely find the Chinese employees working overtime – because they usually finished their job right on time. Only in some cases, for example under company’s or bosses’ instructions, they will be staying at the office until night time.
Fifth, level of endurance. Overseas Chinese is quite well known for their ability to adapt and endure various type of situations. The Indonesian-born Chinese, for example, had to endure discrimination and two times of peril. Since 1960s, the Chinese has been forced to deny their Chinese attributes – names, language, traditions – and became an Indonesian. My late father and mother in law experienced all of these, and therefore when my husband introduced me to my in laws for the first time, the reaction was not positive; and even though I had been accepted and treated as part of the family right now, the negativity, or suspicion to be precise, towards the local Indonesians is still exist. But, no matter how hard and tough life in Indonesia is, the Chinese choose to stay put and not giving up on their hope for a better life in the country.
Cont. – in the second part, I will write about the life of Indonesian-born Chinese in other part of the world.