Betaria

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS  I  ERWIN SUPANDI

63% is the percentage of Indonesian working population with only junior high school degree. The national economic productivity index is low.

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8 PM in the city of Magelang, Central Java, sat inside the partially closed workshop the 64 year-old Tan Djian Hua, working with his tools under the dim light. Despite his old age, Tan is still highly spirited in doing his job, wearing nice shirt and thick glasses.

“We just have to enjoy what we do,” he said without a slight hint of exasperation on his face, even though he has been repairing small dynamos for more than 50 years.

“When the school was closed, I had to work for a living. My family was so poor that even I had to depend on scholarship to go to school,” he recalled. Not long after the narration shifted to his children.

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The way he told the stories of his children clearly showed his pride to all seven of them. When the night fell onto his dark, small workshop, lit with only one desk lamp, so was the old Tan’s freckle of hopes to have all his children schooled.

One of them apparently followed his father’s path to become a repairman. Tan Djian Hua also uses his small workshop as his house, “so whenever I got tired, I could rest,” he explained. But in that simple explanation, he did not looked tired at all.

Tan is the descendant of Chinese immigrants going south east to Java, characterized by Chinese-Indonesian historian Ong Hok Ham as a group of mainland Chinese who came in separate small groups and settled sporadically across the island, in contrast with the characteristics that of the Chinese who in the same period migrated to Sumatra or Kalimantan in hordes.

These immigrants in Java has little left to trace of their culture of origin. Travelling independently in small numbers, such as a family, subjected his predecessors to unimpeded assimilation to the Javanese dialect and customs.

Immigrants heading to Sumatra, for instance, settled on the vast plantation while building a strong community to retain the root culture, and likely to be passed down to later generations.

It is surprising that the three syllable names is one of the few retained ethnic characteristics in him.

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