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chinese new year

We entered the Chinese New Year, the year of the pig. Claudiaexpat remembers the celebrations in Glodok, Jakarta.


In the four years I spent in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, I tried hard to get to its soul. I concluded that tons of concrete and steel, and lots of shopping malls must have buried it very deeply, because the moments I felt connected to her and her life were very rare. One of these is certainly my visit to Glodok, the Chinatown in Jakarta, for the Chinese New Year in 2016.

We were a very mixed group – Italians, Canadians, Americans, Jordanians, Indonesians and French, and were accompanied by a superb guide who told us a lot about the Chinese New Year and life in Glodok.

I had already been in Glodok twice, and I immediately felt the difference: the atmosphere for the Chinese New Year was festive and full of energy. Too much red for my taste :-), but all the lamps hanging on the stalls definitely gave the place a cheerful look.

chinese new year

We strolled through the stalls and discovered the habit of the little colourful envelopes called “hong bao”. They are used to give money to children and young people on that occasion. Bills should be in even number, and possibly new.

chinese new year

As a passionate interculturalist, I loved discovering this, but I was even more thrilled when we visited a shop that showed lots of paper-made objects: cars, houses, shirts, and what not. Our guide explained that people buy these objects in memory of dear lost ones, and burn them as a gift. They buy what the dead mostly liked.

I also loved visiting the main temple of Glodok, which for the Chinese New Year had a totally different look. Instead of the silent and quite atmosphere I was used to, I found myself in a colourful crowd of people, all waiting excitedly for the midnight to arrive.

chinese new year

That night, there were more people, more candles, more prayers and more smiles.

chinese new year

We went to eat Cha Siu Bau (Chinese dough rolls) at a little restaurant in a back street. After dinner a big dancing paper dragon stopped in front of us and performed its show. Pity I do not have a picture of it: I was too busy watching how the persons inside the dragon were perfectly synchronized in their movements, and they managed to dance so gracefully in such a narrow alley.

Of course Chinese New Year is celebrated all over Jakarta. Malls are decorated well beforehand and restaurants offer special discounts for the celebration. In Glodok, however, it’s different. That’s where the heart of the celebration really beats, and where the Chinese population gathers to share such an important moment.


Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Geneva, Switzerland
February 2019
Photos ©ClaudiaLandini


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