A Festival Way More Interesting Than Amsterdam's Best

This blog focuses on Chinese and Western. There is something awkward about Chinese and Western as a phrase in English; the Chinese "中西結合" that succinctly conveys Chinese-Western integration rolls a little bit better. Anyhow, that is the focus. 

Nonetheless, other Eurasian experiences are of interest. Though the specifics are different, the same core issues crop up; indeed to an even greater extent in the case of colonial Eurasian experiences. It might seem a long, long time ago- but these were real people who have real stories to tell, often amidst a landscape of uncertainty and hardship. Those stories developed from a stacked hierarchy, between colonizer and colonized, and the core issues come into starker focus. The question: “what does it mean to be both?” cannot be answered as simply as “I am double.” In my opinion it is still true now- but it was even truer then. I wish to bring some of these stories to life in further segments on capricornmonkey.com.

I went to Holland in May/June of 2009 to attend the Tong Tong Festival- aka the world’s largest Eurasian fair. The Tong Tong Festival of 2014 just wrapped up on June 9th- so I thought this might be a relevant time to retell my experience there.

A quick snap at the entrance to the Tong Tong Festival 2009

Formerly known as Pasar Malam Besar, the Tong Tong Festival is the annual celebration of European-Indonesian heritage. At the time I went I was a graduate student at Tufts at the time, in Medford, Massachusetts. It was the Summer between my first and second year. I remembered learning about this event while in college. I always wanted to go. And that Summer I had a chance to visit.

Maybe there’d be some good food too.

Pasar (as people commonly refer to it) had mystery. What do they serve at Pasar? I’d been to Indonesia before, but the Dutch East Indies were something surreal.

There must be some good stories- in addition to some good fare[i].

The Tong Tong Festival takes place in Den Haag, also known as The Hague.

A picture taken on my visit to The Hague. This is the Binnenhof and its lovely Neo-Gothic fountain

Another snap. What a great, liveable city

It is housed in a large fairgrounds complex, near the impressive Centraal Station After you register and pay the entrance fee you enter the main hall, a large-ish, could-be-anywhere modular building. The main hall is backed by a stage, with a number of vendors selling myriad wares.

A tourist schlock quotient revealed itself with all the generic souvenirs and such, and it seemed like most of the attendees were Dutch people from around Holland, with some other Europeans mixed in.

A lot of the usual Airport souvenirs

The Indonesian people were mostly performers in the dance numbers that would pop-up periodically.

This was a jazzy number. Unfortunately the bow-ties were NOT for sale!

Of course, there were a number of Indo people, the mixed heritage Dutch-Indonesians who were the reason for being of this festival; some were selling stuff, others were ushering, mingling or acting as informal ambassadors. Invariably at any festival, the most frenetic area was the food hall. This was no exception. There was a lot of color and spectacle; a number of vendors had taken to hawking spices and sauces and dried fruits, in a bazaar-like atmosphere. I enjoyed that part most. 

The prepared food section was a little bit weak; yet the farmer's market that they'd set up was awesome. They really had some great stuff. This is only from one stall. 


More poignant than some of the conversations I had with vendors, and one gallery owner who was displaying period photographs for sale from a series on Dutch East Indies home interiors, I remember an older gentleman who told me about Indo-rock. He was mixed himself, a self-identified Indo who was raised in Jakarta (back in those days it was spelled Djakarta). He impressed me, like many people at Pasar, in what accomplished polyglots they were. English was no issue at all, and others could bust out some passable Malay, in addition to German, or another European language or two.

Photographer Unknown; These stills from Exhibit at Tong Tong 2009 

These are my photographs of photographs depicting the living spaces of contemporary Indo people living in Holland

You can see all the viscera of a "mixed" identity in these living spaces

The Indo community is gradually declining in numbers- art projects like these help make Indo seem relevant to the younger generation

This man spoke about Andy Tielman and the Tielman Brothers with adoration. They after all, were the progenitors of an entire genre of music, Indo-rock, which inspired a generation, fording a few multicultural barriers at the same time. (More on this another time- just a fascinating story)

I'd never heard of these guys until going to Holland. These guys were pretty fly, you have to say!

"Indorock" was its own genre. These guys were straight outta Bandung- and rockin' Amsterdam straight after they landed.

The gentleman and I talked for an hour. We changed stances, folded and unfolded our arms maybe twenty times. Then I asked him about Indonesia. I wanted to ask a few questions about what he thought of it then and now. He offered some boilerplate about how it was beautiful, but I pressed him a little bit more. What about “your” Indonesia- the one you remember. He told me that his family left a lot behind in Indonesia, and made it clear that Holland was home, and was very good to him and his family. He didn’t really want to talk about this particular vein of the topic. It seemed Indonesia in general was perfectly fine, we could take about Gado Gado or Malay grammar ad infinitum- but his Indonesia was no longer, and there was nothing much to talk about.

To be continued...

[i] Jencks Award 2012 - Rem Koolhaas Lecture. Prod. Charles Jencks. Perf. Rem Koolhaas.YouTube. Riba Architecture, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2014. Rem Koolhaas talks here about how influential his childhood experiences in Indonesia were upon his life and career.