The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What is Love?

A protestor, a pig and a flood have something to say.

by Lisa Ling

Love is overrated. Western romantic love, that is. This year, Valentines Day, Chinese New Year, and a disastrous flood occurred within days of each other. Together, they illustrate how Indonesians celebrate that ubiquitous thing called ‘love’.

On February 14th, even on the ‘other’ side of the world, I expected to see young couples pronouncing their undying commitment to each other, clasping red roses and heart shaped balloons, dreamily feeding each other chocolates with be my valentine scrolled across the top. Instead, I was shocked and bemused by what appeared on the front page of the Jakarta Post.

Anti-valentines day protestors. Yes, young Muslim women, covered from head to toe, carrying signs reading Valentine Days = Kapitalisme taking to the streets to protest a holiday celebrating…love, of all things. What exactly are they protesting? Public displays of affection? A western-created institution? An un-Islamic holiday? All of the above? Are there not more important things to protest than red roses and chocolate hearts? Nevertheless, these women marched the streets, rejecting what they viewed as a western holiday that conflicts with their faith. Think of the conviction it takes to protest publicly. More than the personal cringing and silent rebellion I feel at the thought of celebrating love en mass, as per Hallmark’s suggestion. These women protested based on their beliefs and were unafraid to display them. That conviction, in all its conflicted, ironic, non-sensical glory, is love. Love of ones’ beliefs.

Chinese New Year arrived a few days later. Who would have thought a pig and a dragon could tell us something about love? In Plaza Senayan, under a sky of red and gold umbrellas and paper lanterns, I stood in awe watching barongsai (liondance) jump to and fro, pouncing on the angpao (red packet) at the culmination of the performance. But it wasn’t the lion dancers I stood in awe of. It was the crowd. Native Indonesians, Chinese Indonesians, foreigners watched in fascination, soaking in the cultural spectacle. Hard to imagine that only ten years ago Chinese Indonesians were banned from celebrating their culture in public, speaking Chinese and holding Chinese names. Only ten years ago, racial tensions were so high that rioters burned Chinatown, killed thousands of Chinese and destroyed their businesses. Now, with those bans lifted, those same people stand side by side celebrating Chinese New Year together.

But where are the pigs? Ushering in the Year of the Golden Pig, I notice a suspicious absence of pig decorations adorning the mall. In fact, you can’t find the fat little golden creatures anywhere! Suddenly I get it. Muslims revile pigs. They are considered filthy creatures not worthy even of eating, and the Chinese (who adore barbequed pork) are sensitive to this fact. Not wanting to offend, in a country where almost 90% of the population is Muslim, they display dragons instead. Dragons symbolize power and wealth, harmony and health. Almost as good as a pig for bringing in the new year. When one group extends their hand to embrace another culture, and the other group responds in mutual consideration, that’s love.

The third event in this love triangle is the flood. Jakarta suffered the worst flood in years on February 1, and on Valentines Day, the clean-up continued. Over a quarter million people rendered homeless in less than 24 hours. Soldiers helped locals sweep mud and debris from their homes, companies donated wares to help return normalcy to daily life, citizens gathered food and supplies for flood victims, hospitals accepted the influx of disease-ridden children who treated the flood waters as swimming pools. I was simultaneously horrified and amazed as I saw photos of kids jumping off overpasses into pools of flood water on streets below. Don’t they know this water is mixed with sewage, and other filth? Don’t they care?

One thing is clear. They care about each other. Despite the disaster, or perhaps because of it, the Indonesian people’s essential nature came shining through – resourcefulness, community embrace, and playfulness even in the face of extreme hardship. These people who have next to nothing have the most of all. Love.

Love of one’s beliefs, love for each other, love for one’s culture and its peaceful coexistence with another. Who would have thought a protestor, a pig and a flood would have so much in common, especially on Valentines Day?

The first and last picture are from The Jakarta Post.


Blogger tamara said...

Fantastic post, Lisa. Who knew, indeed. Thank you for your reflections and insight; a truly informative piece.

Sun Feb 25, 03:12:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Great post. It's nice to see perspectives from other parts of the world.

Sun Feb 25, 04:22:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

amazing Lisa, man kind, we have such strength, thank you for sharing this.

Sun Feb 25, 04:55:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger MelBell said...

Lovely post, Lisa. Thank you for this.

Sun Feb 25, 07:44:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Fascinating, Lisa. I love this glimpse of the part of the world you're in right now and your discovery of its heart.

Sun Feb 25, 09:25:00 pm GMT-5  

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