Indonesia has been the home of overseas Chinese (华裔) since many centuries ago but it was only recently in 2001 that the Chinese Lunar New Year (春节) was acknowledged by the government. Since then, the annual festival has been celebrated openly and freely nationwide by the Chinese community. Every year during Chinese New Year celebrations (known locally as Imlek, which falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month), the nuance of the Orient is felt most in Indonesia’s bigger cities like Jakarta, where a high number of ‘Chinese Indonesians’ live. This year, Imlek happens on 8th February 2016, so if you happen to be in Jakarta during this festive season, you can enjoy the ambience of the Chinese New Year’s celebrations and welcome 'the year of monkey’ with the following recommended activities!
1. Go to Glodok to buy Chinese ornaments
During normal days, Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown (West Jakarta), is the place for Jakartans to go and buy electronics at relatively cheaper prices. Nevertheless, prior to the festive Imlek, this area always becomes busier as the Chinese would come here to buy Chinese New Year ornaments like red lanterns and pink sakura tree (imitation) to decorate their houses and shops. Festive decorations and products are readily available and as you walk along the streets, take in the festive ambience and cheerful music. Don’t miss the wide variety of red packets commonly known as hong bao. These red-coloured envelopes would be filled with money to be given to the younger generation as a form of auspiciousness. You can bring home some ornaments as souvenirs.
2. Go to a mall to watch free lion dance performances
During this festive season, all malls in Jakarta would be decked in auspicious red and gold, with Chinese decorations such as dragons, red lanterns, etc. and interestingly in many malls, these decorations start as early as a month before the actual day. On selected days before or during the Chinese New Year, you will be entertained by lion dancers doing acrobatic performances (舞龙舞狮) in the mall’s atrium. Accompanied with drums and auspicious props, the dance troupe puts up an interesting performance. It is believed that shops that has been graced with these lion dancers would enjoy prosperity and good fortune in the year. Bigger malls like Grand Indonesia, Ciputra, Bay Walk, Kelapa Gading and Pondok Indah are known to have grand lion dance performances.
3. Release a bird at Vihara Dharma Bakti
A Chinese temple is an exciting place to be during the festive season, as it’s packed with worshippers doing their rituals. Keep a lookout for one of the popular rituals known by the locals as ciamsi (求签), where one seek answers or check their fortunes. You’d notice devotees shaking a wood cylinder containing some bamboo sticks - each labeled with a number - till one of the sticks fall onto the floor. The stick can then be exchanged for a piece of paper containing words (in Chinese and Indonesian) of wisdom that address your current situation. If you go to a temple named ‘Vihara Dharma Bakti’ (金德院) in Glodok area, you might see people releasing sparrows to gain merit. Known as 'fang shen’ (放生), you can also buy the live sparrows from one of the hawkers for 20,000 IDR (1.40 USD for 10 sparrows) to release them. It’s believed that you’d have better luck in life as you have helped save some lives by freeing these little creatures.
It’s Chinese New Year Eve, so eat Chinese food! All top notch Chinese restaurants in Jakarta have Chinese New Year’s dinner specials where your dinner will be accompanied with Chinese performances. You will get to see the performers singing Chinese songs, dancing and playing Chinese traditional musical instruments such as guzheng (Chinese plucked zither) and erhu (a spiked fiddle).
A useful tip: Go to Graffiti restaurant, a Chinese restaurant inside Mercure Hotel in South Jakarta. With 14 USD, not only will you get the dinner buffet (they have good steamed grouper and roasted duck) and watch Chinese performances, but you will also get a red packet containing a door prize, and if you are lucky, you might get a hotel voucher in Bali!
Mercure Jakarta Simatupang
Address: Jl. R.A. Kartini No. 18, Lebak Bulus
Price: from 37 USD
Room service Pool/beach towels Ironing service Shared stationery such as printed menus, magazines, pens, and paper removed Outdoor pool 24-hour front desk Swimming pool Massage
5. Watch midnight fireworks
In Jakarta, the midnight firework parties are held every year on Chinese New Year’s eve in many Chinese temples like Vihara Dharma Bakti, as well as two of Jakarta’s biggest malls, Central Park in West Jakarta and Bay Walk in North Jakarta. It’s better if you can stay in a hotel close to the Chinese temple or mall so that you can simply go to the location on foot, as the traffic is very congested during this time.
Visit Jakarta during the Chinese New Year
It’s amazing to think that just more than a decade ago all kinds of Chinese celebrations were completely banned, but now it has become one of the largest public celebrations in the country. Celebrate this coming year of monkey in Jakarta (or other Indonesia’s big cities) and experience all the fun!
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