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article imageJakarta's Battered Chinatown Stages A Comeback

By Peter Janssen     Mar 26, 2002 in Technology
JAKARTA (dpa) - Broken windows, closed-up shops and burned out buildings are still common sights in Glodok, Jakarta's Chinatown, serving as stark reminders of the anti-Chinese riot of 1998.
For three days in May, 1998, Glodok fell victim to a well organized mob attack that left hundreds, if not thousands, dead, dozens of young girls raped and the Sino-Indonesian community traumatized.
It was not the first time Jakarta's Chinese community was targeted for slaughter. In 1740 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) administration, fearful of the growing number of the unemployed Chinese immigrants in the city, launched a pogrom that left an estimated 6,000 Chinese men, women and children dead.
Despite the 1740 and 1998 anti-Chinese riots, and several smaller ones in between, Glodok has survived the years as Jakarta's resilient Chinatown, primarily because the trade-oriented overseas Sino- Indonesians are inevitably drawn to Jakarta's harbour in Kota, the hub of commerce - both legal and illegal, and an irresistible money magnet.
Glodok today, nearly four years after the 1998 riot, is pretty much back in business, despite it's shell-shocked appearance. Most observers blame the riot on Indonesian soldiers, who were allegedly attempting to stir up trouble to stress the need for strong, military-run government.
"I think it's getting better now, but you cannot compare it with before 1998," said Pakumala Joehana, a Sino-Indonesian whose family have been living in the Glodok area for four generations.
"Many people are afraid to rebuild, because what if there is another riot and it is burned down again," said Joehana, the owner of the PJ Clan-16 interior design company and a freelance photographer.
Most of the pre-1998 Glodok Chinese have left the neighborhood, especially those with money, seeking safe havens in Australia, Singapore and even Bali, or moving their businesses to less easily targetted neighbourhoods.
"Condominium sales in Singapore and Johor, Malaysia, attracted a lot of Sino-Indonesian customers after 1998," said Adhitya Wisesa, research manager at Colliers Jardine Indonesia. "They are buying condominiums to get their green cards abroad, and as security for their families."
In Glodok, old shop-owners who have migrated elsewhere have been replaced by a new crop of Sino-Indonesian entrepreneurs from other parts of Jakarta or as far away as Kalimantan province, another enclave for overseas Chinese, said Joehana, one of the few residents who has stayed behind.
"The shops here are still 90 per cent owned by Chinese, but 80 per cent of them are newcomers," he estimated.
The Harco Glodok department store, scene of mass looting during the 1998 riot, and Glodok Plaza, where hundreds of looters died in a fire believed to have been sparked by saboteurs, have both been rebuilt, this time with double steel doors.
Prior to 1998, Glodok was the capital's wholesale and retail center, accounting for what some estimated was 70 per cent of all money transactions in Indonesia.
Nowadays, although it continues to be a wholesale centre, it has lost much of its retail business to shopping malls and factory outlets in other parts of the city, and to the nearby Mangga Dua district, an eastern outgrowth of the Glodok Chinatown.
Both Glodok and Mangga Dua are especially well-known as retail hubs for cheap electronic goods, most of them smuggled in to avoid import duties. The two districts are also notorious for the booming business in pirated goods.
"Our concerns about the Chinatown area are on the copyright infringements," said one Western diplomat. "Piracy, originally of music cassettes and CDs, has now moved to VCDs and they're even beginning to do DVDs."
One worrisome trend is that as other Asian countries crack down on the entertainment industry piracy, more production is moving to Indonesia, where enforcement of law and order are notoriously weak.
"Indonesia has become a haven for lack of law enforcement in this area (copyright infringement) as in all other areas," said the diplomat.Glodok, where Chinese traders and city authorities have a long history of collusion in bending local laws to make a buck, is once again the undisputed hub for the illicit trade in duty-free and pirated goods.
"Everybody happy. That's one of the characteristics of Chinese business," joked Joehana of the well organized system in which authorities are paid to close one eye on illegal activities.
But good business is no guarantee against Glodok falling victim of another economic backlash against the city's successful Chinatown for political reasons.
"I cannot forgive what happened in 1998, but we hope it will not recur. But there is no guarantee," said Joehana.
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