The Chinatown of Semarang, Indonesia is one great example where tourism and community try to work together to reveal and preserve the local heritage. The Chinese-Indonesian started to gain back their freedom of expressing their cultural identity in 1998, when the 32 years long dictatorship of Soeharto ended. As they became ‘free’, many Chinese cultural activities came back alive all over the country. It is now one of the main tourist destination in the city.
The Chinatown of Semarang comprises a large area of business center, housing, river, and is located side by side with other ethnic group settlements. When we enter this area, we will soon see how the dynamic of the community really helps bring out the character of this area. Even in normal days, there are always something happening there. People praying inside beautiful temples, selling goods in the market -which I and my mom visited regularly, traditional medicine shops serving their customers, or kids practicing the lion dance show. These -if we don’t want to call it non-artificial- are genuinely raised by the community.
Of course there are some organized efforts in order to add more values and enhance the quality of these cultural attractions, as well as to make sure that the community will benefit from this tourism activities . In 2003 an organisation called ‘Kopi Semawis’ (Komunitas Pecinan Semarang untuk Pariwisata – Chinatown Community of Semarang for Tourism) was founded. This organisation has been working since then creating many organized activities involving the local community of Chinatown. For example the festival during the Chinese New Year, exhibitions, book discussions, and approaching local government as well as private companies for financial and promotional support. This organisation is unique because it is not only composed by Chinese-Indonesian, but also people from other ethnic groups. This organisation has helped raising consciousness of the people living in Chinatown about their culture.
Consciousness of culture and also collective memory are very important. With that, the community will have sense of belonging of their heritage and work hand in hand to make sure that the values will not vanished through times. I think tourism can bring out the best of Chinatown. It makes the community realize more about the value of their identity and at the same time brings financial advantages. We can see now that many local food stalls, Chinese painting artists, puppet theater shows are more highly appreciated than before.
There are many concerns about how tourism will bring disadvantages to the environment. But in the case if Chinatown of Semarang, I think tourism has triggered the community and government to make strategy for a better living quality in Chinatown. For example, how they could maintain the sanitation of the river. On top of all those things, I think tourism activities in Chinatown of Semarang has brought the inter-ethnicity dialogue in my city to a better stage. It means that tourism has benefited our local community in broader scope. And I am so proud about it.
A passionate explorer and a student. Now living in Bonn, Germany.