The celebration of Imlek in Semarang has become a tourist attraction for both domestic and foreign visitors. Imlek is celebrated as a national holiday since 2003, thanks to former president Megawati Soekarnoputri. She followed in the footsteps of her predecessor, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who had revived Chinese traditions in 2000.
A night market is held in Semarang’s Chinatown prior to the Imlek celebration. This year marked the 14th time that the night market – locally known as Semawis Imlek Night Market – was held on four streets of Chinatown in an area home to 10 Chinese temples.
“We have replanted the sugarcane trees in front of our houses. As a tradition, Chinese Indonesians put up sugar cane decoration in front of their houses. Sugarcane in Javanese tradition reflects the depth of the heart, while in Chinese it means that, despite thesweetness of life, one must remember ones roots,” said Harjanto Halim, chairman of the Semarang Chinese Community for Tourism.
The Chinese community has developed in Semarang since the beginning of the 14th century, or even earlier. It started when Admiral Cheng Ho from the Ming dynasty in China anchored in Semarang in the year 1413. His helmsman, Ong King Hong, was sick,and therefore Cheng left him with a few crew members in what is now the Gedung Batu area in Simongan district. They then built the Sam Poo Kong Chinese temple, which exists until today.
At the night market, people sell various Chinese foods and perform Chinese cultural rituals, including the cleaning up of the temples.
For every Chinese New Year celebration, people from Semarang and the surrounding areas flock the Chinatown, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, having embraced Imlek as a tradition of their own. [yan]