Chinese Indonesian Eri Widoera, 24, decided to study Mandarin as he saw more Chinese companies entering Indonesia and felt the need to reconnect with his Chinese roots, even though he describes himself as a proud third-generation Indonesian. “If you can speak Mandarin, Indonesian and English, certainly your competitiveness in the market [will be much higher],” he said. He chose to study in Taiwan and spent 18 months at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Centre (MTC) in Taipei, which is known as the largest and oldest such institution in the self-ruled island. According to the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), China invested US$2.3 billion in the country in the first half of this year, making up 16.2 per cent of Indonesia’s total foreign investment. Last year, Chinese investment in the country reached a total of US$2.4 billion and Indonesia has welcomed Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to boost trade through infrastructure connectivity. For example, a Chinese company is involved in the high-speed railway connecting the Indonesian capital Jakarta and Bandung in West Java. Ayesa, a full-time lecturer in Chinese literature at Gunadarma University and a Mandarin teacher at the University of Indonesia’s International Language Institute said more companies needed translators or employees who could speak Mandarin. Chinese Indonesian Felicia Oenica, 26, said her ability to speak Mandarin meant her starting salary at a Chinese bank in Jakarta was “decent” even when compared to friends who graduated with high honours and were working as consultants or property developers. She added some Indonesian companies would turn a blind eye to a job applicant’s college scores and pay a higher salary if they could speak Mandarin. GROWING INTEREST In recent years, more Chinese Indonesians have decided to learn Mandarin and send their children to Chinese-medium schools, a change from the era of dictator Suharto, whose policies to encourage assimilation meant Chinese-owned media outlets were banned and expressions of Chinese culture and language were illegal. The policy shift took place after Suharto fell in 1998 when successive governments offered the space for Chinese-Indonesians to re-embrace their heritage. Mainland China and Taiwan have become popular choices for Indonesian students who want to learn the language. According to PPI Tiongkok, an Indonesian student association in China, there were 693 registered Indonesian students taking Mandarin classes at university-affiliated language centres in 17 cities in China in 2018. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education said there were 3,238 registered Indonesian students studying Mandarin at university-affiliated language centres and regular language centres in Taiwan last year. This number has increased consistently in the last five years, with 1,959 in 2017; 1,626 in 2016; 1,442 in 2015 and 976 in 2014. These students head to Taiwan in part because its education ministry offers scholarships on a competitive basis for Indonesian nationals every year, ranging from university degrees to Mandarin courses. In September last year, Oenica started her Mandarin course at National Taiwan Normal University’s MTC on a six-month Taiwanese government scholarship. She later continued her studies at her own expense until November this year. The Chinese Indonesians forced to choose: Taiwan or communism? A three-month intensive programme of 15 hours a week at the MTC costs NT$36,000 (US$1,200) for a class of six to nine students and NT$28,800 (US$950) for 13 to 20 students. Living expenses in Taipei vary, but some students say they have managed on the government scholarship of NT$25,000 (US$820) a month. “You can’t learn [Mandarin] from Indonesia, well, you won’t grow, so you’ll just really learn from textbook,” Oenica said. Oenica chose Taiwan because her language tutor in Indonesia graduated from a Taiwanese university and told her that traditional characters – which students are taught in Taiwan as opposed to simplified characters on the mainland – were “more beautiful”. Her tutor also told her that the Taiwanese had “better pronunciation” and their Mandarin was “more pleasant to the ears”, she recounted. Similarly, Widoera, who chose Taiwan because it was more conducive to learning the language, said he believed if he could read traditional Chinese characters it would enable him to read simplified Chinese. The Chinese Indonesians who fled to build a new Bali in Mao’s China Ayesa, who attended Mandarin classes on a one-year Taiwan government scholarship from September last year at National Chengchi University in Taipei, said Taiwan offers students a chance to fully immerse themselves in a Mandarin-speaking environment. “When I attended the courses [in Taiwan], students were more comfortable to answer questions or have a discussion in Mandarin, although there were still corrections from the teacher,” she said. “The most striking thing is in Taiwan we are pushed to understand the lessons in Mandarin, whereas in Indonesia it might not be the case,” she added. Oenica found her Mandarin reading and listening skills improved significantly after taking classes in Taiwan, while her vocabulary also grew. I feel like I recovered my family’s identity, but it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of being an Indonesian. Felicia Oenica The way of life in Taiwan has also impressed students who are there. Oenica said she was touched by how locals rushed to assist an elderly person who was struggling to get off a bus. “Perhaps because in Indonesia people don’t really see the elderly wandering alone,” Oenica said. “Here, facilities for the elderly and disabled are really good, so they don’t really have to rely on a caregiver, unless they can’t move any more.” Widoera said he valued Taipei’s “efficient” transport system that allowed him to reach many places in the city, which was unlike his experiences in Indonesia. Taiwan’s waste management system, where locals would wait for garbage trucks at designated points every day and would classify their waste based on their materials, also stood out for him. Widoera hopes to find a job in Taiwan once he obtains his master’s degree in marketing from Fu Jen Catholic University, but should he return home, he plans to work at a company that requires him to speak Mandarin. He has also embraced the pride of what Mandarin fluency could bring to someone. “I feel more like you can say proudly that you are huaqiao,” he said, referring to a term for overseas Chinese. “All this time if you say you are huaqiao, you might be embarrassed. You are huaqiao, but can you speak Mandarin?” he added. Taiwan universities open doors to students fleeing Hong Kong Oenica returned home earlier this month and expects to continue using her Mandarin by getting a job that requires her to speak the language, regardless of the industry. She urged her generation to learn Mandarin, instead of blaming the past where Chinese Indonesians had to deny and abandon their cultural identity. “I feel like I recovered my family’s identity, but it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of being an Indonesian,” Oenica said. “We don’t need to be embarrassed to acknowledge our identity as both Indonesian and huaqiao any more,” she said.