Posted by: mel | February 9, 2009

Babi Buta (The Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly) – A Film by Edwin

In “The Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly” you will find stories about disoriented identity, hesitation and anxiety, the experience of being lost. Those are the feelings of being Chinese in Indonesia.

A story about a father lusting to win a green card lottery. 

A story about an ex-national badminton champion whose husband leaves her for a Javanese wife. 

A story of a boy always pelted with stones because everybody thinks that he is a Chinese. 

A story about a young girl who believes that firecrackers expel ghosts.

Set amidst in contemporary urban Indonesia, the film will follow Linda’s journey in discovering herself. Portraying her reality and her deserted emotions furthermore the people surrounds her.

Like a mosaic, this film is built from the pieces of broken colorful glasses. Fragile yet beautiful.

director’s statement

Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly speaks of hope. The feelings and the journey to fulfil one’s hope, and all of the other feelings that come out of that journey itself; hopes that can never be truly completed and that can never be more than just hopes. A hope not to be the blind pig who wants to fly. A hope not to be Chinese in Indonesia. 

This is a story of identity search. Since we were little, we were told to be nationalistic, to be a true Indonesian. Whether it means to kill our roots. And killing our root means killing our emotion and killing our emotion means killing our self.

How should we, in reality, really know how to be a true Indonesian? Or whether it is necessary at all to be a true Indonesian…?

characters

The Mother who was a national badminton champion (Verawati) was Indonesia’s front runner in their national badminton team, the representative of the nation. She grew disappointed as the nation keep on questioning whether she is Chinese or Indonesian. At the beginning of 1980, in a grand final of world championship against China, a little boy shouts out, questioning, which one is the Indonesian player? He thinks they physically look the same. From that moment, she decided to stop playing….

The Father who is a blind dentist (Halim) hopes by becoming a husband of an ex Indonesian badminton champion, his life as an Indonesian would be easier. All he wants is for him and his family to get green cards then move and live in America. A few years earlier, he experimented on his eyes to make it look wider. He wears sunglasses since…

Linda is the daughter; she couldn’t care less about her parents up tights. All she wants is to find her friend who shared her passion on firecrackers and felt the same ways as her about its beauty. He was her childhood friend, but they lost touch since his parents moved him to a different area. She lost her spirit since…

Old Opa (grandfather) enjoys life immensely. With his friends, he awaits death playing pools, with laughter and high spirit… 

The Japanese Manadonese best friend (Cahyono), since he was little always need to stress to everyone around him, that he is not Chinese, not Menadonese, but Japanese. He works as an editor of a television crime show. He found his childhood friend in an audition of a reality show…

Two powerful dentistry patients (Helmi and Yahya) are ex bureaucrats, who like to play with uniforms. They can be hostile only when ‘a situation’ occurs. They promise green card to Halim and helped Halim’s family from mass attack on the chaotic and looting event of 1998. 

The beautiful Native Nurse (Salma), is a beautiful Indonesian lady. She is determined and knows exactly what she wants, to be a pop star.

Blind Pig who wants to fly

All characters intertwine in their own ways. 

Opa and Linda. Opa is the 2nd generation of Indonesian Chinese descent, born in Indonesia. He lives happily in his nest, communes with his Chinese friends and never asks about his identity. He is enjoying his life as a non-Indonesian in Indonesia. Opa, Linda’s grandfather, was the one who taught Linda how to appreciate the beauty of firecrackers.

Mother and Father, are husband and wife of the 3rd generation of Indonesian Chinese descent, born in Indonesia. They face pressure about their identity the most. They struggle for their existence, try to blend in and ‘becomes Indonesian’. They will do almost everything to fit in and survive. 

They meet Salma, a beautiful woman who is later become a nurse and a second wife; Helmi and Yahya, family friends who they can rely on, who later ask a return for a favour. 

Dentist, Nurse, 2 Dentistry patients. Halim’s insecurity and Salma’s physical attraction, they meet somewhere in the middle. Her appearance makes Halim thinks that if he can marry Salma and convert to Moslem, maybe his life would be at ease. 

Salma is willing to marry Halim only in the hope that she can get close to Helmi and Yahya, who she believes can turn her into a pop star…

Helmi and Yahya are the ex bureaucrats, the man in uniform, the man of power.

They would be more than delightful to help; in return of having a sex journey together. An unavoidable agreement. 

Linda and her best friend are childhood friends; they take good care of each other and unite in their hideaways. His mother separated them. She is afraid that being in a Chinese community would turn him into Chinese. Only with Cahyono, Linda finds freedom. 

To be herself.

Linda, the 4th generation of Indonesian Chinese descent, born in Indonesia, is having identity disorientation. She observes the interactions between Chinese and Indonesian. 

Set amidst contemporary of urban Indonesia, Linda happens to be the one who witnesses the oddness of being Chinese; the happy Opa, the hesitant father, the empty mother, the determined nurse, the powerful uniforms, and the harmless Japanese. 

Little by little all the happening eats her up. Her existence. 

Anehnya Menjadi Cina (How strange to be Chinese Indonesian)

Berbagi cerita tentang anehnya menjadi Cina, berbagi cerita mengenai seekor babi buta yang ingin terbang (telling stories about how strange to be Chinese in Indonesia, telling stories about blind pig who wants to fly)

This is what the character Linda says in the trailer. It’s one of the things she kept in her memories of Cahyono and it’s actually one of the most important things about this film. 

Maybe she felt refuge in the moments she had with him, a feeling of security that she needed to feel again later in life when she felt lost and disoriented and frustrated with the things that were happening around her. 

For most people, it’s not easy to live without a sense of identity, of knowing and belonging. That’s what being lost and disoriented means. It’s even more difficult when, to answer your question of identity, you are unwillingly faced with an impossible choice. 

Unwilling and impossible. You wish you didn’t even have to think about it, and once you are forced to think about it, you are not able to, none of it makes sense. 

A History of Confusion 

The question about ethnicity and nationality, the problems faced by a racial or ethnic minority, is as old as time. The boundaries of the discussion are endless. In Indonesia, we know that racial or ethnic tension cannot be separated from political history. A segregation conditioned by those in power, for political and economic gain. Any kind of segregation will create an ‘us’ and ‘them’: a fear and suspicion that is handed down in many forms. A melting pot of discomfort that spills over from generation to generation, intentionally or unintentionally. It could be as strong as words and decisions, as subtle as just a glance. 

There are efforts to ease the pain. Political efforts, social efforts, cultural efforts, you name it. There will be committees, treaties, proclamations.  There will be festivals, exhibitions. Books and films. There will be parades, campaigns and campaign groups. They will talk about ethnic pride and usually try hard to say that there shouldn’t be a ‘problem’. In Indonesia, everyone enjoys pointing out how the Chinese Indonesians have been part of our national history, how the Chinese Indonesians intellectuals have contributed to the forming of the nation, how Chinese traditions and influences have contributed to the advancement of culture: food, art, literature. Sports.  

All of this is a wonderful development and surely serves some sort of purpose, somehow. At least on the public horizon there is some sort of sense of what is politically correct. It is now politically correct to embrace and express your ethnicity; it is now politically correct to respect and celebrate diversity. 

It does not make things less confusing though, especially when you remember that this ‘embrace your ethnicity and celebrate diversity’ theme has applied for Chinese Indonesians only since the last 9 years. Before that the official theme was be as ‘Indonesian’ as you can be and they even had a word for it, pembauran– to ‘blend in’! It was also campaigned by many Chinese Indonesians, without thinking further or deeper into the context of the word. It definitely was not a sound solution and had its own set of problems. Who or what defines ‘Indonesian’, for example, is in itself debatable. 

Tracing the socio-political background of tension related to the Chinese Indonesians further back— the simplest way to say it is that the Chinese Indonesians as an ethnic group have been traditionally and systematically screwed by whoever was in power. 

To begin with, the systematic segregation during colonial times. There were ghettos, so geographically and physically, the Chinese Indonesians were already separated from the so-called pribumi/inlanders. Then there were zone restrictions (in the form of travel passes) that limited interaction between Chinese Indonesians and the pribumi. 

The Chinese Indonesians were given privileges and granted special facilities in the business sector, but the price was those segregated living restrictions. The combination between the segregation and special privileges and classification of social functions (the Chinese were placed as businesspeople who controlled production and distribution of commodities) naturally caused tension, jealousy, even hostility. 

Go into the Chinese Indonesian mind during colonial rule to understand the disorientation. There were sides at war, you couldn’t trust one side, yet you could not be accepted or even associated with the other. You knew you were being taken advantage of, so that even with the privileges you enjoyed, you knew you were never quite safe. 

After the nation’s independence, it did not help that there were political developments that linked the Chinese to China and communism. After the downfall of communism, it did not help that the abuse of power by the New Order government was so closely linked to Chinese Indonesian economic dominance. Cycle after political cycle, the Chinese Indonesians as a group was always an easy target for the ruling power to both exploit and condemn. 

Throughout all of it, there were so many conflicting and confusing policies, principles, campaigns, rules and regulations. After the trauma of colonial segregation and anti-communist sentiments, the New Order brought in the idea ofpembauran. The idea was to ‘blend in’ and ‘be Indonesian’. Yet there were outdated citizenship rules that still relied on documents like the SBKRI (a letter to prove citizenship) that only applied to Chinese Indonesians; there was the special status of WNI keturunan Asing, a citizen of foreign descent. The examples could go on and on. But in short, here’s what it was: they didn’t want you to use your Chinese name, yet they could not quite call you a real Indonesian citizen. 

It’s true that sometimes these rules were there just because no one took the time to change them. It’s ridiculous, but that’s how silly and inefficient the government can be. And these rules still get thrown into that melting pot of confusion and discomfort. A small example. For a period of time, in most forms that you have to fill, from your school exam to your bank application, you were asked to check WNI or WNI keturunan Asing. It seems so innocent, so harmless, just checking an option in a box, but it can also be confusing and for the person who feels the option is unnecessary and unfair, it can be painful. 

All of this is just a general sketch, described in context to the feelings described in this film, how it feels to be Chinese Indonesian.  There are many, many good books on the subject that you can refer to if you’re interested. Go back to the first few paragraphs, which discusses Linda’s feelings– now you know that the things happening to her and around her have a social history. A history of confusion.

Linda and Halim

Halim belongs to a generation that probably got hit the hardest. They are not privileged with the liberal, carefree and independent way of thinking that Linda’s generation has absorbed through the media, yet they are not equipped with the composure, patience and poised acceptance of Opa’s generation. Halim’s Indonesia is the most aneh in comparison, the generation that lived in the height of Orde Baru Indonesia under Suharto. 

Although the discomfort had been handed down generation through generation, the feeling of insecurity might be worse in Halim’s generation because of the political, and social economic structure fostered by Orde Baru. Here is where you might again want to refer to other books/materials which can describe the repressive atmosphere of the times from 1970s to 1990s, where wealth and power of the regime went unquestioned, unchallenged. 

A culture of conformity was born out of these times, one that did not approve of progressive or independent thinking. This consciousness seeped into homes, classrooms, offices. For few, it created rebellion and the effort to resist, fight back- but for most, it created frustration that is usually repressed, not discussed as a problem, you just tried to get by with whatever means you could manage. 

This is what Linda sees and disrespects (or maybe she is just disappointed) in her father, his means of survival against a condition that frustrates him. She sees Halim desperately groping for the next golden ticket which will lead him to a life better than this one. 

Linda herself is dealing with her own questions about identity, she knows she does not see a good example in her father, although she does not exactly know what a good example will be. Her mother, Verawati, has suffered her own heartbreak in being a Chinese Indonesian and chooses to withdraw, retract, perhaps in shock, or as a way of protecting herself. In a way, Linda knows that this can’t be right, either.

Linda uses the word aneh, strange, because she doesn’t even know how to describe it. Imagine a realm of thought where something hurts where you know it shouldn’t. And then, the confusion of seeing the same pain around you being handled in different ways, some that you understand, some you don’t. 

Imagine not wanting to think about all of it, but having to- because it is a fact of life that you are forced deal with day to day. Linda is plagued by this discomfort and what makes it even worse is that she has to be reminded of it even more through her father’s actions. The questions Linda faces are ultimately questions everyone faces, universal dilemmas of self-discovery. What makes the burden weightier is that she is faced with a question she feels is unnecessary and unfair in her journey of self-discovery. This is where she seeks comfort in the security and belonging that she knew from her childhood.

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