|Seville orange marmalade with rind, |
invented 1797 in Scotland
Me: "Well, I wouldn't know. Even though I lived in the UK a long time, I never acquired the taste. Too bitter!"
"Don't be afraid to try this one," he urged. "It's made with Florida oranges, not Seville oranges."
"How very clever of you," I told him, "to come up with a New World version!"
But as I walked away, I thought to myself: Is the New World any less bitter than the old nowadays? At best, this past year has been rather bittersweet for us U.S. citizens. But I imagine our sufferings and disappointments are as nothing compared to those of newly arrived immigrants, who've given up everything to come to this country — the ultimate New World destination — for a fresh start.
Several thousand Indonesians have emigrated to South Philadelphia in the past ten years or so. I was envisioning their having set up a vibrant neighborhood, rather like Indonesia itself, but the scene that confronted me in late October was rather desolate: one level up from a slum. Philadelphia's Little Indonesia consists of a limited grid of narrow streets lined with pokey row houses. There are several hole-in-the-wall restaurants and nondescript shops carrying Indonesian goods. We tried the food: it is decent enough. And the shops, though cramped, are reasonably well stocked with Southeast Asian staples, everything from cassava chips to jackfruit (in cans).
I have since learned that the majority of these immigrants are Christians from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. They fled to the United States after attacks were made on their churches in the late 1990s. A significant minority (something like a quarter) of Little Indonesia's residents are Muslims. And, whereas the Christians have been integrated into the local churches, the Muslims have to make do with any space they can find. The nearest mosque is in West Philly, and, ironically, during Ramadan they have ended up borrowing space from a Mennonite church where the pastor is an Indonesian Christian.
Would these Little Indonesians — particularly the Muslims — have been better off staying put in their native land? Bear in mind that their prospects have most likely worsened since 9/11, which ushered in an era of racial profiling and, as evidenced by the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, xenophobia.
Even the Christians — many of whom I suppose are ethnic Chinese — may be wondering if their children might have done better in the Indonesia, where the economy has been growing strongly despite the global financial crisis and recession and, amazingly, reducing debt at the same time. This year Indonesia achieved a growth rate of 6 percent, and pundits say it could have been even higher — 10 percent, easily — if only the government had made some headway in overcoming abiding corruption and structural inefficiencies (democracy hasn't solved these problems just yet). Thanks to real economic activity and bullish expectations, the stock market is up by 50 percent — one of the best performers in the world in 2010.
A couple of weeks after my trip to Little Indonesia, I took off for Indonesia itself and saw this emerging economic miracle with my own eyes.
I had last visited Jakarta in 2004, when it was still shell shocked from the Asian financial crisis and had not found solid democratic footing after dictatorship. The entire city had an air of foreboding about it. The Indonesians I met then seemed defeatist as well about their future economic prospects, particularly as compared to China's.
This time around, there were signs of an economic revival. Don't get me wrong: Jakarta still deserves its sobriquet of the Big Durian, and you take your life into your hands when crossing the street. But one of the first things I noticed is that there is now a Starbucks on virtually every major street corner. As we New Yorkers know, whenever Starbucks moves in, gentrification can't be long behind.
I also witnessed many Indonesians beginning to partake in this new-found prosperity. The first Sunday after my arrival, we visited Grand Indonesia Shopping Town, a luxurious new shopping mall anchored by Seibu and Harvey Nichols. The basement cafes and restaurants were buzzing with customers; parents and kids packed out the indoor playland featuring a kid-sized train; and young people were queuing up for tickets to the mall's 11-screen cineplex.
|Corner grocery: Little Indonesia, South Philly|
|99 Ranch Market, part of a California-based chain:|
Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall, Jakarta
|Hand-written sign on row-house front door: Little Indonesia, South Philly|
|Worshippers at Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta|
Little Indonesia, South Philly
|Bronze elephant statue donated to Indonesia by King Chulalongkorn of Siam in 1871: |
front of National Museum of Indonesia (also known as Elephant Building), Jakarta