It was almost a decade ago that Unspun visited the city of Semarang. It is an intriguing city, with lots of history reflecting the commerce between Indonesia and China since antiquity. One of the highlights of this relationship is the visit by Admiral Cheng Ho.
Since then a temple has been erected in Semarang ito commemorate the visit. Unspun visited the temple in his first visit there in 1996 as a foreign correspondent and was taken by the temple’s simplicity. There was also a room set aside right in the middle of the then simple temple complex for Muslims to pray. A temple attendant then explained that since Cheng Ho was a Muslim (from Yunan province) it was only right that there was a place set aside for Muslims to pray.
Unspun thought this was super cool since he hails from Malaysia where religious wallahs get antsy over co-mingling of religions. So when Unspun was in Semarang earlier this week he made a point to bring his colleague to the temple.
But when we got there, Lo and Behold! In place of the simple and slightly run down temple that had lots of personality and ambience is a huge monstrosity of a temple complex being built.
Part of the old temple is left but it too would be “renovated” and made way for tasteless gigantic edifices a la Chinois, or some Chinky committee’s idea of Chineseness. Otherwise its the tasteless buildings, ugly statues, a still huge but empty courtyard and a huge gateway. One gets the impression that the committee wants to impress whoever gets there with the temple’s opulence and grandeur. Shock and Awe a la Semarang. Disney meets Chinese Kitsch. (photos above show stone lions from the original temple and the newly installed ones. No guesses who had the better craftmanship and who’s got the kitsch)
This is all a pity because in its zeal the temple elders have destroyed the atmospherics of the old temple an replaced it with a souless altar to Mammon. Clearly nobody there understands the difference between restoration and destruction. Cheng Ho would turn over in his grave if he visited Semarang today.