Pointing the Way Home

Kamis, 31 Januari 2013


Prof Eddy Prabowo :  My China Dream

The Indonesian took a leap of faith to come to China, but has stayed for seven years and counting. He tells Sun Ye that he hopes to be a bridge between China and Indonesia.

In 1984, Eddy Prabowo sent a letter from Gombong, Central Java, to Radio Beijing. In reply, the radio station pointed him to China’s must-see scenic sights.

The then teenage Prabowo looked at a map and realizing that “China is big and so far away”, folded the map away.

More than two decades later, in 2005, he received a call from Beijing that brought him to the Chinese capital and he has since made it his home. The call was from his former student, Wang Feiyu, who was a teacher at Beijing Foreign Studies University and asked if he would like to teach there. He agreed to it almost immediately without consulting his family.

But Prabowo describes it as taking a leap of faith. Trained in Chinese studies, he was to teach the Indonesian language, its history, literature and everything else about the Southeast Asian country at the college.

“It’s totally different from what I had been doing. And even though I’m an Indonesian, I didn’t know that much about my country,” the lean 41-year-old says. After arriving in China, Prabowo became the country’s first Indonesian foreign expert.

Before he moved to China, he had taken Chinese-Indonesian studies as his primary subject in University of Jakarta, and pored over Chinese philosophy, geography and culture to become one of Indonesia’s experts on China.

He doesn’t speak much Mandarin but is fluent enough in the country’s culture that he once trained restaurant employees on the seating protocol for Chinese banquets.

Unlike more popular languages, there are no textbooks for Indonesian studies, not to mention other auxiliary materials.

Prabowo had to compile his own books by surfing the Internet, comparing notes, cross-examining what other universities were doing, and scouting from his shelves of books.

One of his compilations is called Mari Mengenal Indonesia (Let’s get to know Indonesia), which covers topics from Indonesia’s multiculturalism to its economic growth.

In the last three years, Prabowo has been on the editing board of the Indonesian version of the international Chinese teaching syllabus and contributed to several Mandarin-to-Indonesian dictionaries.

For a class with senior students, he would assign an original Indonesian novel and discuss it in relation to the country’s social, political and economical status. He also often passes around a bag of Indonesian sweets in class.

“His is the most authentic class,” says Zhang Dongdong, who has studied the language and culture with Prabowo for the last three years. Zhang adds that he likes the relaxed atmosphere of Prabowo’s class, as well as his energetic and encouraging teaching methods. “His tag line is this, ‘dui’ (right).”

For both Christian and Chinese festivals, the class will visit Prabowo’s home near the campus, where he lives alone. “We sometimes cook for him,” says Hu Zhuoyi, another senior student.

“My students are my hands and limbs. They’re my family,” Prabowo says.

He makes friends with everyone, from the boiler man to the school president. In return, they treat him like a local. “Whenever I joke about not getting treated well like an expatriate, they will retort by saying ‘but you don’t need that!'” he laughs.

Prabowo says he truly experienced the Indonesian saying, “Tak kenal maka tak sayang” (You won’t love someone/something unless you get to know that person/it) in China.

He has fallen in love with China’s food – “I’ll never grow tired of it!” – gotten used to severe winters and become a deft user of Chinese messaging instruments such as renren.com, Sina Weibo and QQ.

“You should always immerse yourself in a new place, otherwise you have not really lived there.”

He says he’s aware of the responsibilities for the country he has come to love. “I’d like to contribute whatever I can to enhance China’s and Indonesia’s understanding of each other. As a teacher, I should be a bridge that links the two countries,” he says.

Because of Prabowo’s influence, Hu Zhuoyi says she aspires to work in areas related to bilateral communication in the future.

On Dec 5, Prabowo met China’s top political leader Xi Jinping together with some 20 other foreign experts. He exchanged ideas to expand the existing educational exchange programs between China and Indonesia, with the hope that more young teachers and local Indonesians can be enlisted in the programs.

“My dream, or my China dream is to see China becoming a greater, more stable country and that will benefit everyone, including neighboring Indonesia,” he adds.


Contact the writer at sunye@chinadaily.com.cn.