Hong Tiek Hian

Friday, January 01, 2016

Finding people praying with burned joss sticks is very common to happen when we go to Chinese temples. For quite so long, I had been looking forward to finding Chinese art performance at the temples. It is not easy here in Indonesia to find it.

I was excited to learn that there was an old Chinese temple in Surabaya that performed the traditional Chinese puppet of Po Te Hi (Poo Tay Hie). The temple, known as Klenteng Jalan Dukuh as it is located, was said to be the oldest Chinese temple in Surabaya, built by Mongolian invaders, dated back to many centuries ago when the troops of Kublai Khan attempted to conquere Java.

On my last visit to Surabaya, I put this old temple on the list. It was not hard to find it, thanks to the reliable google map. Also, many thanks to GOJEK Indonesia. Going places within the city of Surabaya became much more practical and time saving. I headed to this temple on Friday afternoon.


Located in a busy narrow street of Jalan Dukuh, this two - storey temple was covered with dust. Visually, it didn’t seem like a proper place to pray. It was more like an old warehouse situated in the old quarter of Kembang Jepun.

I met the caretaker as soon as I stepped in into the prayer hall. I told him that I would like to see the performance of Po Te Hi. He told me that they played the puppet at certain hours, sometimes based on request. I was unfortunate that day as there was no more performance on that Friday and advised that I return on the following day at 1.00 PM.


So I came back on Saturday to that temple and found like three people sitting on a long bench facing the mini stage where some people played the puppet along with the traditional Chinese music behind the scene, at the backstage. This was of course beyond my expectation. I thought there was going to be a crowd watching the play.

For the first few minutes, I tried to enjoy the play. Then, I got bored as I had no idea what the story was about, even though it was conveyed in Bahasa Indonesia. Suddenly, I had an idea to see what was at the backstage. I asked for a permission from the caretaker to access the small room behind the scene. Maybe he thought I was some sort of a journalist coming with a camera, so he allowed to do that.

Illuminated with fluorescence lamps, the backstage was a small room with plywood walls on its sides. There were four guys collaborating in that performance that afternoon.

Bing Bing, sitting right behind the scene, was in charged of playing the puppets with his two hands. Eddy, wearing a black shirt, was the narrator of the story who also played some instruments. Apparently, of all those four guys, he was like the most multi tasking one. Welly, wearing green shirt, was in charge of playing the Chinese percussion. An last, Alwi, wearing the orange shirt, was in charge of playing the Chinese mini gong.


At first I thought Bing Bing was the puppeteer. Turned out I was wrong. It was Eddy, the narrator, who was the puppeteer. He told the story using a microphone while playing three different Chinese instruments, each at one time.




During the break, I had a short conversation with Alwi. He told me that the name of the group was Lima Merpati. They performed everyday except on Eid Al Fitr (Muslim festive day marking the end of fasting month of Ramadan) and Chinese New Year.

He had been in this group since he was a teenager. Back then, he was still in junior high school, and often came to the temple to practice the instruments. He even brought his books and did the homework from school at the temple.


I came out from the backstage and returned to the prayer hall where I saw a family coming to worship some deity figures which were housed at this temple. This temple of Hong Tiek Hian comprises two buildings, bisected by a narrow alley. Both serve as prayers place.





After taking some pictures inside the temple, I decided to leave this dusty place, and thanked the caretaker for allowing me to explore the place. Despite the fact that this temple was obviously not well maintained, I think this place should be on the list of every traveler coming to Surabaya, for the sake of its history and of course the Po Te Hi.

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