XI. Lijiang, China 2011

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XI. Lijiang, China

19 – 22 September 2011

A brochure of the old town of Lijiang published by “World Culture Heritage Old Town of Lijiang Protection and Management Bureau” describes Lijiang as the holy land of world culture for its ownership of three world heritages. UNESCO listed the Old Town of Lijiang as World Cultural Heritage, Laojun Mountain in Lijiang as World Natural Heritage, and the Dongba Ancient Scripts, which are preserved in the Dongba Museum in Lijiang, as World Memory Heritage. This is considered a great honour, not only for Lijiang, but for the whole of China. A TFI Reunion in the holy land of world culture promised to be a real cultural treat, and so it was.

Chairperson of the 2011 TFI Reunion in Lijiang was Tjiep Wahjudi (Tjioe Tjiep Nio) of Jakarta, the second woman to chair a TFI reunion. It was courageous of Tjiep to accept the responsibility to organize a reunion in a country where she is not at home, in a language she does not speak. In her acceptance speech at the Bali Reunion, she nervously admitted to being afraid, ik ben zo bang. She then pulled herself together and appealed to her fellow TFI-ers to help her, jullie moeten mij helpen, and so they did.

Vice-Chairperson Kunto Harsono (Lie Kok Toen) and a team of 32 volunteers helped Tjiep in realizing the TFI Reunion in Lijiang. There were three secretaries, two treasurers, five people in charge of programming and entertainment, three Masters of Ceremony, three people in charge of public relations, and ten more people responsible for the website, food and beverages, general affairs, documentation, photography and transportation. The team was also supported by three Regional Coordinators covering Canada, Europe and the United States of America. Honorary Advisors for the Committee were Benjamin Suriadjaya (Tjia Kian Joe), previous Chairman of the 2010 TFI Reunion in Bali, and Soetjipto Nagaria (Tjin Liang Sie), both of Jakarta. It was the largest Committee in the history of TFI reunions. While the majority live in Indonesia, eight volunteers were from Canada, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

In her welcome address, Tjiep refers to the fact that we are scattered across the globe, accustomed to different cultures and ways of life. Nevertheless, we hold one truth in common: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – “berbeda tetapi satu”- different but united. This fitting principle describes the participants of TFI Reunions, wherever a TFI reunion is being held. It is with this adage in mind that Tjiep reminds us of the importance of unity — we are united on this special occasion — by the old memories that we have shared and the new ones that we will create together.

Venue for this reunion was the five-star Treasure Harbour International Hotel in Lijiang which offers a spectacular view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, a snow-capped mountain range north of Lijiang. Located away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Lijiang, the hotel is only a short taxi ride from the Old Town. Surrounded by shady, well-kept gardens and gurgling streams, the Treasure Harbour International Hotel is an oasis of calm.

Upon checking in on the first day of the Reunion, participants were given the usual bags, reunion booklets and song books, as well as special gifts for the ladies which included a sarong and matching kebaya, which is a type of blouse worn by women in Indonesia over a sarong. The men received a baju koko, a loosely-fitted, long-sleeved shirt with a small mandarin collar and embroidered front. They also received a Chinese cap with a braided tail that was to be worn during the Gala evening.

The first evening’s program included a Meet & Greet buffet dinner in the hotel’s Coffee Shop. As always, the atmosphere during the Meet and Greet was buzzing with excitement and good cheer, when people met friends they had not seen in a long time. People chattered in different dialects, accents, and a mix of languages, interspersed with squeals of delight and lots of laughter.

The next morning started with an early morning wake-up call and buffet breakfast. This was followed by a guided City and Shopping Tour. Participants visited the old town of Lijiang which was first built more than 800 years ago, during the late Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Song Dynasty ruled the country during one of its most brilliant cultural epochs. It was a time of great economic and social change that shaped the intellectual and political climate of China down to the twentieth century.

The Old Town of Lijiang epitomizes a blend of indigenous Naxi architecture and elements from Buddhist, Lama and Dao cultures that have evolved over many centuries. An ancient system of waterways that is fed by melting mountain glaciers connects to a network of canals filled with crystal clear water. The old wooden houses with their fancy gables and ornate carvings, the numerous bridges, and vibrant floral displays all over town add a mesmerizing charm to this ancient little town, where locals in colourful native dress sing and dance in the town square, to the beat of a gong and the plaintive tune of flutes, and string instruments. Wandering the streets of the Old Town of Lijiang is like being transported back in time, except for the busloads of tourists descending on the same cobblestone streets, throughout the day.

In 1996, the town was hit by a serious earthquake that damaged a lot of the old houses and streets. The Old Town has been rebuilt since, and quaint little shops selling an array of colourful wares and handicrafts line its winding cobblestone streets. On December 4, 1997, UNESCO added the Old Town of Lijiang to its list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Back at the Treasure Harbour Hotel, preparations were being made for the Opening Ceremony and dinner show with its Peranakan theme. The ladies were asked to wear their sarongs and kebayas, and the gentlemen were to wear their baju koko.

Participants first assembled in the Hotel Lobby for a photo shoot before proceeding to the grand dining hall, where a stage was decorated in vibrant reds and gold for the evening show. As participants streamed into the dining hall, they were welcomed by a musical ensemble of wizened old men playing ancient Chinese musical instruments.

The evening’s show was a colourful Chinese Peranakan Wedding and Tea Ceremony. Hence the dress code requiring sarong kebaya and baju koko for the participants who inadvertently played the role of “wedding guests.” For participants who had never been to a peranakan wedding, the show was an interesting glimpse into Chinese-Indonesian culture. For the wedding show, two of the guides who had come along from Indonesia played the “Bride and Groom.” Dressed in classical Chinese wedding attire, they descended the stage and stopped at each table for a chat and pictures with the “guests,” as is done at real peranakan weddings. It should be mentioned that the kebayas Tjiep ordered came in seven different colours. They were custom-made and embroidered for this special occasion. In an effort to make sure the kebayas fit, Tjiep brought along a seamstress from Indonesia to make adjustments where necessary. It shows her attention to detail and perfection. In a personal interview with Tjiep, she expressed how happy she was to see the ladies dressed in sarong kebaya for the opening ceremony.

Unfortunately, Christien, wife of former Chairperson Benjamin Suriadjaya (Tjia Kian Joe), tripped over a cable during the opening ceremony. She broke her arm and wrist but stayed, in order not to disrupt the opening ceremony, even though she was in a lot of pain. After dinner, Christien and Benjamin were escorted to the airport for a flight to Singapore for medical care. It was a pity they had to break off further participation in the reunion.

On day III of the Reunion, participants were free to do whatever they were interested in. Buses were at their disposal to take them to various destinations. Some went shopping, while others attended a sold-out show directed by Zhang Yi Mou, an award-winning film producer who produced and directed the spectacular 2008 opening ceremony of the summer Olympics in Beijing, which Time Magazine described as the grandest spectacle of the new millennium.

The following morning participants boarded buses going to the Black Dragon Pool Park, a short distance from Lijiang. The Black Dragon Pool, which is actually a small lake, derived its name from an ancient Chinese legend. According to the story, there once were ten black dragons that terrorized the land, leaving chaos and destruction, wherever they went. Then Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals depicted in Chinese mythology, imprisoned nine of the ten evil dragons in a tower, leaving only the youngest black dragon free. In exchange for his freedom, the youngest black dragon was to protect the land and keep it safe. It is said that he still lives in the pool today.

Upon arrival at the park, the TFI group crossed a white marble bridge known as the Suocui Bridge, from where they had a spectacular view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance. This beautiful bridge with its five arches spans the Black Dragon Pool with its emerald waters and roaring waterfall that supplies water to the Old Town of Lijiang. The Park is considered one of the most idyllic parks in China. It is a gathering place for locals out for a leisurely walk, practicing tai chi, playing mahjong, or watching a show on the elaborate and ornately decorated stage in a clearing in the park. This ancient Naxi stage that is surrounded by verdant greenery, steps from the lake, is known as the Hanyue Stage.

On this sunny morning, Henny Purwonegoro, a showbiz celebrity from Indonesia who was hired to entertain TFI participants during the reunion, appeared on the Hanyue Stage and invited TFI participants to come closer and join in the fun. Henny was accompanied by a young musician, also from Indonesia, playing an electronic keyboard. As old familiar tunes filled the air, she gesticulated for TFI participants to sing along. Soon Henny was joined by Ishak Sadrach (Ong Hong Liang) of Jakarta, Jose Hadijuana (Jo Bin Kwan) of Berlin, and Nanny Tan (Liem Nan Hua) of Hong Kong, who each took a turn at the microphone, singing at the top of their voices.

TFI participants soon loosened up and started singing, dancing and jumping around in the open area in front of the stage, as they grabbed partners to dance the polonaise. A group of tourists from the Netherlands happened to be walking by when, to their surprise, they heard this group of Asian seniors singing and dancing to the tune of “Daar bij die molen”. It is a Dutch song many participants remember from their childhood in Indonesia, when Indonesia was still known as the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch tourists stopped and gawked, before they suddenly decided to sing along, rocking back and forth to the rhythm of the music, waving their arms in the air.

A number of locals joined the dancing TFI group, doing their own tai-chi like movements. Fien Tan of Bayonne took an old Naxi grandmother by the hand and waltzed with her. It was a heartwarming sight. This gathering of old friends openly sharing in laughter, song and dance is what makes TFI Reunions so special and uplifting.

On the last day of the reunion, the farewell dinner was to be an outdoor extravaganza. An elaborate stage was erected at the bottom of the stairs, in front of the hotel, where the festivities were to take place. The area was decorated with colourful balloons, banners, streamers and lanterns, and the tables were set with elegant cream-coloured linens and candles.

At 6 p.m. all participants, dressed in elegant Chinese outfits, descended the stairs to the outdoor party area, as they were welcomed by lion dancers moving to the traditional beat of drums, gongs and cymbals. Cameras clicked and flashed, as photographers snapped pictures of the participants in their fancy outfits. Alumni from the different faculties later posed for formal class pictures, as was customary at TFI farewell parties.

In the meantime, the dark clouds that had formed on the horizon earlier in the day continued to threaten the outdoor festivities. Shortly after the first performers went on stage to perform the Lion Dance, a cool breeze chilled the air. Lightning lit the darkening evening sky, followed by the distant rumble of thunder, when a sudden downpour burst from the clouds, aborting the performance, as the audience fled for shelter. People scurried up the stone steps into the hotel lobby. Hotel staff came running out carrying umbrellas and assisting the elderly, while others rushed to carry steaming hot casseroles and trays loaded with food for the buffet, back into the hotel.

While some of the participants became a little wet, they all made it safely into the hotel. They gathered in the Coffee Shop and scrambled for seats in the area around the buffet, while late-comers ended up sitting on the enclosed terrace, just outside the doors. It was a pity we had to miss the rest of the performance by local artists who had sought their own shelter and disappeared.

After dinner, there were numerous speeches lauding Tjiep for her hard work and dedication in coordinating the reunion. Tjiep admitted that organizing a reunion in a foreign country, thousands of kilometres away from home, where not everybody spoke English, was quite a challenge. She said she could not have accomplished this tremendous task without the commitment, hard work, personal support and financial contributions she received from her many friends. When asked if I could name them to honour them, she said there were too many to mention, and she was afraid she’d miss someone.

Speaking on behalf of all participants, Henry Tan Sip Ie of Cincinnati expressed the participants’ gratitude and praised Tjiep and her team for a job well-done.

As the evening came to a close, participants were asked to select the next Chairperson and location for the following reunion which was to take place the year after, in 2012. A motion was put forward to select Tan Hoan Leng from the Netherlands, but Leng was not present, and his wife Wanny declined on his behalf. One person nominated Henry Tan, while another suggested Thé Tjing Bie of Milpitas, California, but his wife Lanny took the microphone and stated that, “according to the rules, a Chairman can only be Chairman once,” and since Tjing Bie was Chairman of the Reno Reunion in 1990, and Vice Chairman of the Reno Reunion in 1999, he was not supposed to accept the position of Chairman a second time.

David Sugita of Placentia, California, who had acted as Master of Ceremonies, proposed Vancouver, but Tjing Bie reminded participants that the next TFI Reunion would commemorate the 25th anniversary of TFI Reunions. Since the first TFI Reunion was held in Las Vegas, he suggested that the next Reunion should be in Las Vegas also. The assembly agreed, and Oei Djong Gie emphasized once more, that Tjing Bie should be the person to head the 12th TFI reunion in Las Vegas.

As nobody else came forward, Tjing Bie was voted Chairman by acclamation. It was Tjing Bie’s older brother, Tjing Hoo (Steve Kristedja) of Apple Valley, California, who spearheaded the first TFI reunion, 24 years ago. It, therefore, was only fitting that his younger brother should be the person to head the 25th anniversary celebrations and round the circle of reunions in its first quarter century.

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