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Serials more than food for thought

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-05 08:21

It might seem like an odd parting gift to China. Indonesia's ambassador Imron Cotan, a buoyant, smiling man who will end his posting in Beijing soon, recently presented local officials and scholars with a series of kung fu adventures.

But Cotan's gift represents an extraordinary bridge between the two countries. The Mandarin translations of more than 120 serials retell the heroic fights put up by Chinese kung fu masters to protect people from thugs and criminals operating around Taishan Mountain in ancient times. Amazingly, this long and lovingly detailed collection was created by a man who never came to China until the stories were long-published and famous in Indonesia.

"Thanks to Kho Ping Hoo, or Sukawati Asmaraman, Taishan Mountain as well as its scenic view and the gentle nature of its people have long been known in Indonesia," says Cotan, who grew up avidly reading the kung fu tales as they came out in the 1970s.

The series is launching in Chinese with Kho Ping Hoo's first book, The Golden Flute.

"It is a monumental celebration that shall revive his fundamental teaching that good always triumphs over evil forces and that good deeds, good actions will surely lead to enlightenment in one's life," Cotan says.

The event also celebrates what has been a dream for the ambassador throughout his mission in China: to restore and burnish the cultural bond between the two countries. For the 27 years before 1990, relations were icy, he says, but since then leaders on both sides have tried to restore a connection that goes back centuries.

"Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) admiral of China's great trading fleets, came to Indonesia seven times," Cotan notes, "and he was not alone." There are more Indonesian citizens of Chinese descent than any other ethnic group, he says, and Chinese temples built around the country in the 17th century provided reference material 300 years later when a young Kho Ping Hoo became entranced by the tales of the kung fu masters of Shandong province an ocean away.

Leaders of both countries seem determined to erase the memory of bad relations during Indonesia's military rule in the 20th century. Cotan notes that his president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has visited China twice - and China's President Xi Jinping recently made a state visit to Jakarta.

"I've been in China for almost four years now, and my focus has always been how to deepen and widen the relationship between China and Indonesia on all fronts," Cotan says, "particularly in trade, investment and tourism. Also, I always try to widen the footprint of Indonesia in China, because the footprint of China in Indonesia is without doubt the largest of any country."

He says millions of ethnic Indonesians have come to live in China over the years, while Indonesian nationals in the Middle Kingdom number about 20,000.

Cotan himself has been attracted by many things in China, including opportunities to see the vast country and to explore the capital on his bicycle.

"I love riding my bicycle and exploring the hutong and narrow streets - and enjoying the street food," he says.

The number of Chinese tourists in Indonesia, meanwhile, is sharply on the rise. "People always think 'Bali!' when they think Indonesia, but our country is made up of 18,000 islands - Bali is just one of them. So we are always urging Chinese visitors to explore more of the country, to see how their Chinese brothers live and work in Indonesia."

That's a message that Indonesia's master storyteller Kho Ping Hoo, an ethnic Chinese who never got to visit China until he was an elderly man, would readily understand.

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