By: Ade Tanesia
This article was originally published in Latitudes magazine, a renowned bi-monthly magazine focusing on Indonesian culture. The magazine hailing from the island of Bali previously existed in paper form and was especially known for its in-depth critical articles and beautiful photography. As a tribute to all contributors of this magazine Latitudes.nu presents a selection of articles published in the years 2001-2004.
My daughter’s third birthday is just a few weeks away. I begin to add up the expenses for everything I’ll have to supply to celebrate her birthday at school—the birthday hats, birthday cake, and balloons; the candy-filled treat bags; all the drinks, cookies and chocolates; and, perhaps most importantly, the nasi kuning (yellow rice) with fried chicken, dry tempe, eggs and vegetables to be cooked and packed into cardboard boxes. After making these calculations, I see that for a party of around twenty schoolmates, I’ll need to spend around Rp 300.000. This sum, it turns out, is more expensive than the birthday package offered by McDonald’s— the ‘McD Party’, a ‘super saver’ (super hemat) deal—that comes to only Rp 248.000 for twenty kids, including rice and chicken-based ‘happy meals’; invitation cards; birthday hats; the MC; gift toys; balloon decorations; and even a special gift for the birthday child.
The mushrooming of fast food restaurants in Indonesia since the 1980s has captivated public interest. Fast food restaurants that trade on their cleanliness, quality, and standardized food recipes, not to mention their air-conditioned facilities, have brought unprecedented comfort to consumers. It’s no surprise that these restaurants have become the preferred lunch spots for students from elementary school through university. When I was in Junior High (SMP), around 1981, there was already an ‘American Hamburger’ joint in the Blok M district in South Jakarta, which was packed with schoolchildren at noon. In the space of only ten years, other restaurants—like Kentucky Fried Chicken, California Fried Chicken, Wendy’s and Texas Fried Chicken— quickly multiplied. 1991 marked the entrance of the biggest fast food restaurant chain in the world—McDonald’s. Fast food eateries also became popular family recreation arenas on Sundays—nearly all of them now provide play facilities for children. The lack of public spaces and parks in Indonesian cities leads parents to take their children to play in fast food restaurants that champion the ‘eat while you play’ concept. These are no longer merely places where you fill your stomach; they are status symbols that make their customers feel proud of how ‘modern’ they are.
For Indonesians, the whole notion of children’s birthday celebrations—complete with the rituals of candle-blowing and cake-cutting—is a relatively new phenomenon, mainly confined to urban areas. Eighty-year-old Ibu Suwarti says that in the pre-independence era, this sort of thing was known only in Dutch communities, or among Indonesians and ‘indos’ (Eurasians) with close ties to Dutch culture.
Their projections proved correct. Today, they get an average of between one-hundred and one-hundred and fifty birthday-package requests per month. “We began in 1993, with the opening of the McDonald’s in Jogjakarta. But the boom really took place between 1998 and 2000; there could be eight or ten parties per day. Due to popular demand, we introduced a new concept: the ‘party out’ package, to cater for birthday parties in homes or schools. Now the ‘party out’ demand is pretty high, not only from urban areas, but also from places like Bantul and Godean, and areas outside Jogja, like Klaten and Magelang. In a single month, there may be up to thirty ‘party out’ requests,” says Pak Sasongko, smiling with satisfaction at the results of his work.