Hendy Yuniarto – From the Beach to Beijing

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Hendy Yuniarto at Beijing Foreign Studies University

By Duncan Gordon

Just over a year ago Hendy Yuniarto was working as a lecturer and a journalist for his local newspaper in Yogyakarta, Suva, Indonesia.  His hometown is just a stone’s throw from the beach, where he would often go to relax and have fun.  On August 26th 2015 he swapped the day-long fishing trips and beautiful beaches of his homeland for the hustle and bustle of Beijing.  So why did Hendy make this huge change of lifestyle?

‘I always wanted to learn another language and culture with the hope that I could share that knowledge with others someday.  I dreamt of coming to China because of the incredible rate at which the country has been developing’ Hendy says.  Last year Hendy decided to chase that dream by looking for work in Beijing.

Hendy works as a lecturer in Indonesian language and culture at the Asian African Faculty of Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).  He says that BFSU provided an apartment for him with great facilities as well as the opportunity to take Mandarin classes free of charge, which have made life a lot easier for him in Beijing.  BFSU only take in new students for their Indonesian language course once every four years.  There are just 10 students in Hendy’s class.

When he’s not working, Hendy leaves the bright lights of Beijing and heads out into the surrounding hills for some hiking.  ‘So far I’ve been to the Great Wall, Xiang Shan, Yudu Shan and Longqing Gorge in Yanqing County’ Hendy says.  When he’s not exploring the countryside surrounding Beijing, Hendy likes to put his feet up and watch Chinese movies ‘to enrich my knowledge of Chinese culture’.  He’s seen some classics like Red Sorghum and The Road Home and, it goes without saying, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the turn of the century martial arts blockbuster.  These films also help to improve Hendy’s Chinese.

‘To be honest, I am an intermediate level Mandarin speaker.  I have joined a Chinese class this semester and I have set myself the goal of taking the advanced class next year.  Once I am fluent I can focus on memorizing thousands of Chinese characters!  For now my Chinese is good enough to communicate with people whenever I need to.’

“I don’t want to just give the students straightforward lessons in language skills or grammar”, Hendy explains.  “Language is part of culture so my favourite part of my job is teaching the students about Indonesian culture.”

Language as culture

So who are Hendy’s students studying Indonesian at BFSU?  Hendy explains, ‘they come from a lot of different provinces in China.  They believe that BFSU is a reputable university and many of them hope to work as diplomats, journalists, translators or interpreters after they graduate’.  In fact, two of Hendy’s students have already accepted positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which they will take up upon graduation.  Another of Hendy’s classes is made up of students from the police department.  Some policemen and women who work as immigration officers at Chinese airports learn Indonesian and other languages so they can assist foreigners who might need their help upon arriving in China.

Hendy is passionate about what he thinks is the best way to teach his students Indonesian:  ‘I don’t want to just give the students straightforward lessons in language skills or grammar’, he explains.  ‘Language is part of culture so my favourite part of my job is teaching the students about Indonesian culture.  I often get them to write a paper about Indonesian culture or the relationship between Chinese and Indonesian culture.’  This approach perhaps stems from Hendy’s own education; he studied linguistics for 5 years at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, and maintains a strong interest in the role that language plays in society.  All told, he has studied Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese, English and Mandarin, as well as theoretical studies of Sanskrit and Arabic while at university.  Hendy hopes to convey to his students that through learning Indonesian they can help to ensure China and Indonesia maintain a close relationship in terms of economics, culture and education.

Tradition and modernity

Hendy was instantly impressed by his new home in China’s capital.  ‘I was struck by Beijing’s magnificent ancient buildings, its traditional customs, which are still alive and well, and, of course, the food’ he enthuses.  When asked which Chinese dish is his favourite, Hendy insists that it’s too hard to choose between lamb skewers, dumplings and hot pot.

Hendy holds Chinese culture in high esteem:  ‘China is renowned for its incredibly long history.  You can still see that history reflected on China’s culture today; in its society, language, ideologies, beliefs and technology.  The traditional aspects of Chinese culture that have been maintained for generations make the country unique’.  However Beijing is not all ancient history and traditional culture.  ‘Nowadays much of the city looks new and Beijing offers a modern lifestyle for its inhabitants’ Hendy points out.

To really experience traditional culture Hendy joins in cultural celebrations, like Chinese New Year, and leaves the city to experience authentic traditional customs.  While hiking he has met local villagers and during a visit to Gubei Water Town he saw how local villagers distilled rice wine traditionally.  ‘Like all major cities around the world, modernization brings a lot of people and with them problems like traffic jams and pollution.’  Nevertheless, Hendy enjoys his life in Beijing and says the modern aspects of the city make his life here comfortable.

Looking to the future, Hendy says that he must improve his Chinese ability to help with his work.  How long does he plan on living in China?  ‘Maybe ten years’.  And after that?  ‘Someday I want to build a small wooden house near the beach back home in Indonesia and run my own tourism business from it’.

With regards to relations between his home country and his current home, Hendy admits that there are still some misunderstandings between people from Indonesia and China but thinks there is great potential for mutual growth and support.  He says, ‘I believe education will solve those problems and we will create a brighter future among Indonesians and Chinese’.

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