Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Fuk and Sharia

It was a hot afternoon in Banda Aceh. After 12 hours of fasting I was craving nothing but sweet, cold, creamy - es campur – literally means “mixed ice”, a delightful combination of mung beans, red beans, rice flour and pandan custard, and chewy pieces of sagoo threads in creamy coconut milk and caramelish palm sugar syrup. It is cold, sweet, and creamy – a perfect thirst quencher that soon boosts the sugar level.
From Aforasri Pictures

In Banda Aceh, my favorite es campur is made by A Fuk, an Acehnese-Chinese who has a small shop across Methodist church. That church is, by the way, one among only two church establishments in the city. The other church building is a Cathedral located in a military compound by Krueng Aceh – the biggest river crossing the city center. Other churches in Banda Aceh operate in rented houses or shop spaces. Some Christian friends I know told me that it is not easy to get the permit to build churches here. Moreover, there are only a few Christians living in this town. “Had we built a real church, it would look empty”, another friend said.

A Fuk, just like many other Chinese in Banda Aceh, speaks Chinese. I don’t know whether the Chinese that he speaks is Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien, or Cantonese, but it seems like all Chinese I know in Banda Aceh speak the same language – unlike what I saw in New York City’s Chinatown where my Chinese friends sometimes couldn’t get what the others say as the Chinese there spoke different languages.

A Fuk’s shop is always packed as he makes the best es campur in town, but during Ramadan, just like many other food sellers in Aceh, A Fuk has to close his shop's green wooden door for almost a whole day. Only some hours before the breakfasting time approaches, he would be allowed to sell his ice. On the first day of Ramadan that fell on August 1, 2011, the lines in front of A Fuk’s shop went like a line of ant troop: crowded and restless. I was one of the “ants”.

So this afternoon my driver took me to A Fuk's.
“By the way, do you know that the Sharia cops raided A Fuk’s shop yesterday?”

My driver asked me as we drove down to A Fuk’s shop this afternoon.
“No. How come?”
“A Fuk opened his shop at 2 p.m. That was too early. All food (and beverage) sellers should only open their place after 4 p.m.”

I’ve spent three Ramadans in Banda Aceh. The Sharia* rules enforced in this town remain the same: none are allowed to sell food and beverages before 4 p.m. and during evening prayer time that goes from 7 – 9 p.m. If they break the rule, the city government would suspend their business permits. Last year’s Ramadan news highlight was the news of two ladies selling foods in Aceh Besar during Ramadan’s who got caught by the Sharia cops. Selling meals during Ramadan is considered to be the violation of Qanun (law) No. 11/2002 on the implementation of Sharia Islam, Aqeedah** and Ibadah***. Here is the link to the news in Bahasa Indonesia.

In October 2010 the executors whipped the cane onto their backs before the eyes of hundreds of crowds. The news made a huge blow in many mailing lists and discussions. Most gender and human rights activists voiced their objections, but nothing happened. The Acehnese version of Sharia law still rules.

Ramadan is a hard time for culinary business here. To make up the void morning-afternoon time, many restaurants open after 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. The Subuh (early morning) time is when the Muslims start fasting.

“I just hope that A Fuk still opens today…” My eyes looked straight to the street, hoping to see the lines of A Fuk’s customers ahead.
“I hope so”, my driver said. He knows how much I love A Fuk’s es campur.
There were no lines. It was 5 p.m. and A Fuk had just opened his shop. He walked to and fro with jars and jars of palm sugar syrup and coconut milk, storing them at the shelves below the service counter. He looked serious, as always. I have only seen him laughing once. It was when a Chinese speaking guy patted his back and said some words – in Chinese, off course - with a funny expression.

“Why don’t you ask them what happened with the Sharia cops yesterday?”, my driver told me as I opened the car’s door. I know he is curious too. He, so far is one of the most reliable news in town that I know. Being a driver allows him to meet many people and thus hear many stories from every corner of the town – from his passengers, and from other drivers he hangs out with.
“I will.”

I ordered 5 es campurs. A Fuk’s assistants, a short-haired girl and a shoulder-length-haired girl worked on the es campur mixes as fast as usual.
“Is it true that you guys got raided yesterday?”
The short-haired girl paused. I could see the anger sparked in her eyes.
“And why?”
“They said we opened too early. It doesn’t make sense to me because we sell this ice to go. We serve the fasting people. We don’t allow them to eat in.”
“I know…” I looked at her with my whole-hearted sympathy. She continued working in incredible speed.

“So what did they say?”
“Usual thing: that we shouldn’t open that early or…. Well, you know.”
“Ah. I’m sorry for that.”
“Did you guys got the ‘special message’ for not covering your heads?”
She shook her head. From her look I guessed she is a Batak. Batak is the major ethnicity in North Sumatra. Most of them are Christians. In Aceh, non-Muslim girls are not onliged to cover up their bodies in Sharia-compliant outfits.

The shoulder-length girl said nothing. She pretended to be busy counting the es campur that were ready and pack them in plastic bags. I knew she was listening.

“But… but it’s not fair…” The short-haired girl continued. “… Just down that block,” she pointed with her right hand, “there is a warung (food stall) that sells rice. They open at 10 a.m.”
I turned my head but I couldn’t see the warung that she pointed.
“I believe that the Sharia cops knew about it, but they didn’t raid that place.”
So, it was not about the raid that really mattered. It was the feeling to be treated unfairly that enraged her.

“If tomorrow they came again to raid us I would raise this issue. I would ask why they only raided us, who open at 2 p.m., but skipped that place, which opens EVERYDAY at 10 A.M.!” The pitch of her voice increased. The anger flamed in her eyes.

I was left speechless. Her anger was not about why A Fuk, her boss, is not allowed to sell es campur in the day time (while A Fuk’s shop is located at Chinese-majority, surrounded by Christian facilities - the church and a Christian school - quarter of the town). It was more about why they got raided while the other was not.

The shoulder-length-haired girl smiled. She handed me my es campur.
I walked to my car, thinking. I guess learned something today: in the matter of 'law' enforcement, the provisions of the law itself might be f*cked up (pardon my words - I just haven't found more decent enough expression that bear the whole meaning of it), but it is the unjust enforcement of those mussed up provisions that create objections. The sense of rightness is blurred. I often wonder: with all this confusion, would gradually the people here lose their common sense of right and wrong?

*Sharia:Islamic law based on the teachings of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet (Hadith and Sunna), prescribing both religious and secular duties and sometimes penalties for lawbreaking.
**Aqeedah:basic tenets of faith
***Ibadah: rituals of devotion


  1. I'm happy to have come across your blog once again. It's been awhile since I last communicated with you. How are you doing? Oh, you still remember who I am? :)

  2. Hellooo my Singaporean sister! :)
    Yeah, it's been a while now. How are you and how's your family doing?

  3. Hello!! :)
    We are good over here in Singapore. Parents are now busy with food stall :) What you doing now? Do you have Facebook? And oh, I followed you on twitter :D

  4. Thanks for shring all of that... made my eyes open.. ^_^

  5. Masturah: Hi sister, I'm now in Banda Aceh, back to my job with the UNDP for disaster risk reduction. :) Yes, I'm on FB. Should I look for you instead? I think my Facebook privacy setting makes it a little bit difficult to find. What's your Twitter ID? I'll look for you and follow you back then. I haven't been back to Singapore since 2006. in 2008 and 2010 I was there but only for a plane stopover... I wish to be back to your home one day and taste you mom's food again. The goodness is lingering in my memory! My salam to your parents and brothers, and I wish you all a great and blessed Aidil Fitri ya...

    Ulfah: thank you Ulfah... :) It's my pleasure to share some stories from my life. I will visit your blog too.

  6. I'm sure you are enjoying what you are doing ya :) Hehe, it's abit difficult for you to find me in FB too coz of the privacy settings.. My Twitter ID is puterimassy . Wah that so long! I last met Kak Lin in Brunei during my stopover to Melbourne last June and she's getting married this October! Come, come to Singapore and I can bring you to their stall! Me too wishing your family Salam Lebaran. Mohon maaf lahir dan bathin...