During the riots that swept Jakarta in May 1998, as the Suharto regime crumbled, FX Harsono was living in an ethnically mixed neighborhood in the southern part of the city. Populist anger had turned the streets into dangerous places for members of the Chinese-Indonesian community-such as Harsono-who were preceived as having benefited from the protection and patronage of the authoritarian government. Amid a flatering economy, anti-Chinese riots had been occuring for the previous two years, and tens of thousands of Chinese, predominantly merchants and business people, had already fled the country. That May, more than 1,100 people were killed in Jakarta, many caught in the blaze when two shopping malls were set on fire; vandals and looters targeted Jakarta's Chinatown and other Chinese-Indonesian businesses while carrying out a mass campaign of rape against Chinese-Indonesian women.
Although Harsono had been given an opportunity ealier that year to travel to Australia on an artist's residency, he had decided not to leave home. He conceded in our recent conversation in Jakarta his conflicted feelings: "I wanted to watch what happened, but I was afraid to go out." Just four days after the riots began, his mother passed away, and so he had to venture to the central train station-a journet that, in conversation, he didn't describe directly.