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In Medan City, there are several ethnic groups who are known to be good at trading, including the Padang, Toba Batak, Karo, and, of course, ethnic Chinese.

During the 1960s to 1980s, the most wide open and "reasonable" option for pursuing a future for the Medan Chinese was to become traders. Indeed, there are those who choose to engage in various professions such as doctors, notaries or lawyers, but the numbers are limited. This is because the Medan Chinese, it's no longer a secret, are indeed restricted from entering state universities. Meanwhile, the opportunity to become a government servant, either as a civil servant or the National Police/TNI is also almost non-existent. Indeed, there are Medan Chinese who become civil servants, but the number is still a handful. As a result, becoming a trader is the easiest and most rational choice.

From generation to generation in Medan City, new entrepreneurs continue to emerge. If the parents are traders or businessmen, it is almost certain that the child will follow in their footsteps. However, even if the parents work as employees or professionals, many of their children as adults start their own business or trade.

This situation, as is the trend in other big cities in the country, has made trading in Medan also controlled by ethnic Chinese. Starting from luxury shopping centers, shops to traditional markets. Except in the suburbs where small-scale retail businesses are dominated by other ethnic groups. But over time, the outskirts that are considered potential are now increasingly being entered by Chinese traders.

Areas such as Marelan and Sunggal, which used to be inhabited by the majority of other ethnicities, are now lined with shophouse buildings which are the places of business for Chinese residents. Perhaps, areas that are relatively "sterile" for the Chinese are the area of ​​Jalan Letda Jamin Ginting which is controlled by the Karo tribe, and Jalan Sisingamangaraja which is dominated by the Toba Batak ethnicity. Even then, there are still places of business belonging to ethnic Chinese, although the numbers are limited.

In general, the Medan Chinese did have a talent for trading. They are also known as tenacious, persistent and never give up. Another thing that characterizes the Medan Chinese traders is that they are aggressive and dare to speculate. They are people who dare to take risks in developing their business. If the Jakarta Chinese entrepreneurs, according to some people, tend to be more calm and passive in running their business, then the Medan Chinese are known as active, creative and resourceful traders.

They are also known as people who have the courage to speculate. For some of them, doing business is like gambling; You can win, but you can also lose. Many Medan Chinese entrepreneurs are not safety players, but risk takers. Backed by a sharp business sense, they are very willing to take risks.

Perhaps that is also what made many Medan Chinese enter the gambling business, in the truest sense. When the New Order government still legalized gambling in the form of TSSB, Porkas or SDSB, in some areas the Chinese played a role in Medan. Then when the various forms of legal gambling were closed, it was also the Medan Chinese who managed the illegal gambling business in many places in Indonesia. They take on roles ranging from bookies, agents to clerks.

Until now, when some gambling activities have moved to cyberspace, many of the managers in the country are also Medan Chinese. Not only that, the expertise of the Medan Chinese in gambling is also recognized in many countries. In one of the casinos in Macau, the shareholders are Medan Chinese. The casino on Singapore's Sentosa Island is said to also involve Medan Chinese. Likewise with the gambling arena in Genting Highland Malaysia. Many of the Medan Chinese acted as brokers in charge of attracting residents of this area to try their luck there.

At the Genting casino, the number of visitors from Medan, especially Chinese ethnic, was recorded as one of the highest and became a potential "contributor". In the floating gambling arenas held on cruise ships in several countries, visitors who are Medan Chinese are almost always found. The Chinese's penchant for gambling can also be seen from the rise of illegal gambling in Medan and its surroundings. It's no secret that dark casinos from year to year always exist in this area. More than 99 percent of the players in places like this are Chinese, male and female, ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s.

No wonder it was heard that there were Medan Chinese who suddenly went bankrupt and escaped. In Medan newspapers, it is often found that there are advertisements calling companies for their employees to be responsible for financial problems. In cases like this, many of them are caused by losing gambling.

In addition to gambling, many Medan Chinese also enjoy money games, namely investment games that promise lucrative profits and even tend to be unreasonable. In more than a decade, many Medan Chinese have become victims of fraudulent investments, almost all of whom are from Malaysia. Surprisingly, even though quite a lot of people have fallen victim to various types of money games, the Medan Chinese still don't give up putting their money in such games. Presumably, their courage to speculate and their instinct for quick profits make them "blind" to the risks that lie ahead.


But apart from gambling problems and the courage to speculate, the Medan Chinese have always been known as a community that highly respects the sin liong. For some Medan Chinese businessmen, sin liong, which means trust, is everything. Even from childhood, children in Medan Chinese families are instilled with this word. The principle of sin liong is practiced by many Medan Chinese in their business.

Many business transactions worth tens of millions to billions of rupiah are carried out verbally on the basis of sin liong. If a decision regarding a transaction comes out of the mouth, then it means it is legal. If someone violates it, for example refusing to pay, then the person concerned will be blacklisted by the Medan Chinese businessmen. In the Medan Chinese community, the news will spread quickly by word of mouth.

The Medan Chinese are also known as traders who are persistent and loyal to their business. They are “true traders” and many have been trading their wares for decades. Many of them are “specialists” who have worked in certain sectors all their lives. Not even a few have inherited the business from their parents and have been introduced to the sector since childhood. No wonder if they become experts who master certain businesses to the details and are difficult to compete with.

The tenacity of the Medan Chinese traders is unquestionable. Wherever there is a business opportunity there they will enter. In fact, it was so aggressive that if a Medan Chinese merchant succeeded in a new type of business, others would be reluctant to follow him even if it was not supported by experience.

The massive investment of Medan Chinese businessmen in tiger prawn cultivation in the 1980s is a vivid example. Just because a number of people have succeeded in making lucrative profits from shrimp farming, there are countless Medan Chinese who invest their money in this sector. The result, as we know, yes...a lot of people went bankrupt.

Likewise, when the lou han fish "fever" hit this area several years ago. Everywhere the Medan Chinese try and sell these ornamental fish. Due to the large number of people who cultivate it, the lou han fish has experienced an oversupply so that the price has dropped and its fans are abandoned to this day.

Some time ago, many Medan Chinese had a "fever" to open a family spa and massage business, after a spa in a shopping complex experienced a boom. Spa businesses and the like are mushrooming everywhere, from those that take up the place of a shop-house unit to magnificent buildings. Medan Chinese are also eager to open a cafe business, after one or two cafes in this city are almost every day crowded with visitors. Anyway, any business that can generate lucrative profits, the Chinese will quickly explore it and then work on it.


For the Medan Chinese, raising money and succeeding in business is indeed a non-negotiable aspiration. The Medan Chinese obsession with success is reflected in their daily behavior. Having capital or not having capital, the entrepreneurial spirit permeates almost all the young people of Medan Chinese.

Every year in Medan City, young entrepreneurs from the Chinese community continue to emerge. Apart from entrepreneurs who have struggled from scratch without being supported by capital as just mentioned, some of them are young Chinese who have just finished their studies abroad. What's interesting is that many of them do not continue their parents' business, but develop new businesses either individually or in collaboration with friends.

Business diversification has indeed become an interesting phenomenon among the Medan Chinese. This business development has penetrated into all sectors, including services, which so far are still relatively foreign to the older generation. The offices of the new entrepreneurs are generally also designed in a modern and attractive manner, in contrast to the places of business of their parents who are more concerned with profit than aesthetic value.

One thing is certain, whether continuing their parents' business or developing their own business, almost all of the younger generation of Medan Chinese who have received higher education are now implementing modern management in their business. In contrast to the older generation who only manage their trading business in a traditional way. They also diligently read books and gain knowledge by attending various seminars.

As traders, money and profits have indeed become very important and main things for most Medan Chinese, as are other ethnic groups who work as traders. But for some Medan Chinese, trading is no longer just to make money, but has become an activity and a pulse of life as long as they are still breathing. For them, running a business and making a profit becomes a kind of hobby that brings pleasure.

Perhaps this can explain why many Medanese Chinese who already have a lot of assets - some up to hundreds of billions of rupiah or even trillions and have not been eaten by seven generations - are still doing intensive business. The challenge of increasing marketing and profits becomes an art of life that brings satisfaction that cannot be measured in terms of material things.


One thing to note is that not all of the Medan Chinese had trading businesses and were rich. Some of them come from simple families and are among the workers. Not a few Medan Chinese are categorized as poor and, like some of their relatives from other ethnicities, have nothing. One of the areas where many simple Chinese families live is Sukaramai and its surroundings.

Before a major fire engulfed the area in the early 1980s, the area known as "Law A Yok" was a densely populated and slum area of ​​Chinese residences. Thousands of family heads crammed into the narrow streets and alleys. Now, even though some of the area has become a shopping center for "Asia Mega Mas" whose shop-house values ​​can reach several billion rupiah per unit, there are still quite a number of poor Medan Chinese families living in the area. This includes the Sukaramai Il Flat which was built to accommodate fire victims, although it has now been demolished and replaced with a more decent apartment.

But of course, Medan's less fortunate Chinese families don't just pile up in one area. In various streets and areas in Medan, you can always find simple and slum houses inhabited by Medan Chinese. The image of many people who imagine Medan Chinese are people who inherit wealth and live to continue their parents' business is wrong. There are so many young generations of Medan Chinese who have to struggle to build their future from scratch, just like other ethnic groups have experienced.

What is unique and interesting in Medan is that people are often fooled by appearances and misjudge a person's social status. Many of Medan's simple-looking Chinese with mediocre looks-some even drive "common" cars like the Toyota Innova- are actually wealthy billionaires. Not infrequently they only wear shorts and look like most of the commoners. In fact, they are very capable financially and their deposits in large quantities are scattered in many banks and even abroad. On the other hand, people who look cool in suits and ties plus luxury cars don't necessarily have a lot of money. Maybe they have a lot of assets, but the debt to the bank is not less than their assets.

Photo by Halim Kosasi on Unsplash


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