Basuki Tjipta Siddharta The flame that never went out

He had built his company from nothing but his sweat, tears and hard work. He had rose from the ashes of the great depression, the Japanese occupation, and the economic crises Indonesia had faced. He had not only been one of the pioneers for accounting in Indonesia, but he had also been the one who instilled the core values and morals my family has today. Despite all his impediments and losses he had provided for and gave my family the best they could have ever wished for. He had trudged the path for my family to give them a better life, a better destiny. A destiny in which they wouldn't have to face the obstacles he had.

He is my grandfather. He is Basuki Tjipta Siddharta.
Chinese Houses and Streets in Indonesia (Chinese District of Medan)⎜Tobacco Factory (Women Sorting Tobacco Leaves) ⎜Old Indonesia, Chinatown (Pecinan Jakarta)
Bankruptcy - {Kindling}

The hot humid Indonesian air filled the city of Kudus. His mother tugged him along as they walked down the street returning from the market. A string of shops had littered the street constantly tempting Basuki to stop and stare from outside the windows at its contents. The fast pace of his mother’s walking abruptly came to a stop at a newspaper stall. His mother picked up one of the newspapers and started reading. At the time Basuki was much too young to know what was happening, however his mother’s worried look whilst engrossed in the newspapers was enough to give everything away. Soon enough, a man roughly in his 40s dressed in a faded white wife beater came from the back of the store. “Would you like to buy that?” the man asked with a tone of indictment. “No Sir, just looking.” His mother replied meekly knowing she barely had enough money to afford groceries let alone the paper. The man’s face was now contorted with anger. “Well then, get out of my store!” the man yelled. Basuki’s mother quickly put the paper back, took Basuki’s hand, and scurried off. Once they were a few stores away his mother finally slowed down her pace and loosened her grip on his arm. Basuki looked around at the stores soaking in the blistering Indonesian sun; when his eyes finally landed on a dessert shop they instantly went wide like saucers. The store window had displayed a varied collection of sweet Indonesian delicacies ranging from Dodol (A glutinous sweet made from rice flour and coconut sugar) to Klepon (glutinous rice cake balls which are filled with coconut sugar and rolled in grated coconut). Basuki tugged at his mother’s hand directing her to the dessert shop. He asked pleadingly if he could buy something, but all his mother could do was smile, check her wallet and sigh deeply saying “Sorry honey maybe next time.” Basuki was disappointed to say the least. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t spend their money as frivolously as before. There had been a change in his family he couldn’t put his finger on, a change that he would only understand years later yet would be affected by his whole life. Before the depression, before bankruptcy, my grandfather’s parents had been relatively wealthy. Despite their lack of an educational background they had been able to obtain their riches nonetheless. My grandfather’s parents had been businessmen, traders mostly selling wooden furniture and tobacco in Kudus’ thriving tobacco industry. During the early 1930s Basuki and his family’s lives took a sharp turn for the worse. The Great Depression had shaken the world; it had also shaken young six-year-old Basuki’s life. (Siddharta, Istini) The Great Depression had affected all corners of the world, including Indonesia. The Great Depression had “hit the export economy severely”. Industries all over Indonesia were struggling such as the sugar industry in Java which had “collapsed and could not really recover from the crisis”. (Touwen, Jeroen) The average income in Java had “dropped from 47.6 guilders to 20.3 guilders per year”. The unemployment rate drastically increased, with “nearly half of the work force having to sell themselves as indentured workers”. (Beck, Sanderson) People had stopped buying Basuki’s parents tobacco, they stopped buying their wooden furniture, and business had drastically decreased. Basuki’s family had went from living in their comfortable luxuries to struggling just to get by day by day. My grandfather and his family had lived in “poor conditions” and “saved as much as they could”. (Siddharta, Istini) The depression and economic climate should’ve acted as a hindrance to my grandfather’s success, however it only made my grandfather tougher. Without the financial adversity my grandfather faced he would never have had the motivation to study and work harder. My grandfather saw how hard his parents worked to provide for his sisters and him, not only did that set an example, but it also gave him the inclination to pay them back one day. From this point on my grandfather’s sole purpose in life would be to achieve success, and provide for his family. Success and money would consume his entire life.

Hollands Chinese School Building (Hollands Chinese School)⎜Students in class at Hollands Chinese School (Class at Hollands Chinese School)
Boarding School - {Matches}

Basuki laid his hand gingerly on the rusty bell and shook it twice, loud enough for his aunt to hear, yet quiet enough to not disturb the neighbours. As Basuki waited he took a moment to absorb the sight in front of him. Mango trees surrounded the white two story house as the afternoon sun had given it an almost ethereal glow. “Basuki!” He looked towards the now open door to see his aunt walking briskly towards the gate. “Hello, Tante (Auntie)!” He exclaimed back. They were both smiling now. His aunt hastily unlocked the gate and hugged Basuki so tight he felt as if he would suffocate. As they walked into the house Basuki looked around attentively as if he hadn’t visited the house each weekend since he started boarding school. The garden looked exactly the same; mangoes which had dropped from the trees had littered the grass, and small shrubs of Arabian jasmines had situated themselves near the fence. Once they got inside, Basuki sat down on the dinner table whilst his aunt merrily fried some eggs for him. “How was school?” His aunt asked inquisitively. Basuki frowned, he didn’t want to think of school, he hated it there and was miserable. “It’s fine.” Basuki melancholically answered. His aunt instantly sensing his dejected tone quickly added “It’ll be over soon honey. Soon you’ll be done with your education and you can become anything you want. You’ll be successful and can take care of mom and dad.” Basuki smiled at the thought, the thought of finally being able to make his parents proud after everything they sacrificed for him. Basuki hungrily finished up his meal, thanked his aunt, and went outside to play in the garden. These weekend trips to his aunt had made up for all the despair he experienced at boarding school. Going to his aunt’s house was the only silver lining in most of his childhood life. Regardless of the anguish Basuki felt during his time at school he worked as hard as he could. Basuki had interests of course, he loved drawing, painting and photography, but alas his financial state and absence of time would never allow his interests to flourish into passions and hobbies. My grandfather filled up his time with studying making it his top priority; he would read whatever he could get his hands on, constantly absorbing knowledge like a sponge. (Siddharta, Istata) Basuki knew that he couldn’t waste this opportunity, the opportunity to learn and go to school, especially not when his sisters never got the chance to.

When Basuki turned seven his parents sent him to the Hollands Chinese School in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Hollands Chinese School had played an imperative role in Basuki’s education, however the road to getting in was one paved with lucky coincidences. Various factors had contributed to my grandfather’s enrolment in the Hollands Chinese School, however the most prominent ones would be his gender and his ethnicity. Basuki T. Siddharta had had the fortunate fate of being born a son, an eldest one at that. Now if this were any other family in Indonesia it wouldn’t have been a significant occurrence, however my grandfather’s family was of Chinese descent. Despite being a seventh generation Chinese Indonesian family, Basuki’s parents still held some core Chinese Confucian principles such as the importance of fathers and sons over their female counterparts. Due to these core values my grandfather was of higher importance and priority than his two sisters. After the Great Depression, and the bankruptcy of my grandfather’s parents they only had enough money to send one of their children to school, my great grandparents had chosen my grandfather over his sisters not because of his intelligence nor diligence, but because of his gender. (Siddharta, Istini)

The Hollands Chinese School in itself was an exclusive school. The Hollands Chinese School (HCS) would only except the Chinese Indonesians as the schools the Dutch provided were “chiefly based on race and class segregation.” The HCS was not only exclusive in terms of “racial composition” but it was also elitist in a sense that in many ways it only served the “upper-class Chinese”. (Hoon, Chang Yau) The HCS was compose entirely of “expensive European teachers”, used “Dutch as the language of instruction”, and had a curriculum “identical to that of European schools”. The school’s admission requirements would also limit their admissions to a select few of Chinese peranakans. This all made up for the school to be “for the more affluent”. (Govaars, Ming) Since my grandfather had been the seventh generation of Chinese Indonesians,making him peranakan, and had parents who were previously relatively respected businessmen he was accepted and enrolled in the school. The HCS not only had better teachers compared to other academic institutions that were for the natives or totok Chinese, due to its better funding, but it also had a European curriculum, this would play a huge role in my grandfather’s learning as it influenced him to learn Dutch, and acquainted him with western values and culture.

Chinese-Indonesian Relations in Indonesia

Disagreements and issues between the Chinese and Indonesians have existed for as long as the Chinese have migrated to Indonesia. However, the tensions started rising during the "Dutch colonial era". During this era the Chinese had often acted as mediators between the native Indonesians and the Dutch due to their aptitude in trading and business. The Dutch had "split the Indonesian hierarchy into three levels" with the Dutch on top, the Chinese in the middle, and the native Indonesians (Pribumi) on the bottom. (Utama, Kenneth) In the middle the Chinese also had their own classifications. Chinese born or "pure" blood Chinese were called Totok Chinese whilst Indonesian born or "mixed" blood Chinese were called Peranakan Chinese. (Chinese-Indonesians) Due to having the "favour" of the Dutch, Chinese had "monopoly over trade" and were thus in "control of the economy".(Utama, Kenneth) In the 20th century the Chinese, mainly Peranakans had quickly assimilated in Indonesian culture. The Totok Chinese however still kept in touch with their roots in mainland China. During this time the Chinese-Indonesians had also gotten involved in Indonesia's politic having most of them either align with the Dutch or set up their own Chinese-Indonesian political party typically aimed towards "Indonesia-China alliances". They had also established newspapers such as Sin Po which published their own "political ideas" and contributions from other Indonesian writers.

Following the independence of Indonesia Japanese and Dutch companies were simply left behind, leaving the Chinese to snatch them up and take them over. This would lead to an even more Chinese dominated economy and market. Due to their dominance tensions between the native Indonesians rose, in which they "complained of the government's lackluster efforts to level the playing field". This worsened the discrimination of Chinese Indonesians in Indonesia.

In 1965 Soeharto had blurred the line between the Chinese group divisions and had simply considered them as a whole. The Chinese-Indonesians were all forced to change their names to Indonesians names in which my grandfather had to change his name from Sie Bing Tat to Basuki Siddharta. Between the 1960s and 1980s police officers and the army were also given the "green light" to abuse and extort Chinese-Indonesians. (Chinese-Indonesians)

Indonesian Fishermen (Pecinan Jakarta)⎜Salty Dried Fish (Ikan Asin)
Odd Jobs - {Spark}

The boat rocked vigorously back and forth. He, trying to keep his cool, lit a cigarette. The waves splashing about had quickly put out his cigarette before he had gotten a chance to deeply inhale its euphoric contents. The smell of fish and the salty sea encapsulated him. Fear had slowly bubbled inside Basuki. He was stranded at sea, with slim to none experience swimming, this had been his worst nightmare. Just as he was accepting his impending doom, a boy a few years older than him had put his hand on his shoulder, and gestured for him to light his cigarette. Basuki smiled, feeling comforted over their small bonding moment. That boy was Woo Tung Ping. Woo could arguably be one of Basuki’s first friends, and was most definitely one of his lifelong friends. Woo not only got Basuki through the tough times he had during that nightmarish disaster of being stranded at sea, but he also got Basuki through the economic chaos Indonesia had been during the Japanese Occupation. Basuki was fifteen during the time of his first job. Indonesia had still been recovering from the Great Depression and my grandfather, desperate for work, took any job he could get which led him to his low waged job of “selling salty fish to sail to Pontianak”. In spite of the long hours, and life threatening trips on the job, Basuki had found a hidden gem through his job, that hidden gem was Woo Tung Ping. Woo Tung Ping had come from a family of Chinese scholars. After working together with my grandfather selling fish for a few years, he got a job book keeping. Woo had been talented at book keeping and with his connections had also gotten my grandfather a job book keeping for a company in Surabaya after my grandfather graduated from high school. This may seem like a measly favour, however Woo’s act of kindness would not only save Basuki from starving, but it would also open up an endless of possibility of doors for him. When my grandfather had graduated from high school the Japanese had just invaded Indonesia. Not only was Indonesia still in the process of recovering from the Great Depression, but now they were under the Japanese Occupation as well. These factors had painted a bleak picture for Indonesia’s state of economy at the time. Resources were at an all time low, and jobs were hard to come by, however through Woo my grandfather was able to work as a book keeper (not the most noble job, but much higher compared to other blue collar jobs) and get a decent salary to survive and feed himself. Through the job book keeping Basuki would be exposed to invaluable newfound knowledge and experiences. By book keeping my grandfather had learnt the ins and outs of running a business, which opened up the path to him becoming an accountant. Book keeping had sparked the start of my grandfather’s success, however Woo saved my grandfather from the flames of Indonesia’s economic crises. (Siddharta, Istini)

Keng Po Newspaper Archive (Keng Po)⎜Sin Po Newspaper Archive (Sin Po)⎜University of Indonesia Buildings (The Old Building)⎜University of California, Berkeley Campus Postcard (Postcard of Berkeley Campus)
University of Indonesia, Accounting Program - {Flame}

After some time bookkeeping Basuki felt unfulfilled and went to search for different jobs that would make better use of his skills. However, at that time Basuki was simply a high school graduate and the number of jobs available were low. Due to the scarcity of jobs my grandfather became a journalist. Journalism in Indonesia isn’t like what it is in more developed countries; journalism in Indonesia often is low waged, uneventful, and was a job people took on when they were unable to get anything else. Despite all that Basuki still trudged on. During Basuki’s time in journalism he would work for various news companies such as Keng Po, and Sin Po (now known as Kompas). Through his experience in journalism he had gotten news of opportunities and an understanding of Indonesia’s current state first hand. My grandfather had gotten to interview a multitude of people including Sukarno (Indonesia’s first president), and Mohammad Hatta (Indonesia’s first vice president). (Siddharta, Istini) Basuki would also get the chance to be part of the Roundtable Conference and became friends with former Indonesian Minister, Bung Tomo. Ultimately it was journalism that would lead Basuki to his golden ticket, gave him the money to afford it. Whilst reporting state news my grandfather had found out about an accounting program at the University of Indonesia together with his friends. My grandfather was immediately intrigued by the thought of learning accounting formally, and would pay for the program through his salary from being a journalist. (Siddharta, Istata)

During the 1950s there were many “foreign public accountants operating in the country”, however there were only few “Indonesian persons” who held a professional accountant certification. The serious effort to produce Indonesian professional accountants only occurred during the 1950s to 1960s. The University of Indonesia in Jakarta had started a “program for accounting education within its Faculty of Economy in 1952”. Since the program was only recently opened there wasn’t a large demand for the program giving my grandfather easier access to enroll. My grandfather would soon take the exam, and be accepted into the program. In the mid 1950s the US government also sponsored “faculty members of the University of Indonesia” to be trained “at the University of California, Berkeley” (Previts, Gary) through “Ford Foundation grants”. (Sale, J. Timothy) Fortunately for my grandfather the timing had been opportune. Basuki entered the accounting program right as it had opened and had graduated not many years after. By the time he graduated he had been one of the first graduates of the accounting program at the University. The University desperate for lecturers and professors instantly hired Basuki making him eligible for the Ford Foundation grants to be trained at UC, Berkeley. All these opportunities had been the result of fortunate timing, sure my grandfather had to have the intelligence and diligence to get in and become a professor, but the timing of his enrolment had made all the difference in decreasing the competition and giving him the chance to pioneer accounting for Indonesia.

University of Indonesia

In 1849 the Dutch government had established a school of higher education for medicine. In 1851 the school had been named Dokter-Dwaja School (School for Javanese Doctors). In 1898 the school name had been changed again to School tot Opleiding van Indische Artsen (School of Medicine for Indigenous Doctors) (STOVIA). For over 75 years STOVIA had provided the best education for Indonesia's best and brightest doctors, however it was closed in 1927.

Five institutes were then established in various cities in Java. The instituted include: Yechnische Hoogeschool te Bandoeng (Faculty of Engineering) established in Bandung 1920, Recht Hoogeschool (Faculty of Law) in Batavia in 1924, Faculteit der Letteren en Wijsbegeerte (Faculty of Letters and Humanities) in the Batavia In 1940, Recht Hoogeschool (Faculty of Law) in Batavia in 1924, Faculteit der Letteren en Wijsbegeerte (Faculty of Letters and Humanities) in the Batavia In 1940, and one year after that Faculteit van Landbouwweteschap (Faculty of agriculture) was established in Bogor. These five institutes had become the basis for developing Nood-universiteit (Emergency University) which was established in 1946.

Nood-universiteit changed its name to Universiteit van Indonesië in 1947 and was based in Jakarta. In 1950 the Universiteit van Indonesië then was merged to become Universiteit Indonesia. The University had a variety of faculties such as the faculty of Medicine, Law, Letters, and Philosophy in Jakarta, the Faculty of Engineering in Bandung, the Faculty of Agriculture in Bogor, the Faculty of Dentistry in Surabaya, and the Faculty of Economics in Makassar. The Faculties outside of Jakarta had developed and went on to become independent universities. The University of Indonesia's campus in Jakarta was located on Jl. Salemba, one of the main streets in Central Jakarta, and consisted of a number of faculties such as Medicine, Dentistry, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Letters, Law, Economics, and Engineering. As time went on other faculties were established, namely, the Faculty of Psychology, the Faculty of Social Science and Politics, the Faculty of Community Health, the Faculty of Computer Sciences and finally the Faculty of Nursing. (History, Universitas Indonesia)

University of Indonesia Logo (University of Indonesia's Campus)⎜KPMG Logo (KPMG)⎜Basuki T. Siddharta Older Years (Portrait of Basuki Siddharta)
Company & Lecturing - {Smoke}

Walking into the house he was met with a dim yellow glow. The only source of light had been the lamp he left on in his study. Basuki put his briefcase on his desk, and collapsed onto the maroon leather desk chair. Basuki was tired. It wasn’t just any type of tired it was the fatigue of working sixty hours a week with little to none progress. It was the feeling of disappointment looming and growing as he went on. “What’s the point of all this?” He thought. Basuki had given his blood, sweat and tears into the company and all he had gotten back was mismanaged money from partners. His whole life had been in preparation for this, but now everything was in shambles. Basuki walked out to see mail delicately placed on the dining table, next to it was a large floral arrangement consisting of Arabian Jasmines. The Arabian Jasmines instantly took Basuki back to his Aunt’s garden from his boarding school days. Basuki took a sniff of the flowers, and gingerly picked up the note attached to it. Skimming through the note Basuki’s eyes filled with tears. It had been a thank you note from one of his clients which expressed their gratitude for his services. Basuki closed his eyes as his heart swelled with contentment. It was all worth it now. Regardless of the loss of profits, and the irresponsible partners, Basuki was fulfilled.

After graduating the accounting program at the University of Indonesia Basuki went on to open his own practice that would go on to merge with KPMG to become Siddharta Widjaja & Rekan. Just like a doctor opening a practice my grandfather opened his accounting firm. The firm had a slow start, but my grandfather never deterred continued on. Whilst working and developing his company my grandfather also worked as a professor at the University of Indonesia. There was this aching gap in his heart, a longing that had situated itself in a crevice of his soul, constantly nagging for him to keep searching - to keep learning. My grandfather absolutely loved every moment teaching. Even if his company had its ups and downs, lecturing would always motivate and bring satisfaction to my grandfather. Teaching at the university was one of his greatest joys in life. He taught thousands of students, most of which would remember him as the professor who would never stop smoking. Many students of his had gone on to become ministers and honoured and respected him greatly. My grandfather was often nicknamed “the killer”. He was strict yet caring as a teacher , which reflected his parenting style, and wanted his students to study hard and be the best they could be. My grandfather often taught with his own unique sense of humour, and exaggerated examples making his class one students would never forget. (Siddharta, Istini) Basuki’s legacy wasn’t the wealth nor luxurious comfort he had given my family, but the lives that he moulded including my father. Despite the company having only flourished after my uncle had taken it over, my grandfather had pioneered accounting and the education of accounting in Indonesia. My grandfather had not only been one of the founders of the Indonesian Institute of Accountants, but he had also helped write the Indonesian Accounting Principles. Albeit, they were never on the best terms together my grandfather had given my father the greatest gift he could ever give - the joy of learning.

Indonesian Institute of Accountants

On December 23rd, 1957 my grandfather along with ten other accountants founded the Indonesian Institute of Accountants (IAI). The IAI is a professional organisation that contains all the Indonesian accountants from various accounting sectors such as the public sector practice as accountants, accountants private sector, educators accountants, public accountants, management accountants, tax accountants, forensic accountants, and others. The IAI was founded with two main objectives: 1. Guiding the development of accounting and enhance the quality of education of accountants, 2. Enhance the quality of work of accountants. The IAI is responsible not only for organising the certification exam for accounting professionals (Chartered Accountant exam- CA Indonesia), but also for maintaining competence through continuing professional education, establishing a code of conduct, a standard of profession, and accounting standards. IAI is a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), and is also a founder and member of the ASEAN Federation of Accountants (AFA). (Profile Indonesian Institute)

My Aunt, Cousin, Grandfather (Basuki T. Siddharta), Mother, and Me. (Basuki Siddharta and Grandchildren)

Every moment of comfort, every second of relief, every time I get to do what I love, I owe all to him. All my life he had been a mystery to me, yet he had the largest impact on my life. The sacrifices he made to get my family to where they are now are invaluable. My grandfather had taught my father the most important lessons in hard work, sacrifice, and learning in which without my father would never have been the man he is today. Without my grandfather my family would have never had the chance to get the education and careers they did. My grandfather had never had the chance to pursue his passions, and aspirations; survival and success had consumed his entire life from the moment his family went bankrupt to the moment he had passed. In the end he had dedicated his life to his family and for that I am forever grateful.

Created By
Nadine Siddharta


Created with images by AMagill - "Smoke"

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.