‘Amazing Blitar’: A Cultural Journey

Julia Gouw and Livi Zheng understand that the world is a much more beautiful place when you experience the diversity it has to offer. While the two women come from the differing worlds of banking and film, respectively, they are world travelers. Gouw is from Surabaya and Zheng hails from Blitar, but both have found themselves working in Los Angeles. Both their experiences with the truly global diversity of Los Angeles meant the city was the proper springboard for increasing awareness of the culture of their homeland. America has long touted itself as the place where people from around the world come together to share their culture with others. With individual talents and a shared goal, Gouw and Zheng put this to the test.

“Amazing Blitar” is the latest film by acclaimed filmmaker Livi Zheng. On May 2, 2018, it became more than a film — it was a major event in Los Angeles. Coordinated with the release of the film, Blitar Regent Drs. Rijanto accompanied traditional dancers and musicians from Blitar who performed for the public in downtown Los Angeles and for academia on the UCLA campus. Attendees were treated to gratis Indonesian coffee and food to “set the table” for the audience to feel that they had been transported to this untainted part of the world. Raised in Blitar, it was Zheng’s goal to convey the harmony, beauty and people of her homeland in a way that felt personal and immersive.

Julia Gouw, Livi Zheng (Courtesy photo)
Julia Gouw, Livi Zheng (Courtesy photo)

The film and event is the culmination of the idea Zheng and Gouw manifested more than half a year ago. Alongside Rijanto, the duo spoke at the event and took part in a dialogue with students at the university’s department of Asian languages & cultures and ethnomusicology classes. Recognizing Los Angeles as one of the most international cities in the U.S., they felt it was an ideal location to unveil “Amazing Blitar.” In addition to the Regent and his wife, there were 15 musicians and dancers, as well as a few staff members, who travelled from Blitar for the event.

Gouw, an icon of the American banking industry who has been ranked as one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” by American Banker Magazine, presented the opening speech. As a native daughter of Indonesia who attended university in the U.S., Gouw epitomizes the American dream. Gouw is the ideal bridge between the two cultures. Also speaking was Rijanto, who described the history of his people to the audience.

The live performance of dancers and musicians during the evening were unlike anything American audiences had ever seen. In the same way that the language might be unfamiliar, but contain a sentiment that is understood, the sights and sounds of the artists on stage were as eye-opening in their unfamiliarity as they were in their astounding execution. Traditional dances like the emprak, the jaranan and others are varied in their meaning and purpose, used to mark the beginning of a harvest season, to cleanse the village, to give thanks or simply to invite everyone to socialize and be of good cheer. The masterful performances given that evening were a sensory feast.

“Amazing Blitar” was presented before the evening’s final dance. Zheng’s goal was to share what it is like to see the beauty of Blitar through the eyes of one of its daughters. The final dance of the evening invited audience members to stand alongside the dancers and move along to the music and motions of Blitar. By standing next to someone from a very different place and moving alongside them, we may hope to see that we are all very much alike and can learn from each other.


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