by Wang Aona, Dames Alexander Sinaga
JAKARTA, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- "Sales are already much better compared to last year. I'm so happy and grateful. Hopefully my fortune will keep coming," said Jelita Riyadi, one of shop owners in Glodok, a famous Chinatown in Indonesia's capital city Jakarta.
Over the past days, Riyadi's stall has been frequently visited by people celebrating the Chinese New Year. As a Chinese Indonesian herself, Riyadi is selling red envelopes, new clothes, decorative items as well as handicraft works featuring the image of the rabbit.
In Indonesia, a large population of Chinese Indonesians welcomed the start of Chinese Year of the Rabbit on Sunday.
Riyadi, residing in West Jakarta, recalled her moments of celebrating the Chinese New Year, locally known as Imlek, in the past two years when the archipelagic country was still struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.
"When cases soared, it was very difficult for us to fully celebrate Imlek in accordance with the tradition. My family just stayed in, had a simple dinner on the eve of Imlek and exchanged gifts," she said. "This year we are finally able to celebrate the festival like we did before the pandemic."
Early this year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo lifted COVID-19 restrictions on community activities, citing that most of the population in the country already have antibodies against the virus. However, the president called on the public to stay vigilant and continue to wear a mask indoors and in a crowd.
Major cities across the archipelago have been staging a series of traditional events, such as lion dance performances and Chinese zodiac lantern exhibitions, which can be easily found in streets and shopping malls.
As the Indonesian government declared the next Monday a mandatory holiday, some people already left the bustling Jakarta for other cities and tourist spots for the Imlek holiday.
The Soekarno-Hatta International Airport has witnessed an influx of air passengers during this festive period. The airport's spokesperson Holik Muardi told local media that the airport recorded around 136,000 passengers on Friday, a 12 percent increase compared to a normal day.
The resort island of Bali, North Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Sulawesi, according to him, are currently the favorite destinations for domestic and international travelers.
In Labuan Bajo, a town near Komodo National Park where famous Komodo dragons live, hotels set up decorations and special dinner menus for tourists to feel the vibe of the Chinese New Year.
"It's surprising to me that I could eat Chinese food and hear an artist using the local instrument to play Chinese festive songs during New Year's Eve at my hotel. I felt really welcomed here," said Yang Miao, a Chinese tourist from east China's Jiangsu province.
On Sunday morning, Bali received the first direct flight from China since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, signaling the resumption of regular direct flights between Chinese cities and Bali in the near future.
The chartered flight carrying over 200 Chinese tourists landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali from China's southern city of Shenzhen.
Earlier this month, Indonesian Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno said that Indonesia was ready to welcome Chinese tourists "with a red carpet".
Statistics Indonesia (BPS) recorded 2.07 million Chinese tourist arrivals in 2019.
The government is expecting at least 253,000 Chinese tourists to visit the country this year, Uno said.