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Variety Is The Spice Of Life: Tong Tong Fair 2014, The Hague


Posted on July 11th, by Peter Parkorr in Asia, Netherlands, Roaming Resources. 5 comments

Ah Asia! As diverse as a colour wheel. As exciting as free fall. Adored by travellers from all over the world. Ancient explorers risked their lives to get there, for every reason under the sun, from trading spices to… *gulp* plunder and slavery.

If you haven’t been to Asia yet, you have to go.

Anyone who argues with that statement almost certainly hasn’t been.

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Tong Tong Fair – like Asia, very welcoming and hugely diverse.

 

But the time isn’t always right for travel, is it! Maybe you’re desperate to go, but can’t afford it. Or maybe you have too many commitments at home. Then again, it could be too big and scary an idea to visit such a different place alone.

Well, have no fear. The lovely town of The Hague (Den Haag) in the Netherlands has a brilliant solution for you.

If you can’t go to Asia, let Asia come to you.

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Welcome to Tong Tong Fair

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Thai massage is often a favourite of visitors to South East Asia

The Dutch have a long history in Southeast Asia, particularly with Indonesia. In a parallel to the British Empire and India, Dutch forays into Indonesia have left them with a legacy of ties, both at home and afar. And those ties are being remembered and celebrated in The Hague, with the yearly advent of the Tong Tong Fair.

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All eyes on stage for performances from the East

The Tong Tong Fair is a celebration of Eurasian culture. A culture emerging from two civilisations meeting and melting together over generations. ‘Eurasian’ literally means people with mixed European and Asian ancestry, and Dutch Eurasians are also referred to as Indo or Indies (not to be confused with native Indonesians).

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Of course, Indie culture still has many roots in Indonesian culture too

Wikipedia amusingly lists examples of Eurasians, including Keanu Reeves, Ben Kingsley, and Norah Jones. One of Tong Tong’s organisers this year, Florine Koning, cited that as many as 2 to 3 million people in the Netherlands have Eurasian links, which might be direct ancestry or looser ties like through family marriage.

Eurasian actors according to Wikipedia

Some of your favourite Eurasians?

The Festival

Known until recently as the Pasar Malam Besar (and what some locals still call it), the festival is a feast of Asian cultures that have been turning up in the Hague since 1959, to showcase their wares, perform music and dance, and to feed thousands of hungry visitors.

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The loud and lively food pavilions

Many people come just for the food, with the trinkets from afar and performers a bonus. There is so much food, from a huge variety of places. It’s a struggle to decide between Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Singaporean, and Korean offerings. There were even dishes from Surinam this year (another former Dutch colony, in Latin America).

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‘Sate Kambing’ or in English, Goat Satay! Yum.

Other visitors come for the traditional dances, to see their favourite Asian musicians, to learn crafts like Batik first hand, or to learn how to cook typical dishes. Performers that drew crowds this year were Samba Sunda, an Indonesian band that play fusion music, and the well-known transgender dancer Didik Nini Thowok, also from Indonesia, mixing classical dancing with modern humoristic elements.

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Didik Nini Thowok delivering an Indonesian dance at Tong Tong Podium (the main stage)

Tong Tong has a great educational element for visitors, with exhibitions retelling stories from the spice trade and Eurasian history. This year featured an interesting video exhibit, showing homemade movies from the Dutch East Indies dating back to the first years of cinematography.

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The character on the right-hand in this early film from Indonesia was doing some of the same traditional dance moves as Didik Nini Thowok

I was also impressed by the range of merchants from all over Asia, and importantly, their prices. There were Indian pashmina’s being sold for a few euros, wooden carvings and stone statues to decorate the home, a huge array of incense and teas, and pretty much anything you could want to bring home from the East.

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Beautiful pashmina’s for the same prices I paid in India!

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My favourite find at Tong Tong this year – a Korean calligrapher

With over 240 stalls to choose from, it must be a shopper’s paradise, mixing traditional goods like textiles and food stuffs with the latest homewares. A demonstration of the latest in kitchen peeling and vegetable carving technology (that’s right!) was particularly amusing, and definitely in keeping with modern Asia.

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Things like this popular Satya Sai Baba incense wasn’t easy to find in the UK a few years ago

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The Art of Salad Prep, which my co-blogger Dylan and I both appreciated!

Would I visit Tong Tong Fair (or The Hague) again?

Yes, at the drop of a hat, and I recommend it for you too, whether you are an Asia pro or an uninitiated novice. It’s easy to get to it from the UK and neighbouring countries. Amsterdam has so many direct incoming flights, you can be in Den Haag within 30 minutes from Schipol airport’s train station, and the train network is very efficient for coming from further away in Europe too. It was less than 500 metres walk from disembarking the plane to boarding the train in my case! Perfect.

But, alas, I do have a criticism of Tong Tong Fair;

It didn’t quench my Asia-lust…    it only made it stronger.

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Let Tong Tong envelop you with the (take home) sights, sounds and smells of Asia…

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Such a variety of things for sale, all typical of Asian markets

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And the food is authentic and colourful, like the countries it came from. (This is Kue Lapis, a cheap, soft and sugary cake sold at many stalls.)

I’m also creating a video about the Tong Tong Fair so sign up to my Youtube channel to make sure you see it, and expect more photos of the food, performers and sellers on the blog soon.

Peter Parkorr

This post is part of the MustLoveFestivals project that myself and 16 other bloggers have created. We’re working with tourism boards and festivals across Europe this summer to reveal the coolest and quirkiest festivals that you haven’t heard of! You can see more from all of us on MustLoveFestivals.com, through our group social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) or by searching for the #mustlovefestivals hashtag on your favourite social network.

Thanks to Tong Tong Fair and Den Haag Marketing for their support in covering this festival, and see what I have to say about Bias when it comes to blogging and Travel Unmasked.





  • Wow! Amazing photos :)

  • Arthur Brandenburg van den Gronden

    Dear Peter,

    Reading your “journey” what you have seen, heard, smelt, tasted and felt …
    Also about the flight to Amsterdam and how easy the connection is by train …

    Well, I wanna thank you for your open minded comment over the Tong Tong Fair 2014 in Den Haag.
    I guess that a lot of readers now knows what’s all about the yearly event called Tong Tong Fair!

    In the early days the name TONG TONG FAIR was THE PASAR MALAM (meaning: evening market)

    Anyway … I wish you all the best and hope to read more about your experiences over cities etc.

    Greetings,

    Arthur Brandenburg van den Gronden

    • Hi Arthur. Thanks for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed what I wrote and I hope people do visit den Haag and the Tong Tong Fair because they heard about it. It is quite unique and the city is great. Best Regards, Peter

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