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