Dough Sculpting the Java Way—

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2017 / November

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Faul


Traditional dough sculpture from China has its origins in the culture of sacrificial rites. The first forms were shaped from rice flour dough to take the place of animals, like pigs and fish, that people were no longer willing to kill as offerings. Today these figurines have evolved into collectible miniatures of all kinds, including animal motifs and cartoon characters. And now a migrant worker from Indonesia has not only learned this traditional folk art, but even infused it with themes from her own culture such as Javanese wedding attire or Gamelan musical instruments. Her exquisite and colorful dough sculptures are like glorious sparks released by the convergence of cultures.


During weekends and holidays in the main concourse of the Tai­pei Railway Station or at craft markets large and small around Tai­chung you are likely to come across this radiant young woman wearing a traditional ke­ru­dung. Clothed in Indonesian dress and speaking Bahasa Indonesia, her hands are occupied with a traditional folk craft popular in Taiwan, sculpting dough figures. Her name is Pindy Windy, a migrant worker from Indonesia. “This is a bride and groom in central Javanese wedding dress, and that is a scene from my childhood, riding to school on the back of a water buffalo across the rice paddies.” A good many people have been introduced to Indonesian culture through Pindy’s enthusiastic descriptions of her dough works.   

Leaving home

Pindy is the eldest daughter of a Central Javanese family. After graduating from high school she told her father that she wanted to help the family by working abroad. Her first stop was nearby Singapore, to practice English and gain some work experience. After a year she returned to Indonesia to study Chinese and to learn the proper skills for taking care of invalid patients and small children. Her next assignment was in Taiwan.

Pindy recounts her first work experience in Taiwan, “I took care of an elderly woman in Yilan without talking for six months.” Not having a very good command of Chinese, she feared saying the wrong thing and rarely opened her mouth to speak throughout her first half year in Taiwan. With the support of her employer, who suggested she watch Chinese-language television and encouraged her to speak out and learn by practice, along with her own active learning through reading and study, she eventually mastered Chinese and even understands Taiwanese.

She returned to Indonesia with her hard-earned savings after reaching the three-year limit under the regulations for migrant workers at that time. She stayed there for five years, during which time she got married and gave birth to two children. But what should have been a happy life back home ended in divorce. 

Losing all before finding dough

Pindy’s husband spent all her savings, making her a penniless single mom struggling to bring up two small children. She wanted a better life for her two-year-old toddler and less than a year old infant, and so she made the difficult choice to place them in the care of her own mother while she went to Taiwan for work. Pindy’s eyes well up with tears as she tells the story of parting from her children. 

This time in Taiwan, Pindy was once again assigned work as a caregiver, but what she didn’t anticipate was how a spell nursing her patient in a hospital would open the door on a whole new life.

In the neighboring bed an elderly woman was being attended to by her son, Young Ching­jen, a master in the art of dough sculpture. Young, who understood the endless hours of hard work that go into invalid care and had long been deeply committed to the issues of migrant workers, invited Pindy to take on dough sculpting as a leisure activity to help her unwind. 

At first Pindy just thought it was fun and didn’t consider her toy figures all that attractive. Through Young’s constant encouragement and her first attempts at crafting subjects from Indonesian culture, though, Pindy soon discovered a passion for the art form.

There are essentially five pigments used in dough sculpture: red, white, blue, yellow and black. In order to bring out the vivid colors of the traditional wedding attire worn in her native land, Pindy studied advanced color-mixing techniques with Young. For example, if she had a need for the color brown, she could make it by mixing yellow, red and black into the sculpting media. Colorful hues in a variety of shades and tones can all be achieved by adjusting the ratio of the basic colors used.

Pindy’s skillful hands have transformed subjects that combine memories of her local region with photos of Indonesia from all over, into dough sculptures. Her creations capture the distinctive essence of her native culture. The subject matter for Pindy’s creations is replenished from the deep wells of diverse cultural content that originates in the myriad islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

Kneading hope to share joy

Pindy doesn’t only make dough figures on request for friends, but has also gotten many of her migrant-work sisters involved in the craft. She relates how Indonesia also has a similar craft but the quality is not as good as Taiwan’s. If these minutely detailed and highly malleable dough miniatures were to incorporate Indonesian themes they would surely add to the appeal of Indonesia’s tourist destinations. Their contribution to employment opportunities within the country might also have a transformative effect upon the fate of her fellow Indonesians, currently forced to seek work overseas. With this in mind venues such as the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei and Taichung’s ASEAN Square have welcomed educational visits by Pindy the dough sculptor. Even during holiday visits back to Indonesia she takes time out to promote her craft by teaching small children dough sculpting at kindergartens.

In April of this year, through the support of Taiwanese friends, Pindy organized a dough figurine exhibition, “Fingers Creating Brilliance,” in Tai­chung. At the invitation of the Tai­chung City Government she also organized an Indonesian Pageant at the city’s Bazaar Asia Tenggara (ASEAN Market) in August. The event showcased Indonesian fashion, music, dance and ethnic cuisine, successfully realizing ­Pindy’s hope of giving her Taiwan-based compatriots a stage to promote greater understanding of Indonesian culture amongst the people of Taiwan.   

Pindy’s passion for helping her fellow Indonesians has earned her the sobriquet of “teacher” amongst many of her country’s migrant workers in Taiwan. In the view of  Young Ching­jen, Pindy’s determination and focused effort have resulted in unique works that stand out from the crowd. For the future, Pindy will continue to promote dough sculpture in both countries, with plans in the future to open a small shop in Indonesia. When viewing Pindy’s extreme focus and confidence in sculpting dough we can see in her an example of unfettered hope.

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爪哇特色捏麵人

文‧陳群芳 圖‧林格立

源自祭祀文化裡的捏麵人,原是不忍殺生而改以麵粉和水捏製成豬、魚等祭祀牲禮,在近代演變成可以賞玩的小物,如動物、人偶、卡通人物等,是許多人的兒時記憶。現在,有位來自印尼的移工Pindy,不僅學習中華文化的傳統技藝,還將自己的文化融入。在她的巧手下,爪哇婚禮、甘美朗樂器等全成了精巧的捏麵人,這些色彩繽紛的人偶,正是文化碰撞的精采火花。


假日的台北車站大廳、台中大小文創市集裡,常常能見到一位頭戴穆斯林包巾,有著開朗笑容的女孩,她身穿印尼服飾、講著印尼語,手上卻做著台灣本土的技藝──捏麵人。她是來自印尼的移工Pindy,「這是中爪哇婚禮服飾,那是小時候騎著牛穿過農田去上課的場景。」Pindy親切地向民眾介紹她的捏麵人作品,許多人因而對印尼有多一點的認識。

開朗少女離家記

來自印尼中爪哇省的Pindy是家中長女,高中畢業便主動向父親提起出國工作的規劃,希望能為家中減輕負擔。她知道留在印尼的薪資不高,必須走出去才能為自己創造比較好的待遇。於是沒有工作經驗的Pindy,第一站就近前往新加坡磨練英文,累積工作經驗,一年多後返家,回到印尼的人力仲介公司學中文、學習照顧病人及小孩的相關技能。這次,她出發來到台灣。

Pindy回憶自己來台的第一份工作,「我在宜蘭照顧阿嬤,6個月都沒辦法講話。」中文不好的她因為怕講錯話,剛來的前半年都不敢開口。在雇主的支持下,建議她看電視,鼓勵她開口溝通練習,一方面Pindy也積極看書學習中文,現在中文難不倒她,連台語也聽得懂。

問起適應的問題,Pindy笑笑地說:「台灣的米飯比較好吃」。而常讓移工困擾的宗教問題,Pindy會選擇不影響雇主的場合來膜拜阿拉,以樂觀的態度克服異鄉的種種不同。

之後Pindy陸續到工廠或其他家庭工作,當時移工政策規定的三年時限一到,Pindy就帶著努力工作存下來的報酬回到印尼。

這一待就是5年,期間她結婚並生下兩個孩子,應該要幸福快樂的回鄉生活,最後卻是以離婚收場。問起這段破碎的婚姻,Pindy輕描淡寫地表示,因為先生太懶散,都不工作,她出錢讓他做生意也花光光,給過他好幾次機會,試圖挽救彼此的關係,但最終還是以分開收場。

歸零重來,開啟捏麵人生

先生花光了Pindy的積蓄,獨自扶養兩個小孩的她,為讓孩子過好一點的生活,忍痛將兩歲及還沒一歲的孩子,託給自己的媽媽照顧,隻身來台工作。談起當時與孩子分開的心情,Pindy想起來還是紅了眼眶。

再次來台,Pindy一樣擔任看護工作,但沒想到一次醫院的看護工作,竟意外開啟她不一樣的人生。

鄰床的家屬,是在醫院照顧母親的捏麵人師傅楊清仁。照顧病人的工作疲憊又漫長,原本就關心移民工議題的楊清仁,主動邀請Pindy學習捏麵人,讓她能打發時間。

一開始,Pindy只是好玩,她覺得自己做的玩偶並不漂亮,一度感到挫折,是楊清仁不斷地鼓勵,直到她嘗試製作印尼文化的人偶,Pindy才真正找到興趣。

捏麵人原有的素材裡只有紅白藍黃黑五原色,為了詮釋故鄉婚禮的傳統服飾,Pindy跟著楊清仁學習更進階的調色技巧。白色加紅色揉成粉紅色,需要咖啡色的話就將黃、紅、黑三種顏色的黏土團相加……。隨著各原色比例的不同,就能調出各種深淺的五彩黏土。

Pindy結合家鄉的記憶以及四處蒐集的印尼圖片,在她的巧手下,化身成充滿異國風情的捏麵人。印尼島嶼眾多,深厚的文化底蘊,讓Pindy的創作靈感源源不絕。

除了印尼相關的創作,Pindy也將她在台灣的生活與觀察放進作品,如由她貼身照顧的阿嬤與阿公、雇主的家庭成員,巧妙地捕捉每個人的神韻與特色,逗得大家直說好像。Pindy說她最喜歡人物創作,每張臉孔都有不同表情,讓她覺得有趣且充滿挑戰。

樂於分享,捏出希望

對捏麵人越做越有興趣的Pindy,不只接受朋友的委託製作,也拉著移工姊妹們一起學。Pindy表示,印尼雖有類似捏麵人的商品,但品質沒有台灣好,小巧、變化性高的捏麵人,易於保存與收藏,若能結合印尼的風土民情,應能在印尼的觀光地區受到遊客青睞。如此能為印尼當地創造工作機會,也許能改變同胞們出國工作謀生的命運。

於是,駐台北印尼經濟貿易代表處、台中東協廣場、文創市集等地,都有Pindy捏麵人教學的身影。甚至放假回印尼時,也到幼稚園教小朋友捏麵人,竭力推廣捏麵人技藝。

週日與朋友相聚在台北車站大廳時,Pindy也會帶著捏麵人的材料,大方地向有興趣的朋友免費教學;有時國內外旅客路過,也會被眼前充滿南洋風情的捏麵人吸引而駐足,小小的捏麵人牽起不同文化與國籍間的友誼。

今年4月Pindy在台灣朋友的協助下,在台中舉辦了捏麵人偶的個展「指創精彩」,色彩豐富的印尼各地婚禮服飾、印尼傳統音樂甘美朗的樂器等,令人眼睛為之一亮。除了展覽,8月時Pindy更在台中市政府邀請下,主辦東協市集「印尼站」活動,她規劃了印尼服裝時尚秀、印尼舞蹈表演、印尼樂團演出、小吃攤等,濃濃的家鄉味,讓現場氣氛更顯熱鬧歡騰,希望為同胞提供表演的舞台,也藉此讓台灣民眾能更了解印尼文化。

Pindy對同胞的熱心付出,讓她成為許多在台印尼移工口中的老師。在楊清仁的眼中,Pindy的認真與努力,讓她的捏麵人充滿特色而閃耀。未來,Pindy也將繼續舉辦移工的歌唱比賽等活動,並持續在台灣及印尼推廣捏麵人,期望自己能在印尼做點捏麵人的小生意。望著Pindy在創作時專注而自信的神情,我們在她身上看到了無限的希望。

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