indonesia artificial snow wonderland
Children playing in the artificial snow park. All photos by author.
Holidays 2019

Inside Indonesia’s Artificial Snow Wonderlands

One of the few places you can find snow on the equator is inside shopping malls.
27 December 2019, 2:20am

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

For people living in places with four seasons, the thought of Christmas usually conjures up images of sleighs, reindeer, Santa Claus, and snow. But for many of those living on the equator, snow is something only seen in movies. Indonesians make up for this by making their own in controlled environments.

At the Revo Town Mall’s International Snow World in the city of Bekasi, roughly an hour drive from Jakarta, the Christmas spirit is in full swing. Kids (and adults) receive presents and have a chance to play in the artificial snow, a stark contrast to the Christmas ban in one Indonesian regency that practices a stricter version Islam.

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A couple snaps a photo at Snow World International.

Feeling like I've been good this year, I decided to see what all the hype was about. And after enduring traffic on a 20-kilometre stretch of dusty road, on a motorcycle, in 30-degree Celsius weather, I was so ready for snow.

The exhibit was a semi-permanent fixture about the size of a football field. It cost me Rp60,000 ($4.30) to get in, which included a winter coat rental.

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A few steps into the snow park, I was treading on what felt like a thick layer of snow. My breath condensed in the air every time I exhaled. I felt embarrassingly ecstatic because everything was so convincing. A thermometre on the wall indicated the temperature was -15 degrees.

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For dwellers of tropical regions, snow is a luxury that many will pay top dollar for. During wintertime, many Indonesians escape the year-long heat to play in the snow abroad. The South Korean Embassy in Jakarta reported that more Indonesians visit the country in December than any other time of the year. Those who can't leave the country can visit one of these artificial snow wonderlands.

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“We were on our way to visit family in Jakarta and this mall is right off the toll road, so we came here to take some photos,” Wita, a visitor at International Snow World, told VICE.

The cold turned out to be unbearable for her shivering children, who asked to leave after less than 30 minutes. Not everything you see on TV is what it seems, kids.

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Winter experiences like these have been popular in Indonesia since 2016. The snow is usually synthesised through a process of artificial nucleation, also known as crystallisation. Water mixed with protein powder is sprayed through a high-pressure pump, which crystallises when it comes into contact with cold air.

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Although artificial snow isn’t cheap to create or maintain, demand is high enough that shopping centres across Indonesia can continue to offer a taste of the western Christmas experience in the tropics. Every December, malls race to build the best skating rink, slides, and ice sculptures.

And Indonesians aren’t the only ones with a curiosity for snow. Come Christmastime, artificial snow spectacles, from blizzard simulations to ice-skating rinks, pop up in tropical Singapore.

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An ice-skating rink at Grand City Mall, Surabaya.

The popularity of these winter experiences definitely lends credibility to the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Us humans will always desire what we cannot access. While I shudder to imagine what my life would be like if I actually lived in -18-degree weather, my reality of 30 degrees and 90 percent humidity isn’t that great either.