The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, November 30, 2005



Petra Chorale – East Java’s internationally famous choir – has a new musical director.

Aprilia Wisminarni Takasenserang (pictured) will face her first major test as conductor of the prestigious choir at a gala Christmas concert in Surabaya on 2 December.

But the 29-year old mezzo-soprano is no stranger to public events in Indonesia and overseas.

Before taking on her new appointment she worked closely with the previous director, the charismatic Aris Sudibyo who has moved to Irian Jaya with his soprano wife Evelyn Kok.

Under his direction the choir won championships at festivals in Kupang and Bandung. It also performed in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, and in many Indonesian provinces.

In Surabaya the choir has developed a loyal and significant following for its lively and joyful presentations of sacred and secular music, particularly pop classics from composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Phantom may have slunk into his backstage crypt at the opera in London and New York but his melodramatic passion trills on in Surabaya.

There are 25 members of Petra Chorale drawn from the staff and students of Petra University. There are two other choirs composed of junior and senior undergraduates, and Aprilia has to direct them all, from those aspiring to be Indonesia’s Sarah Brightman through to melody makers who’d be happy in a karaoke bar.

“Although our mission is to develop church music we also love to blend the traditional with the modern and interpret the music through dance,” Aprilia said.

“Our repertoire includes classical choral music, Renaissance madrigals, Afro-American spirituals, pop, contemporary and Indonesian folk music.”

The Petra choirs may have hijacked some classics but they’re not static stand-and-deliver performers. They have a reputation for providing lively entertainment with spectacular costumes and traditional instruments from across the archipelago. Their programs often included the frivolous along with the classical.

If you quiver at the thought of encountering a quaver, fear not. You don’t need a starched shirt to attend one of their concerts, just an open heart and a willingness to accept surprise.

Music aficionados in Surabaya still relive a snappy and original interpretation of the banal pop song ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ at a French Consulate concert developed by voice coach Richard Awuy. This turned a chamber-music room into a music hall with diplomats dancing alongside divas.

Although the congregations of most churches are expected to sing every Sunday, the result is not always praiseworthy. The same goes for church choirs and invited vocal groups who often perform brackets of hymns jazzed up with a couple of guitars to attract a younger audience.

Protocol for these events usually requires visitors to leave expressions of pleasure locked in the vestry. Some charismatic churches allow applause. Others expect Pastor Grim to briefly shift from sin-spotting to nod his or her recognition of the performance on behalf of the silent parishioners. These worthies occasionally wonder whether the Deity could be better praised with singers staying in tune and sharing the same song sheet.

Under Aris’ tutelage Petra Chorale offered its service to churches across East Java who believed their choirs could lift voices along with hearts and minds. In the university’s formal language this reads: “To intensively support church services and to promote good choir ministry.” This policy will continue with Aprilia.

“I’ll also be concentrating on building the organisational structure and management,” she said. “We need to find more orchestral talent. Most student musicians have learned the piano, while we need strings and woodwinds. I’m out to spot new abilities.”

The choir doesn’t back an orchestra but uses individual musicians to set the mood. Members need to be multi talented, as the choirs’ repertoire requires them to sing in Indonesian, regional languages, English, Italian, French and occasionally Latin.

The singers are unpaid volunteers, but presentation and promotion are anything but amateur. Petra runs a Church Music Appreciation and Development Program but this can’t confer degrees. Many on the campus have long been urging the university authorities to create a full-blown music department.

Aris was an architecture graduate from Petra but had to study in Singapore to get his music credentials. Aprilia came from Semarang in Central Java, where her parents were both singers. She studied civil engineering at Petra, but her real interest was chords, not concrete.

She graduated in 2000 but since then has preferred to employ her soaring musical talents rather than build high rises.

In the absence of a music department, graduating in other professions seems to be the pattern. Aprilia’s colleague, tenor Adi Margono who leads the Petra Chorale, learned hotel management.

In her new position another skill will be in great demand from the young director; maintaining harmony on and off the stage among more than 100 artistic people married to their interpretation of music.

When Aris and his wife quit Petra earlier this year after eight years developing music at the university there were reports of many choristers being emotionally distressed at the split between campus and couple.

“We have to all work together, it’s like being in a family,” said Aprilia. “We are so close, it’s important to maintain that feeling. We have to be united and continue to produce fine new musicians.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday 26 November 2005)




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Monday, November 28, 2005



Have you heard the one about the Indonesian driver taking a call on his handphone at a gas station in Jakarta?

The phone fired off sparks, the fuel exploded and the man was incinerated, which is why Australian gas stations prohibit the use of cellular phones on their forecourts.

True? Well the first part isn’t, but the second is.

Neither HP manufacturers nor oil refiners seem to have found any proof that chatting while filling the tank can be explosive, though the cost may ignite tempers. But that hasn’t stopped the ban on HP use at bowsers Down Under.

The unfortunate, infamous and mythical Indonesian motorist takes his place in folklore along with the Australian family who took their elderly Indonesian relative on a car trip from Perth to Sydney.

This is one long journey across some very arid and empty country.

Along the way the visitor passed away. The flummoxed family wrapped their kin’s corpse in a sheet and tied it on the roof. They then headed for the nearest police station, more than 1,000 kilometres distant through searing heat.

Eventually they arrived and rushed inside to report the tragedy.

But when they came out the car had been stolen! Neither vehicle nor relative has been seen since.

How do I – and just about every other Australian - know this story? Well a policeman’s cousin told it to me. Or was it his neighbor? Anyway, I’m sure the source was authentic. Mind you, the journey may have been from Adelaide to Darwin, though it could have been the other way around, and the deceased may have come from Malaysia.

What it does prove is that urban myths aren’t confined to Indonesia, though this country does seem to manufacture more than most, with Australia running a close second.

The story of the South American venomous spider under the toilet seat in a Jakarta restaurant is well known – but may have been made up by a rival eatery. Everyone knows it’s true, even if the restaurant’s name keeps getting changed. They got the ‘facts’ from a waitress who saw the bite on the corpse. Sorry, her niece.

Also widely circulated is the yarn about the Indonesian worker who tumbled into a huge vat in a cool drink factory. His body wasn’t discovered for several days and by then thousands of bottles have been consumed round the archipelago.

Funny this, but the same tragedy happened in Australia – except that the dissolved employee was working in a brewery. Of course.

It’s astonishing how many are prepared to pass on weird SMS messages from unknown people, and by doing so give the stories unwarranted authority.

Unfortunately not all are a giggle; rumors about church and mosque desecrations, terrorist targets and bomb locations have the potential to cause serious panic. If you haven’t had a few of these recently then your HP isn’t working or you’ve run out of credit.

Aphrodisiacs always feature in urban legends, probably because reputable medicine manufacturers have to keep their claims in the realm of the proven. The latest Australian myth suggests a diet of crushed emu eggshells can lift a limp libido, but the scientific community remains unaroused. However emu farmers are reaping profits.

Why do so many of us prefer the implausible to the plausible? Professional journalists spend most of their time checking the accuracy of reports only to have them tossed aside in favour of the fantastic. Word of mouth is more potent than truth.

Superstitious neighbours say that in the trees outside my gate lurk spirits ready to pounce on the unsuspecting at nightfall. Which is why everyone is indoors at dusk except the incredulous Westerner.

Modern men don’t believe such old Javanese tales. I’m more concerned with the power blackouts. I’ve been told these have nothing to do with the wet season or poor line maintenance.

The problem is space aliens sucking electricity out of the transformer on the corner to feed their death rays. A colleague whispered me about this, and he should know. His father-in-law has a good friend whose aunt works in PLN …

(First published in The Sunday Post 27 November 05)




VALE AP © Duncan Graham 2005

Dreams die at daybreak. And that’s how it was for thousands of Australians this week who woke to find their Bali holiday plans shattered by the downing of Indonesian airline Air Paradise.

Apart from the personal anguish of lost money and jobs, and the hassle of having to make new plans, in the great scheme of things there’s nothing extraordinary about the story.

Businesses collapse every day because they misjudge the market and skid off the profit runway. From mini-marts to multinationals all are subject to the raw law of the corporate jungle: Earn less than you spend - and die.

Airlines wrap themselves in the gloss of exotic locations and pretty hosties, but in the end they are just common carriers as the insurance policies say. Bemo or Boeing, you jump on, sit down, bounce about a bit, then climb off at another location. If one stops operating you find another.

So why get weepy over the demise of yet another little airline?

Even to the most varicose-veined traveller Air Paradise did offer something a mite different. It understood the mindset of Aussie holidaymakers in a way never appreciated by Garuda.

Of course AP’s significantly lower fares put travellers in a good frame of mind from the start. This was a holiday airline that flew only to Bali. Ngurah Rai wasn’t just a refuelling stopover on the way to somewhere else, but the destination.

As the company slogan said, Bali is our home - and it resonated. Cabin crew on every airline wish you a pleasant flight but their lips are usually on autopilot. Seldom with AP staff, maybe because they got to sleep in their own beds most nights.

With AP your fellow passengers weren’t going on to London or New York and determined to be grumpy all the way. They were people like you keen to swap yarns about shops with the best bargains and restaurants with the coldest beer. So flying was fun, and the kilometres clicked away in no time.

AP flights from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane took off in the morning when travellers were fresh. It also meant most passengers were in Kuta or Ubud with enough daylight hours to settle in and look around.

The shortest journey was from Perth and took only 3 hours 20 minutes, much less than a flight to Australia’s east coast capitals.

No wonder Bali has been Western Australian’s most popular holiday spot, and AP the favoured transport. At one stage the airline, which promoted itself as family-friendly, was bringing in 20,000 dads mums and kids every month from Down Under.

The other factor in AP’s favour was its underdog status that appealed to the Aussie sense of determination – a boisterous youngster taking on the old blokes of Garuda and Qantas and doing it in style.

In this case the upstart was Bali entrepreneur Kadek Wiranatha whose capacity for generating business has been tainted by the curse of misfortune.

The airline was due to launch in 2002, but take off was postponed till February 2003 following the first Bali bombing. Then came the SARS scare that hit the payloads of carriers world wide.

The second Bali bomb did even more damage to bookings.

The Australian government’s persistent travel warnings also did nothing to encourage holidaymakers to add Indonesia to their itineraries. Better try peaceful Malaysia where Australians get a free three-month visa on arrival.

But AP kept aloft and invited home-going passengers to contribute their loose change to a charity Wiranatha had established. This was not to help his ailing airline but to assist orphans and other victims of terrorism. Few knew the boss, but he seemed like a decent, can-do sort of bloke.

When the doomsayers said Bali had been blasted off the world’s tourist map, the sight of AP’s four Airbusses waggling their yellow tails on the aprons of Australia’s airports gave travellers new heart.

If a feisty young Indonesian airline was still in business despite all the problems, then it deserved a fair go. And Aussies were starting to squash their bottoms into cattle-class seats and tackling ayam goreng with plastic cutlery when the bombs went off again.

Hard-nosed business analysts exercising hindsight say the airline was vulnerable because it relied on one market. But in fact AP was already planning to expand beyond Australia and bring visitors into Bali from Shanghai, Seoul, Osaka and Tokyo.

Most Aussie travellers will recover and fly again, probably with Qantas which has boosted its profile by promising to honour about 1,500 AP tickets issued before 23 November.

But will Bali tourism survive? It’s become an article of faith for travel writers and hotel hustlers to put on a brave face and say the island will bounce back.

All except fundamentalist terrorists pray their optimism will win out, but the question is when.

Robert Murdoch, the Australian head of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told ABC Radio that Bali hotels were operating at below break-even levels and many would go bankrupt.

Aussie holidaymakers whinge about ruined holidays, but the Balinese have more serious concerns. AP’s collapse will have a knock on effect throughout the nation.

It’s not just the 350 airline workers who face a bleak future; think of the hotel staff, the bus drivers, the handicraft makers, the shop workers … Then there’s the impact on the Indonesian economy, already reeling with 18 per cent inflation and millions unemployed.

Bali needs everyone’s support, not because of maudlin sentiment and to boost business, but to preserve a decent society. The grounding of AP must not be seen as a triumph for terrorism.

(First published in The Jakarta Post Saturday 26 November 05)


Tuesday, November 22, 2005


PACKAGE YOUR OWN TOUR © Duncan Graham 2005

Fancy a break in Bali – five days with some white-water rafting thrown in? The hotel deal looks OK, but riding rapids gives you collywobbles.

So how about a week in Malacca plus guided tours of the Straits settlement? The history bit appeals, but the hotel is too expensive and you have only two days.

The problem with package tours is that you have to take the travel agent’s offering and it’s almost impossible to tailor your tastes to their product without paying big premiums.

So why not design your own package and pocket the commission?

It’s not so difficult and the cost savings can be significant.

All you need is an Internet connection, a credit card and organisational skills, plus patience and perseverance. For ease and comfort it helps if you have a personal high-speed system, but working from a Warnet is just as effective.

A bit of research makes the process easier. If travelling overseas check visa requirements and make sure you have more than six months before expiry. (The passport, not you.)

Get an impartial guidebook of the area you fancy. Lonely Planet seems to be the world standard, with the Rough Guides a distant second. These books tell you how it is with the gloss rubbed off.

Many countries run government web sites promoting their wares. Naturally these show unspoilt beaches and uncrowded streets. Best to seek Virtual Traveller websites where people post frank comments and useful tips.

Let’s assume you’d like to visit some neighbour countries. First air fares: Type ‘Travel Jakarta to Singapore (or wherever)’ into your search engine and select an airline.

Many now encourage Internet bookings. Select the flight you need and confirm booking through Visa or MasterCard, or sometimes American Express. The airline then e-mails you with a booking code that you show at the airport check-in.

I’ve yet to encounter any problems using this system in Indonesia or other APEC countries. In most cases it’s as speedy as presenting a standard ticket.

However there are some cautions. It’s essential to read the pinhead-size print on the airlines’ conditions. Some tickets include airport taxes in their charges – others don’t. And watch out for the synonyms: Is an ‘airport tax’ the same as a ‘passenger service charge’?

Well, sometimes. If you don’t check carefully you could find yourself paying a surcharge in the departure lounge just when you’ve quit the last of your local money. This is a problem in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

Not all airlines have user-friendly sites. I’ve found Air Asia to be the simplest, but the ease of use is offset by the discomfort of jostling for somewhere to sit, as the company doesn’t allocate seat numbers.

OK, you’ve organised the flights. Now look for accommodation.

The Lonely Planet books rank hotels and offer comments and prices. These change with time so ensure you update off the Web. Just search for ‘Hotels Phuket’ or wherever you fancy and you’ll be hit with multiple choices through a portal that brackets rooms according to price and location.

This part of the hospitality industry is well advanced in electronic booking to the point where the buyer can be overwhelmed by choice. It’s like buying milk in a supermarket: Low fat, calcium added, vitamin enriched, flavoured (six varieties), local, imported … no wonder customers get shelf-shocked.

Discipline is important. Select your star rating and price in advance and keep a note of the sites you visit otherwise you’ll be going round in circles.

Also check the location and access. Your dream deal may turn out to be nightmare if you have to pay more in cab fares than room rates and find your hotel is directly under a flight path.

So study city maps in guidebooks and on the Internet. Check the calendar for local festivals. Arriving in Kuala Lumpur during the Indian Deepavali festival when every contract worker from the sub continent is in town to celebrate can be daunting.

Keep a clear head while manipulating your mouse or you’ll confuse rupiah with ringgit and think you’ve scored a bargain when in fact you’ve just bought the presidential suite in the Sheraton. Type ‘Exchange Rates’ into the search box for up-to-date values because most charges are in the local currency.

Hotels in some big cities and resorts have organised a late stay booking service. This is really handy for the budget traveller. It works like this:

Cooperating hotels notify the agency that they have unsold rooms for particular nights and often discount these heavily. Sometimes breakfast is included, sometimes not. During peak periods a surcharge may apply. As with the airlines, read the small print.

You book through the Internet using your credit card and don’t pay the hotel. If you find a good deal you have to negotiate a longer stay on the Internet and not at the reception desk.

Of course there can be hiccups and hazards, as with using agents. Designing your own package tour is not for the nervous who fear Internet fraud. Reputable sites have encrypted pages when you give credit card details.

To make a booking you’re required to fill in ID or passport details and credit card information. Hassles can arise when you have a different address for your credit card statement than your home address.

Indonesians with only one name also encounter minor difficulties because the system expects everyone to be binominal. Repeating the name seems to satisfy the machines that read your form. And if you haven’t got a postcode just invent one or your application will be rejected, as empty boxes are anathema.

Check your e-mail regularly even when on tour because these booking systems do not use phone or fax contact.

Finally – travel insurance. Indonesians tend to ignore what Westerners consider essential. Whatever your views you can shop for rates and buy on the Internet.

People still sit around travel agents and queue at airport offices, but such primitive behavior is no longer essential. Why go to town to buy someone else’s holiday offering when you can custom-make your own at home? Vacation
adventures start at the keyboard.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 22 November 2005)


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


FIGHTING FOR FAITH © Duncan Graham 2005

By Indonesian standards of religious conflict the attack was relatively mild.

In late July an estimated 10,000 youth stormed the Bogor, West Java compound of the Ahmadiyah religious group. Some buildings were burned. The 700 residents fled, but no one was killed or seriously injured.

The police were reported to have been present. There were no arrests, but the hoons earned the wrath of vice president Jusuf Kalla, other senior figures in the government and mainstream Islamic organisations.

The attackers called themselves the Indonesian Muslim Solidarity Group. They claimed they were motivated by a fatwa (edict) issued by the peak Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) - the Indonesian Scholars’ Council.

The MUI had declared Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic organisation because it allegedly does not recognise Muhammad as the last prophet. Ahmadiyah was formed in Pakistan last century. It has an estimated 200,000 followers in Indonesia where it’s been operating for about 80 years.

Ironically – or perhaps deliberately - the assault occurred just as an international forum on inter-faith issues held in Bali called for the recognition of pluralism and the right of individuals to choose their own religion. The forum was opened by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who stressed the need for tolerance and understanding.

The government-sanctioned MUI responded by declaring secularism and pluralism forbidden under Islam. In its national congress just after the Bali forum, delegates also approved fatwa against inter-faith marriages, joint prayers with people of other faiths unless led by a Muslim, and women leading prayers when men are present.

MUI executive Cholil Ridwan ordered preachers nationwide to spread the edicts. In keeping with the Indonesian practice of creating acronyms to simplify complex issues and give them a twist he referred to secularism, pluralism and liberalism as SIPILIS. This is also the Indonesian word for syphilis.

In the past similar edicts from Islamic conservatives in Indonesia have roused limited ire. But this time opponents mounted a full on verbal attack that lifted the issue onto the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.

A rapidly formed assembly of religious leaders and leading intellectuals, including former president Abdurrahman Wahid (widely known as Gus Dur) condemned the MUI edicts and asked the government to ban the organisation.

Although Indonesia claims to be a secular state religion is an all-pervading political and administrative issue. The Department of Religious Affairs is the nation’s third largest bureaucracy.

According to the department about 85 per cent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslims. All citizens have to profess one of five approved religions and have their faith stamped on compulsory ID cards.

The religions are Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Local wags say that Indonesians are free to practise religion, but not free to practise no religion.

Foremost among the opponents of MUI has been scholar and activist Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, 39. In 2003 he attracted the wrath of the old men for publishing a newspaper article criticising conservative Muslim leaders. Another Islamic group issued a fatwa to kill the young critic, but so far he has survived.

Ulil belongs to the Liberal Islamic Network which raises issues of pluralism and gender equality at every opportunity. Not surprisingly it’s been labelled anti-Islam and a tool of the West. As Ulil also fronts a think tank called the Freedom Institute, which is widely believed to have US funding, this charge resonates. (Ulil says the money comes from a major philanthropist.)

He is also head of the Research and Human Resources Development Department in Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one of two major Islamic organisations in Indonesia and which claims a membership of 40 million. (The other is Muhammadiyah, which like NU also condemned the attack on the Ahmadiyah compound.)

“I’ve had a solid Islamic education in a conservative and traditional environment,” Ulil said. “I was educated in the madrasah and pesantren (Islamic schools) and I went to an Islamic university. (He studied Syariah – Islamic law.)

“I have developed my understanding of Islam through my curiosity. I can challenge the conservatives on their terms. I’m ready to engage in dialogue with them. If you want to be a reformer you must have earned your credentials from within your own organisation.”

At the heart of the issue is the direction and power of Islam in a nation recently liberated from authoritarian control. Under the New Order government of former general Suharto public discourse was heavily censored. Specifically banned were discussions of race, religion and ethnicity.

Also kept on a tight rein were radical Islamic organisations. Particularly curbed were those calling for Indonesia to become an Islamic state and throw off the concept of pluralism enshrined in the nation’s constitution.

When Suharto resigned in 1998 after 32 years in total control these restrictions were lifted as Indonesia embraced democracy. But freedom of speech and assembly didn’t just apply to liberals, and it wasn’t long before Friday prayers were being used to raise the once taboo topics.

In 1999 during Gus Dur’s presidency serious violence broke out between Muslims and Christians on the island of Ambon in the Moluccas, and around Poso in Central Sulawesi. An estimated 9,000 people have lost their lives and up to 100,000 made homeless in this poorly reported conflict.

At the height of the fighting Islamic radicals from Java sailed to Ambon against the president’s orders allegedly to defend fellow Muslims. Sporadic shootings and bombings continue to occur despite peace agreements.

It’s against this recent history that the clash between the MUI and the liberals is taking place. It’s not just a case of who determines how Muslims should behave and what they should believe – it’s also a struggle for the place of Islam in the state, and a fear that Indonesia will be Christianised if Islamic power wanes.

“There’s a strong indication that radical Islam is gaining ground,” said Ulil. “It’s definitely something that moderate Indonesian Muslims must take note.

“At the same time there’s a reform underway in Islam which is equal to the birth of Protestantism through Martin Luther. Most of the pesantren are dynamic institutions going through a very interesting process of re-evaluating Islamic theology.

“I’m not defending all pesantren but I reject the claims by some Western politicians that pesantren are breeding grounds for violence. It’s dangerous to take a monolithic view. The fundamentalists have come from a background of secular education promoting zealotry and bigotry. They have no real understanding of Islam because they haven’t been through the rigid analysis of religion. They are not speaking in God’s name.”

But who does? Mustering a mob to protest any issue is easy in Indonesia which has an estimated 20 million unemployed or under-employed. During last year’s general election thousands of young men were paid the equivalent of a couple of dollars to swell demonstrations and plant banners.

Many openly admitted they were happy to wear a candidate’s T-shirt and distribute propaganda but had no intention of supporting him or her at the ballot box.

Consequently there are always suggestions that attacks, like the one on the Ahmadiyah compound and those in Ambon, have been orchestrated by what commentators like to call ‘sinister forces’. This is local code for die-hard New Order power brokers unhappy with political developments diluting their once rigid grip on society.

Although no one will name names such spoiler tactics have more sinister overtones than an attack driven by a spontaneous feeling of outrage.

Conspiracy theorists allege an international Jewish-Christian-Chinese-Capitalist Western master plan to undermine Indonesian Islam. These notions were once confined to the fringe but have moved towards the centre following the fall of Suharto and the independence of East Timor. A PEW global attitudes survey released this year claimed 38 per cent of Indonesians viewed Christians unfavourably.

October marks the start of the fasting month of Ramadan and a time when fundamentalists seek to impose their standards on others. Watch out for more demonstrations – real or contrived - against liberalism as the world’s most populous Islamic nation wrestles with concepts of democracy.

(First published in The Diplomat (Australia) October 2005)


Monday, November 14, 2005



© Duncan Graham 2005

To stay healthy and be responsible Indonesian youth should have access to condoms and other contraceptives in places where they feel relaxed about obtaining them, according to a new report on sexual health.

Although young Indonesians are hungry for information on sex, many parents, teachers and religious leaders believe education should suppress youth sexuality.

The report titled Youth, Sexuality and Sex Education Messages in Indonesia: Issues of Desire and Control was written by East Java academic Dede Oetomo and Dutch social studies lecturer Brigitte Holzner. It has been published in the British journal Reproductive Health Matters.

“If sexuality is a form of knowledge-seeking that creates identity and connectivity, then sexuality is not something dangerous that should be suppressed,” the report authors said.

“Young people can have a healthy, informed and responsible sexual life. By providing information and the means to sexual health we actually reduce the risk of young people inflicting harm on themselves.

“Non-prohibition does not mean ‘you must have sex’; on the contrary it means having information and the acceptance of desire, dialogue, negotiation and pleasure. This is the meaning of empowering young people in relation to sexuality.

“(However) the dominant prohibitive discourse in Java denies and denounces youth sexuality as abnormal, unhealthy, illegal or criminal, reinforced through intimidation about the dangers of sex.”

Research for the report included open discussions with young people in Surabaya, and analysing the contents of youth magazines and publications on sexual health.

The authors said young Indonesians were fortunate to be living in a country with one of the freest presses in Asia where the opportunities to discuss sexuality were growing.

A highlight of this media freedom was the hostile public reaction to a new draft Criminal Code that sought to prohibit adultery, cohabitation, oral sex and homosexuality under 18. Outraged citizens demanded the State keep out of their bedrooms. The authors described the response as “refreshingly strong.”

Magazines about celebrities, music and fashion also invite readers to write about their lives and ask questions about relationships. The researchers found the replies did not carry “preachy remarks” from “nanny-like parent figures”, or treat young people as incapable of taking care of themselves.

The images of young people found in the magazines didn’t show them as frightened of sexuality and needing protection. Instead they were experimenting with pleasure using caution and responsibility.

Most participants in the group discussions had already engaged in some form of sexual activity. Only a few thought they should maintain their virginity until marriage. None had read government publications about sexuality.

“Our sample did not seem to be impressed by proscriptions by State and religious sources,” the authors said. “They relied on their own will and found the information they needed.

“They were not activists for sexual rights but young citizens living a right that officially is denied to them.”

Dr Oetomo, a special reader in social sciences at the University of Surabaya’s postgraduate program, is also prominent in the Indonesian gay rights movement. He told The Jakarta Post that many young people were damaged by lack of reproductive health services and accurate information about sex.

The damage included unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV /AIDS, depression and suicide.

“For example, girls become pregnant while still at school because they don’t have access to contraceptives,” he said. “These are only provided to ‘married couples’. In most cases the girl is expelled and her future ruined.

“Young people must be able to be active citizens in their society, have pleasure and confidence in relationships and all aspects of sexuality.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 6 November 2005)


Sunday, November 13, 2005


© Duncan Graham 2005

The life of a missionary kid (they call themselves MKs) is so dramatically different from the upbringing of most children that there’s even an Indonesian webpage devoted to the experience.

Sample: MKs fly before they can walk. They speak two languages but can’t spell in either. They have passports but no driving licences. When watching National Geographic TV specials they recognise someone. Or think the featured wildlife looks tasty.

Obviously the trauma rate is high. The quandary facing English MK Jonathan Heath was adjusting to life in the industrial city of Birmingham, England. His formative years had been in a West Kalimantan village in a high-stump house eating fresh-killed meat from the forest. A wide brown river outside the garden was his swimming pool.

How does anyone handle the concrete jungle after a boyhood spent in the real jungle with Dayak playmates?

Answer: They don’t. Well, not without a lot of difficulty.

Solution: Return to Indonesia.

But the days of gaunt God-driven white folk in pith helmets trekking their version of salvation into the heart of darkness have all but gone. The Indonesian government no longer welcomes foreign pastors unless they’re headed for seminaries where they can preach to the already converted, and Malang in central East Java seems to have more than most.

So whether by happenstance, or through the mysterious workings of the Deity, teacher Heath has found himself back in the archipelago with plans to stay indefinitely as the principal of Malang’s Wesley International School

Now when such cherished ambitions are let loose by the husband they often founder on the rock of marriage. He may want to revisit the land of his childhood and bask in the tropic sun of happy memories, but his partner will surely have other plans.

Fortunately for Heath his English wife Esther is also a former MK. She’s been well immunised to adapt and make the best of whatever she finds.

She was raised in poor, landlocked Malawi in southern Africa. So she’s also experienced a childhood quite out of the ordinary. Consequently the culture shock of moving to East Java has been little more than a language jolt.

A similar destiny awaits their children Nathanael, 5, and Abigail, 3 with another on the way who will be born in East Java. The kids are already in a local kindergarten so they’ll pick up Indonesian and the culture, but as the couple are quick to note, Malang is far from Pontianak.

“This is a very safe city to the point where some families from Jakarta and Surabaya prefer that their children study here,” Heath said. “Although there have been threats of church closures following the problems in Bekasi Regency, this is not West Java.”

Nonetheless the school takes security for its 100 students from ten countries seriously. Their new purpose-built campus has a winding entrance and a modern take of the drawbridges that protected castles in medieval Europe.

In the Wesley version a flick of a switch sends a steel-plated section of the road skidding away leaving a big and impassable pit.

The school started in a house in 1971 when missionaries – mainly from the US – wanted their kids to have an American schooling.

Most of the missionaries have long gone but the school has moved three times and expanded to cover all study years and meet the educational needs of expatriates’ kids. These are now mainly Korean, in business or as staff in the seven, government-approved, local Bible colleges.

The curriculum remains US based and Heath - the school’s first non-American principal - claims that graduates have no trouble entering most American and Korean universities.

“This is an evangelical non-denominational Protestant school,” he said. “To get enrolled here you must be fluent in English as that’s the means of instruction.

“It’s getting more difficult to recruit teachers because of the reports of violence and political tensions. We want our teachers to have the support of congregations back in their hometowns so we maintain partnerships with the rest of the world.”

Heath stayed in Indonesia till he was 18. Apart from schooling in Kalimantan he was also educated in Bandung, Jakarta and Malaysia. After graduating from Loughborough University in Leicestershire he taught mathematics in Birmingham schools where most students were Asian immigrants. He also went to theological college for three years.

After many years in Britain the pull to Indonesia became too much. The family moved to Malang a year ago with Heath as a teacher. Now he’s been promoted as the boss.

Heath’s experiences growing up as a proclaimed Christian in a predominantly Muslim nation have made him a hard-nosed realist. The school was briefly closed during the political unrest following the fall of Suharto in 1998.

“There’s no direct threat to Christianity in Indonesia, but almost every day we hear about an incident somewhere in the country where a church has been closed,” he said. “That tends to create an impression of threat.

“People are far more alive in their faith in Indonesia than Britain which professes to be a Christian country but where most do not practise.

“Here we are constantly aware of the spiritual dimension of life. The challenge is to be aware of our spirituality.

“Christianity will continue to thrive as a strong and tolerated minority religion in Indonesia but the future depends on the government – whether it leans towards Pancasila or an Islamic state.

“We cannot proselytise. Our role as Christians and whites is to set a positive example through the way we live and behave as peaceful people. We all have to work hard to ensure good relations with the rest of the community.

“If there’s any trouble then both sides need to stand up and promote tolerance together. I don’t think it’s difficult to be a Christian in Indonesia.”



Wesley International School was opened by the US based Oriental Missionary Society, now known as OMS International.

John Wesley (1703 – 1791) was an English theologian who started the evangelical Methodist movement. He spent two years in the US as a missionary.

The OMS began in 1901 with missionaries going to Japan with the ambition of putting a Bible in every household. That meant ten million, but the effort had minimal impact. Today only one per cent of Japanese are Christian.

A few years later Korea, China and India were targeted by the OMS. Indonesia was included in 1971.
OMS International says its missionaries “are urged to work toward the goal of making themselves dispensable by training and encouraging national co-workers who can take their places of responsibility in the work.
“It is not the aim of OMS to establish a foreign church, but to assist in the establishment of the indigenous church.” This is widely known as ‘church planting.’
In the 1980s foreign missionaries started complaining that the Indonesian government was tightening visa regulations to restrict their activities.

The Department of Religious Affairs said only about 20 foreigners were legally working as missionaries in East Java.

Five mainstream religions are allowed to openly practise in Indonesia: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism. According to the Department Protestants and Catholics form less than ten per cent of the population and Muslims almost 90 per cent.

Occasional news items of foreign teachers being deported for allegedly working as missionaries, and claims that some aid workers in Aceh were missionaries in disguise seeking to Christianise tsunami victims keep the issue alive.

(First published in The Jakarta Post Saturday 5 November 2005