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, January 25, 2006


A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO OZ DAY © Duncan Graham 2006

At last year’s Australia Day celebrations in Surabaya, organised by the Indonesia-Australia Business Council’s East Java branch, the MC asked the gathering a most embarrassing question:

“What does the day actually celebrate?”

A loud silence followed. There was much staring at the ceiling and scrutiny of fingernails before visiting Queenslander Rob Wardrobe (who represents his state in Jakarta) offered a mangled version of history.

Then everyone got back to the serious business of drinking lots of beer.

Cynics say there’s one true test for a genuine Australian: If he or she doesn’t know the second verse of the national anthem then they’re abso-bloody-lutely Dinky-Di.

Nationalism doesn’t go down too well with Australians despite the Federal government’s best efforts to instil national pride amongst school kids who have to grin and bear it. We’re happy to shout Ozzie-Ozzie-Ozzie when thrashing some other former colony at cricket, but shy from ostentatious displays of love for homeland.

It seems many Australians agree with the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson’s aphorism: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

There’ll be a few flags fluttering outside suburban homes in Australia this Thursday and more at official offices. But nothing like the 17 August displays in Indonesia or the shows of Stars and Stripes in the US on any day.

Of course the Australian flag isn’t the most inspiring design, with the Union Jack prominent in the top corner. Can you imagine Malaysia, Singapore, India or even Canada retaining this symbol of their colonial past?

And if you can spot the difference between the Australian flag and its New Zealand counterpart you’re obviously an emblematist with excellent eyesight.

There’s even a national organisation called Ausflag dedicated to developing a new flag. Does any Indonesian want to change the Merah Putih?

Offerings range from the ludicrous to the ridiculous. The contribution of Melbourne artist and poet Michael Leunig has became the most famous: It shows a flag of corrugated iron, Australia’s ubiquitous all purpose roofing, fencing and building material.

Apart from the flag furore, the issue of republicanism usually gets exhumed at this time of the year.

At a referendum in 1999 Australians opted to retain the Queen of England as their head of state. Indonesians find this beyond belief and proof that their big neighbour remains a colony of Europe.

Trying to explain otherwise is just a waste of time as the incredulous have all logic on their side. Like the Queen’s image on coins and the $5 note.

Republicans want an Australian to be the Governor General or President. They’ve coined the proletarian phrase “A Mate for Head of State” to try and arouse the plebs, only to be greeted with a big yawn.

Even knowing the Queen will eventually give up Europe’s top job in favour of her big-eared son Charles and his big-haired consort Camilla doesn’t seem to excite anyone, unless it’s a giggle.

The prince’s peccadilloes in the dysfunctional royal family would challenge a sinetron scriptwriter. Despite this the Queen retains respect. The institution is powerless and therefore harmless, and it’s good for the tabloids.

So if nationalism can’t stir the possum Down Under, what can? Sport is the great arouser and Australia Day is a fine excuse to whack a ball around on the beach before watching a fireworks display and demolishing a few cartons of grog.

On January 26 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and became its first governor to the astonishment and later regret of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the Great South Land.

The dispossessed have now labelled 26 January as the Day of Mourning.

The official slogan is “Celebrate what’s great”. This is about as meaningful as a party political ad and just as grating.

Many think the event best forgotten and all energies put into Anzac Day, 25 April. This was when Australian troops first landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 in support of the “Mother Country” in her war with Germany and its allies.

Like Heroes’ Day on 10 November in Indonesia this is a solemn occasion to remember the dead of all wars who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Unlike Indonesia there are few war cemeteries. Australia’s battles have been fought overseas and the big graveyards, like the beautiful one at Tantui in Kota Ambon, are far from home.

Some politicians want 1 January remembered. On this date in 1901 Australia became the Commonwealth without recourse to bloodshed.

The proverb: “Happy is the country that has no history” may have been written by the mysterious and prolific Anon. But most Okkers would reckon he or she must have been an Aussie commenting on Godzone.

On what? In the Queen’s English this translates as: God’s Own Land.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 25 January 2006)



Tuesday, January 24, 2006


THE HILL OF SHARED FAITHS © Duncan Graham 2006

In a world of grim uncertainties The Jakarta Post can make a confident prediction about the end of this month when the Chinese and Islamic New Years are celebrated.

We’ll even toss in a handy tip: If you’re hoping for prosperity in the year to come and have pencilled in a trip to Gunung Kawi, plan well ahead.

For the sacred mountain will be crowded to the point where tinned sardines would complain. Guaranteed.

We’re not talking here about the dormant volcano of that name in Bali, but its namesake in East Java.

The roads up this mountain are a green delight with dense sugar cane, rice seedlings in rank and file, a snapshot of smiling sunflowers. Elephant ears nod in your slipstream. Fresh laundry clothes stone walls. Smoke wisps upwards from damp fires.

But if you’re driving don’t take your eyes off the narrow and twisting track to survey these pleasantries – or it may be the last thing you’ll see. The paths inside the complex are narrower still and the car parks chaotic. Take a calming pill or prepare to be tired, tense and mightily fractious.

Despite these corroding emotions the adventure will be worthwhile if you’re intrigued by the endless complexities of culture – and better still if your prayers are answered and riches tumble into your lap, like the leaves of the goddess tree.

Known to the secular as Equina Uniflora, (to Javanese as Dewa Ndaru and Chinese as Shian Tho) this rare bush is supposed to give good fortune to those who catch not a falling star but a tumbling leaf. In a fenced courtyard the true believers well fortified with patience squat on tiles waiting for the magic moment. For sceptics the exercise is as profitable as watching grass grow.

But the most remarkable thing is that the Chinese and Javanese share the sacredness of Gunung Kawi. Seeing Muslims cocooned in traditional Islamic dress mingling amicably with Chinese women flaunting their neon-white cleavages is one of the more pleasing sights in East Java.

The air is cool as the shrine is 650 metres up the 2550 metre high mountain. Enclosed by a shingle-roofed timber building are the tombs of the charismatic seers Kangdjeng Kjai Zakariake 11 (said to be related to 19th century rebel leader Prince Diponegoro) and Raden Mas Iman Soedjono.

The two men came from central Java to meditate on the mountain inspired by the environment. They lie in an alcove looking much like an altar; food and flowers have been left as offerings.

The custodian Haji R Candra Yana, sits hidden from public view with his back to the darkened auditorium where Chinese Buddhists, Confucians, Muslims and maybe some Christians sit with Javanese Muslims in traditional peci (black hats) to worship. Men and women are together as equals.

“This is not a mosque, nor is it a temple,” said Yana. “There is no place like it anywhere in Indonesia. Everyone is welcome. Unfortunately Western tourists rarely visit, though Chinese come from all over the world.”

Outside a Muslim ladles well water with claimed special healing properties into plastic mugs for the pilgrims.

Locals explained that while the Chinese non-Muslims did ask for business blessings, the Muslims were seeking forgiveness and favourable intercession by the seers in the individual’s relationship with God.

Sadly photography is forbidden so there’s no picture to illustrate this curious amalgam of faiths. This doesn’t get the approval of all Muslims, particularly those who adhere to the more arid Middle Eastern version of Islam, or who think fortune rewards only the diligent and tenacious.

For these people there’s a conventional mosque a few hundred metres from the tombs. Then there are temples for Buddhists. To visit these holy places means jostling along a narrow path of crippled beggars and equally aggressive vendors of charms and condiments, local handicrafts and the inevitable T-shirt and plastic toy trash. There’s also a fortune-teller’s shop. Every year about 126,000 people visit Gunung Kawi.

Ririen, who runs the 16-room Roro Hotel on Gunung Kawi and is a prominent urger for better facilities, claims some success for her lobbying; this dry season the local government has promised to widen the access road.

Her persuasive powers are backed by formidable credentials: Her family came to the mountain from the Yogyakarta kraton (palace) in the 18th century when the two mystics were mustering a following. Yogya is also the source of many Javanese rituals performed at Gunung Kawi.

“About 90 per cent of the people who stay in the hotels are Chinese,” she said. “The Javanese tend to pay a day visit. Most visitors are middle class and up. It would be good to broaden the tourist base.

“Apart from buying souvenirs and locally-grown cassava - which is the best in Indonesia - there’s not much to do when you’re not praying.”

With a colleague she’s put up a wish list of wanted facilities as investor bait, including a jogging track, camping ground, chair lift and fun-park. There are only eight hotels and most are small, so there’s a need for more accommodation.

It all sounds a bit Disney which would do little to enhance the sacredness of the place unless thoughtfully designed and kept well apart.

Gunung Kawi may have been established through divine direction, but a modicum of inspired planning and creation of space would do wonders.



It’s become an urban fad among the sinetron set to sing out Gong Xi Fa Cai (wishing you prosperity) along with the air kisses at this time of the year, though some older ethic Chinese might view the trend with cynicism.

Not long ago it was illegal to import or display anything written in Chinese characters, let alone make a song and dance of an event. The New Year could not be celebrated openly and Confucians were listed as Muslim on their identity cards.

Chinese were forced to take on Indonesian names. Many converted to Christianity. Few were able to preserve language and customs in their entirety, though most temples stayed open.

Thanks to former presidents Gus Dur and Megawati Sukarnoputri such controls have officially been lifted. However many Chinese say the edicts have not filtered down to bureaucrats in the regions, and that they are still subject to petty discrimination.

Nonetheless the New Year known as Imlek (29 January this year) is now a promulgated national holiday. It’s a moveable feast starting with the new moon and ending 15 days later with a lantern festival. The Chinese lunar calendar has a cycle of 29.5 days, a system developed more than 1,000 year ago.

The prominent color is red, which is supposed to intimidate a mythical people-eater called Nian, who is also susceptible to loud noises. Hence the firecrackers.

Barongsai, the spectacular lion dance, has suffered the fate of Father Christmas and been hijacked by the retail trade. The once forbidden performance can now be seen in many shopping malls.

The Chinese have been coming to Indonesia for centuries and from all parts of their country. Hence the differences in customs, food, language and religion.

Most New Year activities are based on ancient superstition, though that doesn’t mean modern Chinese are necessarily superstitious: It’s a time for a fresh start, to clear debts, to clean the house and give gifts.

More important it’s a time for families to come together. As in all cultures and religions the respectful celebration of relationships past and present, the thanksgiving for benefits and blessings, and the hope for more to come is universal.

So Gong Xi Fa Cai to you too, whatever your beliefs, culture or ethnicity. We could all do with a bit of prosperity because it’s going to be a dog of a year.

(Gunung Kawi can reached from Blitar or Malang. Travel times depend on the day, the weather and start times. Allow two hours from Malang. There’s no regular public transport.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post 24 January 2006)


Monday, January 23, 2006


GETTING WORK DOWN UNDER © Duncan Graham 2006

When M Agung Susetyo opened his e-mail in Surabaya the message seemed incredible; the long-time jobless father of one had been offered high-pay work in Australia.

But this was no junk-mail scam; the message came from a former work supervisor when Susetyo was a TKI (Tenaga Kerja Indonesia), a blue-collar worker who had found employment overseas.

For three years Susetyo worked in a Brunei abattoir killing and processing cattle imported from Australia. The money he earned was sent back to his family in Jombang and helped educate his younger sister.

When the meat works closed he had to return to East Java and join the jobless. His one-time boss went back to Australia, but didn’t forget Susetyo.

The practice of exporting Indonesian labor and remitting salaries has been long established. More than 3.5 million are working overseas. Officially 12 per cent of the Indonesian workforce is unemployed, but NGOs claim the figure is much higher with millions underemployed.

Indonesian construction workers are building high rises in Malaysia and the Middle East. Maids in those countries, plus Singapore and Hong Kong are keeping homes and babies clean. TKI in Brunei, South Korea and Taiwan are doing the jobs locals shun.

But not in Australia, despite that country suffering a chronic labor shortage in many trades, particularly metalwork, hospitality, nursing and farming. Till now.

Earlier this year Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected the idea of guest workers and knocked back pleas from Pacific Island governments to take their citizens. However since last July about 30,000 foreigners have quietly and legally entered the country’s workforce.

They’ve been using a little known Temporary Business (Long Stay) visa, known in the bureaucracy as a ‘457 visa’.

Under this scheme approved businesses that can prove they’re unable to find Australian staff are allowed to sponsor qualified overseas workers in good health and with no police record. The jobs offered must be on a list of ‘gazetted occupations’.

These cover managers, administrators, professionals and tradespersons. These headings break down to jobs as diverse as teachers, metallurgists, stage directors, confectioners and gardeners. More than 500 are listed.

Holders of ‘457 visas’ can stay for up to four years. After 30 months they have the chance to apply for permanent residency. In some cases they can bring their spouses and dependents who may also work and study.

However if the company closes or the worker isn’t satisfactory he or she has to return to their homeland.

Sponsor companies in the cities have to pay overseas workers AUD $39,000 a year (about Rp 24 million a month) but those in regional areas can get dispensation to pay lower rates.

Mike Smith, director of overseas employment agency YWA Global told The Jakarta Post that his company recruited heavily from the Philippines where many workers spoke English.

Only a few had come from Indonesia to work as halal slaughter men killing sheep and cattle for Muslim consumers. Vietnam and China were other popular sources for labor.

“With our company, recruitment costs including visas and air fares, are paid by the employer,” he said. “These can be up to AUD $8,000 (Rp 60 million) but the employers are desperate – they just can’t get staff.

“They get paid and treated the same as Australian employees. There’s no exploitation.” Smith’s agency is based in Western Australia, a state with less than four per cent of the workforce unemployed.

Labor unions in Australia have been wary of the scheme and claim the government should be doing more to train unemployed Australians. Some politicians have suggested that not all workers will voluntarily return home if their visas are cancelled.

But according to Immigration Department statistics Indonesia does not rank among the top ten countries whose residents overstay. And fears that Australia’s surging economy will falter without more workers have smothered most concerns.

Smith said the overseas workers had a good record of attendance and a strong work ethic. They had to pay tax and their own health insurance, but were covered by worker’s compensation for accidents on the job. Social welfare programs, like unemployment benefits and pensions, are not available to ‘457 visa’ holders.

“I don’t like the term ‘guest workers’. It gives the wrong impression,” Smith said. “Most of the people we bring here eventually want to become Australian citizens. I’ve been told that the labor shortages in Australia will continue for the next ten years.”

(More details on the 457 visas can be found at )

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 January 2006)


Wednesday, January 18, 2006


WHO NEEDS A TREATY? © Duncan Graham 2006

The treaty now being negotiated between Australia and Indonesia raises some interesting questions: The foremost is – who benefits?

According to Australian media reports the long discussed document will cover counter-terrorism, fish poaching, people smuggling, disaster response and humanitarian assistance.

Few would disagree with the last three issues. Tsunami and landslip aid is in place and people smuggling has collapsed since the wave of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq receded. The other issues are more debateable.

The problem of fish poaching needs a more sophisticated response than the present Australian policy of arrest, boat burning and jailing. Although the Australian fishing industry and some xenophobes are demanding tougher measures, it’s costly and unfair to jail poor fishermen pushed by syndicate bosses to risk their boats and freedom.

The few who are caught stay briefly in jail (see The Jakarta Post 29 December 2005) and are then flown home. They’re transported, fed, clothed, given legal aid and medical care all at Australian taxpayers’ expense – and this is supposed to be a deterrent.

Ross Taylor, chairman of the Western Australian branch of the Australian-Indonesia Business Council, has been trying to explain to an indifferent public that illegal fishing is not one of the Indonesia’s most pressing problems.

“Australia needs to work with Indonesia in a firm but cooperative way to firstly cut the market networks for the fish,” he said.

“We need to use our now excellent relations between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesia’s Police to infiltrate these syndicates, just as we have done with considerable success in the area of terrorism.”

On the surface boosting Indonesian security resources and training seems to be a Good Thing. Apart from the fanatics everyone’s against terrorism.

But if dissident and separatist movements in Indonesia get labelled as terrorists and Australian aid is used in brutal suppression, then the Australian electorate is likely to get jittery.

Using Australian communications technology to track fundamentalist bombers is one thing; applying this to assist the destruction of Papuan secessionists armed with bows and arrows is quite another matter.

It’s reported that at the heart of the proposed treaty is a pledge by Australia to never intervene in Indonesia’s internal affairs or undermine this nation’s territorial integrity.

Although this harks back to the liberation of East Timor, many forget that Australian involvement was hardened not by the government but the people, outraged at the savagery in the former province.

The Australian government can ink all the treaties it likes promising to respect the Unitary State of Indonesia. But in a democracy it can’t stop the Australian public, religious groups, human rights activists and non-government organisations backing separatist movements.

More than ten years ago former Prime Minister Paul Keating signed a secret security treaty with then President Suharto. When finally revealed after Keating lost office the agreement was roundly condemned, and torn up during the East Timor crisis of 1999.

Keating didn’t have the public behind him for his covert pact with the Orde Baru government. Does his successor John Howard have widespread support for the planned new collaboration?

Mainstream media reports in Australia have been positive so far though the fine print has yet to be seen. There has been some eyebrow raising over the already announced decision to lift a seven-year ban and train Kopassus soldiers in Australia.

The government says no troops with past records of human rights abuses will be involved. The intention, according to Defence Minister Robert Hill, is that Kopassus forces “might one day save Australian lives in Indonesia.”

The announcement was made in the December silly season when the priority was cricket and Christmas. Disquiet could come once activists and academics get back to the office and start probing the deal.

Although terrorists, poachers, corruptors and other Indonesian evildoers have got up the nose of the Australian public, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is still an Indonesian Idol Down Under.

He made a top impression during his official visit last year and as the public face of Australia’s big neighbor has so far enjoyed a positive press as a Good Bloke.

The fact that he’s a former military man leading a minority political party and has a local reputation for being indecisive has yet to sink into the Australian psyche.

So if the proposed treaty has President Susilo’s endorsement then the paper will probably get signed without too many questions raised.

But will it make any difference to the average person? Australia’s unlikely to cancel its travel warnings and the ordinary Okker will remain mightily distrustful of Islam.

Just as kampong dwellers fear the motives of the hedonistic, godless Westerners they hear about but seldom meet.

It’s all well and good for diplomats, soldiers, police and senior shiny bums to be patting each other’s shoulders in lavish signing ceremonies, but what about Ms and Mr Goodwill in Suburbia?

Most of us get on with neighbours, partners, in-laws and workmates without the need for a treaty.

But if it makes for a better world let’s have a treaty by all means: One which breaks down the misunderstandings, removes the investment barriers imposed by bureaucrats, and dissolves the differences between us.

Starting with cancellation of the obnoxious visa restrictions. By both sides.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 18 January 2006)


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sawojajar Turtledoves (story below)

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© Duncan Graham 2006

They gather at dawn twice weekly to sing up the sun. After unpacking their precious cargoes they send them heavenwards and trust that odes of joy will cascade in gratitude.

For this they also hope for rich rewards hereafter.

But the men who gather for this regular ritual are not members of some mystic sect destined to be dispersed by the self-appointed custodians of religious righteousness. Their business has the authenticity of international acceptance coupled to a tradition dating back to the Majapahit Era, 700 years past.

These men are the disciples of birdsong and they’re professional. Later this year when an international contest is held the winner will be very well off indeed.

“We’re maintaining a culture of appreciating nature that’s been in East Java for centuries,” said Haji Soelaiman, chairman of P3SI. “Although a few women sometimes come along and bring cakes and drinks, this is really an interest for men.

“We have about 200 members in and around Malang, and there’s another club in Surabaya.”

P3SI stands for Persatuan Pelestarian Perkutut Se Indonesia (Association for the Conservation of Turtledoves in Indonesia) and it’s clearly no fly-by-night organisation. Next year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Although called turtledoves, the delicate little birds with black-striped throats look remarkably like the doves cooing and preening in the gardens and parks of the Western Australian capital Perth. There they’re known as Senegal doves and are believed to have been introduced from India in the 19th century.

While the doves fly wild in Australia and are often considered a nuisance, in Java they are serious money. A coo-master is no featherweight; aficionados are prepared to pay up to Rp 150 million (US $15,000) for a top-flight prize winner.

That was the sum pocketed by P3SI member Hasan Fajar for his little cock Jambrud (Emerald). In 2004 Jambrud won his proud owner a new car in an international contest, outsinging warblers from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines – and was then sold to another birdman.

But how do you pick a winner? “The judges select according to the voice and tone,” said Hasan who has 60 birds in his home aviary. “The doves are all male, and sing to attract females. They start around three months but can live many years. It’s a hobby, sure, but it’s also business.”

Hasan claims paranormal skills and trains his birds with an impressive repertoire of whistles, hums and twitters. Who knows what the birds make of his mouth music? They turn their heads quizzically and presumably wonder why their master doesn’t flap his wings and soar away.

The training ground is a park in Sawojajar on the outskirts of the central East Java town of Malang. Here a forest of steel gallows stands ready for the birds’ hanging.

They come in gaudy cells enamelled with exhortations in English like Will Be Choice; this reads more like a cigarette advertisement than a licence to trill.

Others are decorated with the most bizarre pictures. They include figures from the ancient texts of the Mahabharata and Ramayana through to pouncing eagles and purring pussies. Presumably these are to remind the feathered prisoners of the awful fate which waits should they peck and push their way through the wire mesh.

Inside conical cages they are winched high to sing for their breakfast in safety; in the wicked world beyond, red in beak and claw, these pampered pets lack skysmart survival skills. They’d become a predator’s snack in a trice.

Preening isn’t just a job for those with feathers. The men wear fancy embroidered jackets and tie these to the base of the poles to mark ownership while their birdies above open up their vocal chords.

The dove devotees sit on a grassy bank and suck cigarettes through hand-carved holders made of yellow bone. Most chat in Madurese. Depending on the weather they hang around for up to four hours comparing tone and pitch of their charges aloft attempting to seduce any passing ladybird.

Fat chance. Almost everything that flutters in East Java seems to have been pinged by air rifles, shot by catapults or caught by cats.

In English the doves’ song sounds like Coo-Coo, running up and down the scale, but the birdmen say it’s Kung Krus.

Like beauty, it’s in the ear of the beholder.

Whatever the phonetics, this is the soft sound of calm from a bird known everywhere as a symbol of peace and love. That’s worth celebrating in Sawojajar and beyond.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 16 January 2006)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006



© Duncan Graham 2006

When pictures of the aftermath of the first Bali bomb were televised, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer expressed his annoyance to journalists.

Crowds of people were picking through the debris seeking souvenirs and stickybeaking. Where were the police lines? Why wasn’t the site secure? What chance of finding evidence?

In this case his fears were unfounded as the bombers were caught and convicted. But his worries are also shared by Bambang Setiawan, head of the Police Forensic Laboratory in Surabaya.

“It’s one of the many concerns we have and which frustrate investigations,” he said. “Officers in the field need to be aware that crime scenes must be preserved intact and onlookers kept away. It’s another aspect of training.”

Forensics aren’t at the sharp end of police duties. Most who chose a career in crime-fighting prefer the adrenalin rush of a high-speed chase, a shoot out, a dash in the dark to nab a felon.

Laboratory work is quiet and methodical; it’s cerebral, not muscular. It means wearing rubber gloves rather than a holster, peering down microscopes, analysing chemicals, thinking deeply and cleverly to outsmart the cunning crims. It’s often boring and lonely.

But when the results gain convictions even the most heavy-fisted cop from the school of hard knocks has to pause in admiration for his tertiary-trained colleagues.

The Surabaya lab investigates cases from across East Java and much of Kalimantan, a catchment area of more than 42 million people. To handle this workload Bambang has only 40 scientists and technicians, and just a few machines.

But help is on its way. Eighteen months ago experts from the US Department of Justice visited Surabaya and reported on the lab.

They found that while Bambang was respected and his colleagues had depth of experience, knowledge and skill, much equipment was outdated.

This year the lab expects high tech replacements under a program called the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program. (ICITAP)

They’ve already received a nifty piece of gear that can compare bullets and cases. Was this the gun that killed? Test fire the weapon and slip the recovered projectile under one microscope and the slug from the deceased under another lens to see if they match.

The miniscule grooves and scratches made as the bullet whizzes down the barrel, magnified thousands of times, can be as revealing as a fingerprint or DNA sample.

The need for updating in the lab was made clear when arson expert Didik Subiyantoro tried to show The Jakarta Post scenes and evidence from last year’s siege at Batu when police killed fugitive bomb maker Azahari. Crash! A virus had infected the computer.

“Our virus protection is out of date and we haven’t got the money for a new version,” said Bambang.

“White collar criminals are often well educated and skilled in technology. We have to keep up with them and hopefully get ahead. Scientific crime investigation in Indonesia must develop further.”

His point was reinforced in the counterfeit section where Indiyani Budhiarti feeds US $100 bills through a machine that detects dud money. But it can’t pick genuine American notes printed since 2003. Her collection of seemingly flawless Rp 100,000 fakes is a tribute to the extraordinary skills of modern forgers and a warning to bank tellers and cashiers everywhere.

In another room Fadjar Septi Ariningsih puts urine samples from suspected druggies, suspicious powders out of travellers’ baggage and substances found in bomb factories through a gas chromatograph mass spectra machine. Azahari’s Batu hideout included a complex collection of unlabeled chemicals scattered among the debris. All had to be identified.

“There is no forensic academy in Indonesia, and that’s a major deficiency,” said Bambang. “We need staff with specialist training – I could employ up to 100 if I had the technology.

“A priority is equipment to test DNA samples and I hope this will arrive soon through the ICITAP scheme. At the moment we can’t analyse voices, hair or fibre.”

The lab staff have qualifications in pharmacology, chemistry and physics. Because no two cases are the same they have to keep open minds and reject the obvious solutions. Was he poisoned or did he die of natural causes? Either could be correct. If the death was violent was the toxin administered by others or the victim? If by others, with his permission? Or was it an accident? The questions go on and on.

People who work daily on grim and ghastly tasks often develop a lively cheerfulness to offset the horror of humanity’s inhumanity, and it’s the same with Bambang’s team. They’re the first called in after the fire has been quenched, the deaths confirmed and the bomb exploded.

They collect samples and take the pictures. Because these are carefully shot for evidence they’re sickening in their freshness and clarity. Hunched over a computer for hours peering at shattered cadavers and entrails splattered across walls, phials of putrid samples at your elbow, is not a task for the squeamish.

In this job you either develop a cheerful buoyancy, become detached and cynical, or go mad. Fortunately Surabaya’s police forensic scientists have chosen the first approach and are likely to remain sane.

Particularly if the new equipment arrives soon.


(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 January 2006)



POTTERING DOWN POT LANE © Duncan Graham 2005

If you visit the Tourist Information Centre in Malang asking about ceramics you’ll be directed to a factory producing Chinese-style pots splashed with blue calligraphy. There’s an airy showroom common with such formal attractions and a guided tour of the big kilns.

But if you really want to find rugged and individualistic Javanese pots expressing local heritage, you need to go elsewhere. Duncan Graham takes Jakarta Kini readers to a place you won’t find in the tour guides.

Despite being an important thoroughfare for the East Java hill city, Jalan Mayjen Panjaitan (but better known as Dinoyo), is a crowded and busy street. It’s made even more cramped by shopkeepers displaying their wares on the narrow pavements. Or even using them as workshops.

Among the tradesfolk are potters who find sidewalks a handy place to paint, varnish and sun dry their work. You won’t read the “Beautiful to behold, but break it and sold” warnings favored by mall boutiques which load thin glass shelves with fragile filigree and hope for a clumsy customer - but it would be wise not to bump a roadside urn as you jump the puddles.

Should such an accident occur you may have a sore leg but you’re not likely to be fiscally crippled by the mishap. For among the many joys of this street of ceramics and other crafts is one that’s particularly pleasing: The harga bule (foreigner’s price) disease which infects so many tourist traps has yet to corrupt commerce in Dinoyo.

The prices listed are the ones the locals pay – and outlets are open to bargaining. Craftspeople here make their living from selling to neighbors and townsfolk. Caucasians and other visitors from outside the archipelago are rare – and so are rip-offs.

One of the first to start working in Dinoyo was Mohammed Atim who opened his business more than 25 years ago. He still fires his pots in an open wood fire, so hasn’t suffered from the fuel price hikes which have made products manufactured using fossil fuels so expensive.

“When I began here there was no competition,” he said. “Now there are shops everywhere. The clay around here is difficult to work and can produce pots which break easily, so we use clay from Wendit on the outskirts of Malang.”

Making ceramics is an ancient art believed to have originated in China. In most modern factories the pots are roasted in giant gas-fired or electric-powered kilns. The latest models - which you won’t find in Dinoyo - have computer controls taking much of the guesswork out of temperature and time.

But that’s not the situation when using wood. For this you need the eye of experience, the touchy-feely ability to add more fuel or dampen the embers, and the wisdom to know when to stop. Pots that are under-done or over-done are like cakes that suffer similar oven experiences – they’re unsaleable.

Pak Atim has been doing the job for so long he knows what buyers want. Locals fancy big brash and heavily lacquered pots (Rp 60,000 or US$6) large enough for a couple of koi and their kiddies to swim in comfort. Fancy this mounted on a ceramic stand? Dig deep for Rp 35,000 or US$3.50.

If your mood is for things miniscule to match your apartment, try a hanging lantern for only Rp7,000. For this loose change you have a selection of colors.

Like all potters Pak Atim has to produce the standards, including functional items that walk off the shelves whatever the season. Like the fancy terracotta ridge caps that Javanese love to put on their roofs, and which look like a 15th century warrior’s helmet.

You may see these everywhere in Indonesia, but that doesn’t make them any less a work of art which would give your retirement cottage in England or New England a tropical touch.

Garden furniture is another popular product and frogs the clichéd motif. But don’t be disdainful; ceramic amphibians may be passé but they don’t croak through the night and leave slime on the tiles.

When times are quiet most craftspeople like to experiment and produce something that expresses their personal tastes. That’s why it’s worth asking if you can poke around a bit. Hiding behind the racks of best sellers and shrouded by a coat of dust may be something unique overlooked by purchasers with set ideas about what’s good.

One or two craftsmen, like Pak Wahyudi Wibowo (also known as Yudi), have the courage to confront the market with their own ideas. He teaches ceramics and has developed a lovely line of russet dishes and other earthy kitchenware.

You may plan to use these at your next celebrity dinner, but that ambition will be abandoned once you unpack the pots at home and see the rich, deep tones warming in the sunlight. These crafts are just too refined to put into the sink along with bourgeois plates stamped out in some ceramic sweatshop overseas.

Likewise with the long-necked swan-shaped pieces that are sold as lamp stands. Pernickety purchasers might think stuffing in plastic cables and mounting switches an abuse of art and that these vases should stand alone as a lovely works in their own right.

Next to Pak Yudi’s shop Pak Tjipto tempts passers-by with original and delicate metal work, including mirrors priced at Rp 350,000 (US$ 35). In his cluttered back yard lurk the results of testing flame on metal to produce floral flourishes.

As many Dinoyo craftsmen are Moslem they shy from depicting living creatures and instead challenge themselves and buyers with abstract designs. Some think this prohibition cramps creativity, but in fact it ignites ingenuity.

So here’s a dimpled pot, with every groove a detective’s delight of fingerprints; there’s a swirling mass looking a little celestial, though perhaps too geometric.

Clearly aiming for the Chinese market many potters offer lines of tall feminine vases wrapped by an embracing (or strangling) vine. The buyer supplies the imagery.

Don’t like what you see? Well offer some suggestions, make a sketch and wait till the next firing. Try doing that at the PT Multinational China Factory on Industrial Estate No 16.

One couple due to join their lives together for better or worse in January have commissioned terracotta discs from Pak Atim to remember the event. They rightly believe that cards crumble and photos fade but clay, once tested by the furnace, endures.

With care and good maintenance their love could last as long as this remarkably durable medium. Clay was being worked in much the same way in this very area during the Majapahit Era, 700 years ago.

The past lives on in Dinoyo, Malang.

(First published in Jakarta Kini, January 2006)





Life was much easier for observers of Indonesia in the bad old days of Suharto and his authoritarian Orde Baru government.

We could write with confidence about politics and forecast election outcomes with accuracy. Year in and out, the same players and predictable issues. Economic indicators were forever onwards and upwards. All critics could be dismissed as communists.

And now? Every day is an astonishment and all seers suspect. Comments have a use-by date, and in modern mercurial Indonesia that’s often just a matter of days – sometimes hours; Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper splashed a story about Bali’s recovery on the weekend of the second blast.

In trying to explain it all to the mildly interested, the easy solution is to play safe, record the past and raise gentle questions about the future, letting the reader develop answers: “Given the enormous social and economic changes that have occurred in recent decades, does politics still retain the same degree of autonomy from cultural influences?” asks Dr Ian Chalmers.

This unanswered question is from the Australian academic’s new book Indonesia: An Introduction to Contemporary Traditions, which tries to bring Indonesian Studies students up to speed on events in the past decade.

To the great dismay of all who are mesmerised by this country, Indonesian Studies has slumped in Australian schools and universities since the first Bali bomb. Chalmers, who helped organise last year’s successful conference of the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators, has been busy trying to reverse this trend.

So there was some hope that this book would boost his campaign by enthralling the next generation with the quivering danger and delight that’s Indonesia today. This is a nation dancing with democracy on the lip of the caldera, and it’s a spellbinding performance.

Instead we have a sober, constrained, fact-filled text, a good glossary, fine index and enough notes to stump the most pedantic. This is all well and good if you think Indonesia should only be debated by stern scholars and political analysts.

Relations with Indonesia are the most significant item on Australia’s foreign affairs agenda, too important to be left to academics and policy-polishers in Canberra. Indonesia is people in all their confusing complexity. More than anything else this makes the country so appealing to those dismayed by logical, organised, smug Australia.

The book covers all the required bases – history, anthropology, culture, religion, economy and politics - and does so competently. It’s littered with on-the-page references which add authenticity but make reading a bumpy experience. Endnotes avoid this hazard. The monochrome pictures do nothing to lift the text or appeal to the “interested general reader” Chalmers is trying to reach.

Consequently it lacks the electricity that might jump-start young Australians making their educational choices and now sadly opting for European tongues rather than the language and culture of the people next door.

Being populist and serious is a big ask, though journalist Bruce Grant pulled it off with Indonesia. First published in 1964 it survived into a third edition 32 years later.

Grant communicated the smell and sweat, fun and throb of Indonesia, and turned many towards the north. Chalmers’ influence was the late Herb Feith, a respected scholar with a passionate concern for Indonesia and human rights.

Privately Chalmers shares that ideology, but seems to have set it aside in the interests of maintaining academic aloofness.

Most Indonesianists agree that since Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became the sixth president, government-to-government relationships with Australia are the best they’ve been. That’s not the situation at the grass roots level because of Islamic terrorism, travel warnings, poaching and other irritations, though better than during the 1999 East Timor referendum.

Comments Chalmers: “It is perilously difficult to make accurate predictions about the likely course of events in a country as large and diverse as Indonesia.”

But this is what we want, and Chalmers has the experience and knowledge to take a stab, or let Indonesians have their say. Others have done it and consequently have helped clarify our understanding. Adam Schwarz’s 1994 book A Nation in Waiting is still a valuable read, even though it’s been eclipsed by the economic crisis and the fall of Suharto.

Chalmers doesn’t take that risk, so we have a bloodless book that won’t be overtaken by events, but won’t inspire. Serious students of the country with a university career in mind and seeking a compact reference will not be disappointed.

Who will be? Undecided and confused Australians, wondering why their government gives a neighbour so much foreign aid, then warns against visiting. There has to be something else about this country they need to hear if we’re all to live in peace: The voice of the people.

Chalmers, Ian: Indonesia. An introduction to contemporary traditions. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. 341 pages.

(First published in The Sunday Post 8 January 2006)




A NEW YEAR’S REVOLUTION © Duncan Graham 2006

By the way, welcome to 2006. This greeting is a few days late, but what the heck? If it’s OK to arrive at meetings long after the scheduled starting time, why not a New Year? Blame jam karet.

That’s a pedestrian excuse for a bule so here’s another: Jam traffic.

I don’t know who’s responsible for road management in Indonesia. Maybe no one does, because no one is.

But just in case such a worthy exists, this appeal is courteously addressed to him. Should you know his name and position please pass it on. Probably Chief of Chaos. Or Minister for Motoring Mayhem.

Why not to her? Women are the calming forces in society, famous for ensuring a tidy, clean and safe environment. It would be genetically impossible for a female public servant or politician to happily preside over the mess on this nation’s pot-holed hardtops.

To celebrate getting this far down life’s unpredictable one-way road, here’s a wish: Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all exit the twelvemonth we’ve been privileged to enter, still sound in mind and limb?

To get moving here are three novel resolutions to try, proof there was no over-indulgence on 31 December and the brain is sparking on all four cylinders. Pass them on and keep them moving; the points not the pistons:

· How about stopping at zebra crossings when a person dips a toe in the river of bitumen? Drivers never walk so have no idea what it’s like to have only a handbag or briefcase to shield themselves and deflect hurtling steel missiles.

What’s a zebra crossing? Well it looks like the bar code you get on packaged groceries, and it’s supposed to mean that pedestrians have rights. It’s true that in the Javanese hierarchy of mobility four wheels have higher status than two feet, but walkers are still fellow humans, even when they don’t hold a steering wheel.

· Do you really need to carry your helmet-less offspring on a motorbike? If you want to see human cannonballs try a circus.

· And finally, just for a laugh because we all need humor on the highway, try using the indicator before you turn.

Why bother? Well those little winking lights are rather pretty and the click-click in the cab makes a chirpy sound. Go on, I dare you, it’s absolutely painless! The switch is a lever on the steering column. Found it? Amazing. What will the manufacturers think of next?

Please don’t dismiss these suggestions as the impertinence of an outsider. I respect the local way of doing things and understand every country has its own traffic culture.

By comparison with Australia, where zealously-policed rules make motoring a misery, driving in the archipelago is a breeze. In Java we’re famously forgiving and polite, smiling as we T-bone stray buffaloes on the Jalan Tol, grinning to maintain harmony as the bonnet slices under the tray of a truck parked in the centre lane.

No road rage. Just carnage.

Here’s an intoxicating positive thought: The chances of being picked up by a booze bus in Jakarta, Surabaya or anywhere else are like a halal Bintang - zero. That’s the spirit! Breathalysers wouldn’t work anyway – they’d just take readings of the pollution which is definitely over the limit.

The brief flashes and red spots you see at the curb as you whiz to work in first gear aren’t radar speed cameras as in Singapore with its tiresome regulations. They’re just becak drivers lighting up a kretek as they steer straight into your path.

Another illuminating point: It’s good to see the calls for energy conservation made by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are being followed. Actually I thought he was referring to lighting in offices and homes, not vehicles at night. But I’m a bit dim at times and might have missed something in the translation. Or the gloom.

Having had the effrontery to dish out all this gratuitous advice it’s about time I came up with a personal pledge.

My resolution for 2006 - and all the other years to come that God may graciously grant me – is this: To never, ever, drive in Indonesia.

Why not follow suit? Then there’d be no traffic problems at all.

First published in The Sunday Post, 8 January 2005)


Friday, January 06, 2006



Every time he parks outside his central Malang office, Sugiyanto anxiously scans the crowds in East Java’s second major city.

Not because he fears car thieves or street thugs. He’s on the lookout for the people who should be there, but aren’t. And for him that’s a serious concern

For Sugiyanto is Malang’s Mr Tourism, or more officially director of the Tourism Information Centre. What he wants to see are more nonplussed nomads dripping with digital cameras and sweat as they pour over crumpled maps.

Once spotted, these folk from afar are invited into his office for a friendly chat and offers of information in the language of their choice – English, Dutch or Japanese.

Sugiyanto is an energetic multilingual man with a double-barrelled task. He wants his neighbours to realise that incomers mean income – and he wants the footloose to know that Malang has all the right attractions – climate, history, art, handicrafts, culture, beauty and safety.

If this sounds like a cushy number a few more taps on the keyboard should set you straight.

The Centre is really a simple kiosk. It’s well placed close to the famous Toko Oen Dutch pastry shop but the holey floorboard will snap your heels or ankle and the air conditioning is breeze-powered. The welcome is warm – and so are the conditions.

There are some maps and brochures going limp in the sun, but the key promotion, a 28-page color booklet is behind the desk and too expensive to be handed over to casual inquirers. Forget your thirst – the fridge is empty.

International visitors familiar with the lavish presentations of no-expense spared bureaux in other countries will certainly respect the director’s effervescent sales pitch and sound knowledge. But they’ll also sadly conclude from the conditions that Malang isn’t serious about tourism, despite some backing by mayors and regents.

When grand ideas aren’t underpinned by a long-term strategy, a bountiful budget and international expertise, the result is predictable.

Which is no fault of Sugiyanto, a university language lecturer who spends his spare time and cash showcasing his hometown’s qualities. A local furniture company has donated a table and cupboard; the staff have to pay the phone bill. His assistants are students on work experience.

The problem is not that the city’s attractions don’t match Sugiyanto’s rhetoric; in many cases they crown his words.

The difficulty is that few in Malang seem to appreciate the message he hammers: That tourists don’t come like seasonal rains arriving without human involvement. Just because a high government official in a peaked cap fanfares a new Visit Indonesia programme doesn’t mean that Westerners snap to attention, pack their bags and e-mail their travel agent.

Earlier this year the government said it hoped six million foreign visitors would aim for the archipelago, generating US$6 billion. But so far only 3.5 million have fronted immigration desks at Indonesia’s entry points.

Of course terrorism is a factor in the downturn, but it’s not the only issue according to Sugiyanto.

“The US$25 visa-on-arrival charge is definitely an obstacle,” he said. “Most foreigners can spend up to three months in other South East Asian countries and their visas are free. International tourists are confronted with hundreds of choices. Why visit Indonesia when there are so many other quality attractions with no impediments?

“We get about 2,000 foreigners a month in Malang in the dry season, almost all from Europe. Each person spends at least Rp 1.5 million a day on local goods and services. The majority are Dutch, followed by Germans and the French. Very few Australians come here, though we’re next to their Bali playground.

“Then there’s the overall way Indonesia is advertised. Most public servants in tourism departments aren’t there for their expertise. They could be in any agency and can’t be sacked if they don’t perform. We should all be professionals working together to promote Malang as an international brand.”

A good example of the absence of coordination came when Sugiyanto invited this writer to visit the nearby eighth century Hindu temple of Candi Badut. But the gate was locked, the caretaker was out and no one knew the whereabouts of the key.

In a survey of local opinions Sugiyanto has uncovered a disturbing belief: Some think Western visitors will bring their infamous dissolute behaviour and ‘free sex’ into the conservative city. As most are plump matrons and arthritic gramps hesitant about mounting the steps of a tour bus, the idea of importing lascivious lifestyles is ludicrous.

Apart from a non-stop bombardment of local officials and the media, Sugiyanto’s strategy is to involve young people in appreciating Malang and developing pride in their district. Surprisingly few school kids know their city’s history or have visited the sites. (See sidebar).

In a well-publicised public contest, industrial engineering student Wahya Budi Leksono was elected as a youth tourism ambassador last month (Nov). Although his academic interests are more about hydraulics than hospitality Wahya speaks good English and has the self-confidence to approach foreigners alone, a rare quality among East Java teens who think it’s becoming to be bashful.

Another idea packaged by Sugiyanto is for a Tourism Board made up of industry representatives and experts to advise the government. This is the standard overseas model.

Such a bureaucracy-threatening advancement isn’t going to happen overnight, so in the meantime he’s pinning hopes for a visitor revival on a new southern access road to Mt Bromo through Tumpang.

This village is famous for its art and crafts, and in particular the performances at Mangun Dharma where American Karen Elizabeth Sekarum is an established pesinden (singer with a gamelan orchestra).

Till now the standard route to Bromo has been from the north through the coastal town of Probolinggo. Naturally enough Sugiyanto believes his way is shorter, offers more awesome vistas and extra attractions.

All this may well be true – but who will know unless Malang is given some serious money for publicity and a chorus of high-profile figures singing the city’s charms from the same songsheet?

Who hasn’t seen the slogan ‘ Malaysia - Truly Asia’, whether they live in Sydney or Stockholm? Who’s heard of Marvellous Malang?

Sugiyanto and his colleagues are banging a big gong, but the other players are taking a kip.


Part of the charm of this sedate city is in its late development. It only became popular as a Dutch hill town in the late 19th century so many buildings are well preserved.

Some major streets, like Jl Ijen are tree-lined European style boulevards, little changed from the days of pith helmets and swagger sticks. These thoroughfares retain their residential status and haven’t been destroyed by crass commercial development.

Visitors from Holland often have family links in the city which prospered during the colonial era from plantations of tea, sugar and coffee. Some are open to the public.

Yet paradoxically Malang is also saturated in ancient history. This was the heart of the Singosari kingdom. In the village of that name 12 km north are some extraordinary 700-year-old monuments built to honour Hindu and Buddhist priests.

All the numerous archaeological sites are close by and easy to visit by public transport. While visitors ooh and aah at the chance to run their fingers along Sanskrit chiselled by artisans centuries before Shakespeare sharpened his quill, the locals tend to find it all a bit of a yawn.

They’d rather spend time in artificial recreation parks like nearby Senaputra. Unless you’re a social scientist doing your doctorate on crowd behavior, best not to visit at weekends.

Malang has a population of around 800,000 and a reputation for being an education city with several quality universities. So you’re bound to encounter students everywhere. This gives the place a youthful feel despite the antiquities.

You’ll also fill your flash cards with enough pix of valleys and volcanoes. To the east is the Hindu’s sacred mountain Semeru (Java’s highest peak at 3680 metres), and Bromo-Tengger. To the west is Kawi, which has mystical properties, particularly for the Chinese.

Batu, just 20 minutes higher, is even cooler and blooming; its reputation as a city of flowers is well rooted. Indonesians like the little apples grown here though the leathery varieties don’t suit European palates.

The south coast is a couple of hours away and the journey never boring. Although there are pleasant beaches this is not Kuta and there’s no culture of sun baking in this Muslim area. The attractions are in the fishing villages and rugged coastline.

Malang is about 80 km south of Surabaya and can be reached by train (three hours) or by bus or car in under two if you go early. There’s no air link. One four star and several three star hotels are used to foreign visitors and their funny ways, like wanting hot water in the bathroom and a toilet with a seat.

Contact the Malang Tourist Information Centre on Jl Basuki Rakhmad 6 – phone (0341) 323 966.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 January 2006)



Wednesday, January 04, 2006



They form probably the largest group of foreigners working in Surabaya, but their presence is hardly noticed.

For a major ethnic group the 500 plus Japanese, some with families, take a remarkably low profile in Indonesia’s second biggest city. Or maybe it’s because as reserved Asians they don’t stand out like the more effusive Caucasians.

Australian government travel warnings alert their citizens to ‘avoid places where Westerners gather.’ These are listed as hotels, bars and nightspots. But where do the Japanese come together?

One place is the East Java Japan Club, which despite its name is not a drinking hole where backslapping boozers sip sake and lie about their latest golf triumph. Taking up one floor above the Japanese-owned Resona Perdania Bank in Jalan Raya Dharmo, the club is a sedate affair, a place to study, not carouse.

It’s also safe, and like the consulate has installed serious security measures, though terrorists have so far preferred to target Westerners.

The club’s library has hundreds of books and videos in Japanese where the homesick can gather. Here they can absorb their culture, hold meetings, have a chat and catch up with the latest edition of the Daily Jakarta Shimbun, a Japanese language newspaper published in Indonesia.

The club also does charitable works and recently announced scholarships for Indonesian students of the language.

In the past 11 years the club has paid the local university fees of 194 young language students, most of them women. Learning Japanese is difficult for Indonesians, particularly mastering the written word.

Earlier this month (Dec) almost 850 Indonesian students around the country sat the Japanese language proficiency test. The popularity of the language is linked to technology and graphic arts, particularly the Manga comics, according to consul Hirashima Shusaku.

These bland production-line fantasy cartoons have swamped indigenous creative design. Hollywood may dominate the film industry, but Tokyo has a stranglehold on comic books, as a visit to any Indonesian bookstore will confirm.

“Last year 3,600 people applied at this office for visas to visit Japan,” said Shusaku. “Most were tourists but a good number want to study. For them Japan is the second dream destination after the United States.”

When he’s not supervising his six staff as they sort through the visa applicants Shusaku tends to his nation’s affairs and interests in East Java, Kalimantan and Nusa Tenggara. Another office in Makassar looks after Sulawesi.

He’s well equipped for the task having worked in consulates in Indonesia on and off since 1993, with stints in Medan and Jakarta.

Japan is the second biggest aid donor in the world after the US and much of this is in projects and equipment. In Surabaya Japanese companies are helping build a new international airport terminal.

“Most Japanese in East Java are here as technical advisors and technicians,” said Shusaku. “Apart from the projects we are also involved in a big copper smelter in Gresik, and there are other smaller companies in the resource and food industries.

“Japanese tend to keep to themselves. Only a few send their children to the international school. We have a Japanese school in Surabaya which is supported by the Japanese government, with around 50 students.”

One parent who has used both schools is Rika Ueda, originally from Tokyo, and married to an Indonesian she met while studying in the US. The couple run a Japanese restaurant against some heavy competition, though many seem to serve Indonesian food to local diners, despite having lots of cushions and calligraphy.

“I’ve been here five years but my first three were very difficult,” she said. “Japanese are conscious of status and want to stick together as a group. We don’t mix with Indonesians because we think the country is unsafe and the food dangerous.

“We want things done precisely. Many are overprotected by their employers. There’s a strict hierarchy depending on position and company, and that also applies to the wives.

“Workers on different levels stay apart, so a senior executive won’t be in he same block as line managers. They live in a few apartments and if there are any problems they just go back to Japan.”

But Ueda noticed many Westerners appeared to enjoy life in Indonesia. They’d learned the language and were getting involved with the locals. They seemed to be happy and not paranoid about security.

Tired of always being with her own people and doing the same things she decided to join a church and the Expats Women’s Association of Surabaya.
At the time she was the only Japanese among 100 foreigners. Now there are about ten.

“Communication is a real problem,” she said. “Few Japanese speak either Indonesian or English, so we stick together. We tend to ostracise anyone who behaves differently from the group.

“Although we are also a rice culture there are very few other similarities with Indonesians. Fortunately the new generation is less narrow minded and more courageous. But overall I think it’s easier here for Westerners than it is for Japanese.”



There were Japanese living in Surabaya before the Second World War, but information about their activities is scant.

Whatever they were doing, local lore has it that these people were also spying for the advancing forces which bombed Surabaya in 1942 and later landed on Java with little resistance.

Although many Indonesians welcomed the defeat of the Dutch by an Asian military force, any goodwill evaporated in the hardships that followed occupation. The Japanese conscripted thousands of Indonesians as forced labour and plundered food and natural resources to maintain their military might.

Basic supplies ran down and in some areas malnutrition was widespread.

Although there’s little doubt the occupation boosted the Independence movement by allowing Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta to remain active, this gesture made little impact on a population no longer prepared to tolerate foreign forces.

When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, the surrendering soldiers were harassed by independence fighters who saw them as cruel colonialists, not the promised liberators.

With this history of distrust and hatred it’s a remarkable tribute to tolerance and diplomacy that by 1958 a peace treaty could be signed between Indonesia and a Japan which had turned from making war to manufacturing goods. Japan is now Indonesia’s largest trading partner.

The former occupier of the archipelago has also became deeply involved in helping its one-time colony recover its economy with loans, grants and debt relief programs.

There are about 12,000 Japanese living in Indonesia and around 10,000 Indonesians in Japan.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 January 2006)




The Australian government has been trying to persuade the Indonesian government to take action against shark-fin fishers poaching in northern Australian waters. This has become a big issue in Australia with claims that waves of boats are illegally plundering the seas. Duncan Graham reports:

They shuffle into the Perth Magistrate’s Court, stand calmly to hear the charges read, then sit to hear the evidence. This is given in English but interpreted into Rotinese.

Crewmembers are usually prosecuted for fishing illegally in Australian waters. Captains are also charged with commercial fishing without a licence.

They wear tracksuits and other warm clothes donated by Australian government agencies, for this summer the Western Australian capital has been unseasonably chilly. They’re apprehensive and worried about their families but the legal process has been explained and they know jail is almost certain.

Some are better informed – they’ve been through the system before. This seems to undermine Australian government claims that sentences are a deterrent.

“About a quarter to a third are repeat offenders,” lawyer David McKenzie told The Jakarta Post.

“As their defence counsel I hear their stories and take their instructions. So far all have pleaded guilty.

“I argue before the magistrate that it’s inappropriate to impose a large fine on poor people who just can’t pay. Although they can’t be sentenced to jail if they are first offenders, they get imprisoned nonetheless because they can’t pay the fines. These vary from AUD$ 3,000 to AUD 6,000 (Rp 22 million to Rp 44 million).

“So they have to cut out the fines at the rate of AUD $150 (Rp 1.1 million) for every day in detention. Sometimes the days spent in custody before the court hearings are taken into account.

“Those with medical problems get treated. After a few days or weeks in jail they’re flown back to Indonesia by the Australian government. The Indonesian consulate isn’t involved.”

Since July McKenzie has represented 120 Indonesian fishermen in Perth courts. He’s been the only lawyer defending the poachers and works for Legal Aid, an organisation funded by the Australian and Western Australian governments. The service is free.

“I tell the court that my clients are all poor and motivated by the necessity to live,” he said. “Most have large families to support – one man had 16 children.

“Fishing is the only industry in Roti and other small islands. Indonesian waters have been fished out. So the men are tempted to stray into Australian waters which in the past have been their traditional fishing grounds.”

Allegations of 8,000 sightings of Indonesian fishing boats in one year in Australian waters have infuriated a public already hardened against its neighbour because of terrorist attacks in Bali and Jakarta. So have claims that the waters will become a marine desert if the plunder continues.

A poll by The West Australian newspaper found most respondents wanted poachers to get longer jail terms. More than half believed Australia should reduce foreign aid if Indonesia didn’t do more to stop illegal fishers. Politicians have rejected this idea.

Stories that the fishers are landing animals and plants on Australian shores in defiance of quarantine laws, and that the men could be a terrorism risk have not been proved.

The catch is confiscated and the boats and gear are burned or sunk. However these were usually owned by companies in Indonesia and not by the crews, McKenzie said.

Despite the big number of sightings only 240 foreign vessels have been caught this year for fishing illegally.

The rest escape back to Indonesian waters when they spot an Australian patrol craft. The Opposition Labor Party and Australian fishing organisations have called for more patrol boats to be deployed.

Western Australian Fisheries minister Jon Ford reportedly claimed up to 25,000 tonnes of shark is being taken every year. The fins are popular as a Chinese banquet soup. The surge in demand has been linked to growing prosperity in China.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has announced an AUD $ 300,000 (Rp 2,200 million) campaign to alert the fishers to the impact and consequences of their actions.

McKenzie said not all poachers were prosecuted. Men under 18 were flown straight back to Indonesia accompanied by an adult crewmember. Some poachers caught further east have been charged in Darwin.

“If all were charged and convicted there wouldn’t be enough room in the State’s jails,” he said. “This is a sad situation. Rather than just being prosecutorial some assistance should be given to create work projects in Indonesia. (The Indonesian consul in Perth, Dr Aloysius Madja has been in Roti to investigate alternative industries

“There has to be a better way. We must have rules but they are not addressing the cause of the problem: Poverty.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 29 December 2005)