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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Business in East Java

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© Duncan Graham 2006

East Java was once the province with most promise.

It was the nation’s second most important industrial powerhouse, a forest of smokestacks, a roar of turbines. Raw materials from across the archipelago poured ceaselessly into the maws of the manufacturing giants; they emerged as glittering goodies and enticing edibles for the world.

The province had a skilled workforce and an abundance of natural resources. It enjoyed high productivity and consistently outpaced national growth figures.

This was despite a lower level of international investment compared to West Java and Jakarta.

Like all South-East Asian economies East Java was slugged hard by Krismon (the economic crisis of eight years ago). A temporary setback. The province might be on the ropes but it had the corporate muscle, tenacity, experience and enough capital to bounce back as king of the ring.

Or so said the corporate screen jockeys juggling data and finessing forecasts.

They were wrong according to a new report that claims East Java has fumbled the chances for a comeback and lost many opportunities to get ahead in the big league.

Equivocating bureaucrats, shortsighted planners, nail-biting investors and fearful businesspeople have all allegedly contributed to East Java falling behind other provinces.

The report was written by Bambang-Heru Santosa from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Jakarta, and Heath McMichael from the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development.

“Surabaya’s failure to establish strong linkages with international capital and markets stymied industry diversification in East Java,” said the authors. “This retarded flows of foreign and domestic direct investment to East Java’s manufacturing sector.”

By comparison, Penang in Malaysia and Cebu in the Philippines – strategically located cities similar to Surabaya - have prospered since Krismon. That’s because they’ve attracted international capital and been smart enough to create new export industries, particularly in electronics.

East Java failed to diversify its manufacturing base that relies mainly on food, drinks and tobacco products – primarily for domestic consumption. About 70 per cent of the industrial labor force works in these areas.

These products are the most vulnerable to competition from other Asian countries where production costs are lower.

East Java has a population of 35 million, which is a huge local market by any standards outside China. It is also a major primary producer; 35 per cent of the food on the nation’s table comes from this one province.

While Surabaya slumbered other industrial cities used Krismon to update equipment, introduce modern technology, build new infrastructure and seek fresh markets.

In East Java infrastructure suffered through inattention to upgrading and modernisation. Improvements focussed on the SUGRESID (Surabaya, Gresik and Sidoarjo) region. This has left other parts of the province suffering from clogged highways and rutted roads.


Industries that have lost heavily include leather processing (Sidoarjo) and footwear (Mojokerto), both undercut by China and Vietnam where labor costs are lower.

PT Panen Raya, a leather shoemaker closed six of its seven factories in the Surabaya region in 2002, including its largest manufacturing unit in Sidoarjo, and by early 2003 operated only one factory.

Managers also blamed new labour laws that require substantial payouts for dismissed workers for the closures.

“Furniture manufacturing has suffered a similar decline,” said the authors. “Bojonegoro and Pasuruan are the main centres for teak furniture production.

“In recent years the industry in Pasuruan has suffered because of rising raw material prices – sixty per cent more than the Perhutani forestry company basic price.

“Rising timber prices have both reduced the number of craftsmen fashioning furniture in Pasuruan, in comparison with the number of furniture traders, and led to a decline in the quality of finished furniture.”

However it’s not all gloom. The winners include food processors like PT Pangan Lestari, part of Sekar Group. Up to 40 per cent of the company’s principal lines are exported, mainly to Korea, Japan, Europe and New Zealand.

PT Eratex Djaja manufactures clothing including high quality jeans that are finding a ready market despite intense competition. In the past two years the workforce has increased from 3,500 to 5,000 to meet demand.

There have also been success stories in electronics manufacturing, particularly for the multi-faceted Maspion Group which employs 30,000.

But this is a fickle industry forever ready to up-roots and flee to any country offering better tax breaks, fewer bureaucratic hassles and cheaper workers.


Focus group discussions held by the World Bank with the private sector in East Java highlighted infrastructure as “a significant business constraint.”

As every Surabaya commuter knows, this was just stating the bone-jarring, temper-testing, bleeding obvious.

The frequently crowded toll road south was originally planned to reach Malang 85 kilometres from Surabaya. But it peters out after 25 km. into a congested, badly-formed highway shared with local markets, schools and factories.

The toll road extension to Juanda international airport comes to a sudden halt because land purchase difficulties remain unresolved. The Suramadu bridge linking the capital to Madura island (see The Jakarta Post 3 February 2006) is years behind schedule.

The Tanjung Perak seaport suffers from heavy siltration – though this doesn’t affect the container terminal.

The rail system is considered so inefficient that very few containers take to the tracks. Around 2,000 a day are hauled by slow moving trucks. The fleet is old and poorly maintained – congesting the roads and polluting the already filthy air.

Regular power black-outs have forced many factories to install their own generators, adding to start-up costs.

Banks in East Java haven’t helped. Most of their business has been in retail banking rather than providing credit for small to medium businesses.

Up to 80 per cent of the regional government’s budget is used to maintain routine activities – including paying public servants - leaving only 20 per cent for new projects.

The right ratios, says the business lobby, are 40 and 60 per cent.


The report says that the “perceived hidden cost of investing” may be a factor that’s stymied growth.

One survey found that illegal levies were a serious problem. Reported the authors: “In Sidoarjo up to 36 per cent of manufacturing enterprises were aware of some form of levy imposed by local police while 27 per cent of businesses claimed to have been targeted by ‘social organisations’ soliciting donations.”

Decentralisation has given the regions more power. This has also become a synonym for fresh opportunities to relieve investors of their cash through regulations and local levies known as Pendapatan Asli Daerah. (PAD).

“Many regulations duplicate those issued by Kabupaten and Kotamadya (sub region and district) governments,” said the authors.

“As a result, many economic activities are doubly burdened with identical or similar levies.

“Food manufacturer Nestle paid up to Rp 80 million (US $9,000) to fulfil a local government requirement to renew a ‘disturbance permit’.

“There’s a danger that PAD levies will become an impost on the most profitable industries, such as cigarette manufacturers. PT Gudang Garam (Indonesia’s highest corporate taxpayer) contributes Rp 5 billion (US $500 million) to Kabupaten Kediri’s coffers each year in local taxes.”

The East Java economy is heavily dependant on kretek cigarette manufacturing mainly for domestic consumption. Elsewhere this is a dying industry – literally and metaphorically - as public health advocates push governments to crack down on tobacco sales.

However Indonesia is one of the few nations not to sign the World Health Organisation’s Convention on Tobacco Control. The government seems set to leave the industry in peace and profit, so the urge to diversify and build export markets is absent.

“The story of manufacturing industry in East Java is basically one of failure to take advantage of considerable resource endowments and diversify into international markets,” say Santosa and McMichael.

“Since the Asian financial crisis, East Java’s manufacturing sector has not performed as well as other similarly well-endowed regions in Southeast Asia and has fallen behind some other provinces of Indonesia in comparative terms.

“The province’s considerable physical infrastructure endowments; the educational level of attainment of its population; and its public sector tradition of sound economic and financial management stand out as factors that should have propelled East Java manufacturing to a position of regional if not international significance.”


US-educated businessman Gatot Irianto is a serious enthusiast for change.

“There’s maybe two million unemployed in East Java and the number is growing,” he said. (The workforce is about 24 million)

“We have to develop the entrepreneurial capacity of our people. This is our major concern.”

East Java Inc. is a scheme to change the mindset of people who wait for someone to provide them with a job, and are then content to hold that position till pension day.

The scheme, organised by the East Java Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), has already put 1,500 young people though its courses and workshops.

“Believing we’re not good enough is part of the heritage from the Dutch era,” said Gatot, a furniture exporter and vice chair of KADIN’s business network development unit. “The colonialists suppressed our creativity and our education system is feudal

“This is social engineering on a big scale. We’re doing this because we’re concerned about the future that is going to get tougher and tougher.

“The national government is trying to lure overseas investors, but what about encouraging local investors?

“The government keeps saying we must employ more and more people, but the future is towards technology.

“The government is still inside its coconut shell. It must decide where it’s going – and if it wants to develop opportunities it should let the private sector take over.”


Despite the busy cranes nodding across Surabaya erecting more and more malls for hard-pressed consumers to go window-shopping, there’s no hiding the victims of Krismon.

Their rain-stained, rusting skeletons stand tall on the skyline, corroding monuments to what might have been.

Contractor Erlangga Satriagung has a terse one-line response to the question: How did you survive when so many fell?

“I’m a businessman,” the KADIN chairman replied gruffly.

Certainly Krismon showed that Darwin’s theory of evolution applies equally in the concrete jungle as it does in the forests and oceans.

“We don’t accept all the criticisms of the (Santosa McMichael) report and we are addressing many of the issues, like the bureaucratic difficulties with regional administrations,” he said.

“There is a problem with gas supply for industry and this has to be fixed. There are big plans for a petro-chemical plant and fertiliser industries – but there’s clearly not enough investment.

We have good relations with the government but it must become pro-business. That attitude also has to go down to the district administrations.

“This is the downside of decentralisation. Local governments think they can do anything, but most just don’t understand business.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 February 2006)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Narain story pictures

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Next month (March) one of Surabaya’s most outstanding philanthropists – and certainly the most consistent - turns 80.

Naraindas Tikamdas Sakhrani (better known as Narain) gives alms to the poor of the East Java capital every Thursday around 8 am. The bill for the rice, biscuits, noodles, soaps and coins his staff hand out to around 150 people costs him Rp 10 million (US $1,000) a month.

He’s been doing this non-stop for more than 27 years.

Occasionally a few volunteers inspired by his example come along to help with the distribution. Most are from churches with a welfare ministry and sometimes bring food or detergent. But few last more than a week or two.

So the job falls back on Narain’s wallet and his ten staff who mix and decant the pink syrup and condensed milk drink prepared for the children, and bag the rice in 500-gram units.

Distributing aid is a laborious and debilitating experience for both donor and recipient. Which is probably why so many helpers don’t stay the distance.

It’s not like rehabilitation assistance following a natural disaster, a temporary measure to help the victims get back to normality. With endemic poverty there’s no end in sight. The giver feels like a colonialist striding among the squatting beggars with a sack of food, and the hungry are not always thankful.

While the old women are usually polite and grateful there’s a brooding resentment amongst some of the young men that they’ve been forced to accept charity. And the kids who snatch and demand don’t endear themselves to do-gooders who expect the little toughs to have middle-class manners.

It’s not that the system lacks dignity; the poor don’t have to queue, just sit patiently in an alleyway alongside a mosque, picking lice and rolling smokes from discarded butts while waiting to be served. Nonetheless there’s little nobility in the exercise.

Born in India, Narain came to Indonesia in 1947 as a 22-year old after graduating from the University of Bombay. He settled in Surabaya where an uncle was trading in textiles.

The young man started the Indian Publications Company in an old Dutch house on Jalan Pahlawan (Street of Heroes), close to the Governor’s office. Most of his business was in educational texts, trade handbooks and academic works.

Narain prospered. He became the Indian consul and head of the Sindhi Merchants’ Association. He took out Indonesian citizenship. His business expanded into ceramics, handicrafts and religious knick-knacks, selling locally and exporting.

He soon made the A list of people who had to be invited to every notable occasion. In the society pages he stood tall and handsome, witty and urbane, alongside lesser men in peaked caps. He used the opportunities to effect.

Anyone he could buttonhole at a reception was likely to be given one of Narain’s Yellow Pages, a photocopied brochure outlining his philosophies, religious outlook and values, plus a dose of aphorisms.

Some VIPs must have thought this an impudence, but could hardly complain to a gracious and distinguished gentleman in a prestigious setting. Others with more open minds have responded, become donors and have been added to the businessman’s mailing list.

It would be wrong to assume Narain is an obsessive pamphleteer. He’s not like the herbal remedy salesmen encountered in shopping malls, thrusting their unwanted dodgers onto passers-by.

His approach is always low key, discreet and polite – and certainly sincere. He can be funny and self-effacing, but he’s not into small talk.

Apart from all the heavyweight business people (“big shots”), Narain has met many of the great figures of history – Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Sukarno, Suharto, Megawati and just about every minister and administrative head you could name. Most have been given the Narain treatment.

Some, like Malaysian Mavis Ching have been inspired to develop their own soup kitchens. She now runs an international humanitarian organisation in Malacca called Touch A Life, and Project Daily Meal in Yogyakarta.

Then five years ago tragedy struck. Narain was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood cholesterol. He became seriously infected. Cancer was suspected and he was whisked into a local hospital in a coma. He woke in the Mouth Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore minus his left leg.

Lesser men faced with life in a wheelchair at 75 would have given up. But Narain, who has never married and has no close living relatives, imposed a strict diet on himself. He set about regaining mobility – not easy in the cluttered old two storey house with a narrow staircase where he started business – and redoubled his private activities.

Then a double blow.

By now the book trade had opened up with the demise of the Suharto government and its policies of controlling information. Hundreds of titles were being published in Indonesia and imported from everywhere. Bookshops were no longer rare and closeted places.

Narain’s illness and the change in government crippled the business. He’s closed up shop and been left with 15,000 outdated books stacked on the shelves, along with plaster saints and other icons.

Despite this the generosity hasn’t faltered. At government and corporate functions he still draws respect; metaphorically he continues to stand tall – even though confined to a wheelchair

Surrounded by hundreds of portraits of Hindu deities and Balinese beauties, and texts from all the great holy books, Narain spoke to The Sunday Post in his lofty cream and green office in Surabaya. In the background satellite TV beamed from India shut out much of the street noise below:

Your illness must have been a great shock.

When I came to I didn’t know where I was or what had happened. I talked to a nurse and she put my hand in the place where my leg should have been. I called out in horror and a doctor came in. He said: “You came to Singapore almost dead and there was no guarantee the operation would save your life. Now you’re angry and shouting – so you’ll live.”

Why do you think God has extended your life?

God thought: “Who can do all the things this man is doing? There’s nobody to replace him yet, so he needs a few more years.” God plays chess with the world and moves the pieces here and there.

(This is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Narain’s handouts say: “Distinguished men of today are extinguished men of tomorrow.”)

If you trust in God 100 per cent you will find there is something meaningful in all God’s work. For example, after the floods have come improvements.

My memory is still good and my health has returned. I wake at 3 am and work about 16 hours a day. I also exercise.

Now you have no cash flow, where does the money come from to feed the poor?

Every Wednesday night I wonder that too. But by Thursday morning we have enough. You should stay in my house one night and see how the money showers down! God gives it to me in my left hand, so I must give it to the people with my right hand.

If I come to your house and you invite me for a meal I don’t take your food: I share your food with you.

Why do this? Most people would think it’s the government’s job to help the needy. Why don’t you get the social welfare officials involved, - provide health care and medical checks for example, press the kids to go to school?

I’ve done that, and for a while we had a government clinic. Then their budget ran out and they stopped. Indonesia is so corrupt – it’s number one. And number two is India.

This is the problem when the government helps the poor. I’m told that few are receiving the Rp 100,000 (US$ 10) a month (to compensate for the fuel price hike last October.)

You didn’t talk to the people getting your food today.

I couldn’t find four men to carry me downstairs. I thought of installing a lift but it would be too expensive. I’ve tried a prosthetic leg but it put me off balance.

Why run a charity by yourself? No boards of directors, no committees …

This started more than 30 years ago when my father Tikamdas began giving the poor who called at our door one rupiah a day. The numbers soon grew and didn’t stop. I continued it when my father died.

This is not my project. It belongs to God. It is our duty to help the poor and needy who surround us.

I’ve been told that many people sell the food you give them, that the beggars are organised by preman (street thugs) and are able-bodied, but don’t want to work.

Look at them! How many could find work? They’re dressed in rags, they live under bridges. Who will employ them? Their consciences have been killed by poverty.

I know some sell what we give. That’s their right.

As Jesus said – the poor are always with us. These people are born beggars of beggar parents. It’s their karma. You can change it only through prayer and good deeds.

My social activities and charitable work are done with pure feelings as my duty to Great Indonesia, as from son to mother. I want to continue to do this for as long as I live.

Indonesia is the place where my heart is at rest. Fulfilment came to me in Indonesia. It came because I fell in love with the people and country and consider it my second Motherland.

I am just a humble servant of mankind and brother of the poor and needy.

You keep handing out your newsletters and words of wisdom. Do you really think anyone pays attention?

Oh yes. Everyone except Indians. They think they know everything!

Give me an example of the sayings you want others to consider.

Character is life, character is power.
Character is true holiness.
Without transforming character
Packing the brain with information
Can only result in damaging it.

You met Gandhi. What can you remember?

I met him twice, the first when I was 12, later when I was about 20. (Gandhi, a pacifist, was assassinated in 1948). I call him a man of light. Gandhi led his countrymen through darkness to light.

I saw reflected in his face and in his words the light of service to the poor, the light of friendship with the lowly and the lost, with the broken ones of India and humanity.

Who loved India more than Gandhi? How many among India’s great ones today would say with Gandhi: “All religions are true! And all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism?”

In your house you have a chapel or prayer room with an altar carrying statues and symbols of the world’s major religions.

I’m Hindu, but all religions are universal. I believe in God. This is my daily prayer:

God keep my big mouth shut till I know what I’m saying.
God be in my prayers and in my worship.
God be in my heart to recite your Holy Name and spread it around my surroundings
God help me to offer my thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion to all living things.
God create peace on Earth for all.
God, shine my path in departing from this world.

(First published in The Sunday Post 26 February 2006)



HOW MUCH IS IN THE BULE’S KITTY? © Duncan Graham 2006

It was only Rp 10,000, just over one lousy US dollar. Hardly worth getting catatonic. Just let it pass.

Not so easy. Sure, the sum was small. But it’s the principle that rankles. What principle? The one that says: White skin = big bucks.

Most bule who leave their comfort zone encounter the attitude daily in public transport, shops and restaurants. If you can spit back a bit of invective in street Javanese the issue usually dies with a shrug and a grin. Anyway, who can blame the poor and hard pressed for trying it on?

But I draw the line with professional services offered by the well-heeled. Or maybe this was the last straw, one passenger too many in the bemo after a series of non-stop demands for hand-outs.

To keep the screeching toms at bay the house ratter needed a contraceptive jab. Indonesian colleagues were quoted Rp 20,000 by the vet, but the identical pussy in the hands of the walking ATM would cost 50 per cent more. Same cat, same owner, different carrier.

Do not assume this is some pampered Persian purr machine whose owner imports Manchurian dove-breasts for kitty’s cuisine. This moggy is a rapacious kampung scavenger whose scarred ancestors know every drain. She’s called Ora, the Nusa Tenggara term for Komodo dragons. The resemblance goes beyond the name.

Long time foreign residents can pick rip-offs quickly enough. If there’s a nanosecond’s pause between the question: “How much?” and the reply, or a snap glance between worker and boss, then you’re getting the harga bule (Westerner’s price).

Although common in Bali and other tourist traps, different rates aren’t as frequent as some claim. In the suburbs of Surabaya and the East Java villages beyond where foreigners seldom stray, bule usually pay the same as the locals for a meal or a drink.

Though not around Malang. Bus station kiosks have become so used to backpackers that snack prices can be more than double. One hotel in a nearby town has a no-tax rate for Indonesians, but foreigners have to pay 20 per cent extra for the same room. Even if they’re married to an Indonesian who’s paying the bill.

Borobudur has probably the nation’s most outrageous entry-fee surcharge: Rp 7,000 for Indonesians, Rp 100,000 for foreigners.

How do they spot a local? The ticket clerks don’t ask, they just go on skin color. So lone olive skinned Italian-Australians and Taiwanese usually get the non-discriminatory ticket provided they don’t open their mouths.

Our complexion is the gift of the Deity and our genes. It has nothing to do with the number of rupiah we can stuff in our wallets. In fact there are many more seriously rich Indonesians than there are middle class Australians.

Never judge an Okker by his cover. We don’t like to show off and mask signs of wealth. If you want to be mocked Down Under, be ostentatious.

Aussie retailer Harvey Norman who has made his millions selling electrical goods boasts he owns only one pair of shoes, using the pedestrian argument that he has only one pair of feet. Not a line that would appeal to Imelda Marcos.

Despite Mr Norman’s riches the tax system in Australia is so ruthlessly efficient that it’s almost impossible to build the money mountains that can be seen in Indonesia. Earn anything substantial and the government will confiscate 47 per cent at source.

In a fair and just taxation regimen the rich pay most and the State uses this to build and maintain services for all. That wealth is measured by income, not eye-colour.

So when the Indonesian government sorts out its tax processes let’s hope officials rigidly enforce a just law. I don’t care about the cost of pussy’s progesterone if the price is the same for all and the tax goes to building a new school or upgrading health services.

(Tailnote: Pussy allegedly got her contraceptive jab at the Indonesian rate. It made no difference. Maybe I should have paid that extra Rp 10,000. Anyone want a kitten?)

(First published in The Sunday Post, 26 February 2006)


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

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Tjip Boenandir is very happy he was born with long ear lobes.

That sounds more like a fairy tale opening than a story of war and survival. But Boenandir, who turns 87 this June, has mustered enough years to credit whatever he likes for his longevity and good fortune – including his aural genetic inheritance and traditional beliefs.

For he’s the only known living survivor in Indonesia of a catastrophic naval disaster in 1942 that was pivotal to the war in South-East Asia.

The Battle of the Java Sea cost the lives of more than 900 Dutch and Indonesian sailors and hundreds of British, Australian and American servicemen. It will be recalled at a special ceremony in Surabaya this month. (See sidebar) It lasted seven hours and was the world’s largest naval engagement since the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

On 27 February 64 years ago an armada of 14 allied warships set out from the East Java port. Their mission: To confront and halt the mighty Japanese fleet sailing south and intent on capturing the Dutch colonial prize of the Indonesian archipelago.

The Japanese had already proved their mastery over the British by swamping the Malay Peninsula and seizing the allegedly impregnable fortress of Singapore.

The next domino was to be Java. Yet the Dutch – already crippled by the war in Europe – were determined to fight.

Their gesture was gallant or foolhardy, depending on how you view history and the actions of military leaders. It was certainly doomed.

They were led by the cruiser De Ruyter under the command of Rear Admiral Karel Doorman with 485 men.

In his wake were three other Dutch warships and ships from Australia, the US and Britain.

By daybreak 917 men would have been blown up, shot or drowned in the Dutch ships alone. Among them were 220 Indonesians in service with the Dutch. Four ships were sunk (one by a Dutch mine) and three others damaged.

The Japanese fleet of 18 warships was better armed and armoured and had spotter planes and big torpedoes. These could travel twice the distance of the Allies’ weapons and carry half a tonne of explosives. Only four Japanese ships were hit and mainly suffered light damage.

Boenandir was a young stoker who had volunteered to join the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1937. He was deep in the engine room around 7 pm and felt the ship shudder when the De Ruyter was hit by the first shell on the forward deck.

Four men were killed but the shell didn’t explode. Many seamen must have considered this a good omen. They were wrong.

The Allies’ fleet was under equipped to fight. It had no air cover and was handicapped by language and communication code problems. Within 50 nautical miles of Surabaya they were soon straddled by Japanese shells from the enemy’s long-range guns

“They seemed to be firing at random and just spraying us,” said Boenandir. (In fact the Japanese fired more than 1,600 shells with only five hits. Four were duds.)

“The damage really came around 12.30 at night when a torpedo hit the stern area and broke the propellers.

“The engines stopped. There was no lighting. I tried to climb a ladder to the top decks. In the darkness I fell twice and injured my right leg.”

In the light of exploding ordinance he made it to the only lifeboat successfully launched. It was designed to carry 20 men but had 60. They watched in horror as the De Ruyter sank stern first about two hours after the torpedo hit. Those who couldn’t swim crowded the forward deck waiting their fate.

“We could hear the cries of the men and shooting,” he said, assuming that some were committing suicide rather than drown. “Many were trapped in the separate compartments of the ship.

“There was a senior Dutch officer on the lifeboat and he ordered us to paddle using our hands. There was no panic – we were disciplined.”

For two days the little lifeboat drifted under a scorching sun. Light rain eased their thirst. Then a Japanese warship spotted them.

Rescue or reprisal? The Japanese had a reputation for machine-gunning survivors of its attacks.

“We were lucky to meet some kind Japanese who obeyed the rule of the sea and rescued us,” Boenandir said. “We were pulled out of the sea like fish and sent to a camp near Semarang in Central Java.”

Indonesians in the Dutch armed forces were normally released by the Japanese, while Europeans were executed or sent to prisoner-of-war camps. But Boenandir had light skin and was thought to be Eurasian.

In fact he’s linked to the royal families of Yogya and clever enough to add Japanese to his languages. This got him concessions and eventually he was let free.

In 1945 he joined the revolutionaries. After fighting for the Dutch he turned to fighting against them. The technical skills he’d learned in the navy were put to good use in munitions and weaponry.

When pensioned by the TNI in 1972 as a lieutenant colonel he set about seeking compensation from his former employers. He’d been captured and imprisoned as a seaman in the Dutch military and wanted his back pay.

His claim wasn’t recognised till 2002, and only then through the help of Dutch and American POWs who verified that Boenandir had survived. The first payment was Rp 70,000 (US$ 7). Protests from fellow veterans boosted this tiny sum.

“I’m satisfied now,” he said at his home in Malang, East Java. “I have no hate for the Dutch. I’m proud to have served my country. I have 27 grand children. I’m still fit. God has given me a long life and I’m more than thankful.”
What lessons have been learned from the Battle of the Java Sea?
Former Dutch naval officer Peter Steenmeijer, now the director in Indonesia of the Netherlands War Graves Foundation, said the defeat stressed the need for a balanced navy, - surface ships, submarines, aircraft and marines.
“Navies need to train as they plan to fight,” he said. “They must coordinate and exercise regularly. This has to be well in advance, especially when operating as a multinational or joint force. And never underestimate your adversary.
“All crewmembers knew the battle was an impossible mission with great risks, but hardly any stayed behind.
“Before the battle the Dutch ships were damaged and already had casualties from enemy encounters. The crews were extremely tired. Nevertheless they gave everything. In my eyes that made them all heroes.”
In Surabaya’s Kembang Kuning (Yellow Flower) cemetery 5,000 victims of the war are buried. Relatives of the dead – Indonesian and Dutch - and the military representatives of the two once-warring nations will gather to remember the tragedy on 27 February.
A bell salvaged from the light cruiser Java will be presented. The memorial has now been inscribed with the names of all the sailors who perished and Doorman’s battle cry. Although he signalled in English: ‘All ships follow me’ this was later translated into Dutch as: Ik val aan, volgt mij!
Literally this means: ‘I attack, follow me!’ and has become a famous phrase in the naval history of the Netherlands.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 February 06)


Wednesday, February 15, 2006


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ALL WE NEED IS LOVE, LOVE, LOVE © Duncan Graham 2006

Is Valentine’s Day just another Western commercial gimmick to revive retail sales, comatose after New Year celebrations? Duncan Graham tickles Indonesian love life:

When the question: “Are Indonesian men romantic?” was put to a Rotary Club meeting of 20 professional women in Surabaya it took some minutes for the laughter to subside.

No, they weren’t optimistic about getting flowers, presents, a card – any small token of their husbands’ endearment.

But they would most certainly treasure such gestures.

There’s one message to men that comes across loud as a sound system at a kampung wedding. The broadcasters are the articulate, independent women interviewed for this story. They say with clarity sharp and accents clear: Show your love. Don’t take your partner for granted!

“Indonesian men are good hearted but they’re ashamed to demonstrate affection – particularly in public,” said surgeon and professor Rowena Ghazali-Hoesin. “That’s Indonesian culture – but it’s changing. Slowly.

“Sometimes we just need our men to show their love, their real intention. My husband’s romantic in the bedroom, but not elsewhere.

“However, come to think of it, he does peel my mangoes and papaya. Now isn’t that romantic? (Quipped a friend: “She trained him well!”)

“In Holland I heard that men took their wives breakfast in bed. I told my husband. He replied: ‘Yes, but what do they really want when they do this’.”

Onny Asri deals with heavy-duty shippers from across the world who do business with her freight forwarding company. Not all treat her seriously at first though she’s the boss. (Her husband runs a labour supply company.)

“Men from Malaysia and Singapore tend not to be so respectful, though men from Europe, America and Australia treat me as an equal and are very polite,” she said.

“In the West it’s ‘Ladies First’. In Eastern culture it’s ‘Men First’.

“We can’t expect Indonesian men to change overnight. But they have many good qualities. They are responsible and take care of their families. They like to be close to their children.”

It took years for lawyer Boetet Ildrem Pantjoro to get her first personal present – a pearl necklace – from her late husband. But she remembers he was always very good about buying modern electrical appliances for the home.

“Indonesian men will give flowers and gifts when they’re courting,” she said. “But once they have the marriage certificate shows of affection are gone with the wind.

“Respect? Oh sure, our culture has respect for mothers. But their sons are considered crown princes.”

“Valentines Day? My husband (a paediatrician) doesn’t know what that is!” laughed social worker Wiwiek Teddy. “Men are too busy to worry about these things.

“This is a patriarchal society and women are always considered inferior, although that’s changing, little-by-little.

“The influences are the Western media and overseas travel. Valentine’s Day is not part of our culture, it’s more for young people. Attitudes differ according to the generations.

“If you live in the big cities and have been exposed to foreigners and other lifestyles then you’re more likely to be romantic.

“It also depends where you come from in Indonesia and your ethnic background. For example in Padang (West Sumatra) the Minangkabau have a matriarchal society.”

Academic and sociologist Emy Hendrarso is teaching her 18-year old son to respect women and wants men to be in touch with their feelings. Her husband is a Bupati (Government officer in charge of a Regency).

“The average Javanese is ashamed to show love to his wife because he’s been brought up to think that women are subservient,” she said. “Women do want romance. There’s not enough.

“Love has to be maintained throughout life.”

Despite all the laughter and joke cracking, the sub-text was that the women loved their husbands, admired their abilities, enjoyed their company – but didn’t get enough of it.

These aren’t firebrand feminists on a revolutionary mission, but women who’d welcome a glacial change in their significant others

So what should men do? Opening doors and letting her go ahead would be a major step forward. Touching in public goes down well when the gesture is heartfelt and the situation right. Listening to her views as though they really are important. Introducing her to others as your equal. Walking together.

You don’t have to break your journey to buy a thorn-free plastic rose from the roadside vendors who blossom today (14 Feb) if puce makes you puke. Just give her a call and say you love her – always assuming you do.

Or if that’s going to ruin your hectic schedule – send an SMS. I LUV U is the minimum message and will take only a moment of your precious time. Cost? About Rp 300 (three US cents) so it won’t wrinkle the bottom line.

And according to the experts (the women in this story) simple gestures carry more impact if spontaneous and not just on one day of the year, with the prompt coming from a shopping mall display.

Exclaimed florist Ida Hendro whose business should bloom this week: “It’s simple. Just show your love!”



Valentine is more than just the patron saint of manufacturers of chocolates and frilly underwear.

Don’t assume universal agreement on who, why, when and what about Valentine. There are at least three in the histories wrapped in mysteries, so take your pick.

The most popular version features a priest who spread Christianity among the Roman military around AD 270. For his initiative he was beheaded by a disapproving administration.

While waiting for the sword to fall Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s sightless daughter.

When about to meet his fate he sent her the note that’s launched the card business: “From your Valentine.” But how did she read it? She didn’t need to - Love is Blind.

OK, that last line is a bit of journalistic licence. That has to be allowed. Early Popes are alleged to have tampered with the facts about St V to make them more palatable to a church trying to stamp out licentiousness.

Fundamentalists urge their followers not to be led into the pit by displays of cute cupids and plump hearts. Apparently the event isn’t as harmless as it seems.

It’s all a plot to “whitewash perverted customs and observance of pagan gods and idols,” thundered one Christian website.

There’s no sign too many are taking notice. Every year the malls overdose on pink. Like Santa, Val’s in town big time, and he’s not going anyplace soon. Stand by for the Easter Bunny.

(First published in The Jakarta Post, 14 February 06)



Tuesday, February 14, 2006



© Duncan Graham 2006

Last month’s (Jan) exclusion of Indonesia from the All England badminton finals has brought accusations, demands and soul searching. Why has the once world champion tumbled so far? Duncan Graham sought answers.

Eddyanto Sabarudin looks into a future of gloom.

“I’m not optimistic,” he said. “The game has been in decline for years – ever since the economic crisis of 1998. It just doesn’t get enough financial support.”

Eddyanto is the deputy director of the Badminton Association of Indonesia’s (PBSI) competition and refereeing division. If he and other experts don’t expect medals in this year’s Thomas Cup and Uber Cup championships then how can the players maintain their spirits? Winning isn’t just skill and tenacity; the psychological approach is also critical.

Indonesia, once the untouchable in international badminton, hasn’t won a Thomas Cup since 2002. Its last Uber Cup win was ten years ago.

The tournament will be played in Japan with the finals in early May. The qualifying rounds will be held this month in India, starting 15 February.

The 20 players entered for the men’s and women’s singles and doubles include those defeated at the All England championship. Administrators say they haven’t had time to make big changes.

Or is that code for no depth of talent in the recruiting pool?

With a population close to a quarter of a billion Indonesia should be well placed to find stellar shuttlers everywhere in the archipelago. Big China is certainly a formidable foe - but to be defeated by Denmark with a population of less than six million, and Malaysia with a talent catchment one-tenth of Indonesia’s?

There are many answers. Former champion Tan Joe Hok (see sidebar) was reported as blaming insufficient training and practice - and all contributors to this story agree.

But first - back to basics.

This story is being keyboarded in an office overlooking a narrow street. Every late afternoon local wannabe Olympic and World Cup heroes turn the tarmac below into an arena of mixed sport. At one end soccer (thongs mark the goal) – at the other a badminton court minus net lest it snare the traffic.

It’s a scene duplicated daily in many towns and villages across the archipelago.

The lack of good public facilities is clearly a major handicap. Surabaya, the nation’s second biggest city has just ten clubs and only two international-standard courts.

Former world champion Rudy Hartono is said to have started in a Surabaya street, but his sportsman father noted the lad’s skill and got him into a proper court when he was 11.

Who’s talent spotting? Is Indonesia being combed for the best and brightest? Sports officials elsewhere are forever hunting for the next generation of athletes who can leap higher, kick further, slam the ball harder, trim nanoseconds of a world record.

“Unfortunately the kids have to come to us, we haven’t got the funds to go and look for them,” said Drs Nurhasan, deputy dean of sports science at the University of Surabaya (UNESA), and a former national player.

He’s also head of badminton research and development in East Java. UNESA is one of only seven public universities in the nation with a sports curriculum.

“This and the lack of facilities are major problems. A new national law passed last year requires every community to provide sports grounds, but this is going to take a long time.

“Few schools have adequate sports facilities. There’s also a problem with subjective selection of athletes. We need to have objective measurement of skills and coaching standards and not choose through favouritism.”

Oce Wiriawan, a former national player who coaches teams sponsored by property developer Citra Raya, said players peak early and are often off the competitive circuit long before they turn 30.

“KONI (the national sports organisation) distributes government funds which go to elite athletes and training camps,” he said. “It’s difficult to get companies to sponsor sports in Indonesia.”

There must be many more potential Rudys whacking shuttles off lamp-posts with makeshift racquets who can’t afford the Rp 2 million (US$ 210) for the necessary gear, let alone the confidence to enter a swish club in a fancy suburb.

Nining Widyah Kusnanik, head of UNESA’s sports coaching laboratory, wants a national women’s sporting organisation to be formed. She seen the one in Malaysia help women athletes win recognition.

Nining bemoaned a reluctance to seek overseas advice for ailing badminton.

“It’s part of our culture,” she said. “We don’t evaluate our failures. We still feel we’re the champions and have nothing to learn from others.”


Badminton was named after a lordly home in England where the sport was played. It was also known as battledore and shuttlecock, and may have had its origins in China or India a millennium ago.

After Indonesian Independence the word bulutangkis (literally ‘feather-parry’) was developed - but the English word retains its popularity.

Professor Colin Brown from Perth’s Curtin University has researched the sport in Indonesia. He’s written that the game probably entered Medan in the 1930s from Malaysia. It soon spread and is now the nation’s most popular sport after soccer.

Before it became professional badminton was often played as an entertainment in night markets. The Dutch didn’t take to the game. This has denied Indonesia the pleasure of defeating its former colonial masters in an international sporting arena.

Badminton has long been dominated by ethnic Chinese men. A recurring media story has local-born sporting heroes who’ve won prestige for Indonesia complain they’ve been denied a citizenship certificate.

During Sukarno’s era badminton lifted national pride when Tan Joe Hok won the All-England Championship by defeating a fellow Indonesian, Ferry Sonneville.

In the glory period between 1968 and 1982, Indonesia won 11 All Englands. The most famous player was Surabaya’s Rudy Hartono who took the crown eight times.

The game’s success inevitably attracted politicians. Former President Suharto is alleged to have been involved in team selection. He started putting military men in the sport’s administration though few had any knowledge of badminton.

Earlier this month (Feb) President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla both witnessed the wedding vows when world champion and Olympics gold medallist Taufik Hidayat married Ami Gumelar. He’ll be in the Thomas Cup squad.

The Thomas Cup (for men) is contested every two years. Indonesia has won it 13 times, China and Malaysia five times. The Uber Cup (for women) has been dominated by China, Japan and the US and collected by Indonesia on only three occasions.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 February 2006).


Tuesday, February 07, 2006



You’re unlikely to encounter a hangi on the streets of Jakarta or chanting of the haka – though there may be a few kiwi toasts in some Blok M bars. For this Monday (6 Feb) is Waitangi Day. Confused? Duncan Graham explains:

In the great game of geopolitics the major East-West players in South East Asia and the South Pacific are Indonesia and Australia. But there’s another outpost of European culture and heritage in the region that’s frequently overlooked.

Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud as it’s known to the original Maori inhabitants - is New Zealand. But it’s nothing like the Dutch province. (A hangi is food cooked underground and a haka is the fearsome war chant usually seen and heard at Rugby games. The kiwi is a nocturnal flightless bird and a national emblem. )

Despite its size and position (NZ has only 4 million people with 75 per cent of British heritage) the country was of sufficient importance to Indonesia for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pay a visit last year.

NZ is a handy local market for Indonesian coal, paper products and furniture. Total trade is worth more than NZ$ 1 billion (Rp 6.38 trillion), with the balance in Indonesia’s favour.

If you buy powdered milk in Indonesia there’s a good chance it has come from the Shaky Isles. Like Indonesia, NZ has much geological activity and volcanoes that give the land its stunning beauty and extraordinary fertility.

Consequently tourism and farming are major industries. The country has probably the world’s best dairy products that explains why kiwis (the birds and the people) look so robust.

NZ is famous for its magnificent scenery (featured in the Lord of the Rings films) its clean-green environment and ability to stand up to the US by banning nuclear ships from entering NZ waters.

“Since President Susilo’s visit the political relationships between the countries are in very good shape,” said David Strachan deputy head of the NZ mission to Indonesia in Jakarta.

“He got a very warm reception. His visit helped people realise that there’s a lot of unrealised potential in the relationship.”

Despite a government travel warning similar to Australia’s, up to 30,000 New Zealanders visit Indonesia every year – mostly as tourists to Bali. Around 1,000 live in Indonesia, the majority in Jakarta where they mainly work as architects, engineers and teachers.

About 700 Indonesians are studying in New Zealand where the fees are reported to be lower than Australia. The problem for Indonesians is the long and costly flight, and the colder climate does not appeal to people from the tropics.

New Zealanders face a similar identity problem to Canadians who live next to a giant. Australia may have only 20 million people, but it’s a huge landmass standing between NZ and the rest of the world.

The rivalry between the two is intense – particularly in sport, where the kiwis excel despite their tiny population.

Like Indonesia one of NZ’s major exports is people seeking wider opportunities in the world outside. Former NZ prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon quipped that migration to Australia improved the IQ on both sides.

New Zealanders are regularly mistaken for Australians and often grouped together. In Jakarta there’s an Australian and New Zealand Association dominated by the former. (Contact:

How do you tell them apart? Check the vowels in “fish and chips”. If you can understand what they say they’re Australian.

Vladimir Lenin was alleged to have described NZ as “a country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines” – and he wasn’t even an Australian. That hasn’t stopped millions visiting the country for its knockout geography, tranquillity and friendly folk.

The paranoia about adjacent Indonesia that infects Australian politics and dominates national policy doesn’t infect New Zealanders. Having the Great South Land alongside may swamp your identity, but it’s a handy barrier to an imagined invasion.

Nonetheless New Zealanders are active politically on Indonesian issues. Last month there was a small pro-Papua demonstration in Auckland against Australia’s detention of Indonesian asylum seekers.

Some Australian political commentators have suggested that New Zealand could be absorbed as another State or at least share a common currency. The NZ dollar can be bought for around 90 cents Australian – about Rp 6,400.

Any chance of an amalgamation? Not while sentiments like those of Muldoon remain. Here’s another: “New Zealand was colonised initially by those Australians who had the initiative to escape.”


The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on 6 February 1840 at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands between the British Crown and Maori chiefs from the North Island.

Although now considered the nation’s foundation day it remains controversial with some Maori claiming the treaty was mistranslated and its terms betrayed by the British.

New Zealand was already a British colony when the treaty was signed and it took till 1975 before the document gained any legal force.

In 1989 the government pledged to recognise five treaty principles - of government, self-management, equality, reasonable cooperation and redress. However the ways these are implemented are still disputed.

About ten per cent of the NZ population is Maori. In the past few years there’s been a resurgence in Maori pride, and the language is now widely taught. Many official NZ documents are written in both languages.

In Australia the Aborigines form only one per cent of the population. Attempts by Aboriginal activists for a NZ-style treaty have not been successful.

NZ has a reputation for being socially progressive and in the forefront of women’s rights. The present and previous prime minister and the governor general are all women. NZ passed a Bill of Rights in 1990 – a document Australia has yet to write.

(Declaration of interest: Although the writer is an Australian, he admits to visiting kiwi relatives who haven’t quit NZ.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 February 06)


Monday, February 06, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for: The chance for revenge.

OK, revenge isn’t a great virtue in any faith. Many consider it a vice. But there are redeeming factors. Dispensation is available.

We’re talking about the Indonesian advertising business. It would be nice to say ‘the Indonesian advertising artform’ because that’s its potential.

But its grand possibilities are squandered when selling cigarettes – a job not found in most other countries because it’s illegal. Consider the manufacturer’s brief:

MEMO: PT Plagiarist Partners Ad Agency.

FROM: PT Global Addictions Inc.

“We make a toxic product that kills millions. It causes cancer and a cruel death through heart and lung disease. It will turn your sex life arctic and cripple your offspring.

“Many say it’s the gateway to narcotics - but that’s ridiculous! We’re right behind the government’s anti-drug campaign.

“Meddlers in the free market have imposed onerous restrictions on promoting our legal product. We can’t show people actually smoking or the cigarette itself.

“A stupid health warning must be included in any promotion. This is clearly wrong because it frightens people.

“Despite these negatives we want you to show that lighting a smoke will reverse the facts - and make life happier, more exciting, important, adventurous and sexually gratifying.

“Money is no object. Over to you.”

MEMO: Mega Bucks, GA

FROM: Dup Licitous, PP

Hi Big Man – got your order – cool! Like Menthol, ya? Ha, ha! We put our crack team straight on the job. After several all-night sessions in a Blok M bar (account attached) they lit up some hot ideas I just know you’ll love:

Concept One: A mob of kids (certified over 18 though they look years younger) having a great time in a way-out setting. Guys and girls. They’re wearing cybernet gear like you’ve never seen, hanging about with camphones, laptops - all the latest. Words in English, like MILD and NEW GEN, you know the sort of thing to give prestige. This’ll slay them in the aisles! The only thing lacking is a fog of nicotine, but they’ll get the picture. Kids today are s-m-a-r-t.

Concept Two: A trendy chick in low cut number flaunting big boobs looks as though she’s really having it on. Hair wild. Dress white, like, you know, virginal. Caption: “Finally I found my G Spot”. Got it? Don’t worry about the morality cops – they can’t read English and are too busy perving Playboy!

But cewek2 will get it in spades ‘cause they take Cosmopolitan and watch Was Was. With less than two per cent of Indonesian women smoking, and even fewer getting satisfaction, this is one great growth market.

And how about this? The anti-fun squads reckon smoking causes infertility, right? So checking population growth is a public service, right?

Concept Three: We stack coffee cups so they look like a filter cigarette, complete with smoke / steam, and we call it - Cappuccino In Sticks! If do-gooders complain we’re breaking the rules – take ‘em on, hard and strong. The controversy will rocket sales into the stratosphere!

Let’s face it: What’s wrong in helping sell coffee, even if no one can pronounce cappuccino and never drinks the stuff?

Whaddya think?

MEMO: Hi, Dup

FROM: Mega.

Great! We’ll buy all three – they’re killer ads! But the Board’s worried about pushing birth control benefits. We need new generations of consumers to maintain growth and keep our overseas shareholders grinning.

Otherwise – go for it!


If you find the industry offensive and its campaigns obnoxious the chance for revenge is in your yellow-stained fingers.

Take a leaf from the anti-drugs campaign: Say No To Smokes.

That way the tobacco tsars will go broke and the ad agencies turn their “talents” to something harmless.

Sadly there are downsides: Thousands of mainly poor people will live longer straining the government’s welfare budget; doctors and nurses will have fewer patients and less income; grave-diggers will be underemployed; tobacco farmers and factory workers will lose their jobs and the government tax base will shrink by billions.

In fact the whole economic system could go up in smoke.

Now who’d take responsibility for that?


(First published in The Sunday Post 5 February 06)


Friday, February 03, 2006



If patience is a virtue it should also have a name.

For this story it has to be civil engineer A G Ismail, boss of the huge Suramadu project in East Java where the substance of a 20-year nation-linking vision is slowly sliding across the sea.

Suramadu is the 5.4 kilometre long bridge being built between Indonesia’s second biggest city and the oblong island of Madura to the northeast.

When launched by then President Megawati Sukarnoputri in August 2003 it was hoped vehicles would be whizzing across the straits in a matter of moments by 2006. Now the completion date is September 2008.

However good the pre-planning and computer-based projections, all big constructions everywhere in the world are prone to unforeseen stuff-ups, and Suramadu has had its share.

In July last year a girder suddenly collapsed when a crane swung around, injuring nine workers. Delays followed.

Then some of the 100-kilogram aluminium rods used as sacrificial anodes allegedly vanished. These are used to protect steel exposed to seawater. The police were called and are still investigating.

But the really big problem that stalled construction for a year was administrative and financial.

Funding for the US$ 320 million project is complex and involves the governments of Indonesia, East Java and China. The latter is providing a soft loan of US$ 177 million under a strategic infrastructure agreement with Indonesia.

The loan was due to be disbursed by China last year. However it was reported that the Indonesian government couldn’t meet some of the lender’s conditions so the cash stopped flowing.

The money drip has just restarted and the thump-thump pulse of the pile drivers is throbbing again across the still waters, audible proof that Suramadu lives.

“No I’m not frustrated,” said a relaxed Ismail in his office close to the ramp on the Surabaya side of the bridge.

“We didn’t sit around doing nothing. We were able to get on with some design work. Of course I kept going to Jakarta to ask for the money to be released, and now we’ve got it.”

But apparently not yet enough to finish the job. Suramadu is being built from both sides. So far 16 spans, or piers to support the causeway have been constructed from Madura and 17 from Surabaya. The money released will pay for six more from each side. A total of 81 have to be built.

In the centre will be two 141 metre high bow-legged pylons, the tallest constructions in East Java. They’ll be used to hang thick steel cables to support the centre of the bridge 35 metres above the water and allow ships to pass beneath. In engineering terms this is called a ‘cable-stayed’ construction.

When it’s all complete (no-one on the project says ‘if’) it will indeed be an impressive and graceful sight, and hopefully a tourist attraction. That’s the idea of the East Java government that is also planning hotels, a museum, diorama, shopping mall, fairground and other attractions. These will be on a 100-hectare site around the tollgate on the Surabaya side.

“We’ve managed to acquire 97 per cent of the land we need on the Madura side and 70 per cent on Surabaya,” said Ismail. “We’re optimistic it will all be finished on time.”

Land acquisition for civil infrastructure is a critical issue in East Java. A new highway to Surabaya’s international airport has come to a sudden halt over problems with land purchase. Suramadu is being built away from the closest point between the two islands because land couldn’t be bought.

There’s certainly a great deal more to be done at Suramadu by the 500 workers employed by six contractors. There are also about 150 Chinese technicians, and consultants from Denmark and Germany on the job.

The approach road on the Surabaya side is a narrow pot-holed track alongside a stinking canal. Once drained and rebuilt this will become the highway leading onto the four-lane bridge. So far less than 700 metres of causeway on either side is in place.

The reasons for Suramadu look logical enough. The Surabaya port of Tanjung Perak is already overloaded and has no room to expand. A new sediment-free harbour on the northwest coast of Madura could relieve pressure.

Madura is a poor and dry island where the locals have an income about one sixth of those in East Java. No wonder the ferries, which take an hour or more to cross the strait, are always full of Madurese seeing work across the water.

Suramadu will open up the 160 kilometre-long island and allow the smokestacks of Surabaya to be relocated. Good access could mean the coffee beans of Madura will rapidly find their way into the cappuccino mugs of Java’s mall habitu├ęs.

Well, that’s the theory and the economists have assembled some impressive Power Point presentations. These make it seem this will be the bridge to prosperity ever after.

Whatever the benefits or otherwise, Suramadu should become a symphony of singing steel as the wind hums through the taut cables, a thing of beauty. Which means it should be a joy forever.



Nation builders need grand dreams to inspire the masses. Twenty years ago that was articulated as Tri Nusa Bima Sakti, a phrase invoking a mythical hero and divine power in the unity of three islands.

In more pedestrian terms this meant the linking of Java to Sumatra, Bali and Madura to create one central block where Indonesians could drive ferry-free from Aceh to Ubud.

The first bridge is probably impossible because the Sunda Sea is too deep and the seabed fractured. The second is politically tricky because the Balinese aren’t keen on the idea of Javanese in their millions strolling from Banyuwangi into Gilimanuk.

So Suramadu became the bridge most likely and in 1990 planning got underway. The financial crisis seven years later followed by the political upheaval meant all plans had to be stuffed back in the filing cabinets till 2003.

Although it’s a baby project compared to some overseas (one similar bridge in China is five times longer and is said to have been built in four years), Suramadu should still stir patriotic pride.

It will be the biggest bridge in Indonesia and the first linking major islands. The Madurese, who have long suffered a bad press in East Java for their alleged hot-tempered violence, shouldn’t feel so isolated. Maybe some will return if their homeland prospers.

Of the ten million Indonesians who call themselves Madurese, more than six million live away from their island. This probably makes them the nation’s most itinerant ethnic group.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 February 2006.)



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Indonesia’s first Buddhist Maitreya vihara opened in Malang, East Java, 55 years ago. Now there are around 300 across the nation. The latest is in Surabaya. Duncan Graham reports:

The massive 1200-year-old Borobudur temple near Yogya is substantial proof that Buddhism once exercised huge influence in Java.

Buddhism yielded to Hinduism in India about 900 years ago. The two religions merged in Indonesia but rapidly declined after the arrival of Islam in Java during the 16th century.

To the non-believer all representations of the Buddha look enigmatic. By contrast the smile of Mona Lisa is instantly decipherable.

Buddhas standing, reclining, sitting – their hands in scores of different gestures, their accessories (if they have any) brimming with symbolism. It’s seriously complex, but Buddha Maitreya, also known as the Laughing, Happy or Future Buddha is certainly accessible.

However to make things a mite more difficult some regard him as a Buddha-in-waiting, a bodhisattva. This is a monk eligible for nirvana (the state of blessedness) but who delays transformation through concern for human suffering. Whatever his proper rank, he’s a compassionate chap.

Interpretations in paint and statuary show a plump fellow with a beaming face. He flaunts a potbelly and breasts big enough to warrant a D-cup bra. In any Western health care campaign he’d be depicted as a prime candidate for a cardiac arrest and be warned to lay off the carbohydrates, particularly beer.

But in Chinese culture obesity is a symbol of happiness, luck and generosity.

Maitreya (a Sanskrit word) is also known as Hotei in Japan (the word can translate as ‘glutton’), and Pu-Tai in China. Another name is Samma Sambuddha, which has a jolly alliterative ring. He may have been modelled on a peripatetic Zen scholar who wandered around China predicting the weather; a meteorological monk, if you like.

Pandita (priest) Haris Amerta directs the Vihara Buddha Maitreya in Malang, the first established in Indonesia. He said the Buddha’s dangling ear lobes represented longevity. The gourd on his sash holds jamu (herbal medicine) and the bell he carries is to wake the conscience of the people. The sack on his back is full of goodies for kiddies.

“We’re vegetarians and offer a short simple service that has dispensed with many traditions, including the shedding of shoes,” he said. “Our garments are plain white.

“We’re more flexible than Islam or Christianity and have adapted to meet the changing times. We understand busy people can’t afford to spend hours praying so we meet their needs.

“But we haven’t cut back on the message of love and forgiveness, and the responsibility to help others. May happiness come to you.”

The congregation worships under bright lights in a room free of the usual smoke-smudged timbers and cacophony of clocks which feature in Chinese temples. Men and women pray together, their position depending on the priest’s gender. Incense and candles are limited.

If that person is a woman, then the women are in the front rows and the men behind. If a man, the order is reversed.

The Maitreya cult first appeared in India about 1700 years ago and spread to Japan, Korea, China and Indonesia. It’s part of the Mahayana (or Great Vehicle) school of Buddhism.

This recognises multiple Buddhas ready to help those who seek liberation.

Theravada (the Lesser Vehicle) originated 2500 years ago. It says the Buddha was unique and has gone. This form is most popular in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Haris said that some Javanese worship at the vihara because they associate Maitreya with the shadow puppet character Semar. The dwarf clown who features prominently in wayang kulit performances is also fat and wise.

Semar is believed to be the incarnation of a god, and a peculiar Javanese addition to the Ramayana story. Like Buddhism this epic tale of mystery and majesty, war and peace, revenge and intrigue also came from India.

To some Buddhists Maitreya is a messiah figure who will eventually appear on earth as a world ruler. As in other religions there have been a few false prophets attempting to seize this title. Among them was L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

However their claims are neatly neutered by the wide acceptance of a prophecy. This says Maitreya will not appear until all remaining relics are cremated and the teachings forgotten.

As Buddhism is a growth religion in the West (followers outnumber Baptists in Australia) the Maitreya’s return will be a long time coming. The present estimate is 30,000 years.



If the size, style and opulence of the new vihara Maitreya in Surabaya are any measure, then Buddhism is booming in Indonesia.

Technically only one per cent of the population is registered as Buddhist. But with 300 Maitreya vihara alone across the country and at least six other prominent schools of the religion all with their own places of worship, the official figures look a little wonky.

The Great Hall of the Surabaya vihara is dome shaped, like a mosque and three storeys high. There’s a lift to the upper levels, large chapels behind and a huge auditorium. A library, childcare rooms, communal kitchens, souvenir shop and dormitories make the vihara a major addition to Indonesian religious life.

With its great timber doors, hectares of polished ceramics, closed circuit security cameras and computer systems it’s clear no expense has been spared.

Although officially opened last November facilities are still being completed. It’s big, but not the largest in Indonesia. That title is held by the vihara on Batam Island, opened in 1999 and covering almost two hectares.

Pandita Harmono Njoto from the Surabaya vihara said it was important to differentiate between religion and tradition.

“We’ve embraced modern technology,” he said. “Technology is neither good nor bad; it depends on how you use it.

“This is an open faith. Everyone is welcome.”

In Buddhism individuals are responsible for their faith and priests are not required to intercede. Vihara are built to help worshipers develop their own self-awareness.

A central feature of Buddhism is acceptance of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

The Truths acknowledge the recognition that all existence is full of suffering caused by a craving for worldly objects. Suffering ends when craving ceases.

The Eightfold Path leads to enlightenment and invokes perfect views, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.

(Additional research from US Library of Congress.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 February 2006)