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

Friday, June 30, 2006


Dr Haryadi Suparto

Have you ever been coined? No, not conned. We’ve all had that experience.

Coining (kerokan) is scraping the back ribs with the edge of a coin or spoon to bring up long red welts.

The fancy word is ‘dermabrasion’ and it’s similar to ‘cupping’ where hot glasses or cups are put on the skin to raise blood to the surface.

Coining looks primitive and cruel to Westerners who first encounter this weird household ritual. But Indonesians swear it’s an effective cure for masuk angin. Literally this means ‘wind entering’ so catching a cold, or having indigestion seems the right term.

Not so, according to Dr Haryadi Suparto: “Maybe a general feeling of being a bit drained, under the weather, not our usual self - is a better translation.

“Of course coining appears bizarre to foreigners who prefer to take a chemical pill after visiting a doctor and checking all the literature. But we know coining works.”

Dr Haryadi is the head of the Health Department’s Health Services Research and Development Centre in Surabaya. He’s one of those flexible people who can operate in the logic of modern Western health care and the Javanese tradition of Kebatinan (the search for harmony and inner wisdom), without abusing either.

He was trained at Surabaya’s Airlangga University then studied at medical schools in Lancaster and London, and in the US. He’s been an adviser to the World Health Organisation and for the past 15 years has been assigned to studying alternative medicines. It was a job he accepted with some reluctance but is now hooked.

Due to retire this year he says his quest will continue for he still has much more to learn about ‘inner healing’. This is the term he uses for traditional health practices, the sort of alternative medicine that’s been blamed for maintaining sickness in Indonesia.

This is because many will seek help from a paranormal or dukun (indigenous doctor) rather than someone in a white coat collared with a stethoscope.

There are many reasons: Doctors are rare in rural areas and more expensive than dukun. The foreign drugs they prescribe are invariably costly.

Doctors’ explanations often sound absurd; how can a heavy smoker get cancer when other tobacco users don’t? More likely the sufferer has been cursed for his adultery so needs the help of a paranormal.

“’Inner power’ healing isn’t scientific,” said Dr Haryadi. “To the mind trained in Western medicine it’s not rational and it competes with modern health care practices.

“But we should keep an open mind. There are many mysteries in life that can’t be easily explained and people do get well after following traditional practices.

“For example acupuncture is now widely accepted as a legitimate treatment which can be effective in some cases – but in the past it was condemned as primitive and useless.”

During his research Dr Haryadi has collected scores of curios, which are now kept in a Health Department museum. Apart from a ‘brain tumor’ allegedly extracted without surgery by a dukun and looking more like a cut up earthworm, the ‘cures’ include amulets, herbs, magic stones and ‘water magnets’.

To show that the pragmatic West isn’t completely hooked on Pfizer’s products he’s also included ‘holy’ relics (religious therapy?), New Age crystals, pyramids (for meditating beneath) and an Ouija board.

Also known as a ‘talking board’ this is a disc on a smooth-surface surrounded by a circle of letters and numbers. When used in a séance by a group of non-sceptics the disc is supposed to move around and spell out spirit messages from the afterlife.

Consulting the Ouija (a combination of the French (oui) and German (ja), words for ‘yes’) was a popular ritual in 19th century industrial and rational US, particularly among the well read middle classes.

“There’s another sense apart from the traditional five of seeing, hearing touching, smelling and tasting,” said Dr Haryadi. “This is the sense of feeling or instinct which can be strong in some people – particularly women.

“It can’t get measured so it’s often discounted. Yet many doctors know that people who exercise their ‘inner power’ when sick often recover. Perhaps this is because they’ve released the body’s natural hormones which fight the infection.”

Similar stories exist in the West allegedly proving the power of prayer, or that mind can triumph over matter. This is particularly so when the unwell person is absolutely determined to recover.

Disbelievers claim that so-called psychic cures are the result of misdiagnosis and that the patient was not seriously ill; other surveys have shown that 80 per cent of sick people recover without the help of doctors. Having someone listen sympathetically to your complaint may also bring about an improvement.

Dr Haryadi is currently studying the effects of fasting. The Javanese have several systems, including fasting on alternate days or excluding certain foods from the diet.

In 1985 a healthy-living movement called Satria Nusantara started in Yogya. It has since spread across the archipelago and into Holland and other parts of Europe. It’s part faith belief, part sport and consists of breathing exercises that are supposed to expand the blood vessels.

Dr Haryadi has tried to test the healing qualities of ‘inner-power’ using members of Satria Nusantara in Surabaya who went through their exercises.

In studies on hypertension he claimed benefits measured by blood and urine tests while schizophrenic patients were able to communicate more clearly.

“’Inner power’ can’t be scientifically defined and proved, but many people including scientists believe it exists and can be inherited,” he said.

“More research is required, but as part of Indonesian traditional culture it could possibly strengthen community health through treatment, rehabilitation and disease prevention.

“Maybe it has a place in complementing other treatments in the national health program. I want to see proof – but I also know there are many things we don’t yet understand and which we can’t explain using ordinary methods.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 30 June 06)

Thursday, June 29, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

You really have to wonder about the things some Australian politicians say.

It can’t be for want of information. They have hot and cold running researchers, expert advisors on tap and assistants with attitude. If they’re ministers whole departments are ready to stack up the stats, prepare papers and forecast responses.

So why would Australian prime minister John Howard want to rough up his host Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono prior to Monday’s meeting on Batam Island? No wonder the results were as exciting as England’s performance against Ecuador.

There was nothing subtle about Howard’s demands for more controls on radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. He’s the white-beard who was released from jail on 14 June after serving just over two years for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bomb attack.

Howard wrote to Yudhoyono expressing his government’s concern and Australian anger at the release – though Ba’asyir’s sentence has been completed according to law.

Even the most mealy-mouthed apologist would have to concede this was gross interference in another country’s internal affairs – and that’s something Australians won’t stand at any price.

So why is it right for Aussies to poke their nose into their neighbour’s business? The only rational answer is domestic politics and that Howard has to show he’s outraged to keep voters happy.

He must know that many Australian legal experts claim the case against Ba’asyir was weak. If he’d been tried in Australia Ba’asyir might well have been acquitted.

Why not say so? Australians are supposed to be well educated, want to know the facts and like to be direct. Even the most thick-skulled would understand courts need evidence, not emotion.

Labor opposition spokesman on foreign affairs Kevin Rudd labelled Ba’asyir “a mass murderer.” If the old codger had been in Australia Rudd wouldn’t have had the guts – or he’d now be snowed under with writs.

Ba’asyir is suspected of being the spiritual leader of the radical terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah. It seems likely – but that hasn’t been proved in court.

There’s no way political comments can be quarantined in a global media. Howard and Rudd’s statements might get a ‘good on ‘ya mate – bore it up the bastards’ response around the backyard barbecue. But in Indonesia these poli syllables are proof positive of their neighbor’s colonial arrogance.

The beneficiary is Ba’asyir – that’s why he’s always shown displaying his gleaming dentures. He may be no Rhodes Scholar but he’s kampong clever. It was “God’s will” that the Bali bombs killed more than 200. Try to refute that one-size-fits-all slice of sophistry.

Ba’asyir also skilfully ensures that every time an Australian politician exercises his tonsils it’s interpreted as yet another example of Big Brother controlling the Indonesian government. Why? Because debauched Westerners hate Islam, are jealous of its insights and know they’re destined for hell.

It sounds screwball, but it certainly resonates. In the crowded alleys where conspiracy theories thrive Ba’asyir’s a hero – and every gratuitous condemnation by an Australian loudmouth boosts the ratings of his ravings.

Better to let the preacher of hate slip down the news list till he eventually falls off the page. Why dignify a silly old man’s evil comments and give him the oxygen of publicity, as Margaret Thatcher famously said?

In a democracy Ba’asyir’s entitled to rant. Indonesians can make up their own minds about his credibility without having their rude neighbours pointing out the bleeding obvious.

According to the Australian media the Howard-SBY talks on Batam were almost scuttled by Howard’s letter. There were no great leaps forward – no signing of a security treaty.

The Papuan refugees won’t be sent back and Ba’asyir won’t be muzzled. The Australian government supports the Unitary State – but it can’t do anything about the NGOs, churches and other politicians who back separatism. A goalless draw, said one commentator.

Sending an offensive letter to someone you’re just about to meet for a supposedly cooperative chat is not the Javanese way; it’s not acceptable in Australia either. If Howard and Rudd couldn’t care less about cultural niceties maybe they should consider this: It’s counterproductive.

Unless such tactics are part of some Machiavellian gameplan we’ve yet to grasp.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 29 June 2006)


Monday, June 26, 2006



This above all: To thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man

Shakespeare’s advice, put in the mouth of Polonius to his son Laertes, still carries weight centuries after Hamlet was written. Surabaya psychiatrist Dr Igusti Ngurah Gunadi accepts its timeless truth - but words it a little simpler for modern parents worried about their offspring becoming druggies:

“If you want to know and change your kids, first change yourself.

“Don’t blame your children if you find they’re using drugs. Understand them and the problems they’re facing as they go through puberty. This is very difficult I know, but it has to be done.”

By fiat of the United Nations this Monday (26 June) is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. So expect many homilies from on high on the dangers of drugs and the awful fate that awaits those who indulge.

Certainly drug abuse is a major worry if figures published by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) are accurate. The agency says 3.2 million Indonesians use illegal drugs and 15,000 die every year as a consequence.

The solution is simple and obvious: Just Say No.

That seems like plain and irrefutable common sense to the older generations who were never faced by today’s temptations. But for teenagers it’s not so easy as it sounds.

“Most people start using drugs not because they’re emotionally troubled or facing distress but because they just want to try,” Gunadi said. “Certainly that’s what they tell me.

“Usually their family situation is good, but they face pressure through their friends. The years of puberty are full of hazards. The teenager has an adult’s body and a child’s mind.

“They want to be distant from their parents to establish their own identities. At this stage they get closer to their friends than their families, but they need their parents for a home and financial backing.

“They are confused and ambivalent. They also want to experiment and be accepted by their group. If they’re pushed to take drugs and refuse, they risk being rejected by their peers.

“This can be a very big problem for most young people. They need support because they’re a high-risk group.”

Gunadi has just won a grant from the overseas non-government organisation Family Health International (FHI) to establish a counselling, education and health service called Yayasan Bina Hati (foundation to build the spirit) in Surabaya.

FHI has been supporting family planning and reproductive health programs in Indonesia since 1973. The money for Bina Hati to run a 10 month pilot program will come through a project designed to stop HIV /AIDS infection.

These deadly diseases are linked to drug abuse through the sharing of dirty needles. BNN claims about half the estimated 575,000 injecting drug users test positive for HIV and this has become the most common method of disease transmission. (The other major way to get HIV is through unprotected sex with an infected partner.)

Gunadi said Bina Hati had also been approved by the BNN which was supporting the program. A building has been selected and is now being furnished with the opening scheduled for next month.

Eighteen staff will be employed but Gunadi will continue practising psychiatry at Dr Sutomo Hospital, Surabaya’s main government medical faculty which has de-tox facilities. Now 53 he said that the creation of Bina Hati was a bid to give something back to the community after years of seeing and hearing about the problems caused by drug abuse.

“If you’re in business it’s take, take, take to make a profit,” he said. “But if you want to have high spiritual values and peace you must give more than you receive.

“Bina Hati’s slogan is ‘Serve All, Love All’. If you feel that God is in your heart you tend to make others share that feeling.”

Gunadi is a Hindu from Bali but says organised religion is not part of his project. He is also a general practitioner so can give factual health advice to people who are confronting changes in their bodies or experimenting with drugs.

He said he recognised that aspects of Indonesian culture were making disease prevention difficult. Religious leaders often think frank sex education and harm reduction programs, like promoting the use of condoms to stop the spread of disease, encourage promiscuity.

“Many schools are not providing quality teaching,” he said. “There’s a need for extra curricula classes in issues like reproductive health and drugs, but teachers and parents must be totally honest.

“For example most young people know that taking drugs can be really pleasurable so saying it’s all bad won’t be believed. They also have to know that while the emotional high can be great the downside is not. Drug taking can lead to craving, addiction and other serious problems.”

Gunadi said the government’s current ‘Say No’ campaign was designed to make the public think positive things are being done.

However it was focussing on the wrong end of the issue. It should be putting resources into education and counselling on life to prevent the development of drug taking. This should be done in the high schools.

“Much of the anti-drug campaign is talk rather than action,” he said. “We’ve got to tackle the cause, not just the problem.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 26 June 2006)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sergeants Endahjati and Dwi Indria

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© Duncan Graham 2006

If you’re ever invited to dine with the top brass at the East Java Police headquarters in Surabaya, accept with alacrity.

The food is fine, the ambience relaxing - and if you’re an upright citizen you’ll find the anecdotes about the devious side of human nature illuminating.

Adding to these civilised qualities is the arresting sight of the striking young staff who serve the meals - trainee policewomen in pencil skirts and tight shirts.

The official line is that beauty isn’t a prerequisite for the job. Brains, balance, adaptability, good health and education are the criteria.

So it must be pure coincidence that so many women in uniform in Surabaya are traffic stoppers. Literally.

The problem is that by the standards of modern international policing (and the tastes of law-abiding male motorists) there just aren’t enough. (See sidebar).

They’re known as polwan (polisi wanita) and Assistant Colonel Sri Chumasia, the head of training and education in the East Java Police (Polda), also says there should be more.

“However it’s now difficult to enter the service,” she said. “Candidates must have high qualifications and then undergo extensive training.

“Of course I agree that many polwan are very beautiful, but if they fail the other tests they’ll still not gain entry. The feedback from the public is good – they prefer to see women police on traffic duties and elsewhere.

“It’s a worthwhile job and I’m proud to be a policewoman.”

Sri’s entry into upholding the law was through breaking the law. Decades ago in Malang she drove through a red light and was chased by the police. She hid in a garage and spied on her pursuers through a wall. She wasn’t caught – but was curious about their job (and presumably about their inefficiency). She’d seen an advertisement in Kompas for women police and applied with success.

Now 29 years later she’s hit the glass ceiling. So have 24 other women in Polda who hold the same rank. In common with many government departments promotion is by seniority, not merit. To rise further she’ll have to transfer to another province.

There are two levels of entry; directly from senior high school or laterally as a graduate from another profession to fill a specific task, like a scientist in forensics. Sri was a teacher before she joined Polda which in those days came under the command of the army.

Her father was in the military and an uncle was in the police, so she was no stranger to the culture of discipline and duty.

Candidates from school must be between 18 and 21 and unmarried. They should be at least 160 cm tall with weight in proportion. Five months academic study is followed by another five months training on the job, plus a month of evaluation.

They undergo a rigorous medical examination; in the past they had to be virgins, but that invasive and discriminatory requirement (it didn’t apply to men) has been abandoned. They can get married after serving two years.

For graduates who are already working in a profession the upper age limit is 33. They can be married and be five centimetres shorter. Women who insist on wearing a headscarf have to transfer to Aceh or be employed as civilian support staff in the office.

Starting salary is around Rp 1.5 million (US$ 160) a month plus food and other allowances.

“Attitudes are changing,” said Sri. “I spent 16 years in traffic. I’ve never been frightened and believe most people treat us with respect.”

That clashes with kampong wisdom about the police. A popular proverb warns against reporting the theft of a goat because the cost of complaining will equal the loss of a cow.

“I know that, and I also know that mothers used to threaten their children with the police if they didn’t finish everything on their plate,” said Sri.

“We were seen to be like ghosts, there to frighten the kids. But the policy now is community policing. We have to build partnerships with the people, we have to work together.”

When community policing was first introduced into Australia more than 20 years ago it ran headfirst into the brick wall of traditional police culture. Graduates from the school of hard knocks were ever keen to rubbish anyone who’d studied at university and had fresh ideas about the job.

In the past entry had been limited to big tough blokes who thought no harm could be done by cracking heads, kicking backsides and locking up the obvious culprit.

Successful legal action against the police by damaged victims and those who’d suffered wrongful arrest precipitated change. Powerful police unions fighting to protect the jobs of their members who resisted the new policies slowed the process.

Although this obstacle isn’t faced by Polda it’s clearly taking time to shift the old guard them-and-us mentality. A pilot project in community policing is being tested at Situbondo on the north coast east of Surabaya.

Sri is in a good position to understand the psychological issues at play. She’s written the guidelines for the police to negotiate their way through difficult situations and defuse tension.

In the past polwan were employed to handle the few females who turned to crime. Now they work in all areas with duties increasing as more women get involved in drugs. The other growth area is domestic violence.

“There’s been a taboo against reporting men who hit their partners, though that’s slowly going,” said Sri. “Likewise with incest. Disturbed neighbours are now more willing to call the police when they know such things are happening.

“However many wives later withdraw charges against their husbands through family pressure. We’ve established a safe house for women who want to escape violent men, staffed with a doctor and counsellors.

“Is it a good job? That depends on what you want and your personality. If you want to become rich, don’t join!

“Don’t apply if all you think about is what you can get out of being in the police. We want candidates who ask: What can I do for the police and for society.”



There are 37,380 police officers in East Java. Only 1,247 are women. That’s just over three per cent.

Women have been employed by the police in Britain and the US for more than a century. Originally known as ‘police matrons’ their duties were confined to handling women criminals and caring for their children.

One of the most famous 19th century pioneers was Scot Rachel Hamilton – though historians reckon her recruitment rested more on her size. She was 195 cm tall, weighed more than 100 kilograms and reputedly could quench a Glasgow riot just by appearing at the scene.

International research confirms Sri’s view that policewomen are more popular than men when dealing with the public. They’re not as authoritative, use less force and tend to be better at cooling tense situations. This is particularly so in cultures where women are well respected.

The social worker role has long defined women police officers in the minds of their male colleagues who handle the rough end of society. That culture has been hard to crack, and even now women are still in the minority in all forces.

Only in San Jose, California have women made up 50 per cent of the recruits. In most US State forces the number is less than 15 per cent with few in the top ranks.

The women’s movement demanding entry into all sections of the workforce, and laws against discrimination in the West have pushed police management to seek more women.

But that’s not always easy. The job will remain unpopular until the Neanderthals who can’t stand women in the workforce resign. It’s tough enough handling lawbreakers – let alone the harassment of contemptuous colleagues.

Polda recruits about 80 women a year through two intakes. Around 200 candidates vie for the positions each time, so selectors can be rigid. No doubt all applicants are bobby dazzlers.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 June 06)


Monday, June 19, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

If there’s a consumers’ tenacity award in Indonesia it should go to Anny R Gultom and German Tambunan.

Using the 1999 Consumer Protection Law and other legislation the Jakarta couple hung onto their ideals for six years. Now they’ve won Rp 60 million (US $6,400) compensation for their vehicle stolen from a shopping mall car park.

Elsewhere in the world such an event would have little news value. But not in Indonesia where aggrieved consumers need to be tough, determined and prepared for the long haul. Duncan Graham reports:

It was just another weekend of minor domestic disasters.

A tap split in the bathroom showering walls and ceiling. A visitor noted the LPG gas cylinder pipe to the stove was not pressure-rated – risking rupture and explosion. And a front door panel had shrunk exposing a long and ugly split in the timber.

All these items were just a few weeks old, bought new as part of a home renovation in Malang. The upshot: Unproductive verbal brawls and more spending.

What recourses do consumers have against flawed products, dangerous devices and shoddy work? In theory – lots. In practice – little.

The law backs Indonesian buyers – but that support is poorly equipped, ill prepared and seemingly in little mood to challenge recalcitrant retailers.

Change is unlikely until buyers exercise their purse-power and boycott shops that don’t exchange dud goods or refund consumers’ cash.

That’s the situation in many other countries, and not just because it’s on the statutes. Smart retailers who exercise strict quality controls over their wholesale suppliers know that cheerfully attending to customers’ genuine gripes wins new trade.

That’s already happening with the big multinationals like Carrefour. Corporate affairs director Irawan Kadarman said the company gives refunds or exchange within 15 days of purchase. Conditions apply; the company’s policy is posted at their stores’ information desk.

Smaller shops are unlikely to adopt such modern practices till customers shed their shame to complain – an awkward ask in a culture that shies from confrontation.

“The Javanese term is nerimo which means just accepting whatever the provider gives us,” said Indah Suksmaningsih, chairperson of the Indonesian Consumers’ Organisation (YLKI) and a former microbiologist.

“The laws and regulations put the consumer into a nerimo position. For example the standard contract provided by a water company in Yogya states that if the quality of water doesn’t meet the required standards no claim is allowed.

“ Their attitude is ‘we provide, you accept’. The paradigm is shifting and people are starting to demand quality. Compared to Vietnam and Cambodia consumers’ rights here rank a little higher. But we’re way below those in Malaysia and Singapore.

“In this country there are a lot of shoddy goods on the market and people care more about price than quality. The fact is they’d like quality and safety but they’re powerless to pay.

“That’s why I don’t accept the ‘freedom of choice’ argument – many shoppers in Indonesia just don’t have a choice because of poverty.”

The YLKI (motto – A Voice for the Voiceless) is an advocacy and lobby group with 22 staff. It gets about five per cent of its money from local government, the rest from overseas donors like the Ford Foundation and the Asia Foundation. It also works closely with Australian consumer groups.

“We don’t want to get too much money from the government or they’ll try to dictate to us,” Indah said. “The government style is not to get involved in problems – to say, right or wrong it’s our country.”


There are four consumers’ organisations in Surabaya – and they’re underwhelmed with work.

Take the Consumers’ Protection Institute (YLPK) which concerns itself with complaints against Telkom, the banks, public transport and public services. It looks a heavy load, but the YLPK’s annual report shows only 107 complaints for last year.

The positive news is that’s a significant jump from 2004 when only 31 people were sufficiently aroused to report their concerns. Most involve transport.

“The public transport system is in a bad way,” said YLPK head Mohamed Said Sutomo. “People protest about lack of safety, unclean busses and failure to keep to advertised schedules.

“It’s very difficult to get improvements in this sector, though we’ve had successes elsewhere – particularly with Telkom and the banks. Indonesians are still afraid to complain – they fear the power of big business and don’t know they have rights.”

Although there’s no queue of distressed complainants outside the YLPK office the seven staff are busy lecturing to school and university students on consumers’ rights and chasing up issues on their own initiative, Sutomo said.

When visited by The Jakarta Post Sutomo was trying to get action against a pyramid scheme, also known as multi-level marketing.

In this case village people were being coaxed to buy and sell mobile phone subscriptions to their friends and relatives and earn big commissions after they’ve bought a franchise. Or so said the salesmen preaching to the gullible.

“This sort of marketing is illegal,” said Sutomo. “You can’t even get mobile phone services in the villages where these companies have been touting for business. I’ve already found one victim who claims to have lost Rp 1.5 million (US $180).”


The regular use of Letters to the Editor column by consumers angry about poor services shows many turn to the media because they don’t know who else can help.

Big companies seem to respond with alacrity when they read disparaging comments about their business in a newspaper. But does it always need public shaming to provoke a response?

Here’s an indicator of the problems facing the public: Two weeks of persistent phone calls, e-mails and faxes to the management of Hero supermarkets and Matahari department stores failed to prise out their policies concerning consumer complaints.

Under the 1999 Consumers’ Rights law every district in Indonesia (there are more than 430) should have a consumer’s dispute resolution centre (BPSK). However so far just 15 have been established across the archipelago; activists say only five are really effective.

The Surabaya BPSK has nine staff and a five-member secretariat. Last year it handled 18 complaints.

The BPSK publishes four boring consumer advice pamphlets with a Jakarta telephone number to seek advice. It prints 1,000 copies of each pamphlet every year and hands these out at workshops and universities in a city pushing one million households. It doesn’t run courses in schools.

“Our budget is Rp 90 million a year and that’s clearly not enough,” said deputy head Edison Siregar. “Before authority was decentralised to the provinces I got Rp 1 a month. Now I’m paid Rp 500,000.

“Although the law was passed in 1999 nothing happened in Surabaya till 2003. We’d like to publicise our presence better but need money. I agree the language and presentation in the brochures isn’t appropriate for people with limited education.”

The law gives Indonesians the right to:

· Safety, security and comfort
· Choose
· Access to clear, honest and non-misleading information
· Be heard

Many shops carry signs warning customers that goods cannot be returned. This is illegal, according to YLKI Chair Indah Suksmaningsih.

“However these signs have become so prevalent for so long that it’s almost accepted practice,” she said.

“People prefer just to keep quiet. Even if shoppers complain to the police about this practice they’ll be ignored.”

There’s a multitude of NGOs trying to help – maybe too many. Consumers don’t have time to call multiple numbers, cruise the suburbs and write letters. Ideally there’d be a one-stop shop for all disputes and with a toll-free number. This could be listed on the inside cover of the telephone directory along with other public services.

The counter argument to state control of goods and services is the promotion of competition and a reliance on market mechanisms. These are supposed to force manufacturers to offer better quality goods and provide comprehensive information to attract customers.

This is the Singapore way. It seems to work there because shoppers are generally better educated, more discriminating and not afraid to exercise a sharp tongue.

However in Indonesia the line between advertising claims and product facts seems to be blurred. Will your skin actually whiten when smeared with this cream containing dimethicone and a soup of other chemicals? If so by how much – and how can that be measured? Don’t expect an answer anytime soon.

YLKI publishes a monthly magazine Warta Konsumen but only 2,500 copies are printed. Indonesia has nothing like the Australian journal Choice which tests and evaluates products like washing machines and kitchen appliances.

However improvements can be seen in the sale of goods like milk powders where the packaging lists content details. Astute shoppers check for sugars and fats knowing these are factors in heart disease, but some lists are so complex only chemists can decipher. What is folic acid (found in some breakfast cereals) and is it good for me? Is 15 per cent too little or too much?

This is the sort of information progressive teachers include in classes on science and biology. Running a healthy home is the most important job their students will ever undertake – and preparation is vital.

Being a smart shopper also means being skilled in spotting humbugs: ‘Assist in curing’ is not the same as curing. Nor is ‘aids digestion’ necessarily an answer to indigestion.

A few companies have customer help lines so buyers with a problem can call for advice. These initiatives have been driven by the demands of overseas countries: Indonesian exporters have to comply with their packaging codes and quality controls so apply these to local sales. The good side of globalisation.

Indah’s advice to shoppers was blunt: “Exercise your rights! Be brave enough to speak out and persist when you think your position is right. That way you’ll also be helping other consumers who face similar problems.”

She added that consumers must play fair, keep receipts and be honest about the product’s flaws. Dropping a DVD player is your fault – selling one that doesn’t work is theirs.

And the message to manufacturers and retailers? “Be responsible! Treat your customers with respect. Listen to their complaints – by addressing them correctly you’ll do better business.”


Consumer advocates urge disgruntled shoppers to follow these steps:

· Keep receipts and all packing.
· Check retailer’s policy on exchange before you buy.
· Be quick. Many shops will not exchange wrong sizes after two days.
· Be reasonable. No shop will accept the return of worn underwear.
· Approach the store manager politely and explain the problem.
· If dissatisfied ask to see a senior staffer. Stay cool
· If your complaint is still rejected get the correct names and titles of the staff.
· Pursue through a BPSK (021) 385 8187or appropriate NGO. Contact YLKI on (021) 798 1858.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 19 June 2006)


Sunday, June 18, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

The very earth is haemorrhaging and it seems no one knows what to do.

Though the wound is invisible the location is obvious. It’s in the centre of the boiling black lake, where the bubbling seething mass is most dense, where the grey gas cloud is thickest.

There’s really only one vantage point to see the Lapindo mud eruption from a ruptured gas drill site near Gempol, East Java. This is from an overpass spanning the toll road south from Surabaya. Here hundreds gather.

Few stay for long. The stench isn’t strong, but it’s inescapable. It carries a whiff of putrescence, the odour of menace.

To the west is a shimmering swamp of moving slime that’s now spilled across the highway blocking traffic on the major artery linking the capital with Malang, the province’s second biggest city. And Blitar and the south coast.

That’s bad enough, but there are other, longer, narrower bypasses that will keep some communication lines open.

There are no similar options open to the farmers who watch in horror and dismay as their fields, their crops, their livelihoods are smothered by the unstoppable ooze poisoning their paddy.

When the villagers took the law into their own hands and pulled up barricades diverting the mud away from the road and onto their land we motorists were furious.

It cost us another hour at the wheel and maybe six more litres of fuel – Rp 30,000 (US $3.20) plus high blood pressure (150 /100). But we can still make a living.

On cooling down most drivers must have had felt compassion return. Who wouldn’t have ripped away the barriers if they’d been uninsured farmers facing ruin and little likelihood of adequate compensation? Particularly as everyone wearing safari suits was floundering in inertia.

It’s a science fiction scene; the creeping evil effluent poisoning everything it touches, with the efforts of the men in uniform puny against its awesome power. The fact that it’s moving so slowly adds to the menace and its enormous might.

Where’s it all coming from, and for how long? These are the questions the bystanders ask as they fidget on the footbridge. Obviously the bowels of the earth, but surely these are limited? Apparently not.

Perhaps there’s a real slime serpent below vomiting his (or her) fury because their subterranean lair has been pierced by an earthling’s drill rod. The Monster of Loch Lapindo. Should long rubbery tentacles emerge and start thrashing the mud with fury at least we’d understand more than we know now.

If all this black batter has come from a cauldron under our feet won’t it leave a great cavern below? And might the roof of this huge underground cave collapse – tumbling the villages, the fields, the factories, the roads and we helpless observers into the chasm?

What happens if the gas catches fire? Will there be a mighty explosion?

And how can the beast be stopped? There’s no way heavy machinery can get across the mire to the source. Presumably a high rock causeway will have to be built to reach the hole, though the latest idea is to build ponds and drill a ‘killing well’ to divert the mud. Meanwhile the mud is killing the environment and industry.

With the Mt Merapi eruption we’ve been kept informed by vulcanologists and seers. They haven’t always been right, but at least they offered some comfort with their scribbling seismographs and mumbled mantra. Such experts have been absent at Gempol so rumour rules.

This is the stuff of HG Wells and Steven Spielberg. In the movie the army would now be shelling the mud, the air force dropping bombs. But this is reality, so nothing dramatic is underway.

If ever there was a need for an overall emergency coordinator trained to grapple with big environmental disasters and the authority to muster services and take control, then this is it.

Even when the toll road was closed motorists had to find out for themselves when turned back at the pay booths by hoarse clerks. Warning signs on the feeder roads would have been an obvious first step.

We asked the police for a new route; keep going, they said. These directions were wrong. Translation: Keep going out of our district and responsibility.

When the eruption first occurred it was treated as a minor event. Primary news sources were the roadside peanut sellers retailing titbits gleaned from further up the line of crawling traffic.

Local radio stations poured out a flow of information, but this lacked the tone of authority and expertise. Talk-back callers relaying scuttlebutt are no substitute for a clear statement from the top about what’s happening, what’s to be done and how long it will take before everything gets back to normal.

Clearly they don’t know. One visiting politician said there should be coordination – and then coordinated himself back to the safe city without giving details of his insight.

Now overseas experts are being called in. A bit late in the day but better than never. Thank God the government didn’t hesitate to shout for outside help immediately after the Aceh tsunami and the Yogja quake or thousands more would have died.

(First published in The JakartaPost 17 June 2006)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


A NEW WORLD OF HEARING © Duncan Graham 2006

When Surabaya psychologist Sinta Nursimah got rubella in the first trimester of her pregnancy she and her husband Sri Gutomo knew there’d be problems.

This common infectious disease, also known as German measles, is the number one cause of childhood deafness in Indonesia.

Their baby would almost certainly be afflicted with a degree of hearing loss. But it wasn’t till Dian was born that they discovered the loss was total.

“We were told by a doctor not to do anything for a few years,” said Sri who is a psychologist. “That was absolutely the wrong information. The earlier the better for medical intervention.”

Instead of retreating in shame like many families with a handicapped child who believe the disability is a curse for wrongdoing, they set out to learn more.

While on a training course in Western Australia Sri scoured libraries for information, visited schools for the deaf, talked to experts and came back with a solution: a cochlear implant. (See sidebar)

This Australian invention allows the deaf to hear, speak and lead a normal life.

“The other option was for Dian to learn sign language but that’s extremely limiting,” said Sri. “She wouldn’t be able to attend mainstream schools and her education would suffer.”

So when Dian was three they took her to Perth for a cochlear implant. Now the child is attending a normal Islamic school, is ranked with the top five students and can hear, speak and sing. There’s now no auditory reason why she can’t reach her full potential.

It sounds like a miracle cure, but it’s not that easy. Candidates for the operation have to be screened and tested extensively for about three months. Post operation therapy is vital and must involve the whole family. This takes time, patience and money.

The experience transformed the couple’s life. They’ve turned a negative into a positive and are now running Yayasan Aurica, an organisation dedicated to helping families with deaf children. They have also been lobbying to get the operation available in East Java.

Provided there are no hitches a Malaysian surgeon will come to Surabaya next month (July) and implant a device in a child. Local doctors who want to be trained in the technique will watch the operation.

Most Indonesian parents opt for surgery in Australia or Singapore. It’s available in Jakarta but Sri said only about 35 operations had been conducted.

“We want the operation to be conducted here so we can say to the government that there’s an alternative treatment which can let a child live normally and productively and not use a special school,” he said.

“It’s cheaper and easier to manage implant recipients if the surgery can be done in Surabaya

“Every time we approach the government for help they always say ‘no money.’ They don’t seem to be interested in exploring the new technologies. So we’ve had to do everything ourselves.”

Yayasan Aurica is a parent-funded non-government organisation with about 60 children undergoing assessment or therapy. Four specialist teachers are employed.

Self-help groups concerned with a specific medical condition are still rare in Indonesia. Organisations overseas often develop international connections through the Internet. They build up a wealth of information on causes and treatment which is often far beyond the knowledge of local doctors.

There are no clear figures on the number of deaf people in Indonesia. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are 250 million worldwide with two thirds in the developing countries

Almost all industrialised nations have anti-rubella vaccination programs for teenage girls. In Australia this service is free. Indonesians have to pay about Rp 100,000 for the vaccine, so most take the risk.

The first multi-channel cochlear implant was in Melbourne in 1978. Now more than 100,000 people around the world have implants – but the recipients tend to be rich or from a country with a supportive health system. In Indonesia the cost is about Rp 300 million (US $ 34,000).

Hearing aids for children who aren’t totally impaired are also expensive. Basic devices are priced between Rp 3 to 8 million (US $860); the more sophisticated up to Rp 12 million (US $ 1,400). The cost is inflated because the devices are listed as electronic goods subject to 20 per cent tax.

Yayasan Aurica is also lobbying to have hearing aids classified as health equipment so they can be imported tax-free.


A cochlear implant is not a hearing aid. It’s an electronic device located in the skull and which receives signals from a transmitter. This is worn behind the ear and looks like a hearing aid.

The speech processor is in a lightweight box about the size of a
small handphone. This can be worn around the neck or on a belt. The latest versions are in an earpiece.

Sounds are picked up by a microphone and passed to the battery-powered processor. This selects and filters the sounds and sends these as electronic signals to the transmitter. This looks like a hearing aid.

The signals go to the implant via electromagnetic induction through a magnet worn on the side of the head. This also holds the implant receiver in place. The magnet and receiver are about the size of a Rp 200 coin.

The implant includes a long, thin self-curling wire carrying an array of electrodes. The cable is wound through the cochlea, the shell-shaped organ behind the eardrum.

There are no wires connecting the internal and external devices.

The operation takes around two hours. A hole is drilled in the skull, the implant receiver fitted under the skin and the wire fed into the cochlea. Recovery in hospital usually takes one or two days. The operation is best performed on children under six. Usually only one implant is used.

The implant doesn’t amplify sounds. It bypasses the outer and inner ear and stimulates the auditory nerves. The brain has to be trained to understand these signals and convert them into meaning and speech. It can take at least 18 months of therapy before a child can develop an abstract vocabulary, answer complex questions and follow conversations.

This is why total and continuous family involvement is required.

The implant doesn’t need servicing and isn’t affected by the child’s growth. A person with a cochlear implant can swim and shower but should avoid contact sports. The technology is continually being updated and the external parts can be replaced.

(For more details contact Yayasan Aurica on (031) 5994571 or e-mail

(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 June 06)




“Dr Yudhoyono …has now become more aware of the ‘internal dynamics’ of Australian politics. The president has said to me: ‘Presidents and prime ministers go, but at the end of the day these two cultures must work together.’” Report in the Australian media attributed to Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono.

“The relationship … is a complex one because we are very different societies, very, very different – you could hardly find two societies more different.” Australian prime minister John Howard on Australian radio.

Howard and Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are due to meet on Batam Island this month. Their job: To weld a patch over the buckled relationship, keep it afloat and set course for a new treaty that can withstand the inevitable storms ahead.

Success will depend much on both men’s real understanding of each other’s homeland politics and cultures.

Although they’re supposed to have a warm personal relationship – ‘mates’ in the Aussie vernacular - the two come from radically different backgrounds.

The sixth Indonesian president is a former general who’s been in politics only seven years. He leads a minor political party and has to rely on coalitions to implement policy as Indonesia toys with democracy. He’s a Javanese Muslim whose father was in the military, as are relatives on his wife’s side. His eldest son is the army.

John Winston (as in Churchill) Howard (67 next month and ten years the senior) is steeped in the Western democratic tradition. His antecedents are British and he’s a Methodist (Protestant). His Dad ran a garage.

Howard’s a former solicitor who’s been in parliament for 32 years – the last ten as the nation’s 25th PM. He’s considered one of the nation’s most successful and canny politicians with a reputation for taking tough decisions. His Liberal Party holds power in the House of Representatives and the Senate and is widely considered responsible for the nation’s non-stop economic boom.

Despite the geographic closeness few Australians know little about their neighbour. What they do know is mostly negative, particularly since the Bali bombs. Even Australians who’ve never left their country can be experts.

Ordinary Australians reacted with great compassion to the Aceh tsunami and the Yogya quake, giving generously. But they’ve been angered by stories of aid going astray, extortion and hostility to foreigners trying to help.

Poaching by Indonesian fishermen in Australia’s northern waters – a minor story in this country – is a major running sore in Australia.

Judged by the raw comments on commercial talkback radio and letters to the editor, many seem to consider Indonesia a land of losers, an ungrateful, corrupt and maladministered nation driven by primitive superstitions, doomed to be a mendicant forever.

In brief, Indonesia is currently on the nose with Australian voters. Any policy decisions taken by Howard at the Batam meeting which are seen to appease Indonesia will get a savage battering when he gets back home.

We Aussies, crow the smug voters, are winners. We’ve got our economy and lifestyle right. Not too rich, not too poor. Taxed heavily and inescapably but with all the services and security: Free education and health care from womb to tomb. Care for the downtrodden and distressed.

The ancient tyrannies of religious bigotry largely banished. A safe land where your faith is your business. A worker’s paradise where anyone who wants to knuckle down will succeed - and the rule of law applies. If we and others can achieve all this, why can’t Indonesia?

Such is Howard’s electorate and he has to be sensitive to its moods and hang-ups. His predecessor Labor PM Paul Keating didn’t – which is why the voters rejected his secret treaty with former president Suharto.

Locating itself in the world has long been an Aussie problem. Keating tried to position Australia as an Asian nation; the rhetoric now is that the country’s interests lie in the Pacific. Many Indonesians think their neighbour is a US state, not to be trusted, its people spoilt and rude.

Yudhoyono who has studied in America certainly knows the West better than Howard knows the East. But does SBY understand and appreciate that Australian foreign policy is powered by fear of the ‘yellow peril’ and the ‘threat from the north’ – crude racist emotions equal to Indonesians’ horror of separatism?

In the 19th century it was Chinese coolies coming to undermine Australian workers. In the 20th it was the Japanese army, then communism. Now it’s refugees.

And every imagined invasion of the great rich and empty continent comes through – or from – the poor and overpopulated archipelago to the north.

Equally import is the question: Does Howard really know that the residues of Suharto’s New Order regime still have muscle? Is he conscious that two generations have had their minds, prejudices and understanding of history and the world warped by an authoritarian government? These facts are probably in his briefing papers, but they’re not immediately obvious.

However well advised, the Australian PM is unlikely to fully comprehend the grip on the Indonesian psyche of the principal of the Unitary State - or the power and importance of religion in everything. Few Australians can adequately wrap their minds around these facts.

Australia made a seamless negotiated transition from colony to independent state 105 years ago. Indonesia had to fight a long and brutal war to win nationhood – a fact that’s shaped the nation’s politics.

In Australia the army is a defence force – in Indonesia its prime role is keeping the hard-won country together. Yudhoyono’s background is embedded in this policy that has the authority of sacred writ.

Although some claim Howard’s term has seen the rise of the religious right, in common with most voters his tradition is the clear separation of faith and state and total belief in the rightness of that philosophy.

When the two men sit down it’s easy to see the similarities. They wear Western suits and speak English. Yudhoyono has travelled widely, sent his youngest son to Australia to study and comes across as an urbane man.

On the surface they have lots in common. Culturally and historically they – and we - have nothing in common except that we live next door.

Wearing away the prejudices and misinformation is going to be a long journey with the meeting of the two leaders a necessary step. Their job would be made easier if the electorates on both sides of the divide had a sympathetic knowledge of each other’s cultures.

That’s best obtained through the personal visits of ordinary people. If the two leaders agree to relax visa restrictions then maybe we can get together on first name terms, share a nasi goreng or a meat pie washed down by an es susu soda or a cold beer. It might make the task of Howard and Yudhoyono that much easier the next time they sip tea.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 June 06)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Harjono Soedigdomarto (picture)

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“If we really want to stop corruption in this country then we have to start with the very young.

“They must be taught the importance of honesty, and it’s best to do that in pre-school. Honesty should be the foundation stone for everyone’s life – it’s the key to building character.”

It’s the sad experience of journalists to hear similar statements from high-ranking people delivered from the comfort of their lavish homes where their questionable lifestyle is clearly far above their means.

That’s not the case with Professor Harjono Soedigdomarto and his wife Sri Rahajeng. They still live in the old family home in Surabaya using the same furniture from long ago. The car is ready for retirement. There are no signs of opulence.

At his 88th birthday celebrations last month (May) Harjono’s former colleagues thought it useful to pass around the hat and muster Rp 50 million (US $5,500) for the couple to enjoy their retirement.

In Javanese culture 88 (Sebelas Windu) is a special moment in anyone’s life. In this case the moment was for a special person.

Harjono is that rare individual who can speak of nation building, public service and communal honesty without his listeners masking a cynical sneer behind a polite cough.

For the people of East Java know this man has walked the talk.

More than 30 years ago the couple visited Japan, but this was to be no junket. They got out and about and were astonished at that nation’s enthusiasm for education – liberally backed by government support. As a doctor Harjono knew the importance of early childhood care.

As head of the government’s family planning program in East Java (he’s an obstetrician and gynaecologist) Harjono also understood the reality of life in the villages. Here the traditional philosophy of banyak anak, banyak rezeki (many children, much fortune) was a massive obstacle to the government’s message of dua anak cukup (two children are enough). Particularly when everyone knew the then President Suharto had six kids.

Villagers wanted big families to care for them in old age and because they expected some infants to die young.

The couple started the Bina Anaprasa village pre-school program to deliver early education to the children and facts to the parents. Malnutrition and diseases caused through poor hygiene were killing thousands yet these conditions could be easily reversed with training and personal discipline.

Statistics compiled by the US show that although the mortality rate for children under five in Indonesia has dropped, it’s still around 34 per 1,000 births. In Singapore the figure is just over 2 per 1,000.

There are now more than 300 Bina Anaprasa pre-schools across the country. More could be started if the government relaxed its building and staff requirements, according to Harjono.

“Villagers appreciate the importance of early childhood education,” he said. “We shouldn’t be waiting around for the right building, the appropriate documents and the university-trained teacher.

“The need is now. A school under a tree can be enough. We need to think big, act now and start small. The golden years from birth to five are critical for health and learning.”

So with help from the international aid agency Plan International, Bina Anaprasa has been fast-tracking teachers through a three-month intensive course in a bid to keep the movement growing.

Prestige didn’t come easily. Harjono was a bright child born into a poor family. To keep her husband studying Sri had to sell her clothes and jewellery. He was dragooned into the Japanese army of occupation and blown up in the war against the Dutch while transferring patients to a hospital.

Although he’s no longer working on the family planning program Harjono watches the decline in the service since decentralisation with regret, knowing it’s integral to welfare and education.

Regional governments are allegedly not giving the program a high priority and have cut funds.

“Girls aged 15 are still having babies,” he said. “That’s far too young for them and the child – they should wait till they’re in their 20s. Indonesian men don’t like using condoms because it decreases sensation and women are worried about hormonal injections making them fat. The pill isn’t popular because it’s easily forgotten.

“Sterilisation after the family is complete is best. It’s simpler to sterilise men, but that’s not popular. The family planning program needs to be reinstated.”

Sri Rahajeng was not content to fry bananas and grind coffee for her busy husband. She started the Kalia Mulia school for the deaf in Surabaya with 26 students and two teachers. The school now employs 66 teachers handling more than 200 pupils.

Sri, 83, still teaches part-time. “I love working – I have to keep busy,” she said. Although Harjono’s mind remains sharp he’s having trouble with his knees and uses a stick to move around. Like all doctors his suffering is sharper because he knows how the body crumbles as the years pass.

Despite his affliction he stood unaided for 15 minutes to give a speech at yet another function this month (June) to celebrate his achievements. As usual he accepted the accolades with humility and humor. He used the opportunity to condemn corruption, urge honesty and concluded: “It’s not the years of life which count, it’s the life in the years.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 June 2006)




© Duncan Graham 2006

Did you feel beastly when you got up this morning? That’s not surprising for today’s date reads as 6/6/06. Drop the 0 and there you have it – the Mark Of The Beast!

Still bemused? That means you haven’t been cavorting in the blogsphere recently, a zone throbbing with awful predictions from those who put their trust in numbers.

Forget Y2K and the millennium clock. Remember 31 December 1999? Come midnight and IT systems would go into meltdown around the globe. Planes would tumble from the stratosphere as their computer-controlled autopilots went dormant.

This is far more serious because it invokes the hand of God – not man. This is Merapi-style fire and brimstone stuff, not soldering irons and silicone chips.

There’s also megabytes of comment from cyberspace sceptics who think it’s all a truckload of bunkum – but we’ll ignore them. As my colleagues on tabloid newspapers are won’t to say – don’t let the facts spoil a good story.

The genesis for this fear starts in the Bible where the Book of Revelation, Chapter 13, verse 18 reads:

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight let him calculate the number of the beast for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

Ever since then doomsday seers have been looking for The Sign – presumably so they can be well prepared, commit some debauchery before they lose the chance or cash in their life insurance policies and have a spree.

They’ve even found it on consumer product bar codes. Apparently 1010011 is the binary number of the beast. Watch for it on your next tube of skin whitener.

Ever wondered why Bill Gates is so rich? Well his real name is William Henry Gates 111. Convert this to computer codes and the number adds to 666. The Antichrist, no less! And you thought he was just a smart human being with a strong sense of philanthropy.

The idea of microchipping every newborn babe which some crazed politician (the standard type) proposes on a slow news day is certain proof that the mark of the beast will be fulfilled. And isn’t the web address prefix www Hebrew for 666?

Loonies are not the only ones with an eye on the calendar. Commerce is right in there ready to make a killing, whoops, profit, before man and mammon cease to exist.

Moviemaker 20th Century Fox is releasing an update of its classic film The Omen, first shown 30 years ago. The Omen 666 will open on … Well I’m not going to promote a flick I plan to flick.

As the Bible says – this calls for wisdom. I know men are beasts. Enough women have told me that over the years, though they’ve usually recanted during breakfast. But let’s apply a bit of logic to the formula.

A third century copy of the New Testament is said to have 616 as the dreadful digits.

Heaven forbid that the Bible is wrong. Maybe those transcribing monks got careless with their calligraphy. Imagine one bitter winter’s night in a medieval monastery. Gaunt figures pore over parchments. The beeswax splutters. The gnarled fingers tremble. The goose quill slips and one becomes six. Or six, one.

For the penmen a hieroglyphic hiccup. For us modern types – a typo.

Purists believe the calendar started 2006 years ago. They’re out of date. It’s only been around since the 16th century. Before that was the error-prone Julian calendar and before that a dog’s breakfast of days and months added at will.

So maybe today is not the real 666 as predicted. That date is yet to come. When? Consult the entrails next time you buy a chicken.

Finally some good news for all our Muslim readers. Not to worry – today is 9 / 5 / 1427 on the Islamic calendar with not a 6 in sight. Unless I add all the digits, divide by 9, add 5, subtract … Oh, what the hell.

(Beastnote: There are 666 words in this story.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 June 06)


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Inul at home

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© Duncan Graham 2006

There are millions of desirable damsels’ derrieres in Indonesia. Every testosterone-charged man and every figure-conscious woman will testify to the accuracy of that statement and rejoice at the great glory of nature.

But none move quite like the cheeky cheeks of Inul Daratista, proud owner of the archipelago’s most famous and controversial buttocks.

If you want to get to the bottom of the divisive anti-pornography debate then this lady is the one responsible. For three years ago her name was eclipsing those of politicians and sports stars, nation-builders and demolishers, corruptors and crusaders.

Inul got the nation in a twist because of the way she swivelled her hips to dangdut.

Dangdut is the throbbing, jangling, mystic mix of Indian, Arab and Malay music that’s inseparable from kampung life.

During the repressive New Order regime dangdut’s popularity was too powerful to ignore. Suharto is said to have got the coarse lyrics and crude sexuality cleaned up and made dangdut the medium for messages on morality and national development

But Inul took dangdut back to its raw and raunchy roots. You didn’t need to attend a concert to see this phenomenon. Every kampung TV set, every roadside stall was playing her DVDs to gawking slack-jawed crowds of men. More than three million pirated copies are said to have been sold.

For this sort of popularity you’d expect much admiration - and envy. This base emotion comes in many guises including denigration, condemnation and moral outrage – real or contrived.

The people with a mortgage on such matters decided her performances were lewd and corrupting the nation. The Indonesian Ulemas’ Council (MUI) called for a ban on her concerts and demanded the anti-porn laws that are now under debate.

Despite (or because of) the frumps, Inul became the warm-up act most wanted during the 2004 election campaign. It seemed that even the most pious candidate was prepared to overlook the MUI edict when it came to drawing voters.

If you couldn’t afford the real thing there were plenty of Inul imitators. But like all Elvis look-alikes, not one has matched the original.

This is a story of kampung kid makes good; it’s also a sobering tale of manipulation, chicanery and thuggery. As they say in the music business – this is just the upside. Read on and you won’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.

Inul was born Ainul Rokminah in the East Java industrial town of Gempol, 60 km south of Surabaya.

By age 12 she was singing and dancing to rock, then dangdut. For a few thousand rupiah – usually less than one US dollar - she’d be up on stage.

So were hundreds of other lithe lasses. So far nothing unusual.

But young Ainul was also canny and ambitious, certainly no ephemeral airhead. She changed her name to Inul Daratista (bubbly) hit the road for the Big Durian and shoving Javanese reticence aside soon scored a TV spot.

And suddenly – Big Time! Those hips, that bountiful bottom testing the rip limits of Lycra, the one and only ngebor (boring, as in drilling) style, absolutely ours, proudly parochial, defiantly Indonesian.

Westerners watching the grainy videos were perplexed. By their entertainment standards Inul was grossly overdressed, as sophisticated as slapstick. Erotic? Perhaps if you’d been on a female-free desert island for the past year. Boring (as in boring) seemed just the right word.

But Inul wasn’t only shaking her booty; she was also snatching back Indonesian village culture and restoring it to the little people. She was their triumphant voice of survival – and if you didn’t like it, then up your bum!

Many were insulted – among them Rhoma Irama, the so-called king of dangdut and Suharto favorite who forbade Inul from using his songs.

Worst was to follow. She was banned in Yogya, Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. More recently she’s been ordered out of Jakarta by the Betawi Brotherhood, told to keep away from Depok by the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) and had one of her karaoke lounges visited by a mob.

And all because she exercised her democratic freedom of expression and publicly denounced the anti-porn bill. The feisty and unpretentious Inul, 29, spoke to The Jakarta Post at her splendid six-bedroom mansion built next to her parent’s home – still in the same kampung 200 metres from a match factory.

If the Betawi braves are planning an assault they should beware the Inul infantry, volunteers all. The neighbourhood reckons she’s their homegrown gal and they’ll brook no nonsense. Local government has even officially changed the alley name to Gang Inul and built a silver archway.

Do you now regret speaking out against the anti-porn bill?

I have no regrets because I thought about what I was doing. It was right. I’ve had a lot of support. If the bill is passed I worry about what Indonesia will become. I don’t want society to suffer.

Are you going to quit Jakarta?

No. I intend to keep going. I’m not afraid of the Betawi – I’m afraid of the way that the government is handling the problem. I’m frightened about what’s happening to Indonesia.

I pay my taxes, I pay my bills. I’m a good citizen. In return I and everyone else expects protection by the State against these anarchists who seem to be increasing. That’s our right. I want the rule of law applied. We all want security and balance. Write that down – I want the President to know.

Have you been hurt by some of the things that have been said about you?

I’m not (involved in) pornography – I’ve never done that. I feel hurt at people’s stupidity. So many want to interfere in the lives of others.

I’m a Muslim, serious about my faith. I’m not a KTP Muslim (in name only). I regret the things the MUI are saying. Why are they bothering with anti-pornography? It’s not productive. Why are they always talking about women? The priorities in this country should be getting people jobs and a better education.

I’m doing what I can for the economy – I have a staff of 750 and seven karaoke lounges. I’ve had to work hard.

I believe in Pancasila (the five basic principles of the Republic). I’m a pluralist. In my extended family we have Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists – we’re always having festivals!

Do you have enough work and are you fit? I heard you had back problems.

I’m very busy and have no back problems. I’m supported by my husband (Adam Suseno, a Chinese Indonesian). We’ve been married eight years. I practise and keep fit.

Please tell journalists to get the facts right and not spread lies. There’s so much jealousy, so many imitators. I don’t speak ill of others. Don’t be negative.

You seem to have become a role model for young women. What’s your message to them?

Be independent. Be yourself. Get a good education. I wanted to be a doctor but had to leave school after junior high because there wasn’t enough money. Sadly women are not respected by Indonesian men.

I want to lift the status of women. I want them to be brave enough to take risks. I’d like to be a new Kartini. (Javanese emancipist Raden Ajeng Kartini campaigned for women to be educated and independent. She died in 1904 aged 25.)

I’ve been approached to get involved in politics, but I’ve refused. It’s too corrupt. I get my strength from my family and life experience. I come back to Gempol whenever I can to be near my parents and the people I grew up with. Here I can forget I’m Inul Daratista.

Despite all the problems I intend to remain cheerful. I’m an optimist. Tomorrow will be better.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 June 2006)


Bojonegoro Barge picture

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Here’s a mystery that you, learned reader, may be able to help solve.

Last year a lithe lad scavenging in the bed of the Solo River near Bojonegoro in East Java found a heavy slab of timber jutting out of the mud.

It had been sawn or hewn and looked significant. Villagers and officials agreed and started sluicing away the mud. Their efforts revealed a splendid sight – a well-preserved broad-beamed 25-metre barge. The design was strange - local boats are narrow and less than half that length.

It seems the barge was oar-powered, with benches for rowers and ports for rowlocks.

On the planked sides are wave-like motifs and a diagram of an arrow on a stick. On an internal timber a mark has been transcribed as 1612. Does this mean the barge is almost four centuries old? If so it’s a precious and important find indeed.

As the rainy season was due with the river set to rise 20 metres or more it was decided to shift the big boat last September. Empty oil barrels were packed around the sides. It was floated downstream and then winched out.

Though not with sufficient care.

The once almost-intact barge now lies high on the riverbank in front of a cemetery, crumbling, unsheltered and forlorn. The sun has shrunk the teak planking and the hull is collapsing. Insects have invaded the wood. The ten centimetre iron nails used in parts of the construction are rusting. The barge is propped by bamboo poles and steel stakes. It’s held together by a tangle of blue rope and metal laths.

In the mud it looked snug in its submarine haven. On land it looks grotesque.

Local government officers agreed the barge needed reconstruction, shelter and a better presentation. “We need a lot more money to do this,” said Dari Suprayitno, head of the archaeological section of the Bojonegoro Regency, 120 km northwest of Surabaya. “It would have been costly and difficult to get big cranes to lift the barge.

“The barge is now close to Padang village. This used to be a riverbank market and port before the river silted and changed course. We’re putting in an access path.”

Timbers said to have come from a cabin have been moved to the private house of Budiono, the man who held the sand mining lease where the barge was found. They’re stored alongside sacks of fertiliser. Some planks have painted suns with the red still preserved - plus the piece with the faint ‘1612’ mark.

Your reporter wondered: If the craft was truly ancient why Arabic numerals had been used and not Javanese lettering or Chinese characters? And why the Christian calendar? Why were the numbers crudely cut unlike the careful designs on the hull? Maybe it’s not 1612 but 16, 17 and somewhere else is 14 and 15 – the tally of a load.

Or has some local wag been to work with a penknife in the past few months?

A human skull found at the site has been buried in the local graveyard without being dated. Samples of the timber have been taken to West Java for examination but no results have returned.

Locals convinced of the barge’s antiquity have linked it to the Singosari kingdom of 700 years ago. Others claim it’s a royal Thai barge because someone has said the teak used can be found only in Thailand and Kalimantan.

Dari said superstitious folk have been using water from the hull in a bid to cure pains believing the ship has mystical properties. The more pragmatic hope the barge will become internationally famous and draw awed cash-laden tourists.

But there’s little chance of that unless urgent action is taken to preserve the wreck, according to French marine anthropologist Michael Johnson.

“If the timbers aren’t shaded and put in a bath of fresh water and sugar to maintain the cellular structure of the wood it will soon be a pile of dust,” he said.

“At the very least a sprinkler system should be used to keep the wood wet while detailed drawings are made.”

Johnson, who has been working with staff and students at Surabaya’s Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (ITS) on wooden boat building projects, described the barge as “a very impressive boat, not dissimilar to a Viking vessel and well worth preserving.”

However he said its provenance was a mystery. It may have had a crew of 40 to 50 rowers and would probably have been confined to rivers and coastal waters. It could have been used for regal travel, colonial administration or trade.

The designs could be significant. However they might be just a creative signwriter’s idea of a pleasant decoration. Carving a date would be most unusual, he said.

“The thwarts are consistent with Javanese construction but the frames are not,” he said. “These may have been added later. A boat like this could have been rebuilt many times.

“Nails were introduced by the Dutch but not widely employed in wooden boats till after the Revolution. The nails may have been used to strengthen the planks which have been pegged with wood.

“The loss of a vessel this size would have been a major event in the district. Because no-one remembers the catastrophe it must have sunk at least four generations ago and beyond living memory.” There were no obvious signs of hull damage when the boat was discovered.

Johnson, an expert on boats from the early 1700s to the mid 20th century said the design should be checked against carvings of boats at Borobudur temple. These are the earliest known descriptions of Indonesian craft.

Little work had been done to describe the large number of designs of Indonesian craft except by a French admiral in the early 19th century. His sketches are held in a Paris museum.

“If this barge is preserved it will lift the international status of Indonesia and its long-running maritime culture,” Johnson said. “It’s a unique find and a worthy artefact. It needs to be stabilised before it deteriorates further.”

(Readers who can help identify the craft are invited to contact Duncan Graham at ).

(First published in The Jakarta Post 2 June 2006)





For readers unfamiliar with Surabaya the standard news image of the East Java capital has demonstrators shaking the black steel gates protecting a splendid white mansion.

The building is usually out of focus in the background and fortunately has yet to suffer the wrath of protestors.

Why should they bother? No one lives in Grahadi and the workers are there only to maintain the place. The real power lies elsewhere in the local parliament and the Governor’s office.

Grahadi is the next best thing to a governor’s palace. It may be a symbol of the establishment and a handy central city target for the disgruntled but it wears its authority lightly.

The 200-year old building threatens no one. Though it was built to intimidate when the colonialists ruled it certainly doesn’t today. You may not detect a grin, but there’s certainly no grimace.

There’s no need to rattle the railings or connive to get a gilt-edged pass. Grahadi is now open to the public at weekends.

But don’t despair if you’re only in Surabaya during the working week. On the 17th of most months and some Fridays the vast grassy forecourt is used as a parade ground for school bands.

These boisterous and cheerful displays soften the hard-edged Dutch architecture and dilute the traffic noise. Little kids banging oversize drums, high-stepping majorettes blushing under their rouge, tuneless trumpets and some of the cutest costumes ever sewn by a proud Mum make Grahadi the People’s Palace.

Built in 1795 by Dutch commissioner Dirk van Hogendorp, Grahadi originally dominated the city. That’s because it fronted Kali Mas, the river which bisects Surabaya and was once a major transport route. Now the river carries little traffic so access to Grahadi is from Jalan Gubernur Suryo.

The change in orientation meant switching the main entrance from the north riverbank to the south-side highway. Visitors who only view the front are unaware the river is just outside the rear of the building.

Now tourists have the chance to peep down the once-handsome promenade where in colonial days families would have participated in the passing parade and soaked up the evening cool.

The Dutch may have been solid builders and competent constructors, but as designers they didn’t leave soaring architectural monuments. Grahadi isn’t lofty but it’s certainly substantial. It was built to last of big red bricks laid without mortar and has well outlived two centuries. The timber flooring upstairs is teak, robust and enduring.

The roman pillars supporting the top deck and making a grand entrance statement (and a shady veranda) are all recent editions, which mask the original rather plain structure.

These have been embellished with a frieze showing scenes from the Battle of Surabaya. In November 1945 the British tried to retake the city after the defeat of the Japanese and were met with fierce resistance.

Inside there’s all the paraphernalia of protocol and a wide variety of donated gifts. Visitors can see the handicrafts of East Java and portraits of governors since Independence. The first, R.T. Soerjo is also remembered in the little Kroesen Park facing Grahadi where his large statue shows the governor in the uniform of the post-colonial era.

The walls of Grahadi carry an eclectic collection of pictures featuring events from the Majapahit kingdom through to the Revolution. Some fine old photographs show Grahadi in the early 19th century. There’s also a well preserved and rare Seni Reog Javanese dance headdress made of a tiger’s head and peacock feathers, and occasionally wheeled out for a performance.

The building is carpeted in the European fashion although the tropical heat of East Java is better suited to tiled floors. The upstairs rooms can be reached by a small staircase indicating the building was designed more for work than pleasure. Otherwise there would have been a grand staircase where the fashionable could make sweeping entrances in a grand swish of skirts.

There are four well-furnished bedrooms. These are used only for high-ranking guests. The present Governor lives elsewhere, and his offices are some distance away in Jalan Pahlawan.

More than 30 staff work at Grahadi, a name derived from the Sanskrit Graha (meaning house) and adi, implying distinguished. Formerly it was known as Simpang (deviation or crossroads), the name now allocated to the nearby road junction.

Staff are happy to show visitors around, but to appreciate the place properly it’s worth sitting quietly in the cool courtyards of the building’s wide wings. These are the unembellished tiled and timbered rooms more appropriate to the climate and genuinely East Java.

Take time to reflect on the past. Here the big kitchens and workers’ shuttered quarters appear little changed from colonial times. That was when Grahadi was the place to be seen – the administrative and legal centre of Surabaya, busy with business and alive with the adventure of a growing port.

(Grahadi is open to the public at weekends and public holidays unless a major event is underway. Times 9 am to 4 pm.)

First published in The Jakarta Post 2 June 2006)