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, October 31, 2006


© Duncan Graham 2006

In the commendable quest to improve relations between the West and Indonesia, the French are oceans ahead.

While the Americans and Australians despatch platitudes from their embassy bunkers, the French are literally sailing straight into inter-cultural communication.

In Surabaya this month, Jean de Muizon, commander of the French surveillance frigate Nivose was explaining his ship’s armaments and abilities to large groups of Indonesian military men, prior to a joint exercise with the Indonesian Navy.

Many looked thoroughly bemused as the French officers were using heavily accented English to describe the ship’s lethal capabilities. Fortunately at least one TNI officer spoke excellent French, and doubtless statistics on weaponry transcend words.

Earlier de Muizon had hosted a party for local dignitaries, business people and others to meet his crew. The event was relaxed and security low key.

It’s the third visit of a French warship to the East Java capital in just over a year. Other foreign boats come and go, but none do it with the style, openness and energy of the French.

And this despite having no historical or cultural ties with the archipelago.

The French may once have been a major colonial power but their overseas holdings have shrunk to specs in the seas. So there has to be another agenda along with the Gallic goodwill – and there is: Trade.

“We’re certainly here to look after our strategic areas and enhance relationships between nations, but I’m also a salesmen,” de Muizon said. “What’s for sale? Everything!”

Of particular interest to the Indonesian military were the frigate’s two Exocet guided missiles (see sidebar), the Panther helicopter that is armed with enough hardware to sink a ship, and the Pielstick diesel engines.

Why so open?

“We don’t feel threatened like the Australians and the Americans,” de Muizon said. “I’m very surprised that the Indonesians I’ve met are well aware that the French are not fighting in Iraq.

“We’re in Afghanistan and have been for a long time. But most of our military activity is in Africa.

“I recognise that terrorists probably tend to group all Westerners together because we look similar. We try not to be aggressive. I let the crew ashore to go and enjoy themselves.

“The French always go downtown. I tell them to behave well and be aware of cultural differences. They got a half-day briefing on Indonesia before we arrived here from Darwin. But drink and women … well, you know. So far, no problems.

“Don’t think we’re just travelling around and having a good time. All our guns are loaded.”

(Actually they weren’t. There were no magazines in the side arms being carried by the sailors controlling the gangway.)

The 3,000 tonne Nivose, named after the fourth month in the discarded French Republican Calendar, is normally based at the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The 90 crew include three women officers. It’s one of six ships assigned to check French overseas naval interests.

This is a broad enough assignment to embrace everything from working with the Australian Navy to watch for illegal fishers in the Southern Ocean (though not to chase Indonesian poachers in the Timor Sea), through to seeing first hand who is doing what and where and why.

After Surabaya the frigate was scheduled to visit Thailand, but the trip was cancelled following the military coup. Instead it went to Singapore and Malaysia, a big buyer of French military hardware.

Indonesia has just reportedly bought 32 French armoured cars for use in overseas peacekeeping missions. The French are the fourth largest suppliers of weapons to the world, behind the US, Russia and the UK.

This is the first ship command for de Muizon, 42, formerly a fixed-wing pilot on an aircraft carrier. Not surprisingly he remains a fan of the floating airfields despite some military strategists claiming they present too big and cumbersome a target in modern warfare dominated by long-range missiles.

One bang and you’ve lost the lot – ship, planes and pride.

Only nine nations have carriers and not all are as big as the US naval cities-at-sea. The little ones have been designed for vertical short take-off and landing planes, the so-called ‘jump-jets’ that don’t need long runways.

“Managing small scale crises around the world is part of the job,” he said. “With a carrier we can get in close to a country and launch our planes without having to get diplomatic clearance.

“Who would have expected that Britain and the Argentine would have gone to war in the 1980s? Or the disintegration of Yugoslavia? We have to understand what’s happening and where. We must always be prepared.

“You can’t say that we’ve seen the last of the big encounters of rival armadas, though that’s unlikely. You never know what’s going to happen.”

(Just a few nautical miles from the Nivose’s berth at Surabaya’s Tanjung Perak port, the Battle of the Java Sea, the largest naval clash of World War II, was fought between the Allies and the Japanese. The Japanese won and invaded Java).


When the British warship HMS Sheffield and support ship Atlantic Conveyor were sunk by French Exocet missiles fired by the Argentineans in 1982, the British came close to loosing the Falklands war.

The French are always on guard against English words invading their language, but this time the positions were reversed. Exocet became an English term for a deadly accurate attack and the missile internationally famous. Not bad for a future sales pitch.

The Exocet (‘flying fish’) was developed in the 1970s as an anti-ship missile and remains popular with navies worldwide. Indonesia is reported to have some in its armoury.

The main rival is the American Harpoon that’s reputed to have a range of 80 nautical miles, almost double earlier versions of the Exocet. The main selling point for the French product is its sophisticated and secret homing equipment.

It’s a ‘fire-and-forget’ missile that turns on its radar late in flight and can allegedly duck and weave.

The latest version of the Exocet is supposed to have a range closer to the Harpoon and is powered by a turbojet. The Nivose apparently does not carry this model in its sealed chamber.

Who knows? Even the friendly French weren’t prepared to be that frank. But The Jakarta Post wasn’t a potential buyer.

(First published in The Jakarta Post Saturday 28 October 06)


Monday, October 23, 2006



Does Indonesia have a new classical music star?

Surabaya Symphony Orchestra (SSO) conductor Solomon Tong believes so after Bandung soprano Linda Hartono won the vocal section of the orchestra’s Mozart Competition last week. (W/ending 21 Oct)

In what is believed to be the only such event in Indonesia to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Austrian composer’s birth (see sidebar), the SSO staged a two-night concert for contestants from across the country. There were four categories – piano, violin, vocal adults and vocal children.

“Overall the standard of applicants was good, though about half had to be disqualified at auditions,” said Tong. “We demanded a high professional standard that some couldn’t meet. They had to perform without using sheet music.

“Others wanted to play or sing something other than Mozart. That wasn’t part of the deal. The SSO decided to make this our Mozart year with concerts in April and August – and then the competition.

“Usually contestant singers are backed only by a piano, but we provided them with the experience of working with a 44-piece orchestra. I don’t know for sure, but think this is probably the only time this has been done in Indonesia.”

The pianists were offered the opportunity to play one of three Mozart concertos – 19, 21 or 23. All chose the last in A major.

This meant that the audience had to sit through three 30-minute performances of the same piece – though by different soloists. That might have been fine for the three judges, but it put a strain on everyone else.

The same thing happened with the violinists who all chose the same concerto – Number 3 in G Major. This also runs for half an hour.

Fortunately the singers were more eclectic. They had to select from the Marriage of Figaro, the Magic Flute or Don Giovanni. Linda Hartono sang Batti-batti, O Bel Masetto from the last option. Her main rival, Antonius Dody Soetanto who won second place was also from Bandung. He sang Non So Piu Andrei from Figaro.

Tong said Hartono, 38, had a voice with “a very dramatic soprano colour.” He said the awards given to the finalists would help them establish their reputation and build teaching careers.

“There’s a good future for top class in musicians in Indonesia and elsewhere,” he said. “As growth in the services and hospitality industry increases, so do opportunities for performers.

“Parents of gifted children know this and are looking for teachers. Most start out earning about Rp 2 million (US $ 220) a month and in a few years can get triple that sum.”

Hartono said she’d started to sing classical music only in the past five years and had never sung before with an orchestra. She was a member of a Bandung church choir and had been encouraged to enter the competition by her businessman husband Wirianto Djakaria.

She’d seen modern light opera like Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera in London but her only contact with Mozart had been through DVDs. At home she often played the piano and sang while waiting for her two children to return from school.

“It was a great surprise to win,” she said. “I still haven’t come to terms with my success so there are no immediate plans for the future.”

At the end of the competition Tong made an impassioned speech in support of classical music in Surabaya. He said the SSO, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in December, was losing money and desperately needed donors.

The principal backer for concerts has been the shipping container terminal company Terminal Petikemas Surabaya (TPS).

Outside the competition hall Tong told The Sunday Post that he’d approached a cigarette company for sponsorship because it supported pop music events. However he said he’d been turned down because company executives claimed classical music goers seldom used tobacco, and smoking was prohibited during performances.

“It’s a miracle that we can survive,” he said. “The SSO is backed by music schools and individuals. We do this because we’re idealistic.

“In places like Singapore and Hong Kong the government subsidises orchestras – but not here. In Indonesia the media concentrates on pop singers and dangdut dancers – and we need the media to lift support for the serious arts and culture.

“Every concert we stage loses us about Rp 100 million (US $ 11,000). We’ve just had a board meeting and decided to open up membership in the hope of bringing in people with financial expertise.

“I don’t know about the money side. We need a professional money raiser. I’m only interested in the music.”


“The music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it -- that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed”. Mozart’s biographer, Alfred Einstein.

It’s not just Surabaya that’s been big noting Mozart this year. His operas are being staged throughout Europe and especially in Vienna and Salzburg (Austria) where he was born, and Prague (Czech Republic) where his music was popular with the 18th century masses – and Figaro a major hit.

There’s so much myth and mystery about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that it’s difficult seeing the black notes from the white.

That he was the genius extraordinaire is not in doubt. Nor is his output – more than 600 compositions – the first written when he was five. Recordings of his works outsell all other composers. He lived for only 35 years before dying of ‘severe military fever’. This condition has never been diagnosed to the satisfaction of modern medicine, consequently creating fertile ground for theories about his premature passing.

Mozart may have been able to manage music but money was another matter. He earned well, and spent better. He was buried in an unmarked grave that has never been found – adding to the belief that he had supernatural powers.

In the 1980s the film Amadeus, based on the play by English dramatist Peter Shaffer became an international hit. This helped introduce Mozart’s music to a public that would never consider putting on stiff clothes and sitting among stiffer people in a concert hall.

(First published in The Sunday Post 22 October 06)



HAVING A YEN FOR EAST JAVA © Duncan Graham 2006

The new Japanese consul general in Surabaya is clearly not the standard bland and benign model diplomat with a well-buffed line in obfuscation.

For starters Shoji Sato, 58, forgets to carry his name card, even at official functions. A Japanese without cardboard credentials is like an Australian without a styrofoam beer-can holder. Impossible to imagine.

This also means that the ritual of two-handed card exchange and much bowing has to be forgone. Unforgivable!

Then he laughs a lot, cracks jokes and seems cheerfully relaxed even when surrounded by his protocol-stiff countryfolk. His buoyant wife Atsuko, who is a social worker among Japanese geriatrics, is equally down-to-earth.

It must have been his posting in egalitarian Sydney together with a spell in the US that has made Sato perfect the laid-back mate-style of doing business. He doesn’t need minders. It’s clear this guy is quite at ease wherever he goes and whoever he’s with.

Which makes him the ideal spokesman for Japan in a country where personal relationships are so important. Although he’s been in the Republic only four months (replacing Hirashima Shusaku) he already has a good handle on Indonesian. Which should make his job of enhancing relations between the countries that much easier.

“People are so friendly in Indonesia, and particularly so in East Java,” he said. It’s the off-the-peg clich├ęd line every new foreign official has to say, but Sato does it with such ease there’s no hint of insincerity.

In Australia there’s some lingering hostility towards the Japanese among the older generation recalling atrocities committed during World War II. Sato denied any similar animosity in Indonesia because of Japan’s three-year occupation of the archipelago in the 1940s. (A peace treaty was signed between the two nations in 1958.)

And the East Javanese workers are apparently also cheaper – with wages around 80 per cent of those demanded in Jakarta. Which makes doing business in Surabaya especially attractive.

“There are 110 Japanese companies based in and around Surabaya; however most prefer to invest in Jakarta and Batam,” he said. “My job is to try and encourage others to come here.

“There are plenty of opportunities in infrastructure projects and small to medium enterprises.

“At the moment that’s a real problem with the mud eruption at Porong (alongside the toll road and railway south of Surabaya). Some Japanese companies, including Yamaha musical instruments, are based at the nearby Pasuruan Industrial Area (on the north coast) and having serious communication and transport problems.”

The Surabaya sales pitch includes a line about the high number of Indonesians speaking Japanese. There are around 10,000 learning the language in East Java alone, though the problem is finding native speakers to do the teaching and ensure pronunciation is perfect.

Unlike English, where a dozen countries can legitimately supply ‘native speakers’, there’s only one source for Japanese teachers - and they can demand high salaries. And there’s only one destination for the dedicated student who wants to understand the culture.

“Many Indonesian young people are motivated to study Japanese through watching animated TV programs and seeing comics like the Manga characters,” he said.

“Well … that’s OK. It’s a good starting point if you then develop your intellectual qualities. Getting to Japan can be a problem, though there are now a number of scholarships.”

The East Java Japan Club hands out some modest support to a few tertiary students and a specialist teacher from the Japanese Foundation has been seconded to the State University of Surabaya.

Next month (Nov) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks are scheduled between Indonesia and Japan. The discussions are expected to tackle all the usual mind-atrophying issues of tariffs, customs law and goods exchange, but Sato said there would also be a people component.

“The FTA might be a good starting point to initiate a system for young Japanese to visit Indonesia,” he said. “There’s a working holiday visa agreement in place between Australia and Japan.

“This allows young Japanese to stay for several months – and Australians to go to Japan. They can work or study while they tour the country, improve their language skills and learn about the culture.

“There’s no similar scheme between Japan and Indonesia. Maybe there should be. I really want to promote cultural exchange, and get more Japanese coming here as well as Bali because this is such an interesting country.

“Sadly most Japanese know about this country only through the news of natural disasters. They aren’t aware that you sell so many products to Japan and that we’re your major trading partner.

“Indonesians who can speak Japanese can get jobs working for companies here and in the hospitality industry.”

Do Indonesians studying in Japan face discrimination? Would it be safe for Muslim women to wear headscarves in public? (At a handover of scholarships to students studying Japanese most recipients were women in headscarves.)

“No problems,” he said. “Japan is very relaxed about religion. We have a joke that when you’re born you’ll go through Shinto ceremonies; when you get married it will be in a Catholic church, and when you die your funeral will be Buddhist.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday 21 October 06)


Friday, October 20, 2006

Pre-school kids in Surabaya

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GIVING KIDS A HEAD START © Duncan Graham 2006

Imagine you’re a professional woman married to a mid-level government officer. His job includes ensuring you join an hierarchal organisation of public servants’ wives.

Your position in the group known as PKK (Family Welfare Movement) is not determined by election or ability, but by your husband’s rank. So the leader is not necessarily the most competent, energetic or well educated, but the wife of the most senior bureaucrat.

There’s no similar organisation for men who are married to public servants.

To an outsider with Western ideas of women being independent and equal this relic of New Order social engineering seems archaic, certainly unbalanced. But that doesn’t seem to faze Maya Indrayana whose husband Kantika works for the Surabaya City Council.

Maya is employed in the private sector. She’s a lecturer in design at Petra Christian University and also runs her own business. Her superior in the PKK is Dyah Katarina whose husband Bambang Dwi Hartono has a better job than Kantika. He’s the mayor of Surabaya.

Both women are enthusiastically involved in a PKK program to give poor kids a head start in life through early childhood education.

Maybe Maya’s lack of resentment is because the PKK is so well established in the Indonesian social structure. Despite its assumptions about gender and lack of democracy, it seems to be well regarded and doing good work where it’s most needed.

The PKK started in the 1960s in Central Java with a program, of alleviating village poverty. It expanded into other provinces in the following two decades and has been involved in community health, family planning and education. Nationally the titular head is the President’s wife, Kristiani Herrawati.

In the PKK in Surabaya Maya answers to a smart woman who warrants respect, and probably deserves the top position in her own right.

Dyah is no mayor’s handbag. She went to Airlangga, East Java’s most prestigious public university and graduated in psychology. Her first job was with a labour agency assessing the suitability of applicants for overseas jobs as maids by testing personality, aptitude, intelligence and skills.

She said this gave her insights into the backgrounds, hopes and concerns of poor people who leave their homes –often in desperation - and for the first time in their lives head overseas

The two women also share a love of education and kids. So Maya’s imposed role of administrative oversight of a kampung pre-school for the poor seems to be a welcome addition to her other responsibilities.

The PKK in Surabaya wants a free pre-school in every sub-district of the East Java capital. There are almost 1,300 so with only 200 pre-schools in place there’s still some way to go.

Maya’s responsibility is the Bougainvillea Pre-School in a kampung where most breadwinners pedal pedicabs, run food carts or collect scrap metal for a living. Her husband Kantika reckoned that the monthly family income would be well below Rp 500,000 (US $54) a month. There’s not much money, but there are plenty of kids.

For these families a voluntary monthly fee of Rp 5,000 (US $0.50 cents) to have their child get into the learning routine seems to be acceptable, with an enrolment of around 100.

“People here understand the benefits of education,” said Maya. “The problem is finding the money. If they haven’t got it, they can still be enrolled, so in effect the pre-school is free.

“Our vision is to care for the poor. The golden years (of early childhood) are so important in forming attitudes to learning in later life.”

What happens if the parents are sceptical, maybe arguing that school is a waste of precious time? Who could blame them for thinking the future is hopeless, and that their kids will never get work as adults in a nation that already has an estimated 40 million unemployed.

“We say that without education they have no chance in life,” said Dyah. “We tell parents that clever people can become self-sufficient and find ways to work – but they must first have the schooling.

“Indonesia is overcrowded – there are just too many people. However we also have many natural resources and future opportunities. The government doesn’t have the money, so we have to do this ourselves. This is our initiative.”

The pre-school’s name sounds charming, but if there is any scent from the lovely blooms then it’s swamped by the odour of drains. The little kids play in a cramped area so small that the pre-school has to run three shifts a day.

They do have little chairs and tables, bright posters and a few educational toys. Parents (meaning Mums) drop in to watch and lend a hand. It’s far from being an ideal environment, but it’s where they live and clearly popular.

The seven teachers are volunteers who have been trained through a program run by the University of Surabaya.

Dyah said the provincial government now had a budget line for early childhood education. A bid was being made for a Rp 28 million (US $3,000) grant to start new centres and upgrade others. She said there was no help from international aid agencies.

Maya said the PKK pre-school program worked in Surabaya because so many people were prepared to give their services free. “It’s not like this in Jakarta,” she said.

“Here we’re enthusiastic. We want to be involved and provide our time as volunteers. We plan another 14 pre-schools in the next year, all in poor areas.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 October 06)


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


SALT OF THE EARTH – AND BODY. © Duncan Graham 2006

If you’re reading this paper during a meal, pause a moment and reach for the condiments.

Is the salt on your table iodised? If bought already packaged from a supermarket the answer is probably yes; nonetheless check the label’s small print. (In Indonesian iodine is yodium).

However if it came in bulk from the local market the chances are it won’t have the essential additive – but may include some unwanted nasties.

“The problem is that although salt is cheap at around Rp 2,000 (US 20 cents) a kilo, the iodised product is marginally more expensive,” said Sinung Kristanto of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Surabaya.

“Offsetting this is the fact that the iodised salt is cleaner and tastes saltier. That’s because it’s more concentrated through processing. Unfortunately people don’t know this and their shopping is driven by price alone.”

Mineral trace element deficiencies in the diet have long been known to cause serious health problems. A lack of iodine affects the thyroid gland that in turn can lead to goitre (swelling of the gland) and mental deficiencies. (See sidebar)

Indonesia introduced a salt iodisation policy in 1979 and is widely regarded a world leader in eliminating iodine deficiency. Despite this it’s not difficult to find examples of the problem in isolated parts of the archipelago.

“The East Java government estimates that less than 40 per cent of the population is using the additive in at least two areas - Probolingo on the north coast of East Java and Sampang on the south coast of Madura Island,” said Kristanto, UNICEF’s project officer for East Java and West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

“So we’re concentrating our efforts there as part of our health and nutrition program. This isn’t a cosmetic issue – it’s extremely serious. But getting the message across isn’t easy.

“Some people think goitre is a condition inflicted on them by God for their sins.

“Much of the salt sold in the markets is made by farmers in Madura who evaporate sea water. It’s known as kerosok. It’s not washed and has a high moisture content. Better quality salt is made in Lombok by boiling and distilling water.

“Salt can be bought cheaper in bulk from Australia. It’s cleaner and more than 99 per cent dry. But local producers object to imports for fear they’ll lose income.

“Farmers also eat the salt they buy for their cattle, or pick up salt from the seashore for the kitchen. Of course that hasn’t been iodised.”

The Australian salt isn’t iodised. It’s mainly produced for industry where it’s used for the manufacture of plastics and chemicals. So imports are iodised locally.

The addition of only 30 to 80 parts per million of iodine in salt is needed to prevent health problems.

Attempts by this reporter to visit a Surabaya salt factory to see the process were thwarted by staff. They feared the request was a ploy to steal the technology and get the salt treated in Australia.

The East Java public health information campaign includes promoting a logo of a smart kid in a mortarboard with a purple sash (the color of iodine vapour). This is to emphasise that iodised salt aids intellectual development. The other tactic is legislative.

The local and international import and export of non-iodised salt has been banned by administrations in NTB but not in East Java. This isn’t the total answer as people can still make or gather their own salt.

UNICEF has just celebrated its first ten years in Surabaya. It’s an advocacy and technical assistance agency with only 14 staff to run operations. It works with government and non-government organisations to implement programs in health and nutrition, education, HIV /Aids prevention and child protection.

UNICEF’s annual budget for East Java and NTB is Rp 20 billion (US $ 2.2 million) and includes funds from government aid agencies in Australia, the US and Japan.

Promoting iodised salt through UNICEF is also backed by a Canadian not-for-profit organisation called the Micronutrient Initiative, run by nutritionists and scientists. The global goal is to eliminate malnutrition through the lack of vitamins and essential minerals.

Kristanto said that to ensure corruption was minimised projects were audited ahead of implementation to decide a unit cost of delivery. This meant the number of people who would be expected to benefit had to be determined and all purchases monitored.

Where flaws had been detected and corruption identified funding was cut for a year.

“We have to be tough,” he said. “We cry for the children who suffer as a result, but we have no choice. If we continue with the funding the corruption continues. It’s better to stop for a while so people know we’re serious.”


“I’m strong to the ‘finich / ‘cause I eats me spinach” sang the American cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man with grating and memorable diction.

He was right to advocate spinach – it’s one of the few foods with a significant amount of iodine. It’s also present in seafoods and excessively so in the edible seaweed known as dulse.

The lack of these foods in mountain areas is probably a reason for the higher level of goitre in the uplands.

Iodine is a non-metallic element and an overdose can also lead to problems, particularly for pregnant mums. Introducing the additive in an area that’s suffered years of deficiency has to be handled carefully to avoid hyperthyroidism.

While extreme cases of goitre are obvious as a major swelling below the Adam’s Apple, early cases can be detected using ultrasound and through urine tests.

International agencies reckon about one billion people – that’s a sixth of the world population don’t get enough iodine in their diets.

The result can include infant deaths and damage to the brain. Intelligence quotient (IQ) levels have been recorded at 50 points below average among children whose diet lacked iodine.

Developed countries often add iodine to bread and milk, though salt is the food most used to get the element into the body. Where public water supplies are potable iodine is sometimes dissolved – a system impossible to apply in Indonesia where many use wells and tap water is unsafe to drink.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 18 October 2006)

Sunday, October 15, 2006


A HOME FAR AWAY FROM A HOME © Duncan Graham 2006

BTW, this BTW is being keyboarded in a three-star hotel, an island or two east of the Wallace Line. If you detect bile put it down to the verbal sauce that’s used to swamp any flavour of real hospitality in an industry where the smiles have the currency of a Rp 3,000 note.

Maybe the angst comes from recognising the remnants of last night’s dinner in the mock silver servers lined up for breakfast. They were next to the trays of sliced bread, well hardened after a night in the open.

Or perhaps the rat chomping its way through the cables and pipes in the bedroom air conditioner at 2 am might be a reason.

The suave receptionist, splendid in the uniform of an undertaker, assured me the resort was vermin-free and all rodents – except for one Australian - had checked out. (OK, that’s what he thought, not what he said.) However someone would examine the system to put my mind at rest. What I really wanted was rest for my body.

Hotels are sold on glamour when the reality is raw and rugged. Behind the carved swing doors and potted palms are cluttered kitchens and grimy store- rooms with all the ambience of a foundry.

While guests sit in the cool the people who serve them lose their cool in the sweatshops that keep the place going.

As they say in the business – this would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for the guests. The staff you see are the minority. Most are out of sight where there’s no air conditioning, and the wall hangings are fly-spotted notices urging cleanliness.

Hotels advertise themselves as ‘a home away from home.’ If you live in a house where your family presents a bill every time you open the fridge and check to see if you’ve stolen the towels before you leave, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your relationships.

Remember the good old days before handphones and remote control TV? Then you’ll recall staying at a hotel without a mini-bar – another device to promote lethargy and heart seizures.

Tip: Slide out of the ceramic lobby and stride past the ingratiating flunkies; take a refreshing stroll. You’ll soon find a cool drink for less than 3,000 and a bar of chocolate for much the same. In the mini bar the price will have quintupled and a 21 per cent tax and service charge added while making the same journey.

The room rate that looked so reasonable when you booked is rapidly overtaken by the outrageous fees charged for everything else, from communications to comforts.

Treat the phone like a fire extinguisher – to be used in emergencies only. Unless you’re working for a Saudi oil cartel that’s picking up the tab. Hotels have a meter on every landline that accelerates like a jet on take-off the moment you take off the receiver.

Watch the language – it’s as slippery as a politician’s promise. A ‘superior’ room may advertise hot water but never judge a faucet by its colour.

‘Deluxe’ means there may be a kettle with a frayed cord on the warped laminex, plus two sachets of no-name coffee. Mould in the bathroom is a non-optional extra.

The most expensive word in the lexicon of leisure is ‘executive’ particularly when married to ‘suite’. For this you’ll have more space and a couple of extra chairs for the visitors who must leave by 10 pm, according to the notice stuck over the fire escape procedures.

Is there anything that can be relied upon? Surely the kiblat arrows indicating the direction of Mecca must be correct. Wrong again; Muslims should pack their own compass. I’ve found arrows held to the ceiling by a single pin so one flick sends them spinning.

In the hotel business there’s no doubt who wins. You may get away with a plastic bottle of shampoo decanted from a battered 20-litre drum in the yard and a plastic shower cap, but that’s about all.

Ding –dong! Who’s there? ‘Room service – time to checkout, sir. Could you just wait a moment while we take a look in the mini-bar and the bathroom …’

(First published in the Sunday Post 15 October 06)

Friday, October 13, 2006



There was a solemn commemoration by Australians in Bali this week to recall the 20 victims of last year’s terrorist bombs. And next week there’ll be a TV documentary to remember the 2002 bomb.

Few Indonesians seem to understand how seriously the Bali bombs have lacerated the Australian psyche.

It’s not just the anguish suffered by the victims and their families. Nor the damage to international relationships. The hurt goes far deeper and the wound remains raw.

For 12 October 2002 was Australia’s 9/11.

Before Islamic terrorists blasted away the lives of 202 people in and around a Kuta nightclub and terribly injuring hundreds more, Bali wasn’t just another good value tropical getaway for people down-under.

It was Australia’s backyard playground, and like most homely surrounds a place where you could take it easy, be yourself, let your hair down. Above all feel safe with your mates. And many of those ‘mates’ were Indonesians.

The booze-soaked Ugly Okker is a Kuta standard. But across the island are scores of small and seldom-sung humanitarian aid projects. These are funded by Australians and others who’ve visited Bali, seen the poverty and hardships, and formed constructive relationships with the locals.

One of the most outstanding is the John Fawcett Foundation which has repaired thousands of cataracts for free, done corrective surgery and is now working on tuberculosis. The money comes from Australian well-wishers, mainly in Rotary Clubs, and who have been seduced by the island.

To Australia’s great credit the response to the 2002 bomb outrage was not George Bush-style revenge, but compassion. Many injured Indonesians were treated by Australian doctors, or in Australian hospitals.

The bomb, which killed 88 Australians, was seen as a huge betrayal of trust. The outpouring of grief was nationwide and prolonged. It was reinforced last year by the three suicide bombers. It just won’t go away.

Proof of the long-term damage can be seen in the Indonesian economy: Tourist numbers down 15 per cent nation-wide this August compared with 2005 – down 25 per cent in Bali, according to official Indonesian figures.

Then there are the results of a poll run by the Lowy Institute for International Relations, a foreign policy think-tank. This found a majority of Australians distrustful of their neighbor, fearful of its military ambitions and ignorant of this nation’s politics.

How could this be when before the bombs 300,000 Australians visited Bali every year, meaning most families had a relative, neighbor or friend who’d been to the island at some time?

A well-worn joke in Australia has tourists angrily rejecting suggestions that they’d visit Indonesia, though happily admitting to regular trips to Bali.

Just a minority move off the island during their stay, and usually to Lombok. Only the dedicated hikers and culture buffs go west into Java to scramble through volcanic scree, or meditate in kratons.

The good news from the Lowy report is that most Indonesians and Australians surveyed say they want to develop closer relationships. How? That’s not identified, but here are two suggestions: Tourism in Java and student exchange.

In an archipelago of more than 13,000 islands (17,000 if you count those which vanish at high tide), around 250 different ethnic groups and a similar number of languages, defining the typical Indonesian isn’t easy.

But statistically that person has to be Javanese and Muslim. Hindu Bali doesn’t represent mainstream Indonesia.

It’s the Javanese Muslims that Australians have to meet and know if there’s to be any blunting of edginess. That requires a huge rethink about the way tourism is managed and promoted. Facilities, infrastructure, training and presentation need a massive overhaul to lift Java into the league of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – countries that really welcome visitors, make stays memorable and understand the benefits to the economy.

Spin masters like to remind that around 40,000 Indonesians are being educated in Australia – and each one is a potential goodwill ambassador once they return home.

The flaw here is that according to Australian statistics 80 per cent are Christian, inferring they are probably Chinese fee-paying students, and certainly not Ms or Mr Average Indonesian as defined above.

And how many Australians are studying in Indonesia? Few indeed. Australian University enrolments in Indonesian studies and language are at a record low. Before the bombs some Australian schools had exchange programs with schools in Bali, but travel warnings have shut many ventures.

Although 38 Indonesians died in the 2002 bomb, this country seems to have moved on. Indonesians have had far bigger tragedies to contend with in Aceh and Yogya, but these have been natural disasters eclipsing the bombs.

Australia hasn’t let go – and this Thursday (12 Oct) the world will be reminded yet again with a recreation of the outrage on TV.

For the past 18 months an Australian crew working for a British documentary company has been shooting interviews with survivors in Australia, Indonesia, the US and Europe.

Bom Bali will be telecast worldwide on the Discovery Channel network, and on free-to-air TV in Australia, Britain and elsewhere.

Fortunately the 90-minute film also shows the sufferings of ordinary Indonesians, reminding Australians that they aren’t the only people who grieve. It’s just that the mourning has gone on so long.

With no disrespect to the families whose lives have been ripped apart by religious bigots, maybe it’s time to consider closure. Most of the criminals have been captured and sentenced, so can we please start again so terrorism doesn’t triumph?

May the dead rest in peace, so we who are left in Indonesia and Australia may find peace together instead of maintaining mutual suspicion.

(The Lowy report can be found on )

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 October 2006)


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jumping for Joy in Malang (See Le Parkour story)

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TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF © Duncan Graham 2006

It started as a hobby. Now it has become Malang’s latest tourist attraction.

In the hill town of Batu, about 20 minutes drive out of the central East Java city, former architect Rien Samudayati had long nurtured her herb, flower and vegetable garden.

For ten years it was a pleasant pastime and a fine location for entertaining relatives and her academic husband’s visitors – particularly scholars from overseas. They enjoyed the ambience and natural setting, the lack of pollution and absence of crowds.

Though close to a major road it was a real getaway, a place to relax among the vines and trees.

You can’t keep places like this secret in Indonesia where gossip is the universal currency.

“News was spread by word of mouth,” said Rien. “More people wanted to visit. Europeans and other guests made suggestions on improvements. It stopped being a place just for family and friends. So I decided to go public.”

Ten workers were hired and six cottages have been built for overnight stays. These vary from basic to luxurious at prices between Rp 200,000 (US $22) and Rp 600,000 (US $66) a night. There’s an outdoor seminar room in a roofed but otherwise open area complete with all the standard electronic aids to enhance a presentation.

But unless the speaker is particularly scintillating or topic riveting, participants are going to find their attention wandering. It’s difficult to stay alert when a waving canopy of green shatters the sunlight into fragments. Are those butterflies dreamily fluttering through the eggplants fruit-friendly – or pests to be exterminated?

If the latter they won’t get zapped by commercial pesticides. For de Daunan (many leaves) is run without using chemical fertilisers or insect killers. Instead the project makes its own compost and mixes plant species to avoid monoculture. Predator numbers build rapidly when there’s only one crop available.

“All this takes a lot more work and time,” Rien said. “but we want to keep things natural. That includes filtering the water we use for irrigation through sand and reed beds to eliminate any impurities.”

de Daunan covers only half a hectare, but almost every square centimetre of land is occupied by something budding, blossoming or fruiting. Although the soil is fertile it’s relatively shallow, meaning deep rooting fruit trees can’t thrive.

However vegetables can, and those that aren’t used in the kitchen or sold to tourists are sent to the Sunday markets in Malang. There’s no restaurant, but visitors can get snacks and drinks made from the produce.

When applause for the keynote address has floated out of the seminar area, through the cabbage stalks and dissipated among the tomatoes, it’s time for a stroll.

“I want visitors to get out and explore the area by foot,” said Rien. “There are many people making handicrafts in and around this district and foreigners often want to see creative people in action.”

For those who are too seduced by the setting to get moving, the craftspeople will come to them. Workshops (buildings, not talkfests) for teaching batik and basket weaving have been erected. So tourists can try their hands at steering a thimble of hot wax across fabric without spilling on naked flesh – all the while maintaining integrity of design. Tricky? You bet.

A serious promoter of traditional crafts, earlier this year Rien organised a major up-market fashion show of village batik at a luxury hotel in Malang. The idea was to stress the importance to the moneyed set of supporting the old skills and rich designs that flourish in the backblocks of East Java.

“But I don’t know for how much longer,” she said. “The older women have the patience but it’s getting rare now to find the younger girls who want to spend hours at the work.”

She turns the plants on the property into art works – though this is not to infer they weren’t perfect in their natural state. She presses flowers and leaves, and uses these in paintings. Her philosophy is: ‘God gave us plants, so we should use every part of them for food, practical purposes, and art.’

Also at de Daunan is a showroom of batik and other handicrafts, including open-fired pottery and woodcarvings. Rien said maintaining quality was a major concern. Some craftspeople lured by tourist interest in their work turn from the creation of individual pieces to mass production, failing to understand that buyers who seek originality may have fat wallets but they’re also are finicky and discriminating.

Who wants to go to a fancy function and see that everyone’s wearing the same ‘exclusive’ outfit? Or find the centrepiece of your feature wall prised from the grasp of a gnarled geriatric in a mountain hideaway can be bought for half the price at any Kuta kiosk?

Rien said her venture would appeal to Europeans and well-travelled Indonesians with sophisticated tastes. But if air-conditioned shopping malls are your natural environment, then de Daunan should probably not be on your itinerary.

“I feel sad that so many Indonesians don’t appreciate nature and traditional crafts,” she said. “They seem to want TV, luxury and prestige. When we lose our heritage, we lose our culture.”

However if you enjoy the open air, beautiful scenery, handicrafts and rustic rambles, de Daunan may be worth a visit.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 October 06)





Manpower Minister Erman Suparno has been reported as saying 2.7 million Indonesians are working overseas. By year’s end that number is expected to reach three million.

They remit about $ 2.4 billion (Rp 22,300 trillion) a year – making labor exports a major part of the nation’s economy. How does the money get back – and where does it go? Duncan Graham reports from Malang in East Java, a major maid recruitment center:

“It takes at least three months to get an inexperienced village girl ready for deployment,” said licensed manpower contractor Karnaka. “One of the difficulties is their inadequate knowledge of the banking system and money, and how to use it effectively.

“Schools in Indonesia should be helping young people understand the basics of finance. They are vulnerable and easily ripped off by the unscrupulous. The system of education just isn’t good enough. This is the job of the schools, not the banks.”

With his wife Kristiana Purwaningsih, Karnaka runs PT Binamandiri Muliaraharja. The company currently sends about 50 young women to jobs in the Asia Pacific region every month.

There are about 60 licensed agents in East Java, and according to Karnaka “hundreds” of illegal operators.

The Tenaga Kerja Wanita (TKW) (women’s work force), being cheated of some of their earnings by corrupt transport operators and officials at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta international airport has long been a concern. Rip-offs were rare at Surabaya’s Juanda international airport where controls were tighter, he said.

However many fail to achieve their dream of coming back with a sizeable sum to start a small business or build a new home because they can’t budget properly, are gullible and aren’t aware of the pitfalls.

Now Binamandiri Muliaraharja, in association with two major banks, runs a one-day financial workshop for potential TKW as part of their in-house training. Bank officers visit the training centre to help the women open an account and get an ATM card.

In what Karnaka said was a special deal for East Java TKW, one bank allows saving accounts to be opened with as little as Rp 10,000 (US $ 1) while the other requires a minimum balance of Rp 25,000 (US $2.50). Most banks usually require start-ups of around Rp 500,000 (US $50).

“In many cases this is the first time the maids have had any dealing with a bank,” Karnaka said. “There are few branches in the villages and markets. The idea of using a financial institution and saving money is rare.

“So people employ other ways to borrow, like loan sharks and bank titil.
This is an informal, traditional system where people get small sums from friends and neighbours and repay little-by-little, day-by-day.”

Trusting others in money matters can have awful consequences. Karnaka said he advised workers to send home only basic amounts for specific purposes, like school fees. The maid should keep most earnings.

One woman who ignored this advice and remitted all her salary to her husband committed suicide when she returned after two years overseas to find her spouse had lost Rp 60 million (US $6,500) on gambling.

Others have had their savings stolen by people they thought were honest friends and relatives. Earning comparatively large sums sometimes goes to the heads of TKW who go on a splurge of handphones and accessories when the money had been set aside for other purposes.

“The standard way of sending cash back to the family is through a relative or friend from the same Indonesian village, and who has finished her contract and is returning home,” he said.

“Of course this is fraught with hazards. Imagine the responsibility of someone carrying, for example, thousands of Hong Kong dollars for a neighbour. We tell them that he may be your father or husband but you shouldn’t always trust.

“Not everyone takes that advice. Others bring back their own money, and then transfer it into rupiah through moneychangers – not banks. They don’t always know the rate or compare with other dealers.

“It would be ideal if they could put their earnings into an account overseas but some countries won’t allow foreigners to do this.”

The formal banking system is also in for its cut, with Karnaka telling of a woman moving Rp 1.7 million (US $ 183) from Taiwan to Indonesia. She had Rp 300,000 (US $32) – or about 18 per cent - deducted for transfer fees, conversions, administration and wire service – and all fees were legal.

Binamandiri Muliaraharja has now opened an account in Hong Kong where maids can deposit their money. For a transaction fee of Rp 50,000 (US $ 5) and using the Internet the money can be accessed in Indonesia in rupiah and sent to a village post office where charges are not imposed.

An Asian Development Bank study released earlier this year claimed billions of dollars was bypassing the banks as overseas workers used informal remittance systems. The Philippines-based ADB urged a relaxation of regulations and lowering of fees to encourage workers to use banks.

By ignoring this trade the banks were also losing the chance to get new customers and sell other products, the study said.

Karnaka said Binamandiri Muliaraharja was started by his mother Tuti Sanarto in 1985 to empower village women and help those being exploited in the Middle East. It was transferred to her son last year.

Up to 750 young women live and study at the company’s five training centres in Malang. Here they learn Cantonese and Mandarin in a 30-booth language laboratory, master the arts of Chinese cooking and discover the complexities of Western toilets.

There’s even a mock Singapore flat where trainees can learn to wash high-rise apartment windows without tumbling to their death. The laundry is equipped with ancient bump-and-grind twin tub washing machines through to the latest beeping computer-controlled front-end loaders. Theoretically the TKW should be able to handle any gadget they might encounter once they leave the archipelago.

Cultural knowledge, like sweeping dust from the front of a Chinese house to the back so the money won’t escape, is also taught.

The placement fee is Rp 9 million (US $900), which is taken in instalments from the woman’s salary. Since starting business the company says it has sent 50,000 Indonesians to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. It is now considering deploying workers to Australia which is suffering a labor shortage.

“Companies that send young women overseas to work must be responsible,” Karnaka said. “We can advise maids on how to handle their money, to never carry more than Rp 100,000 (US $11) and the best way to transfer funds internationally. But in the end it’s up to them what they do and many want to express themselves.

“One woman rejected the use of our bus to transfer her home from the airport and took a taxi to impress her village.

“But when she got out to buy souvenirs the driver vanished with her bag and Rp 30 million. Sadly she hadn’t taken a note of the cab number. And there went her reason for working overseas in the first place.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 9 October 2006)



NO FEAR OF FLYING © Duncan Graham 2006

They look scruffy enough to be up to no good as they prowl the campus. In a pack they’re intimidating, though maybe that’s a bit of Western prejudice, for passers-by seem unconcerned.

In most countries if you saw youths misusing public facilities you’d call the cops. Barriers are there for a purpose. Buildings require respect. Signs say what they mean.

Concrete garbage bins are for rubbish – not cat jumps. Hedges are to mark the edges of domains; they’re not hurdles to leap. Steps are for sedately walking up or down – they’re not launch pads for lads with apparently nothing better to do than attempt to defy gravity.

The spring-heeled Jacks in Malang’s Play-On Parkour may seem like Tarzans in ferroconcrete forests, but there’s luminescence amongst the lunacy. These Superman wannabes leaping tall (well, medium size) bits of buildings at a single bound are really serious young men with a mission.

Why in Malang, a small sedate city in central East Java? Well it’s also a university town, cool and hilly, ideal for outside aerobatics.

The de-facto leader of an activity that strives for individualistic expression is Agus Purwanto, 21. “Le Parkour, also known as Free Running, is seen by some as an extreme urban sport,” he said. “But it’s also a philosophy.

“Our lives are full of problems. The question is – ‘how do we overcome them?’ We have to find a way to defeat the difficulties, so that’s what we do on the campus of Malang State University, literally and metaphorically.”

Bored with waiting in a queue between steel rails designed by pedestrian bureaucrats to maintain order? Why follow the rules? Vault the wretched restrictions!

Why bother using the stairs when a class is over? Be ahead of the rest - plunge through the window.

Petty restrictions driving you up the wall? OK, just run up the wall.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Take it – no worries that there’s a drain and a barbed wire fence in between.

Despise authorities erecting ‘Do Not’ signs? Don’t rip them down, that’s senseless and we’re smart. Use them to climb, spin, gyrate, twist and soar. The closed minds in Departments of University Maintenance of Buildings (DUMB) need opening to the limitless trapeze possibilities of geometric advertising frames.

To Agus and his 25 mates, including a couple of daring young women, campuses are just one giant outdoor gym. All that’s needed is a touch of imagination clearly lacking when architects designed the place. Their creative juices may have dried up but Play-On Parkour’s talents are flowing liberally.

So is the blood and mucous when some crash land, including Agus who slipped doing a flip across a concrete wall for The Jakarta Post.

Why not wear shin and elbow protective gear like the well-dressed skateboarders in the US? Or a helmet and body armour, as in gridiron?

“No money,” said Agus who saved for two months to buy his Rp 340,000 (US $37) street-smart speed-sneakers that can put him into overdrive. The visual arts student rents a 9 square metre kampung attic for Rp 1 million (US $110) a year to sleep and study, so there’s nothing left for a health club subscription.

In any case, why tramp treadmills in Lycra leggings or pedal stationary bikes for a fee, when there’s the whole outdoors waiting to be vaulted and vanquished for free?

To understand this story you need to remember what it was like to be young, before you learned to look before you leap. When your taut new body had a tank full of hormones and you didn’t need a bottle of extra anything to run past the world and catch it on the way back.

Malang’s Play-On Parkour isn’t a mob of anarchistic vandals. Between stunts the Muslims put in some quality time at the mosque. Their backpacks don’t contain spray cans for a spot of graffiti – just texts for the next class.

Security guards are used to them flying over closed gates, though they hit strife at Muhammadiyah University planning a six-storey high rooftop-run and had to apologise. There’s also an element of bravado.

In reserved Indonesia Sweet Young Things don’t gape at the antics of their shirtless classmates. However many were stealing admiring peeps from under their headscarves (though seeming to be indifferent) as the muscle men ricocheted off the architraves.

While their staid mates hang out in shopping malls eyeing the possibilities, Agus and the Risk Takers hang off the high-rises, making anything possible.

“We do it because it’s fun and we want to stay fit,” said Agus. “We’re alive. We are life! When we jump we fly! We feel brave. When we get injured we have to reflect. When we stop we know what it’s like to be old.”

So do some of his mates. Only the charismatic and elastic Agus doesn’t smoke and he can out-sprint them all with choreographed challenges and athletic displays.

Inspired by the French film Yamakasi and the Le Parkour movement in Europe (see sidebar) Agus started bouncing his body off any hard surface back in 2003. Other saw him tumbling from balconies and rabbit hopping desks so joined him in his daily exercises.

There are small Le Parkour gangs in Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya, but Malang claims to have the biggest and most experienced team in Indonesia. They’ve made a video of their work and maybe one day they’ll compete against others.

Provided they survive. Indonesian university administrations seem tolerant - unlike their Western counterparts who’d slap on bans, fearing litigation from injuries. For concrete is unforgiving and asphalt scarifying.

Kerbs crumble, rails rust; wet ceramic is like ice. Sharp edges are everywhere, though often hidden. Malang University is Campus Hazard, Dangerville Central. Or so it appeared to this writer.

Or maybe I’ve just got too old.



Le Parkour (a corruption of the French word parcours for ‘course’) had its origins in army combat training where soldiers scramble through obstacles. It got a major boost with the French film hit Yamakasi (2001).

This was shown in Indonesia about three years ago. A further surge of interest came with the BBC TV documentary Jump London.

Banlieue 13, another film in the same genre has already been shown overseas but has yet to react the archipelago. This is reported to feature David Belle, the leading exponent of Le Parkour though he’s now in his 30s.

Participants are known as ‘traceurs’. Originally meaning ‘to trace’, it’s now used for ‘going fast.’

The purists say Le Parkour must have elegant movements and be more of a dance than a clumsy scramble over walls. Traceurs use words like ‘escape’ and ‘reach’ – clearly indicating frustration with the constraints of city life.

Movements have to be fluid, not jerky and each jump has a special term – in French, of course. You don’t do a cat jump, but a saut de chat.

Le Parkour is universal and relies on the Internet to gain fame. All that’s required is the desire to express your joie de vivre.

(First published in the SundayPost 8 October 2006)


Sunday, October 08, 2006



On 8 October in Surabaya, Professor Achmad Jainuri will face about 600 Islamic clerics and scholars from across East Java. They’ll all be members of Muhammadiyah, the second biggest Muslim organisation in Indonesia with an estimated 30 million members.

In his address the Canadian-educated academic will be urging the ‘revitalisation’ of Muhammadiyah. He’ll be reminding delegates that Achmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah early last century, regularly and freely discussed social and religious issues with Catholic and Protestant leaders.

Professor Jainuri, 54, dean of theology at the Islamic State University in Surabaya, will also stress that interfaith relations almost a century ago were harmonious and respectful, and that society was more liberal than today.

He talked to Duncan Graham in Surabaya before giving his speech:

How do you expect to be received?

Well, I hope. If not I’ll have to force them to listen! I expect them to have open minds, though some in Muhammadiyah don’t accept the ideas of my friends and myself. They think of us as foreigners.

When I was doing my doctorate in Montreal (at McGill University) I was accused by some of being an unbeliever just because I studied in the West. Yet I had access to classical texts not available in Indonesia.

We need to discuss things more openly with each other and other faiths. We used to do that – we don’t now. Since Achmad Dahlan’s time the conservatives have taken over.

How to return Muhammadiyah to its roots – that’s the question.

You’ve studied Islamic terrorism and now lecture on the topic. You’d know that not all Christians were dismayed at Pope Benedict XVI’s speech linking Islam and violence.

I have no problems with the Pope speaking like that. The difficulty is when his speech is heard and read by certain groups that don’t want to debate and argue.

Radical Muslims, the bombers and others, come from a small group in the community. They think they have the right and the power to solve political problems themselves.

They think the United Nations is powerless, that the Indonesian government is powerless, so they do it themselves. They never hear alternative opinions. They never read my articles in the newspapers. Their minds are shut. I can’t even get into their pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).

They think they have to fight unbelievers and the evils, and that they have to do this forever. This is their jihad.

The majority of Muslims believe that the jihad is within us, and the battle is to cleanse our minds and souls and do good work. That’s how we read the Koran.

Why don’t the radicals concentrate on the real evils in society – like poverty and the exploitation of children instead of trashing nightclubs? Just down the road from this religious campus little kids are begging at the traffic lights. That’s evil.

Yes, but if the radicals give money to the beggars they have to get money themselves. They don’t have any so it’s easier to throw stones. Maybe the religious elite is manipulating them. The civil law has to be stronger.

Do you condemn Islamic terrorism to your students?

Yes. Of course terrorism is wrong, 100 per cent. For me, that’s not the way to behave. Islam is peaceful and it’s most important to prove this through teaching. I know many in the West don’t understand that.

Why are Muslims seemingly so worried about Christians? Muslims are in the majority. If you’re firm in your faith you have nothing to fear from other religions.

In the past Islam was strong. In modern times it’s weak, economically and socially. In almost every aspect we are behind. My fellow Christians have long-term thinking and orientation.

Why are some afraid of Christians? I don’t know. Maybe because they know that Christianity, like Islam, is a missionary religion seeking to convert.

Our task is the Islamisation of Muslims, particularly the abangan. (People who are indifferent to their faith.)

We have to correct the social problems in Indonesia through building hospitals and schools and homes for old people. That’s what we’re doing in Muhammadiyah.

You’ve lived overseas. You know how Westerners think. How can Muslim’s and Christians communicate?

Please don’t be afraid of us. There are many misperceptions about Islam – and about the West, particularly on issues like individualism, which is not well understood. Indonesians think it means being egoistic – when it’s about being creative.

Most people get their information on other religions and cultures from secondary sources. Few know that even in the secular United States there are strong restrictions on children seeing pornography – though not here.

We need to preach mutual understanding. I will not interfere in your faith and ask why you believe Jesus Christ is God.

Where I live my neighbour on one side is a Chinese Protestant family – on the other side are Catholics. We all get on together, we help each other, but we don’t discuss our religious beliefs.

But isn’t this the point? We can’t keep religion a taboo topic at any level if we’re going to understand each other. Isn’t that why the Pope’s speech was important because it opened up debate?

In some areas we still have to avoid religious discussions to keep the peace. Change is going to take a long time. The target is still far away.

The present generation is better educated and can see things differently. If we concentrate on social activities we can then discuss pluralism, liberalism and rational thinking. It’s not easy.

A long time?

Maybe a generation.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 7 October 2006)


Tuesday, October 03, 2006



The researchers have done their job and found that some of our behaviors are harmful. So the government passes laws to alert the public to the dangers of smoking, or riding motorbikes without helmets, or using drugs.

But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll take note, however compelling the statistics.

Getting complex scientific ideas across to the public isn’t easy in any culture. More so when education levels are low and suspicion of experts high.

Finding the right way to change behavior is a complex business particularly on the land, as entomologist Dr Agra Gothama is discovering. He works for the Research Institute for Tobacco and Fibre Crops in Malang, East Java.

“It’s a difficult job convincing farmer to do things differently,” he said. “So far everything we’ve tried has been unsuccessful. It’s extremely frustrating.”

Originally from Bali, Agra was sent overseas by the national government to get the best possible education so Indonesia could be in the front ranks of agricultural research. Although insects proliferate, the number of people studying their behaviour is microscopic – and most are with chemical companies.

For a country where close to 70 per cent of the population is involved in food production, keeping farming efficient and productive is a critical issue.

So Agra was despatched to the United States where he completed first a master’s degree, then a doctorate at the Mississippi State University. He returned to his homeland and set about the task of persuading farmers to use modern technology and ideas.

Unfortunately for Agra this seemingly worthy ambition coincided with the collapse of the authoritarian regime of Suharto, and with it all the administrative machinery that ensured the president’s dictates were followed.

One of those instructions was to grow high-yielding hybrid varieties to boost production. The farmers didn’t like this interference in their industry, but there was little they could do –particularly when the bureaucracy backed by the military enforced the rules.

These included the heavy use of pesticides and fertilisers. If it wiggled or bored stems or chewed leaves it had to be nuked. Collateral damage to innocent insects? This was War on Termites; sacrifices were regrettable, but inevitable.

Leaves that looked limp had to be boosted with white powders. Like kids on narcotics the roots turned idle; they gave up digging deep for nutrients and building robust plants.

Now science knows that excessive use of chemicals pollutes. It’s also creating smart new breeds of bugs that Say No To Drugs. So Agra and his colleagues are trying to persuade growers to forget the Suharto solutions, to use less and be choosy.

In particular they want farmers to count the number of pests in a few square metres of their crop and calculate whether they need to spray.

“Unfortunately this never works,” he said. “We show them how to do it and it’s really very simple. We’ve provided pegboards – we’ve made and distributed thousands – so they can easily determine the number of insects or worms without having to write anything down.

“It takes only 30 minutes at daybreak to do this once every five days. When we run workshops they’ll do it. But once we’ve gone they go back to their old ways and spray or dose everything at high level. I don’t like saying this but I think some people who work on the land are a bit lazy.

“It’s ironical, because the farmers are poor and the chemicals expensive. They can’t afford to use heavy amounts of fertilisers and insecticides, but they do and the downstream impact on the environment is severe.”

One technique used by Agra and his colleagues was to choose one local farmer from a collective who would be the pest assessor for the group and determine whether to spray or not.

“But this didn’t work because the farmers didn’t trust the people we selected,” he said. “Spraying is needed only when pest numbers get to a certain level. But the growers want to see everything dead so they soak their crops.

“It’s also very hard to persuade them to use protective clothing, like masks and boots, or to stop smoking when they’re spraying. They don’t understand the long term damage to their health which could be occurring.”

The problem isn’t exclusive to Indonesia. Western nations with their supposedly educated public also face huge obstacles in social engineering – particularly with tobacco use.

No one lights up and falls dead. Hardened puffers can always point to a fit nonagenarian nicotine addict. So the cause and effect factor requires an acceptance that scientific data is more reliable than personal observation. It also needs a consistent message; sudden policy changes damage credibility.

Indonesian farmers also fear the city men with clipboards and magnifying lenses could have another agenda or be in the pay of someone other than their real employer. Trust, said Agra, was in short supply everywhere in Indonesia.

Faced with this obduracy the scientists are going back to their test tubes and looking for other solutions. These include the use of enzymatic fertilisers which stimulate the growth of essential bacteria, and the cultivation of viruses to kill harmful insects but leave the benign beasties unharmed. The current buzz term is Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

“Even this is difficult because Indonesia spends so little on research and development,” Agra said. “We have the people with the qualifications, but not the money to do the research. We write proposals, but don’t get the funding.

“For example, South Korea spends 2.0 per cent of its national budget on research and development. We spend 0.003 per cent.

“In the past everyone has blamed farmers for the problems, but it’s time for science to take a more multidisciplinary approach.

“Fortunately the government is no longer accepting individual applications for research money. Instead there has to be an integrated approach that includes economists and sociologists. We can no longer work separately.”

And getting through to farmers with the latest scientific information?

“We just have to keep trying,” he said.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 October 2006)


Surabaya's Goddess of Mercy and retinue

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HAVE FAITH IN TOURISM © Duncan Graham 2006

There’s a monument missing from the coastal Kenjeran Panorama Ria Keluarga (also known as Ken Park) recreation centre on the east side of Surabaya, location for the annual Moon Festival.

There’s religious statuary aplenty – a cementery if you like - and all of it recent. More are planned, including a full size replica of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing’s Forbidden City. But there’s nothing to commemorate the man who allowed them to be built and displayed – or the man with the money behind the project.

During the New Order government of General Suharto there were heavy restrictions on the Chinese and their culture. These included the use of Chinese languages in print and public discourse, and performances of events like the lion dance.

Indonesia’s fourth president, Abdurrahman Wahid scrapped the controls, and adult Chinese who remember the past seem forever grateful.

“I think we all respect Gus Dur (the former president’s popular name) and what he did,” said Surabayan businessman and low-profile philanthropist Soetiadji Yudho.

“Without him there would be no traditional Chinese activities in public. We could not have done anything. Now we feel free and happy.”

Soetiadji and his colleagues have wasted no time in making amends.

They’ve used their capital and new found liberties to go on a religious building spree in the East Java capital, with a massive four-faced Brahma under a 36 metre high gold-colored dome as the latest edition.

It takes some time for a Western visitor with a limited understanding of Eastern religions to work it all out. For there are four faiths celebrating their presence on the same site - Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism.

Size apparently matters. The four-faced statue is supposed to be the biggest Brahma in Indonesia, and only slightly smaller than a similar one in Thailand. There’s another in central Denpasar.

It’s widely regarded as a Buddha by the locals and is a Buddhist deity. However according to Soetiadji the statue represents Brahma, the Hindu creator god (also known as Dewa Catur Muka – the Four-faced God.)

The faces reflect mercy, magnanimity, fairness and meditation, while the multiple hands hold holy books, beads, water vessels and other artefacts.

Earlier erections nearby include a vaulting 20 metre high statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Im Po Sat flanked by two daughters and four men on the level below. These are above a couple of dragons, apparently fighting for a magic jewel ball. Soetiadji said these images were part of Taoism.

Although set high above the seashore, all the figures have their backs to the ocean. In most Western traditions, seashore statues look to the horizon for lands to conquer or invaders to repel.

“The goddess has come from another dimension and is looking inland to bring blessings to people and make the world peaceful,” said Soetiadji. “It doesn’t matter whether you think her beautiful or not – that’s not important. The message is to lead a happy life and be open, honest and truthful.”

The central temple is more conventional with several Buddhas, many burning candles and grandfather clocks. The atmosphere is relaxed with men and women mingling freely, burning incense and praying, indifferent to onlookers.

The place is mercifully free of beggars and touts, and the people who show you around don’t expect a tip. All religions (and presumably those with no religion) seem to be welcome.

There are no plaques at Ken Park naming Soetiadji as the benefactor, and staff are told not to mention his name. He’s a stocky friendly man with a large central city hotel, another being built, a jewellery factory and other enterprises. Despite these assets he’s not a big note guy.

He declined to say how much he’d spent at Ken Park or to have his photo taken for The Jakarta Post. He said it was enough for the public to know his philosophy.

“My father built a small temple about 30 years ago when such things were still allowed,” he said. “I’m a Buddhist and I put up the new temple in his memory. Then Kwan Im Po Sat, and later the Four Faced Brahma.

“Religion is in my heart. It’s personal. I respect your beliefs, please respect mine. Don’t ask me details of the meanings of the statues – I just know how to build!

“If people come and pray and get lucky, then I’m happy. Maybe some of that joy and luck will reflect on me. But I don’t know.

“Why did I do it? Because I like big projects! Surabaya is my hometown and I have the land. I didn’t do it to attract tourists though many now visit. That’s a secondary concern.

“This is my way of life. I feel happy doing this, and I hope visitors get happiness. That’s my private philosophy. Now you know what’s in my deepest heart.”

The Chinese corner is the only section of the 100 hectare park which deserves a visit – and don’t take the word of a jaded journalist for this observation. When the East Java Tourism News website writes of the park’s ‘filthy, dirty or untidy image’ then it’s clear changes need to be made.

Soetiadji says renovation plans are in place and include a seafood restaurant, a science education centre and a riding school. Watch this space.

The park looks as though maintenance wasn’t included as an ongoing budget item when first designed and built on reclaimed land. There are wide streets, but hazards lurk in the sunken paving. Someone’s idea of murals are peeling Disney characters. Statues of various animals are suffering in the last stages of concrete cancer.

The views to sea are better at night when the heat is less and only the bobbing lights of passing boats can be seen while you dine at one of the scores of food stalls. By day the advertised ‘beach’ can be more accurately described as a mud flat. If the floatation characteristics of black plastic bags fascinates, then this is the spot to be.

Please don’t be deterred by these criticisms, made only in the interests of balance. (And maybe because the car’s suspension took a beating during a drive around the complex.)

Go after sunset, particularly during the Moon Festival next Friday (the 15th day in the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, year 2557) and enjoy the celebrations, including lion dances and martial arts displays.

Have a romantic evening, for this is what the Moon Festival is about, along with family reunions. Make your own sense of the religious imagery. It’s all benign.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 October 06)

Monday, October 02, 2006



Abu Bakar Ba’asyir is right to say naked ladies are more dangerous than bombs. In fact they can be equally lethal fully clothed – that’s why they’re so often dressed to kill.

As the crazed cleric must have noted in his study of the English language (well, the coarse American version), many young women are labelled ‘blond bombshells’. Or ‘atomic dames’. A few years later and they become ‘old boilers’. These can also be dangerously unstable when overheated.

The more crass dub certain pointed parts of a woman’s anatomy as ‘bazookas’ while those us who are refined are content to admire a woman’s arms. As in armaments.

Obviously for good reason.

Ground crew at US air bases in Vietnam used to paint pictures of buxom bimbos on the ordnance primed to be dropped by B52s on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

The Americans lost that war, which should negate the whitebeard’s point. But nothing can neutralise his ridiculous reasoning.

All husbands know domestic life can sometimes be more blast than bliss. It certainly leads to explosive moments.

How many times has she stormed out and banged the door? Or slammed down the phone? Or her foot?

The toothy radical and former jailbird is spot-on: Bang, bang, bang. That’s marriage. Take cover.

In any contest over ownership when she refers to ‘mine’ it’s usually the Claymore version. Think of the language of fashion and how much is about weaponry: Tank tops, needlepoint, stilettos, chokers … That didn’t happen by chance.

Miss isn’t an honorific – it’s an abbreviation. For Missile. And usually unguided.

A man’s role in a relationship requires him to be on red alert at all times, as in a bomb squad, ready to defuse a volatile situation. Like suggesting the dinner might be more palatable if it hadn’t been nuked in the oven while she gossiped on the phone.

In this example any misplaced word is likely to result in the launch of a verbal grenade.

In fact it’s unfair to mock. Ba’asyir may outrage the feminists but he’s in good company with his observations, though almost 400 years out of date. The English dramatist William Congreve warned us in more elegant terms with his lines:

Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

So hearken, all singles of whatever faith, to the wise words of the sage of shariah.

Stick with nitro-glycerine – it’s more stable than wedlock. But a lot less fun.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 2 October 06)