FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
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

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BHAKTI LUHUR

APPLYING THE 'JAVA SPIRIT' TO HELP THE HANDICAPPED © Duncan Graham 2007

On 30 March in New York Indonesia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This means Indonesia and the other 80 nations who signed, will have to pass legislation to improve disability rights and scrap anything that discriminates against the handicapped. So far only 45 countries have such laws.
What's the current situation in Indonesia? Duncan Graham reports from Malang, East Java:

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When missionary Paul Janssen arrived in Kediri, East Java in 1951 he was shocked by the sight of so many handicapped children.

The 29-year old Catholic priest from the Order of St Vincent de Paul was no freshman from Holland, easily distressed by the squalor of Asia. He'd already served two years in China before being expelled by the communists, then four years in the Philippines.

But the lack of care being given to the disabled in Indonesia struck a new low. "The Dutch had left without doing practically anything," he said. "They had very little contact with the local population. They were just interested in money.

"The priests and chaplains of the Dutch Catholic church were working with businesses and agricultural enterprises like the sugar factories. The handicapped were just lying about in the streets."

There were many other problems. Malaria and a raft of other diseases. Infant mortality was high and many women were dying in labor. The system of puskesmas (community health clinics) had not been introduced. Doctors were few, particularly in rural areas.

Health care was left to those skilled in the use of traditional medicines - and paranormals.

Malaria (though not dengue fever) has now been eradicated from Java, but not the outlying islands. Puskesmas are widespread, though not always well staffed or equipped. Child mortality has tumbled, though still unacceptably high. And paranormals continue to be consulted, even by the well educated.

The maimed and disfigured are still visible in Indonesia, usually begging at traffic lights. But the numbers are small compared to half a century ago, according to Dr Janssen.

Back in the early 1950s he found his calling. It's tempting to write that he got a divine message. However hopes of embroidering this story by reporting a sudden vision were dashed by the pragmatic priest, though he modified his denial by adding: 'Not directly.'

The indirect influences came through the books of French Canadian philosopher Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche (the Ark).

This is an international organization that sets up communities where disabled people and their carers can live, work and learn together.

At the time medical authorities in the West believed that institutional care was the best way to handle the handicapped. It was reasoned that in one place they'd get access to top medical attention in controlled surroundings that could be well maintained.

It sounded good, particularly for the doctors, but a couple of essentials were lacking; love and individual care. Dr Janssen noticed that despite the problems and the pain, villagers in Java had "a very intense community spirit." They cared for each other but didn't have the resources.

While in the Philippines he undertook nursing training – along with a doctorate in theology and a masters degree in social psychology. In Java he promoted the philosophy of community based rehabilitation.

This means people have to get the energy, skills and knowledge to improve themselves, not wait for governments to come along and do the job. It also embraces empowerment, getting education and ideas, being able to read and write, believing in the human spirit and the right of the individual to enjoy his or her place in the world.

These ideas don't always appeal to governments, particularly centralised and authoritarian administrations.

The village where Dr Janssen lived was poor, but stable. Rice was cheap and the people survived. But those with handicapped kids were being broken by the huge burden of children who couldn't look after themselves. He proposed a separate house where the children would have continual care – and be educated.

"The parents agreed," he said. "What could they say? Their situation was hopeless. We had about a dozen children in that first home. They didn't care that I was a Catholic – their only concern was that their child would be loved.

"The model we established then is the same as the one we have today and the reverse of the Western institutional system; let us keep disabled children at home as long as possible.

"The love of your neighborhood is greater and more intense than the suffering you will endure through ill health.

"Hospitals are for the sick, but the disabled are not sick. They made big mistakes in Europe, the US and Australia by building institutions. These grand buildings are now empty because they've realized community care is more effective."

To stop this tale from becoming a tome it's necessary to whizz through the next few decades. These included Dr Janssen being shifted to Madiun (in the west of East Java) to develop Catholic tertiary education, a falling out with his superiors who considered his interest in the disabled "a hobby", and a move to Malang in 1959.

This came about when his project was visited by a group of German doctors and journalists who were so impressed by his work that they offered big sums through a charity.

But European laws governing the separation of church and state meant money could not be given to an ecclesiastial organization. So Dr Janssen quit his job and started a secular charity called Bhakti Luhur (supreme service).

Bhakti is a Sanskrit word that has its origins in a Buddhist movement in India during the sixth century. It is also a Hindu devotion. This holds that when love is greater than bad things, then the bad are eliminated.

When challenged that he should be upholding Catholic principles Dr Janssen replied: "Catholicism is very close to Buddhism. In the basic points we are the same.

"We should stop paying attention to the differences and look for the similarities. The problems of pain and suffering are identical, whatever your religion. I also believe in karma."

But weren't there government concerns that another agenda was being run behind the medical and social care, that there was a plot to Christianize the kids? As a Dutchman in post-Revolution Indonesia he must have been hated.

"I have never experienced hate," he said. "I'm not interested in conversion – only care. In my experience the Dutch are not disliked."

But they are soft targets and in the early 1970s Dr Janssen was accused of being a subversive by a minister in the Soeharto government. He was questioned
by the army for a day, then put under city arrest.

However he drove to Surabaya where he had good contacts that led straight to the president through his wife Ibu Tien Soeharto. The allegation was dismissed as a "slip of the tongue" but his community development training had to stop.

"Don't ever expect to be accepted by governments," he told his supporters. "The poor have to be kept poor. The small fish have to be kept small so they can be eaten by the big fish."

With all energies now focussed on the disabled and with support from UNICEF and other overseas agencies, Bhakti Luhur expanded. There are now 75 centers across the archipelago, with more than 40 in Malang which remains the national headquarters. It is said to be Indonesia's largest non-government organization caring for the disabled through community programs.

About 4,000 disabled kids are now getting intensive care and education, usually in small units where the carer-child ratio is about 3 or 4 to one. "But there are at least two million disabled kids across the Republic who aren't getting care," Dr Janssen said.

"They have a right to education in normal schools. Integration, not isolation. They have a right to employment in normal jobs. They're not getting this. That's a big problem.

"But there is now an awareness of the disabled and their needs. This is a beginning."

MARIA'S STORY

Unlike many Western nations where qualified carers for the disabled are hard to find, Indonesia seems to have no shortage of eager workers.

They are trained by Bhakti Luhur for three years and then have to work for a further four.

Maria Yuli, originally from Lampung in South Sumatra, is just finishing her training. All her charges are handicapped – some seriously with terrible birth defects. Many of her colleagues are also disabled, but the confident and pretty 19-year old, has no qualms about her career choice.

While her former schoolfriends are either studying or working, and hanging-out in shopping malls with their handphones, Maria is dealing with the downside of life. Imagine handling a child born without an anus.

In other nations where governments provide free surgery many birth defects could be corrected. A Singapore charity has been sending doctors to help with short-term training, but operations still cost big money.

Most funding now comes from personal donors abroad (mainly Holland) who 'adopt' a child for 250 Euros (Rp 3 million) a year, and are kept up to date on his or her progress by mail and the internet.

"Before I was introduced to this place by a friend I'd never thought of the didsabled," Maria said. "It wasn't an issue I'd ever considered. I knew nothing.

"I was surprised and wanted to know more because there are so many different disabilities. I felt compassion. I wanted to help.

"If I get married I could only look after my family – but here I can help care for so many more children.

"At first I missed the life that my old friends were experiencing, but I adapted quickly. I have my parents' support. I think I have a calling from God."


MAKING AMENDS

Late last year Dr Janssen – an Indonesian citizen for the past 15 years – was awarded a medal by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He was given Rp 8 million (US $740) and told to keep doing a good job.

Not so easy when you're 85.

When an interview has gone well most people farewell each other by promising - though not too sincerely - to stay in touch.

But Dr Janssen did not say: "Let's catch up later." On the contrary he's sure we won't meet again.

There are awful secrets under his loose shirt. He's had a heart attack, open heart surgery twice – so many operations that more are iuadvisable. Now he has an enlarged prostate and believes he has colon cancer, but is hesitant about having his diagnosis checked.

He's giving himself maybe three months more. Despite this he stays active between 5 am and 11 am and remains cheerful, preparing a successor.

Early in the interview he said the Dutch left Indonesia "without doing practically anything." That charge won't stick on Paul Janssen.

So we smiled, shook hands a little longer than normal, did a bit of bloke back-slapping bonding, wished each other well and said: Good bye – and thanks.

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(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 07.)
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

EMILIE VIGANO

DON'T CALL ME BULE, MISTER! © Duncan Graham 2007

Standard advice to foreigners in Indonesia is to respect local customs. But when these include stares and verbal harassment then the tolerance gets tested.

French lecturer Emilie Vigano has had enough of being called a bule – the standard kampong and village description of pale-skinned outsiders. This is a contentious issue among many foreigners. Some take it in their stride, a few reckon it's a bit of a hoot, but others (including dictionary makers) say the word is derogatory.

Emilie agrees. After five months in East Java she's now got enough grip on Indonesian to respond with some mild words about politeness. "I want people to call me Ibu or Nyona, as they would if I was an Indonesian woman," she said.

"With men I can't stand their rudeness. So I just plug in the earphones on my I-pod, smile a lot and keep walking."

Because this story starts with complaints you might conclude that the Frenchwoman teaching at Malang's Brawijaya University (a government institution) is a sensitive soul, a fragile francophone easily slighted.

Wrong. She's no stranger to cultural differences and is driven to try and make a positive impact on the world. Back in her hometown of Strasbourg she taught French as a second language to migrants and students and was moved by their problems.
The 2,000-year old city of Strasbourg is a good place to hone global concerns. It's up against the German border and a popular center for students from Asia. It's also headquarters for the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights. The European parliament runs sessions in the city.
Emilie's experience as a teacher gave her insights into the lives and concerns of people who'd come to France seeking a golden future far from their economic basket cases – only to tragically find no jobs, or just medial tasks – and discrimination.

Last year's street riots in Paris between mainly Muslim youth and the police, and the torching of hundreds of cars showed the crumbling chasm between those with the Euros and a future – and those without.

After graduating in French literature Emilie could have got a job in government schools. "There was no way I was going to work for national education," she said.

"There's such a great gap between top students in France and the rest, and the government doesn't seem to care. Students are divided – 'you're good, you're not good'.

"Many foreigners in France need help, socially and with language and culture. They're not getting it.

"I wanted to use my skills to help others understand more about the world, and give them the intellectual tools to succeed. My parents were from Italy. They moved to France after World War II for a better life, so I knew something about being an outsider, though in a mild way."

Knowing is not understanding, as Emilie is learning fast in East Java. But she'd already had a taste of that reality when she organized a humanitarian aid mission for a village in Kenya with a group of friends.

It took them two years to raise the cash and work their way through the spaghetti of international aid bureaucracy. But in the end 200 previously homeless families were properly housed.

"I didn't want to do this through an established agency," she said. "If I did that I'd have to follow their agendas, rather than mine. I know my own will."

After her Africa experience she wandered Europe in her quest for self-discovery but was keen to get into Asia. The French government offered her a one-year posting in Indonesia. She is now one of ten young French native speakers across the Republic passing on their knowledge of culture, language and teaching skills.

It's time for another pause in this storytelling, because a read back shows Madame is no simpering apologist for her background and views. So what's wrong with being a forceful female? Isn't equality supposed to be universal?

Not in the streets and villages of East Java where a tall, striking young self-reliant woman striding alone, using local transport, maybe smoking a cigarette can be a shocking sight.

"I'm prepared to change to meet local culture and modify my behavior in some ways, like dress. I'll open my mind, but I don't want to change being me," she said.

"I'd like Indonesians to be aware that all foreigners are not the same. I want to show something of European culture. People just know the stereotypes because so few get the chance to travel.

"We don't all want to stick together in groups, stay in big hotels and travel in private vehicles. Some of us want to explore alone, meet locals and understand more.

"I live in a kampong with a nice Indonesian family. Everyone is curious about my private life. In Europe asking such questions shows bad judgment. But I have to accept. I tell the truth, I'm Catholic, 25 and married. My husband is in France and we have no children."

The other shock was her students' attitudes. "I thought they were really lazy," she said. "I lost my temper for the first time, but that didn't do any good. People here are very kind but don't respect you when you get angry.

"I told my students (in the first semester she had about 50) that they were the next generation of hope, and Indonesia needed their knowledge and ability. They had the brains; if they didn't work hard now how could they do so in the future?

"They don't, but can still graduate. Some are very bright, but they have a romantic view of France

"I was advised by colleagues to take things more easily. This is the first time in my life that I've been told I'm working too hard!"

So have you had to lower your standards? "Yes. I expected this, but not so strongly. I appealed to the students to work together with me. That never happened. This has distressed me a lot."

What have you learned? "It is very hard to see things through another culture, but we must try. I know I'll be a better teacher when I go back to France because I'll be able to appreciate how difficult things are for outsiders. I should have done this when I was younger."

What do you miss most apart from family and friends? "Intellectual discussion."

Do you see yourself as a global citizen? "I'm not sure yet. Maybe."

An agent of change? "Ya!"

(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 March 2007)
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Monday, April 09, 2007

AREMA'S MIROSLAV JANU

I'M LOSING IT MY WAY © Duncan Graham 2007

The photo on this page shows the face of the most despised and condemned man in central East Java. The street graffiti that demands his head is too obscene to report in this newspaper. So are the acid comments in cafes, minibuses and queues in government offices. The newspaper headlines are only slightly less unkind.

Czech Miroslav Janu is not a terrorist and bears no ill will towards Indonesia. He's a reasonable guy though understandably wary, with no apparent political or religious agenda. His crime is far more basic.

He's a loser. Or rather the Premier League football club he coaches has been losing and in Malang that's a gross and unforgivable sin.

Janu was hired to maintain the glory of Arema Malang. For the past two years the club has won the Copa Indonesia trophy under coach Benny Dollo, to become famous throughout the archipelago.

But Dollo has moved west to Tangerang and Janu, 48, has been presiding over Arema's crash and burn. In its last 12 games it has won 3, drawn three and lost six. It now ranks an inauspicious 13 in the Eastern Indonesia section of the national league.

Last week (Thur 5 April) Arema beat Solo in a minor match so the pressure has eased just a millibar or two.

"I don't want to leave, I want to stay till my contract ends in December," an agitated Janu told The Jakarta Post.

"When you win you have many friends – when you lose you're alone. People always blame the coach, not the players. I'll only go if they kick me out. This isn't about money – I have enough. Football has been good to me. This is about prestige.

"My wife was coming to join me next month, but I've told her to hold off and not by the ticket yet. Wait and see."

Arema backers are known as the nation's most fanatical. Last year the Football Association of Indonesia awarded them the title of the Best Indonesian Football Supporters.

This is clearly a new definition of 'best'. It certainly doesn't mean respectful and orderly. Arema are the original take-no-prisoners fans, and when they're on the road (every one seems to have a motorbike without a muffler) the wise steer into the nearest paddy field. Better confront the mud than the mad.

Their other name is Singo Edan, which translates as Crazy Lions. It's an apt title for the Aremaniacs.

"The supporters are a big problem," Janu said. He's been in soccer as a professional for 31 years, the past ten as a coach.

"I coached in Sabah for four years and for more than a year in Makassar, but I've never seen fans like this.

"And the media is sensational and so negative. They criticize me but some journalists don't understand the game. I say to them: 'Tell me something I don't know.'

"I'm not critical of Indonesia. I like this country. Please write a positive story."

Not so easy. Since the season started this year Arema has played in Korea, Japan, Papua and Yogyakarta – and in East Java – with anything but glory.

There are as many reasons as the warung (roadside eatery) wisemen who couldn't do up their own laces, let alone boot a ball. But this is Janu's story so he can tell it his way. First some career details:

Janu started playing when he was 17 with first division team SK Slovia Praha (Prague). He quit the field in his 30s and spent two years training to be a coach. Then he worked in his homeland, in Austria and Southeast Asia.

"When I took over Arema I didn't inherit the team that's been winning," he said. "About 30 per cent had gone to other clubs. Where do you go about finding good players, quality players in a short time?

"I don't think it's wise to import from Europe – the cultural differences are too great.

"It was just two weeks after I had a team with 13 new players (there's that number again) when the season started. That's not enough time to train and get everyone working together. If the players are young, that's OK, but others have to be flexible and settle in.

"Then there's the match schedule. We've had to play on Wednesdays, travel for two days, and then play again on the Sunday. That hasn't given us enough time to do anything more than a bit of jogging and stretching.

"Nobody likes playing like this. In Japan and Europe fixtures are usually a week apart. But these are the rules.

"Then we've had injuries, with one key player getting a broken leg."

What about the quality of the players?

"I try every day to work one-hundred per cent. I want my players to have the same standards, to improve. I tell them they must have discipline and practise, practise. This is a different job to anything else.

"When things go wrong they can't blame others. They must look at themselves first and ask: 'What mistakes have I made?' They must respect each other and respect the coach.

"Some have difficulty playing as a team. They have too much ego. This is a problem in Indonesia.

"They can't take the money as professionals, and then play like amateurs – this is the point. About 60 per cent get more money than me on their contracts.

"That's not an issue for me – I've got everything I want, home and family in Prague. Football has been good to me.

"I don't think there are communication problems with the players. (Janu speaks Indonesian). I talk to them face-to-face. And no problems with cultural differences – I've worked in Malaysia where the fans are more sophisticated. Maybe the problem here is that there are so few other sports to support."

Is he concerned that he might get assaulted by crazed zealots, or meet the same fate as Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer who was murdered in Jamaica after his team lost to Ireland in the World Cup?

Janu said no, then maybe, then chuckled nervously. He admitted it was the worse time in his career. He has no bodyguards and the hotel he lives in has no security checks.

Although Janu said he was sleeping well, unworried about events and concerned only with tactics, his body language gave a different story. When questioned about his yawning and fidgeting he said he would be behaving the same if Arema was winning.

That's a claim that can't be tested.

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MULTICULTURAL SOCCER

Arema is a soup word made up of the ingredients Arek (teenager) and Malang. It also refers to a 13th century Javanese alleged hero Kebo Arema. He was apparently a court official with no claim to footy fame.

Local fans say they are not bonek (bondo nekat – penniless soccer hooligans who bum rides to matches and trash facilities). They say the offenders come from Surabaya.

And in Surabaya they say they come from Malang.

Arema was formed in 1987. It had a rocky time financially and on the field until taken over in 2003 by the tobacco company Bentoel when serious money started to be used. The budget this year is a reported Rp 20 billion (US $2.2 million).

This gave the club the necessary kick-start and the cash to buy talent. One year later Arema became division one champions in the national league.

The club is a member of the Asian Champion League and also plays in the first division nationally. It has a 25-man squad including 3 players from Cameroon and one each from Brazil, Liberia and Chile.

Unlike most clubs in Indonesia Arema claims it gets no government backing. Jakarta recently ordered regional administrations to stop funding football; some local authorities had been using welfare budgets to pay players.

A looming problem is future sponsorship, with health authorities claiming tobacco's links with sport will have to be severed as they have in other countries. Legislation to do just this is soon to be debated in the national parliament.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 9 April 07)
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LOMBOK TREATY

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(Treaty concerns)

NO DONE DEAL DOWN UNDER © Duncan Graham 2007

An agreement signed five months ago between Australia and Indonesia is now coming under serious attack by jurists, academics and human rights activists in Australia.

They allege that the wording is vague, open to misconstruction and if implemented in its present form could cripple free speech and further strain relationships. Duncan Graham reports:

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Last November the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Australia signed a 'Framework for Security Cooperation Agreement' in Mataram. Inevitably this mouthful was chewed down to the 'Lombok Treaty'.
At the time it got fairly benign media coverage with comments focusing on counter-terrorism cooperation. An exception was Professor Hugh White of the Australian National University. He said it would ‘raise unrealistic expectations which will lead to bitter disappointments, making the relationship more, not less, vulnerable to shocks and crises.'
Others saw it as a positive development between two prickly neighbors, a document that might help prune problems before they tangle relationships.

But the agreement cannot become a treaty until it's ratified by the parliaments in both countries.

Prior to this process, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCT) in Australia is now scrutinizing the agreement. The committee is made up of 16 politicians representing all major parties and both houses of parliament.

The committee has called for submissions and so far has received 52. It's due to report to the parliament in mid-June.

On the surface the agreement looks tame enough. Although it took two years of negotiations between ministers and bureaucrats it's an elastic document full of warm-fuzzies, like 'mutual respect' and 'closest professional cooperation'.

But when blood pressures are rising on both sides of the Arafura Sea over some real or imagined insult, then definitions are critical, and seemingly innocent words get close scrutiny.

That's what the International Commission of Jurists has been doing in Australia, concluding that the terminology is 'appallingly vague'. Unless the wording is changed, it says, 'the freedom of Australia's right to speak out on matters of international concern will be severely curtailed.'

The Australian Council for International Development – a consortium of 72 non-profit agencies with 36 active in Indonesia – also fears restrictions, including on the activities of aid organizations.

Other submissions note that in the wordy seven-page agreement the term 'human rights' never appears.

Nor does the word 'Papua', yet it's the alleged human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military in the province (known in Australia as West Papua) that are at the heart of the treaty.

In January 2006 a boat carrying 43 Papuans sailed unnoticed through Australia's northern surveillance system and landed in Queensland.

The men and women claimed asylum, alleging they'd been persecuted in their homeland and feared retribution if returned. Foreign journalists are generally not allowed into Papua, so factual information about events is sparse and often biased.

The Papuans' story was believed and they were given temporary-protection refugee status. The Indonesian government and its citizens were furious, and for a while it seemed the neighbors were heading for a serious falling-out.

Most Indonesians saw Australia's acceptance of the Papuans' claims as a threat to the Republic's integrity, part of a plot to aid separatists and split the Unitary State.

Few Australians understand how critical this issue is in the hearts of Indonesians and how disintegration of the Republic is feared and must be opposed.

The jurists do. They've told the JSCT: 'It is absurd to suggest that we should arm and train Indonesian armed forces which are largely going to be used internally and not for matters of defence and abandon and indeed preclude proper comment as to any abuses.'

Many Indonesians still believe the independence referendum that saw East Timor (now Timor L'Este) break away from the Republic in 1999 was a plot engineered in Canberra.

Likewise few Indonesians appreciate that in a mature democracy a government can give genuine assurances that it will keep its official nose out of its neighbor's affairs – but it can't censor the words or curb the agitations of non-government organizations that might urge freedom for Papua as they did for East Timor.

Eventually the Papuan refugee issue cooled down, and the determination to get something onto paper was revived to avoid tensions re-igniting.

The critical clause in the agreement commits both sides to avoid doing anything that 'constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other party'.

In its submission the jurists claim this could mean the Australian government couldn't criticize any cross-border incursions by Indonesian troops into Papua New Guinea or Timor L'Este.

Dr Malcolm Cook of the Lowy Institute for International Policy has told the JSCT that the agreement 'will do little to address (the) deep-seated bilateral problem that undermines the national interest of both countries.'

He defines this as the lack of knowledge, understanding and a general wariness on both sides. He highlighted ignorance among Australians of the way democracy has advanced in Indonesia.

Last year the Institute published results of a poll that showed most Australians feel uncomfortable about their heavily populated neighbor, seeing it as a military state and source of Islamic terrorism. For every Australian there are 12 Indonesians – and ten are Muslims.

Many submissions focus on these mistrusts. Like Professor White they argue that much more work needs to be done at the grassroots to improve public perceptions before a treaty can get widespread acceptance.

An earlier agreement negotiated in secret in 1995 with former president Soeharto was ripped up by his successor Habibie when Australia led the international peacekeeping force into East Timor.

A positive side revealed in the Lowy poll is that a majority on both sides reckons there should be closer relationships.

This is an election year in Australia, and foreign affairs will feature in the scramble for votes. Although policies of the present Liberal-Coalition government on Indonesia differ little from those of the opposition Labor Party, neither side will be willing to aggravate voters by promoting an unpopular treaty.


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Monday, April 02, 2007

DAVID SCHRIEBER

DO EXECUTIVES REALLY WANT FEEDBACK? © Duncan Graham 2007

Memo: All managers:

"Do not copy US management texts. Write your own. Put advice in the context of Indonesian case studies. Local solutions can only come out of local cases." David Schrieber, consultant.

Schrieber, a former University of Wisconsin (US) professor of business administration and economics who has been involved with Indonesia for 37 years, knows well that management systems developed overseas don't always travel well.

A template solution that might work in the Western world could make a bad fit in Indonesia, particularly when the issue is personal.

"In many cases when consultants are called in they find that the problem is the CEO," he said during a visit to Malang, East Java "That can make for difficulties if not handled well.

"A consultant should be hired to tell the company something that it has chosen not to hear till then. There has to be a clear identification – and acceptance - of the problem. There has to be mutual understanding – without that you have nothing.

"No-one likes to be accused of being incompetent, but if the problem person isn't included in the solution you're wasting time. Consultants have to be aware of the culture and the protocols. Managers can take offence at advice – their egos get in the way."

Schrieber, who is now a human resources consultant with the non-profit overseas voluntary aid organization ACDI-VOCA, first came to Indonesia in 1970. He was sent on a Ford Foundation program to help upgrade courses and teaching in faculties of economics and business.

He spent one year at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, and the second at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

Although he'd undertaken a three-month Indonesian language and culture course in the US before flying to Yogya, he found his learning of little use because the language on campus was Javanese.

The other shock was the lack of facilities, resources and staff. The few books in the library were 20 years out of date and could not be borrowed. He was supposed to be helping the 40 academics but few could be found.

"I discovered that a university qualification in Indonesia gave status, but not money," he said. "Staff came, delivered a lecture and left for jobs elsewhere. There was no relationship between staff and students."

It was a critical test for the new consultant. As a Westerner he found the idea of paying staff members to upgrade their skills distasteful – yet realized those who attended his seminars would be losing income to do so. However the Ford Foundation hadn't allocated funds for this purpose.

He also learned that many academics teaching business had no experience of the outside world; in those days students were too shy to challenge the credentials and competence of their superiors.

Schrieber, who spent ten years with General Electric before turning to teaching and advising, commented wryly: "Texts can't be teachers."

In Jakarta he found UI slightly better prepared, though again staffers were busy with off-campus jobs, often with the government in senior ministerial offices.

Since then Schrieber has returned to Indonesia on programs funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. He's worked at state universities in Semarang (Central Java), Pontianak (Kalimantan) and Padang (Sumatra).

He's also been a consultant in Africa, Russia and South America.

"When I completed my first assignment in Indonesia I said progress could not be made until decentralization was introduced," he said. "If you depend on the center you make bad decisions. That's a truth everywhere.

"The changes in Indonesia in teaching business and economics have been impressive. Academics have learned that simple memorization is not the point of education and that just reading notes to students is ineffective.

"A lot of good management is common sense. It's delegating to the lowest possible level in the organization. Managers have to trust their people to make decisions by themselves.

"This requires a system of giving those people the skills and resources to do what's asked. That doesn't necessarily mean having a degree.

"Having a degree is no guarantee that you'll get a job, but it does increase your odds.

"Good management is using your human resources properly, having open communication and strategic planning.

"This means sitting back and asking: Who are our customers? What do they want, and are we satisfying their needs? If we didn't exist, would they care? Are we doing any good? Do we have values that are worthy?

"I define open communication as managers spending as much time listening as they do talking, and that the process has to be ongoing. Management has to be circular, not linear, so decisions are made and passed on – they don't just drop off the end."

During his career Schrieber has discovered many aspects of human nature. We might ask for feed-back, but most of us don't really want to hear nasty comments about ourselves and the way we do things – even when we know it's for our own good.

Ironically the funding bodies that have sent Schrieber to 12 different countries also fall into this category. His recommendations that projects have some continuity and allow for participants to maintain contact have been largely ignored. "Aid projects tend to be one-shot affairs," he said

He also learned that employees can be hostile to outside consultants and not prepared to be honest about their difficulties. It's the: 'If it ain't broke, why fix it?' syndrome.'

The locals are happy with the way things are and don't want their effectiveness challenged or their cozy practices disturbed. They're unwilling to take the risks of trying something different, even though it might boost profits and expand the company.

"The great thing about Indonesia now is that learning is in the air," Schrieber said. "Campuses are less hierarchical. There's more of a worldview in universities and businesses. Administrators realize the role of a university is to teach students how to think."

Schrieber, 80, still makes regular visits to East Java with his wife Janet, and maintains contact with university colleagues. The couple's daughter Karen has married a famous Malang dalang (puppet master), Soleh Adi Pramono, and has become a celebrated pesinden (woman singer in a gamelan orchestra.)

Does Indonesia still need outside consultants? Schrieber, normally quick on the trigger with his replies, took time to answer: "If it's at the request of Indonesians, yes.

"Consultants can't be imposed from outside and must be conscious of cultural differences. A good business consultant helps people confront themselves and find their own solutions.

"As consultants we have the means and processes which can help you know how you can grow."

(Firs published in The Jakarta Post 2 April 07)
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PEPINO FRUIT IN BATU

GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY, MY LITTLE PEPINO © Duncan Graham 2007

Never judge a person or a plant by their name. The same goes for their relatives.

If you have such prejudices it's unlikely you'd encounter petite Pepino because some members of her family (with a name like Pepino she has to be female), sound a mite distasteful.

There's Cannibal's Tomato, Fruta-de-Lobo (which translates as Fruit of Wolves and is doubtless a howling success among canines), and Ashwagandha. This, as we all know, is Sanskrit for Horse's Smell

However not all the Solanaceae cousins are sour and malodorous: Nipple Fruit should be tasty indeed, and I have to report Pepino is well worth a suck, more like a melon with substance and style, squishy but not so watery.

She may also be just the fruit they're looking for in Batu, East Java where an innovative farmer thinks he may have found a sleeping princess to waken the local economy.

As a loyal reader of the Java Brew pages you may recall a story last December that told of the demise of apple growing in Batu.

Apples have been the icon industry of the hill town 20 kilometers outside Malang for more than 70 years. No longer. The old high-maintenance Dutch-planted varieties are now considered too tough for modern tastes, and Chinese imports are undercutting the local market.

So farmers like Suroto, 45, have been bulldozing their trees and looking for alternative crops. Many have gone into the flower trade, selling exotics for suburban gardens and blooms to florists – but they really want something edible to replace apples.

"Competition is acute and we need to diversify," Suroto said. "I bought Euphorbia (also known as Spurge and Poinsettia) from Thailand, but these flowers are now popular and being widely grown.

"So I did some research on the Internet and found the South American fruit Pepino. (See sidebar).

"On a trip to Bogor (in West Java) to look at the horticultural industry I got some seeds. These have taken well though it's better propagated from cuttings.

"I hope that we can now get a new product onto the market."

Suroto has about 2,000 plants growing in plastic sleeves. Although only four months old they're already producing. Together with some colleagues he's trying to get other farmers to take an interest.

He said they'd had no help from the Department of Agriculture. "We're waiting to see what happens," said an officer. "Later we may get involved."

"Farmers are notoriously conservative, but not all of us sit around when there are downturns in horticulture, waiting for something to fall from heaven," Suroto said.

"I was attracted to Pepino because of its medicinal properties. I know the markets today are looking for safe and healthy food, preferably organic, so we have to follow the trends.

"The people of Batu are self-reliant. We're always thinking of how we can improve. This is an ideal location for Pepino."

Maybe – it's also a top spot for apples and with good management can yield two crops a year. But farmers' failure to upgrade with new varieties and market the product properly has led to its demise. Climate, soil and green fingers aren't enough – packaging and promotion are also critical in the fickle fruit industry.

The current retail price for Pepinos puts them on a par with the local Manalagi apples – about Rp 15,000 (US $1.60) a kilo. Although the bushes are hardy, the fruit is delicate and doesn't travel well. It's unlikely to become an export product unless great care is taken with sorting and packing.

The way that crops are grown in Batu is extraordinary and has created a fascinating environment that delights. Houses have been built close together on slopes and the town is more like a big kampong than an East Java village.

Batu is about 600 metres above sea level and it's wise to always have a brolly handy.

It seems that if you aren't growing something exotic, you're not a native. There are so many pot plants on the ground, squatting on racks, hanging from metal and bamboo frames that every square centimeter is covered in color.

The boom in blooms has led many to use footpaths and kerbsides to propagate. Banners promoting tobacco pollute streetscapes elsewhere in Indonesia. Batu is one great nursery and has no need to advertise toxins.

Backyard plots are only a few square meters but often hold 20 or more different varieties. There's little free room. City shops selling fragile goods often carry signs: If you break, you buy. Should Batu continue to carpet the concrete with green there'll soon be a need for a similar warning: Trample pots – and pay.

"We have to promote tourism here, and I hope that Pepino will add to the attractions," said Suroto. "I want Batu to become world famous not just for its flowers, but also its fruits.

"I think we can make this a new Garden of Eden."

(Sidebar)

A FRUIT FOR ALL SEASONS AND REASONS

Pepino, also known as Melon Pear, is an evergreen native of the South American Andes. It's cultivated in Chile, Columbia and Peru but little known elsewhere.

It's a bush and grows up to a meter or more, fruiting all year round. The little flowers are a pretty purple. Frosts (not an issue in Batu) can be a problem, along with aphids. Some texts claim it looks like a tomato vine, but that takes imagination.

Farmers in Western Australia and New Zealand have been experimenting with commercial crops, but so far the plantings in Batu appear to be the only substantial ones in Indonesia.

The fruit is about the size of a cricket ball, or for heathens, a baseball ball. The skin is yellow when ripe with vertical tiger stripes. It's easy to peel and handle – a palm-size melon.

The tiny pips are in the center, so the disgusting seed-spitting ritual employed by melon-munchers is unnecessary. So is the need to have a towel to catch the drips and sprays provoked when sucking a slice.

All hustlers claim special qualities for any new product on the markets, and it’s the same with the pushers of Pepinos. The fruits are supposed to reduce blood pressure, help the kidneys and prevent stroke. They are certainly high in Vitamin C.

As with all foods with real or imagined medicinal properties, you need to consume a lot to get the benefits. Best to do your own research.

(First published 2 April 07 in The Jakarta Post)

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

BRUNEI TOURISM

NO CHAINSAWS OR CUTTING COMMENTS IN THE ABODE OF PEACE © Duncan Graham 2007

The official website of the Brunei government currently claims the country is hoping to attract one million visitors, doubling the previous year's arrivals. The problem is that the announcement is dated 2000.

That's not the only sign that Brunei isn't really in top gear despite the rhetoric. An e-mail to the tourist bureau seeking an interview with a spokesperson was bounced because the mailbox hadn't been emptied.

A visit to the office during advertised opening hours found the place shut.

All this sounds negative, but in fact it's a plus for those who want a relaxed crowd-free holiday. Make the most of the quiet because the tiny Sultanate at the top of the island of Borneo and hemmed in by the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, has much to offer that's easily accessible.

Not so much in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, usually known as BSB and where the attractions will take no more than a day or two to explore – but in the country.

For although Brunei (properly named Brunei Darussalam) covers less than 6,000 square kilometers split between two sections, most is the sort of jungle you won't see elsewhere without a lot of tedious tramping. While Indonesian farmers in Kalimantan have been slashing and burning the forest to make a living, the people of Brunei haven't needed to plunder to survive.

Reserves are really that, and the rattle and rasp of chainsaws can't be heard above the honking of rare and endangered proboscis monkeys.

This means that much of the country has been left in its natural state – or as natural as any Southeast Asian environment can be that was first occupied by our ancestors maybe 35,000 years ago.

Apart from greed there are few pressures to exploit. Certainly not population: The rugged east section, known as Temburong, has only about 10,000 inhabitants, the rest of the nation around 350,000.

For Brunei is an oil-rich state, as the tabloid cliché goes, so blessed by an abundance of fossil fuels that education and health care are almost free, basic commodities are subsidized and most public services are high quality. The ruling elite doesn't do so badly either. (See sidebar.)

Brunei is a compact, uncrowded and affluent nation, with good roads, disciplined traffic, an English feel and all the necessary infrastructure to make edgy visitors feel at ease. You can drink the tap water and not worry about malaria.

Most locals are well educated and high-level English is widely used. For almost a century Brunei was a British protectorate and the signs still remain, though often eclipsed by Arabic.

Although strictly Islam, with a more hard-line adherence than experienced in Indonesia and the west coast states of Malaysia, this is no sanctuary for terrorists. An attempted coup 45 years ago was put down by troops from Singapore, and if there are any dissidents left, they're keeping quiet.

Brunei Darussalam translates as the 'abode of peace' – which is certainly true if 'peace' means inaction backed by social control.

So visitors should feel safe and relaxed – provided they follow the rules. These include respect for royalty, no politics and no boozing. Or holding hands in public if you're a Muslim without a marriage certificate.

Loudmouth republicans advocating democracy are advised to keep away, and if you can't do without a regular sundowner then you'll have to bring it yourself and sip in secrecy.

There's one other minor offput – local attitudes. Brunei needs to borrow the TV campaign used by Singapore a few years ago. This had the sour features of a rubber-cheeked Chinaman being slowly transformed into a smiling Celestial as the voice-over instructed locals to be nice to visitors.

For financial, not moral reasons. Friendly faces mean satisfied customers, said the script – and shoppers are more likely to spend big when confronted by a grin, not a grimace.

The people of Brunei certainly aren't rude, or so sour as the folk in Singapore used to be – they're just indifferent. Which probably comes from living in a worry-free society awash with money.

Not surprisingly this has led to complacency. Don't expect the streets to be bustling at daybreak as they are in Indonesia; why bother to rise early when there's someone else to get the day going and do the menial tasks?

The saving situation is that many of these workers come from a few hundred kilometers to the south; once you meet expats from the Archipelago your day will brighten. The good times I've had in Brunei have been with Indonesians who know the best scuttlebutt, the cheap eateries and the secret spots you won't find in the guide books.

There's a lively underclass in Brunei made up of guest workers retailing some grand gossip about the scenes behind the well-polished respectability that the tourist authorities won't let on – even if they ever open their doors.

HOW TO GET THERE – WHERE TO GO.

It takes little more than a two-hour flight from Surabaya or Jakarta, with Royal Brunei the main carrier. Flights are regular and often full of Indonesian maids seeking Brunei bucks. Meaning cash, of course.

The local dollar is on a par with Singapore, with most shops happy to use either currency.

Indonesian citizens, and some other favored folk, can get a fee-free 14-day visa. Other nationals have to buy a B $10 (Rp 50,000) visa on arrival.

There are some basic hotels with room prices starting around B$40 (Rp 220,000) a night. These are clean and functional, but don't supply the matey service you'd get in Jakarta – unless the staff are fresh from Indonesia. Like Australian hotels they seem to be run more for the convenience of the employees than the guests. Maybe it's different at the Sheraton.

Because the locals are so well off few need public transport. On one visit I hired a bicycle to get around, collecting the sort of stares normally used at a police arrest scene. A foreigner without a Mercedes? Unbelievable. If there'd been a reporter on site I'd have made Page One as the weirdo of the week.

There is a bus service, but you could b standing for a long time. Metered taxis are available, but few. BSB can, and should, be explored on foot and on the river where the high-speed water taxis (also known as flying coffins) are a lot of fun and fumes.

They're also the best way to see Kampung Ayer close up and peer at the locals at their ablutions. This is the village on stilts above the dirty waters of the Brunei and Kedayan rivers. Use sunscreen by the liter – Brunei boils.

In the distance and above the spindly-legged shacks of 25,000 souls rises the splendid home of the sultan, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah.

With a title like that there's no way commoners can get a gander at his personal goings-on. This is claimed to be the biggest residential palace in the world. Betty Windsor has to make do with a street name.

Better to settle for the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, a mightily impressive architectural triumph. It's a pity that these creative draftspeople didn't exercise their HB pencils on the drab shopping centers and apartment blocks once they'd topped off the turrets at the Big M where all that glisters really is gold.

Even though a kafir (unbeliever) I excited no concerns wandering around and meditating on the prayer hall's lush carpet to the hum of vacuum cleaners. That hasn't always been my experience in Indonesia.

Exploring outside BSB is not an easy DIY (do it yourself) tourist exercise. You won't be hassled; why bother flogging false Rolexes when the real ones are everywhere? Blondes won't get the hairy eyeball treatment from the leering lads, as in Indonesian bus stations. The main problem is being recognized as someone with a need to go somewhere.

If you want to see the sights in a hurry and some luxury best to take a tour. A three-hour countryside coach trip will cost US $40 (Rp 360,000) a person, taking a look at the oil refinery will double the bill. For an overnight trip to the national park set aside US $238 (Rp 2.2 million).

There's also a Brunei By Night tour. This comes with a guarantee that you'll get home stone-cold sober. This is categorically not a Soho or Kings Cross pub crawl.

For those with the time and tenacity it's best to negotiate with taxis (land and water). Consult the locals for the right price before bargaining.

Don't look to the English-language local rags for information – the Borneo Bulletin and Brunei Times. Both set high levels for blandness and are reminiscent of the Indonesian press under Soeharto. The local Tourism Board puts out a handy mag on what's on, but it's hard to find.

This is supposed to be the only country in the world that hasn't had an election since 1962. It would be a gutsy journalist who dared to ask about some members of the royal family's legendary squander of state riches overseas.

If you enjoy the accommodation and quiet, Brunei is also a good base for exploring Sarawak and Sabah (Malaysian Borneo). The attraction here is the Kinabalu National Park a World Heritage Site. The Royal Brunei airline (www.brueniair.com) has an office in central Jakarta with extra-cheery staff, and can organize bookings and arrange packages.

Assessment: Not bad for a cashed-up eco-minded couple's mid-life honeymoon if all they want is to be left alone.

(First published in The SundayPost 1 April 07)">Link

JAVA IN A TIME OF REVOLUTION

THE TERROR OF THE TREMBLING TIMES © Duncan Graham 2007

Java in a time of Revolution
Benedict Anderson
Published by Equinox Publishing
www.equinoxpublishing.com
494 pages

The year 1945 was momentous across the globe. The Allies had at last defeated the Axis powers. The atomic age began in a flash. In Java, occupied by the Japanese since 1942, the sense of kegelisahan ('tremblingness') was felt everywhere.

American scholar Benedict Anderson wrote:

'For the first time in living memory, people were falling dead in the streets from starvation or disease, mendicancy spread silently but horrifyingly through the cities, and the sense of being precipitated out of a stable order increased with every month that passed'..

It was a time of terrible tension that demanded the wisest counsels, great restraint, humility and creative foresight. That few of these qualities were demonstrated on all sides is probably the result of war weariness, self-interest, frustration and cultural misunderstandings – or thickheaded refusals to recognize a changed world.

The official version of the birth of the Republic has brave young men determined to preserve their newfound Merdeka (freedom), fighting the stubborn Dutch bent on retrieving their lost colony and their pride.

The truth is far more complex. Certainly there were heroes, inspirational leaders and extraordinary deeds worthy of celebration. But there was also much cowardice, appalling cruelty, gross misjudgment and vile treachery by attackers and defenders.

Anderson's Java in a time of Revolution is probably the most comprehensive and objective account of the birth of the new nation. After being out of print since 1980 it's now available through the Jakarta publisher Equinox as part of its Classic Indonesia series.

This was the first of Anderson's books, researched in Indonesia in 1962 when he was 26 and studying for his doctorate. It was published by Cornell University Press ten years later. He also wrote on the 1965 coup d'état with an interpretation of events that differed from the official version Рso was banned from Indonesia.

Anderson was later to become Professor of International Studies at Cornell and famous for his complex thesis on nationalism, Imagined Communities.

To say that Java in a time of Revolution is a much easier read than his later work is not to belittle this book. It's a racy chronological account of the period 1944 to 1946 and an absolutely essential text for anyone trying to understand Indonesian history and culture – and get a grip on what's happening today.

That includes Indonesians, because accounts of the past have been heavily censored by governments. This is the book that strips the creation of the Republic of its jingoism and platitudes.

(Indonesia is no different to other nations seeking to launder history and froth-up events to inspire glory and hide the stains. Till recently Australians believed the myth of benign settlement; only now is the Aboriginal version of invasion, brutality and violent dispossession being accepted.)

While the role of young men (pemuda) in creating the new nation is widely recognized, Anderson puts this in the context of Javanese culture, the role of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and the policy of the Japanese in developing the semi-military youth corps Peta during the occupation.

He also describes the vigorous debates between the fresh-cheeked generation suffering from "youthful bravado, quixotic romanticism and irrational attitudinizing" and the cautious, more pragmatic and sophisticated leadership of the older Soekarno and Hatta.

In government-sanctioned literature the pemuda are seen as flawless and united. In fact there were internecine hostilities across the country with the Sundanese scorned for their alleged 'softness' in confronting the Japanese in Bandung.

The top men who fought for independence and constructed the Constitution were pluralists. Few pious Muslims were involved and an attempt to have a Ministry of Religion in the new administration was thumped 19 votes to six. That didn't stop such a bureaucracy being introduced in 1946. Compromise crippled much idealism.

The physical force behind the Revolution was huge, but the intellectual energy tiny. When the Japanese invaded "less than one in every two thousand of the youth of Java was undergoing the experience of upper-level nontraditional education."

The reading of the Proclamation of Independence is today remembered as a momentous moment – but Anderson's version is more of confusion and chaos. The wonder is that it ever happened.

Only the pedantic and censorious would claim this mocks the gravity of the events; on the contrary Anderson's accounts carry the rawness of reality which makes them all the more believable – and the achievements more worthy of respect.

The '45 Generation is now regarded as god-like. Of course they were also humans with all the standard frailties and emotions lesser folk experience.

Why was so much blood shed for Indonesia to gain independence? Malaysia, Singapore and Burma didn't go through such terrible birth pangs.

Certainly Dutch attitudes and behavior were major factors. When the Japanese surrendered they were charged under the peace agreement to maintain law and order till the Allies arrived.

The British commanded the relieving forces. They got their intelligence from the Dutch and had no understanding of the depth of nationalism and the widespread hatred towards the former colonial masters.

The Dutch didn't want the British as intermediaries. They dismissed Soekarno as a traitor and collaborator and not surprisingly were unable to accept him as a legitimate leader.

The British wanted no part in Indonesian politics, were prepared to negotiate with Soekarno and seemed sympathetic to the independence movement. Lord Mountbatten had overall command.

Writes Anderson: "(Mountbatten) expressed his new policy in succinct, if to Dutch ears grotesque terms, when he stated: 'Our one idea is to get the Dutch and Indonesians to kiss and make friends, and then pull out.'"

There was to be no such lovemaking and the later British role is no matter for pride. After the English Brigadier-General A.W. Mallaby was shot the Allies took terrible revenge, killing thousands of civilians in Surabaya.

The pemuda also committed shameful crimes. In one case Japanese civilian factory workers were taken to a jail in Semarang and murdered. In Surabaya pemuda ceremonially drank Japanese blood from the samurai swords they'd used to kill prisoners.

In the months after the Proclamation the internecine strife continued. The unleashed pemuda felt they'd been betrayed. They were in no mood to return to their villages and kampong and leave running of the new country to the older generation in Jakarta keen to win global legitimacy.

For a while the country looked certain to disintegrate. It was saved only by the outstanding political skills displayed by Soekarno and his colleagues.

There are so many parallels in this history with more recent events that reading this book is like finding and fitting together parts of some mysterious device whose purpose is felt instinctively, not rationally.

The radical Islamic youth groups that appear today to impose their brand of morality on society are the offspring of the pemuda culture of '45. Likewise the power of the army in modern politics and civil affairs has its origins in the Revolution.

Controlling this complex and volatile country is a masterful juggling act. How those tricks were learned, the slogans invented and the ideologies formed explain some of what's happening today.

This book is a reprint, not a new and updated edition. A pity because we have to look elsewhere to learn what happened later to the many charismatic figures who appear in these pages.

Indonesia remains a work in progress. 'Struggle' is still part of the political lexicon as it was early last century. Independence has been achieved but the nation is still not the '100 per cent Merdeka' imagined by its creators.

(First published in The SundayPost 1 April 07)
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INDONESIAN MALL CULTURE

OH SPEND, ALL YE FAITHFUL © Duncan Graham 2007

Next Friday recalls the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It's also a public holiday. So let's enjoy the long weekend, get out and about, experience the Great Outdoors, commune with nature, refresh flagging spirits and marvel at all Creation.

Where I come from this is the last opportunity to pack the kids in the car, to go camping, hiking or fishing before winter sets in, when chill winds and horizontal rains lash the coastal cities.

Where I live now this is yet another chance to venture forth with the family into the sunshine, to explore the world beyond the front gate where adventure beckons and new wonders wait to be revealed.

In other words it's time to visit an air-conditioned Shopping Mall.

For the ten per cent of Protestants and Catholics in Indonesia, attending church is an important ritual next weekend.

Once they've done their devotions they can join those of other persuasions to pay homage at the shrines of Indonesian consumption.

Which we will do in multitudes. Easter is not a good time for agoraphobics.

But it is a time to reflect. This is not so difficult. Changing rooms in dress shops have mirrors for just this purpose.

The ritual we follow is well known to social anthropologists as the Cult of Swipe. It involves the true believers gathering in large numbers where they make offerings of plastic cards.

Acolytes, clad in the sanctified Vestments of the Brand embroidered with the Sacred Logo, insert the proffered card in a small black box mounted on an altar. (In some denominations this is referred to as a 'counter' or 'check-out').

Here it is lovingly given a brief laying-on of the electrons before being returned to the communicant. Then the revered words of absolution are spoken: 'Please sign here – and have a good day.'

Good Friday is well-named for the retail industry. While followers of the Nazarene take time to consider the Resurrection and the Words of the Prophets, those who worship the doctrine of business contemplate the words of the wholesalers and the raising of the profits.

Like all religions, those who've been brought up in the complexities of one faith find it difficult to appreciate the beliefs of others.

So it is with Mallinity.

First you must understand the teachings that have raised Mallinity to its lofty place in this archipelago of mysteries. The mall is the modern equivalent of hallowed caves where Javanese seers in times past tasted the mountain air and calculated the most favorable lunar moment.

Making such a pilgrimage is now impossible because of the traffic, but worry not: Wisdom is to be found in the Food Court of a mall near you while sampling the Flavor of the Month.

After eons of research I can now reveal how the gallant youth of yore and the founding fathers got their ideas on boosting the economy.

Deep in the Constitution, and overlooked till now, is a clause saying that unity, the national ethos and the balance of payments are enhanced through the buying of things we might want but don't need.

To be a good citizen is to be a good consumer.

If you come from a culture where the soul is refreshed through encounters with the wonders of the Creator, you might wonder how the creations of mankind can excite such enthusiasm.

The answer is simple. Mallinity allows us the chance to commune through the exchange of rupiah for rubbish. It lets us express a primitive need to display our wealth before others, so they may witness and be moved by the depth of our piety and pockets.

Mallinity speaks a common language that bypasses Babel. It takes us to a place where all words are universally understood. SALE, BONUS and BARGAIN are three such examples, known to the devout as the Trinity of Trade.

Clearly the commandments of Mallinity break down the boundaries that divide. Verily, I say unto ye, when we all come together to shop in peace, under one vast neon-lit dome - whatever our backgrounds and beliefs, cultures and ethnicity - then this is a truly pluralist society.

Excuse me, I must break off now as I've just reached the head of the queue: "Yes, Miss, that is on credit."

(First published in The SundayPost, 1 April 07)

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