The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wiwik Lo

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Solving the TKI’s gift-giving problems © Duncan Graham 2007

The end of the Muslim Ramadan fasting month in mid October is a time of reconciliation and the seeking of forgiveness. It’s also the occasion for family gift giving.

That’s not easy if you’re among Indonesia’s 2.5 million overseas workers who want to send home presents or cash.

Bank transfers are probably the safest, though heavy commissions are often charged for exchanging the local currency into rupiah, and then shifting it from bank to bank. And for many Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (TKI – the Indonesian overseas labor force) banks are strange and forbidding institutions.

Giving relatives in Indonesia a cash withdrawal card they can use at an ATM is handy, though only if you can trust them not to lend the card to others.

Trust is a factor in short supply in Indonesia, according to Hong Kong entrepreneur Wiwik Lo. She should know; before she became the joint owner of a major trading company in the former British colony she was a TKI maid from a village near Blitar in East Java.

In that position she saw all the rip-offs, and not always by immoral bureaucrats and businesspeople. So-called friends and even close family members found their honesty hard tested when entrusted with carrying a big sum on behalf of a domestic worker.

Sometimes not all the money arrived at the destination. Stories abound of cash and courier vanishing.

“I don’t know why there’s so much dishonesty,” said Wiwik, 34, now joint director of JIL Indonesia Limited. “Corruption is a serious problem.”

So with her husband David she sought a solution; why not set up a business that allows the TKI to pay the money to a reputable firm that then arranges for goods, not cash, to be delivered to the domestic worker’s family back home?

The idea was an instant snap-on. What started as a one-room two-person show in a harbor-side shopping center has now spread to two floors and 140 employees in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

Every month 16 containers full of goods for Indonesian families leaves Hong Kong port. During Idul Fitri (the celebration at the end of the fasting month) that number has jumped to 21. JIL is now planning to expand into Macau, Taiwan and Thailand.

The company offers several services; for HK $ 429 (US $55) a 45 kilogram Sembako (basic necessities) parcel will be delivered directly to the TKI’s family wherever they live in the main islands of the archipelago.

Alternatively the domestic worker can do her own buying in Hong Kong, have the goods packed and sent door-to-door back to Indonesia for HK $ 10 (US $1.30) a kilogram.

It used to cost HK $14 but other companies noting JIL’s success have tried to undercut the business. “We’ve had to trim our profit margin, but our business has increased,” Wiwik said. “Turnover is huge and growing. We have to run two shifts a day to cope.”

Another option is for the TKI to select and pay for bigger goods like motorcycles, fridges and television sets from a catalogue in Hong Kong. Agents then buy in Indonesia and organize for direct delivery to the selected recipient.

Wiwik, who arrived in Hong Kong as a naïve and nervous teenager 15 years ago, is now one of the most famous Indonesian maid-to-made-it stories in the region, appearing on television and sponsoring Independence Day events and welfare programs for TKI.

She has become a Hong Kong citizen and taught herself Cantonese which she handles fluently. Her intimate knowledge of Indonesian behavior and thinking has helped her establish systems that she thinks are close to 100 per cent cheat proof.

It’s not enough that the donor should sign a consignment note authenticating contents; she also has her photo taken alongside the packaging with the dispatch number so she can’t claim a mix up later – though the most devious sometimes argue that the picture has been doctored.

Packing has to be tightly supervised to ensure pornographic VCDs and other baddies aren’t included. They also have to watch for maids using the service to smuggle commercial goods into Indonesia for resale on behalf of businesspeople.

The company tries to employ Indonesians but the Hong Kong government bans male TKI. So almost all the lugging and heaving at JIL has to be done by Indonesian women.

Goods are triple-packed in Hong Kong to deter pilfering by dishonest drivers carting the goods to villages in Indonesia. If the contents don’t arrive as listed, or the carrier claims an extra fee, he’s penalized by the company double the value of the attempted rip-off.

“We guarantee that we’ll deliver,” Wiwik said. “It’s important in business to treat customers with respect and handle their complaints seriously. If the listed goods don’t arrive we can be contacted by phone and will trace the problem.

“Usually it turns out that family members have plundered the package and stolen the sandals for Mum before she can open the box.

“We have to be very careful in selecting staff and agents. There has to be a strong and close relationship between workers and bosses. I delegate responsibility. If I catch anyone cheating or being idle they get one warning. If they do it again, they’re out.”

Wiwik, and her husband David, who she met through a mutual friend in Jakarta, are hands-on bosses. In the chaos of the packing, storing and checking they are everywhere. Little slips past their sharp-eyed attention.

“We work as a team,” Wiwik said. “I came from a poor but strong farming family where I was taught to work hard. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

“Unfortunately Indonesians have a reputation for laziness. We are also disadvantaged by our love of protocol and status. I’m not the sort of woman who wants to leave business to my husband and lead a social life dressed in the best batik lording it over others. I don’t look down on anyone.

(A major complaint by maids is the contempt shown to them by their fellow citizens working for airlines and the government.)

“There are huge opportunities for business in Hong Kong. I’d be so happy if others could find success. I just wish Indonesia was as organized and disciplined as other nations. When I go back to Indonesia I feel so much pity for the people.

“Maybe it will change some day. Maybe. But the pressure has got to come from below.

“I want to show the people of Hong Kong through my company that Indonesians are capable, and can be as good in business as anyone else.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 18 October 07)



Ease in E-business start-up © 2007 Duncan Graham

News that Indonesian public servants are resisting the introduction of electronic business transactions known as e-government should not surprise anyone familiar with systems overseas.

The benefits to the consumer are huge; the downside for the bureaucrat is just as large. Once e-government processes are installed correctly pen pushers become redundant. Also farewelled are the opportunities for pocketing extra fees.

E-government came to Indonesia with a 2001 Presidential instruction on Telematica, meaning telecommunication, media and information. This was supposed to put citizens on-line to access services, not to wait in line.

According to an ASEAN review only 23 of 265 regencies in the Republic are ‘preparing’ e-government networks. In many cases these are just websites that may or may not get regularly updated.

Now, six years later Djoko Agung Harijadi, the boss of e-government has been reported saying the public service isn’t ready for the system, citing ‘resistances’ and ‘lack of awareness.’

One of the best examples of how e-government works can be found in New Zealand. This country ranks equal first alongside Denmark and Finland as the world’s number one cleanskin in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. Indonesia comes in at 143 along with Gambia and Russia.

One reason for this purity rating has to be the widespread use of e-government that removes any chance for corrupt public servants to milk the system or treat their fellow citizens with contempt.

Indonesia ranks 123 down the World Bank’s list measuring ease of doing business. NZ comes in second place, just behind Singapore. It takes about six months to start a business in Indonesia. In NZ it takes one day.

Registration can be done from home or the office – anywhere with an Internet connection. A printer and scanner are also required. The only other physical requirements are a reasonable level of English and a credit card.

It works like this:

The potential businessperson (and it can be an Indonesian citizen) checks on the Internet the registry of NZ business names to ensure his or her choice hasn’t already been taken.

If there’s no exact or similar match the new name (let’s call it Golden Futures Limited) is reserved for 28 days for a fee of NZ $10 (Rp 70,000) paid by credit card transaction.

This takes about five minutes and confirmation of name and company number is e-mailed back to the client. No problems unless the Registrar reckons you’ve chosen a name too close to an existing brand. No Nescafi or McDanolds, thank you.

You then have a month to turn Golden Future’s engagement into a marriage. All the forms and instructions to register the company are on the Internet ( and in plain English.

You need to download the consent of shareholder and consent of director forms and give these to the individuals to sign. These people do not have to be NZ citizens and can use their Indonesian addresses. KTP (identity cards), KK (family cards), letters from the Rukun Tetangga (community head), police, bank, employer or anyone else aren’t required.

Once this has been done the forms can be scanned and uploaded to the NZ Companies Office.

The only catch for people living overseas is that they must provide a NZ address as the company’s registered place of doing business. Post office boxes aren’t allowed so you need to find a friend in NZ who will allow you to use his or her address for serving any hard-copy correspondence, though in fact most communication is via e-mail.

Provided you’ve filled in all the boxes correctly, paid the NZ $150 (Rp 1 million) and you’re not banned from being a company director through a prior fraud conviction, then Golden Futures Limited will be a legal entity within one working day. As Indonesia is five hours behind NZ it pays to lodge the documents during the night.

Maybe there’s a public servant squirreled away in some neon-saturated Companies Office cubicle watching your forms and signatures flash across the screen. If so she or he doesn’t communicate well; when you stuff up and fail to tick the right box a curt red message zips back telling you to try again. As Kiwis are generally polite you’re probably dealing with a machine. No wonder Indonesian bureaucrats fear the mouse-clicks of progress.

One other catch for overseas applicants; you don’t need an Internal Revenue Department (IRD) number (known elsewhere as a tax file number or in Indonesia as a Nomor Pokok Wajib Pajak) but without it you’ll be hit by the top tax rate.

Unfortunately the IRD hasn’t streamlined its processes to the Companies Office level of sophistication. The forms can be downloaded, there’s no fee, but completed applications have to be returned by mail. For anyone living in Indonesia that’s not always a fast or secure service.

You can communicate with the IRD through e-mail, but you have to register first so privacy can be preserved. But to register you must have an IRD. This is the e-version of the chicken and egg riddle. No doubt a computer will find a solution.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 15 October 07)



Sculpting questions about human rights © Duncan Graham 2007

In most Indonesian cities the principal crossroads are graced (or disgraced if you like) by statues in the style known as Soviet Realism.

These show muscle men snapping their manacles, thrusting forward, determined to engage with some enemy. They are valiant, determined, aggressive and always triumphant.

There’s a not-so-jolly quartet of giants in beanstalk green just down the road from sculptor Djoni Basri’s home in Malang, East Java: A soldier, farmer, student and Muslim cleric stand tall, arms linked. Their concrete features confront the future six meters above the fume-filled intersection where limping beggars tap windscreens. It’s an unsubtle reminder to the masses below revving at the red lights that they too must strive in harmony to develop and prosper.

This is the sort of propaganda sculpture Djoni despises, though he also makes groups. One of his latest has a life-sized cluster of adults standing around, aimless. A child plays in the foreground; a dog sniffs one man’s trousers. A couple of women (rare in public art) look nonplussed.

“They are like politicians,” Djoni said. “They’re elected to lead, but they don’t know what to do other than argue. They’re supposed to help the poor, but they do nothing - though they want others to think that they’re doing something.”

It’s called Para Pecundang (The Losers) and you can see it and other works of this passionate man early next month (Nov) at a solo exhibition at the Galeri Cipta II in Central Jakarta.

All are of people. Djoni is a flexible artist who can create soft finger-size babies in hardwood and Styrofoam though to big fellows in bronze. The most notable in this metal is a larger-than-life statue he made of first president Soekarno for a North Sumatra commission. Like all true artists he’s never fully satisfied with his work, though in this case the disappointments are more acute.

The current trend seems to deify the revolutionary and much art shows little resemblance to photographs of the man. Djoni wanted the features to reveal the real Soekarno, the womanizer and economic fumbler along with his qualities as an intellectual and charismatic leader.

But others who had a say in the job sought to downplay these leveling human traits in favor of the look of the mesmerizing orator chosen by destiny. Inevitably the result is a compromise.

In his publicity photos Djoni strikes the authorized up-you pose of the wild Indonesian artist, unkempt beard, street-cred cap, sucking a fag to show he couldn’t care a damn.

Up close in a neat suburban house shared with his government veterinary surgeon wife Herliantien and university student son he looks tamer, more like a public servant on leave, though that impression is rapidly cut away once he starts talking.

“What’s my message?” he asked, whacking his right fist into his left hand. “Human rights, human rights, human rights!” When he gets animated he chisels into his sentences, showering chips of consonants as though language is timber to be tamed.

“All my work is a form of protest at what is happening all around. I want to show the reality of life, the poor who have been ignored or forgotten. I want people who see my art to think about what’s happening and ask – ‘what can we do?’

“Consider the plight of maids sent to countries where they are exploited and abused. We export our young women – what nation can be proud of that? When I look at what’s going on I feel despair because I know it wasn’t supposed to have been like this.”

This makes him sound like one of those creaking figures in the new democratic Indonesia - an unreconstructed Soekarnoist who now feels free to bemoan Soeharto’s demolition of his predecessor’s social engineering: “I’m a universalist, not a nationalist,” he proclaimed. “Nationalism solves nothing.”

One of ten children born in Surabaya Djoni took off for Yogyakarta as soon as he could fend for himself. It wasn’t a question of his parents having other plans for their talented son – life was too much of a struggle to be worried about career paths.

Once in the heart of Javanese culture Djoni knew he’d discovered the right place: “It was a rich environment both on and off campus,” he said. “I learned how to express myself, socially and in art. I was like a fish that’s found water.”

The place to swim and frolic was the Yogyakarta Art Institute. At that time it was the pre-eminent art school in the nation, attracting the best and brightest.

After studying sculpture idealism yielded to the pragmatic need for income. He worked for TV station SCTV where he eventually became art director doing everything from set design to the finished glitzy, garish facades used in this make-believe world.

Djoni doesn’t need to verbally chainsaw that period of his life before he turned full time professional artist, his feast or famine income supplemented by teaching computer graphics. He says it all in a little sculpture showing a small girl pulling her reluctant infant sibling away from a TV set. It’s titled Television to be Telepoison.

Potential buyers beware. His work doesn’t come cheaply and he’s as reluctant to put price tags on his works as he is to put labels on his style. One of the dirtiest words in his lexicon is ‘commercialism.’

“My art hero is Rodin (late 19th century French realist sculptor Auguste Rodin),” he said. “If you have to call me anything I’d accept being an impressionist.

“I have to work fast because the ideas come quickly and can go just as easily. I have to follow what God points out to me. It’s like a calling. I do what I want to do. It’s up to others to judge my work. I just want my family to be proud of me and my work.

“I draw my ideas from my observations of daily life, my experiences and the culture of East Java.

“I’m still looking for the right beliefs in God, the right tools and the right knowledge. I want to stimulate thinking. Art is the only way to touch people. Is it wrong to be an idealist?”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 15 October 07)


Friday, October 05, 2007


Animated about local talent © Duncan Graham 2007

Check and you’ll find an intriguing little work in progress. It starts with a sperm circling an egg, and then segues into a series of pictures of a loving couple with a child. These then morph into death and destruction.

The idea is to keep all images within the frame and rotating, a sort of life cycle of inevitability and despair.

The notion is so pessimistic it seems Wahyu Aditya (Adit), 27, the Jakarta-based animator behind the concept, may be growing cynical about hopes for love and peace, despite his extensive work and worthy pleadings.

He says he’s concerned by anxiety and hate and wants to create a better world through art. He says No to War, but retreats from being labeled a pacifist. As a strong nationalist he’d fight should Indonesia be invaded.

However there’s certainly no doubt about Adit’s effervescent and abundant creativity in the minds of talent-spotters from overseas. He’s been given a Rp 100 million (US $11,000) grant by the Dutch to develop a story line for an animated feature-length movie.

Now the British Council has handed him an International Young Creative Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Next month (October) he’s off to London along with a few selected supersmarts from what the Council calls ‘ten transitional countries’ to see how the Brits do things.

It’s also his chance to showcase Indonesian young talent. This has been nurtured by Adit’s determination to wrap the hands of computer-savvy kids around a mouse, give them some clues and lots of space.

If you need convincing just check a couple of international-class shortclips on You Tube, one using chalk on a blackboard, the other working with buttons.

Adit has helped these sparks ignite their creativity through his company Hello; Motion, a school of animation and cinema that’s behind last month’s (Aug) Hello; Fest motion picture arts festival in Jakarta.

The event attracted 3,000 youngsters intoxicated with the possibilities. It was also sniffed out by a tobacco company keen to seduce more addicts. So Adit is confronting another moral problem: Should he accept cigarette sponsorship when he’s no friend of fags? For the answer watch the credits on his future productions.

“Animation is an art form and it’s not difficult,” he said. “With the new technology that’s now available animation is cheap and simple. Free share-ware software is almost as good as the expensive stuff. The only limit is imagination.

“Animation is complete; it incorporates creativity, manual and intellectual skills, learning and logic. You can be an animator at home and also hold another job.

“You can make movies with a handycam or a handphone or a scanner. With the Internet you can get an audience.” He boasts that his website gets more hits than the one run by Indonesia’s beloved roly-poly intellectual, Wimar Witoelar.

As a change-agent Adit comes across as cautious and withdrawn, preferring to show his ideas rather than tease them apart in words. On a one-to-one he’s no incendiary. The fire in the belly seems to be reserved for the ether. Or maybe it’s because he lives in a fantasy world of minimalism; one flick equals a thousand thoughts.

As a schoolboy in Malang, East Java, it soon became apparent that he was unlikely to follow his family into a medical career. His flair for drawing was quickly applied in school magazines that were more comics than the staid and joyless journals that delight education authorities.

After two years studying media in Australia he took a job at Trans TV as an animator on station promotions – though having to use his own computer.

“Producing school papers was a good grounding,” he said. “I discovered how to be entertaining with just one sheet of paper. This was the Ghostbusters era (a sci-fi comedy that led to many video games.)

“I also learned a lot at Trans but I had another mission. I wanted to upgrade my knowledge and make movies and TV programs.

“Studying in Australia was good for the theory but we were ahead in Indonesia because we had access to the latest pirated software. But television is a lot of bureaucracy.”

It’s also an abundance of unimaginative hand-me-down concepts and techniques that Adit loves to lampoon. On one of his many websites sinetrons (soap operas) are brutally ransacked for their rich store of clichés.

One hilarious sequence he’s lifted has crash zooms and rapid-fire close-ups of a startled actor confronting a crime scene, repeated to the point where even the goldfish on top of the set gets the plot. Another counts the clash of cymbals every time men and women make eye contact at a wedding that goes wrong.

Sinetron play-safe producers may think their audiences are suckers for formula films, but Adit credits them with brains and spirit. “I want the viewers to be inspired and to have knowledge,” he said. “Too many believe Indonesians can’t do clever things. We can.

“Advertising agencies making TV commercials think overseas productions and ideas are better than local – they’re not.”

Adit’s ambition to cook up one billion rupiah (US $109,000) a month through his idea ovens has yet to be realized, but his company is already employing 12 full-time staff and 20 freelancers.

He has just come back from Korea where he discovered a strong international demand for Indonesian material. The many folk tales found in the archipelago could be a rich source of plots for an animated TV series.

Apart from erasing the negativity and lack of self-confidence among potential filmmakers, the difficulty is trying to release local creativity from the stranglehold of Disney and Manga. Too many celluloid characters obviously carry the DNA of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or the genes of the bug-eyed, pointy-jaw poppets raised in Tokyo.

“I want to change the mindset about animation and Indonesia,” Adit said. “I want the outside world to think that Indonesia is a modern and creative country, not a nation of corruption.

“I hope the new generation will be inspired – and create change.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 October 07)