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

Monday, February 02, 2009


Back to basics and responding eggsistentially © 2009 Duncan Graham

Just across the road from the Surabaya headquarters of the mighty Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama is a branch of Pizza Hut.

Along with KFC and McDonalds this fast-food outlet represents another insidious plot cooked up by the Great Satan to destroy Asian cuisine. That’s my view, and it’s probably shared by fundamentalists like the Majelis Mujahiddin and the Laskar Mujahiddin.

Though not apparently by the green-clad NU workers who queue for their double cheese Hawaiian crusty pizzas, tugging wispy beards and glaring ferociously at the Chinese teens, free of headscarves and inhibitions, who reckon Pizza Hut is the place to be seen.

But I don’t want to be seen. I loathe fast food and the one-taste-fits-all imperialist marketing. I’m here only because my favorite warung (roadside diner) has introduced salmonella into its otherwise delicious martabak.

These are the pancakes that contain a few dozen eggs and several cans of sweetened condensed milk plus a secret blend of herbs and spices. This dish is to cholesterol what petrol is to fire extinguishing. My martabak are fried inside a crepe mixture beaten tissue-thin by a nimble-fingered octogenarian who washes his hands in an open drain fed by nearby toilets.

The pizzas are overpriced and the taste indistinguishable from their cardboard boxes, but the food and surroundings are spotless, even if the ambience is easy-wipe walls and the furniture as plastic as the staff smiles.

Maybe the anger-enhanced NU lads staggering back to their recitations with stacks of takeaways also get sick eating roadside food and want to keep their stomachs in a state of grace. As my mother used to say, ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness.’

So I reckon the Mujahiddin mobs who threw rotten eggs at a fast food outlet in Mataram and demanded the restaurant replace Western fare with Indonesian food had the right idea. Note that they didn’t want the standards of hygiene changed.

If I’d been in the Lombok city I might have even egged them on with a few Allah Akbars (God is Great) of my own. That would have shaken their black and white view of the world and might have encouraged some East-West dialogue like this:

“Hey guys, why not go the whole hog… woops, er.. way, and throw out everything Western. Indonesia is just fine as it is. I love your country and its traditional simplicity – who needs capitalist materialism?

“Are those Nokia hand-phones you’re forever thumbing? Crush them underfoot, and let not their dust settle on your sandals.

“Are those Kijangs you’re driving? Tip them in the river, and may a mighty flood of waters cover these fossil-fuel guzzlers forever.

“Planning to fly to Mecca for the Hadj? Don’t do it brother, the airlines all use Boeings.

“Say, if you’ve got any rotten eggs left let’s hoof it down to the Garuda office and give them a serve. Demand they use Indonesian planes built with local resources, like bamboo.

“What, you’d rather go by ship? I don’t think Pelni takes its ferries that far but they’d give it a go with the right threats – sorry, encouragement. Not keen? Oh, I’ve got it. Most of the ships have been made in Europe

“You’re right, better to walk. After all the Walisongo nine who brought Islam to Java didn’t scoot around on Suzukis. But keep off the highways; remember they were built by the repressive Dutch. Stick to the paddies and we’ll get the feel of good Indonesian dirt between our toes. Forget tetanus shots – faith will get you through.

“Yes, I’ll join you, at least to Jakarta. Let’s hit the road and get into the dialectic together probing principles, prejudices and warped logic, seek a bit of common ground. We’ll swap yarns and create an archipelago version of the Canterbury Tales.

“A world without handphones, hamburgers and Hondas sounds just right to me, but butt out the butts. That’s another Western habit we can all do without.

“OK, one concession. No Marlboros. Just kretek hand rolled by virgins. So rip off those I-pods, discard those jeans. If it’s back to basics then I’m your man. But no martabak, thanks - unless they’re made by Pizza Hut.”

(First published in The Sunday Post 1 February 2009)