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, March 19, 2012


Be Prepared – tourists need help

Have you been semaphored the good news? The Government is working with the nation's Scouts to spread tourism awareness across the country.

As a former Baden-Poweller I’d like to pass on to the 21 million woggle-wearing cewek and cowok just a few tips. First, no tips; you should be in this for the joy of helping promote your country, even though most tourists look like overweight walking ATMs, desperate to shed a few pounds. Sterling, preferably.

In fact by refusing payment for services you’ll be giving leadership to the elected leaders. Sure, you’re only a wong kecil (ordinary kid) in khaki shorts, but your example will shame the sticky-fingered VIPs.

Should you spot one or two (their natural habitats are five-star hotels and they have loud calls) offer a Scout forest remedy for cleaning greasy palms. Suggest Atropa Belladonna –they’ll assume she’s an exotic bank marketing executive hoping to service their accounts. Should dermatitis follow (deadly nightshade can be allergic), don’t worry; politicians know exactly how to wash their hands of problems.

In the notebook you always carry jot down the clean public toilets in your area in case you find a tourist needing a convenience. Inconvenient for you, but don’t worry - little writing is necessary. For Westerners abroad finding a decent WC is essentially their bottom line requirement.

Foreigners often lose their way, much like city planners and moral crusaders. When you see someone with light skin and dark glasses wishing they’d rather be somewhere else, don’t direct them to the airport.

Scouts master crafts; that means being crafty. Send them in another direction. (Successful completion of this exercise will help you get a cab driver’s license when you grow up.)

Mari Elka Pangestu isn’t just the Tourism boss who’s mustered Scout skills. She’s also Creative Economy Minister. Helping tourists miss their flights is certainly creative and could help boost the national economy – so double merit points here.

Sadly few from abroad understand rural Javanese or village Sundanese. Some may carry Indonesian phrase books and try a word or two, but should not be encouraged lest they learn our secrets. If they persist it’s important to laugh out loud at their clumsy pronunciations. Get your troop to join in; ridicule helps relationships.

Why not reverse the roles? Learn a little Inglish.

When addressing tourists be polite. ‘Alo Mister’ is not appropriate for lady visitors. Say ‘Alo Miss-ter’. If you can’t tell them apart say ‘Alo Miss-ter and Mister’. This shows you’re aware that foreign women take precedence over men and should get you a Gender Awareness badge.

However this can cause problems if they’re both the same sex. Which is often the case with aliens and a queer thing indeed. It might mean you won’t get your award though you could cop a clipped ear.

Foreigners have funny habits that you must study. Their favourite food is not rice. I know you and 240 million other Indonesians think this so weird it’s unbelievable, but believe me – I have a Cook’s Badge to prove it.

I got it for mashing spuds, boiling limp cabbage and cremating mutton chops. Learn to do this and it will help you pick a guest’s origins, thereby showing how smart you are. If they enjoy your fare they’re Australian or English. If they throw up they’ll be French or Italian.

Alcohol is another tricky issue. Most foreigners will recommend you for a Presidential Award if you can track down a coldie come sundown. As you know the Archipelago is practically dry so you need to ransack your initiative box to earn a Grog Finder’s badge.

Hint: Don’t get your neckerchief in a knot – ask a friendly member of Front Pembela Islam. The Islamic Defenders seem to know all the best booze outlets to trash and will happily put a few bottles aside as a gesture of good faith.

Finally remember each day to do a Good Turn. Should you encounter an old lady trying to cross the road first ask about her travel insurance. Maybe she forgot to buy. So keep an application form handy in your backpack. Where it says ‘beneficiary’ just get her to write Duncan Graham.

(First published in The Sunday Post 18 March 2012)


Take fright – or delight

If you’re planning a trip to Bali soon don’t be put off by Nyepi falling on 23 March. The day of silence will close the island to everything bar emergency transport, but the eve of the Balinese New Year is a time of celebrations both serene and raucous.

Among the boisterous are the public parades of ogoh-ogoh, the hideous papier mache monsters created by young village men to ward off evil spirits and purify the coming year.

That’s the popular Western understanding of the ritual, a sort of big scale Halloween. However the reality is far more complex as this new book reveals.

Photographer Tamarra Kaida spent six years recording the strange rites while writer and translator Sarita Newson probed the origins and meaning. Together they’ve produced Ogoh-ogoh Balinese Monsters, an accessible account, valuable for anyone interested in Balinese culture and customs beyond the trite features often found in travel mags.

Neither woman is an Eat, Pray, Love wide-eyed gadabout. Both live in Bali (Ms Newson since 1973) so their authority is soundly grounded. Ogoh-ogoh isn’t a ponderous anthropology text, yet it’s serious enough to satisfy readers seeking more by including a small bibliography, quotes from academic worthies and endnotes.

Buyers beware: At first glance it looks and feels like a big picture children’s book, but this isn’t something you’d give to a sensitive favorite niece or nephew, for the images are the stuff of childhood nightmares.

Surprisingly ogoh-ogoh are a recent addition to the pre-Nyepi events, first appearing in Denpasar during the early 1980s as an outlet for teenage energy. In those days the Soeharto administration had its nose in everyone’s business, particularly the creative arts, for there fermented the yeast of subversion.

So administrators got involved, checking the monsters to ensure none lampooned important people or upset the influential. Competitions were held to produce the most physically hideous but least politically offensive monster.

After the New Order government collapsed in 1998 an officially sanctioned cultural event should have died along with its sponsors. A return to grassroots iconoclastic entertainment, like the once suppressed ludruk comic theater of East Java, would have been expected.

That hasn’t happened, which seems to indicate ogoh-ogoh have robust roots that have tapped a deeper aquifer of need and expression, working around the shallow strictures of men in khaki.

Ms Newson offers comparisons with the Mardi Gras festivals of Europe that briefly upset the conventions in sanctioned religious carnivals. Some have now turned secular, reinventing as protest parades.

Like Mardi Gras, ogoh-ogoh have evolved. Along with demons from the epic tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Balinese youth today make effigies of corrupt politicians, drunks, gamblers and other miscreants. Comic and film characters are starting to feature.

Once the figures were burned to climax the procession. Now some are for sale, the community manufacturers no doubt hoping for monster profits. Never doubt the Balinese entrepreneurial spirit.

Despite their novelty, ogoh-ogoh spring from a universal cavernous past. At one stage the horrors were not make-believe. Our ancestors, huddling in holes, knew saber-tooth tigers and woolly mammoth lurking in the darkness were terrifyingly real.

Though the beasts have been driven into extinction the old brain memories bubble away in the subconscious. After the Odyssey and Beowulf the literature became more subtle.

To confront the giant Jack had to climb his beanstalk, clambering through foliage thick with Freudian interpretations. The folklore of Europe filled the skies with witches, the seas with serpents and the land with werewolves.

These phantoms populated works from William Shakespeare’s Tempest to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With film came a great reel led by Godzilla and King Kong.

As modern rational people we should laugh away superstitious nonsense. Monsters were the explanations of a pre-scientific age trying to understand evil, not as something lurking in the hearts of us all, but a separate, other force to be beaten, placated or confused.

There’s another factor afoot. Demonizing the outsider is a widely practised scare tactic by politicians everywhere. For three decades President Soeharto used the communist bogeyman without to keep citizens from noticing the corruption within.

Indonesia is a fertile land for the spooky; prepare for a long and arduous hike if hoping to encounter villagers who don’t believe in black magic and hustle their kids indoors as dusk descends. Better search for the Yeti in Nepal or the Sasquatch of North America =- you’d have more luck.

It’s no wonder that Bali, the most creative island in the Republic, should have produced the ogoh-ogoh. By giving them a gross form they become ludicrous. We admire the creators’ skills but we laugh while shivering, our irrational fears mastered for the moment.

The challenge for the craftsmen is to stretch the imagination beyond worldly experience. Most ogoh-ogoh are based on the human form with longer nails and teeth, popping eyes and blotchy skin. They still stride, flail arms and stare without feeling. We find it difficult to conceive creatures that might be entirely different.

One of the best photos in the book isn’t of an ogoh-ogoh, but a lad and an old man gazing at the procession, their features a mix of wonder and worry. They could have been looking at a barricade built millennia ago – would it break and the dreadful devouring begin, or would sturdy construction, flaming torches and prayer prevail?

‘Transformation of evil forces, by giving them their day, a day of being humored, pampered and in the end gently excluded through innocent trickery is Bali’s own sophisticated way of exorcising demons without resorting to violence,’ writes Ms Newson – and then comments:

‘(It’s) a ritual the rest of the world could well learn from.’

(First published in The Sunday Post 18 March 2012)


Thursday, March 15, 2012


Sustaining Indonesia

Dr Suriptono isn’t a measurable, standard issue lecturer in civil engineering. He has to be viewed through a prism of ethics, not the theodolite of science.

Instead of asking his students at Malang’s Merdeka University to test the load-bearing qualities of lintels he sets three basic questions:

Who am I? Why am I here on earth? What am I going to do in the world?

“They answer anonymously and most reply: ‘I don’t know’,” he said. “As the course progresses some start to find answers. If you can’t make life meaningful then you can’t live a life of meaning.

“To make Indonesia a better place we must have a vision. Visions drive people to achieve.”

The students also ask a question: ‘Why are you different from other teachers?’

One reason is because Suriptono, who runs classes in sustainable development for third year students, dreams of bettering his homeland using his intellectual gifts and blessings of good fortune by inspiring others.

And whether they like it or not the students have to listen; his course is compulsory for all who study civil engineering.

On Western campuses engineering faculties include terms like ‘environment’ or ‘sustainable’ in their titles. They try to show they’re no longer crash-through constructors, but sensitive men (about 10 per cent of undergraduates are women) more interested in mind than muscle.

Merdeka’s Rector Professor Anwar Sanusi has asked Suriptono to investigate establishing a National Institute of Sustainable Engineering. The idea is to magnetize the best thinkers into moving to Malang, drawing into their field the smartest students.

As an advocate for the softer and caring side of engineering it would be hard to find a more appropriate ambassador than Suriptono. Now 61 he comes across as a young idealist rather than a calloused engineer bulldozing problems.

Yet Suriptono once spent 20 years among cement mixers and bricklayers before reconstructing his life as a mild-mannered and reflective academic.

As a contractor building houses he had to authorize the felling of trees and the draining of paddy. Under his direction sharp blades shaved the earth raw. His wallet was enriched but his soul was scarified.

Growing up in Bondowoso, a small town south-east of Surabaya during the 1950s (“a struggle period”) Suriptono wandered forests deaf to chainsaws, swam rivers yet to taste toxins. Not that he had much spare time. His father was a local administrator, his mother ran a snack business. As the eldest child of three he helped prepare foods and deliver orders.

Mum’s ambition was clear: Her children had to be well educated, and that cost. “Everyone has a big enemy you have to defeat,” she told her able son. “That enemy is laziness.” So he rose before dawn and only studied once his chores were complete. A whiz at mathematics the lad was sent to a Catholic high school in Malang where he sold T-shirts and snacks to supplement his allowances

Next stop was Satya Wacana, the Christian University at Salatiga in Central Java where he graduated in civil engineering and dreamed of working for IBM. Instead he went back to Malang to study at Merdeka.

But his academic career was cut short by his mother’s ill health. Her savings went on medical care, so Suriptono turned to contracting. When he wasn’t doing deals and supervising workers he thought deeply and read widely.

As a youngster he’d been touched by the Genesis creation story. As a student he encountered the writings of Ernst Schumacher: “Today we suffer from an almost universal idolatry of giantism, it is therefore necessary to insist on the virtues of smallness where this applies.”

Where better to apply the British economist’s Small is Beautiful thinking than Indonesia? “It’s very difficult to do things on a large scale here,” Suriptono said. “With centralized sewage systems 70 per cent of the cost is in capital equipment. Imagine the installation disruption in big cities.”

In the early 1990s Suriptono was selected for higher study at Perth’s Murdoch University under environmental scientist Professor Peter Newman, a man of like mind.

Four years later Suriptono was back in Indonesia with a PhD earned by studying community wastewater projects. Supported by his general practitioner wife Kityawati, he decided to recalibrate his life and become a change agent.

He took a hefty income drop and set about publishing, lecturing and teaching, seeking to influence the next generation to think more carefully and constructively, and so create a better world.

“I want to change the mindset of my students,” he said. “If we are just civil engineers all we do is damage the earth. We need to develop the wisdom to protect the environment and apply the three Rs – recycle, reuse and reduce.”

Now he advocates local sanitation solutions developed through gotong royong principles. Indonesia’s famous community self-help tradition is the great plus. But there are also cultural downsides

However good, imposed ideas tend to fail. So education has to precede projects, and as Suriptono knows from his early days in Bondowoso, rural folk take a while to change their ways.

Not all ideas migrate well. Dry compost toilets, now the trend in rural Australia, are unlikely to succeed in Indonesia where using water for ablutions is religiously fixed. Laws fail unless widely accepted and properly policed. In Malang it’s illegal to litter and burn trash, yet waterways are thick with plastic and smoke drifts down streets.

Inevitably there’ll be corruption. “We are contaminated,” said Suriptono in a rare flash of intolerance. “Yet most of us keep silent. Criticism of public officials can be culturally sensitive.”

Then there’s the personal economic factor, perhaps the most significant.

“People are poor and have no time to think of the environment if their stomachs aren’t full,” Suriptono said. “I thought my childhood was tough, but some of my students exist on only one meal a day.

“Sustainability is the art of maintenance, so we don’t draw on the needs of future generations to satisfy our needs today. Change must come from the young knowing that if we damage the environment, the environment damages us.”

Monday, March 12, 2012



For a clear example of the cultural gulf between Indonesia and Australia consider these proceedings in Perth’s District Court.

In late February three Indonesian fishermen were each jailed for five years. Their crime - helping Afghan asylum seekers get to Australia.

They weren’t the Mt Bigs who do secret business in Indonesian shopping malls, seemingly immune, selling high-price illegal passages to desperate people.

The crew are the gullible victims. While they’re behind bars the Afghans they helped now walk Perth’s streets as free men. In return they give evidence in court against the Indonesians.

Day One in courtroom 7.1. X Riyan and X Hadi shuffle into the dock, confused and chilled, for the air conditioning is like the justice system - icily efficient. Riyan, 28, wears a blue top, Hadi, age unknown, an oversize fleecy white and black hoodie, hiding his hands in the long sleeves. Through their interpreters they plead ‘not guilty’.

Judge Richard Keen politely asks them to sit and the trial gets underway. Officially it’s called The Queen v X Riyan and X Hadi; Australia’s legal system can’t cope with one-name people.

Facing them across the wide and almost empty court (an Indonesian diplomat occasionally attends) sits the randomly selected jury of 12 citizens. Being judged by your peers is an ancient principle of imported British justice.

But peers they are not; the comprehension gap between the eight men and four women of Western Australia’s booming capital and the poor knockabout fishers of the Archipelago is as wide as the Arafura Sea.

According to Hadi his journey started in May 2010 when he crewed a boat carrying coconuts to Flores. The job done, he thought they were heading back to Batam.

Instead the boat went to Probolinggo on East Java’s north coast. Offshore and at night it collected 54 Afghan men and headed west, then south. On 3 June they were stopped by the Australian naval patrol boat HMAS Maryborough.

The issue of asylum seekers being trafficked by Indonesians is a weeping sore festering relations between the two countries. There’s little public sympathy on either side. Last year 168 Indonesian crew illegally brought 4,565 people on 69 boats– the previous year the numbers were almost double.

Skipper Mahmud Rizalhad already pleaded guilty. So for nine days two prosecutors, two defence lawyers, plus their interpreters, all paid by the Australian taxpayer, tread a long and tedious road of detailed evidence and ponderous procedure.

It’s obvious the two men have credibility problems. They tell different stories. To Western ears some elements sound fantastic

Riyan says he was picked up in Jakarta and offered Rp 15 million (AUD $1,500) to help take the boat to Probolinggo for sale. He claims ignorance of people smuggling.

Prosecutor Anthony Eyers makes much of the fact that Riyan was earning only Rp 25,000 (AUD $2.50) a day fishing. So he surely knew something illegal was planned when 600 days income was proposed by an unnamed ‘friend’ for four days work.

Hadi says he didn’t get paid and hadn’t negotiated a salary. Mr Eyers, and presumably the jury, think this incredible. Hadi protests that Indonesian lads don’t question or quibble.

He also says he knew nothing about destination Australia. But the boat was carrying ample water and food along with lifejackets and mattresses for 57, not three.

Even if he hadn’t noticed the gear and supplies why didn’t Hadi jump up,when the Afghans clambered aboard like phantoms in the darkness, shouting: ‘Hey boss, this isn’t right – I want out!’

He tells the court he was seasick at the time. He didn’t add that even if he’d been fit and brave it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.

Hadi might have avoided court if he’d held to earlier claims to be under 18. If proven he’d have been flownback to his Mum in Solo.

“We’re dealing here with poor, almost illiterate village people,” said Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor outside the court. “They have no understanding of the risks and consequences.

“Australia is running a deterrent policy and the kids are the victims. The real people smugglers exploit Australia’s decency and commitment to human rights – and stay in Jakarta.”

At the Indonesian Consulate-General office Chancery head Syahri Sakidin said Hadi tired of constant questions about his age. “In prison he gets good food, high quality medical care, and earns AUD $30 a week doing kitchen chores,” he said

Hadi and Riyan are with other Indonesians and apparently get on well with staff and prisoners. Indonesian is now the most common foreign language in WA jails.

“This issue is like a sieve. Block one hole and the water just comes out another. They cannot put a deterrent in place that will actually deter,” said activist Victoria Martin-Iverson of the Refugee Rights Action Network outside the court.

“Before we got involved they couldn’t contact their families, and Indonesian authorities didn’t know of their existence. Many are depressed and fearful.”

Not all, according to Mr Sakidin. “Two boys I took home thought they’d had a kind of heroic adventure, like Indiana Jones. They were treated like returning tourists while we’re telling others not to go.

“The people smuggling mafia are using poor fishermen like marine ojek (motorcycle taxis). You have to understand the irony. It’s shameful they’re getting money that way but you have to see it through their eyes.

“It’s irritating international relations. We should be spending our time discussing bigger issues.”

When sentencing Riyan and Hadi to the mandatory minimum period, Judge Keen said jailing the men would “bring home the message” that Australia treats people smuggling seriously. Whether anyone in the Archipelago is listening is another matter.

The sentences were back dated and parole allowed after three years. So the men may be deported mid 2013 if they behave.

During the trial six more boats carrying asylum seekers were caught. Each had two or three Indonesian crew. There’ll be plenty of business ahead for Australia’s courts

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 March 2010)


Sunday, March 04, 2012


Keep it simple – keep it tasty

Feel like starting a restaurant in Australia? There are plenty of Oportunities and a particular demand for Indonesian food in Perth, according to chef Toni Pattoni.

Now for the fish-hooks. Australia has tough laws on business, particularly record keeping and paying tax. Capital costs are high; the days of shoestring start-ups have long gone.

Toni said he’ll happily offer advice to other Indonesians, confident such generosity won’t dilute his income. After feeding Australians for 27 years his family from Tasikmalaya in West Java believes it has the essential ingredients for success that newcomers will take time to learn.

“In this business you really need to appreciate Australians, and they’re eighty per cent of our clients,” he said. “Good customer relations are critical. Fortunately I’m talkative. If you don’t like to chat don’t get involved.

“In Indonesia people get served, eat and leave. Here diners take their time choosing food, talking, drinking and relaxing. They like to relate to the owners. There’s a culture of understatement and a lot of humor. Ambience is important.

“Even with lots of money you’d find it difficult.”
Toni, 31, hasn’t found it hard because he was educated in Perth, arriving as an eight-year old. He was thrust into a State school with no English ability apart from knowing numbers, the most essential skill for any future entrepreneur.

His father, Mimid Mimid had been invited to Perth in 1985 as a hotel chef. He was 28. At the time Indonesian food was starting to excite Western palates. His cooking appealed and he was in much demand. His wife Enung Nurjanah, son Toni and daughter Rika Riwayani followed. Soon the whole family was involved.

This was before international terrorism, when movement across borders was easier and enterprising foreigners without certified skills still welcome. Mimid originally ran a kaki lima (mobile food stall).
“My father is a remarkable self-taught man who comes from a village. It was so isolated that if we ever saw a bule (foreigner) we’d run after them and wave in excitement,” said Toni.

“We’re so lucky he came to Australia at that time. He pioneered Indonesian cooking in Perth. His signature dish is sop buntut (oxtail soup), so widely known we’ve even had orders from the Eastern States.”
Luck and good timing certainly, but hard work was clearly the other major factor.

The family hadn’t been burdened by privilege. Living a simple life without servants in Tasikmalaya helped them adapt to a culture where bosses and their kids get their hands dirty. Toni was soon peeling carrots and chopping broccoli after school.

He was also watching Mimid – though the lad was rapidly becoming westernised. “Dad never weighs ingredients,” Toni said. “He knows instinctively what’s too little or too much. I need to measure things exactly. But I always follow his teaching – keep it simple and keep it tasty. Fortunately our customers say they can’t taste the difference between us.”

Equally important was absorbing the culture of school, living in suburbia, then working in a hotel. All this helped him gain the intimate vital knowledge of his new homeland that cross-cultural courses and dense study could not have delivered.

After starting several restaurants in partnership, in 2008 the family opened its own business. This is the 100 seat Tasik Restaurant in Northbridge, the trendy ethnic dining and nightclub district of Perth.
The eatery, in a converted house probably a century old, has been furnished with batik tablecloths, a few wayang and some artefacts. Traditional Sundanese music sets the tone. The color scheme is rural Javanese, reds and dark greens.

Tasik opens for three hours for lunch and between 6 pm and 10 pm for dinner six days a week, offering four entrees, three soups and 39 main courses. All are Indonesian. Weekends are usually booked out. The restaurant doesn’t advertise and relies on word-of-mouth to boost trade.
When he’s not in the kitchen Toni is listening to his guests experiences of Indonesia and advising on their choices, warning against mixing foods like oseng2 daging sapi (a beef and vegetable dish) with ayam goreng kecap (chicken with a sweet soy sauce).

“Our diners are respectful and almost all have been to Bali,” he said. “Unfortunately few have crossed into Java, so I’m like an ambassador trying to get people to explore further.”

There are now four Indonesian restaurants in Perth serving Batak, Manado and Javanese food. They get on well with each other, according to Toni.

Tasik is the most expensive. Its dishes cost up to AUD $ 19 (Rp 185,000) for seafood, but otherwise average AUD $14 (Rp 135,000). The lunch special is AUD $9.50 (Rp 91,000). All food is halal, (allowed for Muslims), there’s a musholla (prayer room) and alcohol isn’t served – though patrons can bring their own.

“Most of our dishes are mild, rather than spicy. In Indonesia you don’t get a choice, here you must, and be conscious of customers’ allergies,” Toni said. “Indonesian students sometimes complain about our prices.
“All I can say is ‘welcome to Perth, you’re no longer in Asia’. You can’t covert what you might pay in rupiah back home into Australian dollars. Costs here are extremely high.”

Apart from ingredients that are all sourced locally, labor is expensive with the minimum wage of AUD $15.51 (Rp 150,000) an hour. Food hygiene regulations are enforced. Inspectors make unscheduled visits to check premises and have the power to close restaurants that don’t comply.

Toni said that adjusting to Australia’s rigid rules and regulations can be difficult for Indonesians used to more free-wheeling ways of trading with lax record keeping and unrecorded cash transactions.

“I’d like to open another restaurant in Melbourne which is a far bigger city,” he said. “Maybe a franchise.
“But at the same time I want my parents to relax. They’ve worked hard and I’m so grateful. Otherwise I might now be in Java selling newspapers at bus stations.”

First published in The Jakarta Post 29 February 2012