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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


The bean battle for Indonesian palates

A robust multi-million dollar bid by Western Australian lupin growers to penetrate Indonesia’s tempe (soybean cake) market is taking a long time to ferment.  Duncan Graham reports from Sanan, Malang’s famous home industry kampong.
More than two years ago an Australian trade mission sat down in Jakarta to a serve of tempe.  So what? Only that the meal used lupins, not soybeans imported from the US.  Media reports on the VIP lunch claimed the product was ‘expected to become commercially available in Indonesia in coming months’.
Those months are a long time coming.  Despite extensive university research and promotion the Australians still have to convince Indonesian tempe manufacturers that lupins are the future.
“The taste is different, and whether that’s good or bad depends on the individual,” said Mohamad Isman (pictured above), treasurer of Malang’s 500-member Primkopti Bangkit Usaha (boosting business Co-op) while running through a parade of Australian politicians’ and bureaucrats’ names in his visitor’s book. 
“The problem is that lupin tempe is hard and doesn’t absorb water (prior to cooking at home).  I haven’t tried it but that’s what our members say. Research is good, but it’s word-of-mouth that’s important in Indonesia.
“Whether we start using it or not depends on many things, such as the continuing availability of soybeans and the price of lupins – which we don’t know.”

The lupin bulk price in WA is AUD$355 a tonne (Rp 3.5 million).  The world price for soybeans is fickle, currently around US$570 (Rp 5.47 million), but the industry is predicting a hefty jump.
Strangely soybean sales aren’t taxed – lupins are at 10 per cent, a problem for traders.  When the WA push started lupins were quoted at 20 per cent cheaper than imported soybeans.
Close to East Java, underpinned by an active 22-year old Sister-State relationship, are WA grain growers who have topped 750,000 tonnes of lupins annually though the forecast this year is below 300,000 tonnes, mainly for stockfeed. They produce 80 per cent of the world output.
More lupins would be planted if there was a stable higher-price human food market.
WA is a big state with few people that has to export to survive. East Java is a small province with a huge and hungry population, importing to live.  A win-win fit?  If only.
In what Indonesia claims is a bid for food self sufficiency, the government has been rapidly ring-fencing so many imports that this month (Jan) the US filed a complaint at the World Trade Organisation. Australia may join the dispute.
Assuming these quicksands can be crossed, and that sour soybean traders don’t start a political or smear campaign against a rival product, lupin tempe still has to pass the toughest tests of all – manufacture and taste.
“There’s no doubt that technical support is required to help tempe makers achieve the correct process, just the same as with any new never-seen-before product,” said David Fienberg, managing director of Australasian Lupin Processing.
“We’ve completed many technical trials in and around Jakarta and in Surabaya.  We’ve developed a simple, easy-to-use recipe which makes a very good tempe.  The taste is good – if not better – than soybean tempe.” 

Most trials have involved a mix of lupins and soybeans. A de-hulling and splitting plant has been built in Perth using processes so secret access was denied to The Jakarta Post.
Mr Fienberg said a training program would be run among the nation’s tempe producers starting around May emphasising that lupins are drier, safer, have higher health values and come de-hulled.
However Mr Isman said this was no advantage because the beans still had to be boiled. “The prices are not so significant,” said Mr Isman, picking stalks out of the American soybeans.
 “The Co-op board has yet to make a decision but I think that as long as soybeans are available from the US we’ll continue to use them.  At this stage I don’t see the benefit. Taste is everything.”

Success Street

Founding President Soekarno once abused his fellow citizens by calling them soft and smelly, like tempe. Better if he’d called them healthy and energetic, because tempe, the protein of the poor, keeps the nation fit.
If there’s steam swirling out of the windows and doors and smoke puffing out of upstairs rooms you’re in one of East Java’s most industrious kampongs.  Residents keep their houses open on Jalan Sanan and its capillary lanes for ventilation and the busy coming and goings.
Odor?  Not as evident as the heat and certainly not unpleasant.
“We are blessed by a good climate and a long tradition to produce Indonesia’s best tempe,” said Mohamad Isman. Unlike many Asian foods tempe originated in Java, not China.
Jalan Sanan is Malang’s Success Street and everyone seems to be occupied in producing the food that’s sustained Indonesians for at least five centuries, grading, boiling, stirring, slicing, processing and delivering.
Many tasks, such as packaging, could be done by readily available machines but families fear this would throw many out of work.
Every day up to seven tonnes of soybeans are delivered in 50 kilogram sacks, carted on motorbikes, pedicabs and hand carts out of the Co-op warehouse through narrow alleyways and tipped into gas-fired vats.
This is home-industry central and centuries apart from modern factories.  Muscles, not mechanics, do the value-adding work
Depending on the beans’ quality they wholesale for around Rp 7000 (US$0.66) a kilo.  About a million tonnes a year are imported.  So far Indonesian farmers haven’t managed to produce the quality or quantities required, or sustain supply.
In the last few years the cooperative has worked to upgrade hygiene, though several men were openly getting their nicotine fix under signs prohibiting smoking.  The mash is no longer trodden, but the dark cooking rooms are mainly untiled, smoke-blackened concrete.
It takes about four days to boil, cool, drain, press with a fermenting agent, usually hibiscus leaves, and ferment in shallow boxes covered by pinholed plastic.
Marketing has improved, with innovative products like keripik (fried slices of tempe) flavored with chilli and other sauces. These deserve to crush potato chips as the snack of choice with a cold drink come sunset.

Jalan Sanan (left) is lined with shops offering presentation packs of multiple varieties, ensuring visitors have a local speciality for their folks back home.
But the bulk of the produce goes to markets around East Java, the raw tempe transported overnight to keep cool, and sold in grey cheese-like slabs.  Buyers finger it for firmness; if it crumbles when cut it’s from a bad batch.
Over-fermented tempe turns black and looks repulsive to all but the true connoisseur.
Once in the kitchen it’s sliced and deep fried after soaking in spice-laden water.
Although long considered village fare tempe is now making an impact overseas, particularly among health conscious vegans seeking a natural product with high nutritional value.  Boosters claim it has anti-bacterial qualities and assists in preventing diabetes. Lupin tempe is now available in some Australian shops and on the menu at a few restaurants.
Though not yet in Indonesia at your local market or roadside stall.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 28 January 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Losing sight of the plight

Around 3.8 million Indonesians can’t read this or any other blog because they suffer from curable eye conditions.  At least half are cataracts.  The goal is to clear the problem by 2020. Yet just 11,000 free cataract operations for the poor were performed last year, mostly funded by overseas and local donors. Duncan Graham reports on an opaque problem.

Foreign doctors are not allowed to work in Indonesia.  Permission is sometimes given for overseas specialists to make short training visits to the Republic, but that’s all.
There are only 1179 members of PERDAMI, the Indonesian Ophthalmologists’ Association.  That’s a ratio of one eye surgeon to every 203,000 citizens.  The World Health Organization recommends one to 20,000.
Blurring the problem is that most eye doctors work in the big cities, and not all are active.  Few practise in the regions where the need is greatest.
Cataracts can strike anyone, but the rural poor who toil outside without using sunglasses are most vulnerable.
To get a cataract operation in Indonesia you need to be rich – or very poor and in the right place, like Bali, Medan or Malang.  Here your surgery might be conducted by an Indonesian doctor paid by an aid agency or benevolent business.  The system seems hit or miss, and that includes the subsidies .
The Indonesian Red Cross has allocated Rp 1 billion (US$104,000) for eye surgery for the poor through hospitals treating 500 patients.
However the Singapore-based A New Vision managed to get 625 operations and training programs run in Sumatra for US$75,000 (Rp 720 million).  Effi Jono, the founder of the charity, raised the money from family and friends. 
“We were greeted with protests and petitions (from local medical professionals) when we first tried to work in Medan,” said the Indonesian-born accountant.
“Thankfully we were allowed to go in and now have a much better relationship with the ophthalmologists of North Sumatra.
“Not allowing foreign doctors to work is a huge problem. Unless something changes it will take almost 40 years to clear the backlog of cataracts – provided no new cases are detected.”
In 1990 Australian potter turned aid activist John Fawcett raised funds to pioneer lens implant surgery in Bali.  Since then his foundation has screened 750,000 people and treated more than 34,000 cataracts.
Malang’s largest private eye clinic employs eight ophthalmologists who also work in the public sector.  Klinik Mata Malang charges upwards of Rp 7 million (US$730) per cataract for private patients, but discounts this to Rp 1.5 million (US$156) when altruistic companies sponsor operations for the poor.
“They must have a letter from their local community leader confirming they have no money,” said clinic spokeswoman Dr Seskoati. 
“Personally I think we need overseas doctors to enhance our skills because the techniques and technology are changing so fast.”
The clinic’s two operation rooms look more like dentists’ surgeries than hospital theatres.  The patient sits in a chair that tilts flat. Local anaesthetic is used and music to sooth.  Dr Seskoati prefers the voice of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. He’s blind.
The Jakarta Post watched an operation on closed circuit TV conducted by four doctors, including two trainees.  Using a powerful microscope the eye was sliced, probed, vacuumed and fitted with a new lens before three stitches were inserted. It took about 30 minutes.
Starting as a bright orange globe the jelly eye wept a little blood before turning black, like a solar eclipse. 
Moments later the patient, second-hand goods dealer Nero, 64, (left, with his wife Luluk Hasana) was slumped on a sofa surrounded by family and friends, his right eye bandaged.  His cataract had been growing for 20 years following a poke with a piece of wood.
He felt groggy, but said he was not in pain. The cost was met by a company that makes herbal remedies.
Nero should see clearly soon, but for a few days he won’t be able to pray by kneeling and pressing his head to the ground. 

Where to?

“The days of cataract surgery in hospitals needs to pass,” said John Fawcett (left).  “Provided proper sterilization procedures are followed operations don’t require the massive and costly resources of a sophisticated hospital. 
“Surgical day centers and mobile clinics are the way to go. A slow but acceptable rate for a surgeon is two cataract operations an hour.” 
 “I’ve been advocating change but hitting brick walls trying to get an audience with the health policy makers in Jakarta,” said Ms Jono. “The whole public health system is crumbling and it seems the bureaucrats aren’t interested.
“Sometimes I wonder whether we should be putting our money into countries where we’d be more welcome.”
If you blink your way off the street into a Singapore hospital seeking cataract surgery you’ll walk out with clearer vision but a lighter purse.  Prices vary, but SGD$ 4000 (Rp 32 million) is average.
The costs are similar in Australasia where insurance companies often pick up the tab.
Yet overseas aid agencies appealing for donors claim just US$25 (Rp 240,000) will restore an Indonesian’s sight.
“That’s the cost of materials, the surgery is extra,” said Mr Fawcett.  “If you look at the agencies’ ads closely they say donors can ‘help’ save an eye for US$25.  The patient pays nothing, but the real cost is around US$50 for walk-in operations at a big city clinic like the one we have in Surabaya, or double that in isolated areas.”
These figures are skewed because the Fawcett rural clinics are supported by the Indonesian Air Force, which has been flying surgeons and equipment into remote areas at no cost.
It’s a similar situation in Medan where the hospital doesn’t charge for A New Vision’s theater use.  Regencies have helped transport patients for free along with the Army, effectively using the military to subsidize treatments.  Ms Jono said a general justified his troops’ involvement “because the army had two duties – to defend the nation and to help the poor.”
Even after including all these factors the gap between prices is enormous.
 “Doctors like to drive Lexus,” said Ms Jono dryly.  “This is a business – charges depend on demand and what the market can bear.”  

“Not everyone thinks like that,” commented Dr Anny Sulistyowati (right), head of PERDAMI in the Malang region. 
“We operate on the poor for very little.  We tour the islands of Eastern Indonesia seeking patients. “I drive a Toyota Alphard.
“I studied for nine years and I’ve been a surgeon for 12.  We never think in terms of getting a high return from our training – we’re not traders.” 
She rejected allegations that PERDAMI had a quota system for graduates. “The problem is that only 12 universities teach ophthalmology and each takes around six per semester,” she said. “There aren’t enough lecturers or facilities, and few graduates want to be ophthalmologists.”  Those that do are often women, attracted by regular hours because most work isn’t emergency.
Dr Sulistyowati said she had no issues with foreign doctors, or local general practitioners doing eye operations provided they were properly trained and registered.
So how can the backlog be cleared and the 2020 goal achieved?  Dr Sulistyowati: “This is a very serious problem, but frankly speaking, I don’t know the answer.”

WHO’s Vision 2020 goal: A world in which no-one is needlessly blind
Ratio of ophthalmologists to citizens in Indonesia: 1 / 203,000
WHO recommendation: 1 / 20,000
Number of free cataract operations in 2012: 11,000
Backlog:  Close to 2,000,000

(First published in The Jakarta Post 23 January 2013)

Monday, January 21, 2013


Bankers don’t enjoy a good press.
Along with politicians and used car salesmen, moneymen are often seen as a necessary evil, profit gougers rather than service providers.

Now meet Ridho Hakim (left), former manager of Bank Indonesia’s Malang branch who has used his cash to preserve Indonesian culture, reasoning that when governments are idle individuals must act.
“Democracy comes with responsibilities,” he said.  “We are ignoring our past, our culture.  When people use the adjective bagus (good) they mean something from the West.”
The only thing foreign about Ridho’s project celebrating the traditional Javanese joglo house is that the 120 square meter building came from Kudus in Central Java and is now in Kalisongo in East Java.
He came across the 1881 joglo through friends who knew of his interest in Javanese history that he’d nurtured since childhood, fuelled by a nationalistic soldier father and teachers who said:  ‘You can be anything you want, but you must appreciate our culture.’ 
In the 1990s he studied in Melbourne for a Master’s degree in business and discovered a society where history and heritage were given top priority.
Five generations of one family had lived in the Kudus house, but the last wanted something more modern. Joglo houses with their steep roofs look quaint, but that’s not a characteristic appealing to those seduced by minimalist trends featuring sheet glass and stainless steel.
“If the owners go, then who will care for the building?” Ridho asked, but already knew the answer.
“When I first saw it I fell in love. It was the fasting month.  To understand a house you must have feelings beyond just looking through the eyes.
“A relationship with a house should be like a marriage.  Lovers come and go, but the home remains.  Life cannot be measured just in terms of economic indicators, yet that’s what happened in Indonesia.
“The government was all about development and forgetting our history before 1945.  We understood the price of everything but not the value. We became good at copying.”
A home vendor wouldn’t have a banker buyer as first choice.  They’d likely wrap the sale in a steel net of clauses and conditions, shave margins, add exit penalties and other trade tricks.
Not this time.  The seller wanted Rp 300 million (US $31,000).  Ridho didn’t quibble.  He gave a 50 percent down payment and paid the rest by instalments, all handled by handshakes.  No contract.
“Appreciation is more important than money,” he said.  “It’s true bankers find it difficult to trust anyone, but believe it or not there are supernatural elements here.  This joglo calls people.”
It took about a month to take the house apart, load it onto four trucks and start reassembling in the village of Kalisongo, about 15 kilometers west of Malang. The foundations were laid in 2007 on Ridho’s 50th birthday during the fasting month of Ramadhan.
Several popular television series in Britain and Australia feature families renovating old buildings.  These real life dramas show more emotion than a sinetron (soap opera) when problems erupt, budgets blow and couples tear themselves apart as dreams turn to rubble.
Apparently that didn’t happen with Joglo Kalisongo.  Ridho wasn’t there screaming orders and throwing fits.  His receding hairline came from the board room, not the joglo. 
“I just let the workers get on with it,” he said.  “We have a tradition of no anger in the house.  There’s no stress here.”
But physical stress is part of any building and has to be handled with care.  Beams carry loads. Angles must be precise or walls will bulge under the weight of tiles, timbers will split and the structure will collapse.
There are no nails or screws in Joglo Kalisongo.  The teak timbers are interlocked, some joints secured with wooden pegs, others through mortise and tenon, relying on the skills of carpenters working with basic hand tools. A little weather damage, but otherwise all good.
Some joglo are simple – this one is complex and splendid and probably built for a bupati (regent) an important official and a key link to the Dutch administrators of the 19th century.  There’s been no scrimping on quality.
The size and design reflects the position.  A front veranda for lesser guests, the higher interior for those of standing.
Most beams have been carved with intricate detail.  There are two peaks in the ceiling, like the interiors of Majapahit-era temples.  Ridho claims it includes Hindu and Muslim traditions. The carvings don’t show any living thing but instead give license to the artisans to work imaginatively.
“The more you look, the more you appreciate,” he said. “This is my dream, my second wife.  It is open to everyone, whatever their religion. I believe in pluralism and tolerance.”
Only the roof and floor tiles are new, the latter made in Yogya from ancient designs.  The interior is dark – joglo have no windows.  Light comes in through open doorways.  Water runs in a small moat around the house, then through gardens fringed by cobblestone walkways.
Original joglo are rare – many have been shipped to Holland by the nostalgic Dutch.  The designs are being copied using modern materials.
On one side are paddy and crops of corn and vegetables for Kalisongo is almost 700 meters above sea level, close to Mounts Kawi and Arjuna.  On another flank a private Islamic school is being built using the standard concrete columns with brick infill, functional but unlovely.
Ridho doesn’t live in Joglo Kalisongo, which is used for corporate functions, weddings and other events. His family prefers a modern house in Malang, where he now lectures at a local university having taken early retirement.
“We have only one life and I didn’t want to spend it being a bureaucrat,” he said. “The ideal goal, the ultimate target of life is to achieve balance.  Money is important, but it cannot buy peace and harmony.  I find that here.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 January 2013)

Sunday, January 20, 2013


A dry argument to boost the nation’s morals
Reports that Indonesia will consider banning booze and jailing drinkers is excellent news.
The US tried prohibition for 13 years last century but like the First Gulf War didn’t go far enough.  You couldn’t transport or sell liquor but you could consume.
There are no such wimpy provisions in the draft Indonesian law now fermenting.  One sniff and Hi Kerobokan! This is all the way with SBY.
The war on drugs has been won and corruption conquered.  Poverty has been defeated. Big tobacco is in retreat. Time to let the Booze Battle commence and clean the archipelago of the demon drink.
The economy is already on a high – now it will get really woozy.  Apart from health workers, job seekers should also rejoice. 
Pinched minds have cruelly condemned the proposal from the Government’s coalition member Islamic Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP - United Development Party), claiming it might put the hospitality industry out of business.
Moonshine!  Thousands of teetotallers will now flock to Bali attracted by the lack of hotel mini-bars and the devilish temptation to try a nightcap.  The Gideon Bibles should also be thrown out at the same time – those old testaments can be intoxicating.
Our tourist intake should soon rival neighbor Brunei, Southeast Asia’s Mecca for fun and where hooch is haram.
Anthropologists and doctoral candidates will rejoice as Bali returns to its pristine past before the invasion of the awful Okkers.  Kecak will be danced for delight, not dollars. 
The locals will place morning offerings on vomit-free sidewalks. There’ll be no more arak so no danger of getting revved up on battery acid.
The tourism industry can change its slogan to Visit Dry Indonesia 2013 and stand by for a doubling of desirable visitors, not the cashed-up slobs from the Pilbara mining camps gasping ‘I’ll die without a Bintang’.  Now they can.
But where will the jobs come from, I hear you cry above the cheering?
Stand ashamed, ye cynics; in the law enforcement industry, of course.  Manufacturers of scanners detecting airline criminals carrying 101 millilitres of make-up outside a clear plastic bag will now make more machines, employ more pseudo cops.
These police college rejects owe their income and careers to Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists.  Now security services can expand using their sniff-o-bomb probes on firewater.  A tweak or two should make the body scanners detect any rotgut in visitors’ tummies. Then you can exchange bar life for a life behind bars. 
The politician who brewed up this bill, Ahmad Kurdi Moekri, 71, has been reported in the Australian media as saying it’s all about character building and “to safeguard the nation’s morals.”  Nothing to do with religion. 
This I accept in the same spirit that the former religious court judge and sharia expert understands that this column is free of sarcasm and irony.
The lawmaker also said his plans fit the mandate of Indonesia’s Constitution.  Absolutely.  So does pluralism, religious freedom and welfare for the poor.  Doubtless they’re in the Bill’s appendices
Good luck, Sir.  If you succeed please bring your talents to my homeland where we have alcohol abuse problems that you could never imagine, responsible for more than half the crimes and appalling domestic distress. Around 240 drunks and 182 thugs were arrested in Victoria on New Year’s Eve; the police reckoned behavior that night was “good”.
But let’s press PAUSE for a reality check.  Where I live in East Java there’s a better chance of finding a Methodist in a mosque than spirits in a supermarket.   Should I encounter one cringing in a corner (the bottle, not the Protestant), paying the 75 per cent luxury tax plus hefty excise would induce sobriety.
So why the urge to purge?  Surely this isn’t one of those political distractions used by the Machiavellian to divert attention from the real issues?  Nicotine kills 500,000 Indonesians a year – why not target tobacco?  Or is the industry too formidable a foe?
Pak Moekri, I salute your plan’s potential to create an Australian-free Kuta, Paradise Island rediscovered.  For this I’d propose a toast – if only I could find something to put in the glass. DG
First published in the Sunday Post, 20 January 2012DuncaFirstGraham