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 18, 2013


Malang Town Hall behind the Tugu monument
If you hadn’t read of Herman Thomas Karsten before opening this blog you’re not alone.  His name is seldom seen even though he supported Indonesian independence and died in a Japanese prison camp.
Yet the urban planner had a major impact on more than 20 Indonesian cities including the capital, and Merdeka Square in particular. He was also largely responsible for the high-ceiling, peak roof architecture that sheds tropical rain and keeps rooms cool.
Malang could rightly be called Karstenstad because he worked in the central East Java town between 1930 and 1935, creating a well laid-out metropolis that only recently has started to be despoiled by unforeseen traffic loads and reckless development.
“The Dutch made a modern city which was once said to rival Berlin, yet we seem to ruining it,” said a frustrated Dr Hery Kurniawan.  “I ask people that I’m showing around: ‘Do you think we are going backwards or forwards?’”

The answer has to be the latter if only because Dr Hery (pictured, left with Ismail Lutfi) and his colleagues in Pandu Pusaka (heritage guide) are doing their best to remind locals that they have a grand past worthy of understanding and preserving.
“When we don’t know our history we lose our dignity and values,” said archaeologist Ismail Lutfi who calls himself a “Nusantara heritage awareness specialist.”   
“We need to treasure our traditions, to remember that we have something important and precious that we have a responsibility to preserve.”
Responded Dr Hery: “In the Soeharto era we were taught that history started in 1965 (the year when Soekarno was ousted),” he said.  “Now we live in an open society when we should accept that our history began long ago.”
How far?  Precision is difficult because records have perished and myth has married fact to produce a slippery offspring.  However 760 AD during the Mataram Kingdom seems to be widely accepted as the start of the regency.
Although Ismail, who teaches history at the Malang State University specialises in this period, he’s equally concerned with understanding the colonial past. For Malang this grew once the railway from Surabaya was completed in 1879.
This gave residents of the steamy provincial capital the chance to escape to the cool hilltown and its well established tea and tobacco plantations.
The Dutch turned Malang into a garrison town and it remains home to the Brawijaya Regiment. More recently thousands of students from eastern Indonesia studying at scores of universities have made the city cosmopolitan.
Planner Karsten didn’t follow the European grid model when he laid out the present city, instead wrapping streets around the meandering Brantas River.  At the time the Dutch were beginning to realise that plunder had to be tempered with a responsibility to provide.
About 4,000 Europeans and 23,000 Javanese lived in Malang.  Now the population is close to one million with next to none from overseas.
Central Malang: Ebenezer Church and the Grand Mosque
Pandu Pusaka is a group of ten amateur historians including teachers, retired public servants and a psychologist that came together 18 months ago with general practitioner Dr Hery.
They’ve developed 12 walking trails based on the Karsten blueprint that are anything but pedestrian.  “There are similar trails in Jakarta and Yogya, but they’re getting to be commercial,” said Dr Hery. “Our tours are free because we want to attract young people.”
The guides put the story into history.  Forget plump burgemeesters and the dates of their drab tenure; out with the tedious, in with the titillating. Let the past live.
 There’s the department store that used to be a prison.  How many shoppers know criminals once cowed where boutiques blossom? Here’s the area favored by prostitutes – you won’t see them today in this buttoned-down age. 
Note that Catholic high school? It was bombed by the Dutch. The town hall’s architect was inspired by the shape of a lobster, presumably to remind officials to get their pincers into residents’ wallets.  And talking of aquatics, the navy has its base on this street, 444 meters above sea level.
That air-raid siren on its rusting tower stands ready to warn against Japanese Zero fighters. Here major courtyards designed to show off the majesty of a grand hotel have been filled in with shabby dwellings.  Karsten’s successors must have looked the other way.
One man’s vision splendid corrupted by short-term commerce. The old hasn’t always been bulldozed, just upstaged, eviscerated, shrouded and forgotten by most.  Though not by Dr Hery and his history sleuths.

The signpost hasn't changed since the 1930s
“We want heritage protection for the major buildings, as in Singapore,” he said.  “We’ve pleaded our case with the authorities and they say: ‘That’s good.  Keep on going’.  But they never offer support.”
Malang seems relaxed about its colonial past. Many streets retain their old names just slightly tweaked.  The city shield had European heraldic lions and the motto Malang nominor sursum moveor (my name in Malang, my goal forward).  Or as the fanatical supporters of soccer team Malang Arema shout: ‘Go Malang!’

The Dutch crest (left)  has given way to a commonplace phallic monument and the more uplifting Malang Kucecwara (God has destroyed the evil.)  
Although the adjective malang translates as ‘unfortunate’ the city is the opposite, blessed with a rich cultural past and numerous pre-Islamic temple sites. It has two well-kept alun-alun (town squares, though one is circular) and many lovely streets. There’s still plenty of art deco architecture and greenery with a riverbank flower market.
Its charm overtakes the traffic curse that clogs so many Indonesian towns.  Malang remains a ‘must see’ city.
In May thousands attend the Malang Tempo Doeloe (olden days) festival down the city’s magnificent boulevard, Jalan Ijen.  Many don period Dutch garb, strut like the born-to-rule and sell European snacks to universal delight for the tone is merriment, not mockery.
Despite Dr Hery’s despair his voice is being heard.  A few restaurants and some hotels are developing heritage themes and a private museum has opened.
Said Ismail: “We are eager and concerned to remember the past and be proud of our city.”
(Want to try a trail? Check the Pandu Pusaka Facebook) 

First published in The Sunday Post, 17 February 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013


Kresnayana Yahya
Doing it our way                                           
Finding folk who think the Jakarta floods are a hint of the Deity’s displeasure isn’t difficult.  But when the believer is a famous overseas trained statistician and economic commentator, it’s time to raise eyebrows.
Though only marginally and seasonally adjusted.
So what sort of message from above? “That we haven’t managed the environment properly,” said Kresnayana Yahya, a Christian.
“Joko (Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo) has been put there by God to improve the welfare of the people. Westerners don’t understand that Indonesians believe in the power of the Almighty.  We are certain there is a God.
“Overseas business people need to realise this about our culture and society.  The Japanese appreciate our ways and don’t seem to have the same problems.
“In the West you just pay your taxes and expect the government to take care of welfare, but not here. This is poorly understood by the Western media that’s caught in the mindset of 20 years ago – we are no longer a midget nation.
“You must respond to these new realities and take part in CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs to help raise the dignity of the people. We want things to be done our way.”
‘Raising dignity’ is a common phrase in Kresnayana‘s lexicon, stressing it as a factor along with the “Indonesian ideology of a shared life” that he says outsiders need to comprehend.
Now 63 he teaches at Surabaya’s prestigious Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (ITS 10 November Technology Institute, named after the 1945 Battle of Surabaya).  Kresnayana pioneered the study of statistics at ITS in 1983 after returning from the University of Wisconsin-Madison two years earlier.
ITS now has around 1000 maturing statisticians.  There are 3000 nationwide, but Kresnayana claims ten times more are needed to fill gaps in government and industry with graduates working as forecasters, planners, data analysts and social developers.
 “I started studying mathematics at high school because I thought that was the queen of the sciences that would give me easy access to all the other disciplines,” he said.
But why queen? “Queens are wiser and kings too authoritarian.  They can’t be challenged.”
Kresnayana spoke to The Jakarta Post after delivering a lecture in mid January on the 2013 economic outlook before an audience of about 250 at the Malang branch of the Indonesian Management Association.
“Twenty years ago about 80 per cent of the people attending would have been Chinese,” he said.  “Now it’s down to 60 per cent – that’s how much our society is changing.”
His message was upbeat. “The future for Indonesia is bright regardless of the world economy and the uncertainties in Europe and America.
 “Our growth rate of around 6.3 per cent doesn’t take the warung economy (roadside stalls and home industries) into account.  I think the real figure is closer to eight per cent.
“It’s true this is mainly due to population growth, not exports, but this is changing. Just look back and see the differences. The national budget is five times larger than during Soeharto’s regime, and at least a third now goes to local government.
“Decentralization has liberated the provinces to develop their ideas and responses to change. Think how Sulawesi is now challenging Java in food production. Consider how ayam kampung (the almost wild, lean and tasty village chickens), once too expensive for poor people, are now being bred on farms and the price of protein has come down.
“Our strength is our diversity.  Most of us have grown up in a homogenous environment. Indonesians live with and for each other.
“There aren’t that many countries in the world which have these benefits and the experience of working together. The danger is of becoming dominated by others – like our reliance on Japanese vehicles, not public transport”.
Statisticians keep comics in business.  New Zealand economist Sir Frank Holmes once said statistics were like bikinis – what they reveal is important, what they conceal is vital.
Then there’s the old joke about a statistician putting his feet in a fridge and head in a fire and feeling comfortable ‘on average’.  Kresnayana chuckled, but said this misunderstands his profession.   “These are two different things that can’t be compared,” he said.
 It’s the loose balls, like the Jakarta floods and political crises that upset economic forecasting, with 2013 set to be a year of political floods as candidates joust for positions ahead of next year’s election.
“We are tolerating democracy and going through the learning process, though too few understand what it means,” he said. “Feudalism is still present, but diminishing as people get better educated.
 “It’s not so easy for politicians now – at least a third of the population knows what’s good and proper and can see through propaganda.  They are getting frustrated because of the way policies are being mishandled.
“I’m not impressed with the candidates so far. We are still looking for the right person.  Why aren’t good people willing to get involved?”
The son of teachers in Malang, Kresnayana doesn’t fit the definition of an economist as someone who talks about money without making any.  He is also a commissioner with fertilizer manufacturer PT Petrokimia Gresik and works for the Enciety business consultancy which publishes enough data to fuse a calculator.
As a media commentator he pushes a vision of a greater Indonesia in the big league alongside China and India, stressing that the Republic is rich, the workers keen and open to change, wanting to take on new technology – but need to be respected for who they are.
He rejects the line that Australia needs Indonesia, but not vice versa, saying: “We need each other.
“The role of the intellectual is to speak the facts as he or she sees them, whether the rest of society likes it or not, or whether they are curious or angry.
“It’s easy to cheat with figures, but a statistician’s role is to tell the truth.  Or at least what is closest to the truth.”

First published in The Jakarta Post, 11 February 2013