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

Sunday, April 28, 2013


In praise of Bali’s corrupt cops

It’s not often you read a story complimenting Bali’s sticky-fingered law enforcers, particularly after their exposure by Dutch entrapment artist Van Der Spek.

He’s the bareheaded bikie who You-Tubed a traffic policeman taking a bribe to waive the ticket. It’s an arresting video.

Anyway, here’s my cautionary tale. 

Some time ago in Kuta we needed rupiah. Then, as now, there was no shortage of moneychangers along Jl Legian offering juicy rates, far sweeter than those posted at banks and hotels.

Keen to ‘maximise returns on investments’ as bankers say (aka ‘greedy’) we chose the top offer in town.  What did it matter that the rate ended in an odd number and the bank was a dirty desk in an unlit corner of an overstocked clothing and artefact store?

Of course I knew of caveat emptor, but I was one big Westerner who’d studied maths at uni and was armed with a real calculator.  No little local with a doctored abacus was going to outsmart me.

The friendly shopkeeper apologised for his lack of large denomination notes, but, he chuckled, five, ten and 20 thousand rupiah notes were legal tender, even though well worn and confusing to outsiders. Of course. Ha, ha.

I laid down $500 in traveler’s cheques to one side of the counter.  A curious assistant sauntered across to watch his colleague and make small talk.  “Where was I from and how much did I pay for the camera?” Nice fellow.

The suckers enjoyed the chat and watched the piles of notes grow, get resorted, moved and double counted.  Handshakes all round.  Receipts?  Not necessary

Back in the hotel we were hit by reality and a Rp 600,000 shortfall.  The righteous receptionist said I should have used their service and ridiculed requests to call the police.

“They won’t come,” she said.  But they did in minutes, five young muscle men in casual clothes, pistols in belts, and a jeep.

They drove us back to the shop.  The moneychanger denied knowledge.  One cop walked round the counter and started ransacking the desk. Another barged his way into the back room. 

Their mates started manhandling stock.  Roughly. Very roughly. Soon fragile goods would tumble off shelves, clothes would rip, artwork shatter. Customers fled.  The staff blanched.

It seemed the confrontation would turn violent. Maybe getting our money back wasn’t such a good idea.  The scene was like a movie about the prohibition era with American cops raiding a sly grog shop.

If the police were trying to make an impression on a greenhorn foreigner then they were doing a splendid job.

Our cheques were found. One officer tapped the cheat’s chest and invited a refund.  Rp 200,000 was offered.  Clumsy cops started bumping into the furniture.  A further Rp 200,000 appeared.  Belts were hitched and sidearms adjusted.  The rest of the money jumped onto the desk.

Back in the jeep I congratulated the cops and told them that in my country the police would have just taken statements. They’d need search warrants.  Lawyers would get involved.  Should charges be laid the case would take months to reach court.

The chances of the artless dodger getting more than a warning and me my cash would be slight.  But here in Indonesia a fraud had been fixed in a flash and the criminal given one hell of a fright.  Instant justice – brilliant!

Happy to help, said the sergeant, all part of the service. Just one small issue – there’s another difference between Australian and Indonesian police; we locals are badly paid.

I rapidly reckoned Rp 100,000 split between five men was a fair price, and an appropriate penalty for my own stupidity.

Corruption?  Technically, yes. Effective?  Absolutely.  Qualms? A few and evaporating.

Back in Bali this year I tried a different shop to see if the scam was still alive.  Sorry, Pak, only small notes available. My friend just likes watching and chatting. You’re right, the light needs fixing. Cute camera, what did you pay? Now how much do you want? 

So nothing changes - and thanks to Van Der Spek we know the police are still accommodating.   

(First published in The Sunday Post 28 April 2013)


Sunday, April 14, 2013


Look   we’re still here       


The colors of Christchurch are luminous orange and shrieking yellow, the hues of wrecking crews’ high-viz vests and helmets. The sounds are power chisels and screaming saws slicing concrete.  The smell is dust, painting the green weeds gray as they push through cracked sidewalks proving that life persists.

On 22 February 2011 the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island and a major tourist attraction as the most English town outside Britain, was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

It wasn’t the first.   Five months earlier a 7.1 magnitude shake caused damage but no fatalities.  But the second more shallow shock hit the heart of the city killing 185 and injuring almost 2,000.

More than half the fatalities were in one six-storey building that included a language school.  The victims came from 20 countries (though not Indonesia) and included tourists and students, most from from Japan and China.

In the following months 4,000 lesser shocks kept survivors on edge, delaying repairs. The earth seems to have stopped quivering and the NZ$ 15 billion rebuild is getting underway, cautiously.

“Slowly” is the standard response from locals when asked how they are coping. There is anger and bitterness, but this is largely reserved for cumbersome bureaucracy -  more frustration with human frailty than fury at nature’s brutality.  The Earthquake Commission which compensates homeowners has around 100,000 claimants.

Casual visitors don’t encounter these emotions, but a stoical cheerfulness as survivors work to reassemble their lives and make Christchurch splendid again.

One day it may regain its title as the garden city but the new Christchurch won’t be the showplace of neo-gothic architecture that attracted millions. Nineteenth century stone built churches with towers and spires crumbled and crashed as the restless earth punched hard.  

Catolic Basilica - before and after

The city’s centrepiece, the Anglican Cathedral fronting the town square was so cruelly crippled demolition was ordered.

This is now on hold as traditionalists claiming a rebuild is possible take legal action.  In the meantime a new cathedral made of cardboard and designed by a Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is rising in Latimer Square opposite a fence festooned with fading photographs and wilting flowers.

This was the site of the Canterbury TV building which pancaked and then caught fire, killing 115.  An inquiry has heard allegations of poor engineering causing great angst in a country that long claimed to be quake-ready, lying on the same Ring of Fire that embraces Indonesia.

But Christchurch, squatting on a flat sandy plain was always regarded as the city least likely to be thumped.  Scientists believed the prime target was the hilly capital Wellington built on three known faults.

When the quakes struck a new word entered the public lexicon – liquefaction, where the vibrating soil turns into quicksand sucking down vehicles and undermining buildings.

So is the city ready for tourism, once its mainstay?  The answer is a cautious ‘yes’, though not for the reasons that originally drew crowds.

Christchurch is the place to witness a city in transition, celebrating creativity, initiative and resilience. It’s not a bounce back but a clamber out of the rubble, proof that the human spirit triumphs.

A sign widely seen reads: ‘Our building has gone, but we’re still here’.

Rising up - the cardboard cathedral

In the weeks after the quake raw-nerve residents were angered by ‘disaster tourists’ drawn to gape, or ‘rubberneck’ as they say locally.  That emotion has passed and sightseers are now welcome. 

Hotel ‘No Vacancy’ neons flash that the economy is recovering; many rooms are occupied by contractors and tradespeople drawn by work, but tourists are returning. Seven international airlines still fly into Christchurch.

There’s no risk in strolling the streets with a camera snapping the misfortune of others who now find it cathartic to answer visitors’ questions about the tragedy and chat about their hopes.  There are even scheduled bus tours of the Red Zone, the cordoned-off epicenter of the quake.

Disputes about insurance payouts and whether repairs are possible means many dramatically damaged buildings still stand.  The renaissance-style Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament known as the basilica is a striking example.  In the foreground a billboard reminds of the before, the reality behind is of the after.

The Quake City exhibition, billed as ‘a unique multi-sensory attraction aimed at informing, engaging and educating New Zealanders and international tourists about the Canterbury earthquakes’ draws crowds. 

Among the souvenir pictures of the quake on sale at the exhibition are copies of a book critical of insurance responses.  It’s as though everyone is determined not to hide the hurt while praising the heroism and remembering the miracle escapes.

Thousands have fled to other parts of NZ or Australia and the knock-on impact has been severe.  Low enrolment schools have shut or merged, factories relocated, businesses closed as patronage shrinks.   Before the shocks 377,000 lived in Christchurch – a post quake census has yet to be released.

The stayers determined to succeed.  Their attitudes aren’t forced or false, just statements of clear intent.  Shake us, bash us, but our roots are here. We’ll not be cowed.  Come and see what we’re doing.  

Quake City is alongside the Container Mall, shops, banks and offices cleverly constructed out of shipping containers, while others have been stacked to prop up buildings.  Nearby teenage girls dance on a low stage inviting passers-by to join them and express their joy of being alive.

Yet it’s easy to cry in Christchurch. It was such a quaint and placid city, its vast, almost medieval square drawing performers, exhibits, citizens and visitors to wander, chat and share.  Those days have gone. 

In their place big street displays show plans for the future and invite public comment. Opportunities to make the city special and different, rather than just restore, are constantly stressed. Architects and planners are letting their imaginations loose.

The quake savaged randomly, clawing beachside suburbs, only stroking those in the west.  Drive down an avenue of apparently intact homes smiling in normality, turn the corner and hit a roadblock, gaps in the dentures, portable toilets kerbside while sewers are fixed by hard hats wielding jackhammers.

On some cleared sites remnants of a tiled floor, painted car park space, doorsteps leading nowhere remind that people lived, loved and worked here.  Nowhere is this more poignant than in local artist Pete Majendie’s installation facing the Cardboard Cathederal.

This is how he describes it:  “It’s 185 square meters of grass depicting new growth; 185 white chairs, all painted twice by hand as an act of remembrance.  This installation is temporary – as is life.”

(First published in The Sunday Post 14 April 2013)


Monday, April 08, 2013


Winning workers' rights

South Korean trawler Sureste 707


Two years ago 32 Indonesian crewmen deserted the South Korean deep-sea trawler Oyang 75 in a New Zealand port.  Ship jumping is a serious issue, but these men are now being hailed as heroes.  Duncan Graham reports from Christchurch.

Streets are unlikely to be renamed in their honor and there’ll be no national grieving when they pass away, but the Javanese crew who decided to be slaves no longer have revolutionized a brutal and poorly regulated industry.

“Their actions have cleared the path for other crews to follow and exposed the wrongs so many have suffered,” said the Rev Jolyon White, social justice enabler for the Anglican Church.

His assessment was echoed by Christchurch Indonesian Society president ‘Nonie’ Elyana Thenu and her predecessor Dr Ani Kartikasari. (right)  “They are brave men, heroes,” they said.  “What they’ve done has made a difference.”

The words have substance.  Publicity about the plight of foreign fishing crews working on Korean boats fishing icy sub-Antarctic waters have forced the NZ government to radically change the way these craft operate and crews are recruited.

New immigration rules have been introduced impacting on Indonesian agents who hire crews.  The agents must be approved, not charge workers for their services or hold collateral against the men completing their contracts.

Withholding passports, payouts, land certificates and other valuables are said to be widespread, holding the fishermen and their families to ransom.

From May 2016 foreign fishing fleets operating out of NZ ports will have to follow local legislation. By sailing under other flags they’ve avoided NZ labor laws restricting work hours, health and safety rules and minimum pay rates, currently NZ$13.75 (RP 110,000) an hour.

Academics and lawyers have been helping to expose cheating, brutality and abuse allegedly suffered by Indonesians on Korean fishing boats, but Nonie and Ani have been at the sharp end of the campaign.

There are around 150 Indonesians living in the Christchurch region.  Ani, 50, arrived to study for a PhD in environmental management and stayed to work at Lincoln University.

Nonie, 51, (left)  followed her Kiwi husband to NZ 17 years ago.

Ani’s involvement started on a June afternoon in 2011 when she was called to Lyttelton, the port servicing Christchurch, a city smashed by an earthquake only four months earlier with the loss of 185 lives.

She found the 32 men shivering in a church. “They were very cold, most wearing cotton jackets,” she recalled.  “The heaters on the walls were on but their faces could not hide the exhaustion and fatigue from the previous sleepless night when they discussed their plight together.

“At 4 am that day, they had walked off the Korean factory trawler they’d worked on for months. In the dark they found the only church building that was still standing. They waited outside until the vicar turned up, letting them in and organizing breakfast.

“When asked later how they had found the church to shelter them they said they had no idea where to find a mosque where they would expect to find refuge.”  There is no mosque in Lyttelton, also badly damaged by the earthquake.

For the next fortnight government agencies and Indonesian Embassy staff interviewed the crew.  Their employer tried to keep the issue quiet, but the men said they’d had enough of being underpaid, and suffering physical and verbal abuse.  They also alleged illegal fishing practices.

This charge attracted the attention of NZ authorities. This year the Oyang 75 was fined NZ $10,500 (Rp 85 million) for secretly discharging waste at sea.  Last year it was fined NZ $420,000 (Rp 3.4 billion) for dumping low-grade fish.

“While all this was going on, the fishing company threatened to send them home for breach of contract,” said Ani. “Fortunately, a network of local people had started to form, offering support and this threat eventually stopped.

“However, the company refused to pay for the accommodation and food for the reason that the crewmen no longer worked for them. Their manning agents in Indonesia also started to pressure the crew to go back to work and even threatening their families back home, misinforming them that their sons and husbands were in trouble with the authorities in NZ.”

The men were sustained by Indonesian and Kiwi supporters including one anonymous donor who gave NZ$10,000 (Rp 80 million) for food and lodgings. 

This wasn’t the first time Indonesian crews had made the news. A year earlier the Oyang 70 capsized 740 kilometers off the NZ east coast when it tried to haul in an extra large catch, drowning six men including three Indonesians. Their bodies were recovered and repatriated.

The coronial inquest using evidence from Indonesian survivors translated by Ani and Nonie found “mismanagement by the master” sank the ship. 
The Maritime Union said the inquest revealed "a stain on NZ’s conscience that these ships of shame were allowed to operate."
Nonie has been back to Java twice to help the men’s families and make a film.  She has also been invited to Korea by a human rights organization to explain how Indonesian crew are treated when working on that nation’s ships.

The two women also praised Auckland University researchers and lawyers with the international Slave Free Seas group for supporting the Indonesian fishermen.

“Whatever it takes”

Anto Fantanto (left, orange top), Suprianto (behind) and Entis Sutisna
The blue-hulled stern trawler Sureste 707 lies idle in a NZ harbor while in Rev Jolyon White’s suburban Christchurch home three of its Indonesian crew wait for justice.

They were among a group of 21 men who followed the example of their mates from the Oyang 75 and deserted their ship in February this year alleging non-payment of wages and abuse.  Six other Indonesians decided to stay on board fearing repercussions against their families, while 18 accepted some payments and flew home.

But Anto Fantanto,40, of Boyolali in Central Java, and Suprianto, 29, and Entis Sutisna, 32, both of Tegal, about 300 kilometers east of Jakarta. are staying in Christchurch to take legal action against their former employer.

Without work visas, and living in a non-smoking house full of English books and no TV, time drags.  However Entis was the ship’s cook so keeps his mates fed with Indonesian food.

“We were hit by the ship’s officers, though not in NZ waters, and called a pig and a dog,” said Anto.    Entis claimed he had to pay Indonesian agents Rp 4.5 million to get the job and was owed about NZ $2,400 (Rp 19 million) in unpaid wages.

“It’s very important that Indonesians read and understand the contracts we are offered,” said Entis.  New NZ rules prohibit coercion and debt bondage but it is difficult to see how these can be enforced in Indonesia. 

The men said that through a network of Indonesian crewmen on foreign vessels they’d got the names and numbers of people in NZ who would help them if they had legitimate complaints.

Rev White said he and other activists would “do whatever it takes” to keep the men in Christchurch and help them with their case. This included running a Facebook site Not in Our Waters to expose the Indonesians’ allegations.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 April 2013)


The last Western heretic     


Can a Christian remain true to her or his faith while rejecting the resurrection of Jesus?

This Easter Christians around the world, including millions in Indonesia, recognised their calendar’s high point.  For many, worship at Easter identifies commitment to their faith.

Professor Sir Lloyd Geering was among them for he’s a regular churchgoer.  But the New Zealand theologian doesn’t accept any of the great tenets of the faith he follows, virgin birth, the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection.

“My own theological journey through life has been one of continual change and development,” he told a congregation celebrating his 70 years as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church.

“I have slowly come to realise that there is no such thing as unchangeable Christian truths.” 

Such comments would result in banishment from many pulpits, even charges of heresy.  This is what happened to Sir Lloyd in 1967 when he was accused of ‘doctrinal error.. and disturbing the peace and unity of the church.’

Earlier he had written that the church had long misinterpreted the resurrection story as resuscitation, and that the bones of Jesus still lie in Palestine.  Not surprisingly the reaction was white hot.

The trial made media headlines around the world with Sir Lloyd labelled as ‘the last Western heretic’.  The charges collapsed after the accused mounted a vigorous defence based on his scholarship and reasoning.

Although Sir Lloyd has visited and lectured in several countries it’s unlikely any church in Indonesia would welcome his presence, even though the Archipelago is on the speaking circuit for overseas preachers, often from the US.

These evangelicals draw thousands to big rallies.  They don’t inspire Sir Lloyd who has been outspoken in his hostility towards zealots of any faith.

“Fundamentalists are people who see traditional religions being challenged and fear the change,” he said. “They feel their own ways are under threat and react because they are too lazy to think.”
Sir Lloyd said he’d learned more from Buddhism than any other faith outside Christianity. Buddhism had survived for 2,500 years without belief in God, and could point the way to Christianity without God
He also paid respect to Islam, saying that the faith in its early days, particularly in Andalusia (a region in Southern Spain once controlled by Muslim Moors), had contributed much to the world’s learning. This included mathematics, the West’s numbering system, science and “a new burst of theology.”
“If it hadn’t been for the contribution of Islam, Christianity might have died a natural death,” he said. “Religions provide the time-tested frameworks of values. They help us learn how to be human beings and live with one another.
“Diversity of religions is a very good thing. What we’ve learned through ecology is that life evolved because of diversity. As humans we are an unified organism, not separate bodies.
“Religion must be relevant to the times in which we live. Christianity in its classical form had already died when I was a student – it was preached as a way of life. Unfortunately ‘religion’ is a blocking word. It’s associated with the supernatural.”
Attempts to find a bookstore in Indonesia’s major cities stocking any of Sir Lloyd’s 16 books, including titles like Christianity without God and In Praise of the Secular, was a doomed exercise.

Sir Lloyd, who has just turned 95, has been a widower twice. He was knighted in 2009, remains physically spry and drives to St Andrews’s on The Terrace, a Wellington Presbyterian church where he is the theologian in residence and a regular speaker and debater.

The church supports same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian clergy.  It’s part of the Progressive Christianity movement popular in the US and Australasia, though unlikely to take root in Indonesia until criticism of religion is accepted and divorced from atheism.

Although Christianity in Indonesia is reported to be expanding it tends to be charismatic and conservative, with Protestant congregations sometimes splitting and forming new denominations.

In Australasia congregations are shrinking and churches closing, helping energize ecumenism.  Doctrinal differences matter less when the prayerful depart the pews.

Preachers from other faiths, including Islam, Judaism and Buddhism have spoken at St Andrew’s and read their holy books at the lectern. An Indonesian gamelan orchestra has played in the church.

Lloyd Geering was born in New Zealand’s South Island where Presbyterians from Scotland first settled in the 19th century.  His family was only mildly religious.

A brilliant mathematician he later turned to theology and became a university lecturer in his homeland and Australia.  He remains Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington and is a drawcard for theologians of all faiths from across the world.

Attitudes towards him have mellowed over the decades from vilification as the most divisive man in the country to praise as the nation’s leading public intellectual.

He is a member of the Jesus Seminar, a select group of largely Western Biblical scholars that’s been re-examining and re-translating the scriptures.  They’ve been seeking what they call the ‘historical Jesus’ as opposed to the figure constructed by later contributors to the Bible.

Sir Lloyd’s lectures and preaching are intellectual exercises, not happy clapping and calls to prayer, which he doesn’t support. He has made a series of TV programs about his philosophy set in the Holy Land.  He says he has no expectation of an afterlife.

“The Biblical witness to the path of faith starts with the story of Abraham, a figure who is equally honored in what later became three great faith traditions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” he said.

Like Abraham of old I am not at all clear about the way ahead, either for the church or for the human race as a whole.

“But I continue to go into the unknown, walking the path of faith that started in his time and drawing my values and inspiration from all who have followed in his steps.”



Seeing beyond the grave                                                                  

Touch: When I woke from the anaesthetic both eyes were bandaged.  I could feel the plastic shield and plasters.

Boundaries were detected by running my hands along the bed rails and translating tactile impressions to knowledge of hospital furniture.  Likewise with the plastic tubes sprouting from both wrists.

Hearing: At first it was difficult to tell much about the nurses other than their gender, having to rely entirely on voices.  That didn’t last long proving the extraordinary ability of the body to adapt.

Unable to see, other senses automatically tweaked up their levels to fill the gap. Once the effect of the drugs had gone I strained to know more of my environment and carers.

A map of the recovery ward was assembled based on the proximity of sounds as people came and left.  The groans and snores of sleepers helped locate other beds, and the tone of voice used by staff and visitors seemed to indicate the severity of the patient’s operation.

But who were my carers?  With three shifts every 24 hours there were plenty to keep the imagination active. 

Nurses who sounded extra compassionate were clearly young and new to the game while the no-nonsense women who marched into my curtained cubicle arresting my attention with blood-pressure cuffs were the old hands.

This is not a complaint, though a 4 am check could have waited awhile.

Every day the hospital’s 15 operating theatres wheel out the sliced and stitched, the opened and closed, the removed and replaced into one ward – each patient differently traumatized.  The place was an airport without planes, arrivals and departures round the clock.

Some wanted to demonstrate their machismo showing that no surgeon’s scalpel was going to cut them down.  One loud mouth with his spine drilled and screwed yet again in complex orthopaedic work was determined to prove nothing would keep him away from the exit.

His diction was so clear he must have been an actor hired by the hospital to clear the ward. If this Lazarus could walk – so could we.

I tried, but could only make the toilet.  This provided more clues.  Some nurses held my hand with a wife’s intimacy; others preferred a wrist or elbow while the male nurses just offered a shoulder.  All smelt soap-sweet.

A fellow patient recovering from bladder surgery offered to assist with a midnight promenade creating a brief collegiate atmosphere.

Back in bed his blood pressure almost ruptured the sphygmomanometer.  He loudly blamed it on excessive exercise. I could imagine his outraged family ripping off my bandages to revenge the damage I’d done to dear old grandpop.

Unable to see, my ears compensated - tuned like airport radar dishes searching for faint and faraway blips - picking up every word and tone.

Visitors probably thought the eyeless and motionless hulk in the corner could be ignored, but in fact I was a high-tech receiver of every subtle sound, putting their platitudes through my cynicism meter, sifting sentences for hidden meanings and false tears.

Were they really coping without Mom and wanting her to rest – or cunningly pushing for her rapid return and regular meals?  Some families used the opportunity to catalogue complaints of life at home – subtly encouraging the patient to stay in hospital.

Still blindfolded I thanked my invisible carers when wheeled home and the surgeons during bandage-free post-op visits.  I know what they look like – miracle workers.

Back home and bandage free I’ll never know whether the nurses were pretty or plain, the ward walls pastel or puce.  I could go back but the experience has gone.  You can’t step into the same river twice, or a recovery room.

Yet the person I’m most indebted to will never get my gratitude.  Man or woman, young or old, outgoing or reserved? I hope they loved and were loved, and the nurses gentle on that last goodnight.

If only I could hear that most decent person’s voice, feel their touch, hear their story, know why they donated their eyes so others can see - and say: I will use your precious gift to tell of your generosity and hope others may follow.  God bless you.  Duncan Graham

(First published in The Sunday Post 7 April 2013)