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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The man behind a thousand masks                           

Djoko Rendy claims he’s not an artist. Frequently. Like the Player Queen in Hamlet, does he protest too much?
His rejections seem sincere, not a sly attempt to suggest the reverse rules. Self-taught Djoko, 55, has long worked in modelling, painting and mask making.  He favors the pirate-style bangles and beads fashion statements beloved by Indonesian creative males, but it’s clear he’s more a dabbler and dreamer than grand master of the palette.
Perhaps his denials have more to do with respecting champions of their craft whose work hangs on Djoko’s Malang studio waiting for the right buyer to appear.
That’s likely to take time for the dirt-floored exhibition space, originally landfill for a former trash  tip, is precariously perched down steep mossy steps above the litter-strewn Brantas River.  Recent flooding has already eroded the sidewalk outside and a chasm looms. 
Djoko, who is also a bush handyman with a neat style in bamboo pole lashing, knocked together the studio using money from a car sale.  He lives here with his librarian wife Maria Carmela and son Ndaru Lazarus, 8.  The couple are also collectors; their tastes are eclectic, ranging from sublime Mary, the mother of Jesus, to topless Ratna Dewi, one of founding president Soekarno’s nine wives.
Although located in the center of the East Java city, just a chirp and a splash from the bird and fish markets, the open-sided gallery with no humidity controls would drive professional curators to hang themselves rather than their art.
But it does show what can be done with little money coupled with a determination to inspire.
“It makes me so sad to see young people with such little knowledge of their heritage,” Djoko said. “I put several proposals to the mayor’s office for projects that might halt that trend and attract tourists.
“However all were rejected – until I had the idea of celebrating one of our great traditions that’s in decline – mask making.  Not just a few, but a thousand.”
Malang is Majapahit heartland.  The Hindu-Buddhist fiefdom ruled much of present-day Indonesia and nearby countries before collapsing in the 16th century, probably through family feuding. 
Most survivors moved to Bali though remnants remain in villages around Mount Bromo, along with some of the ancient myths and crafts that Djoko wants to celebrate.

The Nagarakretagama poem in the National Museum in Jakarta tells of King Hayam Wuruk [1334 - 1389] dancing with a gold mask.  It’s one of the earliest records of wayang gedog, the East Java mask dances that focus on the loves and adventures of the mythical hero Prince Panji.
Djoko said there were 84 different masks representing characters in the stories – other alleged authorities reckon there are only 60.  One of the delights in encountering East Java history is that facts are few and interpretations many.
This became clear on a Sunday morning this month (18 Jan) when hundreds of women, men and kids gathered to show off their culture, interests, talents and pride.  Djoko may lack the finest artistic abilities, but the upside is that he seems to inspire self-expression.
What organizing committee member Siti Hardiyanti described as “a genuine gotong royong [community self-help] event with minimal official support” soon became obvious.
There were no politicians making pompous speeches, which was a relief. But when the participants paraded past the town hall, down to the railway station and back again the roads – all major thoroughfares - stayed open.  Which created the unimaginable - chaos greater than usual.
Further proof of the event’s authenticity was its lack of political correctness.  Jovial salesman Rudi Yused 36, turned up as a Nazi SS officer, unconcerned that if he did the same in Germany riots would erupt.
What did this have to do with Indonesian culture?  “I just want to be different,” he said.  “I’ve got uniforms from many countries, including Japan.”
Others chose to represent the colonialists they overthrew almost 70 years ago, wearing sackcloth khaki, draping their onthel [vintage bicycles] with bandoliers of ammunition, scabbards and saddlebags.  In Europe they would have been arrested at gunpoint by anti-terror squads – in Malang they were cheered by unthreatened crowds.
Heading the parade were statues of King Brawijaya’s son Prince Bathara Katong and Princess Dewi Songgolangit, figures from legend and a real or imagined history.  They were shouldered by brawny men led by Ki Genter Pamungkas carrying a carved stick.
The 87-year old happily attributed his sprightliness and longevity to art, exercise, patience and smoking hand-rolled kretek [clove flavored] cigarettes in a holder carved from a cow horn.

Like stormtrooper Rudi, the yellow-toothed nicotine addict would have been rapidly evicted from a similar parade in Australasia by health and safety officials for setting a bad example. Particularly to the youngsters in the Drumb [sic] Band behind, led by baton twirling Nia Purwati. Though a year short of her teens she displayed all the confidence and flair of a veteran performer.
“I came because I want my children to know about East Java culture,” said food seller Panji, 28, with his six year old son Ananda riding pillion.  “I really enjoy learning about history and the old days.”
The lion-head, peacock-feathered seni reyog dance from nearby Ponorogo has been well documented in academic journals, but how the band and bull fights fitted in was another conundrum. 
The boys sweating under their black costumes were more interested in charging their bovine rivals than discussing anthropology.  Goring a few Hondas helped clear the road for performers. Which all goes to prove that culture which evolves is culture that thrives.
Sadly no Europeans were seen in the crowds lining the streets.  If there was any coordination with tourism officials the results weren’t obvious.
Concluded Djoko: “It was a great, positive, spectacular experience for everyone, participants and onlookers. About 240 children were involved. We didn’t quite reach our goal but we got hundreds of masks made.  I hope we’ll do it every year. I feel proud.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 28 January 2014) 


Getting lost without getting lost     
You’ve just arrived in a strange city and feel like exploring.  You get the hotel name and address in the local language and cautiously venture beyond the safety of the security guards.
What next?  The visitors’ brochures are out of date and only feature the attractions tourism department officials think will amuse.  Few bureaucrats have been outside their own province, certainly not overseas alone and bent under a backpack. 
Consequently they have little understanding of what drives foreigners to stray beyond the neon for a tiny taste of local life.
Now imagine you have a smart phone app prepared not by the chamber of commerce but members of a heritage organization.  They want to steer your steps away from shopping malls and into narrow lanes where history has hidden in locations so secret even locals are unaware of their significance to the outside world.
Maybe you’ll find a shop where the goods haven’t been made in China and where the seller just wants a fair price, not your total wallet. Perhaps you’ll encounter quirky architecture and enter houses built centuries ago.
Wouldn’t that be worth US$2 [Rp 25,000] if the money was used to help conserve some of the buildings?
That’s the thinking of Dutch urban economist Ester van Steekelenburg who develops what she calls “innovative learning tools”.  One of these is an app she and her colleagues at their Hong Kong based consultancy Urban Discovery have put on the market.
The company’s slogan is ‘keeping heritage alive for a vibrant and viable urban future’.
In the 1990s she spent a year in Xiamen, formerly Amoy, the ancient Chinese port opposite Taiwan.  As usual, developers were following their herd instincts – wrecking history and building bland. It made her wonder if there wasn’t a middle way.
“There’s often conflict between conservation and development, yet preserving heritage can make economic sense,” said Dr Van Steekelenburg [she got her doctorate in urban economics] in an e-mail exchange from Hong Kong.
 “It’s strange that Indonesians and other Asians go to Europe to see heritage buildings but ignore those in their own cities.
“The response from people who’ve done the app walks is great. They typically say that they’ve visited places they would otherwise not have found or would not have dared to go inside.
“Another comment is that users feel they have a better understanding of the neighborhood. Customers are mainly individual travellers who find us through our website and by simply browsing the app store for their travel destination. 
“The apps, which include maps photos and videos, have been designed to help visitors get lost without getting lost.”
So far walks have been completed for Denpasar, Jakarta, Surabaya and Yogyakarta in association with NUFFIC [the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education], an independent non-profit with an office in Jakarta. 
Dr Van Steekelenburg said NUFFIC covered costs for training, curating and technical maintenance. All proceeds from downloads [the first is free] go to local heritage societies.

New tours are planned for 2015, including one for Malang.  The central East Java city is rich in remnants from the 13th to 16th century Majapahit Empire – and garnished with fine examples of 19th century Dutch colonial architecture.
Other cities on the list and scheduled to be ready this year are Magelang and Semarang [Central Java], Bandung [West Java], Medan [North Sumatra] and Padang [West Sumatra].
In 2008 Dr Van Steekelenburg edited Elmina; Building on the past to create a better future. Elmina, a port on the south coast of Ghana also known as the Dutch Gold Coast, was used to ship slaves to America.  The slave fortress Coenraadsburg was restored in 2007.
In the book she wrote that the restoration encouraged sustainable developments: ‘This meant an increase in tourism, a revival of traditional culture and skills, an increasing demand for local products and thus improved living conditions’.
In other words conservation and development don’t necessarily make an unhappy marriage.  
Yogya-based historian Emile Leushuis, author of Panduan Jelajah Kota-kota Pusaka di Indonesia [A guide to exploring heritage in Indonesia’s Cities] published last year and reviewed in The Jakarta Post on 8 December, said android apps were essential. 
 Dr Van Steekelenburg agreed: “We’re only one year old and especially in terms of local marketing and keeping walks up-to-date I think we can still improve.
“The bottleneck here is that we mainly rely on the local heritage organisations who are the co-curators of the walks,
“Very few Indonesians have i-Phones, so for them it’s a bit difficult to see the value added at this point. We hope that with the release of the android version next month (Feb) and increased revenues from downloads coming their way it will be a nice promotional tool, an exciting addition to their current activities to bring more awareness to local heritage.”
Leushuis said that creating an app is one thing, “but making it accessible and out there is another.
“Somehow people have to know that there is an app available when they are staying for example in Malang and might be tempted to explore the city.
“I think there should be clear barcode-scanning points at certain locations favored by expats and maybe also on the sign boards that Dwi Cahyono has put up around town.”

Cahyono (right) is a Malang entrepreneur who runs a private museum and has been urging local government to preserve the city’s heritage. He used his own money to erect signs around the city describing historical sites, hoping local government would fund English translations.  That has yet to happen.
“I’m one hundred per cent behind this idea if it’s using android apps,” he said. “At the beginning this will attract foreigners – maybe it will take two years for Indonesians to catch up.
“Care has to be taken – what works in Hong Kong may need to be adapted to function here. There’s still a need for education; too few government tourism departments understand that heritage means money.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 27 January 2015)

Sunday, January 25, 2015


BTW: Scowling and pouting to fame
“Well, hi there chickadees!  What lovely people we have here today – you all look gorgeous!
“Oh, but it’s so sad I can’t employ everyone for my spectacular new sinetron series High School  Headscarf  Ghost’s  Revenge, but I absolutely know you’ll understand. The Bung Karno Stadium seems a little crowded with hopefuls, so let’s get sorted.
“As you’ve read in the talent call, we only need white-skinned adults who look like adolescents minus acne, so if your Pop was a Caucasian – well that should be fine. If you’ve got blue eyes and black hair, even better.
“I see you’re having a wardrobe malfunction there, dewdrop.  Straps aren’t what they used to be, are they?  Is that your cellphone number tattooed on your …?  Well, I do admire ambition. Fame’s heading your way fast, sweetlips. After the series you can sell shampoo or toilet cleaner on TV.
“For the rest of you – better luck next time, cherubs!
“Wait a minute – you, the dark guys.  We’ve got interchangeable parts for security guards and thugs.  Have a word with my personal assistants while I chat up, sorry, chat with these beautiful people.
“Any questions? You say you can’t act?  No worries snookums, I can’t direct.  Ha, ha.  That’s a joke, right. You want this gig? So laugh.  You’re not auditioning for Twelfth Night.  Frankly, the fewer brains the better.  Now we’ll give you a test.
“I want the guys to imagine they’ve just been jilted.  Let me see you frown and snarl … get those mouths tightening and eyes hardening.  Flare the nostrils – great, great …how about a bit of wall punching, even better.
“Now the girls.  Pout, please.  Sweep hair back, fold arms, stare into the distance, play with neckline, roll eyes.  Marvellous, just marvellous.
“The next bit is tricky, but I know you’ll all go full throttle.  We call it the sneaky scene.  It’s compulsory. Crouch behind that artificial shrub and look like you’re eavesdropping.  Now the same with a door slightly ajar. React.  Look aghast. Mmm, not too bad.
“I’ll just bandage Fifi’s forehead, and she’ll lie down.  Yes, I did memorize your number, but thanks for showing me again.  The guys will be given white jackets, thick rimmed glasses and stethoscopes.
"Sinetron give a misleading portrait of life"
“Drape ‘em round your neck so we know you’re a doctor. The stethoscopes, not the spectacles. They’re for peering over. That’s what docs do. The wall poster of a skeleton proves this is a hospital. You’ve diagnosed a case of terminal over-acting, so look serious, scribble on a clipboard. Yes, a question?

“What, can you write a prescription? Yeah, for cyanide, and you can take a dose.  I call the shots round here and we don’t need smart arses on the set.  Not you, Fifi, yours is smart enough.
“You’ll see we’ve brought a car into the studio.  You’re right, it is the latest Mercedes W222.  This is a teenage series centered around a state school, so we need to keep the props authentic.
“The driver is the principal and he’s going to run you over because you’re ruining his career with black magic. So fall in front of the car as though you’ve been hit.
“Fifi, that was very good.  Hey boys, did you see how she rolled over and displayed her .. you did? That’s star stuff. You’ll get to Parliament yet. Now, now girls, no eye gouging.
“Finally we’ll try the family denouement scene ready for Ramadhan. The plot is complex - our script team pored over this for weeks - so pay attention. All sit on the sofas. Thrust has brought Lust home, but she’s not wearing a jilbab.  Mom explains that no-one beds her boy who isn’t modestly attired.  Lust agrees, and a headscarf magically appears. Good, eh?  I feel an award coming on.
“OK.  Boys glance sideways at each other.  Say nothing. Nod. Appear wise and noble. Excellent.  Girls sob into tissues and look pious.  Even better! Cut!
“Leave your resumes and we’ll call you if the screen tests shake out.  Fifi, I need to know more about your talent, honeychild.  It’s been a hard day, but you guys make me feel so proud to be in such a creative industry.” Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 25 January)

Friday, January 23, 2015


It’s neither helpful nor honest for the government and individuals to maintain the disclaimer that we respect Indonesia’s laws and sovereignty when discussing capital punishment.
Let’s stop being mealy mouthed.  We are not diplomats weighing fall-out or politicians calculating where the fleeting public interest lies.  The death penalty is abhorrent, immoral, unequivocally unacceptable and we should say so whatever the consequences.
Did we respect South Africa’s sovereignty when it practised racial segregation? Do we respect Saudi laws on lashing dissidents and beheading maids?  Do we respect Egypt’s jailing of journalists?  And if ISIS sets up a state will we acknowledge its sovereignty?
Did William Wilberforce ‘respect’ the slave trade nations while preaching abolition?
This is not an argument about drugs or crime, but universal human rights that transcend borders, politics and the trade issues of the moment.

Can we please get back to that great Australian quality of addressing a spade by its proper name.  Capital punishment is judicial murder, and we should lead the way in condemning its use everywhere and support those progressive Indonesians working towards abolition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Firing squad could wound Oz-RI relationships                    

The sometimes strained bonds between Indonesia and its southern neighbor have been relaxed since the election of new President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.  He’s visited Australia, met Prime Minister Tony Abbott – who also attended the Presidential inauguration - and seems to have been well received.
The last major dispute followed the 2013 revelation that Australian spies had bugged the phones of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Ani. Indonesia’s ambassador in Canberra was recalled and it took almost a year to get back to normal.
However all could turn turtle if Indonesia puts two Australian drug traffickers before a firing squad this year – as promised.
The men are little known in Indonesia, but big news in Australia. Andrew Chan, 30, and Myuran Sukumaran, 33, alleged ringleaders of the Bali Nine drug syndicate, were caught in 2005 and sentenced in 2006. Last year they appealed to former President Yudhoyono.  He stayed silent.
Last month (December) President Jokowi proclaimed his abhorrence of drug traffickers and determination not to interfere in court decisions, saying: “I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who commit narcotics-related crimes.”
This week he kept his word as six criminals, five of them foreigners, met their maker. Reaction was swift with the Netherlands and Brazil recalling their ambassadors
Indonesians may be applauding a president with resolve, but the Republic is marching on the wrong side of history. More than half the world’s nations have abolished capital punishment, accepting the philosophy that it’s a cruel penalty, has no deterrent effect and the risks of wrong convictions are too great. 
 Mr Abbott has already told the Australian media that he hopes Chan and Sukumaran’s executions will not go ahead.
"We oppose the death penalty for Australians at home and abroad,” he said. “We obviously respect the legal systems of other countries but where there is an attempt to impose the death penalty on an Australian we make the strongest possible diplomatic representations.”
The PM’s comments spotlight the verbal acrobatics politicians perform on this emotional issue. Mr Abbott says he respects Indonesia’s legal system – but then condemns its application. To be consistent abolitionists should express the same dismay whatever the nationality of the condemned.
When Indonesia puts criminals before a dozen M16s, appeals to other nations to spare the lives of the Republic’s citizens abroad carry little weight. Indonesia has more than four million workers overseas, with 280 reportedly on death rows in countries like Saudi Arabia where the legal systems are not known for being open, fair and just. 
Although Mr Abbott has said the executions will not affect international relationships – meaning he’ll speak strongly but won’t carry a big stick -  that hasn’t been the case in the past
In 1986 Malaysia ignored Australian government appeals and dropped two Australian drug runners, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, through a prison trapdoor.  The then Australian PM Bob Hawke described the hangings as “barbaric”.  His comment inflamed Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and set back relations between the two nations for several years.
In 2005 Singapore executed Australian student Van Tuong Nguyen, 25, for drug trafficking rejecting Australian government pleas to stay the noose.  Mr Abbott, who was then Health Minister, said Singapore’s determination was wrong and that the punishment "certainly did not fit the crime.” There were allegations of retaliatory business sanctions, but these were denied and unproven.

Even if Mr Abbott is right about no official impact, the legal procedures and manner of the men’s deaths will color public perceptions. Greg Craven, vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, is already predicting “a wave of revulsion” if the executions proceed.

Professor Craven heads the Mercy Campaign to try and stop the shootings.  As a lawyer he measures his words. However inflammatory comments by less cautious abolitionists could arouse the anger of Indonesian nationalists and further damage links.

The other problem is that news featuring Chan and Sukumaran will swamp the Australian media, drowning positive stories about the people next door.  This is already happening.  On Monday (19 Jan) all major news services ran heavily on the upcoming executions, some focusing on Sukumaran’s maturing artistic abilities and rehabilitation. Editorials have all condemned the death penalty.

Despite Professor Craven’s predictions there will be limited applause for President Jokowi’s determination from a few Australian hardline anti-drugs campaigners. This will get highlighted by sections of the Indonesian media to prove dissent Down Under.

The truth is that public support for capital punishment in Australia is low, though it rises after particularly savage crimes like the Bali bombings of 2002 that killed 202 – including 88 Australians. Recent polls show only around 23 per cent want the death penalty reinstated. The last judicial killing was in 1967.

So far Chan and Sukumaran, both alleged to be professional drug traders, have not aroused the same level of public sympathy shown towards blue-eyed beautician Schapelle Corby. The so-called ‘Ganja Queen’ was jailed in 2005 for 20 years for smuggling 4.2 kilos of marihuana into Bali.
Her story became a media staple, spawning books and documentaries. A determined support network was set up and backed even by those who doubted her innocence because the sentence was considered excessively harsh.
Corby, 37, was paroled last year by President Yudhoyono, a gesture that improved Indonesia’s standing in Australia but damaged the President’s credibility in his homeland.
Other international bonds will be tested when Indonesia’s firing squads get to work on British grandma Lindsay Sandiford, 58, convicted last year for carrying cocaine into Bali. Like Australia, the UK has scrapped the death penalty.
More recently New Zealander Antony de Malmanche, 53, was caught at Ngurah Rai allegedly with 1.7 kilos of methamphetamine. He too could be shot if convicted.  NZ’s last hangman hung up his rope in 1957.
What Mr Abbott calls “a strong and constructive relationship” with Indonesia is best built on positive projects like academic and journalistic exchange programs, aid and financial investments, skill sharing and security cooperation.
Capital punishment destroys more than lives.  It demeans the state, wounds international friendships and damages respect.  Life imprisonment does not.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 January 2015)


As some day it may happen

Sung to Sir Arthur Sullivan’s tune from The Mikado by Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. This is the highest rank a commoner can reach in Titipu.

Koko: As some day it may happen, that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list.
Of society offenders, who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!

There's the pestilential nuisances, who find fault in all I’ve done
Who’ve never seen much more to life, than talk on TV One.
All politicians who have sticky hands, yet claim they’re virgin pure -
All bureaucrats who treat small folk, as though they are manure -
And think their jobs in offices, will always be secure -
I’ve got them on my list! I’ve got them on my list!
All seatwarmers who still say, ‘Yes’, when really they mean ‘No’ -
And members of the Red and White, whose time is up, so go -
And ‘experts’ who don’t know when, their use-by date has passed ­­-
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

Chorus: He's got 'em on the list —they'll none of 'em be missed!

Koko: There's relics from the Orde Baru, and others of that race -
And ones who knew Bung Karno, and claim they were good mates -
Somewhere they’ve got the photos, but these must have been misplaced -
I've got them on the list! I’ve got them on the list!

And retainers in the Palace, who say his daughter was just fine,
And what a pity she’s not here instead, to help us pass the time.
To wash white shirts and trousers black, they really do regret -
And cleaning up the ash, from tattooed Susi’s cigarettes.
Despite my good wife’s orders, it seems they only want to shirk.
Do I have to keep on saying that we’re here to work, work, work?

Chorus: They never would be missed — they never would be missed!

Koko: My fuel tax hike was just the tick, I really have to say,                                                                      It showed that I’m courageous, and will always get my way.                                                        Big business says it’s overjoyed, though shoppers aren’t so keen -                                              Which proves the point, that in this job, you sometimes must be mean.
Chorus:  Oh surely he means clean, he really must mean clean!

Koko: The television talking heads, who praise with grating whine -
All leaderships but this, and every policy but mine -
And the general from Jordan,  who is happiest on a horse,
Who still has failed to come to terms, or even show remorse
And can’t read signs that clearly show, he really should desist -
I don't think he'd be missed — I'm sure he'd not be missed!

Chorus: He's got him on the list,                                                                                         We’re sure he'll not be missed!

Koko: To those who read Republika, and think its prose well drawn -
The ones who missed my Kompas piece, or said it was a yawn -
Electors who couldn’t get to vote, but now get to complain -
Menteng economists who say, inflation won’t cause pain.
If they continue to persist, I’ll put them on my list!

My revolution’s mental, and my style is so laid back –
My lunches come from streetcarts, so there’s no time to be slack.
Ambitious men who want to try a blusukan or two –
A walkabout can clear the air, but there’s a danger if you do –
Don’t promise things you can’t supply, for no-one will forgive a lie
And you’ll be on a list, then I’ll be on a list!

I am but just a common man, a Solo fellow if you please -
Who though he speaks in Javanese, can also tell the wood from trees -
So I am sure, that you know more, of who we should - and shouldn’t tease.
Like idle legislators who’d rather stall and talk – not do -
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.

Chorus: You may put 'em on the list — you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed! Duncan Graham, with apologies to W S Gilbert.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 December 2014)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


How green is my valet?

Designing a hotel that’s different is always a challenge – there are limited ways to assemble blocks of concrete cubicles and make them desirable.  One Yogya hotelier is going green to lure visitors.      
Peckish guests too drained by Yogya’s delights to descend to the open plan kitchen on Greenhost’s ground floor can nibble a lettuce or pluck a tomato growing just outside their door.
But they’ll be unable to immediately lay their hands on a hairdryer even though their lodgings have all the facilities expected in a modern hotel, like Wi-Fi and cable TV.

“That’s because everything has been designed to use little energy,” said Arbiter Gerhard Sarumaha (right) general manager of the Central Java city’s newest hotel.
“Guests may borrow a dryer, but the rooms are limited to 1,300 watts.  If they try to boil a kettle at the same time the circuit breaker will trip. 
“The vegetables they can savor will be grown in a vast hydroponic array using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. The system could produce 1.4 tonnes of fresh produce if all 9,000 plants are harvested at the same time. Excess food will be sold.”
The developers of the three-storey Greenhost that opened in December (2014), believe it’s the first hotel in Indonesia built using recycled materials and following conservation principles.
They say their building is unique because it’s making serious attempts to be ecologically friendly, artistically creative, energy frugal, productive – yet still make a commercial return.
Every room has an original local painting, sculpture, or mixed media piece, while the foyer restaurant doubles as a gallery. “This is an art space which accidentally happens to be a hotel,” quipped Arbiter.  It’s billed as a ‘boutique’ hotel, though 96 rooms pushes understanding of the term.
Much of the timber has come from pallets originally used as fork-lift platforms for goods stacked in warehouses.  Pine pallets have a rough life and die young, splintered and crushed, destined to depart as heat and smoke.
Snatched from the flames, de-nailed and sanded smooth to reveal color and texture, the wood relives on walls, lockers, furniture and shelves. Contrasting the refined interior is exterior cladding of lumpy multi-sided off-cuts from a furniture factory in nearby Solo. These have been fixed to panels so every façade is different.
It’s the same in the dining area where the square table tops were originally steel scrap from a fabrication plant, smelter feedstock before being rescued for a furniture future.

 Neither the galleries wrapped around the hotel’s rectangular core nor the restaurant have ceilings, so the hotel’s intestines are exposed.  When your coffee companion starts to bore, lean back and study the entrails of electricity, the color-coded noodles of plumbing and wonder what’s been digested and where it’s heading.
It’s too early to know whether this factory feel and fog grey décor will be softened by the vines cascading from above and sturdy trees in tubs below. Inevitably concessions had to be made.  One that will trouble many overseas guests – the hotel’s prime target – is the use of grid electricity mainly sourced from coal-fired generators.
“We wanted to use sun power but the economics didn’t compute,” said founder, Solo businessman Paulus Mintarga (right) head of CV Tim Tiga, the company developing Greenhost.
“In many Western countries electricity is expensive so the capital cost of installing solar panels makes commercial sense. Inevitably electricity prices will rise in Indonesia and photovoltaic cell prices come down.
“When that happens we’ll convert, but at present it’s cheaper to buy electricity from the PLN (Perusahaan Listrik Negara, the state-owned monopoly), even though it’s an unreliable supplier.”
 So the hotel has installed a big grumbling generator which takes the edge off the ambience when PLN fails to deliver, as it did for five hours while this story was being written.
Work on the Rp 40 billion (US$3.3 million) project started two years ago on a downtown site, a 15 minute drive from Yogyakarta’s Kraton (Sultan’s palace).
Jalan Prawirotaman has long been backpacker central, but Arbiter claimed the area was changing, with beards and sandals yielding to designer batik as antique shops sprout and hostels morph into hotels.  Greenhost’s Internet prices for mid January are Rp 500,000 [US$40] a night, including breakfast and tax – a dive from earlier quotes of Rp 850,000 [US$68].

That’s mid-range for regional city accommodation in Java, though the 19 square meter rooms are more Singapore-size than Indonesian.
“In the future we have to become more efficient and inventive,” said Paulus, who created an eco-green guest house in the nearby city of Solo called Rumah Turi.
“People are moving out of rural areas and into the cities. As populations grow there’s a demand for more productive land.  This isn’t just a hotel – it’s also a farm.  The plants being grown hydroponically will all be food, not flowers.

“I’m a structural engineer and a former contractor in Jakarta, though my friends are architects, the discipline I like most. But architecture is just a tool, a means to an end. 
“We need to take a holistic approach to development and recognize the spirit of the place where we want to build.
“I’ve long been interested in designs that use waste.  I’ve seen what has been done overseas, particularly in Japan, but we must do things our way, develop our own Indonesian ideas. I want to use local products.
“I tend to start from the materials and then look at the possibilities rather than beginning with a concept. Because I haven’t been trained as an architect I have the freedom to think differently.
 “The challenge will be to get the staff to appreciate that we are driven by the principles of care and creativity, so we have to run our own hospitality school. [The plan includes multi-tasking, so the person who makes your breakfast may also make your bed.]
“This is a commercial venture, and not just motivated by idealism. We have to make money and we will at a rate equal to standard hotels. At the same time we must do what’s right. I hope others will see what’s possible and follow us.
“The future is sustainability.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 January 2015)

Monday, January 12, 2015


Posting provocation, twittering pluralism                                 

Just before Christmas suburban commuters ran a gauntlet of posters pegged alongside main roads leading into the East Java city of Malang.
For many the professionally-produced advertisements (left) in the national colors of red and white carried an unwelcome message.  It translated as:  ‘Good Muslims do not greet Christians with Happy Christmas or celebrate the New Year.’  There was also some Arabic calligraphy and a quote about unbelievers allegedly from the Koran.
The names of six organizations, including a radio station and ‘Forum Takmir Masjid Kota Malang [Malang City Takmir Mosque Forum] and the Majelis Ulama Indonesia [MUI – Indonesian Islamic Scholars] claimed responsibility though some have reportedly denied involvement. 
Among those offended was Muslim lawyer Achmad Haryono. “The posters were provocative and erected by radicals who want to create a Saudi-like society,” he said. “Through Facebook community groups spontaneously alerted each other and we took action.”
Within two hours more than 100 posters in five suburbs had been ripped down and handed to public order officials, Haryono said. Christians and a Hindu offered to help but were told it was a Muslim task.  It seemed like a good time to refresh ideas of tolerance so the Gusdurians got involved.
This sounds like a sack of the thorny and malodorous fruit, and to complicate matters the youth wing calls itself Garuda after the mythical eagle, a symbol also used by the national airline.

Gusdurian is a nationwide network maintaining the spirit and ideals of Indonesia’s fourth president, Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur. Its principles include humanitarianism, freedom, egalitarianism and justice.
A prominent Islamic scholar and great humorist, Gus Dur (right) was lauded by other religions for his championship of diversity. He held office from October 1999 to July 2001, a chaotic period marked by social reforms, maladministration and bad relations with the army. He lost office after being impeached by Parliament.
Despite many of the young Gusdurians’ remoteness from those turbulent times, they organized a seminar to commemorate the fifth anniversary of their hero’s death.  Although this occurred on 30 December the event was held in early January because Malang was still mourning victims of the Air Asia crash.
Instead of printing posters they relied on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word, and by the time magrib [the evening prayer] had finished they’d packed a Catholic church hall with more than  250 people. The police were present but there was no trouble.
Here they sampled speeches from the all-male leaders of the major faiths, watched a documentary on Gus Dur and heard his praises sung by musicians and proclaimed by performance poet and businessman Muhammad Berlian Al Hamid (below, right)

After a while the Christian greetings of Shalom [Peace] and the Islamic Assalamualaikum [Peace be unto you] were replaced by Salam satu jiwa [Welcome, one soul].
Although there was a contingent of saffron-clad Buddhist monks and nuns in white it was clear from their dress that the majority were young Muslims – and their passion for pluralism was unequivocal.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said the moderator Kristanto ‘Tatok’ Budiprabowo, speaking to The Jakarta Post after the event.  “In my experience most Muslims are liberal while Christians remain conservative.  It’s very difficult to find progressive Protestants in this country – though Catholics are more advanced.”
Tatok should know.  He studied for a Master of Theology degree at Yogyakarta’s Duta Wacana Christian University where he met Gus Dur and joined Interfide, a youth inter-faith movement. After graduating he moved to a church in Sumatra ministering to transmigrants from Java.
Now back in his hometown Malang and researching for a doctorate, he reflected on what he considers to be the growth of intolerance in Indonesia.
“It was much better in the past,” he said.  “I grew up in a village outside Malang; we were the only Protestant family yet we never felt that we were strange.  We had Muslim relatives.  My Grandfather was a dalang [puppet master] who followed kebatinan [traditional Javanese beliefs].
“I played in the mosque with the Muslim kids.  We celebrated Idul Fitri with our neighbors and they came round to wish us Happy Christmas.”

Tatok (left) said the situation started to change in the 1980s when then President Soeharto, who had previously oppressed political Islam, began to court Muslim support. Gus Dur, then head of the huge Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic organization, also started to criticise Soeharto’s New Order government.
“Radical preachers began to appear in the villages, though our kiai [Islamic scholar] was a wise man who sent them away,” said Tatok.
“But elsewhere they gained influence and started to use religion as a political tool.  That led to the situation we have today and the problems we encounter.
“Although the majority religion in any society should reach out to minorities, it’s wrong to just blame Muslims for the growing intolerance. Christians must also reform.  We need to refocus our beliefs and reinterpret what Christianity really means.
“Too many see their religion as exclusive and don’t want to know about other faiths. They stay within their own group. It makes them feel better. There is no special uniqueness in Christianity. We can see Christ everywhere, including in other religions.
“Curiously the inter-faith movement isn’t being led by academics who like to play safe.  The activists are artists and creative people.”

Organisers later said they would lobby local government to declare Malang a ‘Peace City’ where the principles of inclusiveness and tolerance would be guarded.
“I think this meeting has helped many young people who are religious but unhappy with the way their faith is being interpreted, to realise they are not alone,” said Tatok.
“Now they understand that there are alternative ways of thinking, and that’s OK.  Overall I’m optimistic; through modern technology good ideas can be spread more easily.
”Our job is to empower local people through the teachings of Gus Dur so we can all live together in peace.”
 (First published in The Jakarta Post 12 January 2015)

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Nailing environmental care                                    

If dawn joggers hadn’t been forewarned they’d have been frightened.  An advancing column of almost 50 determined marchers armed with steel bars, hammers and other ugly weapons.  Some lug ladders, obviously to scale barriers.  Many are in white, the color of the dreaded Islamic Defenders Front.
Fortunately for the fearful – though not for those still abed on this splendid Sunday morning – there’s a pick-up in the crowd overloaded with an eight-speaker sound system.
“We are the Malang Community Carers,” shrieks Abdul Gafoer, tweaking amplifiers to ensure his voice will top the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru Massif ringing the East Java city.
He used to be in the army so knows how to shout at people. Malang lacks noise abatement laws so complaints are unlikely: “We’re here to protect the environment because we’re citizens who care.”
And also gouge, for today the activists are tree dentists on a mission to extract; they’re carrying pliers, claw hammers, crowbars and other tools to prise out the rotting nails wounding roadside vegetation.
Jalan Dr Cipto is a leafy avenue of 30 meter-high kenari trees [Canarium decumanum], planted long before the winds of unstoppable change howled across the archipelago blowing away the old, though not these splay-footed giants that germinated when blond men in pith helmets pedalled past.
Kenaris are the symbol of the West Java city of Bogor and already under threat with reports of residents stabbing the trunks and pouring in poison, hoping dead trees will be felled to make space for food stalls. That hasn’t happened in Malang, but the trees have long been used as handy posts for advertising.
“In Surabaya signs must be tied to trunks using raffia,” said Dodi Ashari, organizer of the event and a marketing man during weekdays. “It’s illegal to use nails – so far not here.  We do this once every two months in a different location.

Ready for anything:  Lilik Sunarlik

”We’ve got around 3,000 supporters, though only 100 are really active.  On an earlier exercise we collected 20 kilos of metal.  Our goal is five nails for every volunteer.”
An ambition easy to nail, with many members achieving their quota at the first stop. One of the most nimble, darting up ladders to worry out the metal spikes while others were seeking a snack or drink from the refreshment runners, was Zainal Rezeh who manages a boarding house.
“I was born here – Malang is my city,” he said with pride while trying to divert a river of sweat cascading into his eyes.  “Of course this job could be done by local government workers, but they’ve got enough to do.  I have time on my hands. I want a better environment.  That’s why I come.”
Jalan Dr Cipto is no place for tree huggers who’d rapidly discover what it’s like to cuddle a porcupine. Close up it’s easy to see the hurts where ulcers have formed in the trunks as nature tries to expel the foreign bodies slowly rusting in its skin. 
Some nails are long and thick and have been hammered so vengefully deep that attempts to remove start ripping the bark. Others are tacks that snap when levered. Ironically one of the most damaged trees stands outside the local office of the Forests Department, complete with bolt. 
“I had a friend from Holland who was horrified to see how we treat our trees,” said Gunawan Wibisono.  “I studied environmental management in the Netherlands - when I came back we started this campaign.”
It’s not the only one.  After returning to base the volunteers bored holes alongside the sidewalk and plugged them with capped PVC pipe. The idea is to drain surface water hampering pedestrians and churning mud.  The idea is to eventually sink one million pipes.
They also showed bystanders how to make backyard compost pits by digging deeper holes for organic trash. 
Pamphlets were handed to anyone who showed interest, while those indifferent to the environmental message got it anyway through the million megawatt mobile sound system.
When the boring jobs were over MCC members distributed kendi (seductively-shaped earthenware jugs that sweat so the contents stay cool) to local communities.

The MCC is trying to revive an ancient custom of providing kendi (pictured, left) at neighborhood watch houses, or in wall niches near public transport stops, for the weary to quench their thirst. They hope this will reduce throwaway containers and a plastic pollution problem.
The carers were mainly professionals or retired. Among them were teachers, a lawyer, an engineer, big and small businesspeople, students and academics, ages from seven to 65.  Although all were keen to pull nails, camaraderie was another attractant. People of such diverse backgrounds they’d never otherwise meet, getting together in a common cause.

Perched on a rickety bamboo ladder yanking nails on a Sunday doesn’t sound like a riveting pastime.  But with everyone on the same page, dancing to the music when Abdul Gafoer lets his lungs rest, or exchanging confidences while fighting a stud that’s resisting arrest, then doing good deeds becomes fun.
Philosophical reasoning about owning an environmental problem and the need to walk the talk were offered by the volunteers to explain their involvement. 
However the motives were best articulated by Margarette Narlita Isoya, a former English teacher now working in public relations, and her travel agent mother, Lilik Sunarlik.
They simply said: “This is our town. We want to make it better.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 January 2015)


Monday, January 05, 2015


­A fishy story with a catch  

In life there are many significant Fs.  Like Fashion, Friends, Family, Food, Faith and, of course, Football.­­
But these are minnows, so let’s get real and use the Big F word -   Fishing.
Every Sunday afternoon, and sometimes during the week, around 50 men gather to perform a piscine ritual.  They do this in a cleared area below a narrow dead-end lane near the Kwansan River as it flows through Sawojajar, an outer suburb of Malang.
They squat along the sides of a rectangular pool and stare with unblinking intensity at the water, so brown it’s impossible to see if anything lives in such a murky environment. 
This is a kampong fishing contest. Trainee brain surgeons seeking to learn concentration skills should take part. Then they’d be fit to practise.
It’s clear the scaly ones don’t get caught because the lines are baited with thin strips of best chicken breast, or wriggling grade A worms collected in a paddy of jasmine rice. The catfish die because the fishers skewer them with shafts of willpower.

In Soekarno’s era Kwansan was a meandering rural stream marking the boundary between the East Java hilltown and the ricefields running east to puffing Mount Semeru, Java’s highest peak.  But once the river was bridged concrete, asphalt and brick invaded the far bank.
Now, like most urban waterways, it’s an open sewer fed by street run-offs, drains and overflowing septic tanks, only saved from being a stinking cesspit by the force of flow.  Rushing waters, unchecked by vegetation, have slashed through the black soil fertilized by fallout from Semeru, and cut down to bedrock.
This has left the banks ideal for garbage dumps, cemeteries and Bonar’s fish pond.
In the village he’s known as Sukardi but here he’s Neptune, holding a microphone instead of a trident, sitting under a roof of torn plastic.
“Another catch for East,” he calls, like a cricket commentator, keeping the tally in a big book.  “East is leading by 15 catches to West’s ten.  Looks like a good one.”
Indeed it is. Rodman Triumphant grabbed his prize in a towel and raced it to the weighing station. One kilo, 115 grams on the digital scale, and the number broadcast to the lines of fishermen. The only woman present was frying soybean cakes and pondering the mysteries of masculinity. Why not just go to the wet market and select a nice fillet instead of sitting in the rain, glowering at the water?
A few looked envious and some even muttered, revealing themselves as amateurs.  The professionals stayed mute, never taking their eyes off the lines. These anglers don’t fish, they  commune.
To the casual observer they’re just holding a rude rod with a thin nylon string, but in reality they’re on the other end of the line, chatting up the fish, seducing them with promises of an escape from a life of slime.

“Come with me to a better place,” they whisper hypnotically, “we’ll have a bright future bubbling together.”  Scoundrels all, they fail to mention this nirvana is a wok with chilli paste.
Bonar started his enterprise two years ago, digging out the 150 square meter pond and lining the sides with old paving slabs.  Everything’s made from bamboo and scrap. That’s kept the cost down to Rp 14 million [US$1,200].  On a good day he can pocket Rp 1 million [US$85].
Water from the street above is channelled through troughs in a rickety brick house. Here the catfish, known as lele, are bred for release in the pond below. They’re a staple in kampong diets, but with long whiskers and faces like the backside of a bus they’ll never win a Miss Aquarium contest.
Bonar’s staff fill plastic crates with the biggest creatures and lug them down the slippery slope, wading into the pond to be seen by all.
The men shake their captives free by swirling the crates from left to right.  This rite is supposed to show that neither east nor west bank is favored, even though the fish dart away in all directions. Everything has to be open and transparent, even though the water isn’t.
Between catches Bonar broadcasts Dangdut music.  It’s not clear whether this causes the fish to rise to the surface in agony or burrow in the mud to escape.
The lele do not go gently into their last good nights.  They thrash and fight.  Few fishers use reels to rapidly tow their catch inshore.  So the fish, like silver-tongued politicians, often get themselves off the hook.
“My father used to breed fighting cocks,” said Bonar who seems a pretty tough guy.  If he was a fish he’d be a carp. He doesn’t look like a referee you’d challenge if he declared a rival winner of the Rp 800,000 [US$65] prize.
However, like the lele, appearance isn’t everything. “I couldn’t follow my Pop because I hated seeing the birds’ heads and necks covered in blood,” he said.  “So I took up this business, though I still feel pity for the fish.”
The men pay Rp 35,000 [US$2.50] each to dangle lines for 90 minutes.  They bring their own gear but buy bait from Bonar along with their feeds and smokes, essential to create the fug of camaraderie. Catches are taken home. The biggest so far topped 2.5 kilos.
There are ponds like this in many towns far from the coast, providing recreation for men with few opportunities to express their hunting instincts.
For those used to the challenges of fly-fishing trout in snow-fed mountain streams, or spinning for salmon from the stern of a cruiser, pond fishing is like shooting rabbits in a cage. Slowly.
But it gets the men out of the house and even if they’re betting on the outcomes at least there’s a chance that they’ll come home with something for supper.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 January 2015)