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, August 30, 2015


BTW – Ten top things to love about Indonesia

Checked a listicle recently?  Grab one while you can. By the time this newspaper is lining the floor of a turtledove’s cage, listicle will be as yesterday as ‘twattle’, the splendid 17th century synonym for gossip.
Don’t know the word? It’s not a bodily gland as you might think.  The Oxford English Dictionary says listicle is ‘an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list’.
That’s incomplete.  The missing line should read: ‘Designed for those with limited attention span who prefer brevity to substance’.
But what’s the point of protest?  If you can’t beat ‘em, join up.  Here’s my Top Ten:
Angkutan.  Public transport gets a bad press because many busses and bemo [minivans] are battered and crowded.  However the drivers want passengers and will hit the brakes the moment a pedestrian looks weary, even when the vehicle’s full.  Try hailing a bus between scheduled stops or catching a cab off its rank in over-regulated Western cities – you’ll still be standing in the rain a twelvemonth hence.
Facilitation payments. Not to be confused with bribes which all agree are morally and legally wrong. FPs, also known as expediters, are good value – Rp 50,000 [US$3.70] to ensure a document gets to the top of the in tray and processed tomorrow.  Better than waiting the 20 business days common where the bureaucracy is clean, but so rule-bound constipation is an occupational hazard.
Water in lavatories. The use of slang air [water pipe] is more hygienic and efficient than Western toilet paper.  It also conserves forests that might otherwise be pulped. However the drought could create a messy situation.
No renovation regulations. There are – but seem to be overlooked.  Which means home improvers can rip out walls, add extra storeys and do whatever they like - apart from build a place of worship different from the neighbors’ faith.  Safety tip for non civil engineers [uncivil engineers?]: Google ‘load bearing beams in earthquake zones’ before starting work.
Coffee. My grandfather always called the black beverage ‘Java’ and I now know why. Where else can you drink such magnificent coffee – and I don’t mean the stuff advertised on TV, but the Java served in Java village roadside stalls.
Mosque timekeeping.  Curmudgeonly non-Muslims complain that calls to prayer are an annoyance when they’re really a benefit.  No need for a clock on the wall consuming nine-volt batteries when there’s a free timekeeper with a 10,000-watt sound system.  Want a wake up call or reminder that it’s bedtime and guests should go?  Other nations label this noise pollution, but in Indonesia the pious keep our days in order, spiritually and practically.

Security.  With nosey neighbors a thief’s chances of success are zero.  Should one slip past the night watchman he’d never escape the tut-tutting matrons sweeping the sidewalk with brooms and eyes sharper than closed circuit TV.  Any disturbance in our street after 9 pm comes from caterwauling, not cat burglars.
Sex education.  To be frank [instead of Duncan], I’d be happy if someone would silence the lusty Toms’ nocturnal naughtiness.  The upside is that their activities train toddlers in the facts of life. The randy roosters provide the same service as they harass their harems, kings of the kampong.  Western kids have to wait till they can use the Internet to learn of life’s raw realities.
Kaki Lima. Mosques share the soundscape. Mobile kitchens clack brakes, bang gongs and honk horns to promote their menus. Why spend hours queuing for the right spices, translate an oil-stained Javanese cookbook and slave over a hot stove when the authentic taste will pedal up to your front gate?  Food poisoning?  The more streetfare consumed the tougher your stomach’s resistance to other bugs. Immunisation without injection.  Begone, Big Pharma.
 Motorbikes.  What other nation can boast that its highways are more heavily congested than those in the Republic? ‘You don’t see traffic like this where I come from,’ moan the ignorant expats.  Motorbikes are a blessing, not a curse. If these commuters weren’t using two wheel transports they’d be sitting in cars taking up to five times the space.  Now that would be gridlock. Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post 30 August 2015)


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