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, December 13, 2015


BTW: A North-South romance for our times
This column touches issues deep and personal – an account of our courtship which one day might lead to marriage.  Have tissues handy.
We met by chance when I was attracted by the size of her lovely resources. Of course as next door neighbors it was inevitable we’d bump into each other, which we did in East Timor back in ‘99.  It wasn’t love at first sight because the differences at that time seemed greater than the similarities.
For example, we had conflicting religious beliefs, histories, knowledge of the world and the way we see democracy. Our tastes are also strikingly unalike.  Dewi Sri is a rice and chicken woman; I’m a wheat and sheep man.  She’s chilli hot – I’m cold beer.
Despite these problems the relationship warmed along with our language.  I said: “Let’s strengthen ties.” She expressed hopes for closer cooperation.
She claimed that improved support would be mutually beneficial.  I added that the bonds of shared interests could overcome any perceived difficulties.
We agreed that there’d be highs and lows but the future retained significant possibilities.
“Our prosperity will be built on a successful and enduring partnership,” she said. I said: “Working together will provide opportunities to gain greater access to value chains for our needs, particularly if we stay in the ASEAN region.”
Clichés sweeter than wine.  Words so bland the heart beat faster. We were getting closer.
We swapped gifts – meaning I gave and she received.  Although I’m not well off by Chinese standards she said she had even less, though her friends’ Mercedes and their Menteng mansions suggested otherwise.  Some things have to be overlooked for love to prosper.
Her extended family needed help.  We called this an ‘aid package’.  It became our little joke.
Suddenly all went wrong.  Mistranslations, once laughed aside, became serious obstacles.  For example, what she called ‘eliminating drug traffickers’ I labelled ‘judicial murder’.
Her family got nasty saying I had territorial and proselytistic ambitions, and only wanted to get my hands on her assets.  She sent me some overseas visitors by boat. I turned them back. “Keep out of my sovereign space,” she snapped.
“How can such two vastly mismatched people get on, let alone become intimate?” asked my Great Aunt Britannia and Uncle Sam.  “You have so little in common.
“If you must go overseas for a partner pick someone like yourself from Europe or North America.  Better the devil you know.”
But we’re determined to make our bond work, though to be blunt it seems I want it more than she does.  Still, lovers can be fickle and no doubt she’ll come round given time.
We’ve put together a pre-nup.  It’s called Succeeding Together. We are so happy about this that we want to share the joy.  Please download free from
It runs to 102 pages and includes a few pretty pictures.  There are a couple of symbolic bridges to cross and some big trucks; these mean there’ll be heavy loads to carry come the wedding. 
You can see me on page 69 astride a horse, contemplating cows. A man alone in the Ochre Outback, at peace with nature and himself.  That’s the sort of stoic I am.
My beloved is a religious, emotional urban lady. She always wants to be with others, so the page 70 picture has her with lots of friends.  Please tick LIKE. She needs admirers.
To tell the truth much of the document is the work of my banking mates Down Under, though I know my sweet would have wanted to contribute if only we could have paid her more. 
Some say this indicates a lop-sided view of the relationship which doesn’t bode well for a contented marriage – but we know that love conquers all.
Smiling Malcolm Turnbull and jolly Joko’s walkabout has helped.  Likewise the 360 business cheerleaders we invited to Yogya and Jakarta last month.  They’re all expecting an engagement announcement anytime soon.
Don’t worry about all the charts and boring statistics.  Just accept that these mean we’ll get lots of money if everything works out as planned. 
Maybe some will trickle down to you.  Who knows?  Wish us well.  Duncan Graham
(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 December 2015)

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