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

Friday, July 26, 2019


                                          Jokowi is no Lee Kuan Yew

Even read in English it’s a stirring speech with hints of John F Kennedy’s inaugural address: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’.

By the standards of Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, a normally awkward public speaker, it was well delivered, calling on voters to move on from the hates of the 17 April election campaign and embrace Pancasila.

This is the nation’s founding philosophy - belief in one God, a just and civilized humanity, a unified nation, democracy and social justice. 

It seems churlish to write that restating these five principles won’t start a cultural revolution.  There will be improvements  - but lasting universal reform needs a powerful and charismatic leader. Widodo is not that person. 

Widodo’s victory address came almost three months after he beat former general Prabowo Subianto by ten percentage points.  The furious loser unsuccessfully appealed to the Constitutional Court claiming a stitch-up while his supporters fought police in a two-day central Jakarta demo that allegedly left nine dead and hundreds injured.

The mild-mannered former furniture salesman’s win rebuffs the theory that unfulfilled promises are turning voters to demagogues like Donald Trump in the US and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. 
Had the megalomaniac Subianto won it’s likely he’d have halted the two-decade growth of representative government.  The world’s third largest democracy would have been rammed back to the dictatorial style of his former father-in-law Soeharto, the Republic’s second president who ruled for 32 years till 1998.

Widodo’s speech followed a bizarre meeting with Subianto in a MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) carriage.  Hard to imagine a similar setting with Trump and Nancy Pelosi exchanging pleasantries in a New York subway, or Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn chatting in the London tube.

Widodo assumes that the two rivals sharing a public transport system bench in a staged gesture of reconciliation will bring social stability and encourage business confidence, the other message in his speech.  For Subianto it represented weakness; his Gerindra Party is now demanding seats in Cabinet.
Words are one thing, will is another.  Although Widodo will be stronger and wiser in his second and final five-year term, he still lacks wholehearted support of the nation’s two governing forces – the Jakarta oligarchy and the military.

Widodo’s speech before a 30,000-strong crowd had some tough-guy warnings about combating

The nation’s seventh president comes from neither camp but has so far maintained balance by keeping former generals who hate Subianto on side. 

 He’s also been careful not to clash with his party’s autocratic chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of founding President Soekarno.

corruption and bureaucratic inertia, factors which continue to frighten away overseas investors that the President wants to welcome.

‘The speed of service, the speed of providing permits, is the key to bureaucratic reform,’ he said. ‘I will check it myself, I will control it myself. The moment I see something that is inefficient or ineffective, I guarantee I will trim it.  I will remove the official in charge. … If there is an institution that is not useful and problematic, I will dissolve it.

’No more old mindsets.  No more linear work, no more routine work, no more monotone work, no more working in the comfort zone. We have to change.’

That’s unlikely to happen and not just because one man can’t handle a nation of 270 million alone.  Comparisons with another regional reformer, the late Lee Kuan Yew, are handy but not always appropriate.  

Both have been tagged ‘Mr Clean’, but the ethnic-Chinese Prime Minister’s ruthless style doesn’t suit the Javanese Widodo.

When the Cambridge-educated leader took Singapore out of the newly-formed alliance with Malaysia in 1965 the city-state was as rotten with corruption as Indonesia.  But it had less than two-million people so easier to manage.

After race riots in 1969 Lee, a self-styled ‘nominal Buddhist’, clamped down on religious politics, breaking up faith-based communities and forcing integration.  That can’t happen in Indonesia where almost 90 per cent are Muslims.

Lee was a fixated intellectual who stamped his standards on all. These included promoting ministers by merit. He claimed to be a democrat but crushed opposition and the press to get his way and make his country an economic marvel.

Although comment in Indonesia is crippled by harsh defamation laws, it has the freest press in Southeast Asia, far more robust than Singapore’s timid media.

Widodo faces opposition from  agitators for a Caliphate who’ll never be placated by talk of Pancasila, and big business hostile to his war on graft.  These capitalists promise reform but rarely deliver.  It’s the same with the public service.

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has had many spectacular successes, but remains threatened by institutions like parliament and the police.  After a year of investigation the cops have yet to find the acid-throwers who blinded one eye of a KPK officer investigating the police.

Also still to be solved is the case of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib.  The 38-year old lawyer was assassinated in 2004 with an arsenic-laced drink while heading to Europe aboard the state-owned airline Garuda.

One senior bureaucrat who tried to clean up tertiary education rorts was Patdono Suwignjo, Director General for Science, Technology, and Higher Education

In a bid to boost teaching quality his section shut down 243 diploma mills in 2016, and then hit what he called the ‘practical reality of Indonesian culture.’

Politicians or their friends owned many of the shonky institutions.  ‘Pressure was applied to reverse the rulings’, Suwignjo told this writer.  ‘We resisted, but now try to make them more professional.’

Compromise rather than confrontation has long been the Javanese way of resolving differences and effecting change.  Such dealings take time; five years is not enough for the transformations Widodo seeks.

Australian journalist Duncan Graham lives in Indonesia.

First published in Pearls & Irritations, 26 July 2019.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Never give up or go down                                              

“Women must empower themselves.  Whatever our age and status we need to work together and understand the feelings of others. Never be a burden on your children – they have their own lives. I don’t feel guilty about being alone and independent.”

A stirring statement, delivered with force, knuckles rapping the table, the coffee cups jumping as in an earthquake. 

Tati (Tatik) Soepijarniwati seems too small, too slight and too old to agitate – but doubters beware. This is no recent graduate from the Me Too movement asserting rights.  She started exercising these when aged about 11.

It happened in Singosari where her family has lived for generations. It was the capital of the 13th Century Tumapel Kingdom, which she admires and depicts on her batik.

Tatik’s test came in a sudden confrontation with a Japanese soldier during the occupation.

“He stopped me in the street and told me to salute his flag,” she recalled.  “I refused and he got angry.  I had no intention of obeying.  So I told him I had to get home to care for my dying mother and had no time to follow his orders.  Fortunately he let me go.”

Tatik, 86, has only strengthened her resolve since she was a wee pre-teen staring down raw power, an armed invader who could have slapped her around to make a point. 

Now she runs an angklung group of retirees making music from shaking bamboo tubes and giving public performances; when not on stage she designs batik to illustrate the rich history of Central East Java.  In between she does her darndest to keep her generation from slumping into misery.

Her quest includes visiting the psycho-geriatric ward in the nearby Lawang Mental Hospital where she talks to staff about the issues of growing old.  She was recently in Singapore to look at facilities for the aged (“we do things better here”) and gives pep talks to the depressed and distressed.

The ward is clean and bright, but it’s the raw end of the medical spectrum and not for the delicate. Rallying new Mums suffering the baby blues is a zephyr compared with encountering the maelstrom of shattered minds and hopes of the mentally sick, offering cheer to those discarded by their families and suffering from the ennui  psychologists label ‘resignation syndrome’.

To do this Tatik has assembled a long list of mnemonics, the easy-to-understand memory jerkers built around commonplace words.

A favorite is saiki, Javanese for ‘now.  In her system the letters stand for Sehat (health), Activitas, Inspirasi, Kreativitas and Innovasi: “Use these principles and all will be well.” Coming from a younger woman, however well qualified, the words would float away.  But her manner and age give them weight.

Tatik went to a Catholic school and learned Dutch which she still speaks despite getting little practice for that generation totters on the edge of extinction. She also has some English, garnered when her late husband  worked with foreign engineers in the oil industry.

She trained as a health professional and developed her ideas while working with a German doctor on the family-planning programme.

During the Soeharto New Order government an intense national campaign rammed down the brakes on runaway population growth.

In one of the world’s largest social engineering exercises, thousands of women community leaders were employed to advocate dua anak cukup (two kids is enough).

The two finger V-sign was plastered everywhere; it featured in garish statues showing the Ideal Family – with the eldest child usually a boy.

It worked.  Tatik’s mother had ten children, she had two daughters.  The old proverb banyak anak, banyak rejeki (many children many advantages) was given a twist with the last word replaced by  masalah (problems).  The message got through: Big families are poor.

Though not all.  Cynics noted that while the second president was urging contraception his wife Siti ‘Tien’ Hartinah had tripled the quota.

When the programme stabilized Tatik became a midwife, mainly working in the villages; here she used the moments of intimacy to urge women to space their pregnancies and insist their husbands use condoms.

Inevitably some guys grumbled that she was a trouble-maker by poking into their bedroom behavior. Which worried her about as much as the Japanese soldier’s bayonet.

“Women are so often the victims,” she said.  “Men need to have much greater respect. We get tired from raising children and doing housework and are often too exhausted to enjoy sex. 

“Husbands have to understand these facts.  Attitudes are improving but they are not yet good enough. Women should not wed before they’re 25; however I do not approve of the western ‘try before you buy’ culture of living together before marriage.

“Intercourse may satisfy physically, but marriage is about the joining of our souls.” 

Despite her frankness she retains some prudery, complaining about a huge statue on the road to Malang of Ken Dedes, the first queen of Singosari and mother of the Rajasa dynasty that later ruled all Java, because she’s portrayed topless.

Tatik’s husband, who worked for the State fuel company Pertamina, died last century but she refused to remarry, saying she was a “one-man woman”.

Physically agile she doesn’t use glasses and only has some slight problems with hearing.

Unlike many pensioners she has embraced modern technology.  She uses a cellphone and has a WhatsApp Messenger account.  A diary helps her track appointments.

But on some issues she remains implacably in the past, an ardent supporter of the ten-point Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga (family welfare programme) launched in the era of Soekarno, a man she admires:  “I went to every rally where he spoke.”

Criticised for ‘manipulating motherhood’, PKK  has since moved from health and hygiene towards education, a cause Tatik urges on all who come within earshot, though always politely.

“The elderly can get apathetic if they don’t get involved in society,” she said, dissociating herself from the stay-at-homes. “Don’t be jobless, or a floater. 

“Grab knowledge from the tree and reach as high as you can. Then when you’ve found education open your mind. Don’t be arrogant or lazy; mix with people who can inspire.  Eat meals together.  Read books – take an interest in everything.

“I have my cat and chickens.  I am never lonely.  I go to the mosque twice a day to pray and contemplate, to seek peace.

“I don’t care what religion you follow, you can still get guidance from God.”

First published in Inside Indonesia 136

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Connecting the dots to the dollars      
There are few genuine Australian souvenirs that visitors can take home and admire for their originality.

Tea towel impressions of the Sydney Harbor Bridge or Central Australia’s Uluru – formerly Ayers Rock - are more kitsch than culture. 
But Aboriginal art is unique, a global stand-apart. and to the fury of its creators has been left vulnerable to swindlers.  That could start to change following last month’s conviction of Birubi Art.  The company has been fined AUD 2.3 million (US $1.6 million) by the Australian Federal Court for marketing fake Aboriginal art.
More than 18,000 boomerangs, bullroarers, digeridoos (wind instruments) and other artworks had been bought since 2016, mainly by overseas holidaymakers.
The court found the sales had broken Australian consumer law by leading customers to think they’d acquired authentic local art and paid a fair price benefiting the creator.  In fact the artifacts had been mass produced in Indonesia, imported and retailed.
One estimate is that 80 per cent of indigenous arts on sale in Australia are phonies, or have been created without a legal licensing agreement.
Aboriginal art, colloquially called ‘dot painting’, is marginally similar in technique to pointillism though less refined and presenting no identifiable likeness; it’s mainly abstract and rich in secret meanings. It has been appreciated by the public only since the 1970s, largely through the initiatives of the late Geoffrey Bardon. 
A teacher at the Northern Territory Papunya settlement, he recognized the originality and complexity of Central Desert creativity; much is spiritual and impermanent because the canvas was then sand and scrub.
Bardon persuaded the Papunya artists to use modern materials and make their art two-dimensional and portable, starting with paintings on shed doors.
And profitable.  Jump ahead half a century and the curious designs can be found at every sightseer stop, often with a simple statement about the alleged ‘story behind the art’. 
Although dismissed by some as just pretty patterns, a few farsighted connoisseurs got in early and have done well. 
Former official war artist Frank Norton started collecting for the West Australian Art Gallery after being appointed director in 1958.  Astute private buyers then got interested.
Two years ago Earth’s Creation 1, a 1994 painting by the late Utopia (Central Australia) artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye sold for AUD 2.1 million (US $1.47 million), the highest price ever paid for a painting by an Australian woman.  Ten years earlier it changed hands for AUD 1,056 million (US $742,000).
Traditional paintings are based on ‘song cycles’ revealing stories of ancestors’ journeys and discoveries, but there’s also a practical side. The art included three-dimensional models of the landscape showing symbols of waterholes and places where food was abundant = maps of the environment.
Survival in a harsh land meant remembering the elders’ words and pictures, usually created using paints made from ochres plus feathers and grasses.
Indigenous Australians carved rocks and painted caves.  Some petroglyphs (images hammered onto rock) in the Pilbara district of Western Australia are estimated to be 40,000 years old. Although imaginative artists, Aborigines never developed a written language. 
Counterfeiting has long been a Vietnamese speciality; Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) market wanderers will have seen racks of competently copied Mona Lisa lookalikes and Last Suppers.
Indonesian tourist art has tended to be hybrid and corny, Balinese maidens happily laboring in scorching ricefields. Now some entrepreneurs have turned to filching motifs from the culture of the country next door.  About 825,000 citizens have Aboriginal ancestry.  That’s 3.3 per cent of Australia’s 25 million population.
The tricksters manufacture with impunity in their homeland while ranting against outsiders who have appropriated local batik designs for clothing.  The alleged culprits are usually said to be Malaysians.
Australians are only slowly realizing the need to protect the nation’s distinctive heritage.  Back in 1967 the government blushed to find artist David Malangi Daymirringu’s work had been used on a new one-dollar bill without acknowledgement or compensation. 
Though the errors were fixed it’s taken more than half a century to legally expose rip-offs with a court conviction.  But the June decision is a colander, full of holes to let dodgy operators drain royalties from creatives.
Technically the guilty company would have stayed clean had it acknowledged, however tiny the typeface, that the daubers were in Kuta and not Kununurra.
In her court judgment Justice Melissa Perry said there was ‘powerful’ evidence Birubi's conduct caused great social, economic and cultural harm to Indigenous communities and artists.
She said she hoped the fine would deter others from undercutting the rightful Aboriginal art industry, but this laudable aim seems likely to miss the target.
The company involved has reportedly gone into liquidation so is unlikely to pay the penalty. This has prompted three agencies - the Indigenous Art Code, Copyright Agency and the Arts Law Centre of Australia to call for tougher laws.
The prosecution was launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. In a statement Commissioner Sarah Court said ‘Birubi's actions were extremely serious. Not only did they mislead consumers, they were liable to cause offence and distress to Australian Aboriginal people.
‘… (this) has the potential to undermine the integrity of the industry and reduce opportunities for Australian Aboriginal peoples.’
The Director of the National Indigenous Art Fair Peter Cooley said: ‘(Frauds are) lessening the value of authentic art and swaying people to be nervous about purchasing; ultimately they stay away from buying and that's not what we need as Aboriginal artists and businesses.’

So next time Strategic Review readers are shopping Down Under for a dinky-die (bona fide) example of the Great South Land’s art, they might wish to scrutinize labels and ask searching questions of the seller.

First published by Strategic Revew 10 July 2019

Friday, July 05, 2019


Getting to know you shouldn’t be so difficult                                

Australia is so close passengers just have time for a snack and a snooze on a two-hour, 30 minute flight to Darwin.  It takes longer to get to Manado in North Sulawesi.

The Northern Territory capital is a delightful, compact modern city largely rebuilt since it was trashed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.  No adjustment needed for those who enjoy the tropics.

If heading south to Perth in Western Australia, add a short doco or news update; you’ll be there in well under four hours after lifting off from Denpasar.

There’s no shortage of carriers so fares outside school holidays can often be lower than flying between centers in the Archipelago.

Just one catch:  Indonesians need visas, like most foreigners.  But there’s a difference which can be more than a hassle and a cost.  It’s also a big deterrent, according to Indonesia Institute President Ross Taylor, who lives in Perth.

Along with the local tourist industry his NGO has been pushing for Indonesians to have the same access to visitor visas as citizens of Singapore and Malaysia.

They can apply on line, get speedy responses and pay only AUD 20.

Taylor, who used to be a trade commissioner in Jakarta, tells of a chance encounter with a family of 22 from Bandung, West Java.  They were enjoying Perth’s splendid Kings Park above the city.  Access to this bushy lookout is free, but getting there ripped wallets.

The group leaders told him they’d paid AUD 3,080 for visas and filled in close to 300 pages of questions.

Aussies flying in and out of Indonesia know that those trying to ram overweight backpacks into overhead lockers use English expletives to help the bag fit.  Less than one in six passengers are Indonesians.

In 2016 the Indonesian government surprised tourists when it cancelled the US $30 visa-on-arrival system, a decision which reportedly cost the country US $50 million.  It seemed like an economic wrist-slash, but it was super smart.

Within a year visitor numbers flew 16 per cent higher, and according to industry calculations, added US $145 million to the economy.  Now Australian passport holders queue only to get stamped, not fleeced.  That comes later in Kuta’s Jalan Legian.

The other factor is time.  Feel like a quick break this weekend Down Under?  Forget impulse ticket-buying unless you’ve fixed the paperwork well in advance.

Last month this writer helped an Indonesian who wanted to look around Sydney during a return home eight-hour stopover from New Zealand.

It took about ten days using an agent in Indonesia to get the transit visa.  The middle-aged lady had no criminal record and held a senior position in a State bank.

Jakartans spluttering to get out of the Asia’s second most polluted city and inhale fresh air should forget the Wide Brown land and head for the Himalayas; India now gives Indonesians visas-on-arrival. 

Last year more than 9 million Indonesians traveled overseas; less than two per cent headed south-east. Their favorite destinations were Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.

Tokyo is seven hours from Denpasar but Indonesians don’t need a visa for a short visit. More than 300,000 made the trip last year while fewer than 200,000 headed Down Under.

The Australian Embassy struggles to deny the facts, arguing that immigration policy is a work in progress. Officials say Indonesians can now apply on line, multiple-entry visas valid for three years are available, and that most applicants are successful.

The unspoken reason for the discriminatory treatment appears to be the lack of trust in what officials call ‘document integrity’.  This is bureaucratic-speak for believing forgery of passports and supporting travel documents has yet to be tackled seriously.

The other issue is overstaying.  Yet few from the Archipelago are guilty.  According to Immigration Department figures, Malaysians are the major offenders followed by Chinese, Americans and the British.  Around 60,000 overstayers are believed to be in Australia, a nation without ID cards.

None of this dents Taylor’s resolve to get more of his neighbors into his country, and not because of the money they’ll bring.  He reckons tourism helps people get to know each other and shed attitudes built on myths and hearsay.

“Tourism is the best way to forge a more intimate bilateral relationship, giving Indonesians the chance to see how Australians live,” he said.  “It challenges ignorance, misperceptions and suspicions.
“We need to bring hundreds of thousands more Indonesians to Australia, so we start getting to know them better."
Ironically this is the same message continually pushed by the Australian government.  It says it wants people from the Republic to jump a jet and check out the koalas and kangaroos for themselves, and for Aussies to discover their neighbors no longer live in an autocracy.

The ignorance has been measured.  Every year the well-respected Lowy Institute questions Australians perception of Indonesia and its citizens.  The last report was little different from its predecessors:

‘In 2018, only 24 per cent of Australians agree that Indonesia is a democracy. They are divided … on whether Indonesia is a dangerous source of terrorism, and only 32 per cent agree that the Indonesian government has worked hard to fight terrorism’.

Maybe encouraging more Indonesians to visit Australia might help the locals revise their outdated attitudes. 

First published in Indonesian Expat 4 July 2019:

Also published in The West Australian on 12 July 2019

Tuesday, July 02, 2019


The onus lies here                                                          

It’s a bromide among politicians urging exporters: Australians must study Indonesian to sell more to the hungry customers next door.

It’s a line liked by academics, though their motives are less mercenary. Aussies should learn to look beyond Nusa Dua’s infinity pools.  Exploring reveals diversity; tolerance will thrive, and friendships flourish.

OK to a point, though not the whole story for veteran Indonesian journalist and independent thinker Harry Bhaskara. He reckons his former country also has to put in the hard yards, as Australians say.  That includes the government news agency Antara distributing enticing stories about Indonesia written in smart English.

Then Aussies might learn there’s more to the Republic than burning tires in Jakarta and motorbike prangs in Kuta.

“If Indonesia can become a decent country its relationship with Australia and the rest of the world will improve,” Bhaskara said.  “Much of the onus lies with Indonesia itself.

“By ‘decent’ I mean the nation should become a true democracy, uphold justice, eliminate the impunity protecting authority, and make the bureaucracy transparent.

“Investors won’t come if these issues aren’t solved.  Malaysia and Singapore are well run.  In the eyes of outsiders Indonesia is a problematic country.

“I don’t blame Australians – why should they bother if Indonesia is not doing well?”
Such comments make partisan politicians splutter about ‘sovereign rights’.  Crowing that they’ll ignore outsiders’ opinions plays to the crowd but warps the intent: Caring critics aren’t traitors damning their nation, only those rulers who put self ahead of state.
Bhaskara’s views can’t be easily flicked aside.  Although now an Australian citizen, he spent most of his working life with The Jakarta Post starting just after the paper was launched in 1983.
In the dark days of President Soeharto’s Orde Baru administration a free press was but a dream: “The army used to order us not to publish certain stories, like riots in remote areas. Useful alerts; we often didn’t know there was trouble.” 
At press conferences Bhaskara drew stares.  “I was too Chinese to be an Indonesian, but too Indonesian to be a Chinese,” he quipped.  There were hurts, like the government in 1967 forcing name changes. 
Sie Siang Hoei was born in Makassar (South Sulawesi) a fifth generation Indonesian who only knew Indonesian languages.  Not good enough for Soeharto. Enter Harry Bhaskara Kontutodjeng.
“Bhaskara is Sanskrit for torch. Kontutodjeng is a Makassar word for truth,” he explained, adding that a good translation is Harry Tru(e)man.
A fine name for a journalist.
Offsetting, though not negating domestic discrimination, was recognition abroad.  He won visiting scholarships to the University of California and Murdoch University in Australia.
Bhaskara was orphaned as a teen.  Before his mother Cecilia Tanzil died she urged him to continue his education. But the family had no money so the lad quit high school.
He worked in stores and workshops but his real calling was music.  Through teaching the guitar he garnered enough for a place at the University of Indonesia as a mature age student. 
He’d already taught himself English and excelled.  He was drawn to American literature and cultural critic Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956).  “I was so impressed with the way he handled language and the clarity of his prose that I decided to become a journalist,” said Bhaskara.
The respect stopped there.  Mencken was also a racist anti-democrat, his admirer is the opposite. Writing well is not enough.  Good journalists need to be cursed by curiosity, showing sympathy for the weak while revealing wrongs. Bhaskara’s work reveals he suffers from these bothersome qualities.

 “We used to sneer at Malaysians because they didn’t fight for their freedom so had no independence,” he said.  “Now they’re upholding the law by putting former prime minister Najib Razak on trial. We never brought Soeharto to justice”.

Razak has been accused of looting US S4.5 billion from the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Transparency International has alleged that Soeharto, who died in 2008, embezzled up to US $35 billion.

Bhaskara, now a spry 70, covered stories across the archipelago rising from reporter to managing editor before retiring to Brisbane in 2010 where he’s been sharpening perceptions of his motherland. 
He’s Queensland correspondent for the prestigious national daily Kompas. His report on Australian Labor leader Bill Shorten conceding defeat and congratulating Liberal Scott Morrison on his 17 May election win ranked second highest in the paper. 
“Readers were surprised because Shorten accepted defeat before it was official,” Bhaskara said. “That’s another cultural difference – Australians don’t like bad losers.”
If adjusting to life in Australia’s third largest city has been difficult for Bhaskara and his wife Melanie, you won’t find details here.  The couple mix with the wider community and deplore Indonesians who import their cultural and religious differences.  He’s an on-call interpreter helping Indonesian patients in hospital and gives guest lectures at unis.
Instead of whingeing (complaining) he gulped a lungful of street air and shouted:  ‘It’s clean.  No noise. No pollution.  I’m not stressed. Who’d go back to Jakarta after this?”
Although friends joke that he’s become an ‘Indonesian bule (foreigner)’ because he doesn’t drink coffee, admires rugby football and rarely eats rice, Bhaskara is not uncritical of his new home; he believes the government has “reached a stalemate” in trying to handle drugs, gambling and alcohol abuse.  Empty churches also distress.
“I know Indonesia has potential,” said Bhaskara; for a moment his Happy Harry persona slipped – then recovered. “It makes me very sad that it hasn’t become the country it should be – and that’s a super power.
“Things have improved.  I have great hope for young people seeking to serve, and who want appointments based on merit.  Much will depend on the character of the leader who succeeds Jokowi in five years.
“If we have the right people at the top then corruption can be conquered.”

First published in The Jakarta Post 2 July 2019