There’s a certain kind of Indonesian man (always a man) that never ceases to get on my nerves. He cuts the line for check-in at the airport, smokes in a restaurant even when there’s three ‘no smoking’ signs and interrupts the conversation that a hotel employee is having with someone else. This guy is usually a fat businessman, wearing a bluetooth telephone earpiece and a big watch, and often sports a thick moustache. To me, he is representative of the still deeply hierarchical make-up of Indonesian society: some people present themselves as more important than others, and therefore get treated with more respect. It’s interesting that guys like these seldom get told off by employees, as would happen in the relatively egalitarian Netherlands.

Another example: in my gym, the weights are never where they ought to be – in the rack. They’re on the floor all over the place, because everybody just leaves them on the ground when they’re done using them. The idea is that the low-level employees will pick them up and put them back, but they only do that at the end of the day. It’s not a big problem, of course, but it’s indicative of a prevailing mindset: as a wealthy person you don’t have to be nice, polite or courteous, just leave everything to the poor sap who is below you. Read More


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Dutch people addicted to pop music (like myself) are usually a big fan of Spotify, the streaming music company that came to the Netherlands in 2010 – many Dutch music sites provide Spotify links/embeds, and ignore competitors that came later, like Deezer.

No problem, of course, but over here in Indonesia Spotify started to kick me out after a couple of weeks, once it found out that I had left the Netherlands. Thankfully, there’s an alternative: French music service Deezer recently expanded into much of the non-western world, pretty much everywhere except for the USA. It’s cheaper as well, charging only $2,5 monthly for unlimited listening at high quality and $6 to get it on a smartphone. The catalogue of music is quite similar in size to Spotify’s. Read More

djenar maesa ayuWith regular attacks on non-Muslims and even non-Sunni’s raising the ire of Indonesian analysts and ngo’s like Human Rights Watch, it would be easy to conclude that Indonesia is slowly creeping towards Saudi-style orthodoxy. And yet, it seems to be more a problem of a bad security apparatus (police and army lacking the guts to protect minorities) than some broad societal shift: islamic political parties have almost no support among citizens, and when I visited an island in Kalimantan last month, inhabitants complained about a group of islamists from outside (“terrorists”, “Jemaah“) trying to get them to behave more like ‘righteous’ muslims. No drinking, going to the mosque, etcetera. The villagers hate their guts, they don’t want people from outside telling them how to live. Read More

One of the victims was burned alive at the Jambo Dalam village, Aceh, last weekend.

There we go again. Last weekend, a mob of around 1500 people attacked a congregation of a few dozen ‘supposedly heretical’ muslims in the village of Jambo Dalam, Aceh, and killed two people. Yesterday, the local police announced that they couldn’t arrest anybody yet, because they had no idea who of these 1500 people carried out the killings. They did point out, though, that the leader of the ‘heretics’ (Aiyub, one of the casualties) may have been at fault too: he reportedly started attacking the people that came complaining about his actvities, even killing one of them. The mob violence was a direct result of this, in their view. Read More

Incumbent Fauzi Bowo (l) and challenger Joko Widodo at a debate. Widodo won, and will take office next week

Why is Joko Widodo winning the Jakarta gubernatorial election such a big deal? Well, apart from the unusual and refreshing campaign style (focusing on regular people and social media, instead of endorsements by the religious and political elite) Jokowi is as clean as a whistle, as far as his track record is concerned. He’s never even been accused of corruption. This is quite rare in a country where dozens of MPs are implicated in corruption scandals every year, and quite a lot of mayors, regents and governors as well. Read More

A women-only train in Jakarta, aimed at lowering the risk of sexual harassment

As a result of the documentary Femme de la Rue, the problem of women being harrassed and sexually assaulted on the streets has been receiving a lot of attention in the Netherlands and Belgium, recently. It appears to be a bigger problem than many had thought, and a lot of analyses point to religious and cultural reasons for explanation: islamic immigrants, for instance, are used to the idea of only veiled women being honorable, so the other ones are fair game – that’s the argument. Similar, but more intense horror stories are coming out of Cairo.

So what’s it like in the country with the biggest islamic population in the world?
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Street vendors in Kota Tua, Jakarta, straightened out their banner for Jokowi for me to photograph it. “A good guy,” was their straightforward commentary

Last Wednesday the elections for governor of Jakarta had a surprise winner, in stark contrast to projections beforehand: Joko Widodo, current mayor of Solo, received around 43% of the votes, incumbent Fauzi Bowo only 34%. They’ll take on each other again on September 20th, in round 2. Unless the Constitutional Court decides that Widodo has already won, of course – in Indonesia it’s always difficult to tell which law you’re supposed to follow. Read More

Deputy minister Umar (2nd from right) giving a press conference, about allegations of corruption at the Ministry of Religion, during the purchase of new Korans

“Men in suits on airplane staircases” is the title of a lecture I attended a few years ago, while studying journalism studies. The lecturer, a former newspaper photo editor, maintained that Dutch newspapers were slowly (too slowly, he thought) getting away from the policy of just showing important people waving to the press, instead of printing more interesting pictures that could illustrate the stories in a more indirect way. Streets, neighborhoods, scenes out of everyday life – as long as it adds something to the main storyline of an article.

It’s a phrase that pops up often in my head, when I’m reading Indonesian newspapers. The amount of photos showing officials sitting behind a desk, giving a speech, is unbelievable. It makes for pretty boring (and unintentionally hilarious) imagery.
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Damen Shipyards and the Indonesian navy sign the contract for a new submarine, on June 5th

Has anyone scolded Tjeerd de Zwaan yet? Earlier this month, the Dutch ambassador to Indonesia was one of the guests of honor at a ceremony celebrating the sale of a military submarine to the Indonesian navy. Dutch company Damen will build the submarine (not their first for Indonesia) partially in the Netherlands and partially in Indonesia. Nice touch: the submarine is officially called a ‘destroyer’.

This sale (and the presence of the ambassador) is ironic, since Dutch parliament decided last week to halt the sale of 80 superfluous Leopard army tanks to Indonesia (worth 200 million euros), effectively deciding on a weapons embargo. Read More

For an avid reader, Indonesia is not the best country to live in – and Makassar is even worse than cities on Java, in terms of literary atmosphere. Gramedia, the biggest bookstore here, doesn’t stock English-language books or magazines, and not a lot of novels in Indonesian either. Most of the shelf space goes to (religious) self-help books and business books (“the 7 traits of a great manager”, that type of stuff). This is not just my own observation, Kompas stated yesterday that yearly only 10.000 new book titles get published in Indonesia, as opposed to 15.000 in (smaller) Vietnam and 140.000 in China. The government doesn’t care too much about the promotion of literature, according to Kompas.

So, I wasn’t expecting too much of the Makassar International Writers Festival, last weekend. Read More