Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who's sorry now?

In a rare moment of decisiveness for me, I'm taking the trip to New Zealand that I should've taken 12 months ago. When I left my gig in Beijing, I only came to Jakarta to clear my head and catch up with a few folks. While I was open to a job offer, I wasn't necessarily looking for one — the plan was to tour a couple schools in New Zealand before flying back to the US to start my transition out of newspapers.

It didn't work out that way, of course. Whether I'm soft-hearted, soft-headed or just plain soft, I said yes when the people at Globe Towers asked me to come back and help them out of a jam. I never actually signed a physical contract (details, details), but they asked me for a year and come December 6 I'll have given them a year. The next night, I'm scheduled to fly from Jakarta to Wellington (connecting in Sydney) and spend a little more than a week in the Land of Kiwi, decompressing after a year in the Big Durian and touring prospective schools.

Except it can never be that simple. My flights are all booked on Qantas, a decision that is looking pretty silly at the moment.
Qantas Airways grounded its global fleet Saturday, suddenly locking out striking workers after weeks of flight disruptions an executive said could close down the world's 10th largest airline piece by piece
The Australian government called for an emergency arbitration hearing, which was adjourned early Sunday morning after hearing evidence from the unions and airline. It will resume Sunday afternoon when the government will argue that the airline be ordered to fly in Australia's economic interests.
I went with Qantas after an Australian co-worker assured me the strike was not that serious and international flights weren't affected (in fairness, the latter was true at the time). I've not had the pleasure of Alan Joyce's company, but this maneuver and his subsequent statements smack of a heady cocktail of desperation and prickishness.

If the Gillard government does intervene, I imagine Tony Abbott and his opposition friends will wail about the government's anti-business practices, but the world of Aussie politics 'twas ever thus. I just know I'm out $1,100 if Qantas isn't up and flying again by early December — the only reason I'm able to make this trip is because I'm relatively close for the moment. I told my parents I'd be back in Nebraska before Christmas and — barring a head-turning, must-start-immediately job offer — I'm not of a mind to disappoint them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

But breaking away? That's becoming de rigeur around these parts. Less than a year after the unsanctioned Indonesian Premier League decided to break away from the officially recognized Indonesian Super League and form its own competition, a handful of former ISL clubs have decided to break away from the now-official IPL and reconstitute the ISL.

In short — only because it's almost 5 a.m. and I really need to get to bed — Persipura Jayapura, Persija Jakarta, Sriwijaya FC, PSPS Pekanbaru, Pelita Jaya, Persiwa Wamena, Persela Lamongan, Deltras Sidoarjo, Persiba Balikpapan, Persisam Samarinda, Mitra Kukar and Persidafon Dafonsoro decided they didn't like the new league (or at least who was running it) and chose to walk away from the IPL. The Indonesian FA and the current league organizer insist they have 18 clubs signed up and ready to play in their league, but at least six of those clubs have come out and denied they ever re-registered. The now rebel ISL will start on Dec. 1 and — brace yourselves — will be broadcast by the Bakrie-owned ANTV, which had a 10-year deal to show the ISL before the new PSSI leadership decided it didn't like ANTV's face (or some such thing).

Persib is still on the fence if you believe the quote in the article, but given that the ISL organizer is offering more money, it's a pretty sure bet where they'll cast their lot. The IPL, meanwhile, can count Arema Indonesia, Bontang FC, Persebaya Surabaya, Persema Malang, Persiba Bantul, Persibo Bojonegoro, Persijap Jepara, Persiraja Aceh, PSM Makassar, PSMS Medan and Semen Padang among its number. The Asian Football Confederation says a league has to have a minimum of 10 clubs to operate, so technically both the ISL and IPL meet that requirement. The new ISL organizer says the league won't be a "breakaway" competition as it will operate within PSSI, AFC and FIFA statutes (he claims), but the odds of the PSSI leadership jettisoning the league they've created and giving in to the clubs' demands (and by so doing losing quite a bit of face) are remote at best.

At this point, the conflict breaks down into those in the Arifin Panigoro camp who back the new PSSI leadership and the IPL vs. those in the Bakrie camp who want to bring back the ISL and play by the old rules. Who loses when two titans of industry and their respective cronies get into a public dick-measuring contest over who should run Indonesia's most popular sport? Only the players, supporters and everybody who makes all or some of their living off of soccer. You know, the little people.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Aburizal Bakrie — the man who heads the Bakrie family, its business empire and the Golkar Party — has all but been nominated to run as his party's nominee for president in the 2014 election and could certainly use a nationwide platform like the ISL as he shores up his support among the unwashed masses. I'm sure his motives are pure, though.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backpedaling

Stop me if you've heard this one: the Indonesian Premier League is in chaos again.

Wednesday was the deadline for the 24 original IPL clubs — 14 from the Indonesian Super League, 10 promoted from the second division and three rebel clubs welcomed back into the fold — to "re-register" with league administrators. Apparently not everyone was keen on the idea. Persisam Samarinda, Persela Lamongan, Persiba Balikpapan, PSPS Pekanbaru, Pelita Jaya and Deltras Sidoarjo did not send in their re-registration forms and have been left out of the new, slimmed-down IPL. I've yet to hear any reasons why they did didn't re-register, but I have a feeling their dissatisfaction with the PSSI and league administrator has something to do with it.

If we just go by this, the IPL, whenever it starts, will consist of eight former ISL clubs — Persipura Jayapura (defending champion), Arema Indonesia (under new, PSSI-approved ownership), Persija Jakarta (see previous), Semen Padang, Sriwijaya FC, Persib Bandung, Persiwa Wamena and Persijap Jepara — the seven clubs promoted, by means fair or foul, from the Premier Division — Persidafon Dafonsoro, Mitra Kukar, Persiba Bantul, Persiraja Banda Aceh, Bontang FC, PSMS Medan and Persebaya Surabaya — and former rebels PSM Makassar, Persema Malang and Persibo Bojonegoro.

Or will it? Persidafon's manager denies re-registering for the IPL, and I'm told PSMS would rather play in the second division than the IPL. More details will emerge in the coming days, especially as former league administrator Liga Indonesia (which partly kicked off this latest kerfuffle) has a shareholders' meeting today. It's worth remembering that trimming the IPL to 18 teams was one of the demands the "Group of 14" made in exchange for staying in the new league. Reinstating PTLI, giving clubs a 99 percent stake in the administrator and forking over a Rp 2 billion annual subsidy to each club will be more difficult, I imagine.

There might not be anything more sinister behind it, but at first glance it's as though the IPL asked "which clubs could we lose and suffer the smallest hit in terms of sponsor dollars and supporter eyeballs?" Aside from Persisam (sixth place), the departing teams all finished ninth or lower in last season's IPL and don't exactly command huge crowds. The PSSI would lose no end of face if it had to kick back one of the 10 clubs coming in from outside the ISL, and given how it blatantly disregarded league rules to promote PSMS and Persebaya, getting rid of big names like Persija, Arema, Persib, Sriwijaya and Persipura was never going to happen.

League patron and power behind the throne Arifin Panigoro gets to stick it his mortal enemy, the Bakrie family (which owns Pelita Jaya), as well. Once that pesky business over the broadcasting contract with ANTV gets cleared up, the Bakrie presence in Indonesian soccer will be all but eradicated. It's good to see some traditions — like using the country's favorite sport to settle personal vendettas between the rich and powerful — never change.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

C-O-N-spiracy

When the Southeast Asian Games begin on November 11, the football competition will already be well underway. That actually starts on the 3rd with Vietnam and the Philippines. Indonesia hasn't won a gold medal at the SEA Games since hosting it in 1991, and going by the draw, that streak looks likely to continue.

Group A: Indonesia (host), Malaysia (defending champion), Thailand (11-time winner), Singapore (back-to-back bronze medals), Cambodia
Group B: Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, East Timor, Burma, the Philippines

It's worth noting in that report that the Indonesian FA (PSSI) secretary general insisted the draw was "fair and square." Why would he feel the need to say that, especially as the PSSI itself did the draw?

If you're the supremely cynical type, you might just think that the PSSI rigged Indonesia's draw to be as difficult as possible, thus freeing up the country's young stars to return to the now-on-hiatus Indonesian Premier League. The IPL played all of one match before going on break and is still a hot mess, and as I've detailed on this here blog, the PSSI is not above a bit of shenanigans.

Oh, and did I mention that the Indonesian Under-23 team's SEA Games match against Thailand (at Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta) is on Nov. 15, the same day as the senior national team's 2014 World Cup qualifier against Iran? The Asian Football Confederation has approved only three Indonesian stadiums for its matches -- GBK (Jakarta), Jakabaring (Palembang, also being used for the SEA Games) and Mandala (Jayapura, Papua, which is on the other side of the country). The PSSI, in its infinite wisdom, has asked to use one of two non-approved stadiums -- Si Jalak Harupat (Bandung) or Manahan (Solo).

Given all the special dispensation and extra patience the PSSI is asking of the AFC, I wonder how quickly the folks in Kuala Lumpur will tire of the new Indonesian leadership and start wishing for the halcyon days under good ol' Nurdin Halid.

RIP My Laptop (?)

Some people are prone to anthropomorphizing their pets. For others, their cars. I'm not one of those people, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes grow attached to inanimate objects.

My laptop appears to be dead. (If you're wondering, I'm writing this post from work. Don't tell the boss, OK?) Two days ago, everything appeared to be fine. I shut it down like normal before going to work, and there didn't appear to be anything wrong. Once I came home the next day and tried to fire it up, though, I got nothing. Pressed the button, no response -- the screen didn't light up, the hard drive didn't start whirring, nothing. Maybe it's toast, maybe it's just an internal power problem ... it's hard to say.

If it is toast, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. The laptop was brand new circa July 2007, and it's been with me from Hilo to Jakarta to Beijing and back again. It's just odd having a hole in your daily existence like that all of a sudden. I can't update the podcasts on my non-fruit-based MP3 player, I don't have access to any of my film clips, songs or pictures ... I can't even pull up the Web site of the HP service center to see where I can take my laptop in the hope of getting it fixed. It's an oddly helpless feeling. Even if the laptop itself can't be salvaged, hopefully I can at least have the contents of the hard drive moved over to a new laptop. I have most of the files burned onto DVD-Rs or stored on another computer, but I know I'd lose at least one downloaded (and paid for!) album and all my bookmarks if I had to start from scratch. I spent part of last night scribbling down what files and programs I'd have to replace ... and just when I got Championship Manager working again, too!

What got me thinking was the thought that there aren't many things I have that would leave such a hole in my daily life. I like having my books and DVDs, but I can't think of one that would leave a gnawing feeling in my stomach if I lost it. The same goes for my clothes -- I'm certainly not a clotheshorse, and I have a tendency to hang onto clothes (especially T-shirts) long after their usefulness has passed.

I can probably think of two or three things that would leave me a bit misty-eyed if I lost them, and they're not what you'd think. My uncle Jim gave me an orange backpack for my 18th birthday, before I went on tour with the Troopers, and it's gone just about everywhere with me since -- all across the US on tour, Hawaii, multiple stops in Japan, Beijing, Jakarta, Bali, Malang, etc. There's also a small, battery-powered alarm clock. It's not anything particularly flashy, but I've had it for years and just feel better knowing it's there.

The last one is my hat. It's the only hat I own, and it was a Secret Santa gift back in, I think, 2004 or 2005. Like the other two, it's been with me for years and it's just a reassuring presence. I actually left my hat on the shinkansen while traveling from Okayama to Himeji to see Himeji Castle. Getting it back was fairly painless -- I reported it missing at the Himeji station (I left it in the basket on the back of the seat in front of me), and once I was done wandering around I was told I could pick it up at Osaka station, where the train terminated. The whole time I was walking around the town, though, something just felt ... wrong, I guess. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more than a little relieved to get it back.


I imagine a large part of this peculiarity is down to making a concerted effort not to accumulate stuff. Moving long distances every other year or so makes one leery of getting too comfortable and weighed down with clothes, furniture, a house, etc. It's great when it becomes time to move, but in between it can feel a little Spartan.

Long story short, I'm in the market for a new laptop. Lots of storage space, wireless card and processing power a must, but other than that I'm pretty flexible. I'm not a Windows or Mac adherent, either. I've always had Windows at home and Mac at work/school and neither have given me enough problems to put me off them. Suggestions?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

That hopey-changey thing

Being a sports journalist overseas requires an expansion of one's horizons. Sports like rugby and cricket take on as much importance (if not more) as baseball and hockey, and that thing Americans call soccer is now football. I try to slip college football and basketball into the section when I can, but the biggest news recently has been conference realignment, and even Americans find that stuff esoteric.

Soccer, of course, drives the bus here. I was into the sport long before moving overseas -- sometime just before the 1994 World Cup, if memory serves -- but it's still quite a shift to live in a country where soccer is by far the No. 1 sport. While I was back in the States, being a soccer fan -- particularly a fan of American soccer -- felt like something of an underground movement. Only the biggest occasions were broadcast over the air, and you had to spring for satellite TV plus the sports package to get anything resembling a steady diet of soccer outside of the Mexican league on Univision, Galavision and Telefutura. Soccer fans could still feel like part of their own subculture, and if you were among those supporting Major League Soccer since its inception, it felt like following REM while they were still playing bars in Georgia.

There's no such feeling here. Soccer is big business, and the country's power-brokers all want a piece of the action. Constant squabbling and power plays by officials have left the sport in a hot mess, which I will detail after the jump. In short, it's best to beware those who ride in promising change, spewing high-minded ideals while offering little in the way of substance. They could be just a different shade of ugly as those you currently revile.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stretching my legs ... err, fingers

As the gaps between my blog posts will tell you, I'm somewhat out of the writing groove. It used to be I'd turn around a story or two a day, but since coming to Asia that has dropped precipitously. Working on the desk and being increasingly unwilling to work on my days off will do that, I guess.

My days off usually don't involve much more than relaxing, catching up on podcasts and maybe an errand or two. Today was different, though. Not only did I pay my water, power, cable and Internet bills (productive, no?), I spent the evening covering Indonesia's World Cup qualifier against Qatar. I used to cover soccer somewhat regularly when I was on the sports desk, but since being moved to "fireman" those opportunities have been scarce. Tonight's story was the first I've written for the paper in a while (now with a sidebar!). I did a piece on the Jakarta Bintangs in the special section we put together for their annual Grand Final function, but apparently it's not on the Web site. I also live-tweeted the match, which you can find in my timeline.

The traffic on the way to the game was awful, the weather wasn't much help, I was shvitzing like a poodle and kickoff was delayed about 15 minutes (pushing us right up against deadline), but it still felt good to get out and actually do something. If nothing else, I proved to myself I still have the ability to turn around a decent gamer in 20 minutes. All those years of covering high school football must have really stuck in my brain.

Good thing, too. In just about a month, Jakarta and Palembang are hosting the Southeast Asian Games -- basically a mini-Olympics for this region. The competition proper starts on November 11, but the soccer actually begins on the third. Odds are I'll be working the desk for most of the event, putting out the daily section and taking care of everything not related to the SEA Games, but I am on the list for credentials and will hopefully have a chance to get out and do some writing of my own. Even if the event is a massive clusterfuffle, as it appears on track to be, it'll still be great fun to cover (see: 2010 Commonwealth Games).

After that? My contract here expires on December 6, and it's hard to say what will happen. I've had people ask me (directly and indirectly) to stay, and there have been vague suggestions of chaos if I leave. I'm sure they'd be happy to offer another contract, but given that it's not always clear if the HR people are on the same team, I'm not about to assume as much. Plus, there's the nagging question of how long I want to stay in newspapers. How long will this continue to be a viable career? I've managed to save a bit of money, but do I still want to be topping out at $30,000 a year as I get into my 40s? There will come a day when newspapers and I part ways -- it's just a question of if I leave voluntarily or if I cling on to the bitter end, whenever that may come.

For now, though, I'll just enjoy dusting off my writing chops and proving (if only to myself) there's still some life in these fingers. Tomorrow I'll transcribe the whole post-match news conference and try to knock out an opinion piece for the paper.