Tuesday, August 28, 2012


What a farce this has been. The last 36 hours have reminded me with full, gory detail of all the things I can't stand about Indonesia.

The HR people at Globe Towers get me my passport at 4 p.m. the day before I leave -- too late to do anything like mail boxes of books or close a bank account. That night, the refrigerator conks out. This morning, the air conditioning unit in the bedroom springs a mighty leak, and on top of that my phone ceases to function. Not a great start but, to quote Brendon Burns, it gets so much worse.

Armed with my last paycheck (converted to rupiah without even asking me) and a passport featuring a snazzy new exit-only permit, I go to HSBC the next morning to close my bank account and transfer that money back to an account in the US. You'd think I asked them to sing the entire score of "H.M.S. Pinafore." What I thought would take an hour or 90 minutes at the most ended up taking five hours (11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) -- so long that the doors were shut and the office boys going home before I actually got my passport back and the account closed. Five hours, 14 different documents to be signed and an innumerable amount of "sorry Meesters" and sheepish grins. "Sorry Meester, but your signature is not an exact match to your passport." "Sorry Meester, but you need to sign a statement document in case any payments you make get returned and you complain about the money." "Sorry Meester, but the Transactions Department has not processed your requests so we cannot close your account yet." In my four years in Jakarta, dealing with that was the closest I'd ever come to truly Getting White and doing something awful.

Needless to say, this took what semblance of a plan I had for my last day in Jakarta and obliterated it. I didn't even get back to the apartment until 5 p.m. and had what I thought was a 10 p.m. flight bearing down on me. Some sweeping and mopping here, a frantic round of packing there and I'm out the door at 6:45 p.m. After dropping off the keys to the next tenant, I make for Soekarno-Hatta and get there with 90 minutes to spare.

How am I posting, then? Funny you should ask. After anticipating a 10:05 p.m. takeoff, we're told that the Korean Airlines jet is delayed in Incheon because of stormy weather and will now take off from Jakarta at 1:05 a.m. This handy bit of information landed in my inbox at 11 p.m. -- thanks, Korean Air. Come midnight, though, we get word that the plane won't get here until 5:30 a.m., and now that's been pushed back to 7:30 a.m. Assuming the jet actually gets here and isn't crippled by this apparent Storm of the Century, we should get to Incheon at about 4:30 p.m. local time -- ample cushion to make my 8:50 p.m. connection to Las Vegas. So much for that ginormous 13-hour layover and getting to chill in the Korean Airlines suite.

What burns me most is dashing off in such a hurry for no reason. All my books save three are still at the apartment, as are my collection of press passes (which I should really toss out anyway) and half a box of Pop Tarts (which leaving unfinished is tantamount to renouncing one's American citizenship). I have arrangements in place for the books to be shipped; the Pop Tarts, notsomuch. And on top of all this, I have assignments in my new college courses that are due today. What fun.

One of these days I'll figure out how to pack up, move and travel without having to leave behind large swathes of my possessions or driving myself bug-nutty. And on that day, Tatooine will freeze over.

UPDATE: Yeah. We left Jakarta at 7:20 a.m. on Wednesday (nine hours later than planned) and pulled into Incheon at about 4:30 p.m. local time. Grab dinner and hop on the plan to Vegas, right? Not with the way this trip is going. Almost every other Korean Airlines flight today was pushed back multiple hours, so my 8:50 p.m. flight is now a 2 a.m. redeye. That will put me in Las Vegas at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the earliest -- just enough time to catch a cab, pour myself into bed and be up for the final leg on Southwest the following afternoon. Fortunately, being a Las Vegas institution, the South Point lets you check in as late as 1 a.m.

Oh, and I haven't slept more than five or six hours total since Monday. It's a good thing I don't have to do anything important at my brother's wedding on Sunday as the lack of sleep and jet lag are going to leave me utterly useless.

Monday, August 20, 2012

All the single ladies

I have one week left in Jakarta. To be honest, I'm still not sure how I feel about that. The past week or so drove home many of the things I won't miss (all the noise, noise, noise!), and it will certainly be a load off my shoulders to be done with moving and not have to deal with watching the newspaper I helped bring to life collapse in on itself. Of course, there are plenty of people whom I'll miss, and the thought of voluntarily walking away from newspapers still turns my stomach.

What's occupying my thoughts now -- other than finishing the going-away to-do list, shlepping across the Pacific with 13- and 20-hour layovers and dealing with three more online college classes that start today -- is how I'll adjust to life back in Nebraska. I imagine it hasn't changed that much since I left in 2006. That Callahan fella still runs the football team, right?

How will I occupy my time once I am not gainfully employed for the first time in about 10 years? The college classes take precedence, sure, and I imagine my evenings will be occupied with part-time newspaper work (fall sports season is at hand) and my continuing attempts to teach myself Japanese. My family would probably like me to make more than cameo appearances at gatherings, and I would like to catch up with my small handful of friends in Omaha. Moreover, there's the not-so-small matter of figuring out what direction to take my life post-newspapers.

Here's another question: Should I try having a social life? No doubt that sounds odd to most people, but my journalist readers know to what I'm referring. Working nights and weekends for not a lot of money, changing jobs and cities every other year on average and living in places where the local lingo is not English -- all things I have done in one combination or another -- is not a good formula for a love life. In truth, dating was never that important to me, even during high school. There were always Other Things to Do that seemed more worth my while.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Become one with the madness

Many barrels of ink and oodles of bandwidth have been spilled bemoaning the chaotic state of Indonesian football. For all that time and energy spent kvetching, though, precious little progress has been made in breaking the lengthy deadlock.
Recent developments offer little hope for a solution. The Indonesian Super League intends to restart despite talks to establish a single top flight, ISL stars who answered call-ups by the Merah Putih have been punished by their clubs and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI) plans to establish its own national team. Discord seems to be the status quo.

But perhaps we’re thinking about this the wrong way. The first law of quantitative economics states that “if a lot is good, more is better,” after all, so having twice as much football as other countries can only be a good thing.

Sure, it’s tempting to give in to frustration and demand FIFA finally follow through on its threat to ban Indonesia from international competition, but who does that really hurt? The ISL finished an entire season as a rebel league without any consequences, so FIFA sanctions would have little effect on it. The same cannot be said of the Indonesian Premier League, for which FIFA and Asian Football Confederation recognition are its only meaningful chips in the game.

Instead of continuing to gnash our teeth and rend our garments, let us embrace the chaos. The inertia that keeps the ISL and IPL separate is a boon to so many people. Just think of all the secretaries, assistants and mid-level functionaries who are still in a job thanks to these leagues’ refusal to compromise. Why won’t those job-killers at FIFA think of the mid-level functionaries?

It’s not just the people in the league offices. Twice as many leagues mean twice as many players, club staff and referees – even if receiving a monthly salary is at best a 50-50 proposition for said players and staff. Plus, twice as many roster spots to fill means the average Indonesian’s chances of becoming a professional footballer are twice as good. Why are those cultural imperialists at FIFA trying to crush the dreams of hard-working Indonesians?

Football’s sphere of economic influence spans so much further, though. Twice as many stadium rentals; twice as many security personnel; twice as many passengers for taxis, ojeks and buses; twice as many people selling “unofficial” merchandise at official events; twice as much football on TV to boost ratings – this is a central piece of the Indonesian economy we’re talking about here. Why are those greedheads at FIFA so eager to deprive this emerging economy of its rightful revenue?

Don’t think of this as another example of short-sighted gridlock. Instead, consider it a victory for the grand Indonesian tradition of dialogue ad nauseam. Last week, The Economist said of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “By doing very little, Indonesia’s president is doing fine.” Like Rome’s Fabius Maximus did to Hannibal of Carthage during the Second Punic War, Indonesia has a chance to bend FIFA to its will and continue reaping the economic benefits of more football as long as it continues to do as little as possible.

It’s not as though FIFA or the AFC have shown much interest in hurrying along the process. The only deadline in the memorandum of understanding signed in June by the KPSI, ISL and Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) involved holding a national congress by the end of this year, and even then it included no sanctions or method of punishment in the event of failure. If the continental and world football governing bodies can’t be bothered to show leadership or demand accountability, it’s no wonder Indonesia’s squabbling factions have found better things to do than fixing the rift in the sport in the months since signing the MoU.

So let’s learn to stop worrying and love the deadlock. Greet this impasse with the same benign resignation used when facing Indonesia’s increasingly traffic-choked streets. After all, having twice as much football can only benefit the people who really matter in this country – bureaucrats.

Make a joyful noise

What's it like to be in Jakarta now that Ramadan is over? It sounds a lot like this. I took that at 2:40 a.m., and the noise is still going. If you listen closely, you can hear the mosque across the alley, another of the neighborhood mosques, drumming and fireworks -- about the only thing missing is the motorcycles modified to be as noisy as possible.

EDIT: At last, a bit of peace and quiet. I can still hear some mosque's muezzin in the distance, but it's largely quiet here at 8 a.m. That was at least 12 hours of solid noise -- no doubt the Prophet is pleased.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ladies: Stop getting yourselves raped

Cultural relativism is nice and all, but some things are just plain stupid. In response to a series of rapes and attempted sexual assaults on public transportation in Jakarta, Indonesia's women's empowerment minister has ... wait for it ... asked the ladies to take up martial arts!
Women need to learn martial arts to protect themselves against violent acts, according to Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar.

“The mastery of martial arts is necessary for women to escape dangerous situations,” she said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Citing the recent rape and robbery attempts inside public transit, and numerous sexual assaults on Jakarta’s Angkot minibuses, Linda said women were often the target of violent attacks.

“Many female workers using public transport to return home late at night become victims of assault,” she explained. “Women are often seen as weak, so they become sitting ducks for criminals. Therefore, women must master martial arts in order to protect themselves.”
To paraphrase Zapp Brannigan: Madame Minister, what the hell? This is outrageous, and in a right-thinking country a government minister spouting this kind of bullshit would be looking for a job by sundown. This is the person in charge of overseeing the well-being of Indonesia's women and children?

Why place the extra burden on the women? It puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim. Such victim-shaming is a problem all over, and Indonesia is no exception. Look no further than the Big Durian, where Governor Fauzi Bowo helpfully suggested that women were being raped because they wore revealing clothes.
After a series of attacks on women by public transportation drivers, including the pack rape of a woman on her way home from work, Fauzi said miniskirts were inviting to rapists.

“You can imagine, if [a woman] wears a short skirt and sits next to the driver, it could be seen as inviting,” the governor said. “Wear sensible clothes, not ‘inviting’ clothes.”

He also had a similar message for women who take motorcycle taxis, or ojeks.

“If you ride on an ojek wearing short pants or a miniskirt, do not sit like a man,” Fauzi said. “If you sit sidesaddle, there will be no problem.”
(Incidentally, Fuzzy Bowwow is about nine points back in his re-election bid despite he and his campaign fomenting religious and ethnic hatred by telling Jakarta voters that they must vote for fellow Muslims or incur Allah's wrath. It's just a coincidence, I assume, that his opponent's running mate is a Christian and ethnically Chinese.)

How can people in positions of power continue to be so anti-woman and treat rape and sexual assault so blithely while still keeping their jobs? It's no wonder there's such a culture of impunity in this country when victims of crime are held equally culpable — if not more so — than the people who actually break the law.

System failure

Another day, another mind-numbing editorial from the Jakarta Globe. The scandal du jour is that business tycoon and presidential financier Siti Hartati Murdaya has been caught offering a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe to secure a permit for her business. This is obviously embarrassing for Hartati, her business and the Democrats, especially as the latter is already dealing with enough graft scandals in its ranks.

What is more embarrassing — at least if you still believe in quaint notions like journalism — is the Globe's mewling apologetics. Rather than affix any blame to Hartati, the brain trust at Globe Towers would rather use its editorial to fault "the system" and repeat its endless call for nebulous "reform."
Don't Blame Hartati; It's the System's Fault
The announcement of Siti Hartati Murdaya as a corruption suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission is a sad day for the business community and for the country.
Hartati has been named a suspect by antigraft investigators amid allegations that she ordered the payment of a Rp 2 billion ($212,000) bribe for Amran Batalipu, the head of Buol district in Central Sulawesi, in exchange for a palm oil plantation permit.
It cannot be denied that Hartarti is not the only business owner who has offered a bribe for a license to establish a business. Talk to any business owner who has had to deal with regional or local government leaders and chances are they will have a similar tale to tell.
Unfortunately, this is how the system works in this country and it urgently needs to be reformed. It is common practice for regional bureaucrats to demand such payments from business owners. Yes, some business owners are not angels, and some occasionally find ways to avoid the law. However, it is equally true that business owners are victims of the system and have no choice but to comply if they want their businesses to proceed.
Corruption is a cancer that is eating away the soul of this country. But unless the entire system is overhauled, we will not conquer it and innocents like Hartarti will be ensnared in its web.
We hope investigators will conduct a thorough probe into this matter and allow the Indonesian public to view all the facts. We call on the authorities to also ensure that the recipients of the alleged bribe are also brought to justice.
What Hartarti allegedly did is against the law, but she has also contributed enormously to social causes and helped underprivileged Indonesians through her generous charitable works. This should not be discounted in the investigation.
I'd ask if the Globe was the least bit embarrassed by running something so cloying — "business owners are victims," "no choice to comply," "innocents like Hartati" — but after its slapstick denouncements of pornography and Lady Gaga, defending a corruption suspect is almost genteel.

(Fun fact: Corruption, narcotics offenses and terrorism are considered "extraordinary crimes" in Indonesia. Murder? Notsomuch.)

The Democrats, as ever, can't decide whether to stand by their own or disown the accused to save the party (not that there's much party to save). All this despite Hartati initially expecting people to believe that her bribe was a "donation" and asking: "Do I look like someone who would bribe?" Now we have the House of Representatives speaker Marzuki Alie — also a Democrat — saying that Hartati was "forced" to offer a bribe. I don't recall anyone holding a gun to her head or threatening her family, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't such a philanthropist and champion of the poor taking her complaint about corruption to the anti-graft authorities carry far more weight and leave her in a better light than where she finds herself now?

Of course, Marzuki wouldn't just offer up such claims without sound logic behind them.
“Why don’t you ask her [Hartati]? As far as I know, businesspeople are usually stingy. They wouldn’t give any money unless they really had to,” he told reporters in Jakarta.
Can't argue with that.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Brush(wood) with greatness

It's rare for me to walk away from an interview more energized than I was when it started. That's not to suggest that the people I talk to are boring -- rather, it's just that after so many years and so many interviews, it takes someone (or something) truly engaging to pique my interest.

I am fortunate to have done a few such interviews during my time in Jakarta. I had an extended phone conversation with Therese Shechter on the subject of virginity and its place in society, and I've had several chances to talk with grassroots football expert Tom Byer before, during and after his attempt to bring his technique training program to Indonesia (while that fell through, an even bigger project to secure hosting rights for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup might just succeed in spite of the ongoing infighting).

Today, I had the chance to speak with someone I already knew fairly well (albeit in a one-sided way) but had yet to meet in person: Brian Brushwood, who was in town for Mahakarya Magician 2012, a huge magic show. He was every bit as fun and engaging as I'd hoped, and I'm glad I made the effort meet him before he left Jakarta and flew back to the States. Having the chance to meet people like Brian is one of my favorite aspects of journalism and one of the things I'll miss most when I'm out of the business.

It was so much fun, I even set aside one of my main rules and got a picture with him (it helps that he and my dad are well-acquainted). Tom Osborne? Nope. David Seaman? Sorry. Brian Brushwood? Damn skippy.

In case you're wondering, I'm the fat one.

Healthy hypocrisy

Who doesn't love a good presidential gaffe? Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has two more years to revel in his status as Indonesia's lame-duck president, and it appears he intends to spend those years much like the rest of his time in office -- issuing toothless, out-of-touch directives while leaving the populace shaking their heads and wondering how such an ineffectual ninny got elected to the highest office in the land.

SBY's latest exercise in Not Getting It came this past week when he told his fellow Indonesians to stop seeking medical treatment abroad. While such an admonishment likely raised a few eyebrows among the estimated 600,000 Indonesians who spend $1.2 in so-called "medical tourism" each year, it was at least in keeping with his previous rhetoric. He said last July that he had always sought medical check-ups in Indonesia, adding that the quality of the country's hospitals and doctors was "something to be proud of."

It should come as no surprise, though, that the president is just as susceptible to the "do as I say, don't do as I do" syndrome that is so prevalent among Indonesia's elite. It turns out SBY has sought medical treatment abroad, with confirmation coming from the former head of the president's medical team and the Kuala Lumpur hospital, which brags on its website about SBY being a "regular customer" and that 60 percent of its medical tourists come from Indonesia.

Such privilege also extends to SBY's family, with first lady Ani Yudhoyono traveling to Pittsburgh for neck surgery that the president himself claimed could not be performed in Indonesia. Even the long arm of the law isn't enough to keep well-to-do Indonesians in the country, with the likes of graft convicts Muhammad Nazaruddin, Nunun Nurbaetie and others seeking treatment abroad for sometimes dubious (and sometimes legitimate) health concerns despite the protestations of law enforcers. Fleeing to Singapore seems to be a consistent theme among persons of interest in Indonesia, a fact that definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with the Indonesian legislature still refusing to ratify an extradition treaty it signed with its neighbor in 2007. After all, only a fool and a communist would see a link between that and Indonesian corruption suspects (an increasing number of whom are lawmakers) using Singapore as a convenient place to stash their assets and themselves.

But what about those who don't have the means to seek treatment abroad? Roadshows by Singapore doctors won't have much effect on the vast swath of the Indonesian populace that still lives on less than $2 a day, and the options available to the average Indonesian don't make for pretty reading. Less than half the 1,523 hospitals in the country can pass government certification standards. There is huge demand for doctors, but the level of trust in them is lacking and one does not need to search far for horror stories of medical malpractice here. While politicians furrow their brows and bicker about building more hospitals or undertaking reforms to benefit the overall public health, the poor and the desperate take matters into their own hands by using odd and sometimes dangerous pseudoscience such as "railway therapy" -- laying down on railroad tracks in the belief that electrical energy emanating from the tracks will improve their blood circulation and cure all sorts of ailments.

Even if it's not quite a paradox, it's odd nonetheless. Governments at every level are increasingly willing to provide free health care and education to the poor, placing further burdens on state coffers already strained by skyrocketing spending on fuel subsidies. Meanwhile, the well-off send their children abroad to study and spend hundreds of millions of dollars seeking VIP health care overseas. To restrict the elite's ability to do either of those would be self-defeating and needlessly intrusive, of course, but how sustainable is a system where the rich can (and do) opt out and the rest are left choosing between a bunch of unappealing options? Difficult decisions must be made as Indonesia tries to reform and modernize its services, and it's hard to see that kind of bold, far-sighted leadership coming from a regime that is so willing to call upon the people to make sacrifices it won't make itself.