Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Excitement of a Migrant Worker

Excitement is contagious. That's why I caught one from Roni Pasla in the Jakarta airport this afternoon.

Roni just returned from a one-year contract as a ship crew for an oil field off the shores of Kuwait. He's originally from Batam, and currently working for Siemens off the shores of Sumatra. His contract in the middle east is also as the company's employee.

To get this job, he first attended the BPLP Semarang school for sailors. He just took the "basic" course for about a month, which awarded him a certificate to be qualified for the job. The program costs about Rp 800k (~90 USD). Then he had to pay a "broker" a one-time fee of 300 USD, which is OK since his job in the middle east pays 300 USD a month.

Roni came home happy and excited, full of optimism and pride. He shows off his English, and boasted how he learned that from zero in only a year. He said, at the arrival hall, an officer thought he was a "TKI" (low-skill, low-wage Indonesian migrant worker), and almost forced him to go to a counter where he's sure he'd get robbed of his hard-earned money. But proudly he said, "I'm a Siemens employee. Here's my documents. And the officer apologized."

On another note, my sister told me this morning that she's invited to a discussion on a possible free-trade agreement between Indonesia and the U.S. Here's what I said:
I'd support it ONLY on one condition: that the agreement would allow Indonesia to export what it can produce best: cheap labor. And please, no discrimination on people with Muslim names, and Pesantren (Muslim boarding school) background.
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Barcelona: Truly Rich

How do you tell that a person is truly rich? She puts intangible things (i.e., pride, benevolence, and happiness) before money.

Since way back, gigantic, Spain-based Barcelona Football Club never wears any sponsor's logo on their jersey, foregoing tens of millions of pounds a year. But this week they start to wear Unicef's logo.

Unicef is not paying Barcelona anything. Instead, Barcelona is paying Unicef 1.5 million euros a year to help poor children suffering from AIDS. Furthermore, Unicef can use any of Barcelona's players (including popular Ronaldinho) as its spokespersons, for free. Barcelona simply said, "we're more than a football club."

I've never been a big fan of Barcelona. Actually I just realized that their jerseys used to be "clean" (Oh.. so that's why they look so 'awkward'!). But now, I'll be paying more attention to them. And that is good marketing on Barcelona's part. Marketing aimed for the heart.

First photo credit:
Second photo credit: New York Times via here.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On Sri Mulyani's Award

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was selected as Best Finance Minister in Asia, 2006, by Emerging Markets Forum. The award was given amidst the IMF and World Bank meeting in Singapore.

Here's what a friend said: "But she's only been in office for a year."
Here's what another said: "Soekarno once said, 'if the capitalists are praising us, then we must be doing something wrong.'"

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Monday, September 18, 2006

On being post-modern

Post-modernism, at a glance, may seem like a difficult, abstract concept. Books that reflect this idea seem absurd to read, as they analyze simple, banal things in manners that seem unnecessarily complex.

However, if there's one thing that I learned about post-modernism, it's the very simple concept that things are not as simple as they look, that there are a lot of factors that contribute to how things turn out, and even "how things turn out" depends on how one presents it.

History matters, but look again: who's point of view does it reflect? We thus should not be talking of History, but of histories. Gender matters, and thus even histories may be seen as "his stories," and therefore we should hear more of "her stories" to give a more complete picture. Race matters. If you don't recognize this since you're part of a racial majority in a certain place, go to another place where you're a minority. Then most likely you'll understand how you're being discriminated against, and how you, as part of a racial majority, may have discriminated against minorities. Geography matters. See how where you're born, where you work, and where your business is located decide how much money you have/make. You get my point.

Some people, who have been so accustomed to modernist, simplistic thinking, are frustrated by post-modernism. "If everything matters, then nothing really matters! Where do we even start?"

Well, that's the beauty of it, isn't it? Since many things matter, then we can start anywhere. However, we do need better leaders, who see a more complete picture, and are great at coordinating various sectors to achieve a common goal. The leader should also be more careful about making generalizing, over-arching statements, and only do so when it's really needed.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tribute to A. Fatih Syuhud

Do you know that feeling of excitement when you meet someone who share your mission? That's how I felt when I was first directed into Fatih's blog.

Famous Blogger Indonesia A. Fatih Syuhud is a big driver of the "bottom-up information" movement. He says,
I'd love to see many more Indonesian bloggers blog in English, the most-widely-understood world language. So that the world knows and understands more about Indonesia by reading anything written by Blogger Indonesia.
Back in 2001, when I was so excited about the "bridging the digital divide" movement, my friend, Kang Didi, adjusted my perspective by saying this:
The most frightening aspect of the digital divide is not that the poor won’t get information, but that the poor won’t be able to contribute the making of mainstream knowledges, that they will be stuck as knowledge consumers, never producers, and that one day their local knowledges and wisdoms will disappear.
Back in those days, blogs were not so far developed. For the average people to get their message across in the Internet, they'd have to learn HTML. Then they'd have to learn tricks on how to get their website found in search engines. Today, blogs make the "bottom-up information" movement more easier and accessible. One does not have to learn HTML. Machines built into blog providers, also tools such as technorati and, make blogs easy to find. Audience has also widened by people being more critical of mainstream media. A good example of the "bottom-up information" movement is Global Voices, for which Fatih and my friend, Enda, are contributors.

Still, I think the "bottom-up information" movement cannot stand alone. It needs to be complimented by "better top-down information." Currently there are a lot of knowledges and research results (at the elite level, i.e., LIPI, BPPT) that are useful for poor. However, they are presented in such a way that is "un-readable" by the poor. For example, a farmer in Salatiga told me:
Yes, they trained me to use the Internet. I wanted to find information about better technologies for farming chilly. I found it. But it's a 20-page report! After reading the first 2 pages, I gave up. I didn't understand the language. It's too technical.
The Government has tried to deal with this by making the Warintek CD-ROMs: a compilation of Indonesian local, practical knowledges. The Pe-PP project is using the role of "infomobilizers" (community organizers with an ICT perspective), so that by way of information found over the Internet and direct facilitation (meaning contextualization and translation into "the people's language"), a farmer group in Muneng, Madiun, was enabled to grow better, bigger melons and find the buyers. That's why, as much as I agree with Fatih about people blogging in English, I'd also suggest people to blog in plain, simple Bahasa Indonesia. Or any traditional language.

Then there's also a matter of "side-way information," from one member of a community/ class/ group to another member. This is community building, and there's already many examples of this on the Internet. However, we need to see more "side-way information" building between the poor and marginalized. An attempt at this is the Saluran Informasi Akar Rumput initiative.

Each of these three movements need champions. And A. Fatih Syuhud, hands down, is one of the best champions of the "bottom-up information" movement.

This week, Fatih made me "Blogger of the Week." It sure is an honor, and I humbly thank him.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Optimism and Pessimism of Busway

Jakarta is building corridors IV-VII of dedicated bus lanes ("busway"). Many people complain about traffic jams that the process is causing. "Stupid busways!" they say. I, on the other hand, think congestion is a natural, temporary, side-effect of busway development. Like having your house renovated: of course it's a hassle. But after a while, it will be a nicer place to live.

Darmaningtyas of the Indonesian Transportation Society said that congestion will subside if busways can attract people to leave their cars. And this is probable: 77.2% are in favor of busways, with certain conditions:
Berdasarkan riset INSTRAN (2005) kepada 304 pemakai mobil pribadi, responden itu siap meninggalkan kendaraan pribadi dan pindah ke busway dengan syarat: jalur yang mereka lalui ada busway (44,8 persen), busway memberi kenyamanan (24,1 persen), dan kemacetan terus terjadi di jalur yang mereka lalui (19 persen). Oleh sebab itu, 77,2 persen dari 304 responden mengharapkan agar jalur yang mereka lalui dibangun busway.
Sayang, hasil riset ITDP-INSTRAN (2006) menunjukkan bahwa ketidaknyamanan dalam busway salah satunya karena berdesak-desakan merupakan aspek terburuk dari pelayanan busway Koridor I-III.
Darmaningtyas thus proposes more buses, better management, and feeder vehicles. I would add secure parking space at the end of busway routes for people driving from the suburbs, but take the busway into/out of the city.

An interesting factor that needs to be taken into account is what we forego by having a better transportation system: i.e., the jobs of drivers and keneks of at least 550 Mikrolet (minibus) units!
Yang pasti sekitar 550 unit lebih Mikrolet 01 (Kampung Melayu-Senen) akan hilang karena jalurnya l00 persen beririsan dengan busway Koridor V (Kampung Melayu-Ancol)... Angkutan umum lain yang beririsan dengan busway Koridor IV, VI, dan VII juga akan mengalami nasib yang sama (hilang)...
Based on queries I made to 5 Jakarta taxi drivers so far, it's clear that their income is decreasing since Busways started (current income is 20% to 60% of previous income).

So what will bus drivers, taxi driver, and keneks become now? Go figure.

Photo credit:

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Easily Happy

If you were given a choice: happy or money, which would you pick? I'd guess many would answer both. And that's fine. I have nothing against money (heck, I like money); I just think it's over-rated. But think again: do we really need money to be happy?

Here's an anecdote my friend once told me:
A Western, white man finds a brown, indigeous Indonesian lying around on the beach, somewhere on the shores of Java. "Why aren't you working?" asked the white.
"Why should I?" asked the brown.
"So you can have money."
"What for?"
"So one day you can lie around on the beach, and enjoy life without worrying about anything."
"But I'm already doing that."

In Harry Potter #1, there's a story about a mirror. When one looks into this mirror, he will see himself in the form of what he desires most. For example, one sees himself receiving an award. Harry Potter sees himself besides his two deceased parents whom he never met. The happiest person just sees himself as he is.

Imagine you're looking into this mirror, and figure how much money is related to what you see. No, please really think about it. You want self-esteem? Then treat people respectfully. You want a new experience? Go interact with people you'd never thought you would. You want to feel good? Give something that you value to a nice person who needs it more than you do. Then forget about what you've done.

Paradoxically, happiness is easiest to achieve by giving something away. So go ahead: make dinner for your wife. Recite a poem for your partner. Win a basketball game for your boyfriend. Give her a massage. Do it wholeheartedly. Now you see what I'm talking about.

One of my mentors, Kang Didi, has a really cool catch-phrase: "gampang senang" (easily happy). And he's right: happiness is easy to find. It's all in our minds. Money sure is valuable. Just don't forget to be happy while you pursue it.

Previous posts on happiness: 1, 2, 3, 4

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cities, Homes, and the Middle Class

Congratulations go to Marco Kusumawijaya, who just launched his new book, titled Kota Rumah Kita (The City, Our Home), last night in Aksara Bookstore, Kemang. I'll write a review about the book later, but now I'll just highlight some points from the launch.

It's encouraging to have a book on (Indonesian) cities that has some theoretical dimensions, but is also very clear in its activist stand. A number of (Indonesian) urban planners and architects have also written books on a similar topic, but they tend to be highly theory oriented, and lacking any drive to push for change. Marco is one of the few activist-architects who writes well, and there's a good chance that this book can inspire people to do something.

Ayu Utami, author of Saman, gave a welcome note on this book. I only remember one thing about her speech: that efforts should be taken to build a "middle class consortium." Someone then questioned whether or not that is bourgeoisie instead. Marco then explained that for too long, the middle class has been helped by the lower class, in terms of advocacy for public interests. For example, it's the lower class who first protested the hundreds of million rupiahs allocated yearly for Jakarta governor's clothes and furniture. Any how, Marco views that an organized society (or society composed of organized people-based entities) is the way to go.

To be honest, I'm a bit skeptical of the "middle class consortium." Not many members of the "middle class" are like Marco and Ayu, who is relatively "independent" in terms of income. Most are working for large corporations, and highly dependent on such corporations to continue and enjoy their "good life." I do agree with the second part, though, that an organized society is a stronger society.

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Can SBY eliminate deep-rooted corruption?

Indonesian President SBY is trying hard to convince businesspeople to invest. He said the Government will reform central and local regulations, enforce the law, improve infrastructure, increase political stability, and eliminate corruption. Easier said than done. At the Forbes Global Conference, Steve Forbes, who moderated a dialog session with SBY, paid special attention to Indonesia and how it will deal with corruption.

You see, corruption is deeply rooted here. My friend, who's trying to run an honest gasoline logistics business in Pekanbaru, complained about the police force yesterday. "Even if there's no problem at all, they'll stop your truck and say there's a problem. To 'deal with the problem,' you'd have to pay at least 250,000 rupiahs," He said.

"What if you object, and if needed, bring a lawyer to take them to court?" naively I asked. "They'll still get you. Firstly, they'll take your truck to their station. Then on, it's completely their game. They can smash your headlight or your mirror, and then say that your vehicle had incomplete qualifications. In the meantime, your client is waiting to have his gasoline delivered! If you don't keep him satisfied, he'll turn to another distributor."

Without comprehensive attempt to deal with corruption (not just dealing with national-level policies), we can forget about SBY's dream to compete with China and India. How could he, if he can't even handle his own staff's misappropriation?

(Image from

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Low-income flats are profitable!

Indonesian real estate mogul Ciputra is willing to invest whatever it takes to build low-income flats in Jakarta. The condition: Government provides land and reduces interest rate from 15% to 10%. "Consumers cannot pay 15%," he said. Obviously, if Ciputra is interested, that means there's good business.

On another article, the Jakarta government admits that it still needs to provide 125,000 low-income flat units to accomodate those still living under the highways, along railroads, in green areas, and along the river. They are also asking private developers to keep their promise to build 1,000 units in 2006-2007. In Berlan, East Jakarta, a 20-storey flat will be build to accomodate mainly army personnel (retired and active). Hope this does NOT become a 20-story slum with "tradable" right to occupy the units.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ghetto-izing the Internet

Nien pointed me to this cool resource: Urban Dictionary, "a slang dictionary with your definitions. Define your world." Check out how these phrases are (re-)defined:
January Joiner:
Someone who joins the gym in January as part of a New Year's resolution and by February is back to being a couch potato.

ho ho ho:
Santa's cry, or three prostitutes.
Similar to Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary allows people to collectively shape the world from THEIR perspective, based on THEIR understanding, not the expert's, not the few elite's.

Why am I bringing this up? As much as I like the the Internet, I am also concerned about its deficiencies and biases. ICT is not culturally neutral; it incorporates modernist, western values into whoever is using it or connected through it.
  • Inayatullah and Legget, in Transforming Communication, questioned ‘who speaks, who is on the net, and whose ways of knowing are privileged.’ Are women’s perspectives incorporated by the new technologies? Can women can use the new technologies to break out of traditional, marginalizing, roles?
  • A chapter by Obijiofor in this book was critical of the language of the Internet. Any language creates certain forms of thinking and suppresses others. English, in particular, as the Internet’s dominant language, is ‘a language of technical rationality’.
  • Manuel Castells, in End of Millenium, furthermore noted that there is a geographically uneven distribution of Internet content providers, as most of them are concentrated in a few metropolitan areas. This largely shapes the assumptions used in providing this content, and the types of content available on the Internet.
  • These region and life-style specific assumptions have led to the exclusion of non-metropolitan cultures, and as Castells wrote in The Internet Galaxy, make it ‘difficult for people without sufficient education, knowledge, and skills to appropriate the technology for their own interests and values.’
These are why I support efforts to bring alternative content into the Internet; content created by the not-yet-modernized, the non-urban, the marginalized urban, the non-English-language-oriented. A potential Indonesian example is Saluran Informasi Akar Rumput - an online news agency run by community radios in West Java and Yogyakarta. Through such initiatives, we can show that the world is not monolithic, that "our" knowledges are just as valuable as "their" Knowledge, and that the Internet can be used as a tool to diversify the world, rather than homogenize it.

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