At the beginning, I was living in a kos, riding a motorbike, and eating every meal at a warung. In the middle, I was flitting amongst Indonesia’s many Islands, holidaying with friends and family. And at the end (well, not quite, I haven’t actually started my research project yet..) I’ve been lucky enough to live in a lovely house, use the brilliant angkot (little mini bus) as my transportation, and cook meals at home with my housemates as Bandung winds down every evening.
And from the lecture rooms of UGM in Yogyakarta, I’ve found myself attending conferences in Jakarta. And it’s a bit weird.
Yogya is to me the essence of what I consider Javanese culture. Every night Lesehans (roadside cafes in which you sit on the ground) are set up. Becak drivers still cycle their way up and down the roads, and Ibus still sell their freshly cooked Nasi Kuning or Gudeg early in the morning. And every Friday, most office workers don their Batik clothing for Batik Fridays – with pride.
When I lived in Yogya, I thought this was representative of Indonesian culture as a whole. But then I went on holidays – up to Sumatra and down to Flores. And I realised that Yogya was special. It’s a little microcosm of beautiful Java. But Indonesia isn’t just Java – it’s the rougher, spicier Sumatra, it’s the bubbly, gentle Flores. It’s Islamic, it’s Catholic, it’s traditional and it’s incredibly cosmopolitan.
And having just spent a week at the CAUSINDY conference in Jakarta, I’m grappling with this incredible diversity.
The conference was run by three unbelievably talented Australians, all in their late 20’s, early 30’s. One was managing a start-up company in Jakarta, one was just about to accept a job with Google, and one was managing an NGO in the Philippines (and was also a participant in the Philippines Masterchef program in his spare time). The rest of the committee were just as talented – from one girl who was doing an Internship as a tv presenter in Singapore, to another guy who was running an NGO to encourage education links between Indonesia and Australia. Was I intimidated? Yup.
The conference itself was designed to identify problems in the relationship between Indonesia and Australia, and how to work towards solving these problems, which was all done with a focus on youth. As such the delegates that attended the conference were all young entrepreneurs in their field, from both Australia and Indonesia.
We had panel discussions, guest interviews, and debates. All involving what was an awe-inspiring bunch of people.
We had Helen Brown from ABC to moderate debates, Greg Moriarty to lead panel discussions, and the Deputy Secretary of Political Affairs to the Vice-President of Indonesia to contribute to frank discussions on the Indonesian/Australian relationship. Every single guest, presenter and delegate had a huge amount of talent and energy that they wanted to direct towards strengthening the relationship.
So what did this group conclude? Problems that were brought up included Indonesia’s poor foreign investment infrastructure, Australia’s lack of facilitating skill exchange programs, and a misunderstanding of what both countries could offer to the other. Delegates commented on the way we often feel obliged to encourage the relationship – and that cultural, people-to-people links could assist in making this relationship far more enjoyable, and far more sustainable. It was noted that existing business links are strong – and less inclined to be affected by the whims of either government. A panel discussion on Defence and Security concluded that the potential for Indonesia and Australia to collaborate as a unified front with other nations, was a huge and beneficial possibility.
In sum, enthusiasm for the relationship was very strong – but this enthusiasm was laced with a bit of frustration. We know that the relationship has huge potential, but for some reason the relationship is often weak and undervalued. In Australia, rates of students learning Bahasa Indonesia are dropping, and in Indonesia, Australia is considered to be a minor country with very little to offer.
At the same time, Australia and Indonesia have the groundwork to become much more integrated. But it isn’t inevitable. Without more tangible collaboration, the relationship will stay much the way it is now. Weak and very undervalued. And at the heart of the relationship there should be an enthusiasm for each others culture. Indonesia is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, and Australia, well, it’s pretty beautiful too.
If you’d like to hear more about the conference, I have written a little summary for those who would like to read it. And If I could ask you all to post your own opinions below, I would really really appreciate it!! I’d love to hear what you think.
Now that the conference is over, I’m going to spend a few more days in Jakarta. Yesterday I went to a French bistro for lunch, and today I’m going to a market of Indonesian fashion designers. And at some stage I want to go back out to Jakarta’s port – to see the old colonial architecture and the densely built houses that line the water. And where will I be staying? In a friends apartment on the 37th floor, overlooking what is one of the most incredible views I’ve seen (albeit one of the most polluted…).
So, I’ll speak to you soon!