Thursday, December 01, 2005

Nguyen Tuong Van 1980-2005 - a young Australian

Yes, he did the wrong thing. Yes, the drugs was enough to give a few thousand hits to users. Yes, he should have known about the warnings on Singapore and its fierce anti drugs stance and it's reputation to hang convicted felons (400 people since 1991).

Yes, if you do the crime, you do the time. But death?

So, you're 22 years old, and some heavy puts the squeeze on you to save your twin brother. You agree to transport drugs to save him a few broken bones. You get caught. The government stays quiet, as does the press, until D-Day looms, the hanging. Suddenly, the Australian media is full of opinions, breast beating, and grim faced government officials are all over the TV and newspapers and radio saying there is nothing that can be done to save the now 25 year old Australian. The small script is that Singapore is one of the largest trading partners of Australia, heavily investing in Australian power, industry, telecommunications etc. The conclusion is obvious.

Legal appeals are made, the prime minister shrugs and diplomatically says he has done everything he could, his legal advisers also say this and he is going to watch cricket on the day of the hanging because what else can he do? One last ray of hope from a lawyer who says Nguyen could be expatriated back to Australia if he is charged with conspiracy to import drugs. Australian government is left red faced and Downer, the foreign minister, says yes, well, if only this had been done earlier. But hang on, you said that there was nothing that could be done? No answer.

The latest trumpeting of the Australian government is that they have succeeded in getting the Singapore government to allow Nguyen and his mothe to hold hands before she leaves him for the last time at 5pm today, looking at my watch, that was 3 hours ago.

He will spend the night writing letters, praying to his god, then be led out just before six am to face the smiling hangman who made such a spectacle of himself during the week by promising that if he did the job Nguyen would not suffer too much, and most probably would not"jerk like a chicken" after he has fallen through the trapdoor. Small comfort.

You are 25 years old, you did one stupid dumb thing, and now you are going to pay with your life by dying in a most barbaric and brutal way. Despite the veneer of respectability, Sinaporeans are as backward as they are cruel.

Pray to your god/s for this young man and all who follow him.


Drivers License 

It's pretty easy to get a license, normally. In Jakarta, all you had to do was hand over your passport, a couple of photos, and a fee of about AU$70.00 to a middleman and he goes off, does the business, and comes back with a brand new legal license. Ah, the good 'ol days of no official contact. Always better to let someone else do it.

In Surabaya, the process is somewhat different. First, we had to arrange through the school HR a letter of domicile from the head of the area that we live in. Okay, no problems, ask HR to get it done and the cost comes back with a photocopied official letter, my name and address are on it. The cost is Rp250, 000.00, about AU$35.00, a huge sum for someone in the government office who earns about Rp1, 000,000.00 per month, undoubtedly saw us westerners coming. I gasp, stagger in circles (it's okay, you can do this when such enormous sums are bandied around), then ask for a receipt before paying. "But, but" the poor HR person splutters, "This is a government office, they don't give receipts!" I fix her with a steely gaze, "Then he doesn't get paid".

She totters off, probably thinking that I'm the devil. In my defence, just that very day on the front page of the newspaper was an article where the president asks the people not to pay bribes but to demand correct charges for correct services. I figure, lets see how this fella does, merrily stamping a letter then asking for a week's salary. The cheek! I don't mind paying to avoid long delays but to pay for a service the man is employed to do?

Now to the next step.

I contact Mr Fixit, a fellow by the name of Pak Eko, who can produce anything from a maid (which he did for us, a cook to be exact, and a good one at that) to Bahasa Indonesia lessons for those expats in dire need. The fellow is a marvel, just what his actual job is remains a mystery but anyways, he knows the goods and is renowned to deliver. I sms him and tell him need a license, in fact three as I'm also organising for another teaching couple at my school. 'No probs', he sms's back, and duly arrives at my house that evening with another fellow.

The other fellow, a shy smiling rather portly fellow is introduced as pak Eko. 'Going to be an interesting conversation', I think to myself as one always uses the honorific when addressing someone new, thus, each sentence has as its preamble, pak Eko etc etc. So we sit down, the obligatory glass of cool water is handfed out, and we settle down to discuss the weather, our jobs (pak eko number 2 is a security guard at a apartment complex- which while may be mystifying to outsiders, ergo, what does a security guard have to do with getting a drivers license? We in the know nod wisely and politely smile), the state of the economy and so on.

Pak Eko number 1 delicately asks after the cook he found for us, to which he is obviously greatly relieved when I tell him she is working out fine, and in fact, is still employed by us (always a good thing to add the double positive just in case they don't get the right picture, you'd be amazed at how often one thinks the message is safely delivered only to find that in reality, while both involved are smiling and nodding at each other in what appears to be mutual agreement, no agreement had actually been reached and in fact the other thought you required a herd of cows delivered to your front door step while you wanted the daily newspaper..such is the way things work here...and I speak pretty fluent Indonesian..).

We meander through for a while longer then pak Eko number 1 sits forward a little, signalling that it's down to business. Pak Eko number 2, the security guard, is very proficient, pak Eko number 1 assures me, at obtaining licenses, getting cars registered etc. This is good news I tell him, smiling back, and nod and smile at pak Eko number 2 for good effect. He asks for the letters, gets them, asks for the money, gets that, a whopping Rp 575,000 per person (AU$77.00), our passports, gets those (though with a slight wince of trepidation, if they go missing we're stuffed) and they hop onto a motorbike and roar off into the darkness, one arm clutching the envelope with all the assorted papers and money inside. I shudder briefly at the thought of it being lost on some tollway and wander back into the house. Time for a beer...or two.

Friday night pak Eko phones me and we determine that in the morning pak Eko number 2 will pick us up at the house and take us to the drivers' licensing office.

Saturday morning, supposed to arrive at 9am, but knowing 'jam karet' (rubber time) this could mean anytime before midday, so don't hold my hopes up but just after nine he does arrive on his motorbike. Greetings are exchanged and I hop into the car with my two expat friends and we head off. It takes an hour to get there, seems to be on the other side of the city, through heavy traffic, past industrial sites, rubbish lying everywhere, rust stained containers lying lopsidedly along side the road, belching smoke from passing trucks, potholes strewn all over the road, a rather smart device to slow down traffic I believe. Saves putting in lights and road signs.

We settle in for the drive and Big O, a kiwi, and big, thus the name don't ya know, sits in the front and puts on Elvis Presley. We watch the sights as we cruise through the traffic to the strains of 'love me tender'. Only in

The licensing centre is a big sprawl of buildings, but very organised if you know what you are doing. Pak Eko ushers us into one office where we are fingerprinted, handed a ticket, and then taken to another office. At the front are a long line of seats, filled with Indonesians sitting and waiting to be called up to the room where they take your photograph. No such waiting for us. Pak Eko has already been in the day before and organised our reception. We are warmly greeted by the office staff and taken in to sit in front of a rather surprising piece of technology, a computer no less, with a camera attached. Sit, flash, and the picture is instantly on the screen. Do you like your picture they ask? I smile and nod, Big O meanwhile is joshing with the cop who is a bit taken aback at his size. "Is he a policeman?" The cop asks me. "No", I answer, "Not yet". (In Indonesia, to just say "no" is a bit like saying, no, definitely not, no way, forget about it etc etc ...you get the picture. However, if one says 'belum' - 'not yet', this indicates that the possibility is never dead, one can never be sure and there is just the chance that it might happen, if you know what I mean). He smiles and pinches the Big O's biceps, "Big man", he says approvingly, and puts an arm around his shoulders. Big O takes this in his stride and while he can't speak any Indonesian, soon has them all laughing as he teases the cop about his rather solid looking paunch. The cop is delighted, and laughs uproariously.

We are ushered out again, and stand around and wait. Interesting that all the Indonesians sitting there patiently for their turn to go in seem to harbour no resentment that we just went straight in. The word must be out that we had paid to get in, a fact that is not surprising to anyone and even is acceptable, as in, 'Oh, you paid a bribe to get in first? Oh well then, by all means, no, no, don't worry about me, I'll just sit here and wait my turn, you go ahead now' accompanied by a big smile. The whole thing is bizarre if you're not used to it, but perfectly natural to everyone else.

A sign in very big letters says that there is a two hour minimum wait for your drivers license after the photograph is taken. We wait ten minutes then I see pak Eko go over to the office window, bend down and say something. Five minutes later we get our newly printed cards. "Sorry about the wait," says pak Eko. "Terrible! Normally it only takes ten minutes!" We smile at each other and I offer him Rp50,000 for being so good to us and having everything well organised in advance. But he won't take it, assuring me that it's all part of the service.

I never did find out just how much it would have cost a normal person without certain payments expediting matters, nor what his cut was, but it didn't seem to matter. Pak Eko had been true to his word, we were licensed without a test nor serious waiting time and all for AU$77.00.


Postscript. Today I got the letter of domicile receipt from the government office for Rp250, 000. Not on official department letterhead but a receipt all the same. Guess I'll have to pay up.


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