Tuesday, May 30, 2006

There is more bad news on the quake in Yogya with now over 5400 dead and the toll still climbing. A lot is being said on other blogs by expats etc on the ground and closer to what is going on. So, I'm not going to say much but will instead post these links if you wish to help or want to find out more:

Indonesia Help setup for the quake listing news and aid agencies.
Mount Merapi setup by a freelance journalist. Gives an account of whats going on.
Jakarta Expat with more links and thoughts.
Journo now in Yogya (partner of Merapi).
Photos of Yogya after the quake.


Saturday, May 27, 2006


I was flicking through the news channels this morning, when brief breaking news from CNN caught my interest about an earthquake in Java. Java? Scrambled for the Indonesian news stations and sure enough, first reports were coming in of an earthquake just south of Yogyakarta. This city is in the middle of Java, quite far from us, thus didn’t feel anything. Apparently the quake hit just before 6am, and measured, according to different reports, either 5.9 (Indonesian seismologists) or 6.2 (western seismologists). Whatever the number, its effect was devastating.

Indonesian TV news, as always, does not spare the viewer from harsh realities (see a previous entry on this aspect of news here), and the film being shown was horrific. Cameras in the hospitals were recording the sheer number of wounded and dead, hallways brimming to overflowing with bodies. Relatives wailing over remains, people staring blankly into the camera as family members held them waiting for a doctor or nurse, the car parks also full of patients lying on the tarmac, and trucks, cars and even buses pulling up all the time discharging more dead and wounded. Casualty figures as of this evening put it at well over 2500 people, with thousands more injured.

When it hit, most people would have been in bed, it’s Saturday and thus a sleep in for those who would normally be up by 5am to get ready for work. Thousands of houses have collapsed, as have office blocks, shops and the rest. Nothing was spared. That Java is an intensely populated island did not help. I have heard a government estimate of 1000 people per sq km. People live mostly in simple villages, in houses built of small locally made bricks with no steel reinforcing, just lots of cement. These houses offered no protection to the people sleeping.

I sms’d family members back home that we were okay, as I knew they would be wondering just how far away from it we are, then contacted a friend working at the American embassy. He had just heard and would be gearing up for relief efforts. Another friend based here working for the UN is flying over either tonight or tomorrow to help with rescue and aid.

The good thing from all of this is that various international and national aid agencies were already on the ground waiting for Mt.Merapi (a volcano close to Yogya) which has been showing strong signs for awhile now that it just might erupt. That the experts say that the quake has nothing to do with Merapi would have been met by disbelief by most, the coincidence is so strong, yet this appears to be the fact. These agencies will obviously be the first line of aid once some order is re-established.

Further, the President, SBY, is heading out tomorrow and has ordered all aid to be given by government departments and the military. One does wince a bit knowing just how chaotic things will get given past experience of government attempts to deliver aid, but it is far better than nothing.

But this is a mammoth job, thousands of houses destroyed, thousands of people displaced with no where to go. It will take years for the villages and indeed Yogyakarta itself to recover from this catastrophe.

At times, it seems as if Indonesia just reels from one disaster to another, one can only hope that this terrible event will pass, and those who are suffering will find peace sooner rather than later.


It’s always interesting to check every now and then as to who has been reading my blog. I usually check once a week or so and find that there are some unusual and usual originating hits. After a mention in another blog, traffic went up substantially for awhile, but the fuss has died down now and things have settles back into the routine of people I know checking in every now and then. However, I’ve noticed I’m getting a few hits from Qatar, Netherlands, and America. Not sure why, but someone from these countries seems to be dropping in every now and then!

If you are from any of these places, drop me a line and let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to comment on; are you planning a trip to Indo? Or perhaps, a career move as teacher to over here?

It’s also interesting to note just how long my blog holds a persons attention for, and I have to confess, it doesn’t seem that long, mostly a few minutes per visit if that. Maybe I should be spending more time commenting on the cultural aspects of life here and so on, or possibly up to date news around the place, but other expat indo bogs do it much better than me, so for the moment, I’m going to keep this as it was first intended, an account of our life here in Indonesia, and whatever seems to happen at the time to us or around us. But, as I said, if there is anything you would like to ask, drop in a comment under a recent post.


Monday, May 15, 2006

All good here, just had a quiet weekend, and now back to work for last 4 weeks. Time has indeed gone very fast this year.

We are scheduled to move into house first of June tho most probably now second of June as C has a function she wants to attend on the first. Still figuring out how we will do the move but this being Indonesia, should not be too hard. This house has come at the right time for us. It is still within the allocated housing budget but we were able to get it cheap as the owners had not been able to rent it out for over a year.

The house is lovely, about 300 sqm (though the block would only be 400 sqm), two stories, with 3 bedrooms upstairs and the main bedroom downstairs. There are two living areas, one very big, then the smaller one for receiving guests etc. The large one has glass down one whole wall, opening out to a small back courtyard with lots of plants etc. A nice place I think to sit outside and read the newspaper!

The smaller one has an outdoor courtyard opening off from it, with its own pond and garden. The kitchen is again very big to what we are used to, and also has a maids living area attached to it, with the maids bedrooms upstairs separate from the main bedroom area up stairs. The front garden is only small but eases down to a paved road (not bitumen) where the kids will spend quite a few happy hours. It’s very quiet with cars travelling at snail pace due to kids playing on the road so we are not too concerned as long as they are supervised. There is also a swimming pool a few houses down with kids play area and also tennis courts, so maybe we will start to play.

The children are doing well and growing fast. Lil D is starting to build up a repertoire of words, quite cute! His 'yes' sounds like 'nyes' and so on. He knows truck, car, no, yes, horse, ball, me too, wet, hot, cold, more, and a few other words. His favourite word is 'mimi' which is breast milk, tho C has now cut it down to after dinner and in the morning. 'moo mimi' is cow milk which he enjoys.

He did have a raised curving line on his bottom and we were convinced it was a worm just under the skin. First time we took him to doctor he said it was a bacterial infection, but took him back a week later and he confirmed what we said in the beginning. He is on the proper medication now and should all clear up but we have all taken a dose of worm tablets just in case. He is also getting his fair share of bumps, cuts, and bruises as he is so active but we just have to deal with each one as it happens.

We have decided to put him into an expat playgroup for 3 hours each day starting in august so that he will better learn how to play with other kids. It’s a local one, run by an expat committee who hired 4 women who have been there now for a few years and all the expats think it’s a great place for the children’s socialisation.

Lil C is doing very well. The IB curriculum and care and attention she receives at school are extremely good. She had a science fair on Friday where all the kids had to present a science project to visitors. Lil C did a great job, and was very well prepared. She did it on making pictures with bubbles (bubble painting, which consists of mixing water, colouring and detergent, then blowing like mad through a straw until bubbles rose in the dish then placing paper on top and voila,…bubble painting! She had a speech all prepared and did it very well, explaining that each bubble had 'gas' inside but the soap and water kept it inside, then used some hanging balloons as a comparison! She also had a poster for which she had drawn each step of the process in numbered boxes, C only helped with writing the explanation at the start.

Lil C is starting to read and each morning will sit down with C for a read, book supplied by the school. She is also very active and is out every afternoon on the street with P and Lil D playing with the neighbourhood kids. They all know her, and we often hear her name called out up and down the street!

I am looking forward to my break, it’s been a busy year and will be nice to relax and see Aussie again. Our house is still going up in value very well, and we know that we made the right choice to keep the house. The only real problem is all our furniture in storage, its starting to cost, but we can’t think of any other way out as yet. I’m going to check out options while I'm in Perth. Hoping to catch up with A and T, plus L and S, and J (Lil C’s godfather) etc. Be great to see the rest of the family in Sydney and Brisbane! On the way back to Surabaya I’m stopping off in Bali for a couple of days to have a look around as well!

C is settling back into a routine and seems to have recovered after her trip to Ireland. She was offered a job back in Perth last week and had to decline but she was pleased she was thought of. She has already started back at her English classes and is enjoying them.

With the car paid off end of July, we will have a little bit more money to spend (thank heavens!) and so decided to hire a fulltime driver starting in mid June. We will need a fulltime driver with the kids plus myself going to school/playgroup and back at odd times and C will also need a driver to get around a bit more which I’m sure she is looking forward to (she is quite restricted without a driver, not a good idea to go far by herself, for instance into the city etc). So it makes sense to get someone fulltime. The new guy has worked for our friends for 3 years and they think he is excellent, better to grab him now before someone else does. I’m hoping to get work for our current part time driver with other expats, most probably the new teachers coming in unless I can find him something/someone else.

We are having some problems with our cook so will have to sit down with her this week. She has a 3 year old daughter, Pia, who is sick quite a bit (or so she says) and thus taking a lot of time off. We gave her a good salary raise last month but at the moment think we are possibly being used a bit.

C has asked other expats what they would do. Apparently, no one else allows their maids to bring their kids in which I thought was tough. But we feel that with the move to the new house the cook will be too busy to look after her and do her job which will involve a bit more. The other problem is that if Pia hurts herself while here then we are up for medical bills, and if she is sick, then we don’t see the cook. Pia does need a carer as P looks after her quite a bit when the cook is cooking thus not getting on with her own jobs. We don’t want to sack her, far too harsh, when we put ourselves in her position it just doesn’t feel right. So, we have decided to give her until the end of the month to find a carer for Pia if she wants to stay with us. See what happens. It can’t be easy for the cook, but we are hoping there is some sort of help she can get from her village community.

P is doing well; she is great with the kids and always does the right thing. Her English is always improving which is very good for her future prospects; we know that when we finally leave she will be assured of a good position with an expat family due to her skills and language. Though if I had enough money I would enrol her in a uni. She is very bright and has a lot of potential to move her way up out of being a domestic to something else. She told me her dream was to learn hotel management, and I believe she would do very well at it.

At times it is difficult with maids etc as you do feel very responsible for them and also know that they have their own lives, needs and wants, so you have to juggle at times. If I were on an expat salary like the other ppl we know, having maids and making sure they are well looked after wouldn’t be such an issue. The Indonesian families who pay their maids about a third of what we pay ours seem to be more direct with their dealings with them, and are most probably are used to dealing with any problems, whereas we seem to debate and agonise over it for ages. So, tough choices, not much to my liking but we have to fit with the circumstances.

So, it seems this has gone on long enough! Lil D has just gone to bed after three separate outings from his room to re-kiss us all good night (‘nigh-nigh’ he says with a kiss and much hand waving), and its nearly time (7pm) for Lil C to go to bed


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday afternoon and just back from the club. Its a lovely day, sunshine, not too hot, water was cool and friends turned up unexpectedly. Counted 8 small kids running around, Lil C among them, having fun splashing about and jumping off into the pool.

The adults took it slightly more easier and settled into the pool for a wade and chat. It was good to catch up and hear how all are doing. I don't get to see them all as often as C due to work etc. I was invited to join a cycling club next Saturday but will have to think about it. They are all slightly mad, doing a fast 40 km run every sat afternoon at top speed. I get to about 15 k's and collapse, not as fit as they are, even though some of them are in their fifties. Puts me to shame. So I said would think abut it but they did say they would pick me up in my area as they come through thus saving me the first 20 k's so might just join them and see what happens.

End of school is already looming. Can't believe its now nearly one year since we moved here. The time has just shot by, and I still feel as if there is a lot to learn and do, and little time to do it. I havent done a heap of things I said I would do, namely getting out of the city and doing sightseeing, getting to the gym on a regular basis and giving up smoking. Not good. Spent an hour today wandering around websites looking at all these happy cheerful musclebound folks in their forties telling the cynical reader that its never too late. Really? Looking down at my gently expanding waist line courtesy of our fabulous cook (I get a cooked lunch delivered to school everyday plus another cooked dinner-far more than I'm used to), I do wonder if I should be doing more. Yes, yes, I know I should be. Sigh. Okay. So, resolution time. Let me figure it out first and if its working I'll talk about it. If it doesnt, then I wont feel like an idiot.

Going home to Australia for the June holidays. Heading to Perth first to see brother and the house as I havent peeked in for around 3 years, way overdue to check it out and look for crumbling walls(the house, not my brother). Then to Sydney to visit brother and sister, then onto Brisbane to visit Mum and sisters. A final three day stopover in Bali on the way back to recover. Looking forward to it. C and children staying in Surabaya, as they have just returned from a month in Ireland. Plus, we are moving house first of June and I think C wants to spend time putting her touch to it.

The house is nice, and big, very big. We thought at first we would find it too big but hell, why not enjoy it? It's in a nice complex just behind the club and not five minutes from school. The complex has a pool and tennis courts plus the usual guards etc so secure as well. The roads are quiet thus the children will be able to play outside on their bikes, and I'll have a good sized room setup with my home theatre-another bonus!

Enough for now. Time to go out and play with the little ones.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pramoedya Toer  

In honour of one of Indonesias greatest writers who passed away just a few days ago, this is a piece I wrote quite some time ago.

The importance placed on the writings of Toer since the Buru quartet was published cannot be judged lightly. Given that Toer is both a writer writing about nationalism as well as being a prominent figure in the nationalist movement has led to various commentaries. These range from Toer as being the main protagonist in the story, thinly disguised, to the acceptance of the texts as the ultimate post colonial set of texts yet published in Indonesia. At the time of the release of the quartet, Toer had only been out of prison for just over year. The texts were not well received by the New Order government who decided that the socialist leanings of Toer were dangerous to the state and the community at large. The entire works consists of 1600 pages, a Bildungsroman, beginning in the late 1800's.

The quartet focuses on the period of transition when the demise of colonialism was becoming apparent with the rise of indigenous nationalist movements. It is a mass of complex tales of colonial life; a series of narratives, consisting almost entirely of talking heads explaining and re-explaining themselves against the backdrop of political upheaval (offstage). Against this, are powerful descriptives relating to the world in which those people live. Toer utilises the complexity of traditional oral storytelling which has a pervasive respect and aesthetic fondness for eloquent and often poetic modes of description. Indeed, Susan Rodgers notes that 'printed histories of various sorts have drawn extensively on these older philosophical assumptions and narrative styles'. Furthermore, there is a 'complex relation between history and autobiography, memory and forgetting' according to Chris Gowilt. He points to the interplay of narrative which points to the genre of heroic nationalist autobiography premised on 'loss- of family, friendship, and love'. Furthermore, Gowilt sees the notion of cultural and historical memory and their elusiveness within the context of autobiography as working both at the 'level of language and politics'.

Anderson's notion of the imagined community informs by way of the use of literature in uniting fragmented ethnic worlds. Readers are encouraged to imagine 'complex but interactive social worlds of diverse discourses and social worlds'. By placing the imagined community within context (i.e. Toers tracing of colonialism) makes the 'imagined community thinkable'. This in a way supports Chatterjee's view that the writing of Toer illuminates nationalism through other paths rather than the accepted discourse of the ruling post-colonial government. The convergence's of the biographical writing of Toer with factual accounts both noted and absent leads to a critical new view from which colonialism is seen. There is also the movement away from the looking at the past as a means of explaining the future that was so prevalent in Sth East Asian writing. Rather, Toer uses the present context to explain and explore the colonial narrative.

Benedict Anderson sees the use of Indonesian rather than Javanese, Toer’s heritage language, as a 'cultural fortress from which to cross swords with his heritage'. Toer himself states that his use of Indonesian is to popularize the language and 'make it a better, richer, greater language than before'. Anderson's imagined community is particularly relevant in contrast and connection to the Buruquartet. The historical account of nationalism from colonialism to post colonialism is seen by Anderson and Partha Chatterjee as a mythology of nation building. Chatterjee's work seeks to establish the importance of anticolonial nationalism for 'reconceiving world history'. He sees as 'fatally flawed' historical accounts of anticolonial struggles rewritten by nation states to legitimize their existence.

Thus, the work of Toer, which accounts for the awakening of nationalism, is a narrative of colonialism from the outside and within. It is a counter to what Toer calls the 'so-called Ethical policy of Dutch colonialism at the turn of the century' from which movements for independence were widely seen. By offering a contrast to the dominant representations of history, Toer seeks to disrupt the order of elitism prevalent in the postcolonial government. The psychology of absence and displacement, alternate ordering of various historical versions and cultural/personal disorientation is the means by which the sanitation of nationalistic history is discarded.

Instead, in its place, Toer offers up a web of ideas and opinions, persuasion and meaning in order to counter hegemonic articulations so evidently in circulation. For instance, one Indonesian journalist admits his lack of knowledge of Toer and his actions in the post war period. His schooling painted Toer as the burner of books, a member of the communist party (which he was not) and an essential figure in the PKI uprising and attempted coup. Toer himself regards such educative practices as misguided and himself being misunderstood. However, Gramsci notes that the suggestions that challenge such histories remain subaltern. It is up to the current new wave of freedom, albeit still restricted, to unravel and expose such constructions for what they are.

An ethnic Javanese, Toer was brought up in an environment permeated with the tradition of wayang. He says that though they are not immediately aware of it, the Ramayana glorifies the upper classes, the ksatriya. The Ramayana has two main preoccupations, the ksatriya murdering their foes, and to extol the virtues of that class. Toer realized the connection between the Ramayana and the people from an early childhood but not until adulthood did he recognize the significance of the myth making. He gives an example: the Mataram sultanate lost its hegemony over the Java sea to the Dutch invaders. The court poets thus created the myth of the Queen of the South, absolute ruler of the seas. Furthermore, the sultan was the consort of the Queen of the seas thereby maintaining the hegemony of his sultanate. Thus, the myths supported the State for the purpose of glorifying the elite. Toer sees this as an a 'means of burden [ing] people unnecessarily with an imaginary past, leading people to think that a glorious past is always better than the present'. The court poets who promulgated the culture of tepo seliro (knowing ones place within a feudal hierarchy), Javanese poets in particular, are not spared Toers condemnation.

Toer further goes on to say that once he realised that the myths of the Ramayana were used for the subjugation of the masses and did not allow the development and progress of his race, he abandoned that type of literature as 'completely unnecessary'. Toer sees the romanticizing of Javanese mysticism as a dangerous block to the progress of the people and said in one interview that he felt he had been lied to by his cultural heritage: 'the cultural atmosphere, the wayang, stories that made no sense, everything'. He recounts his father's use of a dukun to exorcise a spirit from the house where pork was buried at each corner of the house. Toer says that he prefers 'the rational side'. Furthermore, Toer viewed the process by which colonial hegemony occurred across Indonesia as not only the province of the Dutch. He points to his own people as being the willing tools by which such domination took place:

'But from the past through the present day: Indonesia has continually experienced civil war in thought and deed. And such wars also occur in all zones of colonial domination. The civil service opposes the interests of the people. The police oppose their own nation's independence movement. Students from government schools oppose native school students in remote hamlets, mountains, villages and even in the city. In actuality, Indonesians are warred upon by the Indonesians themselves- -from Sabang to Merauke. And this civil war persists from century to century as well.'.

He then proceeds to denounce entertainment literature as a means of turning people into 'stagnant pools- fossils'. Toer calls his style avant-garde. Indeed Max Lane who translated Footsteps and House of Glass wryly notes that western critics have had difficulty in conveying the 'didactic and reiterative quality' of Toers writing. Thus, Lane says, they have drawn comparisons from Steinbeck to Camus yet the 'only one with very much to be said about it' is the notion of television mini-series! Edward Said's formula for his study of orientalism is, he suggests, by way of looking at 'style, figures of speech, setting, narrative devices, historical and social circumstances' rather than some naive reaction seeking correctness of presentation or fidelity to some great original. Toers view of literature is as a means of inspiring 'courage, imbibes new values, presents a new way of seeing the world, enhances the dignity of the human person, and takes as its main focus of interest the role of the individual as a principal actor in the history of humankind'.

However, Toer argues that it is not so much the materials of history that he examines but rather 'the currents that ebbed and flowed during the period of Indonesia's national awakening'. The quartet develops a reorientation and evaluation of a period in time that relates not so much to the historical consciousness developed by post colonialism but rather acts as a literary reality that seeks the rewriting of New Order history. Thus, from this he argues that 'each work of literature is necessarily the autobiography of its author'. Individualism contributing to the collective where the task of the writer is to evaluate and reevaluate all aspects of life. He likens it to a voice in the wilderness crying out against all that is bad, the prevailing norm; 'opponents, rebels, and even instigators of revolutions'.

It is so that Toer has finally been accepted in Indonesia. His passing has elicited numerous articles, front page news and a resurgent interest in his writing. While some may not agree with his beliefs and stance on many issues, nor his perceived heavy handedness against some other established writers, Toer did indeed set himself as a clear and distinct example of what a rebel should be and do.

Rest easy Pram, that which you argued and suffered for is slowly coming to pass.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why is it that the cost of a ticket to Kuala Lumpur is less than the taxes to get out of this country?
Colleagues and talking today about the off chance the government will rescind the 'fiscal tax' which one pays just before leaving the country. Its a million rupiah, about US$120.00. This is just plain annoying. There is also the airport tax, the exit visa, the 'waiting room' tax, and so on. All up, one is paying (if one gets an exit visa each time-better to get a six month multiple-costs around US$80.00)) somewhere around 1.6 million rupiah to leave the country, roughly US $200.00.

Not a bad little earner for the government but it drives most expats nuts. If there was not such a cost, I would be popping off to KL or Bintan or wherever for the weekend quite often. But, as it stands at the moment, I rarely get out of the country. Guess this is the governments plan.


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