Cover of UK edition of Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani from Granta
(The UK cover, from Granta)

Cover of the US edition of Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani
(The US cover, from Norton)

(The Indonesian cover, from Godown Lontar)

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Let the cow-trading begin!

A shop in Solo capitalises on the popularity of Jokowi's trademark check shirts.

A shop in Solo capitalises on the popularity of Jokowi’s trademark check shirts.

Well, it’s official. Over 133 million Indonesians cast their votes peacefully, had them counted repeatedly and now have a new president elect. Congratulations to Indonesians for staying unflustered in the face of Prabowo Subianto’s schoolboy tantrums.

Now we’ll see a recap of the “dagang sapi”, the cow trading, that preceded the election. Already, some senior figures in Golkar have begun to mumble about switching allegiance to Jokowi’s coalition. Jokowi has repeatedly said that he’s not going to play at dishing out cabinet posts to secure support (a strategy which has so clearly failed SBY). But if he doesn’t, he may find himself unable to work Indonesia’s Byzantine parliamentary committee system effectively enough to push through the radical reforms that Indonesia so badly needs. An end to the crippling fuel subsidy, for example. A coherent (and feasible) plan to build the infrastructure that Indonesia will need to employ its growing population.

For reasons that I discuss at greater length in a recent essay in the Nikkei Asian Review, Jokowi’s plan to reform the bureaucracy will not be universally popular; sinecure jobs in the civil service are just too important a unit of currency in district elections.

Indonesia continues to exist because of its extraordinary talent for compromise. It’s inevitable that the future President Jokowi will be forced to compromise on some of the principles dearest to him. He was elected by the Indonesian people, but (like Barak Obama in the United States) he has to work within a political system that is beholden to a very small though perhaps increasingly disparate elite. He won’t be able to rely just on his popularity to carry him through, especially if he really does tackle wasteful subsidies.

Jokowi appears to be a methodical man who avoids the sticking-plaster solutions so beloved of elected politicians everywhere. His immediate challenge will be to co-opt or otherwise appease the people who could thwart his plans for reform, without selling out to their agendas. That, of course, includes Prabowo and his supporters.

On the subject of which, I had to laugh when I saw this tweet from the marvellous Masha Gessen:
masha_gessen_tweet It came across my screen just after Prabowo had thrown his toys out of the cot and flounced out of the counting process. Hmmm, I thought for a nano-second, I didn’t know Masha was interested in Indonesia. Of course she’s talking about that other self-satisfied politician who likes to kidnap activits, Vladimir Putin.

I have a lingering question about the election: how many of the 62,576,444 Indonesians who voted for Prabowo would do so again if the election were repeated tomorrow? I believe the General-Until-He-Was-Fired would have many fewer supporters. People chose him because he promised stability; then he set about trying to create chaos. It is a testament to the sangfroid of the Indonesian electorate that it didn’t come to that.

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Keep calm, Indonesia. But not too calm.

“Indonesians are not idiots!” I proclaimed in my final post before the election, waxing lyrical about the common sense of the Indonesian electorate. They wouldn’t, I predicted, be swayed by Prabowo Subianto’s bluster. By election day I was getting very nervous indeed. Then the Quick Count results came through. “I told you so” is never a pretty sentence, but I was inordinately happy to be able to pronounce it.

It appears, though, that I was wrong about a large minority of the population. And from his subsequent actions, it seems Prabowo himself is prominent in that minority. In this astonishing interview with the BBC World Service, aired two days after a majority of Indonesian voters chose Jokowi, Prabowo also claims that Indonesians are not idiots.

Here, at around minute 6.55, is one gem: “I am leading a coalition which represents nearly two thirds of Indonesian voters. How, how do two thirds of the Indonesian people, how can they be fooled, how can they be so stupid to be, to be, to support someone who is, what all my rivals accuse me of being?”

Indonesia did come bottom of the international league table in maths, but even primary school students know that 48% (roughly the percentage of Indonesians that voted for Prabowo according all reputable counts) is smaller than two thirds, as well as being smaller than the 50.01 percent that he would need for the victory he is claiming.

Prabowo is both idiotic, for thinking that the Indonesian people might be turned from their democratic course, and horribly clever in how he might do that. Ed Aspinal and Marcus Meitzner have given a fascinating account of how Prabowo is likely to try to usurp the vote before the final count (Indonesian translation here).

His hypocrisy knows no bounds. He rails at unnamed “Imperialists” (sooooo 1950s) for plotting against him, he accuses the Western press of unfairly backing his rival. And, in the BBC interview, he claims: “My rival is the product of a PR campaign, he is actually a tool of the oligarchs.”

All this from a man who has hired US campaign consultant Rob Allyn to orchestrate his own attack on the polls, and on Jokowi. Rob Allyn, a fundraiser for George W Bush cut his teeth (or perhaps smeared them) first on the campaign that sought to undermine Senator John McCain’s military record. For someone so resentful of non-Indonesians meddling in national affairs, Prabowo seems to be listening closely to Allyn. Indeed there are many things about his current approach that echo the US presidental vote in 2000. That was the election in which victorious Democrats allowed scheming Republicans to steal the presidency from under their noses. To this day, I’ve never understood why U.S. citizens sat on their hands and witnessed this hijacking of the democratic principles that they are so keen to promote overseas (if somewhat selectively, witness Egypt and Palestine).

Americans are a lot more apathetic about their democracy than Indonesians are. And there was frankly a lot less difference between Bush and Gore in 2000 than there is between Prabowo and Jokowi in 2014. I applaud Jokowi and his supporters for staying calm and allowing the increasingly ridiculous-looking Prabowo to burst himself with his own bluster. But don’t stay TOO calm, please. If it comes to it, the majority of Indonesians who want to defend democracy may have to take a slightly more proactive approach.

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[I really hope] Indonesians are not idiots

Originally written for New Mandala under the title “Indonesians are not idiots”. Interesting comments @ the original post.

Voting booth in Indonesian elections

What Indonesians do in polling and what they do in the voting booth are two very different things. Photo credit: Fully Handoko/EPA/AP

As Prabowo Subianto’s messianic nationalism chomps through rival presidential candidate Joko Widodo’s once-unassailable lead in Indonesia’s opinion polls, New Mandala and other fora have flared with concern. Prabowo is a thug, they say (though a lot more politely); he will shut down democracy, he will take Indonesia back to the bad old days of autocracy-in-the-name-of-stability.

If he’s elected, he may well do exactly that. But here’s the thing: on election day, July 9th, Indonesia will still be a democracy, and a pretty robust one at that. Prabowo will only be able to exercise his nefarious plans if he is elected. The hand-wringing should, therefore, be a lot less about Prabowo’s intentions, and a lot more about the intentions of the 187 million Indonesians who are registered to vote.
I’m a lot less qualified to wring my hands than most of the commentators on New Mandala; for one thing, I have not been in Indonesia since late 2013, and have thus missed all the latest twists and turns of publicity, campaigning, and distribution of largesse, the sorts of things that influence what people say to pollsters. To me, however, the disparity between the opinion polls and the electoral results in previous elections in Indonesia suggest that the hoopla of campaigning does not affect people’s voting behaviour in quite the same way.

At campaign rallies (at least the local ones I’ve attended in many provinces) Indonesians speak of handouts, prizes and inducements; they rate contestants by the quality of the food on offer. (For the record, the best I came across was provided during a 2012 visit to Gorontalo by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son Edhie Baskoro; I counted 24 different kaki lima food vendors offering all-expenses-paid dishes of many types. The Democrat Party also used the early morning rally to give away electric fans, microwaves, smartphones and a motorbike.) But in private, on the back verandah of a fisherman’s cottage in the Banggai islands, roasting coffee beans in a kitchen in Aceh, or while collecting fiddle-head ferns for supper near a longhouse in Kalimantan, people use different words about the way they vote: ikhlas, hati nurani, murni, sejati: the words of conscience, or purity, of I’ll vote with my brain not with my free T-shirt.

I spoke to several thousand “ordinary” Indonesian voters in over a year of travelling some of the further-flung parts of the country in 2011/2012, at the length that is permitted (indeed enforced) by a five day ferry journey or a week celebrating a relative’s death. Jokowi was a new kid on the block then, but Prabowo was already a well-known quantity. People admired Prabowo for being tegas — firm or resolute, in its kinder translations. The most enthusiastic admirers — principally in deeply hierarchical Java — muttered approvingly about his “iron fist”, and some went so far as to say that Indonesia needed a firm leader. But the final verdict was almost always: “Sayangnya, sih Prabowo suka melanngar HAM”: The problem is, Prabowo abuses human rights. Politicians will all do dubious deals with large corporations or rich donors, voters appear to reason, they will all steal money one way or another. But they will not all steal your dignity. Indonesians have had enough of that.

Prabowo has run a slick campaign, it’s true. Nearly two years ago, I was already seeing his team parking ambulances plastered with his image and slogans including “Free Medical Care” outside the tombs of saints in outer islands to advertise his virtues to passing pilgrims. Meanwhile Megawati Sukarnoputri has done all she can to undermine her candidate Jokowi’s chances. Megawati has a peculiar talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; she did it in 1999, before Indonesian voters were allowed a direct say, and again in 2005. Jokowi has not managed to limit the damage that PDIP infighting has done to his chances — that should raise concerns about how well he will do in the bear-pit of national politics. So it is still possible that Prabowo will indeed triumph. But I don’t think it is likely.

As Prabowo himself has said, Indonesians love their democracy. For all the bitching and moaning about corruption at the District/Municipal (Kabupaten/Kota) level, most Indonesians outside of Java have no desire to see their affairs controlled once again by a small clique of presidential cronies in Jakarta, and most voters know that Prabowo will claw power back to the centre if he can. Indonesians are getting a lot more sophisticated about their democracy, too (as they should be, with a minimum of seven direct elections in any given five-year cycle to practice on). As I noted in an essay in Foreign Affairs, they did not allow the interests of national parties to trump their own immediate interests in April’s legislative elections. They are likely to defend their own interests in the presidential election as well.

Indonesians have a choice and they know it. In my experience, they are not as easily swayed by nationalist bluster and Sukarno wannabe rhetoric as many commentators fear. If my faith in the basic common sense of the Indonesian electorate is misplaced and a majority of voters choose Prabowo, well, the Indonesian people will get the government they deserve.

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Department of Self-Promotion: The Economist loves Indonesia Etc!

Indonesia Etc in the Stoke Newington Bookshop, North LondonIndonesia Etc in the Panta Rhei Bookshop, Madrid


So does Simon Winchester (writing in the Wall Street Journal) — “…a spectacular achievement and one of the very best travel books I have read..”
Pallavi Aiyar, in The LA Review of Books — “I found myself nearly trembling with excitement…I was finally holding in my hands that elusive Indonesia book: a rollicking good adventure that knits together a complex of stories and insights”
Tim Hannigan, in The Asian Review of Books — “A formidably insightful and engaging book on Indonesia for a general readership… the book also provides a model for “portrait of the nation” travelogues fit for the 21st-century”
and Jim Della-Giacoma, in New Mandala — “It is her impish humour that is infused throughout that will draw readers in… Pisani has produced a book on Indonesia that is as fresh for the novice as for those who have a lifetime of experience in the country.”

I’ve posted the full text of these on the reviews page and will keep posting others (both good and bad) as they come in.

Original post:

Indonesia Etc. was officially published in the UK on June 5th, and comes out in the US next Monday. But friends have already spotted it in bookshops (real, old-fashioned, delightful, independent bookshops, please support them!) in London, Madrid and Chatham, in Cape Cod (where I’m in the good company of Hilary Clinton, Michael Lewis and Capital in the Twenty-First Century).

We’ve had nice reviews in the Literary Review and Indonesia Expat, which are rather different publications. Now today’s Economist dedicates its lead review to Indonesia Etc.

The Economist calls the book “probably the best” book for the general reader on Indonesia (less fulsome, perhaps, than Indonesia Expat’s “surely the richest account of contemporary Indonesia yet to be published”, but I’ll take it!).

My favourite excerpt from The Economist’s very thorough review:

Into a beautifully written, richly entertaining account of a year spent travelling around the archipelago, she weaves a deep knowledge of the country acquired first as a reporter there, and then as an epidemiologist.
In her new book Ms Pisani takes on many big themes—democracy, decentralisation, corruption, inequality, the failings of Indonesia’s education system and radical Islam, as well as the ghosts of the hundreds of thousands slaughtered as Suharto took power in 1965. Her erudition is never dull.

Ok, enough bragging.

I’m just very glad that not all readers reacted to the book in the same way as my friend Palani.


Full disclosure: the photo was taken at 1 a.m. on the way home from the exceedingly jolly and rather well-watered London launch party.

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Prabowo or Jokowi: does it really matter?

The Prabowo Steam Roller

The Prabowo Steam Roller

With two televised debates down and three to go, opinion is divided on which of Indonesia’s two presidential candidates is looking most, well, presidential. Jokowi did better than expected in the first debate, by many accounts (see for example ANU’s Greg Fealy), though as Unspun points out, he was much helped by his wily old Buginese running mate, Jusuf Kalla. Pitched one-on-one in the second debate, Prabowo seems to be gaining ground. A new opinion poll suggests that Prabowo may have overtaken Jokowi in the electability stakes.

In a new essay in Foreign Affairs, written before we knew the final list of candidates, I argue that the results of the presidential election won’t affect most Indonesians’ lives as much as many Jakarta-watchers think, as long as Indonesia’s current highly decentralised political structure holds. But if Prabowo wins, he may well try to pull power back to Jakarta. Prabowo is both a New Order and a military man through and through. Ergo, his much-vaunted “experience” is experience of a highly-centralised and highly hierarchical system, a system that does not currently exist except in the mind of Jakarta-centric politicians and analysts. He has exploited some aspects of decentralisation quite brilliantly, notably by co-opting his erstwhile enemies in Partai Aceh. In daily life, though, he seems not to register how strongly many Indonesians feel about liberation from Suharto’s brand of Javanese colonization. One tiny but perhaps telling indication of this came in this impassioned campaign speech in Medan, where he broke into Javanese. That should be anathema for a politician campaigning in proudly independent-minded North Sumatra.

Prabowo speaks more convincingly than Jokowi of the need to spread wealth throughout Indonesia, it’s true. But my sense is that 15 years of increasingly fragmented decentralisation have, for better or for worse, taught people to care deeply about their local identities. Outside of Java, Indonesians want to make their own decisions and mistakes, not to inherit Jakarta’s. IF a majority of Indonesians were to indulge their nostalgia for a “tangan besi” — an Iron Fisted ruler — and elect Prabowo, they should not be surprised if he tries to re-centralise power. It’s a big IF, though I think that Hamish Mcdonald provides interesting reflections on Prabowo’s enduring appeal. For what it’s worth, my own totally unscientific conversations with hundreds of Indonesians around the country before the formal start of the campaign revealed a fair bit of “What this country needs is an iron fist” in Java, and a great deal of “All leaders are corrupt, but not all of them abuse human rights” in other parts of the country, the latter sentiment often followed up with: “Of course the Bupati’s a crook, but at least he’s OUR crook”. Since over 60% of the voters are in Java, there’s a real possibility that the tangan besi will prevail. That ought to be worrisome for both voters and politicians who want to hang on to their new-found powers at the district level.

[If you want to read the Foreign Affairs essay but don't want to access Foreign Affairs it through their free sign-up, here's an html version. There's an interesting analysis and helpful translation of Prabowo's Medan campaign speech by Liam Gammon here.]

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Not-quite remembering Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Tiananmen Square, 1989. Photo by the wonderful Erica Lansner

Late last night, one of the many friends who helped me celebrate the launch of Indonesia Etc reminded me of where he and I had been at exactly that hour 25 years earlier. We were both Reuters reporters at the time; Andy Roche was being banged up by Chinese cops in the backstreets not far from Tiananmen Square and I was in the Square itself. I was watching as tanks rolled towards me and trying to figure out how I could stay alive AND get the news out to the world.

There has been lots of remembering and reflecting on those events, not least from James Miles writing in the Economist. His analysis is exceptional (though not for him!) in its level-headedness. There’s also a collection of coverage in Foreign Affairs including this piece from Andrew Nathan and Jeff Wasserstrom’s Congressional testimony, and Louisa Lim’s book The People’s Republic of Amnesia, which I haven’t yet read. But how much of what we “remember” about the events before and on June 4th 1989 have been rewritten in the light of what has happened since?

It’s a commonplace to say that history is written by the victors, but its “first draft” — the journalistic record in the pre-Twitter age — is often written by scared, hungry, sleep-deprived correspondents who have an imperfect understanding of the language around them and see only a couple of tiles of the great mosaic of events that surrounds them. When memory gets to work the picture becomes even more distorted, even before any deliberate political rewritings do their work. In this piece I wrote in Granta Magazine on the 20th anniversary of 1898 I reflected on the tricks my own mind has played with memories of Tiananmen Square. For what it’s worth, I’ve posted it again here in memory — or not — of those that died.

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Extraordinary Indonesians: Menuk Suwondo remembered

Menuk tries to teach Elizabeth to dance, Jakarta, 1991

Menuk tries to teach Elizabeth to dance, Jakarta, 1991

After what seems like a loooooong gestation, Indonesia Etc. is finally born today (at least in the UK; the US and Indonesian triplets will follow very shortly). When I got my first copy of Indonesia Etc from Granta a couple of weeks ago, I took it straight to the post office and sent it to Menuk Suwondo in Magelang, in Central Java. I don’t know if she ever saw it; I do know that what I learned from her over the years helped shape it.

Menuk, who died from cancer last week at the age of 54, was a first-class journalist who energised and transformed the BBC’s Indonesian language service. Frustrated by its limited reach, Menuk had the inspired idea of shifting transmission to FM stations across Indonesia; she charmed and cajoled hundreds of stations into broadcasting programmes which were increasingly made by journalists based in Jakarta rather than London, another innovation she promoted with enthusiasm.

I worked with Menuk at Reuters in Jakarta  from 1988 to 1991. We were both rookie reporters but I was the rookier, and, when I arrived, knew nothing about the country I was reporting on. Menuk taught me a huge amount. She was fearless in keeping our reporting honest and critical, which was no mean feat in the mid-Suharto years, especially for a Javanese woman who grew up within the walls of the Sultan’s Palace in Solo. I remember one dreary day sitting with her at batik designer Iwan Tirta’s studio, waiting for Princess Di to show up for a shopping trip during her visit to Jakarta. The Rat Pack of Royal reporters from the British tabloids were there, bored and thirsty, and they asked Menuk to get them tea, “ordering the little brown woman about”, as she put it. I mentioned to them in passing that it was pretty cheeky of them to make such a request of a Javanese Princess and they imploded with embarrassment and started bowing and scraping. Menuk, of course, insisted on serving them tea.

Menuk was both determined and demanding in her quest to hold her colleagues to the highest standards, sometimes to the point of being stubborn (it takes one to know one!). But she did it with humour. Constantly teasing me about my messy desk, she once gave me this birthday card:

I protested that my corner of the newsroom wasn’t quite that bad. But when I cleared my desk to leave nine months later, I found a plate of fossilised noodles lurking beneath the paperwork. Menuk was usually right.

Menuk Suwondo was a great reporter, a great editor and most importantly, a great friend. She is much missed.

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Can a movie cure blindness? Jalanan reveals urban poverty

I got an e-mail today from film-maker extraordinaire Daniel Ziv. His documentary Jalanan, about street musicians and urban poverty in Jakarta, has been playing to great acclaim around the world, noticed by publications such as The Economist and the Wall Street Journal, that tend to devote more column inches to the winners of Indonesia’s erratic growth-fest than to the losers.

The film deserves their attention. But in his e-mail, Daniel was rightly more excited about the attention the film is getting right there in Jakarta, most notably from putative Governor-in-Waiting Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (‘Ahok’). Ahok held a gala screening of the film, was moved to tears by it, and afterwards made this statement:

“There’s barely any interaction between the government and people of this city. For many people in Jakarta, it’s as if no government exists,” he said. “Many government officials are like unreachable deities. Even God is easier to reach than some government officials. To reach God you only need to pray.” (Ahok then gave his personal mobile number and blackberry messenger pin to Titi, Boni and Ho, and has been personally in touch with them since.)

Ahok has listed a number of steps he intends to take to improve communication, as well as to reduce the bureaucracy’s habit of treating citizens as criminal just because they are poor. Daniel, who is a good judge of these things, believes Ahok is speaking and acting in good faith, and I have no reason to question that.

I am properly thrilled that a film so honestly made, and so respectful of its subject matter, should have such a useful impact. This is what great documentary making (and great reporting, and non-fiction writing) should be about. I’m especially pleased because, as I noted at the time of the election, the people most likely to benefit from Ahok’s social conscience are those that are least likely to have voted for him. It’s worth mentioning too that poverty has been on the Acting Governor’s agenda before he saw the film; he recently complained that the number of poor people in Jakarta was greatly understated because the statistical cut-off for poverty is far too low: just a dollar a day. But I feel that in the comments quoted by Daniel, Ahok has only partially diagnosed the problem. It is not just that there’s no interaction between civil servants and most residents of Jakarta. It is that there is no interaction between Indonesia’s educated, thinking (and unthinking), ruling, hiring, politicking, media-producing Haves and the Have Nots that are in the majority across most of the country.

Daniel’s film is extaordinary because he SAW Boni, Ho and Titi, rather than looking through them as so many well-heeled Indonesians would have done. And he saw them as humans, no better or worse than the rest of us, not to be celebrated for their poverty, not to be pitied or patronised either — just people you might become friends with. It’s absurd that this should be so unusual, but wealthy Indonesians seem to suffer a peculiar sort of blindness when the people standing beside them are like Boni, Ho, Titi or the millions of other residents of Jakarta who scrape a living off the richer people who share their city but not their fate. I’m both gratified that Jalanan should have made the invisible poor more opaque, and sad that films like this are growing ever more necessary.

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Has Jokowi gone mental?

Indonesian President Suharto sits in a rural coffee shop

The fount of all corruption? (Photo: Pak Harto: The Untold Stories)

In a stirring editorial published in Kompas on Saturday, leading Indonesian presidential candidate Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi) demands a mental revolution. (English summaries here and here.)

Said the current Jakarta governor and presidential favourite:

In building the nation, right now we’re tending to implement liberal values that are clearly not appropriate, that in fact contradict the values, culture and character of the Indonesian nation. It’s time for Indonesia to take corrective action, not by stopping the reform process now underway, but by launching a mental revolution to forge a new paradigm, political culture and approach to nation building that is more humane, appropriate to the archipelago’s culture, down-to-earth and sustainable.

I’m sorry if the translation is clumsy, but I am trying to be faithful to our visionary candidate’s two sentence rallying call.

Some commentators have interpreted Jokowi’s op-ed piece as cry against apathy. If that were the case, I’d understand. In months of travelling the outer islands of Indonesia (and sometimes the inner ones too), I grew used to hearing people complain endlessly about the slings and arrows of outrageous corruption. When asked why they didn’t use any of their endless elections to change things (Indonesians now appoint people to at least seven different elected positions in any five-year democratic cycle) everyone gave the same answer: “Kami orang kecil, apa boleh buat?” “We’re just small people, what can we do?” I heard it from plenty of small people, but also from local businesswomen and contractors, headmasters and hospital directors, even from the district heads of some government departments. That level of apathy makes change difficult, it’s true. But reading Jokowi’s tract, I don’t see any recipe for changing that.

What I do see (along with a slightly surprising call for a strong military) is a lot of demonising the Suharto era as the birth-mother of Indonesia’s corruption. This is to ignore a rich lineage of entitlement and patronage that can easily be traced to pre-colonial times. There’s a lot of old, Sukarno-era rhetoric about the evils of foreign capital. (“Our natural resources are being drained by multinational companies together with (their) Indonesian comparadors” says Jokowi. Compardors? Really?) I also see knee-jerk whining about globalisation’s undermining of Indonesian culture, and a clarion call for education that stresses discipline, religion and morality. What I decidedly don’t see is any sensible critique of the current government’s underinvestment in infrastructure, its failure to instil curiousity or initiative in schoolkids, its tacit promotion of frivolous consumption. And there’s no hint that the “Indonesian” values Jokowi wants to revive may be little more than a chimera; that in this extraordinarily multi-cultural country, a decade and a half of rampant decentralisation might have done far more to erode any shared national mindset than a few years of rampant Facebooking.

I really hope that this tract is more push-button electioneering (with a nod to the sensibilities of Mother Mega) than it is a real reflection of Jokowi’s own mental processes. It would be a great disappointment if his blueprint for Indonesia’s future were, as this piece suggests, actually firmly grounded in the errors of demagogues past.

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Test-drive the Indonesia Etc enhanced e-book (for free!)

Indonesia Etc ebook icon

The big, solid, heavy-in-the-hand, proud-on-the-bookshelf hardback version of Indonesia Etc will be out in less than a month in the UK and Asia, six weeks in the US. But I’ve spent the last few months working on something that I think is at least as exciting: an electronic version of the text, which also has embedded videos, photos, recordings and other things that I think help convey the sights, sounds and oddities of Indonesia. I recorded most of the material myself during the course of my various lives in Indonesia, though there are contributions from other, better photographers and artists.

“I” is not really correct. Two people, the wonderful designer Gaetan Bernede and the magician-coder Darwin Lopena have really made it happen. Since my publishers have contributed zero to the cost, these delightful artists have worked with patience, good humour and the promise of a little beer money to make this happen.

Now we want to share a taste of the e-book with you.

The world of e-readers is messy, and we’ve been trying to do something that all the guys in the tech zone at the London Book Fair told me couldn’t be done. So for now, this only works well on an iPad (sorry!). If you own or have access to an iPad, we’d like to offer you one chapter of the book for free, right now.

How to access Indonesia Etc — Chapter 3: Sticky Culture

First, make sure you have Apple’s free iBook App installed on your iPad. If you don’t, go get it from the iTunes Store

The link for the US store is here:
The link for the UK store is probably here:
The link for the Indonesia store is probably here:

Now, in a browser on your iPad, click on this link: (Amazon AWS public file)

WARNING: IT IS A VERY LARGE FILE (55 MB) SO IT MAY TAKE A WHILE TO DOWNLOAD. Some users have reported having to wait a while for the iPad to figure it out. It also seems to help if you are on a good solid connection.

If you do this in Safari or most other browsers, the “Open in iBooks” icon automatically appears. Otherwise, just tap on the “open in” button and choose iBooks from the list. The chapter will appear in your iBooks library. The “How to Read” section at the begining of the chapter gives more info about the various content.


We are getting some reports of people having trouble downloading the file. We are chasing the issue now. Some users report that letting the machine have a think about the download has worked.

If you do have trouble, please let us know. Tell us the version of iOS that is giving you trouble and which generation iPad you have. Sending us a screenshot of the issue is also useful.

Other places to download the file: (Google Drive public file) (Dropbox public file)

We’re now finalising the whole book: we’d be very grateful for any feedback you may have about reading a book (chapter) in this way.

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