Indonesia gets investment status, but where’s the investment?

Indonesia starts the new year hopefully: it has been upgraded to investment status by one of the rating agencies. It’s no huge surprise; rating agencies tend to think quite short term, and short term, the indicators look good. The Financial Times is enthusiastic about what it calls a “demographic dividend” i.e. lots of young people. “Indonesia’s dependency ratio of workers to retirees is dropping from about 55 percent now to 45 per cent by 2025,” says the pink paper. What…


What to get the kids for Christmas? A mango stone helicopter

While Indonesia’s Christian churches do their best to get people excited about Christmas, the pine tree iconography has a hard time competing with the palm tree reality. Local Christmas trees are mostly made of hoops of ugly white tinsel, like the tattered hooped skirt of some antebellum Cinderella. I did, however, like this variant made of discarded water bottles which I found in Kisar, in Maluku. Quite by chance, whiling away the night on a dock on another island with…


Some travelling companions are just nicer than others

I’ve just spent five days (and five nights) on the deck of a cargo ship travelling between Wini, in West Timor, and the Tanimbar Islands in southern Maluku. As in any five day period, there are good moments and bad. The bad would certainly include the hours when the lads sitting close to me, having been drinking palm wine for several hours, broke out a guitar held together with duct tape and took on the booming karaoke machine, a competitive…


Indonesia is rubbish

I’m always happy to see the Boys in Brown (in Indonesia that’s the police) supporting a good cause. Right now, they’ve decided to take on what I think is the biggest blight on this gloriously haphazard nation. Not corruption (that would be a stretch for the police), not a bloated and ineffectual civil service (ditto), but litter. Indonesians have gone from wrapping food in banana leaves to dressing food, drink, shampoo, sweets, virtually everything in shiny plastic wrappers. The national…



No country for animal lovers

My future is golden, according to the entrails of the chicken sacrificed on my behalf to celebrate the merapu new year. If I spend very much longer trailing around islands heavy with ritual sacrifice, it may also be vegetarian. Though I’m coming to respect the natural instincts of the animals that share every corner of one’s space in Eastern Indonesia. They sit under one’s feet on the bus, snuffle around under one’s bed in the village, find their way into…


Medicine man: a market education

Last year, the Wellcome Collection in London had a glorious exhibition of anatomical models, called Exquisite Bodies. They were accompanied by banners from the fairs and markets where these models used to be shown. In the prudish Victorian age, they were often the only glimpse people got of naked bodies other than their own. Part education, part pornography, all entertainment. In the country markets of Indonesia, these models still take pride of place, though I’m not sure “exquisite” quite describes…


A whale of a time in Eastern Indonesia

I’ve just spent a few days hunting whales in Lamalera, on the eastern end of Lembata island, off Flores. We didn’t have much luck, but last week, there was something of an end-of-season bonanza: in rickety wooden boats and using only long bamboo harpoons with rusty metal tips, the lads of Lamalera (and they are definitely Lads) brought in six whales. They get hacked up on the beach, which is littered still with spines and skulls….


Credit where credit is not due

You can tell a lot about a country from the sort of junk mail it circulates. Or, in the case of Indonesia, junk SMSs. Travelling in areas where a particular tree is designated as a “pohon senyal” or “signal tree” (hold on to the tree and you might just get enough of a signal of your phone to send a text or even make a call) I get quite excited if my phone beeps…