Jakarta

Should Jakarta voters trust a cleric who takes money from Playboy?

On Wednesday, we saw once again that Indonesian voters are more grown up than the people they are voting for. Though the Jakarta elections were repeatedly presented as a test of strength of political Islam, I’ve always thought the white-robed mobs were more a throw-back to the everyday tactics of the Old Guard, as I argue in this commentary in Nikkei Asian Review. But as the capital faces a second round of voting, we can certainly expect the FPI to…


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…


Indonesia vs the UK: who’s more cosmopolitain?

Dari mana? Where are you from? It’s the first question most rural Indonesians ask. To simplify things, I just say England. Twenty years ago, there was only one response: Wah! Inggris! Lady Di! Now, there are two: Wah! Inggris! David Beckham! and Wah! Inggris! Manchester United!


A tale of two stereotypes: Chinese Indonesians at work

I arrived back in Indonesia just in time to see Jakarta vote for its Governor. It’s not a small job, wrestling some sanity into a city that crushes nine million official souls into its alleys, backstreets and blossoming apartment complexes, swelling to nearly 18 million on work days. The election was hotly contested. I witnessed the voting first outside the official Governor’s residence, in rich and (relatively) leafy Menteng. Well-coiffed women in their high day and holiday batik knocked back…


Indonesia’s gone Gaga: Lessons in democracy

I don’t like going to the dentist; I’m capable of inventing all sorts of the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses for my inevitable last-minute foot-dragging. But as is so often the case, Indonesia’s reality outstrips my imagination. As I rocked up late for my regular check-up yesterday, I was able to lay the blame at the Satanically clad feet of Lady Gaga. My path to dental hygiene was blocked by Islamic groups trying to keep her out of the homeland. They included this group…