Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation

Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation[BOOKS] ⚣ Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation By Elizabeth Pisani – Declaring independence in 1945 Indonesia said it would work out the details of the transfer of power etc as soon as possible With over 300 ethnic groups spread across over 13500 islands the world’s Declaring independence in Exploring the ePUB ✓ Indonesia said it would work out the details of the transfer of power etc as soon as possible With over ethnic groups spread across over islands the world’s fourth most populous nation has been working on that etc ever since Author Elizabeth Pisani traveled miles in search of the links that bind this disparate nation. This got excellent reviews and they were rightFirst of all you have to admire Pisani for sheer guts and fortitude She set off on a miniscule budget to hopscotch all over Indonesia for a year climbed aboard rickety ferries vans and motorcycle taxis said ‘yes' to invitations to come stay with them for a few days that were issued by just met Indonesians who lived in huts longhouses and related shelters ate unbelieveable stews of blobby stuff ventured into contentious situations to ask a journalist’s pointed uestions waded through mudpits and jungles joined the scramble to see the cornered woman eating crocodile and generally dared whatever would take her face to face with all the variety that is Indonesia And in exchange she made hundreds of friends and learned enough to share her enthusiastic and positive version of that country with usOne vision of Indonesia that comes alive is the land where people have figured out their life work balance In some parts of the countryside acuiring enough eating takes an absolute minimum of effort leaving time to enjoy life It wasn’t all lounging around watching TV at Mama Lina’s Now that the rains had started it was planting time We each took a sharpened stick stabbed it into the ground in the most easily acccessible spots tossed in a cople of dried maize kernels kicked the earth over it with our feet moved on It seemed impossible to me that the earth would reward our paltry effort with something edible but Mama Lina texted me a couple of months later to report that she was cooking the maize I had plantedIt’s that contrast between pointed stick agriculture and texting that strikes one over and over again in this bookOn a nearby page she describes a grandmother and grandchildren hike to obtain casava root for hog food interrupted by bites of mango or rose apple plucked from convenient trees and freuent rest breaks A few days of work can result in enough food for the yearIn other places Pisani meets pieceworkers who make false eyelashes or peel onions all day long to earn a pittance Tuna fishermen who hope the fuel and ice hold out long enough to catch enough fish to make a dollar or two Entrepreneurs scrambling to build a small local empirePisani has lived off and on in Indonesia as a reporter and public health advisor since 1988 She’s reported on plenty of violence military and rebel and on goverment corruption This time she traveled purposely to collect material for this book She speaks Indonesian the common language born of trading talk that is the ligua franca of the nation so she could move independently And she must be uncommonly engaging to have gained entree to so many lives She certainly had to be adaptable because she was traveling in a country where there are thousands of adat or sets of rules and customs that make up a local culturePisani inserts sufficient doses of Indonesian history as she move among the islands to provide context for her story of the moment without bogging down She certifies our expectations of corruption environmental damage cleared jungle poisoned reefs and sectarian violence But generally she puts the violence down to underlying economic issues not ideology or religion itself And in fact she claims the corruption is one of the things along with the webs of personal networks that knits the country together The decentralization that followed Suharto’s regime means that money flows from Jakarta to local big men Bupati and favored contractors etc so there is some incentive to stay connected to the centerMost of all Pisani communicates her delight at the people and customs she finds She attends funerals and weddings celebrates old customs and smiles at youthful rural attempts at Jakarta hip and delights in the landscape She hears from local activists and unofficial historians about massacres elections the tsunami illegal logging But she also sees widespread resourcefulness community cooperation and a generosity of spirit a tolerance of difference And concludes the country is all right Not perfect not without challenges but with resources to thrive Hmmm Look this is decent and as far as I can tell the best primer on Indonesia in the mainstream today in English It’s full of rich observation from an experienced observer and is interwoven with pithy insightful asides on recent history politics literature society etc I did however find it slow going and just a little frustrating The main problem is its structure It’s built upon a slow moving journey or series of stages across Indonesia’s gazillion islands stopping at different regions and cities urban and extreme rural If you’re in it for the factual stuff and not there for an ambient travel read though this is a little too meandering and oh bloody hell where are we now I found myself thinking okay great here’s a village in the middle of nowhere; I get that it reveals the diversity of the place but it tells me as much about Indonesia urban par excellence right as a cheese rolling competition tells me about England as in it’s cute and it’s different but that’s about it In fact it reminded me of travel documentaries on TV ‘Next up I’ll be talking to the villagers who have farmed oysters for over a thousand years; first though rooftop cocktails in the CBD’ The content is all there – I just wish it’d been ordered around bigger themes ‘society’ ‘religion’ etc perhaps My other uarrel is the slightly wide eyed loved up backpacker note to a lot of the commentary – especially in the rural areas It’s probably just me but I get uite wound up when every nth villager especially the elderly seems to be adorably maternal and smile with a ‘twinkle’ I never went to Russia when it was the USSR but this portrayal reminded a lot of the way wet behind the ears Westerners would come back talking of their Moscow landladies as sweet apple cheeked Pushkin reciting saints – rather than the backpack rifling mercenaries they generally were And backpacker too conversely because she makes so very little of the astonishingly taxing trips she takes in the book and – I suspect – plays down the bemusement of the locals and what surely must have reuired uite a lot of ‘set up’ Planting crops making cakes or weaving baskets with rural locals – really? Really? Don’t tell me they wouldn’t laugh any outsider off or insist they sit down as a you are our guest and b you are going to be crap at this So likeble readable recommendable fare – but 'less backpack backbone' might have made for a stronger book This was a long read for me It was not that it wasn't a good read it was a read that needed time to absorb the shear scope and scale of the bookThe title Indonesia etc refers to the Indonesian Declaration of Independence which promised The details of the transfer of power etc will be worked out as soon as possible That was 1945 and they are still working on itPisani writes from a position of knowledge having spent a lot of time in Indonesia initially as a Reuters journalist then returning two decades later to spend a year travelling many locations and preparing for this book She speaks the language and is fluent enough to communicate with most people a bit undertaking in a country with literally hundreds of languages and she happily slums it travelling in local transport using the somewhat terrifying local ferry system view spoilergoogle Is it safe to travel on a ferry in Indonesia? and see how comfortable you would be As a clue where advice is Never board a ferry you consider is overloaded you wouldn't be travelling on any ferry I saw hide spoiler Just realized it took me a month to finish this book It is not that it is a heavy read but the dose of reality given here made me having to retire after a few chapters reflect then continue This is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to know about my country Indonesia is multifaceted multilayered entity with complexities that even I born and bred there could not really fathom let alone explained This book does a great job in doing that I laughed heartily and bitterly I frowned I almost cried I nodded I contemplated The author at the end tried to soften her opinion on the fate of the country by saying that our own uniue collectivism is a double edged sword it could kill us but it also prevents us from being torn apart I am not so sure One edge is sharper than the other; one spark is all it takes to get people killed in the war on economic access Life goes on yes but you never know what kind of chaos lurks behind the shadows Ignorance is still a disease and we can't rely on er collectivism as the only medicine Most of our young generation with their fancy smartphones sitting at Starbucks are as ignorant as their parents They care about the environment less than they care about wifi connection Begitulah disini That's how it goes here There is still hope of course But forgive me for being so pessimistic The author's extensive research and knowledge of Indonesia makes this a worthwhile read The book is primarily based on her thirteen months of travel over Indonesia during 2011 2012 The route covered small rural villages and large cities Jakarta and Surabaya 20 provinces and the four main islands Sumatra Sulawesi Indonesian New Guinea aka Papua and Kalimantan on Borneo The cultural diversity of Indonesia is so wide that although her travels cannot be considered all inclusive they are a good start The author has been a Reuters journalist as well as a reporter for The Economist and the Asia Times With Reuters she was stationed in Indonesia twenty years before the writing of this book Even these experiences add to her knowledge and the content of the book Now she is working as an epidemiologist on HIVAIDSI found the organization of the book weak This is my prime complaint It is this that makes it hard to absorb the information provided Chapters focused on the respective topics of religion history politics and cultural traditions would have helped Instead the writing is journalistic in tone Essentially it reads as a travelogue with factual snippets on history politics and religion thrown in You are given interesting examples but little comprehensive structure to the information While the author is fluent in Indonesian she was not fluent in the languages of some of the remote sites visited The people she spoke with were for the most part strangers not long time friends even if Indonesians as a people are open welcoming and friendly She did not reveal her true identity to them; one cannot but wonder if they revealed their innermost thoughts or the complete truth about themselvesIt helps to have a map of Indonesia accessible while listening to the audiobook The audiobook narration is by Jan Cramer It is fast but clear With time I grew accustomed to the speed The tone is light At last finished reading this book As a born and bred Indonesian I can say this is the most complete book about modern Indonesia I've ever read as it combines travel journals cultural events reports political and economics commentaries backed by citations from sociologists with snippets of ordinary people's life taken from a not so foreign any foreigner's point of view I like the way everything blends in a flowing yet chaotic manner that's the way life goes in Indonesia I would also praise the author for her neutral stance too often similar books written by Indonesians are too patriotic to the extent of fanatic while those written by foreigners often miniscule local wisdom as they try to fit Indonesia inside their contemporary Western culture box By the way disclaimer first this book is very rich in details especially in describing physical objects so don't be fooled with the number of page you will need to spend extra time picturing in mind something exclusive to Indonesia and for Indonesians you still need to spare time to decode what is the two word Indonesian phrase behind a fifty word paragraph For my non Indonesian friends I recommend you to read this book to shatter stereotypes about Indonesia; the real and complete 13466 island Indonesia not just the typical Java and Bali you heard from someone's holiday not just the typical highly criminal and hot tempered Jakarta Surabaya or Medan you heard from those lucky ones who escape from Indonesian cruelnessFor my Indonesian friends especially those from bigger cities I also recommend you to read this book You'll learn about what is really happening in other parts of Indonesia from this book compare to your Orde Baru censored IPS textbooks You'll be amazed how daily phenomenon for Indonesian can be seen in an interesting lightOverall I give a 4 out of 5 stars for this book I spare the last star due to my personal preference of reading narrative rather than descriptive writing and for the author's tendency to choose lengthy phrases spammed with dramatic words which have reduced dramatic effects as they become the normBy the way reading this book in Jakarta makes me feel like I'm one its antagonistic character if you know what I mean This was a fantastic book I've been living in Indonesia for two years but this book shows me how I've only just scratched the surface of a complicated and perplexing country It's insightful on many levels; personal cultural social political and economical and I thoroughly recommend it Elizabeth Pisani's account of a year traveling about the Indonesian archipelago is captivating at least for those not expecting a standard travel overview of the islands that form the exceedingly diverse landscapes of the country Pisani is a well regarded journalist turned epidemiologist with extensive time within Indonesia prior to her gap year budget travel experience among the islands that doubled as a search for identity as well In fact most of that search is conducted by Indonesians trying to sort through just who this woman is who travels solo often dressing in most unfeminine garb while ambling about their country of 13000 islands inhabited by people from over 350 ethnic groups who speak than 700 different languages And just why is this traveler fluent in their national language so eager to bear inconvenience even hardship in order to come to terms with a country that has great difficulty defining itself? To add to the mystery the author of Indonesia Etc Exploring the Improbable Nation changes her responses to uestions about her background with great regularity She was freuently asked Dari mana? or where are you from? However Pisani's background is almost as diverse as Indonesia's population so often she just said that she was from England rather than going into detail about a fictional husband being on journalistic assignment or offering other creative responses What prompts the book is a very personal attempt by the author to clarify the essence of Indonesianness the benang merah or red thread that binds the countless different islands cultures into one country if Indonesia can be said to be cohesive in any meaningful way But for Pisani this task will not be easyI knew that I could never hope to give a full account of this kaleidoscope nation a nation whose multicolored fragments seem to settle into different patterns with every shake of history circumstance I knew the country would change even in the time it would take me to travel it I was trying to paint a portrait of a nation on the move I could only see one fragment of it at any given time I began to feel that Indonesia was one giant bad boyfriend prompting that warm fuzzy feeling that goes with familiarity slightly embarrassing shared intimacies revealing hidden secrets or reinventing itself completely With Bad Boyfriends you know full well it will all end in tears yet you keep coming back for For starters there were the hated former colonial overlords the Dutch there is intermittent but often forceful discontent with post colonial rule from the capital of Jakarta on Java a smaller island that occupies 7% of the country's land mass but which is home to perhaps 60% of the nation's people is the center of government is often seemingly aloof to the other especially the distant islands Then there was the early post independence pro communist officially socialist dictatorial rule of Sukarno followed by the pro capitalist dictatorial rule by Suharto whose family relatives enriched themselves via control of major resources with Sukarno being Yin to Suharto's Yang However Suharto was popular seemed to have enhanced the lives of most Indonesians at least until the country tired of him Beyond the disparate people who occupy a crazy uilt of scattered islands there is the deeply conservative military which has disliked both the communists and the extremes of political expression of Islam that hold forth in Aceh on Sumatra some of the other fundamentalist precincts of the country And the Chinese who walk a knife thin edge within Indonesia represent 35% of the population but control 35% of the wealth thus becoming a freuent flashpoint for resentment violence directed at them In addition to the occasional political ethnic instability there is the fundamental geologic uncertainty of the country often unleashing devastating earthuakes volcanic eruptions with 125 active volcanos and catastrophic tsunamis The destructive ash from Krakatoa's massive eruption was felt halfway around the globeThroughout her travel around Indonesia by unpredictable ferries rickety buses hired cars other means of transport she is met with an uncommon friendliness generosity by the Indonesians she encounters especially on islands few tourists are even aware of most local people have little reason to visit Elizabeth Pisani manages to blend in readily at gatherings whether in Christian churches or Islamic mosues and is often invited to stay at the homes of local people assisting with cooking other household chores while being accepted almost as a member of their family before moving on to another island that seems to hold some appeal for the author Reading Indonesia Etc is rather like reading a travel journal than a guidebook about the country but there is ample material on Indonesian history culture interspersed within Most certainly Pisani feels herself altered by her time in the country as a journalist public health worker and as an intrepid travelerOne of the memorable intersections occurred when Pisani is invited to have tea with granny while tramping about the eastern island of Sumba on a skillet hot ashtray dusty day with granny having died the previous day This is after all a country where a general openly admits to prolonging a guerrilla war to inflate his budget and where one can take tea with a corpse There are also waria who live entirely as women but have their male anatomy intact sometimes residing with a husband but playing a distinct role in this predominantly Muslim country as an intersex group akin to the ladyboys of Thailand According to the author waria serve a function working in cabarets presiding at uasi religious ceremonies not unlike the fool in Shakespeare's plays sometimes speaking the truth to power when no one else was allowed to One leader explained that this does not contravene Islam because Allah is not a man or a womanPart of Elizabeth Pisani's recent work in Indonesia has been to interview prostitutes as part of her mission to promote hygiene prevent the spread of AIDS On one occasion she asked a sex worker if Ramadan the compulsory Friday prayer services caused her clients to forgo buying sex She laughed asked Why would it? They are not doing anything wrong but explained that if a potential client was particularly pious he would take the time to perform a wedding ceremony with her prior to getting naked Then we get on with the sexual encounter an hour later he divorces me By following the letter of the religious law she said her client could still claim to be a good MuslimThis is just one of the many seeming inconsistencies that are detailed in Pisani's book Another is that most election rallies begin with a prayer but many covered their bases also including lewd dangut dancing Even workshops where prostitutes were taught to distribute condoms to their peers their clients begin with a religious blessing Even when violence occurs the author concludes that it is about jobs ineuality of resources rather than due to religious differences or cultural ethnic distinctions among the islands Indonesia is a country where it becomes difficult to explain what indigenous means because of the complex inter island diversity in a geographic area that approximates the distance from London to Tehran or from Anchorage to Washington DC Elizabeth Pisani asks if this mosaic of islands diverse peoples can survive as a nation? She summarizes her long journey through 27 of the 34 districts within Indonesia by suggesting that the threads that bind this nation will not easily be dissolved Thus in spite of not uncommon intolerance violence Indonesians are united by a generosity of spirit that will cause the country to prevail even if never to be of one voice I found Indonesia Etc very insightful uite fascinating to read as I prepared for a visit to Indonesia even though several weeks there involved time only on the large island of Sumatra But beyond that a couple I traveled with who are fluent in Bahasa Indonesian and who have spent many years traveling about Indonesia from their home in Australia while not familiar with Elizabeth Pisani's book embraced it with great enthusiasm as did I I can't speak for the rest of Indonesia but Sumatra is a most compelling place to visit full of divergent history including Buddhist contrasting landscapes wonderfully welcoming people Growing up in Jakarta with Chinese Indonesian parents in a middle class family I was prone to generalizing the Indonesian society for as long as I can remember Ah orang indo mah emang gitu Indonesians are just like that is something that I freuently hear and spoke of to dismiss the various disorderly behaviors easily spotted in traffic filled Jakarta It's only on the last few months that culminates and ended with the end of this book that I realize how diverse and culturally rich with all the potential of conflict that comes with it this country really isI learnt history and geography on Indonesia of course I know that there's Java Sumatra Borneo Sulawesi and Papua I also do think that through the innumerable ethnicities that exist we got innumerable traditions some that are largely romanticized for tourism Typical knowledge and opinion coming from some teenager who really know nothing Because really I have never stepped out of the cocoons of the most modernized parts of Indonesia I barely knew about the conflict in Timor or Borneo or Aceh that shaped the power dynamics today I knew that there are suku that only had little contact with the 'modern' world but I have no idea who they are where they live and what they act like I have no clue that Indonesia was only decentralized less than two decades ago and that the country's income are distributed based on the economy of those areas I have no clue that to some Indonesians in the remote islands whether the country exist or not it does not matter Elizabeth Pisani wrote about all of those and The writer a foreigner coming from some faraway country have travelled extensively from Sabang to Merauke and have compiled her various visits into this book The collection of stories inside it written as if a journal in an easygoing manner shows the political economic and cultural conditions in the pockets of areas that she visited People residing in the tropical forest of Sumatra who were affected by the rampant destruction People who still conduct marriage transactions People who were evicted because their villages were burned to the ground in light of religious tension People who teaches at 12 PM even though the school started at 7 AM People who are educated but too afraid to escape the social norms of their ethnicity People who have never lived in metropolitan Jakarta a city vastly outgrowing and overdeveloping in comparison to the rest of Indonesia where lots are left behindI would recommend this to anyone with even the tiniest interest in Indonesia Because if it's a comprehensive understanding and thorough exploration you wanted Elizabeth manages to do that with a writing style that is easily digested But there is a specific group of people who I think should absolutely read it People like me young uite ignorant complained about the conditions of Indonesia without trying to understand the extent of its complexity For me this book gives me an understanding of why this country is as it is and in a way acceptance of its conditionThis book might not have captured the whole Indonesian world But it did fill the holes in my knowledge that I would never have gotten without emulating the journey the writer has taken herself If you're like most Americans chances are you know little or nothing about Indonesia Yet that island nation is the world's fourth largest by population after China India and the USA and fifteenth largest by land area just after Mexico It also is home to the world's largest population of Muslims Indonesia consists of a string of 13466 islands inhabited by people from over 360 ethnic groups who between them speak 719 languages If armchair exploring appeals to you then you'll love Indonesia Etc Elizabeth Pisani's memoir of her 13 month journey through what she terms the improbable nationNo run of the mill travel writerPisani is no run of the mill travel writer She lived in Indonesia for three years as a reporter for Reuters 1988 91 and returned for another four year stay a decade later after training as an epidemiologist specializing in AIDS Today Pisani runs a public health consultancy in London It's clear from context in the book that she is fluent and comfortable in the lingua franca of the islands Indonesian Eually important Pisani is one tough lady Even as a youngster I wouldn't have dreamed of subjecting myself to the rigors of her 13 month odysseyColorful and engaging anecdotesIndonesia Etc is full of colorful and engaging anecdotes of the sort that will be familiar to anyone who has traveled extensively in the Third World There is for example a hilarious tale of a Crocodile Whisperer a shaman who presented himself as able to persuade the crocodiles in one region to identify and shun the one beast in their midst that had eaten a local woman In other tales Pisani recounts her experiences wearing the wrong batik design to the coronation of a local sultan and with a Koran reading contest Koran reading contests are as popular in Indonesia as visits by Manchester United's touring teamThen there was her effort to travel from small island to another 'Is there a schedule for the boat to Lonthor?' I yelled across to the boatmen 'Of course' they yelled back 'When do you leave?' I bellowed 'When the boat is full' came the replyPisani emphasizes again and again the warm hospitality and sense of humor she encountered everywhere in Indonesia After casual meetings on boats or buses local people unhesitatingly invited her to live with them in their homes and share their food for days on end Just imagine that happening in New York or Los AngelesIndonesia's blood soaked historyIn Indonesia Etc Pisani delves deeply into the history politics and economics of Indonesia Amid her tales of days spent in tiny settlements or on leaky slow moving boats from island to island she explores the history of this extraordinarily diverse and rich nation Most of the time since the country gained independence from the Dutch in 1945 Indonesia has been dominated by two men whose legacies remain evident to the present day Sukarno 1945 67 and Suharto 1968 98 Pisani recounts their years with rich detail about the tumultuous times during which they presided over the nationOne event stands out the massacre that brought Suharto to power In the course of three years at least half a million and as many as three million Communists ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists were brutally murdered Hundreds of thousands were raped driven from their homes or saw their businesses destroyedAs Pisani writes The carnage wiped out a whole generation of socially committed activists and pulled up the roots from which they might regrow It crippled the development of political debate and made Indonesian citizens wary of political allegiance For decades afterward the Indonesian military ran rampant through the breakaway provinces of East Timor and Aceh as well as other regions that sought independence for themselvesIndonesia today one of the world's most decentralized nationsFrom Pisani's perspective Sukarno and Suharto followed radically divergent political paths Sukarno moved to centralize government imposing rigid control from the country's most populous island Java on the rest of the country and launching a satellite to carry news in the Indonesian language throughout the archipelago Suharto initiated decentralization devolving power onto local governmentAt a stroke Pisani writes the world's fourth most populous nation and one of its most centralized burst apart to become one of its most decentralized The centre still takes care of defence fiscal policy foreign relations religious affairs justice and planning But everything else—health education investment policy fisheries and a whole lot —was handed over to close to 300 district 'governments' whose only experience of governing had until then been to follow orders from JakartaIn myriad ways Pisani shows how the move to decentralization has been a disaster for Indonesia When she wrote her book in 2012 the number of district governments had grown to 509 virtually every one of them a fiefdom for the local elite and rife with corruption 'Papua's wealth used to be stolen by Jakarta Now it's stolen by the Papuan elite' Yet as Pisani takes pains to point out No other nation has welded so much difference together into so generally peaceable a whole in the space of less than seventy yearsIndonesia's endemic corruptionAs the author explains A small fraction of jobs in the bureaucracy are awarded based on competitive exams But most of the jobs that are not given out to political supporters get sold The minister in charge of the 'state apparatus' recently said that 95 percent of Indonesia's 47 million civil servants didn't have the skills they needed to do their jobs Many Indonesians attribute their country's endemic corruption to the legacy of Dutch colonialism Compared to the English the Dutch provided few educational opportunities for their subjects However Indonesia has been independent for seven decades Blaming colonialism is a bit of a stretchAn improbable nation?Pisani subtitles her book Exploring the Improbable Nation She makes clear that Indonesia's unmatched diversity island geography and complex history could well have resulted in many different countries rather than one There's no disputing this However to a somewhat lesser degree the same might be said of many of the European countries that are generally regarded as the most stable and logical nation states in the world Italy Germany France Spain even England Dig beneath the surface in any one of these countries and you'll find the nation building that occurred in centuries past was anything but an inevitable outcome All these countries are rife with regional differences in culture history and even language To be sure the regional differences are by no means as stark as they are in Indonesia but it would be a mistake to assume that the emergence of these countries as unitary political units was foreordained

Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation Kindle
  • Paperback
  • 416 pages
  • Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation
  • Elizabeth Pisani
  • English
  • 06 June 2015
  • 9780393351279