Readers' Submissions

Indonesia, Thai Parallels And Differences

  • Written by IndyUK
  • November 25th, 2005
  • 10 min read


In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise-,
As they endanger myself and others-
May I strongly confront them and avert them.
The Dalai Lamma, May 1999


Caveat

It is important that I disclose that it was ‘Casanundra’s submission of 1st November 2005 on the Stickman index that prompted me to write this submission. This compulsion was reinforced by Stickman’s comments on the submission in which he said, “Maybe the idea is to get an Indonesian woman and bring her to Thailand”. I am not in a position to challenge anything that Casanundra wrote. Firstly I am not, and have never been, privy to the Indonesian Government’s legislation, in respect to the marriage of an Indo national to a foreigner. I also do not recall the detail of Indonesian Immigration procedures or the limitations that Indonesian legislation places upon resident foreigners. It is important that the reader of this submission does not construe any attempt to rebut or otherwise challenge anything that ‘Casanundra’ stated in his submission. Further I write, not as an academic, or one who is knowledgeable in the details of legislation but of how I see, hear and feel the resonance of the cultures that I have been blessed to live in for a time.

So what qualifies me to write about that beautiful country with all of its ethnic diversity and its innumerable rich and wondrous cultural and environmental settings? I first visited Indonesia as a young man, backpacking my way from Jakarta to Bali. I fell in love with the archipelago and eventually was able to return and live and work there as a teacher of computerized management systems to post graduate students from one of Jakarta’s leading universities. My students were extremely able both academically and intuitively. I learned a great deal from them about the nature of the Indo persona, customs and about my own profession too.

I was extremely well paid, it would be crass to put a number to my salary, suffice to say it was several thousand United States dollars per month. I was also provided with luxurious accommodation in a mansion house on Dharmawangsa, Jakarta Seletan. Along with the house came Yatti, the house keeper, three maids and three security men. As if that wasn’t enough a new Kiang mini bus and three shifts of drivers were provided for transport. If I’d stayed there, something that I considered very seriously, by now I would be horrifically overweight and probably unbearable too.

If you behave in a civilized manner you will be respected by all of the people that you meet, instantly, and on face value, in Indonesia, this is especially true is you are a white westerner. This does not hold true in Thailand’s resort cities and regional capitals, wherein you have to earn respect.

The downtown core is rapidly developing into another Bangkok, with modern tower blocks of grand architecture and even a victory monument too. Prices in the center of Jakarta are high. If you want to rent a house within walking distance of the core you’ll likely have to pay two thousand dollars a month for it.

The bargirl scene operates if a different way to that in Thailand’s resorts, though perhaps more like it operates in regional Thai towns and cities. However, in Indonesia you will never have to pay a barfine and you won’t have to buy lady drinks. Most likely your ‘date’ will approach you. She will also have watched you carefully from a safe distance for a while before she gives you the come on. The scene will be that of a dance bar or disco, very likely if you are on your first visit it will be in one of the five star hotels downtown. The available girls will be mixed in with ordinary single girls (good girls) so it is better for you to wait and see who approaches you, than too walk brashly into the crowd and pick one out. Remember this is a Muslim country, and whilst Indonesian Muslims are much more liberal than their Middle Eastern brothers, they will not welcome brazen amorous behavior. Above all, remember that the girl that picks you up may be a Muslim herself, respect that. Do not have the illusion that all, or maybe any girl that you take home from the function is a good girl. Good girls in Jakarta need to be introduced to you by someone that they trust. Although you’ll not pay a barfine or buy lady drinks you do have to pay her at some stage. She is poor; otherwise she wouldn’t be with you. If you really must have a bar scene that is reminiscent of Thailand’s hot spots you need to seek out an area known as ‘Block M’, which is in Jakarta Seletan (South Jakarta), any taxi driver will take you there. The dance bars in ‘Block M’ are there for you, the expat. You still will not have to pay barfines or buy lady drinks, and none of the girls in the bars there are good girls. If you do go to ‘Block M’ be careful, it is much more dangerous for foreigners than the darkest corners of Pattaya or Bangkok.

I married an Indonesian woman, not a bargirl but a bright and talented individual who could run rings around me on any subject other than IT and engineering. Our marriage lasted fifteen years and we have a Eurasian daughter who is now twenty-seven and studying at a University in Amsterdam, Holland. I married my Indonesian wife outside of Indonesia and took her to Canada. Later we returned to Europe. I have had many Indonesian friends down the years and treasured every one of them. In order to remove your Indonesian bride from Indonesia, all that was necessary, up until 1997 (maybe still is), was to pay her two-hundred dollar exit fee to the immigration police at the point of departure. Up until then every Indonesian had to pay this ‘exit-re-entry fee’, when they wanted to leave the country, even when just going on a two week holiday.

I did my best to learn Bahasa Indo though never quite mastered it because of my intense work schedule. The fact that my post grads all spoke fluent English was no help to my linguistic endeavours either. What I did learn was that Indonesia is one of the most incredible melting pots on earth. The birthing of this formally Hindi and Animist nation has taken more twists and turns than the combined complexities of all of Europe’s nations put together. Indonesia was always an archipelago of more than seventeen thousand islands populated by tribal peoples of diverse origins. It was the arrival of Islam in the archipelago’s dark ages that provided the seeding necessary for the development of a governable nation. The transition to nationhood has taken centuries and continues to this day. Indonesia’s nationhood continues to evolve with many of its islands remaining obstinately feudal. Even now in the 21st century some individual islands have indigenous religions ranging from Animist, Hindi, Islamic, Buddhist and Christian’s of every flavor. However a visitor should beware that when a foreigner meets an Indonesian of any one of their many creeds, he will be asked his name, the second question is almost always what your religion is. You the foreigner must never answer atheist. An Indonesian does know what atheism is but simply cannot accept it. It is a deeply embedded cultural thing that the Government couldn’t change if it wanted to. For example if you are befriended by a Balinese Hindu and you tell him you are an atheist he will worry what will happen to your soul at the end of the current cycle. For the Hindu on Bali believe that the present world is temporary and will end at the end of its one hundred year cycle, thereafter to be reborn and start another one hundred year cycle. If you are without faith you soul will not be reborn in the new cycle. A worse connotation that your friend may put on your answer is that you are lying for some devious or subversive reason. This premise holds true whatever the creed of your Indonesian friend.

Today the majority of the natives of this exquisite country are Muslim as are the majority of the politicians. In fact Indonesia is home to more Muslim people than is the rest of the world put together. They owe their outstanding success, in welding such a diverse populous of the seventeen thousand islands into a single nation, to the original Islamic invasion and the enthronement of the first Muslim King Centuries ago. Before the Islamic invasion Hindu migrated down the Malay Peninsula. Thousands of these migrating Hindu continued across the Malacca straits to Indonesia. Throughout the centuries of the Hindi migrations and the Islamic invasion, Chinese were migrating down through, what is now Vietnam and Cambodia and crossing the South China sea to Indonesia. In modern times western missionaries followed in the path of these hordes to save the souls of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhists, Taoists, and Animists. Indonesia’s modern Islamist dominated Government recognizes the validity of all theology and its Nations heritage. Together with the rights of the many ethnic and religious groups, yet the government continues to make terrible mistakes. The human rights, of all citizens, are up held in the Indonesian constitution. And yet often there is turmoil. There are riots and internecine fighting, between religious, ethnic, cast and political groups too. It is a constant struggle by the populous within the Nation that is mutually destructive, ruinous and sometimes fatal on both sides, whether it is Muslim versus the Chinese or Muslim versus Christian or Government troops versus Animists. Former governments of Indonesia lit the fuse that would lead to the internecine war fare by factions the populous, when in times of poor economic activity they would blame the wealthy Chinese and in times of Religious conflict, side with the Muslims. Indeed Saharto and Sakarno (SS) ‘sic’ have much to answer for; the charter of Japanese occupation, the schism with the Dutch and the burning of homes and plantations of anyone holding a Dutch passport, culminating with the deportation of the Indo-Dutch to a Homeland in Europe not seen by them or generations of their ancestors before them. Post ’SS’ governments have done better but have not learnt enough. The tragedy of the Timorean conflicts and the long attempted suppression of the people of Ache, over the last two decades are but two examples. This is a Nation still in its birth throes; the midwife has smacked its bum and the infant is crying out for nurture and security.

Indonesia’s diverse flora and fauna can literally blow your mind. On the island of Sumatra, tigers and elephants roam in the wild. Sumatra’s jungles are alive with exotic flowers, birds and insects. Yet on Komodo, one thousand miles west are Indonesia’s mega reptiles, the Komodo Dragons. In her waters, ships of ancient design sail on the trade winds, bringing wood from the jungles of Kalimantan (Borneo), vanilla from Penang, spices from China and passengers from island to island throughout this, the world's largest archipelago nation. From volcanoes, some active, and majestic mountains one can look down and emerald green paddy fields, sparkling seas, pristine white beaches and the ruins of places of worship of cultures and religions all but forgotten. Plantations abound with sugar, durian, coconut, mango, rambuttan and perhaps another dozen or so of the fruits of South East Asia. This beautiful tortured nation is a must see for the young and adventurous, though it’s a tough place to be if you’re a senior citizen. I am so glad that I ‘did’ Indonesia before my retirement to Thailand.

Stickman's thoughts:

It sure sounds like an interesting place to visit, although a number of people tell me that Thailand is much more "liveable".