Sunday, August 31, 2008

Off the Beaten Path

Tired of the same old travel? Check out some of the Indonesian trip options offered by American operator Remote Lands. Making kites (a Balinese tradition) with an actual local prince and his family. Or spending time at the island's Franciscan orphanage. Or for the particularly adventurous, maybe some "tow-in" surfing off the coast of Sumatra, in the Mentawai Islands. You're towed into a wave by a Jet Ski (popularized in the documentary film Riding Giants), letting you catch bigger waves than you ever thought possible.

But for coupled travellers, here's one that can't be beat: A wedding on the island of Borneo, in an Iban tribal village. Ceremonies extend through the night, accompanied by the tuak drink of fermented rice water; the groom sports a headdress of feathers, the bride a crown of silver, and arrive together on a bamboo raft. And what about the delicate issue of your first night as an official union, you might ask? After a tribal blessing, you retire to a private chamber in the village longhouse.

Look into their menu of custom vacations at their website,

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Indonesia Election '09: Deadlock

It may not have the snappy ring of Bush v. Gore, but Megawati Sukarnoputri v. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may have a similar electoral result. A new poll shows the two presumed presidential candidates locked in a virtual dead heat, 28% for Megawati edging out 27% for the current Indonesian president.

The anemic showing by Yudhoyono is largely attributed to his earlier hiking of fuel prices, unpopular but perhaps fiscally necessary. And former leader Megawati will always have the lure of her golden name, as the daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno - himself shuffled out by Suharto decades ago, but still revered in many quarters.

Let's hope a razor-close election doesn't end up like the 2000 American version, in the country's courts. At any rate, the combat is still a long way off: July '09. And as they say, a week is a lifetime in politics.

Here's AP's rundown of the new poll:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Islamic bonds: The future of Indonesian finance?

Extra marks for chutzpah to the Indonesia government, for debuting new financial instruments during the worst global credit crisis in a generation. They're called sukuk, or Islamic bonds, and they're meant to produce bond-like returns while complying with Islam's prohibition against interest. Their first offering from the finance ministry raised almost $5 trillion rupiah (a shade over $500 million), with forerign-currency sukuk slated to kick off later this year.

The offering was seen as a disappointment, but let's keep things in perspective. As world economies slow and banking sectors enter virtual meltdown, investors are terrified of anything and everything. They're hoarding cash until this all blows over, and credit markets move beyond total paralysis. In that context, securing a decent sum - with an instrument most Western investors don't even know or comprehend - isn't such a bad showing. After all, raising cash in this environment ain't easy ... just ask Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Check out the Financial Times' take here:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beyond Bali

The enduring popularity of Bali as a travel wonderland is both a blessing and a curse. For globetrotters who are considering Indonesia as a destination, Bali is usually the only spot that registers in the American psyche.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But for all its greatness, it's only one of countless islands. This feature from American Way, the magazine of American Airlines, singles out a few other possibilities for intrepid travellers - from Papua to Sulawesi, from Lombok to Kalimantan.

Barack and love of (another) country

Barack Obama is accepting the Democratic nomination for president tonight, and it must be the first and only time an American political figure has ever spent significant time in Indonesia. Too bad we won’t hear much about it. The political push du jour is to make Obama as quintessentially American as possible; a wholesome amalgam of apple pie, guns and Archie comics, rather than the more complex international figure he is.

It’s no surprise that conventioneers won’t be directed to his years growing up in Jakarta, since it’s a bit much for heartland voters to digest. But for an account of how formative the experience was, turn to Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope: He writes quite beautifully that when he thinks of Indonesia, “I’m haunted by memories – the feel of packed mud under bare feet as I wander through paddy fields; the sight of day breaking behind volcanic peaks; the muezzin’s call at night and the smell of wood smoke; the dickering at fruit stands alongside the road; the frenzied sound of a gamelan orchestra, the musicians’ faces lit by fire.”

Indonesia obviously still holds a place deep within him. Because of the demands of politics and distance, “I fear it’s becoming a land of strangers,” he writes, and regrets never having brought his wife and daughters to its islands. Here’s hoping that when he rises to the presidency, the estrangement doesn’t last.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Welcome and selamat datang ...

Welcome to my new blog on Indonesia. Ever since I spent a year there with Canada World Youth, Canada’s equivalent of the Peace Corps, I’ve been amazed by how much there is to know about Indonesia – and how little Westerners actually can tell you about it. It’s a kind of black box to Americans, a far-off land so foreign that they don’t even attempt to understand it. Hopefully this blog will be a small part of a fresh dialogue, a new stepping stone to an archipelago of 17,000 islands and 240 million people. Whether posts will touch on travel, culture, religion or politics, let’s start a conversation between Indonesia and the West. To Indonesia, the greatest country that no one knows ...