Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The breaking of the fast is definitely a time for celebration. When I was in Riau Province in Sumatra back in the '90s, I even tried to do the fasting thing, in brotherhood with my host family. I lasted all of a week, dehydrated and disoriented. Hats off to those who can deal with fasting from sunup to sundown for a month, because this fragile Canadian certainly didn't have the mettle for it!
So, happy holidays from America. A special shout-out to my old buddies Sukanto Toding, Afhina Burhanuddin, Sri Nanda Unun Marsindra, Ni Made Sumartini, Ritmanto Saleh, Neeloufar Naz Bazuki, Muhammad Yasir, Emmalia Natar, Bambang Setiawan, and anyone else I've forgotten. Assalamu alaikum!
Today's Top Stories
Jakarta Globe takes on the Post
Indonesian stocks freaked out too
Let's all suck up to China
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
So this recent article from MSNBC, of Hotels To Stay In Before You Die, was like catnip. Topping the list: Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy; Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, Calif.; Singita, Sabi Sand Reserve, South Africa; Plaza Athenee, Paris, France; Explora en Patagonia, Chile; Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, Calif.; Park Hyatt, Tokyo, Japan; Le Sirenuse, Positano, Italy; Four Seasons, New York City; Banyan Tree Maldives Madivaru, the Maldives.
A subjective list, of course. But a bit of a shock nonetheless, that none of the winners were from Indonesia. Not even any of the legendary Aman Resorts, like Amanadiri, Amanusa or Amankila on Bali, or Amanwana on Moyo Island off Sumbawa. To repair the oversight, any reader suggestions for the most stunningly luxurious hotel in Indonesia? Not that any of us could afford it, but hey, it's fun to dream ...
Today's Top Stories
Indonesian seeks total music domination
Islamophobia on the wane
Spare a brisket?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Traveling with Mercy Corps, the global relief and development organization, I had the opportunity to visit one of those slums. I was there to see Mercy Corps’ breastfeeding programs that operate in a number of slums across Jakarta. The program educates the poor and trains midwives on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Currently in Indonesia, marketing activities of formula companies is unregulated, which has led to widespread mistrust of the natural process of breastfeeding. Poor families are told to formula feed and are often forced to dilute what little they are able to buy, robbing their children of nutrition vital to their healthy development. Often this water is unsanitary leading to severe cases of diarrhea and dehydration.
After battling the constant traffic which plagues Jakarta, a city with virtually no public transportation despite a metro population of over 13 million, we slowly made our way into Tugu Utara village, a slum in North Jakarta. It had just rained the night before and like many low lying slums in Jakarta, the streets regularly flood, often filling the village with unsanitary water.
While in Tugu Utara, I had the pleasure of meeting Efa, a happy, healthy five-month-old girl. Efa’s mother, Nur Komaria, 21, and her husband, Mahfudin, 25, had previously lived with relatives after the birth to Efa. With the encouragement from her midwife Yogiana, who has gone through one of Mercy Corps’ trainings, they decided to breastfeed Efa. But cramped quarters and Efa’s crying took a toll. Fueled by misinformation, Nur’s grandmother tried to force Nur to formula feed as she believed it quieted infants. As a result, Nur and Muhfudin ran away to live on their own so they could continue to breastfeed.
Neighbors around their tiny rented one room apartment cannot believe that Efa is so fat and healthy because of breastfeeding and they’ve always been told it’s better to formula feed their children.
Nur and Mahfudin have many challenges ahead of them as young Indonesians living in a Jakarta slum. But because of the information and support they’ve received from Mercy Corps’ breastfeeding program, worrying about the healthy development of their daughter Efa won’t be one of them."
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
People have dreamed of a global tongue for years, starting with Esperanto, a made-up language from the late 1800s that still has a devoted following of perhaps a million speakers around the world. Only about 1,000 native speakers, though, since it's not indigenous to any part of the globe. (Fun fact: Billionaire financier George Soros is a native Esperanto speaker.)
Bahasa Indonesia, though - along with extremely similar Bahasa Malayu, since BI developed from Sumatra's Riau province, right across the Malaysian straits - already has a base of hundreds of millions of speakers. And its structure ... lack of verb conjugation, tenses, plurals, or male/female nouns, while employing the Latin alphabet ... is designed so that even numbskulls like me can pick it up fairly easily.
To be sure, Bahasa Indonesia gets far more complicated once you progress beyond a basic level. But if you're looking for a language with a built-in audience that could be learned and adopted by nations around the world, it seems to me like a natural fit. Someone please give the United Nations a call and get back to me ...
Tomorrow: What's up with Papua?
Today's Top Stories
So much for tolerance
Move over Tom Cruise; Indonesian celebrities take charge
Porn lovers unite!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Spotted in the Jakarta Post, "A recent dangdut singing competition in the U.S. was won by an African-American, Arreal Tilghman of Delaware. Tilghman is currently in Indonesia, teaming up with local musicians in crafting what would become the first dangdut album with an American singer."
That's something I've gotta hear. For non-dangdut-lovers, it's a musical style that's a melange of Indian, Arabic and Western influences, usually associated with lower-class folk and/or sketchy dancehalls, but in recent years garnering more prestige and international fans. The reigning dangdut king and queen are Rhoma Irama and Elvy Sukaesih, and the genre has even been spicing itself with beats from hip-hop, R&B, reggae and Latin music.
Now, how exactly dangdut made the jump to urban African-American culture, I have no idea. But more power to our multicultural world. Somebody tell L'il Wayne!
Tomorrow: Bahasa Indonesia as global language?
Today's Top Stories
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Indonesia, take note. Because there's a new report out that Indonesia's ambassador to Russia, Hamid Awaluddin, is positively giddy over the idea of Russian investors developing Indonesian oilfields.
In normal times, nothing surprising. But perhaps the good fellow hasn't been following the progress of Russian 'capitalism' over the last while. Almost every major Western oil company has been muscled out of their Russian joint ventures, most recently BP, whose top executives actually had to flee the country because of ongoing threats.
When the almighty oil companies are scared, you know these are people not to be messed with. So before you jump into promising joint ventures with Russian execs, keep your hand on your wallet and install a terrific home-security system. You're going to need it.
Today's Top Stories:
BFFs: Indonesia and Finland??
New York Times calls Lombok "frumpy"
Hands off our Avian flu
Friday, September 19, 2008
But if new reports are any indication, Indonesia should fear an invasion by the Aussies. In media terms, anyways. Lachlan Murdoch, scion of Rupert and longtime protégé at the tabloid sine qua non New York Post, has been sniffing around media opportunities in the archipelago.
Say what you want about the Murdochs and News Corp. – as Keith Olbermann, irascible MSNBC anchor, often does – but they’re no dummies. Rupert has built himself a tidy global empire, finishing by wresting the Wall Street Journal from the squabbling Bancroft family. And Lachlan, by looking to gain a foothold in a country with a population more than 10 times his own, is demonstrating similar entrepreneurial spirit. Said to be among the potential targets: Lippo's Group's Globe magazine, and the Media Group, which owns 24-hour news channel Metro TV.
Whether young Lachlan will look to his dad’s Fox News as the template for his Indonesian media empire, time will tell. But since he left the U.S. after a clash with his pops, he can’t be all bad. Click here to read about the secret plans of Murdoch 2.0.
Today’s Top Stories:
Lawmakers with too much time on their hands
Indonesian arms race now a slow crawl
Local credit crunch: Never mind
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The blog Gawker.com said it best: "Good Morning, Your Money's On Fire." At least that's what it felt like, to investors who had money in Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and so on, and so on. Even buying for pennies on the dollar is a sucker's bet, when a stock can go to zero.
Now, for the Indonesian part of the equation. It's been fashionable the last few years to say that emerging economies have 'decoupled' from the American stock market, and rise or fall on their own merits, not depending on what the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to. Whoops. Jakarta fell nearly 5% on Monday, a steep drop similar to most other exchanges, as other nations caught the American financial flu and ended up on their deathbeds. Global finance is so interwoven these days, that the idea of decoupling suddenly seems quaint.
So is there anywhere to hide from this global financial storm, which has crossed the Pacific to the Indonesain archipelago? Try thinking of it as Hurricane Ike. Instead of walking right into the storm, get the hell out of the way, and wait until it passes. Anything else is just stupid.
Tomorrow: Indonesia in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love ... the Oprah phenomenon
Today's Top Stories:
The danger of good intentions, Ramadan edition
Aussies fly first, ask questions later
Why do Americans love Telkom Indonesia?
Monday, September 15, 2008
Everything Indonesia sat down for an exclusive interview with Taylor, to get his state-of-the-union thoughts on Indonesia, Islam, and the Javanese culture of tolerance.
EI: Most Americans tend to lump all Muslim nations together. How would you characterize the Indonesian brand of Islam, in the spectrum?
EI: What was local reaction to the Bali bombings, and the subsequent court cases, that drew such worldwide attention?
CHT: When Indonesian undercover police arrested Imam Samudra (mastermind behind the first Bali bombings) in a bus at a port in West Java, about to travel by ferry to Sumatra, word quickly spread among the local crowd that the man in handcuffs was Samudra (his face and name had been on wanted posters throughout Indonesia). The crowd grew dangerous and started chanting, “Burn him! Burn him!” and police had to rush their prisoner out of the terminal to protect him from the mob, so they could interrogate him for further leads. If the police had not protected Imam Samudra, he would have been killed on the spot by the mob, who were infuriated by the bombings. Most Indonesians appear to support the death sentence for the key Bali bombers.
EI: What is the status of secessionist movements in Indonesia, as in Aceh?
CHT: The GAM independence movement in Aceh was a nationalist (i.e., Acehnese) movement, not a Muslim secessionist movement. Most prior movements such as Darul Islam (predecessor of Jemaah Islamiyah) sought to seize control of the local or national government and create an Islamic state, rather than permanently secede. To my knowledge, there are no Muslim secessionist movements in Indonesia at present, although there are groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and Jemaah Islamiyah that seek to destroy the secular Indonesian nation state and to establish a regional or global caliphate.
EI: Is the idea of tolerance gaining traction in the Muslim world, or is it losing ground to more extremist philosophies?
CHT: On the surface, the combination of extremist ideology and the vast sums expended by Saudi Arabia to proselytize Wahabi/Salafi Islam have created a worldwide radical movement that appears to be in the ascendant. When asked, “What is LibForAll Foundation’s goal?”, President Wahid once replied, “To help ensure the global triumph of a pluralistic and tolerant understanding of Islam.” When asked, in shock, “How do you expect to achieve that?”, President Wahid replied, “It’s not as difficult as it sounds. All it requires is encouraging the vast, silent majority of Muslims to speak out about what they know to be the truth of Islam.”
EI: As a Westerner, how did you get so intimately involved in this field?
CHT: I’ve been familiar with Islam for most of my life, from 1965 at the age of nine, when I moved to Iran for three years; and in the early 1970s, when I traveled repeatedly and extensively through the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the 1990s I was involved in the telecommunications field, and sold a strategic stake in our company to the national carrier of Indonesia. Drawn to learn about Javanese Islam and the process of the Islamization of Java in the 16th century, I met President Wahid and other Muslim leaders. Following 9/11 and the first Bali bombing, we decided to establish LibForAll Foundation (www.LibForAll.org), inspired by the strategy employed by 16th century Javanese to defeat the ideology of radical Islam.
EI: What can Americans do to promote this ideal of tolerance among peoples?
CHT: As far as this question concerns Islam:
1) Learn to recognize the spectrum of views that exist within Islam, from Wahhabi/Salafi extremism to true pluralism and tolerance;
2) Communicate to your elected representatives the absolute necessity of America’s legislative and executive leadership educating themselves regarding the threat of Wahhabi/Salafi Islam, and the need to concretely support truly pluralistic and tolerant Muslims in their struggle with Islamic radicalism;
3) Learn more about organizations such as the American Islamic Congress (http://www.aicongress.org/); the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (http://www.aifdemocracy.org/), and LibForAll Foundation (http://www.libforall.org/), and become involved with their activities.
Tomorrow: RIP, Retirement Savings
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Seems like Christians in Indonesia, now, are taking the "size matters" argument to heart. "Four multi-million-dollar churches that can seat thousands of people ... are nearing completion around Jakarta," writes Tom Wright in the Wall Street Journal. The subtext of the holy build-a-thon: After periods of persecution, like the Jakarta church bombings on Christmas Eve of 2000, Christians are confident enough to adopt a higher profile. Also, presumably, a faith demonstrating some money and muscle behind it won't be messed with quite as easily.
The rash of megachurches are also a testament that the Indonesian brand of Islam, for the most part, features a healthy strain of tolerance (perhaps inevitably so, in a nation where hundreds of distinct cultures coexist). Looks like they're secure enough to allow a minority of 8% to practice their faith more publicly, which is a model for moderates everywhere. Read more about the megachurch craze here.
Tomorrow: Exclusive interview with Indonesia expert and LibForAll founder C. Holland Taylor
Today's Top Stories:
Saturday, September 13, 2008
On their face, Texas and Java would seem to have as much in common as, say, barbecued beef brisket and gado-gado. Or George W. Bush and Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Which is what makes their cooperation so intriguing. It’s called SEAFAST (the full mouthful is the Southeast Asian Food and Agriculture Technology Project), and it’s a venture linking Texas A&M University with a local agricultural institute in Bogor, Java. Think of it as a mini-Grameen Bank or Kiva, providing agricultural microloans to small Indonesian entrepreneurs (70% women).
One of the beneficiaries: Sudarti Subagiya, a Yogyakarta woman and head of the Amanah Women’s Cooperative. Thanks to a microloan from SEAFAST, she and 14 employees now have a thriving business making homemade snack foods. For more info on the homegrown microfinance project, and to witness how a little seed money can make a very big difference, visit SEAFAST’s site here.
Tomorrow: The strange story of Jakarta's megachurches
Today's Top Stories:
Presidential candidates same old recycled goofballs
Jakarta smog: Best in the world?
Indonesia bans smoking in public. Good luck
Bali bombers would like to be executed in a particular way
Friday, September 12, 2008
There’s rich, there's very rich, and then there are people like Henry Kravis. The investing king of Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts (KKR), along with compadres like Blackstone Group’s Steve Schwarzman, have made gazillions of dollars and thrown themselves memorable birthday parties thanks to the wonders of private equity.
No wonder others want a piece of the action. Now the former head of JP Morgan’s Indonesia business, Gita Wirjawan, is setting up an Indonesia-focused private-equity fund. He’s already raised $300 million to invest in infrastructure and natural resources, courtesy mainly of Muslim investors in the Middle East, Malaysia and Brunei. Teaming with him is Ivor Orchard, a former JP Morgan energy banker.
In macro terms, it’s a solid strategy to be scouting for opportunities in an overlooked market. But the timing is, shall we say, iffy. First, even Schwarzman (went public at the height of the market) and Kravis (going public now) are getting out of private equity, which should tell you something. And as for infrastructure and natural resources, name two other sectors that are going to be as hard-hit as the world economy skids to a halt.
Of course, that could mean they’re getting in at just the right time for bargains. Or it could mean they’re trying, as the proverb goes, to catch a falling knife …
Today’s Top Stories :
Indonesians will now have opportunity to buy cup of coffee for $5
Shocker: Mining companies not so ethical
George Bush's terror strategy is dumb
Betting the house - for real
Thursday, September 11, 2008
So why not do it in true style? Here’s a contender for luxury getaway that’s furthest off the grid: Lembongan Island Beach Villas, 12.5 km off Bali’s resort area of Sanur. You’re still close to Bali and its plentiful international flights, but far from the madding crowds or the omnipresent hawkers. Cars? Hardly.
Just you, the Lembongan beach, and one of 11 private villas. Not such a bad fate. It’s run by an old Vancouver buddy of mine, Cam Reynolds … part-brilliant, part-insane, and is one of those globetrotters who leads the life that the rest of us wish we led. Check out some ridiculous Balinese beauty here.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
In a country of 230 million-odd people and 17,000 islands, there’s bound to be a host of weird and wonderful news stories. Without further adieu, a roundup of some of the quirkiest.
Malaysians Strike Back: Apparently Indonesians are cornering the market on sappy love songs (no surprise to anyone who’s ever travelled there). Malaysian singer-songwriters are so fed up with Indonesians crowding their radio airwaves, they’ve set up Malaysian-content restrictions.
Er, You’re Betting on the Wrong Horse: Indonesia is developing its media ties with … wait for it … Zimbabwe, to share news stories to counter Western propaganda. Someone please tell Jakarta that Mugabe is a thuggish dictator who’s wrecked the country’s economy, so much so that a cup of coffee now costs billions of Zimbabwean dollars. Or maybe that won’t make the news service?
Sax Appeal: Who knew the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. was such a smooth operator? The Indo-U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a recent gala in Atlanta, Georgia, and the star attraction was the ambassador’s “saxophone serenade.” Someone give the ambassador his playa card.
Getting Sauced: Forget American ketchup ... turns out Heinz Corp.'s biggest global driver of growth is none other than good old Kecap ABC. I never acquired a taste for the stuff, but since every Indonesian carries a bottle along with their wallet and keys, it makes sense. Now the big question, who's behind all that sambal money?
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
When you consider Indonesia’s relatively tight monetary policy, with interest rates approaching 10% to tamp down inflation, the rupiah shouldn’t be such a weak sister. But then, the currency flu seems to be going around: Russia is selling dollars to prop up the ruble after its invasion of Georgia, other Asian central banks are intervening to support their own currencies, and the British pound is looking like a house of cards.
It might be that the rupiah’s shakiness is more to do with global trends, and not so much with anything Indonesia is doing in and of itself. World economies are slowing, ‘demand destruction’ is taking place, and that means most commodity-oriented economies like Indonesia (and their currencies) are getting slapped around mightily.
Monday, September 8, 2008
The Foundation usually runs these trips every year and they are an amazing opportunity to see firsthand not only the orangutans but the pioneering work of Dr. Galdikas. Indonesia, unfortunately, is not on the mind of Americans. Yet, what's happening in the Tanjung Puting Park is important to the future of the great apes. Palm oil is in everything and finding it results in massive destruction to the forest."
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Herein and forthwith, in no particular order, singer/songwriter Michelle Branch (creator of the ubiquitous pop tune "Everywhere"); Carmit Bachar, former member of the Pussycat Dolls; Mark-Paul Gosselaar, ex-star of sitcom detritus Saved By The Bell and more recently of NYPD Blue; professional poker player, often seen on endless reruns of the World Series of Poker, John Juanda; hip-hop wannbe Sky Lopez; porn queen Jade Marcela; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Tom Mastny; CNN correspondent Atika Shubert; Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack Obama's half-sister and recent speechmaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver; and, maybe most improbably, the hard-rocking Van Halens.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Many analyst picks are in the coal sector, which has been so beaten up that bargains are starting to appear. Tom Wright in Wall Street Journal Asia points out that Bumi Resources and Adaro Energy are now looking attractively valued. Analyst Nick Cashmore of CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets recommends state-owned coal concern Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam, along with Indo Tambangraya Megah.
For the bigger picture, ETF advisor Carl Delfeld singles out the Indonesia Fund, a closed-end Credit Suisse product. With the country still boasting muscular growth rates despite a central bank that's committed to taming inflation, he says Indonesia's emerging story bodes well for the Jakarta Index as a whole.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
It sounds like significant handcuffs for a fund manager, but it's not as limiting as it sounds. The DJ Asia-Pacific Islamic Index tracks 1,085 stocks with a market cap of $3.5 trillion. And Western-based shariah funds, like the Nicholas Kaiser-helmed Amana Growth, have boasted surperior returns (in the top 2% of large-cap growth peers, over 10 years). One of Kaiser's home runs: Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, bought at 32 and now in the 160s.
Indonesia's Batasa Capital, for one, currently offers the country's only shariah-compliant mutual fund. But look for more and more shariah-oriented financial products to crowd the market, as burgeoning sovereign wealth funds look for Muslim-approved areas to place their bets.
Learn more about the niche from this Investor's Business Daily article, http://www.investors.com/editorial/IBDArticles.asp?artsec=19&issue=20080820.
Monday, September 1, 2008
This time it involves the seizure of US$134 million, related to one of Tommy's companies and accusations of graft. The merits of the particular case will be left to the courts; he's been able to fend off such actions before, including defeating a corruption case earlier this year (even winning a countersuit).
The more interesting point is how long these cycles prove to be, whether in economies or in national politics. Look at the U.S. housing market, or the credit boom and crunch ... long on the way up, long on the way down. It takes years for nations to work significant events through their systems. So it is for Indonesia and the ghosts of dictators past, whose names and influences never seem to recede.