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Chapter 2 The ties that bind

The victimization of the transmigrants in Aceh was an extreme case of local dissatisfaction. But even where transmigrants rubbed along well enough with their neighbours, they carried on speaking their monether tongue, they cultivated the crops they grew back home, they set up the gamelan gong orchestras that mirrored those of Java or Bali. It was more transplantation than transmigration, hardly a homogenizing force.

Suharto grew up as poor as the next villager, dropping out of junior high school and giving up a job in a bank because he fell off his bicycle and ripped his only set of presentable clothes.

Chapter 4 Resident Aliens.

The entrenched antagonism between giant Indonesia and its smallish northern neighbour is in part a hangover from President Sukarno’s anti-Malaysia grandstanding of the early 1960s. And in part it’s good, old-fashioned envy.

Chapter 11 Indigenous Arts

And I was suddenly very aware of how completely I had absorbed indigenous Indonesians’ stereotypes about the babahs, as Chinese traders are sometimes called, though never politely.  All Chinese are canny businesspeople, the stereotype holds, hard-working and deeply clannish. Though they are generous in supporting their own kind, they are always willing to wring an extra rupiah out of an indigenous Indonesian. As a result, they grow rich.

‘I worked for the babahs for years’, said an Indonesian businessman I had met earlier on my travels, in eastern Indonesia. ‘I watched, I learned. Especially, I learned to work hard.’ In the end, though, he felt there was a vacuum at the centre of their lives. ‘Everything is only for money, money, money. From morning to night, money, money, money. Eat, money, sleep, money, die. But in the end, I wonder what for?’

In fact, a fifteen-year-old boy had been arrested because he had stolen a piar of flip-flops which happened to belong to a policeman. The cop’s first reaction was to beat the boy up. The boy’s mother reported the policeman for brutality. That angered fellow cops, who arrested the boy. Now he was facing five years in prison. Meanwhile, people accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars where bribing judges and getting off scot-free. At worst, the biggest criminals were sentenced to just a year or two. Flip-flops quickly came to symbolized Indonesians’ disgust with the arrogance of the law.

As long as Indonesians believe the police and the courts are rotten to the core – ‘Report the theft of a chicken and lose your buffalot,’ the Javanese saying goes – mob justice will continue to rule.

Chapter 12 the other Indonesia.

The phrase that is universally used to sum up this horrific prospect is ‘loe loe, gue gue’. From Jakarta slang, it translates literally as ‘you you, me me’, what’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine. In sentiment, the closest English equivalent I can think of is ‘dog-eat-dog’. Every time I heard it, I was reminded of the political pow-wows of two decades earlier when Mohammad Mahathir in Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Suharto in Indonesia would wax lyrical about ‘Asian Values’. Misguided Westerners could criticize the Asian leaders for stamping on individual rights, they implied, but what the visionary leaders of South East Asia were really doing was protecting a culture that put the good of the collective ahead of the good of the individual.

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