Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
Feedback: indonesia.anonymus at gmail dot com


Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Maybe we don't need them?

During this holiday break, we have more time to catch up with our readings. And some of us were intrigued by a little article in the year-end edition of the Economist.
It's about Somalia and its mobile telecommunication business.

It is mentioned that a call from a Somali mobile phone is generally cheaper and clearer than a call from anywhere else in Africa [1]. Great! Sounds like a success story coming from a struggling country. Then we read further:

One reason for such success is this: Somalia has no government.


Yes. The central government of Somalia was overthrown in January 1991, and since then Somalia is in a state of civil war. There is no clear central governmental authority there [2].

The Economist wrote: No government means no state telecoms company to worry about, no corrupt ministry officials to pay off (there is no ministry), and the freedom to choose the best-value equipment.
Furthermore, taxes and security cost are low (paid to local authority or strongman), there is almost no custom duty, and no need to pay for licenses [1].

As a result, its mobile telecom service can provide cheaper and better services to the population.

How very interesting. We never thought of this. You know what this means? This means 'government' is optional ! (Well, at least to the Somalian mobile telecom companies.)

After reading that article, we couldn't help thinking about this one question:
"Which would we rather have: A government ranked among the most corrupt in the world [3], or no government at all?"

How wicked.

[1] The Economist, December 24th - January 6th 2006, page 95, Somalia Calling
[2] MSN Encarta Somalia - Government
[3] Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Stop sign? What stop sign?

We are not trying to be cynical or deluding ourselves at the same time when we say this: Jakarta motorists are both the worst and the best drivers. The worst because you know why, and the best because despite all the chaos, we seem to manage to arrive at our destination in one piece.

Well, not all the time, apparently.

According to Suara Merdeka, 90.000 people were killed in traffic accident in 2004 [1].

No surprise, considering our rules of driving consist of the following (we got this from the website of Robert Peterson, who writes about how to drive in Cairo [2]. We plucked some parts that we thought are appropriate and adjust it to the Jakarta situation) :

Rules of driving:

  • All lanes are available for your use, especially the lanes with the oncoming traffic; "Chicken" is not a game here, it's a way of life.
  • When there is contention for a lane between oncoming cars, the first car to flash their lights, wins.
  • All lines painted on the road are purely decorative; ignore them.
  • Octagonal stop signs and speed limit signs are also decorative; ignore them.
  • The police are the men on every corner dressed in brown. They are also decorative; ignore them.
  • Traffic lights are simple to read: Green means "go". Yellow means "honk". Red means "prepare to honk".

Sounds familiar?

So here's a question for us Jakarta motorists : Are we bad drivers? Well, we don't blame you if you don't admit it. Statistically speaking, 88% of adults think of themselves as careful drivers, but only 17% consider other motorists as equally careful [3]. So when it comes to bad driving, we tend to blame others.

But let's admit it. We are.

What turn us into bad drivers ?
Well, since we cannot blame ourlselves, let's find some other excuses. Maybe it's our parents. One research says "young drivers are more likely to develop bad driving habits if their parents are bad drivers" [4].

Or is it our hormone.... ? Scientists from the University of Giessen, Germany said bad driving is 'linked to hormones'[5].

Or maybe because we smell... ? The RAC Foundation said 'bad' odors may cause bad driving [6].

Naaah. Let's stop kidding ourselves.

According to Freakonomics [7], everything is about incentives. Hence rewards and punishments. There is simply not enough reward in following the rules, and the punishments are, well, need we say more. Have you ever given way to other motorists? In Jakarta, when you give way, you GIVE way. You will never get it back. That's your reward for being nice.
Lack of tolerance + lack of infrastructure + corrupt policemen. That's the formula. Even Harry Potter's professor won't mix these into a potion.

So what should we do?
Well, we almost thought out another experiment. We thought: Let's ask a blind person* to take a driving test. Let's see how corrupt our government is.
That would make great headlines, wouldn't it ? A blind person got a driver's license... Maybe after that things will change for the better.
But no. We are not going to do that. To be honest, we don't think we want to know the result.

So what can we do?
Right now? Let's take one factor out of that formula. Let's be more tolerant to one another. Let's give way. Let's take turn. Have a heart.
After all, driving is not a competition. There is no win or lose. If we take our turns, we all will reach our destination faster.

Let's start now. Together.

[1] Suara Merdeka - Setahun 90.000 Orang Korban Kecelakaan
[2] Robert Peterson - How to Drive in Cairo
[3] The Hartford - When It Comes to Bad Driving, 'It's Always the Other Guy'
[4] Irish Health - Young copy parents' bad driving - study
[5] BBC News - Bad driving 'linked to hormones'
[6] MSNBC - 'Bad' odors may cause bad driving
[7] Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, ISBN 006073132X

* Note to sensitive readers:
By mentioning a blind person, we do not have any intention whatsoever of disrespect to the disabled. We respect our fellow citizens who are less fortunate as much as we acknowledge that people with such disability should not and would not drive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Is that a bomb or you are just happy to see me

Christmas and new year is coming. And the police is busy: 17.000 police will secure Jakarta for this Christmas and new year [1]. With 23 churches in Jakarta are vulnerable from bomb attack [2], 3 policemen will be assigned to each church [3]. Even so, the police cannot guarantee there will be no terror attack during Christmas [4].

Ah, there is nothing like Jakarta's living-on the-edge holiday atmosphere...

Such precaution and fear have become part of our lives now. We endure it. Wherever we go these days, we have to go through security checks. Driving up to a parking lot of a shopping mall or office building, you will have security guards checking the car trunk, while the other going around your car with the 'mirror on a stick' thing making sure you don't have anything funny underneath your car. Once you parked your car and going to enter the building, you have another checkpoint where security guards will check your bag (if you carry any) or simply wave his metal detector reluctantly around you before they let you in.

We don't mind, of course. You can never be too safe.

But it made us think:
Do you think those security guards know what they are looking for?
When they are checking underneath your car, your trunk, your bags, do you think they will recognize an explosive when they see one? Have they ever seen anything remotely resemble a real bomb?

We have our doubt sometimes. Like when we see security guards waving metal detector while checking car trunks. Aren't cars mostly metal? What do you get when you wave your metal detector near a car?
Maybe one of you can enlighten us on this matter.

Anyway, we thought we should do a little research here. We thought we should go around and ask security guards, just to see whether they really know what they are doing.

We started with one of the security guards in our building. The one who stands around at the front lobby with his metal detector. One of us went and asked him whether he has been trained to recognize if something resembles an explosive, and whether he knows what to do if he found one.
The answer is not very encouraging. He has no clue! When we asked what he looks for when he checks on people, he said "anything out of the ordinary".
Well. The definition of 'something out of ordinary' can be really wide, don't you think? Bad haircut can be out of ordinary. Or Britney Spears.

So we thought, we should do more research. We decided to spread out and go to shopping malls and office buildings around our office in the evening. While entering the premises, we'll have a little chat with the security guards, to see if they know what they are doing.

Are you curious about what we found out? Well, here it is. Bear in mind that there are only a few of us, and this is done in just one day, so we did not get what you would call a 'statistically acceptable' number of samples. We could only manage to ask 18 security guards of shopping malls and office buildings.

Out of 18 security guards we talked to, we found out that:

  • 4 have had at least one training session with the local police regarding explosives and what action to take in case they found one.
  • 7 have never been trained to recognize an explosive or something of that sort, but are given a briefing and shown photos of what to look for.
  • 4 do not have a clue
  • 3 refused to answer

Well, there you go.

Do you feel safer? Well, we do. Somehow we expected the worst, so knowing that at least some of them have some kind of training, is a relieve.
But then again, those security guards could have lied. Maybe they just said that because they are embarassed to tell us the truth. What now?

Ah, the Jakarta's living-on-the-edge holiday atmosphere...

[1] Media Indonesia - 17.000 Polisi Akan Amankan Jakarta
[2] Media Indonesia - 23 Gereja di Jakarta Rawan Teror Bom
[3] Tempointeraktif - Setiap Gereja Dijaga Tiga Polisi.
[4] Tempointeraktif - Polisi Tidak Bisa Menjamin Tak Ada Teror Saat Natal

Feedback: indonesia.anonymus at gmail dot com

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It adds up

You don't by any chance know the Idup family, do you? Well, we don't either. We just read about them in It is mentioned there that Idup, Selih and their 4 children are so poor they can only eat once every other day. After the fuel price hike they cannot even afford to boil water to drink [1]. (for those who don't know, water in the most part of Indonesia is not potable).

So? whatelse is new, you might ask.

Let us tell you some more: There are 597 families in Ciamis that can only afford to eat once a day [2]. Same case in Maros. 5342 people eat only once a day [3].
These men, women and children go to bed hungry literally everyday.

Ok. So?

After reading that article, we had to go to our colleague's wedding. Nice wedding reception, 500 or so guests, held at a nice building somewhere in south Jakarta.

What's a wedding got to do with the Idup family?

If you are in the mood for some irony, go to the back where the caterer clears all the plates. Food. Lots of food. Thrown away just like that. Plates and plates of food half finished. Plates of food slightly touched. Go to the bin. Food that otherwise will be enough to help Idup family to get by for a few days.

Why are we so wasteful? Can't we just take a reasonable amount at the buffet, the amount that we know we can finish? If we are not sure wether the food is good or not, why not just take a little bit? If we like it, we can take some more. If we don't, well, then maybe someone else can enjoy it. After all, wedding is not a food-tasting event. We are not Michelin or Zagat. We are not there to rate the food and give some stars.

Some of us would say: "Well, the food is paid for by the family who had the wedding. Might as well have them. Or else the caterer will take it back and make even more profit."
Yes. Might as well HAVE them. Not WASTE them.
The caterer will profit from it? So what? Still better than wasting food. When we waste food, nobody wins.

"Well, it's just a little bit of food left over.."
Yes of course. That's understandable. But unfortunately it adds up. If you don't believe us, go to the back and see how our 'just a little bit' adds up into a big mountain of wasted food.

The fact that we condone such wasteful act is just so absurd, isn't it? We cannot afford wasting food. Not with thousands of people going to bed hungry everyday.

Maybe this is the right time for some reflection. Now that we are approaching a new year and all.
Maybe we need to revisit our custom of doing things. Maybe we don't need to take so much food in one go. Maybe we should remind our colleagues, our friends, our family, not to waste food. Maybe we need to think of better ways of serving food at weddings.
Yes, life is unfair and there is a big gap between rich and poor and most of the time it is beyond our control. Yes. We agree. But we can still do our part. No matter how small it is.
And if we all do our part, it will all add up.

Just something to consider.
We owe it to Idup family to at least think about it.

[1] Kompas - Makan Dua Hari Sekali
[2] Pikiran Rakyat - 597 Keluarga di Ciamis Hanya Makan Sekali Sehari
[3] BKKBN - BKKBN Maros: 5.342 Warga Hanya Makan Sehari Sekali