Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eating Friends: How Australian companies fared in ‘New Order’ Indonesia, 1997

Prepared in September 1997 by Geoffrey Gold and an associate for the ‘Directory of Australian Businesses in Indonesia’, this article was withdrawn at the time due to the severity of the Asian financial crisis, known in Indonesia as Krisis Moneter (Krismon), and resulting political disturbances.

A SAYING IN INDONESIA about doing business - teman makan teman, kawan makan kawan - roughly translates to "friends eat friends; mates eat mates".

We find it useful to quote this to visiting western business people who see the potential in the marketplace without being aware of the potential pitfalls. Javanese smiles often hide an appetite for the unwary!

And yet the opportunity is tremendous. Predicted to become the fifth largest economy by  2020, the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world has made enormous strides in the past 30 years. Nevertheless it is still coming off a low base with averages of 48 people per telephone and eight people per television set.

For hyped up Aussie business people told that they must export or perish, the temptation of catching one of the four airlines to Jakarta is often irresistible. That temptation is fine by itself. After all what's a round trip to Jakarta and a week’s stay at the Radisson. For most businesses it won't break the bank.

However the itch becomes a rash when ill-prepared businesses try to set up shop here.

According to a report released last month by the Murdoch University's Asia Research Centre which investigated the experience of corporate establishment for Australian service firms, the secrets of success are clouded in myths.

The report, Australian Service Companies In Indonesia: Learning from Experience, investigated the progress or otherwise of 63 Australian service companies in Indonesia since 1991.

The authors, Gitte Heij and Thorsten Stromback, concluded that contrary to popular belief, Indonesian factors such as poor economic infrastructure, excessive regulation, culture and language are overstated as reasons for failure in comparison with other factors.

The most important factors for success to the Indonesian market for the companies surveyed are internal to the particular company.

These included a long term outlook, senior management commitment, selection of a local partner, adequate in-house staff, dealing with the bureaucracy and having a competitive advantage.

Other less important success factors according to the report included professional advice, local equity requirements, competition from third countries, good support by Australian government organisations, Indonesian infrastructure, banks' support in Australia and the importing of necessary equipment.

Investing in Indonesia : expensive exercise

For the record, out of the 63 service companies surveyed; 41 are still active with a permanent presence on the ground, ten have bitten the dust, five are still active but under different names and seven are still active but no longer have a permanent presence on the ground.

Out of the survivors; 53% were satisfied with the rate of return from their business venture while 33% were not satisfied but expected a positive return in the near future. Most of the others had terminated the relationship with their initial business partner and had subsequently established a new business venture with better results.

A lot of figures but what do they mean? Well even with our high school maths, they tell us that in the space of six years, 17 companies out of 63 (or 27%) that set up shop here had pulled down the shutters. That’s an expensive exercise in this country. Out of the remainder, just over half were satisfied with current financial results.

Reading between the lines, it seems pretty obvious that the large majority of firms that had made a major investment at or before 1990 have not turned profits, seven years down the track.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Indonesian and Australian soccer: 85 years of tours, friendship and heart-break

Reigning Australian A-League Champions, the Central Coast Mariners, had a disappointing finale to their participation In Indonesia’s inaugural Menpora Cup, an international invitational soccer tournament funded by the State Ministry for Youth and Sport which was played in regional cities Bandung (West Java) and Malang (East Java) between Indonesia’s Persib Bandung, Arema Indonesia, Mitra Kukar, Sriwijaya Palembang and Persepam Madura, the Malaysian U-23 national team, Loyola Meralco Sparks of the Philippines and the Mariners.

Central Coast Mariners v Arema at Malang: "one side was meant to win"

The Mariners made it through the group stage with relative ease but faced home town club Arema in the tournament final in Malang on Sunday 29 September with only a 13-player squad due to the club also having a match commitment in Australia on the same weekend. 

Their opponent, Arema, is owned by the Bakrie Group, a major Indonesian conglomerate, which is also the controlling shareholder in A-League club Brisbane Roar.

According to the Mariners, their Indonesian campaign “came to a controversial conclusion with the team on the end of two highly contentious penalty calls and countless other suspect refereeing decisions as they lost 2-1 to Arema FC in the competition’s Final. St. Kitts & Nevis attacker Keith Kayamba Gumbs converted both dubiously awarded penalties to lift the popular local side to victory in front of 38,438 vociferous supporters at Kanjuruhan Stadion.”

Central Coast Assistant Coach Phil Moss said it was obvious any chance of a Mariners victory would have to come against all odds. “It is clear that only one side was meant to win tonight’s Final – and it most certainly wasn’t us,” Moss told club members.

“We have had a great time in Indonesia - the tournament has been well organised and the Indonesian people have been very friendly - but unfortunately the nature of the referee’s performance tonight leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths,” he said.

"New friendships were forged in Indonesia, with the Mariners able to engage with thousands of supporters personally throughout the tour"
Governance aside, it is unfortunate that the great people-to-people friendship generated by football matches between soccer-crazy Indonesian and sports-mad Australia are rare events, despite the two countries’ close proximity.

And yet, Australian sports contact with Indonesia may have commenced with a football tour in 1928.

The New South Wales British Association Football Organisation received an invitation in 1923 from “a gentleman in Batavia” to send a team to tour Java the following season. However, there was to be a gap of a few years, during which Australians visiting the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) noted “the popularity of Association football with the Javanese.”

In April 1928 a three-month tour of NEI by an Australian national soccer team was confirmed by the Australian Soccer Football Association following an invitation from the Java Football Association.  The squad included players from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

Australia’s early Socceroos proudly flying the flag in Surabaya, 1928
Travelling from 20 June to 23 August, 1928, the Australians played 23 matches, winning 17, drawing four, and losing two. Described as "Australia's first dedicated national sporting team tour of Asia," the Australians played in Makassar, Surabaya, Semarang, Bandung and Ceribon. Fixtures for Batavia were cancelled “owing to the unacceptable conditions proposed by the Batavian League” and four games were played in Singapore. Overall, the Australians reported, they "found the grounds good and the players in Java keen, although lacking in team work."

A highlight of the tour was Australia's 2-1 defeat by an All Java team in Surabaya, described as "one of the first representative matches of the Dutch East Indies national team against another official national team, NIVB having been a national association member of FIFA since 1924."

Team list for the Australia v All Java match won by the home side on 19 Aug 1928

A second tour was announced in July 1931, when the Australian Soccer Association accepted the invitation of the Sourabaya Soccer Association. The squad again included players from NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, only one of whom had toured in 1928. Travelling from 9 August to 5 October,  1931, the Australians played 13 games - 11 in Java and two in Makassar -  winning nine games, drawing one, and losing three. Australian team official, E S Lukoman, told newspapers he was impressed with the improvement in Javanese football since 1928. "They control the ball better than the average Australian team," he said, "and their passing and position play was excellent."

An Australian national team would not play again in Java until 1967 when the Australian team played a friendly against Indonesia’s Tim Nasional in Jakarta and won 2-0.  In October 1972, Australia beat Indonesia 4-1 in a friendly in Jakarta.  In October 1976, Australia drew with Indonesia in a friendly in Jakarta. In December 1980, Australia drew with Indonesia in front of a 60,000 crowd in Jakarta.

In August 1981, Australia lost 0-1 to Indonesia in a World Cup qualifier in Jakarta, a shock loss that helped put New Zealand into the 1982 World Cup at Australia's expence.  Socceroos coach Les Scheinflug had decided to blood some young players, including David Mitchell, who was later to coach Perth Glory and accompany them on their 2008 program in Indonesia. In August 1990, Australia beat Indonesia 1-0 in a friendly in Jakarta, their last visit to Indonesia for another 19 years. 

In 2005, however, Robbie Gaspar became the first Australian to play professional football in Indonesia when he signed with Persita Tangerang. His subsequent seven year professional career in the country included playing also for Persiba Balikpapan 2006-09, Persema Malang 2009-11 and Persib Bandung 2011-12 and his local popularity grew to over 52,000 followers at his Twitter account, @RobbieGaspar23.

In 2006, two Australian state league clubs, Manly United from NSW and Bulleen Zebras from Victoria,
participated in a Jakarta-based friendly tournament, the Bang Yos Gold Cup. Phil Moss, who was with Manly United recalled “We were treated very well, the tournament was well organised and there were big crowds. It was a fantastic ten days away … The boys at Manly at the time saw what Asian football has to offer, and it was certainly an eye-opener for me as a coach.”

In 2007, the Western Australian state government commissioned Sports Dynamics to investigate the use of sport as a component  of the Western Australian - East Java sister province/state relationship. 

This resulted in the successful ‘festival of football’ played in East Java in June/July 2008, including a sports seminar, youth clinics, the visit of Football West's Premier League representative team to play an ‘international’ against the East Java U-23 (PON) team and the A-League’s Perth Glory pre-season training visit which included matches against Indonesian Super League clubs Persik Kediri and Deltras Sidoarjo. The game between Glory and then Indonesian champion, Kediri, played one week before the start of the new ISL season, was broadcast live on prime-time Sunday evening to a national viewing audience of more than 40 million.

Perth Glory v Persik at Kediri 2008
Then WA Trade Commissioner to Indonesia, Martin Newbery, noted that the football tournament had had more coverage in Indonesian media than any other Western Australian promotion in the country in the preceding 20-years. “I can think of no better way of bringing Australians and Indonesians together than sport where a common language, interest and enthusiasm brings people together and develops friendships and contacts at the personal level,” he explained.

In 2008 Sports Dynamics also assisted the Northern Territory government to establish an annual Under-18 boys’ soccer competition “to further develop community and cultural links” between the Northern Territory and its neighbours - Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara Timur province and independent Timor Leste. Sponsored for a further three years by Conoco-Philips, the Timor Sea Cup rotated between Darwin, Dili and Kupang until its 2013 program was suspended by the Northern Territory Government. 

Nusa Tenggara Timur v Timor Leste
On 28 January 2009, Australia drew 0-0 with Indonesia in an Asian Cup Qualifying match in front of a crowd of 68,000 in Jakarta.  For the first time the Australian community was mobilised for the game: with assistance from Sports Dynamics the Socceroo coaches – including current  Mariners coach, Graham Arnold - attended an Australia Day BBQ in Jakarta, the Socceroos conducted clinics at a Muslim high school and the Australian International School, and ticketing was arranged for some 500 Australians to sit as a group in the West VIP section of the Bung Karno stadium (introducing the local atmosphere to most of the Australians attending and providing a colorful green/gold section for Indonesian national television).

One year later, Football Federation Australia signed an MOU with PSSI, the Indonesian Football  Association,  aiming to assist the development of coaches, players, referees, grassroots football and women's football and host training visits for Indonesian players, coaches and officials.

As Robbie Gasper has detailed, little direct inter-relationship between the Football Associations of Australia and Indonesia for grassroots development has occurred since, mainly due to the calamitous rupture of the Indonesian football Association and League over poor governance. 

“Some of the things I’ve seen and heard in the last seven years are a disgrace,” he's explained. “Football here is such a powerful tool that a lot of people want to get involved for the wrong reasons. I just want to see people getting involved for the right reasons ... We’re neighbours. There are 240 million people here compared to less than 25 million in Australia. Australia would be crazy not to tap into it, and Indonesia could learn a lot from Australia’s professional practices. Sport breaks down boundaries and football is a great way for Australia and Indonesia to communicate.”

Indeed, Robbie’s own encouragement of more than 20 Australian players to follow him to Indonesia during the period lead him to help establish the Indonesia Players Union, APPI, with the world body FIFPro, to protect the rights of local and foreign players. That important battle continues.

Although currently not resident in Indonesia, Robbie remains a contributor to Australian Sports Group Indonesia (asgi@sportsdynamics.biz) which brings together Australians dedicated to Indonesian community and grassroots sports, particularly AFL, soccer, rugby, cricket, hockey, athletics and administration. The group is preparing a brief on the Australian sports volunteer experience in Indonesia and its impact on Indonesia-Australia people-to-people relationships.

You are welcome to add further information, anecdotes and corrections in Comments below:

Monday, September 30, 2013

NSW's senior trade and investment mission quietly arrives in Jakarta

A trade and investment mission from Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, has departed from Sydney to Jakarta. Lead by the state's Deputy Premier, Minister for Trade and Investment and National Party leader, Andrew Stoner, the five-day mission commences in Indonesia and continues to Singapore and Malaysia.

“While NSW enjoys good relationships with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, I want to strengthen our ties with these important neighbours,” Mr Stoner said. “My message on this visit is that NSW is open and ready for international business and I will focus on promoting the strengths of our State’s agribusiness sector.”

Mr Andrew Stoner, NSW state Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment

The first leader of the current NSW Liberal National Coalition administration to visit Indonesia, Mr Stoner will meet with Indonesian government leaders including the Vice Minister of Trade, Dr Bayu Krisnamurthi and "senior business leaders" to "help identify potential new opportunities for NSW agribusiness exporters."

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia were all identified as priority markets in the NSW International Engagement Strategy released earlier this year and Mr Stoner noted that Indonesia has "large and fast growing consumer markets" and is "experiencing a shift to modern grocery retailing and greater demand for processed and convenience foods."

The NSW strategy also recommended that the state open its first trade and investment office in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia. A final decision on its implementation is expected by year's end.

See also: Australia's regions accelerate trade missions to Indonesia and official offices (13 Aug 2013)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tasmanian Premier reports successful outcomes to state's mission to Indonesia

Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania, sent its first trade mission in decades to Indonesia on 1-4 September. The multi-sector trade delegation of businesses and organisations was led by Ms Lara Giddings, Tasmanian Premier and state parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party.

Events included a business dinner with members of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), a breakfast meeting with Indonesia Australia Business Council, industry round tables on remote area power generation, higher education and VETS, a visit to an Indonesian school conducting Skype exchanges with Tasmanian schools, and a function for the Premier to address Indonesian female politicians and administrators about women in politics and advocate Tasmania broadly.

Renewable Energy

Premier Giddings with Vice
Minister for Energy and Mineral
Resources  Susilo Siswoutomo
Ms Giddings and officials from Hydro Tasmania, Entura, and the University of Tasmania, met with Indonesia's Vice Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources, Mr Susilo Siswoutomo, to develop a Memorandum of Understanding between Tasmania and Indonesia on renewable energy.

"This MoU will help us work cooperatively to build the skills and capacity within the Indonesian population needed to address the country's resource and infrastructure challenges," the Premier said.

"The Indonesian Government is prioritising the development of renewable energy sources, including mini-hydro, wind and solar to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.  This represents an opportunity for Hydro Tasmania, which has demonstrated its expertise in overcoming similar challenges in remote areas across Asia and closer to home on King Island,” she said, adding that the University of Tasmania had internationally recognised expertise in water management and biofuels.

Education and Training

Premier Giddings and the University of Tasmania delegation led by deputy vice chancellor David Sadler also met with Indonesian Vice-Minister of Education and Culture, Prof Dr Ir Musliar Kasim, to discuss a range of issues, including increasing the intake of Indonesian students and contributing to the training of Indonesian educators.

Premier Giddings meeting with  Vice Minister for Education, Dr Musliar Kasim.
Ms Giddings said Dr Kasim, was keen to discuss opportunities for closer engagement between Indonesia and Tasmania. "Currently 25 Tasmanian Government schools are teaching Bahasa Indonesian, with six participating in the Bridge Program, which supports increased cultural awareness.  Dr Kasim was very enthusiastic about increasing the number of Tasmanian schools teaching Bahasa. He was also interested in potential collaborations between UTAS and TasTafe and Indonesian institutions, particularly Andalas University, Padang, which he has previously chaired. He already had an understanding and awareness of UTAS' strengths in areas like aquaculture and scientific research."

A UTAS Alumni Event for former graduates was also held in Jakarta. "Hearing about what these people have achieved in industries from software development, telecommunications and fisheries is inspiring and demonstrates the quality of the University of Tasmania's lecturers and its courses," Ms Giddings said.  "These alumni are ambassadors, not only for UTAS but for Tasmania as a whole."

Freight logistics and transport 

Premier Giddings and Launceston City Council Mayor, Albert Van Zetten, hosted a meeting with Mr Sumadi Kusuma, the founder of Global Putra International, Indonesia's biggest shipping company, and other Indonesian logistics experts.

Global Putra International is partnered with Cosco in China, the world's second biggest transport network group and Mr Kusuma has been invited to Tasmania to advise the Freight Logistics Council on how to address the state's freight problems.

"Mr Kusuma has been involved in shipping across the Asian region for more than 30 years and he has an intimate understanding of the challenges of freight logistics," Ms Giddings said. "Mr Kusuma echoed the advice of our own Freight Coordination Team in identifying the need for a coordinated freight solution, including increasing volumes, as the key to restoring a direct international shipping link.

Mr Kusuma said he was keen to use his networks and connections to work with the Tasmanian Government and the private sector to increase cargo traffic and overcome the impediments to direct international shipping.

Ms Giddings also reported successful meetings with other high ranking Indonesian government officials including the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Youth and Sports, and the Secretary-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

See also: Australia's regions accelerate trade missions to Indonesia and official offices (13 Aug 2013)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Australia's first Jakarta-resident Ambassador to ASEAN takes up his role

Australia's first resident Ambassador to the Association of South East Asian Nations will take up his position this week in Jakarta, the seat of the regional body's secretariat.  New Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, announced the deployment after confirming official approval from ASEAN foreign ministers.

The new Ambassador, Simon Merrifield, is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Until June 2013 he held the position of DFAT Senior Spokesman and Head of Parliamentary and Media Branch. He has extensive experience in ASEAN countries having served as Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia, First Secretary, Jakarta and Second Secretary, Manila. He has lived in South-East Asia for 13 years and speaks Indonesian and Malay.

ASEAN, now a significant ten-nation group, is moving to a single market in 2015 and has attracted an increasing number of major countries appointing Jakarta-resident Ambassadors separate from their Ambassadors to Indonesia. Japan appointed Ambassador Takio Yamada in 2010 and the United States appointed Ambassador David L. Carden in 2011. In 2012, China appointed Ambassador Yang Xiuping and the Republic of Korea appointed Ambassador Baek Seong-taek,

The Australian decision was outlined in the Gillard Labor government's White Paper on the Asian Century released in October 2012. In April this year, ASEAN Secretary General, Le Luong Minh, expressed appreciation for the announcement and for Australia’s "strong commitment to deepen and enhance its cooperation with ASEAN". He also recognised Australia’s support to ASEAN’s central role in regional cooperation as well as its community building efforts. 

The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, in force since 2010, provides the framework for Australia's A$92 billion two-way trade in goods and services with ASEAN countries (2012). Australia is also involved with ASEAN in the negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership  which also includes Korea, Japan, China, India, and New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Expatriate observations of Jakarta before HPs, fancy boutiques and economic growth

Tim Scott, a Western Australian-born geologist, former diplomat, writer and raconteur, is a long-time resident of Indonesia. In the following extract from his recent Tempo essay, he provides fascinating anecdotes of his early experiences in Jakarta and rural Indonesia.

His first sojourn in the country was from 1963 until 1966, including the ‘year of living dangerously.’ He returned intermittently on mining business until he joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1971. After holding diplomatic positions in London and Kuala Lumpur, he was appointed a First Secretary to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta from 1976 to 1979, critical years in the Australia-Indonesia relationship following Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.

Tim Scott in Australia's Great Sandy Desert 1962: No trees, no shrubs, no water, lots of flies and dust.  "So Indonesia why not?”
He returned to the private sector in 1981, first as Indonesian country manager of Canadian oil explorer Husky Oil, and then for Australian ‘mini-conglomerate’, Parry Corporation. He established his own consulting firm, PT Dharma Raksa, in 1988 and remains its CEO.  He worked for PT Barrick Gold Corporation Indonesia during 1992-1999, including as its President Director, and also for Canadian explorer Kalimantan Gold Corporation (1999-2003).

Fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, he is a regular contributor to Indonesian and foreign publications and has translated numerous books.

50 Years a Bulé

On 26 February 1963 I landed at Kemayoran International Airport in Jakarta as a young surveyor on the way to the oil fields of Central Sumatera.  I jumped into a clapped out Ford Customline and headed for the Hotel Indonesia (HI), just finished in 1962 for the Asian Games. Booking in I was shocked by the tariff of US$22 ++ for I was used to Australian Outback pubs at £1/7/6  - a bit over US$3 a night including dinner, bed and breakfast.  In the Outback a  beer was under three shillings (US$0.10), however at the HI, using the official exchange rate of Rp 45 to the USD,  a beer was more like US$5.00.

Hotel Indonesia, Jakarta
Now 50 years later I look back at the enormous positive changes in Indonesia over those years – half a century! Incredible changes but some shortcomings regrettably.

I spent three years here then including witnessing the 1965 coup from a safe distance in the middle of the Sumatran jungle in the headwaters of the Rokan River building a road and drilling camp. I returned in 1969 again for several months and, from 1976 until today, I have been here non-stop working all over Indonesia from Banda Aceh to Merauke; not Sabang yet but sighted from the mainland.

My title invites me to comment first on language usage.  For example the word bulé – albino –  in the early sixties was a derogatory word for a European and was seldom used.  Orang asing – a foreigner –  was the accepted polite usage. Today bulé is commonly used seemingly without any implied insult.

The same goes for cewek – a girl.  It was unacceptable in the early sixties to use cewek in mixed company.  Today you see the word on city billboards.

Another is preman. Then it meant retired civil servant; literally a free man. Today, ironically, it means gangster!

In the last twenty years there has been a considerable invasion of Javanese into the language. More recently in Jakarta there has been the adoption of Betawi; look at some of the billboards around town in the past six months.  My first Indonesian dictionary was slim.  Today I have a couple including a Betawi one.

The most significant change for me is the overall standard of living in Indonesia and the exponential growth of a middle class which is almost double the population of Australia.

This presents itself in a number of ways:

The first most obvious one are Indonesians are generally 10 centimetres taller than 50 years ago.  This is due to higher incomes, which leads to better nutrition, better health.  Life expectancy has soared from 47 years to 67 years

Secondly, is the standard of living. A crude indicator is the number of cars and motorbikes on the road today - witness the traffic jams in mid-January 2013 here in Jakarta, the fancy boutiques in Kemang and the range of great places to eat:  You name the cuisine, it is here in Jakarta.

Half a century ago there was only the Skyline night club on the top floor of the HI, the coffee shop there on the ground floor and the Cahaya Kota in Menteng for a good Chinese meal – fuyung hai with tinned peas, cap cai with tinned mushrooms and accompanied  with  a  Bintang on the rocks – the accepted way to serve as there were few refrigerators.  It is still there today with a strong feeling of the olden days – tempo doeloe.

Today in Jakarta most restaurants serve many kinds of international cuisine, well chilled beers and  a great range of wines and spirits like at one central five star hotel where there was recently on offer French wine at Rp30 million a bottle!

In the early sixties the only watering hole was the Ramayana Bar at HI where all and sundry gathered to trade the gossip of the gutter and the gang.  About nine in the evening, to add a little jollity, customers would lurch out to the HI roundabout and hire a betja, with the driver becoming the passenger and the bulé the driver, for chaotic races around the fountain.  Try that today.  Later some would drift off to Louis’s Place down in Tanah Abang, a barbed-wire bear pit with a dirt floor which served beer and 'broads'.

Today shopping in Jakarta is a bliss compared with those days.  Now there is wide range of international-standard supermarkets and round-the-corner mini-markets. But the old muddy wet-markets are still here.  In the 60s you were victualled out of these wet-markets on a daily basis and lived off local produce.  In the 70s there were a few supermarkets but supplies were invariably limited.

Thirdly, public utilities today are astounding compared with the mid-sixties.  Often if you even had a phone it did not work and it was impossible to make an international call from your home or office.  To do this you had to queue at the Cikini telephone exchange for hours.  In those times some reckoned it was quicker to catch a plane to Singapore than queue standing in the heat at Cikini.

Today you can dial ISD anywhere in the world even from your hand phone (HP). Everyone has a HP today.  Even my servants’ kids have their HPs!  And what is remarkable too is that the service is invariable pretty good.

Indonesians love to gossip and the HP is the ultimate instrument of gossip. Therein lies a caution:  Jakarta is the largest small town in the world if you did not know already!

Electricity supply is today is reasonable.  Five decades ago most expatriate homes had a generator as almost without fail at 6.00 in the afternoon when peak electricity demand struck; out went the power just as your spouse was trying to apply make-up before going out.   Promptly, your watchman started up your clunker generator and then the bedroom air conditioner delivered cooling respite.

Fourthly, economic growth has been incredible.

In 1963 the tallest building in town was HI.  In the 1970s  it was Wisma Nusantara, funded by Japanese war reparations, on the HI roundabout and from then on afterwards Jakarta’s office building took off spreading further south towards Blok M – deepest dark South Jakarta – which was considered to be the limits of human habitation; beyond that it was rumoured there were tigers and elephants.  Jalan Fatmawati was then a graveled pot-holed road and Pondok Indah had not been discovered.

Pancoran, Jakarta, in the 1960s
The black market was rampant when I arrived in early 1963. The official rate was Rp 45 to US$1.00 while the black was over Rp 1,000 to US$1.00, and through the following two and a half years it crept up to well over Rp180,000 to US$1.00 – while the official rate was raised to Rp 425 – until after the September 1965 coup when three zeros were chopped off the currency.

On a Sunday, buying everyone at the HI swimming pool a drink of their own choice,  some 80 drinks,  cost less than US$5.00 at the black market rate.  Coke was more expensive than a quart bottle of Bintang beer. Apart from the burst-out of the Rupiah in 1978 and 1997,  today’s currency is very stable. Possession of foreign currency in the early sixties was a criminal offence!

In the sixties, the Beatles were banned.  They, in Sukarno’s mind, represented the corrupt and evil decadence of the west.  The best gift you could give an Indonesian friend was a Beatles LP – if you remember what that was – a long playing record at 33 RPM.  It is pretty tame stuff by today’s popular music standards.  In the 70s a Playboy magazine was a well-received treat for men.  With the internet everything is now available here in Indonesia.  Also, listening to the BBC was a criminal offense, especially during Konfrontasi. 

In their speeches today’s politicians and leaders sound like accountants reading out, line by line, a company’s financial statements.  Compare that with President Sukarno whose speeches would run for two hours plus; making quotes in foreign languages or inserting a vulgar Javanese phrase here and there.  Can you imagine any of the last five presidents saying something vulgar, except possibly Gus Dur who had a wacky sense of humour?

Today there is far greater press freedom than under Presidents Sukarno and Suharto.  Under those presidencies journalists were regularly threatened or gaoled and papers closed down.

Four things that perturb me looking back over fifty years:  They are moral values, increasing inter-ethnic violence, corruption, health and education. Somehow they are all interlinked and overlap ...

First published by Tempo magazine, March 26, 2013. Reprinted with permission. To read Tim Scott’s full article, continue at http://magz.tempo.co/konten/2013/03/26/IDF/26350/Fifty-Years-A-Bul/31/13