Published on April 7th, 2012 | by Charitarian8
The Real Indonesia
All I could hear when I woke up yesterday morning was the sound of the sea and the birds. I knew the gentle lapping waves were about five metres from my head, so I just walked out for a swim. I hadn’t meant to stay on the serene island about two hours from Jakarta, but I had not regrets. Dashing for the last ferry the previous day I had bumped into Surya. Surya was just putting the final touches to a seafood BBQ. Offering me an iced tea and some good fishing yarns at his seaside restaurant, the Mainland and Mainstream suddenly seemed less pressing. I gave up my mad dash and kicked back on Pulau Tidung, an island with no cars where you can walk from one end to the other in about two hours.
After my swim, I ate some noodles before borrowing some snorkeling gear. By now I had a few friends on the island (as everyone talks to everyone as there is nowhere to go) who told me how to dive with my snorkel; but to be honest in my haste to jump into the enticing over-sized tropical fish tank I was not really listening. I had no intention to dive because I thought the most fascinating fish were near the surface.
The coral reef was shallow. For about forty metres I was swimming in a paradise of sun-flecked water, translucent golden fish fluttering around me like wafting Autumnal leaves. Then without warning, the reef came to an abrupt halt and sheered off to a sixty metre cliff. It was like falling off an upside down mountain. Awe replaced fear as I found myself diving involuntarily to follow a blue and purple luminous striped fish with tiny blue lights pulsating down it’s body. I had to see more. Only the near bursting of my ear-drums reminded me that I was not yet amphibian. I surfaced quickly, before clearing and diving again and again.
That evening, there was a wild thunder-storm. I had been out walking and got caught on an exposed bridge. The only thing that had stopped me blowing off the bridge were my amazing Somali camel hair sandals which somehow let the water wash over my feet but allowed me to retain enough grip on the broken wooden bridge to keep running. I had continued running until I got back home to my rented room, dodging falling pieces of palm tree and lizards luxuriating in the downpour. The electricity was out and listening to the pelting rain on my mattress, my mind was swimming with images of luminous fish.
I laughed at my arrogance earlier in the morning about ‘not needing to know how to dive because all the pretty fish came to the surface’. I had thought that I could see all that I needed without making much effort. From the shore I had watched the crashing waves about fifty metres distant, but did not know they signified a coral cliff. Yet, there in the most turbulent water lay the raw beauty. The fluttering golden fish faded and the extremes of diversity that exist only in contrasting depths flourished. The real life was on the cliff edge as somehow Indonesia has showed me.
Indonesia thrives on extremes. Extremes of topography, religion and income seem to produce social and business entrepreneurs of remarkable depth and endurance. Take Surya, my friendly host. Born in East Java, he had left school early and then convinced a friend in government to let him run Indonesia’s first music festival. This had then morphed into a travel business. Then the Bali bomb hit. His clients had put down 10% for their new year holiday. He had pre-paid the hotels 50%. He went insolvent but by now he knew how to run his own company. Before my eyes his men were building a fabulous eco-friendly resort with drift wood and floating tables on tomorrow’s Bali, Pulau Tidung.
The same gritty resilience with a smile was characteristic of the the Indonesian Priests I encountered. One had been working in East Timor, where his two colleagues had been killed but he had continued to serve now in Jakarta. He was still working under trying conditions. To enter his church you had to go through airport style security, but was this deterring priest and congregants? Far from it. The nearest I ever got to a service (and I tried to attend three) was twenty metres from the church building; the church was so packed that hordes of people sat on plastic chairs outside watching the service on wide screen projectors.
From church to Chinese businessman, the international operators were just as tough. Working for a 30% Government owned company, the three Chinese traders I met flicked through an open map of Indonesia and showed me the extent of their operations in the region. They told me about the pros and cons of doing business in Indonesia and about the extensive wildlife; this lead to a debate on the number of legs of the anaconda. I was telling them one of Surya’s stories about the log his friend found in a coalmine and tried to shift with a forklift truck…until it moved because it was an anaconda! Also about the four metre garoupa that could swallow a man. But the three guys from China were not easily deterred by walking logs and man eating fish; they had business to do. They confidently marked the atlas of Indonesia with their trading routes and showed me pictures of their substantial Corporate Responsibility projects. Rather than sinking in the murky waters of international trade they made it look like plain sailing.
When I arrived in Jakarta, Edward TiAnderson with whom I did a workshop at the BMW Forum, gave me a locally carved key-ring engraved with the words ”I love Indonesia”. I politely attached it to my bag but considered it a brash over-statement. As I prepare to depart, I wear my key fob with pride. Indonesia has shown me that the most interesting people lives on life’s cliff edges. How can you not love Indonesia?