Friday, January 23, 2009

Keith Davies: A quarter century of Asian immersion

Matheos V. Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 01/23/2009 9:02 AM | People

Keith Davies: (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)Keith Davies: (JP/R. Berto Wedhatama)

If it weren’t for Keith Davies’ first overseas posting to Indonesia some 25 years ago, he might have become a filmmaker.

But all he needed was a few months in Jakarta and his direction changed. Now, after years of working in other countries, Keith Davies returned to Jakarta in December as the new director of the British Council Indonesia.

“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Davies says of his first temporary overseas posting with the British Council to Indonesia in 1984. “Lots of staff members were on holiday and I came as an extra UK member of staff just to cover the summer holiday period.”

At that stage, Davies was working in the film and television department of the British Council
in London.

“I was applying for the jobs with the BBC and with filmmaking companies. I thought that perhaps I would move into filmmaking, but I loved travel as well and the trip to Indonesia helped convince me to stay with the British Council.”

During those three months, Davies was able to fit in a tour of Indonesia taking in Yogyakarta, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Bali.

He even climbed Mount Bromo in East Java.

Davies was born in Chester, in the northwest of England, on May 9, 1954. He studied drama and English literature at Hull University.

In 1976, about a year after he graduated, Davies joined the British Council where he has spent more or less the whole of his career. Before then, he was a self-confessed jack of all trades, hopping between jobs – in the backstage crew of a theater, as a clerk in an office and as a cocktail waiter and porter in a hotel.

“I worked in several places for less than a year, but my serious work has always been with the BC,” he says.

His first position with the British Council was at a student center in London. “I was arranging activities such as film shows, cultural activities, lectures, theater performances and trips around Britain for overseas students. It was a very exciting job, like being secretary of a club for four years.”

He then moved onto the film and television department for four years, where his main duty was to promote British film overseas. “In those days, the British Council had a film library and we used to buy films and videos from around the world. I also went to film festivals.”

It was as part of this job that he was first posted to Jakarta.

The new few years becomes almost like a travelogue: Bahrain for three years, before returning to London, and then onto Malaysia – where he met his wife, Christine Loh, a Chinese Malaysian. The newlyweds lived in Bangkok, where their daughter, Rebecca, was born.

After Thailand, he went back to London for six months for Mandarin language training, before being posted to Beijing, China. “Actually I can remember Chinese better than most of the languages, but now I’m trying to learn bahasa.”

But those four and a half years in Beijing, as British Council deputy director, were among the most challenging of his career, if only because of the size of the operation. “It was quite exciting,” he adds. “I liked living in Beijing, although it has a different climate – it’s very cold.”

From China he went on to be director of the British Council office in Vietnam. He has spent the last four and a half years of his career in Hanoi, working with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

“I’ve been very lucky to stay in East Asia, and have come full circle, back to Jakarta and Indonesia.”

And despite being with the same organization for most of his career, he has never been bored.

“The main advantage is that all the jobs have been very different; from film department to working with overseas students, to marketing British education, and in all these different countries.”

Which is why he joined the British Council in the first place.

“I want to see the world not just as a tourist. I’m a tourist myself, but it very different when you live in a country. I feel that I know Thailand, China, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and hopefully soon Indonesia, much better than any tourist does.”

After 20 years of living and working in East Asia, Davies finds it hard to choose the place he likes the most.

“I like East Asia. I like working overseas, because that’s where our real work is, but don’t ask me which country I like the most. It’s hard to say, I like all of them, but I’m very happy to return to Indonesia.

“I used to say Indonesia was my favorite country because it was the first place I experience living in Asia and it was so exciting and such a culture change, I love it. So I still have very fond memories, very positive feelings.”

Indonesia, he says, has changed a lot between 1984 and 2009. He says the first time he returned, in 1990, was a shock. “In 1984, I was living in Adityawarman near Blok M [in South Jakarta]. When I came back I went to look at the house I stayed in. I couldn’t recognize Blok M; I couldn’t find the road or the block where the house was.

“In 1984, the traffic wasn’t so bad, sometimes I traveled to the warungs [food stalls] by bajaj [motorized pedicab] or on becak [pedicab]. I could just go from the British Council building in Widjojo to Blok M in 10 minutes. Now, it’s impossible.”

Jakarta, however, is still a great place to live and to work, says Davies. “Now it takes much longer to get to work…but people still seem very good natured…people here are more friendly and very approachable.”

Davies says that 20 years of working in East Asia has made him “more Asian than British in some ways”.

“I like England. I love to go back once a year... It’s a wonderful exciting country, but I also like Asia.

My wife is Asian; my daughter is living her life in Asia and I like to eat rice everyday.

“So I’m more Asian in some ways than British now, but the best football team is still Everton,” he says, laughing.

Don’t blame others for your own sins

The Jakarta Post | Fri, 01/23/2009 8:15 AM | People
Teten Masduki: (JP/Arief Suhardiman)Teten Masduki: (JP/Arief Suhardiman)
JAKARTA: Anti-corruption activist Teten Masduki said the Indonesian Ulema Council’s threat to sue Transparency International Indonesia would be counterproductive in the fight against corruption.

In a survey published Wednesday, the council was cited as one of the country’s most bribery-addled institutions in 2008.

“Transparency’s announcement is an index of people’s perception about these institutions, including the council. People think that way because they experience extortion when dealing with these organizations, or hear or know about it from media,” Teten, a 2005 recipient of the Philippines’ Ramon Magsaysay (“Asian Nobel Prize”) award for public service, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

“It’s a reflection of people’s feelings and is supposed to be used as feedback to be a better organization. So, rather than laying the blame on someone else for the mistakes, they’d better show that they are willing to change.”

Other institutions named in the survey were the National Police, the Customs and Excise Office and the Immigration Office.

The report said that 10 percent of the ulema council’s 177 transactions were settled using bribery.

“The threat to sue Transparency is a fallacy of thinking,” Teten said. “People have the right to pass judgment because they pay their tax to the state.” — JP/Matheos V. Messakh

Ferry Salim too ‘logical’ for feng shui

The Jakarta Post | Thu, 01/22/2009 8:46 AM | People
Ferry Salim: (JP/Arief Suhardiman)Ferry Salim: (JP/Arief Suhardiman)
JAKARTA: Not all people of Chinese descent are true believers of feng shui. Take actor and model Ferry Salim for instance: He believes in feng shui, but only so far as it is logical.
The 42-year-old actor believes that Feng Shui cannot predict the future, but does help synchronize people with nature.
“For me, feng shui has nothing to do with the supernatural. It is something that can be learned,” Ferry told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “If it fits with logic, it is believable but if it’s not, I won’t believe in it.”
When Ferry built his house, he didn’t seek any advice from feng shui experts, but did take into consideration aesthetics, health and comfort – for which he partly drew on his own feng shui knowledge, from his family or from books.
“I like to think logically,” he said. “If according to feng shui, the bathroom door shouldn’t face the bedroom, that might relate to the health or aesthetic aspects. Or if it said that the main entrance should not have too many distractions, that may relate to health or ventilation. Why shouldn’t we apply that rule?”
Ferry is an actor of Chinese descent. In his career, he has acted in more than 20 soap operas, and shot to popularity with his role in Nia Dinata’s film Ca Bau Kan in 2002. In 2004, he was appointed as the national envoy of UNICEF.
He married Merry Prakasa in 1995. —JP/Matheos V. Messakh

The tale of the `peranakan'

Thu, 01/22/2009 1:49 PM | Lifestyle
Peranakan is a term used to refer to the descendants of early Chinese immigrants who partially adopted indigenous customs through either acculturation or intermarriage with indigenous communities.
Many peranakan Chinese families have been settled in Indonesia for centuries and have mixed indigenous-Chinese ancestry. There are about 7 million peranakan in Indonesia.
According to University of Indonesia anthropologist, Iwan Meulia Pirous, the origins of Chinese Indonesians vary greatly, as do the timing and circumstances of their immigration to Indonesia and their strength of ties with the Chinese mainland.
"Many local Chinese cultures are disregarded. After political reformation in 1998, the Chinese could more openly express their culture," said Pirous, who is also a member of the Forum for Indonesian Anthropological Studies (FKAI).
"But this is always as a global Chinese identity. Symbols like dragons, Chinese coins and lanterns frequently appear, but there are also many local cultures."
It is possible, Pirous said, that early Chinese settlements existed long before Admiral Zhang arrived in the early 15th century as part of what is considered the first wave of immigration.
The second wave of immigration occurred around the time of the Opium Wars (1839-1860), while the third wave was around the first half of the 20th century. Descendants of early immigrants, who have become creolized, or huan-na (in Hokkien), by marriage and acculturation, are called peranakan. The more recent Chinese immigrants and those who are still culturally Chinese are called cina totok.
In the 15th century, many first-generation peranakan were born Muslim as they settled down, marrying indigenous women. They founded mosques, using a combination of Chinese and local designs.
The peranakan contributed various cultural influences - mainly culinary, including various types of noodles. Other contributions are beautiful batik pesisir from Cirebon, Pekalongan, Kudus, Lasem, Tuban and Sidoarjo, and traditional herbal medicines known as jamu.
Since 1870, politics have threatened peranakan culture. When the Dutch government issued an agrarian policy prohibiting pribumi (indigenous people) from selling their land to foreigners, this affected the Chinese, who were categorized as foreigners ("foreign Orientals"). Consequently their integration with their "indigenous" neighbors was disrupted.
Despite their contribution to the nationalist movement and struggle against Dutch colonialism, the peranakan were coming under increasing government pressure by the late 1950s to assimilate with what was then viewed as the indigenous Indonesian "national identity".
During Soeharto's era, the peranakan were stigmatized as leftist sympathizers and banned from politics, because Sukarno's regime chose to side with the People's Republic of China - something that Soeharto as an anti-Communist American ally did not want.
- Matheos V. Messakh

Cultural journey begins with a single step

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 01/22/2009 1:49 PM | Lifestyle
A new exhibition of Chinese antiques is remarkable not only for the cultural, historical and aesthetic value of the items on display.
Equally remarkable is the exhibition's tribute to Chinese culture, given Indonesia's dark history of racial hatred, violence and state-driven oppression of the nation's ethnic Chinese.
This hio louw is used to hold incense sticks for offerings. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)This hio louw is used to hold incense sticks for offerings. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)
"Warisan Budaya Tionghoa Peranakan" (Cultural Heritage of Chinese Descendants), open at the elegant Bentara Budaya Jakarta complex in South Jakarta until Jan. 25, is an exhibition of antiques dated between 1850 and 1960, and is extraordinary for the tale it tells of Chinese acculturation in Indonesia.
"Because those [Chinese] who arrived had different backgrounds and those who visited also had various backgrounds, the result is a Chinese culture that varies from one part of the country to another," former minister and nationalist advocate Siswono Yudo Husodo said at the opening of the exhibition last Thursday night.
The exhibition has been expertly brought together by curators Gunawan Widjaya, Musa Jonatan and Rusdi Tjahyadi, who collected 300 items of furniture, china, textiles, musical instruments, works of art, magazines and newspapers from about 20 owners in Jakarta, Bogor, Bandung and Semarang.
"We only selected items before 1960 because we knew that after the 1960s the New Order regime didn't recognize Chinese culture," said exhibition director Irwan Julianto.
"People had to change their names, Chinese writing was not allowed and so on. One of the consequences of this was that the Chinese were afraid to produce things that had Chinese influences. Some inheritors even sold theirs."
From musical instruments to kitchen sets, from gambling equipment to items for worship, the exhibition shows not only the evolution of household items, but also the struggle of the ethnic Chinese to preserve their culture.
Curator Rusdi Tjahyadi said that although ethnic Chinese in Indonesia tried to keep the original style and size of their furniture, some styles had already changed as part of their assimilation into the local culture.
Inlaid table set with intricate carvings. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)Inlaid table set with intricate carvings. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)
You can view an impressive catalogue in a distinctly Chinese style: Cantonese furniture set for tea, perfume cupboards, medicine cabinets, opium beds, lounge chairs, incense burner, altars, writing tables, a wooden statue of the god Zhong Gui, a Qing dynasty vase.
Alongside these are pieces of Chinese furniture with Indonesian touches: a writing table, a mirror set made in Padang and a gamelan from Lasem in Central Java with European, Java and Chinese influences.
Also on display are non-Chinese items used by Chinese families, such a German-made Berkefeld water filter and beer keg with art nouveau design, a Japanese lead crystal jar, a European coffee grinder and an Art Nouveau coat hanger. These items were mostly used by the Chinese community after 1920.
Irwan Julianto said that after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the last ruling dynasty in China which ruled from 1644 to 1912 with a brief abortive restoration in 1917, the Chinese diaspora began, with many Chinese descendants in Indonesia feeling it was more of a free nation. They started to adapt to the dominant culture around them - at that time in Indonesia, the Dutch colonial culture.
"We don't want this exhibition to become a glorification of the past, but rather to show that Chinese descendants also had their cultural contribution to the Indonesian people and vice versa through their acculturation," Julianto said.
"We don't want re-Chinafication as happened to many old generations of Chinese descendants after the political reformation in 1998 when they forced many Chinese communities to speak only Chinese. That's why we came up with the cross-cultural community."
The exhibition is held by Komunitas Lintas Budaya Indonesia (The Indonesian Intercultural Community), an organization established in 2008 with the aim of nurturing interaction between the country's different ethnic and cultural groups to strengthen the building of the nation.
In conjunction with the exhibition, which took more than four months of preparations, was the launch of a book on Chinese culture in Indonesia titled Peranakan Tionghoa Indonesia - Sebuah Perjalanan Budaya (Indonesia's Chinese Descendants - A Cultural Journey).
The book, published by The Indonesian Intercultural Community in collaboration with Intisari magazine, was written by eight Chinese Indonesians who are experts in various aspects of Chinese culture including architecture, literature, journalism, fashion, art and furniture.
What makes this exhibition especially deserving of attention is that these antiques are all privately owned - meaning we might never again have the opportunity to see them gathered together in one single moment and place.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Too many clowns, says Budi Ros

Courtessy of Teater Koma/Logo Situmorang

Mon, 01/19/2009 6:03 PM | Lifestyle

JAKARTA: Too many people dream of becoming a leader even though they don't have the skills, says writer and actor Budi Ros, who plays Petruk, a clown turned king in Teater Koma's play Republik Petruk.

"There are too many Petruks around," Budi told The Jakarta Post on Friday.might realize that they are not capable but their eyes are blinded by opportunism."

Budi said the character of Petruk belonged in the realms of fiction.

"It's not easy to play the main character. It's a prestigious role that requires a lot of experience and of course I am proud I was given the opportunity but I don't want to become that kind of guy in real life. We simply don't need them."

Budi, 40, joined Teater Koma in 1985 and had his first lead role in 1994. In 2003, he won the Jakarta Art Council's playwright contest.

He developed an interest in performing arts as a child, watching wayang (shadow puppets) and ketoprak (plays with stories from Javanese history) with his father.

Hard work is needed to make theater more popular, he said.

"There was a good development of theater in the 1970s, even though the artists faced lots of oppression. Nowadays, we waste a lot of our energy just dealing with things outside our artistic skills."

Budi said more government support of the arts would be good, but that people in the field also needed to raise the image of theater.

"We might need better management, we need PR to promote the art," he said. - JP/Matheos V. Messakh