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Showing posts from 2012

S&M haircut

Every six weeks or so, I treat myself to a haircut. Not the ordinary shopping mall barbershop kind, but an authentic Indonesian military-style cut, deep in the bowels of Pasar Cikini, the ramshackle market that's home to a hundred surprises just a short stroll from my front door.

It's not the haircut itself that I look forward to - although the buzz cut is a decent one - but the head and shoulder massage that comes with it. It's tough and rough and can leave a few marks, but it's also a fantastic form of stress relief.

Many foreigners and well-to-do Indonesians here like to indulge in a "cream bath", where for an hour or two they can be gently pampered, scrubbed and massaged, all while reading out-of-date women's magazines. My massage is not like that - it's like venturing into an S&M dungeon, being roughed around a bit, smiling and asking for more.

Lucky for me, this morning was haircut time. So down to the market I wandered, through the middle-a…

A hike to the peak of Mount Salak

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At home and abroad, I lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, often balking at the chance to do really strenuous things. So when I do put myself to the test, the aches and pains linger long afterward. So it is that three days after undertaking perhaps the most physically demanding thing I've ever done, I'm still moving like an old man shuffling toward a bus. Here's how it happened.

Java Lava's a group of adventurous mountain and volcano climbers, mostly expats, that arranges hikes in different parts of Indonesia.

A few weeks back it started promoting a day hike up Mt Salak, about two hours out of Jakarta, near Bogor. The circular told us it was five hours up and three hours down, 1,400 metres vertical - from the 800m start to the 2,200m peak - and a price was provided for children. But it did warn "some parts are steep" and "if you don't know what climbing 1,400m means, perhaps this hike isn't for you". In retrospect, I should have heeded the warn…

The Jakarta Globe is seeking fellows

The Jakarta Globe is on the hunt for early-career journalists and journalism students to take up a year-long fellowship, starting later this year. I've been at the paper for a year and had a great time, and I can highly recommend it to anyone else keen to get some professional experience in the industry and watch Indonesia up close.

I'm happy to answer questions in comments or via email.

Here's the notification. Applications close in a week.


Be a Jakarta GlobeFellow!
Getting a foothold in the media has never been more challenging for young journalists. Here is an opportunity to work for a year in an exciting emerging market on a multi-award winning daily newspaper and Web site with professional editors.

The Jakarta Globe, an English daily in a multicultural environment, is looking for the best young talent it can find. Can you copy edit in flawless English, write and think creatively? Are you curious about the world and ready to work hard? We will help you learn and grow.

Th…

Jakartans’ business savvy shines through amid the gridlock

It's a rite-of-passage for foreign writers based in Jakarta to pen a piece on the horrid state of the traffic. My attempt, in which I merge it with a discussion on the entrepreneurial spirit of Indonesians, has appeared in The Weekend Australian this weekend and is available here.

Space crimped the effort a little, so I've decided to publish the full piece here:

Soon after you arrive at Jakarta’s international airport and head downtown, you become familiar with two of the city’s defining qualities: the entrepreneurship of its people, and the density of its traffic. With little new public transport infrastructure, the quantity of roads almost static and the number of vehicles steadily rising in line with a growing population and emerging affluence, experts say the Indonesian capital will reach a state of perpetual gridlock within a few years.

But these hours and hours that many commuters spend on the road each day have given rise to niche business opportunities that Jakartans have…

Farewell, Femi

It's been a little over a day since the Sukhoi Superjet-100 went missing over the skies of Bogor, and the news since then has been nothing but gloom. About 50 were on board, and it appears none survived as the Russian-made plane hit the side of Mount Salak.

Each of those lives taken was a life taken too soon. Good times never had. Old age never reached. Proper goodbyes never said.

There was one name on the list of passengers that was familiar to me. Femi Adi from Bloomberg News (listed as Femi, but it has been confirmed that it is her) was a young journalist I met last May while observing a prayer rally organised in Jakarta by the Islamic Defenders Front to mourn the death of Osama bin Laden.

It was a fairly tense affair, with nearly a thousand slightly-riled, white-robed men crammed into a mosque to listen to speakers stoking their anger over the death of bin Laden. Clustered outside the back of the hall were me and more than a dozen journalists, mostly Indonesians with a handful…

My '90 percent theory' tries to explain why perfection is elusive

I've always been fairly messy in managing my personal space at home. I'm happy to let all sorts of trivial items - bank statements, magazines, pill packets, slightly soiled tissues - accumulate on my bedside table before feeling a need to clean them. And when I do finally clean it, I sort through most of it and leave it in a much neater state. Not spotless, but vastly improved.

My partner Melanie is different. She's fastidious in her neatness, letting only a handful of items accumulate before feeling the need to sort through them and clear up the space. Once she's cleaned up her bedside table, it sits in a very high state of tidiness, substantially cleaner than my side even immediately after I've completed my "cleaning". It is not unknown for her to assess my side after I'd clean it, and make some smart suggestions ways to deal with the handful of items I've left sitting there.

What intrigued me was not so much the difference in the states of…

Why I'm ditching mindjunk and reading classics

Back in my days as a journalist at a daily broadsheet in Australia, each day I'd head into the office and be confronted with half a dozen newspapers whose content I needed to be on top of. I'd log onto Twitter and scroll through the pithy contributions of the wise, the egocentric and the influential. I'd scan government reports, corporate propaganda and activist press releases. I'd come home and flick through magazines and hunt down quirky stuff on the internet. I might make some progress on a book on contemporary politics, business or culture before bed. And then I'd get up and do the same thing the next day.

In short, my literary diet was a poor one, filled with constant snacking on food of only moderate nutritional value. Largely out of a sense of "missing out" on something pertinent to my job, I was filling my stomach with things that seemed tasty at the time, but were unlikely to be remembered years, weeks, days or sometimes even minutes after they we…

Interesting things happen when cars disappear

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Every second Sunday morning, the fume-spewing metallic gridlock that permanently occupies Central Jakarta’s Jalan Thamrin and Jalan Sudirman disappears to make way for bikes, pedestrians, joggers, street performers and the occasional bookstore.

Car-free day has in recent years become an institution in the Indonesian capital, and in a city starved of open space, clear paths and fresh air, it’s little wonder that people have embraced the oasis of peace.

Jakarta is, in many ways, the Los Angeles of Southeast Asia. It’s a city built around cars, with those using other modes of transport a mere afterthought. The major thoroughfares accommodate several lanes of vehicle traffic, but are hostile to bicycles and in many instances offer not an inch of footpath for perambulators.

Cars are the physical embodiment of the city’s anti-social aggression; their presence, with their noise and pollution and hint of danger has a chilling effect on people who traverse the city on foot. Trying walking shoulde…

Life's tough for Indonesia's atheists

The plight of atheists in Indonesia has been attracting a bit of attention lately, with the sad case of the man facing five years in prison for doubting the existence of god in a Facebook post coming on the heels of this interesting profile on an atheist activist in the Jakarta Globe.

While Indonesia often prides itself on its religious tolerance, that tolerance is not readily extended to adherents of faiths or non-faiths beyond the six religions recognised in the Constitution (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism). And frankly, often adherents of those six have their rights violated, such as in the case of the East Java Shiites or the GKI Yasmin church congregation in Bogor.

Early on in my time in Indonesia, it was explained to me that Indonesians have a rather distrusting attitude to atheism. Many associate it with communism, which was demonised by Suharto after he ousted leftist Sukarno in 1965.

That may be part of it, but I think the explanation is …

Jeremy and Adelle, the singing diplomats

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A story of mine on Jeremy Stringer and Adelle Neary, the Australian diplomats making a name for themselves in Indonesia on TV talent show Asing Star, is in The Age today, and is available online here.

For those interested, here's the full version of the story I wrote, and a picture and a couple of video clips to go with it.


By Ari Sharp
Jakarta

When Adelle Neary and Jeremy Stringer came to Jakarta to represent the Australian government, they were both keen to strengthen the ties between Indonesia and its southern neighbour.

What they didn’t expect was to become celebrities in the process.

Neary, a 29-year-old from Adelaide, and Stringer, a 41-year-old from Fremantle, are the singing diplomats who have taken center stage in the television program Asing Star, and Australian Idol-type show that invites foreigners to sing Indonesian songs.

“What’s great about Indonesia is that they just like to see people up there having a go,” Stringer said in an interview at an upscale restaurant near the …

The perils of being overly adaptive

Following on from my post last week about prolonged sensory overload being the explanation for many of the behaviors you see in Jakarta, I read an interesting piece in the Jakarta Globe (my employer) by Farid Harianto providing a similar explanation, although in slightly different terms:

Carol Graham of the Brookings Institute makes a powerful argument that a human’s ability to adapt to inhospitable conditions is a good thing for his or her psychological perspective but at the same time facilitates collective tolerance that leads to bad equilibrium. Humans can adapt to almost anything from poverty, unemployment, bad health, and high levels of crime and corruption. Adaptation is a very good thing, a human defense mechanism under unfavorable conditions.

The danger arises when this adaptability leads to surrender. Rather than attempting to change an all but intolerable condition, people collectively assume, and expect, that such a condition is merely a constraint that they have to live wi…

Invest in Indonesia: Rudd

Yesterday, I was among a group of Australian journalists participating in a briefing with visiting Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on his visit to Jakarta.

I had a piece published in the Australian Financial Review on the discussion (page eight today, behind a pay wall online), but due to space limitations, there was no room for some of the content.

Here's the full version I wrote.

By Ari Sharp
Jakarta

The Australian corporate sector risks missing out opportunities in Indonesia as it moves toward its long-term place among one of the 10 largest economies in the world, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said on a visit to Jakarta.

Mr Rudd, speaking after meeting with the country’s new trade minister, Gita Wirjawan, urged large Australian companies to conduct one board meeting a year in Indonesia so that members could witness the growth in the world’s fourth most populous nation.

The Australian minister praised a trio of significant economic reforms that he said was part of “Indonesia 2.0” and made th…

Jakarta's sensory overload

You don’t need to be in Jakarta for long to experience sensory overload.

Take the near-deafening noise that acts as the soundtrack to the city. Wander through the streets of Jakarta, and it’s not uncommon to hear people shouting in conversation despite being within a metre or two of one another. Many older vehicles have long discarded their mufflers, and trundle along the street inducing headaches in anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot. Head to a cinema, and the soundtrack is pumped out at a significantly louder volume than theatres in other parts of the world.

Or consider the street food that constitutes the diet of many Indonesians. A popular snack stand is simply labelled gorengan, which translates as fried. On offer are half-a-dozen different things – tofu, tempeh, banana, cassava and more – battered and deep-fried in cheap oil to the point where the ingredient at the core of the greasy delight is sometimes hard to locate. An essential condiment to gorengan is whole green…