Don’t confuse Sukarno with Suharto. You cannot give a cameo to Suharto.
December 20, 2012 8:10 AM   Subscribe

How to write about Indonesia as a westerner.
posted by Chrysostom (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Tangentially related: if you get the chance, see The Act of Killing.
posted by zamboni at 8:20 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not to mention the sensuous, complex rhythms of the gamelan.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

also see ('imagined communities' ;) benedict anderson!
posted by kliuless at 8:28 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are we allowed to talk about the tasty foods?
posted by elizardbits at 8:28 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Elizardbits, you may be Terribly Jealous now, for Sunday was spent with my former housemate in Boston...who is both Indonesian and a chef. Ohhhhhh. So many tasty fried many. Nom.
posted by at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2012

Also related: How to Write About Africa, Previously on Metafilter
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:41 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is great! I try to keep this sort of thing in mind whenever I read any "journalism" (this includes the Economist) about Asia. It's crazy - often the writers have no local language ability and no background in the country they're covering for major news outlets.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:46 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Infini sucked deeply on a clove cigarette usually on that hill behind the school and said, Mari, mari... Makan Lah!
posted by infini at 8:46 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of the site comments on that article are comedy gold.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2012

I now find myself holding up Clifford Geertz's work to this metric (...much as one might hold a wayang puppet up to a screen, illuminated by the flickering light of a smokey oil lamp...). On the one hand, Cliff gets two checks for being all over cockfighting and shadow puppetry, and another check for completely omitting any mention of Facebook. On the other hand, he missed out to include the fat, sleazy CIA operative, and I believe he mistakenly included Bali as part of Indonesia yet had no characters named Weigh-Anne.

Overall, I guess it's hit-or-miss whether ole Cliff was any good at writing about Indonesia.
posted by drlith at 9:36 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

[insert Country here], a land of contrasts...where seventh-century [mosques/churches/temples] stand crumbling directly next to [oil/car/robot] manufacturers; a place in two centuries at once, where [Allah/Vishnu/Buddha/unnamed animist deity/BUT DON'T SAY JESUS] is worshipped side-by-side with the almighty [rupee/pound/peso/ruble].
posted by threeants at 9:40 AM on December 20, 2012 [12 favorites]

That and I just discovered my oldskool history teacher is now, decades later, the Indonesia writer for The Straits Times. He seems to be writing fine, but what do I know?
posted by infini at 9:43 AM on December 20, 2012

I did have to laugh at this. I think its intended audience is British and European—in America the archipelago seems to be all but invisible. Facebook not only exists in Indonesia but has transformed my experience of the place on the two occasions I've been there—they are INVETERATE Facebookers. I believe that, even before Facebook, they had more users of Friendster than any other country on the globe. And yes, give Pramoedya Ananta Toer a try if you have the chance.
posted by texorama at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2012

Indonesians absolutely have Facebook accounts and I'm friends with at least two of them.

I do love the place, but damn, that legal system. It's a very corrupt place, one that comes down like a ton of bricks on atheists and pot smokers but goes lightly on terrorists.


In my experiences, Indonesians are very tolerant of any religion you claim to have. It's only atheists they have a problem with. I always claim I'm a Buddhist when I'm there.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:01 AM on December 20, 2012

Terima kasih, Infini, saya gemari makan!

(I'm assuming that makes sense, my bahasa indonesia is old, busted, and none to good to start with.)
posted by Panjandrum at 10:03 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

> Weigh-Anne.

I should add that almost all Balinese males younger than a certain age have their own adopted name they use, often Western, as well as the one from the prescribed list.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:03 AM on December 20, 2012

Panjandrum: you're saying you enjoy eating...?

Infini, makasih banyak untuk buku menarik sekali!

By the way, this book is absolutely fascinating despite its rather dull title, and you don't have to be interested in learning the language to read it - I learned more about modern Indonesian culture and history from this one book than any other.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something like that, its been a few decades since I could even manage a simple sentence or two.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:21 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a vaguely related tangent, one of the Christian ministers NPR interviewed about the recent shootings said something like "I may be a Christian, but the Buddhists have a saying: 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'." The quote is of course from the Daodejing, not anything Buddhist. That kind of blithe orientalism, that kind of "'Asian' religions, they're all the same, right?" attitude bugs me to no end.
posted by jiawen at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2012

This article is by Mr. Tim Hannigan, who like most Europeans, has a first name and a last name.
posted by gimonca at 10:59 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ah, there it is, in the last paragraph: The immigration official — who, like many Indonesians, had only one name
posted by gimonca at 11:02 AM on December 20, 2012

There is always slight proof to parody.

As a young man I was detained at Sukarno-Hatta airport for not having a copy of my exit flight ticket. I was politely escorted to a room with one table, one light bulb, and one Immigration official — who, like many Indonesians, had only one name and was smoking a clove cigarette. It was like an Indonesian Dick Tracy comic panel.
posted by lstanley at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2012

The religions born of Asia are not the same, but it is not correct to call them exclusive of each other. The thousand miles quote is indeed from the Daodejing, but a Buddhist might definitely believe in it. The theologies are not exclusive, the philosophies are not exclusive. (/end derail)
posted by curuinor at 1:14 PM on December 20, 2012

That was quite funny, but I also could have used some assistance from the clever author at the end of the lols. Like the first commenter says, "If only I had some idea how many Indonesia based books were out there, or who was reading them. Certainly no-one I knew, but then I knew no-one." Recommendations, anyone?
posted by BinGregory at 4:45 PM on December 20, 2012

This captures exactly why I had to put Shantaram back on the shelf after reading only the first page.
posted by thack3r at 9:03 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

The two things I've written about Indonesia included a volcano, because it was a thing that happened to me, and there was a volcano there. Clove-laced cigarettes, too. I liked those.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:57 PM on December 20, 2012

Not to mention the sensuous, complex rhythms of the gamelan.

Sensuous what? Those blue bastards forced us underground with their interplanetary bombs!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:47 PM on December 20, 2012

If you have not seen Obama's speech at the University of Indonesia in 2010, it's quite amazing. He uses his Bahasa Indonesia with the audience and they LOVE him for it.
posted by gen at 7:55 AM on December 21, 2012

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