Thank You!

Dear Readers,

It was a pleasure keeping this blog during our amazing (albeit brief) time in Indonesia. As you all know from reading the posts on this site we had some incredible and unexpected opportunities. It is hard to relay how much we learned from these experiences. I can’t thank you enough for following and supporting us – it made our time even more worthwhile.

I want to take a minute to thank our trip leaders Courtney and George (and Joanna, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us). They worked tirelessly for months planning the trip and facilitated everything from meetings to meals while on the ground. The trip would not have been possible without them.

While the trip may be over, the real writing is just beginning. Over the summer, trip participants will write a combined dozen articles based on the reporting and research we did. Article topics include Indonesia’s culture of smoking, post-conflict reintegration in Aceh, the black market bird trade, and more. The first issue of next year, which will publish in late September or early October, will feature these articles, as well as photos from the trip and more information about Indonesia. If you liked what you read on the blog and are interested in seeing these articles in print, please consider subscribing to the Globalist. The cost is only $40 for all 4 issues of next year, including shipping. Money raised from subscriptions (and donations) helps cover the enormous cost of printing our magazine. I hope you’ll consider supporting us in this way.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about the trip or the Globalist in general. Thanks again for your support.

All the best,



A Day in Jakarta

represented by the contents of my backpack.

by Christina

Day Hike with the Rebellion

by Angie

We wanted our last day in Aceh to be an adventurous one, so on Sunday we booked a ride into the Indonesian jungle an hour from Banda Aceh. Our guides were a Dutch expat named Mendel and his posse of five former fighters from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which until 2004 had waged a bitter war against the Indonesian government. I especially was eager to speak with the ex-combatants and visit former battle sites as I am researching their reintegration into Indonesian society for my article. With such company, our group knew that the day would be anything but typical.

We were dropped off at what looked like the end of civilization. Ahead of us laid a bridge, beyond which the road simply ended, replaced by a narrow trail weaving through the dark ravines and steep mountains of the Indonesian jungle. After only fifteen minutes of walking through the canopy, I happened to kick a square metal container lying on the ground. “It used to hold ammunition” said Mendel nonchalantly when he saw the puzzled look on my face. That’s when the history of the place hit me. Six years ago, in this very spot, our tour guides had been crouching behind these very bushes, launching attacks and dodging bullets.

Later in the day, as the trail became steeper and more treacherous, the ex-combatants took the lead, grabbing our hands as we struggled to find footing. When we reached a clearing in the forest where our guide informed us we would break for lunch, our ex-combatants suddenly procured, seemingly out of nowhere, a large watermelon, over fifteen bottles of water, and individual bulges of chicken and rice wrapped in palm leaves.  One of them sliced the watermelon like butter with a giant knife that he had just used to bushwhack our trail. These men who had, in these very woods, stared death in the face, were now opening their world to strangers – and even feeding them lunch.

Mendel, the tour guides, and me

My thoughts we interrupted by a loud clanking which broke the silence around us, and I looked up in time to see four long wooden planks tumble to my side.  “Illegal logging,” announced Jeff, our editor-in-chief, with confidence. I laughed. I didn’t realize he was being serious until our guides begun telling us how frequently they see these men hauling large pieces of wood out of the forest. It took a couple of minutes for me to register exactly what was happening: the very small, rather cute old man throwing planks down a waterfall was trying to make a living for himself by destroying the forest, one tree at a time. Was it bad that I felt sorry for him?

Brushing the question aside, we climbed the steepest slope yet and arrived at our final destination: a secluded waterfall. We became little children, splashing into the water, climbing rocks covered in moss to reach a higher, more secluded overlook, and handing our cameras to our ex-GAM friends who laughed and kept us from falling more than a few times.  We lost track of time and were eventually told to head down by our still-amused guides.

On the car ride back, I reflected on a conversation I’d had earlier that day with Mendel. I had explained to him what I was writing my article about and he had translated a few questions for the guides, who spoke only broken English. After helping for a while, he turned to me and said, “look, Angie. The GAM is the anchor for men like them. Now, their anchor is gone.” By being in the jungle, he explained, “they’ve missed out on society for all these years.”

After handing each of our guides 50,000 Rp in appreciation and leaving the forest in our hired cars, we collapsed in the seats, staring idly at the passing jungle and falling asleep with minds filled with unanswered questions.


Festival Day

This gallery contains 8 photos.

by Erin Among the over 17,000 islands in Indonesia, Bali has a truly singular culture. Over 93% of the population is Balinese Hindu, a strain of Hinduism quite distinct from Indian Hinduism. Balinese Hinduism is a syncretism of traditional Indian … Continue reading

Bearing Witness

by Catherine

Like Bali, Banda Aceh has a distinct personality that you can grasp far quicker than you can Jakarta’s.  The similarities end there, however.  A professor from the Islamic University, where we visited Thursday, said it best: “here in Aceh we are always in conflict.” Before the 2004 tsunami, the region was torn by the GAM rebels (which we have been cautioned to refer to as “combatants”), and now as the last NGOs pull out of the region, the new implementation of sharia law has begun a national debate about religion and human rights.

Globalist reporters cover their heads and uncover their feet for entrance into Banda Aceh's Grand Mosque.

Sightseeing of the city is sightseeing of these conflicts. When we arrived last Wednesday, we women donned hijabs and long sleeves for our first entrance into an official “Muslim Dress Area” and later visited two ships that the tsunami waters had carried onto land. Beside the second, a massive tanker was a small photo memorial to those killed in the disaster.  It was a whitewashed wall with maps and diagrams that flanked a central niche in which around a hundred more-unsettling photos were compiled.  These photos had been taken in the days immediately after the water receded. They contained bodies and body bags. They were unedited for graphic content.

After sitting and saying nothing as a group for the first real time on this trip, we got into a discussion about the purpose and ethics of photography in situations like these. There was disgust that someone even took a photograph when that many seconds of some kind of helping was the alternative.  There was appreciation that someone took a photo in that situation because of that much more it might encourage aid organizations.  But did they even see these photos? We had not seen them before. Who saw them at the time, and what were the motivations of photographers?

The photographs were neither captioned nor given acknowledgements, so we did not know if they were taken by the Acehnese or by visiting aid workers or the media.

Is it acceptable to enter a post-disaster situation only to photograph? Social critic Susan Sontag says that “all images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic.”  This comment is from Regarding the Pain of Others, which deals largely with war photography; it is important to note the differences between that, post-disaster photography, and the general aestheticizing of poverty that sometimes occurs when the wealthier enter a less wealthy area (see: slum tourism). Still, photographs of carnage after a storm carry the same weight as those on a battlefield in a sense that the photographer is choosing to make an event of this tragedy as opposed to everyday tragedy.

Then comes the question of whether to publish the photographs, and if so, where.  Should coverage of the tsunami on the front page of the New York Times begin with one of these photos? Should they be available by a simple keyword search on the Internet? I think it’s important for them to be available to the part of the public who wants to seek them out, and perhaps that means going to this ship site or the nearby tsunami museum in Banda Aceh itself. As helpful as Internet archiving would be, I think the images should be somehow protected for disturbing content.

I hope that the photos were snapped by a frantic worker at the end of the day, a last decision before he or she went home.  Of course there are many reasons for taking a photograph, but we need to be careful when the beautiful and the horrible or the horrible and the purposeful overlap.

From LAX, Singapore, Pulau Weh, Bali, Hong Kong

After reuniting in Jakarta, the Globalist is now in various stages of transit back to the US, to other parts of Indonesia, and to other parts of the world for the rest of our summers. Internet was hard to come by in Banda Aceh and several people still have reflections left to share, so look forward to posts continuing over the next few days. Keep reading, and look out for a packed issue of Indonesia articles in the fall. We’re grateful for your eyes and comments!


Photo Update: Bali, May 22

This gallery contains 9 photos.

The economic impact of cultural cluelessness

by Tonia

I came to Indonesia to find out something about the economy. To all appearances, Indonesia is an economic success story: in the 13 years since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, it has experienced remarkable success and growth. But roadblocks to economic development and foreign investment still exist. Explaining whether and how Indonesia can overcome them is the goal of my research. In Jakarta, I found a lot of “official” answers to my questions: carefully crafted policy assessments couched in staid financial language. In Bali, I found a contrasting opinion that unsettled my picture of the Indonesian economy.

During our week in Jakarta I met with an array of experts — a representative from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, the head of the world-renowned  microfinance operations at Bank Rakyat Indonesia, and researchers from the central Bank Indonesia — who were all more or less on the same page. After speaking with them and conducting some of my own research, I’ve been able to pinpoint several key reasons behind the success and growth of the Indonesian economy over the past decade since the 1997 crisis, and also some of the key challenges which the country faces in the future. Most gave similar reasons for why they felt there are still major roadblocks to Indonesian growth and why many foreign investors are wary of investing in the economy given these challenges (some of which will be fleshed out in upcoming articles in the Globalist).

But this week I met with someone in Bali who held a unique perspective on the reluctance of foreigners to put their money into the island’s economy. Unlike the officials from prestigious financial institutions, my Bali source had no qualms about giving his blunt, honest opinion. He held nothing back, and I’m glad he didn’t.

I met this source — an American accountant and consultant who has lived in Asia for over 17 years — at a popular German bar in Kuta on a sweltering Friday afternoon. Bali has many expats living and working on the island. Some come for the lifestyle, but others come to make a buck by navigating the island’s economy for clueless foreign businessmen.

While he admitted that corruption, mercurial laws, and other structural challenges do play a role in deterring foreign investors from entering the Indonesian market, my source claimed that the biggest problem is those investors’ limited world view. They are, he explained,  “completely ignorant about emerging markets in Asia.” According to him, Western businesspeople just don’t get the intricacies of Asian markets and consequently fail to see the growth potential of places like Indonesia. He did admit that some of the concerns my previous sources had listed–infrastructure, corruption, legal problems, reliance on the informal sector–did exist, but those who were truly perceptive  would not hesitate to work around these issues and invest in Indonesia’s economy.

Throughout our conversation, he provided us with colorful stories from his past experiences with businesspeople who still felt that Indonesia was a “bastion of deficiency” and had absolutely no conception of how the Indonesian economy actually operates. These businessmen ranged from bankers to blog writers on Yahoo! or Google. To him, this was American ignorance in action. Despite being American himself, my source was comfortable lacing his stories with utter disdain for his former countrymen.

While his stories grew increasingly long-winded as the afternoon progressed (he even told one about once taking his Javanese driver to a rock concert), the expat was more honest and frank than any of the experts I spoke to in Jakarta. Most of the officials we met with earlier were careful to choose their words according to the interests of the firms they worked for, but the expat just said what he thought: a reporter’s dream.

There are many successful expats on this island, and I’m sure their points of view vary. What I could take away from this interview was that investing time in truly understanding how a country works isn’t just respectful and rewarding — in places like Indonesia, it’s actually good for business.

Photo Update: Bali, May 19-20

Sunset at Pura Luhur Ulu Watu, a temple in southern Bali

A performance of the traditional Balinese "kecak" dance

Ketut Liyer, a Balinese medicine man, at his home in Ubud

Bali's verdant jungle landscape

A Day in the Kampung

by Raisa

In Indonesian, kampung is translated literally as “community” or “village,” but considered in Jakarta to be a slum neighborhood. To walk into a kampung is to walk into an intensely private, interconnected, and intimate space. For the residents, home is both the narrow mud street between plywood shacks and the clean-swept tiles within.

Catherine, Jasmine and I were lucky to be taken into one of the kampung of northern Jakarta last week with the field coordinator and secretary of the Urban Poor Consortium. The UPC operates throughout Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia to provide community organizing and political advocacy, working as a voice for the often-unregistered citizens who dwell in the slums and communities that are unrecognized by the government. After spending the morning with the UPC staff members, we drove through heavy traffic and by soaring skyscrapers and ritzy condominiums to a kampung named Kebon Bayem (“Spinach Garden” in English). Here, 450 families have built homes in a cramped space by the railroad tracks.

I have been to slums and poor neighborhoods before. Often I feel like an intruder staring at a spectacle. But at Kebon Bayem, I did not. We were immediately welcomed by the community leaders with whom the UPC works. Eager to show us their village and share their stories of frustration and resilience, we were invited into the humble mosque they built themselves, a plywood-and-corrugated-tin affair with white tile floors. As we settled ourselves cross-legged on the floor, residents began to crowd in; first the men, then women and children who peered in through the open door.

For two uninterrupted hours we spoke with the community leaders. The buzzing of flies, the air heavy with cigarette smoke, the shrieks of children outside, the stiffness of my crossed legs: despite these distractions, I didn’t for a moment want to be anywhere else. Never mind the sweat dripping down my face and the uncomfortable way my shirt stuck to my back. This was my first field visit as a reporter, not just a tourist. Each face and voice presented a story to tell. Each detail fascinated me.

When we tired of questioning, we were invited to attend a religious ceremony celebrating the seven-month birthday of a baby in the kampung. After the prayer chants were completed, and after each man present in the mosque had cut off a small tuft of the baby’s hair, a feast was served to us from a huge communal bowl covered with banana leaves and filled with rice, soybean cakes, noodles, chicken, and vegetables. We ate as everyone else did: with our hands, and sitting on the floor.

As the afternoon came to a close, we were brought to the spinach garden that some of the kampung residents farm. In the distance, huge villas and apartment complexes loomed. But the elderly woman pulling spinach right next to us, in her colorful sarong and round hat, could have been from any rural community in Indonesia in the last few centuries.

When I left Kebon Bayem, I felt like I finally had a grasp on Jakarta. Many find it complicated, overdeveloped in some aspects and underdeveloped in others, as I had too upon arrival. And while I may never understand what makes this city’s heart beat, I knew I had connected with real people in real, tangible communities, and with that Jakarta came alive for me.

Laundry hanging in a side alley of Kabon Bayem

Community leaders relaxing in the mosque after finishing the meal we shared

A woman picks spinach right outside the kampung