Thursday, 7 September; 08:30
Sitting in the kantin on the Humanities campus here at UI. After class today, direct to the Kantor Imigrasi, it is time to renew my visa so that I can continue my studies without fear of deportation. At the moment, spending a few moments with a cup of tea, seeing what I can make of today’s local newspaper. A good exercise if frustrating at times.
Kampus is now awash with student life, this being the first week of classes. Being in a different country, I never questioned the fact that campus has felt so incredibly foreign the past couple of weeks. Now that I am surrounded with the energetic chaos of my fellow mahasiswa-mahasiswi, I feel much more comfortable, however. I guess the subculture that this form of educational institution nurtures has become globalized, and I feel right at home amongst the privileged and elite educated young people of my generation.
It strikes me that both ends of a spectrum result from higher education like this. There are those that learn about the systems that govern our world and begin to question them; then, there are those who see the opportunity to profit from the stratus quo power structure they are inheriting.
12:30 I got on the bus on Jalan Margonda, and there was already some pengamen providing some entertainment (musicians that play in public places and ask for money- an honest enough living if you ask me. I never hesitate to throw some money in the hat if I think they’re good). These were three elementary aged kids, however, shaking pebble filled plastic bottles and singing a popular Peter Pan IndoPop song.
It strikes me that economic and social justice are universal issues; they are by no means the exclusive domain of â€œthe 3rd world,â€ if you actually put currency in that term. But the bifurcation is no doubt very pronounced in this monster of a city. On the way to the Immigration office, we passed a row of tall corporate office buildings, shiny and impenetrable looking. They stood in a small enclave of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts shops, a few blocks away was a trash filled stream, old women searching the banks for plasic bottles. It envokes the memory of driving 4 minutes out of Chicago’s Hyde Park into the housing projects near Martin Luther King Boulevard. Aware of the lack of social justice in this world, and seeing the obvious contrast between this little pocket of wealth and everything around it, one wants to believe, is almost convinced without questioning, that all those people sitting in there, in the air con, are rapists- in at least one sense of the word.
1:14 pm. Finally at the Immigration building, the process of visa renewal was bureaucratic, slow, sweaty, but not entirely unbearable. I discovered that I, a â€œBuleâ€ or foreigner, did not have to bribe officials to get the same efficiency of service that might cost a local an extra 50-100 thousand Rupiah. I saw a fellow bypass the long line, handing his papers across the counter, discreetly sliding a few large bills along with it. I turned to him, with my well-oiled naivety, asking â€œKenapa?â€ Why? Oh, am I supposed to pay extra too? He smiled a guilty smile, staring at me, not quite sure what to say I suspect. Oh, only if you want your papers extra fast? He nodded excitedly like I had just asked the right question in a game of 20 questions. He told me that a normal bribe was about 50,000 Rp; Iâ€™m sure I saw quick, seamless exchanges of no less than three hundred thousand happen at various counters, however.
Iâ€™m not sure exactly what conclusions to draw from this experience, beyond agreeing with many that it is a practice that needs to change. The issue of corruption is no secret in Indonesia; itâ€™s hot on the lips of individuals and the agendas of organizations, politicians and political parties, activists and NGOâ€™s. One of the Islamic political parties promises a campaign against corruption, calling it a violation of religious doctrine. It is a practice that affects the daily life of individuals in Indonesia, but also affects the country at a macro level. The government is still saturated with the corruption that was institutionalized during the Sueharto era. The military has its fingers in all sorts of business, and politicians and generals very often double as CEOâ€™s or own huge companies.
Iâ€™ll quote some figures, but theyâ€™re from conversations, not my own research. A local researcher told me that something around 80% of the countryâ€™s wealth is concentrated in the capital city Jakarta, with only 3% of the national population.
National integration is difficult enough in a country so large and diverse; Iâ€™ve talked about this a lot. Those difficulties are compounded, the tenuous nature of Indonesiaâ€™s quest for democracy is all the more evident, with such obvious disparities. Why should an outer province contribute to national unity and welfare? It is questions like this one that have fueled discontent to the degree of the thirty year, bloody independence movement (GAM, the Free Aceh Movement) in Aceh. That conflict seems to be over, but in no small part to the horrible tsunami that disrupted any political activity there in 2004.
This stream of thought could continue for a good long while, for there is no end to the web of connections between these many factors shaping the Indonesian scene. The economic disparity just talked about is also often along ethnic lines; the Chinese minority quietly controls a huge part of the national economy. Under the New Order regime, Sueharto and his â€œcroniesâ€ made many business deals with Chinese businessmen, granting exclusive contracts with the government and with the foreign corporations, who had to work through the authoritarian administration. The Chinese also make up a good deal of the Christian minority, adding to the already tense religious relations.
It becomes almost impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the violence that has broken out against both Chinese and Christians in Indonesia- religion, ethnicity, economics. A combination of all three is probably at work.