Much of what I’ve posted on Jakartass in the past 10½ years, and written in Culture Shock! Jakarta, has been about comparing mindsets, those of the Indonesians I live and work with, and mine which was first established in post-WWII London.
Regular readers of Jakartass will know that I consistently highlight aspects of communal behaviour which impinge on personal space: queueing, road and sidewalk indiscipline, noise pollution, public broadcasts of private phone calls … and the list goes on.
I’ve often ‘rationalised’ that because I’m a Brit, I’m more self-contained and private. Brits don’t have a café society or keep doors open to the street because it’s too bloody cold out, so living and working away from ‘prying eyes’ leads to insularity. To use a cliché, we mind our own business. (But love gossip and ‘reality’ shows – go figure.)
In hotter climes and poorer countries, such as Indonesia, in terms of western capitalism, street life and nongkrong is pervasive. This was defined by Tasa Nugraza Barley, newly returned to Jakarta in 2008 from his post-grad studies in the USA, as “to hang out” or, in Indonesian terms, “to meet, chat; and smoke some”.
But he initially felt lost here and found it difficult to readjust to living in Jakarta again.*
From my deepest heart, I feel so sad. I feel like I want to be a different kind of Indonesian; the kind of Indonesian that I never became. It would be a dream come true if I could say to my friends how proud I am of becoming a good and civilized Indonesian.
It would be so wonderful if I could tell my friends how I have been driving like a civilized person following every traffic sign and respecting the pedestrians.
I bet it would be amazing if I could tell my friends how I have been participating in saving the environment; how I don’t throw trash anywhere like I used to.
But it’s not easy to be the kind of Indonesian I want to be in this city. It’s so hard for me to be a good Indonesian when people around me don’t think that being an Indonesian also means that you can dream big and different.
It’s so hard for me to be the kind of Indonesian that I want to be when people look at me so weird just because I want to follow the right procedures.
And it’s so hard for me to convince others how my willingness to do great changes has nothing to do with my “Americanity”. It’s just simply because I’ve seen how other nations can be so much better than us and I think we can be like them too.
With respect to Tasa, I don’t want to be like an American or even a Brit. I want to be me, to accept cultural differences and live in harmony with my family and my communities. Not having been back in Blighty for an extended period for over 26 years, I can’t comment on life there and not being a romantic, I don’t feel nostalgic for British insularity which was far from welcoming to ‘offcomers’.
President-elect Jokowi has placed a change in Indonesia’s mindset at the philosophical core of his administration. That he was elected is perhaps taken by the international community as the first manifestation of the electorate’s growing political maturity, yet that would be to overlook the fact that many other directly elected officials, mayors, regents and provincial governors have initiated programmes for the benefit of their constituents and not merely for themselves.
I will examine various aspects of Jokowi’s programme over the next couple of months as he reveals more details. I hope it proves to be a worthwhile journey for all of us travelling the routes of his roadmap.
* Much of the above is from something I wrote, but didn’t post, six years ago.