‘The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers’: Against despair through storytelling

In her play “Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-Kembang Genjer” (The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers), feminist playwright Faiza Mardzoeki captures how, for female survivors of the communist purge, the simple act of telling their stories is an act against despair.

What is it like to keep the secret of the most painful experience you’ve ever had from your own flesh and blood? What is it like to be emotionally alienated from your loved ones, separated by lies systematically spread and kept alive for decades?

In modern-day Indonesia, these questions are not hypothetical. For a long time, survivors of the 1965-1966 communist purge kept their traumatic experiences of torture, sexual violence and imprisonment from their next of kin for various psychological and political reasons. Many have carried them to their graves.

Playwright Faiza Mardzoeki, in her play Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang-Kembang Genjer (The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers), captures how, for women survivors of the communist purge, the simple act of telling their stories is an act against despair that carries with it the faint hope of healing.

It was a leap of faith to end their emotional isolation from the younger generation, who had been raised to fear and hate them. The play, first performed in the Goethe Institute in 2014 and recently this year at the Asean Literary Festival, is now available in book form, published by Bandung-based publisher Ultimus.

In 1965, after the failed putsch that killed six army generals and an officer by a group calling themselves the 30th September Movement, the military slandered the communists and their supporters, especially members of Gerwani, the women’s organization affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), stating their involvement in torturing the generals.

As researcher Saskia Wieringa wrote in her book The Destruction of the Women’s Movement: Sexual Politics in Indonesia after the Downfall of the Indonesian Communist Party, horrific stories of communist women seducing the generals with lewd dancing, mutilating their genitals and gouging out their eyes, were circulated in military-controlled newspapers — the only press allowed at the time.

Soeharto, who grabbed the seat of power after the entire Indonesian left was eliminated, made sure the lies were repeated to the next generation, creating a specter of communism within Indonesian society.

In Silent, Mardzoeki took true stories of former prisoners at Plantungan, a prison for women in East Java where members of Gerwani, the female union workers, left-leaning journalists and communist sympathizers were banished.

The phrase Genjer Flowers is a metaphor for female victims of the communist purge. The folk song “Genjer-Genjer,” about a wild plant that was eaten as a vegetable during the Japanese occupation, was popular among Gerwani members and many leftist artists.

Mardzoeki, 43, grew up under Soeharto’s regime and was one of the first batch of Indonesian students to see the propaganda slasher-style film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI that depicts communists as violent and immoral.

In Silent, she incorporated her own experience of discovering in her 20s the unspoken violence against communists and their sympathizers. Originally an activist for worker’s rights and women’s rights activists, she encountered women survivors of the 1965 communist purge through her work.

She witnessed how difficult it was for the survivors, such as Sulami, former secretary general of Gerwani, and Sudjinah, who worked as a journalist and translator in the 1960s, to revisit their traumatic past and share their stories with her. Yet they did.

Silent tells the story of Minghayati Dayanina, a beautiful young woman in her 20s who is piecing together stories of her grandmother’s past. Her grandmother, Suhartini, 83, was a member of Gerwani.

Nini, as Suhartini is called, lost her beloved husband in the pogroms. Meanwhile, she was taken to Bukit Duri prison while three months pregnant with Ming’s mother Rachmanina. She later gave birth in prison, had to give up her daughter to relatives and was sent to Plantungan.

The death of Rachmanina due to a broken heart — her husband, upon knowing her family history, left her — brought Ming to Nini.

Like other children who grew up under the Soeharto dictatorship, Ming grew up fearing Gerwani. Even mentioning the word Gerwani felt awkward to her.

“You’re not afraid are you, to hear the word ‘Gerwani’?” Nini asked Ming. “I have to admit, it does feel strange in my mouth to say the word,” Ming replied.

But Nini, who is ageing and ailing, decided to set things straight about the slander against Gerwani. She also wanted to tell Ming a family secret.

But before she did she enlisted the help of her friends, who were also at Plantungan prison, to give her moral support on the day she decided to tell the truth. She invited her friends for a luncheon at her place and there she told Ming her deepest secret.

The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers is more than a play about the sufferings of women political prisoners that happened 50 years ago. It’s a play about our present time.

It’s a play about women survivors ending their silence and reaching out to the younger generation with their own narratives.

Faiza, heavily influenced by Egyptian writer Nawal El Sadaawi for her feminist views and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in her style of plays, aims to tell a story of how women survivors share their narrative to express themselves in the last years of their lives and bestow their stories on the younger generation.

Silent then is a story about storytelling and the hope that their narratives, never acknowledged by the government, do not end with them.


This article was published in thejakartapost.com on Monday, August 22, 2016, with the title “‘The Silent Song of Genjer Flowers’: Against despair through storytelling”.

Click to read: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/08/22/the-silent-song-genjer-flowers-against-despair-through-storytelling.html.

Indonesia should stop pushing its academics to chase empty indicators

Predatory journals that print articles for a fee undermine scientific research

An assessment system that predominantly evaluates research performance based on journal output and citations is steering academics from developing countries like mine to chasing quantity over quality. And being exploited while doing so.

Researchers in Indonesia are the second most likely in the world to publish in dubious journals that print articles for a fee without proper scientific peer review, a process where several experts in the field review the merit of the research, according to a new study by economists Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec.

These predatory journals prey on academics whose career progressions, and therefore salary increase, are determined by credit points. They exploit the processing fees that authors pay to make articles open to the public. They pocket the payment, an average of $178, an amount close to the basic salary of an entry-level lecturer in a state university in Indonesia, without facilitating proper peer review. The papers published by predatory journals are often low-quality, with typographical and grammatical errors.

I run a nonprofit online media that works with scholars to produce evidence-based analyses that laypeople can easily digest. This work that helps spread knowledge and builds an informed public earns academics very little credit points in Indonesia. But publishing in journals indexed by international academic databases gives them plenty.

Unfortunately, hundreds of potentially predatory journals have infiltrated academic databases, such as Scopus. Machacek and Srholec found that potentially predatory journals that appeared in the database had published more than 160,000 articles between 2015 and 2017. Their analysis shows that around 17% of articles, or every sixth article, produced by researchers in Indonesia and Kazakhstan are published in predatory journals.

Sociologists Anna Severin and Nicola Low have warned that having these low-quality studies in academic databases may spread untrustworthy research into the scientific literature. Although, an analysis by researchers in Finland says that articles in predatory journals are rarely cited by other academics, meaning they do not matter much.

What is clear is that it is a waste of resources. The predatory journal market was estimated to be around $74 million in 2014. And academics could have diverted the time they took to do substandard work for the real hard work of quality research. For many scholars, this would include improving their research and communication skills. And this is important, especially for developing countries that need well-trained researchers to build and strengthen their research sector.

Academics in advanced economies, such as in the U.S. and some European countries, also fall prey to predatory journals. But, Machacek and Srholec’s analysis found academics in medium-level economies with large emerging research sectors are the most susceptible. In addition to Indonesia and Kazakhstan, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Egypt are in the top twenty.

In Indonesia’s case, government policies in recent years that geared the assessment for promotion to push academics to publish has succeeded in increasing the number of papers published by Indonesian scholars. Data from Scimago Country & Journal Rank shows that within five years between 2015 and 2019, Indonesia increased its output by more than 400%, from around 8,000 to 44,000.

There is a way to stop this. In the past decade, there has been a movement to change the way research is being evaluated. Around the world, governments, science managers, research funders and universities base decisions to hire and promote, grant funds to rank universities using scientometry, a method that ranks journals and measures academics’ productivity and impact based on the number of publications and citations.

Scholars argue this journal-based metrics is not an accurate measure of scientific quality. In addition to the predatory journal problem, the metric also discourages science collaboration. As the metric values article count, academics who want to turn out several journal articles from a data set has an incentive to hold on to them rather than sharing them for other scientists to analyze.

In 2012, a group of editors and publishers met during the annual meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology and released a declaration on research assessment (DORA). Their general recommendation is to stop using journal-based metrics as a surrogate measure to evaluate the quality of research and individual scientists’ contribution.

They also recommend recognizing the value to all scholarly output, from journal articles, preprints which means articles uploaded in an open-access platform that have yet been peer reviewed, data sets, software, protocols, research materials, well-trained researches to societal outcomes and policy changes.

COVID-19 pandemic shows that speed and collaboration are essential in finding solutions. Reputable journals such as Science and Nature sped up their peer-review process. And many researchers shared their data sets and are uploading their findings in open science preprint platforms before submitting them to peer-reviewed journals. The spirit here is not about scoring points but working together to solve a global problem.

The Indonesian government should study and follow the DORA recommendation. By moving away from pushing academics to chase journal-based scores and creating a meaningful way to evaluate research, Indonesia will have a better chance of genuinely building and strengthening its research sector and take an active part in advancing science and providing solutions.


Prodita Sabarini is executive editor of The Conversation Indonesia, a nonprofit online media that brings together academics and journalists to produce evidence-based journalism. She is a 2019 Asia Pacific Obama Foundation Leader.

Published in Nikkei Asia on March 12, 2021

On forgiveness, a response to GM and a call to action for Indonesia’s youth

A week after a groundbreaking national symposium on the 1965 tragedy, I received a message from my friend Febriana Firdaus. A journalist like myself, she lost her grandfather in the anticommunist violence in 1965-1966.

Febri and I are part of a new digital storytelling movement, Ingat65. We provide a medium for Indonesia’s younger generation to collectively remember the communist purges, a dark past that our nation for half a century has been forced to forget through propaganda and deliberate silence in official histories.

That morning, Febri forwarded to Ingat65’s Whatsapp group Goenawan Mohammad’s essay in Tempo magazine, entitled “Maaf” (Forgiveness). In his essay, GM, as the renowned essayist is commonly known, is not convinced President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should apologize for the 1965 violence.

“For what? For a crime that’s not his, on behalf of a state that’s not his to represent?” Febri highlighted that part with a yellow marker. I see her point.

The symposium, the first official dialogue on the issue since the fall of Soeharto, who rose to power on the back of the 1965 violence, has sparked a discussion on truth and reconciliation. GM’s essay adds to this discussion. But his reasoning, I argue, is unsound.

A man of letters, he referred to many thinkers, including Marx, to reinforce his point that the crime of the “state” in 1965-1966 was not of the current “state” that Jokowi now leads.

“For me, Marx is more correct: The “state” can never be a place for anyone, at anytime. The “state” is always “particular”; it’s merely a tool for those in power in a certain time and certain space. It is not permanent,” he wrote.

The irony is lost on GM when he quotes Marx, whose methodology of socioeconomic analysis was banned in 1966 as part of the systematic destruction of the left.

The “state” that Jokowi leads, one that GM says is not the same with that of 1966, still maintains that ban.

Marx was right. The state is a tool for those in power in a certain time and certain space.

But GM is dreaming to suggest that in 2016 we have broken completely with the New Order.

Even though Jokowi was a mere toddler when the violence happened, he has nonetheless inherited a legacy of impunity that still operates in Indonesia’s politics.

But let’s talk about the subject of GM’s piece: forgiveness. An element for reconciliation, forgiveness is important in post-conflict resolution.

Letting go of resentment is crucial to restoring friendly relations between offenders — perpetrators, accomplices, bystanders — and victims.

GM talks about the kinds of forgiveness that he admires: the martyr-like “pure forgiveness” of Wolter Monginsidi, who forgave his wrongdoers ahead of the offending deed (his own execution), and the unconditional forgiveness of political prisoner Oey Hay Djoen.

According to GM, Hay Djoen, commenting on his peer Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s distrust in the apology issued by the former president and leader of Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Abdurrahman Wahid, for NU’s involvement in the violence, wonders what moral right they have to deny forgiveness.

In Hay Djoen’s attitude to forgive unconditionally, GM sees something nobler than Pram’s rejection. Hay Djoen’s forgiveness, GM argues, defies Jacques Derrida’s fear of “conditional forgiveness” that placed “the victim” on a moral high ground.

However, GM failed to note that neither Hay Djoen nor Pram, nor other victims of the 1965 violence, were standing in a position of superiority.

Derrida’s warning that GM quoted on the dangers of “conditional forgiveness” being reduced as a tool for trade for national stability — as in the case of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process — referred more to an amnesty and not necessarily genuine forgiveness.

Neither Hay Djoen nor Pram had such power to pardon. Unlike in South Africa, where the victims of apartheid went on to hold political power and started the process of truth and reconciliation, in Indonesia the offenders are still in power and have yet to cease their wrongful deeds.

Philosopher Charles Griswold, in his book Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, notes that to gain true forgiveness from victims, there are several actions that the wrongdoer should do: acknowledge and repudiate the mistake, express regret, promise not to repeat the mistake, express sympathy and understanding for the suffering of the victim, and lastly, present an honest narrative that is not an excuse that can provide context as to why they carried out the offense.

Only then may the victim regain trust, let go of resentment and see the former enemy in a new light. These acts of apology should be made public on a national level to ensure an end to the injustice.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, Griswold notes, should be given on an individual level, lest what Derrida and GM feared might happen — forgiveness that doesn’t serve its genuine goal of renewal of bonds but acts as a form of forced peace-making.

How far are we from seeing these acts of apology in Indonesia? We don’t know yet.

The 1965 tragedy is still a deeply divisive issue. In an explanation about his essay on Wednesday, GM said he would like the state to apologize, if doing so brought about greater national harmony.

The 1965 symposium was an experiment to find out if we can start the process of reaching a national consensus that include all parties — victims and offenders — in the 1965 tragedy, according to one of the initiators, Agus Widjojo, the newly appointed National Resilience Institute chief, whose father was of one of the generals killed in the apparent abortive coup that rose the curtain on the violence.

In a way, in Ingat65, we are conducting an experiment too. We are opening a space for personal reflection to gauge how our generation feels about this issue and how we want our future to look.

Will we be a generation of bystanders (staying silent) or, worse, perpetrators (attacking gatherings of 1965 victims), and continue to perpetuate injustice? Our call now is not to Jokowi (just yet), but to our peers.

The voice of youth is crucial, especially now, when half of the country’s population is under the age of 30. We should find out what happened by talking to our elders.

We should read the many studies by academics and watch documentaries on 1965.

Let’s reflect on our history, decide what we want based on that reflection and together tell our leaders our desires for the future.

For too long, leaders of this country have been servants to themselves. Let’s peacefully bring power back into our hands and make GM’s dream come true.

Let’s make the state represent a new moral identity and really break away from the old guard, whose power came on the backs of extreme violence and the suffering of victims.


The writer, an editor for The Conversation, is the initiator and chief editor of Ingat65. The views expressed are her own.

This article was published in thejakartapost.com on Friday, April 26, 2016 with the title “On forgiveness, a response to GM and a call to action for Indonesia’s youth”. Click to read: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/04/29/on-forgiveness-a-response-gm-and-a-call-action-indonesia-s-youth.html.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.
Underwater world: Farid and Yunus dive between Kaledupa and Hoga islands near Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi.

Ahmad and Farid kept a travelogue on Zamrud-Khatulistiwa.com, shot more than 70 hours of video tapes and took 10,000 photographs. They plan to write seven books from their journey.

They have recently finished Indonesia: Mencintaimu Dengan Sederhana. (Indonesia: Loving you in a simple way). Farid authored a number of books about mangroves as well as Indonesia’s coral reef.

How did these two prepare for such a trip? The first thing they did was get a diving certificate, Farid said. Farid put his skills to the test in Raja Ampat, Papua; Togean in Sulawesi and many other places in Indonesia.

Farid and Yunus also learned how to protect themselves from malaria, mostly by skipping day naps.

“Because when you nap during the day, you become food for mosquitoes,” Farid said.

There were not so many difficulties in their journey, Farid and Yunus said. Farid added that Yunus’ cooking skills came in handy, as the latter would cook for families they stayed with. It was the perfect icebreaker.

“We wanted to feel like they were strangers. We didn’t want to be trapped into thinking that ‘oh they’re indigenous people’,” Yunus said. “We didn’t see the people we met on our travels as isolated. We saw them as a humans and we tried to integrate into their lives. We tried to be as honest as possible with who we were and everything,” he said. “That’s when people started opening up”.

For Yunus, who was trained at media organization Pantau and worked for Playboy magazine, the journey was a way to apply one of journalism’s core principles.

“I saw this as an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. That motivated me to work more seriously. And for young journalists, this has to be one of the biggest challenges that can be taken on,” Yunus.

For Farid, the journey allowed him to witness first hand the sheer extent of exploitation in rural areas. He saw how important it was to be critical of public policy on foreign investment.

“Foreign investment doesn’t make sense if its benefits do not trickle down to locals,” he said.

Yes, the journey was a revelation for Farid, who said he discovered so much about the country through his travels.

“But even with this extra knowledge, there are still so many things I don’t know about.”

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Feature | Wed, March 16 2011

Learning through travel

The trip of a lifetime: A map outlines Farid and Yunus’ trip between June 2009 to July 2010
The trip of a lifetime: A map outlines Farid and Yunus’ trip between June 2009 to July 2010

Indonesia with its dozens of thousands of islands is like a great book waiting to be explored. What better way to love it than by getting to know it better?

Two journalists decided to do just that. One was Farid Gaban, a noted journalist with around 25 years of experience covering international events. The other, 20 years younger than Farid, goes by the name of Ahmad Yunus.

From June 2009 to July 2010, Farid and Yunus travelled across the country riding their motorbikes, hopping from one ferry to another, on a journey of discovery.

Their trip was an idealistic one, born from their yearning to know more about their country. They dubbed it the Zamrud Khatulistiwa expedition.

“I was born in the 1980s, and didn’t know much about Indonesia from Indonesian history. We have the feeling we know what the Acehnese are like, what the Dayaks or Papuans are like. But we really don’t,” Yunus, 28, said after a documentary of their one-year trip was screened at the headquarters of the Jakarta Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI Jakarta) in Kalibata.

Farid, meanwhile, said he had gained a lot of journalistic experience abroad over the years but didn’t feel he knew much about his own country. The former Republika and Tempo magazine editor had traveled from Washington to New Orleans while covering the 1988 American election. He had seen quite a bit of Germany, often spending the night in train stations, while reporting on the political ramifications of the fall of Berlin Wall. When the war in Bosnia erupted in 1992, he was one of the few Asian reporters who managed to get through the blockades in Sarajevo.

“However, despite all those exposure overseas, I felt I knew very little about Indonesia,” he said.

In 2008, Farid’s friends floated the idea of sailing across Indonesia using a Phinisi traditional boat. When it looked like the plan might not materialize, Farid joked that he would ride a motorbike across Indonesia instead. The Phinisi plan fell through. So Farid started preparing his expedition on a motorbike.

“At first, it seemed like a crazy idea. But, why not? I was used to riding a motorbike. I ride a motorbike every day in Jakarta, because it’s cheap, and handy to avoid being stuck in traffic jams. And I thought to myself, if we could handle the difficulties thrown at us in Jakarta’s dangerous streets, then else is there to fear out there?” he wrote in his travelogue on zamrud-khatulistiwa.or.id.

Farid explained Yunus and he both liked the film Into the Wild, a true story about Christopher McCandles leaving his worldly life to explore the wilderness of Alaska, where he eventually dies.

They were also inspired by Motorcycle Diaries, a film about young Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who traveled across South America on a motorbike. The poverty he witnessed during his travels reportedly shaped Che into the revolutionary he became.

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“We’re not Che Guevara. At least I’m too old to wish to be a revolutionary. Meanwhile, we had seen poverty in many places across Indonesia, including Java, and read about it in literature on development.

However, Motorcycle Diaries strengthened our conviction that we should travel by motorbike because it was simple, that we should backpack, meet lots of people and see their real problems,” Farid wrote.

They both owned modified 100-cc motorcycles, which couldn’t go faster than 80 kilometers an hour, according to Farid, but were more than adequate for the journey.

Farid and Yunus drew most of their inspiration for this trip from books: Mengejar Pelangi Di Balik Gelombang (Chasing the rainbow behind the waves) by Fazham Fadlil and The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russel Wallace. Fadlil described how he returned to his hometown in Riau Islands after living in New York for 20 years by sailing across the Pacific Ocean on his own.

Meanwhile, The Malay Archipelago by Wallace is the British naturalist’s account of his journey across the Southern portion of the Malay Archipelago including Malaysia, Singapore and the islands of Indonesia.

Farid and Yunus took off in June 2009 and traveled for 10 months on a Rp 120 million budget each. They crossed the Malacca Strait to Lampung in Sumatra, and continued on to Kiluan, a bay that facing the Indian Ocean. There, they sailed accompanied by hundreds of dolphins.

In Bengkulu, they went to Pulau Enggano and hopped to Mentawai, which at first looked like a flourishing mangrove island. However they soon discovered how much it had been exploited when exploring it further.

In Nias, they slept in people’s homes and admired the 300-year old traditional houses made of wood Omo Hada, which had withstood 7.9 earthquake in Nias.

In The Malacca straits they saw pirates.

“We found that the public officials were the ones who acted as pirates,” Farid said.

In Mentawai, Farid lost his equipment — his laptop and camera —, which fell into the sea. In Kalimantan, the duo ran out of money and had to return to Jakarta “to busk”, Farid said, before continuing their journey.

They went to Eastern Indonesia; to Flores, where they visited the house former president Sukarno had been exiled to by the Dutch.

When they reached Java, they visited Sidoarjo and saw the devastation caused by the mudflow. “Our purpose was to go around Indonesia, not just to see what’s beautiful about the country,” Farid said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, March 16 2011

Tash Aw: Mapping invisible worlds

JP/Stanny Angga
JP/Stanny Angga

Malaysian author Tash Aw grew up knowing Indonesia was his country’s closest and most influential neighbor. But when he moved to England for college, he found there was little mention of Indonesia in the Western world.

“It was virtually invisible,” Aw said. This inspired him to title his second novel, set in 1960s Indonesia and Malaysia, Map of the Invisible World. “This was my way of drawing attention to Indonesia, of mapping it,” Aw wrote in an email recently.

Aw’s debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, won the Whitbread Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel in 2005, and was longlisted for the MAN Booker Prize. Set in 1940s Malaya, The Harmony Silk Factory has become an important voice in telling a Southeast Asian story to an English-speaking audience. With his 2009 Map of the Invisible World, Aw returns to Southeast Asia, this time further south to Indonesia.

Map of the Invisible World tells the story of two orphaned brothers. A wealthy Kuala Lumpur couple adopts the older brother, Johan, while the younger, Adam, is adopted by a Dutch-Indonesian man. The story begins on an island east of Bali, where Adam witnesses Karl, his adopted father, being arrested by the army during the time of Sukarno’s anti-imperialist rhetoric. Adam is an orphan once again, and journeys to Jakarta, meeting Karl’s former flame, Margaret, a university lecturer, and her assistant Din, who entices Adam to join in revolutionary struggle.

The title of the novel recalls the plight of its main characters, Aw says. “All the characters in the novel are physically present in one place, but their emotional lives are caught in another place, another time — in another world that has ceased to exist, or which may never have existed, a world that is now invisible,” he said.

Aw’s characters view home as an abstract and fragile thing. He may have drawn this from his own life experience, of finding a home in another country while continuing to view Malaysia as home. Aw writes about Adam’s view of home: “In those days he did not yet understand that Home was not necessarily where you were born, or even where you grew up, but something else entirely, something fragile that could exist anywhere in the world.”

Aw moved to England when he was 19, to study law at Warwick University and Cambridge University. He stayed in England, working as a lawyer for several years while working on his writing — a childhood ambition. Aw completed a degree in Creative Writing in 2002 at the University of East Anglia.

Asked where his home is, Aw’s reply was: “Home — that is the million dollar question for me!”
Aw says he owns an apartment in London, which makes London technically his home. “But I spend a lot of time in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Southeast Asia. I think Malaysia will always be my point
of reference.”

Aw’s story of two brothers setting off on different paths is also a metaphor for how Aw views Indonesia and Malaysia.

“The two countries were often thought of as ‘brothers’ — with a shared language and religion and set apart from the other non-Muslim countries in Southeast Asia. We share music, TV and film. But it also struck me that in many fundamental ways the two countries could not be more different, both in terms of history and everyday contemporary life,” Aw says.

“So I decided to write a novel about two brothers and two countries, whose differences were most clearly highlighted in the 1960s during the time of Konfrontasi. The 1960s were a very turbulent time for Southeast Asian countries, most notably Indonesia, which is why it seemed the natural starting point for the novel.”

Aw has traveled extensively in Indonesia, including to Lombok. Last month, Aw took part in the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.

Aw recognizes the love-hate relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia. The two countries have had bumpy relations, starting with Konfrontasi when Sukarno waged a war against Malaysia under the pretext that the latter was a neo-imperialist puppet.

In recent years, more spats have occurred because of misunderstandings about the use of traditional music and dance, or because of unclear borders. On the web one can gauge the strong animosity between the two countries, with harsh words and name calling on both sides.

Aw likens this to sibling rivalry.

“The animosity between Malaysia and Indonesia is, and always has been, a kind of sibling rivalry. I think it is the kind of tension that might arise if two children who shared much in common happened to have very different paths in life. Essentially I think it boils down to wealth, and how the two countries see themselves in relation to each other.”

Aw said Indonesia has had a much tougher time, particularly in the 20th century. “History has not been kind to Indonesia — Malaysia has had much more luck in this respect.”

Malaysia’s smaller size made its problems smaller in scale, he said. “We were able to become relatively prosperous and have more of a middle class earlier than Indonesia. But Indonesia has a much
older, richer and more varied history and culture — it is, after all, a far bigger country.

“I sometimes think Malaysia knows this and has a kind of inferiority complex that manifests itself in a kind of nouveau-riche arrogance,” he adds.

Despite the seeming animosity, Aw said ultimately there was more closeness between the countries than tension.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Ubud, Bali | People | Thu, November 04 2010

Indonesia’s political parties gears up for next year’s legislative election

Checks and balances: The Democratic Party selection team checks documents submitted by would-be legislative candidates at the party’s headquarters in Kramat, Central Jakarta, on April 3. Eligible political parties have until April 22 to submit their legislative candidacy lists for the 2014 election to the General Elections Commission (KPU). JP/Prodita Sabarini

I covered political parties’ preparation in recruiting and selecting prospective legislative candidates for next year’s election.
Sometimes watching the people sitting in parliament feels like watching a comedy show, until you realize that no one’s joking. Then you realize it’s more like watching a horror movie, and you get spooked a bit, until you remember that what you’re seeing is not a movie, it’s real life. Anti pornography law? Remember the porn-watching lawmaker from the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party nonetheless – after they release the anti-porn law? And now all this ridiculousness on witchcraft and living outside of marriage being criminalized in the Criminal Code.
So, I was quite excited covering the whole process of choosing candidates of people that will REPRESENT other people in deciding how we run this country. Admittedly, a lot of people don’t care about who will represent them in the election. So many say they’ll abstain from voting because they don’t trust politicians. But maybe if we pay more attention to this, we’ll actually can get people who really do care into the parliament.
I got help from The Post new cub reporter in covering for this reportage. Here are the reports