Nyepi, Bali’s Silent New Year
In Bali, Indonesia, the Saka New Year—which this year falls on March 12—is observed by a day of silence, meditation and fasting known as Nyepi.
The holiday, while rooted in Hinduism, is observed throughout Bali province. All activities that might interfere with self-reflection are halted, including work, travel, entertaining and, for the most devout, eating and talking.
On the eve of Nyepi, negative spirits are vanquished through the Bhuta Yajna ritual. During this ritual, Ogoh-ogoh—large demonic figures constructed of bamboo and paper—are paraded through the streets and then ceremonially burned. Once purified of humans’ spiritual pollutants, the city is prepared for its day of silent reflection.
I have a friend who feels very shaky about the idea of Nationalism. She feels uncomfortable during football tournaments, for example, because of all the flag waving.
And I really understand that, particularly within the European context. A lot of nationalism is very much defined by comparing your national idea against another. A lot of national identities were created through conflict with another. Humanity in general has a tendency to define itself by what it is not, and what it is not is typically a nearby neighbour they don’t like.
Modern Nationalism in Europe also tends to manifest in extremely horrible ways these days, as typified by nuts like Anders Breivik and so on. Nationalism has become a right wing philosophy in Europe, and particularly bastardized into neo-Nazism by skinheads all over the continent.
Nationalism is called Patriotism in America, and it suffers much the same problem.
I think differently though, and I think this because of my experience growing up in Indonesia, but also in South East Asia in general.
As a recap, quite a few countries in Asia have only relatively modern national identities, and some are very recent indeed. Indonesia only exists as a nationstate because it was a former Dutch colony. Otherwise the country is full of vastly different peoples populating a huge archipelago which has kept them different for a long time.
Despite that the Dutch ruled over this vast area, the people within it didn’t really develop a national consciousness until the Second World War. And this was entirely because Sukarno, who would be its first president, pushed that identity upon them. He (along with his colleague Hatta) developed the Indonesian language, developed its flag, its songs, and so on.
And that’s really what makes Indonesia today. It’s still a fantastically diverse country, but it sticks together because there is, somehow, a sense of being Indonesian over being Javanese or Papuan or Balinese.
This was a real challenge after the last dictator, Suharto, resigned. With a somewhat more liberal political system many provinces saw their chance to push for at least autonomy if not greater independence. They did this because the central government tended to be more exploitative of such resource rich provinces and not all that generous when it came to investing in the people of said provinces.
But altogether the Indonesian polity is a stronger one together than separate. Aceh, which fought some 25 years for independence, was the most badly hit province in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. After that their resistance movement signed a peace treaty because they both couldn’t fight anymore and also needed all the aid that only a large national government from Jakarta could provide. They are now an autonomous province, which is a fair compromise.
The point is that former colonies, which often inherited some form of political structure from their former colonizers, need nationalism as a tool to keep people invested in that infrastructure. They need something for the people living there to identify by and have faith in their new national governments.
And they do this by flag waving, by national anthems, and sometimes by the kind of repression only dictators can implement.
So would Indonesia be better off as an assortment of states? Java, Sumatra, Flores, Sunda? Personally, I don’t think so.
East Timor, or Timor L’Este, is independent today because it too fought a 25 year war against Indonesia. It had more legitimacy than Aceh because it was still a Portuguese colony until 1975, and within days after it was granted independence it was annexed by Indonesia. So in a sense they were only trying to win back their independence, while Aceh was fighting for an idea which predated Dutch colonization.
But Timor l’Este is a wildly poor state now. It has some trade resources and it’s not doing as badly as it could be… but it suffers from the trade barriers and tariffs of being a small country trading with larger richer countries. Whereas the various Indonesian provinces trade without tariffs within the large nationstate, which then provides a preferential export rate to other countries. I would argue that all of these provinces are richer being part of Indonesia than they would be if they were independent. Unfortunately I don’t have supporting figures for that.
Indonesia itself got up to some conflict shenanigans during its history. Aside from the wars in Aceh and East Timor, they also had a Confrontation (with the capital C) with Malaysia and occasionally suppressed independence movements in Papua (then Irian Jaya) and other regions.
Would there have been more or less conflict without the overarching Indonesian government? I would argue more. While the various provinces didn’t always like being ruled from Java, and some conflicts came from migration of say, Madurese people to traditionally Dayak areas, different regions had sometimes very local conflicts. The best example is Maluku.
Maluku is a much more mixed religious region, in that it has comparable numbers of Christians to Muslims. Most of the time they get along, but things got violent particularly after 9-11. I personally figure that it’s possible these two peoples would have fought anyway. Or possibly different local nationalisms would have further defined themselves in conflict with their neighbours.
But the way things happened is that there was the umbrella identity of Indonesia. When people struggled against the government it wasn’t so much against the national identity and the desire to assert themselves as different (except Aceh and East Timor) but much more often because they saw their economic resources taken from them with little payment. And so their reasons are more economic, less political or cultural.
My point is that all over Asia, nationalism became a binding and stabilizing force, and much less of a destructive one, often the lesser of two evils. That’s why I think nationalism still can have a positive role to play in providing legitimacy and stability to post-colonial nationstates.
On August 17th, 1945, Indonesia declared Independence from the Netherlands. Their declaration reads in English as follows, with a total of two signatures:
WE THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA HEREBY DECLARE THE INDEPENDENCE OF INDONESIA. MATTERS WHICH CONCERN THE TRANSFER OF POWER AND OTHER THINGS WILL BE EXECUTED BY CAREFUL MEANS AND IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.
DJAKARTA, 17 AUGUST 1945
IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA
The Netherlands did not recognize Indonesian Independence until 1949, ending the Revolution. In 2005, they formally recognized August 17th as Indonesian Independence day.
The Indonesian struggle for independence is a fascinating and yet rather unknown story.
The first president, Sukarno, collaborated with the Japanese after their invasion. He, like many Asian leaders, saw the Japanese as liberators against the colonizers. They weren’t much better.
What’s important about his contribution is the way he developed the Indonesian national language, adopting its basics from the standardized Malay in British Malaya. He used his position of power under the Japanese to train an Indonesian army, which would see limited service during the war itself, but naturally be used against the Dutch when they returned and the British supporting forces.
He gave a lot of speeches at the time as the puppet for the Japanese, but note has to be made that he switched his language at the time to promote more Indonesian nationalism than Japanese propaganda. He still did it, but he was laying the groundwork for Indonesian independence.
Sukarno himself was a mediocre president: like many post-independence leaders he was inclined towards delusions of grandeur. He got Indonesia involved in a Confrontation with Malaysia, purely out of a desire for a united population of Malay speakers, or at least the Borneo provinces of Sarawak and Sabah. He was notorious for being promiscuous and somewhat corrupt. His apparent lack of strength against the Chinese-Indonesian Communists is part of what led to the military coup which let Suharto take power and crush them rather brutally.
Like many mediocre independence leaders, he’s glorified anyway because of his leadership role.
the most awesome things about Indonesians are: we always see ourselves as Indonesians first and race or ethnicity second; wherever we end up living, we still love our country fervently and unconditionally; and despite the many stumbles and failures, we are still proud as fuck to be Indonesians.
in other words, HAPPY 67th BIRTHDAY, INDONESIA. I can’t do much for you today, but I will.
I need a few more hours from my time zone, but it’s okay to be early.
Selamat Hari Indonesia!
In Indonesia we have a dish named “Bakmi Goreng” in which Bakmi is a kind of noodle. “Goreng” means to fry, so it’s a stir fried noodle made from wheat. This differs it from other kinds of noodles made from rice, for example.
What’s interesting is that it has somehow insinuated itself into Swiss cuisine, bastardized into “Bahmi Goreng.” I really don’t know how it has done this.
ricanontherun’s post about Dine-In American cinemas reminded me of the luxury cinemas I’d been to in Asia.
While I was living in Jakarta, they opened the “Premiere” theaters at Plaza Senayan. These would have La-Z-Boy chairs, champagne and bar service, and a colder A/C than usual (this being Asia, is very important).
The cost of a movie ticket at a more local area, like I usually went to, would at the time be around Rp. 25k. At a nice mall like at Senayan or Pondok Indah, the price would jump to closer to Rp. 40-60k. The Premiere cost around Rp.90k. I understand prices have changed since I was there though.
The only other time I’d been to a cinema with the same sort of concept was in Penang. 1st Avenue, an upscale mall in by the Komtar complex, has what it calls a “beanieplex.” The movie chairs are basically big beanbags. It’s perfect for movie date cuddle.
It cost, I think, a little more than the average movie ticket. The prices in Malaysia tend to fluctuate a lot, but I think it was only 18 MYR to the usual 12-14.
What’s also pretty common in South East Asian cinemas is that they’re always in shopping malls, the general outdoors entertainment source in the region, and there’s always a gaming arcade next to it, to play while waiting for your movie. In Taman Anggrek there’s a skating rink instead, though.
There are some quite nice cinemas here in Switzerland, but one thing they do in all Swiss cinemas is an intermission. Around halfway through the movie they’ll take a break for 10 minutes. For people to go to the bathroom, grab a snack, or have a cigarette. Personally I prefer my immersion to never be broken, but it’s practical for others. In any case, all Swiss cinemas are city cinemas and therefore relatively small.
My experience in America, on the other hand, had cinemas in large lots with 20 different theaters. And with free seating. America is the only country I’ve been to with free seating in cinemas.
Although of course Manila is having extensive problems, floods do happen often in countries with monsoon problems and sometimes it provides a lovely picture of how people adjust to the changed circumstances of difficult situations.
This video is from 2007, when Jakarta was badly flooded and they couldn’t get rid of the water for days and days. The area itself is Kemang, where I used to live. We were always lucky since our house was slightly more elevated than those around us, but floods like this also tended to cut the electricity to the affected area anyway.
Floods are definitely no laughing matter: people drown, get entombed in landslides, catch malaria, etc. But ironically, I have very fond memories of typhoons and floods in the Philippines.
The emergency level is categorized numerically: Signal#4 had the strongest wind speeds and heaviest rains. I just remember all the kids (me included of course) being extremely happy when it’s been announced that our area was gonna be under Signal#2 or higher, because that means SCHOOL IS CANCELLED! Even though it sounds like it doesn’t matter anyway if there’s school or not, it’s actually really fun to stay indoors with the typhoon raging outside (for a kid at least at that time). That said, we often heard of landslides (poor people can be rather stubborn about evacuating themselves and leaving their homes, saying they’d rather leave their fates to the gods) and the whole roof of my grandma’s house (where we stayed often) even flew off, many coconut trees (we were in the province) fell and killed people in their homes.
The flooding is limited mostly to the cities and low-lying areas, but the most fun thing about the riverbanks swelling was that children would often play in them. I remember being extremely jealous of other kids because my folks strictly forbid us going ahead and doing such things (which basically explains why I can’t swim to save my life).
Funny enough, despite the gravity of the situation, people in the Philippines often found ways to have fun in the monsoon season.
Jakarta is full of canals, and not in the Venice sense. It’s like a lot of open sewers, and people live by them.
So that’s pretty much why it floods so often. Not usually as bad as this, but a day with a foot depth of water once in a while is pretty normal during the monsoon season.
People get by, though. Sometimes it’s really bad and their wooden houses by the canals get swept away, like they did that time in 2007. But most of the time it’s just how it is.
I was really amused when I moved to the US, and a friend came to grab me excitedly and say “It’s flooding outside!” to what was about 5cm of water at most, haha.
A few days ago I was hanging out in a Starbucks in Zürich, and just chilling out with a book. Their lounge music was quite good, too.
And then suddenly I heard a song which had… lyrics in bahasa! It was quite nice to hear, but was rather more of a pleasant surprise.
I’ve said it before: Malay/Indonesian culture is surprisingly hard to find outside of South East Asia. You can find it in Holland, in Guyana, and surprisingly remnant in Madagascar, and there’s a reasonable community of Malaysians living in the UK, but other than that it’s very sparse.
I count myself incredibly lucky, for example, if I can find anything even close to Indo-Malay food in America. By comparison Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese cuisine is really common.
Here in Switzerland the most obvious Asian community is easily Thai. Second is Chinese, though there are also surprising numbers of Sri Lankan Tamils living here too. Nevertheless, somehow “Bami Goreng” and “Nasi Goreng” made it to be ready-made supermarket food.
In any case, I was on the hunt for this song, but I only remembered a few words. Googling and YouTube-ing those lyrics haven’t helped, since they’re very common song lyrics.
But while I was on the search for it, I came across a lot of really nice Malay/Indonesian music.
As always, it makes me miss Asia.
I was surprised to discover that “Nasi Campur” was different between Indonesia and Malaysia.
Although “campur” means “mixed” in both languages, in Indonesia the dish has typically meant different kinds of pork with rice. It’s a legacy of the Christian Indonesians (not Chinese) who eat pork, whom are not a large section of the population. So finding such shops are quite rare there.
But in Malaysia it’s just rice with various mixed whatever-you-want, run by Malays rather than Tamil Indians. Tamils run most of the other rice shops, and call it “Nasi Kandar” and the flavour is more distinctly Indian rather than Malay, though still a bit of a mix of the two.
The way it works is that they’ll give you a plate of rice, and you choose what you want out of their assorted choices. They’ll then charge you by how much you put on your plate.
This was my first time walking around and exploring Penang, so when I saw it I pigged out, and this dish cost me 12 Ringgit. When I got used to things I would spend closer to 6 or so, depending on what I felt like.
Bear in mind that the exchange rate is roughly 3MYR to 1USD. So pigging out cost me $4, but a normal meal would be more like $2.
The first photo has a sign that amused me. “Sup Tulang” is literally ” bone soup” which is a particularly flavourful broth with other veggies thrown in. In Malaysia though, they like the word “Power” and sometimes use it in Manglish to say “Wow it’s really strong/good” like “Power, ah?”
I was highly amused when I first discovered that “Nasi Goreng” and “Bami Goreng” were known and somewhat popular here in Switzerland.
Of course, it’s not the same, not least that the original spelling is “Bakmi Goreng” but it’s popular enough that microwaveable versions are purchasable from supermarkets, and local restaurants try to be exotic by claiming to serve it.
Indeed, I’ve never ever heard Fried Rice called the “Fitness dish” before.
It just hurts, because when you know how it’s supposed to be…
But still, Nasi Goreng is quite rare to find at all outside of South East Asia, even just in name.
He’s starting an internship and it’s his first time in the city. Him talking about it made me kind of homesick. But unfortunately I’m not in much of a position to give him many recommendations since I’m sure the city has changed dramatically in the 8 years since I lived there.
He remarked that there are no English bookstores. While I did mostly go book shopping in Singapore, I distinctly remember that there was a Kinokuniya in Pasaraya. I think. There was also another bookstore that had a good selection but I’ve forgotten entirely the name of it. They even do English teaching courses out of the same brand.
Still, any ideas?
Way back when I was still studying Hospitality, we all had a final project. An Egyptian friend of mine was interested in the correlation between Terrorism and Tourism, due to personal experience in Sharm-el-Sheik in Egypt. He joked “Well, I can’t do an experiment. It’s not like I can set a bomb and see what happens.”
But it’s still an interesting area, even if he found it ultimately wasn’t worth his effort to research it and he chose a simpler topic.
In Indonesia in particular, with its multiple bombings which specifically targeted Western tourists in Bali and Jakarta, the point was economic damage. By creating an aura of fear, and an outward appearance of danger to Westerners investing in the country, and also by damaging the tourism industry (which in Bali is the local lifeblood) the extremists in Jema Islamiah hoped to damage the economy enough that people would increasingly look to extreme solutions and gain support that way.
The thing is that after a while a population does become resilient to terrorism. Bali took a huge hit to its economy after the first bombing, but it’s been bombed at least twice more since then and hasn’t taken a similar hit. In Jakarta they bombed the JW Marriott Hotel twice, the Australian Embassy once, and the Jakarta Stock Exchange once. It had some effect at the time, but nothing long lasting.
In a way it probably helped that the country was technically fighting two major insurgencies in East Timor and in Aceh for about 25 years, and was more subtly suppressing unrest and smaller independence movements in Papua and elsewhere. There were also the religious riots in Maluku, and the Dayak uprising in Kalimantan. The point is that violence was happening in a lot of places in the country, and beyond the initial shock of specifically-terrorist bombings the public fear effect was quite small.
I don’t know the full details of when Sharm-el-Sheik was bombed, but I do know that it didn’t take that long for them to get back on their feet. It seemed to me that the world overall got over the initial shock of the first few years after 9-11, when it seemed like all the Islamic terrorists got some motivation to do something dramatic and people responded with what they wanted: fear. But after enough bombings, the world gets used to it.
I don’t think this is the case in America, though. They got bombed once in a very big way, and never quite got over that initial fear. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have the same effect that Aceh and Timor l’Este did on Indonesia, because those were American-inflicted and far away.
To take a similar example, the British experience in Northern Ireland reflects Indonesia’s. Despite a long period of violence in Ireland and bombings in England, people endured. Bombs happened, and then people got on with things. And importantly, the government never compromised and stuck with their policy, even though it was somewhat oppressive. The idea that nothing would change the situation no matter what fear tactics they would try was a huge factor into the IRA surrender.
I wonder if one can link such study in regards to non-terrorism related areas. Consider shootings at schools in America. There was that one guy at Virginia Tech who shot a lot of students… would that affect how many people would apply there? It is surely a one-off incident and unlikely to happen again… but people would still worry.
My cousin, who’s going into university later this year, didn’t get into her university of choice, Stanford. My parents, always looking for an excuse (out of love) to suggest that it wasn’t my cousin’s fault or that she might have just had too much good competition, figured that it might have been because her high school had a scandal of some cheating students which apparently hit national news.
Would that really have an effect on her admission process? I am personally doubtful because that kind of scandal suggests nothing about the quality of students, but I am also rather cynical about the wisdom of collective human decisions in organizations.
I remember rather keenly how Indonesia’s first free elections went. It was a pretty interesting period.
Previously, elections were held every five years. There would be demonstrations, trucks of people wearing same colour shirts and waving flags, some ruckus, but the same guy always stayed in power, and there were only 3 parties. These demonstrations were usually shams, too. You could pay someone a little cash and give them a t shirt and that’s their work for the day.
When the free elections came around, and anyone was able to set their own party up, we suddenly had 46 political parties competing for the MPR (parliament). Some of them grew into significance while others faded to obscurity. The original parties stayed important, with one in particular rising to prominence.
PDI adjusted it’s name to PDI-Perjuangan (struggle) and in the early days it seemed the most popular, but was certainly the loudest. Their candidate for president that first election was Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the founder of the nation. She was mostly a figurehead, pushed into politics by the hero worship of her father from their supporters. She had no policies, no ambitions, no goals. She didn’t even really want it, but, you know, group pressure.
It was the hilarious nature of that campaign and the demonstrations that people would chant “Mega Mega Mega!” while still being completely unaware of what she personally stood for. It was still a remarkably peaceful election, since everyone expected either corruption or violence to play a role. It was a grand example of a new democracy that everyone wanted to take seriously.
But when the first place for president was the candidate of the less vocal PKB, the PDI-P supporters were extremely upset. They held more demonstrations, and it seemed like It would go to riots if Mega didn’t get thrown a bone. There was fear too that the former general Wiranto, representing the old government party Golkar, would take power again. But despite everything, somehow Megawati became vice president.
A classic case of parliament and back room deals making decisions out of pragmatism and fear of the mob outside.