Lombok to Bali: Reflections During a Bus Journey
Trip Start Sep 24, 2008
77Trip End Jul 21, 2009
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Where I stayed
Hotel Elen in Senggigi, Lombok; some hotel in Kuta, Bali
Politics, Economics and Development of Indonesia: My Conversation with Daffe
Because of travel timings, we had to spend one more night in Lombok before leaving for Bali on the morning of Feb 20. We were picked up by a shuttle bus to take us to the ferry leaving for Bali. We were picked up by a guy named Daffe, who runs the shuttle bus company with three friends (who all split the profits equally). Our hour-plus long ride was one of the best conversations I have had with any local person on this trip.
Our discussion started with my impressions of Lombok as an American and the future for tourism development and for the island. He agreed with virtually every person on Lombok and Gili Air that the international Mataram airport scheduled for completion in 2012 would greatly raise the standard of living for people on the island. He specifically mentioned the reduction in US visitors to Lombok following the 2002 Bali bombings.
Daffe is from Sumbawa, the long island that is directly east of Lombok and together forms West Nusa Tenggara. When he first came to Lombok, jobless and without food or a home, he would unofficially guide tourists around the island in exchange for food and whatever money they would send his way. Daffe said it is quite a common "profession" for young males on the island without any education and without opportunity or a future. He eventually "graduated" from such business and led surf tours all around these islands of Indonesia. This business sounded very much like my friend Samith's motorbike tour business in Cambodia.
We discussed the rampant overdevelopment and destruction of culture in places like Bali and Phuket and the implications of development on the environment and culture of Lombok. He agreed they will both be eroded, but development must occur because "everyone must move fast". Daffe said the average rent for an educated/skilled worker in Mataram (capital of Lombok) was 500,000 rupiah a month (USD50).
I learned a great deal about the current Indonesian political situation from my new friend. The current government of Yuhoyuno (nationwide elections in Indonesia were due for April/May), who has ruled since 2004, has done many things to improve the welfare of the entire nation and eradicate the corruption and crony capitalism that was rampant under the long leadership of Suharto and his successor Megawati (daughter of Sukarno). Indonesians I met throughout the country all spoke glowingly of their current President and said that corruption was indeed in decline and normal semblances of rule of law and organization were beginning to exist. Whereas formerly one would have to bribe innumerable officials or be related to senior government officials to start a business, register a car, buy a home, now nepotism was gone and there were actual official procedures and permits in place.
Two of Yuhoyuno's most celebrated programs are Schools Operational Assistance (BOS) and Poor Community Health Insurance (Askeskin). The former provides government funding to reduce the fees of schools and in many areas has led to free primary education to many of the country's poor. The latter has vastly improved the free healthcare provided to the population. The government is also encouraging entrepreneurship and the incentive to work by using low-to-no interest government loans to individuals instead of welfare programs that create generations of people who cannot help themselves. I couldn't gather from Daffe whether these loans have the high repayment rates seen by borrowers of microcredit or if the government was potentially exposed to huge credit risk if there was a massive default led by an economic collapse. However, the local economy continues to grow even in downturns, so perhaps this is not much of a risk.
The government also inflation-indexes government salaries (including for teachers), a break from previous regimes, which is very important in developing countries that frequently see real wages decline simply from the increased cost of living. I wondered what the adjustment mechanism was for the basket of goods used to measure the price level as what would happen if food or fuel price inflation rose more quickly than the inflation index. This is a very real concern as prior to the global slowdown, food prices had increased at alarming levels and threatened to bury the world's poor for years to come (food and fuel costs represent a greater proportion of poor people's disposable income than more affluent people).
Whether a populist campaign or not, the government programs have had a real impact and significantly helped the people of Indonesia. I asked Daffe where the money was coming from for all of this government spending. Taxes would have to be raised significantly for there to be nondeficit spending given that national oil and gas revenues had significantly declined. He said that taxes have been raised on the rich (which could cause a disincentive to work) and likened the fiscal policy of the government to that pledged during the Obama campaign. Daffe, like all of his countrymen, had much respect and admiration for Obama. He also commented that Obama is like me in that he lived in many places in Hawaii (Daffe knew all of the great HI and CA breaks), Indonesia and other parts of the US!
I eventually asked Daffe about the current level of religious extremism in Indonesia. Indonesia has long been a hotbed for domestic Islamic extremist organizations who have supported many of the past separatist struggles in areas that were seeking to implement the more conservative sharia law (for example, Aceh province). Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings and, along with the other fundamentalist organizations, supports the jihad in occupied Palestine and other regions of the world. Daffe lives up to the definition of a true Muslim; one that seeks peace and justice and practices tolerance. He said that a jihad against tourists, as in the Bali bombing, is not fighting those who have wronged the Muslims. The governor of Lombok, also a tolerant non-extreme Muslim, has publicly stated that it is not right for Muslims in Indonesia to go fight the jihad in occupied Palestine. The struggle between Israelis and Palestinians in occupied Palestine is over land and is not a global fight to eradicate Muslims; the only condition to support jihad. The governor stated that "fighting" the jihad can take the form of Indonesian Muslims praying for peace and sending supplies/food/medicines to their brothers and sisters suffering in Palestinian refugee camps. Daffe sees good in bad people, even in the terrorists. He understands their plight, but he does not at all endorse their heinously violent acts.
I discussed the recent Mumbai attacks and the problems in India between people of different religions, races, castes and ethnicity. The situation in India is very similar to that in Indonesia: different cultures melded together to form a "nation state" where there is a constant struggle between the linguistic/racially distinct provinces and the center of the state. Jakarta is to Delhi like Aceh is to Kashmir. Daffe supports greater federalism. Consistently, I would find that non-Javanese supported greater rights and power to the provinces while Javanese support a strong central government. He said that East Timor independence made sense, but he does not support Aceh province's struggle for independence.
East Timor was never originally part of Dutch Indonesia, but was annexed violently both by the Japanese during WWII and by the Indonesian military in 1975. The former Portugese colony sits on massive ONG (oil and natural gas) deposits and is 95% Christian. The Australian military and the UN famously supported East Timor's unilateral declaration of independence in 1999 (and coincidentally Australian energy firms now control the ONG assets offshore). Had there not been ONG resources there for the taking, would the international community have cared so much about a small island in the Pacific Ocean?
Aceh, a natural resource (ONG) rich area, is one of four separate administrative regions in Indonesia (Jakarta, Yogyakarta - because of its role in the independence war with the Dutch, Papua). There has long been a separatist struggle in this more conservative Muslim region that has been exploited of it natural resources. Being close to the epicenter, this area also suffered the greatest destruction from the 2004 tsunami as 170,000 people died and there is heavy controversy over central government-led reconstruction efforts that have allegedly suppressed the separatist movement. Aceh was always a part of Dutch Indonesia, so Daffe and his countrymen do not support this separatist movement.
Since Sukarno declared independence, Java has received a disproportional focus of the Jakarta-based central government's attention and spending. Java has grown tremendously, while the islands at the fringe (and those that scream the loudest for separatism) of the Archipelago have stagnated over the last 40 years. That is except for the rape of their natural resources. Suharto's anti-communist, xenophobic (ie repel China who was combating US in regional balance of power during the age of US Indochina involvement) government, in the great favor of the Cold War-mongering West, partnered with Western companies in the 1960s and 1970s to plunder the far-reaching islands of their resources in exchange for massive amounts of foreign aid and debt. However, this did not lead to sustainable and productive economic growth and came at a huge cost to the people of Indonesia.
Indonesia infamously has one of the world's worst environmental records. It has the greatest rate of deforestation on the planet, which is a tragedy as it is one of the most biodiverse areas we have on earth. Slash and burn in Indonesia (particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan) in the late 1990s led to so much smoke and pollution that a haze was in the air as far as Bangkok!
With unsustainable levels of foreign-currency denominated debt piled up over 30 years, Suharto resigned in 1998 in the wake of the country's economic collapse and currency crisis. As I have mentioned many times, the 1997 crisis coupled with the rise of Islamic extremist acts in the early part of this decade and the global recessions of 2002 and now have had a tremendous impact on tourism in Indonesia. Daffe, like his countrymen, spoke of the need for me to return to home in the US and talk about how safe, normal and beautiful Indonesia really is. He correctly mentioned that Bali is marketed as its own destination, not as a place in Islamic Indonesia, and has many direct international connections. With suppression of its own extremism and the right marketing, Lombok and the Gili islands could become the next Bali.
Leaving Bali, Traveling Solo Once Again
I bid farewell to Daffe and we boarded our ferry for Bali. I wrote, read and enjoyed the open seas during the SLOW ferry ride. We arrived in Bali and our shuttle stopped at the airport to drop Mary off. I arrived late in Kuta, found a guesthouse, checked email and crashed out.
The next morning, I hopped into a taxi to Ubung bus terminal in Bali to catch my 20 hour bus to Yogyakarta, in the middle of Java. My cab driver was a nice Balinese Hindu, working hard to support his family despite marital problems and adamantly against spending any money that would benefit Java! As I've mentioned, all non-Javanese HATE Java. I arrived at the terminal, picked up some snacks and was off promptly at 3pm (on the dot!), serenaded by heinous Bahasa pop music videos, on my way to Yogyakarta.