Friday, November 01, 2013

Lessons of history

As Joshua Oppenheimer's brilliant "The Act of Killing" has made its way around the world the past year or so, it has drawn to public attention the gruesomeness of the massacres of mid-1960s Indonesia. The depictions of the horrific ways in which street gangs were able to to lynch those suspected of leftist political leanings, those of Chinese heritage and anyone else with whom the thugs wished to settle scores presented in unflinching terms the terror of the early days of Suharto's New Order era.

Clearly the film is a damning indictment of that dark chapter in Indonesian history, in which a million or more people were killed. But it also serves as a savage condemnation of contemporary Indonesia and the warped values that have become entrenched in the popular consciousness.

Consider the fact that the perpetrators of the crimes in Oppenheimer's film can hold their heads high and be feted on TV talk shows as they recount their past actions, while the victims (and their families) speak only in hushed tones and in fear for their safety. The perpetrators are given political legitimacy, able to move in elite social circles, while the victims are rendered invisible. The dark shame that ought be felt by perpetrators of savagery has been transposed onto their victims.

How did it come to be? It part it shows the remarkable success of President Suharto's efforts to institutionalise his "victor's version" of Indonesian history. The henchmen who carried out Suharto's dirty work were welcomed into the political mainstream and presented as role models. And for decades generations of Indonesian school children each year were subjected to a graphically violent portrayal of the supposed crimes of Indonesian communists, a depiction that left the inescapable conclusion that those forces who opposed the communists ought be treated as heroes. Such an onslaught of propaganda left little room for empathy for the victims of violence.

Last month University of Hawaii political scientist Ehito Kimura was in Jakarta and delivered a fascinating presentation on the history of government apologies around the world for past misdeeds (think the 1988 American apology to people of Japanese heritage for internment during World War II, or Australia's 2008 apology to indigenous children removed from their parents). Kimura made the case that apologies have gathered momentum since the end of the Cold War, with the relaxing of political absolutes during that conflict allowing societies greater scope for introspection and reflection on their own history.

An apology carries considerable symbolic heft, giving victims the comfort of having their pain validated and helping them heal the psychological scars. But it also has practical impact, creating grounds for bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice through criminal proceedings.

Kimura's take on the Indonesian experience was rather dispiriting. Essentially, he showed how the shadow of Suharto loomed large over the legacy of his successors. Most presidents of the Reform Era have done little more than nod to the sins of the past and offered weasel words of consolation, while usually in the same breath talking up the threat posed by victims of the savagery. So successful has been the disparagement of left-leaning victims of violence that modern-day leaders are forced to imply some sort of moral equivalence between the perpetrators of violence and their victims.

Which leads to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has shown little inclination to offer an apology to the victims of the 1965 violence and their families. Even further from materialising is any effort to bring to the court system the perpetrators of the 1965 violence, most of them now elderly but free. The president has been presented with a hefty report by the National Commission on Human Rights on the case against military perpetrators that urges prosecution, but has dithered rather than acted.

When frustrations at Suharto and his cronies reached boiling point in 1998, it again exhibited itself in bloodthirsty violence, again against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese population. Time and time again in the 15 years since, minority groups have been the victims of thuggish brutality as gangs of young men have felt free to wield violent power over those they oppose. Witness the violence against Christians in Ambon in the early 2000s, the assaults on the Ahmadiyah minority in Cikeusik in 2011, the attacks on the Shia minority in Madura last year and the ongoing campaign against people with liberal values by the Islamic Defenders Front. All carried out with brazen impunity.

Such brutality is not an aberration. Instead, it is a sign of the internalisation of the lessons of Indonesia's history. The events of the past 50 years have shown that brute force is an effective tool for silencing your opponent, and that your chances of getting away with it are high. Just as the gangsters were able to act with impunity in 1965 and emerge as heroes, modern day gangsters are willing to spill blood to terrorise others.

So while the battle against modern-day communal violence focuses on things like improved policing and fostering better intercultural relations, it should also look at the treatment of those involved in the 1965 brutality. An official apology, and efforts to try in court those perpetrators of violence still alive, would go a long way toward giving brutality the stigma it ought to carry. Only by bringing to justice the killers of decades ago will their modern counterparts realise that they will ultimately pay a price for their actions. While those thugs of history skylark in the streets of Medan like they do in "The Act of Killing", thugs of today will continue their campaign of terror.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The quandary of animal sacrifice

On Tuesday I went for a wander through the knot of small streets behind my apartment complex in inner Jakarta. In a laneway typically occupied by bakso sellers and old people smoking kretek there was an enthusiastic crowd of men in blood-splattered T-shirts methodically carving up the carcass of a bull they'd recently slaughtered. A crowd of kids were gathered around, boys with crew cuts and girls in fine dresses, staring at the men as they got to work.

That's how Idul Adha 1434 was marked by the congregants at the Jami' Al-Ikhlas mosque in Setiabudi, and it pretty much reflects what happens in thousands of mosques across Indonesia and much of the Muslim world. Idul Adha is the festival of the sacrifice, honouring the story of prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) offering to kill his son Ismail (Ishmael) as a sign of his submission to God's command, before God offered Abraham a lamb to sacrifice instead. In many developed countries the slaughtering of an animal (usually a lamb, sheep or bull) on site at a mosque is not permitted, but it's a practice that is flourishing in many poorer places, where dozens of creatures are sacrificed and the meat distributed to poor people.




The amateur anthropologist in me trumped the squeamish vegetarian, and I went to watch the slaughtering up close at Jami' Al-Ikhlas. I took plenty of photos and uploaded a series onto Facebook (you can see the shots here - pretty gruesome). I received several responses. Many people were disgusted by the bloodiness of the scene and the pained death throes of the animal as it struggled to fight the inevitable, and I suspect a few were put off their dinner.

The process of slaughtering an animal involves progressively stripping it of its dignity. A creature bred to be killed will most likely have an unnatural upbringing, unable to bond properly with its parents. Then it will be denied any agency over its actions, forced to eat what it is provided when it is provided and mate with whom it is instructed. Then it will be physically constrained as it is taken to the place where it will die. Then it will lose control of its bowel as fear strikes. Then it will be forced to the ground by having its legs pushed from under it. Then it will spurt its blood after a blade is run across its jugular. Then it will be stripped of its limbs. Then its skin. Then its internal organs. And finally it will be cut into pieces, stripping it of its corporeal essence. It will, in the process, have moved from a bull to beef.




And as a vegetarian for more than half my life, I felt like I should be disgusted at the Idul Adha ritual. A desire to avoid the unnecessary suffering of creatures is a significant motivation for my vegetarianism, and here I was, seeing the panic of an innocent creature as it stared bleakly at its tormentors.

But instead of disgust, a felt a sense of reference at the tradition, in particular its ability to bring together who might otherwise remain separate, and its role in forcing people to confront some uncomfortable truths.

The celebration fosters a stronger sense of community. At Masjid Jami' Al-Ikhlas on Tuesday, dozens of men came together to be a part of the tradition, each playing a part in the long chain of labours involved in turning a bull into beef. These were rich men and poor men, old men and young men, office workers and street sweepers, Betawi and Batak, all involved in a common enterprise. Younger children would watch with horrified excitement, and those in their teens would be given tasks, often by their fathers, to help them learn the skills and continue the tradition. The process served as a form of charity, with wealthy locals donating money toward the purchase of cattle, and the meat being shared among hungry old people and families with skinny children. The bond between everyone involved finished the day stronger. Few events have such power.


By taking the slaughtering of an animal out of the sterile surrounds of an abattoir and putting it in people's neighbourhood makes them more aware of their place in the food chain. Many people, particularly those like me who grew up and live in cities, are allowed to remain aloof about the origins of the food they eat, deliberately keeping themselves ignorant because deep down they know the truth that their food choices necessitate the suffering of other creatures. In distancing ourselves from the slaughtering process, the suffering is no less, just our awareness of it. Bringing the slaughtering closer to home forces people to confront the reality of their own choices. Most will continue to make those same choices, but will do so in fuller knowledge of the consequences. Others might change their mind.

I read with interest that Eddie Perfect, the great Australian singer and showman, has turned his hand to writing a script for a stage-play, "The Beast". The play, according to an excellent profile in The Monthly, is about three middle-class tree-change couples who arrange for a calf to be ethically butchered for a dinner party but end up faced with the grim task of killing the creature themselves. In a way the characters in "The Beast" are taking on the same challenge as Muslims do at Idul Adha - to watch the process of suffering that leads to their dinner without flinching.



(There is a potential downside to masses of people having regular exposure to the killing of creatures: the risk of desensitisation. It is easier for ordinary people to be pushed by dark forces to become bloodthirsty killers, as happens with startling frequency in cases of community violence in Indonesia, if they are no longer squeamish about putting a blade to the throat of a creature and watching it struggle to hold onto life. It is also harder for people to maintain their sense of outrage at bloodshed if they see it so often.)

Watching Idul Adha in full swing, I'm more confident than ever that I made the right ethical decision in turning vegetarian. But I also feel no desire to criticise those who do take part in the event. Perhaps questions should instead be asked of people who are willing to enjoy the spoils of slaughter but aren't willing to participate in, or even witness, it themselves.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Q! Film Fest, fighting forces of darkness since 2002


For the past two weeks I've had the joy of seeing about a dozen films, feature length and short, at Jakarta's Q! Film Festival. So frequent was my presence at screenings around town that I think I may have earned the label "The Festival Bule" among some of the other regulars. No, I'm not gay nor in any of the other categories that the Q! festival focuses on (lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex), but I have long recognised that some of the best creative works come from people who are. It's also a worthwhile psychological experience to be around people looking at me and wondering quietly to themselves, "Do you think he's gay?"

Q! Film Festival flies the flag for creative and cosmopolitan Indonesia. It hasn't always been easy. A few years ago, the event, which is now in its 12th year, was hit by protests from some dark forces cloaking themselves in religion in their attempts to shut it down. Fears of violence and intimidation have forced the organisers to take security measures to protect screenings - the schedule is not openly publicised but requires acceptance to an e-mail list or password-controlled website, attendees at screenings must first become "members" of the festival and less public venues are used for events.

Despite the presence of many gay people in the entertainment industry, Indonesia has shown itself to be remarkably intolerant of diverse sexualities. Earlier this year, the “Global Divide on Homosexuality” study by the Pew Research Center found Indonesians were overwhelming opposed to homosexuality, with 93 percent saying that gay people should not be accepted. Such attitudes make events like the Q! Film Festival all the more vital.


The face of the festival is changing. Outside one screening, festival co-director Meninaputri Wismurti explained to me that organisers were shifting away from heavy use of foreign embassies as sponsors because they created the misleading impression that there was something "foreign" about the festival, the people involved and the cause they champion. Instead, organisers were seeking to attract local partners to support it, in an effort to make clear this was an Indonesian event and that there is no inconsistency between gay and Indonesian identities.

For the dark forces, the fact that the event has been pushed from open public view is a victory in itself. But even with this victory, they're still not happy. During this year's festival a threatening phone call was received by one of the sponsors, putting organisers on a heightened alert for trouble. But they bravely pushed ahead, and the festival ended without incident.

The extra security precautions do seem to be keeping numbers down. At many of the screenings I went to, fewer than a dozen people were in attendance, and there seemed to be limited buzz about the event around town. And, as the introduction to the official program notes, this year's event runs for about half the length of last year's and there are many names that appear in multiple roles among the credits for volunteers. Still, those that were involved - as viewers or as organisers - seemed to be having a great time.

Like the people in attendance, not all the films were "gay", but all had something worthwhile to say. The highlight of the festival was the Teddy Soeriatmadja-directed Indonesian film "Something in the Way" at a fundraising screening last weekend (sadly, I couldn't make it to). Its controversial subject matter means the film is unlikely to be screened many times in its home country, though it has a chance of success abroad. Whether it's any good, I don't know. From the trailer and the synopsis, it sure looks interesting:

Ahmad is a taxi driver in Jakarta. He is addicted to the sex on offer in magazines and videos, the sex he would buy if he could afford it, but which he can only experience alone in front of his television or when secretly masturbating in his taxi. His lonely nights are punctuated by the conversations he overhears between other taxi drivers in which they make snide remarks about prostitutes and talk disparagingly about their wives. Contrasting with his nocturnal solitude are his daily visits to the mosque, where he learns about the importance of purity, morals and the Koran. A flicker of hope appears in Ahmad’s life when he falls in love with his neighbour, a prostitute named Kinar, and begins to act as her driver. But her pimp blocks their relationship. The clash in modern Jakarta between sex as a product and the moral pressures exerted by his religion only confuse Ahmad who wants nothing more than to save Kinar and himself from this sinful life. Shots of the city by night, gloomy interiors awash with red and green, diffuse streetlights and fragments of faces caught in the taxi’s rear-view mirror attend him on his increasingly disturbed sorties across the city.


A couple of other Indonesian films at Q! Film Festival did capture by attention. "Di Balik Frekuensi" ("Behind the Frequency", trailer available here) is a fantastic documentary by Ucu Agustin about the extent to which power in the Indonesian media is concentrated in the hands of a small number of politically-connected people. While Indonesia's media is largely free from interference from the state, it does suffer from interference from many heavy-handed proprietors keen to use their outlets to advance their political and commercial interests. The film makes its point by focusing on two stories. One is the story of a man representing Sidoarjo mudflow victims who marched to Jakarta to demand compensation, only to mysteriously end up apologising on the Bakrie-owned TVOne for offence caused to the Bakrie family, whose company was suspected to be responsible for the mudflow. The other story is of a journalist at the Surya Paloh-controlled MetroTV who stands up for high-quality impartial journalism only to be ostracised by her employer. The outcomes of both are rather depressing.

Another local film that caught by eye was Tino Saroengallo's "Setelah 15 Tahun" ("After 15 Years", trailer available here), a searing indictment of the stalling of Indonesia's reformasi political project since the downfall of strongman Suharto. After some great archival footage of the blood on the streets in the final days of the Suharto regime in 1998 and the spasms of anger than followed for months afterward, the film settles into a nice rhythm demonstrating the gulf between the early hopes of the student protesters and the country's current array of problems (corruption, religious tension, poverty). The film reinforces a idea circulating among Indonesia-watchers that the downfall of Suharto marked the toppling of a man, but not the system he led. The forces of violence and privilege that were part of the New Order are very much alive in the Reform Era.

Among the shorts, BW Purba Negara's "Bermulai Dari A" ("Starting From A") was a gem. A blind girl and a speech-impaired boy befriend each other, she teaching him to speak to help him master the Koran, and he offering her companionship to guide her through the darkness. The story is simply and elegantly told, with little language but many gestures and tactile contact between the pair facilitating their communications. The ending - spoiler alert - in which the boy's gutteral utterances sound distinctly orgasmic only to be revealed as Koranically-inspired was brilliant and brave. With religion and disability at its heart, the film was funny and profoundly moving. All in 15 minutes!

There were plenty of foreign films to keep cosmopolitan cinema buffs happy, but for a festival like this one, it's the local stuff that makes it worthwhile. This time around Q! Film Festival has well and truly delivered - long may it continue to do so.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Future plans

After more than two fantastic years at the Jakarta Globe, I'm moving on to other things. It was a great privilege to work with such an exciting group of journalists from around the world in the newsroom - we had a great core of talented and enthusiastic reporters, editors, designers and photographers from Indonesia, complemented by some ambitious young foreign staff.

Like in any job there were some frustrations along the way, and yes, some of those contributed to me choosing to leave. But I leave the place with many fond memories and hope that it can once again offer authoritative and incisive coverage of a country that many English-speakers are rightly keen to understand.

Newsrooms are workplaces like no other. There's a contagious energy pulsating through the place, especially when a big story is breaking. Deadlines are constant, and few tasks can be pushed back from one day to the next, so stress remains high and desks remain messy. That's what I love, and what I'll miss.

For now, I'll be staying in Jakarta doing some writing and reading and travelling and thinking for a few months longer (indulgent, I know). I hope to become more regular in updating the blog and in taking in the sights and sounds of the city.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Things I brought back

There are few things more dispiriting than being subjected to the stories of someone else's holiday in excruciating detail, with every delayed flight, serendipitous encounter and historic ruin recalled as if it mattered. Those things are great to live through (except perhaps the delayed flight), but aren't nearly as captivating in facsimile form.

So with that in mind, I'm sparing you the predictable travelogue of my just-completed two-week jaunt around Central Europe (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague) and Middle East (Dubai airport, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Istanbul) with the delightful Miss Melanie. Instead, you get quirky bite-sized observations. Enjoy.

- Central Europe seems to have been spared the worst of the continent's economic crisis, at least to the lay observer. In the cities we visited, there were few beggars, idle working-age people, abandoned buildings or cases of petty crime. Instead, there were plenty of tourists and businesspeople bustling around, and a cheery sense of optimism among people. While Austria and Slovakia use the euro (leaving things in the latter country remarkably cheap), Hungary and the Czech Republic have kept their own currencies and allowed them to depreciate against the euro over the past year (the Hungarian forint by 7 percent and the Czech koruna by 5 percent). Hard to see them rushing toward the euro-zone any time soon.

- The ageing of the population in the Central European places we visited is becoming evident. I was surprised at the frequency with which seemingly low-skill retail and service industry jobs were filled by older, well-educated middle class people. A fertility rate below replacement level (1.29 births per woman in the Czech Republic, 1.39 in Slovakia, 1.41 in Hungary and 1.42 in Austria) has left few young people to fill those jobs, and older people are stepping into the breach with surprising enthusiasm - or desperation.

- Bicycles are taking over cities, powered by bike-friendly planning schemes and government-run hire services. Travelling by bike is the best way to get around the inner urban areas of cities including Vienna and Budapest - the paths are smooth, separated from vehicle traffic, are close to the action and offer safe places for parking. In many cases, lanes of roads have been taken from vehicles and given to cyclists. As for bike hire schemes, they seem to be popular among tourists and locals, with key features being simple and stylish bikes, an abundance of collection and drop-off points, a relatively simple registration process and the lack of a requirement to wear helmets.

- Car-free zones are entrenched parts of inner cities. And it's wonderful. From the square around St. Stephen's Cathedral in central Vienna to the tram-dominated thoroughfare of Jaffa Road in Jerusalem's New City, people on foot are taking over cities, completely changing their character. While this may have met with some resistance at the time, the outcome is cities that are quieter, greener and more friendly to human activity. It also means that the space once set aside for cars - both roads and parking - can be put to more productive use.

- Cities that invested in preserving their architectural heritage are drawing huge crowds. The old city of Bratislava, for example, is exquisitely charming in the way it has maintained buildings, roads and town squares from hundreds of years ago. The city has found a good balance between maintaining the edifice of historic buildings while renovating the interiors so they are functional as modern restaurants, galleries and offices. In comparison to the drab greyness of the rest of the city - much of which is a product of the decades of communism it endured - the old town is small and delicate thing of beauty. Most of the other cities visited have seemingly put a lot of work into heritage, and the results are breathtaking.

- Hungarians love a good puzzle. It's no surprise that Ernő Rubik, investors of the famous cube, was from Budapest. Perhaps the most unusual experience on our trip was TRAP, the Team Race Against Puzzles, an hour-long adventure game that forced us to use our wits, and occasionally our strength, to defuse a bomb by solving a series of challenges. While our duo performed terribly (we were still far from the end when our bomb exploded) it was a wonderfully mind-bending experience. Turns out these things are all the rage in Budapest, and it's only a matter of time before they spread elsewhere. (Check out this terrific article to learn more about the phenomenon and the relationship with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's flow theory.)

- Israel's overt security anxieties have eased in the past decade. When I visited in 2003, in the midst of the second intifada, the entrance to every public space was patrolled by no-nonsense security guards, methodically checking the bags and bodies of every person stepping inside. Nowadays, much of that physical security infrastructure has disappeared and security staff are more willing to joke around. Also now, you can travel on public transportation with a backpack without seeing other commuters gulp in fear. Why the change in mood? One person I spoke to attributed it to the effectiveness of the security wall blocking off the West Bank from (the rest of, if you wish) Israel. keeping out trouble-makers. Maybe. It could also be that would-be trouble-makers have turned their attention to other parts of the Middle East in recent years, leaving their frustrations with Israel on the backburner. Still, with gas masks being distributed to every Israeli citizen ahead of a possible attack from Syria, plenty of people are still on edge.

That's the lot, then.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Journalism jobs going at the Jakarta Globe

The Jakarta Globe is looking for some copy editors to help keep this place humming.

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The Jakarta Globe is one of Asia's leading English-language newspapers and websites (www.thejakartaglobe.com). Produced by a team of journalists from Indonesia and abroad, the outlet offers news on local, national and international affairs in the fields of politics, business, sports and the arts.

The Globe is looking for several new copy editing staff to help it maintain its position as a leading source of quality news and information on Indonesia.

SENIOR COPY EDITOR
The senior copy editor will have at least three years experience as a writer or editor with an English-language news outlet. Responsibilities include maintaining a high standard of written prose across the masthead, liaising with reporters, writing headlines and other story components, and mentoring copy editors and checking their work.

COPY EDITOR (Two vacancies)
The copy editors will have a degree in journalism or experience as a writer or editor with an English-language news outlet. Responsibilities include copy editing news stories, opinion articles and features, liaising with reporters and writing headlines and other story components.

Salaries and housing payments that allow a high standard of living in Jakarta, a thriving international city, are available for the right candidates.

Please contact chief copy editor Ari Sharp (ari.sharp@beritasatumedia.com) with any questions or to submit your CV. Applications close March 22, 2013.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

An open letter to the pickpocket on the No. 20 Kopaja

My dear sir,

Kudos to you on your fine accomplishment last Monday. I was completely oblivious to your wily deed for a good half-hour after I stepped off the minibus, until I did the Self-Pat Down of Doom in the office and felt nothing but crestfallen disappointment.

I must admit that early in your routine, before I knew that I was the mark, you had me feeling sorry for you. With your shabby clothes and receding hairline, you were struggling to generate much interest among my fellow travellers in your shabby A6 flyers that looked as if they were eighth-generation photocopies on a battered Xerox. Few people seemed interested in the Bandung reflexology service that you seemed to be touting for, and none at all were keen on having you demonstrate your technique on their hands.

The dejected look on your face briefly made me feel pity for you. But knowing that I once felt pity for you makes me now feel a pang of pity for myself, or at least for the me of last Monday.

So when you wandered up to my seat, looked me in the eye with a hangdog expression and reached for my hand, I was somewhat obliging. My left hand was clutching a retracted umbrella at the time, however you gently but firmly eased it into yours. I expected a squeeze, perhaps a pinch, and a bit of firm pressure. And you gave me those things, but pretty quickly you ventured up my arm with your right hand, until you'd reached over my shoulder and had brought my chest forward to my knees.

At the time I thought you were a bit rough, but then many Indonesian men are robustly physical, unafraid of delivering a firm slap. I had a hunch you were up to something sinister, so I kept a close eye on the pseudo-gold and silver watch on my left wrist. And when you let me sit back upright a few seconds later, I was sure to check that the watch was still in position. Which it was.

But my watch was not what you were seeking. As you well knew, my iPhone was sitting in the breast pocket of my shirt, within tantalisingly easy reach as I leaned forward. Your grip on it was so perfect and delicate - the sign of a true craftsman. Within seconds it had moved from my pocket to yours. And not long after, you'd called out to the driver to slow down so you could jump off. I don't recall if you had a grin on your face, but I suspect you're too good at your occupation to let a hubristic smile be your undoing.

Your unsolicited demonstration has led me to learn some of the theory and nomenclature of your occupation. Looks to me like you were working "single o" -- a "stick" (distractor), a "shade" (view-blocker) and a "tool" (lifter), all rolled into one. Your flyer -- an oh-so-crappy flyer -- was perfect as a "pattern interrupt" to distract me from my idle thoughts as I cruised down the street. And perhaps the pièce de résistance was using my own momentum as I sat back to effortlessly remove the goods from my pocket. Bravo.

One person I told my story to said they thought you'd been watching my pattern for a few days prior, knowing that I regularly catch the same Kopaja bus at about the same time, carry an expensive phone and would be easy prey. But I doubt you would have needed the reconnaissance. You strike me as the sort of petty crook who could use your intuition to find things of value, sizing me up on a single encounter rather than gathering clues over time. Instead, I think last Monday I was unlucky (and a touch naive), and you were fortunate (and rather cunning).

I wonder whether you've considered a career in Indonesian politics. Your ability to earn people's trust and assume a disposition of magnanimity in order to relieve them of the contents of their pockets would seem ideal preparation. Then again, there's probably more honour in being a petty thief on a minibus. I understand.

Jakarta can be a tough city to survive in, and we've all got to do what we can to keep our heads above water, sometimes literally. I'm guessing your line of work can be pretty lucrative on a good day. Enjoy your luck while it lasts. But remember, one day you'll pick on the wrong person, someone not as gormlessly trusting as me, and it'll end badly for you.

I've conceded that my phone has gone now, never to be straddled in my hands again. I hope you -- or whoever you sell it to for a fraction of the price I paid for it -- treat it well. Don't scratch the screen, don't drain the battery searching for Wi-Fi, and please don't ruin my 14-game Freecell winning streak.

Best wishes on your future endeavours,


Ari the Chump