A great piece here on the state of play leading into the imminent start of Indonesia’s Presidential election campaign.
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I have intermittently linked to individual EastAsia Forum articles in the past, but I should take the opportunity to introduce the full EastAsia Forum site here.
The EastAsia Forum has some very insightful pieces by some world class contributors and is highly recommended.
There are a million ways to describe living in Jakarta, but the one you can read here is among my all time favourites.
The article is short, but by goodness the author’s skills as a professional writer come through as he manages to weave a short history of Indonesia’s recent politics and social drama into a small part of his morning.
While this post is about the alarming resurgence of malaria in Southeast Asia as described here, I want to take you back several years to explain why this story resonates with me.
On my first trip to Indonesia at that time I met two very smart, funny and interesting Indonesian women. Yulee and Julee were very kind to me, and although there were major language problems I liked them immensely.
To my great embarrassment however I mixed up their phone numbers, and with almost identical names and voices I was quickly unsure which of them I was speaking with when I left Indonesia.
I eventually rediscovered who was who and kept in touch, until some months later I got a message from Yulee (which translated as) “Our best friend has gone forever“.
Working out what happened took some time. Yulee didn’t know exactly and the translation confused almost as much as clarified, but it eventually emerged that Julee’s young life was taken quickly by a mix of malaria and Indonesia’s often fatally inadequate public health service.
Thinking of malaria as a critical threat to public health is important, but so too is remembering the impact of the disease on individual lives and families.
Julee was indeed our best friend, and she is gone forever.
As those with direct memories of World War II pass away our collective memory of that time is increasingly shaped by the available photos.
These photos are usually of poor quality and are almost always in black and white.
As such, it is easy to forget that the war was conducted in vivid colour.
Thanks to the great website here, some of their colour pictures bring the conflict in the Pacific Theatre (and thus the Southeast Asian region) to historical life.
There are hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of pictures, so feel free to search for better examples than the ones that follow.
I will gladly update this post with other relevant links that readers can offer.
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I recently asked a dear friend what my next post here should focus on. The reply came to me as a single word – “life”.
Where to start in the context of Southeast Asia, and how to address a concept as vast and as nebulous as life itself?
Perhaps, in the same way that the topic is a single word, the response could also be in single words.
In that vein I remembered Thomas Fuller’s thoughts in the New York Times article here, where he presented life in Southeast Asia through the single word prism of impunity.
Looking at that article again there is still little I disagree with, although the Southeast Asian world he describes has moved on somewhat.
Is impunity still an apt in describing Southeast Asia? Absolutely…but also maybe not universally. Impunity continues to exist in the region, although recent events in Malaysia have shown how far and how quickly political certainties can shift.
Even so, for many Southeast Asians impunity is clearly limited to the earthly world. Many tens of millions of Southeast Asians believe their lives to be subject to the whims of spirits. These spirits usually exist in both this life and the next, so achieving impunity from their wrath requires great dedication. This dedication can be seen in countless mosques, temples, shrines, churches and rituals often unique to the region.
And so, like any half decent political scientist, in the contest between the concepts of legal and political impunity and extreme vulnerability to the whim of spirits I find myself drawn to the concept of power.
Life in Southeast Asia is, to my mind, often a contest of power. To paraphrase the words of Chairman Mao “power comes from the barrel of a gun”, but I wonder if life in Southeast Asia is shaped just as much by spirit power that acts with impunity.
Curiously visitors and locals experience this power differently. A visiting outsider may consider themselves as having impunity against (at least local) sprits, but are aware that they have a life changing vulnerability to other expressions of power. In contrast a local resident may experience and exercise power very differently in the life they enjoy, live or simply endure.
Most fascinating perhaps is to witness how this power relevancy in life switches as Southeast Asians become foreigners and foreigners become Southeast Asians through the magic of migration. Notably too, tourism seems impotent to offer all but an alluring taste of this possible reversal of power for a fragment of their life.
And so that is my take on life in Southeast Asia. I suggest just four words, namely impunity, vulnerability, spirits and power can capture life in the region.
Could any reader capture Southeast Asia in three words? Attempts are welcome.
UPDATE – At the top of this post I referred to a ‘dear friend”. Such is her personality that “dear” should be replaced with “brilliant, wise, funny, adorable, amazing and lovely”. I hope she can forgive me for my initial oversight 😉
…some 4,500 years ago according to the story here.
Now you know, although I cannot imagine easily that centuries of cumulative academic study can be accurately condensed into a single short news item.
Interesting conclusion though. I will post again on this topic later.