Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia’

New Indonesia president faces legislative deadlock

October 20, 2014

Monday’s inauguration of Joko Widowo as Indonesia’s seventh president is a transformational moment for the world’s third largest democracy. Known as Jokowi, Widodo is Indonesia’s first retail politician and will be the first freely elected leader who wasn’t part of the power structure during Suharto’s 40 years of authoritarian rule. At Indonesia’s Ubud Writers Festival., experts warned the remnants of those bad old days threat to stop Jokowi’s reformist agenda, bad news for Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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Air Asia Indonesia performance doesn’t fly

June 23, 2013

Air Asia founder Tony Fernandes says “Indonesia is the jewel in our crown.” If he’s serious, he’d better upgrade his royal caretakers.

I’m a longtime Air Asia flyer. I’m used to the budget carrier’s no-frills, pay-for-it-if-you-want-it approach laden with creative surcharges, and I’m resigned to its at best indifferent customer service. But my experience with Air Asia Indonesia was a shock.

First, there’s the absolutely tacky – and in many jurisdictions likely illegal – practice of requiring that each passenger pay in advance for baggage, whether they have any or not, rather than being straightforward and simply adding that mandatory charge to the base fare. While Air Asia has always dug up ways to charge for services, it’s never gone to this extreme, making customers buy something regardless of whether they want or need it. That goes against the entire Air Asia ethos.

Far worse was the experience when I tried to fly Air Asia Indonesia from Bali to a family wedding in Makassar. My wife’s youngest brother was getting married, so she and our six year old daughter both had key roles in the ceremony. En route to the airport – I’d been on assignment for Fodors.com – we got caught in Bali’s extraordinary traffic as it prepares for major international meetings later this year, and arrived at 2:40pm for a 3:30pm flight.

The employee at the desk refused to check us in, even the plane had not even arrived at the airport. And, of course, Air Asia wouldn’t consider rescheduling our flights or refunding our money. We asked him for let us talk to the supervisor; this employee claimed he was the supervisor. We asked him to let us talk to the people at the gate to see if they could help us – again, the aircraft hadn’t arrived yet, so it’s not as if boarding had already begun – and he refused. As my wife pleaded and our daughter cried, the employee seemed to delight in our predicament, rather than show any desire to help us.

We appealed to other airport personnel, including the security staff, to assist us. They recognized the absurdity of the Air Asia employee’s behavior and tried to intervene on our behalf. Again, the Air Asia employee refused to show any common sense or common decency. Instead, he became confrontational and aggressive toward us. We were in a completely ridiculous situation, but it was clear that the person who could fix it wouldn’t.

Fortunately, we found an alternative flight to Makassar with another carrier at substantial additional cost, and missed nearly all of the evening ceremonies due to the later flight time. All of this unhappiness could have been avoided if this one Air Asia Indonesia employee had chosen cooperation rather confrontation as his mode of customer service. When purchased our new tickets, we couldn’t help notice that the Air Asia ticket counter’s thick glass window had been broken; apparently we are not the carrier’s first dissatisfied customers in Bali.

Perhaps worst of all, I wrote to Air Asia about the incident via its website with full details, including the name of the employee. I got an acknowledgement that the item was received but no further response. I tried to follow up without success, then began the whole process again, and again got no reply. No one at Air Asia had the guts to stand up and say the employee followed our rules and we stand by his actions, or to apologize and say they’d try to ensure future customers didn’t face similarly suffer in situations that could be fixed so easily.

So let me now ask Tony Fernandes whether he thinks his employees took good care of Air Asia’s crown jewel in this case. I look forward to his response.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

School for bombers grad fights terrorism

October 19, 2010

At the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival earlier this month, I met one of Indonesia’s leading anti-terrorism campaigners. Noor Huda Ismail graduated from Pondok Pesantren Ngruki, the Islamic boarding school co-founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the alleged spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyaah terrorist group responsible for the Bali bombings. Ngruki graduates led the 2002 Bali bombings, and Ba’asyir also served time related to the attack, accused of failing to notify authorities about the impending assault.

Ismail’s mentor when he entered Ngruki as a 12 year old, Utomo Pamungkas, received a life sentence on terrorism charges. In Temanku, Teroris? (My Friend, the Terrorist?), the former Washington Post Southeast Asia correspondent writes about how their paths diverged as students and beyond. As reported in Asia Times, Ismail’s observations led him to start a foundation to help convicted terrorists reject political violence through, among others things, currency trading and shrimp farming.

Meeting such fascinating individuals, from Ismail to China’s Ma Jian and hearing what they have to say about their lives and works in an intimate, idyllic setting make the Ubud Festival one of the world’s best literary events.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Author Ma Jian links Nobel Peace Prize, Bali

October 11, 2010

This year’s seventh annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival featured Chinese writer in exile Ma Jian, who I interviewed for Asia Times. The author of Beijing Coma, Ma has chosen to write books about China from outside, going back only for visits that he reports include frequent questioning by police.

Coincidentally, while Ma was in Bali, fellow democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to change the system from inside China. It’s fruitless to debate whether Ma or Liu is working most effectively to win freedom for the People’s Republic of China. It’s much more important to remember, and beyond debate, that Beijing’s rulers and their Communist Party are responsible for suppressing freedom and democracy in China.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Tapping palm oil without tapping out rainforests

March 9, 2010

Traveling in Borneo for Lonely Planet, I’ve seen firsthand how palm oil plantations can distort and destroy rainforests. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Last month, palm oil producers and consumers, scientists, investors, environmental advocates, and development groups gathered for the International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) to try to better meet the challenges facing the industry as demand for palm oil and palm oil development grow. As I wrote in Asia Times, what matters isn’t what people say at these conferences but what happens afterward. Last week produced a troubling sign: an agreement by top producers Indonesia and Malaysia to jointly defend palm oil’s record. Malaysia’s palm oil producers have long dismissed any criticism of their industry with the vehemence and veracity of the 20th century US tobacco industry.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Tennis diplomacy scores an ace in Bali

November 7, 2009

The women’s tennis tour season finale in Bali has been overshadowed by the withdrawal of US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer after drawing a suspension from World Anti-Doping Association for failing to report her whereabouts to authorities. But, as I report in Asia Times, the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions provided a step on the road to better understanding between Muslims and Jews. Israel’s Shahar Peer took part in the tournament in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, splitting her two matches. Her participation in Bali contrasts with Dubai, which denied Peer a visa earlier this year, and with 2006, when Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry denied permission for its Fed Cup team to travel to Israel for a scheduled match. If ping pong worked for the US and China, maybe tennis can help thaw relations between Indonesia and Israel.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

East meets West at the Ubud Writers Festival

October 7, 2009

Two years ago, my novel Hong Kong On Air was launched at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali. I blogged for Lonely Planet.com about the festival that year, and I think those posts still convey a sense of this spectacular event.

At Wednesday’s opening press conference, playwright and former political prisoner Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, the first Nobel laureate on the Ubud program, noted the festival’s origin as a counterpoint to the Bali bombings of 2002. “Ubud had been on my radar for some time,” Soyina said. “I was drawn to it as it was a response to an act of the cessation of life.”

As night fell, participants celebrated another opening at Ubud’s Royal Palace albeit without the full moon of 2007. But again this year, under Bali’s magical influence, at the opening dinner, camaraderie and learning were already evident on the menu for readers and writers alike.

If you’re in the region, the event runs through Sunday, followed by the festival’s first event outside Bali at Yogyakarta’s Borobudur temple on Tuesday. If you’re far away, start making your plans to attend the Ubud festival next year.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Don’t boo Andy Murray because he’s Scottish

September 11, 2009

Watching the US Open tennis tournament, once Taylor Dent beat Ivan Navarro to set up a third round match with Andy Murray, I found myself hoping the New York crowd would boo Murray off the court. Not just because Dent is an American and the tournament’s top feel-good story after two operations for back trouble that could have left him in a wheelchair. Not just because I don’t like Murray’s playing style, personality, bad teeth, or rock star entourage before he’s topped the charts. No, I wanted the fans in my home town to bury Murray because he’s from Scotland. But as soon as I thought it, I knew it was wrong.

Scotland, you’ll recall, released convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison last month. Most of the 270 victims of the Christmas week 1988 airliner bombing were Americans, bound for New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, about 15 kilometers from center court at Flushing Meadow (note from Queens native: Flushing Meadow is correct; Flushing Meadows is wrong, no matter how often it’s repeated). Scottish Justice Minister Kenny Macaskill marked himself for near-universal approbation with his smug claims of superior compassion for al-Megrahi while showing none for the victims of the cowardly attack and their families.

Documents released since the release show the British government, Murray’s other national flag, shares culpability in the abhorrent decision. Moreover, the release seems so wrong, so ill-conceived, so irrational, that suspicion lingers – and evidence mounts – that there must have been an under the table deal with Libya, trading al-Megrahi’s freedom for oil or some other commercial consideration.

Americans and decent people all over the world have a right to be angry at the governments of Scotland and Britain. But that doesn’t give them any right to be angry at Scottish people like Andy Murray. Americans, of all people, should understand that.

For most of the George W Bush administration, America was the most vilified nation on earth due to the invasion of Iraq. (For some, Ameriphobia dates to Vietnam, Hiroshima, the dawn of the military industrial-industrial complex, or back to that Scotsman Adam Smith.) As an American living overseas, whenever nationality was mentioned, I took great pains to explain I didn’t support Bush or the Iraq invasion. I didn’t want to get blamed for the stupid things my government did.

Holding civilians responsible for the sins of their governments is precisely what terrorists do. Al-Megrahi and his co-conspirators, or whoever bombed Pan Am flight 103, didn’t ask any of the passengers what they thought about US support for Israel or its enmity toward Libya. No one checked the nationalities of workers filing into New York’s World Trade Center twin towers on that clear morning eight years ago. They became victims simply because they were presumed to be Americans by madmen who considered their nationality a criminal act.

Like ordinary folks, athletes don’t deserve to be victimized for their citizenship, but it happens. Recall the 1972 Olympics in Munich or the March ambush of Sri Lanka’s national cricket team playing in Pakistan. Tennis has escaped the violence but not the politics. Israeli players are routinely denied entry visas for tournaments in Arab countries. In the Fed Cup, the women’s international team competition, Indonesia chose to forfeit rather than play in Israel. On the other end of the scale, Murray, like his British number one predecessor Tim Henman, faces extraordinary pressure from the home fans at Wimbledon, the biggest tournament in tennis, where no British man has won the title since 1936.

Some years ago, I experienced a version of politics and sports mixing badly on a basketball court in Washington, DC. Some guy I’d never played with began roughing me up from the first dribble, pushing and elbowing in an otherwise relaxed game. I’m not that good a player, so hardly merited the special attention. It took me a couple of points to realize it had to be because I was white (the only white player in the game) and this young black man hated white people, or at least hated playing basketball with them. I’d never done anything to him, and I wasn’t a racist (certainly not as far as he knew). But he judged me solely on my membership in a certain target group and acted out, just as the terrorists do.

Athletes, like the rest of us, deserve to be judged on who they are, not what they are or where they’re from. So fellow New Yorkers and tennis fans everywhere, show your sportsmanship and enlightenment: don’t boo Andy Murray just because he’s Scottish. Boo him just because he’s Andy Murray, and delight with me that he crashed out of the US Open in the fourth round.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Coloring Judgment

July 12, 2009

In a preview of US President Barack Obama’s trip to Ghana, BBC asked children at an Accra elementary school to explain the meaning of his visit.

One boy, perhaps seven years old, said, “Obama proves that black people can do anything that white people can do.” As an American, I’m extraordinarily proud that our country could help teach this lesson. I pray that it sinks in the across the African continent.

As a former resident of Africa, it’s incredible to me that, after 50-plus years of independence, an African child born this century can believe in the inferiority of black people. I won’t speculate about the reasons the boy feels that way, but I’ve witnessed something similar in Asia.

While working on Lonely Planet’s inaugural guide to Borneo, I crossed the border from predominantly poor, poorly educated, underdeveloped and untouristed East Kalimantan in Indonesia to more affluent, educated, developed and cosmopolitan East Sabah in Malaysia and suddenly found race an issue. As I wrote in Asia Times, during six weeks in Kalimantan, I received overwhelmingly warm receptions and helpful responses to inquiries. In Sabah, I was mocked, shunned and insulted. (I understood the taunts since I speak Indonesian, as close to Malaysian as US English is to British.)

I peg the difference to the Malaysian government’s racial policies. Its system of preferences of Malays and restrictions on Chinese and other groups institutionalizes racism. It teaches that all people are not created equal, that there are differences in race, and that Malays are at the bottom of the pile.

That’s no way to raise proud Malaysian children, and, unfortunately, it’s most likely going to be a while before America elects a Malaysian president.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Indonesia is not a ‘Muslim country’

June 16, 2009

Al Jazeera is promoting a special program called “Hearts and Minds: the struggle for Indonesia’s soul” ahead of nation’s presidential election in July.


The show is off to a bad start in its promos, calling Indonesia “the world’s largest Muslim country.” Indonesia is not a “Muslim country” – it is a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. An estimated 85-90 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslims. But there are more Christians, Hindus and other non-Muslims in Indonesia than there are people in Australia, Sri Lanka, Scandinavia, or Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories combined.


Recognizing that significant minority, Indonesia’s founders made a conscious decision not to declare their nation a Muslim state, and voters have affirmed that decision in every election the country has held. Indonesia’s motto remains Unity in Diversity, not Allah Akbar.


Beginning with its misinformed “Muslim country” premise – whether due to poor preparation or ideological predisposition – Al Jazeerah’s special seems unlikely to shed useful light. Instead it will help Indonesia remain the greatest story never told.


Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. 


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