Once Upon an Afternoon in Monas

So I happened to be at the ‘epicentrum’ of another political drama that Friday afternoon. One of the presidential election candidates who was declared lost didn’t seem to give up. And they filed a legal suit against KPU and the triumphant opponent. As a nation, we have seen more than enough drama. I believe millions others feel and agreed on this. We’re all tired of these incessant exchange of libelous statements or insults, which in turn prove how disgraceful these politicians actually become. To make it all worse, the media plunged into the raging wars on the web, sparking tsunamis of overly optimistic claims, agitations, self defense, self bragging and so forth.

But my eyes were focused on more interesting a phenomenon. With all the political unrest going on, I saw a group of foreign tourists taking an afternoon stroll without fear. Another young Caucasian male with a backpack was also spotted walking alone without giving a damn to the demonstration just across the street. He was showing no anxiety as well. It was like another afternoon in Jakarta, literally. Everything ran normally, except when you watch TV or read the newspapers. Things would be a lot more different. Jakarta would look like a riotous city, though it was in fact peaceful. The demonstration was under control. No violence was involved in any movements. So far we haven’t seen anyone getting killed horrendously.

Two of the foreign tourists scattered throughout Jakarta that afternoon were Dieter and Pia who are from Switzerland, Europe. I bumped into them in National Monument or famously called “Monas”, Central Jakarta. When I asked them why they decided to visit Indonesia during this political turmoil, they quipped,”We believe Indonesia is safe.”

“Maybe it’s not the smartest idea to choose this point of time (to visit Indonesia),”said Dieter who I saw taking pictures with Pia. Compared to African and South American countries, Indonesia according to Dieter and Pia is relatively safer to explore. “The risk is not that big, we believe…” They have an acquaintance in the capital who told them it is not the best time to travel here. “It’s presidential election and Idul Fitri holiday, but well we have no option,”Dieter added. Although it is a vacation season where million people have booked all the available tickets, Pia explained, it is still relatively easy to get them. So far their trip runs well.

Though Indonesians are known for their hospitality, complained Dieter, some of them sometimes rip foreigners off by selling goods five times the price. “You have to be smart and start to negotiate.”

One thing that separates Indonesian tourists and foreigners is that these foreigners tend to prefer private tours while Indonesians like to be a guided tour in a huge group. This preference, I suppose, has something to do with budget. With more people on tour, you only need to pay less money, and vice versa. Yet, Dieter and Pia like going around and visiting locals better than anything else. They seem to be more interested in seeing how natives live their lives. Alas, they were too late! Jakarta was left by millions by the time they got here. The next time they really want to get to know Jakartans in reality. Indonesians most of the time only get interested in going shopping and taking pictures of landmarks. How do I know? Because I am one of them.

Dieter has also something to say about the democratic process in the country. As I raised the question on the presidential candidate who claimed there was unfairness in the recapitulation process, he said,”What we believe, which is really important because Switzerland has a direct democracy where people can vote on all kinds of stuff. What is important in our culture is that you accept if there is a vote on something, or in elections you accept the results. You know what I mean, it’s considered a bad habit if there is a democratic election and then your party loses, you have to accept it, that’s the process of democracy. After you lose something, you cannot go on the street and challenge. You shouldn’t do that.” Of course, we cannot expect Indonesia to be as democratic, efficient, violation-free and transparent as Switzerland, because we have more than a hundred million voters, but what matters most is the mindset of the people while democratic events are in progress. Indonesia as an emerging nation might still have a long way to go towards a better state of democracy but they are already on the right track.

Dieter points out that if Indonesia wishes to accelerate and maintain its economic growth, what it badly needs is a democratic political system. “I don’t believe that the Chinese system will work for a long time because only if people feel they have the control over their country then the full economic potential comes to them. There is no single country that historically has managed through way of a dictatorship that becomes a sustainable and suscessful in business. You see all the advanced economies at some point switched to a democratic system.” In China he thinks it’s only a matter of time when they have to open up and right now what they can do is suppressing the democratic unrests. “They (the Chinese ruler) can do it for some time, but not forever,”Dieter argued. Political freedom should go hand in hand with the freedom of economy, he affirmed. So he feels optimistic that Indonesia’s economy and welfare, provided that they continue practicing the democratic system, will improve. I couldn’t agree more on this. As I came back from China last June, I recall one punching line blurted by our tour guide. She said,”To be honest, Chinese people are not rich. It is the government which is wealthy.” As she uttered that, she cast her glance at the Shanghai sky which is full of towering magnificent skyscrapers.

To the West, the perception on Indonesia is “strong”, Dieter said. In Switzerland, people believe Indonesia is very attractive a market that will take some time to develop. As Dieter put it, there are a lot of potentials like we all have 250 million people, we have fertile ground, so it’s just a matter of making the right choice.

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