The Hidden Jewel in Asia - Indonesia

It's been over a month since I was posted here for my company from Hong Kong. The learning curve for new-life adaptation has not been too deep for me. My previous overseas living experiences in Japan, Korea, UAE and Canada within the past ten years surely help. Thinking about it now, Europe is also in my resume, particularly given my overseas studies at the UK at a much younger age, where I first acquired many survival skills. The learning experiences at Insead also come in handy. But the adventurous opportunities for exploration and learning something new never fail to fascinate me. Besides, the private privilege of comparing observations between economies could be as much fun as enlightenment.

Having a family to go home to, especially one with outgoing and fun-loving characters around, also makes life easier and no less fulfulling - actually better - than the bachelor's lifestyle with which I was living in earlier locations.

It's not a bad view from my office in the Stock Exchange Building in Jakarta. But the polluted air can change it, putting a veil of haze on. The contrast between the two pictures seems obvious enough.

Setting foot on foreign soil, naturally one would like to feel a welcoming environment with friendly faces around. Indonesia should be very high on this score, although the story may not be the same for its general infrastructural friendliness. I guess my crude judgement here is in line with, rather than being influenced by, its ranks on those world indexes about "ease of doing business" and "economic freedom" - both very low, although nearer to the bottom of the former list than the latter. In fact, while one would not really feel being unfree in doing anything here, the difficulty of getting things done through the bureaucrazy is readily appreciated, eg, getting documents approved and custom clearance for shipments - in weeks rather than days.

Perhaps the speed of home internet surfing offers some clue to where expectation in lifestyle is most wanting. I am yet to find a reliable and, at the same time, economical service provider with genuine broadband/cable/ISDN-level of good performance to offer. The so-called broadband access provided by KableVision, a local cable TV operator, eg, is slower than the crude dial-up service in the early days of internet in other parts of the world, but charging a tacky-looking modem at US$109 and with a monthly fee of almost US$55 per month. Not sure does this convey any sense of disparity to other places anywhere near the Big-Max index's usefulness.

In today's e-world, however, that could be a major impediment to new business opportunities, if not economic gains. For one thing surely, working and online learning from home could only be a dream. While access in the office enviroment is mostly up to international standard (no doubt with more sophisticated server technology in place), information search from remote locations is barely efficient and e-transactions largely hindered - hardly a breeding ground for creative concepts. To be fair, though, I am yet to explore a couple of service providers rumoured to be good.

Nevertheless, the wireless and digital phenomenon seems prevalent enough, although Nokia 9300i seems more popular than Blackberry and digital cameras in the 3.2 mega pixels' range are still cool enough. But no 3G network is yet available.

But then who cares about new websites, push-email techology and WiFi availability when you live on a sustenance level of US$1 a day, as do a substantial portion of the 240 million population. Although mother beggars with toddlers in arms knocking on car windows is not as common a sight here as on Bombay streets, poverty is no doubt one thing keeping the rather good-looking president SBY losing sleep once in a while. By the way, I have had the jostled (from within a crowd) privilege of shaking hands with him when he was the honourable guest at the latest local anniversary occasion for the Chinese National Day.

Traffic infrastructure in Jakarta should be another concern for everbody as much as for the government. Although serious jam is probably one of the many big cities' syndromes that commuters just have to live with, whether the lack of modern traffic system and drivers' civilized code of road conduct, as in other emerging economies, adds to the problem can be debatable. As in the major Chineses cities, ShenZheng, eg, drivers simply squeeze cars into wedging space regardless of lines on road and even traffic signs. There are simply more cars than the roads can accommodate, period.

Otherwise, this is indeed one beautiful place on earth with rich cultural heritage to be explored and enjoyed. The food is tasty, a warning on high cholesterol level besides. The pretty ladies are, in their uniquely feminine way, very pretty. There were folklores of magic spell. I thought instead they were just naturally captivating.

I anticipate my regional travel schedule to be pretty exotic for these two years. With a landscape stretching a distance almost equivalent to that from London to Moscow and with over a hundred islands (I read from a book that there are 13,000 islands in Indonesia), there is no shortage of destinations in Indonesia to explore, beyond the famous Bali and the world wonder Borobudur. Watch out.


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