Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bookmark: At home with Indonesia

The Jakarta Post
Sunday, 9 October 2005

Title: Made in Indonesia
Author: Warwick Purser
Publisher: Equinox Publishing
Date: September, 2005

By Thang D. Nguyen
Contributor, Jakarta

Judged by its cover, size, and shape, Made in Indonesia looks just like any other coffee-table book on Indonesia -- one with lots of pictures of Balinese resorts, beautiful Javanese houses, or rice fields, and a short introduction, if any. But it's not!

While Made in Indonesia has many great pictures, they are not the key feature of the book. Rather, they accompany and help the author explain and illustrate in his own words how Indonesians make world-class handcrafted products, using natural and recycled waste materials and, of course, their hands.

Simply put, it is nothing less than amazing to see in this book how bamboo, palm trees, seashells, recycled newspapers and steel are turned into elegant, stylish and classy handbags, shoes, picture frames, dining ware, furniture and a variety of interior accessories in the hands of Indonesian craftspeople.

While there are many books about Indonesia -- ranging from history, politics, puppetry (wayang kulit), coffee and clove cigarettes (kretek), to the nightlife in Jakarta and "crazy" foreigners (bule gila, or bugil) living in the country -- there has not been one that is devoted entirely to Indonesian craftsmanship. Thus, the timing of Made in Indonesia makes it a significant publication.

What is more significant about this book, though, is the story of its author, Warwick Purser, and how he has come to build "Out of Asia", an exporting business of handicrafts made in Indonesia to markets worldwide.

About 10 years ago, Mr. Purser -- a lanky Aussie who describes himself as an Indonesianized bule -- came to Tembi, a village area on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, central Java, where he saw an opportunity to build an enterprise that would be profitable and benefit the local community at the same time.

"When I first moved to Tembi, the streets were unpaved. Many of the houses [there] were sadly in need of repair. Many families could not afford to buy day-to-day basics ... or provide education. It would seem that there were very few assets that could ensure any degree of continuous and sustainable living," he writes.

There was, however, one asset: "the ability Indonesians have to create almost anything and everything with their hands. Tembi was no exception. However, while the skills were there, they were not being properly utilized. My challenge was to revitalize this talent in an effort to improve their standard of living."

Today, Out of Asia produces handcrafted accessories for some of the finest shops in the world and employs thousands of Indonesians. So, in doing well as a business, Out of Asia does good for the community -- that which we call corporate social responsibility or socially responsible investment.

But what is most significant about Made in Indonesia is that it helps bring Indonesia to the world in a positive way and thereby contributes to a better, more informed understanding of Indonesia as a nation of great diversity, whether it be natural resources, cultures or otherwise.
Despite its geography, diversity and greatness, Indonesia is probably the least known or understood -- if not the most misunderstood -- nation in the world.

For many people in other parts of the world, Indonesia is part of Bali, if they know where the latter is. How many people know that Indonesia is the world's fourth-most populous country, the largest archipelago, the largest Muslim-majority nation and, more importantly, the third-largest democracy?

For one thing, the poor understanding of Indonesia in the world is because of the lack of a largely overdue public relations campaign that promotes (or sells) Indonesia abroad to tourists, investors, and people who, otherwise, could be interested in visiting, doing business, or living in Indonesia. Seriously, how can Malaysia be more "truly Asia" than Indonesia, given the latter's wealth of natural resources and diversity?

What's more, people in many parts of the world, especially Australia and the West, tend to have a negative image of Indonesia. For them, the name Indonesia is a synonym for terrorism, corruption, or radical Muslims, among other things.

While Indonesia does face these immense challenges, there are success stories about it that the world often doesn't hear; positive qualities about it that the world often doesn't see; and nice Indonesians that the world often doesn't meet.

For the most part, this is because what is shown of Indonesia in the international media is usually bad news, which, of course, sells better than good news.

And because of this so-called CNN effect, people will remember and associate Indonesia with such terrorist attacks as the bombings of Bali, both in 2002 and last week, of the JW Marriot Jakarta Hotel in 2003, and of the Australian Embassy last year.

But how many people have seen on TV or read in the news about the successful transformation of the world's largest Muslim-majority nation in the past seven years from 32 years of dictatorship into the world's third largest democracy?

And, for that matter, a few years from now, how many people will remember the Asian tsunami that devastated Indonesia, among other countries, last December?

This is why Made in Indonesia is a timely, relevant, and therefore, meaningful book. Not only does it celebrate Indonesian craftsmanship and introduce it to people all over the world, it also shows positive aspects of Indonesia that they don't know or haven't seen.

Mark Twain once quipped: "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." The same is true with Indonesia: The world just has to listen more attentively!

Mr. Thang D. Nguyen is the Program Director at the Jakarta-based United in Diversity Forum ( He is also an op-ed columnist, whose writing can be read at


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Blogger aangirfan said...

Indonesia is wonderful.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice thought...thanks for bringing this up

12:55 AM  
Blogger Johnjon said...

I discuss this topic daily myself. I also have a website that talks about credit repair business opportunity related things. Go check it out if you get a chance.

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Amanda Michener said...

As always, your review is really interesting. It flows like water in the sea; it is very relaxing, but can be deadly.

12:02 AM  

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