Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gossip is not journalism

The Jakarta Post
10 November 2006


I write in response to the article entitled Squander good luck, rake in misfortune by Julia Suryakusuma in The Jakarta Post on Nov. 8. The author complained about how her maid, and the maid's husband, quit their jobs by not returning to work after Idul Fitri.

Once again, Julia Suryakusuma, who is Indonesia's leading feminist writer, complains about her servants to readers of this newspaper. In doing so, she puts herself in the same category as Jakarta's elite housewives whose pastime is to gather, usually in five-star malls or over lunch at fancy restaurants, to exchange -- you guessed it -- gossip and complaints about their maids or drivers. Is this the result of a U.K education and decades of writing essays on feminism?

What is more pathetic is that Julia Suryakusuma, an intellectual and author, chose to bring her pen down to the level of two semi-literate Indonesians who can't defend themselves.

Whining about your maid is inappropriate in a commentary column. In other words, journalism is not about complaints concerning your personal problems. To be sure, it is not uncommon for journalists to get ideas from their daily lives. But they don't devote their articles to telling readers about them or complaining about their servants.

As for why Julia's maid quit her job, it is possible that she found a different and better job -- or a better boss -- during her vacation.


Squander good luck, rake in misfortune

Opinion and Editorial - November 08, 2006

Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta

Disaster has struck: My servants Sari and Didi have disappeared and with them goes a mother lode of ideas for columns!

My ever-forgetful cook and her husband, the "pious giggler", were meant to return after a one-week mudik (Idul Fitri homecoming), in time for major renovations starting in my house. However, I discovered a few days ago that they had deserted me. Their room was stripped bare of their belongings (and some of mine as well!) and I finally realized that this was their very Javanese way of saying so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.

Perhaps I should have been suspicious from the start -- servants taking mudik for only one week? Get real!

As I stood there in their dusty empty room, it hit me that perhaps I should not be unhappy to lose them. The one thing that I had banked on from them -- their honesty -- turned out to be unfounded. They had lied, stolen and let me down at a crucial time. So, perhaps their disappearing act was a blessing in disguise. Better sooner than later, no?

But I was totally at a loss to comprehend why they did it -- why give up the fantastic deal they had? They only had to do the normal work expected of any household servant -- cooking, cleaning, laundry. In return they got an above-average salary, tips, medical costs and guaranteed education for their three kids, as far as they could go. All the children did well at school, so university and perhaps a chance to escape the poverty cycle was possible too. I was even willing to support the fourth child, Sari or Didi Jr., due any time now in November.

Yes, I know, women sometimes get loopy when they're pregnant -- maybe all the blood being pumped away from the head into the baby-making machine leaves the brain dry as a bone, reducing thinking power to zero, zippo, zilch. But what was Didi's excuse?

I had actually been quite excited at the prospect of a new life -- the baby -- in the house, but this excitement now became astonished reflection as I tried to understand their self-destructive decision. And I couldn't help but wonder if Sari and Didi's short-term thinking, squandering good fortune and planting the seeds for your own -- and others -- bad luck, was somehow a particularly Indonesian thing?

Looking back on our history, it struck me that the answer was a resounding "yes"! From day one in August 1945, we've been consistently wasting our good fortune. Forget Marhaenism, integralism, patrimonialism. Scrap theories of class, economics and institutions! Throw out all the complicated political, anthropological, cultural, psychological theorizing ever cooked up by Indonesian and Western scholars to comprehend Indonesia and Indonesians! Now there's one, complete, explanation: Sari-Didiism. Brilliant, brilliant!

Just look back over the last six decades. We squandered the hard-won independence that promised freedom (at last!), prosperity, pluralism and the pursuit of happiness, for Guided Democracy, our very own homegrown brand of tyranny. Sure, Western-style liberal democracy was fun to fool around with for seven years (1950-1957), but then we said, nah, this ain't suited to our Indonesian circumstances. Let's really mess ourselves up!

So Sukarno called for a political system of "democracy with guidance" based on "indigenous" procedures: Musyawarah (prolonged deliberation) and mufakat (consensus), all, naturally, under the guidance of the Penyambung Lidah Rakyat (Extension of the Tongue of the People, my personal favorite among the many titles Sukarno gave himself).

This dictatorship of "talk, but then do what I say" laid the basis for Soeharto's 32-year authoritarian rule, where all the fruits independence had given us -- political freedom, freedom of expression, civil liberties, human rights -- were dumped in the out-tray.

But there was a lot in the in-tray in the New Order as well, don't you worry. Indonesia experienced unprecedented economic growth, thanks to an export-driven economy, so much so that it was hailed as a model "Asian Tiger" economy. And poverty was alleviated as well -- especially for members of the military, Golkar and Soeharto cronies. In fact, Transparency International even proclaimed Soeharto the world's most corrupt politician, claiming he pinched between US$15-35 million through bribery, racketeering and embezzlement. So there we go again, short-term gains resulting from short-term thinking, squandering our chances to be an economic power in the region.

And 60 years after independence, eight years into Reformasi, will we have another Sari-Didi moment and squander our big chance for post-Soeharto reform? Will we drop the ball and opt instead for ego-centered instant power that gives rise to fragmentation and endless conflicts? Will we blow the chance for moderate Islam to emerge from under repression as a moral and intellectual force for good, instead allowing the positive aspects of religion to be lost in a wasteful burst of extremist militancy? Take a guess.

Enough! The reflections on Sari-Didiism in Indonesia jostling in my head may win me a Nobel prize, but they weren't doing much to solve my domestic crisis. I began to sweep up the dust and debris the fugitives had left behind.

Luckily Hadi, my quiet and efficient new driver, came to the rescue the next day, miraculously delivering me Asih, one of his neighbors, to help salvage my home from the ruins. She is effective, efficient, diligent and reliable -- and the house has never been so clean, the clothes more neatly ironed!

There is a downside though. Asih is just too good. I don't think she can ever be the rich mine of ideas for columns that Sari & Didi were. But, then again, maybe she could be an inspiration for stories about the other side of midnight, where we use all the good chances that come our way. Let's hope ...

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. She can be reached at or


Blogger Indi said...

Many rich Indonesians are spoiled! They don't know how to take care of their own house when servants are not around.

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Achmad Sudarsono said...

Julia's comments are clearly the result of Bule influences. She received a Bule education in the U.K. and is married to one from Australia. Readers of this Blog are familiar with my opinions of Australians.

Julia, as an Indonesian has received the benefits of a PancaSila education which teach of a "just and prosperous humanity." It is impossible that a good Indonesian like Ms. Suryakusuma would, without foreign influences, revert to criticizing her fellow Indonesians. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a Bule writing under her name.

Achmad Sudarsono

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Alvin said...

Please read between the lines what Julia wrote. In my opinion, she made a smart comparison writing between what her maids have done to her and what the Indonesian government has done to its people and would probably repeat it again.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Simon Pitchforth said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Simon Pitchforth said...

Achmad you're full of shit if you believe that a ,"Just and prosperous humanity." is anything close to Indonesia which exemplifies all of the worst aspects of Western capitalism multiplied by ten. In which country do people usually employ maids?? Indonesia or Australia?? I'll give you a couple of minutes for the ol' brain cells to tick over, you jingoistic twat. Can't see that wood can you mate?? Too many trees in front.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Achmad Sudarsono said...


On the surface, you seem like nice enough guy, if a bit short on the brain cells. Indonesia's heaven for English teachers like you, skulking around Blok M bars, groping students, with editors desperate enough to run your pieces.
The reality is it is Bules who drag this country down. Cheating on immigration, overstaying your visas, and promising marriage to poor village girls, you give Indonesia a bad name. One minister recommended giving Bules an AIDs test at the immigration counter. I would have to agree.
Your criticism of Pancasila proves you don't understand it. I have written of your type at Indonesia Matters on a "typology of Bules."

"Bule (white expat) wipes the slobbering beer-froth from his jowls, as he stumbles, drunk, onto the pre-dawn dark of the bar-district in Jakarta, Jl. Felatehan, Blok M.

Thirty Bir Bintangs before, Bule had started the night wondering how it had come to this. Now, through the beer-fuelled haze, Bule, a miner in his 50s, could only feel a vague sense of gratitude he still had a place in the world."

11:37 PM  
Anonymous lampu said...

the idea of comparing didi and sari to indonesian attitude is valid.
but what makes the writing so sickening is the bragging of 'ownership' of didi and sari and driver and later maid. she talks of them as if they are not human being with their own way of thinking and consideration. she talks of them leaving as something foolish as if she was the goddess who gives them a better life (notice how many paragraphs it took her to explain all the things she did for them before she finally connected the story with indonesian situation.

As a Julia Suryakusuma 'fan', i was very disappointed with the writing. the structure is a mess. the introduction is half of the entire writing if not longer than her main idea.
it makes me think that she was actually trying to find an excuse to brag about her queen life style and include opinions on indonesian to make the writing sounds intellectual.

and my suggestion for her is that next time, she should send this kind of writing to cosmopolitan or femina and I am sure that the readers wont find it sickening. i wont complain either.

and julia, you are a good writer, i have always enjoyed your writing. but dont get too big headed and start taking your work lightly and start writing crap.

as for 'bule education' comment, i understand your point.
but i got Bule Education for 6 years and i do have a bule husband as well. i would like to say that that kind of behavior by many Bule Educated people is not a result of bule education.
it is because of insecurity, lack of pride for their own nation and worshiping attitude towards western culture which many many indonesians are suffering from whether they are Bule Educated or not.
if you make an article about bule wives, make sure that you interview me so i can balance your stereotype ideas.

3:45 PM  
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7:50 PM  

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