What Obama Missed in Indonesia

President Barack Obama’s visit to Indonesia was cut short because of volcanic ash, but what he missed was an annual tradition that says a lot about a country relatively unfamiliar to most Americans. Indonesia marks Heroes’ Day every Nov. 10 to commemorate extraordinary service to the nation.

Among those considered this year for addition to a list of national heroes was the late Abdurrahman Wahid, affectionately known by Indonesians as Gus Dur. If Obama’s trip to Indonesia was an opportunity to introduce Indonesia to Americans, getting to know Wahid would have been a good place to start.

Read on and comment at the Huffington Post.

A Month in Indonesia

I spent January in Indonesia, mostly in and around the urban sprawl of Jakarta. It’s a city that is in motion — things are happening there and I find myself returning to this place of concrete and boulevards again and again. The first time I was acquainted with Jakarta was in 2007 when I attended Pesta Blogger, a massive gathering of online innovators from all over Indonesia’s many islands. I went back in 2008 to work on a magazine story about urban flooding with my friend and colleague, photographer Jacqueline Koch.

Jacqueline invited me to go back once more, this time to delve into religion in Indonesia. There are so many little known facts about this dynamic place. It is the fourth most populated country in the world, and largest majority-Muslim country in the world. While it is difficult to get an accurate count, the number of Muslims in Indonesia is as many as, perhaps more than, the Muslim populations of all Arab countries combined.

We spent the month exploring the diverse religious practices of this country. Islam does not just come in the Saudi Arabian brand so ubiquitous in the American press, and a visit to Indonesia makes that fact clear almost immediately. We wanted to know what the future of religion looks like in Indonesia, and how the rest of the world might incorporate the diversity of the country into their often limited views of Islam.

There was never a dull day.

food and floods

koch-jakarta.jpgA quick post — the story that came from my December trip to Jakarta with friend/colleague/photojournalist Jacqueline Koch was published a few weeks ago in the Singapore-based magazine Asian Geographic. I was pretty happy to see it actually run because, as a UCLA professor explained to me once, no seems to care much about floods in Asia anymore. The teaser on the magazine’s website is here.

<<UPDATE>> Here’s a link to a PDF of the article:Jakarta.pdf

fruit drinksBack in the U.S., the Princeton in Asia fellowship that got me out here to Southeast Asia in the first place has published an Asian food guide to New York that’s getting some nice reviews. I think they published one of my photos and perhaps a blurb basically drooling over the wonderful food I’ve had in Jakarta. You can buy a copy and tell me about it (I haven’t seen one yet!) from the PiA website.

Los Angeles to Singapore

Three weeks ago, I moved from Los Angeles to Singapore. After three years editing an online publication about Asia, I decided it was time to be here, in Asia.

I’m going to spend my time teaching writing to students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and, hopefully, doing some writing myself. It’s a great gig, to be a writer. You get to meet interesting people, like the excellent folks of Dengue Fever, a Cambodian rock band that showed Asia Pacific Art‘s talented multimedia editor and me a great time in their studio.

The diversity and location of my new home is already affording me some more terrific opportunities. Next weekend, I’ll be in Jakarta for a blogging conference. Its one of the many parts of Southeast Asia that I’m looking to explore — the virtual part, that is. It will be my first time in Indonesia, and I have a feeling I’ll be meeting a lot of interesting people.

And here in Singapore — as a curious onlooker, rather than a curious writer (it’s a slim difference, admittedly) — so far I’ve seen Chinese lanterns, Malay Ramadan festivities and the Zurich ballet.
I’ve been to Little India, Arab Street and Holland Village. Singapore
is an extremely diverse place — an Asian crossroads, as they say. It’s
racial politics are very complicated though, one of most complicated
parts of this young nation’s cultural and national identity. It’s
something I’m very interested in understanding better as the year
progresses.