Karimunjawa – a Tropical Island Getaway near Central Java

Featured at Latitudes, September 5, 2011

Tanjung Gelam, Karimunjawa

Looking for a tropical retreat, but no time to fly to Bali or even further? The Karimunjawa Islands lie in the northern waters of Central Java Province, 120 km north of province capital Semarang. The nearest Javanese town, however, is Jepara, from which people usually depart for the islands. It takes a 6-hour ferry trip covering 83 kilometers, but it’s definitely worth it. Renowned for its picturesque beaches and rich biodiversity, it was established as a national marine park by the Indonesian government in 1999 and turned into a marine protected area two years later.

The name Karimunjawa can refer to either the cluster of islands or its biggest island, where tourists usually stay in hotels or in the cheaper option, locals’ houses. The second biggest island, separated by only a thin line of water with Karimunjawa on its south, is Kemujan. Together they are surrounded by as many as 25 smaller islets, not all open for recreational visits. The two mentioned before, along with Parang, Nyamuk, and Genting, are the only inhabited islands.

Karimunjawa has only recently attracted attention as a tourist destination. Visiting the islands, there are indeed many interesting things one can do and see. This brief introduction will outline some.

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Economy Train

Featured at Latitudes, June 6, 2011

I live in Yogyakarta. Not long ago, Nick, an Australian friend of mine who stayed in the city for several months, told me he was going to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, 786 miles away in the northeast part of Java island. That he was leaving did not shock me—he travels a lot—but his insistence on taking an economy-class train did.

I asked him why. “I heard it would be interesting,” Nick said. And by ‘interesting’ he was referring to the usual picture of this train: crowded couch, busy hawkers hustling all the time, and all. “What do you think, man?” he asked me. I frowned, then gave him a smile.

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A Short Guide to (New) Indonesian Movies

Featured at Latitudes, March 29, 2011

Indonesian cinema seems to mirror developments in Indonesian society. During colonial times most movies had Dutch involvement on one level or the other. Then, during the Sukarno years,  the newly gained independence added a nationalistic and anti-Western tinge to most movie productions. Foreign films were even banned! During Suharto’s reign, censorship gave filmmakers a tight rope to walk on, but also spurred a lot of creativity. After reaching its peak in the 80s with the likes of Catatan Si Boy (Boy’s Diary), Nagabonar, and Warkop Trio’s comedy, Indonesian film industry died down over the following decade. This was mainly due to the fact that foreign import of films resumed. Indonesian cinema had no answer to the sudden competition. As a consequence, flicks made in the 90s are mostly adult movies of poor quality. Filmmakers and fans often refer to this as the Krisis Film Nasional.

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New Year Celebrations x3 in Jogja, True Tolerance & Fire Crackers

Featured at Latitudes, January 2, 2011

Together with the rest of the world, Jogja just celebrated the coming of 2011. People thronged the streets and public spots with friends and family. Peddlers hawked on the sidewalks, selling food, trumpets, fireworks, and whatnot. Musical shows were held since early in the evening when people began to come out of their houses. As the clock struck twelve, big fireworks were lit to mark the transition of the year.

The festivities downtown were mirthful as always. Though, it was not the first New Year that we, Jogjanese, had celebrated last year.

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Much to Learn From Young Mom’s Ordeal

Published at The Jakarta Globe, October 10, 2011

I read a sad story on the Internet a few months ago: A 16-year-old student in East Java gave birth at school. It was not the unusual labor and birthplace that concerned me (well it was, a little), but rather the fact that the new mother was expelled from school.

The headmaster of SMK II Madiun, a vocational high school where 99 percent of the students are female, said the girl had to be expelled for breaking rules signed during registration forbidding students from marrying and getting pregnant.

The girl, identified as R by newspapers, was known to be a good student. She was described as a smart, active young woman who participated in extracurricular activities and sports.

Like other female students, she wore a hijab and loose clothing in class — nothing that could be called “naughty.” R seemed to be another normal student, until she delivered a premature baby at the school clinic, which led to her expulsion. Given the regulations the girl agreed to, the punishment might have seemed appropriate. But was it?

When asked if every rule offender deserves to be punished, my answer is usually yes. But should the punishment be alienating and traumatic? I believe that the idea of sanctioning is to correct people’s behavior — so we should unfailingly seek a better, more humane and, if possible, compassionate way to do that. After all, everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance.

Almost two decades ago, Robert Waxler, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, came up with the idea that prisoners could be rehabilitated through reading. His program, Changing Lives Through Literature, has enjoyed widespread success in the United States since 1991. The reading course has become an alternative to jail time in many states.

In Texas, where the imprisonment and death penalty rates are the highest in the world, 597 prisoners completed the course from 1997 to 2008. Of those, only 36 prisoners, or 6 percent, went back to jail after failing their probation, but they committed less serious crimes. Most of these prisoners, however, now see the world from a different perspective, and some even want to get a college education.

The reading course is taught with the belief that human conduct starts with the mind. Crime and criminal behavior stems from many causes, including ignorance and narrow-mindedness. By having the convicts read books, CLTL tries to broaden prisoners’ views of life, enhance their minds and create wiser, critical-thinking people.

Education essentially aims to enlighten students, and CLTL has shown that broadening pupils’ minds is achievable. Schools, of course, should facilitate “enlightenment.”

In class we learn, read, make friends, and raise hopes for a better future. If those are not the things that change lives, nothing is. At this point, we may question the decision of the school to expel its student for immoral but harmless conduct.

Expelling the girl from school will not solve any problems. It seems more like an effort to save face by those who want to stay untainted: the school, the headmaster, teachers, and other students.

The punishment has nothing to do with rehabilitation. I’m sure that giving birth unexpectedly at 16 was physically and psychologically painful. The girl may also be shunned and held in contempt by her neighbors.

Going against society’s values is wrong, as is failing to give a person a chance to fix a mistake. Programs such as CLTL have been giving prisoners a chance. The 16-year-old girl is certainly not a “criminal,” and should have the opportunity to move on from her mistake. To do that, she needs to have hope, which is why she should stay in school.

I dream of the girl’s friends and teachers visiting her home to see if she is OK, of her partner staying beside her, of the community supporting and helping to raise the new child and of the girl being allowed to go to school again. I’m not alone.

Sadly, we live in a country where some people think that fornicating is a worse offense than assaulting an innocent person, and where people like to hide behind hypocrisy. While becoming a parent before marriage might be one of the worst things that can befall a girl, ironically (and unjustly), the same is not the case for boys.