Pulang Kampung

There is a phrase in Bahasa Indonesia that has popped up over the past two weeks that I think deserves some attention: pulang kampung. In the driest and most direct sense of translation (i.e. Google), the English equivalent is “back to hometown”, but as is generally the case with this kind of cultural-specific saying, a deeper explanation is necessary. It helps if you take the words individually. While pulang on its own means “to return home”, kampung means village, so an even better interpretation would align with the American “homecoming” or best of all “heading home for the holidays”.

Which is apropos because we are in the midst of the Balinese version of that week between Christmas and New Years when no one works and everything is closed. It’s called Galungan and is the ten-day period when the spirits of the ancestors return to Earth. One special day, the day after the spirits arrive, is devoted to visiting family, quite literally: pulang kampung. This year, coincidentally, it is also the end of the Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting that is broken by Eid al-Fitr, or in Indonesian, Idul Fitri or Lebaran, the Ummah-wide festival that requires you to show happiness.

Every culture has days that are central to its calendar and as those cultures change, their most important days may change overtime. Christmas wasn’t a popular holiday until the mid-19th century and now it’s a global wave of fake snow and tinsel. It’s interesting to note that while national holidays, ‘Independence Day’s and the like, aren’t often a time for family, those holidays with a religious origin are a time when family is celebrated as much as the holiday itself. No one would pulang kampung for the Fourth of July, but one would feel a certain sense of grief if left alone on Thanksgiving[i]. I know I did.

I’ve spent five of the last six Thanksgivings away from home and one (2012) I barely celebrated at all. I’ve learned a couple things from celebrating holidays remotely. To begin with, there is the surreal notion that while in your country of residence, life proceeds as it would on any other day, at home, all the traditions and elaborate meals and dramas are playing out as you remember. This can be taken a step further to the realization that your holidays, your traditions and elaborate meals are not universal (the dramas likely are).

At first thought, this might devalue your holiday; after all, Thanksgiving is just the third Thursday of November everywhere else in the world. But then, once introduced to the traditions and elaborate meals (and dramas) of another culture, you begin to understand that the actual things being celebrated – family, community, love, etc. – are actually the same. So really, celebrating that which is most important is universal, you just have to find the right day and remember what your holiday is at its core. Being home just makes it easier.

So, pulang kampung for your holidays if you can, but enjoy the celebrations that are around you and please remember those that couldn’t make it home. Selamat Hari Raya Galungan and Eid Mubarak, especially to my girl who couldn’t pulang kampung for the big day.


[i] While Thanksgiving is a fundamentally American holiday, the Thanks you’re Giving are meant to be to God. No battle or declaration is being celebrated so at the holiday’s core, at least there’s little patriotism involved. A quick side note: It would be interesting to look at whether Bastille Day (also this week) in France – that most secular of republics – is looked on as a family occasion. The only Bastille Day I’ve spent in France I spent at a family dinner but whether this is regular practice or not, I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

If they catch me at the border, I’ve got visas in my name

If you have spent an extended amount of time in a foreign country, there is a word that is will likely send shivers down your spine: visa. Living, let alone working, in a country whose passport you don’t own is can be a huge pain in the ass because of arcane bits of immigration law and byzantine bureaucracies (which is kind of a repetitive phrase, historically speaking). Now, I’ve already stated my opinion on immigration in conclusion to a blog post a couple months back. I said then that I was leaning much more towards the libertarian, laissez-faire, freedom-of-movement camp and now I can confirm I have arrived in said camp and pitched a tent. There was no single event that precipitated this conclusion. Rather it’s been a months-long albatross of worry and contemplation over what to do with ­Imigrasi Indonesia.

As with many areas of Indonesian public policy, laws regarding immigration are often changing and inconsistently enforced. I’ve heard tell of a man who lived in-country for twenty years on successive tourist visas without ever being deported. I’m not going to take that chance. After several months on successive “Visa(s)-on-Arrival” (aka VOA’s or a tourist visas), which means flying out of the country for a night or two every 60 days, for my next renewal (in September) I will need to come up with something different. But here’s where it gets complicated.

First of all, I will need to decide which visa to apply for. The “KITAS”, which is a full working visa, is unlikely. It’s expensive and involved and you need your employer to sponsor you. Then there’s the Sosial/Budaya (Social/Cultural) Visa, which allows you to stay for up to a year but does not allow you to work. This is the most likely choice because I won’t ever be getting paid in Indonesia directly, at least for the foreseeable future, and it is relatively simple to acquire. Finally, there is the business visa. Similar to the budaya in length, it allows you to “do business” in Indonesia, but has some opaque restrictions that I have yet to comprehend. It also requires you to leave the country every 60 days to renew it.

As I’m sure you’ve gather by now, the minutiae of immigration isn’t particularly interesting, yet in the ex-pat community it is a constant topic of conversation. Message boards and Facebook groups are rife with agencies offering their services and newcomers asking for advice. To a degree, I understand the political psychology behind Indonesia’s hesitancy to allow in a flood of bulés. Indonesia is for Indonesians first and foremost and behind that philosophy there is a strong strain of nationalism/patriotism with roots in the Indonesian Revolution. As an American, I can only commiserate. But as much as anti-immigration rhetoric and policy is hurting the US economy, it is maiming Indonesia’s. There was even talk earlier this year of requiring Indonesian language skills for KITAS applicants. Fortunately that law was never passed, but in a (for better or worse) global economy it’s unfortunate that a country so far below its economic and development potential would handicap itself with unnecessary regulations.

While rumors of more stringent regulations abound (it’s hard to tell which are true and which are just the complaints of expats), there is some hope. As has frequently been the case of late, it comes from President Jokowi who has opened up visa-free travel to a number of new nations, including the US and UK. For all you who are thinking to come visit, that means you can stay for 30 days without paying a $35 visa fee. So at least there’s that.

Use a Condiment

I’m going to try and get through this without too many puns and references to a certain And1 player but I can’t promise anything. I want to talk to you today about a particular and highly developed section of Indonesian cuisine: sambal. Really the direct translation of sambal, condiment, doesn’t do its Indonesian equivalent much justice, nor does the often-synonymous term, ‘sauce’.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word condiment? Probably ketchup, which is actually germane since the word originates with the Indonesian-Malay word kecap[i] – originally a pickled fish sauce from China – that was brought to the American colonies by English sailors in the 18th century. Then there’s mustard and pickle relish and even HP sauce for those partial to Anglo cuisine[ii]. You might go so far as to include hot sauces or their erstwhile opponent, mayonnaise. You would have to include all of these, their varieties, and more to approach the breadth and value of sambal to the Indonesian kitchen.

I’m going to admit right here that I am not an expert on sambal and to write in any sort of real depth on the subject requires a good deal more education and/or experience than I have. I will say this; sambal is some delicious shit. Most frequently sambal is tomato-based but only in the loosest of terms because really it’s more pepper, hot peppers, spicy peppers, extremely spicy and hot peppers, than anything else. Then there’s probably some garlic, maybe onions and definitely oil and salt that give sambal’s spiciness a great depth of flavor. Everything is ground, traditionally with mortar and pestle, then simmered and left to cool.

But I only just described one type of sambal. There are dozens of types and then thousands or millions of recipes because every ibu worth her weight in salt has her own special recipe, or seven, with each tailored to whatever dish she is serving. I say ibu[iii], but men and even bulés are known to cook sambal. Yes, I’ve tried my hand at it, twice, and I wasn’t unsuccessful either time.

Frying almost completely blind (I’m sorry), I bought some tomatoes and peppers, collected the spicy little green buggers that warungs give out with gorengan (fried food), grabbed a couple cloves of garlic and then threw in some elbow grease (mortar and pestles aren’t for weak). The result was an overly-chunky version that went pretty well with on an egg sandwich.

With obscure hot sauces like Sriracha becoming vogue, if not passé, I think the Western foodie market is ripe for a new edition to the condiment pantheon. Why not a product that literally means condiment in another language? So let this be the official call for investors in my latest venture: Semawang Sambal™.

[i] ‘C’ is always pronounced with a ‘ch’ here.

[ii] I’m not going to get into the trans-Atlantic debate about ketchup being called ‘tomato sauce’ or even more absurdly ‘red sauce’ nor the ketchup-catsup debacle.

[iii] Ibu is translated directly mother but is more frequently used to mean ma’am or Mrs.

Fear and Loathing in Indonesian Toilets

The following is a conversation I had at a futsal tournament, last weekend:

Bule teammate of mine: “This is a pretty nasty story, but I just took my first Bali shit.”

Me, fearing the worst: “What do you mean?”

Bule teammate: “Like there wasn’t any toilet paper in the bathroom, so I had to use the spray thing. Never used that before so I had to ask one of the kids how to use it. [Insert attempted demonstration] I’m not sure I did it right but it did the job.”

It went on from there with me recovering from my initial concerns and surprised that this was his first “Bali shit”. He’s been here longer than me, but I guess has been able to time his moments better than me. Still, I could relate. When there are drastic alterations to something as personally mundane as visiting the restroom and when you are unfamiliar with the apparatus in front of, or underneath you, there is a certain amount of fear.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Indonesian bathrooms is in their variety. In my limited experience, there are at least seven or eight different articulations of receptacle, each with its own accouterments and cleansing devices. For someone raised on the simple urinal-toilet dichotomy, with the rare trough thrown in during more public scenarios, this variety and complexity can lead to awkwardly long visits and even more uncomfortable questions to Indonesian friends and/or significant others.

Equally confounding is the frequent insistence, in the not uncommon occurrence of the standard western apparatus, that toilet paper not be flushed down the bowl. This is often communicated through a conveniently placed sign, which – in the case of more solid events – is met with the following line of reasoning; “Doesn’t toilet paper disintegrate in water?” and since one doesn’t want to take that chance, “Ok then what do I do with it? Surely not in the wastepaper basket in the corner…” To which on sees no alternative and comes to the conclusion, “Yes, in the wastepaper basket in the corner.”

There are a few things that I have yet to crack and one of them is the bucket full of water and accompanied by a floating ladle. I have a good idea about its purpose but won’t begin to contemplate the specifics let alone take it for a test drive. There’s also the hose with spray nozzle that is strategically placed in most restrooms. The hose’s fundamental use is undeniable, but its very existence raises the conundrum of spray direction (from the front or back), the debate of which was included in the extended version of the conversation that began this post.

Many of these confusions revolve around a simple but fundamental difference between the way westerners and Indonesians understand sanitation. While for the bule, a wipe is sufficient to feel clean and comfy, for the Indonesian, a wash is needed. When it’s put like that, things start to fall into place and one realizes that they honestly have a point.

Indonesian food is delicious but is often dangerously spicy, even to the point of infamy. Here on the Island of the Gods, it’s been given a name: “Bali Belly”. I’ll forgo the details but say only that when afflicted, bathrooms that one can comprehend and feel comfortable in are a valuable resource. And this is where fear can very quickly turn to loathing.

Google Maps is in Benoa Bay: Let’s hope they aren’t telling the future

So after a two-week break for a graduation trip to Southern California, Semawang Stories is back with some potentially breaking news: it looks like Google Maps may have just capitulated to a group of developers that are attempting to run roughshod over an area of Balinese wetlands.

Here’s the backstory: since around 2012 a group of developers led by a man named Tomy Winata has been pushing to develop an area of Bali called Benoa Bay. The plan is to reclaim an area of mangrove swamp and open water between Bali’s urbanized cities of Denpasar and Kuta to the North and West and the resort area of Nusa Dua to the south. According to a report in The Guardian from late last year, once developed, the new land would play host to “villas, apartments, luxury hotels, a Disneyland-style theme park and even a Formula One racing circuit.” The Guardian piece goes on to say that proponents of the deal, including Bali’s governor claim all this will bring jobs and allow for development not on Bali’s already strained arable land.

The development has also succeeded in obtaining a permit from Bali’s governor and a 2014 Presidential Decree revoking the bay’s protected status from out-going President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, aka SBY. SBY also happens to be a “close personal” friend of Tomy Winata, the developer and alleged member of the “Nine Dragons” crime syndicate, who reportedly financed the President’s election campaign in 2009.

But despite all those potential jobs, new and fun-sounding attractions, and edicts from political bigwigs, a group of pesky protestors has let their dissatisfaction known with what they’re calling an opaque decision-making process and pending environmental disaster if the project goes forward. Disputing a environmental impact study that projected minimal consequences for filling in 800-plus hectares of mangrove swamp and shallow tidal water including coral reef that acts as a drainage basin for the most densely populated area of the island, the Tolak Reklamasi (Reject Reclamation) campaign led by a group called ForBali has held numerous rallies and protests whose voice has reached to both Jakarta and Washington D.C. ForBali, short for Forum Rakyat Bali Tolak Reklamasi, is not to be trifled with. The organization counts among its members community leaders, artists and musicians including one of the archipelago’s leading bands, punk group Superman is Dead.

So far, Benoa Bay remains unclaimed, that is except for the toll road interchange that has driven hundreds of pylons into the sandy bottom. And on Google Maps. As you can see in the images below, on the “Map” version the northern most portion of the bay has already been reclaimed which is in direct contrast to the “Earth” version in which the toll road clearly cuts through water (albeit shallow). Semawang Stories’ highly skilled graphics team has highlighted the area in red to make it clear. Your correspondent has reached out to Google (seriously) and at time of publication has yet to have heard back.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 11.35.15 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 12.03.13 PM

Now there may very well be an innocent explanation for this (and your correspondent will make sure to update you if he hears back from Google) but the timing of this change (to this Bali resident’s knowledge it wasn’t there a couple weeks ago) could be telling. The development project has cleared all the bureaucratic obstacles necessary and even some of those from a higher plateau. Rumor has it that several of Bali’s priests were paid the not quite lofty sum of Rp150,000 (about $11.30) for their blessing of the project. Without a halt to the project from the desk of President Joko Widodo himself, construction could begin as soon as later this summer (in the northern hemisphere) on what looks like something straight out of Dubai.

To put this project in even more context, Bali has struggled for years to balance the paradoxes that exist between its image of a paradise on Earth and the rampant development that has left the southern part of the island a densely populated urban mass that sprawls further into its surrounding open space and agricultural land with every villa, hotel, and furniture store that is built. While this new project would center a good deal of construction on an area that is not land, the very real potential for flooding into the neighborhoods of Denpasar and introduction of even more waste into an area that is already swimming in garbage (literally, yr. correspondent has swum past a diaper, plastic bottles, trash bags, etc.) would be beyond tragic. As for Google, let’s hope all that data they’re gathering hasn’t made them prescient.

Brief thoughts on Jakarta’s traffic

I’m a day late in posting this (if you haven’t noticed, I try to post Friday morning EST) and have again left myself without a topic to write about. This week’s excuse is that we were moving to a new house and packing for a trip to San Diego for my sister’s graduation. So to make up for my tardiness and because we’re spending a few days in Indonesia’s capital on the way Stateside, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote a couple months ago and have yet to find a home for. So let’s get into it here are some brief thoughts on the World’s Worst Traffic:

Complaining about where you live is such a part of human nature that it has become grossly clichéd (e.g. the grass is always greener…). But living in or visiting a place that is actually the worst at something is a rarity. So when Castrol – of motor oil fame – and TomTom – of satellite navigation fame – published their (possibly) prestigious Start-Stop Index and Jakarta came out on top (read: bottom), I felt a certain twinge of pride as a part-time Jakartan.[1]

Other (more full-time) Jakartans I spoke with were somewhat less enthusiastic. When asked, most of their eyes tended to glaze over with something akin to the “thousand-yard stare”. Some can manage a half-hearted chuckle and headshake before quickly changing the subject. Only one, an Indonesian-American from LA could match my enthusiasm and described a flood-ridden (see below) ride home from work that took his boss four hours but him only two. I was impressed but quietly thankful I didn’t have a daily commute.

So, now that I am quietly separated from the honking masses but looking forward with something like intrepid horror to my next visit to the Indonesian capital, I thought I would share some brief thoughts on Jakarta’s infamous traffic situation.


1) Jakarta driving is one massive game of chicken.

This is the best and most complete description I can provide. While there are lanes on the major roads throughout the city, the lines are widely ignored and replaced with a game of “who can find and enter space first”. One would assume that the result of this would be a consistent stream of accidents but by my very unscientific observations there were amazingly few.

I chalk this down to two factors, first there seems to be a general rule in place that as soon as a leading vehicle commits to entering a lane, those following must yield. This may sound simple and universal but the limits – or rather margins – to which this (unwritten?) rule is pushed might give Lewis Hamilton the sweats. The other factor (which might not trouble Mr. Hamilton so much) is that the speed at which the traffic moves is pretty damn slow. This means that the there are very few wannabe Fast and Furious extras, so offensive and defensive drivers alike have plenty of time to react.


2) Jakarta needed a mass-transit system ten years ago.

And it seems that should have been the case were it not for a series of setbacks officially due to “lack of funds” but the more colloquially cited causes, as is common refrain with many issues in Indonesia, are bureaucracy and corruption. As of 2013, Jakarta, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly 30 million people[2], is the largest city in the world without a metro or subway system (via) and the Castrol ranking is the result. Jakarta’s current public transportation is the world’s longs bus service (so there’s two more records for the books) that claims its own bus lanes, which often (reasonably but annoyingly) sit empty while traffic edges along nearby.

Fortunately, if somewhat belatedly, the government secured a $1.6 billion loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency in 2009 and broke ground in October 2013 on the first thirteen-stop section of track. After some delays, this stretch is supposed to be completed by 2018 with an additional stage of the same north-south line finished by 2020. An east-west line is still in development with a rough completion date of 2027.

Even when Jakarta Mass-Rapid Transit – as it’s officially known – is completed, Jakartans are still going to have to want to use it (something that is by no means guaranteed) and it will only serve the Special Capital Region, home to only about a third of all metro-Jakarta.


2a) It also needs a flood alleviation system.

While traffic is generally an inconvenience at worst and certainly affects quality of life, Jakarta’s floods are probably the more serious of the two major infrastructure problems. The floods are primarily caused by over-development in the areas surrounding central Jakarta, which is essentially a delta. With nowhere for the water to drain flooding has become more consistent, it regularly drives people from their homes and has caused dozens of deaths in the past several years. Okay, now back to the fun stuff.


3) Use an Ojek.

There is really only one way to get around Jakarta with any sort of speed: by motorbike. Motorbikes are ubiquitous in Indonesia and it’s not uncommon to see an entire Indonesian family of four or five on a single bike. In Jakarta, the motorbike’s omni-presence arguably contributes to the overall congestion and the ojeks, the unregulated motorbike taxi, lay claim to a large percentage (but statistically unknown because of the whole unregulated thing) of said omnipresence.

Oddly, ojeks are generally more expensive that taxis (here’s a nice little explanation why), they’re also open to the elements including the un-air-conditioned and exhaust-filled Jakarta air. Another complaint I’ve heard but not yet experienced is the smell of the required helmet

So there you have it. Maybe not so brief in the end, but a little taste of what travelling around Jakarta is like.


[1] I use the term “part-time” very loosely, I am currently based between Jakarta and Bali but have lived there for as long as a month at-a-time.

[2] Greater Metropolitan Jakarta is widely called Jabodetabek, an acronym taken from the five cities that comprise the Jakartan “Megacity”: Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi. One of the main reasons why it has taken so long to build a metro system is that Jabodetabek is divided among nearly a dozen different political entities. For those interested they are (starting from the center and working toward the peripheries): the Special Capital Region of Jakarta (which has provincial level status), City of Tangerang, City of South Tangerang, City of Depok, City of Bekasi, City of Bogor, Tangerang Regency and Bekasi Regency. To further the confusion, the cities outside the Special Capital region are split between West Java Province and Banten Province. Some parallels can be drawn with the District of Columbia-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) region but for perspective’s sake, DMV is home to less than a fifth of Jakarta’s population and even when you throw in Baltimore and its suburbs the area’s population is still less than a third of Metro-Jakarta’s

To add to this confusing medley of political interests there is the seeming contradiction that while all urban development within Jabotabek projects are under the control of the central government, there is also the Cooperating Body of Jabodetabek Development. The Cooperating Body, however has no actual authority and since its inception in 1975 has been “ineffective in coordinating development programs in the megacity of Jakarta”. Thus, the onus for all projects is left to the central government when they aren’t too busy with the other 17,000 islands that stretch a distance equivalent of that from Lisbon to Tehran.

The Post That Isn’t

I’m late in writing this blog post. I had planned to write it either last night or this morning but my dad wanted to skype last night and I was too tired after, then this morning I “Google Hungout” (is that what it’s called? Maybe just “G-Chatted” but then that doesn’t include the whole vidoe calling) with my sister who then encouraged (read: coerced) me to watch a four-part, 40-minute interview with Kendrick Lamar, in which he decodes his “capacious new record” To Pimp a Butterfly (Interscope, 2015). She’s currently researching a paper that compares Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Lamar’s new album. Or the rapper’s entire ouevre, I’m not sure she’s come to a hypothesis yet. And she wants my help, which I can’t in good conscious refuse since I was the one who suggested the topic in the first place. All I’ve read from FD is The Gambler and half of The Double, but I figured that there must be some parallel between 19th century Russian lit. and modern, if not avant garde, hip-hop. Then it was lunch, then I had to go to the airport, then I had futsal with the Bali Pugs, then I had a very tasty if contentious dinner and now I’m here, a few hours late and with no discernible topic to write about. Which is in itself relevant, because I had a skype with my mom yesterday morning (I’m not sure the last time I spoke to them all within a 24 hour period) and I really had nothing to talk to her about at the time either, which was a little awkward until she prompted me into a basic Indonesian history lesson that more or less covered Nusanatara. Read about it, it’s basically the Indonesian version of Manifest Destiny but without the overt racism.

The point is that I hadn’t gotten the chance to write this post until just literally right now and, again, without anything to really talk about and without any time for my normal in-depth research and mental, physical, and psychic preparation, you’re left with this. Which isn’t much, but I hope you’ll take five to ten minutes out of what is sure to be an unproductive Friday (because, let’s face it, it’s early May and it’s going to be nice out and you’re still in disbelief that it’s acutally, finally getting warm out) to read a 400+ word blog from some schmuck who’s living in fucking Bali of all places. So there you go, I’m at about 420 words or so and I think, if anything, I’ve made Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld proud because this has been a post about absolutely fucking nothing. But I wrote it and you just read it and that’s all that really matters.

Speaking of 19th century Russian lit., did you know the original title for War and Peace was War, What is it Good For?


The Leviathan, Amended

In six years of studying International Relations one hears a good deal on the power of The State[i]. In the first couple weeks, you learn how The State is a social contract between individuals to escape their ‘State of Nature’[ii] and The People give up some of their absolute freedoms to allow The State to have what’s called a ‘monopoly of violence’.[iii] After this, the conversation turns to how, why, and in what ways this monopoly of violence is manipulated, restricted, influenced, and undermined by things that happen outside of centuries old political philosophy tomes, but it is on this monopoly of violence that the global system of states is founded.

This week saw two events (good news/bad news kind of thing) that show pretty clearly the power of The State is not just some vague concept parried about in ivory towers. The first is the execution of eight prisoners convicted of drug crimes in Indonesia and the second has to do with the Byzantine bureaucracy of immigration.

Let’s begin with the bad news from Nusa Kambangan, the prison-dotted island off Java, where early Wednesday morning a firing squad executed seven foreign nationals and one Indonesia. The foreigners were from Australia (2), Ghana (1, although he was supposedly Nigerian with a fake Ghanaian passport), Nigeria (3), and Brazil (1) and the governments of both Australia and Brazil (along with the governments of France and the Philippines who also have citizens set to be executed) have lobbied the Indonesia government to spare those convicted for a variety of reasons[iv] but Indonesia, as a sovereign state, had every legal right to do exactly what it did.

The Indonesian government had and has these rights because its power does not come from other states but from its own population (theoretically speaking) and although poll numbers are hard to come by, there seems to be widespread support for the death penalty. So until the Indonesian people change their mind and the wheels of democracy turn away from capital punishment, the firing squads on Nusa Kambangan will continue. It’s also worth noting, albeit depressingly, that the US is still executing its citizens[v], some of whom are clinically insane and/or mentally handicapped, as well as those of other nations at an alarmingly immoral (not to mention extremely undeveloped country-esque) rate.

Now for the good news: Nadia, my partner-in-crime, got her Tourist Visa to the US so we’ll be heading there at the end of this month. She had been denied twice at the American consulate in the Netherlands but this trip to the Surabaya version of the same went much better.

That said, I’m beginning to build a strong dislike for immigration authorities and their regularly arbitrary, burdensome, and otherwise absurd regulations and requirements. After living in the conveniently open EU, albeit on two student visas, dealing with the bureaucracy of both the US immigration and Indonesian immigrasi is very quickly driving me to the libertarian side of this issue and allowing for the free flow of people wherever we/they damn please.

So there you go, just over 500 rather inconsequential words on The State and its power.

Merdeka atau mati.

[i] This basically means national governments but using the term ‘national’ is something academics would call “dangerous” since every self-proclaimed nation doesn’t have a state that is recognized by the international community, which leads us down a whole other rabbit whole that I spent several months researching and about ten of thousand words describing.

[ii] Which is “nasty, brutish, and short”

[iii] I.e. The State, as a representative of its population, is the only organization that can arrest, coerce, punish, execute, make war, et cetera.

[iv] The Philippines probably have the best case judicially speaking. Their citizen, a mother of two, likely had drugs unknowingly planted on her and she was unable to defend herself at her trial due to a lack of translation services.

[v] Perhaps the one difference between the two – Indonesia and the US – is that under Indonesian law, capital punishment is used for drug trafficking offenses and 15 other crimes (including murder) and not just murder as it is in the US. The flawed argument used by the Indonesian government is something like: “33 Indonesians die every day from drugs and it is the traffickers who are responsible.”

Athletes Anonymous

Hi my name is Rowan and I’m addicted to playing sports. I first got hooked probably around the age of eight or so and have been pretty consistently playing some sport or another since. When I don’t play sports regularly I get grumpy and depressed.[i] I don’t mean to make light of actual addictions but I’m pretty sure this is one of mine so when I moved to Jakarta in January, I pretty quickly looked up, hunted down[ii], and joined a pick-up basketball game on Mondays and Thursdays in Hall C of the Gelora Bung Karno[iii] Sports Complex in the Senayan neighborhood of Jakarta.

The GBKSC – apart from a number of basketball, badminton, and tennis courts, a swimming complex, minor football pitches and a plethora of other facilities and stadiums- houses the Stadion Utama Gelora Bung Karno (Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium), the home of the Merah-Putih.[iv] The complex was built for the 1962 Asian Games with a generous grant from the Soviet Union and from the look of Hall C, hasn’t been funded much since.

The gym was hot and tight and the floor was something hard that I’d never seen a gym-floor made of before (and I’ve seen a few gym-floors in my time) but the competition was decent[v] with some impressively skilled players- some of whom took full advantage of their home-court rims, and I met a few good guys including a couple Americans that were working in JakTown. I was just getting into a rhythm and getting some good runs in when we[vi] decamped to Bali, leaving both our little three-room apartment in Kalibata City and Hall C behind until the next time I’m in Jakarta on a Monday or Thursday.

Fortunately, upon arriving in Bali I walked right into the Bali Pugs Football Club (est. 2009). Our trial visit to Bali happened to coincide with the playing of Super Bowl XVIX and I watch that glorious occasion with a fellow from Seattle who has lived in Indonesia since 1999 but during that time has kept up impressively with the North American sporting landscape. He also co-founded the Pugs six years ago and has been co-captain ever since.

I’ve played futsal[vii] with the Pugs for the past two months and, while we had a beach soccer (which is a stupid sport and one of the few I really don’t enjoy) tournament last month and a few challenge matches over that time, tonight (Friday, the 24th of April, Year of our Lord 2015) is our first competitive tournament, so I’ve written this to kill the time until I need to put on the sacred Orange and White and head to Sanur Futsal for our 1900h kickoff. So there you go, first post. And, omitting footnotes, under 500 words. PFL.


Update: Champions


[i] Quick anecdote: After Nadia and I moved to Bali we were heading back to Java for a weekend and I tried desperately to time it right so I could go. I forget exactly why but I ended up not being able to and was grumpy for much of the trip because of it. I think the sign of a true addiction is when it starts affecting those around you so, ya. I think we’re there.

[ii] Quite literally had to hunt down… The first time I went looking for the GBKSC, Google sent me to another Bung Karno Sports Complex about a kilometer away (which, in Jakarta’s traffic, can take an hour if you’re unlucky) and I had to take another taxi and a then walk 15 minutes to find the right spot.

[iii] Bung Karno is the nickname of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.

[iv] The Red and White, Indoesia’s national colors and the nickname of their national football side.

[v] High enough for me who hadn’t played very much at all in the previous eighteen months…

[vi] Myself and my partner-in-crime Nadia who I’m sure will be featured heavily in Sem Stories

[vii] This is really all that Indonesians play for lack of better facilities. It’s five-a-side including a keeper and played on a pitch the size of a basketball court that’s made of the rubber-pellet turf stuff that leaves you with little black spots all over even after you shower.

Hello, I’ve caved and started a blog.

I’ve partially convinced myself that this is a good idea or at the very least a sort of necessity. Somewhere between taking my writing more seriously – as in getting paid for it – and my on-going failures in self-discipline, the thought of a regularly updated blog (a word I’m still struggling with) settled itself as some sort of thing that should be done. So here it goes: Semawang Stories.

First, the name. It’s pretty simple. Bali (which is in Indonesia), where I’m currently living, is divided into neighborhoods that are called Banjars that have varying levels of significance[i] and the one I’m living in is called Semawang. I had a few other ideas for names and some of those may pop up as titles of future post or they may just fall into The Abyss. Semawang Stories is vague enough and more or less captures the theme of this blog.

If you’ve followed me before you’ll know about The Volterra which will soon be coming off of its unplanned hiatus, not coincidentally through updates to Semawang Stories. A link to each Sem. Story will be posted to The Volterra and I/we will start accepting contributions again as of, well, now.

I’ve given myself an arbitrary 500-word limit for Sem. Stories that will probably be broken regularly but who gives a shit. It’s my site. Expect regular updates of varying lengths and on varying topics as well as links to other stuff I’ll write about the often absurd and increasingly enchanting country that is Indonesia.

Merdeka atau mati.


[i] For example: religion, politics, geography, social activities all find a home in the Banjar. I’m still learning about this so I’m not going to commit myself to a deeper explanation than that for the moment.