All posts by Angela Jelita

Angie is a journalist, content creator and environmental activist in Southeast Asia. She produces Feed Earth Spirit, which bridges food, the environment and consciousness. She is also the founder of Indonesia Indah Foundation, an NGO in Indonesia that empowers people to become agents of change for the environment.

Singapore’s Green Spaces

First published in ‘Colours‘ Garuda Indonesia’s inflight magazine, April 2017 edition. 

In Singapore, you’re never more than a stone’s throw away from a public garden. To celebrate Earth Day, Colours visits one of the world’s greenest cities to explore and soak up Mother Nature in Singapore’s many outdoor spaces.

Singapore is certainly unique: a bustling city-state of 5.78 million people with languages emitted from its streets ranging from Mandarin to Tamil, Malay to English. The country’s first prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, introduced the ‘Garden City’ movement in the mid-1960s, an ideology that has been manifested today in the plethora of green spaces that can be found across this bustling metropolis.

Named the ‘Second Greenest in the World’ by the World Cities Culture Forum, incredibly nearly half of Singapore’s land area is dedicated to parks and gardens. Deciding which ones to visit can be quite a daunting task, so I decided to take some local residents’ advice.

“I guess it depends where in Singapore you live,” says Lina, an expat originally from the Netherlands who has been living in the city for two years. “I live on Robertson Quay and I attend boot camp in the park three mornings a week.” She tells me her favourite outdoor space is Fort Canning due to its close proximity to home, its hills and many steps – perfect for those hardcore workouts she loves so much.

For local resident Byron Lim, it’s the MacRitchie Reservoir, located further north. “You’d either have to drive or take the MRT to Marymount, but it’s worth it once you’re there because you really feel like you’re away from it all – and the kids love it,” he tells me over coffee on the lively Orchard Road. “Just don’t feed the monkeys!” he laughs.

Clearly, the expression ‘each to their own’ applies when attempting to narrow down the city’s must-see green spaces. So, with a general overview of where to go, I strapped on my walking shoes and headed out to explore the great outdoors.

 The Futuristic Garden

Gardens by the Bay is arguably Singapore’s most iconic outdoor space. Situated right by Marina Bay, what separates it from the rest is that it may be the only park that is even better enjoyed by moonlight. This revolutionary downtown garden is watched over by 18 towering 25–50m-tall ‘supertrees’ – architectural marvels creeping in plants that provide respite from the tropical sun during the day and light up like an electronic music video at night. Embedded with the environmentally sustainable function of photovoltaic cells that harvest the sun’s energy, these trees stand as a testament to what Singapore is capable of. Walking through its magnificent grounds on a Saturday night, I was awestruck by mankind’s ability to seamlessly blend the futuristic with Mother Earth.

There was laughter to my left: a group of tourists had claimed a piece of green under the supertrees, passing time with their favourite drink poured into plastic cups and snacks brought from outside the grounds. Some seemed deeply engrossed in conversation, barely taking notice of the light-and-sound show unfolding in the supertrees above. I walked through the crowd and made myself comfortable on a large rock, taking in the performance, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the magnificent display of colours and music.

The Colonial Garden

The Singapore Botanic Gardens were established in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society and serve as the city’s more traditional park compared to Gardens by the Bay. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, the gardens reflect an English landscape style so expansive in size that you need several days to navigate its entirety.

My visit started at the Visitor Centre and Nparks HQ, from where I strolled down to the Symphony Lake, home of turtles and large monitor lizards, as well as the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage. Slightly further along, at a large stretch of open grass called the Palm Gardens, other visitors had set up camp for the afternoon, lying out on the green enjoying a picnic and a game of Frisbee or football. This appeared to be one of the gardens’ busiest spots, and those in search of quieter corners could easily continue walking to one of the many other lawns on site.

Those with a penchant for orchids may want to stop by the National Orchid Garden, home to the largest display of orchids in the world. With a S$5 (US$3.50) entrance fee for tourists and just S$1 (US$0.70) for senior citizens and students, there is plenty to discover inside, including the VIP Orchid Garden, where new orchid strains are crossbred and dedicated to important visitors from around the world. On my visit, the Barack and Michelle Obama orchid was the proud centrepiece in the main building: a curious pygmy orchid made up of soft purples and yellows.

If, like me, you forgot to pack your own picnic, there are several cafés in the gardens that can replenish you, and Halia Provisions will be able to stock you up with picnic necessities. With a strong local iced black coffee in hand, I sat on a bench and watched park-goers stroll by, the birds swoop overhead, and the leaves in the thousands of trees rustle in the cool afternoon breeze.

The Beach Garden

A local’s favourite weekend spot – and for good reason – the East Coast Park spans over 15km of scenic coastline, within an area of 185 hectares. I took a trip on a Sunday afternoon and opted for two wheels as my means of transportation, renting a bicycle from the park for S$5. Cruising along the shoreline, I felt so far removed from Singapore’s hustle and understood why people come here regularly for a quick escape. Runners, in-line skaters and other cyclists passed me by as I took my time gliding along the boardwalk, soaking up the gentle afternoon breeze and warm sunshine. Out on the sand and under the coconut trees, scores of families and friends gathered to enjoy an afternoon bite and soak up the relaxing ambience a day at the beach never fails to provide. In the water, people were causing a ruckus on jet-skis, while dozens of tankers busied the horizon – the sole reminder that I was still in Singapore.

The Historic Garden

Right in the heart of Singapore, Fort Canning is as steep in history as it is in steps. Sitting at 60m, this hill once served as the headquarters for the Far East Command Centre and the British Army Barracks. Today, the park, which spans 18 hectares, is a history buff’s playground, home to sites such as Raffles House, the Fort Gate and the underground bunker known as the Battlebox. A sally port, a small door leading in and out of the fort, which allowed defenders to enter and exit undetected when under siege, still stands within the gardens and is a haunting reminder of the war.

Fort Canning stands as a living, breathing outdoor museum in the city, although non-history nerds are just as sure to find something to enjoy such as yoga, exercise boot camps, music festivals and heritage walks. Although guided walks are available at most of the parks (typically on weekends), the Singaporean government has also prepared a useful feature called DIY Trail Guides, which intrepid park-goers can easily download from www.nparks.gov.sg. I myself wasn’t done exploring, and was off to see what those cheeky monkeys at MacRitchie Reservoir Park were up to.

Five Senses: Taste

Singaporeans are proud of their rich and diverse street-food culture, housed in the many hawker centres that dot the city. In the East Coast Park, make sure to stop by the popular East Coast Lagoon Food Village. Here, you can find local delicacies ranging from barbecue pork noodles to satay, of course not forgetting the variety of seafood dishes, which won’t cost you a pretty penny

Five Senses: Sound

Singapore never sleeps, and it can be hard to find somewhere to sit in silence.

Within Fort Canning Park lies a space for you to be still and calm your mind. The Meditation Site by Han Sai Por is a row of natural wood benches in a tranquil space, surrounded by greenery and protected from the sun by lofty trees. Here,

I sat with my thoughts and the sound of birdsong for half an hour – a great way to reboot and rejuvenate before returning to the city’s dynamic street life.

Five Senses: Sight

To experience the true spectrum the orchid species has to offer, within the Orchid Gardens at Singapore’s Botanic Gardens awaits the Mist House. Here, I was blown away by the most remarkable exhibition of orchids I have ever seen, ranging from the classic to the downright dramatic. Even if you’re not a fan of these distinctive flowers, you are likely to come away from this greenhouse with a newfound respect for them.

HELP to Open a School for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Jakarta!

Health, Education and Learning Program (HELP) for Refugees needs your help to raise funds to pay for rent and electricity for a new refugee school in Jakarta.

Indonesia is currently home to over 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers waiting to be resettled in a third country. Under Indonesian law, asylum seekers and refugees are not allowed to work; they do not have access to social support from the Indonesian Government and most schools and universities will not accept them.Many refugees are deprived of a sense of purpose and dignity, which can be provided by work and study. They continually face the feelings of being trapped, unable to return to their country, whilst having no prospect of settling lawfully in Indonesia, which for many may have been the country of choice after building a life here. Lack of education in refugee communities and detention centres is one of the biggest problems individuals and families face.

The Health, Education and Learning Program (HELP) for Refugees in Jakarta, run by the community, for the community, is a collective of passionate refugees, working to better the lives of fellow refugees and asylum seekers living in limbo.

The program will help by providing education for children, teaching computer literacy courses to young adults, while presenting a range of Information and technology skills alongside health workshops, focusing on common health issues and family planning education. In conjunction with these classes and activities, HELP will provide an extra curricular component to the program in the form of sewing, embroidery, knitting and handicraft workshops, which will be offered whilst advocating for the creation of further income-generating activities.

Providing refugees and asylum seekers with a space to use their time productively and positively will help prevent asylum seekers and refugee children, adults and families from being trapped in their homes, left to deal with traumas of the past, reflections of the present and fears of the future. With a focus on empowering individuals, HELP will work to provide individuals with the skills, positive energy and support that they need to engage with the knowledge, tools and focus they can access within themselves, creating the confidence and momentum to move forward into their unknown futures.

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Objectives

1. Providing classes for the children to ensure they continue to be engaged with reading and learning.

2. Providing adults with english lessons to encourage preparedness for resettlement, and the encouragement of intergenerational learning of English.

3. Providing opportunities for learning new practical skills or practicing their old skills, with a strong focus on these skills leading to potential income generating activities in the future. Women will be given the top priority.

4. Conducting health workshops most common health that are particular to the area of residents, including family planning workshops.

5. Encouraging and teaching computer literacy as a way to get individuals involved with career development activities.

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Budget

For conducting our voluntary activities, HELP For Refugees will need to rent a space. As asylum seekers and refugees are dispersed throughout Jakarta, with the majority of them residing in Tebet, it has been decided that this will be where the program will be based.

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The proposed budget is an estimated minimum cost of what will be required to establish and run the school and program for up to a year. We need your support to raise the funds to make this education centre a reality!

Program evaluation

Assessment tests will be conducted every three months to determine the progress in children’s studies. Interviews, questionnaire, case study, surveys or focus group discussion will be used to evaluate our outcomes in health and learning areas.

Who is behind The HELP For Refugees?

Mohammad Baqir Bayani and Kalsoom Jaffari are Co-founders of HELP For Refugees, both refugees who have been living in Indonesia for the last few years and have devoted their time to helping fellow asylum seekers and refugees. Baqir is co-founder of The Refugee Reflect Circle (RRC), a group of photographers who use their experience and skills of visual storytelling to tell the stories of asylum seekers and refugees, he is a creative writer, and the co-founder and co-director of Refugees Of Indonesia project.

Kalsoom Jaffari works tirelessly to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers in Cisarua have access to education, essential health information and any translation services. Her previous work experience includes working on health programs with UNHCR in Pakistan and as a Community Health Education (CHE) with Mercy Corps Pakistan’s Integrated Health Program. She conducts monthly health workshops ensuring that women have knowledge on Gender Based Violence, providing them with health and education packs.

Kalsoom is also the founder of the Refugee Women’s Support Group, giving women access to sewing and handicraft activities to encourage the initiation of income-generating activities, supported by Beyond the Fabric. She is also the founder of the Cipayung Education Centre, a small school providing education to refugee children in Cipayung, Bogor.

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What Has 2016 Meant For Indonesia And Climate Change?

2015 was a devastating year for global greenhouse gas emissions, with Indonesia ranking fourth on the list of top emitters after vast forest fires released 1.62 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Under immense pressure at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) last year, Indonesia announced its commitment to reduce its emissions from peat land fires. Now that a year has passed, do experts believe the government is doing enough to prevent future cataclysmic events from happening?

COP22 ran from 7- 18 November in Marrakesh, Morocco and was centred on the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015. Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya spoke at the conference about how Indonesia – throughout 2016 – has taken many operational steps and policies that have had a direct impact on the reduction of emissions.

Nurbaya listed Jokowi’s moratorium, the restoration of peat land, the control of forest fires, and the prevention of deforestation as part of the measures being taken to reduce carbon emissions. According to the Minister, these actions have clear indicators that “can be measured, monitored and verified”.

Recent data show no signs of deforestation slowing down, which is a direct contradiction to Minister Nurbaya’s speech at COP22. While independent scientific sources indicate a strong increase in deforestation over the last decade, the Ministry of Forestry reported stable deforestation levels and emissions.

Deforestation on the rise

Indonesia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), released in September last year, includes an unconditional 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 29 percent below business-as-usual (BAU) and a conditional 41 percent reduction below BAU by 2030 (with sufficient international support).

In stark contrast, according to independent scientific analysis consortium Climate Action Tracker, “Indonesia is the only main deforesting country where a strong increase in deforestation emissions can be expected in the period to 2030.” The group claims that Indonesia has a contradictory climate policy, where renewables are being pushed to play a stronger role in the energy mix, while a growing demand for coal is leading to continually rising emissions. They predict a 70 percent increase in emissions above the 2010 level by 2030 from energy and industry sectors.

A weak commitment

Environmental activists on the ground believe Indonesia’s commitment is weak and not ambitions enough. Annisa Rahmawati is the Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia. She was shocked to hear the government is planning an increase in global greenhouse emissions of around one third by 2030. “Deforestation and peat land destruction accounts for approximately 60 percent of Indonesia’s emissions, but Indonesia’s measures to protect peat lands is insufficient,” she told Indonesia Expat. “The government is even planning 13 million hectares of further deforestation in the next three decades as revealed in the INDC.”

An ineffective moratorium

Jokowi’s moratorium on new palm oil concessions, according to Rahmawati, up until now still has no legal binding form, rendering it useless. “The President’s ban on new developments on peat land seems not to be obeyed by the industry, and the lack of law enforcement has added to its complication,” says Rahmawati. The problem is, “The moratorium is not permanent and doesn’t apply to land where permits have already been granted.” According to Greenpeace, there are approximately 10 million hectares of forest currently under threat in existing oil palm, pulp and mining concessions.

Environmental activist Chanee Kalaweit, who works saving animals in the fire hazard zones of Kalimantan and Sumatra, believes the peat land fire threat is still very much alive. In 2015 Kalaweit became a household name when his video addressed to the president taken from the thick of the forest fire haze in Kalimantan went viral. He believes the only reason we are seeing fewer fires this year is because of the La Niña weatherfront, not because of any measures being taken by the government.

“This year it’s La Niña, which always comes the year after El Niño,” he tells Indonesia Expat. “We are experiencing a lot of rain with no real dry season in Borneo. Next year the dry season will be normal, and every year it will be longer until the next El Niño in 2020/2021,” he warns. Kalaweit believes the next El Niño will be catastrophic in terms of forest fires and Indonesia’s contribution to climate change.

What actions should be taken?

Like Rahmawati, Kalaweit believes the government is not doing enough to prevent further peat land forest fires. He has observed that many landowners are converting their land status to Areal Penggunaan Lain (APL) or Area for Other Uses, which is exempt of the moratorium, allowing them to continue as palm oil plantations. What he believes should be done to prevent further fires is; 1) focus prevention funds on peat land forests only; 2) Prepare water pumps at every problem area; 3) forbid any form of fire creation in the dry season in peat land areas, as he says they do in Europe on pine forests. Kalaweit also believes the government must forbid the opening of large-scale land in any APL region.

Both activists believe in order to prevent future fires, the plantation industry must move away from peat lands and start to remedy the damage that has already been done. This can be done through blocking canals and rewetting as a first step to restoring peat lands to their natural condition – an effective measure based on Greenpeace Indonesia’s experience in Riau and Central Kalimantan.

In the space of seven days, Indonesia received 174 fire alerts, 42 percent occurring on indicative moratorium areas. Courtesy of Global Forest Watch.
In the space of seven days, Indonesia received 174 fire alerts, 42 percent occurring on indicative moratorium areas. Courtesy of Global Forest Watch.

Ambitious plans of bringing together land use, land tenure and other spatial data into a singular incorporated database for Indonesia, known as the One Map initiative, began under the previous government, but has yet to be completed. Rahmawati believes that without transparency of baseline data and methodology, enabling independent monitoring and accurate calculations about what is actually happening on the ground – while understanding who owns the land and who is responsible for fires and environmental destruction – both the moratorium and One Map policy “will be meaningless”.

In the length of time it took to write this article, the Global Forest Watch reported that Indonesia received 174 fire alerts (see map). Fourty-two percent of the fires occurred on indicative moratorium areas.

First published in Indonesia Expat on December 13, 2016

The Reporter-Turned-Refugee

A journalist’s job is to tell a story. It’s not a profession that pays the highest salary, nor is it one that earns the most respect. Those who choose this path, however, are usually incredibly passionate, willing to take risks to share the truth.

But what happens when you take a journalist who is a minority, place him in a war-torn country, reporting on extremist groups? You become a target. This is exactly what happened to 30-year-old Hasib (not his real name), a Hazara from Afghanistan, who is currently living as a refugee in one of the wettest cities in the world, Bogor.

Hasib meets me on his street outside of a small warung (small shop). He welcomes me and leads me down a small gang (alleyway) that ends at a dark-looking house. He takes me down the side of the house, through a narrow path that opens up to a small back area, with a dark bedroom, a corner with a sink and a stove, and an outside area where the bathroom sits. The back quarter is surrounded by chicken wire and overlooks a rice field.

“Where would you feel comfortable?” Hasib asks me sincerely.

I look around and see a rusty metal chair. In front of it sits a small coffee table. “This looks good,” I say as I point to the chair. “But where will you sit?” I ask him. He says that it’s absolutely no problem and rushes off to fetch another chair from his landlord’s front porch.

Once I settle down, I take a moment to look around. Hasib’s concrete-clad confines are small and dimly lit, and there’s no escape from the damp Bogor air. But his situation has done nothing to dampen his spirits. Hasib asks me if I have eaten and insists he prepare some food. I accept, understanding the Aghani custom – very similar to Indonesia’s – of always offering something to eat and drink to guests that grace your home.

Hasib brings out a pre-cooked meal of kidney beans in a tomato and spice sauce, and puts it in a pan on the stove to heat up. He sits down in front of me as I begin asking him questions about his life.

'Hasib' the former reporter, now a refugee awaiting an uncertain future in Bogor, Indonesia
‘Hasib’ the former reporter, now a refugee awaiting an uncertain future in Bogor, Indonesia

“How much rent do you pay here?”

“Rp.600,000 (USD 44) per month,” he answers. “It’s the cheapest I could find and my landlord is very kind to me.”

As the aromatic smell of the beans begins to fill the room, Hasib tells me about his former life as a journalist back in Afghanistan. During his time at the Daily Outlook Afghanistan, his office and colleagues were attacked by extremist groups over allegations of blasphemy. The bureau was shut down. He later worked at the The Daily Afghanistan Express.

“My colleagues in The Daily Afghanistan Express fled; some are still missing while others have been sent to prison. I am not sure whether they are alive or have been persecuted,” he tells me. Hasib, having written countless articles about extremist groups responsible for the attacks, became a target.

Hasib excuses himself to switch off the stove as the beans are cooked. He prepares a plate each, served with some Afghani bread. “Please, I hope you like it,” he says. The beans are delicious, with a kick from the chilli they’re cooked in. Hasib gives me some homemade yoghurt to control the spice. We continue our discussion.

“Why did you come to Indonesia?”

“I had no choice,” he answers honestly. “I fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where I stayed for 16 months, but the situation there was also terrible. Innocent women, some of whom were family members, and a small girl I knew by the name of Tabasom Shukria, were beheaded. I believe they were after me for the articles I had written against Lashkari Jhangvi, an extremist group in Pakistan.

“The only thing I knew about Indonesia before coming here was the stories of refugees drowning in boats out at sea. I covered these stories while I was a journalist. I never dreamt I would end up a refugee out at sea as well.”

In the chaos of war, Hasib hastily reached out to an agent to help him seek asylum in another country. He handed over a large sum of money and followed instructions, boarding a plane to Dubai. It was here that he learned he would be seeking refuge in Indonesia. He flew from Dubai to Malaysia, where he got on a boat and crossed the Straits of Malacca to Sumatra, eventually boarding the last plane he would fly in 2.5 years, from Medan to Jakarta.

Like all asylum seekers who first arrive in Indonesia, Hasib reported himself to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jakarta. “I felt safe for the first time in a long time,” he tells me. It took the UNHCR two years to grant Hasib refugee status, which is now valid for 1.5 years. Refugees are not allowed to work or attend school in Indonesia while waiting to be resettled in a third country. If their case is rejected by the UNHCR, they must return from where they came.

“How do you survive without earning a salary?” I ask.

“Through donations from my friends and colleagues back home. I save money by eating once a day; sometimes I go hungry.”

I look down at my plate and am deeply moved that Hasib has shared some of his treasured food rations with me.

“I live a hermit’s life,” Hasib says while smiling. “I sit where you’re sitting and listen to music while reading or writing poetry. I also teach the women of the Indonesian Women Support Group Center voluntarily. Sometimes I get called to help with interpretations.”

When asked what his life feels like to him, he answers, “like a bad nightmare”. Hasib believes people don’t view refugees as human beings. “I’m broken. I often get splitting headaches, chest pain and fevers, but I can’t afford healthcare,” he shares.

Hasib only hears from his family back home sporadically. “I don’t even know if my family are alive.” He has two sisters and three bothers living as refugees in Pakistan, a country nearly as dangerous as Afghanistan.

Hasib, like approximately 14,000 other refugees in Indonesia, lives day to day, waiting patiently in limbo to be resettled in the United States, New Zealand, Australia or Canada. “If Indonesia would resettle me, I would be extremely happy,” he smiles. Sadly for Hasib and his fellow refugee friends, Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and will not resettle refuge-seekers.

President Trump’s 120-day refugee ban directly affects Hasib and has thrown a spanner in the works for all refugees in Indonesia who are waiting for resettlement. As Indonesia is still accepting asylum seekers and refugees, we can expect the UNHCR to experience an even greater backlog of refugees waiting for resettlement in a third country.

I ask Hasib, “How does President Trump’s ban make you feel about the potential of ending up in the United States?”

“I am worried I would be looked upon as a bad human in the United States,” he says. “Minds are being injected with pointless thoughts that Muslims are not good people and that we are not welcome. The ban is a very negative initiative. It doesn’t only paralyse Muslims, but the entire world.”

“What will you do if and when you are resettled?”

“I will continue to be a journalist,” he says. “I’ll dedicate my work to humanity. I will never forget the people of Indonesia; people are kind here.”

Hasib’s story is one of suffering, having been on the run for most of his life. But even through the sadness in his eyes, warmth exudes. Although his stories are heartbreaking, he is still smiles, laughs and shares kindness with others.

Hasib would like to convey the following messages to authorities around the world:

“I plead for humanitarian assistance. I plead for you to open your arms to refugees and asylum seekers. Please don’t ignore us; we are innocent people. I plead that you spend a moment to feel what it is like to live in our shoes. I beg for empathy.”

Original article published on Indonesia Expat on February 13, 2017.

Foreign Experts Can Help Nationals Develop Indonesia: Gene Sugandy

Gene is the Division Manager for Residential Tenant Representatives at Colliers International, helping newly repatriated expats navigate the property minefield in Jakarta. With the Internet boom in the late ‘90s, Gene and her partner Danielle Surkatty created the very popular expat website Living in Indonesia, a site that today averages 95,000 unique visits a month. Gene talks to us about her work, personal life and frustrations with the government’s negative attitudes towards expatriate workers.

How did you end up on the shores of this archipelago?

After I completed my University studies in the US I was in a serious relationship with an Indonesian gentleman. Our visas were expiring so he suggested that I come to see Indonesia. I took him up on the offer and later we were married and raised our family here in Jakarta. Thirty years later I am still experiencing Indonesia.

You’ve been working for Colliers International since 2010, helping incoming expats find suitable housing, as well as helping with orientation upon arrival. What do you love about your job?

When I first arrived in Indonesia I was not aware that there were companies such as Colliers that offered assistance and guidance to expats. Knowing how difficult it was for me and how many misunderstandings I had experienced, I am grateful that now I can share my ‘harder found’ experiences with others so that they can avoid some of the mistakes that I know that I made, but also give them a heads up in what to expect during their posting here in Indonesia.

What challenges do newcomers experience when trying to face the property market without expert help?

Indonesia is one of the few countries in the world that requires the entire rental amount for the full term of the lease to be paid in advance. Because of this, it is sometimes difficult to have the landlord be responsible for repairs or maintenance after they have received the lump sum in advance. Therefore, it is highly advised that the house be properly audited prior to the handover and move in to determine if there are any major problems that need to be repaired. It is our responsibility as a property expert to make them aware of these types of issues and share our local expertise of the communities so they can make an educated decision when choosing a residence for their family.

What’s the first thing you tell new expats who approach you looking to relocate here?

Many of our clients are very apprehensive when they first arrive because they have heard or seen a lot of negative media in their home countries regarding Indonesia, mostly regarding the level of safety for their family. I tell them unfortunately there is not a perfect place to live and sadly terrorism is happening in many other places in the world. I assure them that if they keep an open mind towards their posting that I am confident they will grow to love the people that they meet here and most likely – at the end of their posting – be sad to leave.

Have you noticed a decline in the number of inbound expats to Indonesia?

The number of work permits that have been issued to expats in Indonesia has actually been in decline since 2011. Over the last 12 months we have seen a noticeable decline, not only in the numbers of expats coming into Indonesia, but also the length of time that the work permit is issued for. Undoubtedly the world decline in the oil and gas industry has been a factor as there is a large foreign presence in this sector, however government policy towards foreign investment, as well as the ponderous protocol that is needed to set up a new company, is making initially interested parties turn to neighbouring countries that are more welcoming.

What are your thoughts on recent comments from Mirah Sumirat from Indonesia’s Association of Trade Unions regarding the influx of foreign workers, where she said, “This threat is no joke … [workers] from the United States, South Korea and India must be looked at too.”

The number of foreign workers issued work permits in Indonesia in 2015 was 69,025.This number is not even 1 percent of the total number of people working in Indonesia! How can this possibly be a threat to Indonesian workers?

I would like to point out to Ibu Sumirat and other government officials that in most cases foreign workers actually create jobs for Indonesians. In almost all cases an expat is hired in middle to high management positions where there is a severe shortage of local talent and these expats are tasked with improving the quality of work or product in their industry to try and bring these levels up to a global standard.

Although expats we work with are often impressed with the level of work that is being done in many multinational offices, almost always there is need for improvement so that Indonesian offices can be more competitive with the global market. Often the position will be turned over to a national after being mentored by the expat.

It saddens me to see that currently incoming expats are facing some of the most difficult immigration processes that we have seen over the past several years. Indonesia will continue to fall further and further behind in both talent and product development and deter foreign investment if government decision makers do not realize the many advantages that expats can share. Why not take advantage of learning and sharing knowledge from experts of other countries to expedite the development of Indonesia?

In 1997 you were part of starting the very popular expat site www.livinginindonesia.org. Can you tell us the story behind the site’s creation?

In 1997, my partner Danielle Surkatty and myself were involved with the American Women’s Associations publication – helpful books for expats who are living or planning to move to Indonesia. We often heard that once the expat found the book, which could be three to six months after arriving in Indonesia, they expressed it would have been so much more helpful if they had the information earlier on or even before their move to Indonesia.

We realized that through the Internet it was going to be possible to get the helpful information to many more people and in a timely fashion. We were both long-term expats, so our aim was to help provide a source of information on a wide range of topics that would help expats who are moving to or living in Indonesia.

We actually started the site with five pages of information. Now it is over 1,000! Changes are made to the site daily and I am very excited that we are currently working on a new design that we hope to be launching in 2017.

You are known for your involvement in the Jakarta Players Community Theatre group. What is it about this extra curricular activity that gets your blood pumping?

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Gene acting in a series of short plays titled Status It’s Complicated by the Jakarta Players

 

I have always been interested in the arts and theatre but never had the time to participate until my children were grown. When I was first cast in a production I was so fascinated with how a script came to life through the performance of the cast. Regardless of how small a part might be, every member of the cast is necessary to complete the production. Each member interacts with others to tell the story and it is so rewarding to see the response of the audience.

Can you share any insights into life as a mixed marriage couple?

Any marriage is going to be full of compromises. A mixed marriage is no different, however there are even more issues as you will be faced with not only two different personalities but two different cultures. Both partners will need to have respect for each other as well as their respective cultures and families and also have a very open mind and be willing to accept that you agree to be different.

What’s the biggest positive change you’ve noticed over the years in Jakarta?

The ease that you can communicate with people around the world; my first years in Indonesia took me one month to get a letter from Canada!

If you were president for a day, what would you do?

Schedule a meeting with Immigration, Department of Manpower, Association of Trade Unions, and any other government officials that are involved with foreign investment with the Chambers of Commerce such as AmCham, BritCham EuroCham, IKONID, and open a dialogue to point out the huge advantages that expats are currently bringing to Indonesia. I would like to emphasize that the pros far outweigh the cons; these foreign experts can help nationals develop Indonesia. I would hope this would be one of the first steps to changing some of the negative attitudes of government officials that continue to hinder the needed growth and development of this country.

Thank you, Gene! To get in touch, please email: genesugandy1@gmail.com

Saving the Orangutan: Ecotourism in Borneo

A short video I made to expose the great work being done by social enterprise Wow Borneo, who are helping to save the endangered orangutan and preserving local culture and tradition through ecotourism in Central Kalimantan. For more information, visit their website.

The Bare Necessities: Gunung Leuser National Park

Trekking Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra in search of endangered orangutans in another world.

Ever since Leonardo DiCaprio hit local and international news headlines with his short but sweet visit to North Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park, I couldn’t stop thinking about the place. It wasn’t only the 41-year-old actor-cum-environmentalist who drew me to visiting this area, but the message he conveyed through his Instagram channel: that this was a special place that needed to be protected.

The lowland forests of the Leuser ecosystem are still home to ancient elephant migratory paths followed by some of the last wild herds of Sumatran elephants, numbering less than 1,000. “But the expansion of Palm Oil plantations is fragmenting the #forest and cutting off key elephant migratory corridors,” DiCaprio said on his Instagram page, which is making it “more difficult for elephant families to find adequate sources of food and water.” DiCaprio’s self-named foundation supports the protection and conservation of the Leuser ecosystem.

Gunung Leuser National Park covers an area of 7,927 km2 in Sumatra, and sits right on the border of North Sumatra and the Shariah-governed Aceh province. Along with Bukit Barisan Selatan and Kerinci Seblat national parks, Gunung Leuser forms a World Heritage Site known as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This is the only place in the world where the orangutan, elephant, rhinoceros and tiger still coincide. Today, the Leuser ecosystem exists at a shaky crossroads, however ecotourism is playing an important role in assisting in the conservation of this glorious stretch of pristine rainforest that is under siege from palm oil plantations and other development projects.

Although you’re highly unlikely to encounter a tiger or rhinoceros in these forests unless you hike for many days deep into its depths, you will almost always have the chance to see orangutans on a two-day hike. These gorgeous creatures can sometimes even be seen right from the balcony of your accommodation in Bukit Lawang.

Bukit Lawang is the gateway village to Gunung Leuser National Park and the Bohorok River is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness
Bukit Lawang is the gateway village to Gunung Leuser National Park, and the Bohorok River is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness

Bukit Lawang

The gateway to the national park can best be described as a hyper tourist village. Bukit Lawang sits on the edge of Bahorok River, and has a cemented path large enough for two motorbikes that runs through its entirety. The river is the only thing that separates mankind from the wilderness.

In 2003, a terrible flash flood swept away almost the entirety of the village – which back then was made up of only a few cottages. Thirteen years later, Bukit Lawang has developed into a happening tourist hub filled with orangutan enthusiasts and those in search of a more simple and chilled existence.

The drive is approximately 4 hours from Medan international airport. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted in English with “Welcome to the jungle, brother!” and the rushing sounds of the river will start to relax those tired-from-travelling minds. The village is filled with riverside cafes, Bob Marley bars, and ‘eco’ accommodation.

Lodging in Bukit Lawang is simple sans air-conditioning or hot water. Electricity isn’t stable, but this adds to the charm. People come here to experience wildlife and trek into the jungle, not to lounge around in five-star luxury.

Jungle fever

Most accommodations can organize a range of trekking options for you. On our two-day, one-night hike into the national park, we spotted our first orangutan in the trees above us only an hour into the hike. Semi-wild and used to people, you can get really close to these endangered animals, who have been given names by the locals.

An orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park
An orangutan in Gunung Leuser National Park

The hike itself is quite strenuous, as the region is hilly – which is actually the saving grace for why it has not been exploited by oil palm plantations. It’s extremely humid and hot, therefore not suitable for elderly hikers or people without a moderate level of fitness. Although the hike is a bit tough, you can stop and rest whenever the need arises.

We trekked 6.5 kilometres through the dense jungle, stopping for a light snack of fruits and a lunch of nasi goreng. One thing I noticed is that the trail is extremely clean, with no litter to be found. The guides have been taught from the beginning that rubbish means no guests, which in turn means no money, so even cigarette butts are brought back to Bukit Lawang, a refreshing change from other hikes in Indonesia.

Glamping

We arrived at our riverside camp at 4.30 pm; with accommodation made of bamboo and tarpaulin. Our guide, Ipong (we like to call him Mowgli as he was so in tune with the forest) made a fire while we delighted in a refreshing bathe in the crystal clear waters of the river, with virgin rainforest towering above us on either side.

A campsite in Gunung Leuser National Park
A campsite in Gunung Leuser National Park

A team of cooks prepared a delicious dinner and we dined on the ground under the stars. It’s rare that we have the chance to experience pitch-black darkness – a welcome change from the incessant lights of the city. You will be provided with a yoga mat to sleep on, and although sleeping bags are provided, an extra set and a blow-up pillow wouldn’t hurt to act as a buffer from the hard ground beneath you.

Waking up to the sights and sounds of the rainforest – and hundreds of macaques frolicking and being their cheeky selves – was nothing short of spectacular. After breakfast, we walked upriver to bathe in a stunning little waterfall that has enough pressure to rip your swimming gear off.

Tired legs from the tough hike of the previous day were relieved when we were able to ‘tube’ back to the village on giant inflatable tyres, tied together to form a raft. Ipong made each one of us a leaf crown, donned tribal face paint made out of mud, and we were off downstream. Tubing gives you a completely different perspective of the forest, actually allowing you to see it rather than be right in the thick of it.

Of all the trips I’ve done in Indonesia, this one takes the cake. It was truly special and an experience I plan to repeat again, next time visiting the elephant sanctuary at Tangkahan and possibly doing a longer seven-day trek into the jungle to rediscover my inner Mowgli. I urge other outdoor lovers to visit this other-worldly place before it’s too late.

Fast facts: Gunung Leuser National Park

Getting there: Daily flights available with local airlines to Medan’s Kualanamu International airport. Flights also available from neighbouring Singapore or Malaysia. Ask your accommodation to arrange airport transfer (approximately Rp.600,000 one way) to Bukit Lawang, which takes around 3.5-4 hours.

Where to stay: Eco Travel Cottages or Riverside Guesthouse offer cheap and clean accommodation with fans. Riverside has a viewing deck with stunning views of Bukit Lawang and the forest. Eco Travel Cottages is situated right on the river.

What to bring: Sun block, mosquito repellent, headlamp, hiking shoes/trainers, long pants and long-sleeve top for the evenings, shorts and a light top for hiking, backpack, cash (the nearest ATM is half an hour away), camera.

What to do: Hiking, photography, orangutan watching, tubing, elephant excursion in Tangkahan, dancing to the live band on Saturday nights, relaxing.

Suitable for: Adventure junkies, animal enthusiasts, reggae fans.

Interview with Danone AQUA President Director, Charlie Capetti

Bottled water company AQUA was founded in 1973 by the late Tirto Utomo. When Utomo passed away unexpectedly in 1993, his family was faced with a difficult decision regarding the business. They approached the multinational company Danone, who shared the same values and principles, and the merger was born in September 1998. We meet President Director of Danone AQUA, Charlie Capetti, a Dutch national who has been with Danone for 17 years, seven of which have been in Indonesia.

You’ve been with Danone for many years, from Sales Director in the Netherlands to President Director in Indonesia. Tell us what your role at AQUA Danone entails today.

My role in AQUA is to work with my team on the long-term sustainability and short-term ambitions of the company. We set out a vision for this company and work consistently with all people here to deliver that vision. I see it as my job to create conditions for our employees to thrive in AQUA and develop themselves professionally. There is not a single day that is the same.

Has your experience as a Lieutenant in the Royal Dutch Navy in 1990 had any impact on the way that you conduct business today?

After graduating from University I was an Economics teacher at the Royal Dutch Naval College. In those days in the Netherlands it was compulsory to serve your country.  I learned values like discipline, respect and not giving up when you want to achieve something; values I consider relevant for successful leadership.

Your water comes from 13 springs and 18 factories in Indonesia. What makes your water healthy? How is it processed?

We are very picky about the selection of our springs and follow a strict criteria regarding selection. We carry out scientific research looking at mineral content and other compositions that tell us if it meets the AQUA taste profile, which is influenced by the minerals. We look at the amount of water the natural area has without upsetting the water balance. Then we drill and see if we can find the water, and we check to see how much we can take. If the composition is not good, we stop.

We make sure our water is fresh, tasting good, and meeting health standards. We filter it, of course, with a complex filter system, and then apply Ultra Violet light which kills micro bacteria. You cannot drink the water when it’s on the line, but after a few hours it’s ready. The whole process is natural.

We will be opening factory number 19 in April in South Sumatra.

Danone AQUA is a publically-listed company. What are the projections for 2016?

We are the biggest water brand in terms of volume in the world; about ten times the size of Evian.

The growth of our business comes mainly from two factors: growth of the population (1.5 percent per annum) and growth of the middle class. Households will switch from boiling water to safer, packaged water. Moreover, modern trade grew rapidly, particularly in mini-markets which have helped us grow exponentially. Consequently, projected growth in the bottled water industry in Indonesia is around 10-12 percent per annum.

You have approximately 2 million sales points across Indonesia. How is distribution managed?

I think indeed this is one of our key strengths. We use 75 family-owned distributors who have been part of the business since the beginning. We have 220 depots that distribute into wholesalers that then go to the warung and the toko. 85 percent goes through this system, and the rest goes through mini-marts and supermarkets, done through our own distribution centres, of which we have 14 all over Indonesia. How the product flows is an incredible spider web.

We also have a unique distribution method called AQUA Home Service, or ‘AQUA Ladies’, where we currently empower over 7,000 women in Indonesia to sell AQUA from their homes. We select opinion-leaders and help them build a business selling drinking water, mainly by the gallon using delivery boys on motorbikes.

We have an ambition that everywhere in Indonesia you must be able to find AQUA.

Danone AQUA has 12,500 employees in Indonesia. How does your company ensure personal and professional development?

I don’t know where to start! We have very extensive training programmes for all levels, from operators to executives, leadership trainings and very specific functional, technical programmes. We ensure development of our people via four principles: 60 percent is on-the-job training, 10 percent classroom training, 10 percent online/digital training, and 20 percent through networking. As a result, many of our people are typically long-term employees for whom working at AQUA is a career instead of a job.

How do you help those who do not have access or means of accessing clean drinking water?

AQUA is committed to proactively contribute in this field through an ambitious WASH (Water Access Sanitation and Hygiene) programme aiming to improve the health of thousands of families around Indonesia. Water committees are formed and trained to design the facilities, monitor the works, and ensure proper management long-term. Three types of community groups are targeted: villages surrounding AQUA factories, and remote villages in NTT and NTB through our ‘1L for 10L’ initiative. Currently, the WASH programme has provided benefits to more than 130,000 people in 18 districts, and will continue to grow.

What is Danone AQUA doing to reduce its impact on the environment, namely plastic waste, through your CSR project AQUA Lestari? Are there plans to go large-scale in these endeavours?

AQUA-HKVimageOur business model involves plastic, whether we like it or not. There are a lot of things we can do and have been doing. I made sure we stopped the plastic wrapper on the lid and now our bottles are 100 percent recyclable. I see huge opportunities for us to go further. The technology is there.

AQUA developed AQUA PEDULI (Plastics Waste Recycling Programme) in 1993 as a form of social responsibility to manage plastic waste. Since 2010, 600 scavengers from three cities – South Tangerang, Bandung, Denpasar – involved in our Scavengers Empowerment Programme (PEP) have been empowered to improve their quality of life through access to healthcare and increased recycling expertise.

In Tangerang, we collect 80-90 tonnes of plastic per month, which is crushed in machines and mainly exported to China for recycling. Every month this unit makes enough profit to pay the pemulung, cover costs, and make profits. This project is scalable and I’d like to see this replicated in other cities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not consider bottled water an improved or sustainable solution to water access in Indonesia, and other similar countries. What would you say to this?

As the pioneer of Indonesia’s bottled drinking water industry, AQUA continually sets the benchmark for the application of innovative technologies geared towards improving the production process and products. Packaging remains a challenge for the bottled water business, but somehow the impact on the environment is limited by high recycling rates.

We have four pillars in the AQUA Lestari programme: Environment and Water Protection, Green Company, Product Distribution and Community Involvement and Development. These pillars are realized by implementing various social and environmental programmes ranging from upstream (catchment area), middle (AQUA water source area) to downstream.

Do you think there will be a day when Indonesians will have access to clean and free drinking water? And if so, what will this mean for your industry?

Yes, of course. I come from a country where I can drink water from the tap; it’s a human right. We hope that Indonesians one day will also have that choice. Until then, we consider it our duty to make AQUA available as much as possible to provide as many Indonesians with a healthy hydration option.

What are the principles that Danone AQUA holds dearest to its heart?

At the heart of AQUA’s reason for being is a very simple goal: to make available – to as many people as possible – healthy, clean, and pure drinking water that is full of the natural goodness essential to long-term health. We want to do it in the most sustainable way; making sure that everybody in our ecosystem can benefit from AQUA. We make sure whatever we do, we make others part of our story.