Thursday, September 22, 2005


I get nervous before going to certain sorts of party. This particular party at the sports club was full of tall confident people talking about surfing, diving, sailing, shopping, and soap operas. I felt self-conscious, awkward and out-of-place. Maybe it was the cheap wine.

"You OK , Kent?" said a voice. I turned and was overjoyed to see Anne, wife of Bob.

"Fine," I said.

"You looked sad."

"It’s just me."

"I know how you feel. Some of these people are not our type."

"What type are we?"

Anne paused and sipped her wine before replying. "I like to think I’m a little bit cultured, independent, tolerant, intuitive. Pauline and Bob might say I’m changeable. Maybe we change moment by moment." She sort of laughed.

"What about me?"

"I’d say Kent that you’re adventurous."

For two seconds I felt rather good about Anne’s comments. Was it flattery? "So, how come I’m scared of things like flying?" I said. "And most sports terrify me."

"But you’re the sort of person who wanders into the slums. You’re a nonconformist."

Again I felt good momentarily. "I’m usually a conformist when it comes to taking orders from the boss. I keep quiet at staff meetings."

"It can be a good quality to be self-effacing. I’d say you’re sensitive and painstaking."

Did that sound good? "I’m sensitive if people criticise my work. And I’m sometimes lazy about marking and reports."

"Be more sanguine, and you’ll find it’s good for your health," said Anne, whose frown seemed to suggest that she was about to give up on her attempts to cheer me up. "Now, come and meet this American, called Lane. He’s in mining. He’s very in touch with what’s going on."

Before Anne wandered off I was introduced to a middle-aged man with a smart suit and a grey, heavily-lined face that suggested too much stress Anne told him I was interested in politics.

"How is the political situation?" I asked. "What do the Americans think is going on?"

"Two schools of thought," said Lane. "Some people at the embassy want us to be sympathetic to Pakpahan." He looked around, as if to see who might be listening.

"Pakpahan? The union leader?"

"That’s him. There’s a feeling that workers should not be paid starvation wages, and allegedly tortured and killed if they try to improve things. There’s a worry that the corruption in high places creates instability. Leads to Moslem extremism."

"The other school of thought?"

"The hawks at the embassy support the Indonesian military. They believe the military holds the country together and is a useful bulwark against China. They think that in the real world you have to be Machiavellian. Suharto and the military are good for American business."

"Mobil, Nike, Caterpillar," I said.

"There’s more," said Lane, "Hughes Aircraft, Reebok, Freeport, Mattel, Levi Strauss, all the fast food people."

"What about when Suharto retires? Are the Americans worried?"

"Our defence and intelligence people seem to be keeping in with certain top generals who may take over from Suharto. Probably generals from the elite regiments: Kopassus and Kostrad. The embassy also tries to keep in with Megawati, of course."

"Will the Americans choose the right people?"

"If you remember Nicaragua, Vietnam and Cambodia you’ll know that we Americans are expert when it comes to dirty tricks and torture. We train torturers and terrorists, put them into power, and then decide to topple them."

"Is Suharto’s position weakening?"

"There’s a group within the Indonesian army that claims to be loyal to Suharto and very Islamic. Although their Islam is probably only a means to gaining power. These generals try to spread rumours about the loyalty of the more secular generals. So, who can Suharto trust? Murdani, Sudrajat, Faisal Tanjung, Wiranto, Yudhoyono, Hartono or Prabowo? I think Suharto tries to keep a balance between the factions. It’s all shifting alliances. The Catholic Murdani may talk to the pro-democracy Abdurrahman Wahid and his traditional Moslems. Some pro-Suharto Moslem leaders seem to like General Hartono."

"The newspapers talk about a Moslem ‘Green’ faction and a Nationalist ‘red and white’ faction. Are these ‘red and whites’ in favour of democracy?"

"No," said Lane, screwing up his face. "They want continued army rule so they can stay rich. It’s just that they want to avoid a take over by a faction making use of Islam. It’s all about power."

"You think most people in your government and business community support army rule?"

"Most do. Not all of them. I’m in mining and the army is our problem. It wants money from us for protection."

"What happens if you don’t pay?"

"What happens when you don’t pay protection money in Palermo? You may be forced to close down."

"What’s your solution?"

"Close down the army," said Lane, in a whisper. "Then you’ll get less crime. Less illegal mining. Less illegal logging. How do you close down the army? No more money from the World Bank, the IMF, the donor countries. Then the army would shrink."

"Who’s then going to buy British and American jets?"

"That’s it, isn’t it. We support the army so we can sell them weapons. I wonder if any people in this country are giving money to political parties in the States?"