Winds of Change

“You really have to read this on that trip of yours,” Leendert Bikker handed me the dutch translation of Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon.

“I already have it packed. The English version mind you!” I gleefully pointed out the generational gap between the two of us. People barely half a generation older than myself still prefer to read Dutch translations whilst my own more worldly generation simply reads their books in their original language (as long as its English).

Kaplan’s book draws and exciting picture of a changing world in which the countries straddling the Indian Ocean will play a much more prominent role. One of the countries that is featured in the book is Indonesia. And that’s exactly where my holiday was taking me.

Monsoon was a very appropriate airplane-book it seemed. I soaked up its contents on my flight from Amsterdam to Singapore and from there to the provincial city of Makassar; to visit my wife’s grandparents.

One of the places we always visit in Makassar is Fort Rotterdam. Fort Rotterdam was built by the Dutch colonial administration in an effort to dominate the city and by extension the entire east of the country. After Indonesia gained its independence the fortress became a monument. For years the Indonesians always maintained it well. It was a place of importance, a reminder of the injustice done to them during 350 years of colonial oppression.

But not anymore. Fort Rotterdam looked dirty. Dilapidated even. It seems the Indonesians don’t really need it as much as they used to.

Clearly things are changing.

All around town one can see it. Some years ago street signs advertising courses in English, French, German, Japanese and even Dutch were pretty common.

Nowadays school children learn English and Mandarin. With a sense of irony one of our cousins noted that more of his Indonesian friends now spoke Mandarin than did his Chinese friends. This is quite significant.

For a long time many expressions of Chinese culture were outright shunned – if not forbidden – in this country. The millions ethnic Chinese living in the archepellago had often been the subject to discrimination, and in an attempt to assimilate they were forced to take on Indonesian names in place of their traditional Chinese ones.

These days even a once hotbed of anti-chinese sentiment – Hassanuddin university – is now scrambling to attract Chinese universities and establish exchange programs with them.

A wind of change is blowing and Indonesia is transforming fast.

Of course not everyone seems to be moving along at the same break neck speed. There’s still lots of poverty. An average becak (rikshaw) rider for example makes a very modest living earning about 4 dollars a day peddling people across town. It’s hard work.

On the opposite site of grandpa’s street lives a becak rider. The house is primitive to say the best. The roof is a patchwork of odd pieces of wood. Next to a smoky fire ‘clean’ laundry is hanging to dry. Much of it looks like hand downs from a fifth owner or more. I’m not sure if the place has running water and electricity.

He’s got four cute children. All little boys. I take some pictures of them. “Would you like a copy of those?” I askhis wife. “I could have them printed in the Netherlands, stick ‘m in an evelope and send them to Opa (grandfather). He can give them to you.”

With a child on her hip she looks at me. Amused as well as confused.

“Why not use facebook?”

4 Replies to “Winds of Change”

  1. Here’s a nice picture of the street mentioned in the story. It’s my little girl Aurélie – she likes chicken. In the back you can see one of Becak driver’s cute kids.
    Aurélie van de Werk - not being a chicken

  2. @ Andries. Yeah it was hilarious….in a way as well as a good real-world lesson.

    Imagine being ‘lerned’ by a third world country house wife who wore nothing but cottons shorts, an old T-shirt (with some spots and more than a few holes) and flip-flops.

    The world our kids are growing up in is a very exciting place if you ask me.

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