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GETTING TO KNOW INDONESIA: WHERE AND HOW?

My new English blog has just been born HERE - and under the cut I'm reposting the first story so you may get a grasp of what this is all about…
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Opinions and advice are most welcome, but preferably on the .rbth site itself (that way it's much easier to reread them later... :-)
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As for this blog on the LiveJournal - will be back with new postings the moment I have some free time…





One of the best books ever written on Bali and Indonesia as a whole is undoubtedly BALI: Sekala&Niskala by Fred Eiseman, Jr. It was first printed in 1990 and running many successive editions since that. In this book the author, who first came to Bali in 1961 and then permanently settled at The Island of Gods and Demons, adopted Balinese Hinduism, and fully integrated into the everyday life of his Balinese neighbors, quite seriously states: "Years ago I set out to learn as much as I could about Indonesia. A decade of experience later, I decided to narrow my field to just Bali. Another decade later I thought I had better concentrate upon South Bali. A couple of years ago the field narrowed to [the village of] Jimbaran. It is now becoming apparent that I had better focus only upon South Jimbaran".
This is the shortest and the most brilliant description of the inevitable evolution that any person who intends to seriously and professionally write on Indonesia from inside that country would inevitably pass through. Because 'seriously and professionally' means trying in earnest to verify any fact, any date, any name you are mentioning—but how can you do that in a country, that is longer than the whole of Europe, and at that splits into thousands of islands (13,000 or 17,000 according to most recent official estimates –and both figures are correct as they were stated by the relevant Government high officials). A country inhabited by about 800 different peoples speaking about the same number of languages (estimates differ although all are correct as all of them were uttered by the relevant Government high officials - so I am just quoting here the one I personally like). In short, a country that is only beginning to be properly understood not only by foreigners, but by Indonesians as well.
So, a foreigner who is brazen enough to try writing on Indonesia seriously and professionally—no matter how many degrees and titles he carries in his bag—is facing one of two choices: he may stay in Jakarta or, better yet, he can try to make a base outside of the capital city and really go deep—personally excavating forgotten ruins (in both figural and literal meanings), meeting real people who are Indonesians: peasants and fishermen, keris-makers and painters - but inevitably limiting himself mostly to the studies of the region he is living in and losing touch with the whole of Indonesia.
As to the former choice - Jakarta, which, according to my taste these days, is no more part of a real Indonesia than Moscow is a part of real Russia, both of these cities have become something like a 'country in itself '(one ought to keep on reading a lot about Indonesia, but in the end, how is that really different from 'understanding' Indonesia while being based in his own home country?). Of course, there is always an option of spending several months here and then moving there, but is that really a practical option? We all have families and hardly any decent wife would be eager to follow her crazy husband moving from one spot to another every six months.
So, what would YOU advise this particular foreigner in his never ending quest of trying to understand Indonesia?