Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unexpected Meetings

Unexpected Meetings with a businessman and twelve House of Representatives (DPR) Members in Burns Hall, Tuesday and Hale Halawaii, Wednesday, Nov 15, 2006:

Muhamad Ali

It was Monday morning that my good friend Made Brunner gave me a call while I was busy writing my dissertation. Made informed me that Ron Mullers (A Dutch-born businessman who I knew from Made is doing some business here in Honolulu) told him that some Indonesia’s parliamentary members (mentioning a name Sukamdani whom I didn’t know but it was said he was one of the “members” and the “president of hotels association in Indonesia”, but I gathered that he is actually not a member (it was her sister who headed the association and was a member of the parliament). I was curious why Made contacted me, instead of the head of PERMIAS Pengurus (but I learnt later that he did not know anybody who could quickly contact an EWC management board). I was a little bit reluctant to contact EWC executive members because it was such a short notice; nobody told us that some Indonesian parlimentary figures had a plan to visit Hawaii, without informing us and PERMIAS formally. With a phone number from Made, I decided to contact Ron Mullers that I was able to contact EWC people for an appointment, under the condition that they goal was clear: he said it was just to say Hi!. Why just saying Hi? I wondered, but I wanted to help as I could. I first emailed President Charles Morrison, but did not receive his response until her secretary replied to me later afternoon that he was out of town. Pat Matsunaga, the secretary, suggested me to contact Richard Baker, the assistant to Charles Morrison, but then she gathered that Richard Baker would be leaving on Wednesday morning, a time that Ron Muller said the DPR members wanted for the meeting. Eventually the acting President, Nancy Lewis, the acting president of the EWC, was happy to welcome “the DPR people” (said to be two or three, including Pak Sukamdani). An appointment was then set for 10 a.m. Wednesday. You know, I was still busy with other things, including my dissertation, but when Made asked me a favor, I could not refuse; I did not have the ability like other friends to make a nice axcuse: “I am too busy with my papers”. Well I had a lot of things to do and to write too, and this time it is my dissertation (the most important thing for me for my career), but I still felt that I needed to spend some of my time, my thought, my energy to welcome guests, whoever they are. Simply Ikram al-Duyuf. I had some perceptions about Indonesian politicians, DPR members, and politicians in general, and so forth. For example, I knew some politicians in Paris who lived in the most luxurious hotel in Paris (I forgot the name, but I took its picture when I visited there in the New Year of 2006), bought some luxurious things there, and so on. The PPI (Indonesian student association) came down to the street demonstrating them, although they missed them. I totally agreed at the time that the DPR people were just crazy, inconsiderate, just unbelievable. How could the representatives of the people ever think about spending so much people’s money for their own goods, interests, and personal or familial prestige and consumerism? So at this time, when I heard some DPR members were visiting Hawaii, I had that same perception too. I did not want to help them; who are they wasting my time? Besides this is a very short notice (DADAKAN). But why did not I just help? I didn't know them in the first place. I just assumed that every DPR is the SAME. SO I decided that I should give up something to do something hopefully meaningful; this is much better than just saying anything bad about other peoples, or being trapped in my or others' prejudice and indifference. So I decided to try to contact EWC to make an appointment for them. Ron Mullers said would I also come to the meeting with EWC’s acting president; I replied I would probably come. Then I realized that this thing should be a PERMIAS activity and responsibility, to greet and welcome Indonesian leaders as well as ordinary peoples as guests, whoever they are in our own perception. I thought Made was the one whom Ron Mullers knew so he contacted Made instead of PERMIAS people. This PERMIAS responsibility to arrange any meeting with people here in Hawaii. So I called the head of PERMIAS, and Agung was there. I explained to him, that PERMIAS needed to take care of this thing, not me, not Made, but we could help. I informed Agung that one of the PERMIAS board may want to come to the meeting at the EWC at 10 a.m, being a moderator between the House of Representative Members and the EWC. He then called Pramono, another board member, who agreed to come to the meeting.

I had to mail my job applications via the campus post office before 10 a.m. I ran there and managed to come to Burns Hall before 10 am so I could greet the DPR members and Ron Mullers. Made then came in and we had a little talk before we eventually saw Ron Muller and another man. I asked where is Pak Sukamdani? And the man introduced himself as Pak Nugraha instead. I still thought Pak Sukamdani Nugraha was DPR member. And we came to the office and Nancy Lewis had waited for us. Then we Pak Nugraha told his goals visiting East-West Center, and gave his business card (I gathered his name Dr. Nugroho Sukamdani). From the card I found out he was an entreprenuer and lecturer at a private university in Jakarta, and not a DPR member himself; it was his sister who was DPR member. He told Nancy Lewis that Indonesia is not terrorist, but a victim of terrorism and that he had a university interested in building an exchange program with University of Hawaii and asked for Nancy’s guidance. Of course, Nancy told us about APLP, Ford Foundation, and that EWC does not give degrees. She referred to Terrance Bigalke, and finally Pak Nugroho dan Ron Mullers managed to meet Terrance Bigalke without me and other students later afternoon. Before leaving, Made and I asked Pak Nugraha if the DPR members would have a time to meet Indonesian students. At that time, what I had in mind is that meeting DPR members would benefit all sides. I went home, and but told myself: “I have wasted my time, helping a person, with a private interest rather than a public interest.” I thought this man had an economic private interest rather than a wider public interest in building US-Indonesian relationship or improving tourism in general. So I was very upset but I told this to myself and to Pramono, walking back to my room.

In the morning, I told myself not to meet the DPR members, because it was not clear yet who, how many they were and why they visited Hawaii. I had 2 hour workshop about writing syllabus (I wanted to teach in the States someday), from 12.30 to 2.00 p.m. But Ron Mullers left a message in my phone machine that the DPR members would like to meet the students; they accepted Made and my invitation the day before; they made their decision to meet students only in the afternoon and set the time for 2. p.m. I was very reluctant to meet them because of such as short notice, and I would have that workshop that would benefit me most individually and professionally. But I decided to call again the head of PERMIAS and Agung received my call. Agung had received similar information from Made and knew that the DPR people wanted to meet Indonesian students at 2. p.m. Agung was quick to make a decision (which I praised because in this situation of emergency, a quick and smart decision is very important). Agung tried to do anything he could do, sending email, booking rooms, and trying to figure out if food/refreshment could be provided. So I did not do anything; I just thought Agung and PERMIAS would arranged the meeting the time of which was already set by the guests. So I planned to come to the meeting, but not very enthusiastically and would be probably late because of workshop. I enjoyed the workshop and had a productive one-and-half hours in the workshop; it ended at 1.30 instead of 2. p.m. I ran to Hale Halawaii and did not find anybody. I thought probably the meeting was cancelled or postponed or was held in another place not at Hale Halawaii. I waited in the Hale Manoa Lobby, and Anshori coincidently came across me sitting at the lobby reading the newspaper waiting for news about the meeting. He said PERMIAS could not approve the meeting with DPR because there were one or persons calling him not to approve the meeting, which made him hard to make a decision whether or not to approve that the meeting is under PERMIAS. Besides he had a class from 2.30 pm so he could not come anyway. The meeting was not formally PERMIAS, he implied. I understood and respected such decision. But the meeting must go on; it was for some students interested only. Besides, the time and place had been set, and students had different class schedules. But what if there was nobody present in Hale Halawaii when the twelve DPR members came? What a shame! But Agung, Ari, were there, then Pramono came, and a bunch of people (about ten people in the start came and more in the middle of the meeting, including Susan, Mas Saiful).
Then a modest bus came quite late at about 2.35 pm. I then happened to know that Honorary Consult Dr Patrick Sullivan was also told about the meeting but could not make it. And Consulate General assistant Pak Wandi knew and came from LA to Hawaii for that meeting.
Everybody sat in the floor at Hale Halawaii. There were some from Commission X. The chief of the Commission was Irwan Prayitno (I forgot his and other names) but they were from different factions (PKS, Golkar, Demokrat, PKB, PAN). Pramono became moderator; he introduced all Indonesian students, names, fields of study and ethnic origin. People liked to tell ethnicities here. Pramono moderated the discussion very nicely. Then, Pak Irwan spoke about the intention of their visit to Hawaii. He said Commission X deals with tourism, education, sport and the youth affairs, but this visit was specifically for improving tourism industry in Indonesia. He said that they chose Hawaii rather than other places in the US because Hawaii has the image of good tourism and therefore they wanted to learn how Hawaii had become an amazing tourist destination. They met a number of officials in Hawaii in charge of tourism. They learnt that it was not because of money that Hawaii could become a nice place to visit for tourists. It was creativity, security, service, infrastructure, and attractiveness. They learnt that a specific bureaucracy was not necessary to boost tourism. A tourism board would be enough. Indonesia should reduce the burden of bureaucracy. They also learnt how 1.2 million people could serve 7.5 million tourists and how tourism in Hawaii had multiple effects to the local population. Then saying I was no an expert or student of tourism, but based on experience like anybody else I had some thought about the importance of mass media, internet, marketing, public diplomacy, the diversification of Indonesia (not only Bali) and travel warning lifting through diplomacy, in trying to boost Indonesia’s tourism. They wrote every point I said. And they said they need the ideas from students that could become their consideration for making policies (they intended to modify the existing law on tourism). They said they would need research papers for them to consider for their policy-making process. And we told them that a student of tourism (sociology of tourism) had just finished his program but had left this very morning. Pak Irwan said he would need the contact number of Ketut. Then students one by one asked interesting questions: Mbak Yati stressed the importance of food and surfing for Indonesian image. Ari emphasized the need of arts and culture. Agung put an emphasis on the geography or nature. Alfian suggested that tourism students should be given opportunity to have sometime to study in Hawaii or abroad (a kind of exchange program). Safril made a good point: what is the criteria of success of Indonesian tourism? Do we have that vision? Ibu Paula made a point about local culture in Hawaii being marginalized by tourism. Then everyone from the DPR members gave their ideas, in different ways, interesting to me and others, including the comedian Komar how happened to be DPR member because of fate (garis tangan, he said jokingly). They welcomed our thoughts and ideas and were proud of Indonesian students having such ideas in order to improve the image of Indonesia and national tourism industry. Some of the ideas put forward by the DPR members at the meeting are: it is not to marginalize local culture (local genius), budget is not a problem in Hawaii (and so not supposed to be a problem in Indonesia too), the need of creativity, there were some distortion in implementation at the level of department or bureaucracy, the need to improve Indonesian’s infrastructure, making sure security and cleanness, Indonesia has culture, but poorly marketed in the world (only the bad things of Indonesia are famous, including the misperception about Islam and terrorism). The comedian-now-politician Pak Komar (from Partai Demokrat) said that some progress has been shown by the government, but not enough at all. SBY must have chosen a wrong minister for tourism and culture department, he claimed jokingly, but he said that he often criticized Pak Menteri directly (coming from a similar party). Bu Saidah, from PKB, emphasized the bureaucracy reform, commitment, the study on the relationship between Muslim culture and tourism (how Islam deals with tourism? for example), patterns of people’s participation in development. Another Ibu (forgot her name) said Indonesian students abroad have to be the agent of promotion of Indonesian tourism. The other members said the law on tourism must increase people’s economy, and one member from PPP emphasized the need to maintain local norms. A student even expressed her aspiration about how to bring not only students but also their family to Hawaii so that they could benefit from international education and experience too. Agung added that a program like Ford foundation was a good one to increase the number of students from marginalized regions in Indonesia. The last speaker was Pak Wandi from Consulate LA who said that in fact the consulate cared about the promotion of Indonesian culture in Hawaii, with their moral and financial support for some cultural events conducted by PERMIAS.

The meeting concluded with a group picture. It lasted longer than expected, without drink and food. I closed the meeting saying that we actually have PERMIAS and we are sorry we don’t provide food and drink because of a short notice of their visit. Pak Komar was interested in bringing his son to take MBA in Hawaii, maybe after witnessing how smart Indonesian students in Hawaii had been in the discussion. We then shake hands; everyone seemed to be happy after the meeting; some had their notes to bring with them, including the DPR members who listened attentively to students’ ideas and still wait for more if time allows, but could continue with further contact.

I had my swimming class at five p.m. Right after the meeting, taking a picture, and saying a goodbye, I came up to my room and took my swimming suits, and ran to grab my bike at the parking lot at Burns Hall so I can fastern my way to the pool. I did not want to be late coming to the class. So I rushed myself and eventually had a good lesson of swimming as always. With swimming, I felt relieved; my body and mind became fresher. Well, after the unexpected meetings, some of my prejudices were overcome, and the unplanned discussion was quite productive. I then thought, perhaps DPR members are not all the same; there are bad and good ones, as there are good and bad students and professors. At least some of Indonesian students had tried to welcome their important guests (ikram al-duyuf, as I mentioned earlier). Their visit here is only about four days, I gathered; hopely they didn't waste people's money (uang rakyat) as many did before and in other places. I just hoped that this DPR group had something valuable to carry home to make a better policy on tourism, to improve Indonesian’s image in the world, not for the benefit of themselves as politicians and businessmen alone, but for the local people and the nation at large.

For me, I first was reluctant to spend some time and meet with the people I did not plan to meet and distracted my own activity, as I was very busy doing my writings and other things, but after I met and discussed with them about some important issues of significant implications for Indonesian future, I had to admit that I had learnt something as well as had told them about something. Indeed, an exchange of ideas and experiences took place in Hale Halawaii.

Hale Manoa, 10. p.m. Wednesday. November 15, 2006

2 comments: said...

Ali, this is a funny story! Yes, I actually laughed out oud :) It sounds like a very long movie scene --you could actually turn it into a screenplay for a shot film. I love the part where you had to rush to your swimming lesson (so sweet!) I could sense your frustration, but I am glad that you and others managed to show some hospitality to the guests.

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