Tadi Pagi is alive again in the shadow of Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java. And tomorrow off to SE Sulawesi. Stay posted
In Indonesia it seems like everyone is up in arms about the upcoming price hike in subsidized fuel on April 1st. To see the gathering of Ikatan Mahasiswa Muhammadiyah—the university student branch of the socio-religious organization Muhammadiyah—in Yogyakarta last night, it’s clear that the hike is not an April Fool’s Day joke.
At a candlelight vigil at Yogyakarta’s main intersection, 40 student activists, all dressed in black, shouted slogans against Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (called SBY). One student tossed a flaming portrait of the president on the ground, followed by another pretending to urinate on it by squeezing a water bottle held near his groin.
The rally was a commemoration of their organization’s 48th birthday. But current events gave the event a rallying cry. A pamphlet was passed out highlighting the disparity between Indonesia’s high endowment of natural resources and the impoverished conditions for millions of its citizens. Citing the upcoming fuel price increase, a group of these demonstrators told me that the rich and powerful government leaders have forgotten about the poor people in their country.
Currently, subsidized fuel costs Rp. 4500 (about 50 cents) per liter, or just under $2 a gallon. Feeling fiscal pressure from the rise in international petroleum prices, the Indonesian government has decided to increase the price of subsidized petroleum by 33%, or 1500 rupiah and subsidized diesel by 4500 rupiah.
While the price hike will not go into effect for another fifteen days, daily demonstrations, particularly among student groups, are taking place across the country. Last week, as reported by the Jakarta Globe, students from local universities held up fuel trucks in Central and East Java. In the Southeast Sulawesi capital of Kendari. University students “stormed” the DPRD (local legislature) building when DPRD members refused to meet them.
Yesterday, another group of students from the Alliance of West Java Student Councils smashed a portrait of Indonesian President SBY that was hanging in the lobby of the House of Representatives in Jakarta. “Long live the people! Down with SBY!”, one of the vandals yelled.
SBY’s insistence on the price hike is inarguably sound macroeconomic management to alleviate rising fiscal strains of the current subsidy. Yet the move is perceived by much of the population as callous, particularly against the country’s poor. Protestors claim the price increase will have a ripple effect on transportation costs (some bus companies have already raised their fares), as well as the costs of staple foods like rice and soybeans. Last month, the head of Indonesia’s central bank, Darmin Nasution, said that a fuel price increase of this magnitude could send inflation over the Bank’s top target of 5.5%.
In an attempt to address these concerns, the government plans to pair the fuel price increase with a direct cash assistance program for the poor: 150,000 rupiah each month per family for a total of nine months, as reported by the national daily Kompas. Critics of the direct assistance program claim that the assistance is too little, while others insist that the money is better spent on creating jobs or increasing wages.
Meanwhile, some Indonesians are taking matters into their own hands by stocking up on fuel at the current price. The state-run oil and gas company Pertamina, the sole provider of the subsidized fuel Premium, reported an increase in sales of 17% in the last two weeks. The National Police have already discovered over 1.5 million liters of hoarded fuel and confiscated nearly 100,000 trucks involved in the hoarding operations. The majority of the hoarded fuel is diesel, which will experience a much larger price increase than the subsidized petroleum.
The major labor unions in the country have also come out against the fuel price increase. A mass march to the State Palace and House of Representatives in Jakarta has been organized for March 21.
As police gear up for massive protests nation-wide, the SBY administration continues to insist that the fuel price increase will go on as planned. SBY contends that Indonesia must begin the process of “energy conversion” to petroleum alternatives such as natural gas and bio fuels. Even though this move lays the groundwork for the country’s energy security, it will cause significant short-term pain.
Heading south out of Jogja, we saw this masked musician at a traffic light. His gamelan notes keeping tempo with the countdown to green light on the LED sign above. Two ladies accompany his performance, lithely dancing in the crosswalk before revving motorbikes, minibuses and kids on bicycles squinting through the sharp sunlight. Seconds before the switch to green, the dancers collect coins from their impromptu audience as the musician plays on.
With a day off from language classes, we embraced our newfound mobility (having rented a scooter) and our desire to escape the city. We rode south towards the Indian Ocean and the meeting place of Prince Senopati and Nyi Roro Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas. Prince Senopati, the leader of the Mataram kingdom in the 16th century, had meditated at this beach to gain mystical powers that would help him to defend his kingdom from outside forces. Here at Parangkusumo Beach he fell in love with the Queen of the South Seas, and today two rocks in the sand mark their meeting place. Gupolo (see picture) guard the complex that surrounds the rocks.
The Sultans of Yogyakarta and Solo (descendants of the Prince) make offerings at this spot every year. Melati, engaging the enthusiastic caretaker (see picture), whipped out our pocket recorder and conducted her first interview of the trip.
We drank young coconuts on the deserted beach, and walked ankle-deep in the surf. Though by 10 am the heat had become intense and the sun beat down on us, no swimming! The waters are turbulent here, and many people have become victims of the Queen of the South Seas here, including a Bulgarian Ambassador to Indonesia. The Queen particularly likes the color green, and all locals know not to wear green clothing anywhere near the beach (for fear that the Queen will drag them away).
We also ascended a nearby hill to the tomb of Syekh Bela-Belu, a Muslim saint who legend has it once caught a fully-cooked fish from the sea. Here we enjoyed the scent of Frangipani and a view of the cliffs toward the east. Near the tomb we found a headless Nandi statue and a broken Hindu relief, hinting at this place’s previous incarnation as a Hindu sacred site.
Riding back to the city, we dropped by the Kasihan spring after getting lost and following a friendly local down a grassy path (which did lead us to the right place). Prince Senopati’s daughter had bathed in this spring to become more beautiful. Once irresistibly attractive, she enticed and then entrapped her father’s enemy, a notorious tax evader.
When we visited, we only found schools of small fish and a few kids horsing around in the water. None of the locals (who we assumed bathed regularly in the spring) looked particularly beautiful—though we will go back for a dip and to test its beautifying powers.
Evening Azan: As the sun sets in Yogya, the first of many calls to prayer start up.