Indonesian Rantau

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  • Chapter 4- Makassar: "Of Trials and Tribute While on the Run with Pak Dodo"


    By John Michael Gorrindo

    Indonesian Rantau

    Chapter 4:  Makassar- "Of Trials and Tribute While on the Run with Pak Dodo"

    The irrepressible Pak Dodo at a local traditional market in Makassar Makassar as a certain reputation, and for many Indonesians who live elsewhere, it’s not a good one.  Even though Indonesians can be provoked to extreme violence as witnessed by the bloody purges of communists across Java and Bali during the years of 1965-66, most Indonesians like to think of themselves as a peace loving people with a friendly, hospitable manner.  But breathe the word “Makassar,” or its current official name, “Ujung Pandang,” and you might make an Indonesian flinch in guarded fear.  The city represents a darker side of Indonesia to Indonesians themselves.  As I have visited the city over half a dozen times, invariably an Indonesian acquaintance  will caution me to “take special care” upon hearing the news that I was preparing to travel there. 

    Prior to my Indonesian sojourns, my only real association with Makassar was that it was home to a large population of ethnic Bugis, a sea faring people whose fierceness in battle so impressed European colonialists that the term “Boogey Man” permanently entered the lexicon of western languages in reference to a “fearfully dark and evil force.”  History confirms this stereotype, and Buginese pirates still prowl such sea lanes as the Melaka Straits, the world’s busiest water way which runs between Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula. The Melaka Straits also experience more piracy than any other waterway on the planet.  The Bugis have a long history of terrorizing the straits.

    Makassar is not only comprised of ethnic Bugis.  A large proportion of the population refers to themselves as Makassarese, or Makassar in ethnic origin.  The Makassar and
    Buginese dominate the city’s cultural like.  There is also a significant Chinese Indonesian population, and they are a powerful minority in the city as they own most of the local industrial concerns and larger businesses located in the greater urban area.

    Tensions between ethnic groups, economic classes, as well as political upheaval are quick to erupt in Makassar, just as in the republic’s capital, Jakarta. 
    Makassar’s many universities are attended by a student population who frequently mobilize street demonstrations with military-like efficiency.  The University of Hassanuddin, Makassar’s largest post-secondary school, is a traditional hot bed of both student activism and violent tempers.  One famous incident occurred there in the late 1990’s.  A student from one department was physically attacked by a group of students from a rival academic department.  (Whereas universities in America might find a great rivalry with a cross town foe, as Stanford does U.C. Berkeley in Northern California, such rivalries exist more on an intracampus basis between departments within a school such as Hassanudin) 

    In response, the victim’s entire academic department’s student body rallied to his side, and staged a vicious, military-style assault against the offending party the next day, burning down the rival department’s entire college.  They brought in some heavy firepower, most notably homemade bazookas, made from PVC pipes packed with gun powder, nuts, bolts, rocks, and shards of glass. Even Jakarta’s youth militias would be hard pressed to match such brutal tactics.

    Then there is the crushing poverty in a city whose population is somewhere between one half to three million people, depending on who you talk to.  Visiting Makassar just days after the 120% hike in petrol prices in October 2005, I was warned repeatedly to guard against pick pockets.  Again, there urgings came from Indonesians themselves.  The desperation can be felt and experienced in any of the infamous bus terminals in the city.  Having passed through Makassar’s Mallengkeri Terminal myself more than a dozen times, I can testify to such desperation.  After several visits, I began to see how the legions of “terminal jobbers” worked in concert.  Westerners are accustomed to simply purchasing a bus ticket from a terminal office or on the bus itself.  Indonesian bus terminals don’t always work so simply, and that includes Makassar’s.  Securing transportation in Mallengkeri Terminal can be a Byzantine affair, as the system is not readily transparent to the uninitiated or just plain clueless.

    That’s right- Westerners are used to having a choice of many convenient scheduled departure times, too!  Asian-style SUV’s can be boarded for a destination, but must fill to capacity before the drivers will leave the terminal.  Scheduled departures and their frequency can only be estimated. These transport vehicles are referred to as Kijangs, and are often preferred by tourist travelers as such transportation is quicker and more comfortable than a crowded, stuffy bus choking in cigarette smoke, with huge bags of produce stuffed in the aisles and children vomiting from motion sickness.  Newer and larger air-conditioned buses that prohibit smoking may or may not be available, depending on the destination.

    It is upon arrival to the terminal the desperation I speak of quickly unfolds.  As soon as you step out of your connecting ride to the terminal and onto the terminal turf, several wild and wide-eyed men descend upon you like vultures and make a stab at grabbing your baggage.  These men make up the ranks of the terminal’s lowest status jobber in the hierarchy of terminal transportation job descriptions, and are known as “agents.”  Bus and Kijang drivers will pay them a fee for each recruit they can draw onboard the diver’s vehicle.  Each agent represents if not one, many different drivers; and their lunging after you baggage is a result of their competing against each other for recruits.

    Agents often don’t bother to ask where you are going and certainly not if you need help.  You can easily end up being led astray.  If your Indonesian is poor, failed communication can put you on the wrong bus.  This all amounts to more of an annoyance producing soon-to-pass moments of insecurity rather than disrupt life in any serious way, but the uninitiated will be shocked into reality nonetheless. Some seasoned travelers I met were inured, a stage of enlightenment I never attained. 

    But it is what sometimes transpires later on and out of sight of any long-departed passenger that spells out the desperation found amongst the poor and struggling in Makassar. Agents, essentially fee-lancers working on commission, negotiate their won fee with the drivers.  Sometimes, an agent will go to collect his fees at the end of the morning runs, for instance, and the driver will short or even stiff him.  Just after the precipitous petrol price increases, such a scenario unfolded.  An agent stormed off home after being stiffed by a driver, grabbed a long knife, returned to find the driver sitting in his bus, and stabbed the man to death. 

    In America, murder is common in my way of thinking.  The country is in part predicated on a violent past that sadly persists.  In Indonesia, such violently lethal reprisal over money is not to be expected, but a jilted, cash strapped bus agent in Makassar might well snap more quickly than the average Indonesian. Such stories of murder are simply not common in Indonesia, but in Makassar, people seem rather inured to such tales of their city.  “Yes, there is high ‘emosi’ here,” they will say sanguinely.

    One night I arrived in Mallengkeri on a heap of a bus, my large load of baggage, including a guitar, stowed atop the roof, tied down along with the rest of the passengers’ baggage with a large, blue tarp. 

    I was lucky enough to have quickly flagged a taxi driver, whose cab I quickly checked for a working meter, and then waited for the bus’ baggage men to climb the side ladders up top and hand down the luggage to all us passengers waiting below.  Immediately I was approached by a personable young man who stepped in to help me stow my baggage in the trunk of the taxi. 

    Anyone of many unfortunate events could have transpired at that moment, as there was no good reason to believe all my baggage would be accounted for from atop the bus, nor a thief wouldn’t lift my guitar out of the cab’s trunk as the trunk door was propped open, blocking my view.  Scores of people were on the scene. The cab driver was staring off in the other direction, and the self-appointed porter (who could have been a thief himself) was busy distracting my attention by cultivating me for a big tip, it was pitch black, and after all, this was Makassar.

    Fortunately, all my baggage found its way safely out from under the tarp, handed down ground level amidst the boisterous crowd and into the trunk of my cab.  As I entered the cab’s rear seat, the porter stuck his had forcefully in through an open window and into my face. I tipped him, but he wasn’t satisfied with the amount.  I rolled up the back window, but he trust his arm in through the open front passenger’s window and began to gesticulate his outstretched hand wildly, yelling, “UANG, UANG!” (Money! Money!).  The cab driver simply sat patiently, waiting for this little episode to transpire before starting his engine.  Finally I said, “Saya tidak pernah pertanya untuk membantuan darimu.”  (I never asked for your help).  The young man lurched away from the cab, disgusted, and moved away from the scene as quickly as he could.

    The “porter” most likely was unlicensed by the terminal and had walked in off the street.  As a lone Western traveler in Indonesia, I was a constant target for such unsolicited help in transport centers, but this clean-cut, educated looking young man displayed a desperation that struck me as a breed apart from the usual fare.  Inflation was on the rise in Indonesia, the President had just canceled government oil subsidies and petrol prices had soared for the second time in only a few months.  Food stuffs were becoming dangerously expensive.  Times were tough, and it was apparent on this night in Makassar.
    My initial trip to Makassar had a two-fold purpose.  On my way to Sulawesi’s famous Tanah Toraja, I needed to transfer to a bus in Makassar as I was flying in from Bali.  In the long term, I needed to begin my search for a school in which to serve as a volunteer teacher.  Makassar was a center of education, and it seemed logical to delve into the possibilities there.

    My presence of mind is not always so keen, but while still in Bali, I reasoned I better find a smart and able advance man in Makassar.  Sulawesi was wholly new to me, and I had no idea what hurtles I would have to jump in finding a suitable teaching position.  So it was in this context that I stumbled across the internet site, Thorntree, a Lonely Planet-sponsored traveler’s forum.  The site breaks the world down into more than a score of regions, and a site visitor can follow any leading thread, or post, which comes in the form of a travel query that begs for response.  And the responses come, often in multitude, from Thorntree’s online members. Using the keywords, “Makassar,” and “homestay,” the Thorntree search engine quickly located the already Dodo Mursalim.  An ebullient traveler sung his praises.

    Pak Dodo is a man who deserves special mention.  Each time I passed through Makassar I stayed with him, and not only did he teach me the ins and outs of his home city, but helped me through a series of challenges that marked my matriculation along a long learning curve that transformed me in a few short months from a green tourist in Indonesia into a seasoned traveler and meaningful contributor to the educational lives of disadvantaged children in South Sulawesi.

    I will always be indebted to Dodo, and that includes those experiences which made me less than comfortable and happy with the man. As a lone traveler in a wild Asian city, I repeatedly had to put my full trust and faith in him, placing my welfare in his hands and making myself vulnerable to decisions I allowed him to make on my behalf.  This is part and parcel to travel.  There is little gain to be had from the experience unless one puts oneself at some calculated risk.

    True to his Bugis’ blood, Dodo was a man of manifest emotion, but had also learned cosmopolitan manners and was an informed modern who led a life of moral reflection and found intrinsic reward in learning and sharing.  There was also a liberal measure of vanity there, a man upwardly striving to ascend in Makassar’s social circles, impress his neighbors, and woo the international visitors he had been hosting in his home for a dozen years.  The generous manner and affect of indispensability he would lay at your feet as his guest was at once genuine, mercenary, and obsequious. 

    All of these qualities made Dodo an Indonesian original, a man of great complexity and nervous compulsion who could be overbearing one moment and infinitely receptive the next.  He was so thoroughly transparent to me that I had the great fortune to experience in depth the inner truth and external circumstances surrounding the life of an Indonesian.  He catalyzed my deeper reflections about living and life for all Indonesians, whether rich or poor; man or woman; farmer or city dweller.  Through the prisms of his personal strengths and weaknesses; vanity and compassion; and knowledge and ignorance, I began to see greater Indonesia in a truer light.

    My earliest outings with Dodo into the streets of Makassar were fashioned to entertain me.  Dodo drove me by way of his personal van to Makassar’s waterfront district.  On our maiden voyage, he first took me to the popular fish restaurant, “Lae Lae,” where I bought him dinner.  “Lae Lae” was representative of a classic style of Makassar restaurant, whereby one chose a fresh sea fish from a large assortment lying on ice inside a large freezer chest located at the restaurant’s entrance.  The fish would then be handed to the cook who commandeered a wood fired grill that was placed squarely in front of the restaurant, serving as an exhibition of sights and smells meant to lure in passer-bys. 

    Having placed your order, you then proceeded into the spacious dining room, grabbing a few bananas from huge bunches suspended from the ceiling, free for the taking.  You chose your own seating and quickly white rice, stewed greens, and an assortment of “sambil” (mostly hot sauces) was delivered to the table.  Soon after drinks and grilled fish would arrive.  It was always a culinary adventure to eat there, as each time I would order a different type of fish, all of which were new to my palette.  Most everyone ate with their hands.  Wash basins with hand soap and hanging towels were stationed around the perimeter of the dining area. Lae-Lae also featured something unusual for an Indonesian restaurant- a Musholla- a Muslim prayer room located through a split doorway within the restaurant’s confines.  Muslims are bound to pray five times daily, and Lae-Lae made sure its patron’s could fulfill their obligations if prayer time coincided with their meal.  Clean and attractive, Lae-Lae was a cultural institution and famed throughout the city, but I never saw one other tourist there. 

    Our next step was Pualam Restaurant, which was also a catering house and night club which presented live music every night, and most every day as well.  It was situated on Makassar’s waterfront, across the street from a long esplanade which spanned a couple of kilometers overlooking the ocean and several small islands to the east.  Sunsets there drew hundreds every evening.

    Pualam was a place of notoriety; a night spot where Makassans came to people watch and be seen.  It drew people from many walks of life.  Famous songwriters, musicians, wealthy businessman, families of high social registry, large groups of civil servants, and coteries of gender-bending drag queens and their smartly dressed male escorts all mixed comfortably inside Pualam’s vast interior.  The bottom floor was split between a dining area leading out onto an open air nightclub concert space complete with center dance floor and proscenium stage.  The outdoor space was often rented out to large groups or sponsored events.  I attended a celebration of a local radio station’s 25th broadcasting anniversary there, and was cordially acknowledged by the MC as I was the only foreigner present in an audience of four hundred.  Most remarkable was a night of music I heard performed there which featured divas (female and male) competing for best vocalist awards in a most original Indonesian styling of pop music called Dangdut.  Derived from Hindustani vocal stylings as lifted from Ballywood sound tracks, Dangdut focuses attention on a solo singer who is accompanied by an electro-acoustic band.  Bamboo flute obbligato provides melodic tags to the vocalist’s lyric phrase. The rhythm section generates Reggae-style rhythmic patterns that are electronically produced by keyboard synthesizer.  The synth also mixes in a sampled track of two Indian tabla sounds, one each from the high and low drum. Played in sequence and if mimicked vocally, the two sounds translate as dang-dut.  
    However derivative of Indian popular music, Dangdut is strikingly original and very Indonesian.  I sat and listened to some forty young singers wearing numbered tags on their lapels and dress straps take their solo turn on stage, singing Dangdut before a large, live audience and scored by a panel of three judges. Winners would move on to a high level of competition. Dangdut was especially popular with Moslem audiences, and the music is identified with the Islamic population in Indonesia, however stock and trade many of its love ballads are.

    Many visits to Pualam taught me how much Indonesians loved music.  It also taught me some of the promotional schemes Indonesian bars spring upon their unaware customers. 

    During my first visit I sat down at a table inside the dining area.  Dodo left me to my own devices as he often did, setting off to press-the-flesh and schmooze with friends he would unfailingly spot somewhere in the restaurant. Soon thereafter, a sleek, young woman wearing a short tight skirt, high heels and a top emblazoned with the name brand of a popular Indonesian beer approached my table and sat down. 

    She appeared bored to death, and my limited Indonesian made for difficult conversation.  I’m sure she would have rather been anywhere else.  I thought maybe she was a waitress with nothing better to do than sit and chat with a foreigner, but that was a self-serving falsehood. She suffered through my casual small talk, playing with the ends of her straight, jet black hair; never once smiling, rarely making eye contact, and not even asking me if I wanted something from the bar.  While I was guessing, she was in control.

    Dodo returned and sat down, soon to be followed by another bar girl, wearing a similar outfit as the first but with a competing brand name of beer printed across the back of her top, joined us making a foursome.  I learned the young women were from Java, but neither cared to share much more about themselves.  Finally I was asked by the second girl if I wanted a beer, and I declined.  Coffee suited, thank you.  With that, both girls stood and left, barely capable of announcing their departure.

    Dodo didn’t stop to explain the situation.  As we approached the cashier, Dodo look at me matter-of-factly, and said, “Oh yes, John, you must give 10,000 rupiah to each of the girls who sat and talked with us.”

    “Why?” I asked, suspecting I knew the answer.

    “Well, they are working “promosi” for beer companies, but they also kept us company.”

    “Yes, of course.  Good company, Dodo, but next time, clue me in, OK?”

    “Oh, OK, sorry my brother,” Dodo over-apologized, flashing his brilliant smile and patting me on the right shoulder several times.  I turned away and paid the cashier.

    Like situations could sneak up on you in an Indonesian city the size of Makassar, and Dodo didn’t always find the presence of mind to alert me.  I was green all over and wet behind the ears when it came to Indonesian night life.

    Back on the street, phalanxes of motor bike riders and microlets choked the two lane seaside boulevard in front of the restaurant.  Several bikers put on displays of speed, weaving dangerously between traffic and pulling wheelies while gunning their engines, spewing clouds of whirling exhaust behind them. The noise was deafening.

    “So how would you like to see the red light district, John?” Dodo inquired with a shit-eating grin accompanied by a satanic chuckle.
    Staring off into space for a moment, I turned away, and then turning back said, “Sure, show me the way.” I was ready for this kind of immersion.

    We walked to his van, and drove north along the water front past multi-story hotels and blocks of high density store fronts.  Angling away from the ocean, we soon passed into more of a warehouse district, and the streets grew darker.  Kerosene lamps glowed warmly from the tops of small tables of the tiny food stalls that began to appear along the roadside.  Young girls stood around in tight tops and pants or short skirts, their make-up so thick and lipstick so red, it shown through the darkness of the night.  Some girls sat on stoops and clapped their hands loudly and hailed Indonesian-style when cars passed. 

    Dodo carefully chose a parking spot and made sure the doors were all locked before we began to slowly walk past several Karaoke bars.  Pot holes pock-marking the street side’s asphalt shoulder gave way to patches of rocky ground, and I carefully picked my way along the road’s shoulder in front of a couple dozen, darkly lit clubs. Larger establishments had neon signs and even marquees.  High decibel techno-pop and house music exploded from the open doorways of club entrances, rattling my rib cage and sweeping back my hair.

    “Nusa Dua is here,” Dodo said, stopping in his tracks. “It’s one of the bigger clubs.  There are a lot of girls inside.”  Dodo seemed to think I was up for a taste of flesh in the bowels of Makassar, as I was intensely curious about everything I saw.  The visit was a first of its kind for me, and I was trying to stay alert. 

    Entering Nusa Dua, the atmosphere and sights were spontaneously paralyzing and stimulating.  I stopped short after a few short steps into the club, and the breath was sucked out of me.  “Oh my God...” I muttered, words masked by the raging Southeast Asian house music bellowing out of the many speaker cabinets hung from the club’s ceiling.  A man approached us from the bar, which was built into the front corner of the space, and led us to a semi-private booth. Its high backed, overstuffed coach-style seating wrapped around a space containing a small circular bar table.  The upholstery was blood red. Most of the booths were filled with groups of thee or four Indonesian men.  Our host took our bar order and walked back to the bar.

    In front of us sat twenty-five to thirty female prostitutes, sitting in two ranks upon a slightly elevated show stage.  Two televisions were placed on top of small tables, one at each end of the stage.  Whereas the patrons sat in mostly darkness, the girls were brightly lit by overhanging stage lights.  Most of the girls sat in the rear rank against the wall, along which were hung four large paintings, equally spaced. 

    The paintings were facial portraits of international cult heroes.  The quartet included Bob Marley, Kurt Kobain, Jim Morrison, and Che Gueverra.  The disparate juxtaposition between these modern day liberators and the girls who sat beneath them was a cruel irony.  I sat in disbelief, carefully studying each girls face as well as those in the paintings.  Marley stared out with a rare intelligence; Kobain with tragic awareness; Morrison with brooding sexuality; Gueverra with his stereotypical bold courage. 

    I turned to Dodo after a few minutes in a quandary.  “How does all this work?” I asked. “And what about the girls? How do they live and where do they come from?”

    Over the next two hours and in the face of Dodo’s several entreaties to amble upstairs with a girl of my choice, I was able to extract enough information from him in order to produce a thumbnail sketch of how Nusa Dua operated as a brothel.

    Competing with his answers was the din of frenetic electronic music whose relentlessness beat back my ears like so many jackbooted marching feet belonging to the feet of a pop music militia determined to escort me down the highway to hell.  It was an exhausting bit of  anthropological research.

    As I grew weary and the Bintang beer sat ever more indelicately in my stomach, my mind began to wrap itself around the business practices of Nusa Dua, but each girl’s individual story would ultimately remain a mystery, as I was not proactive in calling any of them over for a conversation (which would cost money as well). 

    Dodo seemed sure most of the girls were either widows, divorcees on the run from abusive spouses, or simply undereducated, poverty-stricken youth making an attempt to escape hopeless futures in Java.  Dodo was also sure most of them indeed came from Java or Madura, as were the promosi bar girls from Pualam restaurant. Java’s overpopulation and widespread poverty had resulted in many social ills and dislocation, and prostitution was symptomatic.

    Sitting together on a lighted stage made the girls appear as images as well as objects of sexual desire.  The men sitting in the dark of their booths might have well as been a movie theater audience watching a film, or a throng of wildlife enthusiasts gawking at creatures featured in a zoo’s exhibition. 

    The girls expressed their humanity through their most natural response to the entire situation- disaffected boredom.  They fiddled with their hand phones; watched television in small, huddled groups; stared ahead blankly with canceled eyes; and occasionally chatted with one another.  Most of them made no effort to make eye contact with the patrons, even though their income depended on the number of clients they took upstairs to their room every night.  Many girls just didn’t care to make an effort. 

    One girl was particularly popular with the patrons and made three trips upstairs during my time in the club.  In fact, I believe the rest were passed over. Competition for clients was an occupational challenge, but most of the girls seemed less than motivated to put on an act.

    Nusa Dua’s owner and management imposed a repressive, security-minded regime.  The girls weren’t free to mingle unless called over to a table, and the patrons were kept at a distance.  Several tough, young men who worked the bar and security stationed themselves next to the club’s entrance or behind the bar itself.  It was clear they were the enforcers of the establishment.  Soon after being seated I began to feel imprisoned by the club’s sullen atmosphere; an atmosphere devoid of sexual tension.

    The lingering question was whether any of the girls were being held against their will.  Dodo told a story of one girl having jumped off the upper story balcony of her room in an attempt to escape.  I had no way of knowing whether any of the girls were victims of human trafficking.  None of them appeared to be teenagers.  Most appeared to be between twenty and twenty-five.  All I really knew was that there were twenty rooms let out hourly, and that they were full all night, from 9 PM to 2 AM.  At 100,000 rupiah per hour, the Chinese owner was grossing ten million rupiah per night for just his prostitution services- an astronomical sum of money.

    Upon leaving the club around midnight, I made a point of inspecting the club’s facade.  It was a three story building and the balconies of several small rooms were clearly visible on the second and third levels.  The balconies were all strung with multiple clotheslines, overburdened with drying clothes and bed linens.  Maybe a girl could have jumped from a balcony from a different side of the building onto an adjacent roof in efforts to escape, but to do so street side would result in critical injury or death.

    Dodo maintained the girls were free to make trips into town during the day in order to shop.  I would have gladly paid 100,000 rupiah to take a girl upstairs to her room for an interview, but my Indonesian was too poor to be of any help in learning more about her, her co-workers, or the club they worked in.

    As Dodo and I walked back to his van, my emotions were numbed, but my mind crackled with questions.  Behind the questions remained a mental backdrop filled with the images of all the girl’s faces I had been studying so carefully for two hours.  The girls represented so many ethnic bloodlines from all over Asia- not just Indonesia. Some girls could have passed as Caucasian; their skin fair, cheekbones set high, and noses long and slender. 

    It was easy to imagine one of the girl’s distant ancestors to have been a slave girl kidnapped from her nomadic, forest-dwelling tribe in the hinterlands of Java by agents of a coastal-based Javanese empire, and traded to the colonial Dutch as part of a larger trade package.  Then she would enter the household of a Dutch soldier or trader  who would take her on as a domestic and concubine.  Mixed-race children were the result, and accepted by both the Dutch and Indonesians. My imaginings were not so far-fetched, and the thread of enslavement that was there in colonial times could be the real legacies of the girls on Nusa Dua’s stage.

    My thoughts turned to Dodo, as he had shown little compassion or respect for the girls.  As an observant Muslim who prayed regularly and donated large bags of rice to Makassar’s poor though the agency of his Mosque, Dodo gave me every indication that Nusa Dua’s girls weren’t really worthy of such charitable consideration. He spoke ill of them and minimized their plight. The sole force motivating him was to cater to my needs. 

    As “innkeeper,” chauffeur, tour guide, and master of ceremonies, Dodo took on each role with relish, hoping word-of-mouth would insure a steady flow of tourists to his house.  Whether these services conflicted with the tenets of his religion were of trifling consideration.  I quickly spotted the contradiction, but seeing Dodo as a hypocrite simply made him more human to me- not less.

    Dodo’s life story was one of upward mobility, both financially and socially.  Most striking was that Dodo, a Buginese man, had married a Chinese Indonesian.  Such unions were highly unusual in Indonesia, as the Chinese usually married from within their own community.  The Chinese were relatively wealthy and envied by most Indonesians. That Dodo had endeared himself to the Chinese community was testament to his opportunistic and charismatic ways. He had definitely married “up.” 
    Dodo, his wife, and three daughters were will within the definition of being Indonesian upper middle class, a slender segment of society that numbered below ten percent in the republic’s rankings of income. Both Dodo and his wife had secure, well-paying jobs, owned a home, van and motorbike.  They also employed the services of a live-in maid, or “servant” as Dodo called her. 

    All considered, Dodo’s family was extremely well-off.  Adding to the family income was the homestay business.  The guest room was clean, had a large armoire, quality queen-sized bed, and was air-conditioned. Dodo was fastidiously clean, and this helped his self-promotion as well.  Without fail, he would rush out early each morning and wash every square inch of his van with bucket of soapy water and chamois in hand.  Dodo’s web site included a prominent photo of Dodo proudly washing his vehicle.  Dodo knew the value of cleanliness, and cashed in on it.

    The first place Dodo ever took me in Makassar was the city’s Pasar Tradisional, or traditional market.  It was a place few tourists ever visited, and my presence there drew an immense amount of attention as swarms of people approached and followed me- especially children- as I made walked down the long, narrow market grounds that amounted to a extended strip of land with scores of stalls huddled together along either side of a five meter wide thoroughfare. 

    Behind the stalls and obstructed from sight were family residences, some of which were surprisingly beautiful.  Behind a stall selling dismembered chickens with claws, hearts, and kidneys all covered with flies and sorted out in groups on a table could exist an immaculate home with outdoor marble portico and Greek columns supporting a decorated ceiling. 

    This is true to Indonesian cities, where the kind of zoning one finds in America that so carefully segregates business from residential, single family homes from apartment buildings, and poor neighborhoods from rich.

    Dodo had been raised in a house tucked behind the market’s row of stalls, and he was anxious to show me his roots, introducing me to many relatives who still lived and operated stalls in the traditional market.  I met great aunts whose toothless grins I captured on film as well as cousins and their small children.

    Makassar is a Muslim enclave, and so was the market. One of Dodo’s female cousins wore a long, flowing, Muslim-cut gown made of quality, decorative fabric and beautiful, black lace jilbab.  She was a most beautiful Bugis woman with a warm manner and photogenic face.  I quickly asked permission to take a photo of her cradling he infant son within the confines of he market stall.

    The Indonesian traditional market is at once a place of work, a thriving community center, keeper of culture, and a family-friendly environment.  It was within the bustling market that Dodo as a young boy had sharpened his skills as superior interpersonal communicator, negotiator, peacemaker personality, and fluent speaker of many local languages, including Buginese, Makassan, and even Konjo, which was a regional language found two hundred kilometers to the east.  Dodo spoke all these languages with sparkling clarity, and he could also write Bahasa Indonesian with technical brilliance as well.

    His English was remarkably good, too, having learned most of it from over a dozen years of contact with western tourists. It was no surprise to know he had once been the host of a local radio talk show.

    Yes, Dodo had the gift of the gab, a winsome smile, and persuasive warmth.  These were genuine attributes, and Dodo was committed to using these strengths in self-serve as well as in helping others.  He had lifted himself out of humble beginnings with hard work, schooling, and interpersonal charm.

    Dodo gave me a tour of Makassar’s China town, an otherwise indistinguishable and unidentifiable five kilometer long street that ran parallel to and one block behind the waterfront, demarcated by the red light district on one end, and Pualam Restaurant on the other.  Two story structures lined both sides of the neighborhood, and included family residences, businesses, and Chinese temples.

    Dodo was quick to point out the iron-barred grills that covered all the windows throughout China town, including second story windows.  Such a security feature as found in any American city was so common so as to be taken for granted, but was a rarity in Indonesia.  I didn’t think anything of it until Dodo drew my attention. 

    I had read about the bloody street uprisings against the Chinese in Jakarta during the instability accompanying the fall of Suharto and Indonesian monetary crisis of 1998.  In May of that year, youth mobs organized by groups working to bring down Suharto’s thirty-two year reign looted and burned Chinese businesses, raped Chinese women, and brutally murdered many Chinese in the streets of their own Jakarta neighborhoods.

    Throughout Indonesian history, Chinese immigrants had contracted-out their skills to Javanese kings and Dutch companies, helping the ruling elites organize and control the economy.  The Chinese operated businesses on behalf of Dutch colonialists, collected taxes for them, and kept order along trade routes that delivered agricultural products and natural resources such as gold and lumber from island interiors out to the coastal ports for shipment.  After the fall of colonialism, the Chinese Indonesians were tolerated by the fledgling republic mainly because the skills and wealth needed to make the Indonesian economy work. 

    During colonial times, the Chinese Indonesians were forced to live in segregated communities, and the fact they were non-Muslim further alienated them from the predominantly Muslim populace.  They were despised for their skills and ability to develop wealth within their own communities.  Thos enmities carry on into the present as experienced in large cities such as Makassar and Jakarta.

    Modern day Chinese Indonesians own a great deal of the republic’s wealth.  The richest man in Indonesia- who made his first millions from tobacco- is Chinese.  The Chinese were considered vital to the Indonesian economy, but reviled nonetheless. When social, economic, or political unrest befalls Indonesia, the Chinese Indonesians are vulnerable to attack, as they are often treated as scapegoats for the average Indonesian’s problems.

    The security bars Dodo pointed to had not always been there.  A few years ago a brutal rape and murder of a Makassan woman in Makassar committed by a group of Chinese men had prompted full-scale riots in Makassar’s China Town.  The area’s most important cultural center, a large Chinese temple, was razed to the ground.  Soon after, every Chinese family and business secured their windows with the wrought iron grills.

    Dodo and I stopped at a family operated Chinese business and I was introduced to the proprietor, a middle-aged man who affectionately introduced me in turn to his entire family, all of whom were working together in their store front. Moved, I was quick to ask permission to photograph this happy and mutually supportive family.  Next door was a Chinese temple wherein were gathered many worshippers holding bunches of burning incense sticks aloft their heads and between prayerfully clasped palms. With heads bowed, they recited prayers silently while their lips moved, mouthing each word. They all stood in front of Chinese ancestral shrines, decorated in reds and golds.

    The Chinese Indonesians of Southern Sulawesi are both respected and envied for their ability to create wealth.  A hundred kilometers south-east of Makassar sits the impoverished town of Jeneponto, a depressing and dispirited place.  I had passed through and stopped off to eat there a few times during my many road trips between Makassar and Pantai Bira.  The town so feared the economic power of South Sulawesi’s Chinese community that the city authorities had actually been successful in banning any Indonesian Chinese from moving into the town or buying property there.  It was the first and only time I had witnessed an example of legally mandated racial exclusion in Indonesia.

    Yes, Dodo was teaching me many things, and showing me even more.  It was difficult to keep pace with his nervous manner, short attention span, and rapid-fire speech.  Our restless ramblings around Makassar in his van, with its quickie stopovers for a bottle of soy milk or trips to Hypermart- a giant box-store and mall just opened in Makassar- were always surprising and of great fascination.  The modernity a mall provides had become part of Makassan culture, but it was still an Indonesian city whose retail economy was dominated by family operated businesses. 

    Dodo had prompted me to offer my volunteer teaching services in Bira, and having done so, I became ever-the-more dependent on his advice, help, and personal time. To each succeeding visit, I brought with me an agenda of growing urgency and high-stake importance.  I was not an easy guest for Dodo, however much I paid and tipped him for his services.  He did go the extra mile for me, especially on behalf of the Indonesian children I was teaching in Pantai Bira, some 200 kilometers east. 


    Much of his help came in the form of guiding me through the Kafkaesque labyrinth of Indonesia’s immigration laws and immigration’s regional Makassar office.  Kantor Imigrasi was South Sulawesi’s only immigration office, which served over seven million Indonesians as well as foreigners let loose on the country side tilting dictionaries at educational windmills.

    The following advisory tales of being on the run with Pak Dodo are a service to the reader, hoping my trials at obtaining a social visa in Indonesia is of some instruction for a future Indonesian traveler. 

    Dodo accompanied me several times to Kantor Imigrasi, and together we navigated the treacherous waters of governmental incompetence, inconsistency, and corruption, Indonesian style. 

    After Riswan’s help and leaving Pantai Bira with my sponsorship letter in hand, I felt reasonably assured I could obtain a social-cultural visa enabling me to live and teach in Indonesia for six more months.  After nine days of sorting out teaching arrangements, my mind turned to more travel around the archipelago with the accompanying desire to shove my visa concerns onto a back burner.  Instead of confirming my documentation was good enough to fly for a social visa, I decided to immediately go traveling.  Though I came back to some minor immigration hitches, it was a good decision to fly north to Manado.  Once in Northern Sulawesi’s major city, I spent the next two weeks exploring, including the remote Sangihe Island group, a border station area some two hundred kilometers north across the Sulawesi Sea and close to the Philippines.

    But time was slipping away, and as July 2005 was rapidly drawing to a close, I had to travel back south across the north-south axis of the heart of the archipelago to Bali, my original port of entry.  Hopefully I could obtain a new visa in Denpasar’s Kantor Imigrasi, pick up my teacher books, guitar, and extra baggage I had stored in my friend’s boarding room, and schlep my ninety pounds of belongings back to Bira.  Only then could I start my teaching duties.

    My original visitor’s visa was due to expire August 13th, and the deadline was a sobering reality.  If I overstayed my visa I would be fined 200,000 rupiah per day.  Egregious overstays could result in either deportation or even imprisonment.  Flying to Bali late at night on July 24th, I taxied to my friend Agus’ house in Denpasar, and over the next few days attempted to renew my visa.  The bliss of Northern Sulawesi was long gone as I traipsed the hot, steamy streets of that heat sink of a city with my friend Agus at my side.  Private visa agents we visited soon made it clear that I couldn’t renew my visa in Bali, as my sponsor lived in South Sulawesi, which was a different Indonesian province.  Most importantly, I was told any visa renewal would have to be issued by an Indonesian Embassy in a nearby foreign country.  Singapore was always mentioned as the best place to do this.  The cost involved was something I wanted to avoid, so I stubbornly decided to return to Makassar and drag Dodo with me the immigration office to see if I could still renew my visa within Indonesia’s borders, but from within the right jurisdiction.

    The extent of my ignorance would soon come home to roost.  Dodo and I sat together in the office of a seemingly supportive immigration official in Makassar’s Kantor Imigrasi.  He lauded my intentions to be a volunteer teacher, but cautioned that teaching- even as a volunteer- was technically considered “work” by Indonesia’s immigration laws, and that I most likely would have to apply for a work visa, which cost one hundred dollars per month. 

    I flinched at the news, and didn’t want to believe Indonesia would treat me- a bona fide altruist- in such shabby fashion.  But this was made moot by the bigger news that immigration offices from within the republic’s borders couldn’t grant and issue visa; only extend them.  The advice I had first heard in Bali was correct.  A trip outside of Indonesia would be unavoidable.  The official ended our talk by recommending I apply in Singapore. 

    Dodo and I then moved on to “Nell’s Tour” on Jalan Cendrawasih in the downtown area.  Haeruddin, Nell’s owner, was another Chinese friend of Dodo’s, and had years of experience organizing and leading tours for foreign tourists to both Kalimantan and Papua.  I needed some professional advice from a qualified party outside the Indonesian government, and Haeruddin seemed to be the best I could reasonably hope to meet.

    An affable, easy going businessman, he picked up on my nervousness and said, “Don’t worry; be happy! Right? Everything will go just fine.” 

    But he also took issue with my letter of sponsorship.  “This letter is not enough.  You need one addressed formally to the offices of the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, specifically requesting a social-cultural visa.  This letter you have is only one of recommendation.”

    I didn’t want to believe him, but knew I had no choice in the matter.  This meant spending another wearisome three to five days of travel to Bira and back again, hopefully finding Ahkmad Syam in his offices of education in Tanah Beru, and requesting another letter from him.  It was July 30th, and I had two weeks remaining before my visa expired.  Haeruddin was a pro, and was honestly trying to set me straight.  I had to place my trust in his experience.

    Traveling to Bira on August 1st, luck was mine, and I was able to return to Makassar on the afternoon of August 3rd with a second letter in hand.  I avoided calling Dodo and immediately took a taxi from Mallengkeri Terminal to Nell’s Tours, and bought return trip tickets to Singapore via Jakarta.  Curiously, the ticket agent declared the travel leg from Jakarta to Singapore and back required payment in U.S. dollars as rupiah would not be accepted by the Singaporeans.  Singapore’s distrust of the Indonesian rupiah was the first concrete indication which would lead me to think of  Singapore as the “Switzerland of Southeast Asia.”  Moreover, it was sound reason for carrying to Indonesia some U.S. currency (hundred dollar bills preferably).

    The flight reservations were for the very next day, and I would be transported to Singapore on Garuda airlines.

    Things went smoothly in Singapore as advertised.  The Indonesian Embassy there seemed competent and organized, just like Singapore itself.  Singapore’s high standards seemed to have rubbed of, and it was a relief to deal with a straightforward government office of Indonesia’s.  The two times I visited, the embassy was filled with many young Indonesian women submitting passport and visa requests as they had pending work as domestics in Singapore.

    With social-cultural visa finally in hand, I wearily found my way back to Pantai Bira on August 24th with stops in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Denpasar along the way.  I took my time traveling upon return, as I didn’t know if I’d have another chance to visit Java.
    My teaching duties commenced soon after my arrival in Bira, but my visa concerns were not a thing of the past.  Social-cultural visas are good for up to six months, but the holder is given an initial sixty days with allowances of four, thirty day extensions thereafter. Extensions beyond the first sixty days required their own set of  application along with an updated sponsorship letter.  The visa holder was also required to report to the appropriate regional immigration office and pay a fee of 200,000 rupiah.  Since Pantai Bira was part of the South Sulawesi region, I had to report to immigration in Makassar every month.

    These requirements were burdensome due to all the frequent travel necessary.  If anyone of a long row of duckies weren’t in line, immigration would send you home packing with demands to make right.  That could mean having to travel round trip from Makassar to Bira- a two-day, four hundred kilometer journey.  Access to computers and faxes could have simplified the process, but original signatures and purple stamps were required on sponsorship letters originating from a government office, and if immigration demanded a rewrite of a letter, it seemed I had no choice but to return to Bira.  Moreover, if my sponsor left town for extended periods, I might not be able to extend my visa at all without his presence. 

    After a month of teaching English to grades three through six at Pantai Bira’s little elementary school, I had to return to Makassar to extend my visa.  Arriving at Dodo’s house, I begged him calmly to accompany me to immigration.  Obtaining the visa had been simple in Singapore, but I suspected immigration in Makassar wouldn’t be so accommodating.  By this time I had heard enough horror stories about Indonesia’s immigration offices to know I had to be prepared for surprises.  And Makassar’s offices had an especially bad reputation. 

    Government offices of all types throughout Indonesia were commonly seen as poorly managed, inefficient, and corrupt.  “KKN” was the popular acronym referred to when Indonesian’s spoke of their government.  Korupsi, Kolusi, dan Nepotisme (Corruption, Collusion, and Nepotism).

    Unfortunately, Dodo had to work at the time I had I visited immigration, so he arranged for his bother-in-law to drive me to the office.  The driver would also be accompanying me into the offices as he spoke some English, but I had no reason to believe that would be of any help if problems arose.

    Arriving at 9:00 AM, my driver and I were immediately ushered into immigration’s second floor offices where foreigners were processed.

    A clerk to one of the chiefs curtly demanded my passport and sponsorship letters.  His lips pursed tightly upon reading the documents and he said, “You are working for this school in Bira.  You do not qualify for a social-cultural visa.”  I understood his Indonesian well enough.

    “But the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore had no objections.  They issued me a visa based on the same documentation.  Why would they approve the visa if the requirements weren’t met?”  I responded.

    My hopes took a tumble, and I knew my words were in vain.  I had a real problem here.  The clerk rushed my documents into his chief’s office, and within a few minutes, my driver and I were asked in to speak to the division chief.    A one Pak Trimargono greeted us; a mild-mannered, gray-haired bureaucrat.  He directed most of his Indonesian towards my driver, and avoided speaking to me directly.  This behavior put me off, and as I picked up on his objections to my extension, I stared at him unblinkingly, feigning disbelief.  Trimargono ordered us to return in the early afternoon after my case was reviewed by the kepala kantor, or office’s director.  Trimargono reaffirmed the problem with my sponsorship letter had to do with the inclusion of the word mengajar, or teaching.  Technically, the word “teaching” constituted a legal definition for “work,” and my volunteer status was incidental. 

    I was prepared to pay the one hundred dollars per month as required for a work visa, but the cost upset my long term plans of staying in Indonesia as long as I could manage.  Having to return home early seemed a distinct possibility.

    Upon departure, I decided that returning in the afternoon would be futile without Dodo’s presence.  I asked my driver to take me back to Dodo’s house, canceling my planned shopping expedition for school supplies until another day.  We arrived at Dodo’s around 11:00 AM, and I spent the rest of the day in a dispirited funk.  Not knowing what would become of  my extension request had bested me for the moment.  I had no option other than to wait and return with Dodo; hopefully the next day.

    I was now October 6th.  Ramadan had started just three days before.  The first few days of the month-long Muslim call to fasting were the hardest for its observers.  Dodo returned that evening from working with a terrible sore on his tongue and a mammoth headache. His first day of fasting had been a hard one.  Nonetheless, he was happy to both help me with my problems as well as take me shopping the next day.

    Dodo’s belief in my cause and willingness to help kept my spirits afloat, but just barely.  My thoughts turned as dark as any I had experienced during my entire Indonesian trip, and I began to lose hope about my future in general.  My thoughts spun out of control, turning to how I would manage once back in the states, where I had no car, house, nor job waiting for me.  I had to force myself to see this all as a trial, and that coming out on the other end would make me smarter and stronger.  Hemingway’s credo that a man’s true character emerged through adversity smacked me around, and I tried to inject myself with some “grace under pressure.”

    It turned out that I was of little faith and a paranoiac. Yes, the “sun also rises,” and my trip to immigration proved to echo that wisdom.  Pak Trimargono greeted Dodo and I in his office, and proved to have a solution to my predicament.  “You cannot stand in from of a class of students and talk to them as a group as would a teacher,” he instructed me carefully.” That would be working, and you are not allowed to work.  You must sit down with the students and act solely as a visitor.”  He then proceeded to rewrite my entire sponsorship letter, an act of great generosity.  I was taken aback.  My good intentions had actually been taken to heart by the man.  I had made a mountain out of a mole hill with all my fussy worry.

    Trimargono pulled no punches with his directives, though.  “You are not to be teaching,” he reaffirmed bluntly, looking up at me after finishing his hand-scrawled first draft of a new sponsorship letter. 

    Also, an additional sponsor request form with signature, stamp, and notary seal was to be submitted along with the redrafted sponsorship letter.  For each month of visa extension, I had to personally appear in these same offices with the two documents in hand, properly updated.

    Trimargono’s letter was invaluable, as I could use it as a template for future volunteer teaching posts in Indonesia. but I had been driven underground as a teacher, and could only hope that no Makassar immigration official would be traveling to Bira in order to check-up on my activities at “Sekolah SD No. 198” where I had already been breaching the conditions of my visa for the past month.  I was confident I could continue to teach even though I was forbidden to do so.  I didn’t think immigration had any real monitoring capacities for such unimportant cases such as mine.

    I came to understand from Trimargono that the rational for the provision barring me from teaching was that the government saw a foreigner’s official position in the classroom as taking away a potential job from a qualified Indonesian, who might otherwise be hired to provide the same services, which in my case was teaching English.  But given the skeletal budgets most Indonesian public schools subsisted on, the probability as such was next to nonexistent.  It was much more likely Indonesian students would simply miss out on a rare educational opportunity to study English with a native speaker.

    Dodo’s role was perfunctory in all of this, but his presence was insurance against any miscommunications.  He also took great pains to meet and glad hand as many civil servants within the office as he could.  Making social connections was Dodo’s modus operandi. Connections were more valuable than currency in Indonesian culture. Dodo was a self-promoter whose reputation and social status was of vital importance to him.

    But I was slowly beginning to appreciate his position.  Dodo said immigration could easily perceive him to be a paid agent I had hired to smooth over and otherwise expedite the process, which meant immigration officials would then be expecting him to pay them corruption monies on my behalf..  He told me he didn’t want to engage in payoffs. 

    Even so, as we walked downstairs to pay the cashier the 200,000 rupiah fee, Dodo forcefully requested me to pay the cashier an extra 20,000 rupiah in order for my passport to be more quickly stamped, as that final step couldn’t proceed until I had paid.  Dodo explained in hushed tones.  Tipping the cashier put your portfolio on the top of the delivery pile, and helped route your passport quickly back to the division chief for stamping and signature.  Dodo’s quick contradiction in speech followed by hypocritical behavior stood out as exemplary of his quixotic mind and mercurial body.  He hated to participate in corruption, but Dodo valued expediency.

    Dodo grabbed the extra 20,000 rupiah note out of my palm and gave it to the cashier, handing it to him through the small hole at the bottom of a security glass window.  The money indeed greased the tracks, and I was soon called back upstairs to Trimargono’s office to pick up my passport. 

    “We are giving you a one month extension even though your paper work is incomplete.  You must return to these offices on November 1st with paperwork in order for both the months of October and November,”  he said.

    Glad handshakes followed, and in the light of good feelings all around, Dodo seized the opportunity to schmooze gaily with Trimargono, and obsequiously fawned over the immigration chief.  Dodo’s self-promotion was gearing up by the second.  With a brilliant bit of public relations, Dodo followed up his excessive thank you's to Trimargono with a “Surat dari Pembaca” (Letters from Readers) written to the editor of Fajar, Makassar’s leading newspaper, a few days after my departure. 

    Upon my next visit to Makassar, Dodo proudly presented me with a copy of Fajar’s editorial section, dated Thursday, October 14th, 2005.  Entitled “Terimakasih Buat Imigrasi Makassar” (Thanks to Makassar’s Immigration), the concise thank you note detailed the wonderful service I had received at Kantor Imigrasi , while carefully citing the honorable immigration officials by name, title, and credentials.  N’er a discouraging word nor opinion was uttered.  It was an impressive piece of public relation’s bull shit, and proved Dodo to possess a masterful command of written Indonesian. 

    Dodo had also transcribed Trimargono’s handwritten sponsorship rewrite into a properly typed form on his computer before I had returned to Bira, thus requiring my sponsor, Ahkmad Syam, to only sign and stamp with no other work involved.  Dodo knew how to make everyone satisfied, and seemed dedicated to the task.  The rewards of such behavior provided their own incentive.  The poor, disadvantaged boy who grew up in a traditional market place had climbed a long ways up Makassar’s social ladder.  Serving foreigners was part of the scheme.

    After receiving the newspaper article, I knew I could not rest on any illusion of having continued luck with visa matters.  Each visit was filled with surprises- usually of the unpleasant variety.

    There was yet one more extension to deal with for the month of December.  Dodo and I returned to immigration for what would be the last time.  A nightmarish day of Kafkaesque scenarios ensued, as Trimargono and other office chiefs  were out on vacation.  Lebaran, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan was just two days away, and without the chiefs in attendance, the immigration offices were in chaos, and drifted about like ship-at-sea, abandoned by the captain and handed to a crew uniformly drunk to the gills.

    Even though my paperwork was perfectly in order, my refusal to expedite the bureaucratic process with corruption monies slowed the turn around on my visa extension to a halt.  Dodo and I spent the entire duration of office hours waiting.  I watched as hired agents carrying twenty passports openly paid-off immigration staff substantial sums of money to mass process the passports quickly.  Dodo claimed the passports probably belonged to Chinese Indonesians, as they mostly have professionals take care of their immigration matters. 

    After the female agent had made the pay-off, the money was split and distributed on the spot, as the original recipient took care of his fellow civil servants, all of whom had participated in some way.  With the chiefs on vacation, these transactions proceeded with utter recklessness.

    As morning became afternoon, I was told my passport had been misplaced, and could not be found.  The offices then closed early with my passport still inside, and immigration was to be closed for Lebaran observances for the following week.  Luckily, I had the hand phone number of one of the immigration officials who lived in provided government housing just next door, and he returned an hour later from the airport to retrieve my documents.  In returning my passport, he apologized, but added, “Don’t forget to organize a fishing trip for me in Pantai Bira.”  Winking, he walked away.

    Dodo was painfully waiting out the fiasco to end, sitting on the steps of a neighboring Musholla which served as a prayer house for the immigration offices.  He had long ago given up trying to help me earlier in the day, telling me “They will respect you more if you do these things yourself!” This was a difficult thing to do in any case, even if corruption monies were offered. 

    As I stood with my passport in hand, exhausted from the day long trials, I looked at Dodo, and realized I had reached my limits of dependency on his help. In consequence, I didn’t want to press either him or myself through this monthly ritual in Makassar anymore. I was no longer up to the task.  After nearly six months of living in Indonesia, my patience for the immigration process had evaporated.  I had had enough of Makassar and Bira’s love affair with corruption.  Something inside of me snapped as I stood staring at Dodo as he lounged on the Musholla’s steps.

    “Dodo,” I said sternly. “Take me to the moneychangers, please.”

    We drove to a certified money changer in downtown Makassar. I issued another directive along the way.  “After I cash some traveler checks, please take me to a travel agency.” 

    I converted $1,500.00 of checks into rupiah, a huge sum of money that was double or the triple the yearly salary of most Indonesians. I had to figure out a way of transporting it, as it was issued me in 50,000 rupiah notes and I couldn’t stuff it all into one pocket.

    On Jalan Cendrawasih, Dodo took me to Manorian Travel, Makassar’s largest, full service travel agency.  Since leaving the immigration offices, I had made some important snap decisions about my future in Indonesia.  It was clear to me that it was time to leave South Sulawesi, and take my teaching services north to Tahuna on Sangihe island. I hurriedly organized a flight itinerary, and purchased three plane tickets at Manorian Travel.

    I would be pulling up roots from Bira, and travel to Tahuna to obtain new sponsorship letters.  A new social visa would have to be issued me in Singapore once again, and then I could return to Tahuna and begin a new phase of  teaching English to Indonesian children; this time senior high school students.  This was a long and tiring proposition, and would take ten days of travel in airplanes, Kijangs, buses, and taxis.

    I was saddened having to return to Bira and give notice to everyone.  My premature departure plans were stoically received, and I didn’t divulge to Riswan that the corruption of Bira and Makassar  had helped prompt me to move on.

    Maybe I hadn’t been strong enough nor dedicated enough to the children of Bira.  It was easy to reason either way, as I would helping another group of children, but I knew my students would be saddened at the news. 

    As for Pak Dodo, my decision to leave Sulawesi Selatan marked the end of our five month working relationship.  As to our friendship, I was not sure whether it existed outside of a contractual relationship. There were too many paid arrangements and self-interest involved to easily sort that out. 

    Making “fast friends” in Indonesia was a phenomenon that could easily sweep up a foreigner into the illusion that friendships with Indonesians could easily exist independent of the exchange of goods and services. I will not judge this cultural dynamic.  It came to me during time of transition to Tahuna that this was a cultural reality whose roots are in both physical and social survival.  I suddenly became very accepting of the fact.  One cannot separate friendship and economics in Indonesia.

    I also accepted that I would always be viewed by the average Indonesian as a wealthy individual, and for all the negatives resulted, I had to have forbearance.  My trials before the bureaucrats of Caesar and the tributes I sometimes offered also dictated my need for paid, Indonesian services to help guide me through in prolonging my stay in Indonesia.  To guide a foreigner was to be their friend, period, regardless of the pay involved.

    Friendships had come with such difficulty for me in America.  I had hoped would be more easily experienced in Indonesia. South Sulawesi valued the mercenary act. It was up to me to accept it as a necessary part of most Indonesian relationships.

    Experience was beginning to work in my favor, though, and my growing knowledge of Indonesia told me my experiences in Tahuna would be a world away from that of South Sulawesi.  I was suddenly looking forward to a whole new life in the archipelago. My illusions were falling away, and a new-cast freedom filled my senses.