No Passion for Fashion, Perth

Perth, Australia is no Sydney or Melbourne, but as home to some of  the best beaches in the country, a vibrant nightlife and excellent eateries, one would think that this sunny cosmopolitan city would be a hot bed of fresh Aussie styles.

Sadly, this was not the case. On our latest trip down under, we were actually quite taken aback by some of the styles we spotted on the streets and in retail windows. So much so that it made Foreign Exposure’s “Style Spotted” section. See for yourself below.

cat backpack, spider shoes, bow on bum...the list goes on


pirate chic?

army, amazon, pirate wenches?

psychedelic pants are back in Perth

Happy Valentine’s Day from a believer

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. Dubbed as the “Hallmark holiday,” anti-Valentine’s day activists (yes, there are such a thing) say that the hoopla surrounding February 14th is merely a product of mass marketing efforts from commercialized businesses and the propensity of consumer culture to buy into it every year. The large profits made from the mass buying of cards, chocolates, flowers, balloons and stuffed animals detract from the true meaning and significance of Valentine’s Day, which is the annual celebration of “love and affection between intimate companions,” (according to Haters also point out that Valentine’s Day is a forced observation of romantic love, when no such tradition exists for those that are single.

But look into the historical origins of Valentine’s Day, and its real connection to the celebration of love, romance or companions remain a bit murky. In the earliest ontological records, Saint Valentine was a man who was brutally executed for his religious beliefs by a Roman pagan Emperor. Oh, but wait. He also performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his persecutor before his execution.

Hmmm. So maybe eschewing commercialism in the spirit of preserving the “true origins” of this holiday isn’t exactly right either.

Being a sucker for ALL holidays (hello, Martin Luther King’s day!), I particularly enjoy this day of Hallmark penned sentiments, over-priced roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Long before I appreciated the holiday as a romantic one, I still broke out the red turtleneck sweater to wear to school, spent the afternoon poring over my homemade cards and ate spaghetti with red sauce for dinner with my family. The day wasn’t about mass consumption, or focusing on a romantic partner or lack thereof, or even about the martyrdom of that Saint who was executed thousands of years ago. It was simply about the excitement of being loved and having love to give; the positive imagery of red hearts and white lace; the sweet respite of eating chocolate throughout the day; and the appreciation of my family as we all happily ate our “red-themed” meal.

So whether you’re a V-day hater or enthusiast; single or attached; avid consumer or anti-commercialism, be happy today solely for the fact that you are loved and have love to give. And what’s so bad about a holiday that reminds us of that? Here is a neat photo slide show by the Wall Street Journal that depicts Valentine’s Day across Asia, illustrating that today’s celebration of love transcends cultures, traditions and religions.  The Pakistani balloon vendor is my favourite.

As for me: my Valentine and I will be heading to Pulau Macan this weekend for a tropical getaway. Located only an hour and half away from Jakarta (via speedboat), the tiny island offers an eco-friendly resort and spa, with plenty of snorkelling, boating and hammock napping to boot. Check the video below.

The Coconut Revolution

Last month, Indonesia was all a twitter over Barack Obama’s much anticipated visit to the archipelago. Thousands of Indonesian netizens meticulously documented every aspect of the Obama visit, uploading photos, micro-blogging commentary and tweeting reactions to the hyped affair.

Back in the U.S., the viral Obama hoopla was picked up by popular comedy show “The Colbert Report,” as host Stephen Colbert reported that Indonesian citizens “took to their Facebook and Twitter” pages during Obama’s visit.

Colbert quipped: “Really, Facebook and Twitter? I always pictured Indonesians communicating by banging coconuts on a log…”

To be fair, thinking of this tropical South Pacific island chain doesn’t exactly conjure images of cellphones and MacBooks in my mind either. But in reality, Colbert’s joke couldn’t be more far from the truth. Here’s why:

Indonesia is the 4th biggest user of Facebook, with Bahasa Indonesia as the most widely used Asian language on FB and the 5th most popular FB language in the world. Dubbed the “Twitter capital of Asia” by media monitoring agency Sysomos,  Indonesia has the most Twitter users and tweets coming out of the East. Now let’s talk blogs. There are approximately 3.2 million bloggers in Indonesia, with the number almost tripling in the past year. This explosive growth and overwhelming online presence (covering anything from national politics to favorite ice cream) resulted in Indonesia’s Minister of Communication & Technology declaring October 27th the national holiday “Bloggers’ Day.” Bahasa Indonesia is also the most widely used language after English on the international blogging portal WordPress (which is also the portal of this here blog).

But how did this overwhelming influx of Internet communication happen when in just 2009 a measly 12% of Indonesia’s 234 million population had Internet access? Even at present the country remains connected by a messy and patchy telecommunications grid (read: my Internet via laptop has gone out twice since I’ve started this post).

Cue the ubiquitous mobile phone!

Indonesia has the world’s 3rd largest mobile phone market, which has more than doubled its growth in just the past year. The influx of mobile carrier competitors, along with the low-cost of reliable mobile Internet services, makes owning a handheld device affordable and easy. Thus, the majority of Internet users have bypassed personal computer Internet access altogether and gone directly to the mobile phone for their main portal to the Web.

Blackberry, which enjoys a large share of the local handset market here (grossly beating out Apple), reports that the average Indonesian user generates a total of 592 page views from their BB handsets.* The average number of generated page views globally is about 250. That’s a lot of Web surfing on-the-go.

In addition to the in-pocket accessibility, the explosive growth of digital communication can also be attributed to a relatively free and uncensored online space. In Indonesia, anyone can virally criticise the antics of government officials (such as the recent Twittersphere lambasting of the Information Minister’s handshake with First Lady Michelle) and use social networking as a watchdog tool for political controversy. As of late, we’ve seen Twitter act as the global forum for discussion and awareness regarding the back-to-back natural disasters that devastated the country in early November. Here the trending topic #prayforIndonesia skyrocketed to one of Twitter’s top global conversations, engendering international  buzz and support as celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber tweeted their condolences.

But lastly, the ease of digital communication here can simply be used for reporting the pleasurable, but mundane bits of life that have always been Twitter’s wheelhouse. Whether you want to pine over your “Bieber Fever” or show the world a snapshot of your nasi goreng lunch, you can do so with a few twittering of the fingertips and untethered from any one location. And as this article reminds us: No topic is unworthy of a Tweet in Indonesia.

*presumably this figure is per month, although the report didn’t specify.

Sheep and Cows and Goats on Scooters…

My daily commute to work started to get quite interesting this week, as I began to notice hundreds of cows, sheep and goats lazily milling about on the side of major roads within the city. But being a newcomer to this often confusing place, I’ve learned to accept cultural puzzles such as these as part of my everyday experiences in navigating this new terrain. So random livestock popping up beside my cab while stuck in traffic on the way home from work yesterday seemed pretty par for the course. And I barely even batted an eye when motor scooters racing by me had animal passengers slung precariously over the sides like the photo above.

But it turns out that these animals crowding the roads this week are in town for a particular reason: a sacrifice, or rather, to be sacrificed.

Today is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or “Festival of Sacrifice”–a time in which Muslim families slaughter these animals in a ritual to commemorate the annual holiday. What’s New Jakarta has the details:

For those new to Jakarta, you may be befuddled by the increasing appearance of goats and cattle along the roadsides […]. This is a yearly sight in the lead up to the Muslim celebration of Idul Adha, also known as the ‘day of sacrifice’. Practiced throughout the Muslim world, it commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. God apparently intervened though, and substituted Ishmael with a sheep instead. Muslims therefore commemorate this by sacrificing an animal and distributing its meat amongst family, friends and as an act of charity, to those underprivileged.  This allows many poor Indonesians the opportunity, once a year, to eat meat, a commodity they can rarely afford. Many expatriates in Jakarta also participate by buying a goat or a cow and donating it to their local mosque to be sacrificed and distributed in the local community. Goats typically are sold for between Rp 800,000 to Rp 3 million and cows Rp 6-16 million. So Selamat Iduh Adha everyone!

Islamic Fashion

I was lucky to obtain a press pass to Jakarta Fashion Week held at Pacific Place this week and headed over to check-out the creative styles of local designers such as Dian PelangiHannie Hananto and Irna Mutiara. These women specialize in “Islamic Fashion”–a genre of clothing and style I knew very little about until I moved here. The show was gorgeous and the designs more intricate, bold and overall breathtaking than I’ve ever seen at a fashion show. More to come on this unique genre.

He had us at hello…


The Rockstar


Obama’s popularity may be struggling at home, but here in Indonesia he had us at “hello.” A crowd of over 6,500 fans went wild with cheering and applause as the President opened his landmark speech with this simple statement in fluent Bahasa Indonesia:

Indonesia adalah bagian dari saya. (Indonesia is a part of me).

This article states that the atmosphere during Obama’s speech was reminiscent of a rock concert, with the excited crowd buzzing and music pulsing before the president’s address. The full speech is posted below.

He came, he spoke, he’s gone…

Obama’s recent mid-term election defeat and declining popularity polls indicate that the President has fallen a few pegs from his once lauded celebrity status back home. Media pundits paint a sombre picture of the man behind almost 2 hard years of presidency: Obama weary of holding the weight of America’s problems; Obama’s shiny “Yes We Can!”exterior showing signs of cracking under rising discontent and unrelenting political opponents; Obama with gray hairs streaking his once sleek dark hair and worry lines framing that signature smile.

But Barack’s short visit to Indonesia this week cast him in an entirely different light, giving him a particular glow that’s not been seen since perhaps the inspiring beacon of change and hope that beckoned to us during the elections of 2008: Barack Obama the rock star.

Confident, charismatic and smooth, Obama towered over Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s small stature, breaking easily into smile and peppering his statements with fluent Indonesian expressions that were hits with his audience and instant media soundbites: “Sate… bakso enak ya!” (Satay and meat balls are delicious!)

With the conclusion of his trip today, Barack delivered his much-hyped speech at the University of Indonesia, where the audience of 6,500 people continuously shouted out: “We love you Barry!”and broke into raucous applause every time the former Jakarta resident made a cultural reference, such as the “bemos” (three-wheeled cars) that once traversed the roads and the “high-rise” building of Sarinah shopping center (now considered a low-rise building by modern standards).

But beyond the sprinkling of cultural references, the President focused his speech on the subject of strengthening the ties between U.S.-Muslim relations. The President praised Indonesia for its diversity, multiculturalism and tolerant stance towards religion—all factors that have been a part of the country’s democratic reforms and are the ties that can bond the two democratic states together.

As Barack is often negatively (and wrongly) portrayed as a Muslim by some political opponents in the U.S., it was refreshing to see the President speaking so forcefully about cementing ties with the largest Muslim country in the world, and being applauded for it. The President stated:

America is not and never will be at war with Islam.

As the speech was broadcast across the country, spectators everywhere took to their Twitter feeds to express their pride and approval of the one they call Indonesia’s adoptive son. One deeply impressed woman tweeted:

desianwar:I hope our leaders could learn how to deliver a speech like @BarackObama – connected, inspiring, riveting

An hour later, the President was photographed running nimbly up the steps of Air Force One to catch his next flight to Seoul, looking cooler than ever and with some definite new pep in his step. As the President will face the plethora of issues plaguing his current leadership upon his return, let’s hope he remembers Indonesia’s warm welcome that catapulted him back to rock star status, if only for one day.