By: Jamie Wiggan, Culture Editor
On Wednesday, November 1st, Indonesian native, Cristine Claudia gave a presentation on her homeland to an audience of students, faculty, and staff—all eager to learn from a first-hand account of this year’s global focus region. The presentation was captioned after Indonesia’s national motto, Unity in Diversity. And while Claudia did not explore this theme overtly, throughout her presentation she was able to deliver the impression that this wonderfully varied land is held together by a set of distinctive threads.
Claudia got straight to work with outlining Indonesia’s impressive variety of landscapes and people groups. Indonesia is a vast archipelago comprising 17,508 islands, which includes the world’s third largest (Borneo) as well as the world’s smallest (Simping), as recognized by the UN. Collectively, these Islands are inhabited by more than 300 ethnic groups that represent 742 different languages and dialects.
Claudia interspersed her rich presentation of facts and statistics on the region with stories of her own encounters of Indonesia’s diversity. In one instance, she shared how after living in Jakarta (the nation’s capital) for many years, it felt like a difficult transition to move to her current home of Pontianak, West Borneo. With a staggering Metro-Area population of more than 30 million inhabitants, Jakarta is one of the world’s largest cities. It is understandable how moving from here to the modest city of 500,000, whose name means “Ghost Town,” would require some adjustments.
Jakarta is modern, culturally vibrant city that boasts a highly developed service economy, and contributes more than 15% of Indonesia’s total GDP. Yet Claudia was not afraid to air some of its less attractive features.
Under the heading, The Ugly Truth About Jakarta, Claudia described the issues Jakarta experiences as host to some of the world’s worst traffic. It is not uncommon for Jakarta’s 3.5 million commuters to spend 4 hours each day getting to and from work. Jakarta’s traffic contributes to expansive smog clouds and dangerous levels of air pollution during the dry season. Sadly, government efforts to intercede have been ineffective and problems persist. From 2003 to 2016, the City of Jakarta enforced a policy that sought to tackle traffic issues by requiring all cars to be occupied by at least 3 people during peak hours. Unfortunately, this system was open to abuse. Many of Jakarta’s white-collar workers could easily afford to pay “jockeys” (usually young boys) to accompany them on their commute for a marginal fee. The pervasiveness of this practise led to the Government overturning the policy in May 2016.
Regaining a lighter note, Claudia went on to present a few slides on Indonesian stereotypes. If it is normally assumed that stereotypes emphasize the least flattering aspects of their subjects, it can safely by said that Indonesians are exempt from this rule. According to Claudia, the three most common stereotypes on Indonesian peoples are that they are friendly, eager teachers of Indonesian language and customs, and practise religious tolerance. It certainly beats the stereotypes that Americans are loud, Germans are rude, Brits are proud, and so on.
At the conclusion of her presentation, Claudia invited questions from the audience. In response to what she has found to be most different about life in Pittsburgh compared to her home, she replied, “the food,” which she admitted to missing more than her mom, “and the traffic.” Following with, “the traffic here is nice. . . I think.” This certainly puts Pittsburgh’s traffic problems into perspective.
She was also asked about tourism in her hometown. After noting with regret that Bali captures the majority of Indonesia’s international attention, with respect to Pontianak her comment was “sadly no… not a lot of foreigners.” However Claudia mentioned that Pontianak does attract some tourists from other parts of Indonesia.
As a concluding note, Claudia shared a few ways that students could immerse themselves in more Indonesian culture. On November 11th, she announced there will be a free concert at The James Laughlin Music Hall, “sounds of Indonesia Festival” at 3pm. This will feature traditional Indonesian compositions performed by musicians from The University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. Also coming up is a movie showing “Supernova”—based off an Indonesian novel—in Sanger Lecture Hall on Friday, November 17 at 6.30pm. More details about both events can be found at “Happenings” under My.Chatham.