I had no idea how many readers know about, care about, and have forcefully-expressed opinions about Indonesia! After the jump, specimen reactions on two main points (in response to earlier posts here, here, and here).
One concerns whether Indonesians of all varieties, and not just members of the Muslim majority, are enthusiastic about the ascent to glory of former Jakarta resident Barack Obama. One reader, whom I quoted earlier, said it was a sectarian matter: Muslims loved him, Indonesian Christians and other non-Muslims didn't. Many, many readers have written in to disagree; in fact, everyone I heard from saw it differently. I quote a sample letter below.
The other has to do with the airport tax that surprised me. The theme of many correspondents was: you don't know the half of it! I include a letter concerning the "fiskal tax," a steep levy imposed not on foreign tourists, who are generally richer than Indonesian citizens, but on Indonesians thinking of going overseas.
This is a one-time only update: fight it out among yourselves from here on!
I should probably also say that, ever since my initial visit to Indonesia in 1981, while my wife's parents were working there, I have been enchanted by the place. In the current Atlantic I mention the indelible memory of my wife's and my very first moments in the country, when as soon as the airplane's doors opened on the tarmac we could smell the kretek cigarettes and hear the tones of gamelan. We've been to many parts of the country and always look forward to the next visit there. When I mentioned the incident of penny-ante bribery I encountered at the airport, it was mainly out of surprise that something taken for granted 20 years ago could still be found. Even when this was a lot more prevalent and the Suharto regime was boundlessly corrupt, it didn't make Indonesia a bad or unlovable place.
Here, a short sample of gamelan, which I never get tired of listening to. Once, in Java, we saw a gamelan gong being forged and bought one to take home. The music is this video, by a skillful but obviously non-Indonesian ensemble, starts 45 seconds into the nine-plus minute clip. (For some less traditional but very seductive gamelan, try this; for a more traditional and very energetic music-and-dance performance, here.) After the jump, some recent mail.