Tag archive for Indonesia

A Little Note on Consumer Rights

Indonesia vs. the UK; there’s something essentially different in terms of customer and shopping experience. In Indonesia, we’ve got a little proverb that says “the customer is king”. We are kings. We’re entitled for all the possible treatment of a king: a big, warm, welcoming smile at all time, constant hospitality, unlimited variety of options and perpetual top-notch customer service. The customer is king. Full stop. In the UK, a customer is not always treated like a king, at least not like how an average Indonesian would perceive. People are warm and welcoming but they don’t smile as much. Compared to British sales advisers in general, Indonesian ones look like pre-configured robotic puppets who constantly smile regardless of the situation. That is a bit exaggerated but you know what I mean. However, as I’m thinking more about this, I start to wonder what it really means to be treated like a king.

I once bought a Nokia E52 phone in one of the electronic centres in Bandung. The sales advisers were amazingly helpful; they rigorously checked all the items in the box and made sure that they were all working. I went home. I used the phone two days and the phone started to act weird. It went off for no reason and sometimes I couldn’t turn it back on. It happened several times that I had to go back to the shop. The same, exact sales adviser came to me. I said that I wanted to ask for a replacement but she said that it was no longer their responsibility. It was then Nokia’s responsibility. How clever. Yet, she was still smiling, even until the very last moment. Later on, I had to go to a Nokia service centre, several times, and ended up selling that phone because the problem persisted and I was completely fed up. The whole drama took 3 months. Have I told you that the problem persisted? Yes, I have and it did.

In the UK, things would look very different. In a shop, you would be treated like a normal customer. They would smile occasionally but not too much, not by Indonesian standard. If you buy a phone from them, they won’t be bothered to check any of the included items. Well, if they did, it wouldn’t be as thorough as an Indonesian sales adviser would do. Why would they? They are pretty sure that everything should work perfectly. However, this is the interesting bit: if the phone goes mad after you use the phone for two days, or even longer, you can simply go back to the shop, ask for a replacement and you will get one. You won’t be forced to seek for help from the manufacturer of the phone. The shop takes full responsibility. Problem solved. Additionally, if you feel unhappy about your phone, you can return it and ask for a full refund within a certain period of time. Happy? I’d be very happy.

Here is another example. In the UK, if you buy a piece of clothing from a retailer, you have the right to exchange the item if you later find it faulty or even ask for a full refund within 28 days provided that it is re-saleable. It doesn’t apply to all types of clothing, e.g. undergarments, but it does in general. In Indonesia, if you’re lucky, you can get a replacement. If you’re not, you simply have to live with your faulty piece of clothing. Either way, it is very unlikely that the shop would offer you a refund. If they would, that would be an exceptional instance. Although this varies case by case, there seems to be no strict law where both seller and consumer could adhere to. Sometimes the seller knows little about consumer rights, or they simply don’t care, and most of the time the consumer knows nothing. I guess this explains why some Indonesians are very thorough, and suspicious, when buying a piece of clothing, or everything. So thorough that it usually involves an inch-by-inch inspection.

I know that Indonesia has already had some laws regarding consumer rights (UU Perlindungan Konsumen 8/1999). I just don’t see that it has been strictly enforced. Getting to the bottom of an unenforced law is always a complicated story in Indonesia so finding who to blame is simply a waste of time. So, what to do then? Well, a good consumer is those who know their rights. Know your rights. You’re probably wondering how. So am I.

The Indonesian government hasn’t yet got any way to educate its citizen about this. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to look up to our global neighbours, does it? The UK government has a website that covers everything about consumer rights and it is frequently advertised on television. There is even a TV show, called Watchdog, which is aimed to educate people about consumer rights.

If you happen to be one of those people who involves in law-making or anything of the sort, perhaps it’s time to go further, promote the law and educate people. Invent an easy way to convey the law. Use the media. Our media is pretty strong, you know. Throw a tiny gossip and see it explode in several days. I know this issue is a bit delicate, and boring, but there has got to be a way. Also, we are not alone in this world. We can see how things work in our neighbouring countries. They might be useful for comparison. Maybe later we find out that there hasn’t been enough consumer protection in Indonesia.

If you happen to be a consumer who knows nothing about consumer rights, go find them out (and don’t blame the government, doing it will bring you nowhere). It’s painstaking to read the UU 8/ but doing it at least once in your life would be just fine. Additionally, make sure you read the terms and conditions of any purchase or simply skim through them and find the important bits. Anyhow, you have to know your rights. Be proactive. Ask the seller to provide terms and conditions.

Let’s go back to the proverb, shall we. “The customer is king.” Do you think that you have been treated like a king? For sellers, do you think you have treated your customer like a king? We are Indonesians, aren’t we? In Indonesia, the customer is king, and even better, we’ve got the smile.

I live in London. People are way warmer and more welcoming outside London. Illustration taken from Chowrangi.com. All rights reserved.

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Indonesia: Facts for Dummies

Having lived for around a year in the UK and extensively interacted with people from different countries have revealed some intriguing facts to me. Whenever comes the situation where one has to introduce oneself and make a casual conversation, it appears that it won’t go anywhere but around one’s country of origin. Not only is it always a good topic to begin with, it also translates into an infinite number of possible sub-topics which are useful to prevent awkward and dull moments with new acquaintances. That being said, it often brings up some interesting cultural facts which are always worth noting and remembering.

Here is one language-related example. It may seem ridiculous to some but I didn’t know that texts written in Arabic alphabet may not be Arabic at all. They can be Persian (in Iran), Urdu (in Pakistan), or many other languages in Central Asia and Africa. It had been used in the Turkish language too before they later changed to Latin. Likewise for the Cyrillic alphabet, I used to associate it with the Russian language, only. There was a multitude of Kazakh people in my class who have proven otherwise. Call me daft as you might, but I may not be the only one who never knew about this. There’s always a first time for everything, isn’t there? I know little, that’s why I learn.

Speaking of which, “Indonesia” also seems to be somebody else’s first time. It happens so frequent that it’s becoming my first supposition when meeting new people. In my case, however, thanks to the giant operations of international oil companies in the country, Indonesia has never been difficult to talk about. Balikpapan, Minas, Duri and Jakarta are the popular oil-centric regions and those names are always all over the place. Digging down the subject is another story, though. Just like how I used to assume, these people have also got their assumptions. Here is a list of funny questions and statements, which were posed by different people in different occasions. Probably you’re asking why I’m doing this. Well, there’s no particular reason, to be honest. I just want to see all the experience in a retrospect, considering that this date, last year, I left Indonesia and arrived in the UK.

Is Indonesia a country? Is it not just a region?

Ridiculous as it may sound, the question above was asked in a humble, honest and not-knowing manner, twice, by two different people. That was the sole reason that prevented me from responding with something sarcastic and full of condescension like “Did you fail Geography?” or “Have you suffered from any sort of mental retardation?” It’s mind-boggling to know that the people asking the question do know that Indonesia exists but are not sure whether it’s a sovereign country with all the law, regulations and political dynamics happening therein.

It’s very easy for people to correlate “Indonesia” with “Polynesia”, “Melanesia” and “Micronesia”. On the map, they all look like regions consisting of many islands and they are in fact bordering and overlying one another. Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia are not countries. They are regions which comprise many countries and colonies. Why should one think that Indonesia is not? So there comes the first fact: Unlike the other ‘nesias’, Indonesia is a country.

If you look at the globe, you won’t find many island countries. Some examples are the UK, the Philippines, Japan and New Zealand.

Was it difficult for you to learn the Latin alphabet?

I lost count of the number of times this question was asked. This question was conveyed in an assuring affirmative tone, often rather a compliment, and sounded like, “Your handwriting in the Latin alphabet looks so neat,” or even something imperative like, “Hey, Michael, teach me how to write my name in Indonesian!

I was speechless. “What do you expect me to write?” I was left in both shock and amusement. I started writing my friend’s name in some random curvy lines that supposedly looked like a mixture of the Arabic and Thai alphabets, diagonally across the paper. I can’t speak or write either of them so they were completely fictitious. It turned out that they looked more like a 1-year-old handwriting. Yet I said, “This is how your name is written in Indonesian.” He took awhile looking at my doodle and said, “It looks like Arabic.” Three minutes later I told him that Indonesians use the Latin alphabet, thanks to 350 years of Dutch colonialism. He replied, “No, you’re lying.

It didn’t really cost me any extensive research to find out why this was presumed. Look at Asia, count the number countries, their populations and their official languages. It turns out that the number Latin-based languages in Asia is relatively low. Some examples are Indonesian, Malaysian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Again, thanks to the Dutch, British, Spanish, Americans and French people who paid us a long visit. There you go, the fact number two, the Indonesian language uses the Latin alphabet.

Is Indonesia a Muslim country?

Well, this has just got very interesting, hasn’t it? Most often this questions was posed in such a condition that I was not readily available for any sort of prolonged discussion. Answering ‘yes‘ might save me some time but that would mean I wasn’t telling the truth. Answering ‘no‘ would probably put me in a lengthy talk and answering ‘something like that‘ would definitely not suffice. The occasion has happened a lot that I’ve got to design a short, preemptive speech that would answer any subsequent questions. Here it is, the fact number three:

Indonesia is predominantly Muslim but it’s not a Muslim country. It’s not quite a secular country either because religion does play a major role in the government. According to the constitution, six religions are acknowledged: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Religious freedom is protected by law but one must belong to one of the six religions. By that, one can’t be irreligion nor belong to any religious group which is considered outside the six.

One thing for sure, my little speech has never quite achieved its purpose as it always triggers further and deeper discussion. Nonetheless, I always love the facial expression shown by my friends when I reply to their question. They always say, “That’s really, really interesting.

“I know.”

Prambanan by Zsolt Bugarszki. All rights reserved.

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Tano Batak Day 7: Departure - Bandung

This post should have been written nearly a month ago but I just did not have the time. There are many things happened and I was so occupied getting them all through. I was so busy preparing my travel documents, turned 23, and opened a small office for ColorLabs just next to my house. I guess every day was a big day.


I spent my last day of the trip in Medan to visit Istana Maimoon. It is a palace designed with Malay-Islamic architecture and was the centre of the government of Kesultanan Deli. As I’ve already mentioned in my previous posts, the eastern part of the Province of North Sumatra was dominated by Malay people which is predominantly Muslim. That explains the ornaments and accents throughout the building.

There are some interesting thoughts I got while I was wandering around this palace. In primary schools, I spent semesters to learn all the popular ancient kingdoms in Java but barely can I name some ancient kingdoms from Sumatra. I believe it would have been wonderful if certain proportion of the “History of Indonesia” curriculum had focused to this particular island which in fact is composed by a relatively broader number of cultural entities than Java.

Another thing is that this monarchy system is still kept in practice although solely for cultural purposes. The youngest Sultan of Kesultanan Deli is around 9-year old and now living in Bone, Sulawesi. His mother is the daughter of the current Sultan Bone who married the previous Sultan Deli who died during a military duty. And that made this little 9-year old boy became a Sultan. It was something like that. Hahaha.

I closed the trip by going to the Polonia Airport. I took a flight from Medan to Jakarta, a shuttle to Bandung, and arrived safe and sound. This trip was totally awesome and I enjoyed every single day of it. At least I have stories to tell if someone asked me, “North Sumatra, what’s that? Is it somewhere near Bali?”

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Tano Batak Day 6: The Pearl of Lake Toba

 taman_simalem_2Lake Toba is a lake and supervolcano, 100 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and 505 metres (1,666 ft) at its deepest point. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra with a surface elevation of about 900 metres (2,953 ft), it is the largest volcanic lake in the world. In addition, it is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred 74,000 years ago, a massive climate-changing event.

This eruption, believed to have been the largest anywhere on Earth in the last 25 million years, may have had catastrophic consequences globally; some anthropologists and archaeologists believe that it killed most humans then alive, creating a population bottleneck in Central Eastern Africa and India that affected the genetic inheritance of all humans today.


Despite the geological historical details that seems to have brought an annihilation to this world, the lake itself is now stunningly beautiful and immense with several cities circling it. Lake Toba is the biggest lake in the Republic, both by area covered and by volume, and also the biggest in South East Asia. On this post are some pictures of the Lake, taken from the north-eastern side, from Kabupaten Karo, somewhere near Merek/Kabanjahe at a location called the Taman Simalem - The Pearl of Lake Toba.

 taman_simalem_1  taman_simalem_3

Taman Simalem is currently under development and has partially been opened for public. This place has not yet been popular as a travel destination unlike Prapat, a region located in Kabupaten Toba-Samosir, which is more frequently associated to the Lake. Taman Simalem is designed to become a resort decorated by a mixed-taste of Batak artwork and contemporary minimalistic architecture.

Paragraph 1 and 2 was cited from Wikipedia.

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Tano Batak Day 5: Thoughts on The Establishment of The Province of Tapanuli

 batakThere was nothing essential this day, it’s another half-day in Prapat, a quarter-day in Pematang Siantar, and a night at Berastagi doing nearly nothing. We spent most of our time on the road laughing and screaming to make ourselves happy while crossing the borders which happened to be so lenghty and exhausting. The infrastructure was terrible and unmaintained but we had no choice. Thus, since I have been lately situated at the region concerned and have heard several opinions about this “Province of Tapanuli” issue, I guess it’s the time for me to write something about it.

This issue was brought into public on February 3, the day when a riotous incident occurred at the office of the House of Representatives of the Province of North Sumatra that killed Abdul Aziz, the chief of the office. The riots were struggling for the establishment of the Province of Tapanuli which essentially means to separate themselves from the current province.

Despite the issue has become popular just several months ago when an incident occurred, it has been in fact proposed for a long time and become intensely discussed after the autonomy law has been put in place. The Province of North Sumatra was formerly two administrative regions that was fused into one province just after the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch. Keresidenan Sumatra Timur covered the eastern part of the current province including Medan, Asahan, and Labuhan Batu, while Keresidenan Tapanuli covered the western part including Tarutung, Toba-Samosir, and Sibolga. The information on the borders may need to be verified but basically that was the idea.

Due to the differences in cultural and religious background between the two regions (Tapanuli is dominated by Bataknese, particularly Toba, while Sumatra Timur by Melayu people), this particular issue has been (misleadingly) regarded concerning and based on SARA (suku - tribe, agama - religion, dan ras - race) which made everything even more sensitive and complicated. In spite of the fact that these two regions differs culturally, it was for economic and human development purposes the proposal has been made. Identical to the centralised development which is currently happening in Indonesia, which is all the way focused to Jakarta and some cities in Java Island, the same condition is happening here in the Province where developments are focused to Medan and several cities in the eastern part of the Province.

Even so, considering that this is Indonesia and politics do have its invisible hands, that does not necessarily mean and assure that no strings are attached.

Anyway, likewise expansion has been happening in several provinces throughout the Republic, Banten-West Java and Gorontalo-North Sulawesi for example. Banten, which is dominated by Badui people, has become an independent administrative entity and was separated from the Province of West Java, which is dominated by Sundanese, in order to accelerate the economic growth and human development in the region. Development was centrally focused on Bandung, the capital, and on several regions that circles Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It is undeniably true that Serang and several cities where Badui people reside are left behind. And in addition to the Banten development roadmap, the newly-established province also put the Islamic Sharia law in action while the Province of West Java does not. Some say that this expansion was greatly influenced by religious purposes.

Gorontalo-North Sulawesi issue was even more interesting. Gorontalo was separated from the Province of North Sulawesi and is dominated by Gorontalo people which happen to be predominantly Muslim. The current Province of North Sulawesi is dominated by Manado people which mostly have Christianity as their belief. On the other hand, it is factual that economic growth has been focused on Manado, the capital, while Gorontalo is left behind. The only dissimilarity of these two particular examples compared to Tapanuli-North Sumatra was that these two had succeeded their mission without any incidents.

Although the provinces of Indonesia might not be considered identical to states (negara bagian), they are starting to look like one due to the fact that each administrative entities do have the rights to enforce its own regional laws. The current system also provides each entity the rights to control its finance and resources.

So, what about this Province of Tapanuli? Should it be realised? And what about Indonesia in general? What if this establishment triggered separative movements amongst the provinces? On the other hand, would it be wise to leave some regions left behind? Anyway, is it money and power these guys are after? And what about SARA that seems to influence these separations (expansions)? Should we just admit it and take it as is? And why this became an issue while Gorontalo and Banten did not?

And historically speaking, it’s also noticeable that provinces in Indonesia were established with regards to religion and culture uniqueness compared to its surroundings, Daerah Istimewa Aceh and Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta are two clear-cut examples.

As for me, I just regret this had to take a deadly incident.

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