Indonesia observations (from my email)

These are from Khalil Manaf Hagerty:

I’m half Indonesian by ethnicity (one-quarter Bugis, one-quarter Minangkabau, half bule, what we refer to as ‘blasteran’ or mixed race) and have worked on and off there for the past 15 years. Here are some observations:

The internal market is enormous. Unlike many SE Asian countries Indonesia really isn’t dependent upon exports. Domestic demand is massive and the middle class is growing. Combined with a cultural life social structure that allows for upward mobility (more than, say, India), many Indonesians have seen and experienced significant improvements in the quality of life over the past 25 years, post-Suharto. They have a lot of democracy and increasing wealth.

So, adding to this: There are 17,000 islands and if someone wants to ‘make it’, they can quite easily go to Jakarta, a city of around 15 million people, depending on whose estimate you are using. Even within the less urbanised islands, there have still been significant rural agricultural opportunities for smallholder farmers operating on 10ha or so to meet domestic demand for food. So these are big improvements for many people and the success or changes in wealth are all relative.

Think of the narrative of President Jokowi: born and raised in a slum, now President.

On emigration: I’m sorry, but the West still tends to treat Indonesians as though they are Muslim terrorists. The immigration and visa requirements for Indonesians entering Australia for example are (informally) tougher than those entering from Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore (obviously), e.g. there is no easy-to-obtain 30-day holiday visa for Indonesians.

With foreign education, Indonesians are likely to go to Australia for higher ed, it’s cheaper and closer, and the objective is generally an English-language education. There’s a small number of wealthy folks that can afford the US system. There’s a generation of folks who were educated in the US system under the Colombo Plan and its successors, but that has thinned out. You will occasionally meet a guy who went to Purdue for this Masters.

Following on from this, why do Indonesians go home after their degree? Most folks will have very, very strong ties to their community in Jakarta, rural Indonesia or both. This often expresses itself in Islam but is present in Javanese/Sumatran/Malay culture more broadly.

On the entrepreneurial spirit, it very much exists in the country, but as noted above the growth is higher and the cultural barriers to entry are lower domestically. The Chinese community is arguably the best at this, but they see bigger or as many opportunities across the region — particularly through informal Chinese diaspora networks across Asia. Ethnic Chinese are much less persecuted now across the region than they were 25 years ago.

Finally, Indonesia is a big country and the sense of national identity is getting bigger. The US-China thing is a good example; Indonesians believe they can carve their own path without having to choose between the West (and there is still a great deal of resentment towards Europe after 1945-1949) and China. The country’s population is expected to overtake the US within a couple of decades.

If I was to summarise: opportunities at home are big, real and probably easier.

Here was my initial query.


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