Why are we so close yet so far?


As I’m writing this, we are (or were) just 2 days after the Independence Day. On Facebook, for what seemingly miles of newsfeed sit various amount of videos reminding us of our diversity, the abundance of talents and natural resources, and the dizzying variance of people, skin color, cultures, and religions, and a message of tolerance in the end.

But seeing the polarizing opinions and ideologies we tend to have now, it seems that how we interact today, is mere reaction rather than conversation. And to me the easiest thing we can do to be more tolerant is to learn, even learning from the opposite sides.

I have to admit as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m fearful that I live in a small bubble. Indonesia’s beauty is vast, immense, mysterious, and dizzyingly beautiful, it’ll take time for someone to truly comprehend the important contribution Indonesia has to the world. And as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m always reluctant to say that I fully understand what it means to be an Indonesian or comprehend the meaning of ‘tolerance’ when I haven’t intersected with various local people in meaningful ways, haven’t disagreed face to face with local people, or when I’ve always had permanent roof and warm delicious afternoon snacks on dining table everyday.  Most of us are probably the 1%.

Travelling does take you to plenty of places, physically and mindfully, but it takes a more studious spirit and meticulous learning to piece cultural bits together so that we can approach this Indonesian essence in a more empathetic way.

On returning from the States, one of the very first things I did was filtering out the idealism and ideologies that I feel won’t apply in the remote islands. Because I knew that as an Easterner, we tend to glamorize and idolize Western idealism a little bit too crazy. And I’m always cautious that I’d fall into that trap because I fear that I’m seeing things from a skewed perspective.

When it comes to openness and connectedness, it amuses me that the world is a click away, but we still have to wait for a week to get to the neighboring island. As an island country, ideally, by 2017, we should really have more connected islands, because offline encounters are especially important to practice tolerance.

Not to mention, there’s really so much business potentials here. I can imagine San Francisco hipsters go nuts capitalizing on cute Phinisi boats.

Last August during Habibie BeKraf Festival, Habibie showcased his gift to Indonesia: R80 plane design, a propeller airplane that can carry 80-90 people, meant for short distances of 1,480km, which is just perfect for this archipelago.

Habibie is one of our few past presidents with a strong engineering background and an ambition to better the country through infrastructure developments. During his years in Germany in the late 50s, he developed a program called Seminar Pembangunan Indonesia to unite Indonesian engineers in Europe and cultivate conversations around building infrastructure in Indonesia. He realized that being scientific-minded isn’t the only factor for a successful infrastructure project. Having an effective system in place and a reliable set of soft skills are just as critical to executing the project. These soft skills, back then, were lacking. The engineers focus solely on the sciences and undermining the importance of translating these massive scientific ideas into nibbles that are understandable culturally, in real life in the remote islands.

It was Habibie’s intention and initiative to foster this critical conversation. The group then attracted both students and older Indonesian folks who were also interested in politics. But Habibie wasn’t interested in politics at all back then.

Fast forward to May 1998 when he was elected as President, but only lasted for 17 months before he finally gave up his presidency due to people’s demand.

Right now, Habibie and his son, Ilham Habibie, busy designing, building and managing their latest airplane design that is set to fly in 2021. That design that’s just perfect for small-islands country.

Growing up, Habibie was mostly traumatized by the image of planes because then, it dropped bombs and killed people. But this nightmarish memory has changed its course and blossomed into a strong passion to connect people, land, and cultures.

There’s so much history we still need to understand, not just know. So much cultural pieces and historical artifacts have made their ways to the present days and are still relevant and important. They signify our identity and reveal our secrets.

With better accessibility across the remote islands, hopefully, people from all backgrounds can intersect more, sharing stories and secrets, enriching our lives, and make us much more tolerant to one another. Because at the moment, how deep have we submerged into the complex, mind-boggling, invigorating side of Indonesia, really?

Complement this with a charming interview of Habibie retelling his childhood dreams. the heartwarming story of the first 60 Indonesian pilots who were sent to the United States in early 50s alongside its book, The 60 Taloans, and  this witty essay on the inferiority complex many recent international graduates have. 

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