Sidelines – Goenawan Mohamad


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Sidelines - Goenawan Mohamad

Goenawan Mohamad is an Indonesian poet and writer. He is one of the founders of Tempo Magazine, the Indonesian version of Time Magazine. President Suharto, the former Indonesian dictator, shut down Tempo Magazine twice after they published articles that openly criticised the authoritarian regime.

This book is a collection of Goenawan Mohamad’s thought pieces that were published in Tempo Magazine. They were taken from his weekly column named “Catatan Pinggir” or “Sidelines”. In this book they are subdivided into several categories: identity and change, democracy and freedom, beliefs, history and its meaning and international.

These writings are intentionally ambivalent. He gives several viewpoints but he doesn’t back a single one. They’re basically food for thought and pieces to contemplate on. From the book’s introduction:

He is committed to developing intellectual debate in Indonesia, to broadening the capability of the Indonesian language to handle such debate, to developing Indonesians’ awareness of their history and to fostering better-informed critical interpretation of current events.

Of course, the specifics about broadening the capability of the Indonesian language get lost in this English translation.

Sidelines - Goenawan MohamadThis book gives an interesting insight into Indonesian culture and Indonesian thinking. Many pieces contain references to the Mahabharata, excerpts from Chairil Anwar’s poems, quotes from Sukarno and references to important events in Indonesian’s history.

One interesting article is called “Aku”. “Aku” is an alternative word for the commonly used “saya”, which means “I”. “Aku” has a connotation of arrogance and egocentrism. Chairil Anwar used “aku” as a title of one of his poems that rebels against the fact that Malays always seem to put themselves in a vertical relationship. Individualism is taboo and group thinking is the norm.

Some pieces deal with human rights. He challenges the Western definition of these. Also the fact that Sukarno drew up the constitution with the sovereignty of the people in mind and not the individual is brought up.  In fact, he criticises the first president of Indonesia in several writings which I found very interesting to read.

There are a lot of thought provoking writings in this book that really make you think. Many things can be learned from the references to Indonesian culture, history and language.  It is not bound to Indonesian references exclusively though. The writer is obviously very knowledgeable about democracy, communism, poetry and literature and uses a wide range of sources to enrich his writings.

Definitely recommended but not as a casual read. I really had to take my time to contemplate on some of the writings.  I had to read some of them twice because of all the chatter in the London underground 😉


Friends and Exiles – Des Alwi


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Friends and Exiles - Des Alwi

Des Alwi was nicknamed “the King of Banda”.  He earned this nickname because of the preservation and promotion work he did for the Banda Islands.  This tiny island group is part of the Maluku (Moluccas) province in eastern Indonesia.

These days the Banda islands aren’t well known. They are an obscure destination that is hard to reach by plane or by ship. There are ferries that go to Banda but the schedule is highly unpredictable. Merpati Airlines used to operate a regular flight to the main Island, Banda Neira, but these flights have now ceased.

You wouldn’t tell but the Banda islands were the setting of historic events that changed the course of world history.

During the beginning of the Age of Discovery when the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch were setting off to explore the world, there were certain spices appearing in the European trading ports. These sought-after spices had made a long voyage before arriving at these markets. From the book “Indonesian Banda”:

These spices had long been purchased on the spot by Malay, Chinese,  and Arab regional traders, reshipped to the Persian Gulf, carried by caravan to the Mediterranean, and distributed via Constantinople, Genoa, or Venice throughout Europe, increasing in value by about a hundred percent each time they changed hands.

When the Portuguese first discovered the Banda islands in 1512 they loaded their ship full of nutmeg, mace and cloves and brought them home to Portugal. Back home in Lisbon they could sell these spices with a profit of at least a thousand percent.

This was the start of a long and often bloody history. The Dutch forcefully took control of these islands to obtain a monopoly on the nutmeg trade. Under the instructions of Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) massacred almost the entire population of Banda. This event is surely one of the blackest pages in Dutch history.

Friends and Exiles - Des AlwiThe English also wanted a share of this trade and were continuously on the prowl in the Banda Sea. They settled at the nearby island of Run. The Dutch launched a couple of bloody attacks on this island to try to chase the English away. In 1667 the English and Dutch finally settled and agreed upon a transfer. Run was given to the Dutch in return for Suriname and an island called New Amsterdam. The latter is currently better known as Manhattan.

This book is a memoir written by a native of the Banda Islands, Des Alwi. He was closely involved in Indonesia’s struggle for independence. In this book he writes about his youth in Banda and about the underground movement in Jakarta and Surabaya during the Japanese occupation.

The Banda Islands were used by the government of the Dutch East Indies as a place of exile. Anyone who was involved with the nationalist movement was put away in a remote location of the vast archipelago. Two exiles came two Banda who had an immense impact on Des’ life. They were two young nationalist leaders called Sutan Sjahrir and Mohammad Hatta. The first was to become the prime minister of Indonesia and the latter the vice-president of Indonesia.

The exiles brought with them a large collection of books and a passion for teaching. They set up a school so that the natives where given a decent education as well.

The stories in this book paint a vivid picture of these two young intellectuals. The contrast between the two is interesting. Whereas Sjahrir is playful, outgoing and loves to joke around, Hatta is more reserved and serious.

During the outbreak of the Second World War the story moves on to Surabaya and Jakarta. In Jakarta he meets people like future president Sukarno and poet Chairil Anwar. When the pressure of the Japanese occupation becomes too big he moves back to Surabaya. There he faces another struggle when English troops invade Surabaya to seize back control of the colony for the Dutch.

This memoir makes a very interesting read about an important time in Indonesian history. I couldn’t put it down. In all honesty I have to say that any book about the Banda Islands fascinates me. After all, it is the place where my grandmother was born. So I might be a little jaded when it comes to reviewing this book.

.:Wikipedia Translation, English to Indonesian:. Amersfoort Concentration Camp, The Netherlands


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Kamp Amersfoort Watchtower Foundation

Translating a Wikipedia article is such a brilliant language learning excercise. I aim to translate a variety of articles that are also useful for people to read.

This time I chose an article about Amersfoort concentration camp. It wasn’t a big extermination camp like Auschwitz but a small transit camp. The camp is situated close to where I used to go to school, the beautiful town of Amersfoort.

You can read more about this camp on the English Wikipedia page.

The translated Indonesian article can be found here. Again, if you’re an Indonesian speaker and you spot any errors, just give me a shout and I’ll be happy to correct them.

Korean Ginseng Drink


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Korean Ginseng Drink

Healthy and delicious. Whenever I come across a Chinese food store I always try to find one of these drinks. There’s something about the taste of Ginseng that really attracts me.

The word “Ginseng” is derived from the Chinese term rénshēn which means “man root”. It owes its name to its forked shape which resembles the legs of a man.

In Chinese medicine, Ginseng is known to stimulate the flow of Qi. According to this site the concept of Qi is:

Korean Ginseng Drink“Concept of Qi was originally a philosophic concept. The ancients believed that the world changes and things in the world can transform from one to another, so when they tried to explain the world with a common substance, they determined that the substance must have two properties: invisibility and motion. As it is invisible or has no certain shape, it can create various kinds of things; and as it is moving, things in the world are always changing and may transform from one to another. Air, the original meaning of Qi, is just such a substance which cannot be seen but the movement of which, as wind, can be felt. This was extended to mean that the most basic substance of the world, and its movement and change can explain the generation, development and change of all things in the world.”

In combination with other herbs, ginseng is in traditional Chinese medicine to balance disharmonies in the body before they become diseases.

This drink contains the root and has been sweetened a little. These are the places where I found it:

Sleepwalking through the Mekong


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Sleepwalking Through the Mekong

During the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia you weren’t safe if you were educated, had previous links with foreigners or played music with western influences. The Khmer Rouge was on a quest to wipe out Cambodian culture and identity. “Out with the old, in with the new”, Khmer Rouge style.

Fortunately they didn’t quite succeed.

In the sixties, before the Khmer Rouge came into power, there was a lively “Khmer Rock” scene. Bands that were active in this scene mixed surf music and western-style rock with traditional Cambodian melodies and instruments.

The most famous artist who is widely considered as the “King of Khmer Music” is Sinn Sisamouth. He was prolific as a singer, bandleader, mandolin player and producer. After the fall of Phnom Penh he was forced out of the city into rural commune life. Being highly educated and a musician made him a target for the Khmer Rouge. That they killed him is certain, but the circumstances of his death are unknown.

In the sixties Khmer Rock wasn’t really known outside Cambodia. Thanks to a band called Dengue Fever this is starting to change.

Two American brothers, Zac and Ethan, went backpacking in Cambodia in 1997 and got inspired. They were mesmerised by the exotic melodies that were woven into sixties-style rock music. At the time of this musical discovery, a friend of Ethan contracted Dengue Fever. This turned out to be a suitable name for a new band that was going to celebrate Khmer Rock classics.

Dengue Fever

Back home in Los Angeles the search for a native Cambodian singer started. It turned out that there was a large Cambodian community in Long Beach. After a few fruitless auditions they were stunned by the beautiful voice of Chhom Nimol. Chhom came from a musical family that was part of the original Khmer Rock movement. Her father had sung alongside Sinn Sisamouth, the “King of Khmer Music”.

This documentary follows the band during their first tour in Cambodia. In the beginning they feel a little anxious about how the Cambodians will respond their music. After all, they are just a bunch of foreigners.

I won’t spill the beans. Give this DVD a spin and enjoy this beautiful documentary. You’ll love it.

Related links:

River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia – Jon Swain


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The author of this book, Jon Swain, was born in London but spent his childhood in India. His father was the manager of a vast estate for a large Anglo-Indian company. When the family returned to England the author couldn’t settle in England. He always felt like in outsider.

Driven by an inner restlessness and a thirst for adventure he decided to move to France and enlist in the French Foreign Legion. This turned out not to be a long stint because of something he disclosed on his enlistment form: “journalistic aspirations”. The Legion wasn’t too pleased with this and they decided to let him go.

Jon Swain became a correspondent for The Sunday Times in Paris and was soon sent out to Indochina. He spent five years in this troubled part of Asia where he lived through some harrowing moments.  Despite the raging war, the violence and the corruption he fell in love with the sheer beauty and mystique of Vietnam and Cambodia. A fellow journalist put it like this when he first arrived in Cambodia: “Indochina is like a beautiful woman; she overwhelms you and you never quite understand why”.

What makes this book appealing is the honesty and openness with which he describes certain situations. As a journalist he constantly has the feeling of being a privileged person “in transit” through other people’s lives. When he goes from one story to the next he feels like he’s deserting people and leaving them to their fate.

Jon Swain - River of Time

The Author’s full name is John Ancketill Brewer Swain. If you’ve seen the gripping movie “The Killing Fields” then this name might ring a bell. During the fall of Phnom Penh the last shelter for foreigners was the French Embassy. Among the people who were stuck there were the American journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran. With the Khmer Rouge at the gates of the embassy the latter needed a foreign passport to be eligible for evacuation.

The author sacrificed his passport so they could forge one for Dith Pran. Hence Pran became “John Ancketill Brewer”. You might remember the scene from the movie where Pran walks around repeating “John Ancketill Brewer” over and over again. In the end it was to no avail: the forged passport just didn’t look real enough. Pran took the decision and handed himself over the Khmer Rouge.

Merely because of the fact that his skin was white was the author able to escape capture by the Khmer Rouge. At this point the author expresses his shame and feeling of guilt about abandoning a man who had days before saved his life.

Other events described in this book are the fall of Saigon and Jon Swain’s kidnapping in Eritrea. The latter being an ordeal that lasted three months.

Related reads:

Sydney Schanberg - Beyond the Killing Fields

Sydney Schanberg - Beyond the Killing Fields

Francois Bizot - The Gate

Francois Bizot - The Gate

The Lost Executioner

The Lost Executioner

.:Wikipedia Translation, English to Indonesian:. Pha That Luang temple in Vientiane, Laos


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The Pha That Luang Buddhist Temple in Vientiane, Laos

The Pha That Luang Buddhist Temple in Vientiane, Laos

I just finished translating my first Wikipedia article. This forms the next step in the process of learning the Indonesian language, Bahasa Indonesia. I’m proficient in reading articles in magazines like Jalan Jalan, Eksekutif and Tempo but writing and speaking is a different story all together.

So now I’ve taken up this translation task to substitute for the lack of native Indonesian speakers in my surroundings. The process of looking up words, getting the grammar right and validating sentence structures is time consuming but a very important part of becoming fluent in any language.

Next year I’m planning on taking four or five weeks of unpaid leave to spend some time in Indonesia. This is the next step in the process. Hopefully I can make myself useful by teaching English to children in a primary school. The place I have in mind at the moment is the island of Flores because I have never visited the Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia.

The Indonesian Wikipedia is very much in need of new articles. Hopefully I can contribute to create a more rich Wikipedia.

I picked my first article from the main page of the English Wikipedia. It was a subject that interested me and the article was conveniently short. The article is about the Pha That Luang Buddhist temple in Vientiane, Laos. The temple roof is covered with gold and has been reconstructed several times since it was built in the third century.

I’ve never been to Laos but it is in the top of my list of places to visit.

One interesting fact in this article is that the temple was visited by a Dutchman in 1641. I never knew that the Dutch East India Company reached all the way into Laos around that period.

You can find the translated article here. If you’re an Indonesian speaker and you spot an error (which no doubt there will be) then please give me a shout and I’ll change the article for the better.

Carrot, yellow mung dal and ginger soup


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Carrot, yellow mung dal and ginger soup

This is a really tasty low-fat soup that contains some of my favourite ingredients. Yellow mung dal can be found relatively easy but Kemiri nuts might be a bit harder to come across.

Kemiri nuts (Aleurites moluccana) are often used in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine to make thick sauces. They must be cooked before eating because they’re highly toxic when raw.

Kemiri or Candle nuts

Kemiri or Candle nuts

They’re also called candle nuts, country walnuts, buah keras, brazil nuts nuez de la india and kukui. Because these nuts are so oily they can be used like candles when strung together (hence the name “candle nuts”).

In The Netherlands they should be available at every Indonesian toko. Here in London I located them at the New Loon Moon supermarket on Gerrard Street in Chinatown. They can be found upstairs all the way in the back.

Serves 8 people


  • 350 grams of carrots
  • 250 grams of yellow mung dal (split mung beans)
  • 6 shallots
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 10 candle (kemiri) nuts
  • table spoon of vegetable oil
  • handful of fresh chopped coriander (cilantro)
  • pinch of asafoetida
  • tea spoon of cumin powder
  • thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
  • salt to taste
  • chili powder to taste (I used a teaspoon but be careful)
  • vegetable stock
  • water


  • Chop the shallots, garlic, carrots and candle nuts and grate the ginger. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the shallots, garlic, candle nuts, cumin powder and ginger and fry until the shallots turn golden brown.
  • Add the carrots, vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil.
  • Wash the mung dal thoroughly and add to the pan. Let it simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until the dal becomes a little mushy.
  • Add the asafoetida, salt, coriander and chili powder and stir.
  • Turn off the heat and whizz the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth. If needed adjust the thickness by adding more boiling water.

Selamat makan!

Ting Ting Jahe: Indonesian Ginger Candy


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Ginger Root

*This is not the actual candy but a ginger root. I ate all the candy before I got out my camera 🙂

When I go back to The Netherlands I’m never on the lookout for Dutch food. I just don’t crave it. Instead of going to the Albert Heijn supermarkets I prefer a visit to the local “toko” (Indonesian shop). On my last visit to The Netherlands I paid a visit to Toko Mitra in the town of Utrecht.

This little shop of goodness used to be located in the city centre at the basement level of the Bijenkorf department store. To my great surprise it wasn’t there anymore. I almost panicked. Fortunately it moved right across the street. Pfew!

They have a wide selection of fresh Indonesian food like nasi rames, nasi goreng, bami goreng, satay and gado-gado. Since I just had breakfast I only bought some green tea (Kepala Djenggot brand, meaning “bearded head”) and some ginger sweets called “Ting Ting Jahe”. These turned out to be absolutely delicous!

The chews are wrapped in edible rice paper and coated in powdered sugar. They’re different from American ginger chews. I came across these when I was in the beautiful city of Toronto earlier this year. Ting Ting Jahe is less chewy and much more fiery than its American counterpart. Exactly the way ginger candy is supposed to taste like!

The ingredients used in Ting Ting Jahe are sugar, maltose, ginger, tapioca and margarine. Just a few ingredients but what a rich taste!

They might be hard to find in the UK but sells them. I have a lunchtime visit to Chinatown planned this week and hopefully I’ll come across a bag of these amazing treats. I’ll let you know if I do.

Update: I visited Chinatown’s New Loon Moon supermarket on Gerrard Street but couldn’t find Ting Ting Jahe. The quest continues …