The Future of Mindanao

By: Tang Zhen Yang

On 25 January 2019, voters in Philippines’ Muslim south overwhelmingly voted for the creation of an autonomous region called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Many hoped this would bring peace in a region that has seen decades of fighting between rebel groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government security forces.

History

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in an emphatic display of loyalty
Picture Credit: BBC

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country with a small but geographically concentrated region of Muslims mainly in parts of Mindanao in southern Philippines. With government-sponsored policies like the Homestead Program in the 1970s, which encouraged landless Christians to move to the southern areas populated by the Muslims, tensions over landownership and the disenfranchisement of the Moros drastically increased. This led to the foundation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which emerged the more well-known Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1977, a rebel group fighting for Moro self-determination.

Other Actors

Filipino soldiers engaged in the conflict in Marawi.
Source: Reuters

The Abu Sayyaf is a jihadist militant and pirate group that had carried out a number of high-profile kidnappings between 2011 and 2016. Both MILF and MNLF distance themselves from the organisation, which the Philippine government has labeled a terrorist group. From 2014, Abu Sayyaf has also pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and was at the head of the capture of, and prolonged battle, in Marawi in 2017. Both MNLF and MILF have stood in opposition to the group and its ideology, assisting the Filipino government in the recapture of the city.

What Does the New Law Do?

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is expected to be fully in place by 2022, with a parliament and chief minister elected. In the short-term the revolutionary armed group of MILF, which has been the most prominent advocate of Moro self-determination, will form part of the transition government. As part of the peace agreement, MILF promises to decommission 30% of its combatants and weapons. In exchange, the Philippine government will increase the amount of development funds distributed to the Bangsamoro to US$950 million over the next ten years, while allowing the regional government to keep a larger chunk of the tax revenue generated within its borders and national receipts

Another ARMM?

Nur Misuari (left) meeting with President Duterte.
Source: ABS-CBN News

This is not the first time an autonomous region has been set up: The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created in 1990 following peace negotiations between the MNLF and the Philippine government. Despite initial agreements and hopes of success, a rebellion was restarted in 2001 after Nur Misuari, the governor of ARMM and chief of MNLF, accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement and not devolving sufficient autonomy to the region.

Yet, many are hopeful about the prospects of the new peace negotiations. For one, the government promises significant devolution of power to the local authorities, while retaining control of the police and security forces. Organisations like the MILF have also been responsive and cooperative, evident their support of the central government’s efforts to recapture the city of Marawi in 2017. With so much expectations placed on the new regional government, what it must do is to effectively utilise additional powers under the Bangsamoro law to govern and to convince the population that it is not merely an implementer of government policies that are unjust and prejudicial to the people of Moro. Otherwise, we might yet see a repeat of history.

FOOD GUIDE: MALAYSIA

By: Joshua Lim

Malaysian food is famous even outside Malaysia, and for good reason. The influence of Chinese, Indian, Malay and European cultures are very clearly seen in Malaysian cuisine. This creates a food scene that is vibrant, diverse, exciting, and most importantly, delicious. When one thinks of Malaysian food, images of fragrant Nasi Lemak, fiery Curry Laksa and flaky Roti Canai come to mind. But, in this article, we will be taking a look at the less well-known Malaysian foods.

Roti Jala

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Roti Jala is literally translated as “net bread”, evident in its yellow, stringy appearance. It is made by cooking a batter of eggs, coconut milk and flour, and a special tool is used to produce the net-like appearance. The result is a delightfully soft and springy pancake. Its unique structure is perfect for soaking up thick, rich sauces, and so it’s often paired with chicken curry or sambal udang (chilli prawns).

Assam Laksa

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Like its sibling the Curry Laksa, Assam Laksa is a bowl of spicy, umami broth with tender rice noodles and a wide array of toppings. Unlike curry Laksa, Assam Laksa is made from Assam (tamarind) instead of coconut. This lends the broth a refreshing acidity instead of a rich, heavy flavour. Another unique aspect of Assam Laksa is the variety of herbs used in the dish, including coriander and torch ginger.

Hokkien Mee

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Influenced by Chinese cuisine from the Fujian (Hokkien) province, Hokkien Mee is a saucy noodle dish, often accompanied by seafood toppings. The star of each plate of Hokkien Mee is its thick, rich, savoury sauce. The sauce is made from dark soy sauce, lard and garlic, and creates and delicious umami flavour that coats the tongue. The dish can be served in a claypot, which keeps the dish warm and gives it an additional smoky dimension.

Cendol

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In the scorching tropical heat, Malaysians look forward to a bowl of Cendol to cool down. Cendol is actually the name of the green worm-like jelly found in the dish, which also comprises of coconut milk, Gula Melaka (palm sugar), red kidney beans, and shaved ice. The Cendol jelly is made from pandan, which had an almost vanilla-like flavour. CNN ranked Cendol amongst the world’s 50 best desserts, a testament to its international appeal.

Chicken Rice Balls

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Everyone knows Chicken rice; the tender chicken, fragrant and oily rice, and bright red chilli sauce. Not everyone knows of this regional variant chicken rice: the humble chicken rice ball. Unique to Melaka, the chicken rice ball is basically chicken rice, in a ball. No one really knows why it was invented or who thought to make it a different dish from chicken rice. But everyone knows that it tastes delicious anyway.

THE INTRICACIES OF MALAYSIAN DEMOCRACY

By: Zhi Feng Ong

The System

Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Declaration of Independence in 1957

A product of its colonial history, the government in Malaysia is based on the Westminster system to this day. As a federal representative democratic constitutional monarchy, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is head of state and the Prime Minister of Malaysia acts as head of government. The system of government and its respective bodies operate around the Constitution of Malaysia. As established by the Federal Constitution, the framework has three main administrative bodies of government consisting of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branch. The executive power which is exercised by the federal government and 13 state governments has the authority and holds responsibility for the governance of the state. In addition, the judiciary is independent of the executive and legislature. However, the executive maintains a certain level of influence via the appointment of judges to courts. The Legislative branch of the government consists of the Parliament which is divided into two parts the Dewan Negara (Upper House/Senate) and the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House/House of Representatives). The Malaysian Parliament has three functions; representing the electorate, making laws, and overseeing the government through hearings and inquiries.


Electoral History

Barisan Nasional Rally

Since Malaysia’s first direct election of the Federal Legislative Council of Malaya in 1955, it has operated under a multi-party system. From 1973 onwards the Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan) coalition acted as the ruling party, with its successor the Barisan Nasional (National Front) carrying on its long legacy. Along with its predecessor the Barisan Nasional (BN) government has ruled Malaysia for 61 years making it one of the world’s longest serving government. However, in the historic 14th general election of 2018 BN’s long reign as the ruling party unexpectedly came to an end. In an intense electoral struggle that gripped the nation, Barisan Nasional lost power to the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition. Currently, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition is comprised of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), National Trust Party (Amanah) and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) with Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan) as confidence and supply partner. As it stands today, the PH coalition acts as the ruling party while oppositional forces include BN, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and other smaller parties.

Results of the 14th Malaysian General Elections

A Young Government

PM Mahathir Mohammad and members of Pakatan Harapan. Picture Credit: The Malaysian Insight

Despite its electoral success in the 14th general election, the PH government headed by PM Mahathir Mohammad faces an unending series of challenges ahead. The once oppositional leaders (with the exception of Mahathir and a few ministers) now find themselves in the positions of those they have long criticised and with little to no experience in the governance of Malaysia. The PH government has found it increasingly difficult to uphold its promises outlined in its 14th general election manifesto. At its current pace, some researchers have estimated that it would take the PH government 41 years to honour all its promises. However, it has upheld some of its promises such as the abolishment of GST, the stabilisation of oil prices, the formation of the Royal Commissions of Inquiry on 1MDB, FELDA, MARA and Tabung Haji, and reformed the governance of these bodies. It has also introduced the ‘Skim Peduli Sihat’ since 1st of January 2019 which aims to provide and improve the Cost of Living Aid for the B40 group with more targeted assistance. Nonetheless, it is clear that while members of the PH government have successfully ended the long reign of Barisan Nasional, it must grapple with the difficulties of governance and staying in power.


The Development of Malaysian Politics

A Bersih 4.0 rally. Bersih is the anti-corruption movement in Malaysia and is named after the Bahasa Melayu word for “clean”.

Throughout BN’s years serving the country, the party has extensively influenced the course of development of Malaysia and its politics today. The legacy it has left behind is still a subject of controversy among the Malaysian public, arguably leading to topics such as corruption and racial tensions being at the forefront of Malaysian political discourse. The political party has produced a number of notable (and controversial) figures such as the 4th and current (7th) Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the previous 6th Prime Minister Najib Razak. Although Malaysian politics has been relatively stable, critics have pointed to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which scores Malaysia at 6.88, classifying it as a ‘flawed democracy’. Malaysian politics has been scarred with corruption scandals such as the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal and the Murder of Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa case. However, its peaceful transition of power during the 14th general election has earned Malaysia praise from the international community with foreign media such as Forbes calling it “…a peaceful-and remarkable-transition of power” and Malaysia holding the runner up position in the Economist 2018 ‘Country of the Year’. For the Malaysian public, politics has never been as volatile, with questions still swirling around the world’s biggest financial scandal as well as the power transition deal between PM Mahathir Mohammad and Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim. In addition, rising racial tensions threaten to divide the country further. All that remains certain for Malaysian politics appears to be more turbulence.  

TRAVEL GUIDE: SAIGON, VIETNAM

By: Tang Zhen Yang

Ho Chih Minh City, also as commonly referred to as Saigon, is the largest city by population in Vietnam. It was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and later that of South Vietnam,with wide boulevards and French colonial buildings continuing to pepper the city. Nowadays, the city is known for its thriving café and street food culture, as well as a gateway to exploring the Mekong Delta as well as the rich and complex history of the country.

Things to do

Saigon Hotpot

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If you think that Google Maps isn’t enough to save you from getting lost, there is a volunteer organisation called Saigon Hotpot that links tourists up with university students who will bring you around. This initiative was started in 2006 to introduce visitors to the local culture while allowing students to practice their language abilities. Tours can be easily customized, with options even for a food-only tour. More details can be found at: http://saigonhotpot.vn/

War Remnants Museum

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Source:  Lonely Planet

Walking around the moderately-sized museum is a sobering experience, and is certain to evoke overwhelming emotions—but it rightly should. The brutality of war is certainly not masked in the exhibitions: the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange, the brutal killings at My Lai, the wholesale razing of towns, villages, settlements and arable land. An entire section has also been dedicated to the war photographers in the conflict, exhibiting never-seen-before photos, and more poignantly, the sights witnessed and captured by the journalists in the last minutes of their lives.

Reunification Palace

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Source: Vov World

Built in 1962 under the orders of President Ngo Dinh Diem, the palace served as the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam till the Fall of Saigon. The War symbolically came to an end when a North Vietnamese tank rolled through the main gates of the palace at 1045, 30 April 1975. The original tank is now situated on the lawns of the palace for public viewing.

Things to eat

MAROU, Faiseurs de Chocolate

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Source: Behance

The New York Times calls it “The Best Chocolate You’ve Never Tasted”. The hidden gem of Vietnam, Marou is the first artisan chocolate maker in Vietnam, and has within the first decade garnered multiple awards at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards.Each chocolate bar is produced from beans sourced in one location—single-origin—each with its own complex and unique taste. The main store can be found in District 1 in Saigon, where one can enjoy a range of chocolate desserts and drinks while picking out the best gifts for family and friends. Dark chocolate, like Marou, contain little milk and do not melt easily. My bars endured an afternoon of 30 degree heat without melting.

Local Food

Pho: A soup dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and beef (chicken options are widely available). It is one of the most common street foods, and can be found in chains like Pho24.

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Source: FODmap Everyday

Bun Cha: A noodle dish consisting of dry rice noodles and grilled fatty pork that is dipped in fish sauce served at the side. Bun Cha 145 in Bui Vien is one of the most popular in the city.

Banh Mi: A French-Vietnamese fusion sandwich dish, the sandwich consists of a single-serving baguette typically filled with cha lua (pork sausage), pate and picked vegetables.

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Source: CBC

Goi Cuon: Spring rolls filled with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, pork and vegetables, served with a side of peanut or fish dipping sauce.

Places to Stay

For the well-heeled seeking a hotel steep in history, Caravelle Saigon is a very attraction option. Opened in 1959, the hotel had housed the Australian and New Zealand embassies, as well as the Saigon bureaus of the NBC,ABC and CBS during the Vietnam War, and was the most prominent gathering point of photographers during the Vietnam War. One of the most iconic photos of the Fall of Saigon, the evacuation of the American embassy, was in fact photographed here. The iconic building is now a 5-star hotel, with a rooftop bar well known for its sunset views of Saigon.

More affordable options can be found in the vicinity of the Ben Thanh Market, with many local boutique hotels having popped up in the past few years. Accessibility is excellent in this area, with tourist attractions, food and nightlife options within walking distance.

Backpackers and the more adventurous, as well as those on a budget, will definitely want to stay along Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Collectively known as the backpacker district, one will find endless lodging options which can often be booked on the spot, as well as an immensely vibrant nightlife.

How to get around

Most of the main tourist attractions are within walking distance. It is advisable to bring good walking shoes as the roads and pavements tend to be uneven. Saigon has almost the same number of motorcycles as it has people, which can make the crossing of roads daunting. Alertness is very important. If you’re unsure, follow closely behind a local. You’ll be amazed at the ease by which they dart and weave through the relentless traffic.

PRESIDENT NGUYEN PHU TRONG: VIETNAM’S XI?

By: Joshua Lim

Following the death of previous President Tran Dai Quang in September, the Vietnam National Assembly voted to install Nguyen Phu Trong as the new President on 23rd October. Trong also concurrently holds the position as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee (CPVCC), and won the vote for a Presidential role with a 99.8% majority. The last person to have held both the positions of President and General Secretary was Ho Chin Minh.

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Trong, a Hanoi native, was still a student when he joined the communist party. Immediately after graduating from the Hanoi General University with a degree in Linguistics, he joined the Study Review (now Communist Review), the theoretical and political agency of the Communist Party. Throughout his career, he obtained a PhD in Politics (party building), learned Russian, became Editor-in-chief of the Communist Review, Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee and Secretary of the Central Military Commission, amongst other roles.

His election to the Presidential position is unprecedented due to the CPVCC’s central idea of “democratic centralism”, or consensus-based decision making. While this is true of the Communist Party in general, it is usually associated with the highest level of decision making in the State: the “four pillars”, which are: the General Secretary, the President, the Prime Minister, and the Head of the National Assembly. By taking on the dual roles of both General Secretary and President, Trong effectively doubles his power amongst the “pillars” and has a larger stake in decision making. This rapid increase in power has led some to draw parallels between the situation in Vietnam and China.

Similar to Trong, Chinese President Xi Jin Ping broke convention earlier this year by removing Presidential term limits, allowing him to rule for life. Xi is also both the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President.  Most strikingly, both Trong and Xi are known for their aggressive stances towards corruption, and both have taken on wide-sweeping anti-graft campaigns. Earlier this year, Trong spearheaded reforms within the communist party to review its members more stringently, following high-profile corruption trials of party members last year. It is perhaps these campaigns that have helped them to consolidate power, allowing them to remove politicians not loyal to them under the guise of corruption.

Furthermore, it seems that Trong’s presidency indicates coming warmer relations between China and Vietnam. Currently, China and Vietnam share strong economic relations. China has massive investments in Vietnam as part of the Belt and Road initiative, and according to Vietnamese media, trade between the two communist states is expected to reach USD100 billion. On the other hand, China and Vietnam do have competing claims in the South China Sea.The Vietnamese people are also wary of the Chinese due to the conflict-filled history between both states that stretch back hundreds of years. Nonetheless,Trong is purported to have close ties with the Communist Party in China. He himself has sent cadres to China to learn from their system.

It might be tempting to characterise Trong’s presidency as the rise of another strongman leader as well as a consequence of Chinese influence.However, there are facts that point to the opposite. Trong has been a long-time advocate of “democratic centralism” within the Communist Party, and it would be strange for him to abandon this system, regardless of how much power he holds. Additionally, the Communist Party had in the past discussed merging the roles of General Secretary and President. This idea was rejected by Trong, who feared that such a move could give the President too much power. Lastly, it seems perhaps circumstantial that Trong was the one to take on the Presidential role. According to the protocol of the Communist Party, a Presidential candidate must have served on the Politburo for more than a term. Reports say that of those who qualified, three were already amongst the “four pillars” (including Trong), and the other two were not considered to be capable enough by other Party members to be President.  Thus, it appears that Trong’s ascension to President is perhaps not entirely indicative of a shift towards a massive consolidation of power a-la Xi.

Nonetheless, we cannot discount Trong’s apparent inclinations towards China as well as the fact that it is now much easier for him to have his way amongst the “four pillars”, whether he chooses to or not. How Vietnam’s foreign policy changes under this new leadership can only be understood in time.

Through the eyes of a local: Indonesia

By: Clarice Cheong

The rustic natural landscapes, vast sandy beaches and the vibrant cultural scene have swathed the Indonesian archipelago in a dreamy allure, attracting over a million tourist worldwide. A second contrasting image of Indonesia is saturated with tension over the surge of terrorist attack. These notions albeit pervasive,are merely stereotypical images engendered by the international media and should not underpin the whole Indonesian experience. In light of this, I delve into the perspectives of two Indonesian students studying in the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) as they reminisce their everyday lives growing up in their home country. Through this, I hope to offer an enlivened insight into the tribulation, joys, and the day to day academic and cultural encounters that are viscerally and intimately experienced by the interviewees, growing up in Indonesia.

Background of our interviewees

A brief insight into the backgrounds of the interviewees will set the scene for a nuanced discussion into the aspects of the Indonesian experience. Naufal, a driven third year Politics and Economics student, shares that his core motivation for studying abroad to experience a world-class educational experience in the LSE has remained firm but taken a more personal turn after 2 years.

In his words, “I enjoy the wide variety of lectures from a wide domain of disciplines, unmatched to the ones in Indonesia.”

Our second interviewee, Anastasia, is a cheerful and bright-eyed fresher who seeks to experience the vitality of the international community that defines the LSE experience.

During the discussion with Anastasia, I was intrigued by her interest in making new friends hailing from different backgrounds. When I asked her to elaborate further on the driving factors that motivated her to study abroad, she offered a unique insight on the closed-off nature of her town.

She said: “I live in a small town called Lumajang in East Java, many Indonesian do not know of its existence. Personally, I feel that my hometown is detached from the outside world.”

She pauses and adds that “Similarly, with education, many people move out of the town during University but they return back to the town… I wanted to break that bubble.”

While both students have vastly different goals and ambitions for studying abroad in the UK and their courses will inevitably lead them to divergent paths, a common thread that seem to tie their experiences together is their uniquely Javanese identity.

Politeness- The Javanese example

A subtle bow of the head and a polite demeanor are ubiquitous features of the day to day formalities practiced by Javanese. The customary code of politeness reflects humility- a dignified aspect of Javanese culture but perhaps, underlying the impeccable manners, are the undercurrent notions of power and seniority.

A conversation with Anastasia, reveals that in traditional East-Javanese culture, one has to take stock of the way he/she addresses another party, particularly someone older. She shared that addressing a senior whose age gap differed by a few years, on a first-named basis is considered “rude”.

I asked her if she felt uncomfortable in the UK, having to address others by their first name since it has become an ingrained habit, where we refer to our professors on the first name basis. Seeing no explicit dissonance between her customary practice in Javanese and her experience here, she chuckles nervously and comments that: “Sure, initially, it took some time getting used to, as back in Java, we addressed our seniors who were a few years older as ‘Kak’.”

When I arrived at the topic of seniority,Anastasia explains that: “In Javanese culture, when we walked past the elderly,in the train carriages, we would acknowledge them with a bow of our head.” I probed further and asked her if this applied to strangers, to which she replied: “Yes, even if they were strangers, the fact is that they were much older than us, so I would bow my head slightly when I see elderly on the train.”

The speech patterns and small gestures revealed in Anastasia’s account, brings to light the model of the polite code in Javanese culture. Ostensibly, there are different social spheres in Javanese culture, separated and distinguished primarily by age. Javanese people are particularly cognizant of their age difference and this keen awareness has shaped their manners of conducting oneself.

Festivity for the Javanese underpinning the culture of diversity

The festival of the Eid al-Fitir is one which most Indonesians anticipate with fervent enthusiasm,as it is the time to celebrate the month-long fasting (Ramadan) coming to a close.

When I asked Naufal about the important festivals that he celebrated in Indonesia, he responded: “I believe the most exciting festival which all Muslims look forward to is the Eid Festival. It is a time where everyone gathers together to celebrate the festival of breaking the fast by praying and involves lots of gifts and feasting.”

Intrigued by his peculiar use of the word‘everyone’, I asked him if the Eid al-Fitir is celebrated by the minority Chinese Indonesians, to which he quips excitedly: “Of course! It is a time when even the Chinese-Indonesians (Chindo) would join in and I believe that this is one of the most amazing aspects of Indonesia- the diversity.”

Anastasia also revealed that as a minority Chinese Indonesian, she had never felt that she was detached from the predominantly Muslim community. In fact, during the Eid al-Fitir festival, she shared that her family would open their doors to her Muslim neighbors and they would come together and enjoy a hearty meal together.

It is of particular interest that Eid al-Fitir, despite its widespread recognition as a Muslim festival, is not exclusively celebrated by Muslims in Indonesia. The Eidal-Fitir festival unifies the different tenets in society, encompassing people of different racial and religious background. This is a telling revelation of the united front which Indonesians bear, notwithstanding the media’s extensive coverage of the suicide bombings that took place in May calling into question the degree of religious tolerance in Indonesia and casts mounting pressure on the Government to take more active steps to mitigate the rise of extremist conceptions. Certainly, such events are anomalous and do not undermine the homogeneity of the collective whole. Diversity underpins the uniquely Indonesian identity- one which Indonesians take pride in and are proud to call Indonesia their home.

A taste of home

On a more light-hearted note, the amalgamation of aromatic and flavorful cuisine forges a sense of community amongst Indonesians and is what draws most Indonesians close together.

Upon coming to the discussion of Indonesian cuisine, both Anastasia’s and Naufal’s eyes lit up excitedly as they are reminded of the scrumptious food back home.

Anastasia’s personal favorite is the Indonesian beef black soup (‘Rawon’ or ‘Nasi Rawon’), she describes the taste as “like no other, it can be somewhat of an acquired taste and uses interesting spices such as black nuts from the kepayang tree to give it the thick and dark consistency.It is amazing.”

Naufal is equally illustrative in his response.When asked what his favorite Indonesian food is, he promptly answered with a nostalgic smile, “The Dendeng balado has to be my favourite! It is cooked by first frying thin slices of beef, thereafter marinating with red chili and other spices. I love to eat it with rice.” Imagine the undertones of umami emanating from the dried beef slices, cushioned in a seamless blend of chili,cayenne pepper and turmeric- it is no wonder that Naufal holds the taste of this Indonesian dish so close to heart.

Beyond a media-constructed impression of Indonesia

Through the eyes of Naufal and Anastasia, threads of visceral everyday experiences are interwoven to reveal part of the idiosyncratic Indonesian narrative. In this way, although proliferating media coverage on the religious violence in Indonesia should not be taken lightly, it must not consign to oblivion the rich diversity of the local Indonesian experience.

TRAVEL GUIDE: INDONESIA

By: Brenda Tan

Indonesia is a fast-growing country and its increasing human capital and economic potential has recently been placed it under the spotlight for many investors. Putting that aside, Indonesia also has a lot to offer for those who are seeking a vacation in the warm and sunny Southeast Asia. I personally have always longed to visit Indonesia as it seems like Indonesia is the epitome of a country which has a little bit of everything for everyone. Indonesia is a country that is largely underrated and while many from where I come from would simply associate Indonesia with the sandy shores of Bali, there is so much more to this country that remains unexplored.

While Indonesia does have much to offer, what I find most attractive is the diversity of sporting, outdoor and cultural activities that it offers! That being said, here’s a list of things that I would totally recommend doing:

Water Sports

The Indonesian shoreline is considered as heaven for surfers. With epic waves, it caters to people of all levels, from beginners to experts. A common but great spot would be Bali, which includes breaks in Canggu, Medewi and Uluwatu. Less popular but equally great places to explore would be places in Java like Batu Karas and G-Land. Apart from that, Lombok, Mentawai islands, and Nias Island are all massive surf destinations which are worth checking out.

Outdoors

Another activity that I’ve recently took interest in over summer was trekking. For the trekking and hiking enthusiasts, Sumatra is definitely a must-visit destination! Trekkers can expect to see wildlife such as Orangutans, Thomas’s leaf monkeys, macaques and gibbons. While it is extremely rare, Sumatran tigers, Javan rhinoceros and Sumatran elephants can also be spotted.

Do visit Bukit Lawang, a small tourist village in North Sumatra, Ubud, Lake Toba – a large natural lake occupying the caldera of a supervolcano, and Berastagi!

Culture

Yogyakarta is the place to be if you’re interested to explore the cultural side of Indonesia. The Prambanan Hindu temples and Borobudur are places that you should not miss!

The Prambanan temples has distinct sharp, jagged characteristics and was built by the Mataram Kingdom which ruled central Java. It is also a proud UNESCO World Heritage Site and is arguably a national symbol of Indonesia. The Borobudur, a Mahayana Buddhist temple built in the 9th century during the Magelang Regency, is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and its size will definitely blow you away! If you do have time, also consider watching the sunrise by Borobudur as I’ve heard that it has one of the best views in Southeast Asia!

Food  

While in Indonesia, do take time out to indulge in the local foodfare! While Mcdonalds may sound tempting (though some might violently disagree), Indonesia does have some pretty distinct flavours that cannot be replicated in other regions of Southeast Asia. Some dishes that I’d recommend would include:

Tempe Bacem
Gulai Ikan
  • Gado Gado, an Indonesian salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, boiled potato, fried tofu and tempeh, and lontong, served with a peanut sauce dressing. It is also recently crowned as one of 5 national dishes of Indonesia.
  • Bakso, a meatball dish made from beef surimi and has similar textures to that of the Chinese beef ball. It may also be served with vermicelli noodles and topped with an egg.
  • Tempe Bacem, a dish suitable for vegetarians, comprising of deep-fried tofu and tempeh which are braised in coconut water and spices like coriander seeds, shallots, galangal, bay leaves, and palm sugar.
  • Gulai Ikan, a spicy fish curry cooked in fragrant coconut milk. Gulai is a curry-like sauce and is easily distinguished by its yellowish hue due to the addition of ground tumeric.
  • Dendeng Batokok, a dish resembling jerky, made from thinly-sliced beef (dendeng) which is then dried, marinated in sambal and fried with red chillies. It is a speciality from Padang, West Sumatra and is probably the most popular dengeng dish in Indonesia.