Is Our Ministry of Tourism Sleeping?

I never thought I was a proud Indonesian. There are so many things our nation has done that made me embarrass enough to admit that I’m from the largest archipelago state.

It struck me when I was living in Australia, especially during East Timor’s independence issue. By that time we were still recovering from economy crisis, we were struggling with new presidents, we were juggling whether we need military support in our lives and if we don’t, what are we gonna do with them, and there were constant riots and terrors throughout the region. I remember we went to uni theatre to be presented with images of beheaded people in Kalimantan (Borneo) as part of the stupid fight between indigenous people and immigrants from Java, and Aceh people were constantly seeking supports to be free from the republic. When Ramos Horta (now East Timor’s president) was visiting our uni to seek supports and to give his speech about the preparation of East Timor to be separated from Indonesia, I could sense the hatred of Australians (not all, but hell, yeah, almost all, in general) towards Indonesians. Some fellow students asked what the Indonesian military was thinking and how could they do that to people in East Timor (funny that everybody forgot that Indonesia was fully backed up by the UN and the USA to enter the region the 70’s, but whatever) . So when I was asked where I came from, usually, just to avoid a confrontation, I admitted that I was from Singapore. Or Malaysia. Or Brunei.

But after a year I got sick and tired of hiding of my true nationality. I mean, ok, we’ve been stupid enough to successfully embarrass ourselves for the past several years, but we’ve had so much history that is so unique no other country has it, or even accomplish that. Majapahit Kingdom once ruled the whole archipelago up to the Philippines, and Sriwijaya was up to Thailand border! And our soil is so fertile with natural resources, it attracted people from Europe to grab anything they could from here and made Indonesia as their home for 350 years. I always tell my friends that you just need to throw a seed through the window to the ground and it will grow by itself. Our culture is so rich that every region has its own unique dialect, clothes, and food. Can you name one country which has more than 17 thousands islands and 300 languages (not dialects, languages!)?. From then on, I’ve been a proud Indonesian.

Sadly, being so rich with our culture, we tend to take everything for granted. Before we know it, everybody else claims its theirs. And I couldn’t help it, I’m so annoyed! It’s like your piece of work is plagiarized and is not known as yours.

A couple of weeks ago, Stuart phoned me specifically from his desk just to tell me that it was Malaysian Independence Day, and his office canteen served special dish to celebrate the big day. Chuckling (because he knew I’d react immediately), he read the menu: Malaysian Beef Rendang and Malaysian Oxtail Soup. Of course I protested! Rendang (the authentic one, not the Malaysian one, which is actually just a beef curry) is a dish from Sumatera, and I’m not sure which region the oxtail soup is from but I’m sure it’s from somewhere in Java. Anywhere but Malaysia! I mean, for God sake, I know we both are very similar, but can’t they be more creative and come up with different names rather than just steal our recipe AND its name and put the word Malaysian in front of it? They have a dish called nasi lemak (which is rice cooked in coconut cream, see picture, right), and of course Indonesian has the same thing called nasi uduk (see second pic). Same ingredients, different side dishes, but similar taste. But we don’t share the same name! But to Stuart’s colleagues, it won’t matter. No-one knows that rendang and oxtail soup are from Indonesia, and I believe half of them don’t even know where Indonesia is! I wonder if they would be calm if suddenly I claim that haggis is a traditional English dish, hmm?

I’ve heard (but couldn’t find a single article to back this up) that batik and tempe are also claimed to be NON-Indonesian. How ridiculous is that?

I wonder why the ministry of tourism does not do anything to straight things up? Instead of hearing Indonesia as a terrorist-potential country (and keep reading the alert from USA, Australia, and the UK embassies to their citizen to NOT visit Indonesia unless it”s urgent), I really want to see the nice advert about Indonesia, just like what Malaysia does (Truly Asia) and India (Incredible India) does too. People only know about Bali and probably Borobudur Temple and the entire Javanese culture of kebaya, gamelan, wayang (shadow puppet), etc, but they’re like the tip of an iceberg. For example, only few know that people in Toraja don’t bury the dead, they display them (see first pic), but beforehand, they will have a huge funeral party that can last for a month and can cost to hundreds of thousands US dollars because the family of the dead must feed the entire village. Even fewer know that Manado is not only famous for Bunaken, their most-beautiful diving site in the world, but also for their traditional roasted bats dish.  Do people know that komodo and orangutan are from Indonesia? Do they know that there are indigenous people in Papua who wear koteka, the very long horn penis sheath? Do they know we have Kelimutu Lake, the only lake in the world which has 3 colours?

All of those above uniqueness are from Indonesia, and those are only the things which popped up in my mind just now. If Australia can sell Blue Mountain and Scotland can sell Loch Ness to the world, Indonesia has a lot of much more attractive sites to be shown, complete with its history and mystery.

Why can’t we do that? Why we keep letting people stealing our rich culture and either sell it or claim it’s theirs?

Just to add salt on my wound, I goggled Indonesia just now, and not like Scotland which has a proper tourism website (, I couldn’t find one for Indonesia. There’s one from Wikipedia, one from Lonely Planet, funnily enough one webpage from CIA, and lots of travel sites. The only government website (, surprisingly, is not working. Aaarrrggghhh!!

What did I find when I typed Malaysia? The first hit was: Welcome to Tourism Malaysia. I clicked it, and the very beautiful and carefully arranged website was in front of me, so fast I hardly blinked. They put very gorgeous professionally-taken pictures in their website. They give very easy but thoroughly explanation about their country. Although they bravely put sate (or satay) picture on their website and claim it’s Malaysian food, I couldn’t help but admiring their tourism department’s work.

So my question is: what does Indonesia ministry of tourism do??

Read the part two here.


  1. Jakarta Casual says:

    going back to rendang, many of what we now call malays came from minangkabau as well as sulawesi and java so it s not so daft after all. what is daft is politicians inciting the dissent between two countires that have a shared cultural and linguistic background

  2. johnorford says:

    i agree with u and jc — it’s a shared heritage, but indonesia repeatedly drops the ball when it comes to showing it off to the outside world — in stark contrast to malaysia and singapore…

  3. That’s too bad but totally agree with you John. We’re too embarrassed for no apparent reason (that’s part of the culture, showing off is considered impolite). Plus I have to say that our ministry of tourism does a ‘wonderful’ job of doing nothing forever. I know several friends who are working with the ministry of tourism and are so frustrated to find out how unprofessional everybody is.

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