Marketing the Motherland

Relax, ultra-nationalistic uber-patriots. I’m not here to sell our beloved Motherland piece by piece as you guys have been gung-ho in accusing many well-meaning Indonesians lately.

For those of you Indonesians who have spent enough time globetrotting or mixing with foreigners, how many of you have let out a long sigh after being asked if there were skyscrapers, Lexus, McDonald’s, or clean water in Jakarta? Or if one were to get malaria or other shots prior to visiting Indonesia. Or, which part of Bali this so-called Indonesia is.

I’ve personally lost count on how many times I’ve surprised, shocked and silenced foreigners when I mentioned that with 17,000 islands Indonesia is really the world’s largest archipelago and fourth most populous country, and while is home to world’s largest Muslim population has  a secular, not sharia-based legal system. And that while we’re second to Brazil in flora and fauna riches, our rivers don’t boast anacondas.

These incredulous questions didn’t come just from some ignorant Joes or Janes—Architecture Digest issued a special resort edition which listed a couple of countries plus Bali (not Indonesia). Liz Gilbert correctly put Italy, India and Indonesia on the cover of her Eat, Pray, Love bestseller, but did anyone notice what Hollywood decide to put on the book’s movie poster? Yeah. Then, as recent as a couple of weeks ago, fresh from attending the weeklong Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, I found out on Twitter that a well-known New-York based travel blogger still listed Bali on her country roster. I’m pleased to report that within minutes I left an enlightening comment on her site.

But there’s only so much you can achieve by complaining and sending criticism left and right. I believe more in proactive efforts. I must say that, having grown in a close-knit society that values conformity, sometimes made worse by limited language proficiency, most Indonesians tend to be shy and silent when abroad or around foreigners. They prefer to hang out with fellow Indonesians and when in mixed companies seldom start conversations and, even rarer, raise a voice to correct misunderstandings or misconceptions discussed by foreign counterparts. Heck, there are even few (usually verbose) Indonesians on Twitter who’d challenge incorrect information tweeted by foreign journalists they faithfully follow. If there’s anything I can say to my fellow Indonesians, start getting to know your own country, beyond Bandung and Bali, and start speaking up about it.

Without meaning to blow my own trumpet here, I’ve walked my talk. My chatterbox self has told every willing foreign ear in vicinity any detail about Indonesia I thought they might find interesting. Thanks to the years of dance classes, I’ve donned traditional costumes and graced some stages while attending schools overseas. It’s probably a natural course of event that after leaving corporate world I ended up earning a living as a consultant for expatriates doing business in Indonesia.

But what has significantly elevated my hopes lately is the seemingly more concerted and thoughtful efforts done by the government lately. Professionals, technocrats in nature, have been brought in to helm departments directly promoting the country and holding accesses to deal with interested foreign parties. Globalization is no longer a debatable subject, however deliciously controversial. It has arrived in full force, and I prefer to tame the beast than deluding myself into thinking I can chase it away. On this subject, until you’re strong enough to turn it into your own game, make sure you beat the opponent at their own game. And you can never have a chance to turn the game into yours when you don’t even want to step onto the ring.

Sprints are desperately needed from the bureaucrats, and those technocrats at the helm are really the new spring in their legs. A unique initiative caught my eye recently, as Tourism & Creative Economies Ministry, in cooperation with young local bloggers, hosted a handful of international travel bloggers on an extensive trip to interesting, relatively unknown corners of the country, where Bali was only a one-night stop on their packed itinerary. And although glitches occurred, like a couple of bloggers  kept tweeting about ‘Borneo’ instead of ‘Kalimantan’ (means ‘river full of gemstones’, really), their postings about newly-discovered corners of Indonesia will feed into the knowledge of their thousands of readers and followers, before spiraling virally.

But the fight to market our most beloved motherland remains a marathon to us all Indonesians. And it doesn’t have to be such a major production as you might assume. You know how I usually start? I’ll say, “My name is Lynda Ibrahim. My parents hailed from Aceh and Central Java, yet I was born and raised mostly in Jakarta and a little bit in North Sulawesi. I grew up dancing Balinese for years. Now, which one of those parts of Indonesia you want me to tell you more about?” Almost without fail, the foreigner or expatriate in front of me would pick a place. Then I’d start talking, and before long, regaling them the tales of our Indonesia.

You can, too.

As published: UrbanChat, The Jakarta Post, 2nd Nov of 2012, pg. 22.

This entry was posted in Communications, Econ & Biz, Marketing & Branding, Travel & Tourism, UrbanChat. Bookmark the permalink.

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