I’m in Jakarta, Indonesia, south of the equator for the very first time. This is the land of the stinky durian, a nation of hundreds of ethnicities living together on 17,000 islands, and of course, the most populous Muslim country in the world. It’s also hot and humid as hell.
I’ve come here because Indonesia has been home to Chinese people since the 15th century. This country of 230 million represents two big challenges facing the U.S.: China’s economic rise and relations with the Muslim world. In Indonesia, where the dominant culture is Muslim, much of the economy is driven by Chinese Indonesian businesses. More than a decade after the riots of May 1998, do ethnic tensions still rage on between Chinese and Muslims here?
But the big questions will have to wait. I need to first take care of some housekeeping.
I spend the first day getting a phone number, buying bottled water and fruit, finding an internet cafe to check email, and looking for an ATM. It’s four in the afternoon by the time I figure out how to dial a phone (numbers here have anywhere from eight to 14 digits). My first bit of culture shock comes at the ATM, where I find myself withdrawing 1,000,000 Indonesian rupiah. Finally, I’m a millionaire! (That’s about $110.)