Sunday, January 27, 2008

The price of tempeh

I went to the big Kebayoran Lama market this morning with a couple of friends on a photographic expedition. We wandered up and down long rows of stalls, taking pictures of fruits, vegetables, flowers, cats and people.

This woman tried really hard to sell me a chicken. When I lied and said I couldn't cook, she said, "I'll cook it for you!"

Chad met us for lunch at a nearby noodle place. Just as we were finishing, the phone rang, and sure enough it was VOA saying Soeharto had died. Luckily the traffic wasn't too bad. We raced home and spent the afternoon filing stuff. We'd been talking to analysts over the last three weeks and saving up tape, so we were actually able to do some decent stories.

Up close and personal - tempeh wrapped in banana leaf

It seems like an ironic time for it to happen. For one thing, the UN anticorruption conference is getting underway in Bali, and institutionalized corruption is certainly part of Soeharto's legacy. On the other hand, the price of tempeh is also a big story at the moment. When he was in power, the government kept the price low. Now it's more vulnerable to market fluctuations.

Poor people survive on tempeh, so when it gets expensive, it's really tough on them. I don't think they say, "Oh, now we have a market economy, and these spikes are an unfortunate side effect." They say, "The government doesn't care if I starve. The president doesn't love me. Soeharto loved me." And in a way, they're right; democracy hasn't been much of a blessing for the people at the bottom. It's a real challenge for the country as it moves forward.

But Soeharto's fingerprints are all over Indonesia, and probably any week that he died would have been full of little coincidences like that. They're burying him tomorrow in Central Java, but it doesn't matter whether he's in the ground -- he's going to be around for a long time to come.

1 comment:

Elyani said...

You are very right about Soeharto analysis, Trish. When I bought a cooking magazine at the news stand inside the mall yesterday, the lady who attended the kiosk wiped her eyes upon watching the breaking news on TV. She said life was better under Soeharto leadership, tentram (peaceful), and stabil (stable). I handed her a tissue as she kept sobbing like a kid losing her parent.