Bali, Literature, and Cultural Diplomacy - Janet DeNeefe | Endgame S2E09
The world needs to understand Indonesia the way it deserves to be. - Yes. That's my thing too. I think I just see myself as an ambassador to unravel Indonesia and just show them how fantastic it is. them how fantastic it is I can't think of any, not that I travel that much, but I can't think of any other place that is so incredibly creative and you know, as I said with so many young people and this incredible energy, and I'm just constantly blown away by it. And I feel it's my job to let everybody know that. [Voiceover: This is Endgame] Hi friends, today we are having Janet DeNeefe, founder of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival which has been going on for 17 years Good morning, Janet. How are you? - Good morning. I'm well despite everything that's going on. - I know. Things have been very different in the year 2020. I want to start off with
how you grew up in Australia, and how you first interacted with Indonesia, and how you managed to just keep staying here. Please tell us the story before we talk about the more substantive stuff. - Okay. I grew up in suburban Melbourne, my dad was a businessman, and his father was an artist. So, we were always surrounded by art. My dad and his brothers ran the family business that was started by my grandfather who was quite eccentric.
So, I sort of grew up with this interesting life, where we were sort of, taught, and it became my mantra that you should only ever be your own boss actually. Anyway, so, when my dad and the brothers sold the family business in the 70s, my dad had a bit of money in his pocket, and decided to take us on a family holiday. And he didn't want to do the regular thing or the European holiday that everybody does. He was a bit of an adventurer, so he decided to bring us to Asia, and starting in Bali which in the 70s we heard about that. My sister and I were pretty enchanted with Bali because it was made famous in surf film "Morning of the Earth".
So, we saw this image of this tropical paradise and thought, "Wow cool!" So yeah, I think my mom thought we must be going to somewhere like Hawaii. So, I think she thought like fancy cocktails, and high heels, and summer dresses. But anyway, so, we landed in Ubud in just after Christmas 1974 into 1975. So, we were blown away by the experience. I mean for me it was life-changing. And so we came to Ubud, and then I went to Kuta, then Jogja, and Singapore.
It was like, "Wow this Asian world is intriguing." And yes, so he sort of started my adventure into to Bali. As I said it was life-changing, so when I came back and finished my schooling, my whole thing was how am I going to get back to Bali. I even looked into, you know, somehow doing my final year in Bali as well or whatever, but in the end, in my art folio in my final year I did batik painting, so my whole folio was a huge big batik. So, I didn't come back to ...
I suppose it was nine years later, because then I started teaching, I studied art and crafts. So, art was always a big part of my life as was literature. So, I didn't come back till 1984. And I met my husband the second day, so yeah a lot of people say "Oh my God, that's the best Bali bargain," they've ever heard of. You know, that was another life-changing moment. So after that I decided to spend more time here, but I was also apart from everything about Bali back then.
I was really enamored with the food because it was the most extraordinary food and flavors I had ever tasted, of course, coming from suburban Melbourne, as I always say frogs' legs and even gado-gado peanut sauce, was intriguing satay, was intriguing sambal, all these flavors were just like. "Wow explosions in my mouth 24-7." So, that's when I decided to to learn about the cooking and in Melbourne back then, there were Indonesian cookbooks, but nothing really looked like authentically Balinese, so that's when I thought, "Oh obviously that's something I have to do myself." So, that was the start of my culinary journey with Bali. - Now you have a few restaurants in Bali more so in Ubud than other parts of Bali. Do you have any presents in Australia your hometown, or anywhere in Australia? - No. I looked into it. I mean, I'm such a homebody that I like to, everything I
do, I like to do in a short radius around my home, from my home. And I sort of toyed with the idea of setting up a restaurant in Melbourne a couple of years ago, when I felt that it was time to really explode on the scene and present Indonesian food like nobody's ever tried before in a really cool way. And I was even trying to get sponsors to try and do some sort of art collaboration to have musicians, and artists, and Indonesian poets, and just sort of explode with Indonesia, but I tend to think big in case you haven't noticed. - Which is good. - Yeah. So, I was talking to Tony Wheeler from Lonely Planet, all sorts of people, trying to just cook up this idea. But, the real estate and the rent in Melbourne is prohibitive. And people said to me, "Oh it's really hard to get loyal staff." I said, "I didn't say
I was going to employ Australians, I was going to be talking to Indonesians, I was going to have Indonesian staff." And I was going to try and link up with the hospitality schools here or in Bandung, for example, and try and create an exchange thing. So it was going to be like a platform for educating Indonesians on the other side; in Australia and going back, and just this wonderful exchange. But I just got chewed up by real estate and rental costs. I don't know it became complicated, and I guess in hindsight maybe it's better now with COVID. But that was a dream I had, but I didn't get as far as I wanted to. -Well, our family, we're regulars to Casa Luna. - Yeah, I'm so amazed.
You next time tell me. - Sure. But let's talk about how you got started with these Ubud Writers Readers Festival. I mean, it's it's a pretty amazing platform that seems to be able to project Indonesia onto the international community in such a positive manner. - Yeah I suppose because I've always seen myself as the go-between. I'm sort of the narrator between two cultures, so I feel that's something I can help Indonesia with. But of course with the writer's festival in 2002, we had the Bali bombing which was a really devastating time for Bali, and of course we're going through something similar right now. And I guess I just felt, okay, Bali's been so good to me, now it's my turn to help, and I thought, and I can help, because as I said I'm the go-between; I have one foot in the west, one in the east. So, I decided, "Okay, we've got to find a way to
boost the economy," but it's got to be in a really meaningful way, and actually at that time I was finishing my own book "Fragrant Rice," my sort of cooking memoir, and so I was already connecting with literary circles with festival directors, and publishers, etc. And so with another friend, we were talking already before the bombings about having like poetry readings and kind of cultural events at Casa Luna. So, when the bombings happened, I started, "Okay, think, think what can we do?" We've got to bring people back to Bali, it's got to be something that has international names, it's got to be something that's meaningful right now, and that's when I thought, "Oh a writer's festival," because they're huge in Australia, but I thought what it's going to provide Indonesia with is a chance to discuss issues, meaningful issues, and also we're going to throw in a bunch of non-Indonesians, and start talking about things in a cross-cultural way, and so I thought it can only be a good thing. And I kept thinking the pen is mightier than the sword. And so we have to recover from this negative event, and so we're going to reflower Ubud and Bali through the positive power of literature and the arts actually. So, I thought it ... I think it's going to work on all levels. - Now we live in an age where more and more people are spending more and more time on their hand phones.
And a lot of the stuff that we read off our mobile phones, it's not so great, right? And I've been actually going around places to promote reading; reading books, and and probably not in such a big way as you would have tried to do in the last 17 years. Have you seen a progress or correlation rather between what you have done by with the festival with respect to more and more people actually reading good literary products? - Yeah, I believe there are more people reading just by the growth in the Indonesian audience. At the start, we were accused of being an Australian festival in Indonesia. And I thought, "Yeah, just give me time, okay?" I can make a difference, but it's going to be slow, you can't do things overnight. So, I've been so excited to see the growth in the Indonesian audience, the young audience. I mean
it's mind-blowing just to see the enthusiasm from the young people, and that's what makes me really excited. And also while the festival's going on, what people don't realize is there's a whole host of workshops, this is the normal on the ground festival, and there's a lot of Indonesians in the workshops who really want to learn the craft of writing, so that again has been hugely popular and exciting, and also just to see the development and the growth of young writers in general. Again, I'm really happy that we provide a platform for them. And also I don't know if people are aware of during or after the festival we do the satellite program, so we actually the festival takes off a small group of us to maybe six remote cities around Indonesia to connect with literary circles, because we understand not everybody can fly to Bali, but so then we have to go to them. That's fantastic. But the other thing I'm particularly fond of that I'm really trying to forge ahead with this next year to 2021 is the emerging writers program, so we already have we have that in place where every year we put out a call for young writers, unpublished, to send in their work, and then we curate the work, and then we actually publish it, and we translate it also. So, I want to take a step forward next year in working more closely with
the emerging writers and actually getting them mentored by other writers, so that they start working together, and then by the following year present a whole new piece and really try and focus on how we can create better opportunities for them and also upgrade their writing skills, because I'm constantly amazed. I mean, Indonesia has so many young people, right. I mean, Australia they're all old like me, but Indonesia they're all young, they're groovy, and they're energetic. So for me, this is where we really need to put a lot of attention into. - What are some of the areas that you you'd like to focus on in ushering a better generation of writers? - Well, yeah, I mean ....
- I mean, we can talk about topics or we can talk about some of the maybe early learning skills that would be necessary if not a precondition for somebody to become a great literary, innovator or writer. - I definitely want to focus on climate change next year as well, so that's sort of a side stream about looking at the environment, looking how they're impacted by that. But, I think when you're talking about writing, it's just about how to create better literature. You know, like in the in the West, everybody has the privilege of having an editor. I remember that too when I wrote my Fragrant Rice. So, they sort of pick it to pieces, and while we just write, they come in, and say, "Well, look, I think you should develop that character a little bit more, tell us not just what they ate, but how they felt when they ate it," all those sorts of things. So, I think young Indonesians should have that experience where someone says
"That's great, but why don't you just develop the story or develop the character? Or tell us how you really felt." You can see that with literature from the West especially all the amazing young writers, you can see that they really think about all these aspects to writing, and probably because they've studied literature or they've got a mentor, something like that. I want to see young Indonesians with the same privilege that writers in the West have. - How much longer do you think it will take for us to have that necessary
editorial capability so that whatever comes out of the gate is worth reading internationally? - Yeah, everything that's worthwhile takes time. It might take 10 years, I don't know. We're starting a conversation with I don't know if you know into sastra where we're going to start looking at, yeah, how we do really top level translation editing that goes with it, we already have a gorgeous team that help us every year. But, what are the next steps the editing process? I mean look at the end of the day, it all comes down to funding, and this of course is our biggest struggle. So, if you want the best, you have to pay for it, and you have to honor people for their skills. It's something that people need to invest in basically for the best results, because I know there's a lot of great writers out there, and they just need a bit of effort, that's all.
- Yeah. They need guidance, they need need opportunities. And your platform certainly provides both of them to some extent or to a great extent. - As far as we can. - Let's talk about climate change. I've been saying this over and over in many conversations, it's just not enough in the necessary conversations for particularly the younger generation.
What is your view in terms of what can be done to change that for the better? - Well, that's part of my program for this next year focusing on climate change, finding young writers who can write about that. But again, maybe mentoring them, getting them to work alongside others. But you see we were trying to, we were planning to try and get this grad for the British Council, but we didn't have time to finish the proposal. But so I thought "Why don't we just try and do this anyway?" And even find those young people that have been impacted by lack of water or some sort of environmental issue, and etc. And just get people writing about it,
I think that's the first stage; find the building getting them to write about it, and then maybe getting them mentored, or just starting the process, getting the wheels in motion, and then which takes time, but I think it's really important. And I know that after COVID, everybody will be focusing more than ever on climate change, and it's really important. - Yeah. Let's take away a little bit to COVID-19 before we go back
to the climate change topic. How has Bali weathered you know this unprecedented episode of COVID-19, and how do you think Bali will be able to come out of this thriving not just surviving. - Of course, it's an extremely difficult time for all of us. It's been about how do we keep our staff employed, for us personally, we kept we've kept Casa Luna open the whole time actually. After that first month or two when we all
sort of shut down. But since about May onwards, we've all, we've been open should I say. Yeah, difficult times. It's hard to tell right now. I guess everybody's just cruising along to their best ability, I mean, there's been some fantastic stories about young people going back to the land, we did a whole little series actually for the the writers festival online about how resilient young Balinese can be. And also I find it really interesting now when you walk through villages the side or in front of their house, they're all planting vegetables and things like that. So more than ever, people are growing vegetables again. Because again agriculture and all of that, that's part of who Bali is or what Bali is. So, I don't know, I think right now everybody's surviving as best they can.
I've also been supporting an initiative in Denpasar, just trying to see who doesn't have enough food, and how we can all help them. So everybody's all in help mode as well, and right now also there's a little bit more tourism, so I think suddenly people are feeling really optimistic and and Balinese are eternally optimistic. I think they know, "Okay, we just have to be patient and do the best we can." Everybody's there to help. And after that, hopefully they'll blossom into something better than ever before. But of course, we also all hope that, "Can we revisit tourism?" "Can we shape it or set it into a slightly different direction that's a bit more eco-friendly?" We're just sort of talking about what if we could change the plan a little bit.
- Right. You know, of course people in Bali, they're known to be optimistic and resilient, right. And I'm just hopeful that we all can get vaccinated sooner rather than later, and that I think will bring about normalcy in the context of just about everything. - Yeah, I agree absolutely. Whether we like it or not, it's the way forward. - Look, I mean there isn't a lot of travel bubbles involving Indonesia or Bali or any other parts of Indonesia but I do believe a lot of that is correlated with the degree to which we can vaccinate ourselves, right? Faster or better or more effectively. And
I think the first quarter of 2021 will be pretty telling of what's to come that would mean good for Indonesia and for Bali. I want to push this a little bit, we got in 2019 around 14 to 15 million international tourists, right? About 6 million of those actually visited Bali. And you're aware of this massive infrastructure development plan that's been undertaken by the government, right? So with the hopes of creating or promoting better connectivity would you be optimistic about a future where Bali actually gets visited by a lot more than six million international tourists? I have to ask this question, because before we segue back to the climate change topic.
- I think well as we all say, "It's all about infrastructure," and we all suffer in Ubud in peak season, I mean, just we don't even go out anymore because that thing where you'd go to Jakarta and say, "Oh yeah it's great but the traffic's horrendous," and then suddenly in Ubud in July-August, you suddenly think, "Damn, we're the same." So, I don't think volume is the key. I think it's the quality of the tourists, not the quantity. And I think we all feel that way, and I don't know if that's going to ever change, because we can't handle as it is, that many tourists though. you know, there needs to be a lot of thought given to that and people in the right positions or people with integrity that really genuinely care for Bali in terms of the people and what's happening on the ground, not just in terms of economic growth or whatever, there must be other ways to make it... - Let me throw some numbers at you, if
we were to grow the number of international tourist arrivals from 15 million to let's say 150 million on a yearly basis in the next I don't know maybe 10 to 15 years from today... - To Bali? - No, to Indonesia, right, from 15 million to 150 million that's a tenfold increase right in the next, I don't know, 10 to 15 years. A good chunk of that is gonna want to go to Bali it's a point of inevitability, right? Will it be manageable from the perspectives of many things; from the environment, from the cleanliness, from just a simple operability? - Ah, look I'm not an expert on those levels but I don't see how it can work, it's just like, it's not that big an island really, I mean, do we really want that? - I think it's relevant! We gotta talk about it, because you're thick in the hospitality space, right, and you're going to be exposed to this possibility by way of just the sheer amount of money that's being poured into infrastructure development, - Yeah because the thing is it's all very well to talk about the economic side of tourism but I think in a place... Well, Indonesia generally is so culturally rich. you know what happens when a culture starts to break down... I mean, I'm really concerned about
cultural heritage and all those wonderful things that make Indonesia so special. And in Bali, the arts and the music and the dance. Can all of that survive with this non-Indonesian influx that may have different priorities? So, I guess I tend to look at it on different levels but it would have to be really well managed or well thought out... But yeah, I mean, look, in Indonesia of course you can direct traffic to different parts of Indonesia, but as you say, I guess they'll all want to come back into Bali at some point... - It's inevitable. You know, people,
the brand equity is just so high that people would not want to escape or avoid Bali. But, but I'm with you in the sense that I think there's got to be a conscious effort of redistributing tourism to other parts of Indonesia. And I know you're a big fan of Banda Neira which is a place I've never visited but... - Oh my God, you have to go! I mean
look, this is purely selfish I would not even like to see a ton of tourists there either to be honest, you know, because I can see just some tiny changes since I first started going there, and I thought, "Damn! Somebody really needs to be running this place in a really effective way and sensitively." There's so many pockets around Indonesia that could be developed. I mean, I find it really annoying when they talk about 10 other Bali. it's like, "Can you just drop the Bali bit?" Because Bali is Bali, and nowhere in Indonesia will ever replicate Bali. It's not possible, but think of what is unique to each of those islands, and that becomes your selling point. And of course Banda Neira, the history, I mean it's gobsmacking, and the fact that it's still there. So, when you go there, you feel like you're
walking back into centuries ago. There's still like cannons on the side of the road, and just this colonial impact which while it's a negative thing in a way. One thing that the colonizers did was they built strong buildings so you've got all these massive sturdy buildings on this super quaint, picturesque little island. That's really sleepy actually, given their tragic history and just an amazing place. So yeah, there's many amazing places in Indonesia and they should just market them for what they have. - So I think there might be a way
to manage the arrivals of 150 million international tourists someday in the future. I mean if we take a look at you know... money matters, right? But the environment also matters. And if we take a look at the contribution of international tourism to Indonesia's GDP, it's still below two percent of the GDP, uh or of the economy, whereas you know other countries in Southeast Asia, you know, international tourism makes up between 15%-20% particularly Thailand, right. Thailand has just been successful relatively speaking in attracting what 40 million tourists internationally in 2019. - I don't know they just seem to be more strict on issues in Thailand. I don't know, maybe there's, yeah I don't know. But I think isn't now Thailand sort of re-looking at tourism since COVID and enjoying the the quietness of their beaches and things. I mean, aren't they now kind of
revisiting all of that and just thinking about how they want to move forward you know with tourism? - I don't know. - Because it's the pollution part, that's negative side. - But, you know, there are efforts that are being made to make you know the world environmentally more safe and sustainable, right. So, let's stay optimistic on that. So, coming back to this point of climate change and coming back to the point of literary production, what is it that you want the next Pramoedya Ananta Toer to write about? So that we can understand a little bit better about where the climate change, you know, is heading and how how we can actually preserve the planet a little bit better.
- I guess, you know, the strength of any writer is that they're masters of storytelling, So, I I guess for me I would love to see stories being told, and I actually think it's often more digestible than something that, you know, a scientist or something might present. So I suppose just that the stories that can be told about the climate changes that are happening, about real people. I think, I feel like Indonesians are really moved by real stories and real people you know i often think about the film Laskar Pelangi as such a huge success because it was about real people. I think a lot of people identified with that, so I guess the stories have to be meaningful, and the meaningful stories are, again, about what's happening in the villages, I mean everybody feels close to that. Even I think in Jakarta where you're living in the city people still resonate with stories from small communities or remote communities or just the village people, you know, but real stories, authentic stories, so I guess to me the power of storytelling can really move and shift the way people think. - You're a big fan of Eka Kurniawan.
And name some other Indonesian talents that you think will or deserve to be on the international stage and hopefully winning you know an international recognition, in literature like a Nobel or anything. - Ah well, I think we're still growing those. I mean, there's your older highly respected writers like Leila Chudori, Laksmi Pamuntjak, Dee Lestari. And there is also Norman Pasaribu, he's really interesting. And there's a few others coming up from Eastern Indonesia as well. I'm trying to think of names off the top of my head. Yeah, I've just been watching all these emerging young writers, but I can't think of all the other names at the moment, but there's a lot of exciting writers out there and a lot of interesting stuff being done, so that's the thing I just want to sort of focus on that next year, and start channeling and finding them, and just seeing how we can move forward with these stories and the climate change, things like that.
- Do they have what it takes to win internationally? - Yeah! I mean, absolutely. - Or maybe from from a popular standpoint, are they capable of producing a Harry Potter type of literary product that's read by, I don't know, more than a billion people? - Well that was what was so funny about Harry Potter, when the first book came out I think it was my husband said, "What's all the fuss about this book?" And I said, "Well it's, it's about this guy, or kid, and he's got a magic ring." And my husband looking at the rings on his finger said, "Yeah, so?" And I said, "Well, there's kind of like these; there's the good guys and the bad guys and the wizards, and they go flying around." And he said," Yeah, we have that too." So, he's like "What's all the fuss about?" I said, "Well, I guess because it's in a story that everybody can read." So, I tell you, you have all those stories in Indonesia. I think maybe sometimes people feel a bit shy to write about those kind of things, but of course that's what the Western world loves to hear! I mean, in Bali they're living, (and experiencing), you know, Harry Potter virtually. - I'm just
curious here. Does it matter if you actually can write in English or it's not a precondition to be internationally successful? - Well that I know, that's an argument... and I know there's the dilemma of you don't have to write in English, but I know there's a dilemma of translating, and some people say, "You just cannot translate into English." But I suppose for me, I mean would be devastated if I could never have read Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And the fact that
when they translated his work it changed the face of South American literature, Latino literature, et cetera. I would just feel be devastated if I could never have read that. And for me as an Australian when I go into bookshops in Australia, I just always feel really sad that, I mean, now I see Eka Kurniawan, but I just never see Indonesian authors, and I don't want them to miss out. I just feel like there's so many other countries have translated work, but Indonesia has very little, and I think I don't want you guys to be left behind. It doesn't feel right in a way. So, I always feel that's my job I have to help and see if we can't promote their work and get it translated, so it just means you have to have a good relationship with your translator, and really find the best words possible. It will never be as good as the original work, but you can still do a fantastic translation. And I know with some of the sponsors in the early days, they'd say to me in Indonesia,
"Well, maybe we don't need an international festival. I think it's okay we just have Indonesians with Indonesians." But I guess for me as a Westerner, an Australian, is like "No! You shouldn't be holding yourselves back! I want to see you on a global platform. You know,
you can talk to each other any time of the day, but I want to see a platform with you and people from all over the world, or the writer should I say, discussing issues," and for me that's just what makes things flourish and become even more exciting because when you get artists or musicians and writers from other parts of the world and you throw them into a room together, you just produce greater work, and just wonderful exchange, and all those opportunities. So I guess my thing is I don't want to see Indonesians left behind. I want to see them out there and having the same opportunities. Why not? Why should they have to stay, yeah, in the background?
- The world needs to understand Indonesia the way it deserves to be, right? - And that's my thing too. I think I just see myself as an ambassador to unravel Indonesia, and just show them how fantastic it is. I can't think of any, not that I travel that much, but I can't think of any other place that is so incredibly creative, and as I said with so many young people and this incredible energy, and I'm just constantly blown away by it, and I feel it's my job to let everybody know that. - Right. I mean if you write stuff in Spanish, you're likely to get an audience of a few hundred million people or potentially more than a billion people, right? On the planet, but if you write something in Bahasa, you're not going to get any more than probably 300 million in a number of countries in Southeast Asia. So there there is that seeming need to project this internationally. You can
effectively do it either by way of a proper translation capability or you just write it in an international language, call it English, or Mandarin, or whatever, that's read by a wide range of people. - Yeah so, well I suppose there are more Indonesians now writing in English, but I feel that in a way they should be able to write in Indonesian and just have someone translate it. - I'm okay with that, as long as you can translate it effectively, right? - Absolutely. Yeah, and that's where you know, like you work closely with the translator and they say, "So, what do you mean by that?" And you can arrive at something that's as close as possible. So, it's about the relationship with the translator. And you see that with translated authors they always praise their translator, and they tend to work with them throughout all their course of literature or through all their books, etc. So, they develop a really close understanding. - I see this as being related to
some of the stuff that I've been saying, you know, in separate instances where we've got a fantastic narrative, but we just need to have a fantastic narrator or a set of narrators, and I do believe that what you're doing by way of the festival on an annual basis is really an effort to produce the next best narrator, for Indonesia. Do you have a view on that or do you disagree with it? - No, not at all, that's exactly it. I want to see as many fantastic narrators as possible, and I know it's possible. And that's the, you know, in this year of COVID, it's helped me really think about "Okay, why are we doing this again? Let's get back to how we really want to focus on Indonesian authors and young people." So it's made it actually clearer for me to think of the next steps to move forward, because I think know this year, COVID to me means creativity and we have to harness that in many ways.
So, through literature of course is one thing I plan to move full steam ahead on. - I see COVID as relatively a blessing for people to work a little more efficiently and pollute less and get actually educated a little bit better, right? I'm definitely spending more time looking at stuff on YouTube to learn, pick up on anything and I really, you know, as as much if not more than I used to in the old days. - Yeah that's the thing, I mean, you can never stop learning. And I think that's the wonderful thing about life, you know, there's so much to learn and on many different levels, isn't there? So yeah, I'm trying to read more and just to, I guess too, I mean for us with the festival the other thing was we had to learn how to do the festival online. So, we were also thrown into this
'Zoom World', and learning new technology which has been fantastic too as much as we were all a bit hesitant at the start or bit nervous, it's been great to come out with these new skills that are all kind of 'home tour'. It's been an interesting year we cannot doubt that one. - Let's talk about the future of Indonesia. Where do you see Indonesia heading into in the next, I don't know, 10 to 25 years? - Yeah. Right. Well, I think it's it seems like it's growing. I mean, with the right governance of course, Indonesia is a force to be reckoned with. I mean, there's no doubt about the the talent of the people in Indonesia especially if you look at it and if you look at the other countries around us, Indonesians are highly creative, so I think it's just a matter of investing in education, investing in young people getting them upgrading their skills. And I guess just again looking at
the economic benefits to be made in terms of business and what it is that Indonesia has that that others in this region don't have. And I guess, you know, we're talking about tourism too; how to really move forward and in the best possible way. So I guess it comes back down to governance and just focusing on the things that can help Indonesia move forward, because you have everything here. It's incredible. - If I tell you by the year 2045, there would have been five Nobel Prizes in literature won by an Indonesian or by Indonesians, does that sound crazy? - Yeah maybe. Because, I mean, it's alright to be aspirational, right? - True true, okay. Look, I mean
they didn't even give Pramoedya the Nobel Prize. That's a tragedy. It's kind of outrageous. I just I can't ever believe that, you know I'm just not sure about the Nobel Prize anymore. - They still could posthumously, right? - Well that's true, they should, it's really outrageous. I'm not happy about that. - There's no rule against doing it posthumously. - That is true. - The last time I checked, I could be wrong.
- But I think your friend, the Indian guy on the other program, he was talking about the Nobel Prize too and the fact that they need to look at... - He's actually Singaporean. okay he's ethnically Indian. - Yeah, so just how to move forward with the Nobel Prize. I think we need to look at who's on the judging team. - Well, he looks at it from a different angle, he doesn't see the relevance of a Nobel Committee, right, which is not connecting with some parts of the world. But let's assume that gets corrected, right.
I mean, if I tell you that by the year 2045 Indonesia would have won five Nobel Prizes in literature and a chunk of that would have been on the back of the exposure, they would have gone through your festival, or some other international festivals. Is that a pretty credible story? - Yep! Okay let's work towards it! Yeah why not? Thank you! - No, I just want to plan something in your head, so that when you do your next event, this is sort of like the endgame that I want to go after. - Yeah true, true! No, you're right. And people have said that to me before, "When will an Indonesian win the Nobel Prize for literature?" I guess I've just been a bit uh disturbed by it because of Pramoedya, but if we're going to correct all those other things, then yeah of course, of course it's possible. Something to work forward to. - Okay how many quality writers are there that are visible to you in Indonesia? One hand, two hands, multiple hands to count with? - Well I suppose is, uh let me think, because the thing with Indonesian writers is there's probably more that are working with short story, and poetry, etc. So, in terms of novels, there's there's not as many like in Australia, for example, everybody writes novels. Whereas in Indonesia, there's the poets, and the short stories, etc.
I guess it's about... I can think at our top level, but I know that there's the next level that we can develop. But at this stage, a lot of the the others are more short stories. So, whether it "Does the Nobel Prize have to be a novel?" Or is it something we need to think about pushing people to write more novels? Or it's sort of that tradition of poetry that's really strong as well.
Yeah, I'm just trying to think. And the thing is because Indonesia is so big, there's writers all over the archipelago of course that we haven't even really connected with yet. That's that's why I feel like there's more out there that I don't yet know about, that I need to find. - I agree, I agree. Look, if I go to the bookstore, or if I go to Amazon, there's not a whole lot of history books on Indonesia, right? I mean, there's a lot, but there's not a lot. You know what I mean, right? Now the lot that I see are mostly written by non-Indonesians.
- That's true, it's true. And is that a problem? I think it is a problem. And I think it's important for Indonesians to be sensitive to their own way of looking at history, not other people's way of looking at history of their country, right? - Yeah. I mean, it might also be a question of economics. If you decide to write a book, that takes a big chunk of your time.
- That's true. - And maybe Indonesians, maybe they don't have the liberty to just think, "I'm going to write a book", and not have an income, that's whereas in the West you can do that, you can say the publisher, "I'm going to write this book, and can you give me an advance?" which might be fifteen thousand dollars which will hit people here, that's a huge amount of money. So, maybe it is a question of economics. I read the most amazing book the other day, but it's written by an American journalist about "The Last Whalers," the whaling community in Lamalera (eastern Indonesia). And I don't know if Indonesians have written about that, but I thought, well he would have got an advance from the publishing house that he could focus on this work, and that would pay the bills, etc. It's of course you're going
to get a lot of non-Indonesians writing about these things because they can survive when they choose to do these works. - Let me push on this. We have seen episodes where publishing houses have gone disrupted by the uprising technological behemoths. They're not only democratizing but they're disrupting the conventional wisdom of publishing literary products. Does that offer a hope
for the future writers so that they could get monetized or they could get monetary support from some of these technological or tech behemoths who can actually afford it a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit more than some of the pre-existing publishing houses? - Well, it probably is the way forward for a lot of people as you're saying publishing is changing by the minute anyway, so if they could get support. I love reading books but I tend to use my kindle a lot now. - You know, I can't do that. I'm amazed, I just can't get out of this paper. - Yeah, I know. I prefer a paper book, but if I really want to read something and I don't have it, I just think. "Okay, I just use my kindle." But, yeah I think there's probably more opportunities now to find a voice or to put your work out there, and of course social media is one enormous way also to promote what you're doing. -Absolutely. You can
monetize on any of the pipes you in social media. - Yeah, that's true, it's true. And I think I know like with Aussie authors or I'm not sure about other international authors, some of them are reluctant to promote their work, and if you don't, you just you get forgotten. So, the normal publishing houses now don't really promote writers as much as they would have in the past. So, it's an open field now; the more you promote yourself, the more you'll be seen and heard and sell more work. So, there's a lot of options around. - No. I think this will
catch on, and I hope your festival will expose the young writers particularly the not so young writers also to these new possibilities of monetizing as opposed to the traditional route that they would have been basically depending upon. And number two, going back to the history or topic of history, there need to be many more books on the greatness of Indonesia throughout the Sriwijaya empire, the Majapahit empire, and anything in between, or anything they're after, or anything proceeding. And anything proceeding I think could have included the Toba explosion that which took place about 75.000 years ago, not many people talk about this.
But I've been hypothesizing that whatever happened with lake Toba which was a huge volcanic eruption about 75.000 years ago, and this correlated with the cognitive revolution of humanity that took place about 70.000 years ago just by way the sheer pain because billions of tons of materials were spewed into the air for thousands of years and that caused a major climactic disruption. And I thought anybody that survived that I think would have been, or could have been, or should have been, must have been smarter than before. And that was the cognitive revolution that took place 70.000 years ago. So, how about if we get some
Indonesian writer to research into that and write about it and present it in a plausible manner? I think that would be awesome. - But, what we could do with that if we had funding, right? That sort of work should be mentored by Simon Winchester. So, I sort of think, look at people who are doing it well, and he's an absolute expert and loves Indonesia and he wrote "Krakatoa" and those sorts of books. So, I think to do something like that really well and to hope that it would enter an English market, you should look at those people who already doing it well like Simon and get them to mentor someone. Because I think it's a whole different skill set how to write that kind of non-fiction kind of work in a storytelling kind of way that makes everybody want to read it. I think there's a possibility,
but I would think they should be mentored by someone who's already doing that. - Right. I mean, maybe because we mention this on a show it's probably going to get written by an English, or an Aussie, or an American, or whatever. I'm okay with that, but I think it's important for that story to be told, narrated by an Indonesian. - I agree, but the other problem
can be; once they've got the published work and this is something we've noticed that sometimes if they get invited to our festival for example, and well for a start, not everybody's comfortable speaking English, that's fine, we bring in translators. But sometimes they also need guidance in how to speak publicly about their work, this was something we were trying to get some sort of workshop together as well, just to say okay. Because again as I said my whole thing is I don't want to see Indonesians left behind, sometimes I think they need to learn how to be a little bit more forceful because westerners can be really bossy. So once you've got the work, there's also some of them need a little bit more guidance on how to present the work. - I agree. Look, I mean, without mentioning names, I think some of the tech companies, they ought to be vested in supporting financially some of the literary talents of Indonesia so that, you know, the market is huge with 270 million people in this country and more than 300 million people in Southeast Asia to be able to read things that are cool, things that are interesting, that happened in the past in this place.
- Yeah. One thing we've started with the festival, actually my daughter's started this, Laksmi, she asked if she could start a book club with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival on Instagram-IG live because she also wanted to somehow create a community for young women to appreciate literature more. And I think once you start to appreciate literature more, then you read more, and then maybe you start writing. So we've started our own book club;
IG live Ubud Writers Festival at this moment for women but we'll open that up for everybody. Just talking about favorite books, interviewing someone each week, discussing these things, and that's our job to just just try and grow our community to create more interesting reading and then eventually a greater pool of writers, I think we do things step by step, so that's stage one at this point. - Wow, okay. Again about the future rand let's talk about cuisine. If we go to, I don't know, New York, London, Tokyo, Beijing. Well, in Beijing you'll find lots of Chinese restaurants, but equally, in New York and London, why is it that we don't find as many Indonesian restaurants or as ubiquitously as we see other types of cuisine? is it just about money or is it also about taste or is it just about lack of education or socialization of the cuisine to the international community? - I'm always blown away by Chinese because they're so fearless in business, they have the confidence. Maybe that's the key word; confidence to forge ahead with business where sometimes I think ... - The entrepreneurial spirit. - Yes, there we go. Yes, entrepreneurial spirit. So maybe with Indonesians and Balinese too
I think, sometimes they're too shy sometimes to do these things, but anyway aside from that, what is it we all ask ourselves what is it, in Melbourne for example, there are Indonesian restaurants, but most of them are sort of catering for the student. So they tend to be more casual kind of canteen like restaurants whereas with Chinese restaurants have the really top end fantastic ones. It's maybe it's a fun financial issue because even for me trying to invest overseas like in Melbourne was in the end too difficult. The entrepreneurial spirit, I think also for example with Chinese cooking, you don't need a lot of ingredients in a way, you've got your ginger and your scallions, etc. And all the rest
a lot of it can be bottled sources. But when you're talking about recreating Indonesian food you've got to have your turmeric, and your galangal, and your ginger, and then you have to have all the seeds, and the nuts, and then ... - Don't forget the tamarind. - And the tamarind yeah and the palm sugar. There's a lot of ingredients there. And they're expensive over there, lemongrass only is like, I don't know, in Australia it's like worth fifteen thousand rupiah just for one. So, think there's the additional costs of recreating the most authentic food you can, and you can use the spice mix, but it's not as effective. So, there's kind of dilemmas and we've talked about that a lot
we've had so many discussions lately about gastro diplomacy and how do you get Indonesian food out there. But, you have to support them with financial benefits or maybe come up with an even better product that is a packaged spice paste, I mean they did that in Thailand, didn't they? So I guess, following them .. - You know, the Thai food is as complicated as our food in terms of the spices that are required to make. But they seem to be more present, right?
- You're right, but they got support. They did have a whole program to push the food out there, so suddenly almost overnight in Australia every other corner there was Chinese food in one quarter and the other corners were Thai food. So yeah, there was that government assistance that helped them. I think they provided the paste, suddenly you could buy the paste, you could buy the sauces, so everything was accessible, and that's true because even then that's when suddenly you could suddenly buy lime leaves, so there seemed to be this effort from the Thai government and bringing in the ingredients needed at an affordable price that then helped them push their food right out there. And maybe, I don't know if they had programs that assisted these young entrepreneurs how to style the restaurant and how to really get it off its feet. You know, get it going.
and what's exciting in Melbourne right now is that now you've had the parents come out and start up the restaurants now, the next generation, the children, are moving forward. And we have one, fantastic one in Melbourne called 'Jinda Thai'. What I really love about it is it's the second generation of kids, they're all young Thai kids, they're all groovy, gorgeous restaurant, and the food is as authentic as they can produce it. So I think there has to be financial assistance but also a commitment to make it as authentic as they would eat it and not adjust it too much for the western palette. I'm not talking about chili heat, it just has to have those layers of flavors that we all know about and love they just have to represent that as authentically as possible. - See, it doesn't sound that bad
I mean it sounds like these issues are fixable, right, so that actually gives us hope. - Oh yeah, it can be done! Yeah, absolutely. Again, it just needs a dedicated team, it just needs government support, yeah, you can do it in stages as well, you just need to be really focused. - Right. You know we had a guest here a few weeks ago who was... who is a coffee guy and he ... - Oh, which one's that? - Kopi Kenangan, right, and he's basically expanded in such a big way, he's gonna exceed a thousand outlets. - Oh, I think I heard about that. - And he's thinking of expanding to three to four thousand in, I don't know, in the
near foreseeable future, but he's already thinking of the long game where he's thinking of getting 30.000 - 40.000 outlets across the globe. - I think I heard about him. - It's very rare that you hear the sort of ambition or aspiration from a young entrepreneur who is really, I think he's figured out the mojo in the sense that he can get each one of these outlets to break even in like a number of months, I'm guessing 8-9 months. And he can sustain this business in a good way. And if he does that successfully, my gosh you can imagine what sort of a brand ambassador this thing is going to be or he's going to be for Indonesia around the world. - Fantastic! - That is going to put Indonesia at the same kind of level that, you know, we think of India, we think of China, we think of Thailand, you know, from a cuisine standpoint.
- Yeah, I'm going to ask him to sponsor my food festival. - Well okay, he's probably going to be mad at me. But no, but I think he's a good guy for you to have a conversation with. - No. you're right.
He's a good guy for the government to have a conversation with because you need those creative minds that are actually going to help everybody move forward because that's what you need, like a fearless entrepreneur that says, "Okay, this is how we're going to do it." And he's got all the facts behind him, so yeah, they're kind of set up for you know expansive, kind of big, big efforts and they succeed. But what's interesting is that when I was young, we didn't know that Indonesia had coffee. Like, we even drank, like my mom if she was really mashing out, she would buy the dour egg birds, coffee, Moccona coffee, that was an absolute treat that was a special coffee for guests and it was from the Netherlands, it's like Dutch coffee, so it would have been Indonesian or you know from one of their colonies. So we had no idea that coffee was from Indonesia, let alone chocolate. So, sometimes I think Indonesia has to claim these things more. I mean, now in Melbourne, you know Melbourne likes to think of themselves as the world's coffee or café latte experts, I mean you see Indonesian coffee on the lists now but that's only quite recent. Yeah, we had no
idea, we just thought it was something that other countries had but we never knew Indonesia had that. And the other thing is I teach Balinese Indonesian cooking and I have a lot of fun with this nowadays because every time I serve soybean cake, I say to the students "Okay, so where do you think this comes from?" And most of the time people think it's maybe Japanese, or Chinese, sometimes they say California, or America. - And now these are kids from outside Indonesia or from Indonesia? - Yeah, yeah no, outside Indonesia, no these are Westerners right, so some of the Australians now know that it's Indonesian, but most of the time people don't really know, not even everybody has actually tried it, you know, so I think sometimes Indonesia needs to tell their stories as well. The fact that we have amazing coffee here, chocolate, tempeh, and, you know, all sorts of things, so they have to claim what they have too. - Look, spice used to be the narrative. And
the Dutch became the best narrator for Indonesian spice in a good way or in a bad way. Coffee I think is a narrative. And I think that any coffee entrepreneur that's gonna globalize will be the right kind of narrator for Indonesia. I mean, it's sort of like the same effort that you're trying to do in terms of getting literary talents to write and narrate about Indonesia or about anything that projects Indonesia onto the international scene. - Your coffee's sexy too isn't? - Yeah, and I think after coffee, it could be soybean cake. Soybean cake, it could be the next narrative, we just need to figure out who the narrator will be that's going to popularize soybean cake internationally. - Yeah, yeah, true, true, yep, yep.
Yeah, coffee is very masculine too isn't it? - So we've talked about tourism, we've talked about climate change, we've talked about of course the environment, we've talked about food, we've talked about the future in terms of how we can help shape Indonesia. Anything, any final words you want to say that would be good for Indonesia in the future? I just think it maybe needs a whole new team that are going to help drive it forward, the right team, young people like your Kopi Kenangan guy. As I said, I'm just always blown away by the amount of young people and the kind of energy and creativity that they have, so maybe there needs to be, yeah, a team to help direct all of that too. You know, it reminds me of the film with Tom Hanks. - Which one? - Oh, the one where he goes back in time and he becomes a kid. - Oh okay, "Big." - "Big!" Yeah, "Big." - That was in the 80s, Man. Yeah, that was a good movie. - Yeah, so he came in and ended up with the mind of a, you know, 10-year-old and he turned their business around because suddenly ... - I love the part where he was trying to eat that little corn,
what do you call that? Bamboo shoot or whatever. - Baby corn. Yeah, yeah true. So, I mean, if we want to move forward and create more opportunities for the young people and really, yeah, show people what Indonesia is all about, maybe we need a team of young people to head that movement because they have such creative energy. But yeah, there is so many stories to tell even just in terms of the history of the islands, I mean I just find that fascinating, so we just need good storytellers and young people who are committed and passionate about these different aspects of Indonesia and how to really present that and just kind of "wow the world". I think right now is the time to do it because I know every time I post something on Instagram, even just like a dog on the road, and I get all these comments people saying, "Oh my God, I miss Bali so much," and you're thinking you missed Bali even until you get upset or sad because you miss the animals. There's so many stories to be told, but yeah as you say you need the right narrator, the person that's going to represent that story or etc.
I think you're doing a great job in encouraging the young talents into becoming good narrators for the country. - Yeah, well we'll see, they're so cute, and they're so cool, and they're so sweet, you know, just you know they're so polite, you don't get that in Australia. I mean, I'm just always, yeah it's a joy because it's just that real compassion that everybody here has and just being respectful it's so lovely. Yeah it makes you feel good. - Well, it's been fascinating Janet. We've talked more than an hour - Oh my goodness - ... about a bunch of things and continue whatever the journey, and I hope to, I hope I get invited into your next festival. - Yeah you must! Yeah, please!
I would love you to come. - I'll bring my family out there. Yes, yes, okay, I'm going to keep annoying you about this. - We'll listen to some poems or whatever poem reading and whatever. - Yeah, and music too. Yeah, you like music, so I'm ticking over about how we can
do more collaboration with traditional music and other groovy people. - Very good. Okay Janet, thank you so much and I look forward to seeing you soon. - Yes, thank you so much. - You're welcome. That's Janet DeNeefe, the founder of Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Thank you. [Voiceover: This has been Endgame]