Friday, November 14, 2014

The creative and industrious Indonesian...

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.ReflectionThe Declining Day (Al-'Asr)1. By the declining day,2. Lo! Man is in a state of loss,3. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.

DURING a trip to Jakarta and Bandung recently, I noticed 'this magic word' on a 'pariwisata' (tourist) bus - 'Manusia wajib ihtiar (in Malay it is spelled 'ikhtiar' which means men must make an effort or endeavour). Yes, everybody must work hard and look for ways out of their problems and shortcomings; what more to those who have set targets and aims in their lives.

That 'magic word' reminded me that in Islam, it is stated that all must be worked for; there is no such thing as a 'short cut' to success in the world, what more in the Hereafter. Remember that knowledge is the gateway to success whether in this world or the Hereafter. It was asked "Oh Messenger of Allah: Who is the most excellent of men? The Messenger of Allah said, 'The believer who strives hard in the way of Allah with his person and property."

Whoso is able and fit and does not work for himself or for others, God is not gracious to him. To his companions, the Prophet s.a.w. said “it is better for any of you to take your rope and bring a bundle of wood upon your back and sell it, in which case God guards your honour, then to beg of people, whether they give or not; if they do not give, your reputation suffers, and you return disappointed; and if they give, it is worse than that; for it makes you be under obligation.”

The Qur'an says: "Scatter over the earth and seek Allah's bounty. Aren't we Allah's vicegerents on earth? (62;10)

Well, back to our Jakarta and Bandung story, Indonesia is a very vast country in the Malay archipelago with more than 18,000 islands; its population is estimated at 250 million. Out of the 18,000 islands, only about 8,000 have been named, with about 900 of those permanently inhabited.

Java where Jakarta and Bandung are situated is the most densely populated; around 58 percent of Indonesia’s population live on this island , making it the most populous island in the world.
Two main groups of people on this island are Javanese and the Sundanese; and it is very interesting to note how creative and industrious these ethnic groups of people are in coping with the ever challenging life.

According to some newly found friends I met during the journey, 100 percent of the Sundanese are Muslims and a very high percentage of the Javanese are Muslims. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, estimated at about 86 percent of the population.
The two cities which I visited (Jakarta and Bandung) are among the most populous with the former having a population estimated at about 10 million while the later about 2 million.

Based on this background, as an outsider I 'could sense' the people of Jakarta and Bandung have to make use everything that is available and within their reach to sustain their lives. Thus they are very creative and industrious in making end products from 'raw materials' around them.

The first thing that came across my mind to talk about their creativity was about food - they simply could produce 'nice dishes or culinary greats’ from easily available materials such as rice, flour and vegetables. At one 'warung' (stall), its owner, Pak Rom asked me to try 'kupat tahu' (pressed rice, bean sprouts, and tofu with soy). And there was the simple 'nasi timbel' (rice wrapped in banana leaf).

And of course 'tempe' is very popular in this part of the world. Tempe is regarded as a Javanese invention, a local adaptation of soy-based food fermentation and production. At restaurants and shops, they displayed baskets with 'krupuk' (keropok) and once my wife lost interest in buying this 'krupuk' and another type of snack after she was told they were made from the skin of buffaloes and 'belut' or 'linang' (eel).

There too were many stalls selling satay; other than the normal 'sate ayam' (chicken), 'sate kambing' (mutton); some stalls could surprise you as they displayed signboards written with the word, 'sate kerinci' (rabbit) and 'sate biawak' (monitor lizard)! Ooh, that 'surely' put me off in trying any of the satay!

Travelling from the city of Bandung to Gunung Tangkuban Prahu, one could witness how industrious the Indonesians were in making the most out of the available raw materials. Bamboo and rattans were used to make buildings such as stalls and once in a while one would come across furniture shops which made fine rattan chairs and other finished products.

At the entrance of the road to the mountain, some 'industrious' Indonesians were waiting patiently to sell off their 'goods' to you. One fella with a few boxes of masks would come up to you and say: "'Bapak' (Sir), you better buy this mask. The air around the crater of Tangkuban Prahu is high with sulfur. This mask is very cheap here, up there the price is double or triple..."

Reluctantly you buy one, and some for your loved ones; but...'surprise, surprise' there's only a very thin smell of sulfur and after you get used to the surroundings, you do not need any mask - I noticed almost 100 percent of the people there did not put on their masks!

Lastly, I would like to mention about 'kopi luwak' (civet coffee) which is claimed to be the most expensive coffee in the world. I went to the Sawarga Production Site & Cafe Kopi Luwak in Tangkuban Prahu, at first not to taste its coffee but to learn about the process in producing it.

'Kopi luwak' refers to the seeds of coffee berries once they have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (paradoxurushermaphroditus). The history of 'kopi luwak' speaks volumes about the creativity and industrious people of Indonesia. It is said that in colonial times, the Dutchmen did not allow local farmers to consume the coffee harvested in 'their' plantations so, they collected the beans found on the floor (the civet pooh) and finally realized that the coffee made with them tasted better than the normal one.

The owner of Sawarga Kopi Luwak, Sujud Pribadi himself explained about the 'clean process' of producing the coffee. The process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee berries containing better beans.

Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans' fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet's Protease enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet's intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.

The traditional method of collecting feces from wild civets has given way to intensive farming methods in which civets in battery cage systems are force fed the coffee beans. This method of production has raised ethical concerns about the treatment of civets due to 'horrific conditions' including isolation, poor diet, small cages and a high mortality rate.

Sujud claimed that his coffee was from 'wild luwak' and he displayed this slogan at his premise: "No more exploitation! No more given coffee fruits in cage but let them free in the jungle." He also claimed that 'Majelis Agama Islam Indonesia' (The Indonesian Religious Council) had given the status of 'halal' to 'kopi luwak'.

Before coming to the 'kopi luwak' site, I had known about the 'Majelis' approval, therefore I tried a cup of the coffee. It cost me 30,000 rupiah (about RM10). The coffee was thick and tasted bitter; perhaps it was the first and last time I would have 'kopi luwak'.

But from the many notes scribbled on the walls of Sujud’s premises; others had different views about 'kopi luwak' which has been called the most expensive coffee in the world with retail prices reaching US$700 per kilogram. Among others, the notes read:

"Wonderful discovery! Never thought we'll find such a charming place in Bandung with the best guide showing us the whole process in the making of 'kopi luwak' in respecting the animal's welfare. Love the aroma, love the coffee and love the hospitality." - George, Singapore

"Thanks for explaining the process of 'kopi luwak'. One more thing off my bucket list! Great taste of unique experience." - Gill, Scotland

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