Notions and reality

Kyaw Ye Lynn shares his experiences as an exchange intern in Indonesia.

I had never been to Jakarta, so when I heard I was chosen for the SEAPA exchange program, it was a clear signal that I needed to prepare a lot for this.

Generally, we can say Indonesia and Myanmar have many similarities such as diverse ethnicities and religions, and the political transformation to democracy.

IMAG0196sTo prepare, I had to learn much about Indonesia, and did some interviews as I anticipated that my mentor will ask me to write about Myanmar. I also browsed and learned about the SEAPA fellowship and the work they had done

Also I tried to learn about how to behave  including how to greet people in Indonesia and what I should avoid while staying there.

After working for two weeks at the Jakarta Post as intern of exchange program funded by Southeast Asia Press Alliance( SEAPA), I have to admit that I made unfortunate mistake of thoughts to travel Indonesia.

As we all know a wave of communal conflicts in Myanmar, especially in western Rakhine state, had made a Muslim extremist group angry and threaten bomb the Myanmar embassy in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta in 2013.

So it was no surprise that over the following weeks I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation every time I thought about my upcoming trip to Indonesia.

But since my arrival in Indonesia’s capital and throughout the two weeks I spent working at the Jakarta Post, I was pleased to find that Indonesia had its own beauty, oppositely from what I previously thought.

Through my experience I learned not only valuable journalism skills, but also about the diverse cultures of Indonesia. I found that Indonesians are very similar to Myanmar people.

Like my country Myanmar, Indonesia is complex, with its fair share of poverty, corruption, and religious and cultural tensions.

World desk

Arriving at the Jakarta Post, I was placed on the world desk. My mentor, who was initially in Malaysia, told me to write two features comparing Myanmar with Indonesia. I joined their daily news room meetings from day one and learned how the newsroom operates on a daily basis.

Finishing my article about controversial press freedoms in Myanmar, I submitted it to editor during the first week of internship and await their comments on it.

The Jakarta Post’s world desk editor read my article and decide to publish it on Wednesday of second week.

They also decide to publish my second article about Myanmar’s transition to democracy, with a focus on comparing peace processes.

Editors have been very helpful in advising me in finding the right contact persons to meet and also the places to visit while in Jakarta.

Having the chance to practice journalism in Indonesia was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

The streets of Jakarta

To really get to know a city, I believe you have to hit the streets. Beneath the shadows of the city skyline, the roads beat out the rhythm of daily life.

In a busy Jakarta street, you may see a flood of ojek (motorcycle), their elderly drivers trailing along the curb, smiling toothy grins and waving at you to climb up behind them.

Street food is, also, one of the best ways to really understand a city. Jakarta has a rich and diverse street food culture. You can see mobile carts that sell small dishes, usually fried—a familiar sight outside schools, offices, and around the neighborhood.

Like in Myanmar, you can also buy illegal copies of movies on roadsides. Mostly, authorities mostly look the other way, but sometimes, unsurprisingly, vendors are arrested by police—just like in Myanmar.

People are open about talking to the media about the challenges, which makes sourcing serious stories much easier by comparison.

Regional community

One of the memorable moments of the trip was simply watching a football match aired live on TV. I had the chance of enjoying the match at a roadside shop with owner’s family. Despite the language barrier, this Indonesian family and I enjoyed the match where the Indonesian U-19 team was beaten by visiting Myanmar. At that moment all barriers between us seem to fall. We had no difference in culture, religion and citizenship.

One day however, near the Silipi Petamburan bus stop, as I was looking at a roadside stand selling movies, a middle-aged man tried to assault me, shouting, “You are not a Muslim from Myanmar, right?” He seemed to be angry over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

Fortunately, nothing serious happened further. Later, people nearby sympathized with me saying the man was a “fool” while they shook their heads.

I was shocked to experience this. But it was also a valuable experience to me, especially as a journalist.

However, I have no reason to change my mind. Indonesians are very nice and a happy people like us Burmese.

Yes. We are one community in Southeast Asia.