A Journey In (and Out of) International Journalism - Part IV Getting to Indonesia


This is based on a talk I was asked to give recently, turned into a chapter series here.

Chapter 1 -- Wanting to Become an International Journalist

Chapter 2 -- Studies, Soccer and Internships

Chapter 3 -- Getting a First Job (with RFI in Paris)

Chapter 4 -- Getting to Indonesia

Chapter 5 -- Surviving a Revolution



In my Paris apartment, right before I left for Indonesia, and found some freedom in the tropics.


Way back in 1995, I was fortunate to get a French cooperation posting (aka military service in a cushy civilian job) as a music / radio promoter at the French embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. So I left my job at Radio France Internationale in Paris, and no longer had to fictitiously enroll in a French university to avoid actual military service in barracks. At the time, military service was still compulsory in France. So I took advantage of that situation by getting myself back to the tropics.

As part of my job, I worked under the then audiovisual attache, Michel Houdayer, to promote French music and create French culture and French-Indonesian language radio programs. This had me DJing classical radio, a techno show, as well as produce a kids language show. I also organized the first Fete de la Musique in Indonesia and invited Charles Schillings to headline a multigenre concert and French themed party at the ill-famed Tanamur nightclub. My choice of venue got me a few disbelieving looks at embassy meetings, but also a big crowd for the event. It was a satisfying taste of defying the powers that be, that I would never relent from.



While bidding my time with tedious tasks, such as being asked to organize the embassy's film collection, I also started freelancing, writing articles for local English-language media, from supermarket publications to industrial trade magazines, and several newspapers. Indonesia was in the last bubble throes of a Suharto-run family dictatorship and crony controlled economy, with lots of money being thrown around to increase prestige and openness to the outside world. This made for regular work for me, including English language radio voice-overs, and an Elvis imitation, paid in cash. I also slipped away from the office to play on several semi-pro soccer teams and one in-line hockey team, the Batavia Demons, which took away from my journalism pursuits, but also enriched my life in immeasurable ways.

To raise my journalism game, I read The World on a String: How to Become a Foreign Freelance Correspondent more than a few times. Not wanting to raise my game too much, though, and become a stiff suit or some sort of ambitious, pompous, war-story telling, award-winning fabricator feeding the corporate news ethos, I decided I wouldn't set the bar too high, thus, the "Third Rate in the Tropics" pursuit, third rate being me, not the tropics. The idea for this moniker came from reading The Shipping News. In this E. Annie Proulx book the protagonist considers himself a "fourth-rate journalist", which I thought was maybe a little low to set as a bar, although looking back that would have been fine as well. Up next, discovering the joys of the overnight shift, becoming a fixer and surviving political and economic upheaval.

If you enjoyed this posting, other chapters of this series on my journey in and out of international reporting are the following:

Chapter 1 -- Wanting to Become an International Journalist

Chapter 2 -- Studies, Soccer and Internships

Chapter 3 -- Getting a First Job (with RFI in Paris)

Chapter 4 -- Getting to Indonesia

Chapter 5 -- Surviving a Revolution

Chapter 6 -- Fixers and Fixing

Chapter 7 -- Getting the Dream Job

Chapter 8 -- African Stories

Popular Posts