For The Jakarta Post, 9 July 2011
About two months ago I met a group of 30 students from a university in Sulawesi who were visiting Singapore and Malaysia. They were tourists, but not ordinary tourists.
They visited conventional tourist areas, such as Orchard Road and Sentosa in Singapore, but their main agenda was to visit academic institutions in Singapore and Malaysia. Most of them had come with their own money.
When I asked them why they chose Singapore and Malaysia, they quickly replied it was cheaper to go to Singapore and Malaysia than to Yogyakarta and Jakarta on the Island of Java. It was cheaper to visit neighboring countries because Indonesians now no longer have to pay exit taxes, which used to cost them Rp 1 million (US$117).
Another reason is the availability of budget air travel, with direct flights from Makassar in South Sulawesi to Kuala Lumpur. The students travelled to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur by bus. They had money to finance their own travel and knew how to find cheap food and drink in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
This was not the first time I met such groups from Indonesia. Indonesians have been moving much more frequently and to more places, including foreign countries. They go overseas not only as tourists, but also for work, ranging from low-paid jobs to lucrative business.
At the same time, a rising number of foreigners comes to Indonesia, either simply for sight-seeing or even working. Similar to Indonesians who work abroad, the foreigners employed in Indonesia are not limited to highly paid jobs. It will not be unlikely to see Indonesia providing a rising number of foreigners with low-paid jobs when the free labor market is fully in place in the coming decade.
The mobility of the domestic population is also increasing very quickly. Just look at the domestic terminal at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. It is so crowded you might mistake it for a bus terminal.
Many of Indonesia’s cities are home to swarms of motorcycles. Everywhere we go, particularly in cities, motorcycles rule the roost. Riding motorcycles allows people to beat bad traffic, particularly Jakarta. Motorcycles are more affordable than other vehicles and dealers offer easy credit. Forty years ago, a 30-kilometer trip from Klaten, a small town in Central Java, to Surakarta may have seemed a long way to go. But, nowadays, many people in Klaten commute to the sultanate city.
Ida, a 68-year-old grandmother, has a very busy schedule, commuting daily to the West Java city of Cirebon, 35 kilometers from her home in Kuningan, for work.
These are just some illustrations of the rising mobility of the Indonesian population, both within the country and globally. The country’s success in reducing the average family size from about six children per woman in the late 1960s to about two at present has contributed much to this change.
Parents are now better off and can thus pay for their children to move more frequently and to go further. The parents are also not obligated to take care of so many children, which means the children they do have are more likely to find better acces to move around, either for business or leisure.
The rising mobility also means Indonesians now have more opportunities to meet people from different social, economic and religious backgrounds. On the negative side, however, is that a quick change in ethnic and religious composition of the population in an area may spark social conflicts and perhaps violence. Violence has erupted in several parts of Indonesia because of the increasing mobility of the population.
In a nutshell, increasing mobility is one of the most important demographic challenges in contemporary Indonesia. Managed wisely, this phenomenon, including the rising number of foreigners in Indonesia, can be a promising source of income to help Indonesia toward greater prosperity. Otherwise, crooked politicians may use it to create social and political instability for their own political interests.