Jakarta: Intern gets whirlwind
induction into political reporting

Auckland journalist Jessie Chiang, an AUT University graduate, spent six weeks in Jakarta through the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesia Studies (ACICIS), sponsored by the Asia New Zealand Foundation. She shares the excitement of being in the thick of action in the Indonesian capital.

The engine is running as I get on the back of the motorcycle and grip the shoulder of the driver in front of me … a complete stranger.

He yells something to me in Bahasa Indonesia as we speed along the highway.

“Sorry?” I say, not understanding a word.

Jessie walking down street with fellow intern

Jessie Chiang and a fellow ACICIS intern in Jakarta

It was my first time using GoJek (Uber on motorcycles). Looking back, I probably should not have travelled alone, nine kilometres to a destination I’d never been to, in a country where I did not speak the language.

But in many ways, much of my experiences in Indonesia had the same kind of crazy, adventurous feel.

I was fortunate enough to work alongside Indonesian reporter Karuni Rompies and award-winning journalist Jewel Topsfield in the Fairfax Media foreign correspondent’s office.

I learnt a lot from them, in terms of improving my writing, and also reporting on international news and making it relevant to an Australian audience.

Although it wasn’t always easy and I took a while to understand the political, cultural and ethnic climate of the country, it was this dive into the unknown I loved the most.

Being able to experience Indonesia in this way is something I will never forget. It has really built up my confidence in handling unfamiliar situations.

The highlights of my time there all had similar themes, such as getting told 10 minutes beforehand something was happening. It 

was exhilarating to leave the office at the drop of a hat (for instance, to a refugee protest outside the United Nations office) with nothing but the journalist’s essentials – my recorder, pen, notebook, wallet and phone.

But the culmination of my entire experience in Indonesia was surely the elections.

Almost as soon as we arrived, we were briefed on the Jakarta gubernatorial elections, a day which had high-risk factors due to rising political tensions. It has been described as the “litmus test” for tolerance in Indonesia and an important milestone in determining future diversity or lack thereof.

It was fascinating to learn about the different nuances and even just the voting process, from having your pinky dipped in purple liquid to prevent people from voting twice, to discounts at restaurants if you can procure said purple pinky.

I even got to see a real-life luwak (the animal which produces the most expensive coffee in the world) at one of the polling booths around my house.

As an aspiring journalist, I couldn’t have picked a better time to go to Jakarta, and I can’t wait to see everything that unfolds in the political sphere there in the days to come.

Before the programme, I knew next to nothing about the country. This opportunity has been a crash-course into a whole new world and although it was challenging at times, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.