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SOVEREIGN MAN

The next big trend…

Hindu temple in Bali

August 13, 2012
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

A sprawling archipelago of more than 14,000 islands, Indonesia is home to some of the most beautiful, exotic, and alluring places in the world.

Yet it’s so huge… so diverse, with different languages, cultures, and religions, to even call Indonesia a single country demonstrates how antiquated the traditional concept of geography has become.

Indonesians typically identify themselves first with their home province or island; here in Bali, they would consider themselves Balinese above all else. “Indonesian” is an idea made up by politicians. Even the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, is artificially contrived.

To give you an example, whenever I make the two-hour flight from Jakarta to Bali, I feel as though I’ve gone to a different country altogether.

The time zone is different. The principal language is different. The culture is different. The religion is different. The weather is different. The diet is different. The level of development is different. The economy is different. The whole vibe of the place is different.

Bali is predominately Hindu (rather than Muslim). People here speak Balinese first.  In Jakarta, Javanese is the mother language. Muslims, which dominate the population on Java and Sumatra, don’t eat pork. In Bali, Babi Guling (suckling pig) is the local specialty.

The economy here in Bali is built around agriculture, tourism, and cottage industries such as jewelry and handicraft manufacturing. In other parts of Indonesia, the economic mainstays can be everything from natural resource extraction to services such as banking and finance.

It seems strange to try and unite so many hundreds of millions of people under a single flag for the sake of political expedience and power. But when you think about it, most countries (and supranational unions) are like this.

India comes to mind, jammed together with so many different cultures, languages, and ethnic groups devoid of a national identity. There are dozens of countries across Africa that were carved up like a birthday cake into neat little squares by European politicians.

The EU itself is a great example; a continent that was consistently at war with itself for more than a millennium cannot be expected to suddenly form a lasting political and economic union. Talk about different languages, different cultures, and lack of identity…

In the modern age, the concept of clearly defined national and supranational borders is a symbol of a bygone model made obsolete by technological and philosophical change. It’s amazing we still pay so much attention to them.

The Internet has made it possible to build relationships with people across the world who share your interests and beliefs, not the color of your passport.

Modern transport and telecommunication options make it possible for someone to live in one place and earn money in another… or in the case of large companies, to headquarter somewhere and earn money everywhere.

This trend is increasingly prevalent here in Bali as an increasing number of foreigners are making a permanent home here.  To these new residents, national boundaries are becoming less relevant.

One group is called the ‘fly in fly out’ mine workers. Perth, Western Australia is in the midst of a mining boom, and it’s just three hours’ flight from Bali.  Rather than pay the stupidly high costs of living in Australia, a growing band of miners are basing themselves in Bali. They fly down to Perth to work for 14 days straight in the mines (staying out on site), and then fly back to Bali for their 14 days off to relax with family and friends.

Given that it takes the typical Balinese one month to earn what a worker in Australia can make in a day, the cost of living in Bali is understandably MUCH lower… and in my opinion, is much higher quality.

This is an example of the sort of trend that both Simon and I expect we will see a great deal more of in the future– decreased relevance of geography and borders, increased dispersion of people across the globe based on where they WANT to be, not based on where they think
they HAVE to be.

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About the author: Born to a Danish father and British mother, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Tim Staermose has led an international life since the day he was born. Growing up, he also lived in Egypt, Denmark, and Singapore, before eventually settling in Australia, where he completed his education and took out citizenship. Since then he has also lived and worked in Hong Kong, and Manila, Philippines, in the field of equity research — both for a bulge-bracket Wall Street investment bank, and for an independent investment research firm. Today, when not traveling the globe looking for investment and business opportunities for the Sovereign Man community and catching up with his diverse, multinational group of friends, he divides his time between Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pserp

    Can’t disagree with much of this article except you’re very uninformed about Indonesian language.
    Indonesian as a language was a brilliant idea for the fledgling nation as it is based on the already well established defacto trading language of the SE Asia archipelago (Malay – which has left its heritage even throughout the pacific.. check out some of the words in Tonga).Most importantly it was not the language of the ruling political class (Javanese) meaning even they had to learn the new national language and thus it had a much easier acceptance than say the Tagalog based Filipino national language (just go to Visayas to see how many still do not speak the national language).  And yes of course, people will still speak their dialects but in fact many young Javanese will now prefer to speak Indonesian when meeting people for the first time as it is much more egalitarian and removes a lot of cultural complications that speaking high/low Javanese entails. 

    • Staermo

      Oh, I know very well about the origins of the language. But, I think you missed the point of my article. In fact, your comments back my point up even more emphatically, by calling Bahasa Indonesia something “brilliant for the fledgling nation,” i.e. contrived by politicians. I’m all for a lingua franca. In many parts of the world ENGLISH serves that purpose. But, the English language is not being used by some political masters to “UNITE” everyone for THEIR purposes, or to loosen the grip of old vested interests and elites.

      • roger

        Pserp got schooled!

      • Pserp

        Tim,
        Thank you for your article.As I originally said, I wasn’t disagreeing against your overall point especially in the context of the SovereignMan philosophy for individuals.It’s certainly a thought provoking piece which means that its served its purpose well.However I just read your comments and subsequently more closely re-read your article again…

        My point was, and still is, that I believe that in the context of an Indonesian state (ie. we’re not debating the establishment of the state) that the choice of language was brilliant and certainly not artificial.The Malay language was already in many ways the lingua franca of the region for trade but had not yet made the jump to be spoken by the masses.oh and by the way, I did find one factual mistake… the mother language of Jakarta is NOT Javanese, it is Betawi which is a Malay dialect.In fact, the mother language of the regions surrounding Jakarta is Sundanese which has linguistic links to both Madurese (another language on Java) and Malay. The rest of Java island you can reasonably claim is Javanese.Now as alluded to by Ben Hargy, I think you also underestimate that the cultural links are a lot stronger than you suggest despite the differences in local languages and religions.There are actually many common cultural underpinnings from Burma/Laos/Thailand/Cambodia all the way through Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor and on to the Philippines (where admittedly Spanish and US colonialism has had a huge and lasting impact but has not destroyed all of those cultural linkages).You wrote: “This is an example of the sort of trend that both Simon and I expect we will see a great deal more of in the future– decreased relevance of geography and borders, increased dispersion of people across the globe based on where they WANT to be, not based on where they think they HAVE to be.”So are you arguing here that there will be (or should be) a trend towards the dissolution of all borders with a one world government? or the break up of superstates into constituent mini states?The irony is that this current ability to work and live anywhere through “choice” is both enabled and sustained by governments who ultimately choose who to allow to stay in their countries. These same governments also work hard to hinder those they consider undesirables. It seems that a free flow of the highly educated/skilled and the already monied is fine but open slather for the plebs would not be sustainable (cf. those economic migrants masquerading as political/religious refugees arriving by the boatloads into Australia!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/bhargy Ben Hargy

    I think the fact that you are FLYING from Jakarta to Bali causes you to overlook the fact that Bali shares many connections with Java and other neighbouring islands. I spent over a year travelling in Southeast Asia/Australia- I took local transport throughout Indonesia, including the ferry across the Bali straight and to the Gilis… Indonesia is much more interconnected than it seems, and it’s growing more so every year.

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