One major difference between Yangon and Kyiv is a close-knit diplomatic community. It is common for the Indonesian diplomatic community to be ‘close’ to each other, but here in Yangon I feel that most diplomats from different embassies know each other, they even have a club that meets regularly. Almost every other day during the week we are invited to attend diplomatic receptions and during these receptions I attended (without intending to be big-headed) people both from local government and the diplomatic community embrace our presence. Though wearing national dress such as baju kurung or kebaya can be a hassle, I quite enjoy meeting these people, embracing them back with friendly gesture.
Why is Indonesia in general treated with such respect in Yangon, but we seem to be on the sideline in Kyiv? I am not a historian but simple question that pop into my mind often triggered me to look back at our history. The two countries diplomatic relationship started on the 27 December 1949, approximately 2 years after Myanmar, then Burma declared independence from the British on the 4 January 1947, which was marked by the opening of Rumah Indonesia (later upgraded to the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia). During our struggle for our independence, Burma allowed Dakota 001 – Seulawah, a plane donated by the people of Aceh to land in Rangoon as a charter flight. The money earned from Seulawah was used to finance Indonesia’s struggle to maintain our independence. Historically, parts of Burma belong to the Kingdom of Majapahit – I think that is why Indonesians and Burmese have similar features.
While Myanmar supported us in our struggle for independence, Indonesia was in turn a supporter of Myanmar’s effort to be a member of ASEAN. Hence these mutual support and historical ties between the two nations seem to be the reasons why Indonesia is highly regarded here, and I suppose other countries through their representatives in Yangon recognise the importance of Indonesia to Myanmar – that’s my helicopter view.
When at a macro level Indonesia has an advantage of being highly respected and regarded, at a micro level, ideally we should take this opportunity to spread our wings, lifting the barriers between ourselves and the communities around us: the locals and international communities because whether we like it or not, we live among them and between these two distinct communities. Just look at our ASEAN counterparts, how their businesses are growing in this country, how the people from these countries immerse with the local and international communities. They were not shy to step forward and network instead of waiting for others to approach them. Have we been proactive and doing the same? To a certain degree yes especially when we are the host, but in most occasions when we attend events held by the local and international communities, we tend to be withdrawn. How could we spread our wings if our confidence level or our willingness to step up seems to be an issue?
In almost every occasion I’ve been to, people I met and people I was introduced to never put a barrier, never looked down on me and never thought of me more inferior than them. In fact, they were very friendly and once we found something common, the conversation flows like a river, in most cases they find me odd. My English is not perfect, my Russian is rusty and my Arabic is almost zero, but it was the willingness to network, to get to know people, to feed my curiosity of other nations’ custom and culture, and to show them that we Indonesians are at the same level as the rest of the nations in this earth that motivate me to mingle with others. If these people can be so open and friendly to me who is only a spouse of a diplomat, why can’t they be friendly to the diplomats?
Without intending to criticise anyone, I am appalled to find the Indonesians tend to mingle among themselves, or if not among themselves they tend to only mingle with other Asians similar to us such as Malaysians, Bruneians or Singaporeans. Is it in their self confidence or is it the unwritten rule that ‘thou shall not mingle beyond the ASEAN counterparts’? I really don’t know. To me, we are as smart and talented as the rest therefore to me personally thou shall not hinder one self from getting to know others. After all isn’t one of our roles here is to represent Indonesia in every occasion? How can we represent Indonesia if we only represent it amongst ourselves? Seriously, I think we should start thinking about how to train Indonesian to have the right self confidence before going abroad. A cross-cultural training perhaps?