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In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. She was on the road and the high seas for a year, covering dozens of islands in 27 provinces. This site records photos and musings from that journey and beyond. See more about the project


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Indonesian President signs off on semen

Placard urging Indonesians to use the national language

“Use good and correct Indonesian” urges this placard. Though perhaps not overseas.

In the windswept west of Ireland, I’m struggling with notebooks written in “Bahasa Gado Gado” — a mixture of English and Indonesian which at times catches me by surprise. This bit, for example: “Local rich people count their capital in hewan, dan dengan ratusan ekor pun tidak bisa beli semen”. Which translates as: “Local rich people count their capital in cattle, and even with hundreds of cattle you can’t buy semen.” Oh wait, no, you can’t buy cement.

The moment of confusion when reading my own notes explains why Semen Gresik, a large Indonesian cement producer that wants to buff up its image internationally, is planning to change its name. That shows that the country is beginning to think more about its place on the world stage, beginning to consider how outsiders perceive it. This is so important that even Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has signed off on the new name, according to the Jakarta Globe.

And what’s the new name? Drumroll, please: Semen Indonesia. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

I am pleased to note that this gem is deemed worthy of Unspun’s coveted Shit-for-Brains award. A gold medal to the marketing team, please.

2 comments to Indonesian President signs off on semen

  • What takes you to my part of the greater Indonesian archipelago?

    I often thought to myself how the Irish are so similar to various tribes…

    • Elizabeth Pisani

      I’m spending time in my kayak, contemplating the universality of local politics in small fishing communities in far-flung areas, wherever they are in the world…

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