Friday, April 30, 2010
I attended last night (29 April) a tourism and trade promotional event at Harrod's, London's most 'iconic' shopping emporium located in the fashionable Knightsbridge area. Called 'Remarkable Indonesia', it marked an effort that began in 2009 to 'rebrand' Indonesia to make the international public (including potential tourists and investors) aware of the economic and political strides Indonesia has made over the last 12 years, since the fall of the New Order.
Throughout the month of April, Indonesia occupied several display windows at Harrod's, there were black cabs parked outside the store bearing the 'Remarkable Indonesia' logo, a range of Indonesian food (ayam panggang, rendang, tahu isi) was avaialble for sale at the Harrod's food court and the Remarkable Indonesia campaign was also featured in a two-page spread in the Harrod's magazine. The Remarkable Indonesia gala dinner was a kind of conclusion to this month-long celebration. The overall budget for the initiative was 5 billion rupiah(http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/27/indonesia-aims-lure-more-tourists-uk.html).
The gala dinner was originally scheduled for 22 April, but because of flight disruptions to the eruption of the Iceland volcano, had to be postponed until 29 April. That was backup plan A, joked Indonesia's ambassador to London at the gala affair. Plan B would have been to have had embassy and Harrod's staff join together to dance and sing for the public.
As it happened, the Minister of Trade and Minister of Culture and Tourism were unable to attend the rescheduled event due to clashes with previous committment. They were represented by director generals from both ministries. Also in attendance were an assortment of ambassadors from London (as well as Indonesia's ambassador to The Hague), various VIPs in the British Indonesian community, people based in London with Indonesia interests (including government and business people) and many, many Indonesians flown out especially for the event. (I sat with Professor Wiendu Nuryanti from Gadjah Mada's MA programme in Tourism, who advises the government on tourism affais.)
The event began at 6pm in the Georgia Restaurant, decked out with a fashion show stage, starry walls and ceiling, and Indonesian motis (including wayang golek from Sarinah on each table). Tickets were priced at 300 pounds a plate (though of course I was there as an invitee).
The MC was a Dutch woman of Indonesian descent Lindsay Pronk, Miss Netherlands 2004, who presented a programme including a slide show of the Harrods campaign to a pop version of a Javanese lagu dolanan, Cendrawasih performed by 4 dancers from the London-based Balinese dance group Lila Bhawa directed by Made Pujawati (to recorded gamelan music), a fashion show by some of Indonesia's famous contemporary designers (Oscar Lawalata, Ghea Panggabean, Andi Lim), a music group combining a Batak vocal-instrumental group with a musician playing a stringed instrument from Nusa Tenggara Timur and Didik Nini Thowok, who did an 8 minute selection of some of his comical dances. Two members of the London-based Balinese gamelan group Lila Cita played as guests arrived.
There was also of course food - soto ayam, a small rijstafel assortment with nasi kuning and desert.
The event ended with a door prize - free tickets on a sponsoring airline and hotel vouchers. (I won one of the vouchers - and will now be staying in a very nice hotel in Ubud in December.)
It is difficult to estimate the effectiveness of events of this sort. The director generals and representative from Harrods who gave opening talks emphasised the number of visitors to Harrods, the prestige of the Harrods brand and the like. Director general Siregar from the Trade Ministry described this as a sort of 'cultural diplomacy'. He also described Indonesia as testatment to the fact that democracy, Islam and 'Asian values' can go hand in hand. It was a way to 'tell the world' of the 'progress' Indonesia has made over the last 12 years.
The use of the arts and fashion, Siregar reported, was a way to mark Indonesia's strengths in 'creative industries'.
The event was, I think, a mixed success. It was a bit rushed (Harrods insisted that everyone had to leave by 8pm) and suffered somewhat from under-preparation.
An example of this was a 7am phone call I received on the day before the event from Didik Nini Thowok, acting on behalf of the panitia (organisers). Lila Cita was originally due to provide live accompaniment for the Lila Bhawa dance group but had been told at the last minute that they had to arrive by 4pm, and the group (with day jobs all) could only be there by 5pm at the earliest. So the panitia tried to scrounge for alternatives - other Balinese gamelan groups that might be able to accompany Cendrawasih or other music-dance groups (jaipongan was mooted). In the end, after many phone calls, the panitia decided to 'allow' Lila Bhawa to perform to recorded music.
Mas Didik's dance left an impression on the audience - through the reversal of the Dwimuka opening, the onstage costume change that revealed 'he's a bloke!' (as one person at my table audibly remarked) and the ending in which Didik in a Mr Bean mask dragged a suitcase decorated with a Union Jack. But it felt rushed and the use of recorded music limited the possibility of interactions with the audiece.
The overall effect struck a careful balance between modernity (one of the designers reminded a person at my table of Issey Miyaki) and tradition (delivered largely via the performing arts groups), local colour and global appeal.
I also made a connection with Sapta Nirwandar, Director General of Marketing for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and had the great pleasure of spending an evening with Didik Nini Thowok (on 27 April), who remains one of Indonesia's most talented and vivacious performers. 'P2P connections' (to use the language of diplomacy) make official promotionals worthwhile.