Idul Fitri, the first day of the Islamic month of Shawal (Eid-al-fitr in Arabic), marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was a relatively quiet day in Makassar. As in many parts of Indonesia, over the weekend there had been an exodus of people to their home or ancestral villages to be with family for the Idul Fitri festival. The evening before – malam takbiran - had been punctuated by some decorated convoys from the various districts and sub-districts of Makassar, and young people on motor bikes roaming around the city.
Wednesday morning was like waking up to a deserted city. But Putri and I had some pleasant duties to perform.
A lovely tradition in Indonesia and indeed in many parts of Muslim Southeast Asia, is the practice of “open house” at Idul Fitri. Anyone – in particular community leaders - will open their doors for a number of hours on the two-day holiday of Idul Fitri and welcome guests, friends and family, to drop by and enjoy local snacks, delicacies, drinks and a chat. The common greeting at this time is “mohon maaf lahir batin”, meaning roughly “forgive me for any sins or mistakes” made over the past year (the Arabic form of this phrase is also increasingly popular).
We had arranged to drop by at the houses of the Governor of South Sulawesi, Syahrul Yassin Limpo; the Mayor of Makassar Danny Pomanto; the Speaker of the South Sulawesi Parliament Muh. Roem; and some other friends we have made over the past few months.
The Governor’s open house was huge, with a large marquee erected over the lawns of his official residence. The residence is an old, sprawling art-deco style building from the 1920s, built for the Dutch Governor-General for his occasional visits to Sulawesi. It was occupied by the Japanese during WWII; used by the President and Prime Minister of the short-lived state of Eastern Indonesia in the late 1940s; and then since the end of Dutch rule in 1949 it has been the official home for successive Governors of the province South Sulawesi. It is a historic building of considerable importance.
Governor Limpo and his wife were busy welcoming a constant stream of community leaders, all dressed in traditional costume. Food was plentiful, and a trio of singers played in the background. We sat with the Governor and chatted; he has a soft spot for Australia as he studied in Sydney as a young man – “I had too much fun” he says.
I swapped contact details with several senior government officials, and also caught up with the Vice Governor, Agus Arifin Numang and his wife.
We then moved on to the official residence of the Mayor of Makassar, Mohammad Ramdan “Danny” Pomanto. An architect and popular local leader, Danny is credited with designing several landmarks in Makassar including the precinct of the Pantai Losari waterfront. He has organised community campaigns to stop littering, clean up local environments, and strengthen local community security. He is a people-motivator and has an endless flow of ideas for how to improve the cultural and daily life of his city.
We also called on the Speaker of the provincial parliament, Moh Roem. This is his third term in parliament, and he is a leading figure in the local Golkar party. While eating a delicious light lunch we chatted about the topic I am obsessed with – education. I asked about the lack of books in school libraries and why so many teachers I have met in village schools are unpaid – while waiting for permanency they are “honorary teachers”. Pak Roem was of course, fully aware of these issues and interested to see where the problems were.
Governor Limpo told me he was keen to see more senior Australian political leaders visit Makassar. I said I wholeheartedly agreed, and I never missed a chance to encourage my counterparts and seniors to consider organising their next bilateral meeting or business conference in Makassar rather than the traditional locations in Java and Bali.
Indeed, Makassar now has some excellent business accommodation. The Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Makassar has established itself as a good place for the MICE business – meetings, incentives, conferences and events. It is popular for weddings and fashion shows, government conferences and workshops. And it has excellent restaurants.
The Melia Group will soon open a new hotel in Makassar, with all rooms enjoying fantastic views out to the Straits of Makassar which are dotted with little tropical islands. Swissbel is also opening a hotel just north of the Losari waterfront. The hotel has uninterrupted views out to Lei-lei island, and has its own garden on the waterfront. Makassar’s famous sunsets are enjoyable from the swimming pools of the Sheraton, the Melia and the Swissbel.
Other major chains are already established here such as Novotel, Ibis, Aston and the Clarion. The old stalwarts, the Aryaduta and the Sahid Jaya, are now facing tough competition from all these newcomers.
After a day of eating, drinking and chatting, Putri and I repaired back to the newly established Wisma Konjen, our official residence in Makassar - where I enjoyed the sunset to the sound of maghrib prayers, from our little veranda.