The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Tue, 03/24/2009 5:09 PM |
He’s a photographer who prefers to be known as a traveler, whose most recent journey took him across the archipelago to discover his homeland. Indonesia, he believes is, more than just beautiful scenery – it is the heart and soul of Southeast Asia. Over black coffee on a bright Thursday morning, Vebri Adrian tells Maggie Tiojakin why he thinks “we” should be at the forefront of Asian tourism.
Family and friends call him “Ebbie” because when he was little he had difficulty pronouncing his own name. But it never occurred to him that the name that he gave himself at the age of four would stick.
It’s 10.45 a.m. Ebbie walks into a coffee shop in a pair of faded jeans, black T-Shirt and an old baseball cap. A strapping young man in his early 30s, he smiles politely at all the faces he comes across before stopping at the counter to order a cup of black coffee. The smile is a well-intentioned habit, he later says, which he has acquired throughout his travels.
When he finally settles at the table, he takes off his baseball cap and runs his fingers through his hair. “OK, I’m ready,” he says.
Ebbie’s story begins in Palembang, South Sumatra, where he was born and raised. Even as a teenager, Ebbie was not a homebody. He was always looking for new adventures, new challenges and new ways to reinvent himself. At the age of 17, driven by his desire to experience something different, Ebbie left his hometown and moved to the neighboring province of Bengkulu where he worked menial jobs. From there, he relocated from town to town, city to city, one island after another, to satisfy his wanderlust.
“I wanted to see as much of this country as possible,” says the 33-year-old. “But, at the time, I didn’t have any specific mission. I did it for fun.”
Fun led him to discover the excitement of life on the road, one that Jack Kerouac knew by heart and Ebbie couldn’t – still can’t – get enough of. Though he claims to be oblivious about where he was going, he never feels lost on his travels. Wherever his feet take him, he says, is home.
For four years in his mid-twenties, home was in Yogyakarta.
“I went to college there,” he says. “After I was done with school, I started my own business venture in information technology.”
The business proved to be successful but he felt it was time for him to relocate. He had saved enough money to go around the world, and was considering his options when an experience in a foreign country suddenly changed his course.
“My friend and I had a chance encounter with a foreign tourist who then asked us where we were from,” Ebbie says. “We told him we were Indonesians and proceeded to challenge him on his geographical knowledge of our country.”
Sure enough, the foreign tourist knew more about Indonesia than Ebbie (or his friend) did. “It was humiliating,” he says. “The [tourist] kept mentioning parts of Indonesia he had visited which we – Indonesians – didn’t even know existed. At one point he turned to us and said, ‘Are you sure you’re Indonesians?’”
He shakes his head, “That did it for me, lit the fire.”
In 2005, Ebbie quit the business and set out on a journey of a lifetime. His early calculations of the time it would take for him to “truly see” Indonesia – all 33 provinces – came to no less than two years, though it ended up taking him three. His pleas to recruit friends with backgrounds in photography to document the trip were futile; they considered him “mad crazy”.
“My friends just gave up on me,” he chuckles. “They said I would never find what I was looking for, and that even if I did find it, there was no way for me to utilize it.”
Against all odds, Ebbie stuck with the plan and learned photography on the go. It took him six months to master the different functions in his camera, more to understand the craft. What he thought was simple turned out to be quite a frustrating process. Eventually, he got the hang of it – and the journey morphed into an obsession for beauty.
“Indonesia is an amazing place,” says Ebbie. “We have everything: lakes, prairies, deserts, mountains – you name it. People go to Australia looking for kangaroos, but we already have them here, in Merauke, what we call wallabies. People say it snows in America; well, it snows in West Papua, too.”
Ebbie says though it’s unfortunate most Indonesians prefer to spend their holidays abroad rather than in their own country, he doesn’t blame them for it. Some of the more precious “hidden treasures” in Indonesia, according to Ebbie, are not only lacking in promotion, they also often have restricted entry.
“I once went to a beach resort where you aren’t allowed to get in unless you are a foreign tourist,” he recalls. “Even local fishermen are not allowed to sail past the beach area around the resort, for fear they may disturb guests who are swimming or surfing in the ocean. I mean, I could only enjoy the beach from a hill, kilometers away, with binoculars – can you imagine? In my own country, no less!”
There were many incidents like this, Ebbie continues, and as much as he loves his country, he can’t help but feel sorry for it, either.
“Some of our best resources are owned by foreigners,” says Ebbie. “And operated for the pleasure of other foreign visitors. What does that tell you about this nation?”
Even so, he was often delighted by the rich variety of “gems” lurking around different parts of the country. Once, he saw a complete rock painting in Southeast Sulawesi, which he was told is at least a few thousand years old; another time, he saw a rice field in the shape of a pie chart in East Nusa Tenggara; and yet another time, he visited clusters of European forts built in and around Banda Neira island in Maluku, one of which – Fort Belgica – has the shape “not unlike the US’s Pentagon”.
“Fort Belgica was built in 1611 by the Portuguese,” says Ebbie. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots.”
Ebbie says one of the reasons he documented the trip is because a great many books on the history or state of Indonesia are written by foreign nationals, and – for once – he would like to see a fellow Indonesian step up to the plate.
“And if no one’s going to do that,” says Ebbie. “I certainly will.”
His collection of photographs from the three-year journey is set for publication sometime this year. His friends are still pessimistic about the outcome, but Ebbie is not one to give up.
“I believe in this country’s potential,” he says, “and I hope that by sharing with others the things I have seen, they’ll begin to see [the potential] as well. Together, we can work to make Indonesia the ultimate destination in Asia.”