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Opinion

Lessons from Indonesia

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Visitors to Indonesia will easily get a glimpse of the progress of this nation of 270 million upon landing at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, the country’s main gateway.

Terminal 3, its newest modern high-ceilinged terminal, for instance, is wide, spacious and efficient – clearly a testament to Indonesia’s rapid development.

The last time I was in Indonesia was more than eight years ago and it wasn’t as developed as it is now. It’s impressive, to say the least, and while traffic in Indonesia is bad, ours is insane.

Even the country’s skyline has changed, with all the towering buildings that are far from ordinary. You will see stunning skyscrapers of cylinder-like and unique shapes with off-beat design and glass facades that glisten under Jakarta’s crimson sun.

Whoosh, Indonesia’s high-speed railway

I was fortunate to experience Indonesia’s much-touted Whoosh, a high-speed railway between Jakarta and Bandung, two of Indonesia’s largest cities, and what a ride it was. Will we ever have a high-speed railway in the Philippines? I won’t hold my breath.

The 138-kilometer Whoosh runs on electricity and has cut travel time between Jakarta and Bandung to less than an hour from three hours.

Launched last year, it’s a project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative and has been touted as a major achievement for Indonesia and China.

Oishi in Indonesia

I was in Indonesia last week upon the invitation of Carlos Chan, the low-key and indefatigable taipan who is the chairman of Oishi snack foods maker Liwayway Group.

It was a big delegation which included Mr. Chan’s associates from different parts of the world. Mr. Chan also had a number of Filipino guests, including former executive secretary Salvador Medialdea and his lovely wife Betty, who is president and CEO of Pioneer Insurance and Surety Corp.

The group visited Oishi Indonesia’s factory in Surabaya, the company’s second in the Southeast Asian country.

It’s a sprawling factory with still some ongoing works for additional production lines. There’s also room for more expansion and I surmise that Mr. Chan is excited about it. He was smiling proudly while looking at the wide vacant lot behind the facility.

Oishi is doing well in Indonesia; Indonesians love the wide array of Oishi snack foods. Their favorite? Oishi’s popcorn, Mr. Chan said as I joined him while he was making the rounds at the factory.

A new dawn

Of course, as some of us might already know, Oishi’s history dates back to 1946 as a small family business engaged in the repackaging of gawgaw or cornstarch and coffee products.

Liwayway or dawn in Tagalog reflects the optimism of the Philippines following the aftermath of World War II. That small business became a corporation.

In 1974, Liwayway bought a Japanese processing machine and began making prawn crackers and flakes which it marketed under the “Oishi” brand, the Japanese word for “tasty or delicious.”

Later on, in 1993, it ventured into China, commencing its global expansion.

The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve lost count of how many factories Oishi has now but during our visit, we were told that Oishi is present in 11 countries and is known as “Rinbee” in Thailand and Cambodia.

Rinbee, by the way, is derived from the name of Mr. Chan’s eldest daughter, Rinby.

J. CO Donuts

But it’s not just Oishi for Mr. Chan.

Before our visit to the Surabaya factory, we had lunch with Indonesian businessman Johnny Andrean and his family and team. Andrean is the founder of J. CO Donuts which opened in Indonesia in 2005 and which now has more than 300 branches in the Southeast Asian country.

We had our sumptuous lunch at JCO RESERVE, J. CO.’s new elevated coffee concept.

It was during a visit to Indonesia years back when Mr. Chan came across J. CO. He was in a mall and saw the long queue in the donut outlet. He came up with an idea of bringing it to the Philippines.

He sought Andrean out and made known his intention of bringing the brand to Manila. Mr. Chan succeeded. J. CO entered the Philippines in 2012 and has successfully penetrated the donut market, now with more than 70 outlets nationwide and still growing.

J. CO’s flavors are interesting, with eponyms and word plays such as its best-selling Alcapone, which is my favorite. It’s inspired by the Italian mob chief Al Capone.

Andrean is happy with his venture with Mr. Chan, he told me after our lunch.

Will they expand the partnership and bring J. CO’s other concepts to Manila? We’ll have to wait and see.

My visit to Indonesia was a pleasant experience, learning about Filipino and Indonesian businesses.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel deeply frustrated about the reality that we’ve been left so far behind by our peers in the region, no thanks to the social ills that perennially plague our nation.

It’s scary to think that one day, we might just wake up to the sad reality that we’re the lone laggard in Asia.

Credit goes to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who, although has his fair share of criticisms, “had a vision of moving his country away from the practices of the colonial era” by exporting not just raw materials but high-value products, according to an article in The Diplomat.

Indonesia’s progress clearly shows the importance of leadership and that’s the biggest lesson we can learn from this country.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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