Saved from the mob … by $10


In this occasional series starting today, DERWIN PEREIRA of the Foreign Desk reports from Jakarta on the impact of the country’s political, economic and social crisis on Singaporeans there

ALL it took was S$10 to save a Singaporean businessman from being beaten-up by a stick-wielding mob.

“I was so scared that I thought money was the only way to defuse a very tense situation,” said the businessman, who refused to be named for fear of reprisals and of losing his business licence.

He was just out from a lunch meeting in the city centre when he and his driver found themselves amid thousands of people emerging from a prayer rally held by the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) in the Senayan sports stadium.

The NU is Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation with some 30 million members.

They caused a massive traffic jam and gangs of youths began to surround cars caught up in the jam. “At first, I thought they were street urchins begging for money.”

But such optimism evaporated almost immediately when they began beating the cars with sticks and throwing stones at them.

“I told my driver to move into the slow lane close to building complexes so that we could move into them if there were problems,” he said. “But even after doing that, we were not let off.”

He said that his Volvo was surrounded by about 10 rowdy youths who banged repeatedly on the windscreen and side windows demanding money.

“That was it. I thought they were going to beat the shit out of me!”

But the quick-thinking 32-year-old reached for his wallet and took out 50,000 rupiah.

“My life is more important than losing S$10. I asked my driver to wind down the window and I gave them the money. One boy took it from me and shouted aloud to his friends: ‘Let him go. No need to hurt him. He has already paid.’

“We were caught in the jam for an hour more, but it was the longest one hour of my life. I kept thinking of my wife and two children and wondering what would have happened if they were with me.”

As Indonesia plunges deeper into an economic and political morass, robberies, muggings and mob violence have become more commonplace.

And for the businessman, life has been very different for his family since that October incident. They rarely go out at night s now and he is sending his wife, son and daughter back to Singapore.

“Even when I send my family back, my wife will continue worrying for me especially with the election around the corner,” he said, adding that he has booked himself a ticket to make a quick get-away if things worsen.

The businessman, who has been in Indonesia for the seven years, said that being here – especially in the last year – has made him appreciate Singapore’s security and stability even more.

“Singaporeans tend to complain about everything in Singapore. But they should do a spell in Indonesia to find out how lucky they are,” he said. “In Singapore, my wife and kids can take the bus or MRT…without giving me any cause for worry. Here, I am too scared to let them go out alone.”

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