An Afternoon with the Indonesian Ambassador

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This post was written by Baiq Dewi Yuningsih.

His Excellency Herman Prayitno’s beaming smile is contagious. The Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia is distinguished and polite, apologising for the slight delay, due to an extended emergency meeting.

These two qualities define his character as a people-friendly diplomat. Herman states that he enjoys meeting new and different people every day. Most importantly, he is compassionate, caring, and has a desire to help Indonesians and others in distress: “I want to help Indonesians – particularly Indonesian workers – in taking care of their immigration and working documents. This will allow them to work in Malaysia peacefully. My task is to see that they do not have any problems.”

One would think that Prayitno’s illustrious military credentials would mean a stiff upper lip, but this isn’t necessarily the case. His childhood ambition was to be soldier and defend his country, and that is a task he has achieved. In his 34 years in the air force, he served 10 years as a fighter pilot for the nation. “It was an honour for me to serve in the Air Force. But now as an Ambassador, I also serve my country in a different way,” he says with pride.

Born in Jogjakarta, Prayitno grew up in Kediri, a small town in the south of Surabaya, before spending two years in Germany to further his studies. A patriot to the core, Prayitno takes pride in his home nation’s culture. “It’s a beautiful country. There are more places to go in Indonesia than Bali,” he says.

“There is so much more to explore – Lombok, Komodo Island, Manado, Raja Ampat in West Papua, East Java, and cultural hot spots like Jogjakarta.”

His foray into diplomatic service was unexpected but it was destined to be the job for him. “Back then, I took a psychological test and when asked what I would do if I were not in the Air Force, I said that I would like to be an Ambassador. That dream became a reality, when I was asked by my President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to be the Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia,” he says.

The Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur has two main responsibilities: strengthening and maintaining a good relationship in Malaysia, and serving and protecting Indonesia citizens. “I’m trying to improve our delivery system to give the best service to our citizens. We believe that we have a comprehensive system, not only inside the embassy but also in our outreach programmes,” he explains. “I maintain relationships with Malaysians and others through meetings and networking, and by attending national day events of different countries.”

As the Indonesian Ambassador, Prayitno is invited to weekly National Day events that he views as wonderful opportunities for him to meet new people and learn about various cultures. “I also often attend breaking-fast dinners during Ramadhan, as well as fascinating seminars that are very enlightening,” he says.

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Prayitno explains that for some Indonesian citizens, Malaysia is like their second home. Many of them came to Malaysia for work or other opportunities, and for him, meeting them brings back memories of their original birthplace. “I have had the opportunity to meet not only successful Indonesian businessmen, but also migrant workers facing unfortunate situations. I sometime visit hospitals to meet workers recovering from injuries sustained in the workplace,” says the compassionate ambassador.

Prayitno acknowledges that some of the Indonesians living in Malaysia are illegal and stresses that the embassy works hard to minimise the problems faced by his country’s citizens. “For example, we sometimes deal with cases of Indonesian nationals facing punishment because they have violated Malaysian law, which can be tricky to handle,” he explains. “I also have to manage sensitive issues that may emerge, which would risk harming the current good relations between the two countries, including issues related to migrant workers, culture, and state border relations.”

In an effort to maintain and enhance Indonesia’s relations with Malaysia, Prayitno and his team have organised events featuring some of the best artists from their home country, in order to introduce Indonesian culture to the local community: “Mr. Jokowi (the Governor of Jakarta) has brought these artists to visit Malaysia and we hope it will be a great opportunity for people to learn more about us.”

Having been in Malaysia for about a year now, Prayitno spends his leisure time playing golf and enjoying the city. “I like Kuala Lumpur because it is clean, wellorganized, and beautiful. Of course, I’m glad that Malaysia has several golf courses that I can practice my swing at!” he quips. Besides clocking up time on the golf course, Prayitno likes to spend time with his family and enjoys outdoor sports like jogging and walking.

As I concluded the interview Prayitno asked when it was scheduled to appear. When I said it was for the year-end issue, the affable ambassador warmly said: “Make sure you convey my new year greetings to your readers.”

Source: The Expat December 2013

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