JOURNAL | POINT OF VIEW by: Christianto Wibisono, Yohanes Sulaiman

Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece on his philosophical musings based on his experience in living in relative solitude near Concord, Massachusetts, was published in 1854. What is striking is the fact that even in his solitude he still realized how the United States back then was connected, if its waters were mingled with those that flowed everywhere from the world, notably to India and Indonesia. This should not be surprising, as Massachusetts back then was the hometown of America’s great trading houses.

The United States in 1854 was still a young nation and in seven years would experience one of the bloodiest wars in human history, the Civil War. Yet, its merchants had been traveling all over the world, challenging the domination of traders from Europe. Not surprisingly they ended up, like many of their European predecessors, in Indonesia. Singapore and Jakarta are the latest successors of many great trading cities in the region. Many of them had been long lost and forgotten with the trickling of the sands of time. Some are still remembered and yet have been passed over as major hubs of trade, such as Malacca. Such is the fate of civilizations, weighed down by the merciless wheel of fortune.

Singapore and Jakarta are the successor cities in one of the most important regions in the world, where the interests of great empires clashed for millennia before Marco Polo supposedly set foot in Asia. Even Alexander the Great’s eastward expansion after his conquest of Darius’ Persian Empire was reported to be driven more by the scents of Eden - the smells of spices brought from Maluku - than solely by his global ambitions. While today the scent of spices has become commonplace, and is no longer able to make and break empires from the Iberian Peninsula in the far west to the Ganges River in India and the delta of the Yellow River in the east, the region remains as important as ever, with its strategic position in between the Indian and the Pacific oceans and so many strategic and important resources from raw materials to the finished products.

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