Spy Mission Dossier: Operation Social Shadows

29 Feb 2024
 Agent: Felix Hall
Mission Location: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Objective: Deep Undercover Intelligence Gathering
Duration: 6 Months

Mission Brief:

Agent Hall, you are being dispatched to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to conduct a deep undercover operation. Your mission is to immerse yourself in the local culture and gather critical intelligence on pressing social development issues. This mission requires a blend of stealth, cultural empathy, and keen observational skills.

Key Operations and Tactical Approaches:

  1. Operation Find The Stray Cat:
    • Infiltrate the informal sectors of Yogyakarta. Identified as one of the poorest regions on the most populated island, you must blend in, and and make note of day to day differences in how people live their lives. From street vendors to the value of money, become as immersed as a shadow at night or the stray cat being fed by the community; pick up the local tongue and immerse yourself within the dynamics of unregulated/informal markets.
  2. Operation Identify The Problem:
    • Investigate the ID crisis. With an alarming 76% of Indonesian youth lacking proper identification, explore how this affects access to education and healthcare. Conduct discreet interviews, gather up local desk research, and gather stories that put a human face on these statistics.
  3. Operation Covert Connections:
    • Develop a network of informants among local NGOs, activists, and community leaders. Participate in grassroots meetings and informal gatherings to collect varying perspectives on social development issues.
  4. Operation Run Until Out of Sight:
    • Practice your ability to run away at a moment’s notice. Whether it’s navigating a sudden monsoon or a last-minute trip to a neighbouring country, use these experiences to gain unique insights and strengthen your cover.

Expected Mission Outcomes:
  • Comprehensive Analysis:
    • Your in-depth reports will provide valuable insights into the social challenges in Indonesia which are crucial for further deep cover missions into this emerging market.
  • Personal Growth:
    • You are to demonstrate your ability to survive knowing nothing, from what food you are eating to how you would navigate if your phone explodes (which we already begun the process of but refuse to inform you of when it will happen).

Agent Hall, your mission is of utmost importance. Your unique skills in blending espionage with social impact are critical for the success of Operation Social Shadows. Yogyakarta’s (Jogja’s) charm is summed up in the contrast of its streets: culturally rich with musicians singing and busking in hopes for $5/day at every intersection, with the chaotic traffic light-free roads with cars, bikes and pedestrians fighting against each other. Proceed with caution and curiosity.

Letter 1: Reporting on successful deployment

To: Headquarters
From: Agent Felix Hall
Subject: Early Observations in Yogyakarta

Greetings from Yogyakarta. The initial phase of Operation Social Shadows is underway. Initial deployment complete. Despite headquarters only providing for 5 days of temporary accomodation, the on-the-ground network of students allowed me to navigate through the streets while looking for the often-hidden sign that a room may be available for stay. I write this to you now as I sit on my balcony, having survived the first earthquake since here and with the active volcano a couple kilometres behind me.

Key Observations:

  • Informal urban development: Walking through a kampung - informal settlement - I was surrounded by kids laughing around me. I saw the river flowing where more than a tonne of plastic flows through everyday, and the narrow and wonky streets. I now shall share my notes on this: an individual “grabs” land (most often alongside river banks), they gradually build and rebuild their house (from cardboard to better quality material depending on how safe, secure and confident they are they won’t get evicted), and then apply to negotiate for tenure. This negotiation often happens when a large community of people in similar situations come together to create an “address”. Thus, tenure would allow them to have an “address”. This in turn allows them to have government issued ID, which provides them access to a range of facilities - from health, to banking, education, water and electricity. However if the negotiations fail, they are evicted. In some regions that I walked in - such as when I went to do a checkup on the chief of the red district to make sure no one under age was getting involved and to provide them with support for a medical condition involving their eye; I was told how every week, one or two families around that kampung would be evicted from their nice “high-confidence” houses, despite having been provided some sort of tenure. The people were afraid.
  • Relativity of money: I remember fellow operatives in Australia charging $60-$100/hr for tutoring services, yet here one would be lucky to get anything about $10/hr. Everything was a tenth of the price. It was a bit of a shock to see people putting in so much more effort than back home, for them only to get so much less in return.

Initial Reflections: I arrived knowing nothing. I did not know any other operatives. I did not know how to speak the language and thus navigate unjumbling the scrabble game of reading menus. I did not even know where I would live, how I’d navigate the monsoon rains which would fill up my shoes every afternoon, nor how I would live in this foreign land where every day has more uncertainty than the spy training exercise of guessing the number of sweets in those jars at fetes.

Requests: I have tracked and taken photos of every receipts the past month. An aggregated living cost report has been attached and is to be forwarded to the finance department.

See you later,

Agent Hall

Attachment: Form E203 Living Expense Report

To: Headquarters Finance Department

Fill in the table below with living expenses for the department to update its records:

ItemCost (AUD)FrequencyInclusion
Food$10dailybreakfast, lunch, dinner with drink
Accomodation$225monthlylaundry, cleaning service, wifi, water, air con, fridge, hot shower, flushing toilet*
Transport$3daily2x uber-like rides

Additional Comment:

  1. *flushing toilets are indeed a key inclusion since many accomodations use a laddle (”gayung”).
  2. I expect an appropriate top-up of the provided card to withdraw cash this coming Thursday.

Agent Filling in Form: Hall

Check-In 2: Reporting on the ID Documentation Crisis

To: Headquarters

From: Agent Felix Hall

Subject: Progress Report on ID Documentation Investigation

Since my last check-in, I've focused on unraveling the complexities surrounding the ID documentation crisis in Indonesia as well as immersing myself within the network of those pushing for social change.

Key Discoveries:

  • Impact of lack of ID documents = Severe: On a high level, one of the major contributors is the lack of birth certificates - 40 million children did not have one in 2013. This means there are 40 million children who are not recognised by the state, demolishing their opportunities to social protection, healthcare, and education. While sitting alongside interviews spoken in the local tongue - Javanese, and then hearing their hardships after it got translated, it indeed has been an emotionally difficult part of the mission. Cost is a major barrier - where paying for the bureaucratic process often came down to a question as to whether the family would spend the whole day's work on the streets for the documents or a meal for that night.
  • Supporting identification of stunting: about one third of children are malnutritioned - or stunting. Fortunately, this can often be easily identified by drops in metrics such as weight within the early years of that child’s development. Thus, I would like to report that I have engaged in giving up my time in developing a free and easy to use system which has been adopted by the most impactful NGO in the region. This system allows for a digital medical record system which they now use when undertaking medical checkups on kids. Challenges certainly arose when making a system which could be used by those who never learnt how to use a computer, or by doing complex analysis whilst not incurring any ongoing cost.

Reflections: This aspect of the mission has been eye-opening. I’ve spent full time hours alongside this NGO. The working culture is drastically different – working, eating and sleeping on the floor with only a single stand-up 30cm fan to cool down the 35˚ room and the last hour consisting of everyone sitting in a circle scrolling on their phones. Many days were quite emotional, from devastating stories of harassment and violence to seeing parents come into the NGO (Harapan Fian) who - without the NGOs support – would not been able to enrol their kids to school simply because they do not have a computer to do so.

Sampai Jumpa,

Agent Hall

Check-In 3: Adventure and Unpredictable Encounters

To: Headquarters

From: Agent Felix Hall

Subject: Update on Spontaneous Adventures and New Insights

In line with the mission's objectives, I've engaged in a series of unplanned adventures.

Key Experiences:

  • Volcano Hike: Hiked Gunung (Mount) Sumbing, an active stratovolcano 3,371m above sea level, steepest and tallest overnight hike ever done personally. Saw lava coming out of near by erupting volcano. Planned 24hrs before leaving.
  • Malaysia Excursion: A spontaneous decision to travel to Malaysia for 2 days. Planned day before and booked within the hour.
  • Overnight sleep on farming chief’s land: We were on route to hike a tall mountain, but the trail got flooded in a storm. Thus we redirected our driver to another mountain which was close to the main erupting volcano, but there was a waitlist of 1.3k people. Scrolling on Google Maps led us to a random stream. Due to possible flooding risks, a local farming chief invited us to camp in his backyard. The fee was to pay for his team to fetch us firewood, which they did by picking up a pile of wood 5 meters from us. Planned on the go.
  • ASEAN startup investigation trip: 2-3 days across Jakarta, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Every day filled with 2-3x meetings going for 1-3hrs discussing the local startup scene. Planned accomodation on the go (morning of). Most notable observations for the department’s records:
    • Cambodia (Phnom Penh): very young startup scene with only 100-200 startups - very exciting, yet the investing landscape is tricky since investors do not know how to invest in startups (asking for 80% for 50k), and founders aren’t up to speed with lean startup methodologies (spending $200k on their first product).
    • Philippines (Manila): strong web3 focus, fascinating interrelations between universities and government. Interesting issues around connectivity with rural areas. Draper Startup house truly is epic startup accomodation.
    • Thailand (Bangkok): expats face interesting problems around managing/hiring local employees and many come due to Bangkok’s sense of chaos.
    • Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur): growing need to add more support in disability employment. Their impact hub has a strong focus on IP. I had good life chats/reflections with newfound spy (startup) operators.
    • Singapore: strengthened connections with spy network.
    • Jakarta: sense of selfishness contrasted with the community-focus of Jogja. People felt more commercially/professionally orientated. Left early due to all the smoke.

Reflections: This component of the mission would have done what a magnet does to a compass — complete disorientation — yet it truly practiced the muscle of diving head first into situations of uncertainty and having a laugh as things go askew. I have also succeeded in passing your test with my phone exploding. The battery exploded to such a degree that I was unable to operate the device anymore, leaving me without any communication, transportation, ability to order food, or backup the encryption keys to our secret service. Embracing the challenge, I had a laugh and made the most of it. As a final reflection, it has been a very enjoyable deployment. Despite the loneliness – due to not speaking to anyone for a week because of language barriers — and the natural disasters — such as 4 earthquakes and an ongoing volcano eruption nearby — I look forwards to further missions across ASEAN.

Terima kasih untuk membaca.

Agent Hall

Additional Details

Félix having his last community farewell lunch at Harapan Fian – NGO helping families in poverty and street situations.