Pak Nur – From Poor Orphan to Haji Bird Farmer



I am so happy you are here!”

We were headed to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city and then on to the rough and rugged outpost island of Madura for our second perkutut competition.  We didn’t know we were in for unrivaled hospitality, ‘executive’ karaoke and a drawing for racing cows.

We booked “executive class” on the train from Jogjakarta, (a whopping $15 each).  Move over Amtrak, this was service.  Red caps carried our luggage into the car and stowed it for us. As the train pulled out, porters offered hot soup, nasi rames (rice with side dishes) and cassava chips.  A little girl poked her head between the seats, winking and grinning at me.  We played winking and grinning on and off over the course of the ride.  The train passed bright green rice nurseries, teak plantations, cassava and papaya orchards, and lots of little villages.  With evening we saw clouds obscuring distant mountain tops and little wisps of smoke coming from the darkening fields. 


We had met Pak Nur at the Solo competition and he offered to pick us up in Surabaya and bring us to the perkutut competition in Madura.  He and his friend Pak Tarjo met us at the very modern Surabaya train station and we packed our big suitcases into his daughter’s Ford Focus.  On a little video screen next to the driver, the latest music videos played.  We drove to a fancy fish restaurant and he ordered several gurami, some fried, some grilled – easily the best fish I’ve eaten. 


Pak Nur exudes joyful energy.  He always smiles (except for pictures, which seems a national trait, I find myself  saying  “cheese” repeatedly.)  Over dinner Pak Nur told us about his trip to Mecca two years earlier.  He and his wife were able to book the “executive Haj” as the regular quota allowed by Saudi Arabia had been filled for the next five years.  Over the next few days we would never see Haji Nur without kopiah on his head and he rarely missed prayer times.  At dinner Pak Nur looked at both and said, “I am so happy you are here!  It makes my heart warm!” He put his hands together and gave a little bow.  What a welcome!

He insisted on paying for everything and offered to have us stay at his house.  We thanked him but were feeling the need to have a home base to charge batteries, do logging and administration and blogging.  The Hotel Satelit sported a hodge-podge of Chinese furniture carved from massive teak roots, a dopey-eyed American chef sculpture advertising the 24-hour coffee shop and meeting rooms named alternately after Roman gods and astrological symbols.  On a large boat hanging from the center of the lobby are printed the words “Let’s Archipelago".  I have no idea what it means…

Pak Nur said he would pick us up at 6:15 the next morning (this is an early country) and at 5:45 the phone rang letting us know he was in the lobby. 


We drove through a trendy neighborhood of Surabaya, called Citraland, the Singapore of Surabaya and after some twists and turns arrived at the Cendana Bird Farm run by Pak Nur.  Cendana (sandalwood) gave birth to Beauty, the number one ranked perkutut in Indonesia owned by Pak Gunawan but trained by Pak Sukur in Sidoajo (home of the mud volcano.)

The plan was to get to the bird farm before his neighbor started house construction to record clean audio of the perkutut.  Audio has been a problem for us in Indonesia – between motorbikes, street vendors playing Casio renditions of the Godfather theme song and the call to prayer  – audio had been tough.  We got to his place, a large house with an sprawling indoor fountain and the farm built out onto patios and balconies.  After half-an-hour of recording his neighbor starting hammering.  “He’s starting early today,” Pak Nur said.

Pak Nur told us how his parents had died when he was 12 and as a child he earned money as a caller for angkot, a van fitted with a side door (that always stays open) and benches along the sides.  For every full van (14 passengers), he earned one fare as a commission. We took a quick visit to his old workplace.  He heartily shook everyone’s hand at the station.  “A lot of thugs here,” he commented. “You have to be very nice to them.”  He paid for his own schooling, riding free on pick-up truck to school.


He eventually earned a college degree at a night school and worked for his friend, a contractor for Lapindo Brantas, the oil drilling company.   Eventually, with capital supplied by friends, he won a bid at Lapindo to supply and manage their oil-trucking fleet.   Penniless when he won the contract, he had friends come with their computers to a rented office to convince  a Lapindo inspector they were a bona fide operation.  Money was better until the Sidoarjo mud volcano started.  Nur was asked to build dykes, but  Lapindo delayed payments and business became stressful.   Pak Nur went back to school for a Magister Management degree.   Eventually his wife mentioned that since he went abroad for management training he had stopped raising perkutut and she missed their songs.  Pak Nur took her to Thailand to shop for birds and came back with a bunch.  That was three years ago.

His Cendana bird farm produced the top Indonesian champion Beauty which he sold for a low $200.  He smiled when he told it.  The bird has brought his operation so much acclaim that the low price doesn’t bother him. 


(Pak Nur with Bagio, a worker on the farm)

On the second day with Pak Nur he invited us to his mosque at prayer time.  Kian grew up in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, but had never been in a mosque.  I hadn’t either.  We went to a modern Muhammadiyah mosque, the organization that had just celebrated its 100-year anniversary.   The next day Pak Nur would bring us to the sprawling Grand Mosque (the largest mosque in East Java)  for the very important Friday prayer.


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We finished at the mosque and then Pak Nur took us to see the mud volcano and to visit the Prisma Bird Farm.  

Prisma Bird Farm


Pak Nur had been helping a new startup bird farm called Prisma, located in Sidoarjo.  The young owners started the farm after one of them, Heri,  had a dream that he had been given two singing doves.  His relative Wahyu was interested and, boom, they started a bird farm.  Wahyu works in marketing for Toyota and they decided on a Toyota theme for the farm.  Birds are named Camry, Corolla and Rav-4. 


Living near the mud volcano they plan to follow what Pak Nur calls the four P’s of business – product, price, place and promotion.  They plan to move from the shadow of the mud volcano into Surabaya, to improve the third P.

The guys were really sweet and offered us coconuts when we arrived.  I had gotten an email through the blog a few weeks before from Prisma.  Heri was trying to research perkutut in America and came across the blog.  I told him there was no perkutut competition in America that I knew of and he said he hopes we can introduce it there. 

Heri and Wahyu were planning to compete in Madura in a few days.  More on that soon. 

Assorted Pics

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