Friday, February 24, 2012

A Day in Bandung

We visited Bandung in 1974 and stayed at a hotel near the railroad station. On the streets around the station families were camped out. Early in the morning we saw them stirring, getting ready to start their day.  Now nearly 40 years later we visited a different Bandung. It has a well developed urban center, albeit one with unbelievable traffic (similar to India).  We have no idea if our 1974 hotel still exists or exactly where is it (or was). People regularly fly in from Kuala Lumpur to shop. Poverty has not disappeared, but it is less overwhelming and probably more hidden.

We planned this trip as soon as our Penang friend Lina contacted the Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB) about spending her sabbatical there. ITB is one of Indonesia's most prestigious universities. (1n 1974 I met an ITB faculty member who taught
Lina (from our trip to Mt Tangkuban)
Here we are dressed inappropriately for a cold day
plumbing  -  being young and ignorant I did not appreciate the importance of plumbing in national development. This trip has reminded me how much we take for granted research that yields a livable environment and a safe food supply. 

 ITB was like a typical university campus.  We could hear both a symphonic band and a gamelon orchestra practicing, while watching students play basketball.

An old (1920) landmark building on ITB campus
Note how quiet the area is.

A few meters away - Lina reports this is a frequently photographed scene

Our plan was to travel with Lina and introduce her to Central Java. Doug and I have been to Bandung several times.  Mt. Tangkuban Perahu (overturned boat), which Lina hasn't visited seemed worth revisiting. It is a volcano 28 kilometers outside the city. The drive to the volcano was pleasant. We went by attractive guest houses and small towns. On our previous trips Doug and I had booked with maniac drivers; we had held our breathe and hoped for the best. With the taxi driver on this trip we had no worries and could enjoy the scenery.

At the entrance to the volcano the gaggle of hawkers of previous years who followed and pestered were gone (and not missed). In their place were rows of shops and a few roving vendors.

                                                  The view into the crater

                                                Just a small portion of the rows of vendors

                                                    Yummy snacks, but oh the oil

On our way down we stopped at a fruit market for lunch and bought a box of seriously sweet raspberries that we devoured on the train the next day. Our next stop was Saung Angklung Udjo in Bandung. It is school and cultural center devoted to preserving the Sudanese culture (including music, dance, puppetry). Public performances are held at 3:30 daily. The hour long performance was entertaining and the hour went by quickly. In one segment the audience members were given angklungs (a bamboo instrument) and taught how to play. Later members of the school invited audience members to dance - Doug and I were chosen (I think that they targeted Westerners). Lina's traditional dress seemed to ward off invitations to dance.
                              Celebrating the circumcision (of the boy on the right in a chair)
                                                          Playing the angklung

                                   The company/students take a curtain call

Afterwards Lina took the taxi back to the guest house and we went off to Cihanpelas Walk, the mall near our hotel. It had a familiar village/mall feel to it. Neither of us are shoppers so we limited ourselves to eating dinner and finding snacks for our train trip to Yogjarkarta.

On travel logistics: We stayed at the Ameris Hotel, a two star member of the Santika Hotel family (We use Agoda and for hotels in Asia).  It was a clean, safe typical two star hotel (breakfast included) with great location for shoppers. The staff, who spoke reasonably good English, arranged a taxi for an all day (12 hour) tour.  Lina was the master of all travel by angkut.  She directed us to angkut fixed routes for our in-town travel. Angkuts are mini vans that zip around the city. They are cheap, but Lina wasn't exactly sure of the fare (if you offered far too much you will get change, but a little too much probably no change).  Doug found getting his 6 foot plus frame in and out required some acrobatic skills. Sitting next to the driver was better. (As a side note when we returned to KL it seemed as if Malaysia was suddenly populated by tall people.) Blue Bird cabs were in Bandung as well as in Jakarta and Bogor. The company and its drivers are highly recommended. (Drivers who drive carefully and charge a fair fare should not be taken for granted.)

We booked a train to Yogjakarta at the train station. We started at passenger services and after making arrangements went to ticket window to purchase the tickets. Doug and I qualified for a senior discount, but need needed copies of our passport identification pages. We booked on the 8 am train to Solo (the local); we should have taken the 7:00 am (the express) to Surabaya - much faster and not prone to being late.  In contrast, 40 years ago when we made the same trip the overbooked train suddenly had seats when we spoke to the stationmaster and provided a small gratuity. Things are smoother these days.  (However a newspaper article upon our return to Malaysia said the Indonesian rail system was experimenting with draconian ways to keep people from riding on the top of the rail cars:  concrete balls hanging from steel structures over the tracks, and the humane alternative of wet mops soaked in urine and feces.)

I will jump ahead to describe our exit from Indonesia via the Bandung International Airport.  This airport is located in the middle of the city, actually sharing the airport with the Indonesian Air Force.  A hint for choosing your hotel....make sure it is close to the airport, and include in your price calculation the benefit of free airport transit when departing.  Check in was slow and the automatic check in machines were not working (network problems).  In Indonesia do not depend upon hotel business centers to have working printers.  I did my web check in before I left home in Malaysia.  I had to purchase the airport tax stamp in a separate area which was required at the emigration counter.  The line for emigration at Bandung was slower than immigration in Jakarta.  Indonesian emigration officials are very careful to make sure you don't overstay your visa....the fine can be substantial.  And your passport, boarding pass, and airport fee stamp are checked yet again before boarding the aircraft.  While waiting for our aircraft to arrive, we watch Immigration/Customs officers running in formation up and down the taxiway.  Similar to when we saw Boeing workers being led in exercises while constructing Boeing 777 aircraft in Everett, Washington. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bogor - The Second Day

With the exception of the infinite number of shops and restaurants was there anything else to see in Bogor.? Yes, Malarsari - its brochure calls it an "amazing tourism park" while its website stresses its conservation and environmental roles - conserving tropical fruits, breeding and disseminating quality plants, and educating the public. We were traveling with agricultural scholars and practitioners, i.e., we had our own personal guides. As for tourism, the park was quiet. It was a weekday that was neither a school holiday nor a public holiday.
Butterfly at work
Examining a skinless jack fruit
Tree Houses - For family vacations and youth outings

Next we went to lunch - our best restaurant meal of the trip. Kota Karak is a place I can't wait to get back to. The star of the meal was nasi soto karak; for the rest of the trip I ordered a soto (soup with a lot of content) every day - nothing else came close. We also had tahu susur (stuffed bean curd) and mento. The next time we visit Indonesia we will concentrate on finding local shops cooking Central Java food. The restaurant was Titi's find - I hope that I live long enough for her to retire and take me to all her favorite places in Indonesia.
A table of very happy eaters

After lunch we drove around the campus of the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development. A number of its staff, including Budi and Bagyo, received their PhD at North Carolina State University. The center does research and staff may mentor doctoral students, but it is not a teaching institution. On campus we saw a billboard for Agro Tourism. Titi gave us the brochure for a project she was working on at Wisata Agro Kaligue. This tea plantation has a school, guest house, clinic, and recreational areas - not at all like the palm oil and rubber plantations in Malaysia. To learn more I found a blog entry - which captures the flavor of the place and the colorful (?) images produced by Google Translator wording

We all gathered for dinner at Bagyo and Herni's home. The house has added rooms since we first visited decades ago. It has open areas that are perfect for visiting. We were reminded that Indonesia sometimes has unreliable power. As we were getting ready to eat the lights went out. No worries - torches were found and we enjoyed another delicious meal.
Enjoying a meal, friendship, and a visit
Seeing our friends and touring Bogor could not have happened without Geri, Bagyo and Herni's son. We knew him when he was a young boy in Raleigh. When he returned to Indonesia his English teacher was unhappy because he spoke American English! We are of course delighted with his English. Geri made all the arrangements for getting folks to Jakarta, sent us very detailed transportation information about getting around Jawa, and he took a day of leave to drive us around.

We stayed at the Hotel Santika Hotel. It was pleasant and affordable But it was breakfast that won my heart. Each day they had two dishes from different areas of Indonesia. One morning I had soto Bandung and another nasi gadung from Yogyakarta. Writing this brings back food memories and hunger.The staff were particularly helpful.  Liz expressed interest in one of the dishes and the staff assisted Liz in putting it together.  A hidden secret of this facility is an underground tunnel to botanical garden.  Without the tunnel is is almost impossible to get to the garden.  If only we had known.
Helpful and Friendly Hotel Santika Staff

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Keeping Busy - Helping with SHout

While in Malaysia I do more that eat and travel. I volunteer with Malaysian NGOs as a "free lance volunteer" and work on projects where I am needed.  AWAM (All Women's Action Society) suggested that I help with the anti-sexual harassment (SHout-Sexual Harassment Out) campaign. I hope that I have been helpful. Personally I have benefited; I have learned more about sexual harassment, national campaigns, and how NGOs work together.

Sexual harassment is related to my previous volunteer experience, i.e., in 1972 I helped found the DC (US) Rape Crisis Center and published a few articles on the organization of rape crisis centers. Recently I have studied collaborations among NGOs.

I put "sexual harassment campaigns" in Google Alerts to learn what was going on in the world - eventually I ended the alerts, but not before I learned discovered Egypt's Harassmap, an on-line real time map that tracks and categorizes incidents of sexual harassment. Its website is mesmerizing. It includes the map, twitter feeds, details of incidents, and research links.

Another discovery was Pakistan's AASHA (An Alliance Against Sexual Harassment); at its website one can click on an employer's name and find out if it has a sexual harassment policy and what it is. When  I revisited the site my computer suffered a major virus - so I did not include a link. In New Zealand the Union of Students' Associations surveyed sexual harassment policies at public universities, student perceptions of relationship violence, and audits of campus crime.

On to Malaysia: SHout has challenges faced by collaborations everywhere, beginning with finding a common meeting time (virtually impossible). Organization representatives may vary from meeting to meeting. Organizations may vary in their level of involvement (SHout recognized and accepted these variations as the collaboration  formed). Questions of involving individuals independent of the member organizations and who sponsors an activity (the collaboration or a member organization) need to be resolved. SHout, as do other Malaysian collaborations, has a secretariat (AWAM) which does the day to day work and manages communications. (A research question is whether models used to explain staff-board relations can also explain the dynamics of secretariat-member organization relations.)

Despite the secretariat's and members' crowded agenda progress has been made. The probability of a federal anti-sexual harassment policy looks good, probably because the collaboration includes lawyers and activists with a history of working with public agencies to promote a women's agenda. The collaboration has an expertise on training and outreach, and it plans to take advantage of technology and social networks to move the campaign to the "next level." A first step has been establishing a facebook page. Meetings during the next two months should fill in the details.

What I have learned demonstrates that researchers should not assume that a failure at time 1 does not preclude later successes. Changes in the political and social environment allowed SHout to take up an anti-sexual harassment campaign that had been unsuccessful a decade earlier.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bogor - First Day

We have been to Bogor enough times that we could declare it our 3rd home. Our Bogor friends have taken us to local sights in Jakarta and Bogor, including the Botanical Gardens and its Orchard Garden, Taman Safari, Taman Mini (Jakarta). Taman Mini has pavilions that represent Indonesia's different cultures. My brother told us that its main attraction, which we either didn't see or don't remember, is the "Suharto Museum.". It has a breathe-taking collection of all the state gifts given to President Suharto during his 32 year presidency. The collection takes three floosr; one visitor said to count on spending a half day viewing its contents.
During our last trip to Bogor we braved the traffic and visited a potter, from whom we later ordered candy dishes to give as gifts at Colin's wedding. (Traffic jams in Indonesia occur all the time, everywhere.) Other than the traffic our most vivid memory from that trip was when Titi announced that we were going to have "Emergency Dinner." Emergency Dinner was an "American Pizza" from Dominoes.
We have yet to see everything in Bogor and its environs. We started our day at the Katulampa Dam, a flood control reservoir. If the dam overflows Jakarta will experience floods within two hours. Two weeks before our trip the water had reach a warning level.
Katulampa Dam, Bogor

Structure is a "rural toilet"  River is also used to wash clothes (a lot less than we saw 40 years ago)

Road leading to dam. Barely visible is a gaggle of motorbikes to provide local transport
A recreational area with fruit trees and team building course
Bogor is a major handbag manufacturer, so a stop at SKI Tajur Katulampa was in order. It has separate buildings selling handbags, shoes, clothes, and souvenirs. For the families and kids there is an amusement area. I have few handbags and am not much of a shopper, so I settled for simply being blown away by the selection. It was Chinese New Year, a public holiday, and the place was packed. Indonesia seems to be full of drivers and shoppers. No worries if you leave SKI and regret not purchasing a handbag there are plenty of other opportunities to buy them in Bogor and along the way.

At SKI Tajur Katulampa - in the background bubbles with people in them

Later we drove around an upmarket development - nothing like the housing near the dam.
Typically Indonesians eat lunch between 12:00 to 1:00 (in Malaysia it is 1:00 - 2:00). We went to a Sunda restaurant. It was filled with tables on  platforms. Shoes are left by the platform and diners sit on mats. Our lunch included grilled chicken, gado gado, and baby fish. Titi, always quick with the right word, said not think "baby fish" but "small fish." Changing the adjective didn't work for me; I tasted but avoided deciding if they were tasty or not.

A baby fish was all that remained -
finger bowl in the background

That evening we went to Titi and Budi's house for dinner. As we went in we saw an electric motorbike - a transportation alternative to Budi's 30 year old Mercedes. Having a 30 year old car that serves as the family's everyday transport is a testament to Mercedes and demonstrates the wisdom of buying an expensive and reliable car.
We were awed by the living room furniture, many pieces were carved from a single tree - an evening with candy for our eyes and tummy. In addition to eating and talking we viewed pictures and videos of their son's wedding, a video of the eruption at Mount Merapi, and Titi and Budi's wedding photo. (They looked too young to get married - didn't we all?)

A table for all occasions - dinner now, signing important
documents in the past and future

A piece of furniture to envy
Another piece. And yes, there are more
Our friendships are more than seeing new things and eating new foods. Our friends are an important part of our lives - what we remember, how we interpret what we see, and what we look forward to. Our friends all work to improve the lives of their fellow citizens - we are proud to be a part of their lives.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Visiting Friends in Jakarta

Trips to Indonesia are to visit friends whom we have known for 20 to 30 years. The  young children that we knew in Raleigh are now grown and starting to build their own lives.It is a pleasure to see them and learn how they incorporate their international childhood into their lives. Friends who tutored us in Bahasa Indonesia reminded us that our Indonesia is no better than it was 20 years ago. They are being kind - it is worse. We know enough words to communicate with becak drivers and merchants, but not with friends. We made other Indonesia friends through NC State's International Friendship Program.

In Jakarta we stayed with my brother and his family, who have lived in Jakarta on and off for 15 years. With luck my brother's next assignment will give us a chance to visit a new and interesting part of the world. During our stay we had dinner with Bambang (PhD in economics), Endang and their two sons.  Endang had prepared a culinary tour of Indonesia - all our favorite Indonesian dishes and a few new ones.
Don't overlook food in the background. I'm hungry just typing this

This is the food in the background - I'm ready to search for an
Indonesian restaurant

Bambang works in the Ministry of Finance. Endang works with a NGO that is responsible for assuring the Gates and similar foundations that their money is used as intended. As a side note - a great conversation starter is to ask "Is corruption getting better or worse?" Endang said that she finds traveling to the small towns and villages energizing. Sadly she confirmed reports that sexual exploitation in Papua continues unabated. (To learn more and be saddened do a Google search.)

Very happy diners

Adit, in the foreground, recently received a master's in logistics in the UK. A wise career move as products are moving across the globe. He said that his favorite cities are London, New York, and Solo. He sent a list of 16 food/restaurant recommendations in Solo.(Contact us if you want the list - it is meant to share.) Afi, in the background, is a university student in accounting.

My brother and his wife graciously lent us their home, cook, and social skills to help us host a lunch. Gwendolyn suggested Louisiana barbecued shrimp. We weren't entirely sure who would show up - our estimate varied between 3 and 9. Shrimp ended up being perfect. We bought enough for the maximum number of guests. What wasn't needed could be put aside for later, and we could add shrimp to the grill to easily accommodate the final number of guests. As it ended up 7 people traveled from Bogor to join us. Geri, Subagyo and Herni's son, did yeoman's work by arranging the details.

Shrimp on the grill
A reunion of old friends

After lunch we returned to Bogor with our friends - more on Bogor later,

Our stay in Jakarta was largely limited to seeing family and friends. We first visited Jakarta in the early 1970s. We marveled how much cleaner and prosperous it is. Forty years ago the air was dirty from diesel fumes and dust from cement factories, now no diesel fumes and the cement factories have been overtaken by upscale developments. On thing that has not changed is the traffic. In 1974 traffic jams involved few cars, but now lots of beceks, motorbikes, carts and people. Now the jams consist mostly of cars. A MRT system is under construction. It is badly needed.

A note on the international friendship program. We participated in the program for 20 years. Along the way we made life long friends. The program matches American families with international students. The "host" family  meets with the students from time to time. We have had students to dinner (popular with single male students on a limited budget and with limited cooking skills), the farmer's market, the state fair, and the polls on election day. Many stories developed from these friendships. For example, when we asked students to view election result the Chinese student pointed out that the Chinese (in China) never voted (not even in classrooms), the Indian student said that it took weeks to know the election results, and the Egyptian student said that the outcome known before hand.  Americans with young children should consider participating in similar programs - students miss their families and appreciate going to school programs, which can stimulate conversations on schools and customs in child raising.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Borobudur and beyond

Hasan Bissri ( English-speaking guide
This was my 4th visit to Borobudur (1971, 1974, 1991), a 8th or 9th century Buddhist temple outside Yogjakarta (Indonesia), and the first with a guide. Although we had a series of okay, but not great, guides in India, we still felt that a guide would keep us from a superficial look at the temple. A potential guide approached us as we exited the visitor's center.. We hired him (temple has a set guide fee and all guides are licensed). We ended up with a first class guide. He not only described the site but created vivid memories.

Hasan Bissri ( pointed out that the steps to the top of Borobudur become steeper because "reaching nirvana is difficult." The difficulty of reaching nirvana was a theme that he developed throughout the tour. Another theme was the incorporation of Hinduism into the local Islamic culture; the most visible is the three parallel roofs instead of a dome on the mosques. Hassan was also a good source of information on the rehabilitation of Borobudur and separating the old components from the newer.
Path and steps leading into Borobudur

Another view of Borobudur
As we viewed the reliefs Hasan told the associated stories/fables that he had learned as a boy. Whether they matched up with existing scholarship wasn't important - the stories illustrated the depth of religious commitments. In one story (not associated with a relief) a woman was followed by a man who was intent on marrying her. She asked why he was so attracted to her. He that it was her beautiful eyes. He was told to wait outside her house; eventually a servant came out bearing her eye and told the potential suitor that now he had what he valued he should go away. The lesson  - people may be called to make great sacrifices not superficial ones.

Monkey to the right sacrificed his life to lead the other
monkeys to safety

Water drain - no longer in use
Devotees circling the stupas
"Open" stupa (a new innovation). Many Buddhas are missing - through
vandalism or held in private collections

West-facing Buddha - hand position represents meditation
A lasting lesson from Indonesia is how much one can accomplish with simple gestures. A sideways wave of the hand shoos away a beggar or hawker. In Solo we watched a becak driver clap his hands to attract another driver. The following sign illustrates the same tradition of a gentle touch.

From Borobudur we headed to an area devastated by the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi.
18 months after the eruption. The river bed is filled with volcanic ash distributed by a
superheated (600C) cloud of ash sweeping down the mountain, killing everything in its path.
The trucks are hauling off the ash in the river bed, which is being used to make bricks.

Out of disaster - opportunity. Drivers provide transport
to view more of the destruction

Signs of life returning
Another sign of life - for tourists tee-shirts and DVDs of eruption
 Our final stop was Prambanan a Hindu temple built about the same time as Borobudur (different sites give different ages, but both Borobudur and Prambanan are over a 1000 years old). In previous visits we attended the Ramayana ballet held in front of a temple. We couldn't go this time. The performances are from May to October (dry season); from the posters it looks less sedate than the performances we saw.

At Prambanan no guides appeared (perhaps because it was late in the day). We would have appreciated one especially to bring us up-to-date on the progress in repairing the temple from a 2006 earthquake.  Dust from the 2010 Merapi eruption was also visible. (A friend asked how the temple compared with those we saw in India. Prambanan included separate temples from Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu - not common in India. The temples seemed spikier and closer together than we had seen in Indian complexes.)
A view of the complex. In the foreground
old or recent destruction? We don't know
Borobudur requires sarongs - Prambanan doesn't
Local school girls posing (after taking pictures of Doug)
 As we left Premanan we want to buy a guide book. A hawker sought out a book and offered it to us for 100,000 rupiah; his final offer was 70,000 and ours was 60,000. A few minutes later he tracked us down and offered to sell it for 65,000. We agreed. After we completed the transaction we couldn't find Lina. The hawker pointed to where he thought she went. Long story short - after about 10 minutes he found her and we tipped him 5000. Everyone was happy. Sorry that we didn't get a picture.

Back in Yogjakarta we stopped for satay, wandered through a night market, and had dinner. At Borobudur we asked Hassan if tourism had helped the region. He said that it had and gave as an example that now most families had two or three motorbikes. As a picture below confirms there are a lot of motorbikes in Yogjakarta.
Cooking satay - other family members were cooking
at separate spots to her left and right

A view of the night market opposite the Sultan's Palace on a Saturday night.
Perhaps buying Yamaha stock would be a good idea
A lesehan (street restaurant) complete with street performers
Jalan Malioboran, the main drag, is filled with these street food options - relatively different from each other. We ate at one, but the next night we sought a restaurant with chairs.  The city has changed over 40 years.  Jalan Malioboran stores no longer close from noon to 3pm because of the heat.  While vendors have always occupied the sidewalks, they used to give way to food vendors after dark.  The lesehan are now located across the street from the main stores.  And motorcycle parking lots are everywhere (reminding me of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the late 60's and early 70's).

On logistics - we took at a train from Bandung to Yogjakarta - an 8 hour trip that took 9.5 hours. Later we learned that a faster train left an hour earlier (at 7 a.m.). About midway we stopped and waited for a train headed toward Bandung to pass. (We felt that we were back on Amtrak.) We were in an air conditioned car; sometimes the ac worked. On the return trip the ac cars were booked so we took business class which had fans. (Their presence was scarcely noticeable.) On the AC cars we rec'd pillows; on the business we paid for them! On the AC car the caterer was a pretty girl who received many orders; on the return two bored older men - not so much business. To get to Solo we took an hour long trip on a commuter train - comfortable. Far better than KL's KTM Commuter.

On the train to Yogjakarta
Padi fields along the way - a scenic trip
(but one way is enough)
The train to Solo
For our Yogjakarta tour we  booked a taxi (driver and car) through Cakra Tour and Travel ( They arranged for a driver to take us where we wanted to go for a very reasonable price. (They also have group tours.)