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Indonesia – General | Field Notes Productions | Page 2

Category Archives: Indonesia – General

Technology

22 Jun , 2011,
Willman
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I’m an old guy. I remember the first commercially successful video game – a 2-dimensional tennis game called Pong on which I used to destroy my friend Tim. My first computer was an Osborne, named after its creator, Adam Osborne. It was the world’s first commercially available portable computer, so heavy it was called a ‘luggable.’ It was developed before there even was a Microsoft – it ran the CP/M operating system.

Having used computers so early in their life cycle, I’ve never been afraid of technology. I used one of the first commercial spreadsheets called “Supercalc” on my Osborne to make it through my ‘Stats for Social Science Dummies’ course at Ohio State, and that taught me the value technology can provide.

But I have also seen the downside of technology. Kids more interested in video games than in going outside and playing with the real world. Adults who can’t have a family dinner without checking their Crackberries. Weapons systems that can kill hundreds while operators watch on a video screen while sipping coffee from thousands of miles away.

Technology has especially changed the media landscape. My colleagues in equal parts bemoan the demise of traditional forms of media distribution and rejoice over the freedom technology is bringing to our craft.

Today technology is touted as the answer to just about anything, from improving our kid’s grades to finding better crops to feed the world’s hungry.

In all the excitement of promoting all things technological though, most futurists tend to forget one thing – there remains a major divide in the world between the technology haves and the have-nots, and because of this divide any benefits accrued from technology are not evenly spread.

This was brought home to me most recently when stopping by the ATM. We survive here because of an international banking system that allows me to withdraw money from my account in the U.S. at a little machine in a windowed booth on Jalan Surya Sumantri in northwest Bandung. But despite all the major technology advances in the world, my ability to get cash only works when the network connecting my bank to the one in Indonesia is actually functioning. And that network isn’t doing so well.

Over the past few weeks, for every ATM visit where I can withdraw cash there are 5 or 6 that come up dry.

I was concerned that this might be a problem affecting only my bank, or even my ATM card, until I had dinner last weekend with a German friend. It turns out that she has had similar problems for weeks. Which means that the international banking network is failing in Indonesia.

This is not the only technology issue we face here. Cell phones are ubiquitous. I’ve written in the past of how lesser developed nations have been able to leap-frog technology, skipping land line phones almost entirely and moving right into the cellphone world. But most information comes not from cellphones, but from the internet, and that’s where the bottlenecks occur.

Internet access overall is spotty. The most recent figures I’ve seen put broadband penetration at about 12% of the country. To place that in perspective, a news story last year noted the United States is ranked just 20th in the world in broadband, saying it had “a mere 60%” of households with broadband. That’s five times as much as Indonesia.

Our driver sometimes spends the night here when he doesn’t want to brave the hour long motorcycle ride home. Often he will spend the night on the couch downstairs, where he can get a good signal from our wireless router, and surf the web. I’ll often find him asleep on the couch in the morning, phone in hand. At his home, where he lives with his parents, he doesn’t have internet. Our monthly payment just for high speed internet access equals one half of his monthly salary, so for him home internet is a luxury.

The ramifications for this country of course could be great. Indonesia continues its push to be taken seriously as a world economic power. But as the world becomes ever more reliant on technology to conduct business, if Indonesia cannot improve its technology infrastructure it will be left even further behind.

Indonesia is of course not alone with this problem. Last year I worked with radio stations in Malawi where reporters had to walk several kilometers from the station in order to get dial-up internet access. But Indonesia has a much larger economy, and its leaders say the nation will become a major regional economic power soon. How that will happen though without a robust technology infrastructure I just can’t imagine.

Technology of course is not the only issue troubling Indonesia, where roadways are falling apart, access to clean water is severely limited and reliant transportation systems are difficult, if not impossible, to find. But more and more of the world’s business is conducted on-line. Without a robust technology infrastructure, Indonesia and its 240 million people will continue to find itself in the have-not category.

Graffiti

16 Jun , 2011,
Willman
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Graffiti is everywhere, from the subway cars of New York and Bangkok to the streets of Bandung. Here, Aris tells us that at least some of the graffiti is gang-related, as it is back in the states. But my favorite drawing here has no gang connotations at all – it’s just fun.

The graffiti was painted on a tower along a bridge in central Bandung. The bridge elevates a highway over another road, and it’s usually a fast way to get past some of the local traffic. Because cars move so quickly on this road (which is unusual in Bandung) it’s surprising that the artist could find a good time to do his or her work. But I’m glad they did.

 

Testing the Senses, and Durian

14 Jun , 2011,
Willman
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The first thing you notice as you enter just about any Indonesian city, other than perhaps the traffic, is the smells. You’re not as much assaulted by them as you are beaten over the head by a cricket bat full of all kinds of odors.

Standing recently at a mobile Singkong Keju stand (similar to the stand in the picture), the smell of fried cassava covered with powdered cheese coming from the stand competed with fumes from a sputtering motorcycle roaring by. Under the sidewalk just behind the vendor runs a storm water drain that doubles as a repository for just about any kind of trash, so depending on where you stand you might also be smelling rotted fruit peelings, decaying leaves, or even human waste.

Behind a block-long street lined by our favorite market stalls in Jakarta runs a small concrete-lined canal that on our last visit smelled like an open sewer, forcing us to run past intersecting streets to quickly get away from the odor.

Pollution control laws, if they even exist, are apparently not enforced. Trash is dumped indiscriminately and clearly without much thought, left to rot along the street. And it’s not a poverty issue – it’s not unusual to see a window on a Mercedes or BMW glide silently open only to have a McDonalds bag or an ash tray dumped along the roadside.

Cars and motorcycles spew smelly clouds of exhaust while trucks add dark clouds of particulate matter to the air. And this is one of the worst pollutants of all, as far as I’m concerned. While we live in an area that is removed from much of the pollution, the soot from exhaust goes everywhere – it can travel as much as 30 miles on air currents, and sometimes even farther. The smaller the particle, the lighter it is, which means it can travel long distances on air currents. And the smaller it is, the more damage it can inflict.

The smallest particles are labeled PM2.5, which means they are two and a half microns in width or smaller. For perspective, that’s perhaps 18 times smaller than the width of a human hair. These small particulates released by diesels and other pollution sources can make their way deep into your lungs. Larger particles (PM10) become trapped by mucous and are moved out of the airways by tiny hairs called cilia. But the smaller particles can move deeper into the lungs where they cannot be removed in this fashion. Instead, they are trapped there, where they can help cause lung disease, emphysema and even lung cancer.

Worse yet, these soot particles can link up with other small items in the air column, including toxic organic compounds and heavy metals, helping to transport these items into your lungs. It’s almost impossible to avoid the soot clouds, so every time you’re breathing it in, you’re not only having your senses assaulted, you’re also getting a dose of other stuff you really don’t want in your body.

Cars are not the only source of air pollution. Open burning is quite common, and comes with its own unique smells. Even in more expensive neighborhoods it’s not unusual to see a pile of trash smoldering at curbside. While taking pictures this week along a major road running through a portion of central Bandung, I watched a large cloud of smoke rise from behind a fence. At one point, the smoke threatened to grow so large that it might actually have impeded traffic at one of the city’s busiest intersections. Such sightings are commonplace here.

Burning trash can release many toxic chemicals, especially if plastic is part of the trash mix. And burning plastic simply smells awful.

Perhaps the worst olfactory assault though is a natural scent. It comes from a fruit called Durian. Durian, known here as the king of fruits, has a large following in Southeast Asia. It’s a large oblong fruit, pale green in color and covered with sharply pointed spikes. It’s heavy enough that people who have been unlucky to be under a durian tree when the fruit falls have been seriously injured or killed.

So why the attraction? Durian is considered by many to be the best tasting fruit in the world. The website durianpalace.com calls the fruit “nature’s grandest pudding.” Alfred Russel Wallace, the British naturalist I am researching, loved durian, describing its taste in 1856 as “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds.”

Durians are also full of vitamins, containing an ample supply of vitamins B, C and E, along with tryptophan and iron.

There’s just one problem with durian – it smells like a nasty fart. Or stale vomit. Or French Custard passed through a sewer pipe. Or all of those things at once.

According to Adam Leith Gollner, author of “The Fruit Hunters,” the smell of durian has even been described as “a disinterred corpse clutching a wheel of blue cheese.”

The smell comes from sulfur compounds. Durian contains more than 40 different types of sulfur compounds, including those found in skunks. The smell is intended to attract animals which will consume the fruit and spread its seeds across the forest in scat. That’s a good plan in the rainforest, but not so much when brought into the nearest Yomart or Giant Hypermart. Whenever we hit the grocery store, we need to prepare ourselves for a blast of durian.

While beloved by many in the region, durian is actually banned in some public places because of its odiferous nature. In Singapore, passengers on the city’s subway lines face a $500 fine for carrying the fruit with them. And many hotels will not allow visitors to bring in durian.

Eating durian can apparently be dangerous too. Drinking alcohol while eating durian can lead to severe bloating. In his book, “Extreme Cuisine,” Jerry Hopkins mentions a news report of a “fat German tourist who devoured a ripe durian, followed by a bottle of Thai Mekong rice whisky, then took a hot bath and exploded.”

One of my favorite stories from Gollner’s “The Fruit Hunters” involves a durian tasting party he co-hosted in New York City. While he and his friends enjoyed their fruit, the rest of the building was being evacuated because of a suspected gas leak. But it was just the durian.

So why go through all the potentially nauseating effort? There is an old adage about durian – it smells like hell, but tastes like heaven. Alfred Russel Wallace said its taste was “worth a voyage to the East to experience” – strong words at a time when traveling to the east meant surviving a dangerous journey by sea of several months. Wallace added that “as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.”

I can’t say whether durians are worth such an effort – we haven’t tried them yet. But we plan to before we leave, and time is running out. I’ll be sure to post about the experience.

Smells in Indonesia, despite all this, are not all bad. In fact, there is a richness to the smells here that at times can just overwhelm you. The best place for this is anywhere food is being cooked. Southeast Asian cuisine involves many spices, and their liberal use livens up not only the food, but the surrounding air. The list of spices seems almost endless. Chilies, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, curry leaf, ginger, lemongrass – it goes on.

The point I suppose is that unlike in the sanitized west, Indonesia is alive with smells, both good and bad. Staying here is a sensory experience we will not soon forget.

Learning a Language

3 Jun , 2011,
Willman
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I’m terrible with languages.

Research has shown that children exposed early in life to different dialects are able to learn languages more easily later in life. That gives me a small amount of comfort. As a kid I had a few weeks of French in 4th or 5th grade, and that’s it. In high school there were no language requirements, so of course I didn’t take one. Our family had no real ethnic identity, which meant we heard no foreign language at home. So my only real foreign language exposure involved listening to people with a southern Ohio accent, which while interesting isn’t quite the same thing. Hearing people saying “Booshis” instead of bushes isn’t going to tune the ear for the finer elements of, say, the French language.

All this means I struggle with languages now, and that’s a real impediment when living overseas.

The national language of Indonesia is called Bahasa. I’ve had sporadic lessons here, and have picked up some words and phrases. But the kids, with no formal lessons, know more.

Despite my overall ignorance though, I do enjoy languages. Especially when people have fun with words. Such is the case at a chain of convenience stores here. The fun is in the name.

The name of the store is “Tujuh Sebelas.” Those words are actually numbers. So the name of the store, in Bahasa, is translated as “7-11.” Of course, it’s a convenience store.

That’s Using Your…

29 May , 2011,
Willman
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As the saying goes, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.

 

In this instance, it’s playing a flute. This street musician generates air by blowing through his nose. I guess it’s one way to keep people from borrowing your instrument.

In the Heat of the Night

25 May , 2011,
Willman
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It’s the dry season in Bandung – you can tell by the heat. Since the beginning of May we’ve had many more days where the daytime temperature, rather than hitting the high 80s, has well exceeded 90-degrees. At night, the muggy air in my bedroom never drops below 80.

It’s hard to tell that it’s the dry season though, because the rains haven’t stopped, at least yet. Many locals will tell you it has rained every day in Bandung for more than three years. That’s a bit deceptive, because it may rain in the southern part of the city one day, and the north the next. But we still get more than our share of rain. In fact, it’s raining right now. And we have, at least in part, climate change to thank for this abundance of water during the hot season.

The difference in rain between the seasons seems to be one of intensity. During the rainy season most rains came as gentle downpours. Rarely would the heavens simply open up and dump on us. Now that’s changed. More often than not it seems the rains, when they come, are of biblical proportions, with lightning appearing to be everywhere at once, and thunder loud enough to make sleeping babies cry. Streets suddenly become rivers, with cars ferrying people across and along what have suddenly become massive waterways.

Given this, it would seem that Indonesia would not have many water problems. But that would be wrong. Like much of the world, water issues are severe here.

The most visible problem of course is pollution. Batik factories in central Java turn rivers red, blue and indigo every time they dump their waste dyes into the closest water body. Street runoff in Jakarta and Bandung deposits used motor oil, dirt and plastic bags into nearby canals and streams.

Equally a problem is the disposal of human waste. Cities have sewer systems, but just as their water pipes leak precious water, the sewer lines also leak, spewing raw sewage into the ground, and into waterways. And not everyone has access to the sewer system anyway. So poorer households may simply dump their wastes into the nearest canal or stream under the assumption that it will be carried away. Of course, the problem with that is someone upstream is doing the same thing.

This problem with water became very apparent to us recently.

A few months ago we were exploring an unfamiliar area of south central Jakarta, looking for a statue of Barack Obama located in an elementary school courtyard. Not far from the school we stumbled on a street lined with fabulous stalls selling everything from old diving equipment and ancient typewriters to ceremonial daggers. However, lacking the time to really explore, we didn’t get back there until a couple of weeks ago.

The stalls line the eastern side of a one kilometer stretch of the busy street of Surabaya. We had a Tuk-tuk drop us at the northern end, and began wandering in and out of shops. Now and then a side street would open up revealing a canal just behind the shops to the east and more shops beyond. After perhaps 30 minutes of wandering and bargaining, we decided to cross over the canal when we were hit by the smells of raw sewage. Apparently the canal, which was slow-moving, served for some as a toilet. The stench was overpowering, and sent us running back to Jalan Surabaya while trying to hold our breath.

So for Indonesians, much of the country’s surface water really isn’t fit to drink. Those who can afford it rely on large containers of bottled water instead. Those who can’t afford to buy bottled water are often sick.

Out in the countryside, rainwater is sometimes used. We were driving to Krakatau in April during an incredible storm when we passed a young woman standing outside her home in nothing but her underwear. She was showering and brushing her teeth in the relatively clean rainwater pouring off the roof.

I say relatively clean because a report last year by Indonesia’s weather agency indicated that the pH level of the country’s rainwater is dropping precipitously, from 5.6 in 2009 to 4.52 last year in Jakarta, and even less in some other cities. Who knows what that measure is today.

pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of water. It’s measured on a scale of 1-14. 7 is neutral, while anything lower is considered acidic, and anything higher is considered alkaline. The lower the number, the more acidic. Each whole value change below 7 means the reading is ten times higher in acid content than the higher whole value.

Normal rain has a pH of anywhere from 5.6 to 6. It is slightly acidic because it reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to form carbonic acid, which is considered to be very weak. So a reading of 4.52 in Jakarta means that rainwater is slightly more than ten times stronger as an acid than normal rainwater.

Now to put that in a little perspective, Indonesia does not hold a lock on acid rain. The pH of rain around Washington, D.C. according to the U.S. geological Survey is between 4.2 and 4.4, or just a bit worse than Jakarta. But it is still an additional pollutant load for the waters here.

Carbon dioxide is not the only way rainwater can become acidic. As we know from the Adirondacks, other pollutants can cause acid rain as well. Sulfur emissions from Midwest power plants for many years turned Adirondacks rain into a brew of sulfuric acid, ruining thousands of lakes in the region. Car exhaust added to the problem, spewing nitrogen into the air to form more acid. Scrubbers on power plant smokestacks eventually reduced the sulfur, and the lakes have partially recovered. But that improvement has stalled because the car exhaust remains.

The same duo of problems faces Indonesian water. Cars and motorcycles are everywhere here, spewing a potent brew of gases and particulates. With emissions testing non-existent, it’s not a great leap to see how nitrogen releases are causing major problems. And the traffic keeps getting worse – we have noticed a major increase in traffic jams just in the nine months we’ve been here.

Coal is a major power source for Indonesia, as well as a major source of income. The country is a major coal exporter, with 2/3rds of its reserves in deposits on the island of Sumatra, which lies to the west of us. Because of this ready supply, coal power is a major energy source on Sumatra, and the prevailing winds blow emissions our way.

So Indonesia is faced with the same pollution that causes acid rain as the U.S. Unfortunately, they seem to do little to reduce those emissions.

Pollution is not the only problem with Indonesia’s water – how its use is allocated is also at issue.

Indonesia grows many tons of food each year to feed its fast-growing population, and many additional tons of food are exported to other south Asian countries. All that agriculture though requires a lot of water. While in the United States about 42% of fresh water use goes to irrigate crops, that number is more than double here. 91% of freshwater withdrawals are used to help feed a hungry nation, according to figures presented by another Fulbright Fellow at a recent conference.

A major cause of water loss is poor irrigation. Rice is an important food crop here. Most rice farmers divert water from a source – a stream or a well – into one end of their fields, where it flows downhill from one paddy to the next until it flushes out at the bottom. Canals moving water to the top of the fields are not lined, so a large amount of water seeps back into the ground. More water evaporates. The canals are sometimes used to dispose of trash, and weeds clog them, causing them to overflow in heavy rains.

Canals here are generally part of the problem. Long ago when Indonesia had many fewer people canals made sense. In a land of abundant water it was an easy way to grow food. But today, with more than 130 million people crowded onto an island the size of Florida, better water management is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity if they want to continue feeding everyone.

Other farmers not growing rice use similar techniques to water their crops. The result is a massive waste of this resource.

I was at a conference years ago when a speaker, talking about so-called urban renewal in American cities, said “Tearing down an old stately building shows a lack of vision.” That comment resonated with me, and I’ve thought a lot since then about the difficulty in changing the paradigms we use in our lives. So it was with some interest that I listened to that Fulbright presentation on water use. The scholar went on about pilot projects aimed at helping to reduce water loss in canals, and how to help farmers reduce water loss even further.

After the presentation I pointed out that they were making incremental reductions in water usage. So I asked if they thought instead about teaching permaculture methods that would simply end the need for most irrigation, marking a dramatic change in water use. He said that wasn’t part of their project.

Introducing permaculture techniques can be challenging. Last year I led a workshop in Zambia where we taught introductory permaculture to journalists, so they could then produce stories about these better farming practices. But our two day workshop barely covered the most basic information.

It’s a shame so much knowledge of permaculture has been lost. After all, this is not a new science – rather, it’s a return to the farming methods used by our ancestors. Permaculture respects the land, and uses local knowledge to grow better crops using no chemical inputs. The land is healthy, and so are those who depend on it for their livelihoods.

There are many answers to problems, including those plaguing Indonesia’s water supplies. But in my mind, one universal impediment to solving those problems is simply a lack of vision – a vision that would allow us to re-think the way we define things. Until that occurs, Indonesia’s water problems will no doubt remain.

 

 

Yes, that's a rat eating the trash

Heard on TV – Part 1

17 May , 2011,
Willman
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Advertising for new Hawaii Five-O episodes, broadcast on the AXN cable television network:

 

“The hot bods, in the hot rods! Hawaii Five-O…”

 

Television promotion writers are apparently the same around the world.

Challenging Comfort Zones

12 May , 2011,
Willman
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One of the great things about living overseas is that you’re sometimes forced to move out of your comfort zone. That’s actually a good thing – as the post-modernist French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once said, “To open our eyes to the absurdity of our own customs is the charm and benefit of travel.”

By nature of living in another country, your eyes are opened a great deal. Especially when it comes to food.

We’ve been exposed to many new foods during our time in Indonesia – rice porridge, cooked rabbit on a stick, tempe, even sea cucumbers. But I was still not prepared for my first visit to a padang restaurant.

I gave a talk at a U.S. embassy facility in Jakarta last week, and I was returning to Bandung in a van with another professor and a group of students from UNPAD, the school where I teach. My professor friend Dandi loves to eat (I made sure we had donuts for the early-morning trip to Jakarta) and it had been a few hours since his last meal, so we stopped at one of the many rest areas found along the toll road for dinner.

If you were to take a poll on what type of food is most available around the world, it is likely that Chinese would win by a large margin. The Chinese have been traders for thousands of years, settling just about everywhere, and they bring their food with them. I’ve never traveled to a country that hasn’t had at least a few good Chinese restaurants.

Padang is the Chinese food of the Malay Archipelago.

Padang is the capital city of the province of West Sumatra. The people who live in the area are known as the Minangkabau. The Minangkabau people have been quite mobile historically, finding their way across the Malay Archipelago. And just like the Chinese, they are known for their food.

Padang food uses coconut milk and chili to achieve its famous taste. And the Minangkabau people are known for their love of cattle products, especially offal – the entrails and internal organs. So a meal in a padang restaurant provides an interesting assault on your taste buds, and for many westerners your gag reflex as well.

There are no menus. We sat down at one of a number of long tables, and within a minute or so a waiter brought an array of dishes balanced on his arm like a waiter in a Groucho Marx movie. Except this waiter never seems to drop a plate, despite as many as ten or 12 dishes balanced precariously, lining his arm from his wrist to his chin.

All the dishes are deposited along the length of the table. Diners simply pick through the dishes, eating what they like. When done, the waiter returns with a pad and pencil and using some seemingly magical formula he determines precisely how much was eaten, and at what cost.

The dishes are mostly things rarely found on a U.S. menu. A squishy dish of cow brains sits right in front of me, next to one containing dark brown slices of fried cow lung. Balanced across a dish of squid and another of cow feet sits a satay containing skewers filled with cow hearts.

There was also a shrimp dish cooked in chilies, some fried chicken, a tiny fish that is eaten whole, a plate containing jackfruit, some papaya leaves and a green chili paste.

All this is eaten using the fingers of your right hand only. Rolling a small ball of rice, you use the rice to scoop up the rest of the food. When you’re done, a small metal bowl of water sitting to the back of your plate is used to rinse your fingers.

The older I get, the less I enjoy eating meat. It’s been a struggle to get our cook here to cut back on meat dishes. So while I’m perhaps as adventurous as the next guy, the idea of eating cow brain and lungs simply did not appeal to me. While the rest in our group plowed their way through the various dishes, I contented myself by eating rice, shrimp, and the oddly dry and tasteless papaya leaves.

Americans laugh when they hear of such dishes. We would no sooner eat cow brains then we would shoe leather. But every culture has dishes that others might find offensive. The Muslims of Indonesia look at our consumption of pork the same way we view the eating of rabbits or horses. I love the cultural understanding we’re gaining while here, and at least some of that comes from eating the different foods. Except this time, I got all the understanding I needed by just watching.

Toward the end of the meal Dandi disappeared for a few minutes, and when he returned he had paid for the bill. I asked how much I owed him and he laughed. “You hardly ate anything,” he said. Here I thought no one was watching.

Name in Lights

3 May , 2011,
Willman
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I had my name up in lights today.

I’ve been fortunate during my career to have accomplished things I never dreamed possible when I started in broadcasting as a young kid back in 1974 (every time I say that I feel really old). I anchored NPR newscasts from London during the first Gulf War (the only newscasts ever produced for NPR from overseas), covered presidential summits and inaugurations as well as the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, and produced from Colorado for NPR news shows following the Columbine school shootings. But I have never had my name up in lights – until today.

May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. Supported by UNESCO, it’s a day to reflect upon the role of a free press in promoting and strengthening democracy.

Despite all the negative rhetoric aimed at the media, especially in the U.S., the reality is that a strong and free press is one of the primary pillars of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, acknowledged this when he said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Just think about it – one of the founding fathers of the world’s longest-running democracy placed that much value on a free and unfettered press.

The media folks at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta asked me to give a presentation in honor of World Press Freedom Day. The embassy has a shiny new facility inside one of Jakarta’s most upscale malls where they present any number of events, from musical concerts to dances to lectures. Called “@America,” it’s full of electronic toys, from wide screen TVs showing bits of American memorabilia to a huge computer display where visitors can fly themselves around the world using Google Earth.

It’s a perfect place to give a talk.

I traveled to Jakarta with Dandi Supriadi, my friend and colleague from UNPAD, where I have been teaching this semester. The embassy did not know we worked together, so by coincidence Dandi and I were invited separately. I would be speaking, while Dandi moderated. I was grateful to have my friend along.

When we arrived, we were met by intense security. When entering just about any mall in Indonesia today, guests must have their bags searched or x-rayed, or both, and metal detectors are also common. Cars are given at least a cursory look, with undercarriages checked for bombs by the use of mirrors on the end of long sticks.

Unfortunately, malls and other ex-pat gathering places have been bombing targets in the past, so security is taken seriously. And at up-scale malls such as this one (Pacific Place) where westerners are more likely to gather, security becomes even tighter. Drivers here must open up engine compartments and trunks for further inspection before being waved into parking areas. And passengers sometimes have a metal-detector wand passed over them before even entering the building.

So after passing through the mall’s security we made our way past the Ritz Carleton Hotel, the Mount Blanc store, Tiffanys and Bulgari to the third floor of the building where @America opened earlier this year. Here we were greeted by even more security.

The facility sits in the corner of the mall. Those attempting to visit walk up to a very sparse entrance. Its main feature is a glass window, likely bullet-proof, where you are observed by security officials. Once you meet approval you pass through a door on the left into a short hallway before turning right and entering a larger, brightly-lit room. In this area there are Plexiglas containers where all bags and other belongings are left. I had to leave my small Swiss Army knife in a case along with my backpack. Even my laptop had to stay here initially, despite it containing my PowerPoint presentation.

Finally you pass through another metal detector before being allowed to enter the facility itself.

We opened the door to enter a main hall. Straight ahead was the doorway into the performance space, and there overhead, much to my surprise, was a marque with my name on it. To be honest, the flashing lights were embarrassing, but at the same time a lot of fun to see.

We arrived here after a nice lunch and conversation with embassy officials and a few other journalists, including my friend Harry Surjadi, who is an environmental journalist and trainer. He’s currently working on an amazing project on Kalimantan.

We were early enough to talk to the technicians who would set up my presentation. They discussed the remote I would use to operate the computer, and we discussed the best way to run the short video I was going to play at the beginning of my talk. By the time we were done, many members of the audience had taken their seats on the AstroTurf covered risers.

The audience, I was told, was to be a group of working journalists who would fill the 120 seats of the lecture space. When I began though the majority of seats were taken up by students.

This was an important distinction. Working journalists by nature are skeptical, challenging what they hear and wanting a robust discussion of important issues. Students meanwhile lack the confidence needed to challenge presenters, so tend to be more passive.

While this gross generalization seems to be true of any journalism group I have worked with, including my students back at Skidmore, it is even more so here in Indonesia. My lecturing at UNPAD has shown me that it is almost impossible to get Indonesian students unfamiliar with you or your work to react and respond. I tend to work very hard when lecturing students here, at times breaking them into groups to work on problems, walking throughout the classroom to call on individual students for responses and trying to find other ways to make them stronger participants. Even then, getting an active classroom is not always possible.

And today it was even tougher. Because I was expecting working journalists, I had not built into the presentation any places for the active engagement needed for students. But it was too late to change things up.

The presentation still went well. My goal is always to make it less a lecture and more a conversation. To do this I had a number of points where I would ask the audience questions, and encourage a broader talk.

This is a risky thing to do here. For American audiences I can usually read faces and determine fairly well what I need to do to engage them. Americans easily show attentiveness, indifference, even boredom on their faces and in their body language. Indonesians though tend not to show emotion, instead closely hiding how they really feel about something. This issue has made its way into scholarly research, with a number of papers seeming to link it to the Chinese concern about losing ‘face.’ I don’t know that such a comparison can be accurately made, but regardless this is a common behavior here.

This issue has even been discussed in regard to President Obama. I have read some comments about his seemingly distant appearance at times, with people linking this to his time spent with his mother and step-father in Indonesia. An interesting pop-psychology approach.

Despite these concerns, the audience became engaged during the talk, and challenged both me and each other during the question period at the end. All in all, it was a great conversation about a free and unfettered press and its role in supporting democracy around the world. We talked about the price journalists can face in doing their jobs – two Indonesian environmental journalists were killed just before we arrived last September because of stories they were covering. And we talked about why it’s important to keep doing what we do.

Finally, it was a great opportunity to meet other journalists, many of whom have continued the conversation through e-mail.

I love what I do, and I enjoy the opportunity to understand my craft even better. Times like this are a gift. Getting my name up in lights was just a pretty nice bonus.