Monthly Archives:September 2010

Up From the Streets – Part 2

25 Sep 10
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One of the best things about traveling overseas is having the opportunity to learn about other cultures. And of course a large part of any culture is the food.We love Indonesian food. Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Mie Goreng (fried noodles) and so much more – it’s been a culinary joy to be here.

I went to Jakarta to start the paperwork one day before Beth and the kids, and for dinner I wandered over to a restaurant just down the street from the hotel in Jakarta’s Menteng district. We hadn’t been able to eat much Indonesian food yet, so I really wanted to try something different. I was interested in a particular item on the menu:

Usus Goreng Suharti

That is, until I saw the translation just below:

Fried Bowels Suhartis Style

I’m still hoping it was a typo, although for the life of me I can’t figure out what else they may have meant.

Now for the Hard Part

21 Sep 10

The timing for the start of our adventure couldn’t have been much worse. We arrived during what is arguably the busiest travel and holiday time in Indonesia – the end of Ramadan. It’s a time when it seems all of Indonesia is on the move, heading home to see family and friends.

We were supposed to be here in early August, before school started for the kids. That would also mean we’d return to the states with a bit of summer left next year, so we could re-acclimate before jumping into a new school year in Saratoga.

Indonesia though operates on what they call “jam karet,” or ‘rubber time.’ For individuals, this means in practice that if someone says they will see you at 10am, in actuality they may show up at 10:15, 0r 10:30, or perhaps even 11:45. Under the concept of jam karet they are still on time.

Life in Indonesia flows rather than unfolds. Those who create PowerPoint slideshows might call it a ‘slow reveal.’ Things happen, events carry you along. So after the first couple of weeks here, rubber time starts to make a bit more sense. The problem for our arrival though was that rubber time on a government scale can mean paperwork delays of weeks, or in our case more than a month.

I am traveling to Indonesia with two purposes in mind. I will be teaching at Universitas Padjadjaran in Bandung for five months, starting in February. But first I’ll be researching a British naturalist named Alfred Russel Wallace for five months. Wallace is a pretty cool dude, and I’ll talk more about him later.

While getting permission for temporary residency in just about any country can be difficult (even the U.S.), you tend to double the problems when you want to enter for two purposes, as I was doing, rather than just one. How this translated for me was that I needed to obtain both a research permit and a permit for teaching before I could apply for residency papers.

As it happened, the Indonesian government this year changed the organization that vets research proposals and issues the research permit. So several of the Senior Fulbright applicants – there were ten Senior Fulbright Scholars, including me, in total (and 44 student Fulbrighters who had different standards to meet) – were required to defend their research plans. Mine was deemed the least critical, so for some reason that meant I had to jump through more hoops than most if not all of the others in the group. There’s no point in explaining all the details, but suffice it to say that this meant we weren’t coming to Indonesia until September at the earliest.

We finally settled on leaving Saratoga on September 4th. The people in the Fulbright office in Indonesia actually asked us to delay our trip by yet another week, but we were anxious to get acclimated, and get the kids used to the idea of being overseas for an extended period.

Idul Fitri is the celebration breaking the month-long period of Ramadan. We arrived just as Ramadan was ending and Idul Fitri beginning. Because so many people travel for the celebration, nothing is done during this time. So we arrived, and we explored, and we waited. We also got to take the kids to their school for one day of classes before the holiday break. And then we went off to Jakarta to start the paperwork.

The Fulbright folks had much of the effort wired. Once we got there, we spent two and a half days wandering from office to office, following our handler. Once in an office, the handler would disappear behind office doors for a bit. They would briefly return, long enough for us to sign a document or two, provide copies of our passports and other important papers, or perform some other function before they disappeared again, returning a bit later to take us on to our next stop.

It’s a tedious process, but finally we were finished. We had a final dinner with Beth before she headed to the airport for her return state-side, and the kids and I took the train back to Bandung for the start of our new life. For the kids, I think saying goodbye to mom at the train station while knowing they wouldn’t see her again for three months was perhaps the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Up From the Streets – Part 1

19 Sep 10
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A real business in downtown Bandung. They even have a website:

It appears that one of their brands is called “Black ID.” Its slogan? “Every day is hell.”

Enough said.

Out Exploring

14 Sep 10
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I think Washington D.C. is one of the most livable cities in the United States. Not because of its people – to be honest, I believe attitudes there are not reflective of much of the rest of the country. I think Washington is a great place because it’s a big city that can feel like such a small town.

This effect comes in part from a piece of federal legislation enacted back in 1910 that restricts the height of buildings in the nation’s capital. The law was passed after a building in Cairo reached 12 stories – an unheard of height in those days, and well beyond the reach of fire ladders. U.S. lawmakers, worried about safety, simply wanted to prevent a disaster.

Interestingly, there is a pervasive myth (one I’ve also told in the past believing it to be true) that the law requires structures to be no taller than the Capitol building’s dome. The actual legislation determines height limits using a formula that involves the width of each street, but the effect is the same – few buildings stand taller than the Capitol. The tallest commercial building in the city stands just 12 stories, or 210 feet high (One Franklin Square, at 1301 K Street NW). Compare that to the Empire State Building in New York City, not the tallest building in New York and yet rising 1,250 feet.

The lack of skyscrapers gives Washington an open, approachable texture. But that’s not the only reason it has a small-town feel. It also has plenty of green space. Pocket parks abound and tree-lined streets can be found across the city. The man who designed Washington, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, also created site lines that end in public squares.

The result of these low buildings, open green spaces and streets that invite walking are momentary impressions of small-town life.

Oddly, Bandung leaves me at times with the same feeling. Traffic is nuts here, even worse than the snarls produced by DC’s notoriously nasty drivers. Under Indonesian traffic laws, motorcycles are presumed innocent in pretty much any traffic dispute, so they weave their way around cars and trucks with seeming impunity, behaving as if the law which gives them protection from wrongful prosecution also confers upon them some sort of immortality. A friend here refers to the motorcyclists as ‘temporary Indonesians’ because he says they drive as if they don’t expect to live for very long. And for those special few whose behavior even defies the rules that seemingly govern most motorcyclists, Adam has taken to calling them “Indo.” That’s because their life expectancy is even shorter than temporary Indonesians.

But even with the macet (pronounced mah-CHET), which is the Bahasa word for bad traffic, Bandung can give the impression of a small town, despite its size of about three million people. This comes from the very same things that make DC so livable.

For whatever reason, buildings here are rarely tall. The majority of buildings lining the main streets are two or three-story affairs, usually with retail below and either more retail or housing above.

I’m not certain why this is. Perhaps the way many of the buildings are constructed does not allow them to be tall. Watching some buildings go up makes me think that such things as architects and engineers are luxuries in the building field here. Perhaps the lack of tall buildings may also come from a concern for earthquakes in this natural disaster-prone part of the world. There are a scattered few relatively tall buildings, but these are generally reserved for hotels and shopping malls, businesses that can afford proper building design. But whatever the reason, except for a select few commercial districts, buildings remain low and spread out.

Bandung also seems to have a lot of leafy cover. Using Google Maps to fly over the city, one finds a good deal of green from trees and public parks. There are also many places where something has been torn down, but no structures have taken its place.

And while sidewalks are often missing, and when found are at best marginally passable, there are many areas of the city where walking can be a pleasure. In part this is a result of poverty – many people are forced by necessity to walk, or take the inexpensive Angkut buses that run on fixed routes, so pedestrians are readily accommodated and found lining most of the busier roads. But it’s also enjoyable to wander the streets, peeking in warungs (food stalls and small stores) and watching people. Just know that you must often wander onto the edges of streets to make your way around obstacles or to avoid falling into large holes that might suddenly appear along the footpath. And while much of the city has very good drainage ditches along roadways – ditches that are needed since it rains every day here – their coverings are often suspect or missing, so these potential pitfalls must also be avoided.

The point of all this though is that I find Bandung a livable city – with of course some major caveats. Pollution, as it is for many developing nations, is a constant. Trash litters streets and streams. Exhaust clouds from poorly maintained cars and trucks can at times produce enough particulate matter to choke not just one horse, but a whole stable of horses at the Saratoga Race Track.

Having been in Indonesia a couple of times in the recent past though, none of these issues came as a surprise. So we are enjoying the discovery of our new home for ten months, by foot, car, and sometimes even byKijang.

Sleepless Nights

11 Sep 10
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We left the U.S. on September 4th, and after 35-hours spent either on planes or trying to catch some sleep in departure lounges we arrived at Soekarno-Hatta airport midday on Monday, September 6th. We were met by representatives of the Indonesian Fulbright office, known as AMINEF. They gathered us up, along with our 250 pounds of luggage (including more than 100 pounds of books), and took us to their Jakarta office for a brief meeting with the director of AMINEF. Then they drove us by van for the 3-hour trip to Bandung, our home for the next ten months.

We slept for much of the trip, missing the climb through the volcanoes ringing the city, and awoke in darkness on the outskirts of town.

Waking the next morning, we took stock of our surroundings. My department chair at the school where I will be teaching beginning in February has graciously given us her nephew’s apartment to use temporarily. It is Idul Fitri (known as Eid ul-Fitr throughout much of the rest of the Islamic world). Idul Fitri is a three day holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. While the holiday officially lasts three days, many Indonesians take the opportunity to return to their kampungs, or local villages, to spend more time with their families. This is where our host has gone, and it is why his apartment is empty for us.

Unfortunately, it seemed everyone else in the compound where the apartment is located has had the same idea, leaving the area with a desolate, Mad Max kind of feel.

The compound appears to be relatively new, and was dropped in the middle of fields on the southeast edge of town. Each home is surrounded by high concrete walls on three sides, with a metal fence blocking the front. And the entire compound is surrounded by another wall, with entry points blocked by guard posts. It’s an interesting conundrum – while crime seems relatively low, at least when compared to large American cities (for instance, there is nowhere in Bandung where I would feel threatened while walking at one in the morning) most middle-class Indonesians seem to want to live in a fashion that isolates them from the rest of society. I’m not yet sure why that is.

Surrounding the compound are fields, bordered by other compounds. The streets are desolate, with few people out even during the day. The closest business district is a long walk away, and we choose not to risk the trek until we know more about our surroundings. Instead, we call a cab and begin exploring our new city.

We quickly visit the children’s school. The Bandung International School, lovingly known as BIS (pronounced Biss), will play an important role during the kids’ time here. Because of the amount of time they will spend in class, it will almost be more of a home for them than where we will be living. So it’s important that it feels right.

It does. The facility is well-secured, which is a good thing for any space where the children of many international families gather. While safety is high throughout most of Indonesia, if there ever were an incident foreigners, especially those known as Bule, (white folks) would make likely targets. We don’t expect any difficulties, but it’s nice to know the school is a safe place.

The class size is small – averaging 14 students per grade. The classrooms are open and airy, with those on the ground floor having one wall of windows and a door that opens out to a covered area with benches. The kids eat at the outside tables, and sometimes have classes there. And even the ‘halllways’ are outdoors, with thin roofs protecting students from the daily rains. There are basketball courts and a wonderful swimming pool families can use when the school is not in session.

I’ll post more about the school later.

After a couple of days exploring, we are beginning to feel more settled. By Thursday night, we even feel sleepy at bedtime as the jetlag begins to, well, lag. As we curl up and start to drift off for the night, a sudden explosion just outside our door snaps Beth and I awake. It sounds like someone firing a shotgun, uncomfortably close to our house.

This is the same week that a crazy ‘preacher’ in Florida – although I don’t think anyone with so much hatred in their heart should be called a religious man – announced plans to burn a Koran, the holy book of Islam. Much of the world, and fortunately much of America, responded with outrage. But given that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, that did not stop me from thinking briefly that these blasts could be some sort of retaliation.

I jumped out of bed and peered carefully through the corner of a front window, seeing nothing. So I went out the front door, and finally saw fireworks lighting up the night sky. Part of the celebration at the end of Ramadan includes shooting off fireworks.

Clearly we have so much to learn.


08 Sep 10

Well, here we are in Indonesia. Finally.

Getting here was an adventure. We arrived a month late, after endless rounds of phone calls, paperwork, and wondering if the proper documents would ever be approved.

In order for us to travel to Indonesia, I needed to obtain two documents in particular – one granting approval for my research, the other for my teaching. My Fulbright is a hybrid – five months conducting research on Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist who spent 8 years here in the mid-1800s, and five months teaching at Universitas Padjadjaran in Bandung. So I can’t stay here on just one visa, like tourists or other folks. I needed to go through twice the paperwork. And basically, that’s what slowed things up. So we arrived a month late.

But now we’re here, the blog is set up, and I hope to start posting comments with some regularity now. So check back periodically for more.

(And by the way, don’t the kids look great in their Batik outfits? We were invited to a wedding, and were told that proper dress involves wearing batik – so we did)

The Grant

04 Sep 10
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Early in 2010, I learned that I had been awarded a Senior Fulbright grant to travel to Indonesia for ten months. While there I will be spending five months researching British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, and an additional five months teaching at Universitas Padjadjaran.

I will be taking my kids with me, and we’ll be living in the town of bandung, on the island of Java.

This blog will document our adventures.

Willman Bio

01 Sep 10
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A national award-winning correspondent and editor for more than 35 years, Dale Willman is a leading voice in environmental journalism, and a Fulbright Fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year in Indonesia, where he is researching noted British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Willman runs his own production company and reports on environmental issues for a number of outlets. He also lectures and teaches on college campuses on numerous topics, from environmental journalism to diversity in the media, and podcasts for Slate.Com.

Willman spent more than 10 years in various roles at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. During the first Gulf War he provided reporting and hourly newscasts from London. His work was included in NPR’s receipt of the 1991 duPont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Also while with NPR, Willman shared a Peabody Award for his work on the Lost and Found Sound series broadcast on All Things Considered. He produced and edited the most popular program in the series, documenting legendary radio station CKLW. Willman also produced NPR’s coverage from the Littleton, Colorado school shootings.

As a correspondent he won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his CNN Radio series, Broadway’s Dirty Little Secret. The series detailed environmental problems surrounding the production of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Willman documented the health hazards faced by musicians who underwent a daily onslaught of chemicals from the pyrotechnic explosions that took place during the show. He was the only Environmental Correspondent in the history of CNN Radio.

While with CBS, Willman provided coverage of the White House, Capital Hill, the Pentagon and the State Department for CBS Radio stations. He also served as field producer and correspondent for a number of major events, from U.S.-Soviet Summits to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

As Managing Editor for the Great Lakes Radio Consortium for two years, Dale turned a small radio news service into a regional powerhouse. The news feed’s coverage was expanded by more than 10 percent, reaching 135 public radio stations in 20 states and Canada. The service won more than a dozen national and regional awards during that time, including a national Edward R. Murrow Award (2002) for best use of sound.

Willman has a master’s degree in Environment and Community from Antioch University and a certificate in Environmental Law and Policy from the graduate school at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from The Ohio State University. He has served on the board of a number of environmental journalism organizations, and is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers and Investigative Reporters and Editors. Willman is also a member of the Lower Adirondacks Search And Rescue (LASAR) organization.