Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jakarta: Wrapping It Up

We got an early start for our request to see the original harbor, home to the shipping area of the spice trade.  At first our request was met with hesitation; Yuna didn’t want to take us to ‘the dark side of Jakarta’, but we were eager to see come cultural history outside the schools and mosques.  Driving to Jakarta on a Sunday proved much faster than ever before, and we found ourselves in the port area after 45 minutes.  It took a while to navigate the maze-like streets near the port, but eventually we arrived at the Port Museum and Syanbandar Lookout Tower.

The tower, built in 1839, was used for weighing goods and measuring the distance to other places from Batavia City.  Surveys done in the late 1900s found it was built at a distinct angle, sort of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The tower overlooks Priok Port and is ringed with cannons to help in watching for incoming enemy ships.  It was also used as a custom’s house, as the port was home to the spice, gold and slave trade starting in the 5th century.

We found the adjacent museum fascinating.  Following the history of the port provided insight into the many cultures that had traveled through modern-day Jakarta, including traders from India, China, Portugal and the Malacca Strait.  Outrigger boats appeared there 4,500 year ago and then spread to Madagascar and the Pacific Islands.
The port survived Dutch battles and occupation as an international transit point for silk, tea, coffee, tobacco and spices.  It also brought missionaries to spread the Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic faiths to Indonesia.

The port was crowded but felt safe.  We were surprised to see other white tourists wandering around the stalls lining the harbor.  Driving onto the shipping area allowed us a real treat – we bravely walked a gangplank high above the water to board a working ship.  The crew allowed us to go all over the ship, which was hauling cement to Kalimantan.  We felt like we had stepped back in history as we climbed around and eventually came across the Sulawesi captain, dressed only in a sarong, who wasn’t overly excited to see us on his ship.  We were particularly pleased that our host summoned us the courage to board the ship as well – she was terribly frightened because she cannot swim.

Our host drove us back to our Jakarta hotel to meet up with the rest of the TGC cohort.  We were sad to say goodbye, but eager to meet up with our colleagues and swap adventure stories.
Today’s trip to the ‘dark side of Jakarta’ illuminated my suspicion that there were areas and parts of the Indonesian culture our hosts really didn’t want us to see.  To me, seeing how the ‘common’ people live and work is crucial to understanding where Indonesia is as a developing country, and clarifies areas that need improvement.  Again, this push and pull between traditional and modern aspects highlighted the struggle Indonesians face as the move into the 21st century.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Questions Answered and Stinky Fruit

After yesterday’s ehausting adventures, we were happy to have a late start.  Indonesian children attend school on Saturday, so we were able to meet with Cendekia’s leadership students for an informal question and answer session.  It was neat to see them out of their uniforms; we were particularly taken with a girl in a beautiful pink veil who was eager to get to know us.

Our discussion proved extremely informative.  The eight girls and nine boys provided answers to many of our lingering questions:

·         *Grade A National Exams are a big deal.  They determine placement into universities, and 96% of these students will attend college in Indonesia and 4% abroad.
·        * They are proud of their achievements in the Science Olympiads, and will send a student to Italy for September’s competitiion.
·         *Their slogan is ‘Unity in Diversity’
·        *They enjoy their weekend events-that’s when they have elective classes, competitions, and even a type of ‘prom’, although no dating is allowed.
·         *They put on their own verion of ‘Gakic’, or Olympics, with competitions in basketball, chess, softball, soccer, table tennis, badminton and sprints.
·         *They feel the biggest problems in Indonesia are traffic, pollution, money for education, and corruption in government.
·         *The girls feel that the boys get special treatment; for example, they are allowed to stay outside two hours later than the girls.
·         *All students want to go to college, and all said their parents attended college.
·         *They don’t like the US involvement in Afghanistan, feeling that the war is an attack against Muslim brotherhood.
·        * They don’t feel like they have much choice.
·         *At school, they’d like to change the food, their limited access to technolgy, and the ban on cell phones.
After a rest at the hotel, and a yummy lunch out, we began the journey to our host’s house for ‘break-fast’.  The 20 mile trip took an exhausting two hours, battling road constuction and traffic. 

We enjoyed what Yuna called ‘common food’-several types of mango, Durian fruit, dates, green beans, potato coconut chili chowder, rice and fried tofu and tempeh.  I’m surprised at actually how little they eat after fasting all day; we keep expecting them to gorge themselves.

After a tour of her home, we visited the ‘Golden Mosque’ just a few miles away from her house.  Built seven years ago, Yuna described it as ‘just appearing one day’, which seems unlikely due to the grandness of the buildings.  

We toured the women’s section as they were praying,a nd saw the turrets made of gold.  Adjacent to the mosque sat a large meeting house and a mansion the likes of which I hadn’t seen in Indonsia.  Yuna ‘used our name’ to talk to the security guards and found out it was built by a Middle Eastern woman as a gift to the country, but she lives abroad.

We expected a shorter ride home, but again spent two hours traveling back to the hotel.  Although interesting to see Indonesian night life – I’ve never seen a more crowded McDonalds-we were eager to get home and pack for the next day’s departure.

The importance of relgion in Indonesia’s culture and education system continues to fascinate me.  It’s sharp contrast to our laws separating church and state make it difficult for me to comprehend.  I often find myself wondering what it would be like if students weren’t blatantly separated and identified by religion, and if it causes discord amongst the population.  At our hotel it seems like the locals are either Christian of Buddhist-we see very few veiled women walking around the mall or working in the hotel itself.  There is such a serene beauty in the calls to prayer, and the unison with which they gather together in the mosques.  I wonder if that unity excludes diversity, or as the students say, they are able to overcome it.  I think there are more veils in Indonesia than just those worn by Muslim women, actually.

Finding Balance: Teachers, Teens and 13-story Shopping Malls

Our day began with an early teacher meeting at IMAN Cendekia School.  Asked to speak about green school and International Baccalaureate programs, we arrived to speak with a few interested teachers.  We’ve witnessed an attempt at recycling awareness on many campuses in the form of posters and some class assignments, but noticed an alarming absence of trash and recycling conatiners.  While the teachers asked many questions about our recycling programs, it soon became evident that their infastructure problems with sanitation halts their progress.  We suggested that they don’t wait, but rather start teaching the children, ideally in primary grades, about how to reduce, reuse and recycle.  We’re hopeful that we can continue to provide them with examples through Skype or email when we return to the US.

The assistant principal, interestingly, changed the subject several times to ask us about the ‘Seattle Sound’ and bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.  He also wanted to chat about American movies, wondering if our schools were like “Mean Girls”, and told us his favorite actors were Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks.  We continue to be amazed at what a dominant role American media plays in their beliefs about our country, and how often incorrect they really are.

We were able to ask the teachers some of our essential questions, and found that they believe that Indonesians are generally shy and don’t share their opinion-in fact, they will often go along with something they don’t agree with.  They have no word for love, and no polite way to be angry.  They believe that boys and girls are treated equally, and that men are generally more polite.  They think their students need to study American history to know what are the best ways to run their country, so they choose to study the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party, the Civil War, and Malcolm X.

The average wage of an Indonesian teacher is $100/month, and for $75/month they feel they can live well, although they may need to commute far for work.  Earning $200/month is considered middle class, enough for school, rent, food and a little savings.  $10,000 will purchase a good house.  We found most items very inexpensive, especially food.

Traveling to Sekolah Tunas to visit a K-12 school provided a radically different glimpse into Indonesian education.  We were greeted by a British man, Mr. Paul, hired to be their resident native speaker.  The primary school children were adorable, full of questions like “do we go to rock concerts” and “would we like some chocolate milk”.  Their command of English was excellent   - due in large part from efforts to have students learn conversational English.

Observing on Friday meant students weren’t in uniform, making religious affiliation more difficult to discern.  These students looked so much like our American students; in fact, this girl was excited to see a photo of my daughter wearing the same shirt!

We were treated to a traditional gamelan concert, questions and answers by the 10th-12th graders, student leadership tour guides, and a look at music and dance (modern and traditional) electives.  As this is a private school, students pay a fee to attend between the hours of 7:30 – 4.

We spent our afternoon taking the train to a 13-story wholesale shopping center.  Interestingly, Indonesian trains have pink and purple cars for women only, created in response to protect them from sexual harassment. 

Exiting the train took us into what our guide called ‘real Jakarta’, and we couldn't agree more.  This wa by far the most crowded, dirty and lively section of town we have seen.  We entered an outside bazaar and began crisscrossing through the maze of vendor booths selling clothes, food, pets, shoes and household items.  The path was narrow and at times we wondered if we would make it to the mall.  We emerged on an open area where the men were just finishing their afternoon prayer.  As it ended, they picked up newspaper they knelt on and went on their way, and we entered the mall.

A teacher, Eva, met us there because she was deemed the best bargainer.  She proudly told us, ‘this is not comfortable for shopping, but comfortable on the wallet.’  And she was right-we spent the first hour in shock and amazement as she led us up escalators to the thirteenth floor, through labyrinthine paths to find the items we wanted, and back out again.  When the mall closed at three we went upstairs to the mosque so our guides could pray, then back down to find a taxi.

Jakarta traffic is unlike any other city.  Busses and taxis have an easier time, especially when they drive up onto the curbs to scoot past the cars and motorbikes.   Although the train would be faster, our guides felt it would be unsafe for us to utilize it during rush hour.  Two hours later we were happy to arrive at the hotel, break our fast and fall into bed.

Today I was reminded of the disparity between schools in Indonesia.  The differences between the strict, traditional religious education and the more modern structures is a perfect reflection on what I see happening in the country.  I’ve noticed a conflict between those who would like to stay true to their traditions and culture, and those who want to embrace modern living.  It feels like holding on too tightly to the past is causing problems with looking forward into the future; I’m hopeful the children can figure out a balance that will keep everyone happy.