I hate people that use their facebook statuses and twitter accounts to describe their weekly, daily, hourly, and minutely activities. They leave a sour taste in my mouth. If the same thing happened with blogs, it would deeply upset me too, but fortunately for me, I just don’t really read those blogs; I wish I could be as picky about my facebook friends, but unfortunately, facebook friends are always more boring than real friends and even though I have implemented some Soviet-style purges of my friend lists, I’m still having problems. SO many solutions to this and all so simple, but facebook, like cocaine and scholarships applications, is a very addictive method of sharing pictures of Nazis slipping on ice with the caption, “Halt; Hammerzeit.”
But this is beside the point. I wanted to say that I hate those people, but I have to join them to lay out the kind of week I’ve had thus far, and it’s only Thursday. Actually, this week started… last Wednesday, so I’m plus a day. Thusly, I give you the weekly garik experience.
Last Wednesday, I put together my research for next semester, which will probably start this coming December. With the help of my program director’s unfathomable knowledge of Indonesia and everything to do with Indonesia, I decided to make a comparative study between West Java and East Java in terms of their environmental law enforcement practices in biological preserves and national parks, practices that would stem from international environmental and biodiversity conservation groups like the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity. This study would be INCREDIBLY useful in any future attempt to create a framework for biodiversity conservation programes on Java, as this place has problems for those kinds of programes everywhere you look, from Police and government corruption to locals just no giving a shit about pamphlets that suggest they give up their livelihoods for something more green. And as an added bonus, some of the areas where I’m planning field work have side benefits, like the Javan Rhinos in the West and Mt. Bromo, the best place to huck a mountain bike anywhere on Java. My mom is shipping me my pedals, cleats, helmet, and NC State kit, so I am definitely going to get my picture taken with all of the Indonesian national MTB crew, sliding down the side of the volcano with the big block S cutting through the dust. And that picture is definitely going to win the study abroad photo competition. I’ll keep adding updates about this project as it evolves.
Then, a couple days later, I made some discoveries that rocked my world. As it turns out, the aforementioned ASEAN Biodiversity Center is in the Philippines, in Laguna right outside of Los Banos, exactly where I was only two months ago now. Damnit. Maybe I can use my connections with IRRI, also in Los Banos, to get me in when I go back this October for the Global Bioethics Conference in Manila. Next came KEHATI, the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation, given reign over issues of biodiversity conservation for all of the archipelago. And the kicker? As I translated their mission statement, I couldn’t help but smile manipulatively when I found out that the last phrase in English was, “… and we are more than willing to help anyone in their efforts to protect the biodiversity here.” I smell a partnership. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be pegging them with e-mails, just like I did with Komodo National Park, and I might even get to go to the island that they don’t let tourists go to when I meet up with the national park crew there. They say that the biggest dragons are on that island. I’ll just let that statement hang in the air…
Then, this Monday, I had dinner with a PhD candidate from Harvard living in my Kos who is studying the biogeographical history of the spice trade, which includes traveling to Sumatra and asking national park officials questions about “something other than the bloody orangutans”, jetting off to the island origins of cloves and nutmeg in the far east archipelago, and netting colossal and giant squids. I had no idea, but ambergris, a waxy grey substance and a staple of Middle Eastern perfume chemistry, comes from sperm whales’ inability to digest the beaks of their primary prey, big squids. Ambergris forms around the massive beaks and the whales can more easily pass them form their system, though Muslim scientists and explorers were confused by the presence of these beaks, assuming that there must have been giant birds that tried to eat it and died since they had never seen a giant squid before. But aside from this awesome information, he also told me about Greenpeace Indonesia, and passed on a couple of pamphlets. I was seriously intrigued, as I had been told that the organization I was working for, WALHI, was the most militant of the environmentalist groups in Indonesia and I had speculated about a government ban on Greenpeace. But after registering as an activist on their website, I found them strong and active, particularly in Sumatra where they have adopted the Sumatran Tiger as their flagship species. They even have a bike gang called Tim Mata Harimau which is pretty awesome for a number of reasons, not just the fact that they all have matching bikes and jumpsuits that are painted like tigers. In Indonesian, “mata” means eye, “harimau” means tiger, and “mata hari” means sun, so “mata harimau” could mean either the Eye of the Tiger or Sunshine Tiger. Either way, pretty cool. I’m planning a travel session there, and a possible interview as an undercover American journalist from some magazine or other.
But back in Jogja, I’ve got my hands full. Today was my first real day at WALHI and I now have an exciting and frankly frightening job. On Monday, Wyatt, the other Boren, was appointed the new manager of their new Urban Farming Jogja campaign, after having a chat with the WALHI staff he likened to a bargin with the mafia; literally, “I think you would be comfortable in THIS role…” He had mentioned to the staff when we toured last week that he had grown up on a farm and that he had planned on involving himself with the urban farming in DC when he got back from Indonesia, and when he came in for job assignment, he found they had taken that to heart. Instead of giving him the options of some of the other campaigns, like water or transport, he got farming, leaving me with what I assumed would be more options than he had since they had filled the spot on their urban farming staff, and I had my eye on water technologies.
I asked today about the possibility of joining the water campaign as the technology specialist, and gave a couple of pictures of projects that I had worked on before, particularly one of the water garden in Belize, though I never actually worked on it, just did some theoretical consulting. The WALHI coordinator took a look at the picture and asked me if I could build that to decontaminate the water of a nearby Jogja village and make it portable so that they could campaign the technology and use it elsewhere. I said “Maybe”, and then stressed that it was going to be a lot of work to do something like that and would not be as simple as just making the prototyping the technology, in and of itself not exactly flipping a pancake. But I agreed, and now I’m the resident water technology expert, and most likely the only one really working on the water campaign. I’m not sure if I understood it correctly, but when I asked if there was anyone else working on the project, the coordinator told me that they had someone in the past, but for two years now, no one, so I think I’m starting from scratch. Which is frightening, but also very exciting. I’m going in tomorrow with a plan for what I want to accomplish and what my weeks will look like while working for WALHI, which is going to be a lot more than just coming up with the technology. With any luck, when I finish working at WALHI, there will be a sustainable Water Technology and Landscapes Campaign to last years beyond me. Exciting. Frightening. Thirst Quenching.
To top it off, I got a motorbike today, bought for about 10 Million Rupiah. It’s 110cc’s, not exactly what I was saddled on in the Philippines, but this is city driving, and I’m thankful for the size reduction every time I look at my gas meter and notice that after an hour of driving, the needle hasn’t gone anywhere. And it just looks bad ass. I’ve made a new dreamline for the 2011-2012 year, and on it, under the “to have” category, is: “Get a motorbike painted like a tiger so that I will blend in with the Sunshine Tigers”. I guess it’s easier and cheaper than a wingsuit.
So here we go; it seems the period of waiting, finishing projects still at large in the US, and adjusting to all of the things that were critical to know about life in Indonesia has, for the most part, ended, though I still get that vibe that I’ll never know Indonesia, for as long as I live and as long as I work here. I’m looking forward to begin a professional again, even though professionalism here mandates an understanding of Bahasa Indonesia, which I don’t yet have. Apas.
Look out; I’m Mata Harimau, and I’ve got a bike again.
I was riding my bike down the street yesterday afternoon when I was nearly struck by a boat. It was driving (On wheels I assume?) down the street bearing a multitude of Indonesian flags and a huge banner proclaiming the existence of the Yogyakarta Geology museum. Sitting in the captain’s chair of the boat (on the left side of the car, from the front, since all Indonesian vehicles drive on the left side of the road, even watercraft) was a man with a wide grin and a weather beaten brown face who waved to me as I narrowly avoided being swept under the bow of the geology ship. Just one of the everyday hazards of living in Jogja.
I was really excited because I had just come out of our first round of tests for the semester, midterm progress reports for our language classes. We were supposed to ask each other basic questions about where we lived, activities we did (I was totally prepared for this having written a page about waking up and checking my email for my Indonesian writing class), or other people that we knew. There are some really fluid speakers in my beginner class, and the two that went before me sounded smooth, though with a French accent of course. I went with my new Russian friend, Dima (Indonesian for Demetri?) who took the test in a completely different direction and started off with a bang, as Russians like to do. His first question? “What do you know about the economy of Indonesia?”
A complex question to say the least, and I didn’t yet know the words for “mining” and “palm oil”, though I struggled through my first few statements substituting in phrases like “coconut things and trees” and “moving rocks” to explain what I meant. I wish it had occurred to me to quote the economist article on the growing smartphone and motor scooter industries in Indonesia. After that, we moved on to some other complex ideas, like tourist attractions, the lack of sidewalks (It never gets old; I might talk about sidewalks at least once in every post from here on out), the fact that I was thwarting the Indonesian government mandate that Bules may not own property by buying a motorbike that afternoon (In someone else’s name of course), and bemoaning the fact that Dima was no fan of Cinetron, the Indonesian television phenomenon that sums up a combination of The Days of our Lives with Twilight and Japanese Karaoke music videos. While we may have been struggling to articulate our thoughts, the amount of stifled laughs from our instructor increased, so I’m hoping that saying interesting things will get you a higher grade. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Eh.
But after we sat back down and continued to listen to other students participate int he conversation test, Dima passed me a piece of paper that had a political breakdown discourse on the national representation in the classroom. On our side, there were strong ties between America and Russia, and side treaties with Poland, who was an up-and-coming presence in the Eastern classroom. To the north, Europe was dominating and forming self-sustaining relationships, primarily between French interests and Swedish interests. They mostly talked amongst themselves, but when prompted, interacted widely. Shifting west, you found more Asian-Pacific presence, dominated by Koreans with a lone Japanese representative, and two western delegates, an Australian and a US rep, cut off from his the Eastern US forces and looking to make a relationship in the primarily Asian West classroom. Back on the Eastern side, a Japanese rep, also cut off from the Asian cohort, was struggling to keep ties between himself and the Asians strong. By long distance technologies (cellphones and just yelling), the other Japanese were translating encoded Indonesian transmissions for him.
I loved it, and the two of us are now starting an inner-class, physical game of Risk. To flex our linguistic skills’ muscles, we’re going to recruit people for international campaigns to rule the classroom and dominate our global microcosm. So the next time one of our teacher’s asks one of us to make a sentence using a particular word or structure, we might say something like, “Paul will eat there tonight, but the next morning, a forceful Korean leader will take over the area and Paul will no longer be able to cross the border to get to that delicious restaurant.” I’m excited.
And I think it says a lot for our potential for language learning that something like this, a game that could result in both extremely hilarious and deeply offending situations, is happening in a beginner’s classroom. I had just filled out application forms for the CLS programs, an intensive language study program run in-country by the department of state, and they asked me to talk about what I would bring to programs like theirs. My response was largely that, with language programs, I have little respect for sticking to fundamentals and often work backwords (p.u.n.) to figure out grammar, which, to be honest, can sometimes be to my detriment. Instead, I like to launch into fun, combative, confrontational, offensive, hilarious, and engaging subjects that will keep me entertained, like pretending to start a war in a classroom full of foreign students, using historical facts to say really funny things. It makes you feel like you are actually doing something useful with the language, learning information that you really want to know, like the locations of anti missile installments in Poland, instead of endlessly asking you neighbor about the exact hour they brushed their teeth. It does kind of stunt your vocabulary in some fields if you only talk about war and diplomacy, but if you really want to learn how to tell time, maybe you can talk about how many minutes you have until that explosive detonates at a particular bridge to incite conflict between Japan and Slovakia. I just think we will all be better off if we are inspired to learn Bahasa Indonesia so that we can defend our homelands from the threat of foreign students.
**** Was this post too politically incorrect? I appreciate your comments ****