Monday, February 25, 2008


We had to leave Indonesia in order to renew our visas, so we traveled to Singapore. Unfortunately, the day we arrived was also the last day of the Singapore Air Show and so most of the hotels were full. We ended up in a seedy hotel in the red-light district. Walking to the subway was an experience in the middle of the afternoon so we made sure to use taxi when we returned in the evening. Fortunately, we were able to find a better hotel downtown for the next two nights. The hotel was very close to Orchard Rd., which is the famous shopping street of Singapore. Walking down Orchard Rd. was quite an experience, with mall beside mall. And most of the malls had large boutique stores such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Prada, etc.

What we did appreciate were the book stores. I was able to buy a few books for my work at the university while Lori was able to buy books for Katie's school. Books are one of the main things that we miss here in Indonesia. My university's library is very limited and Katie's school's library is in pretty sad shape. It is very difficult to find English language books here and so any chance to buy books is important.

We had hoped to visit the zoo but circumstances conspired against us and it didn't work out. We got our visas and flew back to Indonesia this morning. Lori and I both agreed that it was nice to be home and it was even more interesting that we now feel that this is home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Walk to Work

Most days I walk to work. I try to be in my office every morning during weekdays and occasionally in the afternoon. I dislike walking to work in the afternoon since it is either too hot or raining. Walking to school takes me about 20 minutes, which is reasonable earlier in the morning but by noon can be a bit much. We have a car so I could drive but I enjoy the exercise as well as getting to know our neighbourhood.

My walk takes me through a small alley past Chorus, our local Mini-mart store. Apparently it also has a recording studio but I am not sure what that means. Following the alley, I come out on to Jalan Gejayan, one of the main North/South roads in Jogja. Crossing this, I walk down a small street that has a nice hotel, Pura Artha, on it. Occasionally we go to this hotel to swim in their pool.

At the end of the street, I turn down a smaller alley. I don't know the name of this street but I call it Jalan Kunci, or Key street. Half the street is taken up with small stalls where you can have keys cut. As far as I can tell, all the stalls offer identical services. This isn't unusual here in Indonesia. For example, it isn't unusual to find, grouped together, a dozen or so Nokia stores all selling the same Nokia products. My guess is that someone owns the land and, instead of having one big store, divided the property up into small units. Labour is very cheap so the owner employs a large number of young people who hopefully will lure in friends and acquaintances. If I didn't know someone, I am not sure how I would choose one store over another.

On Jalan Kunci, I also pass our local video store that sells pirated DVDs. It is very difficult to find legal DVDs in Indonesia, and in fact I am not sure whether any DVDs here are legal. When I am talking about legal, I am not talking about legal under Indonesian law, which is extremely generous when it comes to copying material, but legal in the sense of being a copy that was made according to the conditions originally fixed to the DVD. For example, some DVDs sold here are labeled as 'Original', but what this means is that someone copied it from a legal DVD. This would be opposed to those DVDs which come from digital recordings made by someone sitting in a movie theatre. We have a few of these and it is not uncommon to see people blocking the camera as they move about the theatre. The movies that I am reasonably certain are legal come in a VCD format. The disadvantage of this is that the format requires multiple discs for a single movie and there are no extra features. Also, the choice of movies available on VCD seems to be rather idiosyncratic so we rarely find movies we want on VCD. It used to bother me that we had pirated DVDs, but then I found that the store has a number X-Files seasons for sale, so now it doesn't bother me so much.

Following this alley to its end, I come out on Jalan Solo. It isn't actually called Jalan Solo but Indonesians have a very annoying habit of changing the name of a road every few blocks. Within a span of a few kilometers, this street has a half dozen names and I can't remember the names nor which parts of the road they name. It seems that a significant number of Indonesians have the same problem so roads will often have a name that won't show up on an official map but is the commonly known name. This street, for example, is the main highway between Yogyakarta and Solo so people will refer to it as Jalan Solo.

At first, crossing Jalan Solo was a bit intimidating. Jogja has a tremendous number of motorcycles. I am not sure if 'motorcycle' is quite right since they are more like scooters having no clutch. Here, these vehicles are called 'bebeks,' which is Indonesian for 'duck'. It seems that many vehicles here are referred to by animal names, so we drive a Zebra, friends of ours drive a Kijang (deer), and one can drive a Panther as well. However, a real motorcycle, that is one with a clutch, is a man's bike. What makes bebeks so popular is that they are relatively cheap so families will often have one or two around for quick trips or for kids in school. Since Jogja is a university town, the place is flooded with these bikes. And flood is an appropriate term. Motorcycles don't obey traffic laws so when one drives a car in Jogja one first watches for other cars, and then for bikes. The bikes move around cars like a wave moves around your legs at the beach. As long as one doesn't do anything sudden, the bikes will move around your vehicle without problem, adjusting to your movement. Driving in Jogja was quite intimidating at first because there are just so many bikes and they fill up any empty space on the road. But now I have gotten used to driving here, using the rule that if I have an accident with a bike, at least I won't be hurt. This isn't true if I am walking, so crossing was a bit of an adventure. However, now I have raised my risk tolerance and am relatively comfortable dodging bikes.

Universitas Islam Negeri is on Jalan Solo. The campus is made up almost entirely of new buildings. The campus itself is almost 50 years old but there was an earthquake recently that destroyed or severely damaged most of the buildings. The building my office is in is not quite finished but in use. The main construction project on campus is a new mosque. The old mosque was very well-known and a tremendous amount of effort was put into trying to save it, but the damage was too extensive and it was demolished. The new buildings are nice and many of the rooms, including my office, have air conditioning. However, the building where I teach my undergraduate course only has one classroom with air conditioning. Needless to say I will be trying to avoid teaching anymore undergraduate courses.

I try to walk as much as possible but I am not sure how long I will keep this up. With all the vehicles on the road, and people's apparent interest in contributing as much exhaust fumes as possible into the atmosphere, air quality is very poor. I have noticed that my lungs and throat are not as healthy as I would prefer. However, I usually enjoy the walk and the interesting bits of Indonesian life that I see.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Life in Jogja

Well, we have arrived in Jogja. We moved on my birthday, perhaps not my first choice for things to do on my birthday. But the opportunity was there and we had to take it or wait till later in January.

Because the move was very sudden, the house was not exactly ready for us. Many of the screens on the windows were either damaged or simply gone so the house was a bit buggy. It took about two weeks to have the screens repaired and so during that time we were eaten alive by mosquitoes. We live beside a field with lots of garbage on it, so there are plenty of mosquitoes in the area. We have tried to clean up our backyard so at least in this area we can be outside without too much trouble.

Our house is very nice. It has quite a bit of open space so we can get a nice breeze going through. It also lets the kids play inside when it is raining. We have three bedrooms, storage room, smallish kitchen, an office, and a dining room/living room. Our washroom has both a bak, a traditional Indonesian water reservoir for bathing, as well as a shower with hot water. The house came with a water heater but it is only for the shower. The back yard is walled in. It isn't large but there is enough room for the kids to play. Because it was neglected for a while, we are still trying to fix it up. We also have a guest house that is not attached to the house. It has one large room and a washroom.

We haven't been communicating as much as we would have liked over the past month for several reasons. First, we spent a week in Bali. We spent five days in the north of Bali, at a hotel near Lovina. The beach there was a fishing beach and not really suited for swimming. However, the area was beautiful and not nearly as developed as around Denpasar in the south. Our hotel was right by the ocean with a nice Balinese restaurant by the beach. The pool was great and the kids made full use of it.

Speaking of the pool, the second reason why communication has been limited is that our camera went into the pool. Early in our stay at Lovina, we were coming back from supper when Sara fell into the pool. I jumped in after her and she was fine, but the camera went in with me. The camera has not recovered so I only have a few pictures from the very beginning of our trip and no pictures of our house. I had hoped to be able to repair the camera but the nearest service place is in Jakarta so I am afraid I will have to buy another camera.

Back to Bali, we decided to spend the last two nights in Sanur, near Denpasar. We were in a small hotel a few minutes walk from the beach. The beach was much nicer but the kids preferred the pool. Sanur/Denpasar is very developed for tourism and I didn't like it nearly as much as Lovina. However, others didn't share my opinion. Sanur has a very nice boardwalk along the beach with small shacks set up to sell tourist stuff. If one isn't firm enough, the sellers can be quite aggressive and annoying. Sanur/Denpasar is also more expensive and so we were almost paying Western prices for lodging and food. In the end, we had a very relaxing time and wonderful recovery from months of language study. We will be back to Bali in March for MCC team retreat.

We returned to Jogja and began to organize our life here. Katie is now attending Yogyakarta International School (YIS). YIS is much smaller than Mountainview in Salatiga, with all classes being combined. Katie's class is gr.3-5 combined with 16 students. The school uses an Australian curriculum and most of the students are children of business people. The school has a much lower profile than Mountainview. Mountainview is set up like a walled compound with multiple security gates for entry. YIS, on the other hand, is made up of several renovated houses, so that it is difficult to even recognize it as a school. Because it is an international school, there is security, but with a much lower profile than Mountainview. We aren't sure whether this makes YIS safer, but one thing in its favour is that there are much bigger more inviting targets than YIS. Mia started pre-school last week. We had thought of holding off till September, but it was obvious that she was ready for school. Both Katie and Mia are enjoying YIS and making friends there.

Lori's position was never clearly defined. However, she has decided to help Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (Christian University Duta Wacana) with the administrative aspect of developing a Master's program in theology. Lori will be using many of the skills she developed at U. of Toronto and is excited by the prospect of working with faculty. UKDW is a small university with a peace program that MCC has been supporting.

I have just started teaching at Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University). UIN is a large university that offers degrees in a variety of disciplines including the hard sciences, social sciences, as well as in Islamic law (Sharia). My appointment is in the graduate program, which is primarily oriented towards Islamic law, Islamic economics and philosophy. This semester I am teaching a doctoral course called Global Issues. A Muslim professor will teach the first half using an Islamic perspective, focusing on issues like globalization and human rights. I will teach the second half, starting in April, focusing on the relationship between religion and politics and society. I am also teaching in the undergraduate faculty of Islamic Theology, an Intro to Philosophy course. I am teaching this course with another professor, Dr. Fatima, who has her Ph.D. from an Australian university. We get along well and our first class was a wonderful experience. It was also obvious that my understanding of Indonesian needs improvement. Many of the students come from pesantrans, or Islamic boarding schools. I am very interested to find out how they respond to me and what I teach.

Finally, we just had internet access installed in our house. Our application had been in some mysterious process for three weeks, but it eventually happened. Hopefully Lori and Katie will be moved to contribute as well to this blog. I am also hoping to have a new camera soon so we can put up pictures of our new home and Yogyakarta, but for now I will post a few pictures from Bali.