Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Indonesian Minivan

Sometimes I think one of the biggest limiting factors to even more rapid population growth here is the size of a motorcycle. When you consider that you can buy a small motorcycle for around $700 and it only costs a couple bucks to fill up, it's the obvious transportation option for a family of limited income. But you don't want to have more kids than you can bring with you on your bike or you'll run into other problems. We see four on a bike everyday; we've yet to see more than five. One kid in front of the dad and two squeezed in between him and the mom. A motorcycle really is the Indonesian equivalent of the Minivan.

You see all kinds of crazy transportation here. During rush hour, we can see people riding on top of the train that goes near our apartment. I can't blame them too much since the alternative is being packed like sardines.

You also see amazing innovation for moving the goods that you're trying to sell. There's the boy who rides in front of the embassy with teapots tied to the back of his bicycle to the guy who attaches a massive amount of freshly cut rice to the back of his bike.

And then there's this guy:

Monday, December 15, 2008

44 turns

We ended our trip in Sumatra with a vacation for a few days in Bukittinggi, which is a cute semi-resort town way up in the mountains in northern Sumatra. The town is small enough that we could walk most of it, although we rented a motorbike to get around. We finally felt like Indonesians zipping through the streets. Although, compared to them we were very tame on the bike, with good reason. Sometimes I really think they are just asking to get hurt!

The first picture is the mayor's house which we could see from our hotel balcony. Many of the buildings in this area of Sumatra have roofs which are styled this way, after water-buffalo horns.
We took our motorbike about an hour to the west to reach a volcanic crater lake, which was absolutely gorgeous. Here was the view from the top of the crater: Then, to get down to the lake, it was a series of 44 hairpin curves. There was a sign at each curve that told you which number you were at, so you knew how many turns were left to get to the bottom (or the top). There were a ton of random monkeys along these curves; they liked to sit on the guardrail posts, or play in the middle of the road - only getting out of the way at the very last second! Here is a typical scene by the lake, with a guy working the rice paddies. We also saw a local with a monkey on a chain, who he "employs" to climb up trees and get the best coconuts. I never knew people did that until I saw it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lost In Translation 2

If you have seen "Lost in Translation", then I don't even need to explain this picture of one of the TV interviews John did. You can just imagine for yourself....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

102.7 FM

Our next stop was the city of Palembang, only 11 short hours away by night train. Of course, over here we can afford the "executive class" train seats - the best of the best. Well, the best of the rest anyway. Really, the cockroaches didn't bother us too much - we made sure to put our socks on before trying to sleep. The broken windows? We came prepared with ear plugs! It was basically like coach class on a plane, except for the constant stopping.....and starting.....and stopping.... and starting the whole ride due to mud on the tracks! Needless to say 11 hours on a plane actually sounded nice after that trip!

We did a radio interview to get the word out in Palembang about the Diversity Visa program. While John did most of the interview, the radio host kept asking me questions on-air, so I got to be on the radio speaking Indonesian as well!

After the show we did the requisite photos with all the radio station staff, which involved every possible combination of people and poses, with each person's camera, cell-phone camera, etc. That can sometimes take awhile......

Monday, December 1, 2008

TV star?

John recently had to do a whirlwind work tour around the island of Sumatra. I decided to go with him on the trip so we could explore together. The main purpose of the trip was to get the word out to the public on the Diversity Visa Lottery. The Diversity Visa is an annual lottery through which nationals of countries which the U.S. considers to be under-represented through other immigration channels can apply for an immigrant visa (legal permanent residence) in the U.S. We covered five cities in one week, so needless to say we were busy.

The majority of Indonesians don't know about or don't understand how the program works. John did TV and radio interviews, as well as meetings with governors and university students to spread the word. One very important thing he wanted to get across is that it is free to apply for the chance to win a green card. For most Indonesians, the opportunity to live and work in the US would give them a much better standard of living that what they have in Indonesia. That said, not everyone is interested in that chance.

The first city we stopped in was Bandarlampung, which is on the southern end of Sumatra. One of the things he had to do that day was go to a TV station and do a talk show interview. The TV station was quite far up in the mountains, but the further away from the city we got the more we wondered what the station would be like. Finally, we turned up a dirt road and came upon it:

John did a great job as the whole interview was in Indonesian. Here are some pics of John and the host of the show, along with the camera guys.
Afterward, he was interviewed quite a bit more outside. Everyone wanted to get him on camera and have him speak about the program, and we know the information reached a lot of people this way.