Well my young friends, I'm back in Jakarta. I'm having a hard time typing because my gas mask keeps getting in the way. My faithful laptop is about to give up the ghost, as they say, from the fumes. Let's hope it can make it back to Hawai'i so he can be laid to rest in the land that begat him.
Yesterday I had I a nice trip over from Padang. In the morning I was able to visit KKI-WARSI, a non-governmental organization active in the areas around Kerinci Seblat National park. The KKI in KKI-WARSI stands for Komunitas Konservasi Indonesia, or Community Conservation Indonesia. WARSI is a great group of people that is working to protect forests of Indonesia by helping the people that live around the forests. They feel that one of the biggest reasons that people cut down trees is because they are so poor that they are forced to. So WARSI works to improve livelihoods and access to job opportunities. You can check out their website at http://www.warsi.or.id/. It's in Indonesian, though.
I also had a pleasant surprise on the airplane....just as I was about to board the ticket clerk found me and gave me a new boarding pass. I had been bumped up to business class! As you amble your way down life's winding path, you'll find that there are few things in life better than being bumped up to business class. Sure, you might win the lottery and all-you-can eat ice cream bars are cool, but getting moved up to the exclusive universe of limitless legroom and free drinks is pretty much the big-rock-candy-mountain of the air. I guess the folks at Lion Air read my previous blog post and were flattered at all the nice things I said about them and the free publicity. Too bad the flight was only an hour and a half. I took a picture of the seat so you can compare and contrast with the regular seat from a few posts ago.
Before I left Padang I walked around the city a bit. They have a nice black-sand beach there, but there aren't very many waves for surfing because there is another chain of islands, the Mentawais, a few miles off shore. The Mentawais are famous for a number of reasons. They have some of the best surf breaks in the world, and surfers come from far and wide for the waves. But also the Mentawais are home to a very distinctive people with a unique culture. The Mentawai people are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. They live in the rain forest, which provides food, medicine, and other materials to meet daily needs. The Mentawai people live in traditional dwellings called uma. These are multi-family structures made of wood, grass, and bamboo. Although the Mentawai culture is unique and fascinating, it is under pressure from outside. Missionaries have tried to convert the Mentawai to Christianity and Islam. And the government has tried to change their lifestyle so the people are more "modern". The Mentawai have been resistant to change so they can preserve their traditional lifestyle and culture, but change is evident. Native Hawaiians have faced similar problems in the past. In fact, Hula and surfing were both outlawed fir a time because they were seen as sacrilegious. Now these two things are part of the Hawaiian identity. Can you imagine life without them? The point here is that cultural differences are sometimes used to discriminate against people or belittle a certain group. It's only until later that we recognize how unique and interesting cultures are. I'll tell you about a related story tomorrow.
I also noticed a good bit of earthquake damage in Padang. Just about a year ago the city suffered a devastating earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale. It hit close to town and killed an estimated 5000 people. I've included a couple of pictures so you can see what an earthquake like that can do to a building. The damage was so devastating in part because the proximity of the quake, but the construction techniques used in Indonesia (and in many other countries) also contribute to the damage and death toll. You can see from the rebuilding picture that I've included that bricks are used extensively in construction here. If too much mortar is used between the bricks, the structures get weaker, especially against earthquakes.
Today I did some work and then walked around Jakarta until I got tired of wheeling around my Personal Breathing Apparatus (PBA). Jakarta is a giant city. It's so big that Geographers have a special name for it...we call it (and other cities like it) a megacity. Sounds pretty neat, eh? But Jakarta has a lot of problems. There are so many people here that the city government is not able to provide essential services to everyone. But people keep coming, hundreds every day. They come from other places around the country looking for opportunities. Because of a lack of housing, people have built shanties along canals, under highway bridges, and along railroad tracks. In addition, there are so many cars that the there is a semi-permanent haze over the city.