Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Making a Living in the Hills of Sumatra

Sungai Penuh is in a valley right in the middle of two branches of the Bukit Barisan range of mountains. The valley here is extremely fertile because it is volcanic in origin. Remember what I told you a few posts back about volcanoes and soil? Kerinci valley is a good example. It's so fertile that people have been growing wet rice here for around 500 years. I've included a picture of one of the rice fields to the left. In Indonesian this type of field is called "sawah", wet rice. This is how the rice you eat begins its journey. Most people refer to this as padi or paddy rice, and it's found all over Southeast Asia and on into Bangladesh and South Asia and north into China. This type of rice is extremely productive, and it yields a lot of food in a small area. However, it is a labor intensive crop, which means it needs a lot of work. It also needs a lot of water, and so a reliable source of water is key to wet rice cultivation. In places like Indonesia you can see really extensive irrigation works which channel water from natural streams to the field. One of the most amazing places to see this is on the island of Bali, where maintainence of the Subaks (this is the Balinese word for the irrigation works) are traditionally maintained by a very complex social system. Because wet rice needs lots of people labor, and also because lots of people labor is needed to build and maintain the irrigation system, there are usually very interesting systems of rules, regulations, and community labor associated with them. Traditionally farmers have also raised fish to eat in their rice fields, but that has changed because now farmers use pesticides to kill crop pests, which makes it difficult to raise fish in the water. Why do they do this? Because it increases the amount they are able to harvest.

Wet rice is an important crop in the valley, but it doesn't grow on hillsides unless extensive systems of terraces are created (1). Here in Kerinci Valley there aren't many terraces, so people grow other crops on the hills. One is dry rice, which is a good crop, but the yield is not nearly as high as wet rice. Many farmers grow cash crops on the hills. Cash crops are things grown not to eat, but rather to be sold. Here some of the most important cash crops are tree crops. I think you can figure out what this means. One important tree crop here is cassiavera, a type of cinnamon. You can see a picture to the right. Cinnamon comes from the inside of a certain type of tree, and so the tree must be cut down to harvest the cinnamon. The cinnamon in the picture is from branches that have been cut off a tree, so the tree will continue to grow. Cinnamon originally comes from Sri Lanka. The type grown here is used mainly for cosmetics and other products.

Another important tree crop is rubber. Did you know that all the rubber in tires and shoes originates from a tree (Hevea brasiliensis)? The trees have to be "tapped", like maple syrup trees. The farmer or "tapper" cuts a slice in the tree with his knife, and the tree "bleeds" the raw material for rubber. You can see the process in the picture to the left. Usually a container of some sort is attached to the tree to collect the material. Rubber originated in South America, but was brought to Southeast Asia in the 1800s. When a virus devasted the South American trees, Southeast Asia became the world's leading producer of rubber. Sumatra is still one of the largest producers of rubber in the world. After these trees are planted they started producing rubber in 5-7 years. Rubber trees often supplement other crops planted by farmers here. This is because the price of cash crops like rubber fluctuates; sometimes is high, and sometimes it's low. When it's too low it's not worth the work to harvest the rubber, and so the trees can be left until the price increases again.

Yet another important cash crop here is shown in the picture to the right. Can you tell what this is? I'll give you a hint...it's grown on the Big Island as well. That's right, it's coffee. The coffee that adults drink is made from the bean of these bushes. Sumatran coffee is Coffea robusta, a hearty type of coffee that grows well in the climate here. Sumatran coffee is quite famous and is sold all over the world. But it is another type of commodity that is vulnerable to price fluctuations. Sometimes the price is very high, which is good for the farmers, but sometimes the price is very low, and this causes big problems for the farmers (2). So as you can see, the economy of this part of Sumatra is very dependent on cash crops. Can you think of why this might be bad for the economy? What happens if the price for all of these commodities is low at the same time? In those cases, everybody suffers. In addition, there is really only one way to make more money off of these crops: to grow more of them. That means expanding the area in which these crops are grown. And I've told you in other posts what this can lead to.

There is one other crop that is extremely important to this particular part of Sumatra: tea. Tea is generally grown on plantations, though, because you need to grow a lot of it to make any money. There is a plantation in Kerinci Valley that is one of the largest tea plantations in the world. I've got a picture of it to the left...it goes on for miles and miles! Tea from here is sold all over Indonesia and is also exported, which means it is sent to other countries as well. I'm going to be exporting some tea myself...one of my new friends gave me two one-kilogram bricks of tea (at least I hope it's tea) to take back to Hawai'i with me. Other important crops here are cabe (Indonesian for chile peppers) and patchouli, a plant that is beloved by college girls that like to listen to Bob Marley all day and wear burlap clothing.

So you can see how important agriculture is to this area. This is what the people here do, and it's what they have done for generations. It's also what their children will do. That's all for today. Why don't you think about the questions I've included below?

1. "Terraces" are used to grow wet rice on hills. The farmers cut into the mountains to make flat spaces where the rice can grow. This alters the landscape significantly, but terraces are wonderfully beautiful in some places. See if you can find some pictures on the internet. Start with "Banaue" in the Philippines. What did you find out? Where else do they have rice terraces? What other crops are grown on terraces? Check out "Machu Picchu".

2. What sorts of factors might cause the price of a commodity to go up? What might cause the price to go down?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ming the Bear Man...

This is my new friend Ming (left) and one of his local team members, Dodi (right). Ming is a PhD student like me (but he goes to the University of Kent in the UK), and he's one of the 4 westerners in this town. Ming's project is about the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Ming has been based here in Sungai Penuh for a little while, but he spends a good bit of time out in the forest on the trail of the bear. Ming and his team have set up a number of special cameras in the forest. The cameras have a special infra-red sensor (like the door at the supermarket that opens automatically for you) and detect when a bear is near by and take a picture. This is called camera trapping, and is a widely-used strategy for research on wild animals. Camera traps have also been used to track Sumatran Tigers at Kerinci Seblat National Park. You can see a picture of one of these gadgets to the right. Camera traps are very effective because species like the sun bear tend to avoid humans. People make a lot of noise and smell funny (to most animals), and so the bears easily know when people are around. It's rare to see one in the wild, though one of Ming's team members has seen three of them! You may have seen the sun bear at the Honolulu Zoo. They have one. I've been to the zoo a number of times, but it always seems to be hiding when I am there.

Ming is interested in the sun bear because it is an important species in the forest. It helps with seed dispersal (like birds). They also help to break down dead trees so that they decompose more quickly and return their nutrients to the soil so that other plants can use them to grow. Although these bears are classified as carnivores (1), they mainly eat fruits and insects. They like sweet fruits like jackfruit and durian. They also appear to really like termites! The bears sleep in trees and only come down to the ground to get food. Check out the pictures from Ming's camera traps I've included below. I really am thankful he shared these with me.

Ming is really interested in how forest disturbance (2) affects the habits and patterns of these bears. Sun bears are an example of what conservationists call an umbrella species. That means that they are a good target for nature conservation efforts, because if you protect them it means that many other plants and animals are protected as well (3). In other words, the other species are protected under the umbrella of the sun bear. But in order to set up effective conservation policies and strategies, field researches have to go out and collect data about the umbrella species so they can know how much habitat the species needs and the types of food it likes. Some species require much more territory than others. For example, the Sumatran tiger needs about 50 square kilometers of habitat, and they are very territorial!

Well, that's it for this evening. See if you can answer the questions below. When you finishing you can watch the neat videos Ming shared with me of a river crossing on one of his treks into the forest.

1) Can you find out what carnivore means? What other kinds of "vores" are there? Can you think of examples of each? What kind of "vore" are you?

2) "Disturbance" is a word conservationist use to refer to changes in the forest, both natural and human-caused. For example, when a strong storm comes and blows down trees, it is a disturbance. Or when people cut the trees down. Natural disturbances are very important for the life cycle of the forest as a whole. But human-caused disturbances can be very damaging to the forest.

3) Can you think of some good umbrella species for Hawai'i? Think of both the land and the water. Why would these be umbrella species?


video video

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paru Paru Dunia...

"Paru Paru Dunia" means "lungs of the Earth" in Indonesian. This expression is used sometimes to refer to the forests of Indonesia. This is because of the important role trees play in filtering the air. Trees and other plants are crucial for maintaining balance in the atmosphere because they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and people need oxygen to live. The world is interested in the fate of the forests of Indonesia in part because of this, because this country has among the largest areas of tropical rain forest on the planet. But what exactly is a rain forest? They are areas near the equator (1) that receive very high amounts of rain throughout the year (though there are often seasonal variations). These places receive lots of rain because they are near the inter-tropical convergence zone. That's a pretty big expression, but let's see if we can figure out what it means. First, "inter-". This usually means "between" or "among", and that's what it means here. From earlier posts you should already know what "tropical" means. So we are halfway there...the first part means "between the tropics". Next "convergence". What does "converge" mean? When two things converge, what do they do? That's right, they come together. And the last word is easy. So the ITCZ is a place between the tropics where something comes together. But what comes together? The answer is simple: air. In the atmosphere the air is constantly moving. You've certainly experienced this in Hawai'i...every time you feel the wind blowing you are feeling the air move in the atmosphere. Because of the relationship between the Earth and the Sun, the places near the equator are always the closest places on the planet to the Sun (2). And what do we know about the Sun? That's right, it's hot. So it makes sense that the hottest places on the planet will be those closest to the Sun. And when air heats up, it rises. You've probably experienced this before if you've ever been in your grandparents' attic. It's always hotter in the attic than it is in the house because warm air rises. That's exactly what happens at the equator...the air rises because it is warm. As the air rises, more air has to come in to fill the space left by the rising air. This new air comes from north and south of the equator; thus it converges at the equator. There's one last thing you need to know about this. As air rises, it cools down. You've probably experienced this if you've ever gone on any of the great trails that climb up the Wainae or Ko'olau mountains on O'ahu. Or if you've ever been up on Haleakala or Mauna Kea. It's so cold up there it even snows sometimes! So as the air rises and cools down, it makes clouds. And we all know what clouds mean...RAIN! So you can see that this is a kind of cycle that is always at work, and the result of it is very consistent rainfall. I've included a cross-section diagram of how this works to the right. Geographers call this pattern "the Hadley Cell", but you don't have to remember that unless you are in the 3rd grade or higher :).

Now look at the diagram. Notice that this cycle is right at the equator. Next have a look at the rain forest map I included above. Where are most of the rain forests? Now you can understand why there is so much rain in these places. Rain is very good for plants, so the forests that grow in these places are very rich. So what's the problem? Well, the rain forests of the world are disappearing at an alarming rate. They are being cut down and burned faster than they can grow back! Have a look at the map of Borneo (3) I've included. Forest cover is represented in green on this map.
As you can see, the past 60 years has seen a dramatic loss. The same is true with other important forest "hot spots" in Indonesia, including Sumatra (where I am; see the map) and Papua. Where are the forests going? Well you may recall from a previous post that some people cut down the trees to sell, while others cut them down to grow crops to eat and sell. But there are other pressures as well. In many cases, places that are rich in forests are also rich in valuable minerals. Thus mining is another activity that causes forests to be cut down. All of these activities are good for some people in the short term, but they are bad for all the people in the long term. So why don't we just stop all the logging and mining? This is a very tough question, but part of the answer is because most of the countries where rain forests are found are relatively poor. One of the ways these nations make money is to sell raw materials, resources that are taken from the earth and later made into other things. Everything you wear, own, and want is made from raw materials of some kind, and they have to come from some place. In addition, people that are poor do not have the luxury of thinking years into the future, because they are worried about having enough to eat for dinner. And because of the importance of the inter-tropical convergence zone, these forests can't just grow anywhere. So you can see that this is a pretty difficult problem to solve; it is a uniquely geographical problem. As one local farmer said, "TNKS terkenal sebagai paru-paru dunia, tapi pada kesempatan paru-paru masyarakat yang ada desekitar kawasan TNKS terasa kempes dan sesak. Bagaimana TNKS menyikapi hal ini? Apa kontribusi yang diberikan TNKS untuk masyarakat?" Loosely translated, this means "Kerinci Seblat National park is known as the lungs of the world, but as for the lungs of the people living around the park, we feel deflated. How does the national park feel about that? What benefit does the park have for people living around it?"

Think about that for a while. How would you go about solving it? While you're thinking about it I'm going to get some sleep. You can email me some of your ideas!

1) Can you find the equator on a map or globe?

2) You might be able to make a simple model of the Earth-Sun relationship with a lightbulb and a globe. If you have a globe, you will notice that it is tilted (at an angle of about 23.5 degrees). This is because, in relation to the Sun, the Earth is tilted in space! This is very important for the changing seasons. What else can you notice about the Earth-Sun relationship?

3) Borneo is a large island in the Indonesian archipelago (chain of islands...Hawai'i is an archipelago). Most of Borneo is part of Indonesia, but part of it is part of the nation of Malaysia, and there is another small country called Brunei on Borneo as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Agung the Great!

This is a picture of my friend Agung. The title is kind of a joke, because "Agung" means "great" in Indonesian. But Agung really is a pretty special person. We met about four years ago at the University. Now he works at the national park where I am doing my research project. Agung makes maps and works on conservation education. I told you a little bit about him yesterday, and today I'm going to tell you about Agung and his birds.

Agung loves birds. His hobby is birdwatching. He likes to go to the forest and find and take pictures of birds. He showed me his record book where he keeps a list of all the different birds he's seen in the wild, and there are dozens of them. Birdwatching is an example of non-consumptive use. When you consume something, you use it up. For example, when you eat food, you are consuming food. That means that it is gone and no one else can use it. Hunting is an example of consumption, because when you take an animal in the forest, no one else can use it. However, when you go birdwatching, the only thing you are taking is a picture, and so other people can enjoy the birds as well.

Sumatra in general and Kerinci Seblat National Park specifically are great places to go birdwatching. As you recall, this is a tropical location, and so there is a lot of biodiversity here, especially in the forest. Kerinci Seblat park is home to a number of endemic species. These are types of creatures that are found in a specific location, but no place else in the world. Hawai'i also has many endemic species (1). But Agung told me that the birds at Kerinci are now under increasing pressure. For a long time Kerinci has been home to the Sumatran Tiger, but there has always been a problem with tiger poaching. Many people believe that parts of the tiger's body are good for medicine. Others want to keep the tiger's beautiful fur for themselves as a decoration or rug. As a result, there are only about 300 Sumatran tigers left! It's almost extinct! But the police are getting better at stopping tiger poaching. However, the poachers are now instead taking rare birds from the forest to sell in the market. According to my friend Agung, as many as 1,000 rare birds per week are taken from the park. If this continues, the birds will be no more!

That's where Agung comes in. Agung started a birdwatching club for young people around the national park. He teaches them about how important the birds are. You see, not only are they beautiful, but they are extremely important in the life cycle of many plants, because they help to pollinate the plants and help with seed dispersal. For example, when a bird eats fruit (like the hornbill in the picture above), the bird also eats the seed of the fruit. Later, after the bird flies away, he/she poops and the seed comes out with a starter kit of fertilizer so the seed can grow into a new plant! Agung also runs training programs for tour guides and other people interested in birds. Now Agung is applying for a grant to expand the activities of his bird club so they can help track the poaching networks that operate around the park. He also wants to train the members of his club to carry out scientific bird censuses. Let's hope Agung gets his grant, because this project is really important. You can check out the blog for the birdclub at kerincibirdclub.wordpress.com. Most of the posts are in Indonesian, but there are some great pictures.

That's all for now. I'm going out into the forest tomorrow with Agung to run a training workshop for science teachers.

1) Hawai'i has some amazing endemic birds too, but many of them are endangered. See if you can find some information about Hawaiian Honeycreepers on the web. These are truly wonderful birds. What can you find out about them? What kinds of problems do they face?

2) Can you make a list with descriptions of the types of birds you see on a daily basis? How many of the birds do you see? Where do you see them? Do they seem to have any special habits? Can you find out the names of these birds?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Into the Jungle...

Well, I'm finally out of Jogja. Now I'm on the island of Sumatra. I road on a small bus today to the site of my research project. It only took 7 hours! Last time it took 10 hours. I was very happy, because on a 10 hour bus ride it's the last three that really get to you, whereas on a 7 hour ride, it's only the last 2.

So far I've told you a great deal about Indonesia, but I haven't told you much about what I'm doing here. I'll start today by telling you a bit about the forests of Indonesia and why they are important for the rest of the world. Like I mentioned in a previous post, Indonesia is a tropical country. Since Indonesia is close to the equator it receives a lot of energy from the sun year-round. Since the sun is the source of virtually all life on earth (1), this means that Indonesia has the perfect conditions for all sorts of wonderful plants and animals to grow. As a general rule, the closer a place is to the equator, the more variety it will have in terms of plants and animals. This is referred to as biodiversity. Indonesia is a perfect illustration of this rule of thumb; it is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Here you can find countless species of insects (most of them not even discovered yet!), dozens of reptiles (including the largest lizard in the world: the Komodo Dragon (2)), rhinos, tigers, elephants, and the tallest and largest flower in the world! The forests of Indonesia serve as the habitat for most of these fantastic species (as well as thousands of others).

The forests here also have other, less visible benefits as well. The forests help to counteract global warming (3) by absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. And they are a source of food and other materials for millions of people across these islands.They also help to prevent floods and landslides. Trees guard against flooding by slowing the rain down so it doesn't all go into the river at one time. Think about the last time you were out after the rain. What happens when you walk under a tree and the wind blows? That's right, you get wet! That's because the rainwater pools on the leaves. Some of it evaporates from the leaves, and some falls to the ground after a while. But if all the trees are cut down there is nothing to stop the water, and so the rivers rise very fast. Trees also guard against landslides because the roots of the trees help to strengthen the ground and keep it in place. Ask one of your parents or your teacher to help you with the diagram I've included. This should help you visualize how important trees are for hydrological balance (4).

But trees are also valuable as wood if they are cut down (5). In addition, many people value the land much more for farming than as forests (remember from an earlier post I said that Indonesia is an agricultural country). Thus there is incredible pressure on the forests of Indonesia from people that that would rather sell the trees for wood or as paper for pulp or cut them down to make room for new farmland. This brings up a very difficult problem. On the one hand, we understand that the forests are very important for all the services they provide. However, on the other hand we understand that people need to make a living. Nature organizations and governments have been working on this problem for a long time now, but it still hasn't been solved. One way of protecting forests is to create national parks. And that's why I'm here. I'm currently in a town called Sungai Penuh (6). This town is right in the middle of the largest national park on Sumatra, Kerinci Seblat National Park. It's almost twice the size of the Big Island! But this park faces many problems: illegal logging, road-building through the park, encroachment by farmers growing crops within the park, and the poaching of critically-endangered species like the Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros. I'm here to study all of these problems and the reasons why people choose to cut down trees and poach animals. It's a tough job, though. The hardest thing is to try to find solutions that everyone will agree with.

If you've ever been hiking in Hawai'i to a place like Manoa Falls you've walked through rain forest. What do you remember about the hike? Was it wet? Humid? Were there a lot of insects? The forests of Indonesia are a lot like the forest in the back of Manoa Valley. Next time you go on a nature hike, try to think of all the benefits the forests provide. That's all for tonight. I'll try to write some more tomorrow. In the mean time, you might want to think about the questions below.

1. Nearly all life on Earth depends on the sun. This starts with plants, that use the energy of the sun to grow and make food for themselves. They are the basis of the food web. Other creatures eat plants, and they in turn are eaten by other animals. When plants and animals die, they decay, returning their nutrients to the earth. Can you work with your classmates to draw a picture of a food web for O'ahu?

2. You may have seen the Komodo Dragon at the Honolulu Zoo. How big was it?

3. Geographers prefer to use the term "climate change", but global warming is the term most people are familiar with. What do you know about global warming? Why is it bad? Do you know what causes it?

4. The prefix hydro- generally has something to do with water. So if you see a word you don't know with "hydro" in it, you might be able to guess the meaning from the context. Can you think of some words that have hydro in them? What do these words have to do with water?

5. Virtually all economic analyses of forests indicate that they are more valuable left standing for the services they provide than as wood or pulp for paper. If this is the case, why would anyone want to cut down trees? Discuss this question with your teacher and see if you can figure out the answer.

6. Can you find Sungai Penuh on a map? Try using Google Earth...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BEWARE The Queen of the Deep...and other tales...


A couple of weeks ago I decided to go out looking for surf, because it had been too long since I was last in the water. As you may know, Indonesia has some great waves. Unfortunately most of the famous sites like Nias and G-land seem to be too far from Jogja. So I decided to seek out something a little more local. There is a beach about 25 kilometers (1) south of here that many of the locals go to. I'd been there before and the waves looked decent. So I asked around among my friends. "Does anyone surf Parangtritis?" I asked.

"Oh no...it's much to dangerous", they said. "There are very strong currents and many people drown there". As a general rule, it's a good idea to trust the local knowledge of the water, and so I decided to look elsewhere. As it turns out, there's more than the current that makes Parangtritis dangerous: the Queen of the Deep Nyai Roro Kidah. I've included a picture of her, and no, I didn't take this picture myself.

Apparantly Queen Roro is pretty feisty. Every year the Sultan (2) of Jogjakarta brings an offering to the beach and sets it afloat to keep her happy. According to legend, Queen Roro was once married to the king of the Mataram kingdom. However. a jealous rival cast a spell on her, causing her majestic beauty to fade and wither. She fled the kingdom in shame and threw herself into the ocean, where she was saved and given a castle beneath the sea and her beauty restored. Here she rules over all the creatures of the sea. The legends say that the Sultan of Jogjakarta is supposed to marry the queen, which gives him power over the land. But swimmers beware...if she or one or her minions catches you in the water you will be taken to her underwater world, never to be seen again! Sometimes she even comes ashore for her victims. There's a way to protect yourself though (on land, at least): don't wear the color green, as this is the color her long lost love will wear when he comes back for her. If she sees you wearing green, she may drag you to her watery realm.

I did finally find some surf, but I'll save that for another post...



Another great story that is told through dance and wayang (traditional puppet shows; the picture shows an example of a wayang kulit shadow puppet) is the Ramayana. This is an ancient Hindu story. Hinduism is one of the world's major religions, practiced by almost a billion people. Though it originates in India (3), Hinduism spread to Indonesia more than 1500 years ago and was the official religion of some of the early Javanese kingdoms. The Ramayana tells the story of Prince Rama, whose wife is kidnapped by the evil demon-king Ravana, who takes her back to his island of Langka. Prince Rama embarks upon a journey to rescue his wife, aided by his magical friend Hanuman, a giant white monkey that can change his shape and size. The story tells about their journey and their battle against the evil armies of Langka. It's a really great adventure, and you can see and read about many different versions of the Ramayana from all over the world. When you come to Jogja make sure you catch the dance performance of the Ramayana in front of the ancient Hindu temple complex of Prambanan.

That's all for now...I'm off to sleep to dream about magical monkeys and undersea kingdoms! While you wait for the next post, why don't you have a look at the following questions. Then you can watch the flash-animation story of Queen Roro I borrowed from youtube. Although it's in Indonesian, you can get the idea of the story while listening to some traditional Javanese music. Can you make up your own text of the story? What do you think is going on?

1. Kilometers are the unit of distance used in most of the world outside of the US. There are approximately 1.61 kilometers in a mile, and one kilometer is approximately .62 miles. Can you figure out how many miles 25 kilometers (km) is?

2. The Sultan is the ruler of Jogjakarta. The Sultan comes from a royal family, and Jogjakarta is the only place in Indonesia where the Sultan actually has political power. The Special Province of Jogjakarta is his domain, and he also serves as governor of the province.

3. Can you find India on a map? What can you find out about Hinduism?

4. Do you know any stories from Hawai'i like these?


video

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Are There So Many Volcanoes Here?


One of the first things you notice in Indonesia is the topography. The islands of this country are dominated by volcanoes. Here in this picture taken from the space shuttle you can see several of the volcanoes that dot the island of Java (look for the clouds; the clouds are related to the mountains, but we'll save that for another blog post). Visitors first see the volcanoes from the air as they approach Jakarta or Jogjakarta (see the picture below my blog posts). Here in Jogja we have an everyday reminder of the volcanic nature of these islands: Gunung Merapi (gunung means "mountain" in Indonesian; volcano is gunung api; "fire mountain"). You can see Gunung Merapi in the picture I've included. It constantly emits a trail of smoke. These volcanoes are responsible for the remarkably beautiful and unique scenery you'll see when you come to Indonesia. Ive included a picture of Bromo National Park in Eastern Java so you can see what I mean. There's also a major volcano near the spot where I am doing my PhD project on the island of Sumatra.

But the volcanoes have a dangerous side too, as you can well imagine. Frequent eruptions force many people to flee their homes, ash, gas and other debris expelled from volcanoes cause health problems, and from time to time people are killed by lava flows. In addition to the volcanoes, there are earthquakes, which are sometime accompanied by related events, such as the devastating tsunami of 2004. You may recall from my post about Borobudor that volcanic eruptions and earthquakes were at least partially responsible for the abandonment of the monument.

What causes these volcanoes and earthquakes? The answer lies in the very nature of the earth itself. The surface of the earth, or crust, is similar to the shell of an egg. It is very thin, and beneath it is liquid rock, or magma which is extremely hot because of the intense heat of the interior of the earth. However, the crust differs from the shell of an egg in that it is divided into a number of different pieces. Geographers, geologists, and geophysicist call these pieces plates. There are around 14 big plates and a number of smaller plates. I've included a map so you can see the different plates (1).


These plates don't just sit still; they move around, and when they do they bump into and slide against one another. As you can probably imagine, since the plates are so big and heavy this creates a lot of pressure and force which is expressed in the form of an earthquake. That's right, whenever there is an earthquake, it means the earth is adjusting its "shell". Now, look at the map of the plates. Can you find Indonesia on this map? What do you notice about it? That's right, it right at the meeting point of two plates. In fact, the Australian Plate is actually sliding beneath the Eurasian Plate. This isn't just a coincidence; Indonesia was actually created by this process. When one plate slides under another, the plate sliding beneath is actually melted by the intense heat under the surface of the earth. And whenever something melts or burns, there is always exhaust of some kind or another. This "exhaust" makes its way up to the surface of the earth and creates a volcano. In addition, some of the plate that is being forced below is actually scraped off and becomes part of the plate that remains on top. This entire process is called subduction, and the place where it happens is called a subduction zone. I've included a diagram so you can get an idea of how this works. As you can see, Indonesia is in the heart of a subduction zone.


Now, let's see if we can figure out how this affects the landscape. Below I've included a physical map of Indonesia. Geographers use physical maps (3) to show features of the landscape. On most physical maps elevation is shown in brown; the browner the area, the higher it is. At the same time, depth in the ocean is shown with shades of blue. The bluer the color, the deeper the ocean. See if you can identify some mountainous areas, flat areas, and deep areas in the ocean. Now think about the map of the plates, and look at the diagram of the subduction process once again. Can you see the physical evidence of the plates interacting with one another? You might notice a chain of mountains that run from the north of Sumatra all the way across the island. This is the product of subduction.

When you come to Indonesia you can see the evidence for yourself. It's truly breathtaking and gives you a new understanding of the dynamic nature of the planet. I'll write more later, but in the meantime you might want to think about the questions I've provided below.

1. What plate is Hawai'i on?

2. Look at the map of tectonic plates and identify some other places where plates meet. Now find a physical map of that location using the internet, classroom resources, or the library. What sorts of landforms do you find at these locations?

3. What types of things might a physical map be very useful for? Can you think of some other types of maps?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Favorite Place To Eat...


One of the best things about traveling to another country is trying all the different types of food. This is especially true with Indonesia because it's such a wonderfully diverse nation. Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands, and the distance from one end of the country to the other is about the same as the distance from New York City to Los Angeles! (1). And much like the United States, within this country there is an incredible amount of cultural diversity. This means that there are all sorts of different types of foods to try. It's worth coming here just for the food!

Today I want to tell you about my favorite place to eat here in Jogja. Every time I come here I have to eat at this place (usually several times!), and when I'm back in Hawai'i I miss the food. I took a picture of the "restaurant" so you can see it. Dining out in Indonesia is a bit different than in Hawai'i....while there are many restaurants like you're probably used to, there are other options as well. These include warungs (food stalls) and pushcarts, like the one you see in the picture. These pushcarts are called "PKLs" or "pedagang kaki lima" (five-legged traders) in Indonesia. Can you figure out where this name comes from?

My favorite place serves a delicious entry called bakso. This is a meatball and noodle stew that is very popular here. I've sampled bakso from pkls, warungs, and restaurants all over Jogja, and this place is my favorite. And it's a local favorite as well; the woman that makes the bakso has been serving her specialty at this same place for 25 YEARS! People come from all over to eat at this pkl, and she dishes out hundreds of bowls a day. Her whole family is involved in the operation as well...her nephew generally works the cart, and her sons prepare the meatballs and other ingredients from scratch everyday. To make the meatballs, Juni (my friend and one of the sons) starts with 25 kilograms of beef (2) which he buys at a local market. He then takes the beef to another shop where they grind it up with a special industrial grinder. During this process he adds special spices that give the meatballs their distinctive taste. Back at home he makes all the meatballs by hand, which generally takes 2-3 hours. The other ingredients are made by hand from fresh ingredients each day as well. You can enjoy your bakso with a nice refreshing glass of jus jeruk (citrus juice) and for desert have a bowl of iced fruit. In the picture you can see how the iced fruit is made.

Dining at the PKL is not just about the food. Every time I sit down for a bowl (usually 2) of bakso I meet someone new and always have an interesting conversation. It's a good way to practice the language and make new friends. The people here are always curious as to what I'm doing in Indonesia and are always eager to teach me something new about the country or some words in the local language (do you remember from the previous posts what the local language around Jogja is?).

Of course there are other options as well. You can try masakkan Padang (Padang cuisine, named for the city from which it originates), soto (another delicious soup), rendang (a famous beef dish), and many others. One thing you know when you come to Indonesia is that you'll never go hungry.

If you're not the adventurous type you can find many familiar foods as well. Indonesians love fried chicken, and the pizza is pretty good as well. And if your in a hurry you can try Mister Burger, but I haven't quite figured out what the burgers are made of...

1. Can you use a map in the classroom to figure out the distance from New York City to Los Angeles?

2. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. "Kilograms" are used in most of the world for mass. Can you figure out how many pounds 25 kilograms equals? Can you figure out how much you weigh in kilograms?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Off To Borobudor!


I took a little weekend trip to Borobudor, the largest Buddhist monument in the world! Borobudor is about an hour away from Jogja, so I had to rent a motorcycle. Traffic is very different in Indonesia; there are many many more motorcycles and scooters on the road than cars, and sometimes you see a motorcycle carrying a whole family! The traffic here also doesn't really follow the lane markings in the road; it flows much more organically. And it seems like, for Indonesian drivers, what is behind is not really important. But once you get used to it it's easy to get around.

But back to Borobudor. It's a pretty neat place. It was built in the 9th century by the Sailendra kingdom, a dynasty of rulers here that very actively promoted the spread of Buddhism. The construction of this massive temple is estimated to have taken 75 years! I've included a picture of one of the stone reliefs; these go all the way around the temple in two layers and tell in pictures about the life of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Borobudor was intended to be a destination for pilgimages, which are journeys to sites of religious importance. The pilgrim would walk around each of the levels of the temple to follow the story of Buddha.

It's really hard to imagine, but for a long time this giant monument was unknown to that outside world! At some point about 1000 years ago the temple was abandoned as the kingdom moved to another part of the island of Java, far from Borobudor. Now remember one of the major features of this island...it is very volcanic. So over the years, volcanoes erupted and covered the area around Borobudor. Later lots of trees and thick bushes moved in as well, because volcanic land is very fertile. This is because volcanic soil is full of minerals that help plants grow.

But the monument was not forgotten completely by the locals (who could forget something like Borobudor), and when the British briefly gained control of the island of Java it was "rediscovered" around 1820. The Dutch, who were the colonial governors of Indonesia, investigated Borobudor and sent expeditions to catalog and describe the temple. However, as word spread international collectors also became interested in Borobudor, and as a result parts of the temple were stolen by treasure-hunters.

Indonesia became independent in 1945 and assumed the responsibility of preserving and restoring Borobudor. Now the monument is the most-visited site in Indonesia, welcoming over 2 million guests a year! I can tell you, it's definitely worth the trip!

1. What is Buddhism? What are the major beliefs of Buddhism? Where was it founded and where is it mainly practiced now?

2. What do you remember from the blog post about volcanoes and land? Can you think of any examples in Hawai'i?

Check out the neat video tour from Indonesia's Tourism Ministry:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgONItFMHe8&feature=related

video

Friday, September 17, 2010

Becak Becak Becak!


Ah the becak...one of the characteristic sites of Jogjakarta. A becak (bay-chak) is a common form of transportation here. Becaks are a type of pedicab(1); that is, the driver propels the vehicle with his own power, in this case his feet. Other types of pedicabs include trishaws and bicycle rickshaws. You may have seen one of these vehicles rolling around Waikiki or Ala Moana.

It's simple to ride a becak in Jogja. In most cases, you don't even have to look for one, because they will find you. Tell the becak driver where you want to go and he will quote a price. Make sure you have your bargaining shoes on, because the first price is never the final price. Sometimes the final price is less than half the first price quoted by the driver. If it's raining though you can expect to pay a little more. And it's more expensive to go uphill than downhill! But for most people the becak represents an affordable and efficient way to get around.(2)

Riding a becak is great fun and an excellent way to see the city. It's also a good way to pick up some bits and pieces of Javanese, the local language that is spoken by many people in this city. But this form of transportation is not without problems, both for the operator and the city at large. Becak drivers don't make very much money. The average day's wage for a becak driver is around 30,000 rupiah (the unit of money in Indonesia). While this may sound like a lot, think about it this way: there are approximately 9,000 rupiah in one US dollar. Can you figure out how much the becak driver earns in a day in dollars? Can you imagine trying to live on this much money every day?

Another problem is crowding. There are an estimated 6,500 becaks operating with permits in Jogja alone, with perhaps another 1,000 without permits. Becak drivers are often criticized for blocking traffic. Indeed the use the same streets as cars and motorcycles, and on narrow roads they can slow things up quite a bit. There have been proposals to limit the number of becaks on the road as well as the hours of operation. Some have suggested banning becaks from some areas or even eliminating all of the becaks. In fact, Indonesia's capital city (can you remember what the capital of Indonesia is?) banned becaks years ago to improve traffic.

1. ped- words usually refer to the feet (latin roots) or children (greek roots)...what do the following words have to do with feet or children?
a. pedestrian
b. pedicure
c. pediatrician
d. pedal
--Can you think of some other examples?

2. In addition to being affordable and efficient, can you think of some other benefits becaks provide?

Check out the National Geographic video I included from Youtube. What do you think?

http://www.tempointeraktif.com/hg/bisnis/2010/06/10/brk,20100610-254271,id.html
http://www.karbonjournal.org/focus/perjalanan-becak-perjalanan-kota-benarkah-becak-yogyakarta-masih-raja-jalanan
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w3k311tgEs video

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will it Ever Stop Raining?


It's raining again! It seems like it's been raining everyday here in Jogja, and that makes it very humid here. It rains a lot because this is a tropical location (like Honolulu) and an island. However, under normal circumstances there is a dry season and a wet season, again much like Honolulu. Think of your experiences. When does it usually rain in Honolulu? When is it generally dry? The pattern matches this area of Indonesia as well. Climatologists (people that study long-term weather and atmospheric trends) refer to this dry-wet season pattern as a monsoon. Many people think that monsoon means "lots of rain", but this isn't exactly true. Monsoon refers to a seasonal shift in winds. This means that during one season the prevailing wind blows from one direction, whereas during the other season the wind blows from a different direction. Probably the most well known example of a monsoon pattern is India. You may have seen stories on the news or in National Geographic about the monsoons there. In India for part of the year the wind comes from the north, which is all land and mountains, so there isn't much rain. However during the other part of the year the wind brings air from the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal (find these on a map), and so the air is very moist and thus there is rain.

The monsoon is important for farmers but it has also been important historically for global trade! Find Indonesia on a map. Now locate India and China. You can see that Indonesia is about in the middle of the sea route between these two nations, which are home to ancient civilizations. Hundreds of years ago, before steam and diesel engines sailing was the best way to go long distances, especially with heavy cargo. The interesting thing about Indonesia is that the monsoon winds actually aided trade. For part of the year the winds blow towards Indonesia, making it easy to go from China or India to Indonesia. Then for the other part of the year the winds blow away from Indonesia, making it easy for Chinese and Indian traders to get home!

These islands in the past have been referred to as the "Spice Islands". That's because this is the natural home of many spices like black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and many others! You are probably very familiar with some of these, but just a few hundred years ago in Europe these spices were virtually unknown. When they were discovered by Europeans a huge demand was created. Can you imagine eating food without pepper or other spices? The demand for spices from what is now known as Indonesia was so great that these spices for a time were worth more than gold! Monsoon winds helped stimulate the trade between Indonesia and Europe.

The problem these days though is that the monsoon seems to be getting less reliable. Indonesia is an agricultural country, and rice is the major crop. It is very productive, especially in the tropics. However, it needs regular and plentiful water for maximum yields. The other day I was talking to a farmer (in Indonesia), and he told me that global climate change (sometimes referred to as "global warming") seems to be disrupting the monsoon. When it rains unexpectedly the crops are damaged, and the farmers get confused as to when to plant new rice. Now back to my first point...the rain... Remember I said that Indonesia (like Hawaii) has a dry season and a wet season. The problem is that now it's supposed to be the dry season! So it's not just me that's asking this question...the farmers are too.

I'll write more soon, but in the meantime you might want to try to answer some of the questions I've included below.

Can you find a climate map that shows where monsoon climates are found? Try using the internet. Can you find some stories about the relationship between global climate change and shifting monsoon seasons?

What do I mean when I use the term "tropics"?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Holiday Season in Jogjakarta!

Well, I've finished my language study. 6 weeks! Now it is time for me to go to Sumatra and do some research work. Right now is a special time in Indonesia because it is the end of Ramadan, which is a very important month for Muslims. Most of the people in Indonesia are Muslims; in fact, Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation on the planet in terms of population!

During the month of Ramadan Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. In this way they show their devotion to Allah (God) and cleanse themselves spiritually. At the end of the month there are big feasts, and most people return to their villages or their family homes, so it is very difficult to travel. In fact, I am having a hard time finding a ticket back to Jakarta, the capital city. I may have to ride a horse!

I will write more soon. But maybe you can find some information about Muslims and Islam in the mean time...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Learning a new language is tough work!

Hi guys. I've been here for a little over a month now. Everyday I'm in language class for 6 hours, and then usually I have to study for about 3 hours after class....it makes me very tired, but the language school I am attending is really good. Each class I have there is one-on-one....that means it's just me and the teacher. This helps me learn, but if I don't do my homework, there's no way to hide!

The city I'm staying in right now is called Jogjakarta. It is almost as big as Honolulu and it is a cultural center for the island of Java. Java is most densely-populated island among the 17,000 islands in Indonesia! Jogjakarta is a really neat place because you can see traditional dancing, clothmaking ("batik") and some really neat architecture. In fact, just one hour away is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It's called "Borobodur". Can you fin Java and Jogjakarta on Google Earth?

There is a big volcano nearby here and there are earthquakes from time to time. I will be here for about another 10 days or so and then I will have to go out into the jungle! I'll post more regularly from now on and include some pictures.