Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Joy (And Pain) Of Sambal...

Today's post is dedicated to sambal, that ubiquitous chili-pepper concoction that spices up Indonesian cuisine. There are probably as many different types of sambal as there are islands in this archipelago (17,000), but today will stick with some of the basics. But before we get started, there are a couple of precautions one needs to take before embarking on a sambal odyssey. The first thing you need is water. Lots of it. Sambal is spicy stuff, and the effect only increases the more you eat. Cucumbers are a handy thing to have around as well, as they dull the spiciness. Next, it's best to have your schedule planned out for the next 12 to 18 hours or so. You want to be someplace comfortable, like your home or office. You don't want to eat a bunch of sambal before hopping on the Medan-Lampung bus. Sambal for the most part is pretty basic stuff; the main ingredients are chili peppers, onions, garlic, and salt. Additional ingredients are blended to created specialty sambals, but they are all based primarily on chili peppers. And despite the simplicity of sambal, it adds a whole new dimension to your meal. Sambal transforms a simple bowl of rice into a main course.

I did extensive research for this post (consisting of eating dinner) by visiting a couple of restaurants specializing in sambal. There are a number of these around town; I visited Pedas Abas on Jalan Gatotkaca and Pondok Cabe on Jl Gejayan (you can also try Cabe Nusantara, but I've not yet eaten there). These places have an ala-carte menu featuring vegetables and various fried/grilled dishes, but the main attraction is the wide variety of sambals on offer: Pondok Cabe has 16 and Pedas Abas has 23 varieties, all prepared fresh daily. You order off the ala-carte menu and pick the sambal you want to accompany your meal. These places are great for sampling new flavors, and you can have a filling meal for around US$3. Pondok Cabe is a larger place and features a fancier setup with nice ambiance, whereas Pedas Abas is a bit simpler and seems to cater more to the university crowd. However, at Pedas Abas you get to eat off banana leaves, which for me personally never gets old. Order the tofu (tahu sutra) and the grilled beef along with a vegetable; my favorite is kangkung, which is a type of spinach (better at Pedas Abas than Pondok Cabe).

I tried several varieties over the course of several meals, including the following:

1. Sambal Gunung (Mountain sambal). This is a slightly sweet sambal that rates "medium" on the spiciness scale. It's made with whole green chilis and has bits of beef mixed in.

2. Sambal Penyetan. This also rates "medium" on the spiciness index; it's quite pleasing and has a certain tanginess.

3. Sambal Bawang. This is a popular sambal and is one of the spiciness. Delicious, but not for the tender-tongued. For me this sambal mixed with rice makes a meal in itself, and it's a sure fire way to make sure I'm drinking enough fluids.

4. Sambal Kecap. This is a sweeter, oily sambal made with soy sauce and small red onions. If you enjoy milder tastes, this is the one for you.

5. Sambal Terasi Segar. This sambal is made of chiles and shrimp paste and is a bit spicier, but very very tasty with rice.

And for those of you that would like to try this at home, I asked my friend Fina for a couple of sambal recipes, which I've included below. You should have no problem finding the ingredients, but remember, don't forget the water!

Sambal Bawang

--5 red or green chilis, depending on whether you prefer "spicy" or "super spicy", according to Fina.
--1/2 clove garlic
--1/2 teaspoon salt
--1/2 teaspoon sugar

Put all the ingredients in a mortar-pestle (see illustration to the left) and smash them up according to your preference for blended or chunky. That's it. Fina recommends enjoying this sambal with fried tofu or fried tempe

Sambal Tomat.

--5 short chilis
--5 long chilis
--3 red onions
--2 cloves of garlic
--1 tomato
--1/2 tablespoon shrimp paste
--1/2 teaspoon salt
--1/2 teaspoon sugar.

Heat a bit of oil in a wok or skillet. Put all the ingredients except the sugar and salt. Saute until tender. Remove from heat; drain. Smash the sambal with the mortar and pestle and add sugar and salt. Voila!

So there you have it. A primer to sambal. I've always found that adding a bit of Aloha Gold premium soy sauce, the one that comes in the silver bottle with the picture of Kristy Yamaguchi, adds a nice touch as well. The beauty of sambal is that the simple, basic formula allows for a high degree of experimentation and culinary expression.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hari Ini Hari Kartini...

A change will come in our whole native world—the turning point is fore-ordained; it is coming. But when will it be? That is the great question. --Kartini, 1899.

Today is a special day in Indonesia. April 21st is known as Kartini Day, and commemorates the life of Raden Adjeng Kartini, who is considered a national hero in Indonesia. Across the archipelago children remember the contributions of Kartini by dressing in traditional clothes. Kartini lived from 1879 to 1904 and is seen as a pioneer advocate for womens' rights. Her writings changed the way Indonesian women were perceived in Holland, which at that time controlled the Indonesian archipelago, and also contributed to the ideals of the Indonesian independence movement.

Kartini was caught between two worlds. The first was that of traditional Java, where she was raised as a member of the aristocracy. Kartini was saddened by the inequalities between nobles and common people in Java. She felt that anyone, regardless of birth or status, could be noble. She wrote about the "aristocracy of the mind" and the "aristocracy of the soul". Kartini was also disturbed by the low status of women in traditional Java. Even though her own family was somewhat progressive, she described the challenges she faced as a young girl going to school in a society where only boys could be educated. She writes vividly about how, at the age of 12, she was sequestered "in the box", separated from the outside world until she reached the age of marriage. And she writes poignantly of a feeling of intellectual liberation she felt when she came "out of the box" at age 16. We can see the rigidness of her upbringing in the following passage from Letters:

In order to give you a faint idea of the oppressiveness of our etiquette, I shall mention a few examples. A younger brother or sister of mine may not pass me without bowing down to the ground and creeping upon hands and knees. If a little sister is sitting on a chair, she must instantly slip to the ground and remain with head bowed until I have passed from her sight. If a younger brother or sister wishes to speak to me, it must only be in high Javanese; and after each sentence that comes from their lips they must make a sembah; that is, to put both hands together, and bring the thumbs under the nose.

The second world was that of Europe and the West. Kartini thirsts for knowledge of new ideas that were emanating from Europe at the time. She felt kinship with womens' rights activists in Holland and England and corresponded regularly with friends in Europe (this correspondence is the basis for "Letters..."). At the same time, Kartini laments the prejudices that accompanied the colonial mindset of the Dutch administrators of the East Indies. She tells stories of how Javanese natives were treated as second-class people and even as animals by colonial officials; in some cases Javanese were forced to "kiss the feet" of the Dutch.

Kartini's struggle to make sense of these often contradictory spheres is reflected in her writings. She is at pains to reconcile her vision for a new world with her attachments and obligations to the society of which she was a product. "Have I the right to break the hearts of those who have given me nothing but love and kindness my whole life long, and who have surrounded me with the tenderest care?", she asks. She questions authority, custom, and tradition. She contemplates religion and faith. We can see her despair and her hope. Her writings provide a window into the past, detailing colonial institutions and the relationship between the Javanese and the Dutch.

We can learn a lot from Kartini. Her writings teach show that Indonesia and the world in general has made a great deal of progress in a brief century. But we can also see that there is still work to be done to ensure freedom, liberty, and justice for all people. And while her life was short, her impact has been profound. She was a but a single person, but she had the curiosity to observe the world around her and the courage to challenge the way things were.

Sources and for further reading:

Raden Adjeng Kartini and Hildred Geertz. 1992. Letters of a Javanese Princess. University Press of America.

Portions of the aforementioned book are available online at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Riding the Rails Across Java...

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a while: ride the train from Jakarta to Jogjakarta. Trains are one of the best ways to see a county and I've been fortunate enough in the past to have ridden trains across the US, China, Japan, and Europe. So on Sunday I jumped at the chance to ride the Argo Dwipangga from Gambir station in Jakarta to Tugu Station in Jogja. The scheduled departure was at 8am, and according to my ticket arrival was set at 3.15pm in Jogja. I was surprised at this, since I've heard the trip is 8-9 hours. By 8.20am the train hadn't arrived, so I asked one of my fellow train-watchers about the ETA, pointing to the time printed on the ticket. My comrade-in-waiting responding simply by laughing at me.

Anyway, eventually the train arrived and we got underway, a mere half hour late. As the train rambled (an rambled) through the Jabotabek region I settled in for the long ride. Aside from the arctic temperatures within the train, it was on the whole clean and comfortable.

So what will you see? Well, for starters, rice, rice, and more rice. Java is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, and has been for a while. To give you an idea, the densely-populated Japanese archipelago is almost 3 times as large as Java in terms of area, but has about 10 million fewer people. The intensive cultivation of rice on rich volcanic soils helps support all the people. Thus what you see from the train is a glimpse of a continuum that has been ongoing for millenia. And not to be too sentimental, but there is something about a verdant rice field that soothing and relaxing; maybe it's something primeval, a signal to the soul that there will be food for at least the near future. The rice comes in all forms and is cultivated year-round. You'll also see terraces which have been constructed to make maximum use of slopes and water resource

But there's more than rice. In the predominantly agricultural landscape you'll see tree crops like rubber, corn, sugar cane, and lots of horticultural products. Then there's the industriousness of the rural denizens; you'll see cottage industries including low-tech brick manufactories, tile works, and all sorts of things like that. You'll briefly see into the lives of villages and small towns as the train "rolls along past houses, farms and fields". You'll also cross a beautiful landscape dotted with volcanic mountains. For your viewing pleasure, I've included 1 1/2 minute movie clip taken with my lo-rez digicam. This is just a brief glimpse. Given the fact that the train was moving relatively quickly, it was hard to get good picture.


All in all riding the train is a lot of fun and worth the time. I recommend riding executive class for the comfort. It costs about $35 for the ride and the extra $7 or so is a good investment. There are several other routes you can take as well; I've included a map of executive-class trains below that I shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia.

What you'll need:
1. Parka. I know you guys in Hawaii probably don't know what a parka is, so I've included a picture for your reference. You need this because the air conditioning in the executive is cranked up so high that you'd think the water on your eyeballs would freeze. Maybe the executive class coaches double as a meat wagon.

2. MP3 player. It's a long trip, and it's nice to be able to break the monotony with some music. They show the same 2 (bad) music videos over and over as "in flight entertainment".

3. Some snacks. Bring along something to eat. Although the cabin attendants provide menus and all sorts of things to eat, it's nice to have some tim tam and water.

4. A good book. Preferably not on the topic of train derailments.

The Argo Dwipangga's scheduled departure from Jarkarta's Gambir station is 8am. I think it's probably a good idea to buy your ticked a couple of days in advance, especially during holiday periods. If you plan to travel at the end of Ramadan you can pretty much forget it, though.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Walk Around Old Jakarta....

This past week I had a little bit of time between sitting in traffic jams and recuperation beneath my oxygen tent, so I decided to hit the street and see some of the sights. I ventured up to the northern part of the city to an area fittingly called "Kota" ("city" in Bahasa Indonesia). Even though Jakarta is a sprawling city of millions, there still exists a core area rich in history and heritage. People have been settled here for at least 1500 years and the harbor has long been an important trading center (see my previous post on Sunda Kelapa). However, in the early 1500 the Europeans began to make their mark here, beginning with the Portuguese. "Jakarta" is a derivative of an early name for the city: "Jayakarta", which means "great victory" and commemorates the success of the Sundanese in repelling the Portuguese. This victory would be short-lived, however, and by the end of the 17th century the Dutch had established a significant presence in the area. Before long the Dutch would control most of Java and later the other islands that came to be known as Indonesia, ushering in the colonial era (1). Many of the structures I visited for this post are relics of Indonesia's colonial past.

The first stop on my tour was the Bank Mandiri Museum, located in one of the huge buildings constructed by one of the Dutch banking houses. The building is a beautiful example of art deco colonial architecture rich with artistic embellishments ranging from beautiful arts-and-crafts glass doors to intricately carved banisters. The museum contents themselves aren't really that noteworthy; they have a room full of trophies (who knew they give trophies for banking?) as well as cases and cases of old cash registers, vaults, and ATM machines. It wasn't too long ago that people would've been falling all over themselves to destroy stuff like this in their justifiable revolutionary furor, but fortunately for historians of cash-registraria some striking examples have been preserved here. You can also catch a glimpse of the ghoulish wax (I guess it's wax) figures they have scattered throughout the museum to illustrate colonial banking practices, which can be summarized thusly: white people taking lots of money out of the country. I included an example to the right to give you an idea. The money in this picture isn't real; rather it's made of Styrofoam. The real money is hidden somewhere in the Bakrie building (2).

Right next to the Mandiri Museum is a museum dedicated to the financial system in Indonesia. It tells the fiscal story of the Republic from the first days after the initial declaration of independence in 1945 right through the financial crisis of 1997-98 to the ambitious reforms that have been instituted since. This museum is really first rate with excellent displays and information in both English and Indonesian. It also has a really neat numismatic room with examples of all the different types of money that have been in circulation. I HIGHLY recommend this museum, especially if you are interested in economic issues.

Next I moved up the street to the Wayang museum, which is dedicated to the ancient art of puppet shows (shadow puppets and conventional prop puppets) which is still very popular in Indonesia. This museum has been remodeled since I was last in Jakarta and has gone from being a hot, dingy, dusty hole to become a fascinating and informative repository on puppets and their meaning. This is another museum that I would highly recommend. I'll make a post in the future about puppet shows because here they aren't just entertainment; they are a part of the culture.

After the Wayang museum I quickly went through the old colonial city hall, which has also been converted into a museum. The contents of this museum are somewhat like Iolani can see antique furniture, models of ships, and some other historic relics. Then you can venture over to the art museum, which I hear is really excellent. I was only able to visit the outside, because the museum closes at 3pm (all of them close at 3).

All in all you can see some pretty neat things in Old Jakarta, and it's definitely worth the trip. To get there you can take a taxi, but the best way is probably via the city's busway ( The busway is a network of routes with dedicated lanes for the use of the city's buses. The busways enable you to avoid Jakarta's infamous traffic jams (macet) to a certain degree, but they can be VERY crowded. Anyway, make your way to Koridor 1 on the Busway heading north and get off at the last stop (Kota). You can start your walk at the Mandiri museum, which is right across the street.

Last but not least is today's photo of the day (right). I took this picture because I'd never seen a flagstone skyscraper before....

(1) Colonialism is a policy whereby one country exerts control over an area outside its borders. Colonialism usually involves administering the outside area for the benefit of the colonizing country rather than the people that live in the colony. Between 1500 and around 1970 European nations, the US, and Japan colonized much of the world. The policy of colonization had lasting effects that persist until today and the memories of the colonial era are often very painful to the colonized. In many places the colonized peoples were only able to free themselves after long periods of struggle. I'll dedicate a future post to the practice of colonialism in Indonesia.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Is It Hotter in Jakarta? The Urban Heat Island Effect in Indonesia

One thing you notice when you come to Jakarta is that it seems like it's hotter than the surrounding countryside. This isn't just an illusion caused by the fast-paced nature of urban living. It's an example of something that climatologists call the "Heat Island Effect", which means that the average temperature of city is higher than the average temperature of nearby rural areas. The HIE not unique to Jakarta; it's a feature of large urban areas all over the world. It's especially noticeable in some large, sprawling US cities like Atlanta. The heat island effect is a complex phenomenon, but here we can cover some of the basics. The process that contributes most to the HIE is land cover change. This means simply that land is converted from one use to another. In the case of cities the change is generally from forests or agricultural fields to things like buildings, roads, and parking lots. To understand why this cause the temperature to increase, we need to understand some basic facts about energy.

On Earth all life depends fundamentally on energy, and the energy that sustains life here is from the Sun. The Sun constantly sends out a tremendous amount of energy which comes to us in different forms. Some of it is light energy, which you see reflected during the day. Other energy is thermal energy, which you can feel. Still other energy is ultra-violet (UV), which you probably know is so strong that it can burn your skin! When the energy from the sun reaches the Earth several things can happen, two of which we'll learn about here. The first is that energy can be reflected. That means just what you think it means...the energy bounces off an object and is sent back the way it came. When energy is reflected by an object, it is not used by the object. The second things that can happen is that the energy can be absorbed; it's basically soaked up by the object. When this happens the object has to warm up and re-release it's energy.

As a general rule, the darker an object is the more energy it absorbs, and the lighter it is the more it reflects. This is why you feel cooler when you wear white clothes and hotter when you wear black clothes. It's not magic....the darker clothes are actually absorbing more energy, which heats you up! Geographers use the term albedo to describe what percent of the Sun's energy is reflected and absorbed by an object. An albedo of 100 means that 100% of energy is reflected, whereas an albedo of 0 indicates that all is absorbed (1).

Now, back to the city. When we build cities, we are actually altering the albedo of the area. Cities have lots of roads, many of which are covered with asphalt. What color is asphalt? That's right, it's black. In addition, many roofs are dark, and thus they absorb more energy. The cumulative effect of this increases the temperature of the city. In addition, removing trees alters the energy balance in other ways: trees use a small amount of energy to grow, while at the same time water evaporating (transpiring) from leaves cools the overall environment (2). The HIE effect can increase energy consumption to power air conditioning units as well as increase mortality during heat waves.

On to Jakarta. This city has grown at an incredible rate since the 1970s which has led to a great deal of land conversion. The image to the right is a remotely-sensed picture taken from a satellite (3). This picture is modified to show vegetation (forests, fields) in red and built-up areas in greenish-white. As you can see, there are very few vegetated areas within the core of the city; that's all covered by low-albedo surfaces which cause the temperature to increase! In fact, recent studies indicate that not only is the mercury in Jakarta rising, but the elevated temperatures are also altering the regional climate as well. Two examples of this are increased rainfall downwind (4) of the city and earlier onset of seasonal sea breezes.

Like I mentioned in the introduction, this phenomenon isn't unique to Jakarta. As you can see from the graph I've included, there is a noticeable upward trend in urban temperatures in several cities across Asia (5). I didn't include another graph from the study which shows that rural temperatures are not increasing as fast, but trust me, there is a difference. So what can we do about the HIE? Well, the first step is knowing about it and how it works. And while we're probably never going to completely counter the HIE, we can take steps to mitigate it. These steps range from policy and planning (making sure there are green spaces like parks and that land use is zoned effectively) to technological fixes to changes in our individual behaviors. What kinds of solutions can you think of to address the HIE? Start by doing a search for "green roofs". What can you find, and what can you imagine?

1) What types of surfaces have high albedos? What about low albedos? At night you can try an experiment. Go outside and touch a dark surface, like the street. Then touch a lighter surface. Which one feels cooler? The warmer one is most likely releasing thermal energy it absorbed during the day!

2) I am referring here to the "latent heat of evaporation". It takes a significant amount of energy to change water into water vapor. This is something I'll cover in a future post.

3) The image here was taken by the SPOT satellite. Satellites are neat because they can detect all sorts of different types of energy. Remember that visible light is only one type of energy...there are many others that you can't see, including radio waves, UV waves, IR waves, and microwaves! This satellite can detect infra-red (thermal) energy that your eyes can't detect. Geographers use the term "remote sensing" because the data, in this case the picture, is taken from a remote distance, or far away. You're probably familiar with another remote sensing device...a camera! Remote sensing allows geographers to learn a great deal about the environment. Our department at the University of Hawaii is particularly strong in remote sensing, and our faculty and students are designing new ways to analyze remotely sensed data.

4) Rain in virtually all instances is caused by some mechanism of uplift. In this case the mechanism is convection. This is something I'll cover in a future post!

5) Look at the graph. You can see that in each of the cities, the general trend is increasing. However, you can also see that from year to year there is variation. That means that even though this year is cooler than last year, in the long run the average temperature is increasing! We can apply this to global warming as well. Some people think that just because this winter was really cold and that there was a lot of snow that global warming isn't really happening. But if we look at temperatures over 5, 10, 50, and 100 years we can clearly see an upward trend in temperatures. Can you think of examples of other things that exhibit short term variation but a noticeable long term trend?


Kataoka, Kumi, Futoshi Matsumoto, Toshiaki Ichinose & Makoto Taniguchi. 2009. Urban Warming Trends in Several Large Asian Cities Over the Last 100 Years. Science of the Total Environment 407:3112-3119.
Based on this article, you kids could probably get published in this journal!
Tokairin, Takayuki, Asep Sofyan, & Toshihiro Kitada. 2009. Numerical Study on Temperature Variation in the Jakarta Area Due to Urbanization. Paper presented to the Seventh International Conference on Urban Climate, Yokohama, Japan, 29 June- 3 July 2009.
This study makes use of data from the “U.S. Geolorogical Survey (USGS)” (2). This is one superfluous syllable away from being the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Tokairin, Takayuki, Asep Sofyan, and Toshihiro Kita. 2010. Effects of land use Changes on Local Meteorological Conditions in Jakarta, Indonesia: Towards the evaluation of the thermal Environment of Megacities in Asia. International Journal of Climatology 30:1931-1941

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pergian Ke Pelabuhan!

Today I ventured out of my buddy's housing complex (Dunia Bakrie!) to explore Jakarta a bit. My destination was the port of Sunda Kelapa in Jakarta. Although Jakarta is a major trading center with hundreds of large cargo ships calling annually, the port of Sunda Kelapa (Coconut of Sunda) is open only to the types of vessels you see in the picture above. This port has been active for at least 800 years and was the most important trading center for the Sunda kingdom, a powerful Hindu dynasty that ruled the western part of the island of Java for almost 1000 years between the 7th to the 16th centuries. The port has had a long history and has changed hands numerous times, being controlled variously by the Sundanese, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and several other kingdoms. Now most cargo moves through a newer multi-modal facility (like the kind you see at Honolulu Harbor), but a trip to Kelapa Sunda provides an introduction to the rich seafaring traditions of Indonesia.

These ships are called pinisi. They have traditionally been built by people from the southern part of the island of Sulawesi (1). The four main groups that have built pinisi include the Konjo, the Mandar, the Bugis, and the Makassarese (from Makassar). Among these groups the Bugis and the Makassarese are known for their strong traditions of seafaring. In addition to traveling and trading throughout the islands that would later become Indonesia, they were traveling to Australia to trade with the Aborigines long before Western explorers "discovered"(2) the Land Down Under. The Buginese and Makasarrese for hundreds of years been able to take advantage of their strategic location to make money from trading and piracy! You'd be amazed at how far the people from Indonesia were able to travel and spread; in fact they colonized Madagascar 1000 years ago, and the old Hawaiians are descendants of people that left the islands of Indonesia to explore the oceans thousands of years ago! If you're Hawaiian, you might have a distant cousin here! In the future keep your eyes peeled for a post about the similarities between Polynesian languages like Hawaiian and the languages of the Indonesian archipelago.

Although most of the ships were busy loading and unloading cargo, I was able to board a couple of them for a quick look around and short chat with the crew. I met two captains, Jakob from Maluku and Budi from Sulawesi. They told me they usually haul things like construction materials and fertilizer. As you can see from the pictures, there is a wide range of cargo. It takes about 3 days to get to either Sulawesi or Pekanbaru on Sumatra, two popular ports of call. Pak Jakob's ship was the larger of the two; he carried a crew of 12 while Pak Budi had a crew of 7. But Pak Budi's ship still goes the traditional route; when the winds are right he hoists his sails and lets the breeze carry him! Though most of the ships are rigged for sailing, I was told that many of them are relying more and more on their motors. But from the looks of things, motors are one of the only extravagances...there didn't seem to be any radios or computer navigation equipment on either of the ships I visited.

You can also see from the pictures that running and maintaining these big boats is hard work. To load the cargo the crew uses either a crane-hoist or they hire hands at the port to manually carry goods across the narrow gang plank from ship to shore and vice versa. Then there are the constant repairs. Even though some of these ships look ancient, Pak Jakob told me his ship (the one being repaired in the picture) was built about 25 years ago. The sea takes a heavy toll on these boats.

The best news of the week though is that my research permit and visa was approved, which means that I'm now bona-fied and gen-you-ine. The notification I received requested that I go to Los Angeles to receive my special visa, though. I sure hope I can find a way to pick up the visa here!

(1) Jakarta, where I currently am, is on the island of Java. Sulawesi is another large island that is a part of Indonesia. Can you find it on the map?

(2) Why do you suppose I put the word "discovered" in quotation marks?

For Further Reading (and acknowledgments):

If your interested in the structure and construction of these fascinating ships, check out Michael Kasten's OUTSTANDING page on the Indonesian Phinisi at

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Living In A Bubble....

Greetings from Jakarta! I just arrived yesterday and have been fortunate enough to be able to stay with a friend of mine in one of the gigantic housing complexes that dot this massive metropolis of over 20 million people. But the housing complexes here are different from the large apartment blocks you may be used to. These places are almost like cities within cities, offering all sorts of services and amenities for the convenience of their residents. From the 32nd floor I was able to survey all that this particular complex has to offer, and it is impressive. I've included a video to illustrate some of the features of this particular complex. In addition to the pool and sports fields, there are two mini-markets, a greengrocer, a health spa, two dry-cleaners, a drug store, and a restaurant. You could stay in the complex and never leave....the only thing that isn't provided below is health care.


But aside from the convenience, these types of complexes raise some interesting questions. The complex also serves to insulate the residents from the rest of the city. This particular place employs an army of private security guards, and entry to the complex is tightly controlled. There is a wall surrounding the 17 or so towers of the facility and so the park-like area is only accessible to people that pay to live in the complex. You can see the stark contrasts between the complex and the older kampungs in the picture to the right.

Another point about this is that the complex provides many of the services that are traditionally provided by the government. In democracies like the United States and Indonesia, the government is supposed to represent the will of all the people, and is supposed to provide services to all of them as well. Government services are available to everyone regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, or their religious faith. Providing services like parks, fire protection, garbage disposal, etc all cost money, though. The government gets this money through taxes, and the more services that are provided the higher the taxes will be. The problem in Indonesia is that many people are able to evade their taxes, and the government has a difficult time collecting money and effectively channeling that money to services. Thus what ends up happening is that private corporations fill in the gap and provide the same services government is supposed to provide to everyone, but only for the people that pay. For the people living in the complex this is great, but what about those living just beyond the wall?

Like most things in life these large housing developments have good and bad points. Some argue that new, modern complexes help the rest of the city grow and prosper. In addition, by increasing the density of population (1) you can decrease the cost of providing services to them. Think about the housing complex in the first picture in this post. How many people do you imagine live here? I was told the current total is somewhere between 10 and 15 thousand people! Now, imagine how much space it would take if those people were instead living in two or three thousand houses. All of those houses would require separate pipes for water and sewage as well as electrical lines. By concentrating the people in towers the amount of material required for water and electricity decreases, which increases efficiency. This is sometimes referred to as economy of scale. By scaling a process or phenomenon up, it gets more efficient (2). Scale is one of the things we geographers are very interested in.

Additionally one might argue that some problems are just to big to handle. In previous posts I have discussed some of the problems facing cities in Indonesia. Housing complexes help wealthier people avoid some of the problems of living in a sprawling city, and therefore might help the city attract talented people. However, some experts argue that the separation that comes with housing complexes increases tensions between richer and poorer residents. This is part of what geographers refer to as "spatial segregation". Many urban geographers argue that this is bad because it hurts the spirit of the community and could possibly lead to conflicts between different groups. Another problem with so many unconnected, private complexes existing in the same small area is that it is hard to plan for the sustainable management of resources. Can you think about all the things that cities need? Some things include water, sewage services, electricity, and garbage disposal require a certain degree of coordination and management to work properly, especially in a city of 20 million people. Water, space, and electricity are not unlimited resources, and without some kind of planning they can be depleted quickly.

It's interesting to think about these issues. Geography provides a lot of neat mental tools that enable us to think about these problems so that we can design better solutions in the future.

Lastly, for the picture of the day. The name of this big complex is "Epicentrum". I've taken a picture of the logo of the development and posted it to the right. The graphic reminds me of a planet being rifted apart by seismic forces! Given the fact that Indonesia is among the most seismically active places on the planet, I thought this choice of logo was a little peculiar!

(1) Population density is an example of a ratio or relationship of one number to another. In this case the relationship is between the number of people you have and the amount of space they occupy. Can you think of some other ratios?

(2) In addition to electricity and water, can you think of some other goods or services that might be cheaper to provide if people live closer together? What about other products that might benefit from economies of scale?

For Further Reading
1. Winarso, Haryo. 2011. Urban Dualism in the Jakarta Metropolitan Area. Chapter 8 in Megacities: Urban Form, Governance, and Sustainability. A. Sorensen and J. Okata, editors. Tokyo:Springer

2. Douglass, Mike. 2005. Globalization, Mega-projects and the Environment:
Urban Form and Water in Jakarta.

3. Goldblum, Charles, and Tai-Chee Wong. 2000. Growth, crisis and spatial change: a study of haphazard urbanization in Jakarta, Indonesia. Land Use Policy 17:29-37

Monday, April 4, 2011

Back To Indonesia...'s been about 5 months since I've posted....time sure flies! But I've got good's time to start posting again. Thanks to the generous support of the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii, the federal Department of Education, the Division of Arts and Sciences at UH, and some other agencies and organizations, I'm on my way back to Indonesia to continue my project! I'm so excited to be getting back to my real "work".

One of the first things things I noticed on this trip was the sign to the left I saw upon arrival at the airport in Taipei, Taiwan. Since I had a very short stopover in Tokyo, I had to walk through the machine. To my surprise, it produced a "beep", but the attendants told me just to keep going. But as I thought about it, I realized that this is an example of what geographers refer to as "time-space compression". What does it mean when you "compress" something? That's right, it means that you apply some sort of pressure to it to make it smaller. In this case, time-space compression is a term we use to describe how technological advances in transportation and telecommunications bring us closer together and change the ways that we interact with one another. If you think about it, not too long ago the fastest that people (and news, for that matter) could travel was the speed of a fast horse or ship! But now we can travel around the globe in a matter of hours, and we can communicate with people on the other side of the planet instantly! It is indeed a small world after all! But time-space compression has far-reaching impacts on our culture, politics, lifestyles, and in the way we behave. Can you think of some effects of time-space compression?

Anyway, back to Taipei. These days it's not too often that I get to visit a country I've never been to before, but a long layover here gave me a chance to get out of the transit hotel and see the sights. This time I decided to fly Taiwan's China Air because they have the cheapest fare (by a long shot!). I suspect that this is due to China Airlines flying their planes slower to save on gas, though the only evidence I have to support my hypothesis is the fact that it took 9 hours to fly from Honolulu to Tokyo this time, and I don't remember it taking that long in the past. This is a somewhat sneaky form of "time-space decompression", but as long as it helps me save some money, I'm not going to complain too much....They did after all pay for the transit hotel.

After I got settled I rode the high-speed rail from the airport into Taipei, which is the capital of Taiwan. The train was going 250 kilometers per hour at one point(1)! I was really impressed. I got to the downtown train station at about 8pm local time and hopped on the city's wonderful subway system to head over to see Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Since it was raining and dark I wasn't able to get a good photo, but I've included a few below along with a special artist's rendering I worked up with the cutting edge drawing software that came with my computer. I got tired of drawing the windows after about a minute, but you get the idea. The drawing is not to scale.

As it turns out, Taipei is a really cool town based on the 2.5 hours I was able to spend walking around. It has a really neat mix of architectural styles and lots of things going on. I walked through a night market, which is always an interesting experienced with neat things to see and...uh...smell. There are charming little temples and shrines tucked in between modern skyscrapers and the city center is great for walking. I hope I get a chance to come back and spend some more time at some point.

Well, that's it for now. I hope that all of the young geogra-philes out there will check back frequently for updates. Over the next few months I'll be posting more about the unique geography of Indonesia. Stay tuned! In the mean time I'll leave you with this mind-blowing video clip I made in the transit hotel.


1. In a previous post I told you that there are approximately 1.61 kilometers in a mile, and about .62 miles in each kilometer. Based on this, can you figure out how fast the high-speed rail train was traveling?