Saturday, July 31, 2010

Going to Bandung (a city in Java, 2hrs away from Jakarta) in a few hours. Sorry for the lack of updates. I will be writing some very interesting entries in a little while. We've had a really crazy week. Still haven't decided whether it was good or bad. Anyway, this is a short trip. We'll be back in Padang in a few days.

To all of Greg's friends: feel free to leave comments, I'll pass them on to him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just Another Monday

--- written on Monday, July 26, 2010 ----

The ESW blog is being updated! Go check it out at We'll be making changes to the entries (adding links and pictures) as we go along.

Only one more month in Padang! Definitely going to miss this place. There are things I miss about the US and part of me wants to go back to “reality”. It seems so unreal that I'm sitting here in West Sumatra. I guess I've always wanted to go to Southeast Asia and here I am.

We started off the week with a huge rainstorm in the early mornings. Luckily, it wasn't raining anymore when we stepped out of the house. But the bus that we took decided to take some detour and then somehow missed the turn to go across the bridge. This bus is big so it had to make some hapzard backing up to get back onto the right road. We still manged to get to Andalas at a reasonable time for our meeting.

I finally got a tour of the Engineering Department today. We went to see the soils laboratory to see what kind of equipment they have. Hopefully, we will do some soil investigations next week. They seem to be pretty well equiped with hand equipment. No fancy computerized stuff, which is good for us actually. I wish I had done an internship at a small geotech firm where I got samples from the field and did lab tests on the samples. I think I know what the basic tests are but I've never done them more than once. If I had worked just one summer a small geotech firm, I would know exactly what kinds of tests I would and should do for this project. But since I don't have such experience, let's hope the geotech references I have on my compuer are good.

We went back to the construction site of a school again to see their progress. Short visit but very interesting stuff. One of the students who work at the construction clinic oversees the project on behalf of TB, the structural engineer who did the design for the rebuilding. I wish I have this kind of experience (overseeing construction). I would be able to learn so much more than sitting in a design office.

The construction site is very close to our place so we went back to our dorm to get our internet accounts set up (finally!!). We found the office where they do this kind of stuff. The door was closed so Andi tried to get the attention of the receptionist by looking through the window and knocking. But she ignored him so he got Greg to look through the window. This worked! The receptionist came to the door and opened it. So we finally signed up for an internet account at our place and then spent the rest of the afternoon discussing our plans for the next couple of weeks.

Weekend activities in Padang

--- Written on Sunday, July 25, 2010 ---

Picking up where I left off last time about our activities for this past week. On Thursday, we had class in the morning and then went off to survey pedestrian overpasses. This was the only day of the week where I wore a shirt and it wasn't very hot. We surveyed two pedestrian overpasses total (there are only two of them in the city) and wrote down what we can about them. They're made with steel and are not very well maintained. This is probably because no one uses them to cross the road. The only people who uses them are people who want to hangout in a quiet place. Not sure about using these as evacuation structures. They really need to be well designed so that people use them in everyday life. Otherwise, people will not think of going there in an emergency.

We got out of class very early on Friday because our instructor had to go off to a meeting. We hung out in one of the offices in the economics building, where one of our housemates work. This office had its own router so we were able to get really good internet. It was great to have such fast internet. Wish we had that at our dorm. It's so hard to get work done without the internet. Especially since I associate nighttime with productiveness and preparing for the next day.

In the afternoon, we went to survey some mosques. We were able to go by car which made everything a lot faster. We did 4 mosques in one afternoon, very big achievement. This was a cultural experience for me. I had to wear long pants, long sleeves, and a head scarf. This head scarf thing is very difficult. All the girls here wear it all the time and they have to use a lot of pins. I wasn't going to wear it for very long so I didn't bothered with the pins. In retrospect, it might have been better to pin it all down since it kept slipping. I wasn't able to concentration on the first mosque at all.

I think we did pretty well on our visits. The first visit was the one that the students evaluated last quarter so we just looked around. The second visit was a mosque/educational center under construction at Padang State University. We literally walked onto a live construction site, without any advance notice, with sandals on. They let us walk around, take pictures, make drawings, etc. We talked to the “engineers” on site who only had architectural drawings and got the name of the company who has the structural drawings. We got some really goo d information though and it was very good to see the thing under construction. We should really go visit more construction sites. This kind of thing would never happen in the US. We would have had to talk to someone way in advance and only be able to go visit after hours or something like that.

After all the surveying, we went to the beach to watch the sunset with Andi. After that, we had dinner at a nice looking restaurant, eating Padang style, and end up paying a pretty reasonable price. We walked back and got juice on the way. Very productive Friday. That night, we planned to run to Air Manis (nearby beach that is on the other side of a hill) Saturday morning and then go to Pariamon on Sunday.

Actual weekend activities. We woke up to go running to Air Manis. Just as Greg was trying to turn off the alarm, we got a call from Andi, who said that he got wrong information and that it's better to go to Pariamon on Saturday instead of Sunday because the trains will be less packed. So we had a quick change of plans, slept for another hour, and went to the train station.

The train ride itself was quite the experience. This was the first train ride in Indonesia for all of us. The train runs from Padang to Pariamon with stops in between. We got on at the first station and they didn't open all the cars so that people at later stations will have space to sit. I think this is a pretty good policy since people will spread out otherwise and take up more room than necessary. Some things to remember about trains here though:

Rule 1: If you're lucky, they might decide to refuel and your departure will be delayed by half an hour or more.
Rule 2: Do not sit near the head of the train. The conductor will keep ringing the train horn forever. This horn is super high pitch and super loud. To ensure a pleasant ride, bring earplugs.
Rule 3: Expect to move slower than traffic. I think the fastest we got was about 20mph.
Rule 4: Don't worry about being hungry on the train because at every stop, there will be different people coming on and selling everything from candy to fried rice. We got some pieces of sugar cane. I was happy. Prices are pretty normal but change is hard to come by.

We only ended up spending about 2 hours in Pariamon. We walked around the beach for a little bit, went to eat lunch, walked around the market a bit, chatted with some English students at UNP, and then went back on the train. The city is pretty much like Padang except smaller and with a nicer beach. The train ride back was much nicer since we adhered to Rule 2 (see above).

It was nice to get out of Padang and see the countryside. I think Greg took about a hundred pictures with my camera. We got back and was tired from this whole train ride experience. We showered, ate some food, and then headed off to Pasar Seni to meet up with one of our housemates. Last Saturday, our housemate went to hang out with people the artists and musicians at Pasar Seni and they took him to a place in Chinatown where they played instruments and sang. He really wanted to show me this place so we managed to get a taxi to go to Chinatown.

I haven't really walked around Chinatown. We got to a place where there were about 30 people gathered and a lot of kids singing. Most people there were Chinese but they were singing in Indonesian and Minang. They pulled me up to the front, gave me a mic, and asked me to sing something. After a lot of discussion and thinking,  I finally thought of 月亮代表我的心. By this point, I had realized that most (almost all) of them don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese so I had a hard time thinking of a song that they would recognize. They recognized this one immediately and everyone sang along. Our friend from Pasar Seni said that I could just start singing something and they will follow with the music. If I had a better voice, I probably would have done so.

After the song, they found someone who spoke Mandarin. She did not grew up somewhere else in Indonesia where the Chinese community still speaks Mandarin and Fujianese, along with some other dialects that I wasn't familiar with. She said that most of the Chinese people here don't speak Chinese anymore; only a few from the older generations. They all communicate in Indonesian. They are all Catholic and everyone there that night were from the same church. I see why everyone I meet thinks I'm Indonesian and expects me to speak the language.

Just as we were about to leave, a huge tour group came in. The group of musicians played a few popular songs, including a very popular Minang one. Everyone was happy and there was a lot of singing. It was all very strange. After the tour group left, they started up the kareoke machine, and we made our exit.

Sunday. We woke up early once again and headed off to running to Air Manis. Greg and our other housemates have gone before and this was the first time I joined them. We took two angkots to get further south and then started running. I was doing fine on the first flat part. And then we hit the hill were the roads became really steep. It was either a very steep incline or a very steep descend. I walked most of this because I was trying to not be out of breath (on the inclines) and not to kill my knees (on the descend). The beach itself was pretty nice. There was a lot of garbage around towards the entrance. The beach was very flat so the water remained shallow for a long way out. The locals say that in the afternoon, you can walk out to one of the nearby islands. There were a lot of surfers. We hung out at this one restaurant on the beach for a long time and then took an angkot down the hill.

We were all pretty tired by the time we got back. We showered and took naps. We met up with a local friend of ours to hang out before she goes to another city for work. We went to the market and got Kevin's guitar fixed and got Greg a watch (finally!). Then we went to eat martebak (the meat kind) and ordered a sweet one to go. We took it to the beach with us and spent some time chatting on the beach. Pretty nice weekend overall.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ESW Padang Blog

For updates on the work side of my life in Padang, go to:
ESW Padang Blog
This may or may not be temporary. We want to get something set up on the ESW Stanford website but not sure how long that will take.

Fakultas Kedokteran

We live in the Medical School Campus. We live pretty far in. I'll take more pictures of our place.

At the "bus stop" outside our street.

More pictures of the road outside our dorm.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pasta Dinner in Padang

We cooked a pasta dinner. I don't think you can find this anywhere in Padang. Pasta+vegetables. Not local cuisine. It was really good though.

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Back in Padang

--- written on: July 21, 2010 ---

Sorry, the last “back in Padang” post a bit lame. We got back on Sunday afternoon after our flight was delayed for about an hour. This is pretty normal apparently. As soon as our plane landed, it started pouring rain. So we decided to take a taxi. This was a good choice since we would've gotten soaked otherwise. After we sat in the taxi for a while, Andi realizes that he took the same taxi when he was leaving for Japan. He and the taxi driver had a good chat on the way back.

We came back to a pretty quiet dorm. There was no drinking water, as usual. Our housekeeper is supposed to get someone to refill our bottle of water but sometimes he is slow. Water at restaurants are boiled before they are served or made into ice. I haven't had any problems with the water here so far. We spent the night doing a bit of work, mostly figuring out goals for the rest of the summer.

We having language classes this whole week. So we got up bright and early Monday morning for class. These classes have really helped. I wish I have more time to study and review things though. We're always so busy. We spent Monday afternoon doing more planning, replying to emails, scheduling stuff, etc.

Tuesday afternoon, we had a meeting with about 6 students from Andalas University. We talked about our projects and what we are trying to accomplish. They all seemed to be interested in our projects. We asked for help with mosque visits and they were very enthusiastic. We got several volunteers for visiting mosques on Friday. Hopefully that will go well. I need to figure out how to put on a head scarf before this. I just bought one today. Learning something new everyday...

Wednesday afternoon, we got to the construction clinic after our class and waited around for TB, the famous structural engineer to take us to see some retrofits in progress. We went to see the retrofit/rebuilding of a school that the construction clinic is working on. The workers were putting in more reinforcements into joints. Everything seems to be going pretty well. I really think American construction sites are too clean and waste too much construction material. This one feels like real construction is going on. I wouldn't mind helping out, maybe tie some rebar!

After the school, we visited some churches that are being rebuilt. This was kind of weird since Padang is mostly (99%, no joke) Muslim. Apparently there is a Catholic corner. This is probably the biggest concentration of women who don't wear veils in town. The church that TB is working on was built 106 years ago. They are reusing the same bricks and keeping the same architecture. He is really keen on keeping the heritage buildings the way they were. This church is in the same complex as a Catholic school. The little girls here wear short skirts instead of long ones (and no veils). Otherwise, the uniforms look pretty much the same as any other elementary school in town: white shirts and red pants or skirts. It still surprises me how early some of the little girls start wearing the veils. I guess it's also a part of the school uniform.

We also visited a church that was pretty much demolished and being rebuilt altogether. TB was pretty upset about this because apparently, the church owners were advised by some American professor to take out all the old stuff and replace with a steel frame. So now they are tearing out all the stuff that was built 100 years ago. TB thinks a lot of it could have been saved; the building just needed more reinforcement. Prime example of why he seems to dislike foreigners. They come in without any knowledge of the city's history, make some offhand comments, and end up destroying part of the city's heritage unintentionally.

We went through the biggest traditional market in town on our way back and picked up a few things. It started to rain so we didn't stay long. We cooked pasta with lots and lots of vegetables when we got back. It was pretty good, even though we didn't have salt. Pretty proud of what we managed to do with a tiny cutting board, small fruit knife, small gas stove, and mini pots and pans.

For Thursday, we're planning on surveying some pedestrian bridges. On Friday, we're going with some students to doing some mosque assessments. I think we are going to see a nearby site where huge landslides occurred during the last earthquake. We have a ton of things planned for next week as well. We hope to keep ourselves busy until Ramadan. Ramadan will be a very interesting cultural experience for us. It starts mid-August. Will definitely blog about that when it happens.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adventures in Jakarta

written at the airport on July 18, 2010
(sorry, totally forgot I wrote this)

Leaving Jakarta and going back to Padang. Really looking forward to going back to the dorm room and chilling there. I think we've had enough of this big city and big spending deal for now.

Saturday was a day of adventures. We packed up and had our last breakfast at our five-star hotel. One of Andi's friends is getting married so we tagged along to this wedding. The wedding was really interesting. It's supposed to be a traditional Sundanese wedding. We signed our names in the guest book and walked in. It was held at a huge auditorium with lots and lots of venues for food. There were a lot of guests. There weren't as many chairs so everyone just mingled and walked around.

The ceremony itself was pretty short. There were dancers that led the procession of the bride and groom and relatives. Once they got on stage, there was a speech and prayer. After that, all the guests lined up to shake hands and take pictures with the bride and groom. And then the eating began.

The amount of food was ridiculous. There were tables with different types of foods: Indonesian, dim sum, Dutch, desserts, fruit, etc. There were also people serving the food. And then there were stands with lots and lots of fruit. It looked like they bought out an farm of fruit. So basically we ate a lot. The ceremony started at 11am and everything was done by 1pm. It was pretty quick and fun.

After this, we took a taxi to a nearby mall. Greg met up with some people he met on couchsurfing. I met up with Dian and we chatted about life at Starbucks. Really wish we had more time to hang out. But it turns out that we will be in Singapore at the same time. So we can hang out there as well. Going around places in Southeast Asia is so easy. Really want to come back and spend some time traveling around. I should plan out a trip.

We got back to the five-star hotel to pick up our luggage and check for a package from a company that we met earlier this week. There was no package so Greg and I decided to take a walk around the National Monument. We walked around for about 2 hours looking at buildings when we saw people sitting by a big fountain. It was nearly 7pm so we though there might be a fountain show. But it turns out, people were just there to sit around and eat Pop Mie (a brand of instant noodles) and drink instant coffee. There were lots of families and kids playing so it was kind of a nice spot.

We took a taxi to cheaper hotel and the taxi took us around this neighborhood in the northern part of Jakarta. There were lots of turns and it looked like we were going through Chinatown. We finally got to our hotel and checked in. We had thought that Andi would stay with us so we booked two rooms. He ended up staying with his brother so we each got our own rooms. Turns out, they gave Greg a huge deluxe room called the Maluku Suite. This suite was ridiculously large, with a large bed and lots of sitting space. My room had two beds and was pretty nice as well.

The hotel is in the middle of Chinatown and is run by Chinese people. There was no 4th floor and there were Chinese paintings and furniture everywhere. We went out looking for food and walked around this apartment complex next door only to find convenient stores. We were about to walk out onto the street when we found the food court. There is a courtyard in the middle of the apartment complex and there were a ton of food options. We had shrimp, noodles, and veggies. I remarked that we came to Jakarta to eat Chinese food. We were trying to avoid Padang food, which is a famous cuisine of Indonesia so we ended up eating a lot of Chinese food.

Anyway, this is the end of the Jakarta trip. Might come back to this city but not sure I can handle all the traffic and pollution.

More pictures

Some pictures of Padang, many of which you've already seen in previous posts (click for link to picasa web album):

Some nice panoramic photos that I've made of the potential sites for a soil berm (evacuation hill):

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back in Padang

Been back here since Sunday afternoon. It's good to be back. As soon as we got off the plane, it started pouring really hard. Apparently it's been raining a lot while we were gone. It hasn't rained today but it's sweltering hot. We have language classes again this week. Meeting with Andalas students really soon. Hopefully, they will be excited about the projects and we can accomplish a lot with them!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Interesting Sights around Jakarta

Spiderman on a building:

Fruit vending machine. I was not the only one taking a picture of this.

We bought one of these fruit cups.

Ranch 99 Market

Didn't know that Ranch 99 existed in Jakarta! They actually have several locations. I didn't get the chance to visit one but one of my friends says it's pretty different. She says that while Ranch 99 in California is Asian groceries with a bit of western stuff, in Jakarta it's western groceries with a bit of Asian stuff.

Grand Indonesia is one of the fanciest malls I've ever been in.


This is for all you hard working people out there.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Coming to Jakarta and staying at a five star hotel really made me feel like a village person. Jakarta is really different from Padang. Jakarta is a really international place. You can get western things here so easily that it really doesn't feel like going to another country.

We were really amazed by the hotel when we first got here. There were people opening doors, taking our luggage, everyone speaks English, etc. The elevator even has a card reader. You need to stick your card into the slot and then it will let you push the button. We stood in the elevator for a while the first time trying to figure out this system.

Our beds are super big and comfortable. We have real showers. I can't express how much I was looking forward to having a real shower. We have bucket showers in our dorm room. This consists of a large tub of water in the corner and a scoop that you use to pour water on yourself. Having water automatically come out of a shower head is so much more convenient.

The breakfast at the hotel is also very amazing. Breakfast is free and it is a huge buffet. They have a lot of western foods like western bread, sausage, eggs, cereal, yogurt, pastries, etc. They also have Indonesian style breakfast which is much heavier and consists of rice, noodles, meat, kind of like what you would eat for lunch and dinner. So basically we've been having a big feast every morning.

We've been taking taxis everywhere. Mostly because we don't know the public transportation system. Taxis are also faster and can get us directly to where we need to go. All the offices and malls have a drop off spot for taxis right in front of the door so that you can go from one air conditioned building to another. Haven't really seen that many people walking. The city is pretty spread out.

The traffic here is really bad. There are so many cars and wide roads that it's difficult to cross streets. I mean, I had thought that the 2 way road outside our dorm in Padang was bad. But here it's nearly impossible to cross the street at some of these roads. It's really like playing frogger. People here also drive faster than in Padang. In Padang, there are also cars and motorcycles but they drive relatively slow and they slow down for pedestrians.

We've been spending so much more money here on food. It's so hard to find a reasonably priced place to eat. This was never a problem in Padang since we just walk into one of the many small, family run restaurants. In Jakarta, there are so many big malls and western stuff that it's hard not to pay American prices. Really wish we could just find a “normal” place to eat.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pictures of Padang

After being in Jakarta, Padang really does feel like a small town. We keep joking that we're "village people" and don't understand the way of the city. The two cities are very different. We've been spending a lot of time in Jakarta looking for affordable food. Some of the prices here are comparable to American prices. We've never had a problem with finding food in Padang. There's always stalls or small restaurants available. It's more like which one do we want to go to.

Lots of carts selling sugary drinks.

Panoramic view of the city from the 6th floor of a hotel. No skyscrapers in this city. Just densely packed houses.

In Jakarta

written on July 14, 2010

We got up really early at 4am this morning and got on a plane to fly to Jakarta. Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia. So far it's been a lot of cars, big roads, expensive taxis, and expensive food. There are a lot more foreigners here. A lot more people speak English. Big shopping malls, restaurants, and fancy stores. It's a really big change from Padang. Almost like going from the village to the city.

We're here Wednesday and Thursday and had planned to have three meetings a day for both days. But people are out of the country and traveling so we're down to only one meeting a day. This is not such a bad thing for us since we have a lot of work that we need to do. We're staying at a pretty nice hotel. Huge bed, soft pillows, real shower, hair dryer, pool, gym, free breakfast, etc. We all appreciate it a lot more coming from our dorm room in Padang.

Friday morning, we're taking a bus to Bandung, where we have another meeting. There is a university there, ITB, that has some of the best science research in the country. We may or may not develop a partnership with them. We're not really sure about their interest in the project and if it's worth the effort of setting something up. I guess we'll see how the meeting goes. If we want to set up some form of partnership, I think we'll need to spend at least a week at ITB to find the right people to work with.

Update (7.15.2010): We're no longer going to Bandung. Meeting the guy in Jakarta instead.

Coming to this big city feels kind of weird after having been in a small city/town for a couple of weeks. Padang feels so much more walkable and welcoming. I really like our little neighborhood in Padang. We basically have everything we need within walking distance. Really getting used to the place. Already missing it.


written on July 11, 2010

This is a very important topic. I think I spend at least half my time talking about food with people. It's either the project or food.

People eat a lot of rice here. It's always white rice but not really the kind that I'm used to. I think my family usually get jasmine rice from Thailand. Here the serve a shorter grain that's puffier and not as sticky. All of my housemates find it ridiculous that Indonesians would eat rice three times a day. Their meals consists of mostly rice with small pieces of meat and chili sauce.

When you go to a restaurant, they will get a plate with rice and you can pick out what you want from their selection of dishes that they've already cooked. Most things are swimming in chili sauce. There are usually a few kinds of fried fish, chicken, beef cooked in sauce, and vegetables. Vegetables are free. More like garnish than anything. After you eat, you go up to the register and tell them what you've eaten. This part was the most difficult part of eating but it's been getting easier. You can also ask for “Padang style” where they will bring all the dishes in small plates and you just take and pay for what you want to eat. They tend to charge you more than you eat this way though so we don't do this very often.

We've been buying bread lately for breakfast. They call bread “roti” which I think is a borrow word from India. Their bread (and everything else) tends to be sweet. They're like what you get at Chinese bakeries. They're not hard like western bread. I really think I prefer this soft, sweet stuff more than the western kind. Westerners don't see this real bread though.

Speaking of sweetness, everything here is either super spicy or super sweet. You can get fruit juice almost anywhere. They would first put chocolate syrup at the bottom (mostly for decoration), fill the cup half way with sweetened condensed milk, squeeze some juice, and then dump in sugar. Tea is served with a ton of sweetened condensed milk as well. I really like sweetened condensed milk but this is really too much! Sometimes I feel like I'm just drinking sugar. I wonder if they put sugar into sugarcane juice too.... I heard that this is a regional thing though. Some parts of Indonesia, no sugar is the default.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Conference: Indonesian Style

Written on July 8th, 2010

Today we attended a UNESCO conference on building back better after earthquakes. Registration goes from 8:00am to 8:30am so we arrived at around 8:15am or so. We registered and walked into a completely empty room. We chose seats and everything and proceeded to wait forever. The opening ceremony didn't start until almost 9:30am, nearly an hour late! Everyone was still drifting in, checking cell phones, on laptops, etc. They pretty much stayed on time for all the talks though. I guess the speakers all just expect to have less times than was advertised.

As with meetings, having people talking on cell phones and walking around is pretty normal for conferences. It was kind of nice to be able to walk to get tea or go to the bathroom whenever though. Most of the presentations were in Indonesian so it was kind of hard for us to follow everything.

The food was pretty good though. Snacks for meetings and conferences consists of two kinds of small pastries. One is usually more substantial, usually either a meat thing wrapped in tofu skin (kind of like something you would get a dim sum), and a sweet thing like sponge cake. There is usually also a really spicy chili somewhere in the first thing that you must be careful to find and take out if you can't handle super spiciness. For lunch we ate at the hotel's restaurant, which had food in buffet style. The food was pretty good. It even had one dish that was mostly vegetables. Getting vegetables is a big thing for us here, if you couldn't tell already.

Not sure the conference was all that helpful, even for people who understood Indonesian. I go to a lot of ASCE events in the Bay Area, not necessarily to learn the topic of the talk but to network with people. The networking is much easier when you speak the same language.

Fun Food Adventures

Written on: 2010.07.07

Hopefully the entry before this one contains pictures! We've been having some really crazy adventures this week. As if our lives weren't busy enough, the World Cup semi-finals and final starts at 1:30am in this country. So our plan so far have been to sleep a few hours, wake up, and then sleep some more.

Last night was pretty crazy. After a long day of language classes and meetings, we went to the Construction Clinic (where the Andalas University students have sort of an office) and did some seminar preparations. This seminar has been put together so fast that it's really amazing. Things tend to take long when you're in a foreign country. Here, there tends to be a lot of waiting for people after we've scheduled meetings. But this seminar has basically been put together in a week. We've already reserved the hotel, invited people, and preparations are going full speed ahead.

Continues writing on 2010.07.08

After we finished up for the day, we took the local public transit back to where we're staying. The public transit system consists of these minibuses. The previous post has pictures of them. They basically take out the chairs and put in benches along the sides and pile people in. Sometimes it gets pretty cramped. There are different colored ones that drive different loops around the city. You just hop on the one that you need and get off whenever you want. They have a set price of 2,000 rupiah (about $0.20) per person per ride. Longer rides cost slightly more. There's never a wait for these things because the drivers themselves are actively looking for customers. It's like an organized taxi system. It's pretty nice since there's no waiting or having to get off at a certain stop. They'll stop whenever. There are also “city buses” that run along the main roads. They work the same way.

When we got to our place, we were pretty hungry and went around looking for food. This wasn't hard since there are a lot of choices around us. We saw this cart that was advertising matebak, which VC really likes. She's been talking about them and described them as sort of like flat omelets with different types of filling. So we decided to order three for dinner. As we were waiting, we noticed that they were making something that were more like cake. Then they started putting on lots of butter, along with sugar, tons of chocolate sprinkles, and sweetened condensed milk. They're really into sweeten condensed milk here. Everything here is crazy sweet. At some point, we noticed that all the other customers were kids. We realized that this cannot be our dinner so two of us went to get some vegetables to go with the noodles that we would cook.

Greg and I went to across the street and was about to go into a restaurant when VC walks up to us and asks if we had paid already. We were like, “no, we thought you stayed behind to pay.” And then we noticed that the guy following her was one of the guys from the matebak stand. Turns out that when VC tried to pay, the guy said, “belum, belum” which means not yet. She tried again and he repeated himself so she thought “belum” meant “already”. We didn't have exact change so she went back across the street with that guy to pay him.

Greg and I were still laughing about this when we got to one of the restaurants. They had some cooked spinach left and I tried to order some to-go. I definitely got the word “vegetable” and “to-go” right but she was really confused at why I would want just the vegetables. People here think of vegetables as more like garnish than anything edible. Greg suggested that we get some rice to go with the noodles and I immediately realized this would be the only way to get her to give us some vegetables. So we ordered a thing of rice and asked for vegetables to go on it. She proceeded to give us like a couple of leaves and then asked if we wanted sauce. She pointed at two different sauces and then at the various meats. And we were like, uh, can we just get more vegetables? We thought this whole exchange was pretty hilarious. The rice and vegetables came wrapped in banana leaf and looks kind of like “zong zi”.

We got back and shared the matebak with our housemates. It is super, super sweet. We made the noodles and rice but they were tasteless because the spinach was not soaked in chili sauce. So I decided to open a packet of “mock meat” that a friend's mom gave to me in Cambridge. It's tofu that's flavored like chicken and put into a vacuum sealed bag. Sichuan special, I think. So our dinner consisted of this super sweet cake, rice, noodles, spinach, and chicken flavored tofu. I'm sure there will be more of these adventures to come.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Okay, I'll try to write shorter entries from now on. Especially since I can't even remember what I wrote. This week is pretty intense, just like all the other weeks.

This week, we have 3 language lessons at the university. I think the lessons are very good. The professor teaching us hardly speaks any English (to us) so it's more like an immersion class. The classes are two hours long in the morning. We've been having trouble getting to the university right at 8am because it's so far away.

After the Indonesian class, we also had a class on the Minang language. I think Indonesian is a cleaned up version of Minang. Minang is a much more interesting language linguistically. It has diphthongs and stops and such. But it's not so useful for us since we don't think we'll be using the language. It's good for us to know something so that if we hear it, we'll know that they're speaking Minang and can guess the Indonesian word.

We've had two more pretty good meetings so far. Work on our seminar next Monday is going ahead at full speed. We've gotten a room at a hotel and everything. It's pretty cheap (relatively speaking) here to run a conference at a hotel.

We're going to Jakarta next week as well. Booked the hotels, decided on flights, and other things. Hopefully things will go well there as well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

First Week in Padang

Sorry I haven't written in a few days! Things have been pretty crazy but in a good way. We got to the place that we're staying (maybe) for the next two months. Greg and I got here on Tuesday afternoon. One of the Andalas University students met us at the airport and helped us get to the place we're staying. This was really nice because it would be really hard to have to find our way.


Our flight was really fast. It almost felt as fast as the bus ride to the airport. We barely got to the cruising altitude when we started descending. We had no trouble at customs. There was actually a very, very short line for foreigners. One of the first things I saw were the Minangkebau architecture. There were more of these buildings than I had thought.

We took a airport bus to the city. We're staying at the Faculty of Medicine of Andalas University. They have some guest houses for foreigners who have some business with the university but are not students. Our other housemates are from New York, England, Ivory Coast, and Japan. All three of us are staying in one room. It's not too crowded but we only have one bathroom. The showers here are interesting. There's a big thing of water in the corner of the room and a plastic scoop that we use to pour water on ourselves.

The housekeeper was waiting for us when we arrived. So glad that FS was with us because he helped us talk to the housekeeper and figured out a bunch of stuff. Then he took us around our part of town. We got a SIM card and some other stuff.

----Continues writing on 2010.07.04----


The first two days were pretty chill. FS showed us around town and helped us get some necessities. We didn't do too much because we were tired from traveling, jetlag, and waiting for Andi and Veronica to come back from Japan. They arrived in the afternoon of the second day and we all went out for dinner, along with most of our housemates.


Thursday morning, we met with the President of Andalas University. It was nice that he took the time to meet with us and exchange a few words. We met some of the faculty and students as well. After the meeting with the president, we were able to get on the internet for a little while. It seems like internet will be pretty limited to finding wireless while waiting for our meetings and at the construction clinic. We also had a meeting with Professor F, who oversees the Andalas University side of the project. We needed him to help us set up meetings with a few people in the government and he called them up right there. It was great. No back and forth. He took us out to lunch as well.

After lunch, he sent us to the construction clinic with his driver. At the construction clinic, we met with TB, who is a very experienced engineer who advises at the clinic. His view on this whole tsunami thing is that it is a waste of resources and that we should be concentrating on building earthquake safe buildings. I can see where he is coming from but it is still definitely important to plan for the tsunami. It was pretty tense for a while when he talked about his views. And then after he made his point, he starts asking about other stuff, such as where we're staying. He lives in Jakarta and only comes out here once in a while and it turns out that the University had put him at the same place. He thought the place was indecent and had them move him to a hotel. He says he's doing some designs for a school and in return, they're putting him up in a hotel. He proceeds to call Prof F for us and tries to set up the same kind of deal for us. We're not sure what the progress on this is yet. Not even sure we want to move since we've gotten used to this place and our housemates are pretty cool people (more on them later). Anyway, we're not too sure how we should act around this guy. We're hoping he'll just forget this whole thing but apparently, he has a really good memory.

He gave us a ride to a shopping mall where there is a pretty big supermarket. We got some much needed vegetables and other supplies. The cuisine here doesn't seem to have a lot of vegetables, mostly rice+sauce+meat. I will post some pictures soon! I cooked some of the veggies that night for dinner while the other two went out and got fried chicken and rice. We didn't have salt so the veggies were not that great but it was nice to have vegetables. I think I should have brought some vitamins with me but I think I'm doing well so far. Haven't had any stomach problems even though we've eaten at a lot of small family run places.


We started Friday morning off with a two hour wait at our first meeting. It turns out that the guy had a pretty good excuse but he won't tell us what was going on for the longest time. We ended up meeting with some of his subordinates and then he arrived just as we were about to leave. The meeting went pretty well though. I think we got a lot across.

Friday is prayer day and all the men have to go to the mosque and pray around lunch time. So our next meeting was at 2pm. This time the guy was ready for us and he was very receptive. We were all surprised that all the meetings so far have gone so well. The officials were very interested in what we've done during the last quarter and wants copies of our work. It's really cool that the things that we've worked on are actually being used.

That night, we spent some time revising our work, trying to finish everything so that we can watch the world cup. We had plans to go out but ended up just watching the game at our place, which wasn't bad since our housemates were also watching.


We're working 6 day weeks at the minimum on this trip. Saturday was a rough day of field investigation. We visited 4 potential sites for the soil berm and wrote down various pieces of information. It was really tiring to be out walking around all day. We were all super tired by lunch time. We had lunch a little late too because we were visiting a more remote part of town.

We came back exhausted and got some cooked noodles from a shop across the street. The noodles came with soup, tofu, and meatballs. They were really good, definitely eating there again. I think I will miss eating so cheaply when I get back to the US. The food here has been great so far.

After eating and showering, we went out to a bar (not many of these around town since most people are Muslim) to watch the Germany-Argentina game. The bar that we went to had a projector so it was really good. The bar was packed full of people and we managed to cram in there with some friends of friends. We ended up meeting a Cuban economist who is working on similar stuff as us, a German surfer who lives in Australia, and some girls from other countries. The people we've met on this trip so far have very interesting stories. They've all traveled to so many different places and have done so many crazy things. One of our housemates is from New York, did his degree in education, taught in China for two years, worked on a cruise, traveled all over Asia, and is now teaching English in Padang simply because he likes Indonesia and wants to live close to the ocean. Another one of our housemates is English and is here to do research for his Masters dissertation. He seems to have traveled a lot as well. Haven't gotten the his whole story from him yet. We also have a housemate who is from the Ivory Coast and is here teaching French and learning Indonesian. His Indonesian is really good.

Anyway, we stayed at this bar for a while after the game just chatting with people and enjoying the band. We also decided to go to an island the next day for 4th of July.


We got up pretty early considering how late we got back and headed to the harbor. I was not very happy about getting up so early on our day off. I don't believe in setting an alarm for a day off. Anyway, we thought the boat left at 8am but actually the office opens at 8am and the boat doesn't leave until 10am. So we decided to hike up this mountain nearby. It took us a while to get there and on the way up, we met a local who said that he can get us a boat ride back to the harbor. So after we got down from the mountain, we waited a while for his friends to come with a boat. But it got to the point where we didn't think taking a boat would be fast enough so we hired some motorcycles to take us back. This was unfortunate but a much faster option.

We went to Sikwau Island. It took about an hour by boat and we were all squished in the back. But it was totally worth it because the island was super nice. The sand was soft and the water was warm. The only thing was that there were a lot of coral. The water was really really nice and we all got sunburnt.

We came back after a very relaxing day and had coconut juice and a dish consisting of tropical fruits with peanut and chili sauce on top. It was a great day out overall.

Everything is so cheap here. We've spent about $100 this past week for the two of us. This includes food, transportation, stuff that we've bought, etc. This island adventure was a bit on the expensive side, comparatively but it was a good deal still. We paid $20 per person and this included roundtrip boat ride and lunch. We didn't even know that lunch was included at first.

It's been great so far. Hopefully I will learn to find my way around the city soon and pick up some of the language. Everyone thinks I'm a local anyway so that's not a problem. I'll try to post some pictures and write more in the future.

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