Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SEA Trip Wrap Up - Part 1

I need to backtrack a bit in my blogging. I didn't write very much about our last day in Padang, or my trips to Melaka and Singapore. I'll start with Padang.

Thursday, August 26th - Padang. After wandering through the market on our last day in Padang and Indonesia, we went back to the dorm to say goodbye to Andi and Fengky. Exchanging pictures took a long time because we (mostly Greg) took a lot of pictures. There were 4,000+ pictures in his hard drive. To see some of the good ones, see Greg's picasa web album (I hope he doesn't mind but he's in Thailand right now so he can't complain, haha):

We walked our friends out and picked up laundry. We took a picture with our laundry lady and her family. I think she was really surprised that we wanted a picture with her. It would have been nice to be able to print out the picture so that they can have a copy too. Maybe we can get someone do deliver it for us... We really wanted a picture with the bakso guy and his wife. Really like that place but they have been closed since Ramadhan started. Probably went on vacation.

We bought sate and rendang and took ojeks to the beach. This last sunset on the beach was really nice. Not sure we took any pictures though. We sort of just stood out in the water and got wet looking at the sunset. I don't believe in taking too many pictures. Always afraid that I might miss the actual thing. Our friend Kevin was with us and he said it was sad watching us out there, and how we must have been thinking about our past two months in Padang, how we would continue the project further, and a bunch of other stuff. Actually I was not thinking about anything in particular.

After dinner, we headed over to Pasar Seni. One of our friends got a lot of fresh fish for us and started barbecuing them for us when we got there. Lots of small fish and one really big one. The fish was really, really good and not too spicy. We stayed until midnight hanging out with everyone and got driven back home afterwards on three motorbikes. I felt like we were some kind of celebrity.

Then we spent the rest of the night packing. Our flight to KL was at 8:30am so we had to leave our place at 6am by taxi. We got back to the dorm at around 1am so we had about 5 hours to pack up everything. I managed to get an hour or so of sleep. Didn't feel too tired during the actual packing but passed out on the flight afterwards.

Friday, August 27 - Kuala Lumpur. The flight was definitely too short. After landing, I looked all over for a working ATM. The 3 ATMs that I could use were all out of order. What are the chances?! They did not take credit card at the bus ticket selling place so I ended up going to a money exchanger and exchanging $40 (USD) into ringgits. I had to go into the domestic arrivals to buy the bus ticket. There were no ATMs inside the domestic arrivals. I guess if you're arriving domestically, you should have ringgits with you. Anyway, I managed to be the last passenger on the bus. The bus was either really comfortable or I was just really tired and passed out again. I think Melaka itself deserves a separate post so I'll end here.

Flying around the World

The guy at the US customs asked if I have been to Russia. To which I replied, "No, not yet. Working on that one." He wanted to know what I did for a living. Not sure if he was genuinely curious or part of the job. I think he was surprised at the number of countries I wrote on my declarations form and flipped through my passport to check for stamps. I really think they should allow more than two lines on that form for "countries visited on this trip."

The flight from Taipei to SFO didn't have personal screens at each seat. I was sitting at the very front, which had a screen attached to the wall. I thought for the longest time that it was only that row that didn't have a personal screen. I was okay with that because it had more legroom. I had thought about not sleeping on this flight so that I would be less jetlag when I get back. But with the lights out, spacious legroom, no one in the middle seat, and no entertainment, I slept pretty well on the flight.

They served Asian and Western food on the flight. I got the spaghetti instead of the "he fun (kway teow)" (the flat noodles) for dinner. I think the guy was surprised because he explained that he fun is the same as kway teow. I actually got the spaghetti because I didn't managed to catch the first option. I've actually never heard the words kway teow until KL. I've eaten this kind of noodles many times but never heard it called kway teow. I think it is derived from a Hokkien word. At first I thought that the flight attendant must have thought I'm from SEA. But then Taiwanese is also very similar to Hokkien so maybe not. Again, wish I had time in Taipei to explore a bit. I probably should have just walked around the city close to the main bus station instead of trying to get somewhere else by metro. Oh wells, next time.

Making a list of books to read. I need to get back into shape so that I can run this half marathon that I signed up for a long time ago. Why do I always do these things to myself?? Need to unpack and take care of life related stuff. It's the adjusting back to "reality" that's the hardest part about traveling

Monday, August 30, 2010

Taipei, Taiwan!

Why did I bothered to leave the Taiwan Taoyuan airport?! If you ever have a long layover in Taipei and it is pouring rain outside, do not leave the airport!! I think I flew into Terminal 1, where all the Asia flights get into. That terminal is super nice. There were showers in the bathroom, hot water (for drinking), an internet lounge with computers, all for free!! Yes, that's right, FREE. I totally should have taken advantage of the showering because I need one. Now I'm sitting in Terminal 2 and there are no showers. So sad.

I decided to go out to Taipei for a couple of hours. I ended up spending a couple of hours in transit on the bus. One hour taking the MRT to the Sun-Yet Sen Memorial and walking around there. Then about an hour being lost in the main train/bus station. I guess it would've been lame for me to sit at the airport for all those hours just being on my computer. But I'm still sad about the lack of showers in this terminal. I took out 500 Taiwanese Dollars (less than $20 USD) and used nearly all of it. I have a $10 coin left. It's not worth very much and I don't think I can use it for anything. Probably not even a piece of gum.

Taipei is a pretty interesting city. I would really like to go back and explore some more. All the street are clearly labeled with their street names. All the signs have Chinese and English. There are no lack of signs and directions. There are plenty of big maps all around the MRT stations and tourist street signs. The city is well connected by metro and buses. Other cities can be easily reached by long distance buses and trains (including high speed rail). I even picked up a really nice tourist map for free at the airport. They have a whole series of maps for major cities in the country. The maps are bilingual in Chinese and English. They're super helpful in terms of pointing out all the attractions, including the night markets.

I didn't make it to a night market unfortunately. Didn't even make it to Taipei 101. If it was a dry day, I would've gone to the memorial, walked to Taipei 101, and made a quick trip to a night market before going back to the airport. But it was raining with a hint of typhoon  and I didn't have an umbrella (not that it would've helped very much). I had a rain jacket with me luckily. Didn't even have time to find a good food court and eat some Taiwanese food. I got some really good cheese bread though. That was all I could afford on my budget. But I guess I'm glad I went out to see the city. Now I know for sure I want to come back.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leaving Southeast Asia

At the Singapore airport, sitting at Starbucks with a cup of coffee. I thought it would be nice to feel awake. I've spent a day each in Melaka and Singapore. Definitely not enough time for either city and I am definitely going back in the future. Part of me is still in shock about finally going home. These past couple of months has been one of the most incredible times of my life so far. Travel + work + cultural experiences + using my skills for something useful. I think I need some time to think about all of this. Should go to my gate now. Will write more when I have time. Maybe when I am in Taipei... Still haven't decided whether I want to get out of the airport yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

In Melaka

I don't want to leave this city! Didn't have enough time to eat all the great food here. I really wish I can eat in one day because the food here is amazing. Definitely need to come back to this city. You can get a totally different experience here going around with people of different ethnicity, especially in terms of food.

I flew into Kuala Lumpur yesterday from Padang. I need to write something about our last day in Padang. That was one really long day. We did not sleep on our last night. Well, I slept for about an hour but we pretty much stayed up all night packing. Leaving Padang was surreal. I still can't believe I've left.

We both passed out on the plane. I thought it could be nice to see some of Sumatra from the plane but I couldn't keep my eyes open. Too bad the flight wasn't longer. I had 5 ringgits left from my previous trip through KL but that wasn't enough to get me on a bus to Melaka. And for some strange reason, all the ATMs I could use were broken or out of order. So I had to go to a money changer and got on the bus with no time to spare. Also slept pretty well on the bus ride.

I've basically been spending most of my time here eating. Don't feel like writing a long post now about all the food. I will post some pictures when I get the chance. I just came back from dim sum with friends of a friend of a friend. Met so many cool people on this trip just randomly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last Week in Padang

--- Wednesday, August 25, 2010 ---

Just got out of a meeting with Pak Febrin, our last official business here in Padang. We titled our presentation, enampuluh hari, 60 days. I can't believe 60 days went by so fast. At the same time, we did so much. It took us a while to decide how to organize all our activities so that they make sense to someone else. We ended up with 52 slides. This is probably the last entry I will post from here. The next time you hear from me, I will probably be in either Melaka or Singapore.

Monday. We met with Andi at the construction clinic on Monday after getting back from our little vacation. We had a detail discussion about the Andalas class and ESW Andalas Chapter that we want to see happen in the next couple of months. Andi has a lot of work to do in terms of recruiting people and organizing everything so that it works. Hopefully we can provide a good amount of support when we get back to Stanford. It will be difficult to Skype and teleconference but hopefully things will work out.

We discovered a nice little bakery across the street from where we usually take the angkot to go home from the clinic. I don't know how we managed to miss this little place this past two months. I guess we usually wait on the other side of the street for an angkot. This time, we wanted to see the sunset so we walked through a little alleyway in an neighborhood and got to a part of the beach where they are paving a new road. It was pretty quiet since the road hasn't finished. The sunset was pretty nice. Sometimes we get these lame ones where there are too many clouds and not enough sun.

We're getting pretty serious about eating Padang food. Monday night we went to Malabar and had martabak mesir there along with kopi teleur.

Tuesday. We had a meeting with the Chancellor at UNP, the most promising site for the TEREP project. The chancellor can speak English pretty well because he did his Masters at USC nearly 30 years ago. He is a very energetic man and was really interested in having the campus as a place for vertical evacuation. But he really wants to see some combination of building and hill. It makes sense that he would want to make more classroom space for his university instead of just the construction of a hill. They already have a pretty nice soccer field so getting another one is not a plus for them. That's one of the advantages of building on a swampy place where nothing is happening at the moment, a soccer field would definitely be a plus for them.

After this very interesting meeting, we went back to the clinic to do some more work. We left there fairly early and got some random fried stuff and jelly drinks on our way back. We rested for a while before going on a hunt for fried duck. We had really good fried duck in Bandung so we wanted it have it one more time before we left. We dropped off laundry at our usual place and they gave us a couple of jelly drinks to go. I think they sell the drinks during the day and had some leftover. It was super sweet since it was the bottom of the bucket. The guys at the fried duck place gave us cups and straws. Then I went home while Greg went to Pasar Seni for an hour or so. We stayed up pretty late that night making the presentation mentioned before for Pak Febrin.

Wednesday. Got up after not very sleep and finished making the presentation. We made french toast for breakfast and ate them with pan fried bananas. Not sure why we didn't think of this before. We would have gotten there late if our bus driver wasn't driving super fast. I think Greg got most of the ride on tape. There was really no need to hurry since we ended up waiting for more than an hour to have this meeting and discussion.

After the presentation, it really felt like it was our last day at work. Greg went to get his teeth cleaned. We didn't have to wait because people don't go to the dentist in the daytime during Ramadhan. And we got there late because of our meeting. We went back to the clinic and chatted with TB for a while, who is back from Jakarta. Greg went to get another haircut. His hair is pretty short now, which I think looks better. Not all shaggy looking anymore.

We took our friends at the construction clinic out to dinner. Andi took us to a place were a lot of young people like to go during Ramadhan. They had big tables and two main dishes on the menu so service was super fast. We had fish and some appetizers (mostly chilly). I think the chilly here has really grown on me. I ate my rice with chilly and thought it tasted good.

We went to hang out at Pasar Seni for a while but there wasn't a whole lot of people around. I was really tired and didn't feel like hanging out there for more than a couple of hours. We took a longer way back than necessary but picked up juice and martabak manis on the way back. We got our martabak with corn, chocolate, strawberry jam, and cheese. It was crazy sweet, I only managed to eat one piece. The customers before us were 5 guys and they only got one martabak.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

36 Hours

This has to be one of the most adventurous weekends I've ever had. Greg and I took a little trip outside of Padang. In short, we went to Bukittinggi, stayed at a Beach Inn at Lake Maninjau, swam in the lake (former volcano), hiked up a mountain, made our way around the lake to Lubuk Basung, and made it back to Padang. All within 36 hours.

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

Saturday morning. We got up fairly early, at around 6:30am so that we can have a proper breakfast. We managed to get on a bus to Bukittinggi that left at almost 8am. It wasn't actually a bus, more like a minivan. The shotgun seat in these things are big so both of us sat in the front the whole way. It was not bad since the view was very good. We have been on the road going north from Padang several times now so this was nothing new.

We got dropped off somewhere in Bukittinggi at about 10am. Greg has been to this city for about three hours back in March so we worked off of his sense of directions and a Lonely Planet map. People go to Bukittinggi for the experience of a traditional Minangkebau town. It is also a “base camp” city for outings to nearby villages and nature. We hopped on an angkot going to the “pasar” (market). This is always a good place to go if you don't know your way around. We spent the next hour walking all over the various markets.

I think we like the traditional markets too much. We literally spent an hour wandering around in them without even thinking about buying anything. They sell everything you would ever want. We spent a little bit of time asking about the prices of bags made from traditional fabric. But we decided to save the very demanding task of bargaining for afer lunch.

Buying lunch took an hour. And this is why:

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

We got some bananas because we wanted fruit. We would have gotten some oranges or something else more juicy but they only come in kilos and we couldn't eat that much. The bread has sweet coconut filling. And if that wasn't sweet enough, we got some green mochi-like things that has a sugary filling coated with coconut. We think the brown thing is some kind of baked yam that is topped with (you guess it) coconut and a sweet sauce. Greg said it reminded him of bread pudding and that was why we made several loops around the market looking for the one stall that sold it. To finish off our lunch shopping, we also got some buffalo yogurt (unsweetened).

That was the fun part. The difficult part was finding a place to eat all this stuff. Since it's Ramadan, we didn't want to eat in front of everyone. Actually, if it wasn't Ramadan, we would have had “real” food instead of this sugar overload. We managed to find this building whose top floors are abandoned and there were stairs that led to the roof. We ate on the stairs that leads to the roof. We were joined by some high school students towards the end but otherwise this was a pretty good spot. I think we spent half the time laughing at how ridiculous our lunch was.

After lunch, we did some serious shopping. Actually, it wasn't too hard. We got everything we wanted at one store. I think we even did a decent job of bargaining. Not going to tell everyone how much we spent on these souvenirs because they're gifts. But if we were to resell them in the States, we would make a lot of money, no joke.

After this, we headed to a park that has lookouts over what we think is the Sumatra Fault and caves/tunnels built by Japanese soldiers back in WWII. The town is pretty small and we were about to ask directions at a fire station when we saw that the address on the fire station told us we were on the right street. We stopped by a hotel to ask about how to get transportation to Maninjau and then went to the park. The cliffs made by the fault was really amazing. The not so amazing things were the monkeys though.

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

I had a battle with a monkey. We were standing on a little tower thing that gives you a great view of the cliffs. I wanted to repack a bit and was putting the remainder of our lunch (bananas and bread) back into my bag when a monkey came up the tower and grabbed the bag! I tried to yell at it and take it back but it was fierce. The bananas and bread fell out and that was the end of it because the monkey proceeded to eat everything in sight. We were then held hostage on top of the tower until the monkey ate all the food (banana peels included). There was a family below us that was also getting attacked by the monkeys. One monkey snatched a bag of bread from a little kid. We think they recognize the black bags as food. One tried to take a t-shirt from Greg's bag but was unsuccessful.

On our way down to the Japanese caves, a local guide told us about a path that can lead us down to the cliffs. There are a lot of people here who wants to make a few bucks while serving as a guide. Their English is generally not bad either. It would have been really nice to go on a hike down the to the valley but we needed to get to Lake Maninjau at a decent time. So we explored the caves a bit before exiting the park.

The caves were kind of creepy. There are plans to make it more into a museum, which would be really interesting. But right now, it's just a bunch of empty rooms. They shotcreted the walls to make it more stable. I would've like to see them in their original condition because they didn't try to keep the original feel to it at all. There are a couple of openings where the tunnels open out into the side of a cliff. There's just enough space for a handful of people to hang out. I could totally imagine Japanese soldiers hanging out there, smoking a cigarette on their break, looking out into the lush Sumatra jungle, and thinking about how far they are from home.

We waited outside of the park for a while before catching an angkot going the right way. On the way to the main market, we picked up two women who were bringing food to another market. They had two grocery baskets filled with fried noodles and fish. This particular angkot is the only one that goes out far away from town so a lot of people piled in. At one point, there were 15 adults, 2 children, and 4 baskets of food. I think this is a new record, even for us.

In addtion to buses that go from city to city, there are smaller travel agencies that take people in cars from point to point. They are generally more comfortable and will take you from door to door. We got one of these to go to Bayur.

The drive from Bukittinggi to Bayur was pretty amazing. I still don't know how we didn't fall off a cliff. We had heard about the 44 switchbacks towards the end of the journey but the entire journey seemed like a jumble of switchbacks. This road seriously makes Lombard Street look like a joke. The switchbacks were numbered, of course.

We really didn't know where we were going. We had read about Bayur on from the Lonely Planet guide and told the driver we wanted to go there. Turns out, Bayur is a small town that is stretched out along the lake and there are several hotels and homestays right on the lake. We got dropped off in front of one by our driver.

Actually we got dropped off in front of a sign that says Bayur Beach Inn. There is a little path between the fish ponds and rice fields that led to the actual inn. We walked along this path and found a pretty nice little place to stay. Our room was literally right on the lake. We settled in and went for a swim in the lake. We ate at a little place down the road. We wanted to find the actual town but it turned out to be pretty far away. It got pretty dark at night but unfortunately it was really cloudy so we couldn't see the stars. I think the stars would have been amazing.

We went to bed at 9pm because we were really tired from a day of running around. I slept pretty well and got up after 9 to 10 hours of sleeping. The sun came out from behind the mountains slowly in the morning. We ate breakfast at the cafe and found out about how to hike up the mountain from an Irish lady who had been staying at the inn for a while.

We went on a 5 hour hike up a mountain. I don't think we expected it to be 5 hours because we expected the path to end somewhere before the top of the mountain. The path kept going higher and higher. We came across a lot of beautiful butterflies, monkeys, and other creatures. I think we even saw a baboon run across the path once. Found some coffee bean bushes and a village halfway up the mountain. We couldn't find “the top”, as in we didn't find a clearing that let us look out at the lake. The path kept going to the next mountain. Coming down, we were really surprised at how steep some parts of the path were. Amazing views of the lake again so we took our time getting down. My shoulders got sunburnt but only the very top part. The sun was directly overhead most of the time.

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

We had peanuts for lunch. It is really hard to find lunch during Ramadhan so we got some peanuts and water from a little store. We had the peanuts and some cookies before packing up. We took our time leaving the inn because the owner was very relaxed about the check out time. Then we waited out in the road for a bus or angkot to take us to Lubuk Basung.

We managed to get to Lubuk Basung but our angkot driver informed us that there were no more buses to Padang for the day (or at least for another 1.5 hours). We got there at 4:30pm and apparently buses leave every two hours. So he drove us down the road to different travel agencies asking if they were going to Padang. We finally found one way outside of town. They said that they were leaving at 6pm at first but one driver was willing to take us at 5pm. We bargained pretty hard with him. He wanted to charge us a lot because it was only the two of us. He ended up giving us a pretty good deal and spent all of what we gave him on gas. Don't think he actually made very much money off of us since it was a pretty long ride and he didn't managed to pick up more passengers.

After we dropped off our stuff, we went to Mak Etek for some rendang and juice. We got there at around 8pm, ending our 36 hours of adventures outside of Padang.

Even though I've traveled a lot and been to a lot of places, this is probably one of the most memorable weekends ever. We had this vague plan of going to places and things somehow worked out. The markets and cliffs at Bukittinggi were amazing. Lake Maninjau is a must see. The hike up the mountain and jungle was really awesome. Really wish we could have stayed longer. Compared to camping or vacations in the US, this was super cheap. All in all, it was a really nice way to spend the last weekend in Indonesia.

From Bukittinggi and Maninjau

Monday, August 23, 2010

Taking Book Recommendations

Really exciting post coming very soon about our weekend trip away from Padang! Hopefully it will be up within 24 hours. Very epic and adventurous trip, I promise.

But for now, I'm taking book recommendations. I have about a week and a half of sitting at home before going back to Stanford. So please let me know if there are good books to read while I am home. It would also be extremely helpful if they are available in one of the Oakland libraries:



Tuesday, August 17, 2010


It's Tuesday morning and I'm sitting in the dorm. It's Independence Day here so all the government offices are on holiday. There's no internet at our place so I will upload this when we get to the construction clinic. Hopefully we'll see some good fireworks tonight!

We've had a pretty mellow week. Everyone seems to be following a different schedule for Ramadan. We're not fasting anymore but we've shifted our eating habits a bit. There is absolutely no way to get a normal meal during lunch. Unless we go to Chinatown but even there I think we would have trouble finding a place that was actually serving food.

There is definitely less traffic on the roads and the city buses come less often. But people start setting up their food stalls and preparing for customers at around 3pm. This is quite early since people can't start eating until around 6:30pm. I guess cooking a lot takes a while. The city park, Imam Bonjol, is filled has a section where a ton of people set up food for selling. It's like a market except everyone is selling prepared foods and drinks. We got there at around 5:30pm one day and it was already packed with people. It seems like most people buy food to bring home. And I guess they still have to feed their kids.

This past weekend. Saturday was pretty chill. We stayed in the dorm and did emails and such until around noon. We started doing some work in the afternoon, mostly compiling data. At night, we went for martabak with Kevin, one of our housemates. Then we walked around in the rain trying to find the place in Chinatown where they play music every Saturday. We walked in a big circle and didn't managed to find it so we went over to Pasar Seni. We were probably too late anyhow. We stayed at Pasar Seni for a while chatting with the people there and waiting out the rain. It's been raining quite a bit lately.

Greg and Kevin went running to Air Manis (nearby beach that is behind a hill) on Sunday morning. I went with them once. The beach is nice but the hill is pretty steep and my knees were definitely complaining. I went to Plaza Andalas (big mall) and got some random food and snacks. I think Greg was overwhelmed with the weirdness of the stuff that I got. He did try all of them though so I was impressed. Neither of us are particularly picky about food and we seem to like the same stuff in general. It's worked out pretty well so far.

We did some more work Sunday afternoon. A couple of the guys from Pasar Seni came over to play basketball towards sunset. We tried to get some normal Padang food at around 7pm but a lot of the places around our street are closed. We went into one place and they were out of rice! So we went into a tent thing where they make fried chicken and had a pretty good meal. We had really good fried duck in Bandung. But duck is not as popular in Padang so we haven't managed to find a place for it yet. And when I say fried, I mean deep fried in a big wok of oil.

Monday. Yesterday, we went to the construction clinic after eating a big breakfast and worked on stuff there. We basically sat in an office all day and worked. I was working on compiling all the geotechnical data that we have collected so far. Greg was trying to get SAP or ETABS on his computer for a long time. It turned out to be a really easy fix but we didn't get it working until 3pm or so. By that time, our energy levels weren't as high anymore. Somehow, sitting in an office all day is really draining. It's harder since we didn't really have anyone to talk to about what we're doing. It's hard for us to consult each other about our respective work. So everything just seems to move so much slower when you can't get advice.

When we got back home, we ran to the beach and watched the sunset. It was a nice one this time and I think running outside was a really good idea after a day of sitting inside. We had nasi goreng, which we didn't manage to get last time we went to the beach for sunset. We were eating and a girl came over and we chatted for a while. Her English is really good because she had worked in KL for two years.

The road along the beach is usually populated with a ton of stalls selling food. There are definitely a lot less stalls now and the whole area seems more empty. We went over to Pasar Seni but the power was out and everything was super dark. On the way home, we stopped by Plaza Andalas again and picked up a hair trimmer that only works if you duct tape the batteries backwards and occasionally hit against the palm of your hand.

Thinking about going up to Bukittinggi for our last weekend in the country. Should be a good trip if we make it. Can't plan too much in advance here. It's only Tuesday.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Only two weeks left!

I can't believe we only have two more weeks left in this country. Two Fridays from now, we will be flying to Kuala Lumpur. Not sure when I will be back to this place again. I feel like I will be back though. It's so strange to think about leaving. I imagine myself back at Stanford and Oakland and living “normally” again. But it's hard to think about leaving this place. It's become home; I live here. My brain can't handle this concept of “leaving”.

We still have a lot to do for these next two weeks. Now it really feels like we're in charge of the project. The first few weeks, we were super busy with a ton of meetings. They were faciliated by the nonprofit that we have been working with. We were just tagging along. But for the past few weeks, I feel like we've had more of a role in determining what needs to be done.

We fasted for the first three days of Ramadan. No food or drinks during daylight hours. It's actually more than daylight hours. Sunrise is at about 6:30am. There is prayer at around 5am and all eating and drinking has to stop before prayer. So we've been getting up at 4:30am to eat. Now I've gotten up at 4am before but definitely not to eat a full meal. In fact, whenever I have to get up that early (usually for flying), I don't eat because my stomach cannot handle food at that hour.

It feels really strange to be eating at 4am and then going back to sleep for a few hours. The rest of the day is actually not too bad. At around noon, you'll start craving for food but then after a couple of hours, it's just a background feeling. But it's hard to concentrate because your body doesn't have readily available energy to burn. And contrary to popular belief, you don't stuff yourself with food right when fasting ends. Your stomach can only handle water and something light.

At around 2pm, people start setting up food stalls all over the place. People actually start buying food before the fasting period ends. Fruit juice, fruit cups, jelly drinks, and other things that contain a lot of water are very popular. Greg and I bought this fruit cup that had fruit that wasn't very sweet and swimming in this juice that tasted funny. We still managed to finish it pretty fast before looking around for real food.

It's been an interesting experiment though. I was really worried about the not drinking water part. I know I can make it through a day without eating but I definitely wasn't sure about the drinking. We managed to have a couple of “normal” working days while fasting for 12+ hours. I can definitely see how your body would adopt to this schedule.

Pictures from Payakumbuh

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Trip to Payakumbuh

Just got back from a trip to Payakumbuh and Mungo, Andi's hometown. The trip was a nice break from the city but felt pretty sure since we spent many hours traveling. We still had one full day at his house, spending some time with his mom, sister, and nephew. His mother is this really amazing woman who raised 9 kids and got them all to have at least a bachelor's degree.

We spent our day driving out to a valley with really steep cliffs and waterfalls. There wasn't very much water in the waterfall unfortunately but there were a lot of people. We walked around the valleys and into a cave before coming back. Mungo was definitely a rural town with lots of rice fields, fish ponds, chickens, and cows. The weather was cooler than Padang so we enjoyed that a lot. It even gets chilly at night.

It feels like we haven't done very much work the past 4 or 5 days. Now that we're back in the city, we're feeling like we need to make some progress. But not really sure how much stuff we can do during Ramadan. All the food places are closed and things seems quieter in the city. A lot of people are back home visiting family and such. Not sure how many meetings we can get in. I guess we're lucky that the month started towards the end of the summer. The month moves up about 10 days with respect to the solar calendar so it will get progressively harder to do this summer internship thing for about the next 3 or 4 years!

But before we left, we finally managed to do some soil investigations. Really glad we managed to squeeze that all in before we left for Payakumbuh. Hoping to compile the data now and do some lab testing on the soils soon.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ridiculous Day

Dinner was at a nice place but we were sitting outside with the mosquitos and cats. The dinner meeting was a good one for all of us. One of Prof Febrin's friends from Sweden wanted to see the shake table at Andalas. He is an architect who is interested in making base isolators from old tires. This was very good for Fengky and I because we have been wondering how to get the hand auger and related equipment from Andalas to the city. I went to sleep with hopes of a very productive day ahead.

This was not to be the case. I woke up and could not open my bathroom door. The lock was stuck for some reason. I ended up waking up one of my neighbors and he helped me open the door. The lock was definitely broken. I finally got to use the bathroom and was all ready to go. I got out to the living room and Fengky informed me that one of our friend's father had passed away earlier that morning. And so we were going with the construction clinic staff to visit her house instead of going to Andalas.

We hurried over to the clinic but no one was around. The driver was there though so Fengky made another change of plans. We picked up the Swedish guy and took him to Andalas. We got the soil equipment along with one of the lab technicians who would accompany us for the rest of the day. The soil equipment is heavy and is too much for one motor bike. The lab tech has another motorbike but he thought that we would be using that car for the rest of the day so he hopped in the car with us. We dropped off the Swedish guy back at his hotel and then got to the construction clinic only to find out that the staff had already left. So we got the driver to take us to UNP, one of the potential sites.

I feel like I should write this up for WormsEye, the Arup geotech newsletter because the whole day and investigation was just so ridiculous. We marked out a spot and waited for Fengky to get permission for the investigation. When we finally got the go-ahead, we started digging and found lots of coarse sand. It was all going well until one of the officials came by and told us that the whole campus is sitting on about a meter of fill. So we tried to dig pass this only to encounter lots of pebbles at about 70cm down. The official then informed us that there was about 40cm layer of rocks between the fill and the original soil. I don't know why he didn't tell us before we started digging. Then he told us that the soil closer to the street is not fill.

At this point, it was noon and the mosque nearby started its call to prayer. It was really loud so we had to stop work anyway. So I waited for the guys for about an hour while they prayed. Then we found food and ate for another hour. We then moved everything to the front of the mosque and was all ready to start exploring. We poked at the ground with a metal stick and found that there was lots of rocks and concrete underneath the grass. We think this part of the yard was part of the original road. So much for doing a thorough desk study before going out to investigate.

By this point, we had gotten a message from Professor Febrin about the seismic CPT equipment that UNP has. He gave us a name so Fengky and I went to the civil engineering department to look for her. She wasn't in but we got her phone number off of someone else.

We called the construction clinic driver to take us back to the university but he was unavailable. So we took a taxi to the clinic to wait for him. But when we got to the clinic, the guys wanted to try to take the equipment on one motorbike. I really think we could've waited for the driver or gotten another taxi but they were sure they could do it. I ended up taking two of the pieces to the university on angkots. These pieces were heavy because they are solid metal. I was glad that there were no sudden stops on the angkot because if anyone ran into the steel bar I was holding, they probably would have had to go to the hospital.

When I finally got to the university, we found out that some of the professors are taking all the equipment to do some investigations about 10 hrs away. They wouldn't be back until Saturday. It took forever for me to find out when they would be back. We wanted to do all the investigations before Ramadan and that's why I flew back from Java early instead of attending the conference. Somehow it doesn't seem to be such a big priority for them even though they are the ones who will be fasting the entire day.

This was probably one of the most ridiculous days I've had so far. I ended the day with bakso at the place across the street and uploading stuff about last week at an internet cafe.

Bandung Part 2

Tuesday morning was a busy one for me. Actually, the entire day was busy but one thing at a time. I went with Anggun to a little copy place on the ITB campus where the guy makes copies of textbooks and sells them for a quarter of the price. Textbooks here are much cheaper to begin with, about $20 a book. So this place basically sells textbooks for about $5 each. He even binds them so that they look like actual books. The only difference is that all the images are in black and white instead of color. I picked out several titles and he found one of them. So I got a book on soil improvement for about $4.

After this, we went over to the geology museum. It's a really nice museum since Indonesia has all the goelogical features you would ever want to see. We spent a lot of time hunting down a geology map for Padang though so we didn't get to walk through the exhibits. I got to the shuttle bus place with about 5 minutes to spare.

I walked around the airport for a bit trying to find cheap food. I settled on just getting some bread because everything else was too ridiculously expensive. I decided to go check in early. This was a good choice since I found out that the Batavia flies out of Terminal B instead of A. I had only taken Lion Air before and all of their flights go in and out of Terminal A. So I had to walk all the way over to Terminal B. Actually, there was no rush because the flight was delayed.

Batavia is much nicer than Lion Air. The seats were more comfortable and they handed out water and bread. But I ended up sitting next to this mom with a toddler who wouldn't stop moving around. He was extremely energic.

I didn't sleep very much during this flight because I was worried about not making dinner with Professor Febrin. He had invited me to come to dinner with him and a professor from ITB. I didn't know where it was and when they were meeting. By the time I got out of the airport at Padang, it was about 6:30pm. Fengky hadn't gotten any confirmation so I didn't get off when the bus passed near the construction clinic. As soon as we passed the clinic, I got a call from Fengky that dinner was at 8pm (in about 20 minutes). So I ended up getting off at my dorm and then Fengky picked me up from there. At this point, I am still carrying a ton of stuff in my backpack and haven't stepped inside the house.

Bandung! Part 1

--- written on Wednesday, August 4, 2010 ---

This past Sunday, we got up for another 6am flight to Jakarta. This time, we did not leave the airport and got on a shuttle bus to Bandung. We had to wait an hour and a half after we got to the airport though because these minibuses get full very quickly. Lesson learned, book the shuttle while waiting for your luggage. Better yet, don't check in anything because it takes forever. Lion Air from Padang flies into the international terminal and then you take a shuttle to the domestic arrivals. Your luggage takes a long time to get to the domestic terminal because they can't move themselves. I managed to write the massive amounts of updates that I posted last night while waiting.

The bus from Jakarta airport to Bandung takes about three hours. We managed to get from the shuttle bus location to Andi and Greg's hotel by angkot. The angkots in Bandung cost only 1500 Rp and does not offer loud music. It felt strange to be sitting in an angkot with no music and stuffed animals.

We wandered around Bandung for most of the afternoon, waiting for Anggun to come. She took a flight that left three hours later than ours. We didn't really know where to go and got on a few angkots just to get somewhere more exciting. Unfortunately, we seemed to have missed a lot of the more exciting parts of town by just one or two streets. We did managed to play in the lobby of the postal museum before some security guards came to kick us out. Such a shame that they don't open their msueums for longer hours on weekends. I think they have very good collections too.

One of the surprising things about Bandung is the weather. It was not hot and humid like Padang. It is at higher altitude and has more Bay Area like weather. Not quite but Greg and I enjoyed this a lot. The chilis for food also comes on the side. And after eating Padang food for a month, Bandung food is definitely not spicy.

Anggun took us to a place that is very popular with college students to eat fried duck. When I say fried, I mean deep fried. Everything here is fried in a big wok filled with oil. The duck was really good, which explains why the place was packed with people. I really enjoyed going to food places with her. She took us to some places that were really popular with college students, meaning it has good food for a cheap price.

I stayed two nights with her while in Bandung. She lives in a big house that the landlord has renovated to rent out to college students. The place houses several girls. Her room is pretty small but very cozy. One of those places that can really feel like home.

The second day in Bandung started off with us walking over to LIPI, a science research center. They have a caferteria that serves pretty good food. We got there pretty early and the veggies weren't ready yet. I think we all had a pretty good breakfast, which was followed by a really good meeting.

We talked to a getoech researcher about his liquefaction research in Padang. He had really great information and was willing to share with us. I think he was excited that someone was interested in his work. He had done field studies in Padang in 2006 and 2008 (right before the big earthquakes in 2007 and 2009). He presented his results to the government who didn't really care about them and asked him to prove his results. The earthquakes proved his results but his research still hasn't gained the recognition that it deserves.

I've been looking for soil data for this city for ages. It seems like various people and agencies have done their own studies but haven't shared them with anyone. Maybe I will make a database and share the information online somehow. In the US, we spend quite a bit of time finding “historical” geology and geotechnical information for a site before going out to do our own site investigations. Knowing the previous use of the site can help a lot as well. It really difficult to collect such information here unless you're running around gathering these things by angkot (more on this later!).

After this really useful meeting, we had lunch and then had a short meeting with a professor at ITB. We told him about our project and he gave us some references. He seemed interested in having a collaboration between ITB, Stanford, and Andalas but didn't offer any ways to proceed with this collaboration.

We accompanied Greg and Andi to the shuttle bus place that would take them to Jakarta. We walked around in this really cute mall since we got there early. We even took a photo in one of those photo booths. Anggun and I walked around for a while after they left. We went to dinner at this food court that gives you a binder of menus from all the places in the food court. You can choose which place you want to order from. And everyone at your table can order from a different place. Very interesting concept. No, the places are not owned by the same people because they all had different menus and very different foods.

For some reason, when I woke up the next morning, I thought about Boston a lot. The one thing that really reminds me of Boston is the smell of those peanut carts in Downtown Crossing. Undergrad happened so fast and it almost seems like a distant memory now. Where did those years go? Maybe this is telling me that I should go back to visit...

Crazy Week - Saturday: A trip to Painan

As if we didn't have enough adventures during the week, we decided to go to Painan on Saturday. Painan is a small city about 2 hrs south of Padang. It also has a high risk for tsunami but since the population is small and there is high ground very close, the government has been able to make vertical evacuation structures for the entire city. We met with the KOGAMI office down there and had a pretty informative meeting. We went to see their evacuation hill and then ate lunch in the city.

Then we went on another epic adventure to find the beach. I swear it was very easy to get to if we had stayed on the main road. Instead, we wanted to use the smaller streets in hopes of finding some shade and ended up walking all around the beach before we got to one end of it. The water was really shallow for a long way out and we sat at a platform for a while. 

We walked out to a part of the coast where the water was more shallow. There were really interesting rock formations that looked like they have been thrust out of the ocean by some seismic activity. I was climbing around them when I heard a commotion by Andi and Fengky. Apparently Greg had jumped in the water and was in the process of swimming to an island in the distance. I don't know how he managed to do this and not sleep on the ride back. I think some pictures of this will surface soon (check Andi's facebook).

The day ended with us feeling like some kind of salted fish. We got back to Padang and found out that Ramadan is coming on the 10th instead of the 12th of August. Can things come earlier than expected in this country?? We then proceeded to get a haircut for Greg:
Greg to Andi: "Tell them I want to cut off 3cm."
Andi to Greg: "You want 3cm left on your head?"
No worries, he looks better this way. Just kidding! We managed to get it right at the end.

Crazy Week - Friday: Another epic day

This day started off with Greg and I waiting in front of a souvenir shop for Andi. He usually isn't late but he it took him a while to get down to the city that day. We really should've waited for him at the Garuda office like he suggested because it had air conditioning. But we didn't know where it was so we agreed to wait in front of this souvenir shop on a very busy road, inhaling all the fumes from the cars. Greg says he saw some buses passing on their route two or three times.

We finally met up with Andi and went to the a city planning office to get some drawings. They shuffled us through many offices before handing us the drawings. We made copies of them and gave them back. When we were done with this, I was pretty tired out. We went back to the construction clinic, decided on our flights, and went to a travel agency to book them. We really should have booked them online because the prices changed in the 10 minutes we were walking over. It is very common for people here to go to travel agencies to book things. This is necessary if you don't have a credit card. So we ended up booking the 6am flight to Jakarta again, just to save about $10 for each of us. Keep in mind, $10 is about a day's worth of food and transportation for all three of us. This works out to be three days of living in Padang, so totally worth it.

Andi went out to get a few things done while we stayed at the clinic to do some work. Anggun stopped by at around 6pm and we chatted about our plans. Professor Febrin made it to the meeting this time. He was just a bit late. We did not managed to eat before he got there and our meeting went until 9pm. We got a ride from a couple of people at the clinic who had motor bikes back to the dorm and made leftovers for dinner.

Crazy Week - Thursday: A Day of Tunggu

It was really bad. We got to the office for disaster planning for the city and waited the entire morning.  Greg and I got there at 8:30am like we had planned. Andi showed up late because he was trying to get some stuff printed out. We had all thought that there was a big meeting between us and other government agencies to discuss our project. Turns out, there was indeed a big meeting of government officials but with a different NGO, not us. So we sat in this trailer thing for an hour before having a 5 min meeting with the guy we wanted to see. Then he went off to his meeting, came back after a while and we talked some more. At least we had good internet access and got stuff done in this trailer. We also got a letter from him for permission to do site investigations at one of our potential sites.

During our wait, we got notice that city planning wanted to have a meeting with us to give us a book with geology information. We weren't far from their office so we caught an angkot over. On our way over, we got a text message from one of the people that the guy was canceling on us, someone else had the book with her, and she was in a meeting in the mayor's office (very far from where we were).

So we got off the angkot and got on one going the opposite way and sat in it for nearly an hour. We got there only to wait some more outside of their meeting. We waited until the meeting was over and went in and got the book. By then, it was 1pm and we were supposed to be out by the old airport (1 hr away) for a 1pm meeting. So we rushed to get another angkot to get out there. We have not had anything for lunch.

The address we had was for a house and Andi wasn't exactly sure where it was. So we had to ask some elementary school boys who were on the angkot with us for directions. Luckily their directions were correct. Unfortunately, no one was home. We asked a neighbor and she informed us that he was in Bandung, his wife is teaching at Andalas, and his kid is at school. Andi had left his notebook at home with his contact information so we couldn't call him. Very strange. We decided to eat lunch and treat ourselves to some juice.

After this frustrating and long morning, we got to the construction clinic and worked out some stuff for the next few days. We got settled to wait for a meeting with Professor Febrin at 7pm because he was too busy on Monday and had agreed to this late meeting. We even ate dinner right before so that we wouldn't be hungry and got back in time for the meeting. We got a text message at 7:30pm that he was too tired and wanted to reschedule for Friday evening, at 7pm.

But we made use of us staying late at the clinic and skyped with Veronica at around 8:30pm. We left the clinic at 9:30pm and waited a while for an angkot to show up. We started walking towards our dorm (very far away) when we got an angkot going to the market. It got to the market and there was a light blue one (the only one that goes to our street) waiting there. We were about to hop off and catch it but it started leaving. The angkot we were on wanted to wait for more passengers so the driver promised to catch up with the light blue angkot. He drove really fast and even took a short cut. We caught up with the other angkot but that driver wasn't taking on any more passengers. So we got off somewhat close to our dorm. But it was dark and we weren't exactly sure where we were. We asked a couple of people for directions and started walking. We were looking confused at this one intersection when a car pulled up and the guy asked where we were going (in English). He offered to take us to our place and we hitched a ride with him. Epic end to our day of tunggu-ing.

Crazy Week - Wednesday: Why it takes the entire morning for one meeting

The plan for this morning was to meet with the contractor who did the design for a mosque at UNP (Padang State University). But we didn't get a confirmation from him so we scheduled a meeting with someone at city planning. We stepped out of the angkot at her office and promptly got into her car. We were all very confused at this point and Andi tried to translate while talking with the official.
“Oh, we're going to KOGAMI.” (other side of town)
“Oh no, Pangeran Beach Hotel” (the other corner of town)
Turns out, the city official was invited to a KOGAMI seminar held at the Pangeran Beach Hotel and wanted to have our meeting there. We weren't going to refuse a ride back down to the city (well, we couldn't since we were already in the car) so we went along for the ride thinking we would end up at the hotel. Instead, she and her husband got out at the immigration office to apply for their passports and had their driver take us to the hotel. We sat around at the hotel for a while and then decided to crash the Kogami seminar.

The entire first floor of the hotel was full of government officials attending seminars. Many people go to these seminars just for the food. They always have a coffee break with some snacks and then a buffet lunch at the hotel. The lunch is a big deal. Very nice food. Some people (like us) even leave after lunch.

At some point during this seminar, I had this bright idea. We had heard about this national seminar for structural and civil engineers in Jakarta. But it's in the middle of the week and we were concerned about not having enough time to do soil investigations. I realized that I could stay behind in Padang and take care of the soil investigations with help from Fengky while Greg and Andi go to the seminar. We all thought this was a good plan so we started to look at the flyer for the seminar again. And then we heard back from someone we had been wanting to meet in Bandung. He replied to say that he would be in Bandung the day before the seminar and was willing to meet with us.

After many discussions and plan changes, we finally decided (a couple of days later) that all three of us would go to Bandung on Sunday. We would have a couple of meetings in Bandung on Monday. I would fly back to Padang on Tuesday while Andi and Greg goes to Jakarta and stay there until Thursday. We booked the flights on Friday and left two days later.

After crashing the seminar, we went around to look at some construction sites. We visited a senior high school that is built for vertical evacuation. The street that it is on is a small street so it is not accessible by angkot. Andi wasn't sure how far it was so we took a becak motor (PICTURE NEEDED). Greg and I were stuffed into the seat thing next to the driver. We tried to take a picture but it was difficult.

We visited a few more sites that day. It's really cool to be walking onto construction sites and seeing things happen. Really hope I get to do that more often when I get back to the States. This might be an advantage of working overseas, particularly in Asia. There is so much construction happening and people are more lax about letting other people onto construction sites.

Crazy Week - Tuesday: the beginning

--- written on Sunday, August 1, 2010, Jakarta Airport ---

I had high hopes of updating more regularly but those were dashed around Tuesday or Wednesday, can't remember which. This week has been a really crazy one with lots of last minute changes to the schedule. For a more visual description, see Selamat Datang di Indonesia , on the work blog.

After a normal-ish Monday, we decided to get up early to go to the Construction Clinic so that we can skype with Veornica. We had a nice chat and then went off to a meeting with KOGAMI. The meeting took about two hours and we were all very exhausted by the end of it. We got some good information as always but this was just the start of the day. We refueled with some lunch at the same place we ate lunch the last time we had a meeting with KOGAMI. We even sat at the same table.

In the afternoon, we went to assess some more mosques. On our way to the first mosque on our list, we passed by one that looked like it could be an evacuation structure. So we visited that one too and took some notes. Even though this sounds like it's chill work, it's really not. Imagine it being 80 degrees, humid, and wearing long pants, long sleeved shirt, and a head scarf. This head scarf thing is really a cultural experience in itself. Try it out when you get a chance!

The next mosque we visited was inside a senior high school. This mosque had a plague with the person who designed it. Hoping to get more information on this person and possibily some drawings, we wandered into the admin offices. They were very excited to see us (Greg) and one of the admin ladies chatted with us for a while, basically telling us that no one knows anything. She took us to the home of a retired teacher who had worked at the school for a long time but he wasn't in. We met the vice principle on our way out and she told us that the person who designed the school is teaching civil engineering at a nearby university. And this is why you really need to be on the ground to do this type of work. There would have been no way to do such things over the internet or even phone.

After our mosque vists, we met up with Anggun, who is a current student at ITB. We talked about her ideas for TEREP and possibility of other students also working on tsunami evacuation projects. We went to a satay madura place nearby our dorm for dinner. There is apparently many different kinds of satay. The difference is the sauce. Brown, red, and peanut sauce. Satay madura is the peanut sauce one. Pretty good stuff. Still don't know what kind of meat it was. Might have been chicken.