Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Over the past month, I've been very busy with a number of visitors who have ranged from high school friends to family. Having people in town and getting the opportunity to show them around both Jakarta and the country has helped remind me how much I've grown to love the country. Additionally, traveling experimenting with new things is always better with friends and family, consequently over the past month, I have witnessed fire dances and other presentations of the Ramayana with my family, eaten in stairwells - Bill and Jen's favorite part of their trip here :)!, seen amazing coral while snorkeling with Jillian, and supported a local turtle sanctuary. In so many ways, my experience would not have been complete without the chance to share the country, and so, with a heavy, yet excited, heart I am beginning to tell friends and co-workers of my plans to return to the U.S. at the end of the school year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness - College Basketball and Hosting Family :)

The past few weeks have embodied March madness: Anton's cafe had it's official opening, school was leading up to midterm break thus the necessity to create exams and finish progress reports, the regular season of NCAA basketball was winding down, and my family and Jillian were preparing to arrive. Of all of these events I'm obviously most excited for the family and Jillian to be here as we explore Indonesia together, but the 'Cuse starting their second season is pretty exciting as well. Syracuse has all of the pieces to make a pretty deep run, however, unlike against UConn, their free throw shooting has to improve. Either way, it will be an exciting time, so much so that I had my kids fill out brackets after their midterms :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Villanova - A Season Embodied in a Game

I went into work early this morning so that I could keep an eye on the men's basketball scoreboard while grading papers, more specifically, so that I could keep an eye on the Villanova/South Florida game. Villanova had most of their players returning from a Final Four team that appeared to have the talent to get back there again this year. Their season started out strong and they climbed as high as #6 in the polls, but they've lost 6 of their last 8 games including bad losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Their downward spiral began with a loss at Rutgers, a close loss at home to Pitt, barely eking out wins again Seton Hall and DePaul (the 12 and 16 seeds in the Big East respectively), followed by losses to Syracuse, St. Johns, Notre Dame, and Pitt.

None of the last four were bad losses, consequently, I was interested in seeing how they would respond in the Big East Tournament and while I was unable to "watch" the game, I did follow the gamecast throughout and it seemed as though the game embodied their season as a whole. Villanova started strong and had a 16 point lead at halftime. However, South Florida began to chip away at the lead and a lack of execution coupled with a few back choices, like Maalik Wayns turning the ball over with 22 seconds like when they were up by one, allowed South Florida to complete the epic comeback.

While 21-11 overall, and 9-9 in the Big East during an exceptionally strong year for the conference, most of those 11 losses, respectable as some of them may be, came at exactly the worst time. I'm interested to see what happens with Villanova come Selection Sunday, but can't say that I'll be surprised wherever they end up.

The game that I'm most looking forward to on tomorrow's docket is St. John's vs. Rutgers. My freshman year of high school I had a strange affinity for the Mike Jarvis era when St. John's was relatively competitive that culminated in me "wearing" a St. John's t-shirt in my self-portrait drawn in art class, and while my loyalty to the 'Cuse doesn't waiver, I am glad to see Steve Lavin has brought the Johnnies back. Additionally, a St. John's vs. Syracuse quarter-final match-up would be epic because New York City is Syracuse's "home away from home" and the Orange have been highly successful in the Garden, while MSG plays host to many of St. John's actual home games. That being said, now that everyone is excited for that potential match-up, Rutgers will pull the upset and spoil everyone's fun :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Madness - Apart from Tradition

Every year since my freshman year of college, I have religiously watched the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, and during my years as an RA sitting Spring Break duty, it was every game! Having grown up near Syracuse, where, to quote Coach Boeheim, "it is beautiful eight months a year... and the other four we play basketball," intimately familiarized myself with all sixteen of the member schools, thus greatly increased my knowledge of and investment in this tournament over any other.

Consequently, to bring some of this excitement to Jakarta, I created a poster of the tournament bracket and have explained its significance to some of my students. While they might not be as excited or this afternoon's UConn/DePaul tip-off, they are at least feigning interest and know who to cheer for :)


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reading Routine

I have become a regular at several coffee shops in the Kemang area because I found that when I was going straight to my apartment after work and tutoring that I wasn't as productive as I should have been, especially regarding tackling my reading list. Consequently, as I'm walking home, I've made a habit at stopping at a coffee shop to read for an hour or so. I prefer to go to places like Tornado Coffee or Coffee War over Starbucks because Starbucks doesn't brew different varieties of Indonesian coffees, and thanks to Coffee War I'm starting to tell the difference between Papuan, Sumatran, and Torajan coffees! Additionally, patronizing a local coffee shop over a multi-national makes the experience more genuine and allows me to stick up for 'the little guy.' :)

Thanks to this routine, I recently finished 'The Brothers Karamazov.' It is amazing how a book that is over 700 pages can hold your attention throughout and how seemingly unrelated side events stuck in randomly throughout the novel are woven together at the end to create amazing depth. It would have been extremely interesting to read the book as it was initially published - chapter by chapter in a periodical. In that way, I think the novel more parallels a TV series in its function and execution. Furthermore, I was struck by how overtly Russian the novel was (obviously), but more specifically how ideas and themes from the book were common to what I learned in Russian class and observed when there for a few weeks. Next up is 'The Tempest'

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hollywood and Protectionism

As the Oscars have been approaching, Hollywood has been under fire in the country with the fourth highest theater attendance, according to 'the Economist'. Recently, a law was passed that drastically increased the tax rate on American movies played in Indonesian theaters, and in response, Hollywood and the theaters refused to pay the new rate, effectively creating a ban. I was interested in what both Indonesians and my fellow ex-pats thought of this and worry about the overall effectiveness, and public perception, of this policy.

Governmental rationale for the law was protectionist in nature and, contrary to the Washington Concensus, I think protectionism is a good thing for the main economic sectors of a rapidly growing economy. For example, there was a law passed last summer putting a minimum term of investment on FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), which was strongly opposed by multi-national banks because it restricted the ever important flow of capital. Yet, this was an example of good protectionism because it was aimed at quelling speculation and over-investment. While I'm not arguing that the law was a cure-all, it is an example of enacting a law that may be 'bad for business,' but ultimately is in the best long-term interest of Indonesia.

In contrast, I have issues with the 'Hollywood ban' for two reasons. First of all, while the government is trying to foster the Indonesian film-making industry, this industry is far from being a central component to the overall economy and the domestic unrest at not being able to see Harry Potter #7 Part Two and other internationally anticipated movies in theaters doesn't seem to be worth the political capital. This is especially worrisome because the boot-leggers will still get ahold of the DVDs, thus rendered the ban essentially useless and further encouraging disrepect of intellectual property.

Secondly, I am concerned about the implications of restricting art and speech. The inherent message this law sends may be more dangerous than the law itself. I believe that the most important institutions to a functional democracy are free speech and free expression (and I'm not arguing that we are a shining example back home in America because we might want to question how free speech is that is owned by a small handful of enormous corporate entities)

Overall, I am interested in observing how this plays out, and the situation highlights just one of many issues every country must deal with in an increasingly inter-connected world where boundaries are blurred like never before.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weekend in Lombok and Brown outs...

Unfortunately, age and inconsistent power sources in Brooklyn and abroad has taken it's tole on my computer causing it to fizzle out. I assumed that I would need to get a new one soon, but I was hoping it would make it to June, but I suppose these things happen. Fortunately, the advent of the netbook enabled me to regain some form of connectivity recently!

Another reason for relative silence this past month has been the amount of time I have spent away from Jakarta. Every other weekend I have left town, and most recently I visited the islands of Lombok and Gili Meno. I'm continually blown away by the natural beauty of Indonesia and being on an island without any motorized form of internal travel (Gili Meno) was one of the more relaxing experiences I've ever had in my life. Also, taking a 'speed boat' to Gili Meno that required I jump out into the shallows when we came ashore was a fun experience :)

I found that the majority of the population on Gili Meno were able to communicate in English, but they loved when I tried to use my limited knowledge of Bhasa Indonesian. The more I use the language, the more I want to study it because my deficiencies are all the more apparent and it is a great joy to communicate with people in the native tongue.

Also while out in the Gili Islands, I met some interesting foreigners. The first group were three Frenchmen out on their vacation, but one of them lived in Boston but had quit his job as an investment banker to travel for 8 months. I was struck by the sense of balance he had and for the amount of courage that took to do at age 28. The four of us ended up spending a decent amount of time together that day and the other group that I talked with for a while was a Dutch couple and we ended up sharing dinner together. Both experiences made a lasting impression as to how travel brings people universally closer together, but to give myself a little breather, I'm only taking one more trip before my family comes out over spring break.

I hope everyone has been doing well! I miss you all very much!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This week the ninth graders are taking a mock national exam in the mornings. Consequently, I am missing out on seeing one class and instead of the other class getting a full week ahead, I've decided to teach them some basic calculus (why not, right?! :) lol) The idea initially came to me when we were working through an arduous problem that could've been quickly solved by taking the derivative. This got me thinking about ways that derivatives could be made accessible to ninth grade students, and today we started by graphing the line y = x (squared) zoomed in around the origin and then finding the slope of lines tangent to the curve. I'm not sure if the idea has fully taken root yet, but there were some ah-has and we have two more classes to work it out. I'm confident the students will start to recognize the pattern because we're only looking to scratch the surface; definitely not going to get to the chain rule or other complexities like that. I'm hoping this exercise will make higher mathematics seem more accessible and applicable.

Aside from that, of all the Super Bowl ads I perused on YouTube today (clearly I've been productive over here :)!), this was my favorite:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Brothers Karamazov

Over the holidays I reloaded my reading list and under the influence of books Joe has read and found worth while, 'The Brothers Karamazov' was added. Initially, I was intimidated to read my first Russian novel because it was first published 130 years ago and I was concerned with its readability, however, I am about 80 pages into it and have been surprised how it has be very accessible and flowed easily.

Zosima, an elder monk, plays a very prominent role in the first part of the novel and conversations with the monk help establish the philosophical and theological function of the novel. As I am making my way through the tome, there are two quotes from the elder that I found very profound and wanted to share.

"Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him..."
-This, coupled with some interesting research on Motivation and Achievement, highlights the importance of being true to ourselves and taking the plank out of our own eyes before being so critical of the specks in others.

"-'How can we be certain of the presence of God?'
-By the experience of active love. Try to love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you'll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul. "

Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend in Yogya

Ab and I headed out to Yogyakarta shortly after school on Friday in an effort to continue my resolution to see more of the country. Yogya is considered the cultural capital of Indonesia because it is considered to be the backbone of Indonesian batik and is home to the palace of the Sultan (who, similar to European monarchs, only has a symbolic role). Since July I have continually been told that I needed to experience Yogya and it did not disappoint!

We took an overnight train that was suppose to arrive in Yogya around 4:30 am and I initially thought that Yogya was the last stop. Unfortunately, when the train finally stopped at 5:45 and we were informed that we were in Solo, we realized that Yogya was not the last stop :). We were a little bleary-eyed, but we were able to catch a bus to Yogya that only took about an hour. It was a little less than an optimal way to start the day, but at least the train didn't continue further than Solo!

Once we found a place to stay for the night and were able to drop our bags off, we headed to the palace for the Saturday performance of gamelan with wayang kulit puppets. When we arrived, we were told that because there was some sort of festival/fair going on, that the gamelan would not be playing. I was initially tempted to leave so that we wouldn't miss too much out of the day, however, we had an amazing tour guide, Denis, who was extremely knowledgeable about the palace and gave us tons of information on what to do in and around the city, including an awesome place for batik paintings that is only open two mornings a week!

After the palace tour, we went to the batik shop recommended by Denis where we got to see the process of how the paintings are made and peruse through an extensive gallery of many different kinds of batiks. Apparently, many of the best batik painters are associated with this gallery, a number of whom are considered the best in the world. I truly appreciated seeing such a variety of batik styles, including an artist by the name of Arifin, an example of whose work is shown below.

After the batik gallery, we headed out Prambanan and then ate dinner at one of the best restaurants I've ever been to in my life. It is a vegetarian place that is dedicated to using local produce that is grown in sustainable ways. Furthermore, the restaurant advocates 'Slow Food,' or taking plenty of time to enjoy a meal together through conversations, games, or reading a book/magazine from their collection. On top of the mission and atmosphere of the place, the food was outstanding (best pumpkin soup I've ever had in my life).

When we set out to return to our hotel, we were passing by the fair/festival that caused the morning gamelan to be canceled. It was absolutely packed and so we dedicated to see what all the fuss was about. It was very similar to a County or State Fair back home, and had a very festive atmosphere. There were a bunch of carnival-type rides, and so we joined in on the fun by playing bumper cars :)

Overall, it was a great weekend and I can definitively say that Yogya lived up to the hype. I hope that I will be able to get back to the city again soon and do some more of the activities that I didn't have time for yet!

Birthdays in Indonesia

Birthdays in Indonesia mirror my concept of what the "holiday" should be. In Indonesia, the person whose birthday it is will give gifts (typically bring some sort of food or provide lunch for classmates/friends/etc) and this makes intrinsic sense to me. On your birthday, you did nothing aside from come out kicking and screaming, thus you should be working to repay this debt on the anniversary of that event, especially to your mother!

Furthermore, I have found Indonesians to be more forth-coming about their ages. Americans are often coy in regards to their numerical age, however, it was recently a co-worker's birthday, and she divulged her age to me without nearly as much concern. Granted, I was playing around in a similar fashion to my grandfather, and so it might be that Papa's strategy is exceeding effective in getting people to share their true age :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weekend in Bandung, Part 1

Returning to the United States over the holidays was a trial run for leaving the country for good. In preparation for returning, I pined for all of the locations within Indonesia that I had yet to visit; Borobudur, rain forests, dormant volcanoes, Lombok and Gili, et cetera. Thus, now that I am back in Jakarta, it is my goal to travel within the country every other weekend.

My first trip was out to Bandung with my co-worker Mike, his girlfriend, and his sister. Bandung is the capital of the province of West Java and is a pretty considerable city itself. Mike spent a month out in Bandung last year during his training for the ETA program with Fulbright and so he had considerable knowledge of the area. We left shortly after work on Friday and got in town to find an affordable hotel and get to bed early for a big day on Saturday. Saturday we visited a dormant volcano, Gunung Tangkuban Perahu (also known as the Mountain of the Overturned Boat). The trip out there, including the hike through the woods afterward, was very similar to the area surrounding Mount St. Helens, yet in a tropical rain forest instead of a temperate one! As we made our way down the mountain, we came to some natural hot springs were we were able to boil eggs in one of the pools while we put our feet in another and got a mud massage. After the volcano, we headed to an Indonesia hot springs resort where we could relax a little bit more. Overall, the day was very busy and a lot of fun, yet at the same time very relaxing. The only downer was that I was unable to find my camera while packing on Friday and so pictures will be delayed until I can get copies from Mike's girlfriend.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Laser Game Field Trip

As a reward for doing so well and working so hard during the homeroom challenge, the entire 9th and 10th grades earned a party. Since 9B won, they got to choose what they wanted the party to be, and after deliberation (and lamenting about the irregularity of the weather during rainy season), it was decided that we would all go play laser tag together.

Initially, I was a little concerned how it would go over, but the kids really started getting into it, and those who were most successful were not necessarily the best athletes. Furthermore, we mixed all of the students into four different teams to help integration between classes and grades, promoting the overall unity of the school. It was a lot of fun and was truly a loss that they didn't allow cameras.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back in the Jak

Returning to Jakarta has yielded a great variety of thoughts and feelings. On one hand, I am very sad to have left so many of my dear friends so soon (and not having had the opportunity to catch up with everyone either), yet on the other hand, I am excited to be back with my friends, students and adoptive culture. The opening of a friend's restaurant, hosting friends and family, and anticipated travel have me very excited for the weeks and months to come. First up is the soft opening of 'Treehouse' this weekend, followed by travel with Mike and his siblings over the next few weekends, and then the countdown beings until my brother, my parents, and Jillian get into town. Lastly, riding with Taurfik (pictured below) each morning has been one of the high-lights of my experience and a daily lesson in the 'Fish Philosophy'/ joie de vivre. You've got to go away to come back :)