It’s been quite a trip to Bandung, Indonesia: a 24 hour unexpected furlough in Japan, arrival at midnight in Jakarta, strange languages, 1 AM rides through shanty squalor fronted by modern highways. We drove down a single lane into a hotel courtyard, trees swaying with Christmas lights.
We’re at the FM7 hotel by the airport, which has a big Chinese sign for clientele wishing them “Gongxi Fa Cai” (“Congrats and Get Rich”) for the Year of the Goat. The courtyard has a faux Chinese cherry tree and a life-size bunny holding a red heart (Valentines). It’s moist and warm, even in February, and I’m led to a giant hotel room with hard white title floors and very intermittent internet access, making it hard to link up to the world I knew. (It took me 4 tries tonight to get onto the university network, trying different browsers, using different passwords generously provided, so please understand.)
Thus far it’s been a disturbing, gorgeous experience overall — but I’m jet lagged and still not caught up. This place is tropical, lush, and the people as kind and good-natured as I’ve ever found in any country; even my intensity is no match for their kindness. I’m trying to get used to the palmetto bugs and ants again, but everyone here on campus tries to keep amazingly clean.
In Beijing I remember a lot of tight faces and mouths, pressure, unfriendliness; the combination of bad air, censorship, government oppression, over-development. Here, everything is more relaxed.
Today I actually took a swim in a hotel pool with no one in it; a very elegant tear-drop pool and surrounding gardens…warm and vacuumed continuously by a janitor who seemed to keep cleaning it so as to appear fully occupied to management. On the way back (the street traffic is insane), I found a supermarket (“Superindo”) and managed to walk through the tropical gardens which are part of the university, dripping mountains and rice paddies all visible from the walkway…</p>
I noticed all the delicate and coarse-featured Muslim girls in hijabs and jeans, or long robes, depending on their degree of adherence to religion, if not dress code. There are girls here whose heads are uncovered — about 20% of Indonesia is Christian, but I’ve seen no intolerance, aggression — nothing, even on the streets, people laugh a lot and seem considerate. although the level of construction and street life reminds me of Taiwan 40 years ago…a lot of ramshackle structures lining every street, boys smoking cigarettes in trucks with doors flung open, a young man in a clean white uniform sitting around a brand-new mini-car at a mall with no one around to be interested…but the students are in a different class, and of course, they seem much happier.
I’m told 8 or 9 years of education is compulsory here…Jakarta is a nightmare compared to Bandung, but all I recollect is a two hour traffic jam as we left the city…very congenial people from the university met me…I’ve sat in on two photojournalism classes so far, and one lecture by two women from an Australian university talking about the plight of migrants transiting through Indonesia with the hopes of settling in Australia to get status as refugees or asylum seekers…many of them persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria…thousands lost in fishing boat accidents. And very inhospitable government reception…but I’ll tell you more about that later…both Indonesia and Australia have been engaging in active public relations campaigns to discourage fishermen from carrying these refugees on their boats; often the fishermen have no idea they’re carrying people seeking asylum; they simply talk to middlemen who pay them a little more than usual to carry passengers…and many of these fishermen, if they’re caught by Australian or Indonesian authorities, are imprisoned…and the boats pushed from Australia waters back to Indonesia…alternately, the Australian government transfers these “boat people” to prison islands or “third countries” almost immediately; apparently thousands are held in off-shore detention centers for incredibly long periods of time…Whatever happened to ‘Give us your tired and huddled masses”?
The world seems like it’s getting more intolerant as time goes on. But here, at least, in this little campus enclave, things seem pretty happy. I had a beautiful walk after “superindo” through campus and discovered gardens, lakes, bougainvillea, waxy croton of reds, yellows, and greens, and birds of paradise growing along walkway and wide cultivated lanes…everything glistening with afternoon rain showers.
More soon on the students and faculty…a very congenial group and we eat together. I’m in a guest house with groups of students very LOUDLY studying and playing around on the floor where I live. I’m trying to coexist with the sugar ants, but the other day a huge palmetto bug tried to hide beneath my bed and that was too much for me..suffice it to say I acted like a big-shoed European and swatted the poor thing to death.
More soon. I’ve met Universitas Padjadjaran students and faculty and we’re going to have some fun with magazine design and photography. One of the girls even asked me to teach a Kempo martial arts class. She wears a hijab. I wonder how the headdress holds up when she throws me on the floor!