Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Apa kabar, ikan bakar?

I just made up this phrase, it's a tongue-twister /slash/ street talk, it means "what's up (what news), grilled fish?"


One of my last fond memories of Bali was a brief conversation with an old man, the owner of a masakan padang joint in Kuta. Kuta ain't my favourite place, too loud, noisy, crowded, full of tourists and shops that cater to them. I was really lucky to find this hole in the wall padang.

I told him that his sayur (veg), sambal (chile) and curry were all really good (very bagus) to which he coolly replied, "oh ya, you know, the whole bali [he gestures with his hands], this place is the number one"


Here's another Indo bite: I was chatting with a taxi driver on the way to Ubud from Denpasar, where the airport is, and he told me he had two boys. "I'm very lucky," he remarked. Although I'm no stranger to the fact that boys are preferred to girls in most societies, I asked him why he said so.

"Mister, if I had money, it would be okay. If I had two girls instead of two boys, I will lose everything," he replied.


Just got to Dili. I'm nervous, I can already tell that Timor is going to be the most difficult place I've worked in and also the assignment where I have the most responsibility thus far.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That island in the sun

Singapore used to style itself as the "garden city", but these days everyone is trying to be just that. Last I heard, Singapore wants to turn that all around, and be a city in a garden. Now that's pretty neat.


My sister's been working for gardens by the bay, a new "concept park" in Singapore, and she's told me a bunch of neat stuff lately. Now, I ain't the biggest fan of this country, but they have actually done quite a few neat things.

They built a very under-publicised water solution which won a big international award, and from what people tell me (the descriptions online aren't great), is indeed a very well designed and effective project. From what I hear, returns water to the ocean cleaner than the water that flows from the ocean in. The green roof on their main building emulates the other high profile green roof in Singapore.

Gardens by the bay looks like a really neat project too: whilst they are building gardens with climates very different from Singapore's tropical weather (mediterranean woodland and cloud forest), the developers are carefully keeping track of every input and output to make sure they make the best use of resources, and carefully designing buildings to carry out functions passively and use minimum external energy.

While the pictured green roof is not as effective as one could be (roofs can grow food and sprout trees and bushes that are much more effective at soaking up carbon than grass. this roof looks like it's pretty high maintenance too), you must admit, it's kind of a sexy building.

High end developments are really not my style, but it's nice to see the whole "green" movement being invested in and held up as something to aspire to, especially in a country I strongly associate with materialism and luxury. And while we might not want a green roof like the one pictured on every building, the first step to getting awesome green roofs on every building is getting people to want them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some things are meant to be

This is how health care should work: I feel bad, I see a(ny) doctor, doctor fixes me, I pay doctor.

This is how health care works in America: I feel bad, I see my "primary care provider" or something like that, p.c.p. fixes me, I pay some pre-determined fraction of the price of the drugs I get, and maybe consultation, the rest is paid by my health care plan that's run by a corporation that handles insurance and pre-paid schemes, which either I or my employer pays a monthly premium to. There's lots of fine print in the middle of all of that. The thisamericanlife episode is highly recommended.

In the light of this whole health care debacle/debate going down in the US right about now, I'd like to mention that I don't think I have any health insurance, not the same kind of insurance as in the American context anyway. I think I might have one for accident or serious illness, but none for medical expenses.

Yesterday, I woke up with a little irritating feeling in my ear, and by the time I went to bed it was so uncomfortable I couldn't sleep. Today, I went to see a doctor, just a regular ol' general practitioner, one I had never seen before.

She was really sharp, well spoken and helpful. She answered all my questions and discussed all the different possibilities for what I could do. It turns out I have an outer ear infection and a fluid buildup in my middle ear.

I paid out of pocket: s$70, about 50 US dollars, for the consultation, a decongestant and an antibiotic. Sure, it would be more amazing if health care in Singapore was free, but I like how in this situation, I have the reassuring feedback where I feel like I am paying reasonably near-cost for the goods and services. Also, nobody can call this (excellent) system socialist either. Not that I'm against socialism, anyway.

Such a low fee! The clinic didn't feel cheap either, it had carpeted floors, glass doors, a leather bench, flowers. This was also the first time I've seen a doctor in a long time, and it was surprisingly pleasant.

I think this is simply a situation where there is efficient health care system which is efficient and competitive (as opposed to bureaucratic and monopolistic), and people face realistic costs and have systems that work.

Footnote: the USA has the highest health care cost in the world, and ranks 43/190 for infant mortality (behind Cuba and Slovenia), 47/190 for life expectancy, and is generally recognised as the lowest quality care among similar countries. In 2005, about half of bankruptcy filings were due to medical expenses.

Information was got from here and here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Them there lies

Have you ever heard a politician say something like ”It is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of doing what is right.” ?

Chances are, you have. And the overwhelmingly high chance is that they are lying. I'm picking on one Republican Senator with this quotation, but promises and assertions like these are part of every politician's rhetoric.

Corresponding with a friend of mine about a recent blog post, I was reminded of a concept I learned in an economics class about state and local government and financing.

It's called the "short time horizon". What it meant in the context that I learnt it was that politicians are motivated by many things "within their time" (funding, publicity, base of support, re-election) when the things we want them to care about are often "outside their time" (legislation, project completion, long term city/state wellbeing, and often, good policy*).

The lesson there was that politicians cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the absolute best interest of the communities and counties they serve, and that legislation must provide ways for them to be accountable for their actions, and overridden if necessary.

*(let's take an undisputably good policy, like ending tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans)

What I realised after some pondering is that all people have short time horizons.

What the afore-linked oktrends article points to, I believe, is simply how we focus on personal gains that are close to us in time and space (because of our mortal limitations) and so make decisions that benefit us now, that are not optimal for the long run (or for society at large). It's pretty elementary psychology and economics.

Indeed, we likely "have less choice than we think we do, about our principles, beliefs and ideologies" -- the things we believe in most strongly. Certainly when it comes to politics anyway.

Perhaps I finally realised that "politicians are people too" or perhaps more cynically that "we are just like them".

Friday, October 15, 2010

blog party!

ha ha? get it?

I've learned so much lately. Back in the day, I spent an hour trying to figure out a way to take my google reader shared page and display it in my blog's sidebar, learning about inline frames and other html trickery, and trying to separate content from everthing else. Finally, I found that little link in the google reader that puts a clip straight into blogger with the click of a button.

I've recently also set up a mirror of my blog on Wordpress, which is, to my current knowledge, far more powerful and flexible than Blogger (this one here!). I'll update both and keep them linked to each other for now, til I decide what to do, but if you follow this blog, consider switching over to Wordpress, I would choose it over Blogger if I had to decide.

My blog on Wordpress and Blogger
Also check out my fancy new "About" page.

Life is different these days. In some ways, I do much more-- in the sense that I do more significant things. In other news, I've found myself with (varying periods of) extra time to think, write, and blog --I've been uncharacteristically prolific these past few weeks. After being introduced to google reader in August, I've filled it up with subscriptions, skimming dozens of articles, posts and blogs for read-and-share-worthiness each day. I feel like it's selling another bit of my soul to google, but it's such a useful tool.

So, with all this extra flux of information and free time (assuming it lasts, as work gets busier), I now usher in an era of hyper-increased blogging. Now complete with a google reader sidebar.

The last part of this is, as I get more comfortable with writing this and more comfortable with the idea that there's a lot of stuff that I want to tell y'all about, I'm promoting this blog more aggressively now (for example, actually telling my friends I have one). It's a little unnerving, but (I firmly believe that) doing (at least one) things that scare me or make me uncomfortable (every day) is good for me, and keeps me on my toes.

So, if you think this is good stuff, tell your friends to read! and maybe comment! or write back to me! and tell their friends!

Stay tuned gentle reader!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is you is or is you ain't?

I had a little blink of insight while thinking about this article:

If a person's socio-economic situation is the biggest determinant of political views, are political outcomes (who gets elected, what laws get passed) due mostly to the social make-up of a country?


If a person's socio-economic considerations dominate their ideals, outlook and perspective with regard to politics, do countries pass laws and elect leaders with people making decisions based more on their situations and less on what actually makes good leaders and good policies?

The answer is likely not "yes" or "no", but it could well be "more than we would like to believe".

Does this also mean that we have less choice than we think we do, about our principles, beliefs and ideologies?

(PS, watch the video, it's good)

A side question: if all this is so, why are Americans not more resistant to irrational rubbish spouted by people like Glenn Beck? Perhaps there needs to be a variable in this equation for gullibility and propaganda.

Being politically conservative is one thing-- the simple opposite of liberalism and no bad thing itself, but conservatives in America (the speakers and their massed followers) are simply ridiculous, and have managed to be offensive, subversive and regressive.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What planet! Is this?

Last weekend, I went with Dani to padang padang beach on the south tip of Bali to climb on some real rocks. The rocks were great: some kind of sandstone worn down by the tides.

The climbing was tough, my hands were completely sore afterwards, like they had been tenderised like a pork chop and then exfoliated with sandpaper. then again my hands are pretty soft (by my standards anyway). My forearms ached so that it was difficult to eat!

Dani demonstrates his incredible strength and flexibility

Dani's Gibbon climbing club is named (in part because there are very few other Gibbon climbing clubs in the world) for a pet gibbon that Dani had when he was working as a forest ranger (?) in Kalimantan. He rescued it from a trap and nursed it back to health, and they got along very well -- one might say they were friends. They lived together, played and hung out together. They have since parted ways when Dani came to Bali to be a climbing instructor.

Dani climbs with about ten times the endurance that I do, traversing a particular wall and coming back. I fell off the wall after the first handful of moves: I didn't even have the strength to rest on the wall. Another point to note is that I haven't talked to as many girls in Bali as I did on that Sunday climbing with Dani.

Girl magnet Dani hanging on the wall

I ate some amazing gado gado at the beach ($0.50), and watched the woman grind peanuts, lime, raw garlic, a chile, and a bit of sugar on a wide, flat mortar. This sauce went over steamed vegetables and sticky rice cake. So good!


I went to a late nite mepantigan practice last week, Putu Witsen had invited some friends from Denpasar who turn out to be Aikido masters.

I found myself standing in a muddy mudfield in the rain that night, under floodlights, watching crazy Aikido men singing Balinese drinking songs while they pranced and danced around. There were sudden bursts of movement as they confronted each other, grappled briefly, and then sent one another flying in spectacular Aikido throws. It was surreal!

The Aikido men taught us some throws...the movements are incredibly complex. It's crazy how irresistible the force of Aikido is: it looks deceptively gently but is very physical indeed. One of the teachers demonstrated the steps of a throw on me that I didn't know, and even though he didn't mean to throw me, the strength and sureness of the move resulted in my being instinctively or inescapably throw to the ground exactly as he intended.

The whole time we were in the mudfield practicing throws, the men were drinking glasses of palm wine (and when I say drinking, I mean they were putting them away in a hurry). I had one or two (sipping slowly, to their amusement). After the mud session, we went back to Putu's charming bamboo shack for noodles and rice, and more palm wine.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

your mother should know

Sometimes, making things feels like bringing a baby into the world. It's really laborious and frustrating, you're all sweaty and grumpy, and then suddenly, you've got this little thing on your hands and you ask yourself, "my god, what have I done!"

This week, at Kopernik

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I like big bikes, I cannot lie

Last weekend, Nenga and I found some nice scrap metal, I headed over to CBS to turn it into a briquetter for the charcoal we made last week. I probably should have took some in-the-process pictures, but my hands were dirty and I was trying to do the thing and be social and... Anyway, here it is, in all it's glory.

Isn't it special? More about it here.

We're really getting along, the CBS folks and I. We laugh and joke, alternately working for a bit and then sitting down for a minute of chitchat. They trusted me to know how to use and not to break their tools -which I didn't- whew! They didn't even try to teach me to do anything, they just assumed I knew how to do it. It looks like I still remember all this stuff-- last time I stick welded was a year ago.

Ketot working on a carburator? carbuerator? carburetor. I asked him how long he's worked on bikes for, he said more than ten years. I asked him if he knew everything about bikes. "Everything? Naw," he said modestly, "but engine, yes."

Pande, I learned from Komang, either means blacksmith or is a blacksmith name. And true enough, he showed me a part that he made by melting down an old aluminium thing and pouring it onto a damaged bike part. This formed a new part of the frame, that he could drill out to make something to replace the old damaged part.

Komang is amazing as usual, and I watched her make prayer offerings from coconut and banana leaves, using long splinters of bamboo as fasteners. She works so incredibly quickly and with such agility and precision, making wonderful 3D shapes from these long, thin leaves. No pictures, unfortunately. You'll have to trust me.

Pande also showed me the upstairs room of the shop, where they've got a small lathe, and a drill press they converted into a small mill by using a movable table.

He showed me these crazy hubless wheels: the rim (with the tyre on it) runs on a track formed by these little wheels that are mounted on these metal disc/rings. The disc is then connected to the bike's fork.

He also showed me this super mega chopper tricycle that he and a friend are building. This thing is off the chain! I think they built this thing from the axle up, bending their own tubes for the frame and everything. Pande says the transmission came from a VW bug.

I'm really happy that I get along with these guys so well after hanging out with them just a little bit. I feel like their wide eyed little cousin. They offered me a taste of some balinese palm wine. It tasted interesting, but was not very strong tasting for how milky white it was.

I really want to communicate with them better: their English is so much better than my Indonesian. I need to get my act together!