One of the interesting contradictions in my life is how little I research my travel before I set off, despite being a researcher by profession. This trip to Indonesia, which Greg and I had planned as a recce visit to explore collaborations and case sites for a new project, was one of those in which I literally landed up at the airport with a lets-see-how-this-goes attitude. Part of this was related to how much we had riding on this trip work-wise, the nature of the visit was exploratory. We didn’t even have a fixed itinerary- except for the knowing when we arrived in and departed from Jakarta, we were literally making this up as we went along!
Far from being apprehensive, I was enormously excited about this trip. It felt like a true adventure, which would entail seeing a bunch of places I had never imagined going to and a couple that I didn’t even know the existence of! There were a few comforts though. One, Greg speaks Bahasa Indonesia and had spent enough time there to act as guide and interpreter (he did a fantastic job of that!). And I had been to Bali and Surabaya earlier this year (yes, this is my 3rd trip in a span of 3 months!), gained an initial understanding of Indonesian people and had a few reliable contacts there.
My expectations about how much I would be able to “see” on this trip were low from a touristic perspective and because I really enjoy the urban wandering as much, if not more than straight-jacketed tourism experiences, this wasn’t much of a concern.
And so I land up seeing four Indonesian cities and some of its countryside in eleven days. First: Jakarta, the sprawling capital and primary city, where the country’s economic and political power concentrates, where young people dream of living and working, where life is buzzing and traffic is painful. Second: Yogyakarya, fondly called Jogja, city of universities and students, a special region where the Sultan still rules, once laid back and pretty, now seeing new wealth. Third: Kupang, out there in eastern Indonesia, capital of the province of Nusa Tengarra Timor (NTT), a sleepy city with hilly outcrops and stunning beaches. Surrounding by hinterland that is arid and poor. Fourth: Semarang, a large industrial port city in Central Java, a city that celebrates its colonial history even as the part-rural counties around it pulsate with the excitement of promised new industrial investments.
We do this by buying tickets hours before we fly out, sometimes even deciding on the go! We use Whatsapp shamelessly to contact NGOs, academics and government officials wherever we go. We end up working long stretched in cafes, using their free Wi-Fi connections to take Skype calls, write emails, consult collaborators and download data, all for the price of a few cups of coffee! We try budget hotels and budget-budget hotels and laugh at the Spartan decor and not-really-there breakfasts. We meet people who go out of the way to help us (some of them were meeting us for the first time!), giving us their time, inviting us into their homes on weekends, finding us contacts and even accompanying us to difficult meetings. Everything works out and we accomplish nearly everything we had hoped we would, with minimal pre-planning, mostly by being able to take reasonably quick decisions, by keeping our wits around us and by listening carefully to what our Indonesian contacts had to say to us. In my opinion, the Indonesian cultural traits of respect for outsiders, gentleness of manner and inordinate helpfulness were our biggest assets on our trip. And since we weren’t overthinking the trip before we started, I think we got a lot of the ‘pleasant surprise’ factor out of it than if we had had everything perfectly lined up!
Watch out for more posts about our experiences in beautiful Indonesia!
Already published: Crumbling legacy, so much potential: In Jakarta’s Kota Tua
One hears constantly about how digital media is transforming us. How our attention span and even retention is shrinking. How we now use certain parts of our brain far more than other parts that will eventually dwindle away!
Well, I have always had an attention span issue. As a child, I wouldn’t be able to study the same topic for more than say 15 minutes. During my Boards in Class X and XII, I remember resorting to pacing and reading aloud to myself in the wee hours of the night to stay focused. It was never the subject matter, but the ability to sustain focus that was the big challenge.
Which is not to say that I am fickle or uninterested. I wander away and then return to things I consider important. The process of gleaning knowledge is different and I segue into other topics much like you dip into someone else’s food while eating at a communal table, only to return to your own with even more relish!
There is still a problem. The more serious matter sort of sits around for a while before I come to it. In the good old pre-digital days, it was a print out or a bookmarked chapter that sat at the edge of my study table while other relatively frivolous content (magazines, pictures, letters, cards, easier chapters from easier subjects…you get the drift) would occupy centerstage. On my computer screen, Gmail, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter tabs sit there providing the endless tempting and often unimportant snacks while the article I mean to read occupies a corner tab patiently awaiting its turn.
Now all this makes me wonder if my habits have indeed changed with digital media? It’s just the same tendency playing out on the computer screen, right?
I am also thinking that there is a certain merit in cultivating and sharpening this ability to segue, absorb other seemingly trivial inputs and then returning to consume more serious content (which you must, and give it adequate time and attention too!). Perhaps this dipping and returning adds more dimensions to your understanding and allows you to have a more enriched perspective, which then feeds into your output. Perhaps instead of constantly berating the digital age and shouting out dire warnings, we may just need to adapt a bit?
Experts tell us that many of today’s urban problems are related to the lack of connections between people and their workplaces. That makes me wonder at the relationship between reactive planning and planning for the future. In India, cities are constantly playing catch up in terms of the planning process. This is so ingrained that even new urban centres make little effort to plan ahead, assuming that corrective action can always be taken.
It surprises me that employers make the choice to locate in areas that are inaccessible. By public transport at least. In Gurgaon, certainly, employers were lured by better quality and relatively affordable commercial office space, but I doubt they exerted adequate pressure on the developers and the government to deliver on access and public transport. The dependence on automobiles, largely personal cars, is unquestioned. Not much is being said about the loss of productivity as a result of ridiculously long and stressful commutes to work. Not to mention the cascading effect on the lives of employees in terms of less family and leisure time, etc. People end up feeling ‘disconnected’ in many ways, not just in terms of access between home and work.
Does this mean cities should not permit the development of office space except along planned transit routes? In today’s urban scenario in India, this is nearly impossible. Developers will respond to the growing demand for space and governments will play catch up for many more years. But it is possible perhaps for new urban extensions to plan transit for the next couple of decades so that future development configures itself around it. This is happening to an extent in the case of the Delhi Metro. Transit oriented development is a sane choice for future and Indian cities must introspect and make it happen. In the interests of sustainability, resource management and sanity!
So the office day began with a serious introspection into why we (which could mean architects, the office people specifically, Indians or the world in general) work through the night till 6AM in the morning whenever we have a project deadline! Marco, Founder mHS and holder of the marker was positioned in front of the white board, with all of us listening to him in rapt attention. “For once,” he says, “I’d like to leave office at 6PM the day before the deadline!”
So why exactly do we push ourselves dead to meet (and sometimes overshoot) deadlines? A number of reasons come to mind.
First, the projects we work on have completely unrealistic deadlines. Ridiculously, these are sometimes set by us and not by the clients or the boss, so we have noone to blame but us. Its great fun when you can blame the ‘other’ though!
Second, we try to do an exceedingly excellent job and spend far too much time on the details, completely losing sight of the whole. When we do get to the wrapping up bit, we realize everything is falling apart and we are left with many excellent parts that refuse to come together. By this time, we don’t have enough time to make that mammoth effort of pulling it all together!
Third, we just don’t love the work at hand enough, or the ideas are simply eluding us. We indulge in the sheer pleasure of whiling away our time with a deadline sitting on our head (to borrow from the Hindi phrase ‘sar par baitha hai!’). Its called procrastination and the guilty pleasure is fun while it lasts and turns to panic the night before the deadline!
In most cases, however, none of the above are true. Most of us lead crazy lives with multiple activities and responsibilities. We are singularly ill equipped to plan our schedules in a sensible manner. We expect too much of ourselves, we’re scared to say ‘no’ to superfluous work and we don’t respect ourselves enough to draw the line when the mind no longer works and the head throbs! It’s all fair in the name of personal development, career growth and ambition; all of which would be right on track if we were able to crack the right process to meet the deadline in the first place!