Indonesia Through My Eyes: Introduction

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I’m officially a transplant in Indonesia now. I can’t believe it’s been a month. It’s the longest I’ve ever been in this country. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming and realize that I’m not in LA anymore. It’s not everyday you uproot your life to move to another country to follow your passion. So, I’ve decided to create a series to document my journey in my parents’ homeland. Not only will it serve as a way for me to record my adventures, but I hope friends and readers will get to see Indonesia through my lens.

Setting foot 

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I broke my finger before I left LA in a basketball tournament. My parents were concerned for my well-being, as they should be, but I was insistent upon leaving as soon as possible. Being a very driven individual, I didn’t want my injury to stop me. However, it was only when I got on the plane to Korea that I realize it was going to be rather difficult having my hand in a cast. Lifting my bag into the overhead compartment, acting quickly to disrobe for the TSA , etc. posed some challenges. I just sucked it up throughout the trip.

I reached Jakarta passed midnight. I went through immigration with no problem. It was here where I found my injury to be a great icebreaker as the immigration officer was intrigued by it and we talked about it while he processed my entry. My cousin and nephew picked me up and the Jakarta I remembered came back to me: hot, humid and polluted.

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Despite the notorious reputation of unhygienic conditions at street food stands and warungs (mom & pop shops), I ignored my family’s warnings. We got some late night food on the way to my aunt’s house. My cousin drove us to get bubur ayam (chicken porridge) at Bubur Ayam Sukabumi.  After all, I’m a firm believer in supporting local businesses as well as food from these establishments represents the real Indonesian cuisine. The stomach aches and possibility of contracting food poisoning are worth the gamble.

While we exchanged words with each other and caught up with events since my last trip to Indonesia 4 years ago, I witnessed the Jakarta that some people talked about: privileged folks bossing around employees at the warung like second class citizens. I felt very uneasy sitting across from them. I could empathize with the workers because before I came to Indonesia, I worked at a cafe as a busboy and would never want to be given such treatment. It was late, so there’s a possibility, too, alcohol and other libations may have been a factor.

The next day I woke up to my aunt’s perfect breakfast – tofu, tempe, veggies, eggs and rice. Seriously, simple Indonesian food like this is what I appreciate and dreamed of when I first embarked on my journey.

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My aunt is the widow of my dad’s oldest brother. She is deaf but what she lacks in hearing is made up with her big heart. No matter how far apart we were and how long time has separated us, she never showed me any less love.

My family is still somewhat traditional. So, during my first few days, I practiced a traditional Indonesian custom of sowan, where I visit elder family members to let them know I am in their presence and ask for their blessings. It is a way for paying my respects being the youngest grandchild in my dad’s side of the family. It was during this time I realized Jakarta’s terrible condition. The infrastructure, poverty and cleanliness are worse than what I read in the news.

Initial Culture Shocks

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One of the reasons why I studied city planning was to help infrastructure issues in Indonesia. We talk about the pictures of children crossing treacherous bridges in outlying areas in Indonesia. Yet, we forget that even in the the capital city there are problems,too. I’m not saying the rural areas shouldn’t be helped as they do need support from the government asap. Though, how can we help those far away when issues within the immediate area where the country officials reside in aren’t addressed? Forget the smell, how can kids avoid falling into unstable or missing sidewalks that may have steel rebars and other dangerous construction hazards waiting underneath?  I’ve compiled my initial shocks which I’ve experienced, thus far, in my first several weeks and by no means is it a complete list.

Smoking & Trash

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These two are my biggest pet peeves. I have managed to contract asthma somehow in my early 20s. So most type of smoke aren’t good for my lungs. Because I love to support local coffee shops back home (check out Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley), my cousin and friends have introduced me to some spots in the neighborhood. Upon sitting at these establishments, the sight of people smoking indoor is such a distasteful sight. It makes me want to tell them to stop because of my condition. But smoking indoor is still allowed and telling them to stop can possibly offend them. Honestly I’m not sure what I can do to prevent my respiratory cells from deteriorating. While this is happening, I find it scarier that from several folks I met on the street that smoking ads are just scare tactics. In fact smoking does not kill according to them. One said that smoking may further hurt someone if they are already sick but the smoking itself is not bad. Being a non-smoker, I feel like I’m the one in the straitjacket.

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My heart breaks when I see people throw trash wherever they please. Indonesia is such a beautiful country with its abundant natural assets. The waste just contaminates this allure. Unfortunately, the infrastructure does not support it either, so attempting to change people’s behavior is a monumental task. There are folks who benefit from the this rubbish but it’s not like all of it will be picked up. Only the bottles and recyclable materials will be taken. As for plastic bags, ziplocs and wrappers, they will just lay among the sumptuous banana groves and already sad riverbanks. I was fortunate enough to walk in solidarity with the laborers of Java on May Day. While it was great to march with these folks to advocate for labor rights, my attention was slowly being distracted by the sound not of their cheers but their feet kicking bottles on the ground. It was amazing that after the walk, the streets were clean. Still, what if the cleaners or opportunists weren’t there? What happens then?

Water

Whenever I go out to eat back home, a majority of the time I just drink the water served at the table. I know it’s from the tap and maybe it’s not as clean as the bottled ones, but hey it tastes good to me. Plus, I find it more quenching and wallet-friendly than anything else (aside from coconut water). Arriving here, I realized that asking for water (aka Aqua for the brand by Danone) comes in a bottle. Only one time was I served water straight and that was at a restaurant I have come to like in Bintaro called Burgreens.

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I understand that water in general in Indonesian is not clean but I really wonder if the tap water is safe to drink? It’s just hard to believe that ordering tea or something else can be cheaper than water. It will take time to adjust but maybe I should look into it or ask the managers why they don’t serve water from the tap.

Conclusion

Jakarta isn’t like any other city I have ever lived in. Everywhere I have moved previously was still in California, so the culture was still the same. Thankfully, I moved during the presidential election, thus it will give me insight on that aspect of the culture. Transportation is a bit difficult since there isn’t really a place to look up for public transit information. It’s all by asking friends, family and those on the street. Maybe in the next post I’ll get into it more. I’m still trying to figure out how to best document my experience. We’ll see what adventures I share next.

Crowdfunding: Chasing my passion

Help me start my journey!

Help me start my journey!

 

I’m finally moving to Indonesia and currently seeking support for my relocation costs. My ongoing crowdfunding campaign started great, but I am still short of my goal. Although it’s been shared through my social media outlets, it’s possible some folks are not fully grasping my plan or need more info. So, I decided to make a blog post about my campaign and share briefly what crowdfunding is!

My cause, my story in short

Last January, I finished my research internship assisting a graduate student’s project on Indonesia. Now I am focusing on understanding and learning from underprivileged communities and kids in Indonesia about their daily struggles. As an International Development Studies major at Berkeley, I was exposed to concepts and strategies used to improve less-developed nations’ welfare like Indonesia’s. I also became interested in poverty in Jakarta and what kind of access people have to fresh produce and healthy foods in the slums. Naturally, I developed a drive to want to find ways to empower these people’s lives. Some people call it humanitarian work, I call it my passion.

Someday I want to collaborate with local Indonesian leaders and organizers in devising strategies to mitigate urban poverty and food access issues plaguing Jakarta and the country at-large.  I am inexperienced at the moment as a fresh college graduate, but I have the motivation. Understanding this, I need to collect skills and experience from the field to build upon my education. This way I’d have a strong foundation and confidence to approach any situation thrown at me.

Like all projects and endeavors, steps need to be taken to be effective. The first phase is to work in Indonesia. This way I can immerse myself in the community and meet the locals to gain insight on the current social-economic, political climate of the country. Next, I intend to use this knowledge to develop a research proposal for graduate school, where I hope to gain community development skills in addition to conducting my own research on Indonesia. Upon finishing graduate school, I plan to utilize the specialized knowledge on community development I’ve gained in dedicating my life in working in Indonesia, specifically on urban poverty and food access issues.

There isn’t a concrete career track for my field of study, so I have to blaze my own path. Road blocks will be inevitable. But I’m won’t be deterred, because I am not afraid to ask for help. With my friends, family and strangers’ support, I hope to be able to start step one of my plan and begin my journey.

My Luck

Despite my enthusiasm to just pack up and leave, money and luck have always been the issues.

  • In my last semester at Berkeley, I applied to a prestigious summer fellowship to Indonesia at the recommendation of many of my professors, but strangely it was cancelled due to a lack of applicants.
  • During my mentor-ship, I couldn’t secure any travel funding mostly because my applications weren’t selected or was unqualified. Few grants/fellowships are offered to recent graduates as many, if not all, are available to only undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs.
  • I tried to apply to jobs here in the US hoping to save money to go to Indonesia. I sent out close to a hundred job applications but heard very few back. The ones that did call back, I didn’t pass the interview rounds. At many times, I felt disappointed on getting rejected. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. A Reuters article I read said that “recent college graduates in the United States face a more challenging job market, causing them to remain unemployed or take lower paying jobs than their counterparts in the past two decades, an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has found.”

I stayed resilient. This time, I tried to find work in Indonesia hoping someone would hire a fresh grad from California interested in the non-profit, environmental, and public sectors. For two months, I was up around the clock sending out my resume and cover letters to companies, Linkedin connections and people in my network.

Again, I ran into roadblocks: “look at the job board” (which I already have), “sorry there isn’t anything open”, “we only hire Indonesian nationals only”, etc. But most of the time my emails met with silence, even after a few persistent follow ups. As for the few connections that actually responded, the contact person only wanted to talk to me when I am in Indonesia. Although my luck seemed to be finally shifting, money was still a problem.

Being optimistic for a potential opportunity to Indonesia, I took a cafe job as a night shift dishwasher to save up. I barely made 20 hours a week but I knew every dollar counts. Hoping to work there long enough to have a sizable travel fund, a prospective employer contacted me and would be interested in hiring me. By this time, I had only managed to save enough for a plane ticket. People who have gone to Indonesia know how expensive tickets can get, so when you add relocation fees (work permit, visa, living expenses, local travel expenses,etc.), it just becomes astronomical, especially for someone who has college loans to pay. My parents had enough things to worry to ask for their help. I also swore not to take out another loan until my student loans were repaid. I didn’t want to let this opportunity to pass so I thought I try out crowdfunding.

What is Crowdfunding?

For those unfamiliar with this concept, crowdfunding is a fundraising strategy that takes donation collecting to another level by not having to worry about capital investment. Traditional fundraisers like holding bake sales or car washes have a limitation. For those, you need money to make money. You can’t sell your baked goods or wash cars before buying the ingredients or washing materials. How do you buy these things when you don’t even have money for your cause?

The New York Times has found that plenty of people are often in this predicament, but there is a solution. They wrote, “Many of us have ideas… hatched while staring out the window or doodling on a cocktail napkin. And that’s where the dream ends, stunted by a lack of capital, credibility and confidence. Not anymore. Online crowdfunding is helping… big ideas become reality.”

I got exposed to Indiegogo, Kickstarter and GoFundMe as a member of the Berkeley Phi Beta Lambda National Business Organization. Crowdfunding was introduced to me during an entrepreneurial workshop as a potential method to assist a burgeoning enterprise get off the ground to develop their products and business model before seeking larger monetary backing. Back then, It never crossed my mind that crowdfunding can be utilized for personal causes.

Recently, though, thousands of people have started to use crowdfunding platforms to gain support for personal endeavors: medical treatment, educational opportunities, funeral expenses, etc. Even researchers are using it to help get their projects off the ground. Seeing how crowdfunding has been able to change many people’s lives, I took my cause to GoFundMe hoping people would support me.

College Grad Unemployment in America

US News has said, “The number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs is nearly 71 percent higher than it was a decade ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest figures.” Additionally, the New York Daily News mentioned, “More than 40 percent of recent U.S. college graduates are underemployed or need more training to get on a career track…”

The situation is real. Like many of my peers, I have fallen into all of the categories: underemployed, unemployed and needing more training or “experience” to get on my career track. If you don’t know what underemployed means, it is basically when you work at a job you are overqualified. I was overqualified when I worked as a dishwasher/busboy at a cafe in Berkeley. You don’t need a Bachelor’s degree to work the back of a cafe. That’s the reality of the current job market, and I’m not alone.

Although I served as an assistant for a grad student, I was basically unemployed as I had no income coming in prior to working at the cafe. My mom helped me out through this time as the small savings I had from my financial aid in my final semester of college dried up. Before I got the job at the cafe, I couldn’t apply for even a waiting or barista position because most required prior experience, which I didn’t have. I was shocked at this.

This “Catch 22” is an unfortunate phenomenon current job seekers fall victim in today’s job market. Most of the job postings I have encountered, including entry-level positions, seek candidates to have a certain amount of work experience to qualify. How can someone get work experience without a job? An internship is an example for a person to get that experience in their field. But, very few internships are paid, and I know the non-profit, public sector ones are mostly unpaid. If someone has loan payments, they may opt in applying for a service job instead. If they are lucky, they can get both an internship and a low wage job. For those that aren’t, they may end up part of the rising number of individuals defaulting on their loans and the staggering statistics found in the articles I shared above.

Not long ago, acquiring a Bachelor’s degree was still the key for individuals to achieve a prospective life.  Unfortunately, today, being college educated is the norm and you can’t rely just on your degree to get hired. But what is even frightening, folks with Master’s and PhD degrees can suffer, too. NPR wrote, “The number of people with graduate degrees — master’s degrees and doctorates — who have had to apply for food stamps, unemployment or other assistance more than tripled between 2007 and 2010, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.” The fact of the matter is, following this recession, employment in America for recent grads is harder than ever, no matter where you went to school.

Having been bred by UC Berkeley, where innovation and entrepreneurship are hot topics among my peers, I’m not ready to completely let my career path be determined by forces I can’t control. I was taught  to be resourceful and think outside the box. Adversity should also never get the better of me. I see crowdfunding as an opportunity to reach my goal, so I took advantage of it hoping it will be the boost I need.

So, if anyone who has read this post and has been moved in some way to help me, please check out my page and donate if you can. Even the smallest of donations go a long way.