Travel Theme: Names

Chicago, train 027

Downtown Chicago


Not backwards, that’s the name in Jinan, China


Café, Pekanbaru, Indonesia

In response to Ailsa’s prompt this week, I’m sharing photos with names.

What does Names make you think of? If you fancy exploring the unfamiliar, exotic and unknown for this week’s travel theme (everyone’s welcome!) here’s what to do:

  1. Create your own post and title it Travel Theme: Names
  2. Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  3. Watch out for the next travel theme which will come out next weekend
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    ❤ Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack?

SIEC 2017


SIEC stands for Summer Intensive English Course and it’s the second time I’ve led one of the sessions in Indonesia. This year I went with my friend and former colleague, Helene. Helene taught writing for publication while I taught presentation skills. I dread giving presentations so this was a challenge, but I found some great materials and my students, all working instructors, worked hard and in our final day presented their research in a mini-conference.

I was honored to work with these kind, hospitable people. They quickly formed a supportive learning community and were so kind and helpful in the feedback they gave each other.

On the weekends they took us sightseeing and at the end they showered us with gifts and kind words.

I so admire the dedication and effort they’re putting into making Indonesia more of a part of the academic world.

Pekanbaru, Traditional Market


Car-Free Day


My colleagues

In Pekanbaru, Indonesia on Sunday from early morning till around 10 am, the city closes down one of the busy boulevards for “Car-Free” Day when people gather to walk without having to compete for space with cars. Up and down the street, vendors sell snacks, drinks, clothes, toys, baby chicks and whatnot. There’s a spirit of joie de vivre.

Last Day

I can’t believe it’s the last day of my three week workshop in Pekanbaru, Indonesia. We had a mini-conference in which the participants all gave 10 minute presentations, Tara and I gave plenary speeches, which we were tentative about doing, but gosh, everyone’s so nice here so how do you say no? A teacher, who’d just returned from two years with the Fulbright program in Michigan where he earned his Masters at Michigan Central University, gave a presentation on that program.

Tara and I had been given local dresses and batik dresses to wear the day before. We also were asked to wear — you guessed it — headscarves so we did in the morning. Later it was just too hot to do so. The big wigs had all gone so it was okay. Evidently, the school is debating whether internationals guests should be required to wear headscarves.

After the event we had a lot of pictures taken and were presented with more gifts — fruit and a huge box of snacks.

Then we were invited to go to a crafts exposition. Tara needed to pack since tomorrow we’re getting taken on a day trip to a waterfall and a temple and Sunday she leaves super early. I figured why not.

Two teachers took me to the new exposition center which is a showplace. It’s got marble and gold plating. We got there a bit late, after 8 pm when most kiosks were shut and shutting down. However, there were some interesting crafts to see from all over Indonesia. I didn’t expect to buy anything, but there was a cool short sleeve dress with batik insets that I got for $13!

Any, a teacher, had brought her sister, who was hungry so  Aleph, the other teacher suggested we go to this rustic coffee shop where artists and actors hang out. It’s beside a striking theater with a majestic traditional design (photos to follow when I get home). We had a lemon ginger drink and shared French fries. Aleph knows everyone in town. So he was friends with the guard from the teacher complex, who let us in the closed building too see an exhibit of paintings. Before leaving an actor we met asked me to do a short video (just on a phone) to draw the tourists to Pekanbaru. I raved about the people and the mosques and tried to repeat “Come to Riau” in a local dialect. (In addition to Bahasa Indonesia there are dozens of local languages in Indonesia.)

I’ve gotten used to surprises in Pekanbaru and wonder what tomorrow’s excursion will bring.

Hot Yoga?

On Monday Tara and I went to a yoga class down the street. Tara, who’s a big yoga practitioner and even does Acro-Yoga, had gone on the first Friday we were here.  Then she said the room was quite hot and the teacher was something of a task master, so I had no interest in a Friday class. However, she’d been told that the Monday teacher spoke better English so I figured I try this Monday.

“Hot” was an understatement. While this wasn’t called “Hot Yoga,” the teacher immediately shut all the windows in the fan-less room with no air conditioning. She was cheerful in her greeting and when we started there were 4 students. Later the class number doubled. In the next room loud rock music blared.

The start was fine, but soon I realized that the cycle of downward dog – cobra – warrior pose would just repeat more or less for an hour. Soon I was drenched in sweat and having no fun at all. I thought of just leaving and after 35 or 40 minutes I just stopped and sat with my legs crossed.

I rejoined the participants at the end for the “relaxation” when the quiet New Age music was drowned out by the rock.

A Long Day and a Good One

Week Two and we’ve started with two very different days. On Monday after lunch Tara and I had a surprising day. We knew that we’d have a different day as we’d been told that everyone would go to the main campus across town for a ceremony with the Rektor and Vice Rektor i.e. the university president and vice president. I’d hoped we’d have an earlier day than usual, but knew that there was no telling.

I was impressed by the large campus with stunning architecture. While the grounds were stark they, buildings were colorful and for me exotic.

As is not unusual, it took awhile for people to assemble, which is common for Indonesia. The ceremony was supposed to start at two and at 2:20 I wasn’t sure when we’d start. Then a woman holding two headscarves approached Tara and I. She asked if we’d wear headscarves so that “everyone could look the same.” I didn’t have much time to really think about it before we were whisked into a side room to put on headscarves. When we went to the big mosque on Saturday, we had to put on headscarves and take off our shoew, which I gladly complied with as it was a way of respecting a religion. Now I was caught off guard and not sure how to decline. This was just a meeting and some women in Indonesia don’t wear headscarves. This group did, but they also want to become an internationals school with students from abroad and the lecturers want to go to America to study. They’ll have to be around women without headscarves. Anyway, we went along and as soon as we put on the scarves, the woman who gave them to us told us we looked beautiful. It seemed awkward to be told that now that we had scarves on we were beautiful. I’m not sure what to make of that. Some of the folks on the planning committee were apologetic and I think embarrassed about this last minute headscarf thing. People have been so hospitable and gracious, but there still are some awkward moments.

Eventually the meeting started. First the head of the organizational committee spoke, explaining its goals (i.e. to prepare young lecturers to speak in international settings like conferences and to enable them to write for academic publication. It’s a loft goal since a lot of my students can’t write an outline let alone a solid paper. Also the Vice Rektor stated that within about 10 years the government wants all lecturers, not just assistant professors to have PhDs. Now 30% do. To top that off, this university wants to be in the top 500 universities in the world by 2030, which considering that the library doesn’t subscribe to many databases or have a collection of books needed to do the research needed to get highly ranked means it’s sort of a Don Quixote impossible dream.

We’ve got three weeks to teach or perhaps explain the main skills needed to write an article that would be published in an international journal. (I say explain because to me “teach” implies that at least half of the students can do at least a so so version of the taught skill. Here I think a lot will just be able to talk about it and will need more practice before they can apply what’s been taught.

The Head of the Language Center spoke and I was surprised how much of his talk was administrivia (e.g. we reserved the hotel for the teachers on July 16th, I’ll fill out the forms for their stipends on Tuesday, and things of that ilk, which we’d just handle through email or less formal meetings).

So all the department leaders, Tara and I and two students all spoke. One student included a lot of religion in his speech, which I doubt would have been included in a similar speech at a Christian university.

So the meeting finally ended and then people took a lot of photos before finally leaving.

We’d driven with an administrator named Fuzan and a lecturer and were going to return with him. But a very bright outgoing student offered to drive us to the hotel. Fuzan politely, but firmly said he would because he’d been assigned to. We thought we’d just go with whomever was less inconvenienced. There was quite a lot of back and forth and finally the program director intervened and had us go with the outgoing student. OK. Maybe he lives closer to our hotel.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Cherry on Top


Quite literal – Ever have terong belanda juice?

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other themed photos:

Pekanbaru, Indonesia

I agreed to teach a group of Indonesian teachers for three weeks through a program associated with Ohio State University, which is part of a consortium of universities that offer scholarships to Indonesian students so they can study in the U.S. The problem has been that many scholarships go unused because the Indonesian students lack the English proficiency to get accepted.

So after a three day (yes three days) journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, to Tokyo, to Singapore, to Jakarta, I arrived in Pekanbaru. Flying Singapore Air made all the difference. They offer such gracious, thoughtful service: hot towels, good food with lots of choices for special meals, lots of drink choices, cleaner bathrooms. I could check two bags for free.

I’m working with another teacher, Tara, who’s completing her doctorate and has been a conscientious, kind companion whom I’m enjoying getting to know. We’re at Pesonna Hotel, a new nice, clean mid-range hotel, just 10 minutes from school. The staff is taking extra good care of us trying to offer plenty of vegetarian dishes for Tara and going out of their way to ask us what services we might need.

The teaching schedule and goals of the program are challenging. In three weeks, I’m to get my students to write a 3-5 page article for publication and Tara’s to get her students to make a conference presentation on that topic. We’ve got students for 4.5 hours a day. and the students have an extra hour in the morning and in the afternoon with co-instructors who reinforce what we’ve taught or give students time to do homework.

Our students are young instructors or graduate students. One class consists of English Language teachers and the other has an assortment of fields including IT, economics, Islamic accounting, animal husbandry, banking, dentistry and public health. Some students in the mixed class have very low English so I’m not sure why they don’t take a regular English class to up their basic skills, but that’s how it goes in Asia.

The students have been pleasant and eager. Teaching adults should be easier than kids and while the levels may not be what I’d suggest, no one’s been forced to take this class, which makes a world of difference.


Indonesia: The Lost Photos

High School in Makassar

Today I spent a fair amount of time trying to find my Indonesia photos. I’m creating a hypothetical photography collection as part of a group project for my Library Science class. We have to do a web report and it’s fitting to upload some photos by our hypothetical Indonesian Vivian Maier.

I can remember certain photos and I’m hunting for them on Flickr or Shutterfly believing that those shots were safe back in 2010 when my account was hacked into.

Public transportation

Turns out most are gone. At least a thousand pictures of my Indonesian hometown and the places I visited are all gone. Now Indonesia was a tough posting and not one I’m itching to return to so getting more photos is not easy. Oh, and yeah it would cost an arm and a leg to fly there.

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