Sunday, May 13, 2007

Initial Photographs of Banda Aceh ...

This weekend, we have what I've been told is a relatively rare two-day weekend, giving us time to do errands and (for me) take my first photos of Banda Aceh. On Saturday, Juan Gonzalez moved into a house he rented for the duration of the project. His wife Pam will move over from Las Vegas next month. Our secretaries helped him buy some starter stuff for his house, and I tagged along. Here are the photos:

This is a shot of guest house where we stay. I occupy a big bedroom with attached bathroom in this house. They serve us a simple breakfast of eggs, which I augment with a bowl of Quaker oatmeal that can be bought in a big bag in town. The landlady told me that "God was good to us. Our house was not touched in any way by the tsunami, not even a burned-out light bulb. Our neighbors were not so lucky." She added additional bedrooms to the house and now uses it to house visitors like us. A recent visitor (before I got here) was a personal acquaintance of hers, the former Malaysian prime minister,Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammed.

The house has a pretty impressive interior: a koi (carp) pond and a sitting room is visible when I step outside my room.

Our neighborhood mosque, barely visible from the upstairs of this house, has a gleaming silver dome. It and the other mosques in the area serve as a built-in alarm clock, with the call to prayer blaring out at 5 am every morning through loudspeakers. This mosque's meuzzin has a decent voice, but unfortunately the same can't be said for the others around us. Check out the prayer in the Wikipedia entry for Azaan.

At 7:40 am, one of our project cars shows up to transport the three or four of us that stay in this house. Here's Brad Philips, the project director, getting into the car. Brad's a former Thailand Peace Corps Volunteer. His dad lives in Meadowview Commons in Elk Rapids, MI.

In our temporary office (we move next month to more permanent office space), I sit across from Heni (L) and Shanti (R), typist and filing clerk, respectively. You'll see them again later in this blog.

This is the house that Juan just rented. It's Saturday afternoon, and we're off to hunt for some basics that Juan needs to keep the place going until his wife Pam shows up next month. Many nice houses have been built lately for the expatriate market, accommodating the flood of foreign aid workers and engineers coming into Aceh.

This is the street scene outside the premier department store and supermarket in Banda Aceh. Note the motorcycle-driven rickshaws known as becak (pronounced bey-chak). Years ago, these becaks were driven by bicycles instead of motorcycles.

First, the towels and other linens.

While Juan, Heni and Shanti are puttering around the linens, I check out the household dry goods/hardware section. It's very well stocked.

There are checkout counters on every floor. A cashier and bagger staff this floor's checkout unit.

Our last stop is the grocery store (supermarket) on the ground floor. Also excellently stocked with local and imported goodies.

We locate sugarless jam and sugarless peanut butter! Very important for a low-carb diet. (No, I didn't say low-calorie!)

Heni and Shanti take a break from helping Juan and pose for a photo.

Familiar supermarket checkout scene: cashier-and-bagger teams man the checkout counters. No so different from anywhere else!

We now move on to another area, a more traditional market, to buy more stuff. We drive past the provincial mosque for Aceh, whose formal provincial name is Nanggröe Aceh Darussalam.

We reach a more traditional market area, looking for bed linens. This is the main street outside the alleys that we scoured to find the linens.

There are a lot of fruit vendor stalls along the streets. Note the long papayas typical of SE Asia, unlike our Hawaiian ones that are shaped more like eggplants.

Another fruit vendor, this one selling out of his pickup truck.

This guy is a banana specialist (with a few mangoes thrown in)

Some folks, like this gentleman, come to the market on becak's...

while others, like these young girls, roar through on their motorcycles!

Juan, with Shanti doing the bargaining, found a set of sheets for his bed. This being a traditional market, none of the prices are fixed and you have to bargain for the best price. As a foreigner, you'll probably not get as good a price as a local would. This area got hit by the tsunami pretty badly. Some of the stores upstairs in the buildings are still shuttered --- the owners did not make it during the disaster.

We finished this outing by visiting what has become a tourist attraction... this barge was a municipal electricity generating plant offshore. When the tsunami hit, it was lifted up and deposited on this residential neighborhood (which itself suffered substantial damage).

Another shot of the barge. Note the houses nearby. One of them is an ad-hoc restaurant catering to the tourists who come to gawk at the barge.

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Now it's Sunday. I take some time off from doing GIS homework and decide to walk around the town a bit (at least the parts nearer to my quarters)... I manage to wander into the area where we've been eating dinner the last few days...

I walk past a bunch of guys hanging out at a local coffee shop. They ask me to take their picture, so I do. And here they are!

In this town recovering from the effects of the tsunami, there's a KFC... the economy must be doing well ...

then I run into a Pizza Hut! Could there be more examples of fine US cuisine?

You bet! There was an A&W restaurant in the part of town nearer to our guest house! Hmmm... is this the US idea of disaster relief? (Actually, the US AID is building roads and other solid infrastructure in Aceh ... these fast food places are the Indonesian franchisees of the US brands.)

The local corner news-stand is busy with hangers-on this Sunday afternoon. The news-stand owner and his buddy graciously agree to being photographed.

... as did the parking attendant

I then stumble onto a nice, fancy coffee shop. They serve local coffee (Acehnese !) in press pots and serve sandwiches and western fare. I savor the local coffee. Note the not-so-local baseball cap I was wearing today.

I end today's blog with a photo of a local member of the true Master Race, who's not too pleased at having his nap disturbed...

NEXT: there will be a hiatus between now and the next blog; I am seriously behind in my GIS course, and need to catch up!!! ... Will let you all know when to look!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Through Singapore and Medan to Aceh!

I spent two days in Singapore to get a business visa to enter Indonesia, purchase some computer equipment, meet up with some old (and new friends, and to go to the US Embassy to add blank visa pages to my passport. At left was my home in Singapore: the Copthorne King's Hotel.

The trip to the US Embassy represented a sad sign of the times. Instead of being a relatively friendly building in the middle of town, as it was in the early 1990's, it is now at the edge of town. It is a huge, fortress-like building, huddled for mutual protection (it seems) with its two neighbors, the British and Australian High Commissions (embassies). Submachinegun-total Ghurka guards patrol the outside of the embassies (mainly the British one), and presumably the US marine guards are on the inside, ever watchful for intruders. (Many, many US embassies are like that these days: built for security, not for open-ness.)

Anyway, enough text. Below is a pictorial of my two days in Singapore, and my overnight in Medan, Indonesia, on the way to Aceh.

Early morning traffic outside the King's Hotel. Across the street is the Singapore River, district once full of dinghy warehouses but now transformed into a trendy, yuppie restaurant and entertainment district.

Near the hotel is the Jalan Besar HDB Estate (one of the numerous public housing facilities in which the majority of Singaporeans live).

At the base of the hi-rise buildings are the shops and play facilities for children. Being one of the older facilities, the relatively small Jalan Besar estate is populated predominantly by an older population. Other, mammoth, housing estates are located away from the central business district of Singapore. They are, in themselves, bustling residential and commercial centers.

Grocery stores, butchers, all kinds of businesses, and restaurants line the ground floor level of the housing estate buildings.

A peek inside one of the restaurant areas reveals a food court with numerous indivdual stalls serving up an incredible variety of, in this case, Chinese regional cooking.

Fans of duck and chicken dishes won't be disappointed! ("Aaaflaack! "--- Joe Walker)

Prep work is the same in commercial kitchens everywhere!

This stall's menu board shows a huge variety of potsticker and noodle dishes.

And then I smelled them! DURIANS! The King of Fruits, the Fruit of Kings. Learn more at Durian On-line and at the Wikepedia. The Durian On-line site captures the enthusiasm of real durian fans. It's an acquired taste; once acquired, it will seize you and will not let you go. Yes, I love durians. (My Michigan license plate is Durian.)

As it turns out, the Jalan Besar HDB Housing Estate is right next to what was my office when I worked for a couple of years as construction manager for the Burger King Corp.'s Asia Pacific Office in Singapore. We bought many of our electrical things (transformers, adaptors, etc.) from Mr. Lim and Miss Gu of the small electrial shop near the office. I dropped in for a visit, my first in, oh, 12 years or so. Yes, they remembered me! From them, I bought a bunch of plug adaptors to use in Indonesia. They poured me a cup of coffee and we had a nice visit.

I then proceeded to the Chinatown MRT (subway) station a couple of blocks away.. Singapore has a very nice subway system to take you around.

The interior is nice, clean and spic-n-span. It's usually very crowded during rush hour, but in off-hours, it's very comfortable. It's airconditioned, fast, and, of course, no chewing gum (<--- click on link) !!! I took the MRT to the City Hall stop (after one transfer), and walked to the Funan Centre computer mall. I bought some spare parts and an external hard disk for my laptop to take to Indonesia. This is one of two main computer malls in Singapore. This one is more consumer-oriented, while the other is more hobbyist-oriented.

Then on to one of the fine American dining establishments in the city... to meet up for lunch with a couple of old friends and colleagues from my Burger King Asia Pacific days. (No, we just met here --- didn't eat here!)

Dennis Koh and Joyce Ying worked with me in the Burger King regional office. Dennis was our training manager. He recently left the BK Corp. and is now a free-lance trainer. Joyce is still with BKC and helps franchisees straighten out their supply chain problems. ("Where are those ##@@!!?? whopper patties we ordered from Australia!?!")

After a short nap at the hotel to prepare the more gruelling meet-up at night, SC Leong ("Jaguar" --- front right) and his wife (the only lady in the photo) picked me up for drinks and food with the Singapore crew of the Malsingmaps mapping enthusiasts. (Mrs. Leong is a graduate of Western Michigan U in Kalamazoo!) These folks and their counterparts in Malaysia are all users of Garmin GPS units. Because Garmin had no maps of either country when they started selling their products in Malaysia and Singapore, the Malsingmaps members took matters in their own hands and created the maps themselves, with volunteers sending in tracks and mappers using them to make the maps. The maps are updated fortnightly, and are posted at their website for the Garmin (and now Mapking)-using public. They are an incredible bunch, and I am honored to be associated with them. Go visit their website and look around! If you're a Garmin user, they will be happy to help you if you post a question in the forums there. We went to the BrewWerkz brew pub, and had me a last bit of boutique beer before going off to Banda Aceh!

The next day, after getting my extra passport pages at the fortress that is the US Embassy, I went to Singapore's Changi airport to fly out to Medan, Indonesia. I whiled away the hours at the laptop station with free hi-speed internet. The one next to the coke can is mine.

It was already dark when we got into Medan, Indonesia. But in the morning, from the hotel room, I could see the provincial mosque (see the minaret and the dome), the government buildings with Dutch-style roofs, and the white shopping mall that dwarfs the mosque. The mall has the logo of Sogo, a Japanese department store chain.

This old "Dutch colonial"-style mansion was also visible from my hotel room window.

A quick trip after breakfast to the airport and into the domestic terminal waiting room, sitting around for the Aceh flight to be called. Medan is a major terminal in the island of Sumatra, which is about the size of California.

The Boeing 737 that flew us from Medan to the Indian Ocean side of Sumatra, plopping us down in Banda Aceh.

And waiting there at the Aceh airport was the smiling face of old Peace Corps buddy Juan Gonzalez, who's the deputy director of the project I'm on, and my direct supervisor. I had arrived!