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Borneo Day 5: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Country lane near school

The country road leading to SMAN 1 Mandastana.

On our second day at SMAN 1 Mandastana, I was faced with a bit of a challenge. During my presentation yesterday on my school (American Academy of Innovation) I showed slides of my students doing chemistry demonstrations, including the well-known flame test demo, where nichrome wires are dipping into solutions of potassium, lithium, sodium, calcium, barium, strontium, and copper salts, then heated in a Bunsen burner flame. These elements have fairly simple quantum structures (one or two electrons in an outer shell) and emit very definite colors. As the electrons are heated up, they absorb energy from the flame and jump to specific higher quantum levels. They then emit the same wavelengths of light as they fall back down to their ground states.

Doing flame test lab

Doing the flame test lab with chemistry students at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin in Southern Borneo.

The students asked, through Nazar, if they could do the same lab. My response was, “I don’t know – let’s look and see what you have and maybe we can.” I didn’t want to commit the chemistry teacher to do a lab, but she seemed willing, so we looked through her supply of chemicals after the class and found cupric sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and barium sulfate. No lithium or strontium, which give off the best colors, but at least these four will work. Then we looked at her equipment. She has a lab assistant, and we unlocked the cabinets in her storage room. They have one nichrome wire, alcohol burners, and a good supply of beakers. So we could make this work.

So this morning I went to the chemistry classroom first thing, about 45 minutes before the students were to come in. The teacher got out the chemicals, and I discovered something interesting: none of the chemicals had been opened, not even the sodium chloride. The equipment also appeared to be unused – not brand new, as the storage cabinet had some dust on it, but sitting there for I don’t know how long. No stains on the beakers, and the alcohol burners had never been lit. We had to scrounge around to find a cigarette lighter. At least the container of alcohol for the burners appeared to have been used – about 1/3 of it was gone.

Flame test 2

David Black helping students with the flame test lab at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin in Southern Kalimantan.

Now I know this is not the norm throughout Indonesia, as I had seen the Assistant Principal at the elementary school we visited do the Priestley Experiment, the chemistry equipment at the SMAN 8 Jakarta school was well-used, and I found out later that other teachers saw science experiments being done at their host schools. So I don’t know why the equipment and chemicals have not been used here. The teacher certainly knows her stuff, as I saw from the class the previous day when the students were taking notes on mole fractions. And she is very willing to do this lab. So it seems to me that she either hasn’t had the training/professional development of how to conduct labs and use her equipment or she is unwilling to use up her supplies.

It also appears to me that the chemicals and supplies were part of a package provided by the central government, with a set list of materials. As chemistry classes go, she was fairly well supplied, but the chemicals were stored inside the fume hood as well as underneath, and the hood looked as if it might not function or be hooked up properly. The school is 20 years old and all the sinks in the chemistry lab were rusted out and nonfunctional, so that I had to get water for my solutions from a container on the counter. It was not possible for me to inquire further to see if this condition is general throughout Kalimantan Selatan or other provinces, but I guess that this might be a common problem in rural schools in Indonesia. After all, it is a common enough problem in the United States. Many teachers in both countries do not do the types of inquiry labs that students need to understand the practical side of chemistry.

David with chemistry teachers

David Black posing with the chemistry teachers (left) and English teachers (right) of SMAN 1 Mandastana. I really need to get my name tag straightened out . . .

Once I had the solutions made, I lit an alcohol lamp and saw that its flame was orange, not the blue I’m used to in Bunsen burners or with methanol. But with repeated dipping and heating, the colors were visible except for the barium, which is always the hardest one to see. We were able to find or make five wires, and divided the students into five groups. They traded off the four solutions. I told them what the five chemicals were and what colors to expect. I found that most of the elements are named the same in Bahasa Indonesia, except that the ones with Latin symbols are also pronounced with their Latin names. For example, sodium is called natrium in Indonesia and potassium is kalium. The only chemical I had to learn was copper, which is common enough that an Indonesian word exists for it: tembago. I labeled the solutions A, B, C, and D and told the students that they would have to observe the colors in the flame, then make their best guess as to which chemical each solution was. It took some doing and many dips. The copper kept contaminating the results for subsequent chemicals, but the potassium was good and the sodium simply made the orange flame oranger.

Flame test lab

Students in the chemistry class at SMAN 1 Mandastana conducting a flame test lab. I had to improvise for materials and chemicals, but the lab turned our fairly well. It was a true challenge in global education!

When we finished, I had the students shout out which solution they thought each was, and they got it right. I understood the names of the elements in Bahasa Indonesia by this time, so I didn’t need as much translation. Barium had to be guessed by a process of elimination. Given the challenges of the materials and the alcohol lamps, which simply didn’t get hot enough to really see the colors well, this lab turned out quite well. I will never forget this experience of teaching a science lab in a foreign language using scrounged materials.

As I observed the chemistry teacher the day before, and as I taught this class, I was struck by how impossible this would have been if this had been any subject except science. Yes, Nazar helped translate, but I was able to use Indonesian words for the elements and explain a few things where he didn’t know the words, since he is an English teacher and not a science teacher. Where Nazar couldn’t translate and I didn’t know how to explain, the chemistry teacher and her assistant were able to. Science is truly a universal language, but I have never put it to the test like this before. I was even able to do some explanation of quantum leaps and color emission, which the students seemed to understand. I don’t know if they have studied this before, but I saw comprehension on their faces despite some fumbling with the translations, more so than I usually see in American students’ faces.

Flame test

Looking for the blue flame of copper (tembago) sulfate.

Nazar said we could treat him to American food today, so we drove back to the city. We passed a large mosque at a roundabout that we had stopped at on Sunday in order to say prayers and use the restroom, but now there was a protest going on in front of the mosque in the traffic circle itself. The signs said this was a protest in favor of Palestinians in Israel. We didn’t stop, as we had been told not to get to close to protests as the mood of the crowd can turn ugly fast. This protest seemed pretty peaceful, with a few banners and people chanting but nothing else.

PE class with Nazar and Craig

Before the chemistry class, we went out with some of the students during their PE class to visit the junior high school next door and to see the area. Notice that the students are walking (and running) on a rough road surface in bare feet. The girls wear PE hijabs which seem very hot to me to wear in this heat.

We found a Kentucky Fried Chicken place near the Duta Mall in Banjarmasin. It was fairly standard KFC, except for the steamed rice they served. You can’t get away from that. But I think I’ve had about enough fried chicken for a while. I was running short of money, so we found a currency exchange place not far from the hotel and I exchanged the rest of my U.S. dollars (about $60) into rupiah, which was quite a pile.

Interesting name for a store

We passed this store on our way to the school, and I got a photo of it this morning. It is the old logo of my college alma mater, a strange thing to see in Borneo.

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Borneo Day 4: Monday, July 24, 2017

Craig teaching class

Craig Hendrick teaching a class at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

Craig and I had taught for about three hours this morning, sharing details about our schools and home states with the English classes at SMAN 1 in Mandastana. We were grateful for the chance to rest and cool off a little in the faculty room, which has fans blowing. Nazar had some work to do, so we had some sealed plastic cups of water (which are popular here) and some green cakes and talked about how the day went.

Fish on ice

Lunch on ice!

Even though school wasn’t yet over, Nazar told us that he was on special assignment with us this week and didn’t have to teach his afternoon classes. We loaded into his car as the students went to noontime prayers in the school mosque and to lunch, and he drove us to find lunch ourselves. We stopped at a green building just off the main road between Banjarmasin and Central Kalimantan. It was an open-air restaurant that specialized in grilled fish.

Grilled fish

Grilled fish and vegetables with sambal sauce.

Different types of fish were on display on ice in buckets in the front, and we picked one for each of us. They put the fish on grills and served it to us with various types of salads, and vegetables, such as cucumbers. The fish was very good, but Craig and I hadn’t known there would be so many side dishes, so we had chosen fish that were too large for us to finish. Nazar took the leftovers home. So far, he has paid for all of our meals, and we insisted that we should pay for our fair share. He said we could treat him to American food the next day, and that we would also pay for everyone’s trip to Loksado on Friday. I know he is receiving a stipend, just as we are, for his expenses, but I hope we are not being too much of a burden on him.

Galum trees

Natural vegetation in the area of Banjarmasin. This is fairly swampy ground, part of the Barito River estuary. The trees here are called galam trees and are useful for building house foundations because the wood stays strong in wet conditions.

Before the fish arrived, Nazar took us over to the side of the restaurant where we could look out across the undeveloped land beyond. It is swampy land, with low-lying bushes and studded with trees growing up about 20 feet. He said these are galum trees, which are quite useful for the foundations of houses when people can’t afford ironwood or concrete. Galum trees are cut into logs, which I’ve seen stacked along the road, and are good at absorbing water and remaining strong under wet conditions, because that is what they grow in naturally.

Galum wood

Stacks of galum wood beside the main road.

Nazar drove us further along the highway toward central Kalimantan. We entered a town along the Barito River and drove to a park on the riverside. Banjarese longboats were pulled up to the pavilion on the river, and we watched as large barges navigated up and down the river, carrying coal from the mines further north and east in the Meratus Mountains. It was peaceful, and reminded me of Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River and the riverboat we rode there. There is something relaxing and unhurried about a river town; it moves to the flow of the river and never hurries or stops, but just keeps rolling along. I found myself humming “Old Man River” in my mind as we watched the boats.

Barge on Barito River

A barge on the Barito River, which is the main artery of transportation for goods in central Kalimantan.

We drove back to Banjarmasin over another bridge across the Barito River and back to the main road. I’m beginning to recognize the houses and businesses we pass, the rice fields about ready for harvest, and the small towns and mosques. I’ll talk about rice farming later, but I enjoyed the chance to see more of the country life.

Family boats on Barito River

Family long boats on the Barito River.

As we traveled, we passed a number of yellow freight trucks, which Nazar said were carrying palm nuts to the processing plant. There is a large palm plantation near here, where a number of farmers sold their land and now work for the plantation. At least no rain forest was cut down to make way for the palm trees.

Blue barge

Blue barge near Banjarmasin.

We drove back to the city and Nazar dropped us off at the hotel. We went to our rooms, and I showered and laid down to rest and take a nap. I needed it. Craig got supper at the hotel, but I wasn’t hungry enough. I’ve been having trouble with my intestines being a bit backed up since coming to Indonesia, and my appetite has suffered. I ate some of my snacks instead and uploaded photos.

Gas station

Gas stations are rare, as they take up quite a bit of real estate and must be built up above the level of the fields. So along roads such as Jalan A. Yani, small stands sell bottles of gasoline in different colors for the type of fuel (regular or diesel) and octane level.

Although we weren’t looking for supper, Craig and I decided to do a little exploring at the end of the day. We walked across the bridge over the Martapura to a small open-air market on the other side.

Preparing for Independence Day

A stand in the Banjarmasin market selling patriot bunting in Indonesian red and white, preparing for Independence Day.

It was past sunset, and the stalls were closing up for the night. There were the usual stalls and carts doing business, including a cart selling bakso and fried tofu. Indonesian Independence Day is coming up on August 17 and many stalls were selling red and white bunting and flags. We didn’t stay out long, but circled back around past a mosque as the evening call to prayers rang out. We walked back to the bridge and returned to the hotel as sunset faded into twilight.

Cap stempel marketplace

Marketplace in Banjarmasin at twilight. For some reason, this is the district for buying cap (signature chops) and stempel (stamps).

Sidestreet at twilight

Open air market at twilight.

Masjid

The Masjid Noor mosque, which was broadcasting the evening call to prayers as we walked past.

Unloading garlic

Unloading bags of garlic in the open air market in Banjarmasin.

Marketplace at twilight

Open air market in Banjarmasin near the Martapura River, across from our hotel.

Bakso street vendor

A street vendor making and selling bakso from his cart in the open air market.

Sunset over Banjarmasin

Sunset over Banjarmasin

 

Borneo Day 4: Monday, July 24, 2017

Taking notes in chemistry

The chemistry (kimia) class at SMAN 1 Mandastana near Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

Today we got to do what we came all this way for: to teach at a school in Borneo.

All schools in Indonesia start Mondays with an early morning flag ceremony, so we had to leave the hotel early to make it. After breakfast, Nazar picked us up in the lobby at 7:00. We drove across the Sangai Martapura and onto the road leading north out of the city that we had used the day before. We turned onto Jalan Ahmad Yani and headed toward the Barito River Bridge, but before getting that far we turned north onto a narrow country lane. This traveled straight through rice fields and past scattered houses to a wooden bridge across a canal, then turned west. I could see the school to our north, a blue building next to a grass field.

Country road

Jalan Achmed Yani, or the Trans Kalimantan Highway. We drove on this out of Banjarmasin to the northwest, then took a smaller country road to the school.

I recognized it from looking up their website and talking about it to my students. This is SMAN 1 Mandastana, the school where Nazar and his wife teach. We passed the school and immediately turned back north onto a somewhat worn cement road leading to the front entrance.

Ride paddie

The school is north of Banjarmasin about 15 km and is in the middle of rice fields. This is the view on the way to the school.

Nazar drove up to the entrance and we saw a sign hanging up welcoming Craig and I by name. We walked in through a breezeway into the school’s main office area and put our bags in the headmaster’s office (except my camera bag), then walked out into the main courtyard. The students and teachers were already assembled in ranks, waiting for our arrival. Our big moment had arrived!

SMAN 1 Mandastana from road

SMA Negeri 1 in Mandastana, near Banjarmasin. This is the school the Craig Hendrick and I taught at for a week in Borneo.

It is hard to express how I felt. I was being given the honors of a master teacher, an education ambassador who had traveled all this way from America to teach at this school. It was difficult for my mind to accept that I deserved this level of respect. Yes, I had come from America to teach here, but although I have multiple award plaques and certificates attesting that I am a master teacher, I have never really believed it in my heart. I know I have so many ways to improve as a teacher, even after 26 years of doing it. I’ve known so many teachers who were more deserving than me, who should be here instead of me.

Welcome sign

Our welcome sign at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

I wanted to shout out that they had the wrong guy, that the name on the banner must be some other David Black and not me. Yet here I was – half way around the world, about to attempt to teach in a place I’d never heard of before to a people I knew very little about. How very presumptuous of me. Yet buried under all that uncertainty was a part of me that knew I had finally arrived, that all my hard work at being an education professional and presenting at all those conferences was finally paying off. That I deserved all of this. I wanted to bask in the attention. I wanted to run away. I was thrilled to be there. I was scared to death.

Students in ranks

Students at SMAN 1 Mandastana standing at attention during their Monday morning flag ceremony.

I finally decided that even if I didn’t know whether or not I was a master teacher, it didn’t matter. All I had to worry about was that I should be a teacher, nothing more. If the students will let me, I can find the common ground that will allow me to be what I know how to be.

Craig with teachers

Craig Hendrick standing with the teachers at SMAN 1 Mandastana for the Monday morning flag ceremony.

We were asked to stand with the other teachers, who were wearing khaki uniforms. The students were in white shirts and blouses, white hijabs, and gray pants or dresses. They stood with their backs to the morning sun, but it was directly in our faces and already blazing hot. As the ceremony progressed, I stepped out of line a few times ostensibly to take photos but also to turn away from the sun for a few moments, as it was making my eyes water and I was beginning to sweat.

Raising the flag

Raising the Indonesian flag at the Monday morning flag ceremony of SMAN 1 Mandastana.

A squad of students marched in practiced formation to the flagpole and unfurled the red and white Indonesian flag. A group of girls sang the national anthem, and the squad attached the flag and slowly raised it until it reached the top as the anthem ended. A teacher recited the five Pancasila principles from a microphone on a podium while the students repeated. Then we were introduced and each made a few remarks while Nazar translated. The ceremony ended and we took some photos of us with the entire school.

Craig and David with students

David Black and Craig Hendrick posing with the students of SMAN 1 Mandastana after the Monday morning flag ceremony.

As the students moved to their first period classes, we went into the headmaster’s office for a few minutes. He offered us some snacks and we answered his questions through Nazar. We were then ready to meet the students.

David with headmaster

Meeting the Headmaster (Principal) of SMAN 1 Mandastana.

There are two English teachers at this school. I went with Nazar and Craig went with the other teacher, whose English is also fairly good. The school is built in an almost enclosed letter C shape around a central courtyard, with the offices at the bottom of the C, the computer and language lab on the small right leg with the kanteen or cafeteria at the end and a separate wing almost completing the open part of the C. A new classroom was being built at the far end. On the left side, the longest side of the C, is classrooms with a tile walkway in front and a wooden walkway beyond along the inside edge. The front area of the courtyard is cemented and used for the flag ceremonies and for volleyball, basketball, and soccer. There is a small grassy area behind that, along with a greenhouse that is being built for the biology classes. The grass becomes more swampy as it goes further back, along the top curve of the C. The entire school is built up on stilts to prevent it sinking.

English class

Nazar’s English class at SMAN 1 Mandastana. This is the class that I first presented to, showing a slide show about my home, school, and family.

I walked with Nazar on the left side of the horseshoe. Racks of plants and flowers are growing across the tile walkway, causing us to step down onto the wooden walkway next to the swampy area. I wheeled my blue suitcase around these obstacles as best I could, until we could step up onto the tiles walkway for the top section of the C, where Nazar’s first class is located.

David with English class

Posing with the English class after our lesson. They like to take photos and selfies. They will pose seriously, then do a “freestyle” pose such as this one.

Since Indonesian students stay put in one classroom (except for PE or for classes that require specialized labs, such as Kimia or Fisika), the teachers are the ones to travel. Nazar’s morning English class was in the north wing. The students were excited to see me as I wheeled my stuff in and set up my computer. Nazar had grabbed a portable projector, as the one mounted on the ceiling in the room didn’t seem to be working. I had remembered to bring the power converter with me, so I was able to plug my computer into an extension power strip. I had remembered to bring a VGA cord and my conversion dongle, knowing that HDMI probably wouldn’t be available (but I had an HDMI cord, too, just in case – this is why my carry ons are so heavy). Fortunately everything worked, and I was able to project onto a light blue wall at the front of the class.

David iwith chemistry class

Posing with the girls in one of the chemistry classes at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

I had prepared two slide shows, one the night before about American Academy of Innovation and a second show with harder English about the trip my family made to the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona at the end of June. This one was more about geography and geology.

David with chemistry boys

Posing with the boys in the chemistry class. They wanted a separate photo from the girls. There were more girls than boys in the class. I don’t know if this is the case for all science classes or not.

I showed the first slide show during the first block of the period (45 minutes). Nazar translated for me. The students watched carefully, and exclaimed when they saw the photo of my school on a snowy day. They have never seen snow in their lives. After, I asked if they had questions but they were reluctant to speak, probably because they were afraid their English wasn’t good enough. A couple of students were able to ask a few questions.

When the bell rang, it sounded exactly like the tones played in the Hunger Games movies to announce that a contestant had died. Craig and I both found this a bit unnerving.

Going to class

The inner courtyard of SMAN 1 Mandastana. Since there isn’t snow or cold weather, there are not internal hallways, similar to schools in California. The students wear gray pants/skirts and white shirts/blouses with hajibs and/or hats on Mondays.

During the second block of the 90-minute class, I showed my higher-level slide show on the geography and geology of the western U.S. They were interested in the comparison slide I had made between Borneo and Utah and the other four corner states, that Borneo is 3.38 times larger than Utah and just barely smaller than all four states. But as I showed the various national parks (Taman Nasional) and our route, I could tell that the English was too hard for them. They had fewer questions than I had hoped. I picked things up by opening up my blue case and handing out flyers, brochures, and other materials I had been given at the Utah Valley Visitors Bureau the day before I left Utah. They were excited to get them and have something to practice on.

Happy birthday

A birthday cake for a student in the Language Lab room.

At the end of the class, all the students came up and insisted on taking group and individual photos, including many selfies. They wanted photos in normal pose and what they call “freestyle” which is to pose in a less formal fashion. As I was leaving the classroom, all the students came up and did something they had told us about, but which still came as a surprise. Each student took my hand and placed it against their forehead or cheek or kissed it. This is a normal sign of respect for teachers in Indonesia.

Craig with class

Craig Hendrick teaching in the Language Lab room to students at SMAN 1 Mandastana in Borneo.

The bell rang again (another dead contestant!) and Craig and I traded classrooms. The other English teacher was teaching in the chemistry classroom and we waited a few minutes while the chemistry teacher finished up her lesson. This was the second week of school, and she was reviewing mole fractions (mol fraksi), a subject I don’t often teach until deep into second semester. Even though she was speaking and writing in Indonesian, I was able to follow most of what she was doing as the language of science is fairly universal. Indonesians use Arabic numerals just as we do, and with many words transliterated from Latin in a phonetic alphabet, I was able to follow much of what was written. The teacher was lecturing and writing on the board while students took notes. I walked around and noticed that the students’ handwriting was extremely neat, better than any writing I’ve seen in America (including my own).

Mole fraction notes

Student notes on mole fractions (mol fractsi). Notice the neat handwriting.

Once the lesson was over, I set up the projector again and went through my slide shows. When I came to showing some of the activities my students have done, I had a slide showing two students doing a version of the flame test lab as a demonstration, a lab I’ve done many times. One of the students asked if they could do the lab (through the English teacher) and I looked at the chemistry teacher, who was still in the room, and said we’d have to see what materials she had.

Library

The library at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

After the second slide show was done, I handed out more tourism brochures to these students. We took group photos and selfies again, and as they were leaving to go to mosque, they bowed their heads and kissed my hand as had the other class. This gets to the heart of my basic doubts about myself – that I don’t deserve the great respect they are showing me. Certainly I’ve never seen anything like it before. I wanted to bow back to them, but was told by Nazar later that I don’t have to do that.

Periodic table in Indonesian

Indonesian periodic table. Most of the element names are based on the Latin root words, such as Kalium for potassium (K). Some of the elements, such as Tembago for Copper, must be Indonesian words that predate the introduction of western science.

After the class was over and the students left, we looked through the chemistry supplies and discovered enough materials to make the flame test work. We’ll try the lab tomorrow. While looking through the classroom, I took photos of the periodic table hanging up at the back of the room. I could recognize most of the elemental names, based on the original Latin names, such as kalium for potassium and natrium for sodium. Only a few elements, such as tembago (copper) or beso (iron), were unfamiliar. These must be names that predate chemistry as a science in Indonesia.

Banjar houses craft

Student crafts, including a traditional Bajarese house, on display in the library.

As I walked back to the teachers lounge, I thought of how things had gone and my impressions of it. All of my teaching career I’ve wanted to make a difference in the world, which I have done. There is a part of me that would like to be well known if not famous, perhaps even remembered by history. Whether or not this ever happens, I can at least say that for this week, I was shown the greatest respect I’ve ever known as a teacher.

Teachers room

Teachers’ Preparation Room at SMAN 1 Mandastana. Overall, this school had a lot more light and seemed more airy than schools in Jakarta. There was no air conditioning, so ceiling fans and open windows were the only ventilation. Teachers wear khaki uniforms on Mondays.

The Barito River

Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

Barito River bridge

The Barito River suspension bridge, linking Kalimantan Selatan with Central Kalimantan.

We continued north through the outskirts of Banjarmasin, then turned northwest onto a major road, the Jalan A. Yani or Trans Kalimantan Highway, into Barito Kuala Regency, This road was built about 20 years ago and is the main connecting route from South Kalimantan to Central Kalimantan. Building roads in this area is difficult due to the swampy nature of the ground. This is all part of the Barito River estuary and delta, and any roadway has to be built up and foundations pounded to avoid sinking. But there was a major obstacle: the Barito River itself.

Barito River

The Barito River, looking downstream from the suspension bridge. This is the largest and longest river in Borneo and a major route for trade and travel into the heart of Borneo.

At about one kilometer width, it isn’t quite as big as the Mississippi or the Columbia Rivers but it is certainly bigger than the Colorado or anything else in Utah. To connect the two provinces, a suspension bridge was built in the 1990s and opened in 1997. They chose a spot where the river is divided near one side by an island, home to a population of monkeys. The bridge spans the main river channel, crosses the island and the smaller river division on the far side, and has a total length of just over one kilometer.

Coconut

Our coconut. Although I lived in the tropics for two years, I never actually tried a coconut until now. The milk is sour as well as sweet and the rind is tasty as well.

Once we reached the bridge, we drove out over it to the other side, then turned around and came back until we found a place to park at a coconut stand on the near side. Nazar, Craig, and I walked out over the bridge as far as the island. It is quite an impressive structure and at the time was the largest suspension bridge in Indonesia. It was a hot afternoon and the sun blazed in my face, but I enjoyed watching the large barges loaded with coal pulled by tug boats down the river. It dwarfed the Martapura, and is the longest and largest river in Borneo.

View from Siring Tower

View of the Martapura River from the Siring Towers. The top is closed to tourists right now because the large umbrellas on top blew off, but one of the guards knew Nazar and let us up on top.

We waited for a break in the traffic, then crossed the roadway and walked back on the opposite side of the bridge. Once we got back to the car, we decided to try a coconut, which I have never done before even when living in Taiwan. The little roadside stand had quite a stack of them, and an even larger stack of decomposing discarded shells. The owner took a machete and chopped off the top of the coconut. We took straws and took turns drinking the coconut milk inside. It wasn’t what I was expecting – I thought coconut milk was sweet, based on using canned versions for cooking. But this is the real, raw thing, and was a bit sour in flavor but refreshing on such a hot day. We then took turns with a spoon scooping out the white coconut rind. I think I like it toasted better instead of raw, but it was definitely worth the experience.

Banjarmasin

Banjarmasin as seen from the top of the Siring Watchtower.

Something I’ve neglected to explain in all of this is the difficulty we’ve had with finding enough drinking water. In Jakarta, the hotel provided six pint bottles of water for free, and we didn’t use all of it because we were in the hotel much of the time, with air conditioning. Now that we are outside much of the day in more direct sunlight and higher humidity than even Jakarta had, we are needed much more water. I bring a bottle with me everywhere we go. The Swiss Belhotel provides two pint bottles, but has other water in quart bottles for a nominal fee. I’ve had to use some of that, two, as I don’t dare drink the water from any sink even at the hotel. This is one expense that I don’t mind paying. Once I get back to Utah, 100° F temperatures will not bother me because the humidity is low. I knew to expect this after living in Taiwan for two years, but it’s not easy even if it is expected. I’ve had to take two showers a day and my clothes are saturated with sweat every afternoon. We aren’t working hard, but we are very tired at the end of each day just from the heat. If you visit Indonesia, just remember: it’s the tropics. There’s nothing you can do about it (unless you want to stay in your hotel room all day) so you might as well live with it. It’s part of the experience. Bring plenty of bottled water with you every day.

Banjarmasin map

A map of Banjarmasin at the Siring Watchtower along the Martapura River.

Back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the evening putting together a basic English slide show on my school to show the next day.

David by oldest house

David Black by the oldest house in Banjarmasin. Made of ironwood, it has been rebuilt. There is a museum inside.

Banjar wedding clothes

Traditional Banjarese wedding clothes, inside the museum in the oldest house in Banjarmasin.

Traditional band

Traditional Borneo band in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin.

 

Soto Bang Amat

Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

Popular spot

Water taxis unloading at a popular spot on the Martapura River. We were to eat here for lunch.

Nazar, his wife, and daughters picked us up at the hotel at 11:30. We drove along ever more narrow streets leading out of the city toward the northeast. I noticed we were paralleling the Martapura River, which we had just traveled on earlier that morning to visit the floating market of Lok Baintan.

Soto bang amat place

Our restaurant for lunch, specialing in soto bang amat, a type of soto (stew) popular in southern Kalimantan (Borneo).

Nazar was a bit cryptic about where he was taking us, saying it was a surprise. We were on a kind of frontage road leading along the river; I had seen motorcycles and bicycles traveling along this road while on the river. Then I realized where we were heading – to the very restaurant I had noticed this morning where water taxis were dropping boatloads of people off and smoke was rising from grills.

Soto bang amat

Soto bang amat. It is a stew with chicken, boiled egg, noodles, vegetables, rice, and lime. Very delicious!

This restaurant is famous as the best place to get soto bang amat, a type of stew with rice and noodles, boiled egg, and other ingredients. Each region of Indonesia has its own style of soto, and which is best is a hotly contested argument. We each got steaming bowls while another band playing traditional music entertained us. The restaurant was crowded and the sota bang amat was good. I tried not to think of what the “other ingredients” might be and just enjoy the experience, and found I quite liked it. Grills were smoking, cooking up skewers of meat which we didn’t try but which had quite a tantalizing odor.

Craig and David with band

Craig Hendrick and David Black with a traditional band at the restaurant.

After the meal we posed for photos with the band, then picked up the car and headed back through Banjarmasin to our next destination: a major bridge across the Barito River.

Nazar's family

Nazar’s family (except his son, who was practicing for the Indonesian Independence Day celebration).

Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

First approach

Approaching the floating market at Lok Baintan. Ladies in traditional clothing paddling long boats converged on our water taxi to sell fruit, vegetables, and souvenirs.

The sun rose up over the Martapura River as we reached the floating market of Lok Baintan. Ladies in traditional clothing were paddling small boats around the many water taxis, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to donuts and a sort of green gelatin. People in the taxis were paying money directly to the ladies for what they wanted and a brisk trade was going on, but mostly people were taking photos. I’ve never seen so many selfie sticks! There was even a drone flying overhead videotaping the market.

Floating market

The Lok Baintan floating market near Banjarmasin on the Martapura River. I love the stacks of oranges!

The early morning sun, which had just risen, shone brightly on the colorful boats loaded with wares. It was all good fun and quite picturesque. I enjoyed the carefully stacked oranges and soursop fruit, the small sweet bananas grown locally. A lady was cutting slices of mango to wrap in plastic for a customer, another selling huge shallots, a man and wife selling small souvenir recreations of the very boat they were in.

Lady in traditional hat

Lay in a traditional banana leaf hat selling wares from her boat at the Lok Baintan floating market.

All of these boats were weaving in and out of the water taxis crowded with tourists, who had climbed onto their roofs for a better look. I did the same – the slippery roof of our boat had dried enough that I could do so without too much danger.

Fruit to sell

Fruit and vegetables to sell. Notice the stubby bananas that are common here – they are much sweeter and have a slightly peachy flavor compared with the bananas we are used to.

After watching the selling proceed for about 45 minutes, our boat backed away from the others and turned about to head back down the river. There was another foreigner staying at the Swiss Belhotel who was on the boat with us. He is from Austria and is in Indonesia setting up an online training program for the Indonesian government.

Two ladies in boats

Ladies selling fruit and vegetables from their long boats at the Lok Baintan floating market on the Martapura River.

On our journey back to Banjarmasin we passed houses on both sides of the river with their back porches actually acting as docks into the river. The Banjar people are traditionally river people, living their lives on and making their livelihood from the river itself. Mothers and wives and grandmothers sat on the docks washing clothes or dishes, children splashed and swam, older gentlemen with bare chests were pulling up buckets of water to splash on themselves while vigorously scrubbing; this is how they shower. Women were doing the same, while remaining clothed in sarongs. Shops and stores lined the river and people were buying goods. Fishermen checked their nets; goods were transported up and down the river. I saw a man pass us with a load of coconuts.

Laughing lady with shallots

The Lady of Shallots. If you understand that reference, you win the Grand Sweepstakes for obscure literature quotes.

As we approached the city, the mosques (masjid) became more common, their domes and minarets shining in the early light. Near one, several water taxis were unloading people at what appeared to be an open-air restaurant based on the smoke from grills. It looked quite popular.

Craig-David-Nazar at market

Craig Hendrick, David Black, Muhammad Nazaruddin, and his wife at the Lok Baintan market.

I enjoyed the bright colors of the houses and mosques. The Banjar people seem to like things brightly painted. Not all of the houses were in good shape – some were leaning, some were sagging, some were in poor repair or abandoned. It must be difficult to build and maintain houses built on stilts along a river that can flood at times. Nazar told us that Banjarmasin doesn’t have many tall buildings because the ground is too unstable and swampy; with its thousand rivers, and the boat traffic and water taxis, it is definitely the Venice of Indonesia.

David at floating market

David Black at the Lok Baintan floating market on the Martapura River near Banjarmasin.

What had been a comfortable if humid morning had become hot in the bright sun as we approached the city. It was a Sunday morning, which is like Saturday for us, and many people were out riding water taxis, walking along the pier at Siring, dancing in the spray from the mouth of the giant spitting monkey statue, and generally enjoying the morning.

Along the river

Shopping at a small market along the Martapura River.

We arrived back at our hotel at 8:30. Nazar and his wife needed to go to the funeral of a neighbor, so Craig and I took the opportunity to have breakfast at the hotel and take naps. As we entered the hotel lobby there was a four-piece band playing traditional Indonesian music, dressed in beautiful costumes. I recorded them playing for a few minutes; now I have a soundtrack for my video. I took so many videos on the river that it required three tries and moving files to my hard drive before I could upload everything from my camera.

Morning swim

Taking a swim in the Martapura River. The people who live here bathe, wash dishes, drink, fish, and transport their goods all on this river.

Purple tower mosque

Purple mosque and colorful waterfront on the Martapura River near Banjarmasin.

Early morning mosque 2

SIlver-domed mosque along the Martapura River in the early morning light.

Green tower mosque

A mosque with a green minaret along the Martapura River near Banjarmasin.

Soto bang amat from river

Several water taxis were unloading passengers here. Based on the smoke from the barbeques, it must be a popular restaurant. Notice the traditional Banjarese roofs.

Coconuts in boat

Transporting a load of coconuts up the river. Notice the water taxis docked at the house in the background.

Water taxi

Another water taxi as we neared the dock in Banjarmasin. This was Sunday, which to people here is like Saturday for us – a day to enjoy the river and the morning.

Colorful waterfront

Colorful houses along the Martapura River as we approach Banjarmasin.

In a Boat on a River

Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

First light on Martapura RIver

Early morning light on the Martapura River as we travel to Lok Baintan and the floating market. The trees are coconuts and bananas, not tangerines, but close enough.

I woke up at 4:50, thankfully – the front desk forgot my 4:30 wake up call. I jumped in the shower and got dressed in the clothes I had laundered in the sink the day before. They were almost dry. I met Craig, Nazar, and his wife in the lobby at 5:20 just as they were ready to leave. We walked to the parking lot and to a dock on the river and boarded a water taxi. The early morning dew made the top wet and slippery in the predawn darkness, so I crawled under to the back seats as other people loaded in.

Orion and Venus

The relative positions of Orion and Venus at 5:30 am on July 23, 2017

We pushed off from the dock and began our journey up the river to the floating market. The stars were bright this morning, and Orion was rising in the east, much further north than I am used to. I had it upside down, and thought the bright star nearby was Sirius until we got far enough away from the city lights for me to see Orion’s sword. Then I could see that it had to be a planet. At first, I thought it was Jupiter, based on its color, but it was too bright and I remembered Jupiter is in Virgo near Spica right now. It was Venus, much higher in the sky than I have seen it before.

While I was thinking the planet might be Jupiter, a song came to mind that fit the occasion perfectly. It was “Lucy in the Sky, with Diamonds.” Now I know what this song has reference to, but that’s not what came to mind. There was an article written with this same name by an astronomer about how Jupiter may have a core of diamond, since carbon would rain down from the atmospheric methane and the pressure and heat in Jupiter are more than enough to convert it to diamond. Arthur C. Clarke used this idea in his book 2061: Odyssey Three, how people traveled to Europa to mine diamonds after Jupiter was converted into a star in 2010: Odyssey Two by Dave Bowman and the star people.

Pre-dawn mosque

A mosque along the Martapura River in the pre-dawn light.

Of course, it reminded me of the time when I got to personally ask Clarke a question. It was at a teacher conference in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the launch of the Mars 2001 Odyssey spacecraft. David Seidel arranged to call Clarke up in Sri Lanka and ask questions we’d already written on index cards. My question was: Do you ever see your dream of a space elevator coming true? He answered that there were two factors preventing it. The first was technology – we don’t have the materials to build a space elevator yet, although that is probably a matter of time. The other is more difficult: we don’t have any place to go. No destinations in space that would require a space elevator to reach, nor the will to build one.

Since then, we have discovered white dwarf stars with cores of diamond. One of them is in Centaurus, of all places. Here’s a link about it:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles /2004/02/17/1076779973101.html

As the eastern sky lightened I thought of these things and the words of the song echoed in my mind:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees, and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly:
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head;
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds . . .

Boats converging

Boats converging on the Martapura River to sell their wares at the Lok Baintan floating market. The skies turned a marmalade orange color just before sunrise.

Orion and eventually Venus faded as the sky grew brighter in the east. People were beginning to stir from their houses on the river, walking out to the front porch to dip out buckets of water to wash themselves and cook breakfast. Fishermen were out on the river in boats tending their nets as our taxi meandered around the bends.

Sunrise on Martapura

Marmalade skies over the Martapura River as we near Lok Baintan and the floating market.

The water and skies turned a marmalade gold color that complimented the brilliant greens of banana trees on the banks (not tangerine trees, but close enough) as we approached the floating market. The morning call for prayer rang out from the many large and small mosques (masjid) that we passed. Boats converged from all around. We reached the market just as the sun was rising.

 

Fishing nets

Fishing on the Martapura River. The Banjarese people that live along the river do everything here – live, bathe, drink, wash, fish, and transport.