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Posts Tagged ‘comparative religions’

Jakarta Day 8: Monday, July 31, 2017

Sticky notes

One of our activities was to write down our guiding questions on a large poster paper, then write sticky notes to add observations or suggestions to each other’s questions based on our own experiences in the field.

Now that we had completed our field teaching experience and had returned to Jakarta, it was time for reflection and evaluation. What had we learned from all of this? How will this impact our teaching going forward? How will we answer the guiding questions we chose at the beginning of this experience?

We met in a conference room near the elevators on the second floor after having breakfast. It was nice having the larger buffet at the Le Meridien Hotel.

We started by reflecting on our guiding questions through writing them up and conducting a gallery stroll. My own question was: How do different human cultures approach the common problems or needs of humanity? This is a very general question, so I further defined it through some sub-questions:

1 – How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

2 – How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

3 – How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

Let’s look at each of these as I have answered them so far. I will add more and create final reflections after my five day extension, where I will be exploring these ideas further.

Question 1: How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

Sasirangan swatches

We saw how humans have a desire to decorate and design through art. We we don’t need to dye cloth, but all cultures do it as these samples of sasirangan testify.

This has been an ongoing quest of mine over the last ten years as I have created the Elements Unearthed project and this website. I have explored how the chemical elements and materials were discovered, how they are made, how they are mined, refined, and turned into finished products. I continued this project while in Indonesia, although more will come later this week. I’ve brought my students along for the ride.

I took students to record video of a tour of Novatek, a synthetic diamond manufacturing company in south Provo, Utah. I had an adult student at the time that worked there and organized the tour. He acted as our tour guide and explained the history of how Tracy Hall invented the process at Bell Labs. He showed us how graphic dust is compressed and heated to form industrial diamonds for oil drills. He showed us the tetrahedral press I had seen in operation as a high school student. My students turned the footage into a short video that is on this website under the Videos tab.

Dyeing green cloth

Dyeing cloth green to make Borneo sasirangan.

But that was only part of the story. Now I have been to the Cempaka diamond mines to see have natural diamonds are recovered from deposits laid down millions of years ago. I have written about it on this blog site, and my chemistry students will turn the photos and videos into a final product for YouTube.

Dyed cloth

Dyed cloth hanging up to dry in Banjarmasin at the sasirangan factory, although it won’t dry very well in this rainstorm.

Through my batik class in Jakarta and seeing the sasirangan made in Banjarmasin, I have continued to research how fabrics and dyes are used for make clothing, following up on what we’ve been doing in my chemistry and STEAM it Up classes. This will also continue later this week.

This is all to say that this question is still being answered and will continue to be. My quest to understand materials isn’t over yet.

Question 2: How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

This is probably the most culturally unique question, as every culture has its own methods of self-expression. However, there are some common threads that I have observed here in Indonesia compared with American or western culture. We all have a need to self-express, despite it taking different forms.

Batik pattern

A batik pattern ready for dyeing. The wax (called malam and a brownish-yellow color) is applied to a penciled pattern on both sides of the cloth, then the cloth is dyed leaving the dyed portion white.

All cultures and people have a sense of the beautiful. The batik I’ve seen at the Museum Tekstil Jakarta and the sasirangan in Banjarmasin is beautiful to me, even though I don’t understand the origin of the patterns. We all have a love for colors and textures, and although the details change with culture, this love is ubiquitous in all societies.

Nikki and Jen doing batik

Nikki and Jennifer practicing batik. The small wax pen, or canting, is held at a 45 degree angle to apply the wax resist. This is definitely an art form and takes great practice.

All cultures include physical art (painting, carving, sculpture, fabrics), music, dance, puppetry, drama, etc. These take uniquely beautiful forms in different cultures – for example, the gamelon orchestras popular here that use percussion instruments, xylophones, cymbals, and drums. This might not be your particular taste in art, but the more you research its history and meaning, the more interesting it becomes. I didn’t much care for Beijing Opera in Taiwan, but that is because I didn’t understand its symbolism and history. The more we study other cultures, the richer our appreciation of their art becomes. Yet despite the differences, I am amazed at the similarities. I can enjoy and recognize harmonies and melodies from a traditional Banjarese band without ever having heard one before.

Traditional band

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

Another form of self-expression is in the stories and jokes we tell that describe and explain the human condition. I found the Indonesian people to be ready with a smile and a joke, to be a humorous and kind people and the sort of people I would like to hang out with if I could understand their language better. We might have different beliefs and life experiences, but we are more alike than different, and we have the same goals and desires in life.

I often think that the best thing that could happen to humanity would be to meet a truly alien intelligent species, whether they are hostile, friendly, or indifferent. Seeing that we are all humans, all brothers and sisters in a very real sense, would unite us more effectively than any international movement ever could.

Question 3: How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

I saw directly from my experience teaching science and engineering lessons in Banjarmasin that science and math are the truly universal languages. I was afraid of a communication breakdown as I attempted to teach my lessons, but with the help of Nazar’s excellent English and our universal understanding of scientific principles that the students were able to understand. I was able to teach them despite cultural and language barriers.

Laying down planets

Laying out the planet rings for the human orrery activity.

This was the question I most wanted to explore, knowing that I would be going to a largely Muslim country. I tried to observe the daily lives of my host teacher and his family as well as the people around us – the other teachers at our school, the people we met daily, the students at the schools we visited, etc.

I am a Christian. I have studied world religions and lived for two years as a missionary in Taiwan, where I experienced the religious practices of the people (and myself) every day. I have been to Israel and Jerusalem where I saw Judaism and Islam practiced. But this was the first time I saw Islam closely and on a daily basis, and try to build some bridges of understanding.

Buddha-s

A statue of the Amita Buddha at the Fwo Gwang Shan monastery near PingTung, Taiwan.

As I have found elsewhere, people of all faiths have much in common. The first is their faith itself, the desire to believe in something beyond themselves, a truth higher than themselves. Religions, if practiced purely, should teach people to do good and to be better citizens of the world. They should teach us to respect each other. It is only when people misinterpret their religions and see hate where they should see understanding that we get the extremists that cause so much damage.

Duomo-s

The cathedral and baptistry in Florence, Italy. The large dome (called the Duomo) dominates the skyline of the city and was designed by Brunelleschi.

This can happen in any religion. Back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders were the terrorists of their day, slaughtering innocent people in the name of their supposed faith. In one horrible case, they killed Armenian Christians in Jerusalem just because they didn’t look like the sort of Christians they were used to. Whenever we start treating people in other cultures as “foreign” or “other” than ourselves, we start thinking of them as less than human, and it becomes all too easy to justify persecution or prejudice or worse.

This can only be overcome by understanding the others – getting to know them personally and seeing that we are more alike than different, that we have much in common. This trip to Indonesia has had that benefit for me, as I hoped it would. I tried to see all the people I met as potential friends if I could just learn how to communicate with them. We have common ground to build on.

Large temple-s

A large Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan.

This journey is not over, and I will continue to explore Buddhism and Hinduism as I travel to Yogyakarta and Bali later this week. I will report more fully on these ideas once my trip to Indonesia is over.

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