By Sarah MacDonald

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in the United States Studies Centre’s Inaugural G’Day USA program where I had the opportunity to spend some time in Washington DC and visit some famous monuments.

My favourite monument was the Lincoln memorial.  I distinctly remember reading off the wall of the monument, the famous final words of the Gettysburg address where Lincoln said:

“This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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There are some things you will never learn inside the classroom.

Firstly, when speaking your native language you never realise how language acts as a limit on self-expression. Not only can you express any feeling or thought you like, you can express each in multiple ways to suit context. Speaking a language you’re learning in-country however brings the power of language into sharp focus. Suddenly, you can’t freely express your thoughts or desires and have to moderate them to fit what you can and cannot say. It forces you to change your opinions, change your tone of voice and even some behaviours. In a way, you feel like a completely different person. A bit like a child, struggling to be understood. Nothing is as motivating as this. The desire to be free from the constraints of your language spurs you on to learn with more determination than ever. You just want free reign over your identity again.

Additionally, in the classroom you never really learn how to engage in conversation with a total stranger from a completely different culture to yourself. No amount of learning about culture or politics or religion can ever prepare you for talking to a real local fluent speaker. Your mannerisms are wrong, your turn of phrase is awkward and you can’t help but be acutely aware of it the whole time. You notice people have to pause to decode you, and it embarrasses you. You try to change your habits but decades of repetition is hard to shake. Slowly things start to change a little, and that feels great. You notice you’re no longer putting your hands on your hips or maybe using the correct pronouns, and despite it being a small change it feels like a big victory. Despite all the difficulties, in-country study is rewarding like nothing else.

Moreover, pronunciation seems like a pretty minor thing at first but in-country that changes. Specifically, you realise that a slight change in sound can entirely change the meaning. Any one word of a modern language with a large lexicon is likely to have several phonetically similar cousins, which you could easily pronounce instead. As such, imperfect pronunciation causes some hassles. For instance, “Kentang” (Potato) and “Kenyang” (full) can lead to you enthusiastically informing a family dinner that you are a potato. However, like most aspects of language it only gets better in-country, through constant exposure to Indonesian in an Indonesian accent.

These struggles are amplified by the expectations of your in-country peers. Working in groups of four, we had to conduct sectoral analyses on manufacture, retail, construction, shipbuilding and tourism in Batam. The other group members (who were from different faculties) rely on you (the Indonesian speaker) to become a cultural and linguistic bridge, in a country that you’ve only heard about in writing. Batam really does push you, to step out of your comfort zone and fill those expectations. It forces you to be creative, courageous and confident. Somehow, you have to find a way to apply the things you’ve learnt in class, with a group you hardly know, in a place that you wouldn’t have necessarily been aware of.

We would like to express our appreciation to the Australian government and SSEAC for providing this opportunity. We have been able to apply the theory that we have learnt in class in practice, which has further allowed us to be certain that we made the right decision to learn Indonesian at a tertiary level.

Written by Owen James and Carol Kim.

In 1981, the Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ Orchid became the national flower of Singapore. Known for its resilience and year-round blooming quality, the flower was said to encapsulate the uniqueness and hybrid culture of the island (National Parks 2015). Despite being a relatively young nation and lacking a distinct Indigenous population, Singapore has woven a rich and diverse range of ethnic petals together to form the golden centre that is modern-day Singapore. orchid 2.JPG

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For me, Batam represented a fruit paradise. There were fruits we couldn’t dream of available at the local hypermart, which represented the most pleasurable shopping experience of my life because of the novelty of the foodstuffs such as durian-flavoured milk. Fruits and vegetables are usually imported to Batam, however in general fruit was incredibly cheap at about AU$2-3 per kilo.

Beyond the typical tropical fruits we were accustomed to like papaya, pineapple and guava, we were blessed with an abundance of lychee-type fruits like longan, rambutan and snake fruit, and durian-type fruits, a misnomer category that included jackfruit and, well, durian. Love of the thorny delicacy durian is quite a phenomenon in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. There are certain species of durian that are more ‘enak’ (delicious) than others. D24 is a popular prized type of durian, with rotund and firm yellow droplets that have the strongest taste. Other types include Mao Shan Wang and Golden Phoenix.

It should be noted that one person’s romance with durian is not representative of another’s - it’s a polarising fruit that is foul-smelling to some and pungent and enticing to others. As someone who enjoys its smell, I could liken it to the smell of salmon for a fish-lover, or that brine-egg combination scent of the sea to nostalgic coastal-dwellers. We discovered durian in a food market in Singapore days before our study tour in Batam began for roughly AU$5 for a quarter of a durian fruit. It’s like a bitter, sweet and creamy cheese and like garlic, you’ll be tasting it for hours after you’ve eaten it. Its texture is much like an avocado.

Upon arriving in Batam, and much to our dismay, we found that durian was not available at our favourite local hypermart, and we had to be satisfied with durian-creme chocolates. It was hardly an adequate substitute. Our second encounter during the week occurred when we were treated to a delicious dinner at a local contractor’s palatial home. As the family was celebrating Ramadan, the dinner meal was served after sundown and was part of the ritual of breaking fast. To the surprise of durian-lovers in the group, durian was featured in the Cendol, a popular dessert drink in Indonesia usually made with coconut milk, jelly and ice. However, that did not satiate our desire for fresh durian fruit.

On one of our last days in Batam, Vivian, Mul and our driver were able to find some cheap, delicious durian sold by a street vendor for the equivalent of AU$3 a kilo. Of course, when word got out we had a picnic on our hands. We had to eat the fruit outside because the smell would be too offensive if we were to open it inside the hotel lobby. In fact, it is customary not to eat durian in public spaces because of the smell is off-putting to many.

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For some students, the durian picnic represented their first time trying the king of fruits, and there were mixed opinions on its taste. For me, it was not my first and certainly not my last. To my utter pleasure, at Changi Airport in Singapore there was a giant, illuminated durian installation with a durian-shaped love seat. The airport also had a durian cafe, where they sold durian-flavoured puddings, cakes and ice-creams. It was pure heaven.

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“If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one”
Lee Kuan Yew has been recognised as the “father figure of modern Singapore”, with his political philosophies and ideologies shaping Singapore’s cultural, social and economic landscape. The most interesting aspect of the field school has been recognising the interlinked and multi-faceted nature of Singaporean society, and how government policy as a form of social engineering has been instrumental in influencing individual and societal views.

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Having spent half a week in Singapore prior to the field school, the contrast in environmental conditions and regulation was evident from the moment we stepped off the ferry in Batam. Rubbish in the form of food packets, construction materials, lids, cigarettes, the occasional gumboot and – most dire of all – plastic bottles and bags could be found in every nook and cranny of the island. On a day trip to neighbouring islands of Penyengat and Bintan we witnessed piles of rubbish being burned as a form of waste management.

The effects of this rubbish are evident across the city. It wasn’t until a few days into the field school when we realised we were also contributing to Batam’s waste management issue. Pictured below is an accumulation of the number of plastic bottles used by two people over the course of two weeks.

Upon meeting a group of young and engaging geography students at Sekolah Maitreyawira, it is clear that there is an emerging environmental movement. The students had taken time out of their holidays to meet with us and discuss the issues that most matter to them at a time of rapid industrial development. Nina, one of the students we met, explained how Batam lacked a recycling facility, and how there was no effort made to reduce the amount of rubbish that was left relentlessly around the city.

Yet Nina was optimistic about the future of Batam to become a more sustainable place, where environmental regulation was placed higher on the government’s agenda. This might take some time to materialise, though: upon speaking to local government officials, we were told that the heterogenous population made it hard to educate people who were constantly moving in and out of Batam.
Speaking with young individuals with worldly ideologies and an awareness for the importance of environmental protection was uplifting. It gave us hope not just for the future of Batam but to its future generation’s and the kinds of people that will be leading this amazing city. Batam has already scaled the development ladder in only a few decades. With young leaders like Nina, it has the potential to become a global competitor with efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. We cannot wait to see how the cultural identity of this future generaetion will shape its landscape.

Written by Chelsey Blondel and Samantha Lim

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Imagine a bustling, outdoor food court during the lunchtime rush. Now replace McDonald’s and the dodgy “all-you-can-eat” Chinese takeaway with quaint, authentic food stalls operated by people from a diverse range of backgrounds. The heat and humidity is somewhat oppressive, but you soon acclimatise and realise that the food here is authentic, delicious, and, best of all, cheap. Grandfathers gather around large, circular tables discussing the latest achievements of their children over beef noodle soup while ‘aunties’ gossip about newcomers to the neighbourhood with their kopi-o’s. Welcome to one of Singapore’s many hawker centres, where purveyors of Chinese, Malay and Indian street food cluster to form a communal food complex providing locals with convenient, inexpensive food as well as a place for family bonding and social interaction.

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