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New Colombo Plan

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


For me, Batam was a luxury food paradise. There were fruits we couldn’t dream of available at the local hypermart, which was a novelty in itself (durian-flavoured milk, anyone?). 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 salak, 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, like D24 which is prized for its strong taste and very yellow flesh.

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.

Upon arriving in Batam, and much to our dismay, we found that durian was not available at our local hypermart, and we had to be satisfied with durian-creme chocolates. Our second encounter occurred later that week 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.


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.


“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.


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


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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As a part of the Singapore Housing Fieldschool, University of Sydney students were invited to visit the SkyVille@Dawson estate. The Housing Development Board (HDB) commissioned WOHA to design this estate, which was a part of its ‘Remake our Heartland’ (ROH) programme. The ROH program includes a series of initiative to improve and transform the living environment of mature estates, while enticing younger families to move into these estates (Housing Development Board 2014). They also aim to provide more opportunities for the younger generation to live closer to their parents, and maintain the ideologies of a ‘nucleus family’ which is remains as the bedrock of the Singaporean society (Hoon 2004).

As we walked through the complex, it was apparent that the architectural structure of the SkyVille@Dawson estate was much more innovative in comparison to the standardised, traditional HDB flats. Each home in the SkyVille@Dawson estate is designed to be a part of a Sky Village comprising of 80 homes that share a naturally ventilated community space and sky garden. This was very intriguing idea because it never occurred to me that public housing could have the luxury to a sky garden…Every tower is composed of 4 vertically stacked Sky Villages across 3 interconnected blocks. The communal space on the ground level is decorated with engraved artworks, forming the Heritage Gallery. It is hard to believe that such finely designed property which in many aspects is highly comparable to private properties of many countries is actually a HDB flat in Singapore. To me, it is a ‘cultural shock’.

Through observation of the SkyVille@Dawson estate and multiple visits of HDB flats, it is apparent to me that the modern Singaporean public housing policy does not just aim to provide a roof over people’s head. It government is also dedicated to address higher level of needs of the residents such as their social and physiological needs. The unprecedented incorporation of multiple sky-gardens in SkyVille@Dawson is aimed to create a better sense of community and intimacy amongst residents, which is important in creating one’s sense of belonging to the country. Public housing in Singapore is successful in the sense that there seems to be very minimal social prejudice towards people who live in social housing. This is a problem which some states such as Hong Kong fails to address (Wong and Yan 2012). This success can be largely attributed to the HDB’s continual effort to minimize the difference in living standards between people living in public housing and private housing. Most HDB estates are highly accessible to MRT stations, shopping malls, schools, and other facilities and this is important in reducing the gaps of social inequality. Indeed, Singapore is not a welfare-state, however, it is apparent that its government does attempt to address social inequality issues through other fundamental aspects of society, such as housing.

My original perception of public housing has been dismantled after learning about Singapore’s housing policy. During the past two weeks, it made me realise that public housing is not just for the most vulnerable groups of society. Most importantly, it made me realise that definition and perspectives towards a certain issue can change due to the change of context.

Hoon, C. 2004, ‘Revisiting the Asian value argument used by Asian political leaders and its validity’, Indonesian Quarterly, vol. 32. no. 2, pp. 154-174, viewed 8 July 2015,
Housing Development Board 2014, Housing Development Board, Singapore, viewed 10 July 2015, <>
Wong, T. and Yan, Y. 2012, ‘Perception of neighbourhood environment and self-rated health in Hong Kong’, The Internet Journal of Public Health, vol. 2, no. 1, viewed 11 July 2015,

Wan Ying Anna Zhou
Bachelor of Commerce and Arts
Participant in the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Singapore Field School in conjunction with the University of Sydney Business School

“I wanted to build a home-owning society. I wanted every citizen to have a stake in the country.”
Lee Kuan Yew, First Prime Minister of Singapore

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Sitting in Room 603 writing my second blog post, I feel sad knowing that we are now at the end of our Field School to Singapore. We have learnt so much about the ins and outs of this country’s unique public housing system and have had plenty of fun along the way. I feel as though we know more about housing issues than some of the local residents do, let alone what non-Singaporeans do, and I don’t think that I will be able to get the abbreviation “HDB” out of my head for a while! What I found particularly interesting though was the plight of the ‘sandwich class’ – that is, the group of middle-income earners who do not qualify for the purchase of public housing flats, but who also have difficulty affording equivalent private property.


HDB flats in Punggol.JPG

Singapore’s unique safaris are renowned for their beautiful settings in which animals roam freely in their “natural habitats” (Singapore Zoo 2015). But travel to north east Singapore and it is here that perhaps their most unusual safari lies… the concrete safari of one of Singapore’s newest housing developments, Punggol.


“Some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end… life is about… taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next” - Gilda Radner

Singapore’s public housing has always been used as a mechanism to achieve policy objectives, with the government being responsive and adaptable to changing circumstances. One of Singapore’s greatest ambiguities has been the issue of land scarcity, which necessarily involves a delicate balance between maximising the value of land and space utilisation through the notion of ‘vertical living’ while attempting to preserve a sense of community and authenticity (ESC 2012). Learning about Singapore’s public housing policy has reinforced that dealing with ambiguity is inevitable and an important area for my own personal development.


During my time in Singapore, one issue that struck me is the extent to which the broader socio-cultural sphere is ‘constructed’ by the government, particularly with regards to ethnic groups. The presentation given to us last week by the Housing Development Board touched briefly on the concept of ethnic quotas for public housing (HDB 2015). However, their full extent only became clear over the course of the field school, through not only additional seminars but also our observational research.



Upon arriving in Batam, we were prepared to experience many new things. But one thing we were not prepared for was a rave, Buddhist-style.

After sampling delicious vegetarian beef, vegetarian fish tempura, and pineapple satay, we embarked on an adventure tourists would never be able to experience.

Our gracious hosts at the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya led us white seats set aside for their honoured guests from Australia. As we sat down, the MC announced our presence and the camera zoomed onto us. A huge round of applause was followed by a communal cheer. Soon after, a stream of children appeared in a kaleidoscope of colours, grass green, high-viz yellow and sunset red. They worked their extravagant costumes and dramatic makeup, eyeliner and lipstick with pride as they walked to their designated seats, preparing to perform. It was a living forest of lotus children, smiling butterflies and swaying trees.

The Buddhist Festival was a celebration of loving nature. Many of the songs and dances performed were about their devotion and respectful relationship to the environment. Hundreds of children of all age groups came together from various islands (some even travelled 12 hours!) for this day.

A teacher informed us that this festival, run by the International Nature Loving Association Indonesia-Batam, was not a dance competition rivalling programs like “Australia’s got Talent”. Students were encouraged to scream “Jiāyóu” (加油), which literally means, “add oil”, after each schools performance to symbolise the ignition of each other’s success. Peace, harmony and love towards each other and nature supplanted all the negativity and greed clouding their lives.

The non-stop synchronised clapping and general support for each other was palpable.
We experienced a rush of excitement as we watched the students dance in military precision, as if in a trance, to loud music accompanied by lyrics of nature and love. The audience was not passive, either. We all joined in at several intervals engaging in arm-moving, hip-turning actions with enthusiasm. Although some of the dance moves required a bit of coordination, we made up for our clumsiness with enthusiasm, especially when the camera was on us!

The fluent ease with which students switched from Mandarin to Bahasa Indonesia was a surprise for some of us. On further reflection, we realised that it reflected the cultural diversity and heterogeneity of the islands and of the respect afforded to its different cultures.

After a couple of hours, we sadly departed, having given our thanks for the hospitality and opportunity to witness an exciting insight into the cultural diversity of the islands. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, which we will never see elsewhere or again. In that moment of time, we truly understood the essence of Batam.

For its people, it is more than just a Special Economic Zone – it’s home.

When travelling in a foreign country, there are things a person wishes they experience – and things they hope they never have to relive again. Funnily enough, all it took was one bite of an otak-otak and some street market food to make our first field school trip one that we will never forget.

Since arriving Batam, we have wanted to visit one of the hospitals to get a sense of the state of health services. Finally, on the 4th of July, after almost a week in Indonesia, our chance finally came.

Chris: My diagnosis was chronic stomach cramps due to … you guessed it, seafood. The culprit: a prawn. My only recollection of eating a prawn was in some soup I had for dinner one night at the local markets. Once shelled and deveined it mustn’t have been any bigger than half the size of my little finger. Prawn 1 Chris 0. I was given some medicine and we were on our way.

Veiongo: My allergic reaction was triggered by a traditional Indonesian seafood dish known as otak-otak. My lip began swelling and four hours later I was a red marshmallow. It took two hours to get back to our hotel from the small island where the allergic reaction had been triggered where I contacted clinicians back in Australia to seek advice. An hour later, Chris and I were sitting on hospital beds in one of Batam’s private hospitals. I was given medication, an injection and then paid a total of $22 AUD for hospital treatment (What a bargain!!!).

Chris: The following three days were mostly a blur. What I do remember however is being too scared to leave the vicinity of a clean and reliable toilet, I slept for most of the day and I was in a much worse condition. This was due to what Indonesians call mencret. Essentially, I had taken too much of the prescribed medication and I ended up dehydrated. Prawn 2 Chris 0. Back to the hospital! I was there for one hour in total with new medicine and another hospital experience.

A few things we noticed about the hospital: It was clean, the staff were friendly and could speak some English. As we wanted to be more cultured, we both tried our best to make use of our limited Indonesian vocabulary. Although it would have been easier if we spoken English, according to Mul (one of the leaders of the trip and native Indonesian speaker), the nurses and doctor were very happy to see the bules practising their Indonesian. This was a confidence builder and reinforced the benefits and importance of learning a language. Anyone who has tried to learn a second language understands that although it is challenging, time consuming and at times embarrassing, it is incredibly rewarding.

We are now (almost) back to full health. But there are a few things future travellers should learn from the Work and Organisational studies (WOS) students:

- Take an allergy test before leaving Sydney
- Just because the locals and other travellers can eat roadside delights doesn’t mean you can
- Don’t be that guy or girl that ate seafood and then got sick…. Twice
- Trying to speak the host country’s language puts you one step ahead of the person who only speaks English
- Even though it was one scary experience, at least we got to try out medical treatment in Indonesia

We would like to thank Mul and Gulnaz for accompanying us to the hospital, the awesome Harris Hotel staff, the hospital staff and our supportive field school team for being there when we needed them. A special shout out too to Dr Jacob Opio, Jacky Ayo-Opio and Lavinia in Australia for being on call 24/7. We really appreciate it!

Batam, you have been an incredible experience. It will definitely be a trip we will never forget!

Written by: Christopher Donovan and Veiongo Lamipeti

Christopher Donovan- Hospital visit no.1


Veiongo Lamipeti- waiting for an injection.


Batam is a synecdoche of hope and prosperity for many people and has become a place where individuals and family migrate to from other areas of Indonesia in hope of finding a better life. Since arriving in Batam, my colleagues and I have experienced something that has changed all of us for the better.

The purpose of this trip was to conduct interdisciplinary fieldwork on rural-urban migration to Batam. But, as this trip draws to a close and as everyone is furiously typing away to complete our final assessment for the trip, there are very many things that we will walk away with when we depart on Saturday.

Here are some things that I believe most of us experienced whilst travelling abroad on the Australian Government's New Colombo Plan:

Interdisciplinary fieldwork is not only challenging but it is one of the best learning opportunities that I have personally ever experienced. The diverse culture, religion, food and the people on this trip makes all the fieldwork we have to do worth it. Whether it is travelling to Nagoya, ‘de bottle’ or the little night markets, each day brings with it new experiences and the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of this ‘Industrial Zone’.

The disciplines on this trip involved individuals from economics, geography, work and organisational studies, and Indonesian studies. Each discipline brings a different perspective, attitude and approach to our fieldwork. This group is the epitome of the idea that diversity enhances productivity, creativity and as a result, enhances everyone’s understanding of the area of research. At the beginning of this trip, very few of us had much in common, but we have come to understand and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the people in our group. For example, what one lacks in writing, they are able to make up for with their strong interpersonal skills, which is useful for when conducting interviews.

And, finally, the last lesson of the trip: as Mul, one of our leaders, said, “you need to build a strong foundation before you build an empire”. Not only is this applicable to Batam, but also a motto we should build into our everyday lives in order to leave our mark in this world.

Special thanks to SSEAC, Michele, Mul, Sydney University and the Australian Government for making this all happen. The experiences from this trip have shaped our understanding Batam’s place in the world and reiterate the importance of developing stronger relations with Southeast Asia. It was a learning opportunity like none other!

Written by: Veiongo Lamipeti- Bachelor of Health Sciences (majoring in management).


Pictured (Left to right): James MacDonald, Veiongo Lamipeti and Laura Van Den Honert

Arriving in Batam via Singapore, we were met with an unfamiliar landscape of malls, vacant shop houses, industrial estates and government buildings. Those of us who have had previous experiences of Indonesia or spent years studying the language and culture, were initially disorientated by the concrete jungle shrouded in the facade of a Hollywood-esque ‘Welcome to Batam’ sign and gaudy architecture. We missed the becak (A three-wheel mode of transport in Indonesia) and pasar (markets) of Jogja streets. The vibrancy and diversity of Jakarta’s kampung (villages/suburbs) were nowhere to be found.


It gradually became evident that our past experiences of Indonesia had in fact limited our perception of what the nation represents. Our experiences in Batam have forced us to expand our understanding to make sense of what we are seeing in the context of what we understand to be ‘authentic’ Indonesia. Is the landscape of Indonesian modernity really less legitimate than the romanticised images we have been clinging to?

To answer such a complex question, it’s important to first consider the complexity of Indonesia itself. Indonesia is an nation comprising of more than 17,000 islands, each holding an enigma of culture, history and tradition. Although some communities may be located adjacent to each other, natural divides such as mountains can create generations of difference and diversity. Batam Island, situated just on the border of Indonesia and Singapore, is a unique case, seen as a golden city of opportunity (by foreign investors and Indonesians alike) through its exponential economic growth within the manufacturing sector over the last 20 years. With the pursuit merantau (the voyage of an individual to seek opportunity away from their home village) by thousands across Indonesia, an intriguing fusion has been established.

We believed that a city constructed as an industrial centre according to a Master Plan could not possibly be taken as an accurate representation of Indonesia. But we have learnt that those who designed it are Indonesian, and those who live and work here are Indonesian. We have spoken and shared stories with them, of the way they miss their homelands but also the hope for a new life that brought them to Batam’s shores. We have eaten more mie goreng and manggis than is healthy. Just when you think you have Indonesia all figured out, Indonesia throws something right back at you to change your entire perspective. Thank you to the Australian government for providing us the opportunity to challenge our expectations of Batam, and Indonesia as a whole.


Anastasia Pavlovic - Bachelor of Arts (Indonesian Studies) / Bachelor of Social Work II
Maire Playford - Bachelor of Arts (Indonesian Studies) / Masters in Nursing I

After spending the morning on an island called Galang, where there was a refugee camp in the 1970s, we visited YMKK, an NGO that focuses on reproductive health. We’d learned in the pre-departure sessions that there are two female-dominated industries in Batam. There’s the ‘Batam of the day’ that is made up of females working in electronics factories. Then there’s the ‘Batam of the night’, which refers to the thriving sex tourism industry. It was interesting to explore the side of Batam that hadn’t yet been very visible to us during the field school.

The first thing we saw when we walked into the YMKK office was their computer room, where the organisation gives free English classes, and teaches basic computer skills. Next we all sat in a big circle on the floor, which set a refreshingly informal tone and felt very different to the sleek government offices we’d visited earlier in the week.


Our host Tarmizi talked to us about the history and evolution of YMKK, and how the organisation deals with issues facing sex workers. When YMKK was founded in 1994 they were first focused on HIV-related sexual health services and educational programs about safe sex, especially directed at female sex workers and sex tourists from Singapore. Tarmizi estimated that in the 1990s there were tens of thousands of sex workers in Batam, and that number has grown.

The demographic make-up of the sex work industry has also changed. Now most sex workers are locals, while in the 1990s the majority of workers were migrants from other parts of Indonesia. When you compare the amount that a sex worker makes per session (up to AU$50), to the relatively low monthly minimum wage in Batam (AU$250), it seems less surprising that some women choose sex work over lower paid factory and retail work.

These days, one of YMKK’s focuses is helping victims of sex trafficking. We really liked YMKK’s people-centred approach, which prioritises the wishes of the people it is helping when deciding on a course of action. We found it interesting that fewer male sex workers approach the organisation, in part because they don’t want to admit that they engage in male-to-male sexual activities.

The government seems to be realistic about the role of sex tourism on the island. When we visited the Planning Authority of Batam (BIFZA), we got the impression that they weren’t really opposed to sex tourism, because of its contribution to revenue from tourism fits with their aim of promoting economic growth. However, there has been some effort to control the industry by containing brothel areas to an area on the more industrial, western side of the island called Tanjung Uncang.

We left the office of YMKK appreciating the surprisingly frank and open discussion we were able to have about the sex industry, a topic which is often considered taboo in Australia. As an added bonus, the next day we found out that an article had been written about our visit, humorously titled ‘Australian Students visit Batam to learn about the Sex Business’.


For the past eight days the group has primarily been exploring Batam’s industrial heart, visiting places such as Batamindo Industrial park, Batam Industrial Free Zone Authority (BIFZA) and various unions. On Tuesday morning, the Tourism Sector group distanced themselves from heavy industry and visited Turi Beach, a luxurious resort in Nongsa on the north-east coast of the island that has attracted the likes of our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

On arrival we were greeted with cold honey ginger beverages in champagne glasses - we certainly weren’t in Batam Centre anymore! We were given a short presentation by senior management on how Turi Beach offers not ‘just a place to sleep’ but a lifestyle - as a place for relaxation or for outdoor activities. The general manager, Sumantri Endang impressed us with his knowledge on the potential for tourism growth. He was concerned about the inconsistency in visa regulations across the five international ferry terminals in Batam. While Batam Centre has free visa on arrival for over 35 nationalities, Nongsapura International Ferry Terminal does not. While this doesn’t affect Singapore, their main source of visitors, who don't need to pay for Visas for entry into Batam, it affects their second largest source of tourists, South Korea.


Our tour of the facilities lasted 45 minutes, exploring the two different styles of accommodation, the swimming pools, restaurants and bars, rock climbing wall and marine activities on the waterfront. We found ourselves looking at approximately ten cargo ships on the horizon, reminding us of the industrial presence on the island. We were told that guests were cautioned not to swim at the beach at certain times of the year, at risk of tar-stained clothes!


We finished up the day with a lesson from housekeeping staff on making towel animals, including bulldogs, elephants, monkeys (for children) and swans (in the honeymoon suites) - a valuable new skill we will practise on our friends and family! While we would have loved to stay the night, it was great to return back to Batam Centre, the pulsing cultural heart of the city.

Kimberley Hade and James Macdonald

Driving into the 320 hectare estate that is Batamindo Industrial Park, it was hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the operation and the presence of well-known global companies like Schneider, Rapala, CIBA Vision and Shimano.

First stop was the operational headquarters, where the presence of multinational banks such as HSBC hinted towards the diversity of the services this all-encompassing industrial park offers. We enjoyed a presentation by an employee from the marketing division of Gallant Venture, the investment holding company that runs the industrial park. Following this presentation and some questions from the fellow students, we were provided with a tour of many of the facilities and services within Batamindo.

The industrial park is a haven for employers, with its custom built factories, human resource recruitment services, all-inclusive facilities and capacity to house employees on-site. This strips away many of the operational costs and sometimes challenging logistical management required with sourcing workers, facility security and maintenance and transport.

Before we crammed back on to the bus for the grand tour, we were invited to peruse the pride and joy of the operation headquarters, Round Room 1. The room is the trophy cabinet of Batamindo – displaying many of the products recently manufactured within the industrial estate walls. The centrepiece of the room was a well-lit, colourful Lego playset. In a scary way, gazing upon the giant plastic scale model made us feel like wealthy foreign investors, casually picking out a location for a factory within the industrial park grounds.

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Considering there are living facilities, malls and food halls located within the park, production line workers rarely need to leave the park. But, unfortunately, many of them find their employment to be extremely monotonous and repetitive. Later in the week, we had a chance to talk to some of these workers to discuss their origins and opinions. Workers had travelled from other places in Indonesia, including Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi looking for work. Many of the workers within the Industrial Park were young females, who worked on the production lines of the electronics factories. They said that Batam was not their final destination, sharing with us their hopes to work for a number of years here before moving on. All of the workers that we interviewed were very friendly and willing to share their stories and experiences.

In retrospect, our visit to Batamindo was an incredible place to start our experience in Batam. Our first impressions here contextualised the enduring battle between employer and employee in the face of pressure to minimize costs and increase efficiency. It left us with many questions regarding the role of labour unions, employer associations, governmental responsibilities and the implications of their interactions. Time has flown since this initial visit as we have continued our adventures searching for these answers.

By Harry Agnew and Brendan Dobb

Batam is a carefully planned city with a grand vision. It is young but has loads of potential and the more we explore the greater appreciation we gain for its eclectic mix of cultures and people. After a short, leisurely stroll on Tuesday morning, the group entered the Batam Indonesia Free Zone Authority (BIFZA) building. The Authority is in charge of the masterplan for Batam, including designating land use, planning developments and facilitating long-term investment opportunities.

The meeting began with a short movie, featuring a majestic eagle soaring to The Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. What is Batam known for? “SSS - sun, seafood and sex” said the Director for Investment and Marketing, before laughing and adding “and gambling”. As coincidence would have it, Bapak Purnomo Andiantono was a student at Randwick Boys during the 1980s - he used to catch the 378 bus from his home in Chippendale near Victoria Park to Bondi Junction. He and two colleagues told us about their grand plans for Batam, including Batam’s first toll road and a monorail, proposed expansions to two ports and the airport, and a bridge connecting Batam and the southern islands of Rempang and Galang. Thus began our two hour discussion, with the USYD students asking over 30 questions about issues from marine preservation to high-rise construction and illegal housing to plans for a 5 star resort. The BIFZA staff’s vision for Batam is limitless and we truly can sense their energy and optimism for its future.

A sincere thanks from the Batam Study Group, USYD and Australia to BIFZA for their participation. As the token Bald Eagle flies over once more, Bapak Andiantono asked us to promote Batam back home while he “hope this will not be your last time here”. We would be thrilled to tour the city once more on, to quote The Simpsons, its “genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail”.

By Sarah Smith and Brian Roman

We rose early on Saturday morning, excited that our impending daytrip to Bintan would allow us to explore other islands of the Riau Archipelago. Even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits; instead we were glad for the cooler weather it brought.

We caught a 45-minute ferry and we were blown away by both the wind and the scenery. On arrival in Bintan we exchanged our ferry for two pompong and were taken to the quirky and intriguing island of Penyengat, a strange mix of abandoned colonial-style houses and colourful homes. Here we visited the Grand Mosque of Riau Sultanate, explored the graves of the royal Malay family and wandered through the surrounding farm areas. We were able to gauge an understanding of what life was like for locals as we observed people collecting water from stone wells.


Our first destination on the main island of Bintan was a large Buddhist temple, outside of which we were able to satisfy our tropical cravings with enormous young coconuts. We then gained first-hand experience of bargaining in Indonesian as we negotiated prices with motorcycle taxi drivers who were to take us to our trip organiser’s family home on the island where we were to eat lunch. The Batam team cruised through the streets together in style.


We were treated to a beautiful and abundant spread of food which was enjoyed immensely by all, apart from those who were caught unawares by the chilli hidden throughout the dishes. Burning red faces and eyes streaming with tears made those who fell victim incredibly easy to spot across the room.
We had time to explore the surrounding area after our feast, but didn’t make it past the sweets store on the corner. We were overwhelmed with multi-coloured jelly cakes, coconut rice balls and pandan treats but couldn’t go past the sugar-coated donuts. These donuts weren’t like regular donuts, they were melt-in-your-mouth donuts glazed in eternal happiness. It was undoubtedly the food pinnacle of the trip and our stomachs will spend their lives searching for this same enjoyment.


We’d like to thank Sydney University and the Australian Government for giving us the opportunity to visit and study Batam, it is a truly unique place and certainly full of experiences we won’t forget. Thanks also to Michele and Vivian, our fearless leaders!

Laura Van Den Honert and Shannon Hood

We rose early on Saturday morning, excited that our impending daytrip to Bintan would allow us to explore other islands of the Riau Archipelago. Even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits; instead we were glad for the cooler weather it brought.

We caught a 45-minute ferry and we were blown away by both the wind and the scenery. On arrival in Bintan we exchanged our ferry for two pompong and were taken to the quirky and intriguing island of Penyengat, a strange mix of abandoned colonial-style houses and colourful homes. Here we visited the Grand Mosque of Riau Sultanate, explored the graves of the royal Malay family and wandered through the surrounding farm areas. We were able to gauge an understanding of what life was like for locals as we observed people collecting water from stone wells.


Our first destination on the main island of Bintan was a large Buddhist temple, outside of which we were able to satisfy our tropical cravings with enormous young coconuts. We then gained first-hand experience of bargaining in Indonesian as we negotiated prices with motorcycle taxi drivers who were to take us to our trip organiser’s family home on the island where we were to eat lunch. The Batam team cruised through the streets together in style.


We were treated to a beautiful and abundant spread of food which was enjoyed immensely by all, apart from those who were caught unawares by the chilli hidden throughout the dishes. Burning red faces and eyes streaming with tears made those who fell victim incredibly easy to spot across the room.

We had time to explore the surrounding area after our feast, but didn’t make it past the sweets store on the corner. We were overwhelmed with multi-coloured jelly cakes, coconut rice balls and pandan treats but couldn’t go past the sugar-coated donuts. These donuts weren’t like regular donuts, they were melt-in-your-mouth donuts glazed in eternal happiness. It was undoubtedly the food pinnacle of the trip and our stomachs will spend their lives searching for this same enjoyment.


We’d like to thank Sydney University and the Australian Government for giving us the opportunity to visit and study Batam, it is a truly unique place and certainly full of experiences we won’t forget. Thanks also to Michele and Vivian, our fearless leaders!

Laura Van Den Honert and Shannon Hood

I have now lived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia for one whole month. I have had three weeks to settle into my room, two weeks of classes so far and a whole lot of fun. As an Indonesian language major with two years of Bahasa Indonesia under my belt, I feel quite comfortable speaking and understanding most of what is happening around me. The real confusion has come with getting used to new rules and social norms, which is embarrassing but also incredibly enlightening. It’s the whole reason I’m here. Cross-cultural experiences require you to understand that all the things you have come to think of as ‘normal’ are not actually the only way to do things. Nor are they the right way to do things. They are just different.



Last Friday marked the end of a busy week, and the end of the Field School. The Engineering and Business groups split up to do our own faculty-related activities, with us in Engineering spending the week looking for problems or areas where the University may be able to look further into, with the theme being transport or humanitarian related.

To approach this, we visited a variety of companies and organisations that are doing work related to transport and humanitarian aid, including the Asian Development Bank, Ford, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the UN, UNICEF, the Jakartan Ministry of Transportation, and the Jakartan Traffic Control Center. All of these organisations were kind enough to invite us into their offices so that we could inundate them with questions related to our areas of interest, and to talk to us about the work they were doing to try and improve the condition of transport or water and sanitation in Indonesia. We also conducted other activities to try and gauge the potential of our projects, with several of us creating and conducting surveys (with the indispensable aid of our Indonesian counterparts from Universitas Indonesia).


In 2002 Dove attempted to redefine the notion of beauty in their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. Dove claimed society’s concept of beauty was informed by highly unrealistic images of supermodel size zero’s who showcased the world’s leading beauty brands. They featured high cheekbones, toothpick legs and chins so sharp they could cut through steal. They’d fit in better on mars than earth. Recognising this, Dove’s campaign aimed at widening the definition to include life forms from the planet earth. Subsequently, Dove released a series of campaigns featuring more realistic representations of the womanly figure, communicating that beauty was natural and accessible.

Most importantly, Dove recognised powerful brands were symbolic resources of meaning which individuals use to construct or extend the self. Thus consumers who agreed in the morality of Dove’s attempt to liberalise society’s perception of beauty would express or confirm their morality by purchasing Dove products, empowering the consumer. The consumer was engaged in a social movement where Dove formed the connective tissue.

Yet this unitive outcome did not emerge when Unilever brought the US campaign to Jakarta.


Students from the USYD Business School had an opportunity visit Sinar Mas, one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia, which has subsidiaries in pulp and paper, agriculture, financial services, property, telecommunications, energy and infrastructure. Interestingly, the visit came about through a chance meeting a USYD transport academic had with an employee at a bus station. The company is the largest producer of palm oil in Indonesia (accounting for roughly 10% of total production) and the second largest globally (Sinar Mas, 2015)

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So why is this an issue?


In the second week of the field trip, it was more centered towards our faculty. The business students had the opportunity to visit several companies in Jakarta. These companies included; Lowe Indonesia, Sinar Mas, Unilever Indonesia, Garuda Indonesia, MarkPlus institute and Nielsen Indonesia. During these visits, students had the opportunity to learn about how each respective company uses marketing tools and strategies. We were also exposed to how consumers behave in Indonesia.

However, there was one company that intrigued me instantly. This was Garuda Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia is a service airline that values being efficient and effective, loyalty, customer centricity, honesty and integrity. Moreover, Garuda seeks to promote national economic development by delivering professional airline service to the world.

Given their past, this company visit gave me great insights about their present market position in both the domestic and global market. Despite this, it is important to appreciate that Garuda experienced many obstacles in its past. During the 1996-97, Garuda suffered two major accidents- one of them being Indonesia’s worst aviation disaster. Moreover, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 also hit Garuda very hard, resulting in them reducing flights and suspending certain flight routes.

Subsequently, in 2009 Garuda announced a major five-year expansion plan called the ‘Quantum leap’. This expansion involved image overhaul, including a change in the airline’s staff uniform and logo. Reflecting now, it is evident that their expansion plan was successful.

The success of the ‘Quantum leap’ has given Garuda a solid platform now. For instance, Garuda is currently the market leader in its domestic market for middle-high income earners. This market stance has also been supported by Garuda’s reputation of promoting safe flights, loyalty to its customers and great customer service. Moreover, Garuda has also successfully addressed its present challenges in its domestic market. Their major challenge is to be able to compete with budget airlines such as Sriwijaya Air, Batavia Air etc. This has been primarily addressed in its focus of Citilink. Citilink is a low-cost airline subsidiary of Garuda and seeks to cater for the lower-middle income earners.

In spite of this, one aspect of the company visit that I found interesting was when they told us how Garuda differentiates itself from its international competitors. Garuda attempts to differentiate from its competitors through “Garuda experiences”, meaning that they develop products in relation to Indonesia’s culture. For example, in their entertainment, Garuda has a section dedicated to only Indonesian movies and music. Reflecting now on our company visit to Garuda, I feel extremely grateful and blessed to have been given the opportunity to learn more about Indonesia’s leading aviation airline.

But more importantly, I feel extremely blessed to be able to visit Jakarta for the past fortnight. I have learnt to not just compare Jakarta with Sydney, but to appreciate the beauty of Jakarta and distance myself from comparing the two together. I already miss Jakarta. I miss the people, their smiles of happiness. I miss the company of my peers every night. For sure, the two weeks here in Jakarta will be in my memory forever.

Juan Tjiong
New Colombo Plan 2015 (Jakarta)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust

With Indonesia’s growing strategic importance in the ASEAN region, rich resource base and proximity to Australia, it makes sense to proactively bridge corporate and trading relations with South East Asia’s largest economy, especially considering the rise of the “Asian century” (Commonwealth of Australia 2012). Post program closure, I am definitely in accord with the government’s New Colombo Plan initiative to building more salience and longer-term engagement with the South East Asia region within young graduates; after all a fair few of us (myself included) believed Bali was a country of its own prior to pre-departure training.

During the second week of the field trip Business students were warmly received by leading professionals in various global and local firms and exposed to areas of market research, public relations, product and project management, strategy and publications. Among these visits I became increasingly intrigued by Lowe Indonesia CEO Joseph Tan, Graduate Management Trainee Andrew Tobing and Sinarmas International Relations Manager Cannia Susanto’s decisions to embrace dynamic, fast-paced international careers, and the importance of finding your ‘own voice’ within an organization. Moreover, discussions at Unilever pertaining to the competitiveness and saturated state of the hair, health care and beauty (FMCG) market appears to be far more challenging than the Australian market, however such conditions undoubtedly implores more creativity and innovation. Out of all the advertisements we viewed at the Lowe workshop, Unilever’s ‘Lifebuoy Tree of Life’ resonated with me the most; its disruptive message and grand scale emotive appeal is certainly more powerful than most advertisements aired and geared towards the Australian market. Prior to these industry workshops, I was never exposed to the idea or possibility of working in Indonesia, however I now feel challenged to assess how much of the concepts and knowledge I have learnt in my Business degree at USYD would be relevant and applicable in the Indonesian region or South East Asian context.

Reflecting on this experience, I felt a heightened degree of cognitive disruption towards how often and quickly I used my own biases and automatic assumptions to determine how I felt about certain industries and career paths, and that these biases and beliefs are inevitably difficult to challenge or change. This sense of “felt difficulty” (Dewey 1933 cited in Carson and Fisher 2006, p. 709) in having a previously unconscious presumption challenged further prompted me to contemplate how Indonesia has been portrayed in Australian media and how much I have allowed this to unconsciously shape my preconceptions about the country. This further reveals that our assumptions emanate from political and economic institutions, infiltrate our belief system and can only be recognised and contested through the process of reflection. Acknowledging that I have been quite rustic in my thinking, and where good and bad are no longer so clearly defined means that I will have to re-evaluate many of my other beliefs regarding cultural empathy in the corporate space and the ‘Asia fit’ concept.

The field trip and reflective assessment component have definitely created disturbances in my thinking and provided a perfect opportunity to reconsider the skill and knowledge gap which I need to proactively fill to prepare myself for potential short-term international work experience.


Google App Storyboard Workshop with Andrew Tobing at Lowe Indonesia


Unilever (Wall’s floor)


Commonwealth of Australia 2012, Australia in the Asian Century, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, ISBN 978-1-921739-93-4, viewed 5 February 2015,

Carson, L. and Fisher, K. 2006, ‘RAISING THE BAR ON CRITICALITY: STUDENTS' CRITICAL REFLECTION IN AN INTERNSHIP PROGRAM’, Journal of Management Education, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 700-723, viewed 6 February 2015, ProQuest Central, 195721938.

Vicki Xin
Commerce Liberal Studies
New Colombo Plan 2015 (Jakarta)

The second week of our field school has been more faculty-centric and allowed us to focus on building our understanding of Indonesian consumers. We were welcomed by staff from Lowe, Sinar Mas, Unilever, Garuda Indonesia, Nielsen Research and MarkPlus consulting.

Our company visits and workshops provided curious insight into not only the Indonesian market, but the experience of doing business in such a dynamic economy. It is worth noting that all companies we visited mentioned the logistical challenges that accompany the distribution of goods and services to over six thousand inhabited islands. Further, the expanse of the world that these six thousand islands are scattered across itself consists of over seventeen thousand islands - magnifying the obstacle of supply.

Not unlike Australia, distance is a significant hurdle – the key difference, however, is that even the smallest islands of Indonesia present huge economic opportunities, given the sheer size of the population. The success of Indonesian companies in this era, where the burgeoning middle class make up over 55% of all Indonesians (Nielsen 2014) is dependent on their ability to service the sheer breadth of their own country. The reality of this alone is demanding, and needs to be navigated alongside the cultural distinctions that exist between every community. It’s clear that catering to the Indonesian market is no easy task, and that the overwhelming diversity that we’ve seen in Jakarta is merely a ladle in the deep melting pot that is Indonesia.


Reflecting now on the fortnight that has just flown by, I’m confident that the greatest aspect of this field school has been the facility of perspective. I feel that as an Australian, I initially observed the complexity of Jakarta but could only compare it to what I am accustomed to – the very different lifestyle of Sydney.

After two weeks, I've found that the real value in spending time in an unfamiliar environment, especially within the field school format, has been distancing myself from the exercise of comparison and coming to understand a place like Jakarta in its own right.

Having the opportunity to compare our firsthand observations of the city with the life experiences of the households we interviewed for our field work formed a starting block of sorts. From here, we were able to reconcile our own interpretations of the new environment that was around us with the familiarities of the people who comprise it.

In speaking to local university students and unlikely friends out and about – street vendors, shopkeepers, ‘taksi’ drivers and even beauticians – it seemed that for two weeks, my default role in a conversation was to end every sentence with a rising intonation. Questions, questions, questions – for every query I had, I was thrilled to be met by a kind willingness to share anecdotes and opinions.

I am grateful to have experienced even a small part of the fantastic and intricate culture of our neighbours in Indonesia. I already miss the noise and the constant sense of adventure, and admittedly, even the shocking macet (traffic jams) as Jakarta could never be less than exciting, even from the seat of a sedentary vehicle. Terima kasih – thank you Jakarta!

What a hectic week it was! From touring the kampungs of Jakarta to skipping meals to get our work done on presentation day, the Jakarta Field school has been a challenging, yet interesting experience. From the minute you step out of the Soekarno-Hatta airport, and breathe the musty air, you know you're in for a journey.

Upon arriving at the hotel, it was obvious to us the dynamics of this wonderful city. Street food sellers sprawled along Jalan Sabang – right next to our hotel. Warungs share footpath with pedestrians and often pedestrians risk collision with vehicles by walking on the road. There’s just something about eating alongside exhaust fumes that makes food tastier and where the dishes get “washed” in buckets of murky water - adds flavour to the dish I guess. Kwe-tiaw goreng gila – meaning crazy fried rice noodle was probably the best dish I’ve had on this trip.

It's safe to say that all 15 of us have mastered the art of crossing the road. The trick is to walk calmly as possible and believe that the drivers are not going to hit you and wave your hand at the drivers while crossing. Whatever you do, do not make any sudden changes in speed. I found that motorcyclists rarely stop for pedestrians but they'll drive around you.

On Tuesday we were shown around Jakarta, by our local Indonesian student, Tri. We visited the National Monument (MONAS) just a few minutes ride by busway. We noticed there is a separate section for women on the bus, which intrigued us. Tri told us that the separate section for women is to keep them closer to the driver for safety. We took the lift to the Puncak (top of the tower) and we were, literally, blown away by the view – it was very windy up there. A security guard was nice enough to give us a free tour of the monument and a little History of Indonesia. I was amazed at the fact that 17 August 1945, the day of independence of Indonesia, were intentionally interspersed through the design on the tower and the national emblem, the Garuda Eagle. The 45m square platform of the monument was 17m high off the ground and the tower being 8m wide at the platform referring to, 17th day of the 8th month of the year 45 (1945). Our tour guide was not the only example of the social nature of the Indonesian people. I found it very comforting that if you ever get lost, asking the nearest person will happily show you the right direction. It is actually faster to ask the security guide at the mall than looking around for a directory.


Our household interview was both interesting and unexpected. Our host family were wealthy family living in dense residential area. It was very surprising to learn the perspective of the rich in Jakarta on public transport and traffic. Our journey on Jakarta roads further adds to our research project. I found that traffic lights in Jakarta are merely a suggestion and lane markings are redundant. All the traffic rules we follow in Sydney just went out the window. There’s no such thing as “right of way”.
And lastly, what is better than the shopping mall closing late at 10pm every night?

The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is an enormous metropolis located on the island of Java. The city is experiencing significant urbanisation and economic growth, which is presenting number of issues as the country seeks to assert itself in the Golden Asian Century. With this in mind, a group of 15 students, including myself travelled to Jakarta to explore how traffic congestion and a lack transport infrastructure is affecting the people who call this city home.

Before commencing field research, academics and students participated in a walking tour of the cities ‘kampong’ (slums). Indonesia has some of the highest rates of urban poverty in East Asia, with at least a quarter of the Jakarta’s population living in kampong. Our tour guide was Ronny Poulan, a former film producer, who has been running the tours since 2009 despite significant opposition from local media and government who claim it commodifies poverty. Whilst the tour provides tourists with unprecedented access into the kampong, I couldn’t help but feel as though our presence was demeaning, invading the little privacy these people had. Needless to say, the families did seem genuine in temporarily welcoming us into their lives. Half the tour revenue is redirected towards the communities we visited, funding regular doctor visits and infrastructure projects.

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We also had an opportunity to visit Istiglal Mosque, the national Mosque of Indonesia and largest in South East Asia. Interestingly, Frederich Silaban, a Christian, designed the mosque in 1978 following a design completion. The architecture and grandeur is simply astonishing, which is appropriate considering Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. The mosque has a capacity of 120,000.

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On Tuesday we started our field research. Sophie (Engineering), Alexandra (Occupational Therapy) and I visited Walter (59) and Linda (56) Hutapea in Depok, on the outskirts of Jakarta. The purpose of the trip was to conduct an informal interview, attempting to understand their traveling habits, attitudes and perceptions of vulnerability as road users. Walter worked for an international mining company in West Papua before retiring recently, whilst Linda has busy raising the 5 children. They were undoubtedly the best respondents I’ve ever had in any qualitative study! (Note: May be slightly biased due to the homemade dessert on offer – sweet rice balls dusted with coconut and stuffed with molasses).

We presented our findings to the academics on Friday. I thoroughly enjoyed working in an inter-disciplinary team with Alexandra and Sophie (engineers are definitely a little cooler than I thought - not sure if anyone will believe me though!). As a team we got along very well and had a great work ethic, which was reflected in our presentation.

Looking forward to next week!


The below image is from an orphanage we visited on Saturday:

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Jakarta is a city where stark contrasts sit comfortably alongside an indescribable social cohesion. If you’ve just touched down, you might see it as chaotic - perhaps lawless. Once you have spent time here, however, the unwritten collective codes of what appears to be the largest village on Earth reveal themselves.

In this day and age, technological systems may be baffling in their proficiency, but Jakarta makes it clear that they are not a replacement for the incredible links created by simple human interaction and strong community ties. You can hear roosters crow unfailingly every morning as they herald the sunrise, and I’ve yet to see a taxi driver use a GPS. If they’re ever unsure about where they’re headed, they will unabashedly stop by the side of the road and consult the nearest person they can find – there’s no stigma around men asking for directions here!

Against all odds, Jakarta seems to have preserved the best aspects of old and new world society – elevating traditional values and a fiercely strong regard for community while simultaneously forging full speed ahead into the future. This balancing act truly has to seen to be believed. Over nine million people live in Jakarta – but the sense of anonymity and isolation that is often associated with big cities cannot be found here. You never feel alone.


Observing the many transport systems that mobilise millions daily and interviewing Indonesian households about their experiences with them has been an exercise in both cultural competence and exchange. Indonesia’s establishment as a G20 economy and exponential population growth has seen its colossal amount of inhabitants grapple with the challenges that inevitably come from such hard and fast development. The result is truly mind blowing – ‘taksi’ drivers, motorcyclists, those behind the wheel of their own vehicles, buses and bajaj (three wheeled automatic rickshaws) all navigate the same thoroughfare whilst watching out for pedestrians.

Back at home, the sound of car horns on the road always makes me shudder. In Australia, we are conditioned to process them as angry and aggressive. Here, incredibly, they are more clinically perceived - as a necessity in negotiating road space. Rather than a way of expressing frustration, horns are used expectantly and above all, frequently. I explained my surprise at this to a University of Indonesia student and she laughed, “if you didn’t beep on the road here, people would think there was something wrong with you!”

The patient communication that takes place on roads is reflective of the way that the diverse, hard working people who call Jakarta home are so united. I have been astounded every day by their unspoken and measured awareness of one another. They are connected by an invisible web – and, despite being the world’s most active ‘Twitter city’, it’s not just the ‘world wide’ one.

“If you find what you want to find as opposed to what you can find, you will probably find it and not discover anything new.”

This was a key message I walked away with from Pre-departure Training, and definitely underpins my experience with our transport research project.

I felt excited to partake the messy, holistic, interpretive, ambiguous, challenging process of qualitative research where I as the researcher am both a learner and in a position to consciously make decisions that affect the direction of the study. Although this was my first exploratory research venture in the area of transport and visit to Jakarta, I was hopeful for our group to hit the ground running from the get go given the tight time-frame we were given to gather, analyse and present our findings. Our preparatory secondary research into Jakarta's background, regulatory landscape and current issues within the transport sector had proven to be intriguing yet fragmented and difficult to coalesce, prompting us to consult a few academics for further insight. This enabled us to formulate a few hypotheses which link closely with the broader theme of vulnerable road users including 'safety', ‘poor public transportation system’ and 'poor regulatory enforcement', with the preconception that these issues would at the very least affect the majority in Jakarta.

However, during the family interview I was disillusioned to hear our household's attitudes and responses to traffic and transport issues conflicted with our expectations, whereby all family members confirmed a high sense of confidence and control in navigating the traffic and coping with risk when commuting in Jakarta.

Post transcribing and listening to a recording of our interview for the second time we identified a misalignment between the family’s behavior and beliefs; although our household advocated the use of public transport in Jakarta, they rarely used modes of transport other than their private vehicles. It became evident for us to delve deeper, cease passively absorbing data and reconsider our standpoint. I began to see the importance of reflexivity (Rossman and Rallis 2012) in this research process where a conscious awareness of self, my group members, research components and the interplay of all three can skew the results presented.

We thus altered our approach to discover multiple perspectives and analysed existing scenarios against our own experiences on TransJakarta buses, the Angkot and Bajaj whilst consulting our Indonesian student helper and accompanying academics. We came to realise that the strong internal locus of control our household members showed undoubtedly represents a ‘coping mechanism’ to avoid dependence on unreliable external forces such as legal enforcement. However, it was evident that those from lower socio economic segments and women travelling alone on public transport were in much less position of control. It was confronting to learn that two of our student helper’s female friends were previously targeted on various modes of public transport, thus affecting her choices in public transport use.
This unequal degree of perceived and physical vulnerability in commuters implored my awareness to the importance of altering my own perspectives to see issues through locals’ lens as a critical step to genuinely understand our research environment and its people.

Through the initial stages of this exploratory research journey I have come to acknowledge the hermeneutic process of research (Rossman and Rallis 2012), learning to suspend disbelief and manage ambiguity rather than seeking for a sole ‘true’ answer.


Rossman, G. and Rallis, C. 2012, Learning in the Field: An Introduction to Qualitative Research 3rd Edition, Sage Publications, California.

Vicki Xin
Commerce Liberal Studies
New Colombo Plan 2015 (Jakarta)

As I sit here, multiple things are happening. Djokovic and Murray are battling it out on the TV, whilst somewhere outside, a mosque is calling people to prayer. It's an odd mix, yes, but all apart of the experience that has been Jakarta.

A week ago, I could immediately establish I was in South-East Asia, but the differences were both obvious and subtle, reeling me in slowly.


This week has been such a joyful and enjoyable learning experience that has allowed so many students to broaden their horizons and consider new possibilities. It has been such a fun time experiencing and learning more about Jakarta. However, one of the things that will always be in my memory is the scenes of the Jakarta’ ‘hidden tour’.

The tour began in ‘Kota’, which is also known as ‘Old Batavia’. ‘Old Batavia’ brings a lot of past history and memories to Indonesia and its people because it has a collection of Dutch colonial buildings that are partially collapsed, but also buildings that has fallen into significant disrepair. After briefly visiting this place, we disembarked from Plaza Batavia to start our walking tour. From just walking a few steps, it became apparent that Jakarta is not just a city of business districts but also a city of insufficiency. Once we arrived at our second destination by riding an ‘Angkot’, the scenes quickly continued to change. The place was filled with dirty roads, rusty bridges and rubbish in the river. However, what made it more disturbing was the look of suffering on everyone’s faces. Fathers, mothers and children were all walking without any hope. Their expression told it all.


I couldn’t help but tear up. It really made me realise how privileged I am to be living in Australia. A prosperous nation that provides adequate shelter, clean drinking water, food and education. After stumbling through the tunnels, we visited a house in that village. The house was small and rusty, but it was a house full of peaceful memories and happiness.

In the house, many photographs of the owner’s family were on the wall. It was quite obvious and clear that those precious and delicate photographs were the mother’s greatest memories. You could tell that every one of them excited a fragment of her mind to recall some of her fondest moments. Those photos surely provided keys to unlocking her most cherished file in her memory.

You could tell that she was not angry about her situation. You could see that the mother was certainly making the most of her opportunities. It was evident that she was a mother who has a brave heart and a bold mind. A woman who continually strives for excellence even though the storms of life consistently rage at her.

After visiting her home, it made me realise how I sometimes take things for granted, things that not everyone has, things that I should be grateful of. To be honest, I was really comforted to know that our tour guide Ronny really cared for their community. He was doing everything he can in his power to help this village. With the tour fees, half of the amount raised goes into funds for the villages’ Education, Empowerment and Emergency purposes.

The day was filled with great lessons and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Juan Tjiong
New Colombo Plan 2015 (Jakarta)

Some seem to think that because Jakarta and Singapore are both in South East Asia and host a majority Asian population, that they are essentially the same. Essentially in the sense that they are both cities on the planet earth with inhabitants primarily constituted of the element carbon, yes.

In all other senses however, I am here to inform you, that this opinion is wrong.

The only other thing Jakarta and Singapore have in common, is the weather; seriously, it’s like breathing through a sponge. Oh and the haze. Though Singapore is innocent (ha!) in this regard. Air currents blow over smoke created by Indonesian rubber plantations (unethically?) burning forest to clear land. The haze seems to loom over Singapore’s gum-free streets in spiteful (ominous?) reminder of Indonesia’s (growing?) global presence.

The fact that forest burning was banned in 1997 under President Suharto’s (despotic?) office of leadership, and yet continued none the less (bribery?), gives a slight indication towards one of the differences between Singapore and Jakarta. In Singapore, if the government introduces a regulation, no matter how far fetched, absurd and borderline insane, it will be enforced. To quote Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, I bet LKY Jnr’s chums (ministers?) “are so anally retentive, they’re afraid to sit down for fear of sucking up the furniture”. While in Jakarta I stroll down the unsupervised streets hoping I don't get (stabbed? pick pocketed? charged too much for nasi goreng?), in Singapore I doubt I could pick my nose without some official making a public announcement about my (vulgarity?).

It was this sheer lack of regulation and supervision (nannying?) which struck me the most about Jakarta. There’s no safety net here like Singapore’s HBD’s for those who fall (gush? tumble?) through the cracks and can’t afford a home. Given an apartment in the city costs upwards of 300 000 USD, its not surprising this number is high. Consequently, vast swathes of Jakarta’s ‘undesirable areas’ have been converted into slums, home to hundreds of thousands. (forgotten people?). We were lucky (privileged?) enough to be guided through these (haphazard? chaotic?) areas by local documentary maker Ronny. My first feelings weren’t of repulsion or fear as I expected, but of (escapist?) admiration. With the materials they could gather from abandoned construction sites and dilapidated ‘old world’ buildings, these enterprising and resourceful individuals had built a mini-city. And dare I say, much more effectively organised than the job Jakarta’s opaque (corrupt?) bureaucracy has done with the city infrastructure. I cannot claim to empathise with how these people live from that brief visit, but I can attest to their welcoming generosity, ‘keep-on-keeping-on’ spirit and genuine happiness. Everyone smiled at us, shook our hand and touched their heart, the kids sang Fiere Jaques for us and took lengths to communicate with us in the ways that they could - an offer of water, a nod of the head.

Obviously, they have bad times too. And obviously, being a sheltered eastern suburbs bubble-boy, I forgot about this until we left. The one thing my business tutor said to me which I’ve remembered is “that two thirds of the world have to live in poverty for us to live the way we do” (so why were we treated like deities?). Is it a convenient (selfish?) fallacy (cop out?) to say that these people are happier than us? That it does’t matter that I (we?) don’t really do anything to help them, because ‘they’re happy’ and ‘happiness is relative anyway’. Though the tour was great, and I think it’s excellent that we got to see this ‘mini city’ (which the tour might perpetuate?), I couldn’t understand why everyone was calling the slums the ‘real Jakarta’. Its as real as the sprawling mansions and city penthouses which host Jakarta’s ultra wealthy [UHNW’s]. I think it’s actually very convenient for the UHNW’s to be considered part of the ‘fictional’ Jakarta. Shouldn’t we be paying more attention to the UHNW’s, are they not primary beneficiaries (causes?) of the ‘problem’? How do we tackle a problem if we deny the existence of its root?

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Upon arrival into Jakarta for the transport field school, the city was as I expected – a busy, commercial metropolis. Even high up from my hotel room I can hear the humming of motorcycles and international brands lighting up the skyline. However, after the first week of tours and meetings, Jakarta can only be summed up as the city of contrasts.

Unkept canals contrasted with the growing skyline


I finally think I may be getting the hang of crossing the street in Jakarta – while everyone tells you that the trick is to do the somewhat counter-intuitive “just start walking across and let the traffic avoid you”, it’s still a disconcerting experience to just casually stroll into a busy intersection through the first opening you see. But you get used to it. Kind of.

This past week has been quite busy for everyone involved in this field school, with most of our down-time occurring while sitting in traffic. It’s also been an enlightening experience learning about a country that is geographically close, yet so different to Australia in so many ways. Air conditioned hotel rooms and McDonalds are perhaps two constants that remain regardless of location, but just outside the window is a busy street where the food is cheap and the air is hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes. Street vendors are peppered along the sidewalk and occasionally spill out onto the road. The transport system is perhaps the most obvious difference that you notice when you first set foot in Indonesia (the best way to describe it is probably “organised chaos”), and you quickly realise just how much you took the system in Australia for granted.

Friday was the day that everyone presented their findings from the past week, and acted as a milestone for many of us: a culmination of our findings and efforts into a 15-20 minute long presentation on some transport-related dilemma that emerged from the interviews we conducted with households. It also marked the end of the inter-disciplinary part of this trip, with the Occupational Therapy students heading back to Sydney today for a well deserved rest, while the Business and Engineering students remain in Jakarta for the next week to do our own separate things. While I cannot speak for the activities of the Business group, we in Engineering have a busy week ahead of us, as we attempt to examine some transport or engineering problem of our choosing (I’ve chosen to look at the effectiveness of Intelligent Transport Systems) in order to determine whether or not it’s an area for future research. In some ways, I’m quite nervous – it’s quite rare in undergraduate coursework for us to find our own area of interest, and perform our own research on some problem that we identify, but perhaps it’s similar to crossing a road in Jakarta – you’ve got to just start walking, or you may never find an opening to cross.

The Australian Embassy. It really did feel like coming back to Australia. I think it was the unusually long waiting time for us students and our academics to enter. Like a scene from Centrelink. Or maybe it was the guy in a simple shirt and bright shorts that everyone ignored. I've never seen a local wearing shorts for the past 2 and a half weeks in Indonesia. But as I sat in on the conversation between us and the officials talking about trade and infrastructure, it became apparent to me that there was one thing that was definitely not like Australia. Public health services were no where close to this dialogue. Sure this was a visit with a focus on transport and traffic but I am sure that there was room to discuss ambulance response times and cooperation between our nations not just in trade but in pre-hospital care. Especially after the Bali bombings and the recent rise in terror threat levels for Indonesia.

The Australian people are obviously strong supporters of an efficient public health sector. This is evident with the highly publicized national debate on the seven dollar "GP Tax" and the cuts to public hospitals these last few months back home. Should there not be a mention of public safety and health, something that that matters most, from our embassy to the students here on the New Columbo Plan? An initiative that is meant to serve the interests of both nations?

It has been nearly three weeks now since I have arrived in Indonesia. I have yet to observe an ambulance and have only heard sirens once from an unknown emergency vehicle. Maybe Indonesia has been very fortunate ever since I arrived or I have just been imagining the almost nightly calls of Sydney's suburban emergency sirens and this comparison is totally ill-founded.

Yesterday, following on from the experiences in the kampongs, we were introduced to quite a different side to Jakarta. A day spent was spent with also another very welcoming family. They were a long time married couple who lived comfortably in retirement. Their adult children had each begun their own lives away from home by now and so during leisure time, the husband enjoys playing badminton with friends or learning the keyboard. The wife heads to the traditional markets and together, they often volunteer their time to religion. It was yet again another stark contrast.

In our interdisciplinary team made up of Tom (Business), Alex (Occupational Health) and myself (Engineering/Architecture), we were treated to such good hospitality in their homes and given a private audience with each of them, Walter and Linda, for a few hours in order to talk to them about Jakarta's traffic problem. Very early upon meeting them that day, it was clear that being elderly citizens in this rapidly growing and transforming city had its challenges. Even though they were socially and economically better off than the families visited in the kampongs, there was still an overarching theme; Jakarta's rapid urbanisation and congested infrastructure is failing to support its people. Transportation is such an inherent part of daily life here, and the perpetual gridlock chocking the road network will cripple any family's daily life regardless of income or social class.

The interviews with Walter and Linda went smoothly despite our initial lack of direction. Drivers' negligence and lack of knowledge of road safety quickly became a prominent topic of discussion with Walter. Having been a driver on Jakarta's system for over 30 years, he was very keen to point out that there was an increase in unlicensed drivers on the road. With this increase, his own perceived level of safety whilst driving decreases, but he travels the nonetheless because the 'motorbike is my legs'.

After that comment, the conversation dived into road and traffic safety. It was revealed that drivers in Jakarta, though officially required to pass a driving skills test (one too difficult for most to pass), had other 'methods' of getting their licenses. So as a result, a large portion of drivers on the streets have very little to no knowledge of local road regulations, compounding onto the congestion issue by making the roads hazardous for other drivers.

I see it as a vicious cycle. Like Walter's dependence on his motorbike for mobility, most people in Jakarta need to use the transport network in their daily lives. But as most lack safe driving skills and knowledge of road regulations, officially obtaining a license is a hard task to achieve. The easiest solutions? Pay someone on forego the paperwork and tests or simply become an unlicensed driver. The sense of lawlessness or lack of law enforcement may have been a factor in kick starting this culture of reckless driving.

Together, these two vastly differently experiences confirmed this; Jakarta is a multifaceted city with a very unique but complex dynamic between its rapid urbanisation and its capacity to provide for all. It is so clear that transportation is a large part of almost ever body's livelihoods, whether families were from the poorest of slums, or just average people. But the built environment is not made for Jakarta's population. So many external factors are stacked up against everyday road users in feeling safe everyday.

Is there something our University can do on a humanitarian or even academic stand point to break this social norm? It obviously affects millions of road users in Jakarta. United Nations forecasted that if no actions were taken to reduce road fatality rates in this coming decade, it would quickly become one of the top five leading causes of death in Indonesia.

We woke to the monsoonal rains and the rumbles of thunder, a new day in Jakarta.

After a buffet of international cuisine, we assembled in the lobby to await our drivers. Thirty minutes later the drivers arrived promptly on Indonesia time. We travelled along busy roads, watching motorbikes weaving in and out of lanes between cars. An hour and a half later we reached our destination; Margo City Shopping Mall in Depok. Our host families greeted us with warm smiles and assisted our selection of an array of delicious traditional Indonesian lunch meals.

We divided into our groups and followed our host families back to their homes. The occupational therapy students were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to practice interviewing in an international context and gain personal insights of how traffic and transport in Jakarta impact on participation in the activities of daily living.

Using their unique expertise, the occupational therapy, engineering and business students asked a range of questions of their hosts. It was challenging to combine such diverse perspectives into one cohesive discussion about transport. However, we overcame this to uncover the insider perspective of life in Jakarta. As Sydney-siders, the idea of a two kilometre trip taking 45 minutes seemed unfathomable. Stories such as this illuminated the huge impact traffic can have on an individual's routines.

There was no better place to debrief than in a traffic jam on the way back to the hotel. Knackered from our full-day outing, we power napped before checking out the local delicacies, with street performers surrounding us bule, we dined on sate ayam.

Alexandra Nugent and Zoe Sutherland
Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy)

On the first official day of our Jakarta Field trip, what was installed for the group of USyd students was going to quickly readjust people's perspectives on this bustling commercial hub in Indonesia. Much like the old saying that "it is just the tip of the iceberg", what the surrounding streets of our hotel showed was hardly a true representation of how most of the population in Jakarta live.

Ronny Poluan, a strong voice for the poorest in Jakarta, led the tour and revealed the slums or 'kampong' that over 30% of the city's population (United Nations, 2011) call home. It was a stark contrast to the story that Central Jakarta told about its people and way of life. It was a very stark contrast.

The main part of the tour began in Jakarta's 'Old City' called Kota, a mismatched urban collection of Dutch colonial buildings and architectural ruins that the people say 'reminds them that the local government turns a blind eye to them'. In Plaza Batavia where we initially disembarked to begin the walking tour, it was already apparent that we were no longer in the bustling business district. Crossing only a few streets and going down a winding narrow road in an 'angkot' led to a very quick change in scenery. Dirt roads, plastic litter lining the streets and river and just a general look of perseverance on everyone's faces (young or old). These were the terms I could use the quickly sum up what I encountered on the tour. Despite living in the poorest conditions of eating, sleeping and on occasion defecating in the same place they call home, the people left behind by Jakarta's rapid urbanisation persevered. They had no other choice.

As an engineering and architecture student who has a passion for humanitarian engineering, the visited families' perseverance but happiness and warmth was inspiring. These were the people who needed help the most, but would probably be too humble to ask for it. Being co-President of the University's student chapter for Engineers Without Borders too, it was unavoidable that an endless stream of humanitarian ideas ran through my mind the whole time. I wanted to speak to Ronny personally about so many things that Emily and I had the power to help achieve, being the sole connection between him and the national office for EWB. But the extent of the situation for so many million people was overwhelming.

It was comforting though to know that Ronny was some kind of guardian for them. With the tour fees, half of the amount raised goes into funds for the '3 E's' - Emergency, Empowerment and Education for the people people in the kampong. As an individual, I believe he is doing as much as he can for the families. The local government has begun taking well intended actions too, though with poor execution. For example, high density apartment blocks have been built to provide alternative homes for the families in kampongs, to encourage them to move out of their illegal areas and into safer forms of housing. The initiative failed though because no family could afford the rent.

The day was just filled with these sorts of anachronisms. When the city skyline was visible was within the jungle of rickety houses built over the stinking shoreline, these families just did not seem to fit in anywhere in Jakarta's urban fabric. They probably moved to the big city from their rural villages in search of better means. But what happened was that the vicious cycle of poverty caused by rapid urbanisation caught them first. We often drive past grand hotels and shopping malls in Jakarta. What would this part of the city's population give to have just a fraction of that kind of comfort?

Started off the day with an international buffet breakfast. With full bellies, we all bundled into a van to discover a different side to Jakarta. First stop, Independence Mosque, which is the third largest mosque in the world. Shoes off, socks off, and gown on before we were taken on a tour around the largest mosque in Indonesia and South-East Asia. Five levels to signify the five calls of prayers, and a 45m dome to represent the 1945 proclamation of Indonesian independence.


Next stop, old Indonesia, taking a bus, bajaj and boat we were introduced to the unseen poverty in Indonesia.


With over 300 families living in one handmade apartment, and only enough space to sleep in, it was an incredible sight to see the laughter and joy in their faces. Their motto 'why be sad when we are still alive?' was a steep contrast to their living conditions. With no address or house number, only electricity being provided by the government, water for showering and laundry were only available whenever it rained. Despite this, the children ran, laughed and sang songs for us, whilst holding our hands as they took control of our tour!


Traffic in Jakarta halted our plans of having lunch, as we moved at less than 20km/hour for the next 40 minutes. Highlighting the need for the interdisciplinary transport field school to look at the vulnerabilities of all road users.

Quick lunch break to McDonald's and we were whisked back into a training session on interviewing skills in preparation for our home visits tomorrow. With our newly befriended Indonesian students, we walked to Grand Indonesia, the largest department store in Jakarta. Satay ayam sticks and nasi goreng filled our stomachs as we wandered aimlessly through the massive mall.

With excitement building up as we prepare to meet Indonesian families to learn about their transport use, we all clambered back to the hotel for a hopefully restful night of sleep!

Kirstin Lee and Larissa Chandra
Bachelor of Applied Sciences - Occupational Therapy


Parliament House was the first stop today. We joined students undertaking a summer program at the National University of Singapore to learn about the Parliament that runs this amazing city-state. Surprisingly, Singapore’s Parliament shares quite some similarities with the Australian system, as they are both manifestations of the British system. Unfortunately today was not a Parliamentary sitting day, but nevertheless we could sense the solemnity of the House.


The hotel corridor is the perfect place to rehearse last-minute presentations.

As the final preparation day before our presentations about housing policy tomorrow afternoon, I have been fascinated by the different dynamics of teamwork that I saw each inter-disciplinary group employ.



Twas the night before presentations, when all thro’ the Y
Not a student was stirring, not even a sigh
The glow of the Macbooks were stared at with care
In hopes that the presentation soon would be fair
The students were refining all that they’d read
While visions of HDB housing danc’d in their heads



For participants in the Singapore field school, today was the penultimate day of research before presenting our findings to each other in groups on Friday. Responses to this sobering fact varied from dogged concentration to all-out panic, yet the five architecture students were lucky to be granted temporary release in the form of a meeting with Richard Hassell, co-director of WOHA, a renowned architecture firm based in Singapore.



As presentation day looms all the groups are heavily focused on their chosen topics, gathering final pieces of research and solidifying the huge amount of information we have received over the past two weeks. For Team East Side, this has meant a significant amount of time spent in the community of Bedok observing how the elderly are catered for in Singaporean housing plans and community layouts. This has meant a day of walking through housing estates and communities, checking for features such as wheelchair accessibility, exercise and social areas, community activities for the elderly and ease of access to key medical services such as dementia care.



Tonight we attended ‘Hari Raya Puasa’ a Ramadan Bazaar in Geylang Serai. Approximately 15% of Singaporeans are Muslim and are currently celebrating Ramadan which involves fasting from dawn until dusk. The bazaar had food markets that allow the community to collectively break their fast as well as stalls selling new cloths, decorations and homewares thus supporting the custom of buying new items for the home. An array of exotic Malay-inspired dishes and snacks were displayed at each stall including spicy fish balls, biryani (a dish of rice, meat and spices), chick-pea biscuits, fried sweet potato, kebabs and pide. These were complemented with colourful and tasty drinks including lychee, mango, sour sok and rose flavoured water. A group of us excitedly selected a few different dishes and drinks and sat in the park nearby to delight in the fascinating new flavours.


Woodlands school surrounded by newly built HDB flats

It’s Tuesday and we are well into our second and final week of our fieldtrip in Singapore! The New Colombo Plan scholars have all split up into their groups to conduct further field research in their respective regions. My group has been tasked with analysing the North Region, so we spent the bulk of our time today visiting some of the areas in the North that we had missed on our earlier trip – most notably the Woodlands region.



Strangely enough I have been asking this question a lot lately.

I like coffee. As a delicious beverage and as a daily ritual. Luckily, I have found a killer flat white, not far from our hotel. They don't open till about 11am and its a whopping 5 SGD, but definitely worth it. Incidentally, their milk is from Japan.



The final stretch of the field school for the New Colombo scholars has begun. We’ve had a jam-packed week full of meetings, tours, policy discussions, a bit of sight seeing and far too much of chicken and rice. Our time so far has been largely structured, looking to give us a complete view of the housing policy from as many perspectives as possible. Today has been our first real opportunity to break off into our respective interdisciplinary groups and tackle our research questions independently.



“Once a year go to someplace you’ve never been before” – Dalai Lama

This quote hits home today as we got to further explore the jewels of Singapore on a bustling Sunday after a long productive week soaking up all the country had to offer. After a solid Sunday sleep in, the gang split up into little groups to do whatever they wished – some shopped, some ate, some even visited a nature reserve.



As Singapore awoke on a Saturday morning (though well before any New Colombo Plan scholar dared rise), one of the nation's year-round downpours mingled with the ever-present heat to push humidity levels to their very limits, while a suggested dress code of 'not shorts' implied that the scheduled early afternoon tour of the migrant worker-filled Little India district might not be the most comfortable ways to spend an afternoon.


Humidity at 9am with an inclined trek found us at the National University of Singapore (NUS.) Here, Sharon Quah unveiled her perspective on the housing policy in relation to divorcees.



On Day 5 of our field school, we visited the National University of Singapore where we participated in a presentation on social issues surrounding Singaporean housing. The presentation was given by a doctor of the Asia Research Institute and revealed sharp insights into the realities of the heavily government mandated housing market of Singapore. The discussion surrounded lack of support for divorcees and non-nuclear families and formed a more pragmatic version to the strongly promoted view of the HDB scheme from government agencies we had visited earlier. Issues covered included difficulties of relocation, social stigmas surrounding divorces and a lack of acknowledgment of progressive trends like LGBT rights and alternate families.


After a bustling first two days of extensive research and field investigation in Singapore, our third day was devoted to summarizing our findings and reflecting on the interactions we had shared with various government agencies, academics and locals. As we started to work more specifically in our interdisciplinary groups for the first time, it was interesting to see how our different academic backgrounds and skills came into confluence to enable difficult issues to be solved through multiple angles and frames of thinking. Far from creating technical barriers, working with group members of different knowledge bases helped me greatly in beginning to understand the intricate social and economic factors that dictate Singapore’s strong public housing policies.

Talking through the night with Singaporean students about study, life and where to find the cheapest drinks in Singapore.



After 24 hours of first visiting our designated regions, we delivered our first group presentations today. The presentations were mostly factual, concerning the architectural, demographic, commercial and social aspects of each region. It was interesting to observe that each group had approached the task differently, some focusing on a single estate whereas others chose to adopt a broader overview. The presentations helped to distinguish the characteristics of each region which would be valuable in moulding our final research question. Through this exercise it was evident that our presentation skills could be improved, in particular our time management and coherence as a team, but I’m confident that our next presentation will be better!



In everything that we do at university, our lecturers always emphasise the importance of stating our assumptions if we want to maximise our marks and ensure the understanding of the audience. If this is the case, then from what I saw today, the Singapore Government’s Housing Development Board (HDB) deserves a B for their effort in policy creation and explanation. The outline of policies in their City Gallery while efficient and effective at targeting a general audience were biased towards the government’s perspective in its definition of ‘right’. Despite being presented as hallmarks of Singaporean housing policy, I disagreed with the government’s Ethnic Integration Policy, Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme and somewhat to its Build-To-Order scheme due to its disregard for the ‘alternative’ and lack of contingency. This was complemented by the propagandistic material that was shown to us in a state-of-the-art room furnished with curved displays, inspiring music and images of the simplistic ‘ideal’ family nucleus ranging from elderly, family, couples and active singles.



Our second full day in Singapore, comprised of a gallery tour, bustling train rides, a visit to our different regions and some cheap Hawker Centre meals, gave us all a clear vision what the Housing Development Board (HDB) does, as well as a chance to explore the country in a way ordinary tourists rarely would.



Today was the first official day of the fieldtrip and involved an extensive introduction into not only Singaporean housing policy, but also aspects of culture and politics. This contrasted immensely with our first afternoon which was spent swimming in the pool overlooking Marina Bay Sands, however such a rigorous introduction afforded unique insight into the ‘real’ Singapore and the history and dynamics of this unique city-state beyond the façade of tourist attractions.


Welcome to Singapore; every curly-haired girl’s nightmare. Even braids couldn’t tame the tropical mane! But despite the trauma of a halo of frizz, the humidity wasn’t quite oppressive enough to keep the New Colombo Scholars down. We embarked on a day of adventuring and learning, seeing Singapore as a group for the first time.




On the 6th of May the foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop launched the second tranche of the National Colombo Plan at MacLaurin Hall, funding a further 1000 students to participate in internships and studies in the Indo-Pacific.


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