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New Colombo Plan

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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