Ten-Day Food Trip to Indonesia: Central to West Java Road trip

The trip being ten days in length, of course was not purely a foodie’s exploring of local cuisines; it was also an academic field study. It might sound like work will overshadow the fun part of the trip, but I found it a refreshing way to travel. During other voyages I almost never do much research or preparation before I actually arrive. Often I’ll have a blast doing touristy sight seeing like visiting Fragonard Perfumery Museum in Paris, or listening to Harry Potter soundtracks strolling around in London (Amelie in Paris, The Godfather in New York, you get the picture). Everyone does this, surely? If they don’t, then they should – it’s like walking about in your very own movie set! Well in Indonesia I had none of this, but I had an equally if not more fulfilling time.

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Semerang City

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Cinangneng Farming Village

 

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Cutting of Bamboo for Sale

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now this blog will take a more academic tone compared to the others I have written. The first few visits in central Java were to farming agencies and a farming village called Cinangneng. The village life produces a stark contrast to the city life in Jakarta, or even Bogor, a suburban city. The economic disparity, social, and intergenerational mobility is limited for many of those in small-scale farming. This is rather problematic as small-scale farming is the largest source of agricultural products in Indonesia. Cinangneng and other villages share the same issue of farmers only being able to sustain themselves on the most basic level, they can eat the harvests and sell of the little excess produce to middlemen that come to the village. Of course, the lack of physical infrastructure to ships the goods and the technology to know the value of their produce; the price they get is far below the market value. A grim picture of farming, that nonetheless is still the current practice.

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Home Producing Cassava Snack

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Pocari Sweat

 

Another category of food commodities produced is the value added goods of food and drinks like Yakult, Pocari Sweat, and Indomie. These factories is what I initially thought would be the source of income for the average Indonesian, industrial type jobs. However it is only a small segment of the population that works in this sector compared to small farm holders. The stage of industrialization is not geographically specific, but reflects a slowly changing landscape. These mass-produced food products are identical no matter which island the factory is on. The local cuisines however defers greatly in Indonesia. In central Java food is much more spicy and in West Java much sweeter. In most of Indonesia the population is Muslim beside in Bali and therefore people do not consume alcohol, but in Bali where many are Hindus there is a lot of fruit based alcohol produced and consumed such as pineapple and banana liquor.

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Traditional Cassava Snack

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Jamu (Traditional Herbal Drink)

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Sweets for Breaking the Fast

On a lighter note the trip also allowed for bathing of buffalo, milk cows and plant rice. For me and the other students from Singapore it was window to a different way of life. A group of friends taking a course with a filming project has captured my travel to Indonesia in their project and can be viewed through this link if you want to see more visuals http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x23wlrw_cindy-travels-to-indonesia_travel. Since we went to central Java we could not pass up a visit to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple – thus the pictures of Buddhas.  The next post will likely be the final post in the series of sharing my summer exchange with you as it is nearing an end.  So long.

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One of the more than 500 Buddha Statues

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Borobudur

Bustling Adventure: 3 Days in Vietnam

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Chào Vietnam! My name is Cindy and I’ll be an exchange student in Singapore this summer. I decided to make use of the strategic location in South East Asia and embark on a small three-day trip before the semester starts. More about the first week of class in the next blog post. The first day in Ho Chi Minh reminded me of small cities in China, very busy and unregulated. A little scary to walk around with few streetlights and left and right turns everywhere, but soon enough I got used to jaywalking like locals.

After walking around the first day by foot I was able to cover most of District One; the financial and commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh. The many main attractions like Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office are heavily influenced by French colonial rule. The grand architecture though clashes with the scooters and the street vendors on the street that remind you that you are in Ho Chi Minh.

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Ho Chi Minh really is not a very walk-able city; anything beyond District one is impossible to reach on foot. In a city with about seven millions people there are four million scooters – almost the number of residents in Singapore! HCM really isn’t a place for a luxurious and pampering type of vacation, which is better left to either a resort in Phuket, or a big city with developed infrastructure. The trip however does offer a culturally rich experience. The second day, I hired a local tour guide and went around on a Vespa to other Districts in the city to see experience Ho Chi Minh like a local. I confess, the first few minutes were nerve wrecking, and there were times during the trip I thought it might have been a mistake to put myself amidst the crazy driving, but it is the fastest way to travel – even enjoyable once you’re accustomed. (Though, if you are really faint of heart, it might get to you. Still, if there is a time to take some risks it’s when traveling).

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The third day, I left the city and went to the Mekong Delta region, the “Rice Basket” of Vietnam. The soil in the region along the river is the most fertile and almost all locals here are involved in agriculture. I was hoping to visit the Cai Be floating market in the early morning to catch the small vendors, but by eight they had already cleared out, and only lone boats or wholesale boats were left on the water. Since the drive is about three hours from HCM, to catch the busiest time of the market, it would be better to find a place to stay in Cai Be the night before…  Even then, when visiting the market – I imagine – the landscape would have been almost the same centuries ago. Less the motors in the new boats of course, but the water, the houses, the buying and the selling of goods by the same families.

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N.B. I checked the price of tours online before landing in Ho Chi Minh, and must say, in this case do not plan everything before hand! At least do not buy tours, trips or vouchers before you get there. Tours that were $52 I found for $18, and $65 for $20. There is so much competition locally that you are guaranteed to find the tour you want for the lower price with vacancies for the next day.

 

 

 

 

Canadians in Berlin

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Not having access to television sort of put me behind following the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I was not really into the ‘Olympic spirit’ this time around. Usually I am always one for the Olympic Games and I am an avid follower every two years. Whatever following that I did do was either watching the replays on the internet or following my CBC mobile app with updates whenever possible. Of course, I did manage to watch the most important event of the entire games: ice hockey. For us Canadians, it all comes down to that. I was so happy and proud when both our men’s and women’s hockey teams won the Gold medal.

Yet there was one event, the men’s gold medal hockey game, which I will never forget in my life. I took a German friend of mine to a sports bar in the afternoon (not as early as 7am in Toronto, good on ya for doing it) to catch the most important hockey game for all Canadians, which arises only once every four years. As I walked in the front door, I forgot for a second that I was in Berlin, Germany- a country thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean away from my home. I thought I entered a Canadian bar.

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First of all, I was wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs toque. As soon as I entered, some Canadian dude, who already had a few to drink, put his arm around me and yelled out: “EH buddy, awesome toque you got on there, EHHH!” (the “eh” was of course accented for the joke between us two). I was not expecting such a welcome. I honestly thought I would merely arrive at some empty German sports bar in the middle of a Sunday afternoon to watch a sport that is not so popular (it’s all about Soccer here).

I arrived halfway through the first period, so the whole atmosphere was already in full swing. I walked into a sea of red and white. There were people with Canadian Flags wrapped around them, Roots jackets and sweaters, hockey jerseys, red plaid shirts and a Blue Jays ball cap. Hearing phrases around me such as “that’s a beauty Owen Nolan retro jersey you got on there!” or “oh yah bud, that was a big period for the boys eh!” or “I went to the Winter Classic this year!” really made me feel at home.

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... and a lonely Swedish fan

… and a lonely Swedish fan

Most of the people watching the game were from Canada. I met a group of travelling students from Toronto and we immediately struck up a conversation. From who I talked to, there were Canadians from Edmonton, Montreal and British Columbia. The amazing part, which I found really cool, is that some of the waiters and bar tenders were wearing something that was red and white or something that said ‘Canada’ on it. Quite a few native Germans wore Team Canada hockey jerseys too! To see my home country being so embraced and welcomed abroad warmed my heart. It was one moment in my life where I felt so proud to be a Canadian. Yes, I know that many of the spectators were in fact Canadian and hence the booming atmosphere, but the way we were greeted and supported by the locals was the best part of the whole experience.

As the game was winding down and we had the game in the bag with a 3-0 lead over the Swedes, our national anthem ‘O Canada’ suddenly erupted from us all within the bar. Singing ‘O Canada’ in Berlin with many other people on a Sunday afternoon was something I will never forget. I got the goosebumps during the entire song.

There is one thing I can say for sure about my year abroad thus far. As ironic as it sounds, being away from Canada hasn’t brought me further away from who I am, but rather brought me closer to my country. I am learning more about myself and Canada in these past months than I ever did living in Toronto for the past 21 years. People actually notice that I sometimes, unintentionally, throw in an “Eh” in my sentences. Many don’t know the rules of ice hockey, which is understandable, but knowing them makes me feel uniquely Canadian. I have, no joke, been told that I say “aboot” and not “about”, something I never would have noticed myself. I know what real ‘Canadian bacon’ tastes like and I miss it. I know what a ‘Double-Double’ is from Tim Horton’s. Being recognized as the guy from the huge land of Canada with vast wilderness and brutal winters makes me feel somehow special.

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Flag raising ceremony

I would never trade such experiences away for anything and I am sure that I will continue to learn more about who I am and where I come from. To end this blog post and to echo the famous Molson Canadian beer slogan:

I AM CANADIAN!