Entry 1 – The Good, The Bad and The Thought-provoking

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My goal is to make this blog both interesting and honest. If you know anyone in their 20s who has traveled recently, then your appetite for effervescent selfies in front of random museums has probably been satisfied. If not, here is one:

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I truly have nothing against people who post photos of themselves having the time of their lives while they explore the world; but, if you are a twenty-something-year-old with a social media account, and have friends remotely similar to mine, this can engulf you. Your self-esteem slowly starts to dwindle somewhere between Jessica’s elephant ride in Thailand and Mark getting drunk with strangers at a soccer game in Amsterdam (both are actual posts I have seen in the last week). When confronted with this reality, the only logical thing to do is question your entire life path and start looking up cheap flights to Europe (you think I’m kidding).

Anyways, I am not here to make fun of Mark or Jessica, but rather to write something that you will walk away from thinking “Hmmm. . . so that’s what it is like to travel there and do that”, rather than “Oh my god. . . why didn’t I ever do that? Why am I doing this? How close are they to building time machines? Let’s look up that New York Times article I read like a week ago about that physicist guy who was, like, pretty certain that time-travel is legit. . . where did I read that again? . . . Did Uncle Rick email that to me or did I just read it in a waiting room somewhere?”

To satisfy my previously stated goal, I have chosen to structure my blog posts as so: The Good (first post), The Bad (second) and The Thought-Provoking (third. . . and then I will keep repeating this format till I get bored of it).

The Good

So I am interning for the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), whose work in Indonesia covers an extremely broad range of crime. UNODC’s four official sub-programmes are: 1) Anti-corruption, 2) Transnational Drug Trafficking 3) Criminal Justice 4) Drug Demand Reduction and HIV/AIDS (if you want to read more detail about this, click here)

I have serendipitously ended up working in an area that wonderfully fuses Psychology and Politics— my two areas of academic interest. Broadly speaking, the area I am working in is: preventing and countering violent extremism in prisons. On any given day, my work includes other words/topics like de-radicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration, and effectively managing violent extremist prisoners.

Okay but what am I actually doing? Well, like most jobs, it changes daily. So maybe I’ll just list three specific things I have done in the last week? (some details have to remain confidential, so this still may be a tad vague).

1. I started planning a conference where the main focus will be developing a national plan to improve de-radicalization of violent extremist prisoners in Indonesia. This conference will include representatives from federal government agencies, civil society organizations and foreign embassies. I had to draft an agenda, budget and invitation list.

2. I wrote a public service announcement about drones being used to smuggle contraband into prisons. This PSA is meant to serve as a preemptive warning of growing security threats, and will be circulated to various government agencies and international organizations in the South East Asia region (and possibly globally). For this, I had to research how big an issue “drone smuggling” has become and write up specific recommendations for addressing the issue. I was surprised with how big an issue this actually is— read this article if you’re curious.

3. I attended many meetings with Indonesian government agencies and foreign embassies. All of these were with my boss or senior coworkers, so they —understandably— did most of the talking. These meetings were most interesting when I was listening to other people talk about programs I had never heard of, and thinking of what I could say about our program, that would be of use to them. These meetings were a tad boring when there were long periods of time where everyone was speaking Indonesian. When this happened, I would usually entertain myself by observing body language, how often people were interrupting each other, and other elements of the work culture. Most of these meetings were attended by three people from each organization (so six total) and 90% of the discussion happened between two people (one from each organization). While this happened, the non-talkers would take notes or look ostensibly intrigued. Also, in Indonesia it is acceptable for men to wear these funky, traditional shirts called Batiks, instead of dress shirts or suits. In North America, you would only see such attire on hipsters longboarding their way to music festivals or poetry slams. In Indonesia, Batiks pass as formal attire for everyone from cab drivers to the President.

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My driver Zul, wearing a short-sleeve Batik.

 

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Indonesian president Jokowi and former president SBY, dawning Batiks on a formal occasion.
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Myself wearing a Batik, and the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Indonesia wearing… a suit.

That’s it for now. If you want to see more pictures I have taken, click here.

Second post coming soon!

-Evan

8 thoughts on “Entry 1 – The Good, The Bad and The Thought-provoking”

  1. Great read Evan – I’m curious to read about your impressions of Indonesian culture and I also want a pic of you in one of those batik shirts!

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  2. The batik shirt looks good on you evan! Perfect for our Canadian winters. Interesting read about the drone smuggling – human ingenuity at work. I also liked reading about your meetings when they are long stretches of Indonesian being spoken. Brings back memories of Chinese school and trying to look like you know what is being said and perfecting the look of interest and keenness. Looking forward to my act of kindness!

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  3. All very interesting Evan.
    I’d love to hear your perspective on visiting Indonesia as a “resident/ employee” compared with visiting as a tourist.
    Looking forward to your next posting.

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    1. Thanks for reading Charlene.

      I would say the biggest difference with visiting Indonesia as a “resident/employee” (as oppose to a tourist) is that I am spending lots of time in Jakarta. Most tourists avoid Jakarta like the plague. They see it as a smoggy, industrial city that shouldn’t occupy more than a short layover in their travels.

      This is, of course, not quite the case. Jakarta has many hidden gems that can actually make for a nice way to spend an afternoon/day. The people are also incredibly friendly and love talking to foreigners. Just last week I found on quiet, beautiful park, where I spent the better part of two hours chatting with some local artists and musicians. At the end of the conversation, one of the artists handed me a portrait he had drawn of me, while we were chatting. He insisted that I take it as a gift, and thanked me for being so “friendly”. I was never asked for anything in return. Genuine moments like these are harder to come in the more “touristy” areas of Indonesia.

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  4. Hey Evan! I love your blog so far – answers lots of question that I had about what sort of thing you were up to. Question Am very curious about air quality in Jakarta – is it as bad as I think it is?

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    1. Thanks for reading Ellen! I have not noticed a massive difference in the air quality. Although many people claim the exact opposite! I know a lot of foreigners that refuse to exercise outside, to avoid inhaling the polluted air. Many Indonesians also wear hospital masks when they drive, or ride on the back of, motorcycles. Some claim this helps significantly, but I am skeptical about how much the mask actually filters.

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      1. In China, I found I subconsciously started ‘shallow’ breathing’ – likely didn’t realize how much until I returned here and found myself taking these huge deep breaths and thinking ‘wow’! I felt it affected my mood (think less oxygen, more down). We chatted with a scientist from New York (originally from S.America) who had been visiting Beijing for 20 years monitoring air quality (both there and in Indonesia). He said he was more worried about Indonesia – as there seemed to be a political will to improve things in China – wasn’t so sure this would be possible in Indonesia.

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