I thought the trip we took yesterday to a Jakarta slum was one of the most interesting experiences of the week. It was really interesting to see how the residents of that area live.
I was impressed by the way that “community” seems to mean a lot to the people living there. They are all packed in very tightly in these narrow alleys, and so in a way the community aspect is a necessity. I suppose that a product of that lifestyle is that people would become easily agitated, and a result, security could become an issue. But the residents of this slum went the other way- they seem to embraced one another and look out for each other. Everyone we saw seemed to have a great attitude and really appreciate having visitors.
Our time in Jakarta has been surreal, but I’m looking forward to heading to Ho Chi Minh later today. Before my peers and I leave, I’d like to touch on one final thought that I have seen pervade almost every company visit we’ve experienced: logistics. Indonesia is comprised of over 17,000 islands that span a huge section of the Earth’s surface area. As a result of this massive complexity of waterways, jungles, mountains, and volcanoes, communication and transportation were limited before the recent technological boom of the new century.
Today we saw the poorest of poor in Jakarta, visiting the most impoverished slums of Jakarta, and ended the day in one of the nicest clubs in the city. The slum was located on the outskirts of the city, near the main port of the city, where we saw gargantuan ships loading and unloading cargo. They were like the old fashioned kind of ships, and besides the peeling paint, they were beautiful. I was so impressed with the men’s ability to run up and down these tiny narrow wooden gangplanks (basically just a log) with enormous sacks of concrete, food, etc. with no shoes on! I struggled to even stand on those planks, let alone carry a 60lb bag across it barefoot.
Today we took a bus ride into the beautiful mountains of Jakarta to visit a tea plantation. It was so interesting getting to see first hand how the tea leaves are selected, processed, and packaged for either international or domestic sale. I was surprised to learn that green and black tea are made from the same tea leaf, just black tea is fermented, allowing for more caffeine and a different taste. I bought some to bring back to my mom and sister 🙂
I really enjoyed networking with alumni from the UVA club in Jakarta. I think that it is very important to maintain the connection with the UVA community after graduation. The alumni that we had dinner with gave helpful advice on what to do after graduation and shared their stories about how UVA has helped them in their career path. Meeting with such great people from UVA from all over the world has shown me how close the university family is and the importance of maintaining a relationship with the school for years to come.
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Yesterday we took a short busride from the Ritz to a Jakarta slum. The two worlds could not be any different. As opposed to the relatively developed corporate sector of Jakarta, interpersed are wide areas of slum that the wind around the city’s river system. With the coming of democracy, the people of Indonesia have an opportunity to prosper exponentially; however, they are no longer are guaranteed equal access to resources, which has caused a huge gap in wealth distribution in the city. On our visit to one community, we took small row boats across an extremely polluted river and walked through a collection of small shacks that together formed low tunnels with polluted water lining the walk way. However, as dismal as this entire area may sound, the people who inhabit it are surprisingly upbeat. Children ran through the pathways shouting “hello!”at us or smiled at us from doorways. Additionally, it was evident that these people were not complacently rotting away in this slum. There were definite signs of activity and a vibrant commerce going on within this community. Although, this activity was on a much different scale that what we had been seeing at the large corporations, it nevertheless was there. I take this as a sign that people are trying to use the new democratic system to benefit and uplift themselves. Complacency does not seem to exist in this city, which is good news for the future of this democracy and it’s economy.
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Economists that are focused on the development of impoverished populations often agree that the two most important inputs to breaking the poverty cycle are access to credit and property rights. Property rights, and closely related law and order and corruption issues, seem to moving slowing but surely in the right direction since the installment of the new democratic government. Access to credit however, seems to moving with breakneck speed.
Today our group leaves Indonesia. A week is just not enough time to fully understand and experience Indonesia, but I am thankful for the short amount I was able to experience in this country. Yesterday’s visit to a local poor area was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I have never really witnessed extreme poverty, and it was a very humbling experience. I have never been more appreciative of my own lifestyle. This slum did not even have a sewage system. There was trash everywhere, and horrible living conditions. The wonderful thing was despite the horrible conditions the children there all had a smile on their face. It was a true testament that you do not need money to be happy.
It seems that sickness is somewhat of a requisite to this program. I’ve been in South East Asia longer than most, and yet I’ve still succumbed to some sort of illness that’s forced me to miss out on the last night here in Jakarta. As upsetting as this turn of events may be, this sickness brings to light an issue here in Indonesia: nutrition.
As my peers and I have traveled throughout various villages and wet markets, I have noted the poor nutrition that many Indonesians practice. Whether these poor health practices stem from poverty, lack of education, or antiquated cultural norms, they serve as deterrents to the progression of the progression of this country.
In many developing countries street markets are very prevalent forums for local shoppers, in Indonesia a type of these markets are called wet markets because it rains daily making the floors of the market wet. When visiting markets similar to this, one question that always comes to mind is “Where do the small vendors get their merchandise?” A few days ago part of my question was answered when we made a trip to Bogor, another city on the Java island of Indonesia. In Bogor we visited a branch of BTPN, a bank whose target clientele is small business owners. As our tour guide explained their target market I perceived the clients to be the vendors we saw directly on the street working to sell their items to us. This was not the case. As we traveled into the wet markets, I realized the bank’s clients were not the vendors directly on the street but rather sellers behind the scenes. Much like in the United States smaller retail stores obtain their retail from larger wholesalers. In this case the wholesalers where not huge but focused on a certain product (shoes, clothes, toys). These wholesalers were the small businesses BTPN were referring to when they were describing their target customer. I think the thing that surprised me the most was that the bank was supporting a wholesaler who was selling various “knock off” products an acceptable trend here that a bank would never support in the United States.