Monday, March 25, 2019

Jakarta: More than a Traffic Jam

I’m writing from the third-floor Starbucks of a Jakarta mall. I can’t even remember which one. Was it Kota Kasablanka? Pacific Place? The Grand Indonesia? The air conditioning makes me shiver. The bright white lights illuminate an atrium spanning 13 levels. Each trendy shop is piping out a different song. If I were to describe Jakarta, I would call it one enormous mall, connected and divided by a maze of city streets.

Carved skulls decorating the base of an ancient Javan statue in Jakarta's Museum Nasional.

Actually, Jakarta is much more than a mall, as I discovered this past week. It is the world’s second-largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. It’s home to over 30 million human beings! Pause for a second to take that in.

Jakarta is also sinking faster than any other big city in the world. Carbon-induced sea level rise is projected to inundate coastal cities everywhere, but Jakarta is hit by a double whammy: it’s actively sinking. Personal wells drilled to access drinking water are drawing down the aquifer that supports much of the city’s land.

This toad hopped across the cracked sidewalk during a hard rain. Lawns turned into miniature lakes, and the canals (some of the most polluted in the world) bordering each street threatened to overflow their concrete banks. If it can thrive here, we reasoned, this toad species is going to be the amphibian that takes over the post-human world along with the cockroaches.

Whenever anyone has mentioned Jakarta to me in the past year, it’s always been a reference to traffic. 

“How about that traffic in Jakarta?”

“Have you ever been in a Jakarta traffic jam?”

“How far away is your house from central Jakarta – I mean, with traffic.”

The traffic was bad, yes, but once we learned how to take the public buses and trains, GoJek motorcycles and Grab cars, we got around okay.

But have you heard about the traffic in Jakarta?

The New York Times called Jakarta "the City Where Nobody Wants to Walk," and with that I completely agree. To get from our house to a mall for WiFi, we had to walk across six-lane highways with no stoplights or overpasses. It was a harrowing experience multiple times a day. Ultimately we learned by watching the Indonesians crossing: walk slowly, predictably, deliberately forward, making eye contact with as many drivers as possible and holding up your hand to say "stop." The motorcycles and cars will swerve around you. Buses, don't bet on it.

When we weren't busy preparing for the Planetary Health Talks (Alam Sehat Lestari's events for International Forest Day—more on that in the next post), Collin and I got out of the malls and toured the city. We had the generous assistance of Pak Riduan, an Alam Sehat Lestari board member and unofficial mayor of the neighborhood.

We climbed Monas, short for Monumen Nasional or National Monument. Indonesians are masters of creative contractions.

Monas, the marble-and-gold centerpiece of Jakarta.

The view from the windy top of Monas.

We snaked through the Museum Nasional.

A water vessel in the form of a mythical creature, the Singabarong.

I've never seen such intense expressions on stone.

Collin takes in a map of Indonesia's 300 ethnic groups.

We took the train an hour south to Bogor, one of the five cities in Greater Jakarta, more commonly known as Jabodetabek. That's short for: Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi. Is your tongue in a knot yet?

A pedestrian bridge over a brown, plastic-clogged river in Bogor. "One of the places I don't want to be when the earthquake hits," as Collin put it.

A staghorn fern in the Bogor Botanical Garden's orchid house.

My old friends from the Pantanal of Brazil, Victoria water lilies. And an impressive ficus in the background.

The "Happy Couple Trees." On the left, a merenti (Shorea leprosula). On the right, a strangler fig (Ficus albipila).

A huge golden orb-weaver. It's only a slight optical illusion. She was as large as Collin's hand, not quite as wide as his thigh.

Monumen Kelapa Sawit, the Oil Palm Monument, dedicated in 2013 to commemorate "the mother oil palm trees in Southeast Asia which were planted in the Botanic Gardens in 1848. These oil palm trees were the source of thousands of oil palm descendants that have spread throughout Indonesia." Oil palms are native to West and Central Africa.

Domesticated orchids.

A wild orchid species.

Another wild species in the orchid house.

We climbed to the 24th floor of Perpusnas—that's short for Perpustakaan Nasional, the National Library.

Monas from Perpusnas.

Rainstorm over Jakarta.

In the next post, read about the Planetary Health Talks—the reason we ended up in the malls, streets, paths, bridges and platforms of Jakarta in the first place!

Monday, March 18, 2019

15,000 Big Ol' Trees Still Standing in Borneo

I'm back in Indonesian Borneo with Health in Harmony and Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), two amazing sister-organizations that are protecting rainforests by providing high-quality, accessible healthcare and offering alternative-livelihoods training for former loggers.

Collin and I stand on the Sukadana New Dock with the wonderfully welcoming ASRI staff.

Wondering why you've heard these names before? I met these fantastic organizations on my Watson year through a series of convergences. In Madagascar, I met the Health in Harmony executive team as they scouted a new project site. In Indonesia, I was generously hosted by Alam Sehat Lestari as a communications and education intern for the month of April 2018. And in Scotland, where friends from both of those encounters merged to present their path-breaking model at the Planetary Health Alliance Annual Meeting.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chimpanzee Culture Evolves! or, My First Job as a Journalist

I'm trying my hand at journalism! In January, I was accepted to be one of the spring 2019 Mongabay journalist interns. You can read my intern bio here. (Thanks to my dad, the eminent blogger Russ Finley, for tipping me off about this opportunity!)

Mongabay has been one of my favorite websites for years. With the tagline, "News and Inspiration from Nature's Frontline," Mongabay covers conservation with a focus on tropical rainforests. They report on everything from the beautiful reasons to protect nature, like the discovery of new species, to the heaviest environmental stories, like investigations into the disappearances and deaths of activists.

Mongabay especially targets news from Indonesia, Madagascar and Brazil... does that sound familiar from my Watson itinerary? You could say my dream year of world travel was deeply influenced by this news site.

I've never seen a chimpanzee, the subject of my first Mongabay article, in the wild. But here's a different great ape I saw: a Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus. He's swinging through the rainforest of Tanjung Puting National Park, holding a banana with his foot.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wilderness in Los Angeles?! Flora and Fauna of Deukmejian Wilderness Park

When you think Los Angeles, you might think: Hollywood. Four million people. Palm trees. Celebrities. Second largest city in the US. Theme parks. Strip malls. Taco trucks... Wilderness?!

Yesterday my friend Lia Liebman took me up her childhood mountain in the Deukmejian Wilderness Park, right on the edge of LA. She warned me it would be a serious hike: 11 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain in the southern California sun. We packed lunches of quesadillas and avocado sandwiches and three bottles of water each.

Lia is a born plant-queen and my botanical inspiration. I hope you learn a bit about the plants of Deukmejian from this blog. Floral knowledge credit goes to Lia. (I'll take credit for the birds, but I know Lia will be a bird-queen too one day soon.)

These photos are shown in altitudinal order, from the low valley floor to the mountain peak. I was amazed to see how much the flora shifted as we hiked up switchback after switchback.

Black sage (Salvia mellifera). 

Thickleaf yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolum).

Monday, November 5, 2018

Awe, Glitter, Motherhood, Home, Mbiras, Clay: the Watsons Return

Every August, forty Thomas J. Watson Fellows set off from the United States in different directions, never having contact with one another, occasionally crossing paths but seldom knowing it.

I love to picture the Earth as a blue ball floating in space. At any point in time, forty Watson Fellows are crawling slowly over its surface like ants, independent, alone, asking questions and gathering stories on their own little ant trails.

One year later, these forty (or so) ants convene and meet one another for the first time at the Returning Fellows' Conference, held every August on the campus of a participating college. Simultaneously, the next batch of Watson ants are dispersing from their homes to embark on their trails around the world.

A sunny afternoon at the 2018 Returning Fellows' Conference.

From August 2 to 5, my Watson class convened at Pomona College. Each of us presented a ten-minute talk on our year, an impossible task. I captured each talk in watercolor and ink with a simple sketchnote. (Click on a photo to launch a high-resolution slideshow.)


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Leading Book Club for the Planetary Health Alliance

Co-authored by Nina Finley and Federico Andrade Rivas. Cross-posted to the Planetary Health Alliance website.

The first meeting of the Planetary Health Alliance Book Club discusses The Wayfinders by Wade Davis



Imagine a warm fire on the hearth of a dark wooden room, its flames throwing orange light onto shelves of antique books. We sink into a circle of plush red armchairs, swirling mugs of tea, preparing to discuss literature. When we think “book club,” this is the scene that comes to mind.

Now imagine the blue-white glow of your laptop, pixelated faces coming into focus over webcams, unfamiliar voices through headphones, a chat box for comments. This is what the Planetary Health Alliance’s inaugural book club actually looked like.