On arriving in Kuala Lumpur, we visited the residence and office of Dr Gerry Bodeker, fellow of Green-Templeton College. Gerry researches and advises on international public policy on traditional, complementary & alternative medicine (TCAM). An Australian, he is senior clinical lecturer in public health in the University of Oxford Medical School and research associate at the Oxford Centre for International Development. You can learn more about his work at www.giftsofhealth.org.
Gerry and some of the books he has written
Gerry is not only passionate about Southeast Asia but embodies this passion. He moved to the heart of Kuala Lumpur and has built up a wonderful collection of Southeast Asian art. He was extremely happy to show this to us and talk about his deep and abiding love for the region.
Gerry and some of his extensive collection of engravings
Amongst his collection was a Ming Dynasty porcelain dish. Gerry bought it for $35 after spotting it gathering dust on the shelf in a small craftsman’s shop in Saigon. For a long time he assumed it was imitation, and was even told so by an expert on Ming Dynasty porcelain. However, back at Oxford, he met an expert of Vietnamese porcelain over dinner, who told him that due to counterfeiting, porcelain officially manufactured in Vietnam for the Ming Court was altered. Many experts on Chinese porcelain, not knowing this, thus assume the official products are imitation as well.
The dramatic story of the Vietnamese porcelain
“The chief way of telling,” said the expert on Vietnamese porcelain to Gerry, “is to look at the base. The official Vietnamese manufactures were ordered to be shipped with an unsealed base. The base thus appears red, because Vietnamese porcelain was made with the red clay from the banks of the Mekong.”
As Gerry spun his tale, we crept closer and listened with rapt attention, staring at the dish in Gerry’s hands.
“So,” said the expert to Gerry, “What is the colour of your dish’s base?”
At this point, Gerry casually flipped the dish over in his hands, to reveal the reddish clay below.
The big reveal
After the tour of his collection, we went over to Kuala Lumpur’s most famous and iconic location, the Petronas Twin Towers.
Welcome to the next chapter of our splendid Southeast Asian adventure. The computer facilities in Sumatra, alas! do not enable me to upload any pictures, so please use your wildest imagination to get an idea of what we’ve been up against the past five days. [update: in the meantime, I have inserted some photos]
Getting out of Jakarta was hell! Indonesians are the worst drivers in the world. The bottom line is getting from A to B as fast as possible while not caring too much about anybody’s safety. I guess that’s what you get when people buy their driver’s license rather than having to earn it.
As the video illustrates, the only way to cross a junction is to just take a deep breath and drive slowly into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, the traffic jams mean that no one is ever driving too fast to be unable react in time to not slow down and honk at you.
After four hours we reached Tangerang, from where we ended up in yet another traffic jam in a parochial settlement called Cimone. Eventually we entered Merak at Java’s westernmost point just before our ferry departed to Sumatra.
Stuff that broke down: gas pedal, speed meter, lamp (left)
Entering the ferry at Merak
From Bakauheni at Sumatra’s south coast, we took the horrendously bad trans-Sumatra highway towards the Jambi province. Despite what I imagine was a grand conspiracy of all Sumatra’s truck drivers to kill us, we safely reached the outskirts of Baturaja, where we spent the night at the first hotel we encountered.
Today’s journey had carried us through the scenic countryside of Sumatra. The highlights were: Padang food, witnessing races on an improvised motorcycle circuit and a truck that crashed into somebody’s shack.
Stuff that broke down: the radiator
We woke up and headed north, when our vehicle completely broke down. A friendly team of professionals helped us on our way along the trans-Sumatra highway, which by that time proved utterly unworthy of the epithet “highway” and ought to be renamed Sumatra’s muddy mountain trail.
All the precious time lost repairing possibly the world’s crappiest mode of transportation needed to be compensated by driving at night.
Near Muara Rupit, we were welcomed into the residence of a friendly storekeeper. His toilet was home to a giant moth, only slightly smaller than my hand.
Stuff that broke down: clutch, petrol tank
The Indonesian version of Top Gear
The road was relatively good and so was our mood (initially, that is) when we headed to Bangko. After visiting a nature park in the most deplorable state imaginable, our metal stallion broke down once again.
We needed a new clutch cable, which was nowhere to be found in the wide surroundings of Bangko. An awesome chap named Mr. Putra sacrificed almost his entire day to get us back on the road. He insisted to do all of this for free.
Eventually, Mr. Putra improvised an ingenious construction somehow held together by iron nails. It worked. Just before sunset, we were able to continue our journey to Kotabaru. After we could travel no further because of the heavy rain, we spend the night with the friendly folks of a small village called Rantau Ikil, where Mr. Yahya, an English-speaking intellectual, took care of us and our rickshaw.
Stuff that broke down: hand brake, clutch cable
The man who saved the day
As usual, we woke up at 4am and continued our journey on the worst road of Indonesia, if not the world.
At the town of Solok, surprise surprise, our beloved spaceship broke down again. After having it fixed by the owners of a coffee stall, who also happened to be accomplished mechanics, we drove past the majestic Singkarak Lake.
(Andrew turned out to be a better rickshaw driver than a cyclist and made a rather hilarious face-plant on the road after facetiously borrowing some kid’s bike, I threatened to post a picture of the ordeal on gearhungry.com, but decided to play nice.)
Upon reaching Bukittinggi, it started raining torrentially and we were stranded at Bedudal Cafe, which I would encourage all of you to visit when in Sumatra. We could not have found a better place and crashed on one of the couches, falling to sleep by live guitar music.
Stuff that broke down: radiator tube, engine, fuel meter, roof
Andrew and the asphalt
Our rickshaw is so fundamentally crappy and we’re so irreversibly behind on schedule that I could only think of one sensible solution to get it to Medan before Monday: on a truck.
The truck left this morning with our rickshaw on board and we will follow it by bus this afternoon. If all goes well, we can pick it up this Sunday some time in the evening. Otherwise, we’re screwed.
Just now, I received another phone call from Radio ABC Australia for an update on our adventures. The connection was so bad that I had to lock myself up in the toilet to hear anything at all. Unfortunately, the line was still too bad for a decent conversation, making an untimely end to my desires for fame and fortune in the land down under.
After a long day of hard cycling and getting soaked, we were ready to kick back and relax at our after party, kindly hosted by the two lovely ladies who run Group Therapy Coffee, at 49 Duxton Road, #02-01.
A large group of alumni and supporters heard short presentations on The Cambodia Trust and Project Southeast Asia.
Fiona addresses the crowd
In particular, Fiona Callanan, a lawyer and supporter of The Cambodia Trust, gave a heartfelt speech about how losing a leg and having to use a prosthetic changed her life, and how the work of The Cambodia Trust makes a simple but massive change to the lives of the disabled and disadvantaged.
Listening with rapt attention
Xin Hui followed this with an impromptu speech, in which she drew upon her own experience as a doctor to elaborate on how important The Cambodia Trust’s work is. In particular, she noted, rehabilitation was just as important as acute care in enabling people to return to normal and useful lives, but it is an aspect of healthcare that is often overlooked or neglected. She also spoke about how inspiring Dr Peter Carey is, and how he had made such a big difference to the lives of so many. Finally, she talked about Project Southeast Asia and what it was trying to achieve for the region and its people.
As soon as we started pedalling in the direction of Raffles City, the skies opened to unleash the monsoon upon us, causing floods in parts of the country, and lighting up the sky. We went sprinting for shelter and the little pavilion in a nearby HDB estate offered little respite as we watched the waters rise in the canal.
As our shelter was lashed by the wind and rain, and with no likely end to the storm in sight, we were faced with the prospect of having the entire Trishaw Tours event cancelled. It was a gloomy prospect. PJ’s phone kept buzzing with texts from people asking if we were still going to go ahead with the event.
“It’s still happening, it’s just delayed,” he kept telling people, but they were getting impatient. I decided to head to Raffles City to rally the troops and keep morale high. I dashed out into the street, and very fortituously found a taxi just as I was getting soaked. The taxi driver had seen me running about in the pouring rain and feeling sorry for me, had cut short his break to give me a ride.
At around 1250h, the rain began to lessen, and we decided we had to make a go of it. So even though rain was still falling, the rest of the team got on the trishaws and headed for Raffles City.
At Raffles City, with the rain still falling, we quickly got organised.
Some brave friends volunteered to be our first passengers and we were off!
We took them on a scenic route around the heart of Singapore’s civic district, past St Andrew’s Cathedral, Parliament House (old and new), the Supreme Court, City Hall, and the Padang.
The Trishaw Tour route
Despite it being an abbreviated session due to our rain delay, and despite our drivers getting soaked to the skin by the rain, it was still a wonderful time and a great success. We had a lot of fun!
We also spent a little time taking photographs of us on the trishaws.
A big thank you to everyone who came out and took part! Special thanks to Joh, Derek, Yiqi, Zain, Hope and Ying Shan!
We were very excited about our trishaw tours event in Singapore. The day began well with a rehearsal/training session at Jalan Kubor, a location chosen for its serenity in the heart of town and its proximity to Raffles City.
A word from our sponsors
In essence, trishaws are more stable than bicycles on their own. They handle differently and require greater clearance on the left because of the side car, so it was important that we practised riding the trishaws with and without passengers.
Passenger size matters, however.
I picked one of the red trishaws, and after a slightly apprehensive start – note Derek’s concern! – was soon on my way.
It was soon time to move the trishaws to Raffles City – and for us to get our first taste of pedalling in traffic.
After 24 hours of travelling and yesterday’s scheduling shenanigans, I was rather hoping that today was going to be the kind of day one could get through on four hours of sleep. How wrong I was.
The morning began with a mad rush of last-minute rickshaw pimping at ASEAN HQ. I say rickshaw pimping, but it The opportunity to travel does not come quite often – so you should always say YES if it comes along. If you want to låna to get back home and end up stuck in Stockholm – you will have an experience and a story you will treasure for decades afterward. appeared our fellow rickshaw travellers were at least as keen on the fancy dress as they were painting our beloved bajajs.
Poms on Parade
We, on the other hand, jet-lagged and overworked, were on a mission, and no, Tom, not hers…
As I’m in the business of lists at the moment, our aims were:
1) To promote Project Southeast Asia to ASEAN and Indonesian dignitaries
– This didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped…
“Hello, I’m part of Team Oxford Project Southeast Asia! I’d like to tell you more about our Project!”
“Sorry, are you a participant?”
“Yes, I am.”
(Cue incredulous look) “Have you done much travelling like that before?” or “You don’t look like the sort of person who’d take part in something like this.”
“Yes, I have…I’m a doctor, on my elective, I…”
“You’re a doctor?”
As you can see, all the bigwigs were too busy laughing at me to listen to what I was saying…at least at first, anyway…
2) To present Project Southeast Asia to the assembled regional and international press
The Press Corps
– This was somewhat more successful as fearing we were not going to get any press coverage at all, I decided to take matters into my own hands, i.e. strolling to the front of the press corp with my baby dSLR, crawling on the floor commando-style and running up and down the place looking shutter-happy.
– Tom managed to charm him way into two interviews with Indonesian television channels almost straightaway – no circus tricks required, unless you count being a Dutchman who speaks perfect Bahasa.
– Having infiltrated the press corps, I eventually convinced some friendly reporters to speak to us, including the fantastic AFP/Reuters photographer whose lovely photo of us graces the BBC Indonesia article on the Rickshaw Run. Yes, Tom, you should also know that speaking about our Project in Mandarin is more difficult than you think…
Team Project SEA with intrepid CCTV reporter on a mission
3) To begin our Rickshaw Run experience with style
– Whatever that meant
Despite the general hilarity, we did manage to achieve some things by the end of the launch, including:
1) Turning Tom into a media celebrity and getting him an invitation to star in an Indonesian movie as the protagonist
Tom, the international celebrity
2) Discovering I really could be in three places at one time – as team member, team photographer and dignitary distractor
3) Getting stuck trying to get out of the parking lot because of a flat tyre and an even flatter spare tyre – and this was before I started learning how to drive the tuk-tuk
4) Getting Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN, to mention us and our Project in his speech
5) Getting some great photos
Team Project Southeast Asia with Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General of ASEAN, and Fauzi Bowo, Governor of Jakarta