I first travelled to Indonesia in July 2007, as a Fulbright Senior Scholar. I had three plenary talks at the 60th anniversary conference of chemistry in Indonesia, plus a couple of weeks of seminar trips and consulting with various universities. The three plenary sessions were on education methodology (Thursday AM), education research (Thursday PM), and chemistry laboratory research (Friday AM).
Mind you, I did not know what the actual schedule was until the day before the meeting, when, as it turns out, the programs were being printed. This was my first clue. I soon learned something interesting about the Indonesians: advanced plans are merely a tentative guideline to what might happen. After the first talk, my host asked me if I could change the other two talks (including the one I was giving in a couple of hours) to be on more of the topic of the first one.
If you have been paying attention over the years, you know I like to have a plan. On the other hand, I have also kept this slogan, “One goes as one goes, then one shall see” (a 14th Century saying), as my email signature file for over 20 years. Such as with asking the guy passing the 30th floor as he has jumped from the 60th: how it is going? And he says: so far, so good. I do not mind changing a plan based on new information or interests. Granted, I needed an hour or so to put together that new talk, and granted it would have been nice to know this ahead of time to pace out the content, but one goes as one goes.
When I introduced the second talk, I playfully chastised my host for the change, and dubbed the Indonesian culture as being one of “dynamic planning.” As it turns out, it was not just my schedule, but these sorts of last minute changes in plans happen all the time in their experience, and they thought my observation and labeling of it was quite funny. They all knew it happened, but they never had a self-conscious label for it. At that point, the people who were there picked up on the phrase and use it to this day.
a group of dynamic planners at lunch in 2007
I returned to Indonesia again in 2012 and 2015, the latter as a speaker for an international meeting on chemistry education being hosting by the University of Mataram, on the island of Lombok, just east of Bali.
I arrived a day ahead of the conference to acclimate, and when I was picked up at the airport at 7 PM for the 1-hour drive to the venue, the Golden Palace Hotel, my host asked if I would be willing to meet with a group of their undergraduate pre-service teachers to talk about education. I agreed, but only if it was not early in the morning. He said they were planning for 9 AM. In the US, I would have sucked it up and dealt with the time, but in the land of dynamic planning, a 12-hour lead-time might as well be a month. How about 11? I asked. OK, he said.
You can figure out the next part. What was implied to be a chat with some students in a conference room turned out to be a 200-seat lecture room with a computer projector sitting dutifully at the table on the raised speaker’s platform. I had no seminar planned and had brought nothing with me but a few ideas about how to kick off a conversation. I stated the obvious to my host: I clearly had nothing prepared. He suggested he would give me a few minutes to myself, then, to get ready. So I had about 15 minutes to outline a hour’s talk. In the land of dynamic planning, this is equivalent to at least a few hours. I told him he needed to find a white board for me, and right away to scrounge up a piece of paper and a pen so that I could make some notes.
No problem. He had some paper and a pen, and in about 2 minutes they were wheeling a white board into the room.
One goes as one goes. I have been keen on a review article from 2012 that outlines a 3-part principled model of education called Transformational Teaching. I used those three points as an outline, and dropped 3-4 examples of classroom strategies that I think illustrate the idea under each point. Viola! – a seminar is born, and with 5 minutes to spare as the room filled with students and faculty members. The talk went fine. And the dynamic planning lingo was introduced to a new crop of Indonesians, who liked it just fine.
Transformational Teaching at the University of Mataram, 2015
The next day, on the first day of the 2-day conference, I found out when my plenary was and how long it needed to be about 3 hours before it was scheduled to happen (and so did the other speakers). I was prepared with a few versions of the talk that ranged from 30-90 minutes.
The other thing that happened that day was the eruption of Mount Rinjani, about 50 Km north-northeast of the Golden Palace Hotel. The ash cloud, blowing due west, had closed the Mataram local airport and the ones on Bali and East Java. On the ring of fire, dynamic planning is probably just a way of life.
The volcanic plume from Mt Rinjani headed south on Thursday
On the second afternoon of the conference, the international guest speakers were taken to the tourist resort on one of the Gili Islands for a welcomed break. Sometime that afternoon, the winds shifted and the ash cloud was now heading south-southwest, right over the area of the Golden Palace and the international airport we were all scheduled to depart from the next day. Bali and East Java re-opened that evening, but Lombok International was closed.
The open air conference session on a Gili Island
Things go better with science education… and dinner on the side
We still enjoyed the day, including stopping by a roadside (literally) grill (literally) for dinner. Utensils, by the way, are the ten clutching digitals at the end of your arms.
The next morning, the prevailing winds were unchanged and the airport was still closed. My hosts were attentive and fantastically accommodating to our situation. The other two speakers who were leaving that morning had flights from Lombok to Bali, so they were going to take the “fast boat” to Bali and shuttle to the airport in plenty of time. I was taken to a nearby hotel that had a Singapore Airlines office, and even though these people had their hands full with hundreds of flights that had been delayed or cancelled, I was given individual attention and service.
Well, that was the good news. The bad news was that the airport was now not going to re-open and the forecast for the next day was bleak, so rescheduling me out of Bali was looking like the best option. At about 9 AM, an agent put holds on seats for me on the 8 PM and 9:45 PM departures out of Bali for Singapore, my first original stop on the way back to Hong Kong, where I was overnighting before a 10 AM flight the next day back to the US. None of that was not going to happen, given that there were no flights out of Singapore until 7 AM the next day, getting into Hong Kong at noon, and that flight was already filled with delayed travellers.
And then the bad news: the fast boats were all filled up. Undeterred, the Singapore Airlines agent sent us a few blocks away to a private charter company. Nice idea, except their circuitous route to Bali would not get us there in time, even with all those hours. So we went back to the Golden Palace for the next dynamic plan.
Meanwhile, my two colleagues got their own bad news that the fast boats were filled, leaving the 5-hour slow-boat ferry as the only option off of Lombok to Bali. At 11 AM, we left the Golden Palace accompanied by the conference chair, who had already changed a seminar he was scheduled to give at a nearby university that afternoon, to the morning, to be able to escort us to Bali. We made a quick pit stop at a convenience store and picked up drinks and snacks for the day, and boarded the ferry at 1 PM.
Confident that this might actually work, I turned on the verdammt data roaming option on my phone and started to reschedule the rest of my trip.
The term rustic would over-estimate this boat, and the upper deck, with its bench-seats over-crowded with locals and more than a few other displaced tourists, looked like every news report you have ever seen of fleeing refugees covering every habitable inch of space. Instead, we joined a much more sparse crowd on the second car deck, which was not being used for vehicles on this trip. Our host picked up a handful of newspapers from a dockside vendor… not for reading, but to spread out on the deck. We were officially boat people.
We made our campsite near a stair railing and prepared for this 5-hour trip.
Just before departure, one of our new neighbors arrived with a nice looking foam mat in tow. Our host asked where he got that, jumped up, scooted up the stairs, and managed to rent the last two mats. We thought we had now had been upgraded to Business Class.
Four professors, two mats, and a boat
We pulled into Bali at 6 PM; for me, a liter of Coke Zero, 500 Calories of cashews, and a couple of naps after we departed. Bali is more developed and well kept than Lombok, and you can buy a nice looking 1-floor single family home with 5 rooms and a garage, on a small plot of land, for $15,000. You can also pick up new and relatively modern beachfront resort homes starting at $100K. Every now and then, this kind of escape presents a real temptation. I could put two new homes on my Chase credit card and have a little room left on there for probably all of the furniture.
By 7 PM, we were pulling into the Bali airport, pleased as hell to have seen planes in the air as we got nearby. The colleague heading to Jakarta on an 8 PM flight got out at the domestic terminal before we headed to the international terminal, and our other colleague was out on a midnight flight to Osaka. I was not going to hit the 8 PM flight but the 9:45 PM looked like no problem. I just needed to get the ticket. The agent back on Lombok gave me her card with her private number written on it, with instructions to have the folks in Bali call her so that she could issue one of the tickets once I knew which flight I was in time for.
My host asked if I thought I needed him to accompany me inside. Anyplace else in the world I might have said no, given that airports are pretty orderly places. In the land of dynamic planning: not so much.
He needed to ask more than a few people where the airline offices were, and even then it was not obvious. This is a newly built airport, with parts still under construction. And, as it turns out, the Singapore Airlines office has yet to relocate from the old terminal. I would not have been a happy camper, although I think I would have just gone to the departure counter next, anyhow. My host did not want to leave me without knowing I had a ticket, so he figured he would call the agent back in Lombok himself. Great plan, except his phone was in the car and the car was circling the airport with the driver, whom he could not call.
In the land of dynamic planning, there is always another option. The second of the airport staff he flagged down let him use his phone. At the other end of the line, the Lombok agent issued my ticket for the 9:45 flight and confirmed it. My host wrote that number down on the agent’s card, we shook hands and parted ways. He probably got back into Lombok at 3 AM after a dark transit on the slow ferry, and I headed through the security area to the ticket counter, where both legs of my Bali to Hong Kong trip were waiting for me…including a newly opened seat on the 7 AM flight, after all.
With an hour to go before boarding, I hopped onto the free airport wifi with my computer and Skype-called Delta to reschedule my flight from Hong Kong, my overnight at the Hong Kong transit hotel, and my airport transport pick-up for home.
By 1 AM I was turning out the light in a $90/6-hour transit hotel room in Singapore.