THE DISPATCHES: Lindsay Daigle, David Hall, Matilde Kamiya and Toshi Okubo

Getting up close and personal with rattan; monkeys and orang-utangs and bears (oh my!)

Day 6: Saturday
Today we visited the largest rattan trader in the Kedang Pahu area, named Johan, to learn about his role in the rattan trading chain. As a large local trader, he buys from the small village-based traders (the ones we met yesterday), and aggregates and sells rattan to traders in Samarinda. Johan also owns the largest processing factory where he washes, smokes and dries the rattan he purchases directly from farmers. SEP apparently also stores its only machine in Johan’s warehouse.

 Rattan warehouse
Bales of rattan lie lied up around Johan's warehouse. (Photo by David Hall)

Having heard so much about Johan, “the biggest rattan trader,” we thought his warehouse was going to be large and sophisticated. In reality, the warehouse looked no different from a regular house. No signs, no gates. Instead there were stacks of raw rattan roughly laid on the ground, looking as though someone had just dropped them off. The warehouse was bare, with no racks, dividers or equipment. The highly anticipated machine was stored in the corner, covered with a cloth to keep dust off. It looked already used. Apparently this machine can process rattan more than 200 times faster than a person doing the same process manually. The only problem is that no one knows how to use it!

Dave learns to wash rattan
Rattan washers from the village show Dave the tricks of their trade. (Photo by Toshi Okubo)
Next to the warehouse is a stream where the rattan is washed. We saw women and children half-submerged in the water, scrubbing and washing the dirt and irregularities off the rattan. Each seemed to employ different ad hoc tools. No one cared to use standard tools, as long as the job got done. They talked and laughed as they worked. Kids too small to work played along the riverbank. Eager to learn more about the actual process, Toshi and Dave volunteered to wash a rattan themselves. In the process, Toshi dropped and almost lost one of the tools; a woman had to jump in and save it from being washed away! Next to the river were two sulphuring/smoking facilities that really stunk. Finally, there was a drying area half the size of a football field. Rattan was spread out on top of racks under the hot sun to dry. In that weather, the rattans looked as if they would not only dry, but might get fried.

After our field trip to the warehouse, we headed back home to Samarinda.

Day 7: Sunday

 Orang-utan at the zoo
An orang-utan in the trees at the less-than-impressive Samarinda zoo. (Photo by Toshi Okubo)

Day off! We got up early this morning to go to the Samarinda botanical garden/zoo. Originally we planned to go to the orang-utan conservation center, but decided against going because it was too far. We left our hotel at 7:30 a.m. but by the time we got to the garden, it was scorching hot. The zoo part of the park was unexceptional. Two bears, one deer, one snake, one chicken, five monkeys and five orang-utans, total. There were a few tame monkeys and orang-utans free outside of the cage. The wild ones were kept in the cage. Lindsay loves monkeys and was readily amused by them. She even dared to pet them (but cleansed her hands with hand sanitizer immediately after). Behind the botanical garden was a forest. Our translator studied forestry in college and was eager to show us around. In flip-flops, Lindsay and Matilde struggled as they hiked in the forest. Dave was excited because he felt like he was taking full advantage of the Indonesian experience.

Apparently today was the big bird singing contest, and the botanical garden was packed with people carrying birdcages. The bird that sings the loudest or prettiest (we never found out which) wins the contest. The winner of the contest receives cash prizes, and according to our translator, the winning bird can be traded for a BMW – not a bad prize!

It is Sunday, and we are taking a day off not only from work but also from Indonesian food. We decided to head over to the mall to visit the friendly golden arches.

Back at the hotel, Lindsay rested by the pool while Toshi, Dave and Matilde played a round of golf. There were literally three holes and four fairways, but somehow by recycling the fairways and holes the hotel has managed to create a 9-hole course. The green was rough, to say the least, and as a result the golf ball seemed to have a mind of its own. It zigzagged as it approached the hole. Despite the fact that there was no river or pond, we managed to lose 3 balls by the end of the game!