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

Lessons learned: Replacing assumptions with the reality of rattan; the King of Karaoke

With this installment, Lindsay Daigle, David Hall, Matilde Kamiya, and Toshi Okuobo conclude their dispatches from Borneo.

Day 18: Thursday
Last day on the project. The first thing we did was to plan out the day. According to the plan, our deadline was 5:30 p.m., when Ade was scheduled to present our work to interested SHK and NRM members.

As one of the final exercises, we reviewed the issues list we had created on Day 1 of the project, when Ade presented to us his business plan for the first time. We wanted to make sure we had covered all the issues we promised to address.

It was interesting to see how much we had learned over the past three weeks. Reading back over our notes, it was apparent that we came to the project knowing very little about the business climate and customs in Borneo, Indonesia. We knew we were dealing with a rattan farmers' cooperative, but none of us really understood what rattan was or who the farmers were.

 Harvesting rattan
Harvesting rattan is a slow and difficult job. (Photo by David Hall)

When we heard "rattan garden," we had envisioned massive rattan fields and sprawling plantations, not the 30-foot-long rattan canes wildly entangled among the trees deep in the forests that we encountered. We heard "farmers harvesting rattan" and pictured men armed with electric chainsaws clearing the field, not men who flip-flops using knives to cut down one cane at a time. We expected multi-ton cargo trailers filled with rattan being transported up and down the river, not motorized fishing boats with a capacity of only a few tons of rattan at a time. We presumed availability of basic market information. In short, we assumed a lot.

We came onto the project thinking that our role would be to introduce business best practices and insights to the rattan cooperative. As we got exposed to the harsh reality of the rattan farmers' lives and the business climate in the Indonesian forest, we quickly learned that many of the best practices commonly employed by businesses in the developed world were less applicable in this environment. What we found transferable, however, were the various strategic frameworks. By taking Ade and others through the frameworks, we were able to help them better analyze the situation, organize their ideas and identify holes and inconsistencies.

The litmus test was the final presentation of our work to some of the project sponsors at NRM. Ade facilitated this and performed admirably, presenting a business plan written in English but speaking in Bahasa. The problem for us was that we couldn't pitch in on the discussions as we again had little clue what was being talked about, other than a general idea based on what slide was being pulled apart. However, the final analysis was that the folks from NRM were happy with the results and were eager to see if the plan could be turned into reality.

All the discussions were of a positive nature, which was a relief to all of us and lifted the atmosphere in readiness for the evening's celebrations. Well, the atmosphere for all of us except poor Toshi, who knew that tonight was going to see "Elvis Okubo" reclaim his rightful place as King of the Samarinda Hotel Karaoke circuit!

We went out to dinner at an upscale Chinese restaurant and let Ade, Nasir and Yoga select the food. Matilde was especially intrigued to try the Crocodile in Black Bean sauce that Yoga had been mentioning, but it turned out that this was only served in a different place. However, the food was great as ever, and with the Bintangs flowing, we shared some introspective thoughts on how the project had progressed, how we'd performed and how Ade and his team were going to make this the best rattan collective in the world!

 The King of karaoke
Thwarted in his hopes to sing Abba's "Dancing Queen," Toshi, the King of Karaoke, belts out "Country Roads, Take Me Home" for the crowd. (Photo by David Hall)

We retired to the hotel a little later and while Matilde and Lindsay disappeared to their rooms to change, Toshi, Dave and Yoga checked out the venue for the rest of the evening's activities. As we had thought, the stage was set, the Bintangs ordered and we settled down into the comfy lounge chairs to listen to the hotel-hired singers. Once Yoga pointed out that it was truly a free-for-all, Toshi wasted no time in seizing his moment, selecting his song and getting his name on the all-star singing list. We weren't to be disappointed. Toshi got up on stage and let rip. He did a duet with one of the hired singers, and as the photo suggests, put his whole effort into stunning an enthusiastic crowd with a command performance. After that, the rest of us realized we just couldn't compete, so we simply left it for Toshi to encore. I think for many of us, this was the fulfilment of a long-anticipated event and if the expressions on Yoga's and Ade's faces were anything to go by, the rest of the Indonesians in the bar felt as we did, that the King was back! Long live the King!

Day 19: Friday

Our final day was pretty uneventful. It was sad to be leaving, but we all had internship and study commitments back in the U.S. to honor. The one memorable event on the last day was driving back from Samarinda to Balikpapan when the car driver decided to overtake a minivan, which itself decided to overtake a large bus at the same time, all on a blind bend. The car coming the other way braked hard, we swerved, the bus accelerated and the minivan slipped in neatly behind the bus. We spent few moments off-roading, during which time something went bang! in the car, and we took a little breather for the driver to jump out and go and check that nothing more serious than the rear door coming loose had happened! We certainly aren't going to miss the road sense of Kalimantanians!

Lindsay and Dave left Toshi and Matilde in Balikpapan and started their trip home via Jakarta, Singapore and Seoul, while Matilde and Toshi were flying home the next day via Bangkok and Tokyo. However, what was sure was that after this experience, it won't be long before we're back in Southeast Asia.