Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breakfast is Served

In the three nights that Glen and I have stayed at hotels outside our home base in Banda Aceh we have been served breakfast in our rooms. A knock on the door or a phone call initiates the meal. It is a brand new experience for me.
The typical breakfast comes as a neatly packaged brown-paper parcel on a plate, or bowl, along with either Aceh coffee or a sweet green tea. 

When you open the brown paper parcel it contains a banana leaf on which a serving of rice was placed or noodles, then that was topped with a hard-boiled egg, various vegetables, rice crackers, hot sauce, etc. One meal also arrived with a plastic bag containing a delicious broth that I poured over the accompanying noodles.

One has to forget the concept of a typical western-style breakfast and get used to eating food for breakfast that we would eat at other meals. It’s lucky that both Glen and I enjoy the food very much.

Thursday was a very successful day at the Aceh Timur branch where we started by reinstalling the HF antenna. 
Various other jobs were taken care of and at the end of a long, hot day we had both the HF and
the VHF radios working.

Friday was a long eight hour ride back to Banda Aceh in a Land Cruiser ill-designed for comfortable long haul travel. All along the road we saw cattle on the loose, grazing away, and taking their own sweet time to cross the road. The drivers are used to it and simply treat the cattle as a temporary obstacles that they drive around. When we finally got back to our hotel we both had a bad case of Toyota-butt.

Last night we went out with some of the AmCross staff to a BBQ restaurant down along the river. As we were shown to our table one of the guys ordered five “special Cokes”. Glen and I gave each other strange looks wondering what was being ordered. The cans of “special Cokes” were delivered and we got a big laugh when we realized that a can of another far more refreshing liquid was cunningly hiding inside a Coca-Cola sleeve. What a hoot!

Today we spent in an assortment of shops in Banda Aceh buying various supplies for a trip we are making next week up into the mountains of central Aceh: grounding stakes, clamps, pulleys, wire, connectors, etc. We also had five antenna mounting brackets cut and drilled at a local metal working shop for US$12.50. My highlight purchase of the morning was a Skype headset and microphone for $3.50. I'll test that tonight (morning in N. America) with Ann.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lhokseumawe to Langsa

Day 2 of this trip started out with an Indonesian breakfast that had been left outside of our rooms. It was comprised of rice, a piece of chicken, and some veggies. All in all a very tasty meal. It was washed down with a cup of Aceh coffee. Think of a quadruple espresso with two tablespoons of sugar: hot, black, thick, very strong and very sweet. Actually very good.

As we walked out of the hotel the school directly across the street was welcoming the children. There were two school teachers in lavender uniforms greeting each child as they arrived. Can you image the teachers dressing like this and greeting the children at the curb back home. Other teachers in the back were lining up the children and were keeping them entertained with songs and exercises.

We then visited the Kota Lhokseumawe branch to check their radio installation. It wasn’t too bad. Glen got an opportunity to download the radio programming onto the PC, make changes, and upload the changes to the radio. Here Glen does the work ably supported by Alex, the IFRC technician, the local radio operator, and Jumari, our interpreter.

After we had done some preliminary work at the branch we all went into the city center to do some “hunting” – i.e. shopping with a list and a time limit: grounding stakes, grounding clamps, solid copper cable, electrical wire, screws, butane for the soldering iron, etc! It was good fun shopping at a local store. Originally they only had three grounding clamps. When I asked them where I could buy more, one of the attendants disappeared out the back door and came back five minutes later with another four. They didn’t want to lose that sale.

Back to the branch office and we accomplished our first “real” work by pounding in a
grounding stake and creating a solid ground for the radio mast and the radio chassis. 
Outside the office was this truck emblematic of the many Red Cross national societies around the world that have donated money, time, and materials to Aceh Province. This van was donated by the people of Taiwan.

After completing our work in Kota Lhokseumawe branch we headed down the road further east to the Aceh Timur Branch outside the city of Langsa, about 4 hours away. It’s another new building replacing an older one in the city center. The radio installation had just been moved here 2 weeks previous and they were having difficulties communicating with anyone. We checked out the installation and all of us got shocks off the
equipment - no grounding. That will have to be fixed.

We weren’t immediately sure what other problems were going on but when we left Glen looked up at the antennas and exclaimed “I see a major problem right here!” I know this photo won’t make sense to most of you, but trust me, this is NOT the way to install an HF antenna. One of the wires of the antenna is touching the mast and another antenna wire is touching the guy wires. We have work to do here tomorrow! This was a bit of a surprise as, by and large, the installations have all been very well done. We'll be sure to follow up the PMI techs who did the job and give them some training on these antennas.

We drove into Langsa and got hotel rooms for the night. I won the toss for a second night in a row for the slightly better room. Tonight I have hot water and being the true gentleman that I am I invited Glen over for a hot shower.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Road to Lhokseumawe (Lock-sue-ma-way)

Today Glen and I started out first road trip to visit radio sites on the east coast of Aceh. Accompanying us is Alex, the Sr. IT/Telecom Officer for the IFRC in Banda Aceh and Jumari, one of our interpreters. We had planned to get on the road shortly after seven but various delays had us finally underway by 8:45.

The road down along the east coast, mainly inland although there were a few times when we could see the Straights of Malacca, provided a wide range of experiences and scenery: rice paddies everywhere, palm trees, pine trees, monkeys (two), water buffaloes (a lot), hundreds of motorcycles and scooters, small villages, more rice paddies, loads of people, two Red Cross chapters (see below), one car accident, did I mention rice paddies, one golf course, and finally, Lhokseumawe, the second largest city in Aceh.

Our first stop after a couple of hours was in the town of Sigli to visit the Red Cross chapter at Cabang Pidie. Not too bad but we has a few things to fix that I will get back to later in my stay.

In the foreground you can see our RC vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser, not the smoothest riding transportation in the world but it does the job. Glen and I are taking turns riding in the front seat to enjoy the better view and the better ride.

After our visit to the chapter it was lunch time. Our travelling companions took us to a local restaurant and as you can see we had no trouble finding something to eat. In this type of restaurant they load up the table with about 30 different dishes and you just pay for the ones that you eat. The others go back in the display cabinet for the next guests.

We saw many children coming from and going to school. Most wore uniforms, some did not. The color of this girls head scarf and the contrast to her tunic caught my eye.

Our second stop after another two hours was the Red Cross in Bireuen. They used to be located downtown but last year the Canadian Red Cross built them this wonderful new building just outside of town on some land surrounded by rice fields. This was the best installation todate. The PMI in Bireuen run two ambulances for the town and they staff the building 24x7. 

The American Red Cross was also very generous to this branch by donating three pickup motorcycles (one of them seen here) and 10 scooters. The gentleman in the red shirt is the head of the Bireuen branch.

Speaking of scooters we asked Jumari how hard it was to get a driver's license for a motorcycle. "Not hard at all." he said. You go to the local bureau and pay $15 and that's it. No wonder you see them everywhere driven by people of all ages.

And in case I didn't mention it there were a lot of rice paddies. Jumari told us that they can produce two crops a year which I can well believe with the tropical climate. The fields were in various states of the growth cycle. Most of the plots in this photo are being prepared but you can see one patch in the middle where the rice is well on it's way. Sometimes from road to tree-line are solid green. I'll try to get a better picture.

Overall the road was very good. It's only two-laned and very busy. The surface was fairly smooth with a few rough patches here and there. They told me the road on the west coast isn't as good.

We finally arrived in Lhokseumawe around 5:30 and checked into our hotel. It's a bit older and a little run down but it will do the job for the night. One frustration I haven't solved yet is that all of the electricity (lights, TV, A/C, etc) is operated by one switch by the door. If you turn off the lights you also turn off the A/C! Hmmmmm - I'll have to work on this one.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What To Do For Lunch?

Glen and I decided that we’d stay at the hotel on Sunday and do some work in the afternoon. When lunch time arrived it dawned on us that we haven’t made any arrangements. What to do? We think about walking to the fruit market but then decide to see if the gentleman in the office could order us some food.

He speaks very little English (more than my bahasa) but he understands what we need. Then he utters three very familiar words “Kay – Eff – Cee”. That works says Glen so we ask him to get us some. He dials the number on his mobile phone and then immediately hands the phone to me. My first words were “Hello. Is there anyone there who speaks English?” The man at KFC’s first words were “What’s your phone number?” Darned if I know, I thought, as it wasn’t my phone - so I told him I’d call him back.

Glen and I go back to his room and call KFC from Glen’s phone and get the same man. Now I can answer his question. Ordering isn’t the same as back home with “Two, two-piece meals, please.” After a few stumbles, and some choice's I didn’t recognize, I think I’ve ordered four pieces of chicken, two French fries, and two Pepsi’s. And he says they’ll be delivered soon.

About 15 minutes later the delivery man arrives on the KFC delivery scooter and, to our relief, we get exactly what we ordered. The one added item that you won't get back home is two packets of sambal, the local hot pepper sauce. A great meal - and we now have a phone number for another weekend when we don’t have a car and have a desperate urge for western-style food.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our First Tour of Banda Aceh

Glen and I decided to use Saturday afternoon to take a tour of Banda Aceh. Our first stop was lunch at an Acehnese restaurant. As you can see we won't be going hungry! I don't like everything but there's so many choices that there's always dishes to enjoy. I'm tucking into some satay.

After lunch we drove to see this fishing boat that ended up on top of a house. It’s now a monument to the tsunami. The plaque indicates 59 people were saved by the boat. The whole area swept clean by the tsunami has been rebuilt since 2004. The effect of the warm humid climate and ocean air have taken there toll on the construction so when you look at the new building they look older than 4 years. To drive down a small street and suddenly see this boat perched on top of a house is odd, to say the least.

From there we drove to visit one of the mass graves used to bury the many victims. The one we saw had over 14,200 people interred in it. It’s very sobering to imagine that many people buried in one small plot of land. There were a few small headstones that we could see from the path that we assume are memorials to family members killed by the tsunami.

Both of our interpreters were with us, Jumari and Salman. They both attended school together and seem to be good friends. I’m guessing they were both around 20 when the tsunami hit and were both living in Banda Aceh. Jumari said they heard a lot of shouting about “The water is coming!” and he and his family ran to safety. Salman said that his family stayed at home and that water rose gradually to about knee height and then receeded. The whole event only lasted about 2 hours but the devastation and loss of life was staggering. One of the primary reasons for the mass destruction was that the earthquake that caused the tsunami was very intense in Banda Aceh and it severely damaged and weakened most of the buildings. They provided little protection from the water that came ashore in the worst hit area.

From the mass grave we went to visit the large generator ship that was swept in 3km from the sea. Sarmad had taken us there before but this time we got to take some photos and climb aboard the boat. As we were climbing up the ladders we were asked by some Muslim women if they could have their photo taken with us, a flashback to my time in China where it was commonplace for the locals to want photos with us. We obliged of course. I took some video from the top of the ship that I will try to post to my Facebook page.

From the barge we went back into downtown Banda Aceh to visit the Baiturrahman Mosque, the largest in Aceh. We walked around the outside of the mosque and marveled at the architecture. We were not permitted to enter. Muslims are required to pray five times everyday: dawn, mid-day, afternoon, sunset, and night. The “call to prayer” resounds throughout the city prior to each of these times and can be heard coming from every direction, a clear auditory reminder that I’m not in Wisconsin.

Next to the mosque we walked into the Aceh Bazaar, a large claustrophobic collection of market stalls. It would seem to be a great place to bargain. For those who have visited the big market in Bangkok try to image Chatuchak but narrower, darker, and lower!! A good friend from Nashville, Barry, would be in seventh heaven. And Barry, you’d never find Ann in there!!

During the afternoon the rains came which was the first we’d seen since arriving. Big tropical drops of warm rain – it felt good. Some thunder and lightening after dark was wonderful.

After the bazaar we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. We made arrangements for Jumari and Salman to meet us again on Monday afternoon for a second tour. Monday’s a national holiday for Chinese New Year.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Men Who Went Up a Hill...

Glen and I began our radio installation inspections today. We started with the main Red Cross chapter in Banda Aceh where we noted several things that need to be fixed and improved. From there we went to the Banda Aceh Red Cross chapter to do inspection number 2. As I was walking into the building an elderly Indonesian man came over and stood in front of me and said “You like Obama?” When I responded that I was delighted in our new President his face lit up, he thrust out his hand for a firm handshake, and said “You good man! Obama good.”

We finished work at noon and because this is Friday we had to allow 2 hours for all of the local staff to go the mosque for special Friday prayers. Glen and I used the time to catch up on some paperwork.

In the afternoon the real fun began. We decided to do one more check and travel to a repeater installation at a place called Mata Ie. A repeater is a specialized radio installation that takes a signal on one frequency and rebroadcasts it on another frequency to extend the range of the network. They are usually installed on the top of a telecom tower. All of you pass by them everyday probably without noticing. As we drove out of town we would see a tower ahead and think it was ours only to drive on by. Several kilometers later we entered an army controlled area and Pak Edho, our IT Technician, got out and let them know we were going up to our tower.

A climb in the car up a steep hill then we pulled off to the side of the road. We had left the urban area far behind and we were now in the wilds. When I asked Pak Edho where our repeater was installed he pointed straight up towards the top of the hill. A series of concrete steps disappeared behind some shrubs. We were then told it was 600 steps!! And it was hot. And we hadn’t brought any water!! I really think no one but Glen and I wanted to make the climb. 

Off we went and it was a tad strenuous (how out of shape am I!) but we made it to the base of the 120’ tower. The climb reminded me of some of the steepest sections of the Great Wall with more foliage and less wall! Glen and I looked up at the top of the tower where our repeater was installed and declared (or I may have gasped) “That installation looks good!”. After some photos and a pause to regain our breath we retraced our steps down the path and drove back to the office. On the drive back down the hill I saw a monkey sitting on the side of the road. When I pointed and exclaimed “Monkey!” in the hopes I could get a photo, no one batted an eye, the car didn’t slow down, and Pak Edho said “You’ll see lots of them!” And we did... but no photos... yet!

Dinner at a very good Chinese restaurant and a get-together with some of the other AmCross staff ended a great day. Now to bed to rest the legs!!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Real Work Begins

Enough with planning, it’s time to get our hands dirty and begin the real work of the project. Tomorrow we’ll be visiting three sites in Banda Aceh to inspect the installation of 4 radio systems including a repeater on top of one of the local hills. 

Next week we’re going to cover all of the sites on the east coast of Aceh province visiting the towns of Sigli, Bireuen, Lhokseumawe, Langsa, and Tamiang. In total we’ll be inspecting 11 radio installations along the coast. These radios were installed back in 2005 and have been visited in the past few months by an Indonesian Red Cross IT/Telecom technician who has made any repairs necessary. Our job will be to inspect the work he has done and ensure the installations meet IFRC standards.

We’ll be travelling in a Toyota Land Cruiser and will be accompanied by Alex (an IFRC IT Technician), Jumari (an interpreter), and a driver. The Land Cruiser is decorated all over with Red Cross logos and has a VHF radio and an HF radio on board for communication. It will probably be a bit of a bumpy ride as the roads can be very rough in places. From Banda Aceh to our furthest point is approximately 10 hours driving and we will be home by 5:00pm next Friday.

The following week we are planning to visit several towns on the west coast including Calang, Meulaboh, and Blangpidie. More on that trip in a future blog.

I have no idea what internet access we’ll have next week so it may be a while before I update the blog.

Sarmad, the IFRC IT/Telecom coordinator left for his home in Jakarta this afternoon. He’s been the driving force behind the authorization and planning for this project. He has so much local knowledge it was hard to see him go. Sarmad is an Iraqi who lived in Baghdad during the two wars and witnessed the invasion of Iraq first hand. We have had some fascinating discussions with him about the wars from his perspective. He’s been great to work with. We’ll join up again in 2 weeks when we do radio installations in Medan and on the island of Nias.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life at the Green Paradise

While I’m in Banda Aceh I have a room rented for me at a residence compound called Green Paradise. I’m not sure which came first, the name of the compound or the color of the walls of the buildings. The residents of the Green Paradise seem to be all members of various NGO’s providing services to the area. The room is reserved for my three month stay so when I’m out on a multi-day field trip I can leave things in the room and not have to check out, a big benefit. 

It’s very nice but not luxurious by any stretch. The rooms are fairly spartan but adequate. I have an air conditioner and a TV with about 15 channels including BBC Worldwide for news, a couple of movie channels, and at least one sports channel. The bed is made everyday and the towel changed. One benefit is that any clothing left in the laundry hamper is taken away, washed, ironed, and returned 2 days later with no charge. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all of the laundry detergent I brought with me!!

Each morning there’s a simple, serve yourself breakfast, which is also included in the room charge. They have cereal, toast, fruit and a varied selection of things to put on the toast plus instant coffee. In the evening if you wish they’ll deliver a simple Indonesian meal to your room at 8:00pm for about $2.50. I haven’t tried this yet but will soon.

In the center of the compound is a small lap pool for anyone who needs some exercise – not me, of course!! I’ve only seen one person in the pool so we must be a fit lot. They also have wifi internet access. The connectivity at the desk in my room was very poor but I’ve discovered if I rig a temporary desk back near the washroom I get an adequate connection for Skype.

Speaking of Skype, my “old” account seems to be giving me problems so I’ve created a new one called “roger.frederick.palmer” that works well.

All in all the accommodation is much better than I expected. It will certainly suffice for my assignment here in Banda Aceh. Believe me it doesn’t quite live up to the image conjured up by the name but it will do just fine.

p.s. We had a long meeting today that included Pizza Hut for lunch. It wasn’t too bad and the Indonesians seemed to really enjoy it. It came with packages of sambal, a red-hot sauce, which added a nice kick. Sarmad doen't eat cheese so he ordered one small pizza for himself with all the toppings but no cheese. When it arrived he had loads of cheese and no toppings!! 

p.p.s. I haven’t met anyone here yet who isn’t thrilled that “W” is gone and the Obama presidency has begun.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lunch Near the Port

At lunch today we went down to a restaurant called Banda Seafood which has been built near the shore overlooking the sea from where the tsunami had come. I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like four years ago to be anywhere near here and see that wall of water rushing in. A chilling thought.

Sarmad told us of some homes that were built by Germany to rehouse some of the survivors. The outside walls were painted orange. But, when the people moved in, they painted the wall facing the sea black. When asked why they did this they said it was because that was the color of the wave that came ashore and doing this was showing defiance to the sea.

Heading back to the office we passed a large barge that housed an electricity generator. It's a steel hulled vessel probably 25' wide by 100' long and 25' high. The water line is well over 10' above the ground. What makes this vessel unique is that it's now 3km inland and now a monument to 24 Dec 2004. I'll get a photograph to add here.

Other than a couple of briefings (Admin and Finance) we spent the day becoming familiar with the project, what has been accomplished, and what is left to do. Tomorrow we will devote most of the day to going deeper into the current status and developing a plan to accomplish project deliverables.

Sharia Law

The Aceh province on the north end of Sumatra is a very conservative Muslim area where over 95% of the population practice Islam. Sharia Law, which governs the daily life of Muslims, is not as widely enforced as it was before the tsunami but it still needs to be respected. Because of this there are some “Do’s” and “Don’t” that we must observe as we work in this area.


• Wear discreet clothing covering shoulders and legs below the knees, even when swimming
• Always use your right hand to wave or point at someone or to pass something to others
• In general, address a person by their first name including their title such as “Pak” for men and “Ibu” or “Bu” for women
• If you drink beer or alcohol do it at your residence
• Be patient and polite at all times. Never lose your temper in public for any reason.
• Take off your shoes before entering a house


• Do not wave or point using your left hand. Do not hand over something with your left hand. 
• Do not stand with your hands placed on your hips or waist when speaking to a person. Do not stand too close to someone of the opposite sex when talking.
• Do not hug or kiss people of the opposite sex when you meet them (this is really tough on the French!)
• Do not drink alcoholic beverages in public. Do not order food that contains pork. Do not carry around alcoholic beverages on the street.
• Do not schedule meetings during prayer times and allow work to stop during these times, especially on Friday
• Do not distribute reading material or children’s toys containing religious messages
• Do not display religious symbols other than those of Islam in public
• Do not spread views or issues that could be considered religiously offensive to the people of Aceh

Monday, January 19, 2009

International Travel - the Final Leg

Great flight from Singapore to Medan, Indonesia. It was on Silkair, an airline I had never flown before and it was wonderful. Only just over an hour with great service. The sky in Medan when we landed was very hazy and when we disembarked you knew why – humid as all get out!

A little tension as I waited to see if my checked bag had made it after not seeing it for two and a half days but there it came. What a relief as I’m getting very tired of the clothes I have on! 

After I claimed my checked bag I got my first dose of culture shock. There was no obvious way to get to the domestic departure terminal so I asked directions (Yes – it hurt!) and ended up walking down the road and hoping the directions I was given were correct. After a couple of hundred yards (and a good sweat) I finally found the Garuda ticket window and got a paper receipt for my flights. I thought it was the check-in window but it was just a ticket office. It was again not obvious where the departure gates were because everything was just a mass of shops, cafes, loads of people, etc. I headed in the general direction given by the Garuda agent and finally found my way into the departure hall and joy of joys it was air conditioned!

Couldn't check in yet ...... too early so they directed me to a "business class” type lounge where for R60,000 (US$6) I got to sit comfortably and use wifi, drink coffee, eat snacks, and got a ride out to the aircraft – no jet way.

It felt very good take the final leg of the journey to Banda Aceh. A Red Cross driver met me at the airport and took me to the IFRC offices where I was met up with Glen and Sarmad. The drive into town passed through a very lush landscape of tropical foliage, rice fields, and villages. The roads are full of every manner of vehicles and I decide immediately that I won’t be driving. We travelled across the area where the tsunami raged in from the sea and passed by at least one mass grave where 20,000 people are buried. 

Glen and I swap travel stories. His travel was relatively uneventful other than getting stuck in Medan overnight due to overbooking of the flights to Banda Aceh. Given all of the things that went on with my journey it seems strange that Glen and I both left the US at about the same time and arrived at the Red Cross 3 hours apart!

Sarmad took us for lunch at an Indonesian restaurant called the Imperial Kitchen. Excellent meal of nasi goreng (fried rice), beef with ginger, chicken in palm leaves, battered shrimp, and mixed vegetables. 

We then went back to the IFRC offices for a security briefing. This covered the basic things we needed to know about working in the region, particularly Shariah Law, which governs the day to day lives of the predominant Muslim population of Aceh (more on that later). We finally got to go to our hotel to check in and get a long overdue shower and change of clothes. Man, does a good hot shower after a long journey do wonders to restore the soul.

Sarmad picked us up in the evening for a dinner at Bene, a rooftop Italian restaurant in downtown Banda Aceh with Tom Alcedo, Senior Country Representative for the American Red Cross delegation. Tom oversees a staff of 300+ people who are providing post-tsunami relief to the region. Tom had been in Indonesia for many years and arrived in Banda Aceh 2 days after the tsunami to lead the recovery efforts. He had many stories to tell which I’ll cover in future posts.

We finally call it a day and I collapsed into bed. The long travels out to Banda Aceh are finally over. Tomorrow we have a couple more briefings and begin work on the project. I’ll try to elaborate of life in Aceh in future posts.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

International Travel, Part 2

The journey continues!

After a restful night in Anchorage we congregated back at the airport at 9:00am Saturday morning. The gate agents were very friendly and said all was well for a noon departure. We cleared through security starting at 10:00am and were positioned at the gate waiting for boarding... and we waited. Finally one of the gate agents announced that two parts on the plane had gone wrong and that both replacements had arrived... the bad news – one of the parts wasn’t the right one. The new replacement part was in transit from Seattle and was expected at the airport at noon. At 1:15pm, and that it would take about 30 mins to install and we will be boarding and on our way... almost. The part was indeed the right one but it took them a little longer than expected to install and then the boarding process was a tad slow... it seems they don’t get fully loaded 747’s on a regular basis. We finally got airborne about 4:00pm – smooth sailing to Hong Kong. I’m amazed at how well everyone took all of the delays, queuing for this and that, etc. Not one person got upset that I saw. Most of us just chuckled as the events unfolded.

The people I met in Anchorage were so friendly and the scenery this morning was spectacular. There’s a long ridge of snow-capped mountains to the north of the city. I’m not sure the photo I took will do them justice. I’ll post it here just in case.

Great flight to Hong Kong and although we were late arriving we all made our connection to Singapore. I literally walked off one plane, two gates down the terminal, and onto the Singapore flight. This one left right on time and we had a magnificent view of Hong Kong at night out the window. It’s an amazing sight. And Singapore at night wasn’t too shabby when we came in to land either.

Got to Singapore at midnight and I’m now waiting for my next leg tomorrow morning to Medan, Indonesia. There’s free wifi all over the airport so I’m happy.

I’m rich! I just exchanged US$100 and received Indonesian Rupiah 1,008,000 – I’m a millionaire! Bet it goes quick... :-)

And, I just realized, I’m definitely back in Asia – it’s not all of the Asian people – it’s the non-stop Kenny G that’s piped through the speakers at the airports!! He must be independently wealthy just on the airport and hotel royalties alone. The current tune is “Danny Boy” – not one of my favorites!! :-)

Friday, January 16, 2009

International Travel.

OK - So, it was supposed to be a 15 hour 36 minute non-stop flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. Things change... shortly after takeoff they announced that due to the cold weather they couldn't put a full load of fuel onboard (Chris can explain that to me when I'm home) and that we would have to stop in Anchorage for a "top up". No big deal, I had several hours in Singapore to wait before flying to Medan. We had a nice landing in Anchorage, a one hour fuel fill and we were on our way... never made it to the runway. As we were taxiing to takeoff the pilot informed us we had a mechanical problem and that we would now be spending the night in Alaska!

Then Monty Python took over... it appears that when we left Chicago we were deemed to have left the United States. We had to sit on board while they found immigration officers, on a Friday night, to come to the airport to check us back into the US. And all of our checked bags had to stay on the plane. While we were waiting another passenger gave me the toll-free number for the Mariott and I made a quick reservation for an overnight stay. I can now officially cross Alaska off my list of visited states - I wonder how many I have left.

According to United we'll be leaving at noon tomorrow arriving in Hong Kong at 3:20pm Sunday afternoon then on to Singapore. I should get to Banda Aceh on Monday now, one day later than planned.

Believe it or not it's 40F in Anchorage right now - a 57 degree difference from Appleton this morning!! Perhaps the 747 couldn't handle the change in temperature. If it freezes up overnight it'll work fine in the morning.

I can see Russia from my room... NOT

One other humorous note - the last time I got food poisoning was about 8 years ago on a flight to Hong Kong when they had served smoked salmon as an appetizer. I blamed it on the salmon... You can guess what they had as an appetizer on this flight to Hong Kong - I didn't eat it!! :-)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Info

Just in case anyone is thirsty for more information here's two links Ann found relating to the Early Warning System being installed and the tsunami relief efforts:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We're Going!

I got word today that all paperwork is now complete and visas have been issued. The only thing left is to get confirmed airline seats. The staff at the Red Cross in DC are working on that. I chatted with Glen this morning and we're both excited about getting going. The travel will be long - leave Appleton Friday morning and get to Banda Aceh early Sunday afternoon. The international date line takes care of Saturday! Outbound route goes: Appleton - Chicago - Hong Kong - Singapore - Medan - Banda Aceh. No layovers, just airport visits!! Glen is flying through LA and we'll meet up in Singapore.

Sarmad Nafi, the IT/Telecom Coordinator for the IFRC in Indonesia has everything coordinated for kickoff meetings next Monday (19th) in Banda Aceh. I looking forward to actually getting going after postponements caused by the paperwork.

A little Red Cross history

The Red Cross is comprised of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and all National Societies around the world.

The Red Cross was founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant in Geneva, Switzerland, where the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was formed. The primary focus of the ICRC is humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions. Wherever armed conflict is happening in the world you can be sure the ICRC are present to protect all persons affected by the conflict.

The American Red Cross (ARC), one of the National Societies, was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton. The primary focus of the ARC is disaster response, helping people throughout the US handle the aftermath of natural disasters such as fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, etc. Other services provided by the ARC include blood donations, services to armed forces families, and shopping/errand services. There is also an international component to the ARC that provides services focused on disaster preparedness, response and recovery, disease prevention, family tracing, and the dissemination of international humanitarian law.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is an organization that oversees all of the National Societies. It is the world's largest humanitarian organization, providing assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It was founded in 1919 and comprises 186 member societies around the world.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Some Background

On December 26th, 2004, an undersea earthquake estimated at a magnitude of 9.1 to 9.3 occurred off the west coast of Sumatra. The earthquake created a series of tsunami that killed over 220,000 people in eleven countries in the Indian Ocean basin. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand were the hardest hit.

The most affected area in Indonesia was the northern area of Sumatra, Aceh Province. Reports list over 168,000 people killed or missing. Over 500,000 people were displaced, 110 bridges destroyed, and 5 seaports and 2 airports sustained considerable damage.

Since 2004 many humanitarian agencies from around the world have been working with the people of Indonesia to help them recover from the tsunami and to prepare for future events.

A tsunami early warning system is being put into place to monitor the seismic activity in the Indian Ocean and to allow for a rapid response when the next earthquake hits. Part of this early warning system is a series of radio stations throughout Aceh province equipped with HF and VHF radios. A start was made on the radio stations but was not completed.

This where Glen and I come in...