Traveling To Palangkaraya for a Debating Competition

After my long day yesterday working with the debating team, I mentioned to Bu Arfa that I was really disappointed that I couldn’t go to Palangkaraya with the debating team. She was amazed and immediately rang the principal to ask if he would change his mind. After convincing him that my presence would be as a assistant coach, he reluctantly agreed! I was so delighted!
The next morning, Bu Arfa & I arrived at school just before 8am (why did I set my alarm for 5am?) and we went straight to the library to wait for the debating team. As soon as I stepped into the library, I was puzzled by the strong smell of kerosene burning. I soon discovered the reason! The librarian was sitting behind her desk and on the floor by her feet was a wok with very hot oil, balanced on a kerosene stove.

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Frying in the wok were bakwan which are like savoury pancakes.

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I immediately pictured either Mrs Bevan or Dorothy sitting in our school library behind the front desk frying food in boiling hot oil and couldn’t help smiling at the image in my mind! Can you ever imagine Mrs Bevan or Dorothy selling greasy food in the library for students and teachers to eat while reading a book!

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The librarian then started talking to me and explaining why she sells food and drink in the library. Her husband has retired and together they are putting their 2 children through university. Their eldest child did a forestry course specialising in palm oil which cost them in total 300 million rupiah (AUD$30,000). He has now finished and is earning a salary which helps with the cost of the younger sibling’s education. He is studying tourism which costs Rp4 million a semester. Bu Mariani earns Rp2,400,000 a month. Rp2 million goes towards the university costs and she is left with her husbands pension (75% of his salary at retirement) and the remaining Rp400,000 from her salary a month, so to raise extra monies, she sells food and drink from the library!

The debating team arrived and we had about 5 minutes of pronunciation practise before having to collect our bags and put them in the car we are traveling to Palangkaraya in. Instead of traveling by bus we are traveling in a car with 8 seats and we had to each buy a seat in the car. Each passenger has paid Rp 190,000, although I think the back seats are slightly cheaper! An interesting way to travel and explains why I have seen cars with public transport number plates!

Our journey to Palangkaraya is in an air-conditioned car however because one of the girls in the debating team is suffering from terrible car sickness, so her window is constantly open and thus the air conditioner, while still on, is struggling! So a potentially cool 8 hour drive is now a humid, muggy 8 hour drive next to an open window! I had visions of being able to write as we traveled along, but it is so hot that my fingers are sweating and there is also a good chance the iPad will overheat.

We are broke our journey twice to not only go to the toilet and get something to eat, butmore importantly to give the driver a break. Our first break was in a tiny dusty town, an hour out of Sampit, the major half way point between Pangkalan Bun & Palangkaraya.

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Just like every where else in Kalimantan at this time of year and in the middle of the day, it was stinking hot and very humid. Just sitting still typing in the shade under the verandah out the front, sweat dripped down my face and even my palms were sweating! Occasionally there is a tiny breeze but it rarely lasts long enough!
Along the way, I noticed many palm ( Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) plantations with plants at varying stages of maturity. These are the palms grown for palm oil. Some were almost as tall as a coconut tree so I imagine harvesting the fruit would be very challenging. The older trees have ferns growing up the trunks so it actually, sad to say, looked very pretty.

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The canopy of the Elaeis palm is much denser than a coconut tree and unlike a smooth trunk on a coconut tree, the trunk is criss crossed with buts of old leaf fronds, making it easy for ferns to grown up the trunk.

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Occasionally on the side of the road I saw piles of Elaeis palm seed which are collected by huge trucks. We passed many trucks piled up high with seeds. The ripe seeds are a gorgeous red/orange colour and grow in clusters, like a huge bunch of grapes. The clusters don’t hang low like coconuts but stay compact in between where the leaf fronds grow from the trunk.

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However while we passed many Elaeis plantations, we also passed many plantations of rambutan, 2nd growth forests, pineapple and fields of vegetables. However easily the second biggest plantation crop here rivaling Elaeis palm is rubber. We passed many, many fields planted with rubber trees and again with trees at varying stages of maturity, however more younger trees than older trees. Is this the new upcoming crop now that palm oil is facing international condemnation? Are people now going to boycott rubber products? How easy is it to discover if the rubber your thongs were made from came from sustainable rubber plantations? I am guessing tracing the origin of rubber will be significantly more difficult than tracing the origin of palm oil which was difficult enough!

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While we left school at 8am, we didn’t arrive into Palangkaraya until 6:30pm! The opening ceremony was starting at 7pm, so we had a quick mandi, changed out of our traveling clothes and was only 20 minutes late! What a long day and it hasn’t finished yet!

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