Goodbye Tea, hello Indonesian Coffee

I’ve been sitting in the courtyard of our hotel for the past few hours with the intention of writing this blog post, but I’ve been caught up in conversations about quantitative research methodology, the beauty of Bandung, the ethics of international travel, and how Islam is manifested in Britain, and the richness of the discussions have taken me away from my computer. Rich discussions and learning have been the highlight of today, a day that has been full of beautiful new places, interesting reflections and trying to stretch my courage muscles to try new things.

Which is something I forgot to mention yesterday in my post about intentions. Yesterday I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about all the new unfamiliar things we’ve been observing and experiencing, and realised that in addition to the academic goals I mentioned in the last entry, there are personal intentions I have for the trip. In essence, because I’m not very good at dealing with change, I want to focus on reframing anxiety into adventure, and recognising that for the next month, I have the wonderful privilege of (as my roommate beautifully described it) of waking up each morning and having the sole job of learning about Indonesia, and soaking up as much knowledge and experiences as I can. To extend this learning, I want to focus on stretching my courage muscles, trying new things, and God willing, putting forth my best effort to make this a meaningful experience. (Our tour guides, our professors and so many other people are so keen on facilitating our learning, that it seems poor form to not put in my best effort too). I also want to focus on becoming more directionally savvy, because so far I still don’t have my bearings in  Bandung, and I want to be able to navigate the city with a bit of familiarity.

And so today, in an attempt to be a tiny bit more courageous, I started the day by experimenting with Indonesian coffee. I’m a tea-lover, but today tried my first cup of coffee after many months. And oh, I fell in love! I’ve had four cups so far today, which is more coffee than I’ve probably had in the last year, but Indonesian coffee is simply that good. The rest of the day passed in an equally exceptional fashion. We had an amazing walking tour of the city that started with a visit to the Governor’s house, which is the seat of  the governor of the West Java province and the local mayor’s office, and then walked all the way to the top of the building where we could see all of Bandung. From above, you can really see how green and beautiful the city is, and the mountains are breathtaking.

From there we continued our walking tour and saw different areas of the city, took the local para-transit system of shuttles called Ankut Kotor, which was an adventure in and of itself (it’s not clear which shuttle goes where, and the passengers are really packed in tightly in the van) , went to the Asian-African Museum, which details the Bandung conference of 1955 (where the term third world emerged), went to the Grand Mosque of Bandung, went to an amazing lunch at a local restaurant, and finally ended our day at ITB, the Bandung Institute of Technology, where we learnt more about the school and got feedback on our research projects.  I was impressed by the depth of knowledge of our hosts- all of us have such different research interests, and yet regardless of topic, they were able to suggest wonderful resources to help us get started. Our hosts also are speaking to us in English, which is not their first language, but are doing so well that I feel silly about my own hesitancy in practising languages I’m not comfortable with (such as Urdu) and am committed on being more courageous on that front once we return. By the time we left ITB it was Maghrib (the evening prayer) time, and so I went back with some of the students from our program to the hotel.

But even with the early evening end, it was an incredible day where at each stage, there was so much to take in and explore. On one street called Jalan Brago ( I think) we learnt that though things look unplanned, there is informal housing intended to support the formal work in the area.We learnt that the street is connected to Pasir Baru (the old market) and that there is a logic to the structure of the street. When we went to the Grand Mosque it was time for Dhuhr (the midday prayer) and so as we approached the mosque we could hear the adhaan, or the call to prayer. I was surprised how emotional I felt hearing it, but it’s been so long since I’ve heard the call to prayer from the street, and hearing it made it real in a visceral tangible way where we’re in a place where it’s ok to be Muslim. Where being Muslim isn’t immediately connected to assumptions of patriarchy or exaggerated media representations. I wouldn’t say I’m experienced discrimination really in the past, but it surprises me how good it feels to see so many Muslims, and to really feel like you belong. I felt this most strongly in Singapore, where many locals asked me if I was Singaporean or Malay, and I would look around the MRT car and realise that I really did physically resemble many of the people on the train. I felt more at home there than I have when I visited Karachi, but as of yet, I’m not sure what one does with that realization, since I identify most with Canada and that is home. Oh for a world with the comfort and invisibility of South East Asia, combined with the loveliness of Toronto and Vancouver!  In any case, while it lasts it’s a joy not being a visible minority, and not being asked why i wear a headscarf and I’ll miss that when I return home.

Back to the call of prayer though, it wasn’t simply hearing it that was beautiful, it was also the sight of people rushing to prayer, and seeing the exterior design of the mosque, as the minarets were unlike any I’ve seen before. Part of the words of the call to prayer are rush to success, rush to prayer, and as we witnessed that today, it was good to reflect on the fact that those words are not simply the thing that happens before the prayer, its a call that one is meant to respond to. More pertinent to planning, I’m  curious to learn more about the story about this particular mosque. There was a courtyard that was bustling with people even during the prayer, and it is clearly an active public space that functions for more than prayer.

Being in Indonesia has made me hungry for information about Islam in this particular country, and though it’s a planning course, I have so many questions about how Islam has informed the region, and social and cultural identity. During our time at ITB I mentioned my interest in mosque development, and learnt that mosques typically were built with a courtyard, with the south side having a palace, and the west side having the mosque. I also learnt that even in Indonesia, given the colonial presence, mosque development has been contested territory.

At the same time, I’m curious about Muslim fashion in Indonesia, and how Muslim women are clearly targeted through advertising. In the supermarket yesterday I saw a cosmetics brand called Wardah featuring women in headscarves, there are shops that have ads for trendy Muslim clothing, and the women in Bandung are incredibly fashionable, with hijabs unlike ones I’ve seen in Toronto. Those two topics, Muslim women fashion and mosque development fascinate me at present, and I’m not sure what direction my research will take me.

I’m also trying to figure out how to negotiate prayer times within our course. The schedule is quite full, and  prayer rooms are not easily identifiable (at least so far, apparently there is a campus mosque at ITB) and so today we heard the Dhuhr call to prayer while we were at the mosque, but we didn’t really have the time to stop and I prayed later on. Then when the call to prayer for Asr (the afternoon prayer) came in, we were in a seminar, and I wasn’t sure what to do. So God willing in the days to come, I’m going to pack a prayer mat, and just pray in the hallway if needed once a prayer time comes in. There’s no point wanting to study Islam in the city  if I’m not diligent enough to pray at an appropriate time, and the prayer times are so close, that delaying will likely mean missing them.

So much more to share, but my battery is nearly gone, and it’s another full day tomorow. Till next time.

The Myth of Independence

I met a dear friend unexpectedly today, and we had the kind of conversation you can only have with old friends, where you pour out the contents of your heart and you know the other person will help you make sense of it all because they’ve known you for so long. And afterwards I had dinner with another beautiful soul, and it made me think about how strange (and inaccurate) it is to attribute anything you accomplish to yourself. My research project studying mosques was due this week, and handing it felt like the conclusion of months (if not longer) of thought about what I wanted to research. I was battling between different ideas even before I came to Toronto, and so handing it in felt like a significant milestone.

And yet, it is a milestone (like the entire graduate experience) that is not mine alone. When you move to a new place, you realize that no matter how strong and independent you think you are, you require other people to make that experience a positive one. You need kind people to help you move and carry heavy things, to help you find good company, to invite you to their home on holidays when you don’t know anyone, to send you food when you’re homesick, to check up on you when you’re sick, to hear your rants about school, to encourage you when you’re unsure about your decisions, to give you advice, and to send you a note sometimes and let you know that you’re in their prayers. It requires tremendous effort on the part of other people to make the small(in comparison) task of studying possible. And without kind souls to generously welcome you into their family and friend circle, life simply would not be as beautiful. When you’re an introverted person (as I am) it’s easy to stay on your own and forget to seek out company, but Toronto has taught me that community is necessary.  I’m thankful that Toronto has been a place full of kind hearted souls who have made me feel so comfortable here.

And so this is a resolution for the weeks, months and years to come. I’d like to strive to be as kind and gentle as the people I’ve met, to be the sort of person and social planner who people feel comfortable around, and to have a home where people who are new and finding their way feel welcome, and leave nourished and revitalized in more ways than one. I’m curious as Anne would say, what the ‘bend in the road’ will bring forth, but am making intentions that this next chapter is an enriching one.

Face the World

Make people ashamed of their existence, Jean Paul Sartre said. Yes: make them aware of the possibilities they have denied themselves or the passiveness they have displayed in situations where it was really necessary to cling to the heart of the world, like a splinter – to force, if needed, the rhythm of the world’s heart; dislocate, if needed, the system of controls; but in any case, most certainly face the world.

~Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, p.59 (Grove Press Edition).

The Argument Against Modernity’s Dominant Formulation

Sometimes you read articles that make your heart sing with their intelligence and insight and overall wonderfulness, and as you read, you find yourself whispering intentions and prayers to yourself to go at your work with a bit more determination and focus. Today that happened as I read a lovely article by Massey, and wanted to share bits of it here as inspiration when my enthusiasm stores run a bit low. =) The article as a whole is about different ways of disrupting and problematizing popular academic and general conceptions of globalization,why such disruptions need to occur, and why we need to construct ‘space-time’ understandings of the  process of globalization.  The chapter was assigned as one of this week’s readings in a class I’m taking this term titled Global Urbanism and Cities of the Global South. In the 2 years of my program, I think this is the first course offered about ‘other’ parts of the world, so I’m excited to soak up as much as I can. (Because as interesting as Canada is, my heart and brain is craving to learn about urbanism in other contexts).

The quote below talks about how we need to recognise the particularities of the modernity story. It predicates an extensive discussion about why popular conceptions of globalization (one for example being that globalization is about free unbounded movement) need to be deconstructed, and outlines four reasons that the author is uncomfortable with unquestioned usages of the term. One particularly interesting part of the piece is the way she demonstrates how different powerful geographic imaginations are utilized to construct a particular understanding of economic globalization and the implications of this knowledge production. The international movement of capital is valorized and celebrated, whereas the international movement of labour is discussed in the context of protecting local people and controlling immigration.  It is a fascinating piece that warrants a read in its entirety.

“The standard version of the story of modernity – as a narrative of progress emanating from Europe – represents a discursive victory of time over space.  That is to say that differences which are truly spatial are interpreted in being differences in temporal development – differences in the stage of progress reached. Thus Western Europe is understood as being ‘advanced’, other parts of the world as ‘some way behind’ and yet others as ‘backward’. Euphemistically to re-label ‘backward’ as ‘developing’ does nothing to alter this process of thinking of spatial variation in terms of a temporal series. (..) It is this act which deprives these spatial differences of their ‘real import’, deprives them of  ‘the full measure of the real differences which are at issue.’
(..)
Ironically then, not only is this temporal structuring of the geography of modernity a repression of the spatial, it is also the repression of the possibility of the temporalities (other, that is than the stately progress towards modernity/modernization/development on the Euro-Western model. Indeed it is in these terms – that is, about the existence of other temporalities and stories – that the argument against modernity’s dominant formulation is usually posed. In other words, for different temporalities to co-exist there must be space.

Massey D (1999). Imagining globalization: Power geometries of time-space. In A. Brah and M. Hickman, M. Mac An Ghaill (eds). Global Futures – Migration, Environment and Globalization (pp.27-44). New York: St Martin’s Press.

What are your tips to become a more comfortable, less nervous public speaker?

If it is possible to both love something dearly and hate it passionately at the same time, that describes my relationship with public speaking. I love it, but I wish I was better at it, was less nervous beforehand, and was able to speak without “umms” and ”aaahs” and losing my train of thought during regular conversations. (After all, every conversation is a form of public speaking in a sense).  In Episode 10 of Seriously Planning, I’m asking about your public speaking experiences and your advice. You can listen to the episode here. Looking forward to hearing your words of wisdom!

It’s Not a Mosque, But It’s Still Controversial

In the Wall Street Journal today, I read about a community in Walnut Grove, California where neighbours are upset that a proposed development called Sufism Reoriented has been granted planning permission. It’s not a mosque; the project leaders describe it as not “affiliated with Islam and is focused on celebrating all major religious figures and their teachings”, but it is remarkable how similar the  s’plot arc’ of proposed faith developments are. The objections people cite tend to be similar concerns of compatible design, traffic concerns, sprawl, size and the character of the neighbourhood changing, and are challenging because it is difficult to reach a point where you can definitively say a concern like appropriate size or compatible design has been adequately dealt with.

I find it fascinating, particularly because in many cases, communities are mobilizing after planning permission has been granted to try and pressure planning authorities to reverse their decisions. In Markham, Ontario there is a proposed mosque that has met the necessary planning requirements but residents are still mobilizing to stop the mosque from being built, Park 51 had approval from planning authorities before its conflict became the subject of national and international media attention, and the list goes on. My research is about how planners can address conflicts that occur around the development of mosques, but this too is an interesting question. What do you do when the planning process is over, but the conflict refuses to die down? When citizens see the planning system as open to pressure and amenable to change?  I’m not sure what the answer is, but its an important question I think.

One might say that all developments attract conflict and NIMBY (Not in my Backyard) sentiments, but I agree with Walter Kieser,  one of the people interviewed in Wall Street Journal piece:

“Walter Kieser, managing principal at EPS LLC, an urban economics and planning consultancy in Berkeley, says Bay Area communities are increasingly pushing back against construction projects affiliated with religious groups because many of the projects have grown in size in the era of megachurches. Meanwhile, residents often hope to limit sprawl or want to preserve the pastoral nature of their neighborhoods, he says.

“Big projects always face some pushback from the community but when faith is added to the equation, these kinds of squabbles often turn into fights,” Mr. Kieser says.

You can read the Wall Street Journal article in its entirety here.

Libraries, Planning Education, Thesis-ing and Holiday Reading

I was down with a cold recently and sounded too awful to podcast (though ironically, had to do two term project presentations with my sniffly voice) but I’m all mended now, and back to doing these short audio reflections. I’ve been worried about microphone quality and not knowing how to edit, but as a teacher told me tonight, the important thing is to begin and not worry about having the right equipment, and then the skills and other pieces can develop over time. Otherwise what sometimes happens is that you can become so worried about having the right tools that it becomes an excuse for never beginning the project you intended to begin in the first place.

And so with that reminder in mind, I am back, and ready to learn more through trial and error. All tips and feedback welcomed! In today’s episode, I’m reflecting on some of the things that I learnt through my term papers this year, the discipline specific reading I’m looking forward to over the break and asking you about what you recommend reading over the break. Look forward to hearing your comments!

2 Years Later,I’ve Got a Different Question (Reflections on Home and Travel)

Greetings friends!  Today’s episode (I still have a bad cold, but you can hear it here ) is about how although my term papers are still in full force, the sight of suitcases past my door of students has only intensified my desire to go home. I can’t wait to see my family, see the mountains, hug my books, make tea in a kettle,  have lunch on a proper dining table, cook food on actual counters, and iron my clothes on a honest to goodness ironing board. (I could go on and on) I found an old post from Dec 2009 today that talks about an equally intense feeling at that point in time, the desire to go and visit unknown places, and push myself to learn new things. Where in the home/travel spectrum are you? What are you thinking about? Do share your thoughts.

What are the qualities of an intriguing workplace?

Hi readers! I’ve got a bit of a cold, so please pardon the foggy voice and thinking in the fourth episode of the Seriously Planning podcast. As the job search for my first proper planning job begins, today’s episode (click here to listen) is about things that are important to me in a workplace. It’s of course not an exhaustive list, but I’m curious to know, what makes an organization one that you want to be a part of? Do add your comments below.