Asian Adventure: Jakarta – A Capital With Heart and Traffic

The second destination of the South-East Asia tour after Singapore was Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Thunderstorms, Tropical Rain and White Light

The flight from Singapore to Jakarta takes about 2 hours. I flew with AirAsia in one of their brandnew Airbus A319/320. The space on the plane was similarly to Ryanair quite tight, however, you could buy a variety of warm food on the flight.

Street vendor selling fruit in Jakarta, Indonesia

Street vendor selling fruit in Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian capital greeted me with thunderstorm and heavy, tropical rain. It was as if you put the shower on. The humidity was at 100%. Another thing I noticed from the car when leaving the airport: The lights you see are different from Europe. Mostly fluorescent neon lights are used that put everything into a cold, white/blueish light.

Not A Tourist City, Yet Much To Experience

Jakarta is not a tourist city. During the entire stay of about a week, I saw only a handful of visitors in some shopping malls. Jakarta is huge. More than 10 Million people live in this metropolis. What is interesting though, is that the Jakarta is divided into “cities within the city”. In European cities, you often have to go to the other end of the town to get something done. In Jakarta, everything you need is availably within your immediate area.

Flooded highway on the way from the airport into Jakarta

Flooded highway on the way from the airport into Jakarta

The huge amount of people also means that there is a lot of traffic. There is no subway system, hence everybody is using their car or a motorcycle to get from A to B. There is also an express bus system where the buses have their own lanes. Cars and motorcycles must not use the bus lanes, however, nobody seems to care and not even physical barriers seem to hinder cars driving there.

In addition to the sheer amount of cars, the traffic is also very dense. I was very suprised that I did not see any accident, especially since the motorcycles constantly overtake the cars. Timewise, it is quite usual to be 30 minutes in a traffic jam to drive 7 kilometers of road.

Everything Under 30 degrees Is Cold

In contrast to Singapore, many buildings in Jakarta are not fully air conditioned. The installed air conditioning vents make it just “less hot”. It also seems to me that Indonesians have a different sense of temperature: Everything below 30 degrees Celsius is perceived as “cold”.

Traffic in Jakarta - Bus express lane on the right

Traffic in Jakarta – Bus express lane on the right

Many things are less organized (or not organized at all) than in European cities. For example, there is a constant smell of fire in the air because there is always somebody burning something somewhere. Add to that the exhaust from the cars, the chemicals against the Dengue mosquitoes and the humidity and it feels “as if you are breathing cloth” as somebody said. However, I found the air to be not that bad, I had more problems with the heat.

City of Contrasts

Jakarta is also a city of contrasts. While on the one side you can see big luxorious villas with expensive cars parking there, you see on the other side also slums where people live in small hats by a river that carries the sewage water. On some highway entry roads, you also see day laborers waiting to get work for the day.

In other areas, Jakarta can easily match up with other big capitals. There are many restaurants and an extremely well-organized take away service. You can just call and after about 30 minutes someone comes and brings you the food right to your doorstep. Jakarta has also numerous shopping malls and they are top-notch, just like in Singapore or in the US. Prices for luxury goods are of course cheaper than in other cities, but still they cost money.

Another good point: I bought a 3G SIM card for my iPad to surf on the Internet. 3G was often faster than the Wifi offered in restaurants or domestic connections. I could even use it to call home with Skype.

Asian Adventure: Singapore – Efficient, But Heartless?

It finally happened. I went to a place, I never thought I would travel to. Too far away, too crowded, “out of area”. Or actually not: I travelled to South-East Asia. Singapore, Jakarta, Ubud.

This blog post is about the first destination: Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

The Flying Sofa

The route went from Oslo to Copenhagen to Singapore. Singapore Airlines was the carrier of choice, and that choice was a good one: In Economy class on the Boeing 777-200 the seats were wide and the service superb.

Before takeoff, the flight attendands who are dressed in traditional Singaporean clothing handed out a menu. Showing like in a restaurant what would be served during the flight, food and drinks could be ordered anytime during the flight. Only the hot meals were served at fixed times.

The time during the 12 hour flight passed by quickly, partly thanks to the excellent choice of movies and music from the entertainment system. I have never flown a more comfortable airline than Singapore Airlines: The service was friendly, the food was excellent, and I could sleep on standard Economy seats. Hence, I called it the flying sofa.

Cheap, Humid and Crowded

I always thought “Asia is cheap, humid and crowded”. After landing in Singapore, I figured out it is actually true. Only that it is not that cheap. Prices in Singapore are only slightly lower than prices in Germany.

Since Asians tend to avoid the sun, and since it is too hot outside anyway, the main attraction are the city’s numerous shopping malls. Usually, the metro stops directly transition into a mall. You never know where the metro stop ends and where the mall begins and vice versa.

Popular in these malls are expensive European or American luxury brands. And since Singaporeans seem to have money, these boutiques are crowded. Second most important after the malls is the food: Every mall has a food court that offers a wide choice of Asian and Western food. Remember to NEVER order anything that is spicy. When they say it is “a little spicy”, it is usually too hot.

Otherwise, Singapore presents itself as a highly-efficient city. Everything is regulated, misbehavior like drinking or eating in the metro is heavily fined. The city is very clean. You never see litter lying around.

Heartless Efficiency?

This efficiency has only one drawback: It feels a bit heartless. If you have a problem that does not fit into the Singaporean’s “Standard Operating Procedures” you have lost.

The Metro "MRT" in Singapore. Highly efficient and very clean.

The Metro “MRT” in Singapore. Highly efficient and very clean.

Example: The Singapore Flyer is a kind of ferris wheel that allows you to see the city from above. “Last admission 22.15″ it says on their website. Arriving at 22.07 at the ticket office, happy to have made it just in time before closing, I learn that the last ticket sale closes at 22.00. After kindly asking and only getting a “no” as an answer, I see that it is hopeless to get in and let go of this attraction. A visit is not possible for me.

Night Safari

Example 2: Night safari at the Singapore Zoo. Similar to other theme parks you have to wait in line for the attraction to start. You enter a tram that will drive you through the park.

The carriage starts moving. You hear the live comment from the guide, who is well-trained. Every word is carefully selected, emphasized and spoken with a special kind of melody. Jokes are made at exactly the right point in time. All of this happens while you see tigers, hippos and other exotic animals passing by. It feels as if you are partly in a TV advertisement, partly in a scene of Jurassic Park. After exactly 40 minutes, the show is over.

50 Grades of Snow

When I grew up, I read somewhere that the Inuit had a large number of words to describe snow. At the time, snow was just snow for me – white and cold. After living in Scandinavia for a while, I start to understand the different types of snow and ice.

Slippery or not?

To know the types of snow and ice is important. It can help to answer the main question: Is the street slippery or not? When I first came to Scandinavia, I quickly realized that snow is not just snow. For example, when it is below minus 12 degrees, almost any snow that is on normal streets is very compact and hard, making it easy to walk. Just like on the normal asphalt.

If the temperature get warmer, the “ugly” range is from -3 until +2 degrees. Here the snow is not really melting yet, but instead becomes more fluffy and dangerously slippery. Above +2 degrees, it is so warm, that the snow is just wet. It is not nice to walk on, but it is less slippery similarly to when it is raining.

Icy road topped with sand to make walking easier

Icy road topped with sand to make walking easier

If the temperature then falls again and it freezes, the wet snow becomes ice. Then again it can become very slippery. Drops the temperature again below -5 even the icy parts are easier to walk on.

Snow clasification

This snow classification is of course not an exact science. To be able to describe the snow conditions is also important for skiing. After going on a cross-country tour, I was asked by a Norwegian colleague immediately how the snow was, how the top layer was, the consistency and all kinds of details I had never imagined.

To know the snow also shows that you are not an outsider. People who have just arrived and walk too slow and too careful immediately stand out.

Working in Norway: Dress code at the job

Wrote an article about the different ways to dress on the job in Norway as a man. It got published in one of Germany’s best news papers, Die Zeit:

Dress code in Norway - My article published in Die Zeit

Dress code in Norway – My article published in Die Zeit

The main point is basically that the dresscode in Norway is quite relaxed. Even at companies that are usually known for having a strict and formal dresscode in other parts of the world. You can read the article here in German: http://www.zeit.de/lebensart/mode/2013-01/leserartikel-norwegen-kleidung

Ubuntu 12.10 on the Asus F201E / X201E

Since I am currently over-saturated with Apple products (MacBook, iPad, iPhone, iPod – I have them all) or Windows products (at work), I was looking for a portable notebook to escape the Apple/Windows universe every now and then to play a bit with Linux.

Requirements were that the notebook had to be light and very cheap – the latter characteristic is also good for traveling because you don’t need to worry too much that the notebook gets stolen. The choice fell on the Asus F201E that is called X201E (http://www.asus.com/Notebooks/Versatile_Performance/X201E/) in the US.

Choppy YouTube videos with shipped Ubuntu
It came preinstalled with Ubuntu 12.04 64-Bit, however the performance of fullscreen HD Flash videos was very poor. Videos on websites like YouTube were displayed very choppy and sometimes also with a lag in the audio track. Therefore, I tried to install newer graphics drivers, tried several other tweaks and a few other Linux distributions – with no real improvement.

The Asus F201E running Ubuntu 12.10.

The Asus F201E running Ubuntu 12.10.

Fresh install of Ubuntu 12.10
Finally, I found out that my favorite distribution for better performance (less choppy Flash video) and usability for desktop use (installed fonts, installed Flash plugin, drivers, clearness of the user interface) was Ubuntu 12.10. The main trick here was to take the 32-Bit version and NOT the 64-Bit version although the processor supports it.

I used Linux Live USB creator on Windows to put the downloaded iso file from Ubuntu (link) onto a USB stick and make it bootable. I booted from the stick using the legacy BIOS option by pressing ESC during startup and then selecting the USB stick in the menu and not the UEFI boot option.

The UEFI install caused a lot of trouble and did not work, also with the other Linux distributions. To save time, I therefore opted for the good old BIOS option that seemed to work. I let Ubuntu partition the entire 500 GB harddrive. The installation went fine, only a few things had to be changed to make it work as before:

Minor tweaks necessary
For a few issues, some tweaks were necessary to fix them.

Brightness keys
After the installation, the keys for the brightness were not working. This could be fixed by editing the /etc/default/grub file and changing the line “GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash” to “GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash acpi_osi=”. After running “sudo update-grub” in the terminal and rebooting, the keys were working again.

Network card not working
Besides, the ethernet controller was not recognized and did not work, while Wifi was functioning just fine. This could be fixed my installing the package linux-backports-modules-cw-3.6-quantal-generic. This package will install several other packages (depending on the current kernel used) and after running “modprobe alx” in the terminal as super user, the ethernet card was working also.

Asus software sources
The original Ubuntu that came with the Asus was using two special software sources, those I added again in 12.10. They were “http://asus.archive.canonical.com/updates precise-annan public” and “http://asus.archive.canonical.com/updates precise-annan public (Source Code)”. I don’t really know whether Ubuntu 12.10 is using any of these Asus packages, but for future reference, I just included them in this blog post.

System up and running
After fixing these few issues, Ubuntu 12.10 is running fine. Flash videos play more smoothly and everything seems to work just as intended. Speed-wise, the notebook naturally cannot compete with devices that have faster processors and are more expensive, but with this build quality it is a nice travel companion at the fraction of the price of a MacBook air.

Fukushima: Propaganda and Self-Interest

Due to the dramatic events in Japan, I had to reactivate my blog. While the Japanese people are suffering from unbelievable consequences of an earth quake that was followed by a tsunami that was followed by several nuclear “incidents”, it is very hard to obtain accurate information about the severity of these nuclear “incidents”.

Everybody acts in their own self interest
Governments, naturally, do not want to spread panic among their citizens. News media, naturally, want to attract as much readers as possible, corporations want to retain their reputation and market position, anti-nuclear groups want to fight against the proliferation of nuclear power and – last, but not least – the nuclear industry also acts in their own interest.

While looking for information sources, I came across the website world-nuclear-news.org, a news service backed by the nuclear industry. Whatever you might think of nuclear energy, there is one thing you can learn from this news service: How to do public relations properly and how to describe very dramatic events as calm and undramatic as possible.

Propaganda?
Let’s take a quick look at two news articles. The first one is called: Problems for units 3 and 4 and starts with this quote:

The cause of the fires remains unknown due to radiation in the area, and they could in fact be one fire that died down before reigniting.

Plain English: This basically says that there is so much radiation in the area that no one could go there to check what caused the fires. In addition, one fire that first died by itself and then “reignited” sounds much more innocent than two uncontrolled fires.

Efforts are underway to refill the pool, including an abandoned attempt to douse the building with water from an army helicopter, hoping to get some to go through the damaged building.

Plain English: This part of the text says nothing about the status of those “efforts”: Will they be successful? What exactly are these efforts? When I know what to do, I say “I am taking the car and drive to Hamburg”. But when I say “I am underway to start an effort to go to Hamburg”, this could mean that I haven’t even made one single step towards my destination. In addition, it suggests that no one actually knows what to do.

Plus, “pool” sounds so much nicer and so much more innocent than “nuclear fuel rod container”. “Abandoned attempt” and “army helicopter” sound at first sight as if everything was under control, but reading it a second time it shows desperation. What can you do more if you can’t even use an army helicopter? “Hoping to get some to go through the damaged building” only underlines this desperation further.

The “pond” is “warming”
Next news story is called: Possible damage at Fukushima Daiichi 2

Radiation decreasing, fuel ponds warming

Plain English: Positive news! “The fuel ponds are warming”: Doesn’t this sound nice, a warm summer day at the pond? Nice description for an overheating and possible explosion of gases and fires that might come afterwards. Not to forget about the radiation.

Loud noises were heard at Fukushima Daiichi 2 this morning and a major component beneath the reactor may be damaged.

Plain English: There was an explosion and the reactor might have been damaged. Just imagine you sit in the plane, and the captain says that “I heard a loud noise and I think that a major component of the plane may be damaged”. Sounds not nice…

Concern is growing over the status of fuel cooling ponds at units 4, 5 and 6.

Plain English: The cooling does not work, it might heat up so much that it starts burning eventually. When your health “status” is deteriorating, you are ill.

The pressure in the pool was seen to decrease from three atmospheres to one atmosphere after the noise, suggesting possible damage.

Plain English: Sounds good when pressure is decreasing, but this is actually a bad sign.

In line with the theory that non-condensed gases in the torus will be released fairly promptly and not replenished at the same rate, it is possible that the radiation release – at least via this route – will diminish and stabilise.

Plain English: Nice to hear that radiation will diminish, but “at least via this route” suggests that there might be other, more dangerous, sources of radiation that in the end might actually lead to an increase of total radiation.

Similar to the need to cool fuel in the reactor core, used fuel assemblies in cooling ponds require a covering of water to remove decay heat. The main differences being the amount of decay heat to be removed decreases exponentially with time and that fuel ponds are much less of an enclosed space than a reactor vessel. At the same time, ponds may contain several years of fuel.

Plain English: Here again, it sounds like a good development at first “much less on an enclosed space than a reactor vessel”, but if this actually starts to burn it is even worse because the radiation cannot be contained as good as in a reactor.

Road ahead and ways to help
There is not much to say. I am actually really thankful to be far, far away from the events in Japan and I am really amazed how well the Japanese people seem to handle the situation. If you want to donate money, read this blog entry and donate your money wisely.

I can only hope that the situation at Fukushima quickly improves, and that Japan finally in all of these adverse circumstances gets a little bit of luck.

Airbus A380 in Cologne

This Saturday, the world’s biggest passenger plane Airbus A380 made its first-time landing at Cologne-Bonn Airport (CGN/EDDK).

Since I was curious, I had to go and take some pictures. It turned out to be really crowded with all kinds of people. A mountain biker asked me on the way “Hey, do you know what is happening here?”. He thought there would be a kind of open air concert.

The Airbus finally touched down at around 17.30 local time and when it was over my head it was so huge that it did not really fit onto the photo. I was standing in the approach zone of runway 14L, a few hundred meters before the runway threshold (special thanks to this website). NRWeblog also took some photos.

Here are some pictures from the landing:

Sitting on a Volcano

Not only Norway has beautiful lakes, Germany has, too. My favourite lake in Oslo is Sognsvann, but this one comes close. It is called “Laacher See” and it is a potentially active volcano. At some spots you can see little bubbles coming out of the water.

In contrast to Sognsvann it lacks an efficient subway connection, but the Benedictine monastery Maria Laach Abbey (seen in the background of the first picture) more than makes up for it.

One Google Maps you find the lake here.