Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wild orchids on our street

There is an orchid species blooming in all the trees around our house.  It has big bunches of small, fragrant, white flowers.  So nice!


Chap Goh Mei

The 15th day of Chinese New Year marks the end of the celebration. Bogor hosts one of the biggest Chap Goh Mei celebrations within a mahjong-marker’s throw from here. We went with a friend from Bogor – he is about to set off on a cycling trip from Bogor to Europe – to see the parade and celebrations. Luckily the rain subsided as the parade started and we got to see it all. All. 5 hours of parade. Local dancers. Hari Krishnas. Marching bands. Traditional Indonesian dancers, puppets and costumes. And then the endless procession of lion dancers, Chinese drum troupes, dragons and more! So exciting bit it was a long night…. and there were so many people! 

Thanks to Nafal for the photos!

Move to the jungle. Be the jungle. 

Bogor is a rainy city in the middle of what was once dense rainforest. Our house is on a street teeming with greenery. It is like living in a green cathedral. But that isn’t enough for me! I want a jungle IN the house!  There are plant shops lining nearly every streeet in Bogor. You can buy sod, ferns, orchids and trees! They have everything and it’s super cheap. We got an avacado tree last week for less than $10. 😎🤓 This is just the beginning. 


I’ve finished the transcriptions of my raw data.  I have 57 interviews and I’ve transcribed the 42 that were conducted in English.  My research assistant is still working on the Malay and Chinese ones.  The transcription now comes to 493 pages.  I’ll spend the next month or so coding the data and trying to find some patterns.

Goodbye Transcriva!  You were free and you worked great, but I will not miss you!

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The Limits of Institutional Reform

This may become one of the central theories in my PhD work.  Taking it very slow to absorb as much as I can.

Matt Andrews

Evil and the Mask

An English translation of a Japanese book.  Not to my liking.  It felt too much like the author was trying to be Haruki Murakami.

Evil and the Mask

Come for a PhD, tear down a house

Accommodation in Kyoto can be tricky and expensive.  Many apartments require a deposit, key money (non refundable, usually equivalent to 1 or 2 months rent), a guarantor, and come unfurnished.  I was lucky to be introduced to Expo House (by Fareea) when I first came here.  On my first stay I rented a room in one of several Expo House ‘share houses.’   I had my own room and shared the kitchen, living room, and bathroom with the other three residents of the house.  Now I stay in an apartment managed by the same owner, Yusuke-san.

Yusuke-san on a pile of debris ready to be sent to the recycle center.

Yusuke-san on a pile of debris ready to be sent to the recycle center.

Yusuke-san has 8 Expo Houses now and is renovating an old kimono factory into a cafe/hotel/share-house.  I needed some spending money to cover my research trip costs and signed up when Yusuke-san put out a call for some part-time workers.  For the past two weeks, I’ve been demolishing walls, dismantled a freight-lift, jack-hammered concrete floors, pulled down ceilings and have moved tons of material into Yusuke’s truck.


It has been great fun to do some manual labour, to see some daily progress in my work and to feel physically exhausted at the end of the day.  But, soon its back to the computer and my desk at the lab.  🙂

The front of the building - built in the early 1970s.

The front of the building – built in the early 1970s.


Ground floor interior before we cleared out the left over junk, pulled down the ceiling, and cleared out the rest of the lift.

Ground floor interior before we cleared out the left over junk, pulled down the ceiling, and cleared out the rest of the lift.


Family time

I got to spend a few weeks with family around the New Year and it was great!   My cousin’s daughter got married in Pennsylvania and it was a great opportunity to see everyone at one time.  My mother drove up with her Roadtrek camper and parked it in Pam and Kevin’s driveway.  They set me up in side room near the fireplace and the wood burning stove.

Jingxi keeping warm.

Jingxi keeping warm.

Some of the highlights (not including the wedding, obviously) include…. navigating Kevin’s dead car (video) while under tow, walks and playing with Jingxi (videos: Jingxi’s tree, Jingxi’s tire, Jingxi’s leash), shopping at the Peter Becker thrift shop with my mother, New Year’s Eve at Stan and Marisol’s house, watching football, driving to Wilmington, Delaware with my mom, and generally hanging out with everyone.

After the wedding trip, I was lucky enough to get to spend a few days in Cairo and catch up with my father and cousins.  It has been years since I spent any time with my cousin Nihal or her two daughters.  Malak was also staying at Nihal’s house with her little Omar.  The poor little guy was teething but after a day or so, he warmed up and was fun to hang around with.

Mehri made lots of time to take me around Cairo to visit some old churches, mosques, a synagogue and some galleries.  Nihal and I had a nice evening at an old Cairo cafe and then a walk around downtown admiring some of the old office buildings.

It was really nice to spend time with family.  Its hard having family in lots of different places, but it is the way my life has always been.

Final field trip

My PhD research is a year behind schedule.  The process of getting my research permit and subsequent visa was supposed to take 4-6 months.  It eventually took 14 months and left me with a very short period to complete my field data collection.

I have now finished two data collection trips to Malaysia and am now back in Kyoto processing the data and getting ready to analyze, write, and publish.

Over the course of the two trips I conducted 59 interviews, interviewed 75 respondents, taking 34 hours and 14 minutes.  Interviews were conducted in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Kota Kinabalu, Kudat and Semporna.  I interviewed government officers, consultants, NGO representatives, and fishermen.  During the second trip, I had the help of a great research assistant, Lau Chai Ming, who assisted with translations and scheduling of appointments.

Chai Ming - My research assistant for the second trip.  Was really lucky to find such a great assistant.

Chai Ming – My research assistant for the second trip. Was really lucky to find such a great assistant.

We hung out around fishing jetties in Kudat and Semporna and met with fish traders and fishing boat owners. Trawlers are common in Kudat.  They drag a net behind them along the bottom of the sea and scoop up anything that is living along the bottom.  Its a pretty destructive form of fishing.

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We also got to visit Pulau Banggi and see the great work of the Banggi Youth Club.  The Youth Club conducts awareness activities with local communities and works closely with WWF.

Some members of Banggi Youth Club.

Some members of Banggi Youth Club.


In Semporna we observed the Mabul tuna landing.  Fishermen use small boats to spend 2 to 3 days at sea and pull up tuna with just a line and a hook. Without any other equipment they can land tunas that weigh up to 70 kg.  The ones we watched them land were in the 20 to 30 kg size.

We were even lucky enough to get invited onto a purse seine boat during a trip out in Semporna.  Unfortunately, there was a full moon the week we were in Semporna so the purse seiners were not able to fish very much.  They spent most of the week at the jetty doing repairs and mending nets.  On our last night we got invited out.  Here’s a short video of one of the exciting parts – little fish jumping in green light.


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Getting around KL without a car

Kuala Lumpur is a gem among rocks.  Southeast Asia’s major cities are notoriously huge, polluted, and clogged with traffic.  Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok have massive traffic jams and millions of people.  Their public transportation systems are insufficient, inefficient and relatively old (with the exception of Bangkok, which by all accounts has made huge improvements over the past 10 years).  In December 2013, I had the pleasure of taking one of Manila’s three metro trains in the morning rush.  It was jam packed with bad air-conditioning and a bumpy ride.  Horrible.

Pollution over Manila

KL is different.  While many KL-ites think that they are the worst drivers on the planet and the jams are the end of the world (and they can be bad), they aren’t on the scale of the other Southeast Asian megacities.  KL’s air is rarely as smoggy as Jakarta or Manila on a daily basis.  There are fewer trucks and buses spewing clouds of black exhaust into the air.

When I was living in Kota Kinabalu, I made frequent visits to KL and got to know the public transport system and taxi system pretty well.  Kuala Lumpur has 4 rail lines, a couple of bus companies, and taxis.  Together they form a good network for getting around the city without owning a car.  But still, cars are the dominant transport mode in KL.  That is likely because the dense network of rail and busses lack a certain something – comfort, convenience, integration, and frequency.

Lets start with the trains.  KL has 2 existing light rail lines (LRT), a main train line (KTM) and a monorail line.  The KTM is part of the train network that runs the length of the Peninsula.  When I stayed at the Cititel in Midvalley Megamall, I would occasionally use the KTM to travel the 1 stop to KL Sentral to transfer to an LRT.  Unfortunately, that 1 stop on the KTM would often take 30 – 40 minutes because the trains are infrequent and often stop along the tracks.

The monorail is very modern and runs right through the heart of KL.  But it was built completely separate from the other lines and the cars are very small and have a terrible design that minimizes the number of people who can board.  Outside of rush hour, it’s an okay option.  At rush hour – forget it.  However, they are working on integrating the monorail with the LRT lines. Kudos.

Until recently, there was no connectivity between the two light rail train lines.  In 2008, I used the Kelana Jaya line to commute for 6 months.  I was lucky to be reverse-commuting, but it was still usually a pretty awful experience.  The trains usually had only two cars and came approximately every 6 minutes.  Compared with metro trains in Singapore and Hong Kong where the trains have more than 10 cars and come every 2 – 3 minutes.  The result was overcrowded trains and a system that would totally collapse when a train had a problem.  I am happy to see that, in 2013, the trains have become longer and more frequent.  The few times I have used them in rush hour they have been bearable.  And, they are building new lines and extending existing lines. Kudos.

KL Rail Map

That leaves taxis.  Taxis in KL have a terrible reputation CLICK HERE.  They are known to fleece passengers, not take people to certain destinations, not use their meters, and in the worst cases – to attack lone women passengers.  I have experienced much of their horribleness and had a few run ins with them.  When you approach a taxi stand and see a group of drivers lounging around together, you know that they are going to try to fleece you – give you an inflated price without using the meter.  When you challenge them on it, they can get aggressive.  This happens in particular places – notably all over Bukit Bintang, 1 Utama  New Wing, Kelana Jaya LRT station are a few I know.

But, I have had many more pleasant experiences with taxi drivers.  Without any empirical evidence, I contend that 75% of KL’s taxi drivers are honest and most are pretty nice.  And they are dismayed at the behavior of their crooked colleagues.  And things could be changing for the better – the smartphone app MyTeksi helps passengers find a cab without having to approach the guys huddling together at the taxi stand.  And the authorities are talking about doing more.  Lets see if they actually do anything.