Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s been a rushed past few days full of staff meetings, data entry and other tasks before I go on vacation.  Most people left yesterday, so it’s been very quiet in our house in town, and I’m off tomorrow early in the morning on a bus to Banjarmasin in South Borneo.  I’ll be there until the 29th, spending Christmas with two of our camp cooks who have graciously invited me to their village. On the 29th I fly to Lombok to travel about for 10 days… I have no idea where I’ll be for the new year, but I’m sure it’ll be fun!  My only solid plan is to stay at a very small resort ( for 3 days at the end of my trip, then fly back here on the 7th.

It’ll be weird spending Christmas in some place other than good old Minnesota, but I think the beaches and snorkeling will make up for the fact that I’m missing a nice big blizzard.  They won’t, however, make up for the fact that I won’t be there for the annual Freund-Knell Pictionary game, endless family photos where we can’t seem to get the timer or camera position just right, hilarious quotes from questionably sober parents and children alike, and the traditional Christmas Eve stuffing your face with 800 cookies.  Unfortunately part of working in the field (the sucky part) means that I’m far away and miss out on important things like holiday celebrations. I guess all jobs have their pros and cons, right?

I’m not taking my computer with me, so I can’t promise any new blog posts, but if I make a rainy day visit to an internet cafe I’ll try to post some vacation photos. Until then, here are some highly entertaining Christmas 2011 photos. Sampai nanti, everyone!

Freund-Knell Christmas 2011

Freund-Knell Christmas 2011

Mark and I in our Christmas hats

Mark and I in our Christmas hats

Christmas Eve family photo!

Christmas Eve family photo!

(We don’t do serious photos well, do we?)


What’s a shower?

Today I put out an open call on Facebook for ideas for blog posts because I’ve been having trouble coming up with them lately, and I got some great ideas back.  So without further ado, I present you with an in-depth analysis of the showering techniques of white people in Indonesia.

This may sound like a completely random topic, but let me give you the background information first. Showers as we know them in our Western nation homes don’t exist in this country. Instead, we take what is known here as a mandi, which consists of essentially taking cold water out of a bucket with a smaller scoop and dumping it over yourself.  Dump more water, lather, rinse, and you’re done!

The basic idea of a mandi. Ours at camp consist of essentially giant garbage bin-sized tubs full of water and covered with mesh to prevent mosquito infestation.

Mandis take some getting used to, and unlike your basic shower one can take multiple approaches to this all-important task.  If you mandi directly after returning from the forest, your technique is less important because the idea of throwing cold water all over your body is extremely appealing.  However, if mandi-ing first thing in the morning, or in the late afternoon after you’ve cooled down for an hour, dumping cold water on yourself sounds less refreshing and more like stepping into a frigid version of hell.  Indonesians, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind. Most of them mandi early in the morning and/or late in the evening when the water is at its coldest.  So how does a bule (white person) accustomed to warm showers manage?  Should you just “take it like a man” (or woman) and dump the first scoop right over the head?  Should you start at the legs to let your body get over some of the initial shock of the cold?  Is there ever hope of getting warm water instead of what feels like glacial melt?

After doing some extensive research on the topic- i.e. asking the first 5 people I encountered in our house this afternoon how they handled the shower situation here- I have discovered that each person has his or her own approach to the mandi.  Here are the results and feedback from my informal survey (to be written up in scientific paper form at a later date):

1. Jess: “The mandi is mandi-tory!”  Argh… all bad jokes aside, Jess’s approach is the boldest one- just dump the first scoop right over your head.  There are some costs and benefits to this technique, but having tried it I can tell you that it’s only good at certain times of day.

2. Helen: Washes her hair first without getting the rest of her body wet to cool down a bit, then starts from the legs.  She also makes sure to take advantage of the water sitting in the pipes on warm days, and targets the outdoor mandis for a nice afternoon shower.

3. Sarah: Similar approach to Helen, but utilizes the “countdown method” to psych herself up for the first scoop.  I’m thinking about adopting this method myself!

4. Luke: Takes a slightly more roundabout approach. He does one arm first, then the other, then the front of the body, then the back, and then FINALLY gets his head wet.  Interesting, interesting.

5. Nick: Wants to be quoted as saying “the mandi is never pleasant” and “I’ve never liked a cold mandi.” Ironic, since he has been here the longest of all of those interviewed.  Since Nick has been able to spend more time in town lately, he sometimes boils the kettle and mixes it with the cold water so he can have a warm mandi- the luxury!  Anyway, if there’s no warm water available Nick likes to delay the inevitable for as long as possible by washing his face and arms first, then braving the cold.

It’s funny how something as simple as washing yourself can inspire so much conversation (and pose such a challenge at times), but that’s field life for you.  Nothing is ever comfortable, but we make do.  As for me, my mandi technique changes on a daily basis depending on the time of day and how I feel, but it generally wavers between the countdown/legs first method and just sucking it up and taking the plunge.  I like to think that 18 years spent enduring the Minnesota winters has upped my mandi tolerance, but after many months here I think I’m just a big baby.  And for the record, I am very much looking forward to my next warm shower, whenever that may be….

Guest post: Jess Stitt, orangutan intern extraordinaire

This post is a little bit different than normal in that my friend Jess and I decided to a do a one-post blog swap, so here is a post entirely in her words!  Jess is also from the U.S., and we in fact have some friends and places in common.  She’s been here since August and is about to ship out back to the homeland, potentially to start a Ph.D. in the fall.  Anyway, I gave her some prompts for this post, which are written here in bold, and here are her responses.  If you want to see MY guest post on her blog, head on over to

More from me in a bit, right now I’m off to make some noodles for lunch!


Hello everybuddy! My name’s Jess, and I am the Orangutan Intern here at OuTrop! I get
to work and hang out with Cassie, stomping around the swamp all day in Borneo, which I
think is a pretty sweet deal.

What do you do every day?

My job is to find and follow orangutans. This means I basically have free reign over a
national park to spend my time wandering around, playing hide and seek with orangutans
in the tropics. If I find one of the big red apes, I get to follow them as they go about
their daily routine. During this time, I take data (alongside another researcher) on
activity budgeting, ranging behavior, and social encounters to get a better sense of
how orangutans live their lives. The project I am working on is specifically looking at
social networking in female orangutans, studying the interactions between individuals.
The goal is to gain a better understanding of where this population of orangutans falls
on a sociality scale, ranging from highly social to completely solitary, and what the
motivations are for social behavior. I keep sending the female orangutans Facebook
friend requests to get more info on their social networking habits, but no luck so far.


Jess may make bad jokes (a lot of bad jokes) but she takes amazing pictures- here is Teresia, an orangutan who I have actually spent a lot of time following lately, and her 1.5 year old yet-to-be-named infant

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about your job?

Well, my favorite thing about my job is my job. I have wanted to study great apes in the
jungle since I was a young girl inspired by Jane Goodall. This work here is really cool,
because we are following wild orangutans, witnessing their natural behavior, and they
are okay with playing this game of hide and seek with us. Following the same individuals
over time, I start to notice personality differences, and hanging out mostly with females
means I get to spend a lot of time with their adorable offspring, too.

I also love that I am witness to an incredible amount of biodiversity, living here and
spending so many hours out in the field. I really love the array of creatures I see in a
given day or week, and I’m always looking for new species.

However, the toughest thing about my job is spending all those hours out in the field.
Orangutans get up at dawn and go to bed at dusk, meaning the researchers have to get upan hour before dawn, and sometimes don’t end the day until an hour after dusk. It can be very physically and mentally draining to spend 12-14 hours in the field in one stretch,
especially if you do it several days in a row.

If you could be anything in our forest, what would you be?

If I could be anything in this forest, I would be a Tumih tree. This is a tree that appears to
be softwood, so it grows relatively fast, and gets quite big and tall. As a tumih, I would
tower over the forest, getting to sit and watch life go by. Being a tree means I would get
a nice long lifespan (especially since I don’t think tumih wood is commercially viable),
with great views, and get to witness the changes that occur over a century. As an added
bonus, because of deep furrows in my bark, epiphytes love to grow on me. They add
a little bit of weight, but give me a gorgeous, awesome living green coat. Orangutans
sometimes climb me to eat these epiphytes, and gibbons and kelasi like to sleep high up
in my branches, away from the dangers of lower down trees. I am sure an occasional sun
bear, civet, and clouded leopard use my open canopy for lovely lounging from time to
time too! Tumih, or not tumih – that is the question I know the answer to.


Jess hard at work taking data

New Research! #nerdalert

Well, with volunteer season over and the year wrapping up, it would seem that my time here in Borneo is coming to an end.  Except for… wait for it… it’s not!

I’ve recently finalized my plans and will be staying here now until May, and transitioning into a slightly different role with OuTrop.  We’re going to have some staff changes around here in a couple of months, so for the rest of my time here I’ll be filling the combined role of assistant manager and project scientist.  On the managerial side, I’ll be dealing with administrative, financial, and logistical issues relating to the day-to-day workings of the project.  On the scientist side… well that remains to be seen!  I will be the only non-primate specialist at camp, so I essentially have the opportunity to do any forestry research I want.  My main jobs will include wrapping up some old projects, continuing work on current projects (like the seedling planting work we’ve been doing) and thinking about/establishing future research projects for team forestry.  Ideally, we would like to come up with a new project that can be completed during the rest of my time here, so the clock is ticking.  This month I’m going to do a lot of reading and thinking about possible questions and experimental designs so that when I come back from vacation in January I’ll be able to hit the ground running and start data collection. This will be great both for OuTrop’s forestry research and for me, because then I will have another self-directed research project to my name.

So, it’s time to think of ideas!  I’ve got some general themes in mind, but they’re big topics: herbivory, seed dispersal (possibly post-dispersal seed predation?), and the influence of microtopography on species distribution in the forest.  If anyone out there reading has good papers on any of these topics, feel free to email them to me- I’ve now lost my university journal access (damn you Columbia for taking it!) so I just have to count on the good will of others to get papers sent my way.

In the meantime, it’s back to camp tomorrow to do a bit of butterfly work and get the newly planted seedlings (all 1,300 of them) measured before the water gets too deep.  After that… bring on the data entry!

Herbivory in a tropical peat swamp forest

Herbivory in a tropical peat swamp forest

Lombok, here I come!

Vacation, vacation, vacation- it’s time for me to take one!  I’ve been here since July with virtually no breaks, and everyone else around me has gone on vacation in that time, so I’ve decided to take one after Christmas. I posted once before about possible vacation spots and after much deliberation/searching online/reading the Indonesia Lonely Planet guide back to front, I’ve decided to go to Lombok for 7-10 days. Originally I wanted to travel overland through Flores, which would be an amazing trip, but I’ve unfortunately realized that I don’t have enough time or money to do it properly so I’m saving it for another time.  But, Lombok should still be a very nice and relaxing place to go, so I’m not complaining!  To be honest, it was really difficult to choose where to go- Indonesia has over 17,000 islands and I have a feeling that all of them would be worth seeing.

Lombok is the big island to the east of Bali and to the southeast of Kalimantan. It’s less touristy than Bali and has pretty much all of the major Indonesia attractions- beaches, snorkeling, volcanoes, and lots of small villages just waiting to be explored.  My holiday starts on December 22nd; I’m spending Christmas in a village in South Kalimantan with our camp cooks, who have graciously invited anyone left in camp to their family’s home there.  They live near Banjarmasin (see the map), so my plan right now is to leave there on the 29th of December and fly to Mataram, which is the only airport on Lombok.  Once I get there, my basic plan is to go up along the north coast to Senggigi, then inland to see Mt. Rinjiani, and then maybe down to the south west coast if I still have time.  There is also a pretty high possibility that I might just skip most of that plan and park myself in a beachside bungalow on the Gili Islands for the rest of the trip to have some quality relaxing time! The nice part is that since these are less-traveled areas, I don’t necessarily have to make a plan. It’s easy enough to just turn up in a city or on an island and find a place to stay.  In fact, I’m only going to book one room in advance- and I paid $13 for it.  You can’t get much better than that!

Ahhh, now if only December would go a little faster…

Mt. Rinjiani, Lombok

Gili Air, Lombok

Sunset in Senggigi, Lombok