Sunday, September 16, 2007

Public Speaking: The Greatest Fear of All

On Words

Public Speaking: The Greatest Fear of All


JakartaI have a confession to make. For years I could not speak.

Sure, when sitting around a table with friends or standing in front of my students I was cool, coherent and as charming as a Pomeranian kissing a Hollywood starlet. But, when it came time for me to slip out of my comfort zone and speak to groups or strangers, I fell apart time and time again.

Public speaking was my greatest fear.

I did not tremble alone. Many western studies have found the fear of public speaking to be the most dreaded of them all, greater even than the fear of death itself. Monica Sugiarto, Vice President Membership, Kebayoran Toastmasters, says that although she has not seen any statistics on the subject she believes it to be the top fear in Indonesia too, saying it is “the same all over the world.”

For me, the pain would start as soon as I found out I was to speak. Right away, my mind would begin to play over and over the upcoming task and visualize all that could and surely would go wrong. As the days passed, the anxiety would fold up upon itself filling my days with worry, my sleep with nightmares.

I did not know how to prepare for a presentation. I used to write out my speech in full and then practice it over and over, memorizing each comma, full stop, letter, word.

When the time came to deliver, I’d stand there, my hands clenched into balls of fear, vomiting out my message as quickly as possible. I only had one goal: get out of there! With adrenalin pumping through my body and mind I was purely in 'fight or flight' mode. The emphasis, squarely on the later.

I honestly did not care how effective I was or what my audience got out of it. As far as I was concerned, once the words left my mouth, they were no longer my responsibility. It was up to the audience to dig through the quick-speak, mumbled message. I had done my part.

And this is the state my skills would still fester in if I were not a teacher. Just over a decade ago, I began to learn the secrets about how to speak effectively by having to critique others when I was given a class of business executives who wished to sharpen their presentation skills. At that early point I was living the old axiom,those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”

However, my students’ blossoming abilities drove me to study the subject more deeply. It turned out that public speaking consisted of a skills set that could be learned the same as cooking or drawing. True, not everyone will become an Obama, but by learning how to properly prepare for, practice and give presentations even the most leaden-tongued of us can come to approach these tasks with confidence.

As I acquired more knowledge, my confidence grew and I began to give presentations to prospective clients and lead training workshops at my school. Although I still did not genuinely enjoy public speaking, I was at least able do the job when need be.

Learning these skills will enrich your life both personally and professionally. Sugiarto says, “We get more confident by overcoming fear. Since we do this ourselves, with no teachers, we give giveback. This improves our listening and communication skills along with showing us how to look at things from different points of views… We become better parents and teachers.”

In the next OnWords, with Sugiarto’s help, we will go over some public speaking techniques and learn how to practice them. Hopefully, with time, they will become some of the most-frequently-used tools in your language skills toolbox.

Good presenting,


This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lake Toba: Samosir, world's largest island within an island

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Lake Toba: Samosir, world's largest island within an island

Andrew Greene, Contributor The Jakarta Post, Samosir, North Sumatra

Looking out over Lake Toba, it is evident that it is a basin of superlatives.

With a surface area of 1,130 square kilometers and possessing a maximum depth of 529 meters, it is the world's largest and deepest crater lake.Resting in the planet's largest caldera (collapsed volcano formation) on the world's fifth-largest island, the flat waters of Lake Toba belie the violence that gave it birth.

The Toba caldera is believed to have been created in stages by super eruptions taking place about 840,000, 700,000, and finally 74,000 years ago. The last, probably two weeks in length, is thought to be the world's largest in the last two million years.

The ash and gases it shot into the atmosphere triggered a six-year volcanic winter which, according to some geneticists, killed all but 10,000 humans worldwide.

The ash from the blast blanketed the entire Indian subcontinent with an approximately 15-centimeter-thick coating. The global climate did not to recover for a millennium. Fortunately for today's traveler much has changed in the last 74,000 years.

Now, embraced by a chain of mist-swaddled peaks, the lake is North Sumatra's leading tourist destination.

Stretching from northwest to southeast, its landscape sprinkled with Protestant Christian church steeples and ribbons of cascading waterfalls, Toba's setting is among the most spectacular in the archipelago.

Attached by an isthmus to the middle of the lake's west coast towers a testament to the lake's great size, Samosir Island. The peninsula-island's emerald walls climb a nearly vertical 700 meters straight out of the lake's surface, dominating the scene.

Nearly the size of Singapore, Samosir is the world's largest island within an island and serves as the area's main tourist hub.

Specifically, Tuk Tuk, a tiny circular peninsula hanging onto Samosir's east coast, is the foothold for most of Toba's visitors.

With restaurants pushing magic mushroom omelets, bookshops, bars, tourist shops and hotels strung along its circumference, Tuk Tuk is the ideal base for those wanting to explore Samosir or simply to relax.

The frequent ferries from Parapat on the lake's east coast stop at nearly all of Tuk Tuk's hotels. All a traveler needs to do is tell the ferry workers where one would like to stop and the ferry, colored like a Philippine truck, will pull up to that hotel's private dock.

Center of Batak culture

The rest of Samosir is well-worth investigating. The island is the heart of the Batak culture.

Originally Neolithic mountain peoples from northern Thailand and Burma, the Bataks were displaced by traveling Mongolian and Siamese populations.

Once they had found their way to Lake Toba the Batak lived, cocooned by the neighboring mountains, largely unaffected for centuries by the outside world.

Today, with a population of six million they are one of Indonesia's largest Christian communities. Lutheran German and Dutch Calvinists missionaries introduced the Batak to the faith in the 19th Century.

Though the majority of Bataks are practicing Christians, the area is replete with reminders of their animistic past. The ubiquitous traditional rough-hewn wooden-planked Batak houses, with their upswept roofs, have three levels.

Each represents a different plane of their world. The high roof corresponds to the home of the gods; the middle elevated level, where the family lives, represents the space that humans occupy; the final bottom space beneath the house is for the dogs, pigs and chickens and is the lair of a mythological dragon.

These houses are ornately decorated with large, carved animal heads at the ends of the side beams. These heads are protectors and, as is believed by some Bataks, are able to radiate positive energy, shielding the residents from disease and evil.

More common than the traditional houses are the family tombs. In fact, they are so widespread that it may be impossible to find a vista from which one cannot see at least one.

The tombs range from the simple to the elaborate. Some are whitewashed concrete boxes with the rounded tombstones that are ordinary in the west. Others are many meters in height, tiled and topped with large crosses and life-sized statues representing the departed.

These tombs are everywhere: in the rice fields, buffalo pastures, next to houses, beside the road. A day or longer could easily be spent just examining and photographing these extraordinary tombs in their picturesque surroundings.

There is no public transportation on the Tuk Tuk peninsula so to travel inland one needs to walk or rent a car, motorcycle or bicycle.

Traveling by foot is a pleasant way to experience the countryside and meet the outgoing people. Even with stopping to take photos and shake hands it should take no more than an hour from anywhere on Tuk Tuk to reach Samosir's main road.

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

Friday, September 07, 2007

An Island of Your Own: Traveler's Tips

Traveler’s Tips

For Pulau Seraya Kecil


  • A guest to Pulau Seraya Kecil needs to book through Gardena Hotel (0385-41-258). There is a minimum two night stay on the island.
  • Watch your valuables at all times while at the mainland Gardena. There are many tales of money and cameras being spirited away from locked rooms.
  • There are two airlines plying the route between Bali and Labuan Bajo. Indonesian Air Transport (0385-41-088) departs Bali at 10.00 and returns from Labuan Bajo at 12.15 daily for Rp 650,000 one way. Trigana Airlines (0385-41-800) has daily flights between the two destinations from between Rp 541,000 and Rp 761,000 dependant upon class.
  • It is possible to return to Jakarta by air-conditioned executive bus. An all inclusive ticket is Rp 490,000.
  • Traveling to Labuan Bajo from Jakarta by bus is not as simple. Exchanges must be made in Bali and possibly in Lombok.
  • Snorkeling during low tide on Pulau Seraya Kecil must be done from the beach directly in front of the restaurant. There is a bamboo pole in the water marking the path to the far side of the reef.
  • Snorkeling on Pulau Seraya Kecil can be done from anywhere during high tide. The reef is accessible from anywhere during high tide.

This article was published in The Jakarta Post’s Weekender Magazine, June 2007.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Six Alternatives to Television


Six Alternatives to Television


Jakarta – Television watching is the stinking ashtray on the dining room table. Though most profess to believe it is detrimental to our well-being, we refuse to turn our TVs off.

True, there are benefits to having a television. After all, it provides us with the cultural images that bind us to our communities. The Challenger exploding, O.J.’s white Bronco chase, the subsequent L.A. riots and the more-recent toppling of the Saddam statue are all events that I have, at least, virtually experienced.

Also, of course, there are sports to consider. Without television most of us would never be part of a World Cup or even, more importantly, the scrumptious shirtless-Beckham post-match interview. For many, sports are the main reason to have a television.

But, all of that notwithstanding, once we have made the decision to live a telly-free life, we need to think about how to fill the void. After much thought and research at sites such as,, plus other publications, I have assembled a selection of half-a-dozen activities that I myself start today as my own television-less existence commences.

Read it. Most of us have those books that we have always wanted to read. Ulysses and Under the Volcano head my list. I have started and quit both on numerous occasions and now that I have shut my box, I will open the first again and, this time, finish it.

Connect it. Sit down with your family. Have focused conversations and learn about one another. Go out, meet your neighbors, join clubs. The Living in Indonesia website at has a list of clubs that can help you connect with people who have the same interests as you do. Go nuts and use your free evenings to start dating your spouse or partner again.

Play it. The classic games of Monopoly and Uno never, in my opinion, go out of style. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my family and I playing Risk, Monopoly, Spoons, and Uno.

Chess is a game I came to appreciate once I moved to Indonesia. This is a wonderful place to hone your game. Most drivers and security guards are willing to school you free of charge.

For card enthusiasts, the websites at and are stocked with rules of games you have probably long forgotten how to play along with many you most likely have never heard of.

Learn it. Many universities now offer online degree and certificate programs. These can make productive use of your newly-found surplus time and hopefully even help you secure that next promotion.

Closer to home, many schools and institutions in Jakarta offer evening and weekend classes that will help you learn that skill you have always wanted to pick up. Mandarin, oil painting, creative writing and pasta making classes are just a sampling of what is available here.

Move it. Use that evening television time to go for walks. Sure, the Big Smoke is not exactly foot-friendly, but deep within the city’s neighborhoods and winding gangs, the roads are less-heavily mechanized and full of interesting sights and people. Walking is also a great way to spend time with your family and a fine way to meet your neighbors. In addition to walking, this evening time would also be nice for starting any fitness plan you are interested in.

Box and Eat it. Start a picnic day. Be creative and get the whole family involved. Each week, another person can select the picnic’s menu and setting. An eating blanket can be spread anywhere, from your master bedroom’s balcony to the Bogor Botanical Gardens.

As I reread the above six thoughts, I realized that they all possess a common thread. They are about paying more attention to those two things that matter most: you and the people around you.

That, to me, is not a bad trade off.

Good luck,


This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.