The excruciating caterpillar sting could have been the deal breaker. I was oblivious to the caterpillar; it must have fallen from some trees where the bus parked a distance from the observatory when I was making my way up the bus. I was thrown into a panic when I suddenly felt this warming sensation on my back that spread to the nape and the ears, and then this unbearable itch. To complete the agony, a strip of red rashes covered my neck. Happily, the school’s counselor came prepared with her first aid kit and came to my rescue with minyak tawon (bee oil) to counter the itch.
Then there’s the very early call time of 5 am so as not to get stuck in the infamous Indonesian traffic and miss the queue at the observatory. Booking a taxi would have been convenient but the cab driver couldn’t find my flat so off I went to hail an angkot (a form of public transportation that looks like a mini-van). No such luck. I learned later on that they didn’t ply the road until after 6 from one of my eagle-eyed students who, fortunately, spotted me looking lost and forlorn, and gave me a ride to school.
Caterpillar sting and early call time, surprisingly, didn’t dispel my excitement in being one of the chaperones for the field study of the students of Global Prestasi School (GPS). Whatever you call it – field study or field trip – I have always had a strong predilection for such trips. It’s reminiscent of my old high school’s philosophy of learning by doing which meant not teaching and learning outside of the classroom. GPS has always been a staunch believer in exposing its students to all kinds of teaching methodologies and environments, which is why huge tourist buses parked within the school campus is commonplace. From elementary to senior high students, each GPS student has a treasure trove of field trip memories to last a lifetime.
The field study this year skewered four subjects – science, English (national and Cambridge curriculums), and Indonesian language – that would test the mettle of the students in terms of academic performance and character. Finally, I was free to chaperone, together with 13 of my colleagues and the principal, the grade 8 students from the national and Cambridge Preparatory classes, to two venues in Bandung viz. Bosscha Observatory and Jendela Alam.
First stop was Bosscha Observatorium, in Lembang, in West Java, which, to my chagrin, was a four-hour road trip from Kalimalang. It was imperative to be on the road by 530am to be able to get to the observatory before 10 am to book tour slots. The observatory, which sits on top of a hill, is a constant pull for visitors in and out of Indonesia for viewing the stars at night during the months of April until October. However, seeing stars has become a matter of luck these days because of the light pollution in the area as well as the presence of hotels and villa. Back in the 1930s, the land around the observatory was devoid of tenants and populated by trees.
Impressive was the word that came to mind when I saw the gargantuan telescope that a fully grown man can hang from. Called Zeiss double refractor, the telescope is one of the five telescopes housed in the observatory which is hailed as the oldest observatory in the country. It took its inventor Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha five years to finish constructing the telescope, starting in 1923.
Next stop was a little more rustic with its gardens, mini zoo, and vegetable patches. Called Jendela Alam (roughly translated as Nature Window), it’s roughly 25 minutes away from the observatory on a day when traffic is smooth, but it takes an hour plus when traffic gets snarled up. It’s what I’d call an open- nature laboratory where students have an up close and personal experience with special tailor-made nature activities. For the students of GPS, they had three activities to complete namely, constructing a mini terrarium, making telur asin (salted egg), and dissection. Each activity lasted between 30 and 40 minutes. Each activity had its own group of facilitators hence the teacher-chaperones were free to wander around or have coffee with pisang goreng (banana fritters) at the coffee shop called Kedai Alam.
Classroom learning is de rigueur in the pursuit of knowledge, but learning out of the classroom is a welcome respite from the stifling effects of always staying in the classroom all the time. The surroundings make good points for observation and immediate application of theories by the students. And student interaction is enhanced – bonds are made stronger, mended or forged. As for the teachers, it’s a longed-for, although brief, break from marking papers, writing notes on the board, and pressing the button for the next PPT slide. It was time for them to breathe in a bit of fresh air to clear the mind.