Dodwell in SOM3 Medan - Post 1

June 24, 2013

After five visits to Indonesia’s teeming cities over six months, I am becoming acclimatized to traffic bedlam. Medan, the capital of North Sumatra and Indonesia’s third largest city, is no exception – which has been the source of extraordinary challenges, because our hosts have chosen to split the Senior Official meetings across four different hotels. The result: many amenities are quadruplicated (if there is such a word), and most delegates are spending large chunks of every day playing dodgems through swarms of motorbikes to get from hotel room to meeting venue. Registration was set in just one location – the Santika Hotel. So anyone staying at the Aryaduta or the Grand Aston or the JW Marriott had to find their way early on day one to the Santika to register. When I got there early on Friday morning, the queue for registration was 40 yards long, and consumed a patient hour or more. Needlesstosay, meetings started late.

As in Surabaya, where meetings were split between two hotels, a shuttle service has been in heavy duty service – but imagine the added complexity of shuttling people between four locations. I have seen many knotted brows over the past four days!

Grand Aston - home for all the APEC staff

While Medan is populated by a sprawl of unremarkable shanties, the city is potentially charmingly sprinkled with Dutch and British-style colonial buildings, some of which remain grand, and others rather drably shuttered. It seems Medan’s hay day on the spice routes from Sulawesi through the Malacca Straits and on to the markets of Europe was between 1880 and 1920, if the dating of these colonial buildings is any indication. In its own right it has always been a major farming region, still today a major producer of palm oil and rubber. This has been a source of particular contention this week between Indonesia and neighbouring Singapore, which has disappeared under a thick smog of wood smoke as Sumatra’s plantation workers have been slash-and-burn clearing the palm oil estates on a massive scale while the dry season allows. So much for palm oil as an environmentally friendly crop!!

Even under the routine pressures of a normal SOM cluster, Medan would always struggle with the logistics of an event such as this. But the Medan cluster is no routine cluster. In my five year memory – and probably a lot longer – we have never had so many meetings pulled together in one place at one time – a total of 82 by my counting. The Washington SOM cluster in March 2011 involved 62 meetings if I remember accurately.

So the challenge of covering meetings from June 21 through to July 7 is going to be formidable. If I miss stuff, forgive me. I and other ABAC colleagues will be covering an average of three or four meetings a day. We are not going to manage to cover it all, either in terms of bodies sitting behind an ABAC badge in a meeting room, or in terms of the blog, but will do the best we can. The priorities: those meetings at the heart of our own priorities, and meetings that are going to have the most direct bearing on our ABAC3 meeting which starts in Kyoto on July 8. The first few days have been focused on Food Security, on Human Resources Development, and on the Business Mobility Group – home of the APEC Business Travel Card. So that is where I will start. Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I am off for traditional Indonesian fare for dinner in the teeming dai pai dong of Merdeka Walk here close to the Grand Aston Hotel. It is close as the crow flies – just across the road. And I think most of us wish we were crows, because throwing yourself into the screeching, teeming traffic chaos to get to the other side of the road is a bigger life threatening experience than any insurance company would allow. I have got across there four evenings now, and am still alive. But as one grim colleague noted – you only need to die once. Medan traffic permitting, I turn to Human Resources and our ABAC Skills Mapping initiative tomorrow.


Running the gauntlet between the Aryaduta and the Grand Aston
- razor wire on one side and traffic bedlam on the othe

⇒  More blog posts from the SOM3 Medan meetings series.

⇒  Dodwell's other meetings blogs.


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