A typical day of fieldwork

Cartoon by Jorge Cham from www.phdcomics.com
Australia is a beautifully multicultural country, which means that fruitful and efficient pre-fieldwork training and post-fieldwork analysis can be done in Sydney. Or does it?

Whoever told me that I was mad to endeavour undertaking a comparative research project in Brazil and Indonesia in the three years given to PhD students in Australia, perhaps had a greater understanding of cultural relativity and the way time is perceived by citizens of both these countries. Indonesians refer to their sense of time as “Jam Karet” which means rubber time, while Brazilians have nationalised their sense of time and just refer to it as “Brazilian Time“. Take one of my Saturdays as an example:

Original schedule for Saturday:

Ten am – item 1 – Capoeira Class
midday – item 2 – Portuguese study
1:30pm – item 3 – Capoeira music class
3:15pm – item 4 – interview Indonesian informant
6:00pm – item 5 – meeting with indonesian colleagues for conference in October

What really happened on Saturday:
At 9am, when I went to catch the train into the city from a station about 15mins drive from Carramar, I discovered that the trains on my line were replaced by buses for the day – fearing lateness I decided to drive in.

At 10am, after spending somewhere around 10mins looking for a car-park, I get to the door of the Capoeira Academy, and find a note reading:

“Today’s classes have been relocated to Studio WXYZ in Carramar.”

I should remind you that Carramar is near to my starting point. I did not feel like driving all the way back. So I called the teacher, but unfortunately my phone is so old that it didn’t let me speak for more than 2mins before losing the signal, which was only just long enough to hear my teacher say – “Paul, come on over, it won’t matter if you’re late.”

I decided not to waste the already-paid toll-payment and already-used petrol on another drive back out to near where I live and instead replanned my day through various text messages. I organised to drop in on a nearby friend and have a ‘long-time-no-see’ catchup.

Replanned schedule:

10:00 am – Capoeira Class cancelled
10:15 am – Coffee with nearby-friendy
midday    – Portuguese study
3:15 pm  – interview Indonesian Informant
6:00 pm  – meeting with Indonesian colleagues about Conference

I then touch base with my other appointments via sms. Lucky I did send out a few text messages!!! It turns out that my Indonesian colleagues at item 5 forgot that they had a dinner-date at 6pm and would not be able to make our appointment. We reschedule item 5 for 11am. They were having a rehearsal for an upcoming performance, but I was able to work on a few items with them during breaks. Then, item 4 asks to reschedule to a lunch-time venue at 1pm. I then reschedule the newly introduced coffee-with-a-friend at 10/10:30am for a dinner catch-up at 6pm.

The day became the following:

10:00am – item 1, Capoeira class
10:15am – introduced item, coffee-catch-up cancelled
11:00am – item 5, consult with Indonesian friends about conference details.
1:00 pm – item 4, lunch with Indonesian Informant
6:00 pm – introduced item – Dinner with local friend (I originally texted her to see if I could pop around for a coffee as she doesn’t live too far from the capoeira academy)

As for ‘item 2’, Portuguese study, that had to wait to Sunday. And then, as it turned out, item 4 rescheduled yet again for 2pm slot and then didn’t end up turning up until 3pm anyway, which meant I had to cancel the newly introduced item at 6pm. I got home at 8pm, did some washing and collapsed on my bed at 9 or 9:30pm. The last thing I remember is brushing my teeth.

How the day turned out:

9:00am – useless drive to the city.
10:00am- frustration in front of the locked door of a Capoeira Academy
10:00am -manic texting
11:00am- meeting with Indonesian colleagues while they conduct a rehearsal
2:00pm – wait one hour before meeting with Indonesian informant
3:00pm – finally meet with Indonesian informant after waiting one hour
8:00pm – get home, do washing, collapse.

There is a third country where fight-dancing is found. It is India and the martial arts/dance is called Kalarippayattu. Apparently, Indians have not only nationalised their perception of time (or lack there-of), but have standardised it as well, calling it, “Indian Standard Time“. Maybe in the 1.5years left of my Aussie PhD time, I will have to wait for a post-doc to explore this form!

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Paul Mason

I am a biomedically trained social anthropologist interested in biological and cultural diversity.

3 thoughts on “A typical day of fieldwork

  1. grrr… yet another weekend of juggling Jam Karet with Brazilian time has successfully given me more white hairs!

    Some Indonesian Friends wanted to see some Capoeira so i told them the time and place. Then, on the day of the class, the Capoeira classes were cut short so that the practitioners could go to another capoeira event on the other side of the city. Now, had my Indonesian friends been on time and had they not got lost, then we probably could have all gone together to this other event. But due to the last minute information at the Capoeira academy and the fact that my Indonesian friends had managed to get lost (bring a map next time guys!), my Indonesian friends and I missed out on seeing the capoeira event.

    I spent almost an hour looking for these friends. Everytime I determined with precision their location they decided to walk somewhere else. No matter how often I said “Tunggu di sana!” (wait there, do not move), they thought they were doing me a favour by walking somewhere else. EXHAUSTING!

    Thankfully at the end of the day I called a friend living on Indian Standard Time and got all the frustration off my chest…

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