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A Face in the Crowd
Exploring a Southeast Asian culture, one pedal stroke at a time

Oct. 11, 2006
By Jessica Zibbel

When Rick Kraince, special projects manager for Ohio University's Center for International Studies, was returning from a trip in Southeast Asia, he had three cubic meters of space to fill with his belongings. He decided to fill the space with a cycle rickshaw. Now he uses the vehicle to pedal his wife and children down the Hocking-Adena Bikeway. 

Photo courtesy of Rick Kraince"I have always been fascinated with foot-powered machines," Kraince said when talking about rickshaws, also known as becaks or pedicabs. "When I was working in Jakarta, I spent some time traveling in other parts of Indonesia where I came across the becak. I felt that it was an appropriate technology in a world filled with cars." 

Kraince, who researches Indonesian studies, asked a rickshaw taxi driver where he could acquire one. The driver took him to a factory where Kraince had a rickshaw painted with a mural of Mt. Merapi, a volcano that serves as a mystical power symbol, and an Indonesian deity named Semar. 

Kraince feels that the United States has lost some of its ingenuity through outsourcing and complicated technology. "In a country where everything we buy is from China, we lose a lot of opportunities to be creative," he said. "Rickshaws are not mass-produced; they demonstrate how much work can be done with simple-power machines, without using fuel." 

In Indonesia, rickshaws are used for multiple purposes, such as to deliver coconuts, lumber, furniture and other goods. 

"A lot of Indonesians are not fortunate enough to get a good education," Kraince said. "Often, men grow up and realize that they can not earn enough income on their land to support their families. They will travel into the cities to rent a rickshaw in order to earn money by providing pedal-powered taxi services or delivering goods." 

Kraince is currently a Fulbright Scholar whose research focuses on civic education within Islamic universities in Indonesia. Recently, he directed Ohio University's Inter-Religious Dialogue Project involving a series of exchanges between Indonesian religious leaders and the United States. 

In his spare time, Kraince enjoys traveling with his children, ages 7 and 3. While spending last winter in Indonesia and Malaysia, he often traveled to historic religious monuments, exposing his family to Southeast Asian history and culture. 

Kraince feels that his rickshaw, which he and his family have ridden in a local parade, creates interest in Southeast Asian society. "It is an inspiring piece of machinery," he said. "People stop their cars occasionally and say 'Wow, what is that?'"

Jessica Zibbel was a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.


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