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Cook like a Nyonya

Nyonya Cooking Class_1

It’s too late when I notice my pot of duck stew boiling over. In those split seconds between Bama’s warning and the time it takes for me to put down the camera, the damage has already been done.

Quick as a flash, Pearly Kee rushes over to turn down the heat. By now the excess liquid is bubbling and steaming on the hob, with a minor cascade dripping down the drawers and pooling on the floor tiles. “Too much water,” she says. The embarrassment must be evident on my face, because Pearly is telling me not to worry while she wipes down the mess. Read more

Cheong Fatt Tze’s blue mansion

Penang Blue Mansion_1

Peering out of our window on the seventh floor, the house looked far smaller than it did from the street. But its romantic window shutters, tiled roof and walls painted in indigo blue were still magnificent. Although The Blue Mansion was just behind our hotel, it took Bama and I four days of slow deliberation before we stepped inside for a guided tour. Read more

Marooned in Manado

Ternate airport

If you ever go to the airport in Manado, North Sulawesi, you might notice one aspect of the terminal that sets it apart from all others: the stained glass windows. When the first rays of the morning sun pour into the terminal, the sight can lend it the air of a sanctuary. Read more

Indonesia: dangerously beautiful

Indonesia Roundup_1

If we only believe the sensationalism of Fox News, CNN America and other media outlets, Indonesia is the kind of country a lot of people might want to avoid. Historically, it has made world headlines for all the wrong reasons – plane crashes, violent protests, terrorist bombings and large-scale natural disasters. Read more

In remembrance of Tim

Fallen Bauhinia

My heart sank when I got the news. On the fifth of July there was a diving accident at Race Rocks, off the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the Pacific Coast of Canada. It is one thing to read about a missing diver you never knew, but another when the article carries a photo and the name of a treasured childhood friend. Read more

On gratitude for creature comforts

Baluran guesthouse

I am writing this from my bed at the airport hotel in Surabaya, Indonesia. The sheets are crisp and spotless; the room is a soothing palette of white, lime green and wooden surfaces coloured a gentle cinnamon brown. Read more

Going basic in Banyuwangi


Overwhelmed. That is the feeling I get on arrival at the guesthouse on the outskirts of Banyuwangi. We have just finished a six and a half hour train ride from Surabaya, and the owner tells us we can get a better deal on a hike to Ijen if we decide to go that night – which means leaving at 1:00am. Read more

My first Idul Fitri

Idul Fitri_1

Indonesian TV stations these days have been peppering their news broadcasts with “suka-duka Idul Fitri”, a round-up of the positives (suka) and negatives (duka) over the long weekend. It has been a privilege to spend Idul Fitri, or Eid, with Bama’s family, and experience the celebrations firsthand. For me, the similarities between our home cultures have been brought into sharp focus – I now realise that this festival is a lot like Chinese New Year. Read more

Fasting for Ramadan, or “puasa”

Puasa Ramadan_1

Just before 5:30pm, we find ourselves in the middle of a restaurant packed with patrons. At the next table, more than 15 university students load up on white rice and a rich assortment of main dishes. Some stir their ice-cold drinks in anticipation of the coming feast. It is the perfect representation of a scene that my father described from the days before I was born, when my parents lived in Kuala Lumpur. Read more

Why we travel

Kelimutu Flores

“Where are you going to play this summer?”

It sounds strange in English, but in Cantonese, those are the exact words people ask this time of year. The phrase seems innocuous enough, although part of me wonders at the implication that travel is merely entertainment. Have we reduced it to little more than something we consume? Perhaps a temporary escape from the drudgery of our daily routine? Read more