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Kelimutu: like water for chocolate

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Across the valley banks of mist swirled above a church steeple poking through the dense vegetation. From the Trans-Flores Highway Dino had glimpsed the crest of Kelimutu through the clouds, and we soon found ourselves gunning up a slender road towards the summit. Read more

Indonesia at a crossroads

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I recently spent two weeks travelling in Indonesia during the run-up to yesterday’s presidential election. Never has one in Indonesia been so polarising, or so high-stakes, with an outcome that was almost too close to call. Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”), the populist grassroots politician, is the presumed winner by almost five percentage points, although his rival Prabowo Subianto has fought back with his own declaration of victory. Read more

Sikka and the House of da Silva

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The thatched dwelling stands worn and empty on the shore of the Savu Sea. Children play football inside its walls, peering out from the shade of the verandah as Bama and I walk past. Across the street three simple graves clad in pink tiles lie sheltered beneath timber rafters and sheets of corrugated iron. One is furnished with a prominent wooden cross, its arms bearing a proud name in white: “Dona M. Felixia Ika da Silva”. Read more

Across Flores: a compilation

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The year was 1512. A Portuguese expedition was rounding the eastern cape of a distant Indonesian isle in search of spices and sandalwood, when its sailors sighted a blazing display of Royal Poinciana marching up the slopes in full bloom. The fiery red blossoms so impressed the visiting explorers that they gave the mysterious island a new name. From that day on, it would be known as Cabo das Flores, ‘Cape of Flowers’. Read more

Fire and passion at Uluwatu

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The brand new toll road rose over the middle of Benoa Bay, passing mangrove swamps, a lonely spirit house in the tidal flats, and the airport runway at Ngurah Rai. It deposited our guide Bli Komang, Bama and I onto the top end of the Bukit Peninsula, where a traffic-snarled road lined with billboards would ultimately lead to the temple of Uluwatu. Read more

A temple trio: Besakih and beyond

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As we trundled down a busy artery towards Sanur, a mellow beach town in southern Bali, I grasped at the scant words I knew flowing back and forth between Bama and Bli Komang.

“Before becoming a driver, he used to be a sculptor,” Bama relayed. We soon learned that Bli Komang hailed from a village of stone carvers, and that the Balinese love of art – such an integral part of their culture – was instilled in him from an early age. According to Bli Komang, all Balinese students had to choose from four kinds of traditional arts: dance, painting, decorative sculpture, and carving statues. Read more

The treasures of Ping Shan

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Long before the British set foot on Hong Kong’s shores, five great family clans took root in the New Territories. Of these, the oldest and most influential was the Tang, with a history of local settlement going back 900 years. It is a lineage rich in tradition and folklore: one branch even claims royal descent, thanks to an ancestor who married a princess as the court fled southwards ahead of the Mongol army. Read more

25 years of mourning

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One by one the candles were lit, a steady stream that ran across the six football pitches stretching the width of Victoria Park, spilling over into the nearby basketball courts and central lawn. For the first time I was attending Hong Kong’s annual vigil commemorating the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989, in the middle of a crowd numbering over 180,000 by organisers’ estimates. Read more

Eastern Eden: the gardens of Karangasem

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Bama was convinced. After five visits to Bali, he had just found his favourite place on the island. At a quarter to eight we were among a small handful of visitors in the grounds of Taman Sukasada Ujung, a water palace and pleasure garden once built for the local king. Read more

Barong: Bali’s dance of the friendly lion

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From the dawn of recorded history, one of humankind’s most enduring narratives has been the eternal battle between good and evil. In Balinese tradition this is expressed in Barong dance, named after the mythical king of the spirits who leads his followers in the fight against demon queen Rangda. Read more