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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

The origins of Singapore

Singapore origins_1

Before the ‘Lion City’ evolved into a global financial centre, the humble Singapore River was its lifeblood. Today it is bereft of the bumboats that once clogged its waters, ferrying goods between warehouses and larger vessels anchored offshore. Echoes of that storied past exist only in the sculptures of naked boys plunging into the river, Indian and Chinese coolies loading sacks onto a bullock cart, and other bronzes scattered along the waterway. Read more

Impossible City

HK rain shower

A poem for Hong Kong, inspired by Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”. Read more

Bogor: the palace in the park

Bogor_1

In 1744, in the fertile heartland of West Java, a grand colonial mansion was taking shape. Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, had commissioned it as his summer residence, a refuge from the stifling heat and the threat of disease in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta). Read more

Hungry in Palembang

Palembang Cuisine_1

Shortly before my trip to Palembang, a curious coworker asked me why I wanted to go there. At first I struggled to come up with a decent answer. I could have mentioned the city’s long history, and how it was once the capital of a powerful maritime empire. Or I might have told her about the traditional textiles known as songket, woven with delicate strands of shimmering gold thread. Instead I latched onto something she could relate to as a Hong Konger: “The fishballs [fishcakes] there are very famous,” I replied. Read more

Indonesia’s denial of mercy

Labuan Bajo Sunset

Just after midnight on April 29, eight convicted drug offenders faced an Indonesian firing squad. Two were Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the heroin smuggling ring known as the ‘Bali Nine’. In the past year the international media has had widespread coverage of their successful rehabilitation and reform, and how they served and cared for their fellow inmates in Bali’s Kerobokan prison. Read more

Palembang, past and present

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Outside the walls of Benteng Kuto Besak, a hulking fortress on the banks of the Musi River, Palembang is celebrating the start of another weekend.

A procession of street vendors, all selling mie tek-tek and nasi goreng, call out to prospective customers; hungry diners sit waiting on tiny plastic stools in green and bubblegum pink. Read more

2015: A Spice Odyssey

Spice Route Map

Several years ago I had a vision.

I was standing on a powder-soft beach with the waves gently lapping against my feet. A wooden pier stretched out into the calm, crystalline waters. In the distance a schooner had its sails furled, and the vessel cut a graceful figure against a ridge cloaked in tropical rainforest. Read more

Batukaru: beauty and the bugs

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The rain fell in thick sheets, drumming against our bungalow’s tiled roof and ricocheting into the darkness. Outside a persistent swarm of insects flocked to the lamps hanging off the wall. “We have to go to bed early tonight,” Bama warned. He had turned out the lights on the upper floor and locked all the windows throughout the building, for we were under siege. Read more

The Balinese forest kitchen

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“They call me ‘goat’ because I pick from all the plants but don’t know how to grow them.” Iluh says this, laughing, as we stand beside a tall green hedge behind the kitchen. It is a slow afternoon at Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, hidden in the shadow of Bali’s second-highest peak, and Bama and I are on an impromptu tour of the gardens. Read more