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Nihiwatu: on the edge of dreams

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In the darkness, the sound of the crashing waves grew louder still. They churned up a hundred thousand grains of sand, gouging them from the depths and sweeping them up onto Nihiwatu beach. The rocks dotting the foreshore were pockmarked and worn – great stumps that doggedly clung to the land as the Indian Ocean surged and foamed around them, its waters quickening with the rising tide. Read more

Three enclaves, one city

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Sir Stamford Raffles was furious. In the three years since he had left Singapore for the outpost of Bencoolen, the nascent colony had grown in disarray. Instead of following his orders, appointed leader Major William Farquhar had taken a laissez-faire approach – attracting many traders but also vices that Raffles despised.

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Singapore’s Peranakan trail

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On Joo Chiat Road, it feels as though we are walking through a cross-section of Singaporean society. Within the covered arcades of its painted shophouses, Bama and I duck into Chinese-owned fruit and home ware stalls, past a Muslim-themed restaurant, and a fashion store stocked with hijabs and full-length dresses. Across the road, we are tempted by the display case at Sha Zah – an Indian confectionary selling baked snacks and flaky curry puffs. Read more

Beyond the barricades

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“Hong Kong has never opened this road before.”

Speaking to a friend, the man was clearly astonished as we strolled down the middle of a nine-lane highway. Around me I saw many smiling faces, belonging to both young and old, and families with small children. All had yellow ribbons pinned to their chests. Read more

An ‘Umbrella Revolution’

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Tonight in Hong Kong, there is a sense that history is being made.

Many of you have seen or read about what is happening right here in my hometown. Yesterday brought scenes that I could never have imagined in this safe and stable city. We watched in horror at the footage of riot police, armed with rifles and donning Stormtrooper helmets, lobbing volleys of tear gas into crowds of unarmed protestors. Read more

On bad travel writing

Sunset at Candidasa, Bali

The headline was typical of so many articles shared on Facebook; it employed superlatives and throwaway adjectives, enticing readers with the promise of revealing Asia’s secret destinations.

50 Most Stunning Lesser-Known Places In Asia You’d Love To Go, it shouted. Read more

A return to Singapore

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Over dinner one night, many months ago, mother told us something I would never forget. “Actually,” she said in Cantonese, “you [two] are sons of the Southern Ocean.” I do not recall the context of those words, nor the sentence that preceded it, but I was struck by the poetic truth embedded within. For although we consider Hong Kong our hometown, my brother and I were born in a rival city far closer to the Equator. Read more

Bandung moderne: Indonesia Art Deco

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The 1930s were an age of unrestrained decadence. Radio had displaced newspapers as the most popular form of mass media; cinemas from Shanghai to Sao Paulo screened the latest in Hollywood films; ballrooms on both sides of the Atlantic echoed to the sounds of jazz and big band swing music; and the world seemed blissfully ignorant of the storm clouds brewing on the horizon.

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How to read a Balinese temple

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The cyclist is frozen mid-pedal, against a luxuriant backdrop of flowers spreading up into the sky. He appears wide-eyed, the traces of a moustache above his lips, and a full head of hair crowned with the folds of a Balinese udeng. Read more

Komodo: the land before time

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A flickering tongue tasted the air, and the giant lizard turned in a momentary pause from his lunch. Together with a handful of Australian visitors, we stood on the edge of a mud pit, watching in hushed excitement as a young Komodo dragon feasted on a water buffalo carcass, its horns and bare ribs protruding from the muck. Read more