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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

Impressions of Labuan Bajo

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There was a time when migrants from the fishing village of Labuan Bajo sought better opportunities in other parts of Flores. “They used to look down on people from Labuan Bajo,” a local guide tells us offhand, “but now it’s the opposite.” Today his once-sleepy hometown is in the midst of a tourism boom, attracting labour from the rest of the island and even further beyond. Read more

An audience with a Manggarai chief

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Sipping on a mug of strong, sweetened local coffee, we sat cross-legged on a mat, across from the village chief as he smiled and folded betel leaves, his dark teeth showing between red-stained gums. Read more

The things I take for granted

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It’s a common sight on my way to and from work: wide-eyed visitors toting cameras around their necks, and backpackers who stop to capture the busy street scenes with their smartphones. I often turn around, surprised to see their attraction to a grimy world of exhaust fumes, dripping air conditioners and ageing metal pushcarts, combining to form a less than photogenic whole. Read more

In honour of the ancestors

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10 kilometres south of Bajawa, the near-perfect cone of Inerie stands tall over Ngada territory. The verdant highlands around the volcano are dotted with many ancient villages, of which Bena is the most famous, perched on a lip of land rearing up over the adjacent valley. Here, the houses of wood, bamboo and alang-alang grass line a series of interlocking terraces populated with megalithic structures, culminating in a shaded lookout and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Read more

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

Jakarta

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