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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

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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

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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

Menjangan Island: trash and treasure

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The dive guide looked at me in alarm. “January? That is not a good season for diving in Bali. He held a map of the balloon-shaped island, and with his other hand he brushed its upper portions. “It’s rainy season; storms come from the north, and the sea has a lot of trash… sometimes guests complain about all the rubbish – we say sorry, sorry, but what can we do?” Read more

Bali’s secret sanctuary

The Menjangan_1

The rambling, stony trail beckons us deeper into the forest. Three identical wooden gateways stand straight ahead, pure Japanese in their simplicity, the green and gold patterns on their rough-hewn columns evoking the hollyhock crest of the Tokugawa shoguns. But this is Indonesia, and instead of a perfectly manicured landscape of framed views, Bama and I are about to discover a different kind of serenity. Read more