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
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
Improbably wedged between two larger neighbours, Singapore is a country keen on superlatives: world’s biggest aquarium; world’s best airport; world’s fastest walkers. The city-state is constantly primed to adapt and innovate, seeking out that extra competitive edge over its rivals. But the relentless drive for achievement also translates to what Singaporeans call kiasuism. Read more
He grips a sword in one hand and a scabbard in the other, swivelling his wrists in a fluid, effortless motion. “First you will practice on a banana tree, then you can cut open a coconut.”
Of all the things I had planned to do at Nihiwatu – hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, perhaps even a cooking class – I never imagined a Sumbanese sword lesson would be on the cards.
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
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.
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