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Tales from Bhaktapur

Arriving in a taxi, the first thing that caught my eye about Bhaktapur was the warm, rust-red brick that seemed to glow in the fading afternoon light. It was our first day in Nepal, and Bama and I had come straight from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport, where we navigated a melee at baggage claim to get to our well-worn backpacks off the conveyor belt. Fellow blogger Lex had likened her own experience at Tribhuvan to a wrestling match, and we could see why: no one knew exactly which of the two belts inside the overcrowded hall would spit out their luggage. In the confusion that followed, it took a certain amount of stoicism and readiness not to be shoved aside by aggressive Indian matriarchs. Read more

The Miraculous Jungfrau Railway

Adolf Guyer-Zeller was a man with a singular vision. The Zürich entrepreneur had inherited a spinning mill from his father and founded his own textile export business, but in later years he would set his sights on the lucrative pursuit of building railroads. Switzerland at the end of the 19th century was in the grip of “mountain railway fever”, and Guyer-Zeller was determined to create the most impressive and daring of them all. Read more

Winter in the Swiss Riviera

It might be an expensive and touristy affair, but on a cold December evening, Montreux’s Christmas market is a joy to wander around. It’s a cluster of brightly decorated miniature chalets on the waterfront, where visitors can peruse the stalls for seasonal ornaments, artwork, and souvenirs; hand-blown glassware, artisanal soaps, candies and cubes of fudge; and perhaps most importantly, vin chaud – mulled wine of both the red and white varieties. Read more

Australia: Lessons on Immigration and Racism

Ethiopian cuisine is not something one would readily associate with Australia. But in Melbourne, Victoria’s state capital, Bama and I get our first taste at Saba’s on Brunswick Street, the main artery running through the bohemian inner-city suburb of Fitzroy. The young proprietor, Saba herself, serves us her mother’s recipes with a gleaming smile. Bama and I share a platter of injera, a spongy flatbread made from fermented teff flour, tearing off large pieces with our hands to mop up a tantalizing assortment of meat and vegetable stews. Read more

A Sydney Food Crawl

When my friends and coworkers learned that I was going to Sydney, those who had been all agreed on one thing: the cuisine was a major highlight. “The Asian food there is so good!” quipped one. “If you’re a seafood person, make sure to eat lots of it,” said another. “It’s the best!”  Read more

Jakarta Blues

Many moons ago, at the height of rainy season, I left the office in the middle of a howling storm. The lashing rain was blown almost horizontally in the wind, and my umbrella, now turned inside-out, was practically useless. This was, I thought, almost like the typhoons I had grown up experiencing in Hong Kong. Much of the usual route home was covered with murky, ankle-deep water; in nine months of walking from work, I had never encountered this much flooding. Read more

In Search of Singhasari

Two summers ago, while exploring the Central Javanese highlands of Dieng at the start of our six-month Spice Odyssey, Bama and I came upon an illustrated timeline inside a museum. It charted the evolution and development of the candi (pronounced “chaan-dee”), a catch-all Indonesian term for the ancient Hindu and/or Buddhist ruins scattered across the island of Java, and to a lesser extent, Sumatra. The great majority are quarried from volcanic andesite – whose color varies from tan to slate grey – with the most prominent examples being the UNESCO-listed temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Bama had been to both icons several times, but as he traced his finger over depictions of their smaller and lesser-known counterparts further east, he declared with a sigh, “I’ve always wanted to visit these temples in East Java.” Read more

Malang by the mouthful

“I’ve never seen an Indonesian working so fast,” Bama says.

Night has fallen in Malang, East Java’s second-largest city, and we’ve joined a small crowd of hungry customers at Puthu Lanang, a portable stall at the covered entrance to a street just wide enough for motorbikes. A five-person assembly line is churning out traditional sweets at lightning speed, led by the mustachioed vendor who takes orders, gives change, heaps the morsels on banana leaf before dousing them in palm sugar syrup, and wraps it all while we look on in amazement. Read more

Himeji-jo: Castle of the White Egret

It towers above the neon signs and drab concrete blocks of modern-day Japan, a gleaming monument to an age when shoguns and samurai didn’t just exist in the imagination. From its hilltop perch, Himeji Castle dominates its namesake city, marking one end of the tree-lined boulevard leading to the busy train station. Read more

Celebrating Lebaran

“So, do you want to be Auntie Dhani’s son?”

Bama and I are at the table with his affectionate mom, Auntie Dhani, in the open-air dining room of his parents’ house. For the third consecutive year, I’ve joined Bama on his annual trip home for Lebaran, the week-long holiday marking the end of Ramadan. I’d considered flying back to Hong Kong to visit my own family, but by the time I looked up the flights, ticket prices had already gone through the roof. Semarang, a city of less than two million perched midway along the northern coast of Java, was an obvious alternative – not least because of Auntie Dhani’s home cooking and the warm welcome I would receive as an adopted member of the family. Read more