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An Indonesian homecoming

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Travelling into town from the airport in Semarang, Indonesia, I was struck by the familiarity of all that I saw. Bama and I peered out the window from the back seat, as the car sped past a slightly decrepit museum we’d entered a year before, then a magnificent Chinese temple painted in vibrant shades of gold and vermilion. Soon we arrived at the family home, fronted by the same green gate that played a musical scale when rolled back, and a slender custard apple tree with unripe fruit hanging from its branches. Read more

South Sulawesi’s ancient secrets

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The outboard motor thundered and kicked up a fountain of spray as it propelled us between rows of water palms, their luxuriant fronds aglow in the early morning light. Just one and a half hours outside Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi and the largest city in eastern Indonesia, we were cruising a placid green river in search of karsts and prehistoric handprints. Read more

Jakarta for the long haul

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What if I told you impossible dreams could come true? Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know of my serious obsession with Indonesia, where I have taken eight trips (including a three-month stint) in the past four years. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances far beyond my control, I have left Hong Kong to start a new job in Jakarta. Read more

Memories of Panjim

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Olga is delighted when she learns I was recently in Goa. “I’m from Mumbai,” she says, “but a Goan Catholic.” I meet her by chance at a Hong Kong restaurant, and before it gets too busy with patrons, I declare my adoration for the food of her home state. There are two things I regret not doing in Panjim, Goa’s laid-back state capital: the first is that I didn’t stay longer, and the second, that I never joined a Goan cooking class. Read more

Rubber time in Banda Neira

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“Don’t be angry, sir!”

Bu Rosani says this with a hopeful smile, as we sink into the plastic chairs inside her family-run restaurant Rumah Makan Nusantara. At the next table a band of sailors roar with laughter and knock back a few bottles of Bintang, pausing only to puff on their cigarettes. Bu Rosani tells us their ship is leaving soon, and they must be served first. Read more

Sunrise at Borobudur

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Under the veil of darkness, I saw little more than a hulking presence that towered in the distance. Our flashlights illuminated small details along the path: heavily worn steps, the edges of a gateway, and then a bell-shaped, perforated stupa. I had arrived with Bama, my longtime travel companion, and fellow bloggers Bart and Badai. All of us were repeat visitors to Borobudur, but none had yet witnessed the glory of a new day from its terraces. Read more

Eating Indonesia: not just ‘nasi goreng’

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In a small restaurant down a nondescript Hong Kong street, I found myself with a group of friends discussing the merits of Indonesian cuisine. Three of us were quick to agree, but there was one dissenting voice. I looked on in horror as a friend wrinkled her nose and gave us a disapproving frown. “I think it all tastes the same.” Read more

Travel, post-terrorism

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In early January, I met a family friend who had found himself uncomfortably close to a terrorist attack. He told me he was alone in Paris last November 13th, the night when ISIL struck the City of Light. He was enjoying dinner some two kilometres from the Bataclan Theatre as the carnage unfolded, and once in his hotel room he grew alarmed by the reports on TV. Read more

Big sky country: photos from Baluran

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Several years ago, while asleep in a bungalow not far from a beach in Lombok, Indonesia, I was rudely awakened by the shrill sound of a mosquito buzzing in my ear. Bama and I eventually killed the thing, but I couldn’t forget what it said to me that night: “Uaaaaaang.” For the mosquito had been speaking a language I half-understood. Uang, it turns out, is the Indonesian word for money.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Two weeks have elapsed since the end of Ramadan, and we are back in Indonesia, in the wilds of Baluran National Park. Bama and I are transfixed by the sight of deer and peacocks congregating in the shade just below our perch. We observe them in silence from a nondescript observation post, its concrete parapet and makeshift barriers of woven palm leaf enough to disguise us from the skittish animals. Read more

Holland in Java: the old town of Semarang

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It isn’t long after daybreak when Bama and I find ourselves in a small slice of Europe. Across the tree-lined street, not yet spoiled by the din of motorcycle traffic, the painted copper dome of a church glints in the first rays of the morning sun. Around us rise noble structures in brick and stone, some crowned with the narrow, steep-sided gables of a country halfway across the world. Semarang has one of the best-preserved historic centres of any major city in Indonesia, and we are standing at its very heart. Read more