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Prambanan and the Cursed Princess

Long ago, on the lush, volcano-studded island of Java, there lived a princess by the name of Roro Jonggrang. Not only was she ravishingly beautiful; legend has it that the young maiden had a sharp intellect. Roro Jonggrang happened to be the daughter of the fearsome king Prabu Boko, a man so tall and powerfully built many believed him to be descended from giants; some say he was a fierce warrior who had a reputation for cannibalism. Not content with the territory and riches he already had, Papa Prabu declared war on the neighboring kingdom of Pengging and promptly launched an invasion. Read more

A Foray into Bali’s Green Heart

If only more Wednesday mornings began like this. Wide awake, I soak up the passing scenery and perfect blue skies from the leathered interior of a 1961 vintage jeep. I’ve temporarily swapped the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta for quiet Balinese village roads lined with penjor – tall, drooping bamboo poles that sport decorations woven from dried coconut fronds and young palm leaves. It’s just a few days before Kuningan, the end of a major local holiday when the gods and spirits of the ancestors are believed to descend to earth. Read more

Head for the Hills: Journeys in Puncak

The rain starts off as a drizzle, pattering on the terracotta roof tiles directly overhead. Standing on the wooden balcony of our upstairs room at Novus Giri Puncak Resort & Spa, above a lush ravine some 1,040 meters (3,400 feet) above sea level, I take a deep breath and savor the cool mountain air. Then it hits me — an intensely familiar scent of wet earth mixed with a subtle pine-and-floral fragrance, a half-forgotten aroma from my childhood I can’t quite place. Was it the whiff of a summer’s outing in Canada? Or a foggy spring hike in the country parks of Hong Kong? Read more

Nekulturny – A Poem

Say it with me: Ne-kul-tur-ny

The Russians look down on us—they claim we in Asia are boorish, uncivilized

And yet,

Ours is not the nation that bends to the will of a rabid madman

Manufactures frozen conflicts

Or starts a fratricidal war. Read more

Postcards from Petra

On the shelves of a tall bookcase in my parents’ living room, you’ll find a hardcover titled Wonders of the Ancient World. I leafed through it many times as a child and read the book well into my early teens, with many lazy summer afternoons spent engrossed in the tales and pictures of faraway places I could only dream of visiting. What I remember most clearly from that volume is a full-page photograph taken in Petra, Jordan – specifically of the famed rock-cut tomb known as the Treasury (al-Khazneh). Read more

A Jakarta Christmas

It’s been a little over two years since I’ve returned to Hong Kong to see my parents or my maternal grandmother, who is well into her 90s. The prospect of going through 21 days of hotel quarantine—on top of the likelihood of a sudden flight ban—means a family reunion in my hometown will not be happening for the foreseeable future. But I’m generally a glass-half-full kind of person; after joining Bama on a weeklong vacation in mid-December with his mom, I can’t deny that part of me was excited to spend the holidays in Jakarta for the very first time. Read more

Wadi Rum: Desert Drama in Jordan

“Arrakis is Arrakis, and the desert takes the weak.” —Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Dune (2021)

One thing I love about good movies is the way they can transport us to far-off places, whether real or imagined, for a much-needed dose of escapism. Bama and I recently watched Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of Dune, the 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. Neither of us were familiar with the book or the complex fantasy world that it spawned, but we found the film visually stunning and thought-provoking in equal measure (could there be a future where computers and AI are banned?). Much of Dune is set on Arrakis, the inhospitable desert planet that happens to be the universe’s only source of Spice Melange – a valuable, life-extending psychedelic drug that enhances human intelligence and makes interstellar travel possible. Read more

Hiking the Cisadon Trail

The idea had been bubbling away in Bama’s mind ever since the start of the pandemic, but it only really developed as fellow Canadian blogger Caroline recounted her recent trekking trips in her home province. Eventually, a plan spontaneously surfaced one Friday at lunch break while both of us were working from home. “Why don’t we go hiking tomorrow?” Bama excitedly said. The weather forecast predicted clear blue skies; he’d already done his research on Sentul, an area south of Jakarta where tightly packed suburban subdivisions give way to a soothing landscape of fields and mountains threaded with walking trails. Read more

Cheese and Chilies Galore: The Food of Bhutan

“Food served in hotels and restaurants in Bhutan can often be bland. Bhutan may not be the place for a great gastronomical experience, but the Bhutanese cuisine does provide some variety, although [it may be] a bit too spicy for many visitors.”

— Pre-departure information, Bridge To Bhutan

Of everything written in an impressive reference guide sent to us months ahead of our trip to Bhutan, a 16-page document packed with valuable information and all kinds of practical tips, it was this apologetic passage that jumped out the most. To be fair, any traveler with a low tolerance for spiciness might balk at Bhutanese cuisine in general. Read more

Bhutan: Moments from Punakha

As much as I wish it were so, I haven’t secretly escaped from Covid-ravaged Indonesia to seek refuge in the foothills of the Himalayas. Bama and I remain cooped up at home, occasionally snatching glimpses of brilliant blue sky through the windows, imagining the places we’d have gone and long-distance trips that have been deferred indefinitely. But there’s also a realization that we are the lucky ones: despite all that has happened in the past 18 months, both of us still have a regular income, food on the table, a roof over our heads. So many people in this country have seen their livelihoods evaporate and are struggling to make ends meet. Read more