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Batujaya: A “Quack Escape” from Jakarta

Waking before dawn is about the last thing I want to do on a Saturday after a hectic work week, but the promise of going someplace new cannot be ignored. In my half-asleep state, it feels as though we are preparing to flag down a taxi to the airport for an early morning flight, except that this time we leave with no backpacks or suitcases: just our camera bags slung over our shoulders and two bottles of water. This admittedly crazy plan, hatched just the week before, was Bama’s idea. Neither him nor I had left the greater Jakarta area since early March, and we were eager to hit the road for a short excursion into the countryside of West Java. Our destination? A village called Batujaya, home to ancient red-brick temple ruins even older than Borobudur. Read more

An Ode to Opor

Food has enormous potential to connect and unite people, to cross the barriers of language, race, and creed. There is power in the simple act of sharing a meal with people whose backgrounds are different from your own. For what better way is there to understand a place than to meet the local people and eat their traditional cuisine? A shared interest in cooking is the basis of a special bond I have with Bama’s mother, who I call Auntie Dhani. “She loves seeing people enjoying her food,” Bama told me recently. “And no one appreciates it like you do.” Read more

Jakarta on the Weekend

I never thought I’d miss Jakarta’s notorious traffic jams, but this pandemic has turned an annoyance of life in the Indonesian capital into a strangely reassuring sign of normalcy. On one of our last outings before the city’s half-hearted lockdown began, Bama and I finally made it to a restaurant I’d raved about ever since attending a work event there several years ago. Read more

Head for the Hills: Sunset Peak, Hong Kong

A brisk 45-minute walk each weekday down flat city roads is a poor substitute for exercise. I’m realizing this as I sit gasping for breath on a large rock somewhere in the mountains of Hong Kong’s Lantau island, hopelessly exposed to the midday sun and delirious with nausea. If only there was a patch of shade to lie down in, I silently lament. It is much too hot for Christmas Eve. Read more

Silver Linings in the Storm

Where do I begin? The last time I published anything here was two months ago, before the WHO had given Covid-19 an official name, before the virus really took root outside Asia, before countries began closing their borders en masse to prevent its spread.

I have been on an eight-week hiatus from writing here and reading and commenting on other blogs, mostly because of tiredness. I don’t usually bring up my current work as an editor (not numero uno, mind you) of a glossy travel magazine. In some ways, it is a dream job. In other ways, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Such is the risk of turning your hobby into a full-time profession – hobbies don’t usually revolve around deadlines. Jobs so often do. Read more

A Dispatch from Hong Kong

“What does your revolution look like?” The words jump out, bright and clear, from the frosted glass façade of a multistory shopping arcade on a busy Kowloon intersection. In ordinary times, such a tongue-in-cheek question might be an innocuous reminder to strive for positive change, but this is Hong Kong at the tail end of 2019, more than six months into what has been termed an uprising, a rebellion, and the greatest challenge to Communist rule in China since 1989. Read more

Remaking Boracay

As the motorized tricycle loudly puttered down the two-lane road hugging the northwestern coast of Panay, the Philippines’ sixth-largest island, I could clearly see the effects of Typhoon Rosita (Yutu) as it approached the shores of Luzon some 530 kilometers (or 330 miles) to the north. The agitated waters of the Sibuyan Sea seemed to dance feverishly beneath brooding gunmetal-gray skies; it didn’t bode well for the boat ride I was about to take across the narrow strait to tiny Boracay. Read more

Finding Balance in Bhutan

What I remember most fondly about the week Bama and I spent in Bhutan last October is the untainted mountain air, cool autumn nights, an overriding sense of peace and tranquility. And of course, who could forget that heart-pumping arrival? Read more

Flores: It Takes a Village

One thing I relish about travel is the fact that it turns our daily routines upside down; it jolts us out of our comfort zones and tends to flout the unwritten rules we live by. I realize this one bright Monday morning in Kampung Melo, a small mountain village on the Indonesian island of Flores. It turns out that any visit here must involve a welcome drink of sopi – a clear, colorless spirit distilled from the sap of the areng palm – in a shaded pavilion beside a small field. “If you don’t drink alcohol,” a spokesman says to our group, “just touch the glass.” Read more

Sleeping Dragons and a Stirring Town

Five years ago this June, Bama and I embarked on an unforgettable week-long adventure across the island of Flores. It remains one of my favorite corners of Indonesia not just for its astonishing natural beauty. Here, in a predominantly Muslim nation, the Catholic faith brought by Portuguese missionaries mingled with tribal traditions; the rugged landscape held megalithic villages that seemed nearly as old as time itself, perfectly formed volcanoes, and superb coffee made with local arabica beans grown in the mist-laden highlands. At the end of our journey lay Labuan Bajo, a sleepy fishing village turned tourism boomtown, where a glorious sunset bode well for an overnight cruise around the UNESCO-listed reefs and islands of Komodo National Park. Read more