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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

Bali’s Zero-Waste “Creative Village”

We all remember the last trip we took before coronavirus turned our world upside down. Going through hundreds of photos from the first week of March 2020, when I flew to Bali for a last-minute reporting assignment, brought on a pang of nostalgia. At first glance they seem to depict the Bali that was: a thriving tourist destination just weeks before face masks and social distancing became de rigueur, before Indonesia closed its borders and foreign visitor numbers dropped to zero. But, in a strangely comforting way, the pictures also offered a hopeful glimpse of the Bali that will be. Read more

Reviving Old Semarang

Barely a decade ago, the Old Town quarter of Semarang was a place best avoided after sundown. The former hub of trade and commerce in one of Indonesia’s greatest port cities had been slowly deteriorating since the seventies, as the ground sank and businesses decamped for areas less prone to tidal flooding. When darkness fell, its abandoned Dutch colonial buildings were taken over by squatters or used as places for prostitution. Unsuspecting visitors who walked the narrow, dimly-lit streets of the area would have rubbed shoulders with small-time criminals who made a living through extortion and common thievery. Read more

Myanmar on My Mind

I’m no fan of Monday mornings, and the disheartening news from Myanmar made for an unhappy start to the week; it felt almost like a punch to the gut. Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government had been overthrown by the Tatmadaw (the armed forces) just one day before its members of parliament would have been sworn in. It seems that Myanmar’s feudal generals have succeeded where Trump and his die-hard Republican supporters could not; they have constantly peddled unfounded allegations of widespread fraud since the deeply unpopular Union Solidarity and Development Party, which the military itself controls, was humiliated at the polls in November. Read more

Tales from Ternate, the Clove-Scented Isle

Some time ago, I promised I’d write a post on one of my favorite places in all of Indonesia, an island that has remained well off the tourist trail in the five years since Bama and I set foot on its shores. The following entry – which may be the longest I’ve ever written at over 5,800 words – was compiled from my notes. This is the story of how we almost didn’t make it to Ternate, and of the fascinating things we saw and heard when we finally got there. Read more

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