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Countdown to Bali

The beautiful Bali Starling, or 'Jalak Bali'

It came in the porcelain mugs we had bought in Canada, painted with black bears or mounties or totem poles. Sweetened with sugar, the otherwise colourless health drink had wisps of white on a slightly hazy surface.

“Bali water,” my mother would say, and she’d motion us to take a sip.

I imagined morning mist curling across a lake, the thatched roofs of an island temple rising up into the tropical sunlight. It was Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, whose pagoda-like meru have been photographed for countless postcards, calendars and guidebooks. This was the mental image I associated with a childhood concoction whose ingredients we did not know.

My brother and I believed it was a secret recipe learned during our years in Singapore. After all, we still call rice vermicelli noodles “bihun”, and hide a soft spot for homemade pandan rice drizzled in kecap manis, that luscious, buttery soy sauce laced with the richness of palm sugar.

Years later it dawned on us that the mysterious health drink did not refer to the fabled island but a common grain. Our mother’s pronunciation of “barley” with a near-silent “r” had been wonderfully misconstrued; the origin of her brew was purely a figment of the imagination.

Still, that enduring image of the misty lake and temple remains firmly in my mind. When I admitted to an Indonesian ice cream vendor that I had never been to Bali, but twice to neighbouring Lombok, she was flabbergasted. “But you must go!” Her eyes, fully widened, were now brimming with excitement. “Harus pergi ke Bali!”

So when it came time for Bama and I to plan our next adventure after Lombok, we didn’t have to look far. On Wednesday night I will finally be landing at Ngurah Rai – gateway to an island whose four-letter name carries far beyond Asia’s regional borders. The ice cream vendor would be proud.

*        *       *

You may wonder what the bird has to do with this anecdote. A few months ago I discovered that Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park was home to a small population of the critically endangered Bali Starling, known on its home turf as Jalak Bali. Thanks to a booming exotic pet trade, precious few exist in the wild, with only 24 in West Bali National Park and roughly 100 on the outlying island of Nusa Penida. At the aviary I counted at least 10 of these elegant creatures, happily adjusted to a lush rainforest setting with a bubbling creek, not unlike their native habitat.

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36 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’ve captured this winged creatures at their best. Love your blog.

    December 15, 2013
  2. Lucky you, James (and Bama!). My memories of Bali are of an exquisitely beautiful land with graceful and gentle people tenaciously practicing their culture and religious traditions. That was almost 30 years ago now, but old-timers used to say ‘you should have seen it back in … “, so lets hope you two experience the island’s beauty and charm just as I did.

    I’m charmed to see that blue-eyed beauty – I never saw it in the wild. 🙂

    December 15, 2013
    • What a privilege to have seen Bali before it got swamped with tourists! I don’t know if you would recognise it if you went back now… Bama and I will be avoiding the southern beaches in favour of the highlands and rice terraces beyond Ubud.

      The striking blue around their eyes is actually bare skin – it makes you realise that whatever we design or create as humans, it can never match the beauty of nature! 🙂

      December 15, 2013
      • Oh yea! I love seeing how we’re always outstripped by nature!

        Have a great time James – I’m looking forward to hearing about your trip to the land of the gods.

        December 18, 2013
  3. I really wanted to see these in the wild in Bali but after searching for hem but not seeing them we were forced to go to the Bali bird park to see a solitary bird in a small confined cage.

    December 15, 2013
    • What a shame! If only the Bali bird park had a large aviary where these birds could roam… and to think that the wild population is teetering on the edge of extinction.

      December 15, 2013
  4. anthonyvenable110 #

    Those are some gorgeous birds

    December 15, 2013
    • Absolutely, I ended up enthralled for almost an hour and a half!

      December 15, 2013
      • anthonyvenable110 #

        Thats awesome

        December 15, 2013
  5. Even though you won’t get ‘Bali water’ anywhere in Bali, I hope your first trip ever to the island would be filled with magical things nonetheless. And hopefully we’ll get nice weather. It would be nice to see Jalak Bali in the wild one day!

    December 15, 2013
    • Yes, even if it is rainy season – I’m so glad you could take time off for this trip. Otherwise I would definitely miss out on a lot of things! The Jalak Bali is such a magical bird, the next time you come to Hong Kong I must bring you to that aviary. 🙂

      December 15, 2013
  6. Halim Santoso #

    Beautiful pictures James. Wait your story about your trip in Bali this year… Would you and Bama go to Central Java? 😉

    December 15, 2013
    • Matur nuwun Halim. I was in Jogja maybe 15-16 years ago, but I hope to go back and see more of Central Java in the near future. If not next year, then maybe in 2015. 😉

      December 15, 2013
  7. Bali (and particularly Ubud and surrounding) is one of my favourite places on earth. Make sure you in indulge in some massage – we had one almost every day while there 🙂

    December 15, 2013
    • Oh, I didn’t even think of going for a massage or spending time at a spa! Thanks for the tip though… we’ll be spending most of our time in and around Ubud. 🙂

      December 15, 2013
  8. That bird is gorgeous! A pity there are so few in the wild. Have a great time you two! Shall look forward to reading about your adventures 🙂

    December 16, 2013
    • Thank you, Madhu! I’m getting itchy feet just thinking about it now. Plus it’s getting surprisingly cold and rainy here in Hong Kong – makes me glad I’m going somewhere warm! 🙂

      December 16, 2013
  9. Such lovely increasingly rare bird with the blue eyelight/liner! Enjoy Bali. We’re going snowshoeing in British Columbia, north of Revelstoke Nat’l Park.

    December 16, 2013
    • Yes, the blue really does make it stand out! Thanks Jean, have a wonderful snowshoeing trip with your partner – what a great way to celebrate Christmas.

      December 16, 2013
  10. Great photos of the bird 🙂

    December 17, 2013
    • Makasih, Timothy. 🙂

      December 30, 2013
  11. Hi! I follow your blog and I was wondering if you could help me out on Friday when I launch my Kickstarter by reposting something on your blog? It is a really exciting project, and I really like your blog.
    Thanks!!! http://www.canadianhayes.com
    http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=efbfc6885f4f2b263c69e2df3&id=1fffed4c3b

    December 17, 2013
    • Hi there, sorry I couldn’t repost about your Kickstarter earlier this month – I was away on my latest trip! Good luck though and hope you reach your goal!

      December 30, 2013
      • Thank you! Hope your trip was good. My kickstarer was a huge success. It got fully funded in only 12 hours! It’s still live and still lots to post. Hit me up:)

        December 30, 2013
      • Let’s till do something! Even more to tell you now:)

        January 1, 2014
  12. Your photos of the birds are gorgeous, James. I wish you and Bama an amazing time in Bali. Indonesia in general, but especially Bali are also on my list, definitely need to go there somewhen in the next few years. I just got back four weeks ago after spending almost a month in China, my second trip to the Middle Kingdom this year and it absolutely blew me away.

    December 18, 2013
    • Danke schön, Vanessa. We only got back yesterday and Bali is now one of my favourite islands – I wish we stayed there for a few more days! You have to go for the rich, beautiful culture and the landscapes; personally I count it as one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been to.

      December 30, 2013
      • Happy and healthy New Year, James! Apparently I have to go Bali in the near future. I just saw on Bama’s blog that you guys have also been to Timor-Leste. I could imagine, that this pretty impressive, too?
        All the best for 2014!

        January 5, 2014
  13. Reblogged this on Ethnic Wanderer.

    December 19, 2013
  14. You are a beautiful writer!

    December 23, 2013
  15. These birds looks like ‘Mynas’ or ‘Starlings’ found in the Indian Subcontinent! Amazingly captured! 🙂

    December 29, 2013
    • Now you have me wondering how their Indian cousins look! Aren’t they gorgeous? 🙂

      December 30, 2013
      • Yes they are lovely!..and we have some 20 sub species of starlings in the Indian Subcontinent :D..rest assured, i’ll introduce you to all of them through my posts! So stay tuned! 😀

        December 30, 2013

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  1. Endangered Bali starlings to bird sanctuary | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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