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Posts from the ‘ASIA-PACIFIC’ Category

The Chocolate Queen of the Philippines

As tears stream down Raquel Choa’s face, I wonder what grievous deed I have done – or hurtful words I have uttered – to make her cry at our first meeting. The chocolate maker has been telling me how she developed a deep love of cacao during some of the toughest times of her life. “I don’t know why I cried,” Raquel says, wiping away the tears with a tissue. “I was also sharing this with a group of six people yesterday, but no teardrops fell from my eyes. I can feel that you have an open heart and you embraced the story.” Read more

Spanish Whispers in Cebu

When Ferdinand Magellan witnessed the sunrise from the deck of the Trinidad on April 27, 1521, he scarcely knew it would be his last. In the distance, the large coral outcrop of Mactan Island beckoned with a strip of powdery, cream-colored sand lapped by rippling cyan waters – the kind of tropical idyll that sun-starved modern travelers go halfway around the world to see. But the celebrated Portuguese explorer was here in the service of Spain, midway through an epic circumnavigation of the globe. His more immediate mission was to fight on behalf of his newfound friend and ally Rajah Humabon, the chieftain of a nearby port town named Zubu. Read more

The Philippines at Last

Growing up, as many Hong Kongers do, in a home with a live-in nanny from the Philippines, I was exposed to Filipino food and culture from a very young age. Lynn Che Che (literally “Elder Sister Lynn” in Cantonese) arrived on the scene when my parents and sister lived in Singapore; my brother and I were still in our mother’s womb at the time. With twins on the way, a mischievous toddler to take care of, and my father working long hours at the office, mom needed all the help she could get. Read more

Banjarmasin: Life on the River in Borneo

It came without warning. Barely a minute earlier, Bama and I had been puttering down a narrow waterway lined with ramshackle wooden houses, softly lit by the full moon as it peeked through a wispy layer of cloud. But here was a vast expanse of water that seemingly merged into the darkness of the pre-dawn sky. At once I felt infinitesimally small; the absence of lights on the opposite bank exaggerated its distance, and our boat was now dwarfed by an oil tanker and hulking flat-bottomed barges laden with heaps of coal. I knew then that we’d arrived on the mighty Barito River. Read more

Jakarta’s Magnificent Reprise

The last time the Asian Games were hosted here in Jakarta, exactly 56 years ago, it left an indelible mark on the cityscape. A slew of landmarks and infrastructure developments owe their creation to the event: these include the iconic Welcome Monument (as shown in the photo above) and the Hotel Indonesia next door, which was the first modern five-star hotel in the nascent country and the official lodgings for dignitaries and sports leaders back in 1962. Read more

Penataran Temple: Stories in Stone

Indonesia might be a relatively young nation – both in the demographic sense and in the fact that the republic turns 73 this week – but its complex layers of history are hidden in plain sight. Brooding stone dwarapala door guardians half-kneel outside hotels and gleaming skyscrapers in downtown Jakarta; Javanese traditional dances and shadow puppetry recreate episodes from the Hindu epics; and the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, borrows a plethora of words from Dutch, Portuguese, Hokkien, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, and Sanskrit. All these point to a millennial tradition of absorbing foreign influences to create something unique to this part of the world. Read more

Blitar: In the Spirit of Sukarno

“Don’t forget it, don’t you ever forget it, child, that you are a son of the dawn.”

So said the Balinese mother of a precocious little boy who would eventually go on to become a founding father of Indonesia and its very first president. Born at half-past five in the morning on June 6, 1901, as the first glimmers of dawn lit up the sky over the port city of Surabaya, Sukarno ushered in a new era for a sprawling archipelago that had seen three centuries of exploitation and hardship under Dutch colonial rule. Read more

The Other Side of Bintan

Perhaps the thing that worried me most about Bintan – especially in the days just before I went on assignment – was the fact that I had no idea what my story was all about. Not that there wasn’t a general framework: I knew that I’d be going from the north to a newly-opened property on the southeast coast, and Iris and her crew at Bintan Resorts had planned a detailed itinerary of things to do and places to see. But would the island as a whole be interesting enough to fill out a print article of just over 2,000 words? And would I be able to find and talk to the right people? Read more

Island Idylls in Bintan

Until this February, I’d never given any serious thought to visiting the holiday island of Bintan in Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago. It took a solo work trip for me to eventually hop aboard a domestic flight from Jakarta, a journey that was slightly longer than the usual 55-minute ferry ride across the strait from Singapore. That hardworking city-state often looks to its larger neighbors for places to lepak, a word borrowed from Malay to describe the act of loitering around, to chill and do nothing. The broad perception among Singaporeans – and one that I also held until recently – is that Bintan is all about lepaking in beachside resorts; that it is purely geared toward weekenders looking to cocoon themselves in the smart hotels scattered along the island’s northern shore. How wrong I was. Read more

On the Cusp of Change: Semarang’s Old Town

In a previous post, penned a number of months after my first visit to Semarang three years ago, I described the old town district of Kota Lama as “one of the best-preserved historic centers of any major city in Indonesia”. Up until the mid-2000s it had suffered decades of neglect, compounded by poor drainage and a flood-prone location. Since then there’s been a recent push to restore the old town’s vitality with the ambition of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2020, though much still needs to be done before it can earn that coveted title. Read more