Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Architecture’

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Historical Charms of Medan

Ask any Indonesian here in Jakarta about Medan and its people, and you will likely get one of several prevailing opinions. Some declare it a rough and aggressive place whose unruly residents speak with a coarse accent. Others rave about the food, particularly the non-Muslim fare of the Chinese and indigenous Batak communities. Still others might say the city has a reputation for crime: cue the Medanese friend who spoke of a break-in at his family home while his mother was around – the thief escaped after hearing her screams and realizing he’d entered the window of a room that had been locked from the inside. Then he told me of a cousin’s encounters with a (sympathetic) local mafia boss who was a regular at her restaurant. Few visitors – if anyone – would describe Indonesia’s fourth-largest city as beautiful, charming, or easy on the senses. But good food is not the only redeeming quality of the boisterous provincial capital of North Sumatra. Read more