This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Canggu beach

canggu-3The waves on Canggu beach are so powerful and foamy one needs a surf board to join them – and one must know how to use it. Many do not, and it is entertaining to see the surfing students tumble in the breakers like colorful seaweed, arms and legs flailing.

At 11 am it was still quiet on the beach, which says a lot about the rhythm and culture here. Only now, nearing noon, are people finding their way down to the beach. The street I live on gets busy at around 8 pm and quiets down by 2 am. In the morning at 9 am it is still very quiet. Canggu is a party place for many it seems. Not like Ubud, where half the town wakes up with the sun for yoga and the other half heads to the market to buy fresh produce.

The beach here is several kilometers long, and littered with surf shacks covered in graffiti art. Surfboard rental shops, surf schools, and beach bars make up most of it. The shacks are still proper shacks, with weathered paint and leaky roofs. But give this place another 3-5 years and it will be different. Up the main streets one can find both plots of wasteland and  glitzy lifestyle shops. Raw food restaurants and spas and a few yoga shalas give this place an “Ubud” vibe. Perhaps in five years this will be an Ubud for health conscious surfers. Or it will go down the same god-awful route as Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian. I hope not -although if one only walks some 15 minutes down South one finds Seminyak style bean bags and loud music from noon onwards.

Upwards and past the wave-battered Pura is Echo beach, which still has a surf shack feel: rickety, 2-storey beach huts with board rentals and low-key bars and warungs. Perhaps the choppy seas will help this place defend its surf feel from the worst beachgoer chaos.

But today it is only me, a fisherman, and a few surfers.
canggu-4(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Dear Bali, I am back!

balifood-1Apologies for the food photo, but I am on Bali (yes, again). Thus this will not remain as the only one from my stay. You see, the healthy, locally produced (and mostly raw) food trend is on another level here.

Today I spent a few hours on a packed Air Asia flight from Singapore to Denpasar. It is astonishing how people cannot stay in their seats for as long as the seatbelt sign remains on due to bad weather. The crew patiently called for people to sit down, for a total of four times. Even children were out of their seats. I cannot quite understand such parenting, as the risk (while rare) is real that the children damage their necks and heads in the turbulence.

The weather was cloudy and choppy as we made our way towards Bali. After waiting for an entire hour in a congested immigration checkpoint, I was met by Gede, the owner of the homestay in Canggu I am staying at. Finally I get to stay in a traditional Balinese house.

But first, this delicious dinner in Betelnut Café.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Growing a green city

marinabaysands-2European cities may have a few large, designated parks and many small green patches squeezed in later between the houses and streets. In Singapore, urban greeneries and jungles are not inserted here and there after the city is planned and built. Instead, since 1967, they have been consciously included in the plan as the city grew. Surprisingly large areas of green have been retained, such as the Botanic Garden and the Gardens by the Bay. Access is free from dawn until late, in some cases until midnight. My local friend spends most of his weekends in the Botanic Gardens with his wife and baby, discovering new things every time.

Because this is Singapore, “conventional” is not a word used in the urban planning office. The Gardens by the Bay include huge mushroom-like structures of steel towering above the treetops, connected with canopy walkways. There are many theme gardens with colorful sculptures, and two huge, air-conditioned glass domes: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The city is littered (or “decorated” if you prefer) with tiny parks, and each park is a carefully constructed piece of art, with surprising sculptures or a decorated walking path. Such attention to detail and imagination only happens when two aspects are met: enough affluence to invest a little extra in every structure being built; and a strategy to consciously incorporate greenness into city planning.

Only this way are there people employed to really rethink the greenness of spaces planned, before they are built.
marinabaysands-1(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)


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In the cloud forest

cloudforest-4If it is too hot to enjoy gardens outside, why not build a hollow mountain with a cool cloud forest on the outside, complete with mist, underneath a huge glass dome?cloudforest-1The Cloud Forest consists of a large, hollow, man-made “rock” planted with flowers, ferns, mosses, and climbers. The entire construction is misted every two hours, and this is the main attraction: visitors time their visit to enjoy the cooling sensation of mist on their skin while strolling the 6 stories of criss-crossing walkways in the skies. Because this is Singapore, one can naturally ride the elevator all the way up. cloudforest-3But the best surprise awaits the one who makes it all the way down and still has eyes for more beauty: the waterfall cascades down into a clear pool lined with the most interesting ferns, mosses, epiphytes, and climbers. Oh if only I had a private garden in a cool, shady area – this and a few trees would be the gorgeous landscape. Who cares if there was no sun, as long as there are ferns, mosses, and no mosquitoes?
cloudforest-2(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)


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Green wisdom

SPbotanicgarden-3On a whim I took the metro to the Botanic Gardens. I had no idea it was famous – until I entered and realized it probably must be. I have visited many botanic gardens in my life but nothing comes close to the one here in Singapore. The garden is easily 2-3 kilometes long and 1 kilometer wide. It contains two lakes, several ponds, a rainforest (large enough for a proper stroll!), a palm tree valley, an orchid garden, a symphony orchestra stage in front of a lawn – and approximately 20 themed gardens.

One of the most interesting gardens is the ethnobotany garden. It is divided into themes: symbolism, spirituality, food, crafts, and so forth: thus how people, especially local ethnicities, use or used plants to their advantage. There are plants used for hunting, for medicine, for building boats and houses, and for crafts.SPbotanicgarden-4It strikes me that still 150 years ago we Europeans too knew all about the properties and uses of our plants and trees: which wood is pliable, which is durable like steel, which plants are medicinal, and how to weave bowls and from what. All this knowledge here on the Malaysian peninsula will be lost soon, too, unless it is specifically conserved. Even here in Singapore I would wager to claim it is already lost from the collective mind of commoners and preserved only among few with an interest in herbology and healing.
SPbotanicgarden-2(Singapore; July 2018)


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Opium and the origins of Singaporean wealth

opiumIt is a sobering reminder to have the text “DEATH for drug traffickers under Singapore law” written on my visitor pass. How ironic it is, then, that much of Singapore’s past is linked to hard drugs: opium trade between China and the British Empire.

As the British empire is credited as the founders of Singapore, and Britain became an empire to a large extent thanks to the cash flowing in from opium, much of Singapore’s colonial wealth and growth momentum could also be attributed to this highly addictive and devastating drug, flowing out from British India towards China, through Singapore’s harbors.

As I amble through the National Museum of Singapore, none of this is mentioned anywhere. Instead what I see are a few old opium pipes and a reproduction of an old awareness article painting the picture of what happens to a man and his family when he gets hooked on opium (spoiler: in the end he makes his wife work for him so he can buy more opium, and finally he dies leaving his wife without a legal guardian). What is mentioned is that Thomas Stamford Raffles, one of the two credited founders of Singapore, was against gambling and addition, and evicted his British co-founder who was into these decadent activities. The Brits seem to politely be hailed as patrons of Singapore.

The National Museum does have one exhibition that highly contrasts against the politeness of Singaporean culture: one covering the Japanese invasion during 1942-45. It leaves no sense of ambiguity and starkly accuses Japan of ethnocide of any “anti-Japanese” Chinese, as well as an attempt at annihilating local culture. The exhibition explains that the Japanese vision was to wipe out all other languages and to instil a uniform national identity. When children were required to learn and to speak Japanese in school, many parents refused to send their children to school. When the older adult generation was required to learn Japanese for work, they chose to stay at home if they could. Those who spoke the language received incentives and benefits, but the above combined with the degree of difficulty in learning Japanese made the attempt of introducing culture via language a failure.

Three years seems like a short while, but my impression from the exhibition is that it was a difficult and dark time. The proper building of modern Singapore began in the 1950s-60s, with a positive outlook after the people had decided they did not want to be part of Malaysia. Indeed, in the 60s there was an attempt at merging little Singapore with its larger neighbor, but people objected and the merger was short-lived. It must have been a brave decision to try to survive on one’s own, geographically sandwiched between Indonesia and the West, and Malaysia to the North and Northeast. But what must have been a very thought-through economical growth strategy worked, as Singapore is now considered a prime economy in all of Southeast Asia.

Opium trade, why would anyone think of such ancient times anyway?

(Singapore; July 2018)


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Recess in the temple

SPtemple-2In the hubbub of Chinatown, stepping into a temple is like stepping sideways out of life. SPtemple-3It must be lunch hour here, too, both for gods as well as for scholars: fruits in a row for those on higher planes, and half-empty thermoses left behind by those who needed more tangible nutrition than loving kindness.SPtemple-1(Singapore; July 2018)