This blue marble

– and yet it spins

Leave a comment

Urban gardens

kl-8When you run out of space, go vertical. IKEA knows it, too. But nothing compares to how Asian metropoles go vertical. It seems to be quite expected to discover a resort on the rooftop of one’s apartment building: a multilayered pool like a maze, disappearing under shading palm trees; sun loungers and waterfalls and garden of flowers and butterflies; a gym; and naturally also a restaurant and a shop. In one condominium complex.

Save for a few palm fronds sticking over the rooftop edge, the secrets are only revealed if one lives higher up than one’s neighbors, or if one flies over the city. I wish we had more rooftop gardens in Finland, too. Street level gardens of apartment buildings are always too noisy and shaded, and usually focused on functionality (playgrounds and bicycle storages). But a secret oasis on the roof would be such a joy for every inhabitant – and perhaps it would even bring the reticent Finns to know their neighbors a little better.

(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; September 2016)

Leave a comment

Petaling Street

kl-410 years later, I was back in Kuala Lumpur. I had vowed never to return. Everything had been arranged and I did not have much of a choice. And so we woke up in KL one morning and, since one of my friends was a 1st time visitor, ended up on Petaling Street. The famous once-flea-market, now tourist-trap street with the red lanterns. And apparently under a glass roof, these days.
Processed with Snapseed.The shops lining the street did still sell traditional Chinese goods and foods, but the illegal copy industry of branded goods had taken over the whole street (how sad), save for a few stalls selling Indian print harem pants or street food. Otherwise it was sunglasses (Ray-Ban), “Louis Vuitton” bags, watches, “Gucci” T-shirts, and most, if not all, fake – of course. Apparently, if one is lucky one can find the real thing, sold on the street as an overflow product from a local factory. Most likely not, though, as such things would be sold in proper factory outlets, not out on Petaling Street.
Processed with Snapseed.How surprising to an (apparently) naïve person that the market for fake goods is large enough to carry a size of business of Petaling Street. Who buys all the quite obviously low-quality “Louis Vuitton” bags and “Dior” sunglasses? Asians? European or Australian tourists? What kind of social classes?

Every front side has a back side. The back (South) side of Petaling street is a jumbled mess. With up-and-coming hipster cafés like the Old China Café. Hipster. In KL, indeed. Next to fake luxury sunglasses, the search for authenticity snuggles close to the search for status at any cost.
kl-3It will be interesting to come back in 5 years time (of course only on idea level – I’m done with KL), to see how the presence of hipsters changes the offerings on Jalan Petaling. The crowd found in the cafés around Petaling seems to be  of the somewhat well-off and well-educated lot, one that, when they choose to, would spend much money on things it cannot get from elsewhere. Perhaps there is yet hope for Petaling Street.
kl-5(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; September 2016)

Leave a comment

A cliché that wasn’t

Processed with Snapseed.Langkawi. What a touristy-sounding destination. Never was on my travel bucket list. But somehow I ended up there anyway – and instead of my cliché come true, I was whisked away into the middle of a 10 million-year-old rainforest and by a large reef, on a wonderful private beach. The Andaman Resort makes an effort to educate visitors about the jungle, the ocean, and the reef. It claims to run a sustainable, green policy, which seems reasonable giving-back, in return of being allowed to run a resort in the middle of a nature conservation area.

Unfortunately, the cliché did manifest itself one day with a long dry spell. We drove down to Pantai Chenang. What a mistake. As we sat enjoying teh tarik by a beachside café, conversation was difficult due to the distractions of banana boats ripping through waves, parasailers being dragged around by fast boats, and jeeps transporting people from pickup points to watersport stations, and back. The water was criss-cross -littered with floating dividers in different colors, making out swim lanes and divisions between swimmers and motor equipment. I am glad to report none of us seemed inclined to buy a fanny pack, a souvenir T-shirt, and a beer; and as the sun set we happily drove back to our little corner of the island. Not even a photo remains of this experience.

The night was long, just the way I prefer: with philosophical conversation, a few bottles of wine, sounds of the beach, frog song, and the darkness of the rainforest. The essence of Langkawi is its gorgeous (and brave) nature. Only one person was reported killed due to the 2004 christmas tsunami – the reef right outside our resort took the blow and saved the island. While others party away on Pantai Chenang, the people of the resort collaborate to reconstruct the reef, giving back thanks of survival. This is the Langkawi I like and will one day return to. Because, again, my snorkel gear remained useless in my backpack.

(Langkawi, Malaysia; September 2016)

Leave a comment


Processed with Snapseed.It is a simple fact that one cannot avoid becoming wet when swimming. Thus it should not matter if one swims in sunshine or rain.

After one day of brilliant sunshine, the monsoon rolled over to our little beach. Gone was the golden sand and turquoise sea. Instead we had rain, and more rain; for a month to come should we choose to stay for so long. With the heavy, gray waves rolling in, lifting up sand and silt so the water was muddled, beach life was quite different. For instance, the seawater was warmed than the rain water, which made it more pleasant to be in the water than out of it on the beach.

What a lovely surprise to discover that monsoon rains are also the best times to beach-comb. Strange flotsam and jetsam floated towards us in the water. Styrofoam in a plastic bag (who puts styrofoam in a plastic bag??), toothbrushes, whole logs, flipflops, and a coconut, oval-shaped like Wilson the American football’s little brother.

When the rains ceded at night, the frogs came out. Hundreds of them. We sat, surrounded by their love recitals, in the beach bar. When the waiter brought out our martinis (nice and dirty), the wind picked up. Five minutes later, the rain squalls were spraying water even into the back of the bar, where we had escaped. The wind tousled our hair and the rain wet our faces as we continued to enjoy our martinis, now more aptly renamed Mai-Thai-phoons.

As I enjoyed my refill of olive brine and rainwater, I could not help but laugh at the bartenders’ dream job: one moment to protect all equipment, paper, and furniture textiles from the rain; and next one knew, to already run out to dress up the chairs and sun loungers for the 15 minutes the rain withheld its wetness. To be repeated, ad nauseam.

The frogs had it much easier. When it rains, swim in the rainwater. When it doesn’t rain, serenade to your nearest lovely mate.Processed with Snapseed.(Langkawi, Malaysia; September 2016)


By the Andaman Sea

Processed with Snapseed.It was dark upon arrival on Langkawi. My checked-in backpack was slathered in oil. Ants had mysteriously infested our rental car and seemed to crawl in endless streams from its seams like a sequel to Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. My Malaysian friend drove into the jungle, without hesitation. We arrived on a pitch-black parking lot, entered a huge, empty hotel lobby, checked in, and hurried to get some sleep. I really had little idea where I had got to.

But morning came dressed differently, as it tends to do. Along with hundreds of singing birds and cicadas. And slow, soft waves rolling in. I practiced yoga at dawn. My friend went for a swim. I also found my way to the beach – the gorgeous, quiet, golden beach!

As I beach-combed this morning, looking for seashells, sea glass, and other interesting flotsam and jetsam for my beach jars collection, I realized, privileged, that I was on a paradise beach between a 10 million year-old rainforest and a large, possibly equally old coral reef. Under a warm sun, and above turquoise water, and on golden sands. One christmas, over a decade ago, there was a tsunami on this very beach. Today there is only tranquility. And I.Processed with Snapseed.(Langkawi, Malaysia; September 2016)

Leave a comment

Above the Andaman Sea

And so it is time to again say goodbye to the coconuts, the lovely mornings in the jungle, and my newfound love the snake fruit. As I switch Bali to Langkawi I will again miss a great festivity. This time it is the celebration of the victory of good against evil. Kids await it like ours do christmas, because they anticipate new clothes and dancing the Barong dance in the streets for 10 days.

How awesome it must be: a half-day ceremony at each temple, then food and celebration and dance, and more of the same, for days.
The core of Balinese belief is that evil is kept at bay by offerings. Thus, anything that affirms the power of good is important. And what could affirm it better than the positive energy created by celebrations and boundless joy and laughter? This is also why it is the children that dance the Barong: the instrument symbolizes good, and combined with the innocent joy of dancing children, the victory of good can be reaffirmed.

As I watched the sun set in the Andaman Sea, I wondered about how cultures celebrate the same things so differently. The Balinese celebrate with laughter and joy, whereas in many Western cultures the same days are loaded with solemnity and sadness. Independence Day on Bali is a party, whereas in my home country of Finland it is a serious affair, with candles, laurels on soldiers’ graves, and commemoration for those who died for our country. Easter should be a celebration, too, but instead of parties and parades and cake we focus more on the death and suffering of Jesus than the fact that he miraculously came back to (eternal) life again. This should be reason to party if there ever was one. And during christmas we are quiet and remember the birth of Jesus with some splashes of elegant joy around the dinner table and when the kids get their presents. But no celebration, even if nobody died and one enlightened being was born! Even cremation on Bali is a feast. Sure, people cry at the burial and when the bodies are retrieved. But, oh what joy erupts on cremation day, and in particular the following day, when the ashes are scattered to the five elements. This is party time, with food and dance and laughter. Why not, since after all the spirit of a loved one is finally free from worldly struggles, and ready to be reborn for a second chance? In my country all we usually do is dress in black and cry. Even if the person was 92 years old and it was her time to go.

It is an art of living to recognize and accept the things we cannot change. The Balinese know this art, and they throw in a flower offering for good balance, and a smile for good measure. How would our world be if we all knew what the Balinese know?(Above Bali and Malaysia; September 2016)