Thursday, December 28, 2017


When I had originally planned on traveling to Indonesia for a month vacation,  I was thinking of going to the lesser visited islands of Moluku or Sulawesi.  The two main entry points for international flights are Jakarta and Denpasar. I thought I would just spend a few days on Bali before traveling onward with a domestic flight.  I had spent a month on Bali already thirty years ago, when I was in my early twenties. Although much of it seems like a distant dream,  I remember being enchanted by this unique island.  Bali is famous for its rich culture and its lush geography and is often spoken of in terms of 'last paradise' or 'magical.'  I knew it would be very different from when I was there and indeed it was.  The streets were clogged with traffic and the beach towns of Kuta and Sanur were miles upon miles of roads with shops, bars, restaurants and resorts all there for mass tourism.  

I stayed a few days on the coast, south of the mayhem of Kuta, in a more local fishing town and beach called Jinbaram. Early morning, there were many fishermen arriving in their colourful outrigger canoes with the nights catch.  There was also a large fish market with boats coming in from Java. 

Talking to the hotel manager, he told me there was a 'scooter revolution' that happened on the island about six years ago.  That was when it was flooded with relatively cheaply priced scooters.   Bali,  being the centrepiece of tourism in Indonesia,  has a much larger middle class than elsewhere in the archipelago.  Consequently,  all guest houses, hotels or AirBnB places had scooters for rent at a cheap rate of five dollars a day.  I therefore had a scooter everyday to explore and to get around.  I quickly learned the way one weaves in and out of cars and turns into and out of traffic on the busy two lane roads

I went to Ubud, the cultural capital of the island.  Again, I could barely recognize the town as it had grown so much. Through AirBnB, I stayed with a family in a traditional Balinese house with inner courtyard and a  small temple.  I was fortunate to be there during one of their main festivals of Galungan and Kulungan ceremonies whereby the Gods and spirits of ancestors return from the heavens.  They are welcomed with elaborate offerings and ceremonies which cleanse and balance the inner and outer energy of the island.  Temples are beehives of activity and everywhere you see the Barong dance, in which a sort of lion-dog struts around to the sound of the gamelan. The dance symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Each household in each village erects a "penjor", tall bamboo poles that are decorated with woven strands of palm and flowers which sway over the streets for about a month.  The family I was staying with invited me to their local temple for one of the ceremonies.  

A few days later, I found another guest house, one with a balcony overlooking rice paddies and the volcano Agung (which had started rumbling the previous month for the first time in fifty years) on the horizon.  Then and there I decided that I  was just going to spend the next three weeks chilling on Bali, with perhaps a week on neighbouring Lombok island.   I went to one of the evening dances put on for tourists and, while waiting for the show to start,  I overheard an American talking about  Ubud from many years ago.  When he mentioned the words "Simon's place" something  clicked and I turned around and immediately we had a connection.  Ed, a Californian, had arrived in Bali around the same time as I had, back in the 80s.  He ended up staying for 25 years with a successful jewelry business.  After the show,  we had dinner with his Indonesian wife Di and her daughter and her husband.  We reminisced about several people in Ubud, whom we knew in common at the time. I got a sense of all the changes that went on over the last thirty years and how the Balinese were carrying on.  For example, he mentioned how the younger generation no longer worked in the rice fields but rather hired cheap labour from Java.   

I spent the next week visiting the outskirts of Ubud on the scooter, painting watercolours and hanging out with Ed and seeing some of their amazing evening dances performances.   I visited several temples and art galleries and enjoyed getting lost in the back roads of this lush, vivid green island (I wondered how I did it before google maps!).  It was the beginning of the rainy season therefore there were massive clouds forming all day long with intense downpours for a few hours a day.   A perfect contrast of dark grey and bright green. 


Most Balinese paintings either depict daily life or stories from the Hindu epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana.
 This is an impressive one about a story of some evil Gods descending upon mortals. 

I decided to take the fast boat to Lombok, an island I had never visited before.  Most of the young   backpackers on the boat got off first at one of the three small Gili islands just off the coast.  These islands have become a sort of mecca for the party crowd. I decided to go straight to Lombok itself and eventually made my way to the southeastern coast where there is another 'Kuta' town and stretches of beach.  It also caters to tourists, particularly  the surf crowd. The surf and the beaches are  spectacular.   It's probably not unlike Bali's Kuta was 40+ years ago.

Although roughly the same size as Bali, Lombok is less populated and a lot less busy in terms of traffic and tourism.   I drove off on a scooter to the southeastern tip and barely came across any villages let alone traffic.  The island is much drier than Bali with more cultivation of tobacco than rice.  I  was reading an excellent book about the famous volcano Krakatoa (eruption in 1883) which described the history of knowledge scientists pieced together bit by bit over the decades about continental plates and subduction zones and their importance in relation to volcanos.  Indonesia is the country with the most amount of active volcanos in the world.  Lombok lays on the eastern side of what is called the Wallace line, a faunal boundary line that divides the ecosystems of S.E. Asia and the transitional one toward Australia.  Seeing the next island of Sumbawa on the eastern horizon,  I wished I had another month to explore it as well as Flores and Timor.  One could spend a year exploring the immense and varied archipelago that is Indonesia.

Lombok's Gunung Rinjani, second tallest active volcano in Indonesia

Outrigger canoes vary from island to island.  I borrowed one from a fisherman and went for a paddle. 


Upon my return to Bali,  the volcanic rumblings of Gunung Agung had started again.  From the balcony of my guesthouse near Ubud,  I saw the plume of smoke and ash rising on the morning of its minor eruption.   Villages at the base of the volcano were evacuated.  The airport then closed the day I was to leave.  As I usually travel stand-by, I now had to buy a ticket online to Hong Kong.  I was lucky to get one at a cheap price and it was on the day the airport reopened after being shut for three days due to the fine ash in the atmosphere.    There was a lot of hoopla in the media of foreigners being trapped on the island.  The Balinese did not seemed too worried,  except for those involved in tourism perhaps which, already,  Agung was having an adverse effect on visitors to the island.  

A spectacular sunrise taken from Batur, another volcano,  looking east at Agung  (photo off the net) 

here's my take on Agung's eruption

Volcano...?  what volcano?

Kuta beach

I took advantage of the three extra days to relax on the coast and check out the peninsula of Uluwatu and the beaches of Sanur.   There are some superb cafes, restaurants  and boutique hotels all over Bali and I had coffee and lunch at a few of them.  I rented a surfboard for a couple of hours for two days on Kuta beach.  I did manage to ride some waves but never got beyond the long board that I used.  I was hoping to try the shorter boards that better surfers all seem to use.   It was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.  The morning I left, I could see the plume of ash  from Agung still rising high amongst the cumulus clouds from the airplane window.  As my taxi driver to the  airport told me, "it's up to the Gods if there is a major eruption or not."

cliffs of Uluwatu

hotel lobby

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hotel Design

My work brings me to many hotels all over the world.  Most of them are in the 4 star range, some of them big names like Hilton or Sheraton.  Others are smaller, local and sometimes even boutique hotels.  I'm always curious and enjoy seeing their sense of interior design,  from the buildings architectural details to the furniture in lobbies,  bars and in the rooms.  There is always art displayed on the walls, or sculptures,  many of which reflect the location and cultural background of where the hotel is situated.   Here are some photos of their designs. 

Calligraphy,  both traditional and modern,  is often on display in Chinese hotels, like these ones in Shanghai and Beijing. 

A room with a view 

Hong Kong 

A bathtub with a view


Mexico City


New York City




San Francisco


Another bathtub with a view