Tuesday, 29 June 2010


 Jakarta, many years back, was to me a testament to urban sprawl -- perennial traffic jams, unyielding pollution, denuded environs, an oppressively humid climate, crowded sidewalks, and a very slow bureaucracy. That might have been why I have never returned to Indonesia until now.

Coming to Bali was like a chore or more appropriately a job. No expectations but more likely evoking images of Jakarta. My mind may have been pre-occupied that I did not even wonder why throngs come to this place with its fabulous promotions as a holiday destination. Thoughts of the Bali bombings did not as well occur to me. Soon as the plane touched down on Denpasar and I looked out the window, the veiled thoughts of boredom and apathy turned to excitement and curiosity.

Sure the airport bulding is not particularly modern in the likes of Hongkong's or Heathrow's T5 but it was sufficiently clean, airy, spacious, and assuring. The roof and walls are brick tiled with comprehensible signs leading the tourists.  Because one can secure a visa on arrival, the immigration area could be teeming with humanity featuring lengthy queues from purchasing visas to gaining access to entry processing personnel. It had taken me more than an hour just to hurdle the entry application. Apart from that, there were no further creases mainly becuse the 5-star hotel where I was pleasantly put in was prepared in managing airport-hotel transfers. 

Bali is a tourist destination. The weather is not humid -- the highest temp, they say, is in the lower thirties. The streets are well paved but narrow and I suspect that this was a deliberate attempt to keep up appearances, hence mild traffic stops in certain places. There is so much greenery even along the streets juxtaposed alongside modern-looking but low buildings. One gets the feeling that the island is wirelessly linked as most shops/cafes proudly announce wi-fis.

Life on the island is relaxed despite the preponderance of business establishments throughout. Poverty if ever is not observable among the residents. The batik designs/prints on textile and clothing as well as wood-carved representations of local gods and animals are among take-home presents, if one wishes to make shopping a worthy endeavor. Bargaining however must be a skill that a determined shopper ought to employ.

The beach is something the island is proud of and I agree despite having enjoyed more fabulous beaches/sand before. I am lucky to stay in this fabulous resort-hotel which has its own beach frontage. It feels secure even at night -- one doesn't have to go to Kuta (the centre of Denpasar) to experience a holiday. A variety of international cuisine is available through restaurants along the road right outside our resort enclave and I would imagine everywhere on the island. Transport from place to place is easily available through identifiable taxis. Most importantly, the people are friendly and helpful (is that a southeast asian trait).

If you should go, my advice is GO with your loved one/s. See you there.


Tuesday, 15 June 2010


My cherie and moi were deep in conversation when the sudden thud of the 747 felt like it came apart topped by oxygen masks dropping and flailing at our faces. Simultaneously, my heart leapt to my throat as the cliche goes only to realize that the aircraft had eventually landed in Johannesburg at 5am and had already gone into taxi mode as the pilot's delayed announcement blamed the scare to very cloudy skies and to the plane's auto-pilot. Welcome to South Africa, circa 2002, a sequel post to the 2010 World Cup. 

We came to South Africa devoid of expectations and were pleasantly surprised. On transit to Cape Town, we discovered the Joburg airport as quite modern, orderly, and clean. The flights were on time and the models of their national carrier relatively updated. It of course helped that most of those we ran into spoke very good English and all together we got this sense of safety and promise. It was an hour's flight to Cape Town and from the air we sort of envied the vast natural resources available to this nation. In spite of what we knew about blood diamonds, we couldn't help but admire the numerous mine exploration activities that were visible from about 35,000 feet overhead.

Cape Town looked even more modern and on the surface wealthier that most places in Africa and while at the airport we felt like arriving in a European city. As all modernized cities, Cape Town was not spared from urban squalor. On our way to the city's center, we witnessed a very long stretch of what seemed like organized shantytowns which according to our driver are the hovels of drug and crime denizens. I said organized because from the highway the frontage shanties looked all the same in size and color but each one seemed too small to live in. If this City were the most visited in the country, it might have been interesting if walking tours were arranged around this place in order to appreciate better the local culture and politics.      

But one comes to tourist destinations and falls prey to the showcase landmarks.

I won't forget ascending Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town. We were there close to dusk and witnessed how the City sparkled at night. "What luxury, because in my country, we spend nights without any electricity", commented a colleague from Myanmar who marvelled as well at the sight. They said that one could actually walk to the top but we decided to take the short cable car ride which we never regretted. Viewing the scenery below and around the car as it slowly climbed was both a breathtaking and a thrilling experience.

We tasted history on Robben island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The island accessible through a fast watercraft is now a tourist spot, looks barren nevertheless, but hosts flora and wild animals unique to Africa. An old prison bus took us to the former prison complex where we were led to Mandela's cell. Just one minute in front of that cell, a colleague wept incessantly and had to be taken away and back to the main island. Later that day, she expressed having been affected by the vision of Mandela's suffering. Incredibly, we agreed that it was this part of the trip that should be the most memorable.

Cape Town is a shopping haven, especially for those who come from countries that are devoid of life's luxuries. A friend bought a video game console for her son because there wasn't any demand for these gadgets in her country, Malawi. She found her object at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront which is really an operating harbor and at the same time a complex of various shopping and entertainment venues, quite unusual in that it is set before the sea and within perfect view of Table Mountain. We brought home some local handicrafts.

These and the World Cup were very enticing reasons for us to have gone back this year. The year isn't over yet but the Cup will soon be. 2014 in Rio?

They say that not all cities of South Africa are safe to visit. Ma cherie recounts that one morning she came across a dead man who has been shot on the street fronting her apartment -- not quite a welcome event for a newcomer to Durban. They may be quite right but this country brims with promise, enough to convince us to GO back and for you dear reader to GO.

Monday, 14 June 2010


I shuttled between New York and Paris at the onset until the near conclusion of the 1998 World Cup. It wasn't much talked about in the United States as the people I had been meeting with were oblivious until I got to Europe. Over there, it was electrifying. The World Cup was capable of bringing entire populations to a standstill. Horns blared along the streets of Paris every time the home team (they were hosts) scored victories and cafes in Zurich were filled with eager-eyed men AND women running commentaries while watching large projection screens.

I had the same kind of experience in 2006 while in Madrid. Once the Spanish team (hey, they are favorites this year) punctured the goal, the entire edifice where I was shook to the stomps, cries, and other sounds of elation by academicians whom I thought were engrossed in scholarly endeavor. One is likely to feel goose pimples over the national pride, something which the World Cup is able to achieve with seeming ease and flamboyance. This year, the Cup is being hosted by South Africa, the first time that it's being played on the African continent.

Because I haven't played football in my entire life, I at first could not quite grasp the magic that has so much engulfed the continent. Having been used to rival sports like basketball and tennis, I found it odd that the game could end up in a draw and produce very low scores. In time however, I have learned to admire and enjoy watching AND criticizing football games.

Like all sports, the Cup has its own heroes. In 1998, Zidane rose to world fame. Today, they come from all over but strikingly from African teams who have been playing with European franchises. Have you seen Cote D'Ivoire's Didier Drogba in the latest issue of Time? Too bad injuries sideline him in this Cup hurting the chances of his national team.  Influence is written all over the faces of these icons that compelled Armani to pick Cristiano Ronaldo as his new image model. 

We could only wish that these influentials could use their personal power to satisfy hunger in Africa or to prevent violence in Palestine. Is that too much heat for this fever?

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Symbolic of the title, I apologize for having been lost in space and time. Just around, I suddenly found myself oblivious of mundane matters (like this Blog) much like bobbing around the fizz of Neverland or Xanadu (if you like). Not even the '4 Minute' or the 'U Kiss' could bring me back. Neither was I addicted to alcohol, meth, or viagra. No it wasn't due to the lack of anything to write about but maybe due to my inability to choose which one/s. Should it be sequels to what I've previously posted or an entirely new one. OMG - this shows I don't even know who's reading. But thanks to those who have boldly joined the "allies" team -- welcome to you whose blogs I read as well -- and all others whose photos I await. Promise -- I'm back!