Labuan Bajo, Flores. Lipstick Sunset

It is odd how songs just pop into your head sometimes and then become permanently associated with a place.

Each evening, at around 5.30 PM, I start humming the tune ” Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt.

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It’s a sad country song about leaving ( aren’t they all !) and as I fondly gaze at the gorgeous light show this evening, I feel sad to be leaving Labuan Bajo, her stunning sunsets and entrancing harbour, and her smiling but shy people with magic eyes.

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There is a lively energy here in Flores. The locals belong to a distinctly different ethnic group, being much closer to Timor, and the sense of ‘Adat’ can be felt.  The population at Labuan Bajo are either Catholic or Muslim, and there’s a small but growing Italian community in the “Little Italy” restaurant belt along the  main street.  The tourist industry centres around diving, with competing companies offering trips to the numerous islands of the Komodo archipelago as well as trekking opportunities to see the dragons on Rinca island. Komodo National park is a Unesco World heritage site and offers dramatic scenery for those who venture away from the main port. See my last post.

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I probably won’t return , and if I did, I am sure it will have become a very different place.  But, back to that haunting country song,

‘There’s a lipstick sunset
Smeared across the August sky
There’s a bitter sweet perfume
Hanging in the fields
The creek is running high

And I left my lover waiting
In the dawn somewhere to wonder why
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset  “

John Hiatt 1987

To my brother Michael, who sings and plays this song better than anyone.

Kanawa Island, Labuan Bajo, Flores

How do you describe the colours and patterns of tropical fish?

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I had one day of glorious snorkeling experience in ideal conditions on Kanawa Island yesterday. Returning to the shady tree on the beach for a brief siesta in between forays, I attempted to explain to Madame H the colours below the water in this little stretch of paradise in the Komodo archipelago.

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But let me back track a bit.  Madame H does not really enjoy water activities and it was enough to get her onto the funky wooden boat that took us out from the harbour at Labuan Bajo. The sea was deep blue and calm. We pass a few magical pirate vessels in the harbour and later a group of islands, arriving at Kanawa after an hour or so.  Madame H found a shady tree, a log of wood and stretched out her sarong, determined to finish the book about the whingeing widow.

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Mr Tranquillo and I donned our masks and snorkels, and headed off  into the  crystal aqua waters off the beach. The coral is protected at Kanawa and provides immediate rewards for those who venture in.  Schools of tiny blue and purple fish swarm over a small hill of coral, Angel fish glide by, a giant clam closes its blue and purple lips, Nimos play shyly as Mr T tries to coax them out from hiding.  A pale pink fish with green stripes decides that I am the funniest thing he has ever seen: refusing to move, he continues to stare into mask.  Black fish with white spotted tails, orange ones with beige/black designer stripes glide by in pairs, like Japanese origami.  Schools of baby blue float about like confetti,  a lone barracouta glides by, all pointy nosed and silvery.

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I try to explain all this to the Madame reader. The words fail. I think about iridescence, or translucency. Purple and blue and orange. No, these colours are not right.

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You just have to be there, under the sea in a far away place, with the heavenly fish off Labuan Bajo.

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Just Call Me Allan

A quick peruse of  a recent Aljazeera press release reveals a most interesting article. Non Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to use the word Allah! It’s a blanket ban, it seems, which the Catholic church has challenged in the high court of Malaysia, and lost.

Thoughts of Allah are often on my mind, as I settle back on my stunning verandah, perched high above the hypnotic harbour of Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, Indonesia.  Allah makes his presence felt here, via the nearby mosque,  in a loud and most annoying way at 5.00 AM, then more pleasantly at 3.00 PM and then again, with a long, mystical call at 5PM, ( this one I quite enjoy), which symbolises a “Call to Drinks” for me.

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Flores is a Catholic island  sitting in vast islamic Sea , except for Bali which is Hindu, but Allah has a small foothold here in Labuan Bajo. particularly around the harbour and fishing port.

 IMG_1876Mr Tranquillo, a patient and generally tolerant man, talks often about wire cutters at 5 Am or whenever he passes a hardware. He fancies the idea of sneaking out in the dead of night and cutting the speaker wires of the nearby Mosque.  The volume of Allah at 5 AM, via his earthly agent, the recorded Iman, is extraordinary and it is not a coincidence that the shop next door to our nearest mosque specialises in loudspeakers and stereo equipment.

Mr T suggests, in response to the ban of the use of Allah’s name by Non Muslims, that we just call him Allan.

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Entrances and Gateways.

Tang dynasty shrines, temples and houses draw you in, inviting you to explore further. Entrances lead you to the numerous courtyards within, giving real meaning to the word ‘amazing.’  Most entrances lead you ahead, others take you sideways.

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Masters of Feng Shui, the Tang dynasty ( 618- 907 AD) was the Golden Age of Chinese culture. Tang dynasty courtyard design is now quite fashionable  and is copied in boutique hotels in Chengdu.

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Many large houses remain- they are sympathetically renovated of course – from this era, and the best examples can be found in the ancient city of Langzhong  in the north of Szechuan province, as well as at the beautiful shrine to Dufo, the famous Tang dynasty poet, in Chengdu.

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Follow me through a few entrances, gateways and courtyards. Smell the oil in the wood.  Sit an Imperial exam in the oldest remaining examination hall. Sip tea or dine in the courtyards within. The ancient houses of Langzhong are open to the public and some are now hotels.

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This post is a response to Ed’s photo challenge this week, Entrances and Gateways, on Sunday Stills

 

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Mao Money

“Would you like a Mao Bookmark, Helen?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was sorting through my remaining yuan, Chinese banknotes that I call Mao money. His face appears on all the big notes, so I have a tendency to think in green Mao, blue Mao, and so on, where the humble and rare Jiao notes feature attractive ethnic minorities and are only good for a token toilet fee.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “Oh what a lovely idea. I would love a Mao bookmark”.  Helen responded, looking up from her e-reader. “But I don’t really need one now that I have one thousand books stored on my e-Reader and Kindle.” Helen doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to relaxing travel toys!

I wandered back to my room, still pondering how to laminate my Mao money, my left over Thai Baht and other paper ephemera loitering at the base of my new fake Chanel overnight bag.

Timeless Bali

Frangipani blossoms drop silently from branches.

A black kite soars in the evening sky like a giant stingray in a waterless sea.

Scattered floral offerings decoratively litter the ground.

IMG_6086Gamelon sounds in the distance, precursor to another funeral.

Slender young women glide by, all lacy kebaya and sarong.

Dusk is too fleeting.

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Bali girls Roosters crow before dawn and wander at will.

A magic lizard on the bathroom wall feigns  a new colour

Early morning, and the night’s fallen jewels are swept away.

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Tempe and Tofu, long beans and coconut, sambal pedas

Tumbles of greens with peanut sauce,

Krupuk, Bintang and fruit shakes.

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 I’m back in Bali again,

The gentle Bali of my dreams,

This time in Pemuteran.

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In My Kitchen, July 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my kitchen is an Australian colonial kauri pine dresser and in the top drawer is my collection of antique cutlery.

This drawer full of treasure threatens to disgorge its heavy contents whenever I yank it open.  Despite the disorder, this drawer makes me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic. I think of my grandmothers, old fashioned soups, puddings and Sunday family gatherings. My modern cutlery, by contrast, is simply functional, quotidian and dishwasherable. It evokes little!

Although still on the road in Asia, I couldn’t miss the chance for a simple little post on Celia’s monthly round of IMK. See Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for more world kitchens, cookbook recomendations and gadgets.

 

 

Travel theme: World Cups

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After an enforced absence from posting due to internet censorship in China, with no access to Google, Gmail or WordPress, I re-visit my blog tentatively, my brain now wonderfully word slow but over stimulated with image and colour.

This week, Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack, has chosen World Cups as the travel theme. With all the tea in China, beautiful cups are never far from sight.

The cups above graciously decorate a Tea House in Chengdu, Szechuan Province, China. The cups below wait for the return of Mao in a well preserved Tang dynsasty courtyard house in Langzhong, an ancient city in the north of Szechuan. Mao visited this particular courtyard house on the Long March. Mao memorabilia is now quite scarce in capitalistic China.

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Bangkok Coup and You

I keep meaning to learn more Thai language but my repertoire is still quite basic, extending to ” good morning, thank you, excuse me, the bill please”. In my defence, I try to say these phrases as often as I can over a day, and with a few polite bows, seem to get by well enough.

Mr T has begun to cart around a Thai phrase book in the hope that we might extend our vocab. We ponder some ridiculous phrases over dinner. I fancied ” This dog is a ridgeback”,  but then we found ” You’re only using me for sex”, listed under the romance section, and later we found a really useful phrase, ” I’m a soldier” (ผมเป็นทหาร ), so handy in a coup, since everyone on the street last Sunday seemed to be a soldier!

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The street closures were announced in the newspapers early on Sunday morning, giving citizens plenty of opportunity to re-plan their Sunday travel and driving route.  The military had prior knowledge of planned demonstrations thanks to social media, such as Facebook, and informers within the world of texting. Nearby, in our quiet precinct, soldiers blocked the main routes to Victory Square and the Democracy Monument, making the inner city traffic absolutely horrendous. It turns out that some of these protests were poorly attended, with more soldiers on the scene than citizens. Image

Observations from a farang’s ( foreigner)  point of view.

  •  what role does social media play in social unrest?
  • under a ‘silencing’ military coup, are opponents able to express their opposition in any form, including Facebook?
  • would you really like to have a ‘selfie’ taken with a soldier toting a huge gun?
  • a coup is not a benign thing, unless you happen to be on the side that benefits from such a move (yellow shirts) in which case it might be.
  • life continues as usual for most folk: shooting and violence have been eliminated from the streets. (for the time being).
  • will an election in one to two year’s time solve this nine year old problem? ( doubtful )
  • foreign interference is not appreciated. American and Australian political intrusion is unwelcome and is seen as naive, arrogant and misinformed. Certainly, simple slogans or principles like ‘restore democracy’ fail to properly appreciate many complexities and subtleties.  Sophisicated Thais are aware of the defects, inequalities and contradictions found in most western democracies, particularly in the USA.
  • foreign media is prone to sensationalism. The Bangkok press seems to offer a balanced view, at least in the Bangkok PostRead it on line here.  The journalism in this newspaper is remarkably sophisticated and engaging, making me wonder about what ever happened to intelligent reporting at home in Australia  and to what depths our newspapers have plummeted.Image

 

Bangkok Cheap Eats. 2014

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There are over 7,000 restaurants in Bangkok listed on Trip Adviser and there are probably another 10,000 or more that aren’t, not counting all the street food stalls. Temptation is everywhere in this glorious city of food. I am always plotting my next meal adventure, which can involve great hikes in the heat or elaborite map making exercises to explain the directions to a taxi driver.

We also have a few little eating rituals. Lunches come in cheaply at a dollar or two per head and then we lash out at dinnertime. We rarely go into the big business centre, home to some glorious ( and expensive) restaurants, preferring to support those in our own neck of the woods. Image

An early lunch at my favourite little Chinese place is essential, especially if it’s teeming with rain outside. Located opposite the Fort in Banglamphu, it is not listed anywhere and doesn’t have an English name. It is spotlessly clean and reminds me of Old China town shops in Penang and KL before they all disappeared. A bowl of prawn wonton soup with or without noodles is 60 Bhat ( $2.00) and with a big glass pot of iced tea with lemon, 30 Bhat ( $1.00), this will keep you going until you are tempted by a second lunch. There is something about wontons, tropical rain and tea, or am I strange?

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Another little place nearby, but in the backpacker area of Rambuttri, the Gecko Bar, an old timer, whips up a a generous plate of vegetarian Pad Thai, studded with egg, tofu, greens, nuts and lime, which will set you back 35 Bhat- $1.00. Just perfect with a pot of Chang beer on a hot day ( which is every day here). Chang beer- large bottle for two people- 80 Bhat.Image

And something sweet to share? These caramel peanut biscuits are cooked on the street in a big oil filled wok. They are irresistable. Six big nut filled bickies for 20 Bhat or 70 cents. Are they healthy? probably not. Do I care?

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Next instalments- the Coup d’etat, up market Bangkok restaurants, street food and Indigo shopping.