She was sitting on a bluestone step near the corner of Rutledge Lane, just past the paint splattered wheelie bins. A waif of a girl, pallid and twig like, she looked like a Manga character, except her eyes were too small and demeanor too fragile. She was wearing a pastel coloured checked shirt over faded denim jeans, her long hair bleached white with pale blue dip- dyed ends. She was rolling a cigarette slowly and self- consciously, not street wise enough to adopt the insouciance of more experienced street artists. She didn’t appear to be homeless, there was something too studied about her appearance for that. Perhaps she came to admire her own art, or to contemplate her next one, or to rue the loss of her favourite piece.
Street art in Hosier Lane and its right-angled annex, Rutledge Lane, is transient. Each visit brings new surprises, new styles, as the genre mutates and evolves. Recent additions include more stencil art and written messages, some with environmental and political content, others with random thoughts.
In the cooler hours of the morning, before the tourists take over the yellow streets of Hội An, local couples dressed in traditional costumes arrive for a photo shoot. Weddings, anniversaries, engagements or portraits, many couples choose the less commercial end of Nguyễn Thái Học street for its colourful and historic built background. No one seems to mind my presence alongside or behind the professional photographer, though with my simple lens, the glare makes it hard to focus.
The old town near the Hội An’s historic district, is recognised as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Chinese and Japanese influences can be seen in the shop fronts, houses and old businesses in the streets closest to the wharf. It is a city requiring a leisurely week or more of you wish to fathom its charms.
Women often choose to wear theáo dài, the Vietnamese national costume, for these portraits.
Other portraits taken in Hội An, Vietnam, can be viewed here and here.
Many of you will know that I am enamoured with Balinese culture and its people. This love affair grows stronger with each visit, despite the fact that, like many others, I find some aspects of foreign tourism in Bali very disturbing. The best way to avoid seeing the ugly side of tourism is to by- pass particular districts, as well as becoming more receptive to the local culture, religion, ritual, history and the country’s social economic issues.
Here’s my current list of gripes:
the prevalence of plastic in a country that lacks regular rubbish collection and where, traditionally, rubbish is burnt. And, the holier- than -thou tourist attack on Bali’s plastic problem while continuing to shop, collecting plastic bags along the way, and drinking water from plastic bottles.
large foreign-owned resorts built along the shores of major tourist areas effectively blocking local access to their own beach. These resorts are favoured by tourists who have little interaction with the Balinese people or culture, beyond the obvious daily contact where Balinese serve their needs as waiters, cleaners, door openers, masseurs and drivers. Fake palaces dedicated to water wastage and energy consumption, built by cheap Javanese labour, charging a daily rate that would feed a Balinese family for years.
overrated districts devoted to consumerism, in particular the area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak/ Kerobokan – now one continuous strip of consumer ugliness- with streets choked with traffic, offering tourists a Disneyland version of Bali, where foreign fashion designers and celebrity chefs (often Australian) open branches enabling foreigners to eat the same food that they might when visiting Melbourne or Sydney.
the barbarian dress code of some young Europeans, and others not so young, who turn up in restaurants or holy shrines wearing very little, displaying a cultural arrogance and ignorance beyond belief.
Don’t get me wrong. Tourism, on the whole, has been good for the Balinese. Over the 37 years or so of visiting Bali, I’ve noticed huge improvements, with access to electricity, education and clean water providing the Balinese with a much improved lifestyle. In my chats with some of the locals recently, they have told me that they have more skills now and no longer want to work in industries such as fishing and building, these jobs being carried out by low paid migrants from Java and Madura. The tourist industry is now central to the Balinese economy ( 3.7 million visitors in 2014) as it is to other countries such as Italy ( 48.6 million in 2014 ) and Greece ( 22 million in 2014). Take tourism away and the Balinese economy would collapse.
After a twenty-one year absence from the commercial and congested strip of tourism that gives Bali a bad name, with Seminyak at its epicentre, I visited the area two days ago, in the interests of research and in the hope that things may have improved in that district. My notes from that journey are not worth repeating and no photos were taken. Enough said.
There comes a time, every two weeks or so, when my body screams for pizza. This tends to happen more often in Asia. The scenario goes like this.”Where do you want to eat tonight? What do you feel like?” Local food options are considered, followed by an hour of walking along hot, busy streets, reading yet more menus, all delightful but strikingly similar, when finally my inner Strega rises to the fore and growls, “I would kill for a pizza”. Can we go back to Zucca restaurant? My guilty acquiescence is abated when Mr Tranquillo admits to the same desire.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the local Vietnamese cuisine here in Hue and have tried some excellent local restaurants in our nine-day sojourn here. The cuisine of Hue is a lot more varied and spicy than the usual Vietnamese offerings in Melbourne. But a good pizza washed down with a glass or two of wine is a heavenly thing, even when the wine in this divine coupling is the local Dalat wine, an acquired taste to which, through necessity, I have succumbed.
Running an Italian restaurant in an Asian tourist area is a licence to print money. These restaurants are always packed with expats, travellers and backpackers, some seeking respite from the local cuisine, while others, especially the younger travellers, needing food that is familiar and non- challenging. Asian versions of pizza and pasta are generally lost in translation. The pasta is often overcooked or drowned in Dolmio or Raguletto bottled sauce or the pizza is disappointing. Not at Zucca in Hue. The food here would rival the best Italian offerings in Rome or Melbourne.
After eating a couple of their excellent pizzas, we returned one night to try the pasta, in particular, the spinach and ricotta ravioli. The pasta is freshly made on the premises and the serving size is generous, topped with a home-made tomato sauce or cream. There is a tiny topping of basil ( Vietnamese basil- the only local touch). There are sadly no pics of this remarkable dish.At VND 70,000/AU$4.12, I am keen to return to try the pumpkin ravioli version.
After we sated our lust for Italian food, we began to notice that Zucca also offers local food as well as fusion food. The grilled calamari spiedini are marinated in aromatic lemongrass, then threaded with capsicum and onion slices and grilled on charcoal. They are served with a large salad and rice. VND 100,000/AU$5.88
The Melanzane Parmigiana is a slab of crumbed and fried eggplant, layered with mozzarella, home-made tomato salsa and parmesan. It was very sustaining, but a little dry due to my taste due to the crumbing. VND80,000/AU$4.71
The calamari entrée comes with a generous salad, VND 80,000/AU$4.71, making it a great little snack to go with a glass of fresh beer on tap at VND10,000/AU$.59c. ( yes- 59 cents! a glass). Mr T claims that the local beer is the safest and most economical drink in Vietnam. The local chilled white wine, which is made in the cooler district of DàLat, is a bargain at VND120,000 /AU$7.06.
Around the tourist precinct of Hoî An, mornings are peaceful and slow. It’s a great time to go walking to experience a different pace of life. The frenetic sound of buzzing motorbikes has yet to spoil the peace; only the slow creak of an occasional bicycle breaks the silence. The gentle heat caresses the skin: the incandescent light makes the city seem surreal. Can you hear the splash of the wooden oar in the Thu Bon river?
In contrast, things are hotting up down at the wharf near Hoi An’s central market. Women arrive from out-of-town, bicycles stocked up and loaded onto the boat, ready for another day of business. Fishermen arrive with their catch and business is brisk at 6 AM.
It is unusual to find French settlements in Australia: it seems that on every occasion when French explorers, cartographers and naturalists came sniffing around, they were pipped at the post by the Poms.
Given the absence of historic Frenchness in Australia, it was a surprise then to find a quaint little French village in the South island of New Zealand. Akaroa ( its French name became Port Louis Phillipe for some time before reverting back to the original Maori name) began its French life in 1838, when Captain Francois Langloir
‘ made a provisional purchase of land in the greater Banks Peninsula from Tuaanau… On his return to France, he advertised for settlers to come to New Zealand and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto- Bordelaise Company of which he became a part owner. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort. The settlers embarked on the Comte de Paris – an old man-of-war ship given to them by the French government – for New Zealand. The Comte de Paris and its companion ship the Aube, arrived in the Bay of Islands in the North Island on 11 July 1840, where they discovered that the Banks Peninsula had been claimed by the British. The French arrived in Akaroa on 18 August and established a settlement.’¹
Today, Akaroa and the nearby smaller settlement of Duvauchelle, retain a pride in their French beginnings, fostering French detail in the local architecture, and ambience as well as holding a biennial French festival held in odd-numbered years in Akaroa.
Rue Croix, Akaroa
Ma Maison Restaurant
Butcher shop with pies
Wine Bar Akaroa
Those looking for a French conversation will most likely be disappointed. Most of the old-time French speakers have long passed. There is a French cemetery, French named streets and of course, French bistros and restaurants, the local gendarmerie and a boucherie, a French backpacker hostel and wine bars. The local council is active in preserving its French heritage; new buildings and beachside apartments come with de rigueur French roof lines. It stops short, just, of being theme parkish.
Other pleasant pastimes include a stroll down the long picturesque jetty, stopping along the way for a tray of Murphy’s freshly caught and grilled fish. In town there is a famous cooking school, coffee shops and restaurants along the promenade, sea voyages to visit the Akaroa Dolphins and other wild sea creatures, getting completely lost in the Garden of Tane, strolling through the older parts of the village, and the listening to the Tim Minchin -like guy who plays classical music on an old piano along the main promenade.
Like many place names in New Zealand, the name Akaroa is Maori, meaning “Long Harbour”, which is spelled “Whangaroa” in standard Māori.
Akaroa is around one hour’s drive from Christchurch. It is a great road trip, with scenic views along the way. The town, being so close to Christchurch, makes a great place to start or finish a trip around the South island of New Zealand.
Golden poplars march up steep volcanic hills, their Autumn confetti brightening this forbidding desert. The mighty Clutha river roars down below, a deep turquoise and tumultuous presence, as it moves at swift pace carrying its huge load towards the sea 338 kilometers away. Fertile river communities huddle in valleys, surrounded by these dark majestic hills, with apples, pears, quinces and pumpkins for sale, as the orchard leaves turn scarlet. The local wines taste like their place. It is not hard to appreciate how the notion of ‘terra’ can flavour a wine. The white quartz and schist deposited in these ancient glacial valleys give that tingling mineral sensation, so readily discernible on the palate, to the Pinot Gris from Central Otago.
Before the Snow
Central Otago drama
Rolling plains near Gibbston
Wild poplars, Central Otago
Wandering through small colonial towns, the old gold mining villages of Clyde, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, enables you to step back into the 1860s. The preserved and partly reconstructed Chinese huts in Arrowtown attract many Chinese visitors from Guangdong province as Chinese tourists begin to take more interest in the history of the Chinese diaspora during the gold rush era. Old Cromwell Town is a quaint precinct within the larger modern, sprawling town of Cromwell, with ‘saved’ buildings after the construction of a dam and Lake Dunstan in the 1990s.
These small places are well-developed tourist haunts but also make good bases for day touring around the district. We stayed in Cromwell, Arrowtown and Wanaka, all quite striking in different ways.
Long white cloud moves across Autumn hills
central otago in autumn
Lake Dunstan, Cromwell
Lakes of Central Otago
Keep your eyes on the road..
‘Keep your eyes on the road and your hand upon the wheel’. The views are so stunning in Central Otago, it’s like driving through a dream.
By popular demand, here’s Part 2 of my Guide to Bali. Thanks Mick for reminding me.
Don’t buy package deals from the internet. These deals are often deceptive. They may seem cheap but they are cheap for a reason. It is important to actively choose where you want to stay and not be swayed by some cheap deal or package. I pay around AU $55.00 a night a double for a small quiet hotel with glorious gardens and large swimming pool. Importantly, the hotel is close to the beach, restaurants and other facilities. The room is large and air-conditioned and the included breakfast is substantial. You can pay a little less, or a lot more!
Don’t bring too much luggage. Everything can be purchased here. There are many supermarkets selling all the usual brands and products you would expect to find at home, modern chemists, shops to tempt you with summer clothing, and so on. If you fill your suitcase at home, there’ll be little room to add anything. If you need another bag to bring items home, soft fabric Bali bags cost around AU $6.
Commerce helps the Balinese people. They often make only a small cut on each item and depend on tourists buying a few trinkets from their stores. When bargaining, remain cheerful and smile. Don’t start negotiating unless you intend to buy something. When bargaining, I usually halve the quoted price and negotiate from there ( if I don’t already have an established price in mind).
Fixed price shopping. There are some very cheap fixed price stores in Sanur and it is a good place to start so you can get a sense of prices. Jenny’s shop in Sindu Beach market (opposite Sarina’s designer store) is one of these. Flashy, glass fronted shops along the main street are also fixed in price, but may offer discounts for multiple purchasing. It’s always worth asking. Also be aware that some fixed price shops may be simply overpriced shops.
Transport. Around Sanur, a short trip in a bemo (green truck with bench seats and usually an open door) will cost 5000 rupiah (50 cents) per person. Using bemos keeps this form of transport functioning for the locals. Take taxis or private cars on day trips – usually a good price can be negotiated for a long distance trip. A trip one way to Denpasar market is around 50,000 (AU$5.00), the trip to the airport is 125,000 – 150,000 IDR (AU $ 12-15.00) Blue Bird taxis have meters if you prefer. A car and driver may be employed to tour various parts of the island. We usually pay a driver around AU$50.00 – $75.00 a day but prices have increased in 2015.
When staying for a month, it is more economical to stock your own beverages. Assuming your room has a fridge, stock up on beer, lemonade or other things you may need for the duration. Cask wine (Balinese Hatten or Plaga brand) can bought at Hardy’s supermarket for around $30.00 for 2 litres. It isn’t the best wine in the world but it grows on you. Bottled wine is expensive by Australian and European standards. Beer Bintang (a big bottle) is a tasty drop and retails at AU$2.70 in a small store. Spirits (one litre per person ) may be brought into Bali duty-free. Mixers at supermarkets cost around AU60 cents per can.
Smile and talk to the locals. Learn some of the language: even though most Balinese converse well enough in English, they do appreciate you having a go. Most Balinese speak three languages or more- Balinese (their own dialect), Bahasa Indonesian, and English. Learn about local customs and culture. It is amazing what you can glean from the locals as many of them are under employed and enjoy a good chat. This makes the holiday far more interesting.
Some European women dress in skimpy clothing when away from the beach. This only demonstrates cultural insensitivity and ignorance. Sleeveless shirts and dresses are fine in Sanur and other tourist/beach resorts. If visiting a temple, wear a shirt which covers shoulders, cover legs at least to the knees and take a sarong along. Of course, different dress codes apply in other parts of Indonesia.
Speaking of sarongs, invest in a few. Male and female patterns abound. These beautifully printed fabrics become sheets, cover ups, leisure wear, scarves and skirts and cost somewhere between AU $3.00 and $7.00 Mr T has always enjoyed wearing a traditional patterned cotton number around the hotel room- and it suits him.
Bali is a wonderful place to wind down and relax. Indulge in a pedicure, manicure or massage, another way to support the local women. One little shop I can highly recommend for massage is Suar, Jalan Tamblingan, near the corner of Jalan Kesuma Sari,Sanur. A one hour back, neck and shoulder massage costs AU $6.00, and a pedicure with nail polish $4.50 (nail art extra). Bliss!!!
Finally, to the question that many ponder. Is Bali over-touristed, and therefore not worthy of visiting? Some comparisons are interesting. Bali’s population is 4.25 million and 3.2 million tourists visit per annum.
Cities such as Paris, with 15.6 million visitors per annum, Venice’s historic centre with 25 million (where residents number 60,000) and London, with 16.8 million yearly visitors,and even greater totals for their respective countries, tourism in Bali is relatively quiet.
Many tourists come to Bali and notice the problem of rubbish, particularly plastic. Not many of us are ready to admit that we are part of the problem. Up to the 1970s, the Balinese used banana leaves and other natural products as plates, containers, and wrapping. Most discarded waste was biodegradable, such as palm leaves, coconut shells and other fibrous matter which were composted or burnt. Mass tourism, rapid urbanisation, the rise of the plastic industry and consumerism have seen the rubbish problem explode. Tourists demand drinking water in plastic bottles: most don’t carry their own shopping bags but readily accept plastic to carry their ‘bounty’ back to guest houses, little realising that plastic litter from hotel waste bins will be burnt, exuding noxious gasses into the environment or will be dumped illegally as 75% of rubbish is not collected by any service.
You could complain or you could become part of the solution. Sitting down over lunch today, I saw a vision of loveliness as a beautiful young Dutch woman began to clean plastic debris from the sea. She asked the owners of the warung why they only cleaned the area in front of their own business and not the sea. Like most Indonesians, they only see what is theirs, which they maintain very well through cleaning and raking daily. Anything beyond the perimeter of their own house or business is someone else’s problem.
Rather than sun baking all day on her sun lounge, she took matters into her own hands and, with found plastic bags, collected debris from the sea. Imagine if every tourist could fill two plastic bags a day? Leading by example is a much better teacher than pointing the finger.