Three Times a Lady

I’d love you to meet my friend Katni. She’s our local guide in the tiny traditional village of Senaru, Lombok Indonesia. Katni is a practicer of the traditional religion of Wetu Telu – literally ‘three times’ in Sasak language. Wetu Telu practitioners are nominally Muslim, but their practices follow more animist beliefs.

©SallyArnold
Senaru Traditional Village, Lombok. Indonesia

In the predominately patriarchal societies in Indonesia, it’s unusual to find a female guide. Katni has establish a women’s guiding association in her village. She explains that when the men in her village work, they give a little of their income to their families to live on, but keep a good percentage for cigarettes, alcohol, and “going to bars to watch woman to dance”; but when women are the breadwinners, all of their income goes to support their families, their children’s education and the community. Katni says she loves sharing her culture and educating younger girls, giving them the confidence to also do this.

Today we have a couple of young trainees tagging along. They are very shy and mostly just observe. Katni was the first female guide in her village, and was criticised when she began “doing a man’s job”; but nowadays she has mothers asking if their daughters can be trained by her, as they can see the positive impact she has made. There are now forty female guides in the association.

A male tour guide enters the village as we arrive – he is an outsider. She scoffs, “He will just say how primitive we are here, and point out that we still live in bamboo huts. We may be primitive, but we are educated too, we know, and can explain our traditions.”

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Wetu Telu Temple. Senaru Village, Lombok

She first takes us to the village “temple”. To me it looks like a small fenced off garden with a few stones. “We are the guardians of Mt Rinjani.”, she explains; the imposing active volcano that forms the central core of Lombok. “We place offerings here in the temple, and once a year we make special sacrifices at three points on the mountain. We are sensitive to nature. We know when there has been an accident on the mountain, or when a earthquake will come; and we can prepare accordingly. We don’t pray in the mosque, that is reserved only for the religious leaders. We are Muslim, but people say we are not Muslim, but in our hearts we are Muslim. We make offerings in our homes three times a week. The temple is used for bigger ceremonies. She those larges rocks? Thats our stove when we have a big ceremony, hundreds of people arrive, and we cook a big feast for everyone to share. Part of our traditions, we eat pork and drink rice wine. Unlike other Muslims, we believe these things come from God.”

It’s during Ramadan on the day of our visit, but Katni is not fasting. “Only the religious leaders fast here, and they only fast for three days during Ramadan – on the first day, in the middle and the last day.” One of the young trainees wears a headscarf, and seems a little uncomfortable with some of Katni’s explanations. She explains that some here are learning how to do things “properly”, and that she is fasting, and prays five times a day.

We move into the village and notice how clean it is compared to outside. There is no plastic laying about the neat rows of bamboo and thatch houses. The newer houses have cement foundations, but Katni says that causes problems with rheumatism for the older folk. The more traditional houses have floors made of mud and cow dung. She slides open a woven bamboo door revealing a large smokey, light filtered room. The doorway is very low, and we must bend down to enter. It’s low for Katni too. She says they are deliberately low to show respect as we enter.

Dust motes float on the light beams, that squeeze in thought the bamboo cracks. There are no windows. As our eyes grow accustom to the dimness, we can make out a small room and platform towards the ceiling with a ladder leading up to it. “That’s not a room for sleeping.” says Katni, “That’s were we put our offerings. We sleep on these two beds, or mats on the floor. The bed near the door is for the parents, the small bed on the far corner of the room is for the girls. That’s so they don’t go out at night and meet their boyfriends. We are several families living together in this one big room, so we mostly sleep on the floor ‘like rabbits’. This other platform at the moment is just for storage, but its true function is the honeymoon bed. When a couple are married in our tradition, they don’t go away on honeymoon like you do, the woman moves into the man’s home, and they sleep on this bed, surrounded by all the extended family. Yes, they just sleep.” she winks, “We know it’s their honeymoon, so we leave them alone during the daytime.” she winks again.

The walls and ceiling are blacked from the cooking smoke of the open fireplace in the corner as there is no chimney. She explains that she loves leaning from others too, as well as sharing her own culture. She says that she’s learnt that the smokey atmosphere of the homes can be detrimental to babies sensitive lungs and eyes, and she now encourages mothers in the village to make hammocks outside during the day for the babies, so they aren’t exposed to smoke.

©SallyArnold
“Beluga”. Senaru Village, Lombok

We move outside again, and Katni shows us the beluga, a roofed bamboo platform with many functions. This is the place where young men sleep, the guest room, the meeting room, and the place were rituals are performed. It’s divided into two sections – a place for “life rituals”, and “death rituals”. One beluga is shared between two homes, except the head family – as they are a noble family, they have one. “My mother gave birth to fourteen children on this platform – no doctors or hospital, just a local midwife. We surround it with leaves to give the mothers some privacy. I also had my tooth filling here.” I am familiar with the tooth filing, as it’s a custom performed in Hindu Bali. It’s a similar ritual here, but is performed as part of the wedding ceremony. “You are lucky, you get a ring on your wedding day – we get pain.” she says, dragging an imaginary file across her mouth. She says it still hurts when she eats hot or cold food.

We continue through the village and Katni points out a very young mother – She’s fifteen, and has two children. “I hope by empowering girls in the village, and improving education, there will be less young mothers, its too young”. Later she points out a newlywed couple, the girl has just left primary school, and the boy is not much older. The young girl already looks tired. Katni shakes her head.

©SallyArnold
Betel Nut chewer and family. Senaru, Lombok

Katni then stops by an old woman with the telltale reddened mouth of a betel nut chewer. She shows my group the Areca nut “pinang”, the betel leaf “sirih”, and a small bag of slaked lime, made from crushed coral. Betel nut is a mild, but addictive stimulant widely chewed in South East Asia. Here in Senaru village they also mix it with tobacco to give it an extra kick. Katni explains with the widening eyes of someone also addicted, that here in the village you chew it before breakfast to start your day. She rolls a wad and offers it around. I berate her for pushing drugs to my group, winking as I do so. I mention some of betel nut’s negative aspects for long term users, including the serious risk of mouth cancer. I hope she will take this information and pass it around the village, but habits can be hard to change.

©SallyArnold
Katni Showes my group a traditional ‘calander’.
©SallyArnold
Pointsettia Dolls.

Continuing into the garden, Katni shows us a poinsettia plant. “This is our calendar. When the flowers are green, its the wet season, when they are red it’s the dry season. If there’s still a bit of the other colour we know we have a few weeks to go. We plant and harvest our crops according to this. “When I was little these was my dolls.” she says pointing to the inmost of the flowers – they look like little people with big mouths. We are then shown many other plants and are offered a taste of cocoa fruit, turmeric and ginger roots, among others.

As we meander down the hill, passing cows, goats and chickens; she continues to explain daily life in the village, and the good and bad of modern influence. She points out the asbestos roofing of the newer brick houses. “We didn’t know that it’s dangerous, It’s cheap, that’s why we use it. These modern homes are cheaper to build than our traditional ones – we can’t get the wood anymore. But we are much safer in bamboo homes during an earthquake they just dance.” she says wiggling, “In a brick home you have to go outside, or you may never leave.”

The light begins to fade, and soon the muddy path opens again to the asphalted road. We are transported back to the modern world. Katni thanks us for supporting her village and says that some of her guiding fee will be used to further train girls and support her village. We leave with positive hopes for their future, that Katni’s charm and good humour will encourage her community to take only the good things from our modern mixed up world.

If you are ever in Lombok, I urge you to meet Kani in person. Support her tours and her village. She can be contacted on:
+62-81-7572-3315 or rinjaniwomenguide@gmail.com 
www.rinjaniwomenadventure.com

Return If Possible

I haven’t seen my friend Robbi Sappingi for a number of years, and our friend status on Facebook, is still “pending” after my account was hacked several years ago (we were FB friends previously). Unfortunately, our status will be forever “pending” as Robbi was tragically killed in the 6.0 earthquake that hit Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia yesterday 5 June 2105. Robbi was 30 years old, and a mountain guide on “The Mountain”, Mt Kinabalu – The physical and spiritual home for the Dusun people of Kiau, a small close-knit community in Sabah, Borneo. The newspaper reports I have read say he died from head injuries sustained in the earthquake. He had been helping a climber when he was injured and encouraged them to leave him alone and climb to safety. A hero to the end, always putting others before himself.

I first met Robbi when he was a cheeky schoolboy, when I began working in Borneo, regularly taking groups to climb the mountain. His Father, Sapinggi, was our head mountain guide. Part of our itinerary, we would spend a night in the village of Kiau, getting to know the locals and our guides before we climbed the mountain. We stayed in the guesthouse of the local church, and ate dinner in a local home, which inevitable turned into “the party”. Home brewed rice wine is a part of the culture of welcoming guests in this remote mountain village. It was a wonderful bonding experience for our groups, as we had all usually just met each other the day before in Kota Kinabalu. We travelled a couple of hours by minivans from the city, to be dispatched on the side of the road ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and met by an open truck to transport us over the bumpy, windy mountain road to the cool and beautiful elevated village of Kiau.

Kiau
Kiau village near Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Most of the group would be a little nervous, as it can be a bit confronting being thrown headfirst into an unfamiliar culture, and the imposing view of the majestic mountain reminded us that we were going to be climbing that sucker in a couple of days. “Don’t think about the mountain” Sappingi would always remind us. “The mountain is the mountain, tomorrow is tomorrow”. The people of Kiau always made us feel welcome. After a delicious home cooked dinner of local mountain fare, including the most aromatic mountain rice I have ever eaten, we would begin the introductions. This was a ceremonial raising of glasses of rice wine, followed be a formal introduction from each person present. The wine loosened tongues and made us all more relaxed. If they were not already there, Robbi and his friends would turn up to join the party, then it really got lively. Out came the guitars, the plastic bottle “drums” and spoon drumsticks. The music would be turned up loud, and the dancing would begin. A talented bunch, I often commented that they should be entrants on “Malaysian Idol”, talent show. The stilted wooden homes would often shake and we’d all be told to get off the dance floor. Unfortunately, getting off the dance floor didn’t stop the shaking yesterday when the earthquake struck.

Robbie Sappingi
Robbi Sappingi (on left in black) entertaining my group.

A couple of days later, sobered up, we would begin our climb from Mt Kinabalu National Park at about 8am. I have climbed thirty tree times over the years I worked there, not many compared to the guides who live there. The mountain is 4,095 m high, and takes two days to climb, staying overnight in mountain huts. On my first trip Robbi was on school holidays and was one of our porters, his father, Sappingi, was our guide. After he left school, Robbi began guiding full time, and more often than not, I climbed with Robbi as one of our guides. The first day is a steep 7km climb to Laban Rata, the mountain hut. It’s not too difficult for someone with good fitness, and is a beautiful mountain walk though all kinds of unique vegetation and cloud forest. The worlds tallest moss and the worlds smallest rhododendron grow here, as well as all kinds of exotic orchids and giant pitcher plants. The walk would usually take a leisurely 6-8 hours, along which Robbi would charm and entertain our groups. He always had a naughty smile, a glint in his eye and a story to tell. Funny and charming.

The second day of the climb is more difficult and this is where our guides, including Robbi would really shine. We would rise at 2am to climb the short, but difficult path to the summit for sunrise, then return all the way to the bottom of the mountain. It was slow going as the altitude would often affect my groups as we would pull ourselves up by ropes on the sheer granite paths. It was cold, often below 0ºC, and usually damp or drizzling. Robbi would always help the slower climbers, holding their hands, pulling them up, encouraging them, and sharing a joke. If someone was too cold he would take off his gloves or coat to share, selflessly always putting others first. Some of my guest would have never have made the climb without Robbi’s help.

Sunrise at Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Sunrise at Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

The Kiau Dusun are predominantly Roman Catholic, but still have spiritual connections to the mountain where former animist beliefs still linger. Every year they still perform a ritual sacrifice of white chickens on the mountain to appease the spirits, just in case. Borneo is not part of “the ring of fire”, that shakes up many surrounding nations on the Pacific rim, and very few have experienced even a mild earthquake before, so it was shocking and devastating for the small community.

The mountain guides here are true everyday heroes. As I write this many are still trapped on the mountain, as it is still too dangerous to climb down, and visibility is too poor for helicopters. But I’m sure all the guides are helping and supporting the climbers before they think of themselves. I hope the village can be repaired and rebuilt soon. My deepest condolences go to Robbi’s family, friends and community. And to my funny and charming young friend, I say RIP – Return if possible.

The Sliced Bread Time Machine

Time is relative, so they say. Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia, seems to exist in two dimensions of time, parallel universes. The modern, polluted, busy, overcrowded industrial city with a sprawling urban population of over eight million inhabitants – Here, the main attractions for plane loads of local and international tourists are the numerous clothing factory outlets. If you own any clothing “Made in Indonesia”, that most likely means, “Made in Bandung”. There are more than three hundred textile industries here. Bandung is also home to hundreds of pharmaceutical factories, as well as a high-tech aircraft industry, and numerous universities. Then there is the other Bandung, the place that time has forgotten. A place of nostalgia, a living museum. Braga Street, the heart of this time capsule, is the place which historically gave Bandung the pseudonym “Paris van Java”, “The Paris of the East”. During the Dutch colonial era, this was the meeting point of the colonial plantation owners and workers. Barga Street was lined with high society shops, theatres, cafes and nightclubs. Even Charlie Chaplin performed here.

©SallyArnold
New street signage being installed, Braga Street, Bandung. West Java.

On my recent visit, the city was busily sprucing itself up for the upcoming Asia Africa Conference. The original conference took place in 1955, a time to discuss the cold war and the ending of colonialism across developing nations. This upcoming conference in April 2015, will see many world leaders congregate here once more.

Navigating my way around the broken footpaths and piles of ready to be laid pavers, I entered Sumber Hidangan, a local Dutch style bakery that first opened its doors in 1929, and hasn’t changed since. This easy time travel seemed to have no physical effects, I didn’t go through any gravitational vortexes or worm holes as in a science fiction film, all I had to do was cross the threshold. But time travel it was. This was the antithesis of mass market production. Light filtered through into the dimly lit space. The dusty wooden floorboards creaked as I entered the high ceilinged store. Peeling paintwork barely clung to the walls. Custom built glass cabinets, also with a layer of dust, displayed trays of fluffy white bread. Glass jars stacked artfully with traditional Dutch biscuits. Signage advertising the wares were in both Dutch and English. The ‘antique’ scales; a cash register and oven that have not been replaced since its opening. Even the staff were ancient.

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Sumber Hidangan, old Dutch style bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
©SallyArnold
Fresh hand sliced bread, ready for sale.
©SallyArnold
Traditional Dutch style biscuits in glass display jars, Sumber Hidangan, Bandung.

The smell of freshly baked bread teased me, and the glass jars filled neatly with treats caused my eyes to widen. But I was here to show my group my favourite thing about this store – the bread slicer. I approached the counter. To my dismay, the group of ladies in their starched pink aprons informed me that she had gone home for the day. Yes, the bread slicer is a person, no modern technology here. I had been here before when they were quite busy, with several bread slicers skilfully dividing the fluffy fresh loaves into precise slices. My disappointment must have been visible – the friendly ladies proposed if I buy a loaf, they could slice it for me. As I was keen to show my group, I agreed. They only had one variety of bread left this late in the afternoon, the Continental Milk Bread – made with eggs and full cream milk, the sign read. A loaf was selected, and one of the uniformed ladies began to masterly and evenly slice away. Perfect, with just a fraction of a millimetre left intact to hold the loaf together. She then suggested that I didn’t really need to buy it, that they could place it on the shelf with the others on display. They had gone to the trouble of slicing it for me, and it looked fresh and velvety. The ingredients printed on the sign suggested it had few preservatives, unlike the local commercial breads. I would like to try. She then briskly wrapped the loaf in brown paper while another woman neatly hand-wrote out my receipt for 10,500 Rupiah (approximately 80 US cents). This was in turn handed to the cashier seated behind a metal security cage. After our transaction, my group bought a few of the pastries, then we returned through the wormhole to the bustling modern street outside.

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The bread slicer, Sumber Hidangan Bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
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Fresh sliced bread!

Sumber Hidangan is located at 20-22 Jalan Braga, Bandung. West Java. Indonesia.

Turnips. What’s the Point?

I love my veggies. Really, I do. But there are one or two that I fail to see the reason for their existence. Turnips. Can anyone say they LOVE Turnips? I don’t hate them, they don’t disgust me, but I really can’t see the point. They are characterless and unexceptional. Can someone enlighten me as to their purpose, their raison d’être?

Nutritionally, they are high in vitamin C. Good. But honestly, so are many, much more delicious vegetables. And fruit. AND turnips contain Cyanid! Cyanid. Yep, poison. Perhaps I’m not wrong in avoiding them after all. All right, it’s cyanoglucosides that releases trace amounts of cyanid. Heck, even dihydrogen monoxide can kill you.

Pliny The Elder.  Image from Wikipedia
Pliny The Elder – author, philosopher and turnip connoisseur.
Image – Public domain.

The history and origins of the turnip can be traced back to fifteenth century BC. For them to have lasted so long, someone obviously has thought they are a good idea. The Ancient Indians, Romans and Greeks all cultivated turnips. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) apparently “considered the turnip one of the most important vegetables of his day.”* Really? I feel sorry for him and his peers, and am thankful for the abundance and variety of vegetables today. However, “In Brazil, turnips (nabos) are traditionally regarded as distasteful or at least somewhat disagreeable and unpleasant”*. I’m leaning with the Brazilians. Sorry Pliny.

There is an old Celtic tradition on Samhain (Halloween, as it’s now celebrated), that lanterns are made from carved turnips. Much like pumpkins nowadays. They were used to ward off evil spirits. Now, there’s use – much better than eating them.

©Sally Arnold
Turnip family memorial.
Lake Toba, Sumatra.

The Lake Toba area in Sumatra is home to the Toba Batak people. In Batak culture, the family clan name is all important. The first question you are asked by a Batak, if you’re Batak, is “What family are you?” One of the clan name’s is Turnip. The Batak are big on ancestor worship, and as part of the death rituals erect huge family monuments. One that often caught my eye when I visited, was the impressive Turnip family memorial. It’s a towering shiny tile and metal structure about ten meters high, with what looks like a large turnip on top. Ok, it probably isn’t a turnip. The Batak don’t call turnips “turnip”. In fact I can’t even recall seeing or eating a turnip in the whole of Sumatra. Wise people.

Not to be so turnip discriminatory, I thought I’d give them another chance. Perhaps I’ve been a little overzealous in my discounting of them. So, I bought some baby turnips. Baby veggies always taste better,  maybe these would change my opinion. They were small, reddish, radish sized, (now there’s delicious vegetable), and rather cute looking. I baked them with a chicken and some other vegetables, served with gravy. A rather traditional roast. Well, the chicken and other vegetables were delicious. The turnips? Meh. They had a slightly earthy flavour. Slightly. Not ‘Good and Earthy’ like beetroot – now there’s a noble vegetable. Roast turnips – a bit of a waste of space, time, and effort really (not that there was much effort in this dish). I wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t prepared to give up quite so quickly – after all Pliny the Elder held them in high esteem…

For my second attempt, I tried steaming them, and serving them with butter (always better). Cooked this way they were even more unremarkable. I really don’t think I’ll waste any more time with this mundane vegetable. I gave them a chance, you can’t say I wasn’t fair. Life’s too short for dull uninspiring food. So, turnip lovers out there (is there such a thing?), you, and Pliny are welcome to them.

*Quotes from Wikipedia

Turnip image started off life as a photograph from The Bitten Word blog. I added a bit of “colouring-in” with Photoshop. Check out the site – they like turnips, but I won’t hold that against them.

An Ode to Gin & Tonic

During my angst ridden teenage years I had secret fantasies of becoming a poet when I grew up. I wrote a lot of teenage angst ridden poems, mostly scribbled on my bedroom wall. Fortunately I have no embarrassingly incriminating copies of those somewhat dubious masterpieces. Sometimes of late, on a long car rides, I have been known to compose a smutty limerick. Funny at the time, but quickly forgotten.

Last night as I was fixing myself a Dirty Gin and Tonic*, It crossed my mind that the more classic drink deserved an ode. Herewith, my first poetic attempt since high school. I won’t, as yet, give up my day job.

*G & T with a splash of olive juice (An excellent addition to the regular lime).

An Ode to Gin & Tonic

A spirited affair I have with thee,
Oh sapphire one,
My blue ruin.
Your botanicals sublime,
You taste of Empire,
And, of its decline.
No other has such happy chemistry,
So simple, yet such complexity.
A melancholy trail of broken hearts,
You exceed the sum of all your parts.
Tonic bursting at the seams,
Your effervesce furiously interrupts my dreams.
Ephemeral scents of fresh cut limes,
Tease me of summer’s grass and Christmas pines.
Add clinking ice cubes, fresh and pure,
As one, subversive and demure.
You sooth and you tantalise,
A supernatural entity in disguise?

On long dog days in tropic realms,
You pick me up and cool me down.
You’re in command, you’re at the helm.
By appointment, to the Crown.
My anti-malarial of choice,
Your potency a falsely claim.
When monsoons threaten,
I rejoice,
To have you by my side again.
Oh G & T, I’ll be your bride,
And you in turn, shall be my guide.
Your charms inverse the charmless,
And the badly dressed,
Gin and tonic googles…
Yet, I digress.

Your story, steeped in history,
Of exploration. Danger. Mystery.
‘Dutch courage’, as they used to say,
Gave empire builders supremacy.
Juniper and Fever Tree,
Defile my lips with profanity.
Are you profane, or are you sacred?
Your bitterness,
Infinitely sophisticated.
You sooth my world and my senses.
You compensate, give me recompenses.

Your ratios require great care,
Imbalance foretells an end to this affair.
Cautious to celebrate, yet not diminish,
Your parallel worlds that I doth cherish.
This non negotiable relation,
Of the mix in your creation,
Both of balance, and of proportion
The wise indeed will heed the caution.
Blasphemy? Depravity?
It’s such a bitter Alchemy.

You allure and you inspire.
Delight, beguile my heart’s desire.
You are magic, you empower,
You bewitch the cocktail hour.
And so I raise a glass of thee,
For in thy depths, a reflection of me.

Toast & Honey

Honey makes you funny. Well that’s what I always said as a kid. Never cared for the stuff. I know I’m grateful for the bees for pollenating our plants and all, but they can keep that sweet goo. I was always a Vegemite kid. I didn’t really like peanut butter either, too sweet; but a nice bitter marmalade, now you’re talking.

When I first moved to Bali I tried to buy a toaster, a common and inexpensive household item in my homeland of Australia. Not so here. The only kind I could find were expensive industrial sized, aimed at the five star hotel market. My next trip to Jakarta I scoured the department stores and found an overpriced, but adequate one. It lasted two months before the inconsistent power surges blew it out. Again I tried – this time in Singapore, and found a cheap model similar to the ones I had used in Australia. If this one blew up, it wasn’t such a huge expense. I would try again. I still have that same toaster, and its still toasting as well as the day I bought it almost ten years ago. These days toasters can be bought in any supermarket here, it’s a different world now.

Vegemite however, is still a luxury imported item, rarely available. And expensive. I usually wait until friends from Australia are coming to visit and request a care package. Interesting fun fact from Wikipedia – In 1984, a jar of Vegemite was the first product to be electronically scanned at a checkout in Australia. There’s some great small industries producing delicious marmalades here too now. Inevitable with the abundance of delicious fresh limes – they have me covered there.

©Sally Arnold
Vegemite on Toast, You’re doing it wrong!

Butter isn’t something I ever used so much. I never thought it was necessary until a couple of years ago, my young niece made me scrambled eggs for breakfast. They. Were. Delicious. “The secret is butter, Aunty Sally” she told me. Mmmmm Butterrrr. The butter here is imported from New Zealand or France. I like the French brand, and these days sometimes even have it on my toast. With Vegemite.

In Australia I always had a jar of honey in the fridge. Sometimes a recipe would call for it. A jar could last me five years. I tried the ‘gourmet’ honeys too – the ones where the bees feasted on stringybark trees or rare wildflowers, but none excited my taste buds. The honey in Indonesia is thin and runny. I don’t think it’s just because of the heat, as the imported brands remain the same sticky consistency. I have tried pure honey from the environmental centre we visit on our trips in East Java, but it still does nothing for me. That is until I recently discovered NEW ZEALAND HONEY. What is it with the bees over there? I know it’s a big industry and that Manuka honey is said to have all sorts of healing powers, and an expensive price tag to match the claims. I recently bought a jar of New Zealand beech forest honey. OH MY, it’s thick, treacley, caramely, malty and I can now understand the fuss. The jar lasted one month. I am halfway through a second. IT. IS. GOOD. I know there is a world campaign to save the bees, as many species are endangered. If there were no bees to pollinate our food we would soon grow hungry. A world without bees also means there’d be none of that delicious New Zealand Honey. A sad day that would be. Even the ants think it’s better.

©Sally Arnold
Ants love New Zealand honey so much, they make a heart!

Things that I Didn’t Photograph

You know that photograph that you didn’t take, probably a time before smart phones? A time when every second of our lives wasn’t recored or shared. That time when you ran out of film. That time that you didn’t have your camera with you. That “Kodak moment”, as we used to say. Do you remember? I am lucky to have seen many wonderful things in my life so far, a whole reel of Kodak moments. For every memory I have recorded with photography, there have been countless times when I’d wish I had my camera with me. And times I was too busy enjoying the actual experience to think about photographing it.

Floods destroyed most of our family photographs, so I don’t have many snapshots from my childhood.  Consequently my childhood memories are mostly based on what I actually remember, not what was photographed. Although I do recall seeing some photos, so, perhaps it’s the memory of the photograph, not the memory of the event?

In more recent years the reasons for the lack of captured images are usually due to the camera being out of reach. Or out of battery. Or me just not being quick enough. So I have began a list of “snapshots” that will not forever just remain memories. Instead, I can have my Kodak moments, at least as I remember them. Writing things down, like photography, makes my memories real.

I had originally intended to compile this album of snapshots all in one go. As I began to remember, the list became too long, it would be a heavy volume. So, I’ll start with just three…


Snapshot #1 – That time, on the ferry to Lombok

The ferry trip between Lombok and Bali is a long four hours, with nothing to see except sea. I was dozing in the stickiness. The sea breeze wasn’t reaching inside the smokey airless cabin. The vinyl seat was sticking. Some of the other passengers were asleep on hired mattresses surrounded by half eaten nasi bungkus (take away rice packets).

A rumbling of voices woke me from my drowsiness. The ferry seemed to be tipping to one side. I looked up and it appeared that all the passengers had now woken and were leaning over the side of the boat. I jumped to join them.

As far as the eye could see, on every wave, large and small; pods of dolphins were surfing and playing. There must have been hundreds, five or more to each wave. They jumped through the wake of the ferry, twisting and turning, floating and sliding. Performing like synchronised swimmers. They were having so much fun. I had never seen this many dolphins before (nor since). Film like. Magical. But it was real. I didn’t have my camera.


©Sally Arnold
View from my balcony, sans squirrel . Ubud, Bali

Snapshot #2 – Early morning in Ubud

I was preparing breakfast in my small kitchen in the ‘burbs of Ubud. The dew clung to the leaves of the surrounding banana trees. The golden morning light flooded the room. Something caught my eye. A tupai – squirrel, or more correctly an Asian treeshrew, was jumping from leaf to leaf. I stopped to watch him. He then proceeded to perform his morning ablutions. Scooping up the dewdrops and washing his face and paws. His eye caught mine, but he continued with his bath. I ran to get my camera. In the moment I had gone he disappeared into the thickness of the foliage. I could have made a fortune on YouTube. Dam squirrel.


©Sally Arnold
Morning on the Kinabatangan River. Sabah, Borneo

Snapshot #3 – A Duel on the Kinabatangan

Our tour in Borneo involved a couple of days camping in the jungle and staying with locals as part of a community tourism project run by MESCOT. Our base near the Kinabatangan River, the longest in Sabah, is one of the most prolific areas to see wildlife.

The day began with a pre breakfast boat ride. Mist rose in whisps from the water, as early light filtered through the monochrome trees. The first birds were starting into song. Cicadas buzzed. A melodic whistling gibbon’s call could be heard in the distance. It was still cool, the closeness if the day was not yet upon us. The wide brown river flowed calmly, but we all know still waters run deep. A log from the upriver industry floated past. The encroaching palm oil plantations creeped up on one side of the bank, the other side still thick native rainforest, protected for now.

There was a movement in the mud flats. As we drew closer, two large mud-coloured monitor lizards embraced in a duel. They had both risen on their hind legs as their arms entangled. The weight of their meter long tails counterbalanced the huge bodies as they thrashed about in the mud, climbing upon each other. Muscles rippled, it was a well matched match. They became one large symmetrical monster as they clung upright, together. In this prehistoric wrestling match, all bets were off. As we floated past, I was too mesmerized by the scene to think of my camera.

 

The Kitchenware Specialists of East Java

All over the world, most pots and pans are machine made;  yet in Indonesia, many small home industries exist that produce aluminium cookware entirely by hand. Near Banguwangi in East Java a row of these small factories stand side by side flanking both sides of the highway.

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Making rice and bakso steamers by hand. Banguwangi, Indonesia
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Hand beating pots into shape. Banguwangi, Indonesia.

Banging and hammering noises rhythmically reverberate from behind the street-front shops displaying all manner of utensils and containers. All are the same, every shop. They compete selling identical products.

A walk behind the scenes, and we enter a dimly lit world. Large rolls of Aluminium sheeting wait to be turned into rice steamers or woks. Groups of men bang and bend the metal, all sitting barefoot on dirt floors. Razor-edged curls of offcuts and sharp pieces of wire litter the ground. They are surrounded by half drunk glasses of coffee, overflowing astrays and mobile phones. Facebook statuses need to be updated regularly. One man had three phones, I joked that he must have three girlfriends. He smiled wryly. In the corner of most workshops a wooden fire burns, and a blacked pot sits steaming the rice for the next meal, or heating the water for the next coffee. The sheltered dark rooms are cool, but the lighting is poor. There are light fittings, but all are turned off. Electricity is expensive.

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Sheet aluminium to be made into cookware.
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Garuda cake tin, a perfect souvenir.

Back on the street, the shops are the women’s domain. Once you show an interest and ask a price, the bargaining begins. If they don’t have the item you’re after, they’ll get it form a nearby store – for a commission. Cake tins, biscuit containers, kettles, steamers, ovens, rice moulds, you name it they have it, or can make it for you. This visit we bargained for Garuda shaped cake tins, the eagle emblem coat-of-arms of Indonesia and the perfect souvenir for the cooks in our group. Several were to be purchased, so we had the bargaining power of a group sale. The first stall owner had none, but asked us to wait while she quickly ran next door to get one. Her price was too high, so we moved to the neighbouring shop, where the tin had originally come from, and settled on a price. My group and the seller were happy. Being the experienced businesswoman that she was, the owner was convinced that we would also like a  butterfly cake tin, or perhaps a rabbit?

"Just one more?" Banguwangi, Indonesia
“Just one more?” Banguwangi, Indonesia

Falling from Grace with the Devil

The Devil fell from my wall today. He fell with an almighty, should I say godforsaken, crash. The bang reverberated; uninvited; echoing as he hurtled and plummeted. Not a mere topple. Not a mere bump. The gatecrasher invading the silence. My silence. I didn’t realise I was in cahoots. He’s no ally. Neither friend nor collaborator. But it begs the question: Have I fallen from Grace with the Devil?

©Sally Arnold

A New Way of Seeing

I am learning to write. Not ABC learning to write. I recall learning that, particularly learning to write a capital B. I remember my teacher describing it as a loaf of bread. B. B for bread. Yet, I don’t recall any other letters. Just B. No, I am learning to write as a way to describe my world. I’ve always been a visual person. I have a degree in both Visual Arts and Graphic Design. At school, I struggled with writing essays. I struggled  to make them longer than one paragraph. I answered the question, and felt no need for flowery superlatives. In my job I am required to write reports of my trips. These are sometimes very longwinded, and I warn my colleges to grab a coffee beforehand, but in a world where I may only see them once a year, it’s a way to pass on information to each other, so I try to make them as detailed as possible. No, I am learning to write as a way to describe my world, for fun. For me it’s a new way of looking at things. I am noticing more. I think about how I would describe that sound, or that smell or that touch. It’s more than seeing, for me its a new way of seeing.

Today I ran out of ‘pulsa’ (internet credit). My walk to the shop was accompanied by a narrative in my head. Each moment required several more just to describe it. The sun warmed my skin. I scratched my hand. A bird chirped. A cockerel crowed. A leaf softly brushed my arm. The sound of the running water. I scratched my side. A bird chirped. A woman approached, and on the narrow path I shimmied and moved both ways. She laughed at my joke. We passed, me to her left. A bird chirped. I scratched my arm. I thought about writing this down latter. I thought that it would take me at least ten minutes to describe every second. I though that perhaps a photograph would be a better memory of this insignificant moment. I thought it would be a boring photograph, and how would I capture my itchiness, the warmth of the sun, the sound of the river and of the birds, that slightly sweet smell of a tropical afternoon? How would I capture that without words? So, I am learning to write, so I can take my time seeing my world in a non visual way. Seeing my world as a narrative, noticing more. A new way of seeing.

Musings and ramblings of an ex-designer, permanent tourist with a food obsession and a typography habit

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