Friday, May 30, 2008

Gorgeous underwater pix

You might have noticed through this or that previous post that we are avid amateur divers. Indonesia is the place to enjoy this "sport" (as far as I know, this is the only "sport" where the aim is to move and exert oneself as little as possible). We've heard people rave about the clear waters of the Red Sea, or about beautiful Maldives; sure, they must have their strengths, but Indonesia is, scientifically, the best place to be as it is located in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the most bio diverse place on Earth's seas. In a way, it's like saying that Canadian forests or Gabonese jungles are fantastic; you know they can't compete with the riches of the Amazon.

National Geographic magazine recently ran several stories about underwater in Indonesia. Their photographer is David Doubilet, whose pix are absolutely amazing. If you want to enjoy the magnificence of the underworld, go to his website.

I know I shouldn't do that, because I respect the work of professional, but I could not resist so I'm putting here one of his pix, stolen from the site.

Magical, isn't it?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fresh weed ahead

Welcome to Nusa Lembongan!

It is a small island off the coast of Bali, where we spent a couple days recently. People mainly come here for surfing (great waves, just off the beach, attract a crowd of cool guys from Australia) and the amazing diving. The water here is very cold because it is located on a deep strait; therefore the strong currents bring to the surface a crowd of cool creatures from the depths: manta rays, the odd whale shark, and, between August and October, the weird mola-mola fish. There are also lots of little colourful creatures to see, a requirement at any great dive site.

But on top of that, we found an exquisitely friendly island. It has to be said that Bali is one of the most charming places on Earth, absolutely amazing (do I use this word too much?); but in its South, where the tourism industry is most thriving, one can get tired of the touts. "Hello Mister! Transport? No? Tomorrow maybe?". Grrrrr. Well, you have to understand them: there are a lot of locals fighting for limited resources, but it does get tiring to be targetted as a walking wallet.

None of that in Nusa Lembongan. Made, a Balinese guy from the dive center where we were staying, put it this way: "In Bali, we depend exclusively on tourism, so you have to fight your friend in order to find a job. But you might lose it after few months because the competition is so tough. We know that tourists also get tired of this fierce battle between us. When I grew up in the village and I saw Bule (white people), I was always waving and saying "hello" to them, because I was curious and just wanted to be friendly. It's only when I moved to the biggest tourist regions that I understood why they rarely replied: they just thought I wanted to sell them stuff. It's very disappointing".

That's the reason why this young guy moved to Lembongan: here, there is still a village-life atmosphere, where people are friendly because that's what they are. One of the reasons is that their entire livelihood does not rely on tourism; the island produces seaweed that provides a decent income for the locals.

This is where the raw product from your beauty cream might come from. People farm it right on the beach that lays in front of the village, where the cheap hotels are. Apparently it is sold mostly to cosmetics companies, but it can also be eaten in deliciously salty salads. Try it, it's delicious.


At certain times of the day, depending on the tide, you see the farmers doning their snorkeling gear and wading in the water to harvest the seaweed. It appears to be a family thing, with kids helping with the task - when they are not just playing around on the big buoys that hold the basket full of seaweed.

Then people sort it, dry it, and zou! it's sent in your Marine Spa bath salt or whatever it is you use to have a clean and smooth skin.

Maybe it was just the fact of being a lazy Bule on a week end, but it was very nice to see that life seemed to be so peaceful there. I swear, when we were walking on the beach at the time where people were working in the sea, we could hear laughter all the time. Granted, maybe they were just making fun of my crazy hair or not-smoothed-by-seaweed skin, whatever. That was a very nice moment.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

You blog, you pay

A blogger is facing prison. Well, this may not seem as super new news, except that he is not Chinese, or Burmese (do they even have blogs?); he's Malaysian.

The blogging community there is very lively, and their situation very special. You see, in the great Malaysian "democracy" the press, TV, radio etc is under a very tight leash; I was there during their elections last March, and reading the newspapers was a little surreal. Pure propaganda. But Internet remains free, because in 1999 the governement wanted to surf on the new tech wave and attract Internet investors in the country, so they had to promise not to practice their censorship talent on the web. As a result, a wave of bloggers swamped the internet landscape in Malaysia and it became the only place where you can have any alternative analysis on politics - it's online that you'll find the one and only good newspaper in the country.

But Kuala Lumpur retains a whole bunch of laws as a inheritance of periods of political instability that they did not bother scraping down; that's why Raja Petra Kamaruddin is facing a three year prison term. His trial will start October 6th...

If you're interested in Malaysian blogger community, this site is one of the tool they have created to organize themselves.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Watch your snores

Gone are the good old times... Sitting at the Parliament and other official gatherings is not what it used to anymore. Oh!!!!!!.... Sigh. Bapak Presiden, who goes by the great name of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (such a delicacy for a foreigner's ears, isn't it?) is getting tough and not tolerating a good old nap anymore, as reporter Desy Nurhayati tells us today in the Jakarta Post.

"National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) chief Paskah Suzetta learned a lot from the embarrassing incident at the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) last month, when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono paused during his speech to rouse a regional official who had apparently dozed off.

The President went so far as to ask the Institute not to pass the official for failing to live up to his leadership standards, which included the ability to withstand sleepiness.

To ensure no repeats of the President's rebuke, Bappenas displayed a warning on the large screens on either side of the stage where the President would deliver his speech, just an hour before the opening ceremony. "During the President's address, participants and guests are not allowed to sleep, talk to each other or switch on their cell phones," read the reminder.

But apparently the warning was not enough.

Yudhoyono himself reminded the participating governors, regents and mayors from across the country to focus on the four-day event. "I know you may be physically tired, but please don't fall asleep. Even if you start to nod off, you have to wake yourself quickly because the people you lead want you to return home with a special gift, which is a better development program," the President said, to general applause from the floor.

Despite the warnings, more than one phone rang and several officials were seen closing their eyes during the President's speech. If the President had noticed these defiant few, his rage would have far exceeded the anger that marked the forum at Lemhannas."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gotcha, golden pooper!

Well, that's it. Our unwanted, noisy and, as I discovered today, amazingly stinky guest we already introduced you to, is finally gone. After four months, the pest control company has managed to get to him.

Cute, you think? Not that much, because apparently over years its pee could have seeped through our roof (i.e. his home) and delicately perfume our bedroom just below.

We could have chosen not to get rid of him though, and instead feed him ripe coffee beans, then brew the most expensive drink in the world. Forget about gold and bauxite, oil and nickel, coal and tin, and get acquainted with the newest high valued Indonesian commodity: cat poo. More precisely, the dejection of this little wild cat, the civet (called « luwak » here) after he went on the rampage on the coffee fields of the archipelago’s highlands.

The « kopi luwak », fragrant black drink obtained by roasting the coffee grains collected from the animal's poo, is the best coffee in the world – it is not I saying it, it is Science: a Canadian scientist has already done the required lab tests that prove it – therefore its price reaches the heights of its perfection: up to 3000 USD a kilo if purchased in a hip Balinese café. « It is good and it is rare, hence its price », says Wirawan, the owner of the café whom I've met few months ago. « But what we sell, it’s mostly a story ». The story of an inner voyage that produces a less bitter, quite chocolaty drink – and a nice slab of cash for whom knows how to market it.

I've had the chance of tasting the coffee - for free, one the perks of my job. It is indeed deliciously velvety and strong. I wouldn't pay the 20 dollars for an espresso cup though; and considering that our late guest would not have been able to produce that much poo to allow us delicious kopi luwak every breakfast, I won't regret him. Not one bit.