Monday, March 30, 2009

Favorite Place on Earth

If there's anyone who knows something about travel, it's Arthur Frommer. The creator of the Frommer's travel-guide series has been to just about every nook and cranny in the world. His favorite of them all, though? None other than Bali.

We find this out courtesy of a new book from National Geographic, "My Favorite Place on Earth," where assorted celebrities let us in on their secret haunts. Other favored spots: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening likes Kauai, Hawaii, while Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler prefers Nepal - and designer Isaac Mizrahi singles out good old Brooklyn. (Big ups!)

As for myself, I'd have to say Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Martinique in the Caribbean, and India's Varanasi. And, of course, my hometown of Vancouver, Canada and my host village of Kota Intan in Indonesia's Riau province.

So, how about you?

Today's Top Stories

No to changing nationalities

Environment minister headed to DC

Overseer offers to resign

Secret spy network hit 103 countries

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food riots as global phenomenon?

The global economic crisis has made "pessimism porn" something of a favorite pastime these days. More and more publications are talking up apocalyptic scenarios like food and water shortages, devalued currencies, and huge spikes in crime rates as old orders break down. (Great piece in the New Yorker recently that should be required reading.)

Poorer countries have some familiarity with phenomena like food riots, since when you're living close to the poverty line, even slight changes in commodity prices can be the difference between eating and not eating. Hence situations like Haiti, where elements of the government fell when food prices got out of hand.

Indonesia too has seen some isolated food rioting in recent years, and there could be more to come depending on how deep this crisis goes. But when you hear experts talking about such possibilities in America, it's time to rethink your assumptions about the world. Here's forecaster Gerald Celente on the possibility of social breakdown in the US itself, not just the so-called Third World.

Even level-headed writers like Peggy Noonan are being told by expert buddies to start growing their own food and stockpile gold coins. Rewind to 2007, and who would've thought any of this craziness would come to pass?

Today's Top Stories

52 killed, search for missing underway

Indonesia likes Chinese idea

Second time in just a month

Rebel leader in Papua raises passions

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of slow blogging, and the reasons for it

Sorry for not posting for a while. In this economy-from-hell, I had to go and make some money while I still could!

But by way of an excuse, here's an interesting Slow Blogging Manifesto that I came across, and that nicely justifies my absence. Should blogging be about multiple daily posts, or should it be about more occasional worthy insights? Should bloggers work with a mindset of ever-passing deadlines, or with a goal of deeper breakthroughs?

The author's position is obvious ... here's a sample: "Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly, and that many thoughts are best served after being fully baked and worded in an even temperament."

When time passes and we're all six feet under, is an ephemeral blog any kind of legacy to leave? Perhaps we should all return to the writerly habits of yore, and write personal letters in longhand. At least it would be something tangible to hold on to ...

Today's Top Stories

Leader Nicolas Jouwe offers mixed messages

Poor fruit picker on the receiving end

Hey, anything's better than stocks

Won't get a prez candidate, but will shape results

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Whither Papua?

Word that a key leader of the Free Papua movement is finally warming up to the idea of Indonesia.

Somewhat of a mystery, for beliefs that have been decades in the making for Nicolas Jouwe. A feint to wrest more powers from the government, and prevent much-needed funds from leaking back to Jakarta? An admission that a tiny country, alone, might not reach the promised land via independence alone (viz: East Timor)? Or a personal power grab, since he apparently would like to advise SBY on Papuan affairs?

Perhaps a combination of the three. Or, even, a touch of well-timed propaganda from the government - he was meeting with Minister Bakrie, after all, who might not be the most trustworthy mouthpiece in the world.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Currency's new world order

And you thought the rupiah had problems?

It almost went unnoticed, but this week we saw the first hints of a major global shift in finance and geopolitics. The Chinese are wringing their hands about their massive (read: trillion-dollar) investment in US Treasury bonds, say their leaders. Huge government spending in response to the financial meltdown, leading to the full-speed printing of money, leading to the eventual devaluation of American currency, is what's causing the nervousness. Seems rational to me.

Presumably this Chinese trial balloon will lead to a shift in how they invest their money, i.e. not US Treasuries as the default investment of choice. That, in turn, will put major pressure on American currency in years to come, and a significantly ramped-up inflation level. Not Zimbabwe, hopefully, but something to which Americans haven't been accustomed since the early 1980s when inflation reached double-digits.

Perhaps the only thing saving the US dollar right now is that a major alternative, the Euro, is also a major basket case, as they figure out how to prop up horrendous Eastern European economies. Long-term, though, remember this week as an early sign of the end of America's currency hegemony.

Today's Top Stories

World Cup: The bid is in
Indonesia wants football's greatest event

Obama says, Apa kabar?
Talks to SBY on the phone

iPhone 3G on the way to Indonesia
Get ready for the addiction

SBY figuring out new coalitions
What to do after Golkar defection?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Forbes: Indonesia's top billionaires

I thought we were all broke by now. But apparently there are still a few billionaires left in the world, according to Forbes magazine's new list.

Five Indonesians among them, in fact, close on the nerdy heels of Microsoft's Bill Gates. (Sorry, Warren Buffett, you can apply for social assistance now.) The winners: The Hartono brothers, Michael and Budi, whose love goes into every clove cigarette you suck down. The result: $1.7 billion. I haven't done the conversion, but that's a whole lot of rupiah.

Others with enough money to pay their mortgage include Sukanto Tanoto, of paper-construction-and-palm-oil fame; Martua Sitorus, another palm-oil magnate; Peter Sondakh, a telecommunications-and-hotels king (what's with the strange combinations?). If palm oil is such a sure path to enormous wealth, no wonder they're cutting down forests with abandon. Sorry, orangutans ...

Today's Top Stories

Indonesia runner-up for Asia's top travel destination

Whispers of stroke in advance of elections

Bad day in Gorontalo province

No wonder after Jakarta Index falls straight into toilet

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In breaking Buddha news ...

Pop quiz: How long would it take for a bar featuring a huge Muhammad statue, overlooking all the tasty drinks and appetizers, to be burned down? My guess is between five and seven seconds.

Even normally laid-back Buddhists, though, have got their backs up over Jakarta's Buddha Bar. Hence the new ruling that the trendy spot be shuttered, as offensive to the religion's followers. Fair enough, I suppose, since a massive Christ looming over one's mai-tai would probably be considered offensive too.

But note well that this Buddha Bar chain has a New York City outpost, which has gobbled up tourists' money for years now, with nary a peep from the local community. I suppose with ultimate enlightenment on their minds, true Buddhists have greater things to think about than who's misusing their religious iconography ...

Today's Top Stories

Stocks can go up? Hallelujah
US financials show signs of life

Aussies freed from Indo jail
Silly Papuan trip sparked international crisis

SBY kicks off Defense University
Praises warfare of all kinds

Not the way to woo EU
MD-90s keep crashing

Monday, March 9, 2009

Help Nila Tanzil!

When I wrote about Tourism Queensland's brilliant marketing campaign a while back, promoting the Best Job in the World, I had no idea that someone familiar might actually get it.

It's basically a stint blogging from a gorgeous island off the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkel, scuba, hike, fish, and write about how great your life is, thereby promoting the wonders of Australia. Oh, and you get $100,000 a year too. Not a bad gig.

Anyhow, it looks like the terrific Indonesian blogger Nila Tanzil actually has a shot at it. She's been writing about her travels for ages, so it's a perfect fit. Of course there are others who want it, too, and apparently there's public voting involved. So go to this link, and vote your ass off for her. It'd be fabulous to see a worthy Indonesian came out on top of an intense global competition.

Good luck Nila!

Today's Top Stories

Bomber wants out of Hotel Gitmo, please

Presumably to woo fickle EU

Scrambling for votes in advance of elections

Shocker: Ads promote unrealistic body image

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama snacks and postmodernism

Somehow I love the fact that "Obama snacks" are hitting the Indonesian streets. Not because they're nutritious (I assume not) or even legal (ripoff of likeness), but because they're a perfect distillation of messed-up postmodern society.

Something real, hopeful, and meaningful transformed and reworked into something cheap, throwaway and probably harmful. A powerful image taken over and destroyed by being associated with typical consumer emptiness. Postmodern theorists like Jean Beaudrillard might posit that nothing in our society is real or meaningful anyways (viz. his book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place), so a takedown of a particularly hopeful image - that of the new leader of the free world - by a little street-level capitalist hustling is perfectly appropriate.

If everything these days exists in a media simulacrum, a mirror of a mirror of a mirror of something else, a clever pastiche of things that were once original, isn't an Obama-branded snack part of that glorious and totally degraded mosaic?

A bit heavy, I know. But kudos to the Obama snack-sellers for their unintentional but brilliant contribution to postmodern debate.

Today's Top Stories

Central bank predicts rupiah will strengthen
In related news, L.A. Clippers plan to win NBA championship

The return of Golkar?
VP Kalla taking big, compensating for something

World energy solution: Seaweed?!
Sure, why the hell not

Most Indonesian domestic violence related to cash woes
Financial crunch only going to get worse

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Kalla: Indonesia's Cheney

Media wags have long called him Indonesia's version of Dick Cheney, but VP Jusuf Kalla's decision to take on President SBY is taking his Cheney-ness to a new level.

American VP Cheney demonstrated a certain Machiavellian brilliance, nominating himself to be George W. Bush's VP after supposedly leading the search. (Um, I decide ... on me!) Once in office, he essentially ran the White House, thanks to his deep knowledge of how to work the bureaucratic levers of government. Poor old Dubya didn't have a chance.

But even Cheney didn't have the brass balls to take on the sitting president who had made him VP in the first place. But such is the goal of Golkar's Kalla, who modestly claims that provincial leaders came to him in supplication. Nothing to do with his own ambition, of course.

The Greek tragedies all had core lessons in hubris, or overweening ambition, that ultimately brought down their heroes. Given the latest polls, Kalla is going to get a brutal lesson in the dangers of hubris very soon.

Today's Top Stories

To 7.75%, as world economy goes into crapper

World's most endangered mammal

Curious logic from Indo government

Who's afraid of fatwas?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spotlight: Hotel Sedona Manado

Time for a guessing game. The newest winner of Indonesia's best resort, from the World Travel Awards?

Seems I gave it away by the title of the post, but it's the Hotel Sedona in the diving Mecca of Manado, beating out a number of better-known luxury chains. Those rival general managers must be gnashing their teeth.

Perched at the top of North Sulawesi, far from Jakarta's bustle and smog, Manado is known mainly by scuba divers and snorkelers for its rich undersea life. The hotel and its 247 suites are only a couple of years old, part of a hotel network that's prominent in Asian locales like Myanmar and Vietnam.

I don't know much about the Sedona chain, but given that its Manado resort fronts a fabulous private lagoon, and boasts diving that's perhaps unparalleled on the planet, I can only assume that the World Travel Awards know what they're talking about.

Today's Top Stories

Death toll from bird flu climbs to 119

To help impoverished Muslim nations

I'm better than just OK, says ungrateful VP

By then it'll be some new technology anyways

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let's create an Indonesia bubble!

As the Dow sinks into oblivion today, it strikes me that the only real money is ever made during ridiculous asset bubbles. The dot-com bubble of 1999-2000, the home-price bubble of 2002-2007, the grand old South Sea and Dutch Tulip bubbles. As long as you got out in time, you made serious coin.

After all, regular savers always seem to get shafted. The Protestant ethic of work-hard-and-save seems to have been blown apart in this latest meltdown, when savings-account interest rates have approached zero and stock portfolios have been totally obliterated. Bubbles even destroy those who haven't really participated in them.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Let's create a crazy asset bubble, and then get out while the getting is good. And why not Indonesia? Let's pump the idea that Indonesia is the Next Big Thing, drive the Jakarta Index into the stratosphere, and then cash in our chips and go live on a private island somewhere with a lifetime supply of mai-tais. Who's with me?

Today's Top Stories

Species more endangered than ever

Put the money under your mattress, everybody

Kalla runs for prez, hurts SBY's feelings

Mainly because no other banks are left

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Random musings on rice for breakfast

I like to think of myself as pretty attuned to the Indonesian psyche ... as much as any white Canadian can be, anyways. But one leap I was never able to make: Having rice for breakfast.

Now, I know it's far healthier than any sugar-laden product from Kellogg's, or the deadly bacon-and-eggs combo that clogs up most Western arteries. But I could never wrap my mind around rice in the morning. In fact I was so psychologically damaged after my first stint in Indonesia, that I couldn't eat (or even look at) rice - at any time of day - for at least six months afterwards.

Now, I suppose since much of the country is around or below the poverty line, you eat what you've got. Which, with that climate and terrain, is usually rice. Understood. And perhaps one day I'll get beyond my biases, and enjoy some basmati or jasmine varieties as the sun comes up. But until then, nasi goreng in the a.m. is one cultural bridge too far ...

Today's Top Stories

Battles Juarez to a draw

Thai star takes golf tourney by two strokes

Indonesia leads successful $3 billion issue

Former general lags badly in polls