Kamis, 17 Februari 2011

TRAVEL DIARIES: Bintan - Jakarta - Jogjakarta

Published in Now! Jakarta, March 2011


Bulldozer driver poses for tourists on Lanoi Beach, Bintan.

I have last month discovered the joy of the new Air Asia terminal at Cengkareng — purpose- built with the aim of keeping us frequent-fliers apart from hordes of pickpockets and extortionists.

Hats off to Air Asia!

They even have ‘social engineers’ in the arrival hall, quietly ‘screening’ one’s greeting party — allowing only the cream of society, and family and friends — to partake of Gajah Mada noodles in the superior air-conditioning.

Why can’t all Indonesia airports be as well thought out and built?

Terminal Two has for the last decade been occupied by slothful cleaners and salespeople watching noisy soaps on large screens with small speakers. After one descends at Departure; there is barely an access corridor from the grim curbside mafia area; through the various checking agencies (with slave trade-like hordes heading for the Gulf States); and on through the mall-like alleys of shops — until one finally reaches one’s gate, 17 miles inside.

Let’s all lobby for Air Asia to run all airports.

My next favorite terminal in South East Asia is the Ferry Terminal to Bintan Island — it is the seventh wonder of Singapore.

Last month I went to Lanoi Bay — Bintan’s answer to Nusa Dua, but with a real bay — and was thrilled to find that the once spartan Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal has now grown a Delphine Kwek Curry Puff Dispensary, a well stocked news agency (Vanity Fairs and Herald Tribunes) a chic little post office, and a giant gift emporium selling the vaguely-racist, smiley-face ‘golliwogs’ that Singapore’s Gung Ho Department of Tourism has forced on the Riau Islands.

On the luxury ferry — well run by an all Indonesian crew in fake batiks — big ‘flat-screens’ play all the ‘Madagascar’ movies, to prepare the meek Singapore tourist for the wild Mangrove hens and lizards of Bintan. One arrives at an Indonesian immigration straight out of central casting — ‘Men in Black’ safari’ suits usher high-rollers through express lanes as if by magic.

Lanoi Bay is really stunning and will no doubt soon be buzzing with an Alila and a Starbucks and jet skis; but the real charm is in the worker’s village where splendid meals are served by Padang (West Sumatran) hotties.

It is the nearest perfect Sumatran meal outside Singapore and well worth the detour.

Bintan’s Mangrove River cruise is the island’s main tourist attraction — here the diarist poses with a team of Balinese architects.

LEFT: My favorite lunch in Singapore: Pearl Centre pork and onion pau and a carrot juice.
RIGHT: Michelle Sassoon one of Singapore’s leading socialites poses in her exquisite Italianate tropical garden.

Back in Singapore I had lunch at the fabulous old Pearl Centre at the edge of China town; The Pearl Centre being most famous for its glazed barbeque pork slices — ground floor, outside (be willing to queue) — and its shamans and amulet dealers, and its vegetarian restaurant, on the 3rd floor.

Its motto is: “it’s almost like you were somewhere.”

My favorite stall, on the ground floor, sells pork and onion steamed buns and chili sauce which I always have facing the bus stop.

Gourmands sample the famed roast pork slices in the Pearl Centre.

• •

I returned to Bali via Jakarta where famed Femina publisher and style suffragette Mirta Kartohadiprodjo — head of the Gaya Favorite Press empire — was launching the Indonesian language version of my book ‘Tropical Garden Design’.

I got to stay at the delightful Four Seasons — a great hotel with a good collection of Indonesia art, spacious grounds, a stunning pool court and classy Indonesian service — and arrived at the new Kemang Village mall TIMES book store to find a foyer filled with Menteng matrons in floral print chemises. No one was under 60, save the one Balinese in lurex playing the angklung.

“Most people these days under 60 think nature is old-fashioned anyway,” one well-coiffed Solo princess quipped.

The truth is these well-groomed, well-borne, well-educated heroines of horticulture are the last line of defense between us garden designers and the new world order of minimalists.

I signed their books and sang their praise lavishly.

Vikram Reddy (left) General Manager of the fabulous Four Seasons Jakarta and the diarist at the book launch.

• •

After Jakarta I took Air Asia to Jogjakarta for the investiture of my old mentor Sir Warwick Purser as Honorary Consul to Mexico. In the exquisite Javanese courtyards of his very traditional d’Omah hotel, there were more Margaritas and Mariachi bands than you could poke a stick at.

Once again Tuan Warwick — founder of Pacto Travel in Indonesia in 1970 and the official face of Jamu Borju nation-wide — has created a magical kingdom in the middle of no where.

My driver Cahyo, one of Blue Bird Jogja’s finest, kidnapped me on my second day at d’Omah, just as I was turning Javanese, and took me to his home village, Pundong Lima, near Godean, for a Jatilan trance dance being held to commemorate the village’s founding.

Jatilan performances (soon to be banned by the hard-liners, I fear) involve a lot of prancing about in Ramayana costumes. The participants eventually sink into deep trance just as the mosque’s tambur drum and ‘chamber gamelan’ go berserk. It’s always frenzied and fabulous and today’s performance was no exception — the possessed whirled like sufis on steroids.

A striking corner of the d’Omah lobby.

A pool villa at the dreamy d’Omah hotel in Tembi, Jogjakarta.

LEFT: The lobby of d’Omah hotel, Tembi, Jogjakarta.
RIGHT: One of Jogjakarta’s hidden treats is Sangam House off Jalan Kaliurang (Kilometer 5.6) — an Indian restaurant cum culture centre run by Jean-Pascal Elbaz and his partner Martin Restu Surbakti who studied Indian cooking in Chennai when Pascal was based there with the French Consulate cultural division.

• •

Jogjakarta’s Adi Sucipto airport was once sedate and refined but is now a nightmare — oppressed by battalions of the same Gulf State contract workers as Cengkareng, and by a lack of space to expand — so allow enough time to run the gauntlet.

I flew back to Bali on Garuda, which has new livery but the same old finger buns. On arrival we were all marched along the tarmac amidst airbuses jostling for parking spots — my dreamy memories of somnolent Tembi soon gave way to the tension that descends when trying to find one’s car at Denpasar airport.

Between the arrival hall and the exit ramp 14 huge billboards offered me a return on my investment.

It was sunny and it was Sunday so I went straight to the Callego Leather Granny Beach Bar on the Gay Beach near the Oberoi — which closes in May, I hear, to become an Alila and a Starbucks— so go now for end of mating season discounts.

From the Callego, on Sunday, one can see fully dressed Javanese emerging from the Indian Ocean while Balinese in saucy beachwear build fanged-demon sand sculptures.

A Lombok boy sells DVDs from a black and white Warwick Purser wickerware campaign table.

Senior sirenes — the cream of Darlinghurst and Antwerp — mince about as the sun sets and the palms wave.

Jatilan dancers at the Pundong Lima syukuran desa performance.