Category: Travel

When is batik really batik?

In Bali News: Has Garuda Lost the Thread on Heritage Conservation? the publication takes Garuda Boss Emirsyah Satar for resorting to using ersatz batik instead of the original ones for the uniforms of its staff.

Unspun doesn’t quite get what the fuss is about, as the site’s main objection seems to be that Garuda “instead of using original hand-made batik to costume their crew, the new uniforms would be made from printed batik-like materials churned out in a modeBali News: Has Garuda Lost the Thread on Heritage Conservation?rn textile factory.”

Is batik genuine only when it is hand-made rather than printed. Would batik tulis be more batik than batik cetak? Where did all the cotton and ilk that is used for what is considered some of the premium traditional batik have come from?

Is Bali News’s editorial, part of Bali Discovery Tours’ website, championing Indonesian tradition or promoting neo-Luddism? You decide.

…this record of success and enormity of Garuda Indonesia mission also impose on Emirsyah special responsibilities as the man-in-charge of the state-owned carrier carrying the Indonesia flag to the far corners of the world. In this regard, it appears that someone at the airline dropped the ball with the recent launch of new uniforms for Garuda’s cabin crew. [See: Sky-High Fashions]

The Garuda Experience: What Were They Thinking?

In its commitment to improve in-flight service, Garuda made a significant misstep in the execution of new uniforms for its 1,600 flight crew. As reported by, the airline hired a team of seasoned professionals to conceptualize and design stewardesses uniforms based on Indonesia’s fabled sarong kebaya. Central to the “new look” are batik-styled sarongs incorporating an eye-catching traditional lereng motif.

So far, so good. Plaudits all round for Garuda’s decision to both upgrade passenger service and create uniforms highlighting batik – the cherished textile tradition that is both an art form and a massive handicraft industry in Central Java and other parts of the Republic.

However, citing expediency as an excuse, national press reports say that instead of using original hand-made batik to costume their crew, the new uniforms would be made from printed batik-like materials churned out in a modern textile factory.

Such a loose commitment to a national handicraft treasure is unfathomable, particularly by our National Carrier serving the same Country that took umbrage and even began to rattle its sabres when it was recently perceived that neighboring Malaysia was using traditional Balinese dances to promote their tourism product. Sadly, an equally ferocious commitment to culture was sorely lacking when someone at Garuda signed the order book for the new Garuda uniforms.

via Bali News: Has Garuda Lost the Thread on Heritage Conservation?.

Amazing Grace and the Balinese Gigolos

The Balinese authorities have got it all wrong where it comes to the hooha over the news documentary Cowboys in Paradise, about the Kuta Cowboys, gigolos selling their services to foreign women tourists.

Instead of getting angry with Singapore-based director Amit Virmani for allegedly besmirching the island’s reputation, they should instead thank Amit for restoring their sense of sight. If you’ve been to Bali, you have to be blind, oblivious or extremely naive not to notice the beach boys trying to solicit business. This is apparent to any tourist, let alone any long time visitor to Bali, yet has been occluded from the attention of the Balinese authorities.

Now, all of a sudden the Balinese authorities are awakened to the fact that there are “dark skinned men with good bodies” chatting up women and providing them with sexual favors, often for an exchange of money. I once was blind, but now can see...Amazing Grace! Now, isn’t that something to be thankful for rather than getting their G-strings in a knot?

Here’s a trailer of the documentary on YouTube:

Here’s The Jakarta Globe story:

Offended Bali Officials Investigating Director Of Controversial ‘Gigolo’ Documentary

Kuta. Stung by the new documentary “Cowboys in Paradise,” which examines the phenomenon of “Kuta Cowboys” — gigolos working Bali’s beaches and bars — Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika said on Tuesday that he would investigate whether the director had the necessary permits to film on the island.

The former Bali Police chief expressed disappointment at the documentary, which he claimed only focused on the negative side of the Island of the Gods.

“I thank Kuta’s residents who helped conduct raids against those they suspect of being gigolos,” Made Mangku said, referring to the questioning of 28 well-built men on the beach on Monday. “The main thing is, do not use violence.”

News of the documentary has spread across Web sites nationwide, and Bali Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Gde Sugianyar Dwi Putra confirmed that Bali Police were investigating it.

The film, completed last year after two years in production, premiered at the DMZ Documentary Film Festival in South Korea last Wednesday.

“We are still collecting some information because we have only seen part of the movie from YouTube. We haven’t seen the whole movie yet,” Sugianyar said, adding that police would coordinate with the supervisory body that issued filmmaking permits.

The film — which documents the relationships between foreign female tourists and male prostitutes, the “Kuta Cowboys” of the title — immediately touched a raw nerve, with Kuta Beach task force members raiding the beach.

via Offended Bali Officials Investigating Director Of Controversial ‘Gigolo’ Documentary – The Jakarta Globe.

Does Indonesia Suck as a tourist destination?

@anakcerdas just alerted me to this blog posting in Travel Blog with the terse and succinct message: “Memalukan yah” (Shameful, isn’t it?).

Yes, it is indeed shameful if even half of what the blogger, Mike Foster, says is true. As someone who’s adopted Jakarta and Indonesia as my home I feel duty bound to defend Jakarta and Indonesia. As have a few Indonesians who have seen the Twitter message.

I tend to agree with @crivenica and @heradiani in their Tweets that the Mike Foster does come across as an uptight tourist. Indonesia, after all, is a Third World country, only that the phrase has become unfashionable, being substituted by the more politically correct “Emerging Country” label. Foster comes across as uptight because in a city of more than 14 million people all he could see was the frightening and negative aspects of the city. He was unable for some reason, to peer beyond the negatives to see something, anything positive. perhaps his friend Andy is a really crummy tourist guide but one suspects that Foster is one who would rather whine than accept the fact that he is in a Third World country, accept the filth, contradictions, traffic congestion and contrasts as facts of life and get over it to enjoy his stay here.

Foster also makes the terrible mistake of equating Jakarta with Indonesia, which is unfortunate. Indonesia is so much, much more and different than Jakarta and if he were to go to Flores or a dozen other choice sites in Indonesia he would know what heartwrenching beauty Indonesia has in store for those who venture beyond the Big Durian.

Having said that, however, a lot of Foster’s complaints about Jakarta is legit. Us old Jakarta hands realize that Foster’s complaints are only some of the myriad aspects of the city that makes Jakarta Jakarta. Bu to a fresh pair of eyes, especially if they aren’t the adventurous types (and how many tourists are really adventurous?) Jakarta can come across as dirty, chaotic, unsafe and congested.

If Jakarta wants to attract the tourists, both to the city and to Indonesia, the authorities will have to acknowledge that the traffic, cleanliness and safety (or at least the perception of safety from a tourist’s viewpoint) are problems that need to be addressed. Like many other Twitterers, Unspun was inclined to use the argument of “but other countries are worse than Jakarta” but its a temptation best not given to as it i a false argument. So what if other countries are dirtier and worse off than us, we do not have control over what they do or do not do. We have control over, how our countries (adopted or native) functions and that’s what we should take responsibility for and try to change.


I just visited Indonesia some time ago, to visit my friend from the university. He’s an Indonesian, so during my vacation I decided to go to Indonesia for a vacation and visit him.

I must say that Indonesia is not a country worth visiting … sorry about this, Andy if you read my posting. For starter, Jakarta is very dirty, you’ll see trash and litter everywhere you go. I just can’t imagine a capital city with this poor level of cleanliness. I was fortunate to have Andy my friend to show me around Jakarta, in which rarely tourists are shown to. Areas that you may see quite clean and sophisticated are only in the downtown area. I only remembered the streets named Sudirman, Thamrin and Kuningan that are quite representative for a capital city. Any other areas you go, you’ll feel like that you’re in some third-world country with poor people and trash everywhere (I think Indonesia is still considered a third-world?)

I was lucky I have a friend in Jakarta, otherwise I wouldn’t dare goind around in public transportation. I was told to be careful when selecting cabs. I remembered there is only one company considered safe, called Blue Bird or something, with their cars painted in blue. I was told not to take just any cab since it wouldn’t be safe. I was told there are so many crimes occured involving taxi drivers. I certainly didn’t want to take the public busses. Wait until you see them yourselves, and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride in one either. The busses are so dirty, so packed with people and the vehicles themselves look as if they’re very poorly taken care of. I couldn’t even find a decent information of which bus should I take if I would want to go somewhere, and what is the fare. Those busses have someone (or sometimes two) called “conductor” hanging around in the door, collecting money from passengers. I was terrified to see them hanging like that in the door while the bus were driving quite fast. Well, yes they have now a network of public busses called TransJakarta if I’m not mistaken, but the network was not vast enough to cover the whole city.

Not to mention the streets from hell. The traffic in Jakarta beats the hell out of any traffic I’ve ever seen in the world.

Traffic jams everywhere. People driving with only one or two inches away from each other. The worse of all is the motorcycles. I even said to my friend that they are like motorcycles from hell. They squeezed their way to very small gaps between cars, sometimes even hit our rearview mirrors. They constantly cut your way, so my friend always to be extra careful with them and sometime he even had to hit the brake brutely to avoid collisions. What an experience … I must say. I sometimes jumped from my seat when suddenly a motorcycle speeding through our side of the cars with just few inches away, in a traffic jam, with their loud noises …. a hell indeed. Andy even told me that be very careful not to hit a motorcycle, since even that you’re not the one causing the collision, the car driver would be the one blamed and they could go rough on you asking for money. I said “what the hell …. what kind of people are they … we’re not living in the dark ages are we?” … and Andy could just shrugged with bitter smile.

Another important thing … be careful of the food. I got stomachache for 3 days because Andy took me to this food stall that he said very delicious. Well the food was alright … but I got diarrhea the next day. Well, if you go to this food stall, you wouldn’t be surprised why I got the diarrhea. It was a very small food stall, on a pedestrian. Just next to the pedestrian was this open sewer, and guess what … people threw away trash into that sewer. Not to mention flies everywhere and I could have sworn a saw a cockroach running around. My advice is to stick to the food from restaurants, clean restaurants. It’s a bit expensive, but at least your stomach would be safe.

I’ll continue with my experience in Indonesia …. more surprises coming from this unbelievable country … which I don’t intend to visit again, at least not in several years until they could improve to be a more civilized country.

Indonesian tourism’s secret weapon?

Someone help Unspun here please.

Can anyone explain how a “senior” singer such as Eddy Silitonga, him of the cheesy mustache and unkempt haircut, is going to attract droves of tourists to Indonesia’s shores?

Does the Tourism Minister, in his infinite wisdom and impeccable taste, think that Eddy will appeal to would be tourists in 49 countries. Perhaps the Minister is looking for geriatric tourists, on the belief that the old geezers have more money to spend on Indonesian healthcare while visiting this fair archipelago.

Or perhaps, shudder of shudders, the Minister finds Eddy such a sexy singee that women in the four corners of the world would want to flock to Indonesia after they see and hear Eddy perform. Or is it that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the inimitable Roy Suryo?

The savior of Indonesian tourism? The sex magnet to bored housewives abroad?

And while we tax our little grey cells about Eddy we might want to spare some energy wondering the need for the Support Team, “which will monitor and support the logistics during the journey.”

The choice of advisors for this team for a fading singer is none other than top flight lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis and the inspector general of the National Police Agus Wantoro, who will “help the program succeed”.

What do they know about music? What do they know about tourism? What do advisors of the support team do in such trips? The mind boggles.

This story in The Jakarta Post:

Senior singer appointed as tourism envoy

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 02/09/2010 3:25 PM | Business

Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik has appointed Eddy Silitonga, a senior Indonesian singer, Indonesian tourism envoy, traveling around the world to promote the country’s tourism.

The journey will include visits to 49 countries on five continents within nine months, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Silitonga’s program as a tourism envoy will basically cover three main activities: singing at the various places he visits such as cafes, restaurants and hotels; people-to-people contact with local communities and tourists; and organizing “Indonesian Art Nights” at all Indonesian embassies in the countries he will visit.

Two groups will support the program to be dubbed the “The Indonesian Team for Culture and Tourism Promotion by Eddy Silitonga”.

The first group will be called the “Journey Team” consisting of six people, including Eddi Silitonga, who will travel to the 49 countries. And the second group will be the “Support Team”, which will monitor and support the logistics during the journey.

Todung Mulya Lubis, a prominent lawyer, and inspector general of the National Police Agus Wantoro, are advisors to the journey team to help the program succeed.

The program will be implemented from April 16, 2010 to January 10, 2011, Antara reported.

via Senior singer appointed as tourism envoy | The Jakarta Post.

Sexy underwear for the dead

Was recently in the historic town of Malacca in Malaysia and strolling through its old quarter when we chanced on one of several shops that sold offering for the dearly departed. The Chinese believe that when people die they go to a Second Life-like parallel universe where they would still enjoy the materialistic things that their relatives offer to them.

Imagination and a mercenary streak has ensured that the makers of these items, which are burnt as offerings to the dead, have kept up with the times. Hence you have paper cans of beer, paper Mercedes cars (complete with chauffeur), paper handphones and most mod cons you can think of, including the houseboys and pembantus.

Unspun was, however, still struck by the novelty of it all when he and Loved One came across this shop near Malacca’s famous Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and its shopfront display of sexy underwear for the dead. Doesn’t this make you wonder what kind of a relative would buy such merchandise for their dearly departed (and what sort of character she must have been when alive. Granted could be a He at which case…kinky!)?

Check out the sexy underwear for the dead. Also notice the faux cans of Carlsberg nearby. Do the dead get sloshed before they bonk?

The lovely wooden houses of Bangka

Was in Bangka over the weekend and couldn’t help but appreciate the textures and washed out colors of the wooden houses as you get out of Pangkal Pinang.

Here’s one of them:

Between Sungai Liat and Parai beach resort

The rest, as well as other shots of Bangka I’ve uploaded on Unspunpics

Here are other photos from Bangka:

Bangka Pissnaken?
The obligatory sunset shot. This of the Parai Resort: great picturesque location but absolutely norak decor and architecture
Parai Beach, Bangka
We went to a farm in Sungai Liat and saw these piggy wiggys that somehow reminded me of my office. Bangka is also famouse for its roast pork and you can buy some just outside the airport where a group of vendors are clustered, or, if you have the connections, make a phone call and have it delivered by air to Jakarta

US Issues travel warning on Malaysia

Is the Malaysian spinning slowly out of control?

Now we have a US trav el waring for Americans travelling to Sabah:

Warden Notice – Travel in Sabah
January 15, 2010
There are indications that both criminal and terrorist groups are planning or intend acts of violence against foreigners in eastern Sabah, notwithstanding the Government of Malaysia’s increased ability to detect, deter and prevent such attacks. The Abu Sayyaf Group, based in the southern Philippines, has kidnapped foreigners in eastern Sabah in the past. Criminal elements are also responsible for kidnapping and piracy committed against foreigners. Of present concern are the resorts (and transportation to and from) located in isolated areas of eastern Sabah, including Semporna and the islands of Mabul and Sipadan. Please avoid or use extreme caution in connection with any travel in these areas or locations.

Some images from Melbourne and its surrounds

Unspun was on the family vacation in Melbourne last week and here are some images to share with Unspun readers;

At the Tulip Festival, in the Dandenongs
At the Tulip Festival, in the Dandenongs
The Rocks, Philip Island, Victoria
The Rocks, Philip Island, Victoria
Cameleon at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria
Cameleon at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria
At a winery in the Yarra Valley, the clouds fascinated me and I had a new polarizing filter to try out
At a winery in the Yarra Valley, the clouds fascinated me and I had a new polarizing filter to try out
A sculpture at the Tulip Festival, Dandenongs
A sculpture at the Tulip Festival, Dandenongs

Australia new playground of the Chinese noveau riche?

Amazing to revisit Melbourne after 30 years or so of trying to be a geology student at RMIT, which is now a university.

Swanston Street now has a huge proportion of Asian food restaurants, including Indonesia’s own Es Teler 77 (disclosure: a family connection here)  just diagonally opposite  the Melbourne Library.

The makeup of the student population has also changed. Three decades ago most of theforeign students seemed to be from SE Asia. These days you see and hear a lot of mainland Chinese and Indians on the streets.

Talk to residents and they will say that the mainland Chinese are the new wave of immigrants and investors. The Communists seem to have a lot of property and thanks to a change in the law that allows students to buy established property, the mainland Chinese are snapping up real estate in Melbourne, helping to drive up property prices.

Go to the Crown Casino and guess who’s there? The Mainland Chinese as well. They seem to be everywhere and have lots of money or entreprenurial spirit to spare for this city. An accountant and long time resident in Melbourne tells Unspun that many of the Chinese cometo melbourne and start by setting up tobacco shops. One mainlander he knows did so well that he’s now the opwner of several properties in melbourne.

The accountaqnt also says that many mainlanders have been buying properties in the inner city, usually in the choicest suburbs. “They have a lot of money”, he said. The Indians, however, generally snap up property on the suburbs.

The Indians are also out in force udent and form a huge portion of the student population in Merlbourne.

Just about the only thing constant about this city is the weather – it’s still unpr4edictable. We had lovely spring weather with the sun up until Monday then it was downhill for the rest of this week.

Still, its great to be back here, to be able to walk on the streets and p0arks, to smell fresh air, to generally enjoy the outdoors without sweating like a pig and worrying about the pollution.

Labuan Bajo Days

Ladt week Unspun spent five days in Labuan Bajo, Flores. Three were spent in the client’s office teaching te staff communications skills and two were spent outdoors and underwater as Unspun went diving with a friend in the fabulous Komodo National Park.

Where and what is Labuan Bajo? It is a small fishing village on the north western tip of Flores.


It has an airport that, if you’re vested with a healthy dose of imagination, you could fool yourself into think its your own private airfield. Its that small.

LBJ Airport
LBJ Airport

The airport (access to the outside world!), as well as the proximity, makes Labuan Bajo or LBJ the staging point for tourists visiting the Komodo National Park, which recently made it to the finalist list of the 7 Wonders of the World competition.The Komodo National Park, of course, is the home of the Komodo Dragon, huge, primitive lizards that kill their prey by iting them, letting the toxic saliva take effect and they prey collapse from toxic shock, before making dinner out of them.

The Komodo National Park, however, is not just barren dry islands and lizards. It is also home to many islands, volcanic mounts and fantastic dive sites that are probably one of the best int he world for the variety of undersea flora and fauna, but more of the diving later.


LBJ itself is nothing much where villages go. Unspun‘s seen it described as a picturesque fishing village but if you take off the tinted glasses and unclog your nose then its not so romantic. Take a stroll along the waterfront where the fishermen live and you are greeted with the sight of rubbish and the stink of decaying fish and whatever else.

It has virtually one main road that runs parallel to the coast and loops upwards hugging the hills that hem in the village.This is what the main drag looks like in LBJ.

LBJ main st

As I said, not much. But change has already begun to sweep to LBJ. Partly because of increasing number of tourists because of the park and partly from the proliferation of NGOs (mainly Australian ones helping out in birdlife, the handicapped and other good causes), LBJ now has decent boutique hotels and guest houses.

Unspun stayed in one of these, the Bayview Gardens that’s run by a Dutch Guy who came to Flores and didn’t leave. It is located in a beautiful spot, perched just above the village and overlooking the sea and ilands beyond. The views are stunning.

Here’s what it looks like from my hotel room that was air-conditioned, clean and reltively new.

One of the good things about the place was also that they fed you well. Unspun’s daily breakfast looked like this:


In the town dive centers and restaurants catering to foreign visitors have cropped up and provided a contrasting modernity to the basic buildings of LBJ, the kind you see in any small remote town in Indonesia. With names like The Lizard Lounge, The Corner and Gardena, most of these places have the essentials of what a traveler needs – WiFi (srprisingly quite fast) and cold beer.

When the weekend came Unspun was all excited because it was time to dive. The dives were interesting not only because the marine life in the Park’s waters was one of the most diverse and best in the world but also because th conversations with our dive operator made you think about the delicate balance between tourism and conservationand  the local politics and forces at play that make the place a delicate balance. Do it well and the Park and its surroundinggs can be a wonderful showcase a destination of the best of concervation; do it badly and a disaster is waiting to happen. More of the diving and the environment in the next posting.