Category Archives: Greenspeak


Every time I’ve walked into my pantry for the past few months I have been beguiled by the rich, evocative aroma of cloves. There aren’t a lot of clove trees around Ubud. Wayan Manis’ mother planted one about 15 years ago just for the hell of it, and now harvests eight to ten kilograms a year. I help the family to sell as much as I can, but it’s a glut on the market and inevitably a big sack remains in the pantry, perfuming the air. Cloves have been around for a long time. They’ve been found in a ceramic jar ... [ Read More ]


Recently someone on the Facebook Ubud Community page lamented the high cost of quinoa in Ubud. Judging from the responses, I was not alone in finding it remarkable that anyone would move to a small town in rural Indonesia and expect to find abundant, affordable food products from South America. Granted globalisation has created the expectation that everything is available everywhere, all the time. But should it be? Is it cost-effective, ethical or even sensible to buy a bag of quinoa that has traveled 17,000 kilometres instead of freshly harvested, chemical-free heritage rice that was grown just up the mountain?   ... [ Read More ]


Across the ravine, a dog sends its voice into the dense black night. Beside my bed Tika’s ears prick and she raises her muzzle to reply.  For a few moments the timeless call and answer of the canine race echoes through the jungle. The barks vary in length and cadence; a conversation is taking place. I know that Tika has a different vocalisation for these social communications, for strangers at the gate, and for a monitor lizard in the chicken yard. Very interesting, canine language, but at four in the morning it’s just a bloody nuisance and I ask her ... [ Read More ]


How often do we travelers entrust ourselves to strangers when we climb into a taxi in Manila or Cochin or evenCanggu? For over 25 years I’ve been traveling around Asia, often alone.  Countless times I’ve emerged from airports after dark to enter the back of a car driven by a stranger whose language I usually did not speak, and trusted him to take me safely to my destination. Which he  (there are no women drivers in this story) almost always did. A rare exception  took place in Bangkok. During  a brief and unpleasant interlude over a decade ago, a few drivers in that city ... [ Read More ]


I opened Ubud Community Facebook page the other day to see the message “Hey Ubud Peeps! Where can I find a balian healer?” Thus the ancient role of the Balian, who is guided by the gods to aid humans through mysticism and ritual, is reduced to just another item on the tourist itinerary to be sandwiched between a massage and a cycling tour. “I’ve had people tell me they need to be at the airport by five o’clock but still have a few hours, so take me to a healer,” said I Made Surya, who is named in Lonely Planet ... [ Read More ]

Gently Born into a Turbulent World

Being born is not a particularly safe or comfortable transition, especially in the developing world. Every mother and child that survive the first 42 days is a bit of a miracle. And the midwives who support them on that epic journey are humanity’s heroines. Although the two American women who met in Bali about 15 years ago were already mothers and interested in birthing, they had no intention of becoming midwives themselves. But Robin Lim and Brenda Ritchmond became passionate birth keepers; in time, both become licensed midwives and continue to open clinics where women can experience a safe and ... [ Read More ]


Many Ubud folk, upon waking in the morning, will undertake the usual ablutions and then wander to the kitchen to prepare a cup of freshly ground Bali Arabica. They slowly imbibe this glorious brew while watching spears of morning sunlight paint the lush tropical garden and perhaps mulling over the day to come.   If only. My living area is outside. For the past month, my first task upon completing the aforementioned ablutions is to open the front door and assess the damage of the night before.  Because for weeks a single fruit bat has taken to roosting in my high ... [ Read More ]


The Balinese are very practical about their knives. We may treasure our Zhen or Henckels blades but our Balinese neighbours are not into brands.  Nor do they respect ours.  I’m probably not alone in finding a cherished and expensive imported knife tied to a long bamboo pole to chop down a coconut, or used to hack up a woody pumpkin. The knife tips mysteriously disappear and no explanation is ever given.  And instead of being cosseted by a professional knife sharpener, the blades are routinely stropped on the edge of a concrete pathway. The Balinese appreciate a heavy, workmanlike blade and still ... [ Read More ]

Plugging into Indonesia’s Volcanoes

I’ve always wanted to interview a volcanologist.  It takes a certain kind of personality to get up close and personal with an erupting volcano. So imagine my delight to discover that the friendly Sundanese woman I was talking to at a Slow Food event was a geologistwho specialised in volcanoes and geothermal energy.  Picking the brains of scientists is my idea of a very good time, and Ratih Nurruhliati turned out to be one of the country’s most  experienced specialists in her field. Ratih grew up in Bandung, a city surrounded by active volcanoes, and developed a passion for them at an early age.  It was helpful ... [ Read More ]


I’ve recently returned from yet another family visit to Canada. Since moving to Asia in 1990 I’ve made this journey about 35 times but this one was different.  I’ve  lost my father and a sister now. My nuclear family is reduced to my youngest sister and my elderly mother.  As I embraced them at the airport I suddenly realised that I was holding my entire family.  My personal lineage is coming to an end.  Perhaps that’s why I landed back in Bali with a renewed   interest in my roots.  I pulled out the big, messy handwritten genealogy chart I’d been casually compiling over the years which I call The Begats. Then ... [ Read More ]