20 Nov - 27 Nov 2013 Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur
Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman 316
Adequate and clean double room for MYR 40.60 or US$ 13.50 per night.
Helpful, friendly and competent young staff; very good English. 
Beer: 320-ml cans of ice-cold Tiger Beer (5 % alc./vol.) for MYR 4.99 or US$ 1.60 per regular can from the tried and tested Giant Supermarket +60326947622 in the basement of the opposite Maju Junction Mall.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Tune Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur which we would recommend and for directions:
N 03° 09.62' E 101° 41.81'

Coming together again and updating each other about our previous solo travels: (a) Matt about Korea, Japan and Kalimantan and, most excitingly, (b) Konni about Ontario where she was too busy (i) telling our grandkids Raoni, Tien and baby Ronja countless bedtime stories and travel tales about evil pirates, dangerous volcanoes, funny corals, deserted islands and wild animals, (ii) practising primitive skills and survival techniques with our grandsons during the Headwaters Gathering in the beautiful Beaver Valley thus being prepared to survive the upcoming events in Ontario, (iii) becoming a regular at the Art Gallery of Toronto (free entrance on Wednesday nights) and admiring Ken Thomson’s collection of Chinese snuff bottles, an exhibition of European ship models (many of them made from wood and bone with rigging of silk and human hair from the prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars) and Rubens’ rediscovered masterpiece The Massacre of the Innocents, (iv) tallying the storable winter apples from the garden by the bushel and processing the surplus of damaged ones into apple sauce, apple butter and syrup apples, and last, but not least, (v) experiencing her first and very magic Indian summer in the beautiful woods on the shores of Lake Simcoe, our new head quarters and summer residence.

Taking a trip down memory lane, wallowing in memories about our first winter in Malaysia and our first festive season in Kuala Lumpur in 2008 CE, exactly five years ago, and celebrating our wooden blogpacking anniversary for Southeast Asia.

Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah, the wars they will
be fought again…
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent…
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in…”
(Leonard Cohen)

Comparing our Asian snapshots of 2008 CE with 2013 CE, reflecting on travel photography in general and on our personal learning curves as amateur photographers and deciding to give some unsolicited advice about travel photography, according to our experiences:

(i) The Photographer’s State of Mind:
Get yourself into a resourceful, open-minded and relaxed state of mind, leave your hide-out and interact with the world. Use a silly hat, get drunk or apply any of those fancy “think-positive” techniques. Your own state of mind will spread to and infect your model.

(ii) The Photographer’s Intention:
Release the shutter with the deliberate intention of “I am producing a distinctive photograph right now”. Find your individual style by applying self-imposed technical constraints (e.g. of the subject, of the aspect ratio, of the techniques, of the lenses, of the composition); less is more.

(iii) The Photographer’s Waiver:
Decide if it’s better to give it a miss instead of taking a bad photo.
In the field, if there is a shred of doubt, don’t take this snap. It’s better to take a cerebral snapshot and to enjoy the situation. At your computer, if there is a shred of doubt, delete the image; it’s better to download a good image from the internet and to learn from it.

(iv) The Photographer’s Attitude:
Put your trust into the mind of the viewer of your photo. Your photo is just a trigger for the bigger and better internal picture (and psychological motion picture) inside the viewer’s mind. Allow the viewer’s mind to create interesting internal pictures and movies by offering images of (a) parts and details, (b) symbols and logos, (c) contrasts and contradictions. Co-operate with the viewer’s creative mind, keep the viewer’s mind busy and seduce your viewer to complete your photo, to improve your photo, to add (her or his) sense to your photo, to fantasise about your photo and to mentally exceed your photo.

(v) The Photographer’s Tools:
Remember the meaning of the word photography and master the light with your eye, with your camera and with your computer: (a) see the light, (b) harness the light and (c) bend the light. But, bear in mind, your shoes are your most important piece of equipment. Use them liberally to get closer or further away, to play with angles and to find your unique point of view. 

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Laundering a 6-kg load of our joint dirty linen for MYR 5.- or US$ 1.55 (washed and dried) with the convenient DIY washing machine and tumble dryer in the Tune Hotel Downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Konni: Deciding to stay behind in Kuala Lumpur for my long overdue and very complex dental treatment thus laying solid and affordable foundations for great natural smiles in an unknown future.
“Wer lacht, zeigt Zähne.”
(René Steinberg)

Matt: Taking the yellow Aerobus shuttle coach (c. 70 km, 1 ¼ hours, a whopping MYR 10.- per person) from KL Sentral straight to Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA-LCCT, flying with Air Asia X (“Now Everyone Can Fly Xtra Long”) in a red Airbus A 330-300 from Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA-LCCT to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, formerly Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, for MYR 477.- or US$ 154.50 per person, one way, all inclusive, without changing my watch from Malaysia Standard Time (GMT/UTC + 8:00 hours) to Taiwan’s National Standard Time (GMT/UTC + 8:00 hours), being issued with a 90-day-visit permit to the Republic of China on arrival, free of charge, and taking thereafter an uberefficient and ubercomfortable Ubus +88800241560 overnight coach (340 km including the smooth north-to-south crossing of the Tropic of Cancer near Chiayi City, 4 ½ hours, TWD 420.- or US$ 14.20 per person) from Taipei's international airport straight into the city centre of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city and known as the Harbour Capital (港都) of Taiwan.

Click below for more blog posts about entertaining medical/dental issues

Click below for a summary of this year's travels

Recommended products - click below for your Amazon order from Canada:
For Amazon schnaeppchens from Germany, please click here
For Amazon bargains from the United States, please click here
For Amazon bargains from the United Kingdom, please click here

From the 2013 Moral Travel Compass for Our Grand Children's Journey of Life: 
It’s bad to do unto others as you would not have done unto you;
It’s good to embrace the idea of a free and liberal civic society.
 Keep your bearings!

18 Nov - 20 Nov 2013 Semarang

Southeast Asia
Republic of Indonesia (CPI = 32/100 and BPI = 7.1/10.0)
Central Java aka Jawa Tengah
Jl. Imam Bonjol 177 B
Clean and new standard a/c single room with modern shared bathroom (bak mandi and Asian squat toilet) and good wifi for IDR 110,000.- or US$ 9.90 per night.
Laundry service: IDR 5,000.- per kg, washed and dried (minimum charge per load: INR 15,000.- or US$ 1.35).
Staff: raw beginners but highly motivated and helpful; reasonable English.
Beer: 620-ml bottles of chilled Anker Beer (4.9 % alc./vol.) for IDR 24,500.- or US$ 2.20 per large bottle from the brand-new Indomaret convenience store (24/7 service) on the hostel’s ground floor - world of bliss.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Imam Bonjol Hostel in Semarang and for directions:
S 06° 58.80' E 110° 24.65'

Matt: Overnighting in bustling Semarang, catching up on admin work and visiting the much-vaunted Semawis Night Market aka Pasar Malam Semawis with low-key karaoke, fortune telling and MSG-laden junk food: (i) cremated chicken aka ayam sate with its nasty, acrid smell, for the good Indonesian Muslims, (ii) squidgy and impalpable pork dishes with a greasy texture, for the good Indonesian Chinese, and (iii) the finest selection of darn cheap fructose sugar (more or less hidden in cakes, cookies, biscuits, candy bars and soft drinks as well as in Java’s sweet local specialties: (a) gudeg [a coconut-infused sweet stew of young jackfruit, chicken and hardboiled eggs], (b) kelepon [green rice-flour balls with palm sugar filling] and (c) serabi [coconut milk pancakes topped with chocolate, banana or jackfruit]), certainly the most harmful but perfectly legal drug of our time, for all of the oh-so-sweet Indonesians who love their regular sugar fix and ignore the fact that the tooth-rotting sugar feeds cancer cells, triggers weight gain and leads to low-level inflammations which are at the core of most chronic diseases; metabolically speaking, fructose is alcohol “without the buzz” – cheers!

Matt: Looking back on our first visit to Indonesia, only a couple of years ago, noticing visible changes that have taken place (besides the beer price which has almost doubled), such as (i) less greengrocers and more bakeries in the cities, (ii) less public minibuses and more private scooters in the countryside, (iii) less money changers and more ATMs everywhere, and wondering whether or not Indonesia is a developing nation...

It's not the road we used to know
They tore some buildings down
The traffic's like a pack of dogs
There's fewer trees, windows, fleas
There's concrete on the lawn
There's people here but you are gone…” 

Matt: Saying selamat tinggal to crowded, lively and friendly Central Java aka Jawa Tengah where I survived (i) huge volcanoes which did not erupt, (ii) wild scooters which don’t stop for pedestrians and (iii) those tiny, easily swallowable metal staples which keep the banana leaves and the paper wrappings of nasi bungkus campur together and which hopefully will not stay for ever inside my intestines. 

Matt: Crossing the equator back into the northern hemisphere, thus flying uneventfully with low-cost carrier Air Asia (“Now Everyone Can Fly”) in a worn but undefeatable Airbus A 320-200 from Semarang’s small Achmad Yani International Airport (airport tax for international departures: IDR 100,000.- or US$ 10.85 per person) over the Strait of Malacca to Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA-LCCT for a rather stiff US$ 62.- per person, one way, all inclusive, changing my watch in mid-air from Indonesia Western Time (GMT + 7 hours) to Malaysia Standard Time (GMT + 8 hours), deciding to blow the whistle on Air Asia’s management and to tell the flight captain that his bosses had tried to put me on the company’s payroll for Stasi-like secret spying on Air Asia’s staff (quote from Air Asia’s email: “…to be eligible for RM 50 you must complete all questions and provide the exact name of a cabin crew, as displayed on name tag, for verification purposes … you must not let any Air Asia staff or guests know that you are our Eye in the Sky…”), being issued with another 90-day-visit pass for a “social visit” to Malaysia on arrival, free of charge, taking the yellow Aerobus shuttle coach (c. 70 km, 1 ½ hours, MYR 8.- per person) straight to KL Sentral, hereafter the icy monorail train (MYR 2.50 per person, from KL Sentral to Medan Tuanku) to our pre-booked Tune Hotel in downtown and, best of it all, reuniting with my partner Konni, the flying grandmother-turned-snowbird who had just arrived from our new headquarters in South Ontario.

Click below for more blog posts about fantastic Asian night markets

Click below for a summary of this year's travels

 Recommended books - click below for your Amazon order from Germany:

For Amazon deals from the United States, please click here
For Amazon deals from Canada, please click here
For Amazon deals from the United Kingdom, please click here

From the 2013 Moral Travel Compass for Our Grand Children's Journey of Life: 
It’s bad to go for faster and bigger;
It’s good to notice more subtle distinctions.
Keep your bearings!

06 Nov - 18 Nov 2013 Yogyakarta

Southeast Asia
Republic of Indonesia (CPI = 32/100 and BPI = 7.1/10.0) 
Central Java aka Jawa Tengah 
Jl. Sosrowijayan Wetan GT I/167 
Lotus Losmen +62274515090 berson21@hotmail.com
Standard double room (no. 1) with wifi, private bathroom and nice balcony, plus a sumptuous east-meets-west breakfast, altogether for only IDR 100,000.- or US$ 8.80 per night.
Fully equipped communal kitchen with a big fridge and excellent same-day laundry service (washed, dried and folded) for IDR 5,000.- per kg. 
Friendly and reliable Catholic/Islamic host family; very good English. 
Beer: 620-ml bottles of chilled Anker Beer (4.9 % alc./vol.) for IDR 23,700.- or US$ 2.10 per large bottle from the nearby Malioboro Minimarket and 330-ml bottles of chilled Bintang Pilsener (c. 4.7 % alc./vol.) for IDR 13,700.- or US$ 1.20 per dumpy from the Hero (no joke) supermarket located in the basement of the posh Malioboro Mall.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Lotus Losmen in Yogyakarta, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:
S 07° 47.47' E 110° 21.82'

Matt: Landing smack bang on the Java segment of the international Banana Pancake Trail of "individualised" mass tourism where shady touts, crooked tour guides and dodgy batik sellers work relentlessly on the stream of stressed-out young backpackers from the West and from the East, most of them overweight and overegoed, and noticing interesting similarities between warfare and tourism: (i) perception is replaced with generalisation, (ii) individuals are replaced with stereotypes (e.g. “bad enemy” and “rich tourist”) and, without flinching, (iii) are treated accordingly, neutralised and ripped off.

Matt: Zigzagging between ojek drivers, becak cyclists, andong coachmen, personal chauffeurs and ordinary cabbies to the cultural and political heart of Yogyakarta, the huge 1755 CE corrugated-iron palace aka kraton of the sultans of Yogya (admission: IDR 12,500.- or US$ 1.10 per alien, +62274373321), chatting with the friendly members of the sultan’s not-so-secret service, each of them armed with a traditional kris as personal weapon and clad in classical Javanese dress, and listening to the rather monotone but mesmerising court music and singsong of a traditional gamelan orchestra’s rehearsal in one of the sultan’s airy music pavilions.

Matt: Exploring the ruins of the water castle aka waterkasteel, the leftovers of the sultan’s 1758 CE pleasure park and watersports centre with mysterious pavilions, hidden harems and underground pools, which has recently started a new life as an artists’ quarter with trendy cafés and interesting ateliers, and having pleasant  encounters with local wood carvers, batik makers and painters, such as my friend Somudro +6287739030396 who showed me his latest masterpieces in oil and acryl.

Matt: Inspecting the stony leftovers of Java’s sexy extra-Islamic affair with Buddhism, taking therefore a local bus from Yogyakarta’s Terminal Giwangan to Borobudur’s bus terminal (c. 50 km, 1 ¾ hours, IDR 15,000.- per person), touring the 850 CE Buddhist temple of Borobudur, the ultimate survivor of regular volcanic ash flows, domestic terrorist bombs and the ever-increasing tourist onslaught (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the biggest Buddha temple in the world and Java’s single most popular tourist destination with up to 100,000 visitors on a holiday; admission: IDR 190,000.- or US$ 16.50 per alien) and, being led around by the nose with a Lonely Planet, thus walking “… along narrow corridors past nearly 1,460 richly decorated narrative panels and 1,212 decorative panels in which the sculptors have carved a virtual textbook of Buddhist doctrines as well as many aspects of Javanese life 1,000 years ago - a continual procession of ships and elephants, musicians and dancing girls, warriors and kings.”

Matt: Inspecting the stony leftovers of Java’s sexy extra-Islamic affair with Hinduism, taking therefore the TransJogja a/c city bus 1A from a nearby bus stop straight to Terminal Prambanan (c. 15 km, ¾ hours, IDR 3,000.- per person, one way), touring the awe-inspiring 8th century CE temples of Prambanan (admission: IDR 172,000.- or US$ 14.80 per alien), the best remaining examples of Hindu art in Java, and admiring the vibrant scenes from the Ramayana which are lavishly carved onto the inner wall of the gallery which encircles the 47-m tall Candi Shiva Mahadeva temple.

Matt: Bringing myself back from the petrified past into the current life of the people of flesh and blood around, doing a reality check with the help of those down-to-earth ladies at Yogyakarta’s busy Pasar Beringharjo and provisioning (i) with fresh seasonal fruits (e.g. snake fruit aka salak, carambola aka blimbing and sweet mango aka mangga), (ii) with the usual suspects for crudités among the more or less organically grown local veggies (e.g. Chinese cabbage aka bok choy, leeks aka daun bawang and cucumber aka ketimun) and (iii) with creamy tofu aka tahu, cooked with coconut oil over a wood fire at the nearby village Karang, yummy.

Matt: Restraining myself from opening the hundreds of narrow cages filled with thousands of suffering puppies, kittens, bunnies, birds, squirrels, geckos, bats and many other animals at Yogyakarta’s so-called Bird Market, a heart-breaking place of pain and shame ("Mr. Mayor, Tear Down This Market!"), and watching afterwards Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion on my hard-wearing Taiwanese Acer laptop computer:
“Dominion does not mean domination. We hold dominion over animals only because of our powerful and ubiquitous intellect. Not because we are morally superior. Not because we have a ‘right’ to exploit those who cannot defend themselves. Let us use our brain to move toward compassion and away from cruelty, to feel empathy rather than cold indifference, to feel animals' pain in our hearts.”

Matt: Floating with the arctic TransJogja city buses 3A and 2B (IDR 3,000.- per person for a transfer ticket) to Terminal Jombor, taking from here a rugged non-a/c Sumber Waras bus +62293365173 (c. 130 km, 4 ¾ hours, IDR 25,000.- or US$ 2.15 per person, including a couple of guitar-playing but tone-deaf buskers rendering In Bahasa Indonesia anti-US and anti-Israel songs) through a stunning countryside, dotted with volcanoes, to the outskirts of Semarang and eventually a convenient a/c BRT city bus for IDR 3,500.- straight to my next hostel located in the city centre of Semarang, Central Java’s provincial capital city.
"I am leaving the town to the invaders: increasingly numerous, mediocre, dirty, badly behaved, shameless tourists." 

Click below for more blog posts about the Banana Pancake Trail
For Amazon schnaeppchens from Germany, please click here
For Amazon bargains from the United States, please click here
For Amazon bargains from Canada, please click here

From the 2013 Moral Travel Compass for Our Grand Children's Journey of Life: 
It’s bad to be a butterball;
It’s good to eat plants.
 Keep Your Bearings!