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Increasing numbers of visitors have been pouring into Myanmar in the two years since the country opened up, many of them to pay homage to thousands of centuries-old pagodas. Some are even believed to contain relics of Buddha, whose teachings have become the faith of Myanmar's majority population.
In the fading sunlight over the golden-domed Shwedagon Pagoda in the middle of Yangon, Myanmar's former capital city, a group of about 20 people sat across from one of the giant Buddha statues, their palms together in prayer. They were Indonesian Buddhists, who had travelled all the way to pay their respects to the stupa which historians and archeologists claim was built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries. On another side of the complex, a group of Thais, facing another Buddha icon, chanted a litany, led by a maroon-robed monk.
A peddler approaches my table and displays his wares: desiccated crocodile penises, tiger claws and cobra oil. Then comes a large jar containing what at first seem to be decaying dog-like kittens in formalin. These revolting specimens, he informs me, are tiger fetuses. For a fee, he will slice a piece off one and concoct a drink to increase my virility. When I insist I don't require aphrodisiacs, he offers to procure me a junior high school girl.
The very heart of Bali beats in its stately palaces. These magnificent royal precincts are at the root of Bali's civilization, where all of Bali's high culture and architectural achievements are concentrated. Although Bali's palaces share many physical similarities, the types of buildings, pavilions and decorations, court etiquette and ritual obligations, customs and dress of residents and the relative status and titles among the raja differ to a remarkable degree.
For someone who remembers when war was raging across Indochina, the country then known as Burma preferred hiding in the closet and China was a brooding malevolence, it is remarkable how easily borders can be crossed these days and how far afield the foreign tourist can wander. Veteran journalist John McBeth reports his impressions down history lane in landlocked Laos.
If Jakarta's food scene is a melting pot of the archipelago's various cuisines, then Papua is the missing ingredient, despite being the biggest province. Indigenous Papuans don't leave home to set up restaurants in other provinces. Those who do come to the national capital are often drawn by wealth to be made from political positions and development programs.
As we reach middle age and death advances on the horizon, many of us try to adopt a healthier lifestyle.Taking up exercise, quitting smoking and curbing drinking can aid longevity. Equally good is cutting down on fatty, salty and sugary foods, and finding something healthier to eat.
How many resorts do youknow have a boulder-strewn river running through themand are totallysurrounded by organic rice fields as far as the eye can see? Have a romping eight-year-old boynamed aftera legendary tree that can live for 4,000 years? Host a martial arts class for local kids? Generateits own hydropower?
In the 1980s, there was a punk band in Melbourne called 'I Spit On Your Gravy. Its Indonesian equivalent could be 'I Cough On Your Rendang. Dont get me wrong Padang food is delicious but Im not so keen on dining on food that other diners may have sneezed and coughed upon.
The popularity of West Sumatras Minangkabau cuisine, with its Indian and Middle Eastern influences, is evidenced by the estimated 20,000 Padang restaurants across Jakarta. Some proprietors attribute the high number to the fact that many men have left West Sumatras highlands to escape the matrilineal culture, in which property is generally inherited by women.
The man noticed me peeking through the wire mesh of the nursery and invited me inside the Orchid House that held pride of place at the top of Bali's famed Kebon Raya Botanic Gardens. Introducing himself as Pak Gede, he showed me the very rarest of orchidsthe green Phapiopedillum javanicum, the Bulbophyllum odoratum with yellow stripes, and the reddish speckled Edindabrium sulawesi.
I remember a tiny dirt-poor farming village surrounded by wide open spaces dotted with crumbling temples. The year was 1975. In those days the one-story museum was in a sleepy garden where the heat clung heavily to the remains of ancient walls, bases and statuary scattered unattended in the open air as sparrows swooped in and out of the maja trees.