I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Animal kingdom in city streets

“Do we have any respect for animals?” was the theme of one conversation at a lunch on Friday at the fabulous Circa restaurant here in Melbourne. The question came up as Circa makes a big issue out of sourcing organic produce, finding happily bred, free-ranging animals to eat, and right at our backs was a massive herb wall which the chefs pluck green goodies from.

Interestingly, in Jakarta, a Japanese chef told us that they do not use Japanese wagyu beef because the Japanese, to increase the fat content in the meat, not only massage the cows but also feed them beer, thus making the meat haram, and unable to be eaten by Muslims (Indonesia being a predominantly Muslim state). Instead, they source their hugely expensive wagyu from here in Australia. Hurrah for us!


It got me to thinking about the animal market in Jakarta, a strip in the suburban streets which is billed as a bird market. But when we got there, not only were there bright parrots, finches and all manner of songbirds, but loads of weird animals I’ve never seen before. One guy, obviously a specialist in the weird, pulled out a lemur, a furry little beast with the HUGHEST EYES.

I thought were found only in Madagascar, but apparently this lot is indigenous to Sumatra. Adezah, who was hanging out with us there, used to have one as a pet, and he held it gently, while it clung to his fingers desperately, almost lovingly, its little warm hands shaped like a frog’s. Apparently, lemurs are traded illegally, their Indonesian population under threat.

There were also spookily long-legged rabbits, perky iguanas, a rooster with a black comb and face, an upside-down fruit bat, loads of owls (which the Indonesians call ‘ghost birds’), a tank full of black scorpions and hundreds and hundreds of mice, bred as food for the many snakes on offer. A nice lady modeled an American ball python for me, its thick waist wrapped around her neck, and everyone was quite happy to let me pat or photograph their animals.


The saddest sight at the market, though, was a couple of tiny monkeys, just two months old, sitting in an empty cage by the busy roadside, staring uncomprehendingly at the traffic with wild green eyes.
I photographed them to show you.

I’ve seen monkeys in street pet shops before (in Cairo, remember?) but these were so young, so tiny, and so bewildered, they came to mind at my posh lunch yesterday. In this instance, no, we have no respect for animals.


Red light alert: Jakarta on sale

All the world loves a bargain and Jakarta is currently on sale. Armed with a handful of adept and hardened shoppers, I tottered behind them, from store to store, their cries ringing in my ears, “Zara! Kate Spade! Massimo!”

They were right, it was bargain central, as the world over enjoys mid-year sales.

In return, I dragged them to the markets. Oh, I love a good market. Of course, this being south-east Asia, the markets don’t mean overpriced organic tomatoes and artfully arranged eco-carrots, but Jakarta has a couple of streets that are lined with long, thatch-roof stalls, one street for antiques, another for animals.

The antique shops told a story of Jakarta’s history: old Dutch maps, German dictionaries, biographies of the former president Soeharto and stacks of dauntingly instructive, simply named hardcover tomes, including “The Persian Gulf” and “Childcraft”.

I found a stuffed kumbung (yes I’ve googled it and can’t find it anywhere, either, but it’s a type of animal, I’ll keep searching), a preserved turtle and a cupei (ditto kumbung, I think I must have written this down wrong, serious language barriers going on here), a weasel-like animal with wild glass green eyes.

This market’s also a great stop for puppets, including this fetching duo of Barak Obama and the Indonesian  mega-moutful of a president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon, more sensibly known as SBY (which started to get me all mixed up – SJP. No, that’s Sarah Jessica Parker. JPY. John Paul Young. Wrong again).

My shopping companion on this trip trotted away with a set of East Javanese puppets and some old weights, and me? The ultimate kitsch gave my baggage that extra oomph, a pair of brass betel nut cutters from Sumatra. Going cheap. Obviously a must-have when visiting Indonesia.


Shower power and the Jakarta jam

It’s said Jakarta’s traffic is some of the worst in the world – which is a big call when you’re considering Manila, Bangkok and lovely Cairo. If this sweeping statement wasn’t true, I’d be able to tell you more about Jakarta – the shops, the cafes, etc etc. But much of the afternoon of planned sightseeing was spent encased in a mostly-stationary mini-van, looking at spectacular buildings, but unable to find out what they were and who designed them.

We did, however, see the school that little Barry went to (yeah, that’s Barak Obama to everyone else in the world), and Sukharno’s last erection, as the locals refer to the National Monument. The 137 metre column was the site of an anti-drugs demonstration, the friendly coppers told us. With its young guys in polyester tracksuits waving their arms in time to some fairly miliaristic music, it looked more like a North Korean mass jazzercise program.

Friendly’s the key word here: Jakarta is far less conservative than the international press would have it. Visions of veiled women and mass religion seems far from the truth: we are constantly waved at by smiling kids and adults alike and the city is a mixed bag of morals from headscarves to shorts on girls, and from my limited experience in bars (ok, so I’ve been to only one to date) accommodating to the extreme.

However, who needs bars and nightclubs when you have a shower like I’ve got a shower? The Italian cubicle is a standalone affair in my hotel bathroom that requires some serious thought, otherwise you’d end up leaping in there at 8am, hitting every button, which includes aircon, radio, sauna and water. And it all comes hitting you at once. Steamy, loud and sweaty, I could have been in a nightclub. Now if I could just program the world’s first free-thinking toilet to bring me a drink…


Flushed with success in Jakarta

So a group of us go into this amazing five-star hotel in Jakarta and we’ve all got massive suites that are twice the size of my Melbourne apartment. The food is fabulous, the company gorgeous, but the conversation? Well, it comes about as we all check in, then dash upstairs to refresh before dinner and all we can talk about as we assemble in the lobby? The toilet.

Friends, this is not any toilet. This is, to grab that exhausted cliche, state of the art. From the toilet meisters, Japan. I’m so impressed, I’m going to show you the control panel. Take a look at that puppy. Yes, it has rear cleansing (soft and hard), front cleansing, options for pulsating or osicillating water and… a dryer. The seat is pre-heated to a toasty warmth and the lid welcomes you by opening itself. Hours of entertainment, people. And after that, there’s the European shower, a cabinet that includes a light overhead, radio and lots of other buttons. I’ll report back…


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