Thursday, November 22, 2007

Great value gardening books

I was browsing a bookshop next to the hotel where I am staying in Jalan Kemang Raya in Kebayoran Baru last night and I was surprised to see so many locally published books on Adeniums, Aglaonemas, Anthuriums and Caladiums (as well as a few on flowering Euphorbias in which I am not very interested). But what was even more surprisng was the quality of the books. Some were over 200 pages in full colour, and the quality of the photography and reproduction was top class. And another surprise was the price - ranging from 28,500 rupiah (about US$3) to a maximum of 65,000 rupiah (less than US$7).

Most locally published horticulture books that I had seen in Indonesia before were of quite a low quality, but these were excellent value for money. I ended up buying seven! The books contained excellent photographs of over 100 varieties of adeniums, over 300 varieties of aglaonemas, 175 varieties of anthuriums, and 220 varieties of caladiums, as well as very detailed information on propagation techniques. Only trouble was that they were all written in Bahasa Indonesia, so I will have to find someone to translate them for me. The variety names are all in English though, so the books were worth having just as a identification reference.

Another surprise of a different kind was in a taxi on the way to a meeting this afternoon. Whilst stuck in a traffic jam, a magazine vendor approached our window and tried to sell us a copy of Playboy. I've not seen that in a Muslim country before.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jakarta’s aircraft graveyard

Flying into Jakarta this afternoon I noticed the two old Jatayu Airlines Boeing 727s that have been parked by the side of the runway for a few years (PK-JGT and PK-JGN) had been joined by a Batavia Airlines Fokker F28 (PK-YCM). The F28 – the only one still operated by Batavia Airlines - had some flat tyres, so looks like it was being consigned to the ‘graveyard’ along with the 727s.

Jatayu Airlines had its licence revoked by the Indonesian Government in July for safety breaches (it had actually not been flying for a while before that) and Batavia Airlines has also been threatened with closure for safety breaches. Earlier this month parts of a wing of a Batavia Airlines Boeing 737 fell off in flight after mechanics had made some repairs and forgotten to tighten some bolts. Fortunately they managed to land the plane safely.

At least the F28 looks like it is being retired gracefully, rather than waiting until it falls out of the sky which is not uncommon in Indonesia. PK-YCM first flew on 10 April 1981, so they managed to get about 25 years service out of it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Missie beats climate change

I was reading the Australian news site for Murdoch’s papers on the Internet this morning ( The main story was the UN Secretary-General’s report to a conference in Valencia about climate change having an even more devastating effect on the planet than even the IPCC report had predicted last year, and that governments needed to do more about cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, and there was another story about the death toll in Bangladesh from Cyclone Sidr having risen to more than 2,000.

But what were the ‘most popular’ stories on the website? The ‘top’ story of the day was about someone called Missie Higgins announcing that she was a lesbian (apparently she is an Australian pop singer), the second most popular story was one about John Travolta having kissed Kirk Douglas, and the third was about Prince William having a bald spot on his head.

Now that’s not to suggest that readers of Murdoch’s website news are a complete bunch of dills, because the climate change story did make it into fourth spot. However, the Bangladesh story didn’t make it into the top ten because there were more important news stories like:

- First pictures of baby Borat;
- Olivier helped me to heat says Minogue;
- Dicko dumps on Idol hopefuls;
- I’m just a country girl says Kerr;
- Falzon’s nude magazine shoot; and
- Di Caprio a virgin says Crowe.

Later in the day I checked back to read the climate change story in more detail – but I couldn’t find it. Instead there was a story about Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s reaction saying the world wasn’t going to end tomorrow because of climate change.

Well, that’s reassuring.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Justice Saudi style

The International Herald Tribune carried a story on its front page this morning about the hundreds of people killed in Bangladesh as Cyclone Sidr ripped through the country yesterday. That was a tragic story, but even more shocking, in a different way, was another story on page 2 about a rape victim in Saudi Arabia who had been sentenced to 90 lashes because she had been sitting in a car with a former boyfriend when they were kidnapped by seven men and both raped.

But what was so shocking about the story was that because she had complained to the media about her sentence being too heavy, the court increased it to 200 lashes and imposed a six months’ jail term as well – and the only law she had broken was being alone with a man who was not her husband.

That’s Saudi justice for you.

To read the full story CLICK HERE

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dubai keeps growing and growing

On the way back from Tehran we stopped off in Dubai for three nights to attend a conference and some meetings. The conference was at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, right next to the imposing Burj Al Arab, a magnificent building shaped like a billowing sail. The picture below was taken from the terrace coffee shop at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

We couldn’t afford to stay at the Burj Al Arab (billed as the world’s most luxurious hotel - cheapest rooms US$1,500 a night) or even the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (cheapest rooms US$950 a night), so ended up at the Arabian Park Hotel, a three-star hotel on the edge of the desert at Al Jaddaf, not far from the airport. The room was only 20 sq m but even that cost us US$250 a night. Dubai is getting so expensive these days. I remember when I first started going to Dubai about five years ago, I could stay at the five-star Sheraton on Dubai Creek for that price, but alas no more. The view from our room at the Arabian Park Hotel (below) was not quite as impressive as that from the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

On the way back from the second day of the conference, the taxi took me via the new Dubai Marina which is under construction. It is a massive development with skyscrapers shooting up everywhere around a 3 kilometre long marina on the other side of Palm Jumeirah. It is almost like they are rebuilding Dubai again (in fact some of the maps call the area ‘New Dubai’). None of the buildings in the picture below are occupied yet – they are all under construction simultaneously – and this is only a fraction of the construction that is going on in Dubai because not far away they are building Dubai World Central, Dubai Sports City, Dubai Golf City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, City of Arabia, Falcon City of Wonders, the Mall of Arabia (which will be the largest shopping mall in the world) and a 20 sq km extension to the Jebel Ali Free Zone. Dubai just seems to keep growing and growing at a pace I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.

The amount of construction going on is breathtaking, and wherever you look in Dubai, you can’t avoid seeing the world’s tallest building slowly rising over half a kilometre into the sky and dwarfing all the other skyscrapers on the horizon. The final height of Burj Dubai (on the right in the picture below) is a secret, but most believe it will be over three-quarters of a kilometre high. Currently it is up to floor 156 and at 585 metres high it is already taller than any other building in the world. I guess after Burj Dubai is finished in 2009, someone will try to build a skyscraper a kilometre high – I wonder if I will live long enough to see it.

On our first night in Dubai we took the free hotel mini-bus to Wafi City – a nearby shopping mall to have dinner. It was quite new and constructed like an ancient Greek temple.

The mall was almost deserted and we asked the Filipina waitress at the restaurant where we had dinner why it was so quiet. She replied matter-of-factly: “Oh, only sheiks and rich foreigners come here.” As we were neither sheiks nor rich, we worried about what the meal would cost us, but it wasn’t too bad – about double the price of eating out in Malaysia – and probably cheap by European standards. The food was excellent, and I had a large freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for 20 dirhams (about US$5) which was good value given the price of pomegranates. As we walked back through the almost empty mall, we wondered how all the upmarket designer stores could survive with such a scarcity of customers.

On our last day in Dubai, we had a few hours to spare after my last meeting, so we took a taxi down to the textile souk in Bur Dubai, and then an abra across Deira Creek to the Gold Souk, to check that there was still something of the old town there and they hadn’t been replaced by new skyscrapers and shopping malls. We discovered that was where all the people were – like any Middle Eastern souk, they were jam-packed with locals and tourists alike, who obviously knew they could get a better deal in the souk than in the Versace and Gucci stores in Wafi City. We’d heard that the abras (the wooden boats that provide the ferry services across the creek) were going to put their fares up to 3 dirhams a trip, but the boatman asked only for one dirham from us. So obviously the fares haven’t gone up yet.

On our abra trip across the creek I sat over the engine cowling and watched the boatman deftly steer the boat with his bare feet. Maybe when the fares go up he’ll be able to afford to buy a pair of shoes.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Divine Martyrs

Tonight we are winding down after a hectic week of meetings in Tehran. Althugh the days were busy, we did get a break most evenings for a dinner or cultural performance.

The highlight of this trip to Tehran was definitely a performance of ‘The Divine Martyrs’ by the IRIB Symphony Orchestra at the National Library. It was the most incredible piece of music that I have heard in a long time. It was composed by Hooshang Kamkar and was performed in ‘Mahour’ – a style of traditional Iranian music featuring the ‘santoor’ and ‘daf’ as accompanying instruments.

The words of ‘The Divine Martyrs’ are from a poem by the famous Persian poet and philosopher, Molana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad Molavi (who also called Jalal al-Din Muhammad Mevlana in western literature and commonly known as ‘Rumi’). The singer for the performance I attended was Mohammad Abdolhosseini who was very impressive. (I must check to see if he has recorded any CDs next time I am in Iran). The orchestra was conducted by Mohammad Bigleri Poor and the choir by Razmik Oohanian.

A highlight of a different kind was meeting the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was a smaller man than I expected, but he had a long and warm handshake, and came across as a very friendly person – so different from the impression of him that is gained from the western media. After his speech to the conference I was attending, the delegates crowded around him for photos – somehow I couldn’t imagine George W. Bush’s secret service bodyguards allowing people to get that close to their President.

As is often the case when I visit Iran, many of my memories of the trip relate to the wonderful meals that I had in different places. I remember the delicious plate of fresh pomegranate that I was served during one of my meetings, and the tasty freshly-baked Iranian bread, that I had hot from the oven for lunch one day in a restaurant down town. I’m not a big meat-eater (in fact I’m almost a vegetarian), but I can never resist the lamb kebabs when I am in Iran – so tender and tasty. And the salads are so fresh as well – eating in Iran is very healthy compared to many other Asian countries.

One of the British delegates remarked to me that it was probably doing him a lot of good not to have access to alcohol for a few days. He said the non-alcoholic beer was surprisingly good – only he couldn’t get used to not waking up with a hangover the next day!