Travel Books

Travel Books: Indonesia

Trying to stay on the cheap while travelling, I was relying on eBooks I could get from Toronto’s Public Library as reference for travel material. It soon became clear, however, after searching for “Indonesia” in the Library’s collection, that Indonesian books aren’t high on the list for serving Torontonians public interest. An amazing discovery, I know.

So, it meant I had to spend money on a book (Gasp). It became a mission:  looked for a decent book on Bali for a while. There were some that got high praise, Under the volcano by Cameron Forbes, plus others which came out of the 1930s (Bali’s golden era, when ex-pats and artists set up here) – but thought there themes might be too specific about an aspect of Bali (one on gamelan music, for example) or from a too distant era.

So, I went with this one below, and swallowed hard as I forked over a few bucks.

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It’s a decent enough book, providing a survey of the island’s history, including a glimpse at Holland’s colonial past on the island. Found it wavered into academia in parts and detailed hierarchies of the royal family over time (ex. this prince was married to this caste, which if you remember is non-royal caste that contained a third cousin from a previous marriage with his second cousin from royal lineage. Huh?). Sometimes it felt as tangled as trying to sort out the starting point of Internet traffic.

Overall though, found it a decent primer to learn about how the island’s image as this idyllic backdrop was largely cultivated by ex-pats, and isn’t entirely relevant of the actual Balinese culture.

Book I started but didn’t/couldn’t finish 

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It’s a story about poor kids growing up in Sumatra and looking for inspiration in their lives. It was a decent enough book, but I found it a bit too simple and fairy-tale like. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and so I gave it a pass. From what I gather, it’s a bestseller in Indonesia. Who knows? I might have another shot at it.

Books I’d like to read (if I can get over my cheapness)

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Meant to be a good history of Bali and gets praise from others ala: “If you only read one book on Bali, make it this one”. Since I’ve already read one will that spoil it?

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Set in 1965 in Jakarta, follows story of a journalist around the time of the attempted Communist coup and Sukarno’s iron fist clamping down on it with wholesale impunity. Estimates are that he killed over 500,000 suspected Communists. It was also made into an early 80s film with Mel Gibson.

Travel Books: Philippines

Good books I read on Philippines this trip: 

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A novel within a novel following a Filipino author trying to understand the death of one of his Filipino literary heroes. Told from the point of view of someone whose left the Philippines and returned, offers insights into life in modern day Manila and cultural identity of being Filipino.

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Not directly related to the Philippines – in fact, the story is likely set in Pakistan, based on some descriptions (it’s kept ambiguous to accomodate a larger Asian theme) – but travelling through Manila and seeing tons of high rises and other developments going up plus whispers of a new middle class thanks to customer service centres popping up in the Philippines I was intrigued. It’s a quick read based on a young entrepreneur who chronicles the steps it takes to get up and out of poverty and join the industrial class, including how to bribe and sidestep laws. It was an interesting read.

Book I didn’t read but have on my list: 

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The American influence in Philippines is huge. Obama was on a visit while we were there, reinstating more of an American military presence after they had officially pulled out of all bases in the mid 90s. Interestingly, I learned from papers while I was there that many Filipinos are fine with American influence  (Not all. Some were protesting Obama’s move. But on the whole, pro.)- some even admitting they wished they were an American colony. Anyhow, heard this book was a good one.