Asian Correspondent » James Morgan Asian Correspondent Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Singaraja, Bali 16/03/2010 Thu, 17 Jun 2010 04:38:18 +0000


(Music Recommendation: The Field/Over the Ice)

It’s Hari Nyepi today in Bali. The first day of the Balinese-Hindu calendar and there’s a 24-hour curfew from sunrise this morning until first light tomorrow, the streets are empty and anyone caught outside their house could face a ‘no bribe’ jail sentence. Last night there were big ceremonies all over Bali, giant papier-mâché monsters were marched through the streets to the beat of gamelan orchestras, cows were ripped apart by competing banjars and women left the temples with flaming torches to scare evil spirits away. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a big project on magic and ritual in Indonesia, so I went along to one of the small villages outside of Singaraja (North Bali) to take a few images and learn a bit more about the ridiculously complicated calendar system that organises Balinese ceremonies. 

There’s a few different explanations of the 24 hour ‘seclusion day’ – some say it is to hide and trick the evil spirits into thinking there’s no one living in the village. Other, more analytic, Balinese explain it as a day for self reflection, an opportunity to reconnect with family and a chance to assess your contribution to the world in the previous year – sort of like a government-enforced, socially-conscious version of making new years resolution. Sort of.


 A teenage girl goes into a trance at a pre nyepi ceremony, Bali, Indonesia.

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Sipidan, Bali, 14/03/2010 Thu, 17 Jun 2010 04:33:31 +0000


(Book Recommendation: Herman Hesse/The Glass Bead Game)

The last couple of weeks have passed in a blur, I’ve been buzzing around on a ridiculous pink motorbike, surfing at sunrise and then working all day following leads and distractions, moving all my stuff from house to house through rice fields and past endless gamelan drenched temples. Turns out I was probably suffering from hypochondria rather than dengue and after a couple of days bathing in cold water I started feeling much better.

I’m up in the mountains now, been swimming in the freezing mountain streams and dozing off on the rocks in the sunshine. At the moment I’m sitting in front of my little cabin looking out over the paddy fields that stretch all the way down to the ocean on the horizon. I’ve got all my notebooks laid out in front of me, trying to piece together a logistics plan for the Bajau Project.

I’m still trying to decide where to start; the choices are South Philippines, Eastern Malay Borneo, Kalimantan or Sulawesi. There’s no shortage of leads – I have an Indonesian friend here in Bali who’s directly descended from the Bajau in Kalimantan, in fact her great great grandfather was the Raja Laut (king of the sea), and could apparently walk on water, then I met a woman in Raja Ampat who had worked with nomadic Bajau as part of her work for an NGO up in north Sulawesi and I also have a phone number (which apparently works once a month – seemingly at random) for a French guy called Ryan who has married a Bajau woman and settled in a Bajau community in South Sulawesi.

There are of course all sorts of complications, the south Philippines is very unstable at the moment and there’s sadly been quite a few murders of foreign journalists and aid workers recently, there’s also the problem of the Malaysian government’s rigid view of commercial documentary making, not just in terms of visas and fees but also in terms of censorship. I’m also planning to work with a videographer who’s currently in Singapore and very patiently waiting for the go ahead, plus I have another assignment in China which I really need to shoot first…



Odalan Ceremony, Buahan Village, Central Bali.


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Kerobokan, Bali, March 2, 2010 Mon, 24 May 2010 04:30:13 +0000

(Film Recommendation: Latcho Drom/Tony Gatlif)

I’m back in Bali now, it’s been too rushed to write for the last week or so. I’ve been feeling a bit ill the last few days, there’s a lot of Dengue going around at the moment. Johnny’s girlfriend just got out of hospital with all sorts of horror stories of hallucinating and sweating blood. We fumigated his house today, it felt like a scene from a horror movie, somewhere between the exorcist and ghost busters. Someone has kindly lent me a house for a few days, it’s got no fan and no air conditioning and I’ve got a bit of fever so I’ve been lying in the bath all day watching Latcho Drom and listening to gypsy music. I’m hoping it’ll pass soon.

Johnny watches on as his house goes up in smoke


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Papua Diving, Raja Ampat, February 21, 2010 Mon, 24 May 2010 04:29:32 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Manitoba/Dundas, Ontario)

We’re at Papua diving today, another eco ‘resort’, to meet with Max Ammer who is very much the pioneer of eco tourism in the region. The story for both the guardian and destination is really about the crossover of ‘sustainable tourism’, local culture and conservation efforts. Max came here initially to find old world war two aircrafts that had been crashed and abandoned in the jungle interiors of Way Geo and some of the other larger islands. The resort here is managed by two south African underwater photographers who come up with some of the most ridiculous after dinner conversation – stories of coaxing Salma Hayek into a decompression chamber by showing her finding nemo, and getting dragged around the ocean floor by sharks wearing chain mail, they both had their arms ripped off (and subsequently stitched back on – you can do that apparently) by sharks whilst working in the Bahamas!

Another reason we’re here is to try out Max’s notorious ‘experimental’ aircraft, it’s a plastic death trap, we went on a reccy today to photograph, it was overcast so really just a trial run to work out what focal lengths can reach through the maze of wires and still be wide enough (the plane is completely open, just a seat, on a float, with an engine). Ostensibly the plane, paid for by conservation international is for patrolling the area to find shark-finning and illegal fishing boats, in reality it is used more for surveying and bemoaning government spending and development policy as Max flies me over roads that lead to absolutely nowhere from absolutely nowhere. We’re hoping the weather clears up tomorrow to get some aerials, but it was incredible just to see coral reefs from above and watch the shadows of giant mantas moving along the reefs.

Papua Diving, shot from Max Ammer’s sea plane


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Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat, February 20, 2010 Wed, 05 May 2010 07:06:54 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Steve Reich/Music for 18 Musicians)

We’ve spent the last week at Misool eco resort in the south of the Raja Ampat region, Misool is the main hook for the story, it’s a 5 star eco resort built entirely from driftwood. The resort only has eight rooms and is run by a really sound couple who clearly have their heads in the right place with regard to the potential for sustainable businesses to make headway in areas environmental NGOs struggle to be effective.

It’s been a nice break this week, sleeping in a comfortable bed, eating good food and doing lots of recreational diving. Image wise there’s been a mix of shooting hotel type images (the rooms are all on stilts over a beautiful coral bay) and some more interesting underwater stuff. We had one great shoot at a local village, about an hour by boat from Misool, where I dove down below the jetty and photographed kids diving in from above.

Watching them dive in and tumble down twenty/thirty feet to within inches of the sea bed and kick off really reminded me of why I am so excited about the Bajau project. I was prepared for them to look at home in the ocean but the way they move underwater is just extraordinary, it reminded me of trying to photograph penguins in the Galapagos a few months ago. They move so fast, spinning and spinning with their eyes wide open, even the shy awkward kids on land suddenly become confident and graceful underwater.

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Kep Wayag, Raja Ampat, February 11, 2010 Wed, 05 May 2010 06:54:10 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Singing Statues/Off the Axis)

This morning we stopped in at the village of Saweo, just three hours south of Kep Wayag, to meet the village elder and record him telling some folk tales in his dying language Kawe. Johnny is hoping to get back here to compile an anthology of the local mythology and we both share the opinion that travel journalism should be comprised as much as possible from local voices.

We arrived here in Wayag around midday. I was sitting up at the bow as we pulled into the bay. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of the world in my lifetime – but I’ve never seen a place as beautiful as this.

It looks like god’s first painting after discovering blue. The sea is a mixing pot of colours I’ve never seen before, vast schools of fish fill the sea under the boat and Wayag, a collection of jungle-covered islets rises up out of the water fringed by white sand beaches and guarded by black tip reef sharks. I lugged all my equipment up to the top of one of the islets and shot a landscape of the entire bay.

No one lives on Wayag, it’s a designated conservation area, and it’s staffed by five or six locals from Saweo who patrol it to stop illegal fishing. The area is a potential gold mine for shark finners and long liners. We spent the rest of the day underwater, free diving the endless miles of reef that fill the sea between these islands. Unfortunately the boat leaves tomorrow and if we don’t go with them we’ll probably be stuck here for the next few months, which doesn’t sound like such a bad thing right now…


Kep Wayag, Raja Ampat, Irrian Jaya.

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Chindana Pearl Farm, Raja Ampat, February 10, 2010 Wed, 28 Apr 2010 04:17:22 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Colleen/Everyone Alive Wants Answers)

We did leave the next morning. I woke up to the sounds of the engine starting and I rubbed sleep out of my eyes as we pulled out into the ocean. The wind had picked up again the night before and it had got quite cold sleeping on deck, but now the sea was as flat as glass and almost as transparent. The boat is really just a big blue floating climbing frame and a favourite spot quickly emerged – right up at the bow the anchor guide stretches precariously out in front of the boat and, with a bit of foolishness and balance, you can hang way out over the ocean as it flies by underneath you. An hour or so in I was zoned out listening to music watching the sea stretch out to the horizon in all directions when a young humpback whale jumped right in front of me sending a shower of flying fish scattering across the ocean, it really looked and sounded like smashing glass. A few seconds of splash and frantic activity and the ocean flattened out again as if nothing had happened.

In the evening we reached a pearl farm that’s vaguely relevant to the story and shot a bunch of frames of people holding hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pearls and stashing them in mafia briefcases to ship off around the world.

Heading north in Raja Ampat


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Doum Island, West Papua, February 10, 2010 Wed, 28 Apr 2010 04:16:14 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Lukid/Wake Up)

When I woke up this morning we were still in dock and most of the crew had disappeared, apparently the generator was broken.

The generator was eventually fixed, but by then the wind had picked up too much and the captain said we would have to wait another day. We are working to some fairly tight deadlines for this story and these continuous set backs are a bit worrying. In the afternoon we moved out of the harbour and moored off the unfortunately named Doum island. Having resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going anywhere we spent the day swimming around and back flipping off the boat. Fortunately Johnny’s sense of humour is as resilient as mine. We’re due to leave at 4 AM tomorrow (weather depending), I’m sitting on the roof of the boat right now, listening to music, clocking stars and counting my blessings that at least I’m out of so wrong…

Construction Workers welcoming a distraction on Doum Island


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Sorong, West Papua, February 9, 2010 Wed, 28 Apr 2010 04:15:10 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Susumu Yokota/Azukiiro No Kaori).

The boat didn’t leave today either.

We’ve been in ‘so wrong’ three days now. I left Johnny doing some work in the hotel and went to join a teacher friend we’d made, Mitha, at her school. Initially I was supposed to teach English but I ended up getting swarmed by kids and being forced to photograph numerous variations of that great American export – the gangster pose. I always try to photograph people as they see themselves, not as other people want to see them, but I can’t imagine the Guardian travel section will take too kindly to these particular images.

Eventually Mitha decided the kids were far too excited and so she decided school would have to be cancelled. We went off to climb a big hill on the edge of Sorong with one of her friends, Oktrin, whilst the kids stayed in the classroom bashing each other with the chairs and tables. Half way up the mountain Oktrin saw a figure in the distance and refused to go any further, “ada apa?” “cannibal”, utterly convinced that if we went any further the ‘village man’ would ‘makan hati kita’ eat our hearts, we were forced to return, mad ethnic mix here in Sorong, the Papuans are a minority, bugis from Makassar come over for work, the Javanese come over, the Chinese come over, oil companies are here, mineral companies are here, the Papuans didn’t stand a chance, their land bought quite literally for peanuts and the indigenous pushed back into the jungle and misappropriated into cannibals and evil spirits.

I got back to the hotel and Johnny was standing on his head watching Anaconda on fuzzy cable TV. Sorong isn’t the best place to get stuck. We’re both keen to get started working, but we’re completely at the mercy of the conservation international boat, there aren’t any other boats that go where we’re trying to go.

We eventually got word that the boat would leave at 4AM the next morning and we could sleep on it tonight. We were invited to Oktrin’s grandparents for dinner and got talking to her grandfather about magic, Oktrin’s grandfather tried out his magic on his dog and killed it dead, his brother had to bury the body. Quite an enigmatic man, he says he doesn’t perform magic any more because he has turned to Christianity, although sometimes he does it in secret to help fishing. We were taken down to the harbour by the whole family and eventually, after days of waiting, got on the boat and fell asleep on the deck in high spirits.

One of Mitha’s students on discovering that his hyperactivity had successfully closed school for the day


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Sorong, West Papua, February 8, 2010 Wed, 28 Apr 2010 04:14:36 +0000

Sorong, or ‘so wrong’ is a dusty frontier town awkwardly jammed between the edge of the jungle and the end of the world, from here we’re linking up with Conservation International to take one of their boats out to the northern most island of Raja Ampat, Kep Wayag.

The conservation international boat was supposed to leave today but didn’t. The captain couldn’t find any fuel. It’s a national holiday to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the bible arriving in Papua. We killed some time walking around town, got picked up by a joker called Melle who drove us around on his motorbike and we ended up in a pool bar being told that Obama was almost definitely coming to Papua today to join in the festivities.

Melle Martin Mebisse catching jokes in Sorong


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Sorong, West Papua, February 7, 2010 Thu, 18 Mar 2010 02:13:29 +0000

(Music Recommendation: Four Tet/Sing)

I arrived in Indonesia about a week ago. Before I begin searching for the Bajau Laut, I have an assignment for the Guardian and Destinasian magazine at the far eastern end of Indonesia in Irian Jaya (West Papua).

I met Johnny, the writer I’ll be working with for the next few weeks, in Bali. We flew down to Makassar, south Sulawesi, this morning and we’re being hosted by a girl, Indah, who we got talking to at the airport. Makassar has a significant population of bugis, another sea faring ethnic group indigenous to Sulawesi. The ferociousness of bugis, who would ply the ocean in spectacular hand-made Phinisi schooners often attacking European ships, is the root of the ‘bogeyman’ from British children’s stories.

We went down to the harbour earlier, it felt like the whole town was out, perched along the sea wall watching boats bob in the moonlight. It’s almost dawn now and I’ve been up all night on the balcony listening to music and getting excited about going to Papua, I’ve wanted to go for years. In a few hours we’re taking a flight to Sorong, the northern-tip of Irian Jaya. The story we’re shooting is about Raja Ampat – a series of islands off the coast – goggle at it on google, it’s the most marine bio diverse region in the world…

Indah’s children: Nabila Maydinaposia Saturani & Deraroca Kusuma Agung at home in Makassar, South Sulawesi

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The Transiberian Railway Sat, 19 Dec 2009 01:07:39 +0000

These are a selection of images from my time couch surfing on and around the transiberian railway in the first few months of this year. Some incredible people, some incredible places, some awful food, lots of standing around naked in people’s gardens steaming whilst they beat me with sticks. Apparently it’s good for you.

Thanks to everyone who put me up and showed me the magic bits of Siberia. Special thanks to the old baboushka on the train who fed me every morning from Moscow to Tomsk, I still have the lucky charm you gave me tucked in with my flash synch cable. No thanks to the drunk soldier who tried to stab me and then fell asleep on my seat, if my baboushka ever finds you she’ll give you the what for mate. 



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Child trafficking: Nepal-India Tue, 27 Oct 2009 11:02:46 +0000

Every year twelve thousand children are illegally trafficked over the Nepal-India border. These portraits were taken whilst on assignment for an anti-trafficking organisation ( For child protection reasons I have decided to show six portraits of Nepali children who have not been victims of trafficking in the most obvious sense, but whose photographs I keep coming back to. The manner in which these children held themselves in front of the camera spoke volumes to me about the attitudes of Nepali children more generally and the boundless hope and optimism with which they face the seemingly endless barriers to a happy and peaceful life. To see the whole story please visit



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Kazakh eagle hunters of Bayan Olgii Mon, 19 Oct 2009 19:45:04 +0000

The Kazakh Eagle Hunters of Bayan Olgii live in the mountains of far western Mongolia. Having fled Kazakhstan two hundred years ago as the soviet empire advanced, these diaspora Kazakhs have been able to hold onto traditional kazakh practices much more successfully than those they left behind in Kazakhstan. In fact, when the soviet empire collapsed, prime minister Nursultan Nazarbayev began offering Kazakhs in the the Bayan Olgii region incentives to return to Kazakhstan in order to try and restore some of the lost culture.


I traveled to the region, a gruelling three day non-stop bus ride from the capital of Ulan Bataar, in the hope of finding some eagle hunters who would be willing to share their way of life with me. I was fortunate enough to be taken in by Kwanduk who took me to his family’s house five hours south of Olgii where I stayed for a few days playing dombra and learning all about the art of eagle hunting.



In the evenings the family would share a sheep boiled in melted ice, wasting nothing, and eating communally from one plate. As a guest I was in charge of cutting the meat and encouraged to have more than my fair share of the intestines, before going out to see more stars than I knew existed. I had an amazing time in the Olgii region of Mongolia, an area rarely visited by outsiders, particularly in the freezing winters where temperatures often get down to -30 and below. I hope Kwanduk’s family enjoyed and learnt as much from the exchange as I did.




For more please visit:

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