There’s no getting around it. The favourite travel moments of the Jakarta-born, Singapore-raised SBS TV presenter (and beer connoisseur) have a common theme: bars and the blues.
2009: Oxford, Mississippi
Mississippiiiii! Georgiaaaaa! Alabamaaaaahh! Oh, I love that region of America. I did a road trip with a friend from Atlanta, across Georgia and Alabama to a town in northern Mississippi called Oxford. It was a literary pilgrimage for me because it’s the hometown of my favourite author, William Faulkner. Mississippi has idiosyncratic alcohol licensing laws and the housekeeper at our B&B warned us that there was no drink to be had on Sunday. She directed us to a humble shack at a junction down the road, which is good for Sundays. The establishment was called Bette Davis! You could drive right past it if you didn’t know but it was doing brisk business. People just hung around on a patch of dirt outside, drinking and chatting. It was so charming and that’s what’s nice about that part of the world; it hasn’t gone like the rest of us – chain stores, chain coffee shops, chain this and chain that. It’s totally untouched. I just loved it.
2009: Clarksdale, Mississippi
Clarksdale, by the Mississippi River, is the birthplace of the Delta Blues. All the big names – John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters – came from this one dilapidated town, half of which was boarded up. Our visit coincided with an international blues harmonica competition so the sound of the blues harp permeated the air. We went to a little music shack one night and all these competitors got up and played. When we left the club at about 1am, the wide streets were deserted and dark but we decided to walk around. After a few steps, I thought I heard a familiar song. As we continued, it got louder and louder. It was Bob Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), the recorded version. It got louder and louder and I became obsessed with finding the source. We finally zeroed in on this place. All the lights were off and there was no-one inside. I think it was some kind of bar and the last thing someone did was put the record on at full volume and lock the place up. It was an almost mystical experience for me. That’s what the South is like. I have a fantasy that I really belong there.
I go to Hong Kong a lot; it’s my favourite metropolis. It’s a cliché to call it vibrant but it is vibrant. I usually go to The Foreign Correspondents’ Club because I like the food and an interesting crowd goes there. I also like having Blue Girl Beer at a little bar with no name on D’Aguilar Street near Queen’s Road Central. It’s run by the owner and her sidekick and you only have to go there once and they make a point of knowing you. The other thing I like about Hong Kong is the people being engaged enough in politics to go out on the streets and be counted. I just like the vibe there. If I had my time again and the decision was up to me, I’d like to have been a Hong Kong native.