Christmas Greetings from BB (and btw the weather can be amazing even if it’s officially monsoon!)…

The festive season has crept up on us and again I have to ask where time went. I have – yet again – seriously neglected the BB blog – so before everyone leaves their desks and chucks their blackberries aside I thought I would give you a quick rundown of affairs on BB and tell you that the weather and sea CAN be amazing over the monsoon (when most of the other islands have shut down for the season). These pics were taken just last week.

And we could even see the coral quite clearly from the boat – something which is generally not the case from November to February.

Elswhere at Batu Batu we are into serious countdown and get-moving mode with opening year 2012 hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. We still have the April Fool’s date etched in our minds but have decided that this will be a soft-opening phase for guinea pig friends and associates willing to forgive BIG in exchange for time on an idyllic island paradise. We will announce a full-public opening date as soon as a few more hurdles have been cleared.

So to recent events. Our jetty should be being piled as we speak – but two weeks ago the barge setting off for Pulau Tengah from Endau carrying the piling materials got stuck in the mud on the river bed just off mainland and a waiting game was played for a few days whilst everyone sat patiently and waited for the tide to rise high enough to dislodge the beached barge. We are also currently loading two further barges to carry all the rest of the construction materials including interior finishings (plaster board, built-in wardrobes), our kitchen equipment (!) and everything to build BRISC on our long beach.

To BRISC – I can actually unveil that we have a new name for BRISC. BRISC was too common – google and you’ll see – (perhaps one of my favourites being Bus Route Information System for Chennai City…). But I’ll save the new name for a post of its own – and for when it is officially registered with the Malaysian companies’ commission. On the (for now we’ll call it) BRISC front – we have John (dive professional and more), Lali (permacultur-ist) and Simon (naturalist) all joining us. Look forward to a programme of nature-based experiences, protection projects and flourishing herb and vegetable gardens. Watch this space for updates on how this all goes.

We were recently on the island with Lightcraft KL – who by the way managed to drive from KL to Mersing in 3 hours!!! – minds buzzing about lighting, effects, colours, placement. We tried out some LED lighting in the restaurant – which was much warmer than I was led to believe and amazing how much light a 3 watt “bulb” can give. We are just waiting now for their complete proposal to arrive!

Dominic Sio our “design man” also joined us and saw the island for the first time – more creative mind-buzzing, brain-storming, styling and fabric and colour sorting. Oh and we have our new logo thanks to Dom. Again not 100% finalised but look here for a taster.

Night night. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hopefully 2012 will be a great one for all!


A hotchpotch of goings-on at Batu Batu

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted about where we’re at on Pulau Tengah. And then it all piles-up and there’s just too much to write about. So here’s a little list / synposis to get us up to date:

Since I last posted things have been moving and we’re hopeful that Batu Batu will be open (if not to everyone – at least to our guinea pig friends) in April 2012. Right now, we have a full work force on the island – Hashim, Sham and Rastam are moving to finish all the structures in the main resort – mainly finishing touches like the walls around each villa’s outdoor shower, steps up to the verandah, indoor finishings to ready the villas for the arrival of Su San and her concrete polishing team.

A big barge arrived about a week ago and brought with it tonnes and tonnes of material plus a big digger. The pool has been dug and is currently being worked on. Some coconut trees had to go – but some were transplanted and others will be used as bumpers for our jetty’s legs. Tee, Leong and his men are busy working on the interiors for our two mock-up villas. I’ll wait to show some pics when they are ready (hopefully within a couple of weeks).

Ian the BRISC architect from Arkitrek has visited us twice to place the BRISC buildings. Work on the Long Beach should start soon. Frank Wilson a sewage and waste water expert also visited us and is now designing a state of the art water system for Batu Batu – so that you can safely drink water out of all resort taps without needing to boil it, the grey water will be recycled to flush the loos and we’ll have plenty of good (and non-smelly!) compost for our vegetable and herb garden.

I visited Hugues and Roberto in Yogyakarta a few months back and they have been busy working on a furniture proposition for Batu Batu – lovely FSC-certified recycled teak furniture. Here’s a picture of their workshop with the old wood piled in the centre. I’ve also stuck in a rendering done by their designer Bayu – who creates amazing 3D images of Batu Batu from scratch so you can get an idea of what things will look like with the furniture in place.

Last week we had Hung from Ho Chi Minh City visit us on PT – a curtain-maker who has provided curtains and blinds for various Six Senses resorts in Vietnam. And we also announced that Evert Onderbeke will be joining Batu Batu as Executive Chef in the new year. We are very excited about this as Evert has excellent credentials – Executive Chef at High Tide KL – winner of Time Out KL’s Best Seafood Restaurant, himself shortlisted for Outstanding Chef of the Year 2010 and mentored by 2-Michelin star chef Roger Souvereyns. We are really looking forward to working together with Evert to create a great dining experience for our guests – conducive to the location and in the spirit of the resort’s aim to source locally and sustainably. Evert will join us in the new year which gives him some good time pre-opening to make friends with the local fishermen, source the best ingredients and create the right menu. We’re really looking forward to some great food!

Talking about making friends with fishermen, we have Simon Buckell – a volunteer from the UK with excellent birding experience – working with us at the moment, conducting some initial studies and creating observational logs on PT and the surrounding area’s wildlife. Together with Hakim, a Wild Asia intern, Simon has been having a taste of life on PT over the past weeks as well as experiencing life onboard local fishing boats with some local fishermen. We’ll get some of his stories posted on the blog in the near future – but here are some of his pictures so far.

On an entirely different subject, we’ve ordered some lovely bikinis for the BB Boutique from Mileti – a new Singapore-based swimwear company. It can be very difficult to find good swimwear out in these parts and we’re pleased to have found and to be supporting a local business. Here’s a sneak preview of the swimwear you might find at the BB boutique.

And last but not least, a couple of people pointed me towards Dominic Sio (thanks Niki and Mike!), a Penang-ite returned from years in Europe – described as a branding genius, a veteran of the fashion / creative / design / branding industry – Dom is helping us create Batu Batu The Brand. Here are a few inspirational ideas he has been feeding us with.

Until next time…

Logos Logos!

I’ve been working with Kv, a graduate fresh from LASALLE College of the Arts who we’ve mandated to design our new Batu Batu logo. We sat together yesterday in The Coffee Connoisseur for a couple of hours, changing colours, changing fonts, moving things around. This is where we’ve got to…

Some opinions please…! Anything? Anyone? Preferences on colour? Do you like this logo? Do you prefer our old one (see it here)? Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

Bali Trip Part 2 – the things I forgot to mention…

The problem with starting a post after dinner and finishing it half asleep – is that you forget to put in everything you meant to. So here’s – Post 2 on Bali – the things I should have mentioned/shown and didn’t.

1) Pictures of Tony’s House/Shop – Naga Mas.

2) The lovely fabric / umbrella shop near Ubud. They have such a variety of fabric and it’s so attractively colour-arranged – I had to show you a picture.

AND – I also wanted to show you the parasols below. I’m not 100% sold on them yet – I’d thought plain canvas traditional parasols would suit Batu Batu’s style – but honestly – these are growing on me. Any opinions – let me know! I’ve included some pics of the Amans in Bali which use these very parasols (Amankila on top, Amanusa below).

3) I wanted to tell you about a dinner we had one chilly(!) evening in Soori with Jen and Mathieu – an Alaskan-French diving-and-much-more couple. They motorbiked all the way from Sanur (no mean feat in the dark on those roads) to meet and have a chat about BRISC (BB’s reef and island study centre). In the summer they dive, and for the past few winter seasons, they ran Morino Lodge – a ski lodge in Japan which had in fact been suggested to us by Hans – my ski-school classmate. Anyway, over a large but slightly too dimly-lit meal, we navigated our way around unknown but tasty food and talked diving and pranayamas and trees and organic vegetable farming and islands and boats and skiing and english lessons and more. Jen and Mathieu are currently working on liveaboards in Bali – but will hopefully make a trip out to Pulau Tengah in August to have a look-see.

One of my very favourite things about working on Batu Batu (staying in luxury hotels for the good of the job aside) has been meeting so many great people who pop-up from all over – through forums, random dive sites, FB, friends of friends. And with internet and social networking sites – it’s been so easy to make contact. When I lived in London and had no real need to network, I hadn’t realised how easy it was to find all these nice, highly competent people to potentially work with. It’s really been a revelation and a bonus…

Eating, lounging, “sourcing” – a working holiday in Bali

We recently returned from a week’s fact-finding / “espionage” / sourcing (i.e. the hospitality industry’s term for “shopping”) trip to Bali. Our first stop – Alila Villas Soori. We’ve been admiring the Alila-style for some time and I felt that it was highly important (!) for the sake of research and the resort to experience it first-hand. We were not disappointed. The resort is not particularly close to anything – the roads around are narrow and pot-holed – and once you’re there, you’re more or less just there. In fact, we didn’t leave the confines of the resort over the three days we stayed there – a good excuse to put those “sourcing” trips on hold and spend the time lazing about the pool and beach (when not running after our highly mobile toddler).  A few things we loved and learned from Alila Soori – the importance of understated, smiling, seamless service, the glasses of icey cold water (with orange slices) which appeared every time we put our bottoms on a sun bed, the lovely sliced wood tables – found all over the resort, their generous use of candles and lanterns at night, the in-villa nespresso machine, the excellent local balinese dishes served at Cotta over-looking the sea, great big breakfasts and the complimentary freshly-made baby food. The villa prices are steep – but I can highly recommend looking at Jetsetter from time to time where we got an excellent deal.

From Soori we moved further east, closer to the more densely populated tourist town, Seminyak. At 3pm on our first afternoon there, irritable with hunger and searching for lunch amongst hundreds of restaurants, we found ourselves at the lovely Cafe Bali – where we were all instantly calmed – my husband by the array of French newspapers on offer, our baby by a large fruit salad and me by the lovely decor and good food.

Other Seminyak highlights included the great variety of beach / resort wear collections ideal for Batu Batu’s boutique (Beachgold and Sabia being two favourites with lots of very floaty simple cotton/viscose summer dresses and simple sandals which I hope to stock on Pulau Tengah). Jalan Gunung Tangkuban Perahu in Seminyak was also a gem for furniture – shop-after-shop-after-shop of reasonably-priced pieces – but you have to be patient and have time as the road runs for several kilometres and there are hundreds of shops to sift through. One shop we came across had a great selection of restored and re-vamped old teak pieces – a few items perfect for our spa pavillion and resort boutique. There were also some colourful, old keropok (indonesian prawn crackers) tins in various shops – cheap and great to use as lanterns.

On our penultimate day in Bali, we met-up with Balinese-Dutch Tony – someone had suggested him to me through the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum. He took us to his house/shop, Naga Mas, near Ubud – several houses and out-houses overflowing with his antique collection – anything from whole Javanese houses to beautiful looms-turned-coffee tables, carved doors, trunks, sideboards, bits of boat – you name it! He also took us to Tepi Sawah in Ubud for the best ribs and crispy duck I’ve ever eaten  – do stop by if you fancy a meat-fix Balinese-style. But the best thing about Tony for Batu Batu is that he’s been in Bali for over 40 years and knows where to find quality items from parasols to batik, shell trinket boxes to stone carvings, lanterns to the do not disturb signs found at the Aman Resorts…

Finally, I thought it was worth mentioning our final stop on our final day – an excellent, laid-back, authentic beach-side Italian, Sticky Fingers on Echo Beach – where we ate very good freshly-made pesto with penne and dark chocolate cake whilst watching the surfers “ride the waves” in the distance (a nice change from the more trendy-chichi spots in Seminyak). And so with our stomachs full we headed at speed for the airport (as anyone who knows us well knows we are rarely on time) and just about made it on time to board our flight back home.

Next stop, next week – Yogyakarta, Java for more sourcing!

This week it’s all about wood

This week, I’ve been forced to think about wood. Wood and trees. Did you know that we grew our own wood to build the resort? In fact, we built the resort because we had the wood… It’s a long story and I’ll post it separately one of these days.

So, back to the past week. Our BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) partners Wild Asia and architects Ian and Kheong made an excursion onto Pulau Tengah over the weekend to look at the site and plan out the space. One of my activities over the week was to prepare a design brief. We have logs ready (pinus caribaea) to build the structures and so I’ve been looking for images of open and airy raw wood structures and found a few lovely examples. The first from Danielle de Lange’s Style Files  (a great resource for lots of beautiful design ideas) – a holiday home in SW France.

And then I chanced upon Danielle’s new blog Travel Files and the most lovely Uxua Casa Hotel on Brazil’s Bahian coast. More ideas to play with.

The architects’ exploratory trip was fruitful and it’s been very exciting to see BRISC taking shape (conceptually). On Tuesday, I found these in my inbox – maps of trees on the site and a first draft plan showing how BRISC will be designed to occupy space around and between the trees. Unfortunately, a handful of trees will have to come down.

But then, yesterday afternoon I had lunch with some new friends – Mel and Natanel who had heard about Batu Batu and wanted to meet. Natanel (Gluska) has just arrived in Singapore from Zurich and is an artist who makes beautiful things from wood (often whole trees). An image of his studio in Zurich and work below.

Isn’t it uncanny that all of these things came together at the same time? I don’t know yet whether the to-be-culled trees will one day metamorphosise into pieces of art – but I’ll keep you updated!

Loving the R.R. House (Brazil)

In researching and writing the architects brief for the long beach structures today (beach bar & BRISC), I came across this very cool seaside summer house near Sao Paulo, Brazil. Designed by Andrade Morettin Arquitetos, it’s basically a very beautiful giant mosquito net house which allows cross ventilation but stops the insects from getting in. It also glows at night. I like the idea of having BRISC look something like this amongst the casuarina trees behind our long beach…

From a mossy tree trunk to a designer bar… almost!

I thought I’d show you some pictures of a tree that we found on the ground on some of our land near Kota Tinggi (mainland Malaysia). A great big cengal (pronounced “chengal” apparently an African Mahogany of sorts) tree trunk covered in moss which we think was felled back in the 1970s (apparently back then the price of cengal was so low – when land was cleared, the trunks were just left on the ground to rot – which incidentally it did not).

You might be wondering how this fits in with the development of a boutique island resort… Well – our plan is to turn the mossy trunk into several lovely designer pieces (bar counter, table top) – just like these:

So far the tree trunk slices look like this:

So we have a long way to go… But we’ll be back over the next few weeks to get the pieces trimmed, de-barked, cleaned-up and on their road to some (hopefully) great pieces for the hotel. We went to look at them with a local carpenter last week who is confident that he can effect the transformation. I’ll post some pics along the way. Fingers-crossed…

Some recent highlights… hatha yoga, polished concrete and refugee camps

It’s been well over a week since I last posted – I don’t know where time goes… We’ve been busy talking to and meeting all sorts of people over the last couple of weeks. Here are some highlights:

We met with a polished concrete supplier from KL who might be able to do our terrazzo flooring and gorgeous concrete rendered walls for our villa showers. Like this… And we get to choose the colour of the render – now to decide what to go for to match our cream terrazzo floors, amazing stone bath tubs and wood exposed roof (not to mention the turquoise sea views from the huge glass windows) …

I had a great email yesterday from Lang in Sydney. I hadn’t mentioned this in the blog as yet – but Pulau Tengah was home to around 100,000 Vietnamese refugees or the “boat people” from 1975-1981 when it was a UN Refugee Camp. Many Vietnamese refugees who landed up in Malaysian territories were sent to Pulau Tengah where they lived until they were allocated a new home country (mostly Australia, US, Canada, France). I had always assumed that Pulau Tengah must carry terrible memories for the refugees who spent time there – a part of their lives which they would rather not remember. HOWEVER, I have been lucky enough to be in contact recently with a few people who spent time there and realise that some have very happy memories of the place. It’s well captured in this post by “Bao” on this blog.

“I first stepped on Pulau Tengah beach with my bare feet. But I always think this island as my second bithplace. Now looking back I think the time I was on this island was the happiest time of my life – what I did all day was eat, sleep, swim, chase after the fish, rock crabs,study English, miss home ,and dream about life in America in my little tent at the northernmost end of the island.”

Do take a look at the full post – it’s so interesting. In fact, I will write more about Pulau Tengah 1975-81 in a post of its own. And add some more photos. But for the moment, here is one that Lang Lang sent yesterday and said I could put on the blog. Thanks Lang!

I’ve also been thinking about turtles this week. Well – turtles deserve their own post too (!) but to be very brief – there are 3 species of turtle (all either endangered or critically endangered) who live in the waters around our island and land on our beaches to nest. However, turtle eggs are a local delicacy (“sangak sedap” – or “really delicious” – in the words of a local boatmen when I asked him about them a couple of weeks ago) – and so they get poached – and the turtle population continues to decline. We’re scheming with our friends at Wild Asia to devise a plan to stop the poaching both on Pulau Tengah and the surrounding islands (all of which incidentally lie within the protected Johor Marine Park!). I’ll keep you updated.

And today, I spent an agreeable afternoon with two very nice gentlemen talking about coral reefs and dolphins and whale sharks and clear waters and desert island picnics. Bryan and Sha set-up their sea sports / land adventure company (wind surfing, kite surfing, sailing, snorkelling and all – here’s their website) just up the coast from Mersing and chanced upon our island when they took some clients snorkelling a couple of weeks back. Trusty Chew (our man on site) gave them a tour of Batu Batu, and apparently they fell in love with our tropical island. So we met up today to pick each others brains and think about ways of spreading the word that this very lovely corner of Malaysia is deeply undiscovered and well worth visiting.

Oh yes, and I also spoke to my yoga teacher today about the best kind of yoga to teach on a tropical desert island… Probably hatha (on a wooden open air deck with views out to sea) – but if anyone has any better ideas – let me know! Until next time.

Design inspiration: a short-short-list

In preparation for tomorrow’s day trip to Pulau Tengah with our consultants, I was compiling a short-list of my favourite design inspiration photos for Batu Batu and thought I would share a shortened-short-list with you. I use these pics when speaking to fabric and furniture suppliers, curtain-makers and any other potential partners to give them an idea of what we are trying to create on our island.

It’s interesting to see that from my catalogue of hundreds of images, I ended-up only picking ones from the Six Senses Resorts and the Alilas. If that’s the way Batu Batu turns out, I won’t be disappointed! Here you go – enjoy.

Six Senses Resort - Design Inspiration

Six Senses

Six Senses

Six Senses

Block colour cushions

Batik cushions at Alila Villas Uluwatu

Restaurant at the Alila Soori