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I’d seen the word on social media. Mid. The show was mid. The song was mid. The rapper was mid. So many shows, songs, rappers and more are unknown to me, trees in the now-bewildering wilderness of pop culture that the young navigate effortlessly.

But I rapidly deduced that mid is not good. Mid is mediocre. Middle of the road. Meh.

And then I realised—I am mid.

The pandemic made my midness unavoidable. Until then, I could convince myself that I looked 10 years younger than I was, and looking good is halfway to feeling good. But in the Age of the Mask, my face of denial was shrouded. Suddenly all I saw were eyes. Nothing I did to my visage or hair could perform a trompe l’oeil and camouflage how my age was now inscribed in the lines and wrinkles around my eyes, underlined emphatically by a duo of bags that got heavier every year. The young, in contrast, showed off their youth effortlessly with the smooth and unblemished canvas framing their eyes. Every moment of fleeting eye contact with both young and old reminded me of the threat of mortal illness as well as the inevitable slow motion of ageing.

Funny how I trembled when I turned 40, more than a decade ago. How youthful 40 now seems. But I remind myself that at that middling age, when I wanted nothing more than to be a novelist, there was no published novel. I also had not wanted to be a father, that death sentence, yet that is what I became. When my son was born, my life, as I knew it, was over.

I was 42.

I had just finished the first draft of my novel, and my most important job was to watch over my son at night to make sure he lived. From late in the evening until 3am, I rewrote the novel while watching little Oedipus sleep in the same room, swaddled on the futon. Anytime he stirred, I stuck a bottle of formula in his mouth. From 3am until his mother took over childcare duty at 5am, I sipped my own formula—single malt Scotch—and wondered: Was I a failure? Was I ever going to publish this novel? Was I middle-aged? How does one know for sure?

Statistically, the average middle age for American men begins just past the mid-30s, since the average American male’s life span is 73.5 years of age. As a country, America can be considered rather mid, with the United States ranking below Albania and above Croatia. Hong Kong tops the charts at 83.2 years. Our average must be brought down by a daily drip of government-subsidised corn fructose and the lack of universal health care, as well as a toxic mix of economic inequality and depression, gun violence and opioids.

If I am statistically average, then I have been middle-aged for 15 years. I tell myself I am not afraid of Death. Easy to say until one sees the Great Funeral Director’s hand on the switch, ready to turn off one’s light. I will admit that with the shadow of mortality falling on my toes, I bought a sports car at the age of 43. A used grey Infiniti coupe with automatic transmission, the nicest car I had yet owned but far cheaper than a brand-new Honda Accord. Not a sports car by the definition of connoisseurs. Not a Corvette; not red. The car even had a back seat that could fit a car seat and my son.

Even my midlife crisis was mid.

I examined my son, destined to kill me and usurp me, at least symbolically. Cute little guy. Could he escape his destiny? Could I escape mine? Perhaps if I read him more books? Spent more time with him? Took him to more Little League baseball games? Thankfully, he quit baseball after a year, but then took up soccer with great enthusiasm. I bought him shin guards and cleats, watched him and his Neon Knights practise while I sat on a tattered beach chair, angling my umbrella to ward the sun off my pale legs. Was this happiness? Was this what a writer does?

The long middle of a story is the hardest part for me as a writer. The beginning, far in the past. The ending, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is good for a writer to be unaware of the conclusion. If the end startles the writer, it likely will surprise the reader, too.

Pssst—the hero dies.


I didn’t hear that.

I used to think that writing was a ticket to immortality. Who needed children when one’s progeny was one’s books? In my teens and early 20s, I longed for fame and glory. I didn’t think much about how the names of the immortals were relatively few, while libraries were filled with thousands of books by writers I had never heard of before, some of them quite famous in their time. And some authors whose names dominated only a decade or two ago are rarely mentioned today, now that their life force no longer animates the literary scene.

When it comes to literary fame—which is not really that famous—I have more than some authors and less than others. But whenever I am tempted to believe my own hype, I read my one-star reviews — Bafflingly overpraised! Absurdist and repulsive! Pure garbage!—and recall that I live not far from Hollywood. When I tell people in Los Angeles that I’m a writer—no one cares.

And if no one cares, why should I?

That seems to be the greatest freedom in being mid, at least for me. To be middle-aged is not necessarily to be mid, particularly if one feels that one is at the peak of one’s powers. But to acknowledge that one’s accomplishments, great or small, hardly matter to most people and may one day fade into the dust, rendering one mid or even forgotten—might that actually be liberating rather than depressing?

When I was younger, I cared very much what people thought of me and my work. Part of me, because I am human, still does. But an even greater part of me does not. I had an inkling of what it meant not to care when I wrote my first novel; I was already old for an aspiring novelist.

I had written a short-story collection while yearning for the attention of editors, publishers and agents. When I realised that the power brokers did not care about my book or middle-aged me, I was free. Not to care. To do exactly as I pleased. Because I was mid.

It’s hard not to care in your teens and 20s. But as I looked at my son, turning two, three, four, I saw how he was almost literally carefree, except for wondering if he would get all the toys and treats he wanted. But he also simply did not pay attention to rules, expectations, conventions. You’ll find out, I thought grimly. That’s the way life is.

And maybe he will submit to the borders of adulthood. But at five years of age, he wrote and drew his own comic book, Chicken of the Sea, about restless chickens who run off from the farm to become pirates under the command of a rat captain. I was amazed. I could never have come up with that story. Because I cared about things like reality. How realistic. And how limiting.

So in my mid years, I try not to give a damn about unimportant things and unimportant people. The important people—friends and family, children and partner—still concern me. Writing, too, because it remains my passion. After I publish a book, I do keep an eye on how it fares in the world, vulnerable as I am to desire and vanity. But in the midst of writing a book—the art is all that matters.

The result is that the stack of books I have authored grows little by little, outnumbering my children in quantity. But never in height. Or weight. Or even, perhaps, in quality. If you had told me, in my youth, that I would be a father and love fatherhood and adore a daughter and a son I did not want or even dream of at the time, I would not have believed you. Down that road of family and stability, love and care, lay mediocrity. And perhaps that is true. But what is also true is that if my story concluded here, midway, I could live, and perhaps die, with being mid. Not the happiest of endings, but happy enough. And no one would be more surprised than me.

Originally published on Esquire US

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When people say they don’t like camping, it’s usually because they’re attached to the comforts of city living. But what if you didn’t have to stray far from conveniences like running water, restaurants and bathrooms?

What if you could camp right in the middle of your city?

That’s the idea behind “urban camping.” Eager fans waiting for concerts or a store’s opening may have pioneered the practice, but it’s grown beyond securing your spot at the front of a queue. So, why not camp in the city for the joy of the experience itself?

As strange as it may seem, urban camping is having a moment, and it’s hard to ignore.

WHAT IS URBAN CAMPING?

Urban camping is exactly what the name suggests— camping out in an urban area. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and remote wilderness areas can be hard to get to. Urban camping brings the thrill of sleeping outdoors to the concrete jungle instead of making you hike for hours to get to your spot.

“Camping in a city” is rather vague. That broad umbrella definition can mean several different things, and that’s part of the appeal of urban camping. The practice has a lot of variety—arguably even more so than conventional camping.

For some, urban camping is less about pitching a tent on a sidewalk and more about being near a metropolitan area. That could mean finding a nearby campsite or rolling out your sleeping bag in a park. This way, you get near or even within city limits but still have some more traditional hallmarks of the camping experience.

More hardcore urban campers ditch the grass for asphalt. They may sleep on the roofs of their apartment buildings, find abandoned buildings to camp in, or even opt for sidewalks or parking lots.

Of course, not every city dweller—including some public officials—takes kindly to urban camping. This conflict has led to an extreme subcategory called “stealth camping,” where the idea is to camp where no one will notice you. That could mean sleeping in a car or setting up a hammock in an area with minimal foot traffic.

WHY CAMP IN A CITY?

Whether or not you need to stealth camp, why would you pitch your tent in the city? For some, it’s a matter of convenience. Urban camping lets you enjoy sleeping under the stars without trekking far outside of civilisation. If you forget to pack something or would like to eat out, you can easily run out to a store or restaurant.

Urban camping can also be a thrifty way to travel. Even New York City has camping spots within 50 kilometres of the city, offering a far more affordable alternative to a hotel or Airbnb. Why not save money on lodging to give yourself more to spend on food, drink and entertainment?

Urban camping can be a nice middle ground if you’re a fan of the outdoors but your friends and family don’t share your enthusiasm. Everyone can enjoy the tent experience without worrying about bugs or potentially dangerous wildlife. The proximity to proper toilets, hot showers and good coffee is also hard to overlook, even for the most outdoorsy adventurers.

If nothing else, there’s an undeniable thrill to urban camping. What you lose in connection with nature, you gain in the excitement of the concrete jungle. Willingly pitching a tent on asphalt is so unorthodox that it’ll undeniably draw eyes and attention.

How many others can claim they’ve done the same? If you’re looking for a unique experience or cool story to tell, this is a relatively easy way to get one.

Urban camping also scratches a certain rebellious itch some may have. Even if it’s perfectly legal—which it isn’t always, but more on that later—it’s unusual enough to make a statement. You could see it as a stance against urban sprawl or the monotony of city living.

POTENTIAL PITFALLS AND DANGERS

As unique and exciting as the urban camping experience can be, it carries unique dangers, too. Most prominently, it’s not always legal. Singapore has five authorised camping sites across three parks, and many cities around the globe restrict where you can sleep or pitch tents. If you don’t read up on these regulations before camping, a hefty fine might ruin your weekend.

If you’re not careful, urban camping may also be unsafe. Sure, there aren’t any lions, tigers or bears to worry about, but, oh my, humans can be just as if not more dangerous.

Camping out in the wrong part of town with little more than a tent to protect you is ill-advised if you value your safety. That’s especially true if you’re travelling and don’t know the area well.

Even if you’re not in a riskier part of the city, know that people probably won’t leave you alone. Urban camping is a strange sight, so if your spot sees enough foot traffic, you’ll get a few passers-by staring at you, taking pictures or talking to you about it. For some, that attention is part of the draw of urban camping. For others, it may feel like an invasion of privacy.

Camping purists may also find city landscapes too distracting for an ideal camping experience. Even if you’re in a park, you’ll likely hear more cars going by than you would in a more remote campsite. Cities’ light pollution also makes it harder to see stars, so if you’re looking to reconvene with nature, you’re better off in the woods.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

If you don’t mind the noise and attention, urban camping is an experience like no other. Like ordinary camping, though, it requires some preparation to make the most of this adventure.

The most important step is to read up on your destination before planning to camp in the city. Make sure it’s legal before you try it. In most places, you’ll find that some forms of urban camping are totally permissible, but others will get you into trouble.

You’re more likely to be ok in a park or rooftop than you are out on the streets but read local regulations carefully to know for sure.

You may need to get a camping permit, too. You can get one online for one of Singapore’s five legal camping grounds, and many other areas have online portals, too. A parking permit may also be a good idea, depending on your specific urban camping approach.

Next, be sure to camp in a safe area. If you’re unfamiliar with the city, ask locals which places to avoid. Choosing a place with plenty of light and going with a group will make it safer.

One of the best parts about urban camping is that packing is less of an issue. If you realise you need something you forgot, you can run out to a nearby shop to get it. Even so, ensure you have a few essentials—namely, a sleeping bag, lights, a portable charger and appropriate clothing.

You probably can’t build a fire on the sidewalk, so don’t worry about firewood, but you may be able to simulate the experience with a portable gas stove. Just review local regulations before the police take away your means of making s’mores.

WHY NOT TRY URBAN CAMPING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY?

Urban camping may not offer all the same things as going into the wilderness, but that’s the point. It’s a unique experience you won’t get with conventional camping or staying at a hotel in the city.

If you’re looking for a way to switch things up, give this weird, unconventional kind of camping a shot. You may just find it’s for you.

It’s hard not to be shaken by the current geo-political situation on our doorstep. And while many (if not all of us) are feeling somewhat helpless amid the turmoil, one common hope emerges: Peace.

A symbol recognised worldwide, a circle with an embedded branch, has come to represent this aspiration. Conceived by British graphic artist Gerald Holtom in 1958, it was originally associated with the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Hence its nickname: CND. Holtom’s intention was to convey the image of a stylised figure with outstretched, open palms, symbolising helplessness and resignation in the face of the nuclear threat. The original sketches of this iconic symbol can be found at Bradford University. Holtom, a committed pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II, intentionally refrained from copyrighting his design, making it accessible for all to use.

Earlier this year the US-based design museum, Cooper Hewitt, unveiled its ‘Designing Peace’ exhibition. It explored the unique role that design can play in the pursuit of peace. With more than 30 design proposals, the exhibit showcases how design can respond immediately to urgent humanitarian needs, providing products that aid individuals in rebuilding their lives and restoring their dignity. Creative forces are capable of addressing emergency requirements for secure, healthy and respectful environments. The United Nations, through its Sustainable Development Agenda (Goal 16), lays out a plan for nurturing peaceful coexistence. This exhibition is currently on view at the Museum Craft and Design in San Francisco, USA.

Social Change Through Design

In 2023, Tokyo hosted the World Design Assembly. One of the main themes was the pivotal role of design in driving social change across various dimensions. This includes design for peace, design for social change, innovation, inclusion, and cohesion. It is a thread that has played a prominent role in modern Japanese culture. Since 1983, the Japan Graphic Designers Association presented a project entitled ‘Hiroshima Appeals’ dedicated to creating posters with the purpose of promoting peace. Back in 2015, the Japanese government approved the ‘Basic Design for Peace and Health’ recognising human security as the fundamental principle.

In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Japanese government harnessed the power of design. Through design, they rebuild the nation through innovative products utilising recycled materials to minimise production costs. Another testament to design’s influence on modern society is machizukuri. This is a process of community design that involves both local authorities and residents, allowing the public to play a part in shaping their own futures.

These initiatives illustrate the ability of design practitioners to reinvent their field. To address the economic and societal challenges that Japan, or any modern nation, may encounter in its history. Let’s embrace the Japanese concept of Kyosei or ‘conviviality’. That's where true peace encompasses not only the absence of violence but also the rectification of past injustices, exploitation and oppression.

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The novelty of being a big city lad, strolling into a sexy London glass office with a latte in hand (as they do in the movies) doesn’t last long. By the time I was 30, on paper, I’d made it. I was working at a top television network, with a comfortable salary and business trips to Manhattan. I had a bachelor pad, bought nice clothes, and partied weekends. It was exactly what I pictured growing up, but I wasn’t happy.

The traditional outlook on life has always been to work hard, get married, buy a house, and at least for millennials, allocation of ‘fun’ is slotted in at the end, for retirement. That’s assuming we’re lucky enough to make it to our 60s. Spending the next 30+ years of my life in an office cubicle and mind-numbing marketing meetings was, to me, pure torture. I decided enough was enough.

The First Step

In 2016 I sold my things and moved to Tokyo on an English teaching visa, interning part-time as an entertainment reporter for a local paper. It was a chance to go to free gigs, make new friends, and get out there. Months later, came the big break. A friend moved to Singapore as editor of an airline magazine, and they needed a travel writer in Japan. I was now getting paid to write and explore.

The lack of English-speaking reporters in the region, at least compared to back home, meant I was able to secure a steady flow of work covering Japan. Eventually, I ditched the English teaching job to write full-time, forfeiting the visa. That was fine as I could work anywhere with a good Wi-Fi connection.

Being used to a routine, things were tough in the beginning. You never know when the next job is coming, and finding a new place to set up shop can be stressful. Things have got easier, especially post-pandemic now that digital nomads have surged (131 per cent since 2019, according to Forbes). I’ve spent extended time in Da Nang, Bali and Kuala Lumpur, meccas for remote workers, thanks to special digital nomad visas, flexible co-working spaces and value long-stay rentals and travel.

Every day isn’t coconut cocktails on the beach. I still go to an office. I make my own hours and choose when and where I want to work. I’m based between the US and the UK. I rented desks or WFH, but you’ll find me and my laptop all over the place. Mostly in coffee shops and hotel rooms. I also try to make the most of transit time that can sometimes be a challenge. For example, on the Caledonian Sleeper train to Inverness, though the purpose was to sleep, I stayed up all night to meet a last-minute deadline. A couple of weeks later I sailed the Indian Ganges on a boutique rivercruise called Uniworld. It was pretty remote, and l got frustrated with Internet speeds. Maybe it was a sign to switch off and enjoy the ride.

Conclusion

Though the money I earn now is far less than before, so are my outgoings. I used to live rather excessively. But now I don’t need the latest gadgets, a car, or a swanky downtown apartment. Why? Because I get plenty of enrichment on the job. One week I can be surrounded by rescued elephants in Chiang Mai. And the next I’ll be surrounded by celebrity chefs at The Dorchester in Mayfair. In a single year, I can check off more bucket list activities than one could in a lifetime. I’ve had to make a whole new list, actually. Things I've done: hot air ballooning, snowmobiling, and safari; interviewed Sir Richard Branson and Michelle Yeoh. I’ve even written two best-selling guidebooks.

Before leaving the rat race, my stories weren’t particularly noteworthy. Unless you’re into drunken anecdotes, but everything that’s happened in recent years would make a real page-turner of a biography. I skim my travel journals in disbelief. Best of all, I’ve been able to share many special moments with the people I care about. Working remotely means more time with loved ones and less time with Karen from advertising. It’s ironic because we all know time is finite. And yet,most people prioritise making money in the hopes of using it later to live their best lives. Think about all the things that make you happy. Travel, music, cooking, sports, spouse, kids…How much time are you dedicating to them? Are you justifying a lack of time now for more later? I’m always conscious that later often becomes never, and remember, never is the saddest thing anyone could work toward.

James Wong can be reached here.

Welcome to the resort you might never want to leave; this is Desa Potato Head.

The flight between Singapore and Bali is close to three hours long and, already, I’m imagining scenarios of what happens if the plane starts to malfunction. Oxygen masks will drop like hanged men; the steel cabin that we are in may close in, turning into a collective metal coffin. One doesn’t usually start a travel piece with downed plane imagery but when you are travelling with a child who has never flown before, the mind tends to wander into dark territories.

That’s not to say that we didn’t plan ahead. We drafted out a checklist of possible outcomes that our child might end up in during the flight, and preventables: restlessness (a colouring book); blocked ears (a lollipop or sweet to suck on); loud engine noises (headphones that are hooked to a laptop with kid-friendly programmes); hunger (a packet of trail mix). But to paraphrase the Yiddish proverb: “Make plans. God laughs.” Our child, wee but shockingly inventive, found ways to stymie us. After an hour of colouring, he is now fidgety and reluctant to remain in his seat, let alone, be strapped into his seat.

The distractions have lost their powers and we’re left with nothing but hushed threats and calls to reason with this emotional terrorist. My mind wanders. I picture our plane making impact with the side of the mountain.


Desa Potato Head is unlike any resort you've ever seen or stayed at.

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE a getaway. A slice of free time carved out from a busy schedule, a weekend that I can greedily indulge in. It will be spent at Desa Potato Head, a sprawling 226-guest room hotel that’s set on Petitenget Beach in Seminyak. Before we were married, the wife and I visited the site (then Potato Head Bali). I remember spending lazy hours on the daybed at the Beach Club. Now with a child added to the mix, we decided a sojourn at the resort would be an experience.

A lot has changed since the wife and I were last here. The hotel rebranded itself from Potato Head Bali to Desa Potato Head. “Desa”, which means “village” in Bahasa Indonesia is the throughline in which the place operates. This is a creative village where art, music, design, good food and wellness co-exist.

"5000 Lost Soles" by Liina Klauss.

The place already stood out with its eye-catching aesthetics—Liina Klauss’ 5,000 Lost Soles (2016), an installation made out of flip-flops salvaged from the Bali beaches or the Beach Club’s exterior that’s built out of wooden window shutters. If you think the hotel’s Brutalist architecture set against the backdrop of the tropics looks off-kilter, the invasion of new artwork will enthral you. Take Nano Uhero’s “The Womb”, a bamboo sculpture that visitors coming in from the entrance would have to traverse through. There's Future2000’s iconic Pointman standing like a sentinel in the courtyard of Potato Head Studios. Fashioned out of repurposed waste materials collected from the waterways of Bali, the Pointman stands as a testament to the Balinese philosophy of duality—taking trash and turning it into a work of art.

"Pointman - River Warrior" by Futura2000.

Excited by the appearance of the Pointman, the kid scurries towards the legs, at first trying to scale it but eventually settling on hiding behind them. His voice in a higher register than usual, calls to us to look at the sculpture.

After registration, guests are brought to the Circle Store, where upcycled amenities and merch are sold. We were presented a zero-waste kit, which consisted of an RPET tote bag and a sustainable drinking bottle—you can ask any of Desa Potato Head staff to fill the bottle with water. No extra cost, no waste.

The provided eco-friendly amenities.

Throughout our stay, we are sequestered in the Oceanfront Studio at the Potato Head Studios wing. The room is larger than imagined. It faces the ocean and is filled with tasteful furnishings by Max Lamb—a recycled plastic desk chair; volcanic glassware and ceramics. The coffee table hides a drinks cabinet. There’s music coming in from the Beach Club. Even with the windows shut, you can still hear the cloth-wrapped notes. The kid is jumping on the bed before his feet make a resounding thud on the floor. The sky looks clear. Time to hit the Beachfront Pool.


THERE ARE LOADS TO DO at Desa Potato Head. There’s live music playing at Potato Head Beach Club or the Amphitheatre. But if you’re looking for a more intimate activity, there’s the Headphone Bar. There, you can sift through the site’s vinyl collection for a listening session.

On the second floor of Potato Head Studios, the Library (Studio Eksotika) is a quiet spot to peruse a variety of curated reading material. In a rare moment to myself, I polished off the entire photo collection of battle jackets by Peter Beste.

Next to it is the spa and gym. Above it, is Sunset Park, a rooftop bar that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Later that evening, we would eat at Tananam, a casual restaurant that serves plant-based cuisine. Taking ingredients that are locally sourced, chef Dom Hammond presents dishes that are creative without alienating omnivores like my family.

We started with a Roti (lightly salted with East Bali sea salt). Brokoli (broccoli that’s finished with coconut and chive oil sauce) dish is next as I carried the kid to peruse the rest of the restaurant. The space is suffused in a violet glow emanating from the lights of their indoor garden. It feels otherworldly, like we’re in a different clime, even though there’s nothing more natural and familiar than its dishes.

Later that evening, the child would fight against the sleep for an hour before succumbing to it. My poor wife thinks she’s down with something and pops two Panadols.

Partying at Beach Club.

We have tickets to a Sbtrkt gig playing tonight at Beach Club. I’ve wanted to watch him ever since he stopped making music in 2014. But better judgment took over and we slept against the lullaby of electronic music.


DESA POTATO HEAD CATERS TO family, with programmes for the little ones called Sweet Potato Kids. At these sessions, children are kept busy with lessons on sustainability or with exercises like this morning’s workout. The child and I are at Desa Playground where a trainer starts with some light stretching before leading the group on a slow jog around the compound.

Kids at Sweet Potato Kids.

We climb the steps all the way to Sunset Park. It’s still early and the staff paid us no mind as they sweep up the place. The sky is overcast and already the sheen of sweat on our skin feels cool against the sea breeze. The trainer tells us that it’s time to head back and my kid gives an audible, oh man. We bound our way down the steps, my child’s energy shows no signs of abating.

With my wife still recuperating, I took the kid to Ijen for lunch. Serving primarily fresh seafood that is caught responsibly in these local waters, we dug into Sardines (crumbed sardines that are served on desa croissant loaf and drizzled with tartar and fermented hot sauce) and Roasted Cauliflower (smothered in keluwek tahini). We have a chocolate desert and, of course, he makes a mess but that’s what children do. He does not have the fine motor skills an adult have. His spills look like atolls and I wiped them up. A small annoyance but one that quickly disappears when he bared his chocolate-stained teeth. See daddy. Look at me, he says.

I take a spoonful of desert and showed him my browned chompers and we both laugh.


RONALD AKILI JUST WANTED A better future for his children.

In 2016, the founder of Desa Potato Head went surfing on the Bali coast with his eldest son. They found themselves surrounded by ocean plastics. In an interview, Akili says that moment pushed him to ensure Desa Potato Head does minimal damage to the environment. “I want to pass on to future generations a better world—something that I think is innate in all of us.”

One of the workers fashioning beads made out of plastics.

Under the guidance of Eco Mantra, a Bali-based environmental engineering consultancy, Desa Potato Head’s commitment to a zero waste-to-landfill goal has reached five per cent. It takes a tremendous amount of legwork to get to that level of sustainability according to Simon Pestridge, CXO of Desa Potato Head. As the former VP of Nike, Pestridge has a “never settle” approach. “With this many people producing this much waste, the tourism industry needs to take a serious look,” he says. “One of the keys to making sure that you can get as close to zero waste as possible is to make sure that the waste is separated at the source. When the team separate the different types of organics that would go to the pig farms or compost, it becomes easier the further down the cycle you get. The management team hold ourselves accountable every week. Sometimes we’re at three per cent... sometimes it’ll be at five per cent and we go back to check why that happened.”

Desa Potato Head has 950 staff, at the time of writing, and every day, they adhere to a regimented process where they will weigh the waste, know what to do with it and track it. Suppliers aren’t allowed to deliver their wares in plastic. Cling wrap is banned in the kitchens. Glasses at Desa Potato Head are made out of cut beer bottles.

Recycled plastics as coasters and a tissue box.

Dewa Legawa, Desa Potato Head’s assistant sustainability manager heads a tour for guests curious about the site’s sustainability programme. We are privy to the back of the house, where we witness how they manage the waste up until the production line. Legawa scoops out a pile of shredded HDPE plastics. These will be turned into chairs, toiletries and the like. He points out that the caps on the water bottles that we were given are made from them. At the Waste Lab, we see used plastics moulded into planks before they are fabricated into shape.

This is the “do good” portion in Desa Potato Head’s creed, “Good Times, Do Good”. Fostering a sustainability community in the hospitality sector is a long view of giving back to a planet that we’ve all been greedy to take from. But given that hospitality is still the resort’s primary objective, how does one maintain the good times even when the world is on fire?

“I think everybody still wants to have a good time,” Pestridge says. “Even though the world is on fire, I think there’s even more desire for people to have good times. We just want to do so by leaving as few footprints as possible. That’s why we feel good about coming to work every day.“What we’re doing with the waste facility and the waste centre, that’s an open blueprint. Anyone that wants to learn from us—or we can go to them—we can teach them what we’ve learnt. Zero waste isn’t a competitive advantage. It’s a journey that all of us should be on to make sure that Bali or wherever tourists are heading to is thriving.”

A Max Lamb-designed chair.

Eschewing the whole “do this or else” approach, this scrappy resort put its money where its mouth is and decided to lead by example. “If we can inspire change through our actions, then we’ve moved the world along on a better trajectory,” Pestridge adds, knowing that what they do is a drop in an ocean. But small changes repeated by many over time... that makes a difference.


I IMAGINE THE OBSTACLE BUILDING inside their heads; just the foolhardy notion of reaching that level of waste reduction. I imagine the manhours, the steep learning curves and the mistakes made along the way. But they have managed to do what all these larger hospitality institutions have struggled to do.

It’s the same with raising another human person. While my parents did what they could do in raising me, when it comes to my kid, I wanted to see if I can do it better. Fact of the matter is that it was sometimes exhausting but there were so many moments that were joyful. I hope he remembers the vacation, the good parts of it. Or, at least, be broadened by the experience that will shape him in the future.

Ronald Akili, founder of Desa Potato Head

One last memory. On our final day, I lay in the hammock outside of the balcony as tropic-laden tunes from Irama Pantai Selatan washed over me. The Indonesian band is performing at the Beach Club’s Live Sunset Sundays session, where a crowd is gathered around them. Inside the room, my wife rests, while my kid has given in to fatigue and is passed out on his bed.

I have a front-row seat to a sky on fire; the brilliant blaze brought about by the sun lazily descending into the ocean. If I didn’t know any better, it’s a picture-perfect apocalypse. My mind wanders.

At the end of the world, there’s no better place I’d rather be than with family. 

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