Yassss, parenting can be a real drag (GETTY IMAGES)

Gen Z youngsters, like my 12-yearold daughter, are fond of dropping the expression “It’s giving” into conversation. For those readers unfamiliar with this particular turn of phrase (a group comprising many Millennials, a lot of my fellow Gen Xers, and very likely, all Boomers), it’s an abridged way of saying, “This is giving off a vibe much akin to something-or-other.” For example, a toddler scribbles a marker on their face: “It’s giving Post Malone.”

In its brevity, “It’s giving” is giving Singlish, I think—eliminating every possible extraneous word, the same way “Can” radically contracts the statement, “Indeed, we can pursue that course of action, if you wish.” However, much like “Yasss, queen,” “It’s giving” was born in the LGBTQ drag ball subculture, an environment of vibrant creative self-expression. Singlish, meanwhile, was born in Singapore.

Family-friendly, eco-friendly luxury at Nikoi Island

At the time of press, we’re still finalising where we’ll be spending this Christmas as a family. Possibly it’ll be Nikoi, the eco-luxe private island resort off Bintan. My wife and I had the chance to visit the neighbouring adults-only sister island Cempedak earlier this year and were very impressed by its environmentally friendly design and philosophies, the warm and genuine service, paradisical setting, and terrific cuisine. (They’ve just put out a cookbook—could be a nifty gift idea.)

What’s really great about Nikoi and Cempedak, though, is resting easy in the knowledge that your vacay budget isn’t going to some faceless multinational corporation. Instead, it’s supporting a local business that in turn, is funding a foundation actively uplifting some of the most underserved communities in our region.

The Island Foundation, which was founded in 2010 by the owners of Cempedak and Nikoi, aims to provide better learning opportunities for children in small island and coastal communities across Indonesia’s Bintan Regency. Through local teacher training, and the establishment of learning centres (12 thus far) teaching primary-aged kids subjects including English, IT, local culture, health, and environmental protection, the foundation is making a big difference in areas where typically, 77 per cent of children don’t finish school.

“We set out to give back to the community from day one,” says Nikoi cofounder Andrew Dixon. “We began with conversations with local villages. They expressed a need for education, especially in English, so first we set up libraries, providing reading materials.” The libraries quickly evolved into formal learning centres. “We connected with the United World College in Singapore, who assisted in creating a fantastic curriculum,” Dixon explains.

“We have about 600 children enrolled now, and the impact is evident, with over 3,000 kids benefiting so far,” he says. “We conduct teacher training workshops and have identified individuals in the villages to manage these learning centres, investing heavily in their training. They’ve become influential figures in their communities.”

Dixon says there’s a multiplier effect to these efforts; he reckons around 15,000 people have benefited directly or indirectly from the Above: Family-friendly, eco-friendly luxury at Nikoi Island. Opposite page: Yassss, parenting can be a real drag. 29 Agenda foundation’s community programmes. “That’s a significant figure for a small resort,” he says. When COVID shut down the hotels, Dixon explains, individual donors who’d been guests in the past stepped up to continue funding the foundation’s initiatives.

Sustainably constructed bamboo villas at Cempedak Island. Each year, Nikoi and Cempedak donate nearly SGD500,000 to supporting responsible tourism, conservation, local culture and education

Nevertheless, while many who stay at Nikoi and Cempedak do appreciate the fact their spending at the resorts helps support worthy causes, Dixon says the organisation is careful not to shove the charitable angle down people’s throats. “Guests come for the experience, and while we appreciate and welcome their interest in the foundation, we want them to enjoy their stay without feeling overwhelmed by sustainability messages,” he says.

A few years ago I had the chance to interview one of our region’s biggest charitable givers, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, a signatory to Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge (where the world’s richest commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy). This June, in his latest mega-generous endowment, the Aussie mining multibillionaire and his wife gave AUD5 billion to their Minderoo Foundation. The largest single charitable donation in Australian history, this sum will fuel the foundation’s various initiatives, including cleaner oceans, cancer cures, and an end to modern slavery.

Forrest told me he makes grand gestures like this not only to fund the work but to set an example for his fellow super-rich. He said, “Across Asia, including Australia, there’s a defensive mindset” among the very wealthy that leads them to horde their gold like real-life Scrooge McDucks. Instead, Forrest believes, the rich should utilise the talents that got them to the top in business—and the money they’ve earned in that position—to do some good. “The skill you have, which allowed you to accumulate that capital, you should use that skill to distribute capital in the wisest, highest leverage, highest benefit way possible,” he said.

Successful entrepreneurs have a responsibility to give both generously and strategically—in Forrest’s view, they are better qualified to rectify the world’s ills than politicians. When I asked him, playing the devil’s advocate, how he’d respond to the suggestion that perhaps the rich should just Sustainably constructed bamboo villas at Cempedak Island. Each year, Nikoi and Cempedak donate nearly SGD500,000 to supporting responsible tourism, conservation, local culture and education. pay their fair share of tax and let governments fix the big issues, suffice to say, Forrest disagreed enthusiastically.

“I’d say that is moronic—at its kindest. The greatest waste has happened under political leaders who say that. I’ve seen train wrecks created by politicians who’ve said, ‘Actually, we should just pay more tax.’ My response is, ‘Well, can you show me what you achieved with everyone else’s money, once you got your hands on it in the past? Answer: a train wreck,” Forrest said. “To those who’d suggest, ‘Oh, you should just pay more tax’—I’d say, ‘What, so politicians can waste more of it?’”

It’s giving… but not to the tax man. Season’s greetings, dear readers. May 2024 be a gift to us all.

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.