20 May 2017

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Singapore

I had breakfast with orangutans this morning.  Singapore zoo has a feeding table by a restaurant and at 9.30 every morning, these gorgeous creatures climb down a ‘bridge’ for some of their favourite treats. I had a seat right next to the feeding table so had a fabulous view.  Some of the orangutans were already waiting for the keeper to move the tree bridge, which they climb down to access the feeding table, and once it was in place down they came.
 Although humans are quite near the animals, all they are interested in is the food.
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They like sunflower seeds and ones that couldn’t be picked up with hands were hovered up from the table.

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When they had eaten all their treats they climbed back up into the trees.
The zoo has a wide range of animals, aside from the orangutans, these were my favourites.
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These white tigers were active as they were being fed.
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19 May 2017

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Singapore

Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore consists of one main island and 63 other tiny islands, most of which are uninhabited. Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world, with a total land area of only 682.7 square kilometres, and is the world’s third most densely populated country, behind Monaco and Macau. The resident population is 4.2 million and predominantly Chinese, 77%, with 14% Malay and 8% Indian.

On 9 August 1965, Singapore became an independent republic, the architecture reflects the diverse history of the country. Nestled in between the high towers are colonial buildings, shophouses, and contemporary structures, all finished off with abundant gardens and avenues of trees.

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The old and new, Marina Bay Sands hotel and the old parliament building.

 

Singapore has the world’s busiest transhipment port. This view of ships in the South China Sea was taken from a sky bar on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, I also sampled the local culture, which took the form of a delicious frozen cocktail.

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Helix Bridge, inspired by the geometric arrangement of DNA, with a walkway encircled by opposing double helix structures of stainless steel.

 

 

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The Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands Hotel and The ArtScience Museum, which looks like a giant white lotus flower.

A contrast to the billion dollar glitz of Marina Bay modernity, is the National Gallery Singapore. The gallery opened in 2015, after 530 million dollar refurbishment. Using a glass and aluminium canopy, it connects two of the country’s historically significant buildings, City Hall and the former Supreme Court.  It was here that the Japanese surrendered to the Allied forces at the end of the Second World War and where Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was sworn in.  The gallery is the world’s first public museum devoted to the modern art of Southeast Asia, showcasing one of the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian art from the 19th and 20th centuries.

I saw this street art on the side of a shophouse, if you scroll back up to the photo of shophouses by the Singapore River you will see the building it sits on.

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24 April 2017

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Penang

The Blue Mansion, built in the 1880s by the merchant Cheong Fatt Tze, who used it as his home and business, is now a hotel. The building fell into disrepair after the merchants death in 1916, and was restored in 1995.

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The Blue Mansion

The architecture of the mansion originates from the Su Chow Dynasty Period in China. The mansion has 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. The distinctive blue colour, popular in the Colonial period, was chosen because the Chinese associate the colour white with death.  Photos are not allowed inside the building. DSC_0043 (1)_edited-2

A ten minute ride on the funicular railway, takes one to the top of Penang Hill.  The funicular track is the longest in Asia, 1,996 metres from the lower to the upper station, and has the steepest tunnel track in the world, 79 metres long, 3 meters wide, with a gradient of 27.9 degrees.

Penang Hill is actually a number of hills, the highest point being Western Hill, 833 metres above sea level.  From the viewing deck there are good views of the island and the mainland.  DSC_0134

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The Kek Lok Si Temple, built in 1891, is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.

The Cantonese, Tua Pek Kong Temple was built by the Hakka and Cantonese communities to ensure they had a place to worship the god of prosperity. Built in the middle of the 18th century, and renovated around 1909, the Temple follows a Hokkien style of temple architecture rather than the Cantonese style.  The temple sits in between the Chong San Wooi Koon building and the Toishan Nin Yong Temple.

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Tua Pek Kong Temple

 

 

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Toishan Nin Yong Temple

The Toishan Nin Young Temple is windowless, the large, wide door providing the only light into the building.  The stark granite walls are offset by a decorative roof and intricate paintings and gold inlay.

Chong San Wooi Koon is the meeting place for a Cantonese clan association, and features  intricate Cantonese architectural styles and decorations.

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The view of the sun setting, from the rooftop bar of my hotel

 

23 April 2017

Penang

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The six Clan Jetties situated just along from the ferry port, where a return fare from Butterworth, on the mainland, to the island, will cost the grand sum of 21 pence, (UK currency), are part of the islands heritage.  These communities are the oldest surviving cluster settlements in Penang.

The jetties were originally rows of planks of wood  supported on stilts, made as a platform for passengers embarking and disembarking from the boats to the shore. Eventually the platforms were joined together to make a jetty, and wooden houses were built. As more houses were constructed, wooden walkways and alleys branched out from the main jetty to become a cluster of homes for the immigrant workers and their families, because they couldn’t afford to live on the mainland. Water and electricity weren’t installed until 1954. Today the Clan Jetties are still home to hundreds of people, who are exempt from paying tax, because they don’t actually live on the mainland.

The jetties take their name from the family or clan surname of the original residents, and migrant families with this surname would live together on the same jetty. The Chew Jetty doesn’t have much of a heritage feel to it today, lots of tourist shops, and modern construction materials. There’s a good view of the mainland from the end of the jetty.

‘Marking George Town’ was an initiative implemented by the Penang State Government,  52 unique and humorous illustrations in the form of iron rod sculptures, were installed on George Town buildings. The sculptures provide information about the street or vicinity.  These were the ones I came across.

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Little India refers to an area in the centre of the Penang Heritage Zone in George Town. As the name suggests, it is an ethnic Indian enclave. On entering this area one’s senses are simultaneously overloaded: loud (Indian) music booms from speakers in shop door ways; thickly scented, incense smoke weaves its way along the streets; no matter what the shops are selling, it is highly coloured, bright and in many cases jewelled or sparkly: add the locals, who dress in beautiful, loud colours and then top it all off with the tempting smells of some of the best Indian food on the island.

Little India is also where the oldest Hindu temple in Penang is situated. The Sri Mahamariamman Temple was built in 1833 and features the Hindu goddess Mariamman in her various incarnations.

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Sri Mahamariamman Temple

George Town has temples of all faiths, sizes, and styles, often sited next to each other, or along the same street.

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Yap Kongsi Temple
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Kapitan Keling Mosque

There are homes that can rival the temples.

The Penang Peranakan Mansion was built at the end of the 19th century. Originally a private home, the building is now a Baba-Nyonya museum, showcasing  the culture and opulent lifestyle of a rich Baba, men were known as Baba and women as Nyonya, living a hundred years ago. The original owner also had a private temple built, attached to the house.

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Penang Peranakan Mansion

 

21 April 2017

Penang

Penang is located on the north west side of Malaysia, the capital is George Town. The state of Penang has a population of 1.5 million, with 700,000 living on Penang island, of which 418,000 are Chinese and   DSC_0006_edited-1220,000 are Malay.

George Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7th July 2008, for ‘the mixture of influences which have created ‘a unique architecture, culture and townscape without parallel anywhere in East and South Asia’, and ‘demonstrate an exceptional range of shophouses’. Some 1700 buildings are in the core protected area.  The UNESCO designation prompted a resurgence in tourism and subsequent investment and refurbishment of property.

Take a stroll around the city streets and alleys, to see both beautifully renovated and crumbling, dilapidated shophouses; modern hotels, malls and skyscrapers; temples of several faiths; traditional markets and food hawkers. George Town is a delight.DSC_0033 (2)_edited-1

A shophouse typically incorporates a shop or business premise on the ground floor with living accommodation on the top floor. Shophouses are built in rows, usually two or three storeys high, and are long and narrow.

Each row of shophouses is fronted by a continuous, sheltered, five-foot wide walkway, louvre shutters on the upper floors, and a decorative façade.  Despite this uniformity, there is a huge diversity of colours and styles.

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In 2012 Penang’s municipal council commissioned London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic to create six street art murals in the historic area of George Town. This was the start of a proliferation of street art in the town and one can do self guided tours to view the many murals which have been produced by a variety of artists. Some murals are down narrow, side streets, so they are not always easy to locate.

These are some of the more popular murals, not all by Zacharevic, that I saw. The dinosaur at the end of the string the boy is holding has escaped, (it’s no longer visible).

Chowrasta market is a “wet market”, wet markets are where one can buy groceries, fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, and usually open just in the morning.  Fish are kept wet with water, so the floor is always wet, hence ‘wet’ market.  The original Chowrasta Market was built in 1890 by the George Town municipality. The front part facing Penang Road was rebuilt in 1920 and has remained virtually unchanged until 1981 when a new market was built in its place. In Urdu, Chowrasta means “four cross roads”.

The smoking and non smoking way to sell vegetables.

Just outside the market, are stalls selling a wide variety of goods, and lots of food stalls.

 

 

17 April 2017

 

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Tucked away, down a narrow street of shops and small businesses on the edge of Chinatown,  is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Built in 1873, it is the oldest functioning Hindu temple in Malaysia. The  ‘Raja Gopuram’ tower, a 75 feet high, pyramid-shaped gate tower, is decorated with depictions of Hindu gods. This Temple resembles the form of a human body lying on its back, with the head positioned towards the west and the feet towards the east. The 5-tiered gopuram corresponds to the feet of the body and is the threshold between the material and spiritual world.

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Wisps of fragrant incense smoke, snake into the air, greeting bare footed temple visitors, some dressed as if they are trying to outdo the bright colours of the building. Just past the temple, and the area where many pairs of shoes, abandoned by their owners before they enter the temple, wait to be reclaimed, are stalls of flower sellers. Selling bright garlands of flowers and limes, offerings to the gods. The women who purchase offerings are dressed as brightly and beautifully as the flowers.

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Further down the same street, on the opposite side of the road is another temple, this one is Chinese. This Taoist Temple, built in 1888, is dedicated to Guan Di, the Taoist God of War and Literature, one of China’s greatest warriors known as General Kwan, Guan Di or Guan Yu. He was given the title of ‘God of War’ and worshiped due to his excellent fighting and war skills.

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This is the location of a 59kg copper Guan Dao (Chinese pole weapon). People come to the temple because they believe the sword possesses a special power to bless and protect them if they touch or lift it, and that it has an inner force  which can also good bring luck.


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9 April 2017

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This view, from Merdeka Square, shows examples of the dull office buildings that stretch up over Kuala Lumpur, their blandness shown up here, by the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Completed in 1897, it’s an example of Moorish or Indo-Saracenic style. Two other major landmarks of the city, the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, also share the view, along with the cranes. There is no escape from construction here, either new, repair or renovation, one doesn’t get far without coming across some sort of building site.

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The Sultan Abdul Samad Building faces Merdeka Square, a huge grassed area in the centre of the city. At the south of the square, a 100 metre-high flagpole marks the spot where the Malayan Flag was raised on August 31, 1957, signifying the independence of the country from British rule.  Independence day celebrations occur here every year. Across from the square, the national Textile Museum is located in a beautiful Mogul-style building,  previously occupied and used by the state railway.

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Textile museum

The Old Kuala Lumpur railway station, completed in 1910, in a Mogul or Indo-Saracenic style, is still in use today, although it is not the main station of the city now.

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Old KL railway station

 

Across the road from the station is the Malaya Railway Administration Building.

Next to the administration building, is the National Mosque. Built in 1965, it’s one of Southeast Asia’s largest mosques. The main dome is designed in the shape of an 18-point star to represent the 13 states of Malaysia and the five central Pillars of Islam, and has the appearance of a partly opened umbrella roof which symbolises the aspirations of an independent nation. The roof is bright turquoise, just seen in the only decent photo I could get of it.

Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. This was also the first brick mosque in Malaysia when it was completed in 1907 and was the city’s centre of Islamic worship until the opening of the National Mosque in 1965. Unfortunately when I visited it, they were doing renovations, so I could only get a couple of photos.

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Masjid Jamek

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31 March 2017

I went for an early morning walk to the beach to see the sun rise, with a guide from the resort.

The sand is black at Sunar beach, and it was still quite dark as we walked along the beach path, coming across the occasional local, looming from the gloom, out for their morning walk or to go beachcombing.

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It was quite cloudy, which I feel, made it more atmospheric, although  on the way there I was slightly worried that I may have got up at 4.30 to look at dark clouds. The sun did not disappoint.

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What a wondrous spectacle, such diversity of colour and shape, constantly changing the skyscape, and then, it’s all over, in less than an hour.

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On the walk back to the resort, we stopped for a breakfast picnic. Rice cakes with palm sugar, which were still warm and quite delicious, and a steamed rice and banana cake, wrapped up in a banana leaf, which wasn’t so good, dry and stodgy.  My guide had also brought flasks of bajigur, a local hot drink, made with coconut milk, ginger, palm sugar and spices, this was also delicious, and very sweet.

It was day light when we walked back through the village, I saw some interesting stone figures, some of them decorated for the new year, and all along the road were offerings to the gods, which also filled the air with wisps of incense.

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The resort over looks rice fields and as I’ve dined each day or lazed around in the grounds, I have watched the farmers prepare the ground and then plant rice, (apart from Nyepi day). I took photos of the rice fields the day I arrived, not realising that in a matter of days the view would be transformed. The farmer has a rhythm to his rice planting and it is mesmerising to watch him fill the patchwork squares of watery mud with seedlings. Here are the before and after shots of their efforts.

A quick word on the creatures here. The reception is open air, and as one is sitting there, small lizards crawl across the walls catching insects. The fish in the pond have a habit of leaping out of the water to catch insects and occasionally they leap too hard and land on the grass.  Large dragon flies zoom around and a couple of times landed on me, and I was taking photos of the lilies in the pond when I was photo bombed by a bee.

It has been a very relaxing stay, the staff and the whole vibe here, is quite lovely.

I mentioned earlier that I saw ‘offerings’ when I was walking back through the village. I also saw these dotted around the grounds of the resort, little baskets filled with flowers and an incense stick, they are Canang Sari.  Canang Sari is derived from the Balinese words, sari means essence and canang means a small palm-leaf basket as a tray. Canang Sari are freshly made every day, and offered as a symbol of thankfulness to the Hindu god, Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, to give thanks for the peace given to the world.  Making the baskets every morning is seen as part of the ritual of giving thanks, the flowers are also placed in a particular order.

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29 March 2017

I have the pool to myself, apart from the flower petals that have fallen from a tree in the garden, which look like red lipped mouths, smiling at me as they bob on the water. I am in Bali, Indonesia and the resort I am staying in is rather lovely.

The Samata, in Sanur, has a limited number of suites so it’s very peaceful, and one has the feeling of being the only person here.   Two of the pools overlook rice fields, where white egrets are stalking the guy rotavating the fields for planting, eating what ever is disturbed by his actions. It is blissful.

I have arrived in the middle of Balinese New Year celebrations, making this my third new year celebration of 2017. There are six days of the festival, celebrated by Hindus, for the new year and I’ve arrived on the second day, or Nyepi eve, (27 March). At sunset, the ritual of Pengrupukan,  or the Ogoh-ogoh parades happen, and I went to see the one in Sanur. Balinese parade the streets with the Ogoh-ogohs,  playing a deafening mixture of the kulkul (traditional bamboo bell), claxons, gamelan and drummers music. The idea is to scare away evil spirits by making as much noise as is humanly possible

Ogoh-ogohs are huge statues made of bamboo and paper, symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits, and look rather scary. Devout Hindu Balinese villagers start making Ogoh-ogohs about 2 months before Nyepi, they are quite stunning and very detailed. The statues sit on bamboo frames and are carried by men and boys. There are also people in the parade in a variety of costumes.

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It seems as if the whole town is out for the parade, the roads are stuffed with people, and there’s a happy, party atmosphere. There are balloon sellers, food stalls, fireworks, motorbikes weaving through the crowds, loud, noisy, excited chatter, and everyone is posing for selfies. I originally went to watch the parade at the starting point, however, it was like I was standing in a sauna, packed with fully clothed people, so I moved and found myself in the area where the Ogoh-ogohs were waiting to join the parade, and where people were happy to post for photos. As soon as the parade finished everyone headed for home, a chaotic  mass of motorbikes and cars all leaving at the same time, to continue the celebrations before ‘the day of silence’.

The third day of the festival, is called Nyepi, and is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday on Bali, and is a general public holiday in the rest of Indonesia. Nyepi means ‘to keep silent’ and the entire island is ‘closed’. The airport is shut, there are no flights, (Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International is the only airport in the world to voluntarily close for an entire 24 hours), all shops and restaurants are closed, the beach is prohibited, no traffic is allowed on the roads, essentially people are not allowed out of their homes.  To ensure that all these rules are obeyed, local watchmen known as Pecalang (Nyepi Police) are deployed all over the Island.

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During Nyepi, from 6am to 6am, noise inside the home must be kept to a minimum with no television or entertainment, no work, no fire or light, including electricity.  The exception to this is hotels, however guests are not allowed out of the hotel grounds during Nyepi. The Samata restaurant closed at 7pm instead of 10.30, all the lights in the hotel grounds were turned off and although we did have electricity and television we were asked to be respectful and keep it quiet.

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Sunrise from my window

There is a belief that, after the boisterous and active celebrations of days one and two, the Island goes into hiding to protect itself from the evil spirits, fooling them to believe that Bali, enveloped in an atmosphere of complete darkness and tranquillity, is a deserted Island. This myth dates back to the mythical times of evil spirits, Gods, superheroes and witches. It was indeed very quiet, and with no light pollution and no clouds, it looked like glitter had been thrown into the sky, as it sparkled with millions of stars.

Nyepi night sky