My Shanghai Story: the arrival of Spring

8 05 2014

The arrival of Spring, Spring Airlines that is, did spring me a pleasant surprise. That came in the form of an to, quite literally as it did turn out, soak Shanghai up over a weekend, the weekend that coincided with the launch of the Shanghai based Low Cost Carrier’s Shanghai to Singapore route.

The iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai - a pleasant Spring surprise that did await me.

A survivor from the treaty port era of Shanghai, the iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai – a Spring surprise that awaited me in Shanghai.

The launch of the route, coupled with the no-frills carrier’s attractive fares (overall, Spring’s fares are said to be some 30% below their competitors), does make Shanghai, just five hours away, a rather appealing destination for that short break away from Singapore.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

Spring, which was founded in 2005 and operates a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft – one of the world’s youngest fleets, sells its tickets directly through their website and mobile apps. Flying over 50 routes, which are mostly domestic, it does have offer several international destinations in Japan, with the latest offering being Singapore.

A high-five to Spring.

A high-five to Spring.

More than any other city in China, Shanghai has a fascinating mix of the vestiges of what was a rather colourful past together with the emblems of its current renaissance driven by its position as the financial centre of a booming land of opportunity. Within easy reach of several other popular culturally rich destinations such as Suzhou and Hangzhou and several water towns, Shanghai does seem to have it all for the traveller, whether on a short break or on a lengthier trip. A big plus is the excellent public transport network does make travelling to many of its attractions quite a breeze. In its shops, cafés, and eateries, ranging from the trendy to the traditional, as well as its bazaars and markets, it does have an appeal for many especially so from Singapore.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

I had two full days at my disposal. While that didn’t quite give me enough time to fully appreciate what the city and its environs did have to offer, the Shanghai I did see, even on what did turn out to be a rain soaked weekend, did have a huge appeal to both the photographer and the traveller in me.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

The rain did bring an air of freshness and joy to the streets of Shanghai, offering an alternative perspective of Shanghai and its many sights from the umbrella painted pedestrian malls, vendors touting umbrellas at Metro station exits, to reflections of Shanghai’s famous lights colouring its nighttime streets.  The rain did not as well dampen any of what Shanghai is to me all about, a city rich in contrasts and with it contradictions in its mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, and in a heritage that tells us of the meeting of east and west, a meeting that has as much to do with the clash of civilisations as it has about the embrace the civilisations did also find themselves locked into.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square  along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional Suzhou style Chinese garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the days of the Ming Dynasty.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé record company.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé (later EMI) record company.

The T'ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century that is touted as the  cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft.

The T’ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century. The orphanage is touted as the cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft – an example of the embrace of the civilisations.

The contrasts and contradictions that gives Shanghai its soul is indeed very much in evidence all around. It is in Shanghai that one can take as much pleasure from sipping tea in a traditional teahouse with centuries of history behind it, as in chilling out over a slice of cheesecake and a cup of espresso in one of the many hip cafés that line the streets of what is today a very Bohemian part of Shanghai in the former French Concession.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession and its modern cafes.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession with its modern cafés is one of the places to be seen.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The contrasts one will find does certainly not end in the places to chill-out at. From hairdressers, to eateries and places to shop at, sometimes just a few doors away from each other, to Shanghai’s public spaces; the collisions of time, cultures, and even ideologies, seemingly at odds with each other are very much in evidence. All of this does provide Shanghai with a rather unique flavour and one that for me is the Shanghai Story that the city did tell and it is this story I hope will come out in the posts on My Shanghai Adventure that will follow.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

In contrast with shopping in less trendy settings at the Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Shopping in the rough: Dongtai Road Antiques Market, which is full of atmosphere. Sadly, I am told the market will make way for redevelopment very soon.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

In contrast, the the brightly lit Nanjing Road, provides a more sophisticated shopping experience.

Shanghai is a city that is comfortable with its many contrasts and contradictions.

Shanghai is a city that does seem at ease with its many contrasts and contradictions.


About Spring Airlines Shanghai to Singapore Route

Spring Airlines is China’s first and only low-cost airline, which was founded in 2005 by Spring Travel and has become a dominant player in the domestic travel market in China. Currently Spring Airlines offers flights on the Shanghai (Pudong Airport) to Singapore route three times a week. Each ticket comes with 15 kg baggage allowance (inclusive of cabin baggage). Do also look out for some of the really good travel deals Spring does also offer from time-to-time including a current offer for flights from Singapore (for travel up to 31 May 2014) that includes two nights free accommodation in a five-star hotel in Shanghai (more information including terms and conditions can be found on the Spring Airlines website).

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Spring Airlines has a huge online presence (in fact their website and mobile apps account for all of their ticket bookings), and besides their website, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and can also be contacted through Skype (id: springairlines001).

A view inside Spring's A320 passenger cabin.

A view inside Spring’s A320 passenger cabin (click to enlarge).


 





Pasar Kranggan, Yogyakarta

8 12 2013

A visit to any Southeast Asian town or city is never complete without the experience of  a wet or traditional market. The market is often where the colour and life of a city can best be captured and I often enjoy a walk through one as I did on a recent trip to Yogyakarta in Central Java. One of the markets in Yogyakarta which does deserve a visit is Pasar Kranggan which can be found just down Jalan Pangeran Diponegoro from Tugu Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta Monument).

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Globalisation in an ancient world

23 10 2013

The colours of Globalisation as seen in an ancient world – the Nepali city of Bhaktapur which dates back to the 9th Century. The city with its old squares and buildings is one which does otherwise take one far away from the modern world. It is also where an ancient festival, that of the Bisket Jatra, is celebrated every Nepali New Year in a way it might have been celebrated centuries before.

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Growing up too soon in Bangkok?

17 09 2013

A very young child “minding” a food stall at a market found along the busy Asok Montri Road (photograph taken in October 2011).

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Life’s a Boracay Beach

8 08 2013

What to get beachy about on Boracay

It’s been almost three weeks since I got back from a truly enjoyable escapade with nine other bloggers to the resort island of Boracay in the Philippines. The island, set in a picture perfect world surrounded by gorgeously beautiful emerald blue waters, is one which has left a huge impression on me. It is also one which I certainly count as one in my list of magical places I have been fortunate enough to visit, and one which should really be in anyone’s bucket list of must-visit places in one’s lifetime.

A great to be for a beach bum - lying flat on a paraw..

A great to be for a beach bum – lying flat on a paraw..

Life's a beach on Boracay - any time of the day.

Life’s a beach on Boracay – any time of the day.

Sunrise at Bulabog Beach.

Sunrise at Bulabog Beach.

Of the many experiences the island does offer, it is probably the beach that is first and foremost on the mind of anyone who has made a visit. The beaches on Boracay come to live in many different ways throughout the day – and night and visiting them has awakened that long dormant beach bum in me.

Sunset at White Beach.

Sunset at White Beach.

The beach which should probably be mention first has to be White Beach. Four kilometres of the finest white sand, it is has been described as the “Mother of All Beaches”. The beach which is divided into three boat stations, is perhaps an obvious choice to base oneself, being where the “action” on Boracay is centred around, including the nightlife Boracay is also well known for. White Beach is also where much shopping and beachside entertainment and dining is to be found and is certainly the place to be as well as a place to be seen at. Facing west, the beach is also an obvious place to catch the sunsets Boracay is famous for from.

Lots of beach side entertainment can be found at White Beach.

Lots of beach side entertainment can be found at White Beach.

White Beach Boracay - where mcuh of the action takes place.

White Beach – the mother of all Boracay beaches, seen at Boat Station 2..

Dancing to the sea breeze at Seabreeze, the beach side cafe of the Boracay Regency.

Dancing to the sea breeze at Seabreeze, the beach side cafe of the Boracay Regency.

Lots of dining options at Boat Station 2.

Lots of dining options at White Beach.

Catch of the day.

Catch of the day.

The numerical order of boat stations the beach is sub-divided into does also provide an indication of the regard with which each section is held. The top end of the beach is where Boat Station 1 can be found. It is the most exclusive and also widest part of the beach where some of the more upscale resorts which spill directly out to the beach are – including the very exclusive Discovery Shores, which we were to visit on our last evening there.

White Beach at Boat Station 1 by night.

White Beach at Boat Station 1 by night.

The very exclusive Discovery Shores at Boat Station 1.

The very exclusive Discovery Shores at Boat Station 1.

A fire dancer performing at Discovery Shores.

A fire dancer performing at Discovery Shores.

The nighttime view from Discovery Shores.

The nighttime view from Discovery Shores.

The top section is also where the much celebrated Jonah’s Fruitshake and Snack Bar can be found – a must visit for any one in Boracay with a craving for milkshakes packed with real fruit – and if you like, a shot of additional flavouring taking the form of rum!

Jonah's - an institution of sorts in Boracay.

Jonah’s – an institution of sorts in Boracay.

Fruit-full milkshakes - served in a bottle.

Fruit-full milkshakes – served in a bottle.

The section where we did find ourselves at was at Boat Station 2. This is where there is a mix of accommodation types including the Boracay Regency where we stayed at, and the Boracay Mandarin we were dined at and visited on the third evening. Station 2 is also where most of the beach side action is to be found, and where D’Mall – a favourite tourist shopping spot can be found. D’Mall is also where the Hobbit House, with its rather interesting crew of “hobbits” – pint sized staff, can be found.

The stairway to heaven - from the beachside Boracay Regency to the beach at Boat Station 2.

The stairway to heaven – from the beachside Boracay Regency to the beach at Boat Station 2.

A ferris wheel at D'Mall.

A ferris wheel at D’Mall.

A sandwich shop at D'Mall.

A sandwich shop at D’Mall.

Christina doing her souvenir shopping at D'Mall.

Christina did her souvenir shopping at D’Mall.

As did Atsuko.

As did Atsuko.

The nightlife scene at Boat Station 2.

The nightlife scene at Boat Station 2.

Some of the gang shopping by the beachside at Boat Station 2.

Some of the gang shopping by the beachside at Boat Station 2.

Having fun in the rain at Boat Station 2.

Having fun in the rain at Boat Station 2.

Hobbit House at D'Mall.

Hobbit House at D’Mall.

By the beach side at Boat Station 2.

By the beach side at Boat Station 2.

The southernmost section of White Beach, or Boat Station 3, is said to have the most relaxed of atmospheres – and again where a mix of both budget as well as luxury accommodation can be found. It is also where the beach is gaily decorated by the blue and white sails of the paraws – the double outrigger boats of the Visayas – the group of islands surrounding the Visayan Sea of which Boracay and Panay belongs to. It is from station 3 that the paraw cruises depart – an excellent way to spend a late afternoon.

White Beach at Boat Station 3.

White Beach at Boat Station 3.

Another view of the Boat Station 3.

Another view of the Boat Station 3.

Paraw Cruising from Boat Station 3.

Paraw Cruising from Boat Station 3.

While White Beach does perhaps have the finest of sands and is an excellent place to have a dip in the sea in or sip a cocktail by the beach under a parasol at, it can get rather crowded and if you do want to look for a nice quiet but publicly accessible beach which takes you away from it all and on which you can feel that you are indeed in paradise, than Puka Beach has to be it. Much about the beach can be found in my previous post – in which I thought it deserved mention as being one of two of my favourite spots on the island.

Puka Beach.

Puka Beach.

If it is privacy and exclusivity you are looking for, the island does also offer the visitor a choice several very exclusive resorts, all with private and exclusive beaches. Two which come to mind are the Fairways and Bluewater Resort and the Shangri-la Boracay. The former is where Paradise Cove (the other favourite spot I previously mentioned) as well as two exclusive coves are located and where it is possible to ride a segway or mount a horse to have a feel of one of its wonderful beaches. It is also possible to have a ride on a glass bottomed boat on Paradise Cove to have a top down view into its crystal clear waters. The natural platform beneath the rock arch found at Paradise Cove is also one which the Shangri-la has been permitted to land its guests on.

Paradise Cove.

Paradise Cove.

On the segway on the beach at Fairways and Bluewater Resort.

Catherine on the segway on the beach at Fairways and Bluewater Resort.

Atsuko horsing around at Fairways and Bluewater.

Atsuko horsing around at Fairways and Bluewater.

The Boracay Shangri-la on the northwest of the island around the corner from Puka Beach is has got to be the place to stay at – if you are looking in the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity with its many private villas, some arranged on the hill slope offering simply stunning views of the Tablas Strait. It has a very exclusive stretch of its own beach, Bayungan Beach, but if one is putting up in one of the three private villas we did get to see, who then needs a private beach?

The beach at Shangri-la Boracay.

The exclusive beach at Boracay Shangri-la.

Besides the beaches already mentioned, there were a few more I did see. Two we did see as part of an island hopping boat ride were the ones at Crystal Cove Island and Tambisaan Beach where we were to have lunch at. Another was east facing Bulabog Beach, less attractive as a beach goes compared to White Beach or Puka Beach, but off which much of the sea sports and activities Boracay is also famous for, does take place. The sports one can participate in include kite boarding and windsurfing – best done from November to April. With a reef fround offshore, it is in the protected waters off Bulabog Beach where some of the recommended activities associated with Boracay such as helmet diving, snorkelling and on-water sports can be done (I will devote another post to the on and in-water activities we did do).

Tambisaan Beach.

Tambisaan Beach.

The gang at Bulabog.

The gang at Bulabog.

What's on offer at Bulabog.

What’s on offer at Bulabog.

Water activities off Bulabog Beach include Helmet Diving ...

Water activities off Bulabog Beach include Helmet Diving …

And riding on a Banana Boat.

And riding on a Banana Boat.

Bulabog, across the island at its narrowest point from White Beach’s Station 2, is also where the 7Stones Boracay Suites – probably my choice of where to stay, is to be found at. It was where we did have lunch at on the second full day in Boracay (the third on our itinerary), at the 7th Note Café – best known for its barbecues – where we did have the best meal during our stay in Boracay at. Why it would be a choice of where to stay for me is its location – which is close enough to the action, but yet far away enough from the hustle and bustle of White Beach – and perhaps the small size of the resort. And if it is the fine sand beach I want to head to, White Beach is only a short tricycle taxi ride away – which does make it “more fun in the Philippines”.

Bulabog Beach near 7Stones Suites.

Bulabog Beach near 7Stones Suites.

A tricycle taxi.

A tricycle taxi.

7Stones Suites at Bulabog Beach.

7Stones Suites at Bulabog Beach.

Bulabog Beach.

Boats at Bulabog Beach.


The trip to Boracay was made possible by Tigerair Philippines and the Philippine Department of Tourism. Tigerair now flies direct to Kalibo Airport – for more information on flights to Kalibo, do visit http://www.Tigerair.com/ph/en/.

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Getting there:

Location information:


This is a repost of my post on Boracay Island Escapade.






A sunrise I have a lasting impression of

12 07 2013

I have enjoyed catching the sunrise ever since I watch my first, one that was over the South China Sea from Kemaman along the East Coast of Malaysia, back in the early 1970s. It was across that same sea – and the ocean beyond it, that I was to catch on of which I also have a lasting impression of – a rather spectacular one in a faraway place I would prior to that, never dreamt of going to. That sunrise was one which greeted my arrival, one January morning in 1985, into the port of Corinto on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua – the gorgeously colours of the lightening sky revealing the volcanic silhouettes tracing the part of the Ring of Fire that runs along the west coast of the country on the isthmus which connects the two large American continents with the Volcán San Cristóbal, which at 1745 metres, is the highest volcano in Nicaragua, standing out.

Sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal as seen from the Pacific Ocean, December 1984

Sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal as seen from the Pacific Ocean, December 1984

The country was then still fresh from a revolution which freed it from the U.S. supported Samoza regime – the bullet holes that riddled the walls of many of its towns and village, decorated by the symbols of revolution, did seem like they had been made only yesterday. The country was brought to the brink by the effects of a stranglehold placed by the United States which cut-off access to finance as well as to a market where the bulk of the country’s produce were traditionally exported to. What did give hope was that not all in the free world did go along with the actions of the U.S. government – their European allies refusal to participate in the sanctions was to provide the hope which the sunrise was to perhaps symbolise.





The swastika at the tenth mile

9 07 2013

One very distinct memory from a childhood of many wonderful moments to remember is of the red swastika at Somapah Village. The village was one I had many encounters with in the late 1960s and very early 1970s, stopping by or passing through it on the many journeys we made to Mata Ikan at the other end of Somapah Road where a favourite holdiay destination for my family – the Mata Ikan Government Holiday Bungalows was located.

A photograph of the old Red Swastika School along Somapah Road (source: Red Swastika School's website).

The red swastika along Somapah Road (source: Red Swastika School’s website).

The swastika belonged to the Red Swastika School, just down the road from the main part of the village. It adorned the simple single storey zinc-roofed  school building, rising above it over the entrance and never failed to catch my attention from my vantage in the back seat of the car – a symbol I would always associate with the now lost village. The memories I do have of the village and the school are largely contained in a post I had put up at the end of 2010 on the village:  Memories of the lost world that was Somapah Village. What motivated me to touch on this again is a few old photographs of the school, apparently taken during a school sports day in the 1970s, sent by a reader Mr. Alvin Lee, which follows.

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The school traces its history back to the founding of the Wan Tzu School by the World Red Swastika Society at the village in 1951, built to serve residents of the rural community in the Changi 10th Mile area where Somapah Village was located and provided free education to them. Sometime in the 1950s, the name of the school was changed to the Red Swastika School – a name now well respected for its academic achievements.  Its enrollment was to grow quickly, from 300 at its starting, it had by the end of its first decade a population of some 1000 students who were accommodated in its 12 classrooms over two sessions. With the days of the village coming to an end in the 1980s the school moved to new premises in Bedok North Avenue 3 in 1981 where it still operates today.

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