Strange spaces: the mound of ears

14 12 2014

I first caught sight of the Mimizuka (耳塚) in the fading light of dusk. What can best be described as a mound of earth topped with a gorinto - a five-tiered pagoda often used as gravestones; the Mimizuka looked mysterious and curiously out of place against the backdrop of the line of low lying roofs silhouetted against the twilight sky. Surrounded by what largely is a quiet residential neighbourhood in the Higashiyama district of of Kyoto, the mound, I was to discover, stands as a relic of a brutal past.

JeromeLim-2926

Translated from Japanese as “Mound of Ears”, it is where the remains of tens of thousands of humans are buried. Originally named as the “Mound of Noses” or Hanazuka (鼻塚), the remains it contains are in fact noses – those that were severed from at least 38,000 Koreans killed during the Japanese military expeditions into the peninsula initiated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the 1500s. Preserved in brine and shipped to Japan as trophies, the noses were buried at the location in 1597 during the time of the second invasion of Korea. 

It is in an area that is very much associated with Toyotomi Hideyoshi that one finds the rather macabre monument, just down the very generously proportioned Shomen-dori (正面通) that runs west from the Toyokuni Jinja (豊国神社), a shrine dedicated to the cruel but much revered daimyo.

The area is also where the grand Hoko-ji (方広寺) temple housing the great Buddha of Kyoto was put up by Toyotomi Hideyoshi – intended to rival the Daibutsu, or giant Buddha, of Nara, in scale. Much of the temple, construction of which began in 1586, and its Buddha was destroyed in an earthquake in 1596  and only its bell has survived to this day.

More information can on the little known Mimizuka can be found in a New York Times article written for the 400th anniversary of the mound, Japan, Korea and 1597: A Year That Lives in Infamy as well as in a Wikipedia entry. More on the Hoko-ji, the Toyokuni Jinja and the area can also be found at this site.





A life-changing slice of toast

22 10 2014

P1040768It is going to be hard to look at the humble kaya loti (kaya toast in local speak) in the same way again. Long a breakfast item for the man-on-the-street, it now finds itself elevated into one of two life-changing Singapore experiences for the visitor – thanks to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015 in which Singapore tops the list of ten countries to visit next year.

To celebrate the Singapore’s elevation to the top of the pile, which in part is due to the fact that Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of full independence next year,  Singapore Tourism Board (STB) / Lonely Planet decided to bring out the best in kaya – the sweet paste sometimes referred to as “coconut egg jam” made from coconut milk, pandan, sugar and eggs, that can be irresistible on a buttered slice of toast, at a hands-on event at 2am Dessert Bar on Tuesday.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast - a kaya toast cocktail.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast – a kaya toast cocktail.

There is nothing not to love about kaya toast, which in many ways, is representative of what Singapore is as a country – the fusion of many influences and one that continues to evolve. Kaya and kaya toast, besides in the many more traditional variations in which one can find it served today, also provides the inspiration for evolving food and beverage creations –  two of which came to light at yesterdays event.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

The first, is the creation of the much celebrated pastry chef, Janice Wong, the creative energy behind 2am. Reputed to have herself blindfolded so as not to allow what she creates be influenced by what she sees, Janice gave an introduction to “Shades of Green” – a dessert in which flavours many who have grown up in Singapore would quite easily identify with are reinterpreted. The dessert, which I got an opportunity to try assembling, discharging a spray of coco-mousse into two unfortunate participants in the process; features a custard of pandan flavoured palm sugar (gula melaka) is combined with gula melaka ice cream, coco-mousse, pistachio sponge and pistachio crumble, and is topped with a kuih bang kit meringue.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green was quickly followed by more shades of green in the form of a kaya-making demo, after which came what to me was the highlight – putting together a kaya-toast cocktail conceived by cocktail bar Bitters and Love. A combination of rum, lemon juice, sugar, honey, peach liqueur, egg white and a dash of kaya, it does put an interesting twist on the lori kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

Putting a new twist both on Singapore and kaya loti, is Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015. Of Singapore, Lonely Planet has this to say: “As one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, Singapore is always celebrating something. But Asia’s smallest state has an extra reason to put on her party hat in 2015 for it’s golden jubilee”. There is indeed much to celebrate in the cultural crossroads that is Singapore. While the city-state’s rapid modernisation, in which it has discarded too much of its fascinating past, has shifted emphasis on the development of mega-attractions and the staging of gala-events; there is that curious mix of age-old traditions and architecture with the ultra-modern that does makes Singapore, where the Lonely Planet says answering the door in one’s underwear is a no-no, a country one just has to visit.

Lonely Planet's Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Lonely Planet’s Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Along with Singapore, the countries in the top ten for 2015 are Namibia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Ireland, Republic of Congo, Serbia, The Philippines, St Lucia and Morocco. Lonely Planet draws recommendations for Best in Travel from hundreds of ideas submitted by Lonely Planet’s staff, authors, and extended family of travellers, bloggers and tweeters. The suggestions are refined by a panel of in-house travel experts based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor. More information on Best of Travel can be found at Lonely Planet’s website.





Magical Landscapes: Spain, north of the plain

11 06 2014

A view from the backseat of a car of the landscape in the plains of the far north of Castile and León. The photograph was taken on a road trip around the north of Spain in late October 2011. The region is where some of the well-trodden pilgrim pathways of El Camino de Santiago  – the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient pilgrimage routes of the Way of St. James, passes through, taking pilgrims on journey that is blessed with some truly magical landscapes as well as places en route that are a joy to discover.

JeromeLim-9135

The pilgrimage, which dates back to 9th century A.D. sees pilgrims walking hundreds of kilometres (some routes do involve distances of as much as a thousand kilometres) along several routes leading to the sacred destination of Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest of Spain, the shortest of which is just over a hundred kilometres to venerate St. James (Santiago in Spanish) the Great – one of the twelve apostles. It is in a crypt in the city’s cathedral, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, that what is believed to be the relics of the saint, is housed.





My Shanghai Story: marketplace Shanghai

28 05 2014

I would probably be the last person to admit this, but hitting the places to shop at was one of several things that I did thoroughly enjoy about my recent visit to Shanghai.

Shanghai's does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy.

Shanghai’s does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy …

Shanghai does have some wonderful places to satisfy that urge to spend that Yuan in. And like me, if parting with the wad of currency notes isn’t as therapeutic as it might be for one of my blogger friends who was on the trip who did seek to fill that excess volume she did ensure she had in her choice of luggage; there are several destinations in the busy city’s retail scene that are worth a look at just for the opportunity they present to discover the Shanghai that lies behind the glossy veneer that the now ultramodern metropolis seems to want to wear.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

… that goes beyond the glossy veneer of the modern metropolis that it does seem to want to wear (photograph is of the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road).

The bold excitement that the bright lights of Nanjing Road offers is a good place as any to start with for the would be shopper. While the experience provided by many of the shops along the famous street is perhaps replicated in many other Chinese cities, a stroll down Nanjing Road does provide the feel of what the Chinese idiom 人山人海 (literally mountains of people, sea of people) seems to well describe.

The more modern experience of Nanjing Road.

The modern experience of Nanjing Road and the sea of people.

There is also that huge and rather interesting food hall on Nanjing Road to wander into, the Shanghai First Foodmall (photographs). With its four floors of nothing but food ranging from snacks, traditional dried foods, and some quite exotic looking foodstuff, it certainly is worth a peek into.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

The bazaars, such as the one by Yu Garden (photographs), are for me also worth wandering through, not so much for the shopping experience, but more for the life provided by the crowds of out-of-town folk who descend on it, as it is for the colour and sometimes bizarre sights that they do tend to provide.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Two places that did thoroughly fascinate me, within a stone’s throw of each other and in the heart of the city not far from Yu Garden, were the Dongtai Road Antiques Market and the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market. It is in the rough-and-tumble of places such as these that I often find myself in on the road, seeking to discover a feel for a place beyond its main tourist sights, although admittedly, the two, especially the antiques market, does seem to wear a somewhat touristy face.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Dongtai Road Antiques Market (photographs), which sadly would not be around the next time I visit Shanghai – it will, I am told, be a victim of urbanisation and will make way for the next phase of the Xintiandi (新天地) development in July this year, is probably where you might find more junk and souvenirs rather than antiques. A walk by the market’s two streets centered on the crossroads of Dongtai and Liuhekou Road and lined with makeshift stalls with shops in the back, takes one past piles of old and mostly unserviceable goods such as tattered pieces of luggage, cameras, music instruments, sporting goods, implements in all shapes and sizes, dolls with western features, Mao and Soviet era memorabilia, along with replicas of terracotta warriors, tee-shirts, and other souvenir items.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market - it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market – it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

It is across Xizhang South Road, which runs perpendicular to Liuhekou Road, that one is greeted not so much by the melody of birds, but by a cacophony of crickets. The huge fighting crickets, kept in baskets of woven rattan or plastic mesh, and also in clear containers of plastic, is one of several fascinating offerings of the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (photographs).

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

The market, possibly one of the last such markets in the city, also offers a range of other items as its mouthful of a name does suggest and strolling through its narrow passageways that takes one well  away from the Shanghai that never seems to slow down.

Birds on sale.

Birds on sale.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page.

Previous My Shanghai Story posts:


Photographs

Dongtai Road Antiques Market

 

JeromeLim-5476

JeromeLim-5442

JeromeLim-5465

JeromeLim-7663-2

JeromeLim-7667

JeromeLim-7659

JeromeLim-7660

JeromeLim-5478

JeromeLim-5469

JeromeLim-5438

JeromeLim-5463
JeromeLim-5428


Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market

JeromeLim-7711

JeromeLim-7701

JeromeLim-7699

JeromeLim-7692

JeromeLim-7690


Nanjing Road and the Shanghai First Foodmall

JeromeLim-7737

JeromeLim-7736

JeromeLim-7735

JeromeLim-7733

JeromeLim-7758


Bazaars near Yu Yuan

JeromeLim-5411

JeromeLim-5407

JeromeLim-5401

JeromeLim-5405






The view out the window

26 05 2014

One reason to sit by the window on an aeroplane is the visual treat you do sometimes get from the air …

JeromeLim-8221

JeromeLim-8245

JeromeLim-8247

(photographs taken on a flight into Bangkok)





My Shanghai Story: Shanghai’s many shades of green

17 05 2014

One of the things that I did find great joy in my recent Shanghai Adventure was the discovery of some rather delightful green spaces, spaces that are perhaps not what one expects to find in the midst of the urban sprawl of one of the world’s most highly populated cities.

An oasis in the park - a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui - Guangqi Park.

An oasis in the park – a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui – Guangqi Park.

Of the Shanghai’s wonderful parks and gardens, Yu Yuan (豫园) or Yu Garden, is its best known, and a well visited tourist spot. A classical Suzhou style garden, Yu Yuan’s origins go back to the reign of the Ming Emperor Jiajing in the late 16th century.

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

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

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

The garden does count as one of Shanghai’s main attractions, and while it does tend to be overrun by hordes of tourists and as a result lack that serenity (its name does mean “peace and comfort”) it was designed to provide as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, is still well worth the 40 yuan it costs to enter its 2 hectare landscaped grounds.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

The grounds, encircled by a dragon on top of its perimeter wall, is a joy to wander through and in it one will find several fine examples of Chinese architecture that are mixed in with bridges that take the visitor over carp filled pools and labyrinths of walkways leading one to the garden’s many archways, rockeries and pavilions. A visit to Yu Yuan, would of course be incomplete without first negotiating the right angles of the nine-cornered bridge for that pause over tea at the Huxinting.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

Inside one of Yu Yuan's magnificent buildings.

Inside one of Yu Yuan’s magnificent buildings.

While calm may not be what one does now find within the grounds of Yu Yuan, it is a quality that there is no shortage of in two parks that I did get to see some distance from the hurly burly of the old city in Xujiahui on the western fringe of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

The first, the sprawling green oasis that is Xujiahui Park, is a more recent addition to Shanghai’s cityscape. The 8.6 hectare park, was apparently developed on a former industrial site that was occupied in part by the Great China Rubber Factory (大中华橡胶厂). A chimney seen rising over the tree-tops, a remnant of the factory, is now all that is left to remind Shanghai of the factory.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park's industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park’s industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

At the base of the chimney.

At the base of the chimney.

The park, now a popular place amongst the city folk looking for a respite from the insanity that city life does bring, is also where a gorgeous red brick villa – built to house the offices and recording studios of the Pathé Orient (a record company which was to be absorbed by EMI) is to be found. The Dutch style villa, which now houses a restaurant, was where the song that was to become the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers, had first been recorded.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

A stone’s throw from the luscious greens of Xujiahui Park, is another pretty pocket of greenery, just south-west of Xujiahui Cathedral. The green space, Guangqi Park, is where a path that one enters through an ornamental archway, leads to the tomb of Xu Guangqi, a Ming Dynasty official who is responsible for the Xu in the name Xujiahui – where there once had been a confluence of rivers over which some of the district’s boulevards now run over.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

Xu Giangqi, also a learned scholar and an early Chinese convert to the Roman Catholic faith, collaborated and worked with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci whose influence was responsible for Xu’s conversion. It is not just in the tomb that the illustrious Xu is remembered, but also in a little memorial hall on the edge of the park, the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

The memorial hall, in which one is immediately overcome by the sense of calm provided in the grounds of a traditional courtyard house, is where Xu’s tremendous achievements through his life and career are celebrated. The house in which it finds itself in, is also one to celebrate. The origins of what was previously the South (Nan) Chun Hua house also lies in the Ming Dynasty. Re-located from another location to the park, the house is a magnificent example of Chinese architecture and typical of the residential architecture of the period.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Guangqi Park as well as Xujiahui Park, given their proximity to the French Concession, is perhaps also a good starting point for a walking, or better still, a bicycle tour of what is another wonderfully green and architecturally rich part of Shanghai in the former French Concession. The area is well served by the Shanghai Metro, with the closest stop being Xujiahui. Yu Yuan, is also served by the Metro, with Yu Yuan Garden being the closest stop.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page (current deals include a pay one-way deal and a two-nights free accommodation deal).


Previous posts related to My Shanghai Story





My Shanghai Story: contrasting escapes from the tempests in teapots and more

11 05 2014

One of the fabulous things about Shanghai is that there is a great abundance of places not just to chill-out in, but also find the escape that does appear to elusive amongst the crowds and frenzy of its rather busy streets. Ranging from the many modern cafes and bars that are in keeping with the sophistication of contemporary Shanghai, bars that offer the best views in the city, to teahouses that offer a feel of the more traditional side of Shanghai, there are a great variety of places that offer a contrast in the experience of chilling-out in the city.

What the two full days of the Shanghai Adventure did provide was a chance to have a feel for some of the variety of experiences,  starting with the traditional and which also included an experience of the ‘high-life’ that the modern side of Shanghai does have to offer …


The Traditional

Set in a pavilion that in being surrounded by water to which one must negotiate a path of right angles on a bridge with nine corners is the Huxinting (湖心亭) Teahouse. Well protected from the unidirectionally inclined demons of the old world, it is where one does find an escape from the demons that now plague the new world.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

In its interior, bathed in the earthy hues of its wooden walls, screens and furnishing, one finds a side of Shanghai that does seem forgotten in the city’s relentless march towards modernity.

The calm of its wooden interior.

The calm provided by its wooden interior.

The teahouse, now a veritable Shanghai institution, has been an occupant of the 16th century Ming Dynasty wooden pavilion for most of the time since it first occupied it in the mid 1800s. Despite the teahouse today being more of a destination for out-of-towners, it is over a pot of tea sitting by the window at one of its marble topped tables, that one does find that slice of a charming old world from which one can also observe the demons of the new that lie, at what does seem to be an arms length away, just across the crooked bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

A pot of tea starts off at around 60 yuan, and if you either have a preference for a caffeine free beverage or take joy in the sight of a dried flower coming seemingly alive whilst being infused in a clear glass teapot, flower teas are an option. Tea is also served with several bite-sized snacks, which include small tea-eggs made with quails’ eggs. And if you do decide to have a pot of tea, do keep a look out for a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, having tea – not in a manner she would be accustomed to, in the teahouse.

Pots of flower tea.

Pots of flower tea.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

The interior.

The interior.

The early 'crowd'.

The early ‘crowd’.

The upper floor.

The upper floor.

A 'window seat'.

A ‘window seat’.

An employee of the teahouse.

An employee of the teahouse.

Serving tea.

A member of the teahouse’s staff serving tea.


The French Connection

An area of Shanghai that does have a huge appeal for me is  the former French Concession, with its wonderful works of architecture, its history and the atmosphere one does now find in and around many of its tree-lined streets. The French Concession does also have an abundance of establishments to dine in, as well as to chill-out in, from the cafes of Ferguson Lane, to several other street-side cafes and bistros, some set in gorgeous works of architecture dating from the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Reflections on a cafe. The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its 'coffee culture'.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its ‘coffee culture’.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

A street side view.

A street side view.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro, Mardi Gras, that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.


High Points

One of the must-dos in and around the area of Shanghai’s Bund has to be to elevate oneself to the roof tops of one of the high points, to take-in some of the best views one can possibly get of old and new Shanghai on both sides of the Huangpu. Perched on the roof (levels 32 and 33) of the Hyatt on the Bund’s West Tower, the Vue Bar, for a 100 yuan cover charge, provides just that – the best views not just from the glass protected interiors, but also an open wind swept terrace on level 33 at which you can literally chill in a very inviting whirlpool and feel quite literally, on top of the world,

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Wine racks are part of the bar's decor.

Wine racks are part of the bar’s decor.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

And a view of the Bund.

And a view of the Bund.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

On top of the Hyatt and on top of the world.

Chilling-out on top of the Hyatt, and feeling on top of the world.


 

 








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,519 other followers

%d bloggers like this: