All that Jazz: New Orleans and the Preservation Hall

28 06 2010
There is nothing that can describe sitting in the humid air of the dusty floor of a packed hall in an old Spanish colonial building set in the main square in the Vieux Carré and listening to feet tapping strains of the brass, woodwind, bass, piano, and percussion instruments that could only be associated with the fabulous sounds of the southern brand of jazz, all for a sum of two U.S. dollars. I suppose there is nothing that can aptly describe New Orleans as well, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs every evening since 1961 to packed audiences in a setting that could only be that of the temple of southern jazz. New Orleans is a city that is unique in many ways, atypical as North American cities go, a collection of the influences of her former French and Spanish masters, before becoming coming under control of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for a sum of $15 million. In New Orleans, we see architecture that is inherited from the Spanish, a joie de vivre inherited from the French, in a setting that perhaps feels more like the Caribbean that a city on the North American mainland should.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing to a packed hall.

The Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street (off Jackson Square) was founded in 1961 and is the temple of southern jazz.

Wandering around the streets of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré filled with buildings that date back to the era of Spanish rule in the late 18th Century with the characteristic wrought iron balconies and inner courtyards, one can’t escape from the sound of music that constantly fills the air. In and around the Vieux Carré which is centered on Jackson Square, the former Place d’Armes, one often sees a piano or two being wheeled around. Music is very much a part of street life in a city that is synonymous with hearty celebration and cuisine: the Mardi Gras and Jambalaya. It is a city that is both magical as well as being mysterious, being associated with practices such as Voodoo, where walks around the old cemetery is a must for the visitor as much as sitting on the floor of the Preservation Hall is. It is a city that continues to fascinate me and one that I would love the opportunity to visit again.

Music is everywhere in New Orleans.

The wrought iron balconies of the Spanish influenced buildings that line the streets of New Orleans.


21 years ago

4 06 2010

In memory of those who gave their lives in the pursuit of democracy on that fateful day, 21 years ago on Tiananmen Square. I remember 4 June 1989, and I hope the world doesn’t forget.

Remembering Tiananmen: "One Man alone, can stop history, can move a mountain".

A Tall Ship in port: The Pallada

13 03 2010

There is nothing more magnificent than seeing a rigged sailing ship, sails fully deployed, making its way at full speed over the sea. I have always dreamt of sailing on board one of these … since being drawn to the white silhouette of a clipper that stood against red container of my father’s Old Spice hair cream which sat on the dresser when I maybe five or six. I have always made it a point to visit one whenever the opportunity arose … the Cutty Sark, a well preserved retired clipper involved in the tea trade, being one that I had visited at its resting place in Greenwich.

The Pallada at its berth next to Vivo City.

It was a pleasant surprise when I learnt that Tall Ship Pallada was in town and made it a point to get acquainted with at the berth alongside Vivo City. The steel hulled three masted Fully Rigged Ship is operated by the Navigation Institute of Dalrybvtuz (the Russian Far Eastern State Fisheries University). Used as a seamanship training ship to train cadets for the Russian merchant fleet, the Pallada carries over 100 cadets, including some from the Singapore Maritime Academy.

A Ship's Officer on the Pallada.

Cadets on the quarterdeck.

The Pallada which currently holds the record as the fastest Tall Ship with a maximum speed of 18.7 knots under sails, was in port for stay of 4 days from 11 to 14 March. Built in Poland in the year, 1989, when the fall of communism in Europe commenced with the events there, by the Gdansk Shipyard (Stocznia Gdańska), the 106 metre (sparred length) ship boasts a main mast of 49.5 metres, has a draught of 6 metres and a beam of 14 metres. Gdansk Shipyard is of course the yard where the Solidarity movement, which was instrumental in the fall of communism in Poland, began in 1980. The Pallada is named after the Greek goddess Pallas Athena, is based at Vladivostok in the Russian Far East and can hoist 26 sails with a total area of 2771 square metres.

The foremast sail.

The foremast sail and jib being hoisted.

Up the foremast.

On the yards of the foremast ...

Ship's name on the bow.

Engine Room skylight.


The main mast.

Block and tackle.

Anchor chain on the gypsy.

A sailor on the forecastle.

Sailors on deck.

Ship's bell.

Builder's plate.

Stay of the main mast.

Mooring rope on quarterdeck.

Up the main mast.

The bowsprit.

A Maniac November

22 11 2009

20 years has passed since the November of 1989. Then, my final year at university was underway, well underway, so much so that I was starting to feel the heat. Having spent a summer that had me wandering around the eastern seaboard of the US, some of Canada, and also Italy, settling back into a daily routine of lectures, coursework, and books was quite a tough ask. Already behind in my final year project, there was also coursework due before the mid-term, and a group project that was far behind – it being difficult to get the group members together outside the setting of the campus pub, to contend with.

Deadlines, Deadlines, November 1989

A lot happening around us as well, serving as a distraction from what we should have really been focused on. We had our eyes were fixed on the telly, not only for our Blind Dates with Cilla Black on Saturday evenings, but also due to the drama that was unfolding before our eyes in Europe, as presented by the correspondents with the BBC and ITV.

Growing up during the era in which the Cold War served as a backdrop to politics, we had been constantly reminded of the vice like grip exerted by the authorities behind the Iron Curtain on their so called Comrades. The secret police and organisations such as the KGB and the Stasi came to mind – responsible for maintaining the obedience of the masses. We had constant reminders of the brutal nature in which some of these organisations acted, as well as stories of daring escapes by dissenters from behind the Iron Curtain – more often than not ending tragically.

What we were witnessing in 1989 seemed at that time, surreal. It was the beginning of the end – the beginning of a very swift end to the wave that that engulfed much of eastern Europe that started with the Bolshevik revolution in the early part of the century, and hastened by the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. For close to half a century, Europe was divided into the communist East and the free West. The Berlin Wall, built to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Berlin, stood for 28 years as a potent symbol of this divide, sticking out like a sore thumb over a Berlin rebuilt from the ashes of the Second World War.

With the Soviet Union in transition, distracted by Glasnost and Perestroika, the Soviets had stood by and watched, as Poland and then Hungary abandoned communism, unlike the brutal manner in which Soviet troops imposed their authority in the attempted revolutions of the 1960s. There was little then to stem the tide, as one by one, their communist allies fell around them. The opening of borders between Hungary and Austria rendered the control over the border between East and West Germany ineffective and against this backdrop, the border controls between East and West Gerrmany were relaxed on 9 November, leading to a frenzy of movement of East Germans to the West over the days that followed. Over the course of the next few days, history was about to be made, as television footage showed masses, armed with sledgehammers attempting to physically bring the much hated Berlin Wall down. With the Wall tumbling down, and inaction by the mighty Soviet army, the emboldened oppressed masses of the other eastern bloc states started to come out on the streets. We were also to witness the beginning of the end in Czechoslovakia that November, with riot police cracking down on peaceful demonstrations by students, leading to mass protests on the streets.

And the Wall came tumbling down - euphoria at the Wall, November 1989 (Source: Financial Times, 7 Nov 2009)

A trip to Ballachulish, near Glencoe, was also a welcome distraction in mid November. During the trip with several college mates from Singapore and Malaysia, some of us had somehow ended up taking a drive up what seemed to be an eerie moonlit Loch Ness and getting spooked, teeth chattering (it wasn’t that cold that November evening) in what we were certain was a haunted Urquhart Castle!

The Moonlit Loch Ness, November 1989

St. Mun's, Ballachulish, November 1989

On top of the world …

19 10 2009

Mountains bring a sense of peace to many of us. With transport links and the technology that the 20th century gave us, mountains have become a lot more accessible and we do not need to be mountaineers to enjoy the experience and exhilaration of being on top of the world.

My first encounters with mountains were somewhat confined to those that were accessible by road from Singapore. The mountain top resorts of Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill, provided the colonial masters of Malaya with respite from the heat and humidity of the tropics, and since, they have become popular as a destination for many from Singapore and Malaysia. It was much later in life that I first had my experience of the wonderous feeling of being amongst the peaks and the breathtaking views on offer. The Alps in Europe are particularly spectacular. There is no better feeling I get than that that comes from staring out at the peaks of mountains, sometimes over the clouds, sometimes capped with snow, and sometimes just bare rock faces. The most spectacular views I have seen of the Alps are from a cable car, the Gondola Panoramic Mont-Blanc,  that runs across the Glacier du Géant from Aiguille de Midi to Ponte Helbronner … the views on offer are simply grogeous!

The Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola across the Glacier du Géant

The Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola across the Glacier du Géant

The Vallée Blanch (White Valley) as seen from the Gondola Panoramic Mont Blanc

The Vallée Blanch (White Valley) as seen from the Gondola Panoramic Mont Blanc

All across the Alps, the views are as spectacular… the Dolomites in Alta Badia in Italy for one have provided me with some breathtaking views as well.

Corvara and Monte Sassongher in the Alta Badia Region of Italy

Corvara and Monte Sassongher in the Alta Badia Region of Italy

Monte Lagazuoi near Corvara in Alta Badia

Monte Lagazuoi near Corvara in Alta Badia

The view down Lagazuoi ...

The view down Lagazuoi ...

Having spent time in the West of Scotlands, I am no stranger to the Western Highlands, which provide a serene getaway for many, as well as a fair bit of folklore and mystery. It is hard to imagine kilted men running around in the hostile climes of the Western Highlands, doing battle first with rival clans, and then the invaders from the south. It is of course the stuff that legends are made of.

Glen Coe in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Glen Coe in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Loch Ness in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Loch Ness in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Of Melting Timepieces and Hallucinogenic Bullfighters …

13 09 2009

Inspired by a piece of melting Camembert, which Salvador Dalí observed on a hot August evening, the images of melting clocks and watches are some of the most recognisable images produced by Dalí. A visit to the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, brought about by my fascination with Dalí since the encounter with Dalí’s “Christ of St. John on the Cross” in Glasgow, provided some enlightenment to the artist’s inspiration for the iconic melting timepieces that first appeared on what is probably his most famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory”, against the backdrop of another interpretation of this work – “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”. The melting timepieces represent the relativity and decay of time, which conventional thought held to be rigid and deterministic. Dali, as we were told by the guide had pondered if time could melt like the piece of cheese that stood before his eyes, on an evening where suffering from a bad headache, the artist had stayed home while Gala his wife, had gone to the movies. Then and there, the artist got his inspiration to add the images of the melting pocket watches to the landscape near Port Lligat which he had been in the midst of painting, which filled not just Gala on her return from the Theatre, with fascination, but the many of us who have seen the images of the melting timepieces.

The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory (1952 - 1954), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory (1952 - 1954), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia)

Dali's Melting Timepiece on display in Singapore in 2006. Profile of Time (1977 - 1984), Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Dali's Melting Timepiece on display in Singapore in 2006. Profile of Time (1977 - 1984), Dalì Sculpture Collection.

The museum, which houses the largest collection of Dali’s works outside of Europe, has several of Dali’s masterworks, including the “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” and “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus”. “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” perhaps provides some insight into Dali’s state of mind and the hallucinogenic state which provided the many images we see in his work. Several of the images we see repeated over many different works, the potrait of Gala, the little boy which represents Dali in his youth, the bay of Port Lligat … the symbolistic images, many of which depict Dali’s past experiences and influences.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969 - 1970), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969 - 1970), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

Another striking piece is the “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus””, Dalí’s interpretation of Jean-François Millet’s famous painting …

Archaeological Reminiscence Millet's "Angelus" (1933 - 1935), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Archaeological Reminiscence Millet's "Angelus" (1933 - 1935), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jean-François Millet's "The Angelus" (1857 - 1859), Musée d'Orsay, Paris. (Source: Wikipedia).

Jean-François Millet's "The Angelus" (1857 - 1859), Musée d'Orsay, Paris. (Source: Wikipedia).

Several of Salvador Dalí’s sculptures from the Dalí Sculpture Collection were on display in Singapore in September / October 2006. Among the striking pieces on display were the ones depicting his melting timepieces, as well as the “Homage to Newton”, which is now permanently displayed at the UOB Plaza.

Horse Saddled with Time (1980), Dalí Sculpture Collection.

Horse Saddled with Time (1980), Dalí Sculpture Collection.

St. George and the Dragon (1977 - 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

St. George and the Dragon (1977 - 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Unicorn (1977 to 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Unicorn (1977 to 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Information Plate - Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Information Plate - Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Midsummer Madness

14 07 2009

As students, we usually found many ways to keep ourselves amused, and hang on to our sanity. The usual visits to the campus pub wasn’t always as interesting as other amusements such as the odd Ceilidh; our regular meet ups on Friday evenings when each of us, two Singaporeans, two Italians, two Malaysians, an Irishwoman, and a Cameroonian, would take turns at upsetting each other’s stomachs; joining the Labour movement’s rallies in Glasgow Green; and of course Wine Tasting sessions …. One particular one involved a few of us left behind in Glasgow during the start of the summer break…

Odd Bins Wine Tasting Card 21 June 1989

Odd Bins Wine Tasting Card 21 June 1989

Remembering 4 June 1989 – Poland

9 06 2009

Besides the events on Tiananmen Square 4 June 1989 is also significant as the first of two days on which elections were held in Poland. The elections can be said to have started the chain of events leading to the fall of communism in Europe. The elections, the first where candidates other than those from the Communist Party were permitted to stand, saw Solidarity, whose origins are lay with a trade union led by a former shipyard electrician from Gdansk, winning most of the seats they were permitted to stand in. The elections were held as a concession to allow Solidarity a voice amidst widespread disenchantment at living conditions in a country whose rulers could no longer depend on full support by a Soviet Union distracted by the introduction of Perestroika and Glasnost by Mikhail Gorbachev, licking its wounds after its withdrawal from Afghanistan after a costly excursion lasting a decade. The elections provided the platform for the first non-communist led government in the Eastern Bloc, and could be seen as the catalyst for the sudden and dramatic collapse of communism which had dominated much of Eastern Europe following Nazi Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II.

How to tie a bow-tie

8 06 2009

Preparing for the exams can be stressful. Besides our regular Friday evening beat the stress get-togethers, the Pub on Campus proved to be a great place to escape to, not just for a pint with friends …  sometimes there are a few new skills that can be picked up at the Pub as well …

How to tie a Budweiser Bow Tie

How to tie a Budweiser Bow Tie (on the back of a drink coaster)

Afternote: If any is really looking for instructions on how to tie a bow-tie … this is possibly a clearer guide:

How to Tie a Bow-Tie (courtesy of Tie-Rack)

How to Tie a Bow-Tie (courtesy of Tie-Rack)

Remembering 4 June 1989

1 06 2009

One Man alone,
can stop history,
can move a mountain

The man who can move mountains, Tiananmen Square, 1989

20 years on from the sad and tragic events of  3 and 4 June 1989, there is still the deep sense of anger, disbelief and astonishment at the brutal way in which the seven week old peaceful protest staged by students in China were ended by the Chinese government. Among the many stories and images that have been published, one image remains etched in the memories the many of us who were shocked by the television footage and newspaper reports. This image is one of a brave young man, attempting to halt the progress of a column of tanks by standing in the way. I remember seeing a poster of the much viewed photograph in Italy, with the words that went something that translated as “One man, alone, can stop history, can move a mountain”.

Being in University in the UK, the scenes on television were seen by the many students who came from different parts of the world. We were equally outraged and shocked by the way the protests were put down. It would never be known how many died on the square when the tanks and troops moved in, perhaps only the couple of hundreds that the Chinese government would like us to believe, or, perhaps the many thousands some others have estimated. What is important is that those lives were not lost in vain. It is for use to continue to remember, and to continue the effort to seek justice and freedom, where there isn’t any. We do know that 20 years on, the families of the many that perished still have not come to terms with what has happened – many continue to be persecuted because they seek to have the truth told (see the article below, published in the Scotsman on 30 May 2009). For us, observers from the outside, there is little we can do except that we must continue to remind ourselves and everyone else of the 4th of June 1989 and not forget what those who lost their lives, stood for. In our own way, we must find a way to keep the flame of the goddess of democracy alive.


The poster, "One Man alone, can stop history, can move a mountain". (Added 14 Sep 2009) - Remembering Tiananmen.

The poster, "One Man alone, can stop history, can move a mountain". (Added 14 Sep 2009) - Remembering Tiananmen.

20 years on, families still fight for the truth of Tiananmen

Published Date: 30 May 2009

By Carolynne Wheeler in Beijing

IT HAS been 20 years since Jiang Jielian, a carefree youth of 17, ignored his mother’s pleas and rode his bicycle to join friends among massive numbers of student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

His death in the early hours of 4 June, 1989 – from a bullet that entered his back and pierced his heart – would change his mother forever, turning a mild-mannered university professor loyal to the Communist Party into a heartbroken, angry parent pressing for answers.

Ding Zilin, now 72 and frail, has withstood two decades of arrests, interrogations and constant surveillance. Even today, she remains under effective house arrest as she continues her fight for the truth about the military crackdown and killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students on 4 June, 1989.

“Their bloody deaths should be returned by justice, not a life for a life. No matter what we do, our children will not come back,” she told The Scotsman in an interview conducted a month before the anniversary, necessary to avoid the government clampdown that comes before every sensitive occasion.

Twenty years after Tiananmen, the government still quashes all discussion of that day. Officials maintain the demonstrators had created a “counter-revolutionary riot”, therefore justifying the soldiers’ actions. Any mention of the incident in state media is forbidden and no credible number of those killed has been released.

Yet a quiet but resolute struggle by survivors and the families of the dead and injured for answers continues.

“I don’t know why they are so worried about us – we are widows and families who are old, sick and weak. It is impossible we would be a threat to national security. We just want justice,” Ms Ding said, referring to the Tiananmen Mothers’ network she has helped organise.

“We want the government to declare how many people were killed on 4 June. We want to know who died. And after that we want compensation for the people who were killed.”

Their efforts have produced a list of those killed – 195 names, the most recent discovered only in the past few months – and annual letters to the government reiterating their demands. This week, a new letter was signed by 128 family members.

“What was once the truth that couldn’t be clearer has become so blurred as to be almost turned upside down. Utilitarianism and pragmatism have replaced the idealism and passion of former days. China is not getting closer to freedom, democracy and human rights, but drifting farther away,” the letter reads.

Today’s students were babies in 1989. Too young to remember, they have been shielded from the truth by a government that doesn’t want them to know and families afraid they will suffer from political involvement. It’s a generation Ms Ding fears is more interested in good jobs and designer clothes than in the political changes her son fought for.

“Young people do not know the truth. They think the 1989 incident was not necessary.”

The events of 4 June are not discussed openly at universities on the mainland. However, earlier this year students at the University of Hong Kong – who, unlike their northern neighbours, are able to debate such issues – voted 93 per cent in favour of calling on the Chinese government to be held accountable for the Tiananmen crackdown.

About 10 per cent of that university’s students are from the mainland, and their debate was as loud as that among Hong Kong students.

“Even though they can’t access everything, many know the truth. You cannot cover the truth forever,” said Martin Kok, of the students’ union.

The Scotsman newspaper.