Colours of Bangkok

18 11 2010

As with many other living parts of Asia, there is much to catch the eye wandering around the streets of Asia’s City of Angels, Bangkok. There certainly is a lot more to the city than the abundance of well photographed sights and scenes that the city provides, which often jump out at you without having to strain the eye. Bangkok is a city where there is in fact no shortage of wonderful colours and textures that not just add to the colour of the city, but also brings the city to life …

Local oranges ready for juicing.

Sweetcorn on the steamer.

Groundnuts on the steamer.

Grapes for sale.

Eggs being transported.

Chocolate coated bananas.

Bottled drinks on sale.

In the basket of a food vendor.

Tuk-tuks ...

Graffiti at a construction site.

Books at a second hand book shop.

Overhead telephone lines against a background of ventilation louvres.

Reflection off a puddle of water.

Parasols of street vendors along Sukhumvit Road.

Display of a street footwear vendor.

Shoes on sale at Chatuchak market.

Charcoal stoves on display.

Roofs of stalls at Chatuchak market as seen from the Skytrain.

Three perspectives of a house through ventilation openings at Makkasan Station.

Roofs of houses.

Lines of the Skytrain.

Cans of milk at a tea vendor at Chatuchak.

The New Year

1 01 2010

The new year is usually brought in with a bang wherever we are – often in a boisterous and drunken celebration. My first New Year’s Day out of Singapore was spent on halfway around the world in a quiet little seaside hamlet on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. Then Nicaragua was in revolutionary fervour – the communist Sandinista having ousted the American backed Samoza regime some 5 years before, with an economy in tatters with a US economic embargo in force. Still there was time for a simple celebration – a parade of the village’s young beating makeshift drums and cymbals of pots and pans through the main street of the village at the stroke of midnight. It was a celebration of gratitude and hope – gratitude for the peace that the passing year had brought and hope for a better year ahead.

Having spent two New Year’s Day in Scotland where the passing of the year is celebrated as Hogmanay, a celebration that starts on New Year’s eve and doesn’t end until the next day, accompanied by a generous amount of Aqua Vitae from the numerous distilleries that the Scots have gifted us, and the heartfelt renditions of another gift from the Scots – the Auld Lang Syne, I see why it isn’t hard for the Scots to celebrate the New Year with as much passion as only the Scots know how to.

Somehow, I prefer a quieter and sober celebration amongst family and friends as those I used to have, where we would reflect on the year that is passing and express our hope for the year to come … There was a time I would spend it with friends over at a friend’s home in Chestnut Drive, in the days where the Upper Bukit Timah Road and the Bukit Panjang areas were as though of a being remote for the city dwellers. The Standard Chartered Bank building at the end of Hillview Avenue would serve as a landmark for us to identify the bus stop to alight at … and once we were down we would have to take a dreaded walk past a cemetery to my friend’s house …. the bringing in of the New Year would always start with supper, and when the time approached, we would gather in a circle holding hands with our arms crossed as we counted down, and on the stroke of midnight, Auld Lang Syne was sung at the top of our voices …

New Year in Petaling Jaya, 2010

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

Salvador Dali: Christ of St John on the Cross

31 07 2009

My fascination with Salvador Dali’s works began with a visit to the Kelvingrove Gallery one weekend in 1988. The haunting glow of gold and blue and very three dimensional depiction of a nail-less Christ on the cross, looking down on the Bay of Port Lligat, captivated me. At that instant I was in awe of Salvador Dali and the way he was able to catch my imagination with the positioning of the subject and use of colours.


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

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)

Words of Wisdom from an eleven year old

30 05 2009

War is killing,
Killing’s not right.
Why, oh why do we have to fight?

Day after day,
Week after week,
Why don’t we get a chance to speak?

You couldn’t stop counting,
The number of dead,
Lying outside, lying in bed.

But ….. if we could stop,
This continual folly,
And let us have peace, and let us be jolly.

So please you big people,
Please let us try,
Please no more trouble, I don’t want to die.

Ben Brown, Age 11, 1989

Ben Brown - War


8 05 2009

Nowhere else in the world is the New Year heralded with so much passion as in Scotland, so they say. Hogmanay, which the Scots celebrate on New Year’s eve, is celebrated as only the Scots know how, with beer and whisky, a rendering of Auld Lang Syne on the stroke of midnight, and a lot more whisky, so it seemed …

Port Charlotte, Islay

Port Charlotte, Islay

Three Singaporeans and two Englishman hardly sounds like exciting company, and it did seem so for five days or so – especially when large parts of the days were spent holed up in a tiny cold cottage set along the windswept shore of Port Charlotte on the isle of Islay. Visits to a round church in Bowmore, made so that there were no corners for the devil to hide in, a couple of distilleries, and a hail interrupted trek to catch a glimpse of winter geese in the west of the island with only the bags we were carrying to shelter us didn’t feel quite so exciting as well.

The Round Church at Bowmore, Islay

The Round Church at Bowmore, Islay

The highlight of the week we did spend in Port Charlotte might have been the Ceilidh, if not for what the experience the village’s pub was to provide on Hogmanay and into the wee hours of the New Year. Still with pint glasses from the beers we were drinking, the atmoshpere was to change on the stroke of midnight as the strains of Auld Lang Syne rung out. There was a buzz of excitement and through the smoke filled pub air, lo and behold, we could see what did seem like all the whisky bottles in the pub, laid out on a long table – left for all in the pub to indulge in. It wasn’t long before single malts were being downed by the pint, our glasses refilled almost magically the moment we did empty them (when no one was looking into a drain where we were seated by outside the pub). It was probably about 2 or so in the morning, when we noticed one of our mates had gone missing – we assumed he was sleeping in some dark corner of the pub and didn’t think much more of it. We did eventually find him when staggering back from the pub at dawn, we stumbled onto our missing mate, sprawled across the flowerbed outside the cottage. The temperature must have been close to zero, and how he did not show any hint of suffering from hypothermia after four hours out cold in the cold eluded us – it was perhaps his rather expensive fleece jacket that saved him, or maybe all those pints of whisky he must have downed!

Our adventures on Islay did not go unnoticed

Our adventures on Islay did not go unnoticed