Sunday, July 31, 2005

Just Back: Beijing

Last December’s trip to Beijing was a really rushed affair as I booked myself on a tour from Zhuhai in a jiffy. Speeding through the thoroughfares of Jianguomenwai and Dongzhimennei, spending time the equivalent of a firefly’s lifespan at sights like Forbidden City and the Great Wall, I felt I have been watching a movie on the side of my tourbus all this while.

This trip (on my own, and with complete autonomy) I was interested in doing local. Poking into people’s homes in the hutongs was mandatory—without necessarily intruding, and with my camera stuffed in the ocean depths of my yellow duffel of course—as were RMB3 subway and RMB1 bus rides. Squeezed in there with the locals on bus 988, I hobnobbed with the locals to the tune of the honky wonkies and wasted engines, deep breathing in exhaust fumes in all its unfettered/unadulterated glory. RMB3-4 noodles at the neighbourhood eatery were also daily affairs. Like a Londoner spending a pristine Saturday afternoon at the galleries of Hoxton/Shoreditch, I combed mine at the Dashanzi Art District where the world-famous 798 Art Gallery resides. The old disused factories reminded me of parts of London’s Spitalfields and Zürich’s Industrial Zone, especially with their raw brick facades and chimneys reaching into the sky. (The East End Chaochangti Art District is another one which I have yet to see.)

I am deeply enamoured by the Soviet charm. The prefab buildings are straight out of Ost Berlin’s Friedrichshain while the subway platforms, while short of the artistic beauty of Moscow’s and Pyongyang’s, has more flavour than the ancient relics of Ost Berlin. I could stand and stare at buildings and subway platform designs (lamps, murals, spatial design) for eons.

It is not hard to like Beijing. The people are friendly, unlike the denizens of the South whom I have to put up with a great deal. I am saying this even though I am technically a Southerner, with roots in Xinhui, Guangdong Province. The Bejingers, like the Romans, live in a city enveloped by history. Places like Qianmen, Jianguomen, Dongzhimen, Dongdan and Xidan etc all have a story to tell. Finally, I speak of Beijing’s great size with the same passion as size queens do. It’s me in the embrace of the Goliathic boulevards and skyscrapers; the great generosity city planners lend to city planning suggests a certain sense of big-heartedness in such a big city (and by extension, country), and even the humongous portions of food are microcosmic of the city. I like how such a big city swallows me whole as I gawk at it; me, a big-small city boy indulging in the romantic make-believe role of a third world rural-urban migrant (RUM, as geographers love to say). When size combines with great design at Jianwai Soho, Pan Shiyi’s chic urban development, you could be sold. (Though regrettably, some shabby tenants don’t quite match up to Pan’s vision)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Just Back: Kuala Lumpur

Photo: Ou Shiyi, China Daily.

Me, dancing with Shahnaz, Features Writer of the Bangladeshi daily, The Daily Star, at the foot of the KL Tower. So mesmerized was the Dhaka native by the piped-in waltzy sounds of the viewing deck-restaurant that she wanted to dance. I slipped into my dancing shoes immediately.

Me, in the auditorium of the KLPAC.

Baklava, RM1, a sure sign that the Arabs have arrived.

The beautiful Zed Zaidi makes an appearance in local designers' garb at An Evening With the Stars at the Nikko Hotel during Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week.

KLites' new pride and glory--the KLPAC, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre--resides in the core of an ex-warehouse, partially-funded and owned by Francis Yeoh.

Kuala Lumpur's unofficial third language is...

Putrajaya: The hint of Arabia makes my knees go weak.

Homegrown- Vansh goes global as it opens its first restaurant overseas at the Feast of newly-refurbished and suitably-glam Starhill Gallery.

The view from Twin Towers' skybridge.

The new face of Bumiputras.

KLCC/Twin Towers; for the nth time.

Wearable ethnic chic at the Kuala Lumpur Arts & Crafts complex.

Putrajaya: Pekingnese proportions.

Explosion of colours at a Malay dance.

Fireworks at The Curve.

A nice dose of royalty juxtaposed by a pink backdrop; the scene of a Malay wedding ceremony as exhibited at the Kuala Lumpur Arts and Crafts Complex.

Modernity takes root at the Royal Selangor Pewter Centre.

Never knew wedding ceremonies could look so richly chic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Homecoming: Jeffrey

Jeffrey returned to Singapore not only with great memories of his attachment but also a very use-able carry-on bag from Xiang Yang Shi Chang/Shanghai. Posted by Picasa

Yayness. Jeffrey is finally back from Shanghai. Ron and I missed him so bad when he left Singapore early January for his work attachment—fulfilled as part of his undergraduate program—in China. Meeting up with him for the first time, I bet Ron was thrilled. During dinner, Jeffrey dished out the gifts from China, a crystal ball painting for Ron, a sling bag (which would be handy for as a no-fuss ‘carry-on’ bag) and a watch (from Bangkok, that reads time for two time zones simultaneously) for me. We went on to have drinks at the very unglamorous Borders café (bad service; brainless and godawful-ugly waitresses) where we exchanged more stories and bared exploits. Glad that Jeff looked suitably delighted with the wood-carved name card holder from my trip to Hoi An. On the topic of souvenirs, I had begun using my coin pouch (in a delicious shade of ciocolatto) from Guadalajara/Mexico, while I passed on the caramel one to Ron on Fourth of July.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The wonders one can find in hutong(s). A cold side dish (liang cai) of beef slices tossed with parsley and in soya sauce and sesame oil. Very palatable. RMB 3. Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Pillars of Communist faith at the Museum of Chinese History. Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 18, 2005

Rou Bing, crepes stuffed with meat and onions, make incredibly long walks in Beijing at least bearable. Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Jianwai SOHO: Man, i could live here. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

Jianwai SOHO, Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Jianwai SOHO, property magnet Pan Shiyi's hot property in the Guomao/Dong 3 Huan district is flying off the shelves. Shorthand for Small Office, Home Office, rather than South of Houston, units here are occupied by a mixed bag of businesses like design agencies, restaurants, bars, cafes, laundromats, hair salons, real estate offices, gyms etc. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

Feeling so dogged while taking five at a cafe carved out from another factory unit, no less, behind 798 Gallery. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

The famous 798 Art Gallery a the Dashanzi Art District is housed in a former state-run electronics factory; Bauhaus-style architecture influence is apparent in this building, which was built by East Germans, and the construction commissioned by the Soviets. Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Zha Jiang Mian-- cold noodles accompanied by saucy meats and refreshing cucumber shreds; perfect when the mercury's rising in July, conspiring with the fog and fumes and threatening to the make the air near-unubreathable. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

Melt-your-heart milk candy, so good (and cute) it made it to the Short Orders pages of Wallpaper*. RMB 4.85/ pack. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

Underground subway station at Jianguomen evokes the air (and a charming one at that) of other Soviet-style stations in Moscow and Pyongyang. Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

Home of Lao She, one of the most prolific writers in the history of China's contemporary literature, Pekin.  Posted by Picasa

The Lure of Mao, Tiananmen Square, Pekin. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 11, 2005

One Saturday

A red from Guangzhou Posted by Picasa

Claiming my rightful spot in the civilian world, I accepted Huiling’s invitation to dinner at her place on Saturday night. Making the trek to her house on Recreation Road was worth it for the very robust curry chicken prepared by her mom, as well as Huiling’s own rendition of a rather proper lasagna.

Imbibing began right away, first her own white, and then a red which I bought in Guangzhou earlier in January during a trip back to my mom’s hometown (and also a clandestine visit to meet Xiao Sen). The Great Wall Red Wine tasted like, pardonnez-moi, Ribena—what went wrong?

Hopping on Benson’s car, we sped to Cocolatte where we joined friends of Huiling and Christina for an unpretentious round of drinks which included vodka redbulls, lambourghini(s) and alcoholic sodas, all while sliding to the with-it lilt of rhythm and blues. Although Huiling ended up pissed prematurely, it was good seeing her having a good time (which recalled SATC), all dress-ed up, spending freely on drinks, flitting around in an insouciant fashion in the midst of great and varied company made up of our NUS mates and others. Suitably inebriated moments, smooth sounds and a wonderful party contributed to a great night out, however short-lived.

Friday, July 08, 2005

SloMosVille: Rushing to Wait, Waiting to Rush

Reservist training is finally over. Emerging from a long-drawn out battle (what else, against the system surely!) in SloMosVille (coded for: army camp), I couldn’t be happier. We rush to wait, and then, yet, we wait to rush. Singaporean boys would know that I am bitching to a familiar refrain. As usual, the powers-that-be that run the army have little capacity for cognition. This charge is piled up on top of others like ill-coordinated efforts, resulting in messed up organization and timetables. We wake up or book in extremely early so that we may wait hours for the next thing to happen. We sleep hours on end on some days, and rush non-stop on others, like fall in at 0500h to go to range. I may be (slow and run) on Italian time (which is so la dolce vita, by the way), but the army runs on army time. I haven’t figured out amazing solutions for such pandemonium but I suggest they privatize the army and bring in the mercenaries and experts whose notion of efficiency is probably closer to that of the civilian world.

Despite the above charges, the experience of the soldier who returns could be construed and viewed in a more positive fashion.

Powered by sociological thought, I’ve ceased to believe that I am an arts-humanities student enabled solely in languages and social theory—extracting myself from the pigeonhole (hoisted in there by psychologists, of course, thank you very much), I’ve adopted a new and positive attitude towards learning skills in the field of technology. This school of non-essentialist and category-defying thought goes like this: no one is particularly abled in one field or the other (science or humanities). Such categories are, after all, constructions; language giving form to some sort of ‘tangible reality’. Taking a heightened level of interest in the high-tech machines that I came in touch with during the training, and feeling like I could master them, was very, very liberating indeed.

Similarly, range has proved to be fun—it’s not just a preoccupation of military-mad boys, but could also add some color to footloose urbanites like myself. Playing around with M16s to the beat of Firers, watch your front, I saw the beauty of the experience; 5 other mates and I worked together to gun down 6 targets that appeared in various different lanes—the sheer unpredictability of the targets’ appearance made the experience feel so live (and in the real world). Furthermore, under new test regulations, firers are required to correct any sort of firing problems (say, rounds stuck in the chamber) on their own without any assistance.

Finally, there’s the nights-off experience revisited. Going to Ang Mo Kio for dinner (spectacular chicken chops, cutlets and fish and chips heartlander-style) at S11 with my army mates was a trip down memory lane, absolutely dripping with nostalgia. It was like 2000/2001 again: pigging out at S11 food centre, after-dinner drinks (bubble tea, so fashionable then and yet so cheesy now) at the, for lack of a better word, piazza (or place or plaza), and then movies (War of the Worlds; to me, a projection of the American psyche and zeitgeist more than anything else: terrorism and fear of the Other/Arabs as embodied in the invasion by the oddball tripods; and so worth my S$7 for the fact that the cast went through so many puke-worthy moments caked in grime!). So down-to-earth was the night out it that it’s a great respite from many urban moments steeped in excesses.

In an abrupt about-turn, I’d choose not to return for reservist training—ever.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Many Returns: Bring Them On!

Ribs and slabs of chicken jazzed up with itsy-bitsy smatterings of bacon and raisins as well as cherry tomatoes and cherries in season at Chris' dinner party. Posted by Picasa

Fresh from his sojourn to Italy, London and Bangkok/Hua Hin, Chris threw a sit-down dinner party for eight this evening at his spacious bachelor’s pad on Alexandra Road. Quite a few highlights that evening, as Kevin bought a delicioso chocolate cake for Ron and Francis who are celebrating their birthdays this month, paired with a smooth dessert wine that Francis bought at Changi Airport. (Yes, Francis has finally returned from his long drawn out work trip in Uluville in Sweden, and the flight involved painful transits in Bangkok, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Scream. Kevin’s also back from done-to-death albeit memorable Bangkok/Chiang Mai. I'm twice-back from Guadalajara and Reservist Training Week One) Kevin’s Zhi Wei had a taste of our group outings. Sunny and Ivan’s collection of liquor and inflight magazines are growing by the day—though there’s not much limoncello left, I have to pay a visit to their place asap to get a taste of it soon. And I gave Chris a wood-carved name-card holder which I scoured from a wood-carving village from Hoi An, a coastal town two hours from Danang in Vietnam—I liked to think that made his day, seeing that he was in need of one for his work trip to Tianjin and Hunan two weeks from now.

Fabuluoso news: I found my Temporary Pass which I lost earlier. That gets me entry into Seletar East Camp during my reservist stint, and costs a whopping S$50 to have it replaced. In my humble opinion, it’s not even worth a fiver—no barcodes, no elaborate fancy design job, nothing. I had a bad feeling that I lost it while snacking at Shih Lin Snacks, Harbourfront, one evening—which made my very first oyster mee sua experience so not worth it—but it’s really been sitting in an obscure corner in my house all this while. Major relief.

My Bangkok friend, Thomas, is in town again but had no decency to call earlier until just now (0130h). See, I don't mean to be rude. I'm not officially accepting any post-midnight appointments until tomorrow morning. Maybe brunch would do.