11 November, 2010

Deepavali and Life After Death

As Singapore comprises four major religious/ethnic groups, the yearly holiday calendar exemplifies true Singaporean equality by highlighting festivals and holy days from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

About a month before the actual holiday, Little India was outfitted with several kilometers of lights in preparation for Deepavali, Hindu New Year.  As it is known as the Festival of Lights, Serangoon and Race Course Roads were fittingly lined with colorful light arches as far as the eye could see.

Even though MH was out of town, I dragged myself out alone on the eve of Deepavali as I didn't want to miss out on this interesting cultural display.  After reviewing several different bus routes, I settled on the 48.  My bus stop is the first stop the bus makes as it comes out of the terminal, so I always get a seat, and I get to see the ebb and flow of a bus route from the very beginning.

I put on an episode of This American Life to pass the time.  It was called 'Life After Death'.  As I sat listening to the story of a kid who was killed by lightning and of his friend's guilt for thinking he had summoned the deadly storm, the bus filled up around me.  Most of the riders were Indian, people from all walks of life heading to the festivities to celebrate.  Traffic was thick.

The podcast moved on to tell of a young man who struck a girl with his car, killing her.  He was not at fault, yet that seemed only to advance his guilt.  The bus was packed now.  I stared into the traffic, deep in a life and death reverie.  The Chinese woman in front of me held a linen handkerchief over her mouth and leaned into the window.  The bus did smell a little ripe.  However, as soon as the Indian man sitting next to her got up, she put her hanky away.  Maybe the equality only runs calendar deep.

An hour by myself on the crowded bus listening to stories about death left me feeling less than upbeat.  The crowd and heat I faced on exiting the bus did nothing to improve my mood.  The crush of people, Indian men to be more specific, was spectacular.  I stuck out, well, like a white girl in a sea of dark men. Fighting my way down a side street drove away all intentions I had of using my tripod.  At one point I was clotheslined by a guy who was attempting to make passing room for a woman with a stroller.  I sighed inwardly and waited with resigned patience, wondering how it was I had come to be pressed tightly against three Indian men, the door of a stalled car, and a rack of plaid shirts. Cultural enrichment, was it?  The stroller finally passed, rolling over my foot, followed by the woman who trod likewise on the same foot.

I finally made it to the Campbell Lane street bazaar, took a deep breath, and stepped into the current.  Stopping for pictures was out of the question.  'Life After Death' still on the brain, I pictured very vividly how easily this many people could turn into a deadly stampede.  I pushed away those thoughts and let myself be carried along, concentrating instead on the vivid colors and cacophony of lanterns, lights, flowers, scarves, beads and baubles.  I have to admit that the vibrant, eye-popping colors and masses of decorations cheered me up a little.

That said, I was not really in the mood to hang around.  Even though I was starving and would have loved some Indian food, I just had to get out.  I escaped the bazaar and walked a couple more side streets as purposefully as I could before hitting the bus stop.  Traffic was better on the way home.  I opted for music over another gloomy Ira Glass narrative.  Happy Deepavali.

26 September, 2010

She Beat the Bear

The secret satisfied smile of one who has completed something more monumental than most of us dare dream.

The Bear 100

24 September, 2010

Singapore Chinatown, Mid-Autumn Festival

It's Mid-Autumn Festival time here in Asia. Known in the western world as the autumnal equinox, this day is the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the day of the fullest moon.

Here in Singapore, it's all about the moon cakes--people carrying around moon cakes to give as gifts, people carrying around moon cakes they were given as gifts, people carrying around non-moon cake items in moon cake bags to show that at one point they bought moon cakes at the most prestigious moon cake shop, and so on. It's also tradition to light lanterns.

One day in the early days of Singapore life, as I was sitting at the computer and gazing out over our balcony at the beautiful clear blue sky, a ridiculously loud crack of thunder shattered my reverie, propelling me halfway to the ceiling before I realized what it was. Momentarily mystified by this thunder that was literally 'out of the blue', it was not until I peeked out the front door to investigate that everything came clear, or rather, cloudy. While the SE facing the view from the balcony was as aforementioned, the NW facing view from the front door revealed roiling, seething, turbulent black clouds, rain, and streaks of lightning. I have since come to view the weather here as 'predictably unpredictable.'

So as I wandered through Chinatown the other day snapping photos of lanterns and odds and ends, I kept a corner of my eye on the indecisive sky, wondering what it was going to throw at me. At first it just played some games with the sun, but I wasn't fazed. Then it raised it's fists and threatened me, but it the end, it tucked its hands in it's pockets, spit on the ground a couple times, and left me alone. Here are some photos from my walk:

21 September, 2010

Melaka, Malaysia, Sept. 10-12

-Melaka Trip Album Link

This was a holiday weekend, so we should have known better, but still we waited way too long to book our trip. An island beach getaway was out of the question, the travel agents all but laughing at my enquiries. We finally settled on the UNESCO World Heritage City of Melaka. With no roundtrip coach tickets, no roundtrip train tickets, and almost no hotel rooms available, it didn't look hopeful. I waded through countless schedules and timetables and booking sites. I even stuck a toe into the unfamiliar waters of telephoning companies without websites only to have 'ticket finish', 'no more, lah', and 'fully book,' ring in my ears. I finally found two remaining seats on a coach to Melaka (the most expensive company), a room in a nice looking guesthouse (so, what's the catch--cockroaches? filthy sheets?), and train tickets back to Singapore, 2nd class only (train station located an hour out of Melaka).

The coach ride was efficient and uneventful. Our guesthouse turned out to be clean and comfortable and ideally located. And Melaka itself was very enjoyable. We stuck mainly to the historic sites and the night/weekend market. A note if you decide to walk to the Portuguese Settlement: it's roughly 7km from downtown (farther if you at first go to St. John's Fort, jig through a small neighborhood on the way back to the main road, and then miss the large sign saying 'Portuguese Settlement'), and it's not all that interesting. We concluded that at far as traditional villages go, Kampung Morten just north of downtown is where it's at. Needless to say, we took pictures of every single sign that said 'Morten'.

The train home was more eventful than the coach. Firstly, it's an hour by taxi to the train station (RM 50, maybe less if you're a good negotiator). Secondly, it doesn't really matter how far the train station is if you're told when you arrive that even though you have a booking code, you don't have a reservation. After some wild gesturing, loud excited verbal exchanges, several phone calls (I'd like to think that I wasn't rude, but I'm not sure that the KTM agent on the other end of the line would see it that way), and one big refusal by me to accept that I didn't have tickets on the fully booked train, I stood happily with two first class tickets to Singapore. It turns out that where my original booking agent had told me to pick up the tickets two hours before departure, she should have told me to pick them up twenty-four hours before departure. Since we had not done so, and since there is no pre-pay system, they had simply let the reservation go. I don't know how they got us seats on a full train, but they did, and I can only compliment KTM customer service, if not their booking system. The train was old and dingy, even in first class, and the air-conditioner was set on 'deep-freeze', but we got home, and that was certainly better than not getting home.

Highly recommended for a weekend trip.

16 March, 2010

Xian, Chinese New Year 2010, Shaanxi Province, China

This was our last trip before leaving China. We really wanted to see the terra cotta warriors, and it turned out to be a really good choice. In additions to the warriors, we saw a tomb, a hotsprings, Wild Goose Pagoda, and a little bit of the city. Of course being in China for Chinese New Year meant alot of fireworks and celebrating. I especially enjoyed watching people send flame-powered paper lanterns soaring into the night sky as wishes for good luck. I wonder how the men are faring whose lantern flew into a tree and caught fire.

-Xian Album Link

15 March, 2010

Harbin Ice Festival, 2.2010, Heilongjiang Province, China

This was also a good weekend. We toured the city with its Russian influence, visited the Tiger Park, and saw the ice and snow sculptures at the Ice Festival. The giant parka/puffy vest combo kept my torso toasty, but my fingers and toes were suffering in the end. It was pretty chilly.

-Harbin Ice Festival Album Link

Wanlong Ski Trip, 1.2010, Hebei Province, China

Overall a successful weekend, overlooking the fender bender and Klaus's broken collarbone--two unrelated incidents. Bitterly cold, but beautifully sunny, decent snow and good intermediate slopes.

-Wanlong Ski Trip Album Link

Back on Blogger

Out of China, back on the blog.

We are at the start of a couple of years in Singapore and looking forward to it, or rather already enjoying it! It's warm, green, surrounded by water and full of culture. Currently on the search for our perfect apartment.

I'm working on updating my photos. Since we're not too far into 2010, I'm going back to January. The end of 2009 will just have to be a loss at this point.

I gave the instant powdered milk tea a chance. It's not a full regret. It's also not a decision I'll repeat anytime soon.