Archive for February, 2013

Singapura Singapore

I’d heard a bit about Singapore from colleagues or students. Before I went I had the impression that it was a smaller, more expensive Hong Kong – British colonial relics surrounded by newer, modern economic buildings of a Tiger economy, boasting an international population living in harmony.

They were right about the expensive part: Nat and I took $380 between us for the weekend and had $27 left for Sunday! Suppose though that you spend what you want and a day can be as cheap as you like if you’re willing to budget.

Our hostel was in the Arab quarter, an area with short, colonial-looking architecture with bars, hostels, restaurants and shops on the ground floors and a Mosque on the street. A really lively place, and very welcoming – not a closed off region of the city one might get the impression of. The hostel we stayed at was the Inn-crowd Backpacker’s Hostel – lots of backpackers from around the world, and it was reasonably priced.

We visited the Mustafa Centre (a renowned shopping place) which more or less reminded me of TK Maxx or something. I had to buy some shorts there as it was 31 degrees and I’d only brought my skinny jeans for the 2 days, what an idiot. But it was a decent place to buy stuff.

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We then headed to Chinatown, which. despite its name, had a huge Hindu temple in the middle of it – the Sri Mariamman Temple. There was a small ceremony going on when we got there with a guy with all his Hindu gear on throwing sheets of cloth into a fire pit while chanting. Having been surrounded in Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and Taiwan for 7 months, this was a welcomed change in seeing different cultures.

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Of course, there was a huge Buddhist temple down the road too – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is named because it claims to have a tooth of the Buddha in the temple. We didn’t see this tooth, so they may have put it in a statue or urn or something, but was beautiful inside. Again, there was a service on where the monks were spraying the congregation with water from a blessed pot while chanting.


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We headed outside and the famous Chinatown markets were there – old fellas playing Mahjong, stalls selling food and souvenirs etc. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and bought some stuff. We took the MRT (subway) to the Marina Bay area – a new area (clearly funded from Singapore’s recent economic boom) with the Singapore Flyer (big wheel, think London Eye) and the casino/hotel Marina Bay Sands (weirdly designed building of 3 separate adjacent buildings with a long roof garden connecting all 3). We went on the Flyer, took some amazing pictures there, then had a chill in the midday sun in an outdoor Greek theatre with a Tiger Beer, which was proper nice. We check out the Pit Stop for the Grand Prix circuit too – weird seeing this after seeing it on TV for the past couple of years, a definite highlight!


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View from the Singapore Flyer

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Me at the Singapore Grand Prix Circuit

We headed to a place further around the bay, where the canals begin to flow into the city. Here there were an array of old colonial relics, interestingly preserved. One was the Fullerton Hotel by the quayside, the Cavanagh Bridge, Victoria Theatre and Museum of Asian Civilisations.

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We then did, for me, the highlight of the trip – we headed to the tallest point of Singapore – the roof garden Altitude Bar. It’s on the 62nd floor of a bank building and the views were spectacular. S$25 entry, with a free drink – which of course had to be a Singapore Sling cocktail. We stayed from 6pm to about 9pm there so got to see the sunset too with Malaysia on one side and Indonesia on the other – amazing!

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Me, a Singapore Sling and the amazing view

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Altitude Bar

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We headed to our last stop that day, the Sultan’s Mosque near the Bugis MRT stop. It too was an example of great architecture, and showed how diverse Singapore is. Unfortunately visiting times were over but it looked amazing. We headed back to the Arab Quarter and went to a curry house for dinner. I cheekily made sure we went to the one which had the Fulham vs Stoke match on and enjoyed a beer and curry before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we had a a few hours in the morning before we would head to the airport at 3pm for our flight. We headed to the old British colonial centre to check it out. We went through the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a big white-washed Church with the British coat of arms still on its architecture. Next to that was a rugby pitch with a game on, the Cricket fields with a few guys practising in front of the Pavilion. Next to that was the Supreme Court/Government Building, which was being rejuvenated while we were there. There’s also a war memorial in the spitting image of London’s cenotaph, commemorating Singaporeans’ sacrifices in the 2 World Wars.

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A little further through the grass, English-looking public gardens, Victorian waterfalls and lampposts, we found the famous Raffles Hotel, named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, whose statue had been unveiled in 1887. Definitely had to get a photo with the head porter, although my shirt does look like it’s licking him…

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Our last stop was the Merlion Park – a Fountain statue of Singapore’s emblem/mascot – a hybrid creature of the Lion and Merman. His image is everywhere on t-shirts, models, keyrings and postcards, and tourists love the dude. After a few banter pictures with it, we headed to the airport and headed home with literally S$2 to our name when we got on the plane. Pretty efficient budgeting…

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Overall, I loved Singapore. It was similar to Hong Kong with its colonial parts, which is the bit of history I find really interesting. But also the pace of life was much slower there. Things were open on Sundays but there was fewer people out and about. The MRT was never fulled to the brim like in Hong Kong’s rush hours. 4 of the world’s major religions and cultures lived and worship there – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist. There’s a pleasant mix of European, Chinese, Malaysian and Tamil cultures in architecture, people and practises. Things are expensive but not extortionate. It was a warmer, slower Hong Kong: a place, which, if I was loaded, could see myself spending a lot of time there. The retired, old expats and younger Europeans looked to enjoy life there, every culture on an equal footing. Definitely the little gem of South East Asia.

And as per, here’s a video I made of Spectacular Singapore:

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DUSTING HONG KONG

麦兜抢包山,因为我爱我妈妈

I first heard about the Bun Festival from the animated film of Mcdull. Mrs Mak wrote a letter to the IOC President asking him to set the “Bun Robbing” to be one of the Olympic Sport Programs. The letter was plain but moving. Mcdull insists to go to Cheung Chau every week not because he likes robbing bun, not because the girl called Shan, he learns it because he loves his mother.
Bun robbing refers to Bun Scrambling, the key link of the Festival ceremony. People scramble on to the Bun Tower to get the buns on it, the higher the bun is, the higher score and more wishes with it. The Cheung Chau Bun Festival began as a fun and exciting ritual for fishing communities to pray for safety from pirates. Today this religious origin has largely been forgotten, and the festival has mainly become a showcase of…

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My bessies in HK..

Sik Sik Yuen Temple

There’s a saying that “Once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all”.

An obvious generalization and unfair summary, but there is some truth in it. If you’re going to Hong Kong for 2 days or 2 months, the Sik Sik Yuen Temple at Wong Tai Sin is the one to go to. Why? It is everything you would picture a Buddhist temple having, and more!

It is right next to the Wong Tai Sin MTR station and dominates the area. In the same way why palaces like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are the most popular in Europe, Sik Sik Yuen Temple is one of the most popular because it is a living, working temple. Some temples you see here can be old, disused, boring-looking, or not tourist-friendly (i.e., they stare you out of the place). Then there’s a few which are catered to tourists – the Man Mo Temple in the Mid-Levels, or Tin Hau Temple at Causeway Bay/ Yau Ma Tei and Sik Sik Yuen is one of these.

Highly popular with locals, it promises to deliver and surpass your expectations of a working Buddhist Temple in Hong Kong. In a place where space is a commodity and so precious, they even have room for a large inner-city garden which you can visit (for a small donation of $2). The temple has statues galore, good wishes in Chinese writing, hawkers selling incense to burn and fruit to offer and masses of worshippers. It’s difficult to do the ambience of the place much justice, so make sure you check the temple out!

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Chinese New Year Lanterns

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Incense Sticks at the Temple

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The Inner-City Temple

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The Memorial Garden

How to get there:

Wong Tai Sin MTR Station, then it’s right there out of most exits. Would be hard to miss…

HK Memes

Another class blog post by Hong Wrong. This one’s on the best memes about Hong Kong. People at home, you’ll have no idea what the jokes/punchlines are, but trust me, they’re very true.

Enjoy…

http://hongwrong.com/hongkongmeme/

This One’s for the Hong Kong Ladies

The BBC published an article on 21st February 2013, telling how single women in mainland China, aged 27 and above are considered ‘the leftover women’ – insinuating they are too old to get married and start a family, and in another, subtler, sense that ‘there’s something wrong with them’. The article interestingly interviewed a radio host called Huang Yuanyuan who is about to turn 29, and asks her opinions on this.

The classic “Family vs Career” balance (or imbalance?) is raised as a bigger issue in China and the East than it is in the West. Several factors adopted from the West such as the emancipation of women, gender equality and independent living are becoming increasingly popular in China, but with obvious conflict with the traditional role of women that the majority still adhere to.

We know that China sees time in a different light to the West – dynasties are small epochs of different rulers in Eastern eyes, while in the West we like to categorise our historical periods. Tudor men wore codpieces, Caeser wore robes, and the Georgians wore big fancy white wigs. And that is that. This cannot be more different in China. When asked by Kissinger in 1949, what he thought about the French Revolution, the new PRC Premier Zhou Enlai answered ‘It is too early to tell’. The remarkable reply Enlai gave the impression that the West forgets stuff and changes far too often in history. This was more than a literary bitch-slap: it demonstrated the cool nature of Chinese tradition – they are still living with the same values they had centuries ago, because it is seen to be perfect and self-satisfying, with no need to change.

Therefore one of the biggest concepts in Chinese tradition – family – comes into conflict with these Western ideals.

Being a “sheng nu” or ‘leftover woman’ is a concept I can’t say for sure exists in Hong Kong. 156 years of British rule brought with it 156 years of changing ideas, mirroring the changes in society that the mother country. Hong Kong was seen widely as a beacon of difference in the middle of Asia. Some saw it as better in terms of economics, some as a political haven (as a base for the underground Chinese Communists in the early 21st Century), while others simply as a Western outpost, displaying all things different to China and Asia.

Yet Hong Kongers, were and are, always Chinese. I’ve been here for 7 months now and seen the very, very Chinese traditions that still take place. Hong Kong has one of the highest amounts of public holidays (17) because of its recognition of both Western and Eastern traditions. And family is one of these traditions.

I teach 18 to 21 year olds and like every young man in this age group, still at college, they have problems with the girls. One complains that Hong Kong girls his age are too “Buy my things!” and “I’ll have to ask Daddy first”, while others jsut aren’t interested in finding a boyfriend. Another of the lads put them into 2 categories ‘BOYS BOYS BOYS!” or “WORK WORK WORK!”, which clearly shows they are taking sides in this balance. I have students who have realised what they need to do in a competitive job market very early on – they are always keen to add another certificate into their file, or another student body position to their CV. Then I see students who have no interest in my English activities that we run; sitting outside watching the basketball players, giggling and dressed more in a Japanese/quirky style.

Talks with colleagues have led me to believe that a popular option is for young women to get a job, secure a few promotions before being financially stable, whilst dating and living at home. Then when marriage bells are ringing, move into a flat with her new husband. This is of course a generalisation, as everyone had choices. But with Hong Kong’s limited space, and highly competitive labour market, you can see why this is popular.

All in all, I’d say the Hong Kong equivalent of these ‘Leftover women’ doesn’t actually exist. Everyone here is on the same path, wanting similar end results. Most students I talk to say they would like to visit – not emigrate to – Europe or the USA before coming back to Hong Kong. The property market is an industry with eye-popping amounts of HK$ being circulated in it every day. Land is bought, built on and people live there – a big cycle of space to live. Most young people are waiting to find that special someone, and move out of their parents’ place. Single living in an apartment would be a financial self-slap.

Whatever is happening ‘north of the border’ is hard to see in Hong Kong. Their freedoms, equality and Basic Law are the keystones to Hong Kongers’ happiness in the face of the communist regime in mainland China. I’d say most are proud of their differences, with this example particularly.

Original article by the BBC (21-02-2013):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21320560

The Changing Hong Kong Skyline

I found this really interesting blog on the changing Hong Kong skyline through the ages – complete with pictures and videos.

Really worth a look!

http://hongwrong.com/hong-kong-skyline-through-the-years/