Celebrate Spontaneity

Time to Say Goodbye...

After about 6 years, it's time to say goodbye to Livejournal. Celebrate Life! has moved to a new site - celebratelah.wordpress.com. It is now called Celebrate Life Lah!

It was not an easy decision to move and a lot of time was spent on migrating the blog, but as my blogging requirements have changed, I needed a blog service that provides me with more tools and flexibility in creating contents.

I've enjoyed the community aspect that Livejournal provides, a function I love to exploit because it broadcasts my entries on all the friends' pages linked to me. In a way, that 'forces' people to read my blog no matter how boring or long it is. That reign of terror shall now end! This will be my last post on Livejournal. I hope you will continue to support and follow my entries at the new site.

Photobucket

So what can be expected at Celebrate Life!'s new home? What are the special features there?

SPICE OF LIFE - The 'SPICE OF LIFE' page found on the new site's menu bar lists Competitions & Contests in Singapore which you can take part. It includes descriptions, registration ending dates, prizes and links to contests that spices up our daily life! Do check the page frequently for additions of new competitions to join. It also lists events, concerts, trips, etc coming up for me and perhaps our paths may cross.

FEATURED ALBUMS - Throughout the years, you've given me very good feedbacks and encouragements on my passion in photography. Thank you very much! At the new site, I've created 'Featured Albums' links so that you can easily access the albums that complement a series of posts, or instead of reading, you can just view a photo-story.

CATEGORIES - Entries are now tagged and categorised so that they can be easily accessed and searched. The 'Categories' section can be found on the right column of the blog.

More links, easier navigation

With this change, I hope the blog will also be more pleasing aesthetically and dynamic in updates. It is my wish that the blog can be more than just a place that record my thoughts, but also a place where you can find useful information and interesting things to do in Singapore.

Thank you all so very much for reading all these years, leaving me comments, suggestions and openning up my world through your blog posts. May our sharing continue... See you over at Celebrate Life Lah!
Celebrate Beauty

WE 2010 : ASEAN Pavilions

Of the more than 200 country pavilions and themed pavilions, I visited only 30 of them. That’s less than a quarter of this phenomenal event, but it was still plenty to experience, record and learn from. So since I started talking about the country pavilions with Singapore’s participation, I thought I’d follow up with a review of the pavilions by the other 9 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

As with the thoughts about the Singapore Pavilion and all subsequent posts about pavilions, I have to qualify that the opinions expressed are merely based on my personal experiences as a visitor. Just as we all have a different vision of what a perfect world should be, so will opinions vary on what makes a pavilion worthy of visit.

While some pavilions left a lasting impression on me, others failed to pique my interest. And having seen 30 of them, my basis of comparison while limited, draws on after-thoughts about what was interesting and what was as interesting as watching paint dry.

But one thing I do keep a look out for is the feel of a pavilion’s character and personality. That X-factor. Its gusto. Its voice. Does it read me a fascinating and unforgettable tale of the country it represents, or is it a textbook narration of its history, sociology, economy, anthropology, political ideology… zzzZZZzzz… zzzzzz…

In other words, is the pavilion a Nerd? A Stud? A Plain Jane, or a Beauty Queen? Well, here are 9 Asian pavilions I shall attempt to characterize and they are arranged in the order from Z to X…

Brunei Pavilion

My very first step on the pavilion arena on the very first morning was at Zone B’s Asian Square. The Singapore Pavilion was directly across and I was next to the Brunei Pavilion. While I was standing there, stopped in my tracks by encountering the larger-than-life pavilions for the first time, trying to comprehend the awesomeness of size and space all around, forgetting to breathe… and my reverie got interrupted by a female voice hawking a pavilion.

         Brunei Pavilion

Sounded almost like a lelong at a pasar malam. In all my 3.5 days visiting the Expo, I didn’t hear any other pavilion being touted this way. I didn’t succumb to the tempting invitation of ‘no queue’ and visited Singapore first. When I returned to visit Brunei after lunch, there was still no queue. And the female staff was still advertising.

I walked right in to Brunei Pavilion and I liked it. It was a burning 38°C outside and I liked that the spaciousness and lack of crowd kept the air-conditioning cold. Yup, that’s about it. The pavilion was good only for enjoying some air-con.

         Standard fare

After I went one round of its exhibits, I understood why there was no queue. There wasn’t anything much to see. The pavilion was bright and neat with the deployment of standard exhibition panels, shelves and plasma TVs to loop touristy videos. The one eye-catching thing was the blue-lighted floor designs that I assume represented water since the pavilion’s theme was something to do with nature.

         Brunei 3

Brunei is a pretty rich country so it’s kinda surprising that the pavilion looked like it didn’t require much financial effort. Moreover, the choice of exhibition topics such as the plain listing of the 8 national strategies of development was too academic.

Character : Nerd married to Plain Jane

Laos Pavilion

Laos shared a pavilion with Myanmar in Zone B's Asia Joint Pavilion III. I was there around 9:00 pm and it was closed by then. I hadn't planned to visit the 2 pavilions but wandered into their shared space unwittingly.

         Laos Pavilion

Though I didn't get to see what's inside, the attempt to dress-up and represent its culture at the entrance even though it's just a very small exhibition area seemed to hold a promise of not too shabby contents inside.

Character : Jock (potentially)

Myanmar Pavilion

I popped by Myanmar's section on the way out of AJPIII and it was really plain. It felt more like an exhibition booth rather than to be classified as a pavilion. I always have a soft spot for Myanmar because of the controversy surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi's 14 years of house arrest imposed by the Burmese military junta. I hope to visit the home country of this moder-day freedom fighter one day.

         Myanmar Pavilion

One of the 4 Southeast Asian nations with the unsavoury association to the Golden Triangle (an illegal opium-producing area that spans Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar), the country's culture is greatly influenced by its surrounding neighbours, especially in religion.

         Myanmar scene

One of the most interesting things to see at the pavilion was the intricate wood carvings of celestial beings and Taoist deities such as Nuwa (女媧), who's believed to have made mankind from clay. However, their display couldn't have been more inappropriate. They were really beautiful works of art crowded unceremoniously together on shelves and on the floor.

But the most atonishing exhibit of all would be the brutal honesty in presenting the nation's health program. I can't hear what was being said but the uncomfortable images depicting surgery and various stages of eye diseases really stood out at the World Expo where only beauty has a place in the sun.

Character : Plain Jane

Malaysia Pavilion

When contemplating the Malaysia Pavilion, this saying kept flashing in my mind… “Good from far, far from good.” In a distance, its arches bit an impressive crescent against the skyline. But the closer I got, the more it loses its magic. And once inside, I kept having the urge to look for a shopping basket or trolley. Felt like I entered Carrefour.

         Malaysia Pavilion

Being a bridge away from Singapore, Malaysia is my most visited country. And I like going there for its eclectic conglomeration of urban built-ups dipping their feet in the rooted heritage of colonial structures, old shophouses and five-foot ways. Of course Singapore has this kind of scene too, but in Malaysia, it just feels more authentic. Besides, our neighbour has lots of natural, untamed reserves to explore.

         Pavilion set-up

I can see that the pavilion tried to capture Malaysia's multi-faceted charm. Unfortunately, it turned out to be nasi lemak without the coconut milk; it had the look, but not the flavor. There’re too many prints and not enough real artefacts. Even the ‘forest’ was made up of plastic trees and plants which made it look more of a handicrafts store, less of a tropical rainforest paradise.

         Supermarket interior

When visiting the pavilion, one of the interior plan that made me scratch my head was a staircase linking the first floor to the second. It’s one staircase for going up and down so it got pretty crowded and I was stuck in the human traffic for a while half-way up the steps. Such a smart design. Or maybe the creators didn’t anticipate such a huge crowd.

         Malaysia scene

The 2nd level was somewhat of a cocoa showroom with some half-baked exhibit to explain the cocoa-making process and a cocoa drink sampling counter. Sales was brisk. Moving from the supermarket section of the pavilion, we come to the home and décor section with a stylishly designed modern-Malaysian living room, bedroom and bathroom.

There was another small exhibition of art and craft that seem like an afterthought, and more retail and souvenir counters around. The pavilion’s theme was 1 Malaysia. Well, it sure was the 1 place to shop.

Character : Nerd

Cambodia Pavilion

Here’s a diamond in the rough. The pavilion’s exterior was nothing to shout about but the interior was lavish with the cream of what put Cambodia on the tourist map. Perhaps that’s the strategy of the pavilion, to trick visitors into having low expectations and then wow them.

         Cmmbodia Pavilion

Although more could have been done to hide the exposed ceiling to create a more engrossing feeling of being Lara Croft, but the thrill of seeing partial replicas of the famous architectural relics in Siem Reap made up for it.

         Siem Reap replicas

There was the Cambodian Naga, the smiling face from the Bayon, the gigantic roots of a strangler fig at Ta Prohm, and a model of Angkor Wat. It momentarily brought back memories of Siem Reap through the excitement of recognizing what was being replicated. If you would like to know about my Siem Reap adventures, please click here.

         Cambodia scene

While the Cambodia Pavilion wasn’t very big, it really gave visitors a glimpse of what’s it like to visit its many UNESCO World Heritage sites of towering temples and ancient carvings.

Even the small space within the pavilion worked to its advantage because that’s how it felt within the walls of the ancient structures. The pavilion was a time capsule.

Character : Jock in drag as Plain Jane

Philippines Pavilion

When I first glanced around the Asian Square, I thought the Philippines Pavilion was actually an administrative centre for deaf and mute visitors because of the hands printed on the walls. I mistook them for sign language.

Then I realised it was Philippines' pavilion to the theme of Performing Cities. The pavilion design looked rather bland during the day. Even when it was lighted up at night, it didn't have any jaw-dropping effect.

         Philippines Pavilion

There wasn't a queue so I got in pretty quickly and it immediately felt like I entered a club or live band lounge of some kind. Serve up some alcoholic concoctions and the whole experience would be perfect!

         Club scene

There was a main stage where dance and musical performances took place and other performing platforms for the showcasing of the Filipinos' innate talent in singing. Apart from watching liveshows, the pavilion offered a collection of Filipino art laid out in a casual and accessible manner. If only there was an open bar in there...

Character : Jock

Vietnam Pavilion

Sitting next to the AJPIII (which housed Laos and Myanmar's pavilions) in zone B, Vietnam's pavilion was easily the most impressive in terms of building material. The quaint little pavilion made up of bamboo and rattan incites a sort of calm without the use of minimalism, a visual style that often personifies Zen.

         Vietnam Pavilion

I hadn't planned on visiting Vietnam Pavilion but it turned out to be a very pleasant and delightful encounter. I simply love the way it looked on the outside and inside (although the interior did remind me of a prayer hall).

         Inside the pavilion

There was practically nothing to read in the pavilion about Vietnam except for the interpretative messages about its culture from the many huge vases and art sculptures.

         Art & decor

Somehow, I can't help but feel that the Vietnamese preferred not to pen down a definition of what is life, but to let it be an open exploration with each visitor forming his/her own meaning through the country's pieces of art. But one thing's for sure, religion plays a big part.

Character : Beauty Queen

Indonesia Pavilion

My first impression was that the Indonesian pavilion looked kinda bare with a whole lot of empty space. The open concept defied my early preconceived image of what a pavilion should look like... that it should have 4 walls enclosing all exhibits and design elements. But the pavilion was hollowed out for outsiders to look into its various levels and layout.

         Indonesia Pavilion

With so much 'empty space', I imagined that the pavilion won't have much to showcase, but the pavilion was one of the more interesting ones to visit in terms of the richness of content and variety of exhibitory techniques. There was a surprise at every turn!

         Natural texture

At 4-storeys, the pavilion was the tallest at the Asian Square and was really effective in communicating its environmental leanings. An interesting feature was the combination of various natural building materials such as bamboo, palm leaves, and wood chips for the pavilion's walls, flooring and some fixtures.

         Nature & technology

         Bamboo all the way

Of all the pavilions, I thought Indonesia was the most successful in synthesizing nature with technology to create a seamless journey in discovering Indonesia's native natural-scapes as well as digital edge.

Character : Jock best friends with Nerd

Thailand Pavilion

The Thai pavilion was my favourite amongst the ASEAN gathering in terms of entertainment value, ability to wow, and leaving a lasting impression. A guided visit with 3 shows in 3 different theatrical format, the pavilion was definitely worth the 2-hours queue time.

Once visitors entered the pavilion, they were greeted by an animation of the pavilion's mascot, Tai, while waiting for the first theatre doors to open. It endeared itself to the visitors through a very lively but brief introduction about Thailand and the pavilion. Tai appeared again later in another show segment about Thai history and diplomatic ties with China.

         Thailand Pavilion

When I stepped into the first theatre, I could hear grasps. Before us was a large water curtain cascading into a pool below. The sound of water splashing filled the room. The show was projected onto 4 screens shaped like jigsaw pieces (although I felt the odd shape wasn't necessary) in the middle and onto the pool.

         Vertical fountain

After the show, we were directed to a second theatre that featured projection on 3 sides and a huge, animatronic puppet Indrajit, the mythological warrior that stands guard at the entrances of many Thai temples.

The interesting part about this second show was the interaction between the puppet with the projected animation of Tai and what looked like Guan Gong, the Chinese god of war. The 3 characters talked to each other and created a multi-textured presentation.

         Great watch

The last theatre played a 4D show. We're all familiar with 3D by now and the fourth D is the addition of real physical experiences that complimented a show's content. In Thailand's case, I felt wind blowing in my face when the show talked about beaches, sprinkles of water when the scene showed rain, and the smell of fragrant jasmines when a basket of the flower was tossed into the air. Amazing experience! Love the pavilion as much as I love visiting Thailand.

Character : Jock married to Beauty Queen

Celebrate Light

WE 2010 : Singapore Pavilion


The unconscious spirit of patriotism marched me to the Singapore Pavilion. This was my very first stop at the Shanghai World Expo. I’ve heard bad reviews and that it is not worth the effort, but being Singaporean, I’ll still support. I’d like to find out what worked, and why it was slammed by critics.

Forming a square in Zone B with 7 other pavilions (Malaysia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and Australia), my first impression of the Singapore Pavilion was that it was compact and cut a rather interesting silhouette as compared to the surrounding pavilions. It reminded me of a hi-tech, futuristic durian; its circular design seeming to sit as a small silver disc at this huge world fair (a reflection of Singapore’s position as a little red dot on the world map perhaps?).

         Futuristic & cool

Urban Symphony is the central theme of Singapore’s message at this year’s Expo to encapsulate the harmonious success of our multi-cultural, multi-talent society. The pavilion design is a “Smart Musicbox” (instead of the silver durian I thought it was) and is divided into 3 levels – interactive multimedia stations on the ground floor, a video presentation on the 2nd level, and a rooftop “Hanging Garden”. Click here for more about the Singapore Pavilion.

If you’re a Singaporean passport holder, bring it along to the pavilion for priority entry. Apart from skipping the queue, you can also get your passport stamped with the pavilion’s emblem. My colleague got the stamp on page 45 of her passport to mark Singapore’s 45th birthday. I thought that’s pretty meaningful. Didn’t bring my travel document along so I missed getting stamped.

         Things to expect

Of all the pavilions I’ve visited, Singapore had the most interactive features such as using an oval card collected at the entrance to ‘capture’ projected images (symbolizes capturing the Singapore dream), a series of 4 drums that activated projections of food, designs and icons of Singapore when hit at the same time (symbolizes unity of 4 races), an arcade-style F1 driving game, and some bo liao 3D animations which I had no idea what they do.

At the Singapore Pavilion, there are very few stand-and-see exhibits. Visitors must do some work in order to fully enjoy the pavilion experience; just as how we have to constantly work in order to survive in Singapore.

         Catch the Singapore dream

While I thought the symbolic intentions embedded into the design of the various interactive stations were clever, I felt their meaning may have been lost. A lot of people, including some of my colleagues, didn’t understand why there’s a need for 4 drummers and those who couldn’t find enough people to play, couldn’t activate the projections.

Moreover, the static projections were kinda small so they lacked that boomz factor. Coupled with the very ‘National Day’ feel of the permanent graphic displays and dull dressing of the pavilion, no wonder the Urban Symphony sounded more like a lullaby rather than a masterpiece.

And to add a bad chord to the sleepy orchestra, the show presentation on the 2nd level could put any chronic insomniacs into coma. The show featured an interview with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on Singapore's water issues. With all due respect, MM Lee is an interesting speaker to listen to especially on the lessons and reasons behind his decisions made for Singapore. But to devote an entire show to talk about our early sewage problem and how we solved the water problem fitted better in a lecture hall for urban planning. Definitely not in tune with Urban Symphony. While I was there, half the audience left before the show even ended.

         Good intention, bad execution

I guess at an event like the World Expo, there isn’t enough time to appreciate meaning. People just want to be entertained and wow-ed visually. Then again, the scale and method of execution for the exhibits are inextricably determined by budget.

Costing S$30 million in construction and operations, Singapore’s budget paled in comparison to its neighbouring Australia Pavilion which cost US$75 million in construction cost alone. I’ll post about the Australian pavilion later. It is my favourite from all that I’d seen. (Just as a point of reference, the superhot Japan Pavilion cost US$140 million). Perhaps Singapore’s modest sum was due to a lack of sponsorship interest from local companies at a time of economic recession and uncertainty.

         Mediocre overall

So what’s the best feature of the Singapore Pavilion? I would say it’s the “Hanging Garden”. I didn’t find it interesting at the point of visit but after having seen how some countries attempted to create a garden landscape at their pavilions, Singapore’s very lush and flowery rooftop oasis trumped them all.

On the whole, I wouldn’t say that the Singapore Pavilion is bad, just a tad too intellectual. The pavilion design is unique, but the lack of imagination in interior décor and air-conditioning (only the theatre was air-conditioned) couldn’t sustain visitors’ interest. The addition of a mascot, Liu Lian Xiao Xing (榴莲小星), didn’t help elevate interest and I pitied the person inside the costume during the Shanghai heatwave. (I find that creating a mascot when the product doesn’t need it to be a trait of lazy marketers.)

Nevertheless, even though the Singapore Pavilion didn’t take my breath away, I still take pride in its symbolic message of achieving greatness when people work together; when the different instruments in an orchestra cooperate, we can play a soothing lullaby or an uplifting allegro anytime!

And here’s a musical rojak of a theme song for Singapore’s participation in this year’s World Expo.



For more photos of the Expo and Singapore Pavilion, please visit my album Shanghai World Expo 2010.
Celebrate Light

WE 2010 : Texture & Architecture

The gigantic Expo venue spans both banks of a section of the Huang Pu River. Divided into Pu Xi and Pu Dong, the Expo has a total of 5 zones (A to E) that group the pavilions according to their continents or function.

Pu Dong holds the country pavilions whereas Pu Xi holds the corporate pavilions (eg. China Aviation Pavilion, Information & Communication Pavilion, Coca-Cola Pavilion, etc). I didn’t get to visit any of the corporate pavilions and spent all my time at Pu Dong where the national pavilions are (Zone A – Oceanic and Middle-Eastern countries; Zone B – ASEAN countries; Zone C – European countries). Click here for a listing of all the pavilions and their zones.

     Map of Expo venue
Click here for the online interactive map.

But more than just being a huge playground for nifty multimedia exhibitory techniques, the World Expo also brought together a collection of innovative building texture, displays, interior décor and architecture.

In addition to the razzle-dazzle of design, it is equally interesting to see how the different countries craft their representative message to the world… whether it deals with the sharing of one’s cultures, a call for global teamwork or an emphasis on environmental responsiveness, the masterful construct, or lack of it, of communicating ideas through the look-and-feel of the pavilions to the exhibits is an art unto itself.

I shall share the takeaway messages and impressions I had from the pavilions I visited in upcoming posts, but for now, here’s a peek at some of the architectural genius…

         Good-looking venue

         Harnessing natural light

         Vietnam's rattan hall

         Varied building materials

         Is it an UFO?

         Pavilions during the day

         Snail-shaped balloon

         Pavilions at night
Celebrate Light

I Survived World Expo 2010!

29 countries across 6 continents in 3.5 days on foot... a feat made possible only because of the World Expo.

Once every few years, the nations of the world come together to celebrate their differences and give every man, woman and child a rare opportunity to experience the rich diversity of humanity (and body odour), all in one place.

         Welcome to the world

I’m very grateful to be one such person given the chance to come to this playground of cultures… the World Expo 2010 held in Shanghai, China. Although this was a training cum learning trip paid for by the company, DigiMagic Communications Pte Ltd, where I part-time as a copywriter, I totally cherish every moment of this bitter-sweet experience.

It was bitter because exploring the more than 200 pavilions was daunting with the huge crowd and searing heat, yet it was sweet because going into each pavilion was like opening a treasure chest, I didn’t know what gems I would find.

         Larger than life experience

Of course not all pavilions were great and worth the queue time, but even from these nondescript pavilions, there’re things to learn about the countries and cultures, and what not to do if you want to put up an engaging, interesting exhibition.

Needless to say, the most rewarding would be experiencing some of the cutting-edge exhibitory techniques used such as large format projections on irregular screens of varied materials, 3D and 4D filmlets, and the creative use of interactive media to helm a complete experiential journey. Even encountering the distinctive architectural style of each pavilion was a sight to behold. Some of these pavilions were so huge, the sheer grandeur of them were mind-blowing.

         Not enough time

World Expo Quick Facts :

• The term ‘World Expo’ was a recent conception. The first such gathering of the world’s cultures, economic, scientific and technological showcase was the Great Exhibition of Industries of All Nations held in London in 1851.

• The World Expo is likened to the Olympics of cultural exchanges, but unlike the Olympics that’s held once every 4 years, there’s no fixed timeframe for the expo to happen. Currently, the prescribed timeline is a period of at least 5 years between 2 expos. This made the opportunity to attend the Shanghai World Expo even more precious.

• The Shanghai World Expo is the biggest, most expensive, and most attended to date in the roughly 160 years of the expo’s history. The theme for this expo is “Better City, Better Life” and runs from 1 May to 31 Oct 2010 (6 months).

• Ticket prices fluctuate but the benchmark is RMB160.00 (approx. S$32.00) for a single day pass.

         Feel the rush

World Expo Queue Times :

Popular Pavilions : Although the expo is open daily from 9:00 am to 12:00 midnight, last entry into the venue is 9:00 pm. By the last entry time, queue duration for the popular pavilions would’ve been much shortened or no queue at all. The average queue time for the popular pavilions such as Australia, Germany, South Korea, USA, etc is about 2 or more hours.

Super Popular Pavilions : For super hot pavilions like Saudi Arabia and Japan, the average queue time can be 6 hours or more and the queue cut-off time is 7:00 pm. People queuing at these pavilions tend to be more kiasu and pushy so be prepared. I missed seeing these pavilions but I was told they are worth the wait.

Uber Popular Pavilion : Unless you’re prepared to start queuing at the venue at 4:00 am, you can forget about visiting the China Pavilion. For this pavilion, you have to queue to get a reservation ticket (预约券), which will be distributed at all the gates to the expo. The tickets are snapped up within 5 minutes of the gates opening.

         Turn up the heat

Surviving the World Expo :

Dressing : A lot of time is spent queuing so comfortable footwear is a must. Shoes are better than slippers to protect the feet when being stepped on. As the weather was very hot during my visit, the natural inclination is to dress in singlets and bermudas. However, I find that cotton long sleeved tees and light long pants provided more comfort. For one, it covered the skin from the stinging sun and you feel cooler; and secondly, when you come into contact with other sweaty bodies in the queue, you don’t have to rub skin-to-skin with them.

Essential Accessories : Umbrella, fan, wet paper towels, water bottle, mobile entertainment (mp3 player, portable games), and sunglasses. Sunglasses are important because it not only for cutting out the flare of bright weather, but to protect the eyes from being poked out by the umbrellas when queuing. Also bring along medicated oil to rub behind the neck for a cooling feeling, and below the nose to mask the body odours around you.

         Bring in the rain

Load and Release :

I’m talking about food, drinks and toilet facilities. There is no lack of F&B outlets at the Expo and you can try the local cuisines of the country pavilions, or the foodcourts and eateries offering Chinese fare. A meal at the pavilions will cost more than the Chinese eateries.

Maybe I didn’t eat at the right places because I find all the noodles, rice and pavilion food that I tried to be tasteless and of poor quality. Even the KFC there had their meals pre-packed so by the time I bought mine, it was cold and the Pepsi was flat with all the ice already melted. The best time to have a meal is after 2:00 pm as the lunchtime crowd would have thinned and it’s easier to get a seat.

         Pangs of basic desires

It’s easy to stay hydrated at the Expo. The queue lines come with misting sprays and there’re many drink carts around. A bottle of mineral water costs RMB5:00 (approx. S$1.00), while carbonated and isotonic drinks go for RMB15.00 (approx. S$3.00). I had water most of the time because the sweet drinks were always not cold. I had a warm Sprite and to this day, my tongue still shudders at the thought of it.

There’re also many drinking fountains and water dispensers to fill the bottle with. The water tastes somewhat different from what I’m used to but it is not unpleasant. With putting some many things in, my next worry is the ease of letting them out.

As it turned out, I have nothing to worry about. There’re many toilets at the Expo and the thing that impresses me was that despite the hoards of people using them, they were kept very clean, neat and smell-free. It was really amazing! And the public toilets outside the Expo, lining the perimeter of the venue, even came with speakers that played classical music!

         Evolution to civilisation

Overall Thoughts about the Shanghai World Expo

Even though I titled this post “I Survived…” which has a kind of negative connotation about the whole Shanghai World Expo experience. But the truth is, yes, the crowd, queues, and hot weather may be a bother, but the wow-factors in many of the pavilions, especially the European ones, made the inconveniences all seem minor.

I went alone on all days to the Expo, but I never once felt bored. There were so much to observe about people and so many visual excitements. I had a chance to hear myself think and evaluate some of the preconceived notions I had of the different nations.

It felt really great to come to this realization that no matter which country we are from, no matter where we stay, no matter what differences we may have, we are all the same. We share common challenges and aspirations, we share the same sky, the same oceans, tha same needs… and the best way to achieve a successful, meaningful life is by working together, embracing peace, celebrating differences and helping each other fulfill our potential. Well, easier said than done, but I felt the expo provided a platform for this spark of realization to ignite.

         Very extremely tired

Before I arrived at the Expo, I’ve heard countless horror stories about the torture that awaits in terms of long queues and the uncouth behavior of the Chinese visitors. Well, the stories were true, but they weren’t as bad as I imagined.

And once I got over the initial shock of the amount of people there and accepted the long queue time, I began to really enjoy what the Expo had to offer – the splendid colours, the stunning lights, the awesome designs. I must say that the Chinese authorities have done a really great job in the organization and execution of this mammoth event.

         I will do it again

At the end of spending almost 12 hours a day at the Expo for a few consecutive days, I was really tired. But if I had I more time, I would still keep going back. This is really a world event not to be missed. And more than just seeing what the different countries exposed about themselves, let’s see what the Expo exposes about you!

Here’s a listing of all the pavilions I went to in the order of visitation, which I’ll also be sharing more about in upcoming posts :

           The World, My Playground

For more photos, please visit my album Shanghai World Expo 2010. The album will be updated progressively in tandem with the blog topics here. Hope you’ll have a better idea about the Expo through the stories here and the photos.
Celebrate Beauty

I Heart Singapore!

Every so often, I’m a closet patriot. I’d more readily jump on the bandwagon to criticise Singapore than to vehemently state what I feel about my motherland. And I think this is a pretty darn great place to call home.

So this year, with the inauguration of the Youth Olympics Games close on the heels of Singapore’s 45th National Day Parade, it’s an unprecedented opportunity to hold five stars and be over the crescent moon with pride!

My nationalistic high began with the 4th full-dress rehearsal of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games on 7 Aug, heightened by the spirit of unity at the Kaki Bukit NDP celebrations the next day, and climaxed like the NDP fireworks I could see from my room on 9 Aug 2010. I even carried Joy and Rainbow to see the dazzling sparks though they were more interested in the booming sounds than the atmospheric bling.

         Lyo and Merly

I was pretty slow to catch the SYOG fever. Maybe because I have a natural immune system against sports. I think most Singaporeans possess this immunity because I hardly felt any excitement in the air regarding this historic occurrence. This is the FIRST TIME the Youth Olympics is ever held and Singapore is its birth place! Surely this once in a lifetime honour is worth blowing our horns about?

Perhaps when the youth edition comes of age like its big brother, The Olympics, and sister, The Winter Olympics, a world event like this will finally receive the fanfare it deserves at its host countries. Just as the first recorded Games held at Olympia, Greece in 776 BCE had only one event – a 192 meters sprint, and the later revival of the Games in 1896 had the commitment of only nine countries, the YOG may need to go through a long puberty before gaining the muscle power needed to move people.

         Put your hands up in the air!

On hindsight, I am mightily glad I attended the rehearsal of the SYOG Opening Ceremony. Even though it was just a rehearsal, I was pretty wowed by it. I’m sure the actual show is going to be even more awesome. Then again, I could have been easily impressed because I don’t attend much of outdoor parades or clocked enough ‘live’ show mileage. But well, I was pretty impressed by the show and the animation of Lyo and Merly, the SYOG mascots inspired by our national icon the Merlion, was rather unexpected of stiff-shirted Singapore. I didn’t think much about the mascots before, but I heart them now!

The SYOG Organising Committee had requested that no photos be posted about the show so I shan’t spoil the surprises here. But I will say this, it’s a visual feast! The show weaved various elements and media together to tell the story of Singapore aplomb with pop culture… something the youth, and the young at heart (like me!) can appreciate and enjoy.

         Spectacular show

To commemorate the historical significance of the SYOG, I got my hands on a pair of the DBS Visa Prepaid cards, Mascots Edition. It acts like a store-value card where I can load in a certain amount and use it to pay for purchases anywhere. What a great way to control my finances! And it’s convenient too, just a tap to pay my bills. Guess card-tapping would be my Olympic sport!

These cards specially designed for the SYOG also doubles as an ez-link card. However, it seems such a waste to use these beautiful cards. Think I’ll keep them for the purpose of collection and who knows, maybe it’s value will appreciate in the future! Ka-ching!

Each card costs S$28.00, but a set goes for S$50.00. You can get them online or at any POSB/DBS branches.

         A great way to commemorate SYOG

Still fresh from the SYOG Opening Ceremony rehearsal, I attended the Kaki Bukit National Day community celebrations event as a designated ‘photographer’! Sounds so pro hor?

Actually, I have no idea what I signed up for. Siow Har asked me to accompany her to take part in the photography of the event and so I went along. Again, on hindsight, I’m glad I did. Not only did I learn by observing how the seasoned photographers take their shots at an event like this, I learnt to appreciate the racial harmony that makes Singapore so fantastic.

         National Day 2010 celebrations at Kaki Bukit

It was really amazing to be surrounded by so many people who love Singapore. Children, adults, teensters, senior folks… all of them waving the national flag, wearing white and red, placing their right hand across their chest while reciting the national pledge… it filled me with many goose-pimples moments.

The most memorable incident for me during the carnival was these two kindergarten schoolgirls. One was Indian, the other Chinese. A group of the children were huddled together at a corner while waiting for the guest-of-honour, Dr. Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, to arrive.

         More dreams ahead

It was a terribly hot day and despite the efforts by teachers and parents to keep the group cool, the children were dripping. And there were these two girls taking turns to fan each other with a piece of thin cardboard. This went on for a while. Them fanning each other. It was so heartwarming. Then one of them took the cardboard, tore it into half and shared. They started to fan themselves but occasionally, still fanned each other.

Truly, those two kids exemplified what the Singapore spirit is about – selfless care and concern for each other regardless of background and colour. We’ve spent 45 years to get here. May we continue to grow in cohesion and together, achieve greater things to come. Create our dreams!

         Singapore pledges
         Unity in diversity
         A caring nation
Celebrate Spontaneity

HK Day 3 : The Model Behaviour For Going Down Under

One of the top highlights during the Hong Kong trip was the Media Bathtub Race at the Summer Spectacular’s Dragon Boat Carnival. Even though I had previous dragon boating experience and took part in a couple of races, the Bathtub Race rendered years of training null.

Prior to the race, I gey kiang (smart alec) and shared with Aussie Pete, Priscilla, and Violet dragon boat rowing techniques and tips. “Dip the paddle in the water, and pull by rotating your trunk. Dip, pull, dip, pull… one, two, one, two… that’s the rhythm…” I said. And that was the advice that sank the boat of Aussie Pete and model, Priscilla.

         This is serious. Don't play play!

According to Pete, Priscilla followed my advice with strict determination and persisted with the one-two routine. But we’ve neglected one crucial factor that led to their Titanic exit from the race – their very apparent disparity in size and weight. One Pete is equivalent to at least two Priscillas.

With the Aussie sitting at the back and the model in front, the ‘bathtub’ tilted like a speedboat, hence displacing their centre of balance to the back. Poor Priscilla’s paddle couldn’t even reach the water! Any slight bodily manifestation of gan cheong-ness (anxiety) would be enough to topple the boat.

         They're safe!

Then it happened. Their tub capsized. Both of them got a real taste of Victoria Harbour. “Very salty,” was Pete’s verdict.

The bathtub was really just a rectangular plastic box with two seats. More like a soap dish to me. And the first thing I realized when Violet and I got on was that it was extremely buoyant. Forget about rowing technique, balancing the tub was top priority.

On top of that, the tub was really sensitive to every stroke of the paddle so steering required utmost concentration. Thankfully, Violet and I managed to stay afloat and came in 2nd out of 5 teams (2 from Singapore, 1 from Malaysia, 1 from India, 1 from Philippines). The Filipino team won the race.

         The Dream Team

What really amazes me about the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival was that it is such an important event with celebrities and stars taking part in the races. There were TVB actors and actresses, and members from the South Korean boyband, U-KISS. I have no idea who they are but judging from the number of screaming fans present, they must be pretty popular. Here’s a song by them :

                         

After the Dragon Boat Carnival experience in Hong Kong, I kinda miss my dragon boating days… the camaraderie, the rush during a race, the rigourous workouts, the perpetually tanned look, the improved level of fitness… I wonder if I’ll ever get back into the game again.

But thanks to this special arrangement by omy.sg and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, I got a chance to rekindle that not-so-long-ago past and get a hard-to-come-by feel (but not the taste) of paddling down Victoria Harbour.

         Let's triumph over cancer!

For more photos, please visit my album A Lingering Fragrance.
Celebrate Spontaneity

HK Day 2 : Where the Street Calls You Names

It was 10:30 pm on Saturday, 24 July 2010… The night I met the rose of shopping districts in Hong Kong. And realized what sharp thorns it has.

After the sensory buffet onboard The Bounty, Sze Ping, Lawrence and I headed down to Mong Kok for some shopping. I wanted to go to this particular complex which houses a beehive of novelty shops selling apparels, accessories, bags and knick-knacks of all kinds.

I chanced upon it in my last visit to Hong Kong two years ago so I had only a sketchy idea of its location. I remembered it was along Fa Yuen Street (花园街), which is near to the famous Ladies’ Market. But with so many shops and buildings packed together like carpet grass, it was hard to spot the damselfly amongst the dragonflies.

We couldn’t find the complex and ended up at the Ladies’ Market instead. Running the section of Tung Choi Street (通菜街) that is between Argyle Street and Dundas Street, the open-air market is a well-known hunting ground for bargains. It is also a great place to shop for insults.

         Prices are not the only things that get slashed

Open daily from noon till around 11:00 pm, Ladies’ Market is notorious for having stallholders with some of the most acidic tongues! I’ve learnt about these street vendors from hell through online sources and accounts by friends, but nothing beats experiencing it firsthand.

Here’re some incidences of what I witnessed in my less than half an hour walk there…

(Scenario 1: In the midst of price haggling)

Tourist : HK$100 and I’ll buy from you.

Vendor : Go away, go away! If you can find HK$100, you buy from there! Zhan hai suey, yu dou dee ko-ong gwai (Such bad luck to meet this poor demon).

(Scenario 2 : After some haggling, non-Chinese tourists decided not to take up the vendor’s price counter-offer and started to walk away. Vendor called them back.)

Vendor : Okay, okay, that price okay. Ji-in yarn (Cheapskates).

Tourists : Good. Thank you.

Have you learnt those Cantonese names for “poor demon” and “cheapskate” yet? I bet if I stayed there longer, I could pick up more phrases to share with you!

I had a personal encounter of these rude behaviours too. I walked past a stall and saw those bendy toys where you can twist to form certain shapes. In my early teens, I used to keep one of those on hand and always try to think of different shapes to form with it. Yet no matter what shaped I formed, I was twist it back to my favourite shape… that of a cross.

Having met that ‘old friend’, I couldn’t help but took out my camera to snap a photo before asking the price. The photo didn’t turn out well so I aimed my camera again. The stall-owner promptly came over, told me to stop taking photos and waved his hand in front of my cam to spoil the shot. Felt like I was a fly being shoo-ed off. Well, that’s good in a way, helped me save the money I was going to spend. Heh heh…

         Finding pleasantness in stinky tofu

Yet, the name-calling and photo disturbances were mild compared to what one tourist experienced. The vendor physically blocked the way to stop that person from leaving the stall. I find that both shocking and amusing.

Bullying should not be tolerated. I’m appalled by that act of intimidation, but at the same time, I’m amused to find that such plain disregard of mutual respect existed. In a developed place like Hong Kong.

For the most part, my encounters with Hong Kongers during the trip have been very pleasant ones. So those bad eggs presented themselves as an anomaly and became a stark contrast for me.

So here’re some observations for shopping at Ladies’ Market… Just smile and walk away if things are getting venomous because you can always find a friendlier stall that sells almost the same things. It is best not to take the rudeness personally.

If you bargain, do so only if you really want to buy that item and you can slash the price by as much as 50% and let the negotiating start. If the price isn’t right, walk away and sometimes, the vendors will relent. If they don’t, then just be prepared to learn some ‘colourful’ use of the Cantonese language! :o)

For more photos, please visit my album A Lingering Fragrance.
Celebrate Spontaneity

HK Day 2 : Listen with Thy Eyes

香港… its name translates directly into Fragrant Harbour. That goes to say that if one hasn’t toured its famed harbour, one cannot rightfully be considered to have been to Hong Kong. It’s like going to Disneyland without seeing Mickey, or having hamburgers without ham.

While the Star Ferry provides an opportunity to experience the bustling energy of the harbour, nothing beats the cruise experience we had onboard The Bounty. With the gentle wind as our constant hairstylist, a sumptuous buffet spread, booze, and a spectacular 360° view of Victoria Harbour, we watched the buildings come alive in a neon technicoat as dusk faded to night. And at 8:00 pm, we watched the largest permanent multimedia light show, A Symphony of Lights, right at the heart of the action!

         Bounty Rock!

The Bounty is a full-scale replica of the European H.M.A.V. Bounty where the most famous mutiny in British naval history took place. Here’s a quick historical timeline of legend and facts about this ancient maritime marvel :

• 1784 – The original Bounty was built for the purpose of trading.

• 1787 – Renamed “His Majesty’s Armed Vessel” Bounty and used to ship breadfruit plants. Captain William Bligh appointed as Commander of the ship and left for expedition to Tahiti.

• 1789 – Departed from Tahiti but a mutiny ensued. Captain Bligh was cast adrift and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian took over The Bounty. Captain Bligh survived and became Governor of New South Wales while Christian settled on Norfolk Islands.

• 1978 – Replica of The Bounty was built for the film “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

With so much history, standing on the deck of the ship gave me a somewhat surreal feeling. I thought to myself, “So this is how a time machine looks.” And it stirred a sense of romanticism, a somewhat poetic experience of being at the crossroad where old world charm meets a modern voyage of the senses.

         The muntiny of bloggers

Ahoy, Ahoy!

The 18th century beast awaketh for fresh deploy
As the stars envied of Poseidon’s magnificent toy
That replicated Bounty lusts for mortal joy

         The Bounty Crew?

Onboard, all Aboard!

Its polished ancient skin glistens smooth and taut
Where on whence Captain Bligh a mutiny fought
But once again its sail-wings pregnant with the blowing knots

         Delightful dusk to night

Aye, Aye!

What is this sight before our eyes?
These dancing lights and laser beams by our isles
‘Tis like songless sirens enchanting the sky

Heave-ho! Heave-ho!

Expanding bellies the pants no longer could hold
Filled not just by harvests but candour by the watering hole
And ten bloggers sailed this friend-ship far and bold

         Seamless blend of old & new

For more photos, please visit my album A Lingering Fragrance.
Celebrate Spontaneity

HK Day 2 : Wetland Park - Hong Kong’s Manicured Green Thumb

An electronic ringing tone resounded persistently in the distance. It got closer and closer, I opened my eyes. It’s 7:00 am and the morning call was right on time. It was Day 2 in Hong Kong, and I’m going to the Wetland Park. I pulled the curtains open and bright sunlight immediately saturated the room. It was a glorious day to be embraced by Mother Nature!

         Directions

Getting There : From Tin Shui Wai MTR Station, use Exit E and board the Light Rail nos. 705 or 706 and alight at Wetland Park Station.

I made my way there from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station, transited at Mei Foo Station to reach Tin Shui Wai Station. The whole journey to Wetland Park took me approximately 1 hr 20 mins and costs HK$22.50.

         A glorious sight

Located at New Territories, the Hong Kong Wetland Park was created to preserve and study the diversity of Hong Kong’s wetlands as such natural landscapes are rapidly lost to urban developments.

The park sprawls over 60-hectres of natural swamps and indigenous vegetation and is home to many species of birds, insects and aquatic animals. It is also affiliated with Singapore’s Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and London’s Wetland Centre. They are kind of like hotels for migratory birds. And I reckon the Hong Kong one would be the equivalent of staying at The Mira.

         Remaining patches of nature

Opening Hours : The park is closed every Tuesday (except Public Holidays). For all other days, it is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Entrance Fee : HK$30 (Adult), HK$15 (Child)

The Hong Kong Wetland park is very well-kept and encompasses a Visitor Centre, interactive exhibitions, themed galleries, a theatre, a souvenir shop, an children’s playground that even I want to play in, a fastfood restaurant (大家乐) and of course the main attraction, the wetland reserve.

         Hong Kong's green lungs

There are various zones at the reserve such as the Stream Walk, Succession Walk, Mangrove Boardwalk and three Bird Hides, situated next to a fish pond, mudflat and riverside. This allows visitors to see different species of birds in their habitats. The whole morning I was there, I only saw a white heron.

Clear sign-posts points the way to the various attractions and there’re park guides (in yellow uniform) within the wetland reserve area whom you can approach for a guided tour. They come equipped with binoculars so you can get a magnified view of dragonflies, birds, lotuses, etc.

The guide who approached me was very enthusiastic in sharing information despite a basic command of the English language. The staff at Wetland Park were all very friendly and welcoming. Even when I ‘accidently’ went on the prohibited balcony area at the Visitor Centre to snap photos of the scenery, I was asked to leave politely.

         Battling the sun

Hot Tips :

• If you don’t want handbag makers to lust after your skin, be sure to cover up, protect your skin with sunblock, bring umbrella, wear a hat, neck towels, etc.

• There’re no drinking fountains in the wetland reserve so be sure to fill up your water-bottle at the water cooler in the fastfood restaurant.

• Always stay on the designated paths and walkways as there may be snakes or other hidden defenses of nature. A salt water crocodile was found in at the nearby Shan Pui River in 2003. It now lives in an enclosure within the park and given the name, Pui Pui. The park is safe, but do take precautions to avoid ending up as something’s lunch.

         Wetland in the heartland

For me, the most striking thing about the park is its close proximity to residential developments. Views from the park looked as if it is located at some ulu faraway boondocks, but it’s closer to home than you think. Well, at least to the homes of people living there. The view up in those flats must be breathtaking.

         Choose your path

As I’ve just started learning nature macro photography, one of my main purpose was to photograph wildlife species not found in Singapore. During my time at the Wetland Park, I didn’t see any animals, didn’t see many birds, and the insects were just too active to photograph.

Usually I would go really early in the morning between 7 am to 8 am to shoot the bugs because that’s when they’re just waking up and not too active yet. But Wetland Park opens at 10 am. By then, my skill and equipments are inadequate to capture them well.

         My only macro shot

But what the place had no lack of was dragonflies. Lots of them around in a wide variety of colours and designs. Woohoo! Belonging to the insect order known as Odonata (which means ‘toothed jaws’ in Greek), dragonflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis as their life stages all revolve around bodies of water and are carnivorous from young to adulthood.

Dragonfly Facts :

• They can fly forward, backward, upward, downward or sideways and preys on mosquitoes, flies, and aphids.

• Male dragonflies frequently perch on eye-catching points to show-off their bright bodies to attract females.

• Tropical dragonflies can live a few months up to a year, while those living in temperate climates have a lifespan averaging only one to six weeks.

         Jewels of nature

Other than dragonflies, there’re also a few lotus and waterlily ponds. I saw some yellow and pink variegated lotuses for the first time and they were beautiful!

         Shy lotus

Having baked under the hot sun for half a day, the air-con at the Visitor Centre was more than comforting. There, I browsed through the “Fantastic World of Insects” exhibition and visited a gallery that showcased life at the different types of wetlands – mangrove swamps, tropical rivers, and continental marshes.

The exhibits were pretty interesting with lots of info about the secret life of insects and wetland dwellers. My favourite was this very colourful tortoise. I’ve not seen anything like it ‘live’ before!

         Groovy!

It was a good thing I got back to the Visitor Centre because the earlier sunny weather was replaced by a rainstorm. Since I was stuck there, I went into the theatre for a performance about insects thinking I just want to sit and rest.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the stage performance! It was funny, creative and highly educational. I really learnt a lot about the insects in a fun and easy to digest manner. The only grouse was that the show was in Cantonese and I couldn’t understand some of the phrases.

         Parting shots

Overall, I find the Wetland Park a very enjoyable and educational experience. My plan was to stay there till 1:00 pm but by the time I left, it was almost 4:00 pm, being stuck in the rain notwithstanding. If I go Hong Kong again, I will definitely come back again and hopefully the next time, I’ll get more photos of bugs!

For more photos, please visit my album A Lingering Fragrance.