Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Read: Books on the Great Depression

I must have been in a mood to read. I have too many questions in my mind that I cannot reconcile and for the past weeks, I have been seeking refuge in reading to attempt to find a few of the answers.

Sometime ago, I read Professor Stanley Schultz's Great Depression Lost Words and Grant's How Did It Happen?: The Great Depression.

I was hoping to learn from history itself to understand what had brought about the Great Depression which was at its worst from 1929 to 1934. In addition, I hope to have at least an appreciation to what had led to the end of the Great Depression.

Interestingly, as best as I could make out, some of the economic problems and political problems that had contributed to the Great Depression can be traced back to World War I.

By the end of World War I, even countries like Britain and France that had won the war had been effectively bankrupted because they had borrowed money from the United States to pay for the arms.

Russia underwent a revolution that brought a Communist government to power. When the Communists established the Soviet Union in 1922, foreign investors and governments who had put money into Russia before the World War I had lost all their investment.

During the World War I, the European countries that were involved in the war concentrated their efforts in producing war materials. Other countries which were not involved in the war stepped in to take these European countries' place in industrial production. Following the end of the World War I, when these European industries returned to the production of peacetime goods, they had produced more peacetime goods than there was demand.

Following the end of the World War I, although there were boom years in the United States, the farmers in America were suffering from overproduction of agricultural products. In addition, it was easy to get credit. This led to many people being in debt. To add to the risk, there were many people at that time who had borrowed money to invest in the stock market. However, from 1927, many people bought shares for sheer speculation even though some may be buying shares of a worthless company.

So it seems to me, that the causes behind the Great Depression were multifold. Although some had believed that the stock market Crash of 1929 had caused the Great Depression that followed, it appeared that the Crash was simply a symptom of the underlying problems in the United States and other parts of the world.

I went on to read about the various attempts that had be made to end the Great Depression. From what limited that I have understood, there are lessons that can be learnt from the Great Depression. It seemed that I may have more readings to be done to better appreciate this world that I am living in.

Monday, April 27, 2009

King and Emperor

If given a choice, I prefer listening to music live. Recordings often do not appeal to me as much as live concerts. As such, it was with pleasure that I look forward to Singapore Symphony Orchestra's performance of the concert titled King and Emperor. I have had the pleasure and honour to have Eastcoastlife as my company for the concert.

The programme for the concert is as follow:

BEETHOVEN - Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 'Emperor'
SAINT-SAËNS - Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 'Organ Symphony'

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 is one of the piano concertos that never fails to delight me. I think Beethoven is simply a genius in composition. While I don't have a particular interest in writing music, it fascinates me to listen to a good piece of music composition. I realised that for most of my attendance at concerts performed by professional orchestras, I was not listening to how well the musicians were performing, I was listening to whether the composition inspires or captivates me. I can't exactly tell why, but Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 is simply a brilliant piece of work. It inspires.

After the intermission, the orchestra performed Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3. I wish I was sitting nearer the acoustic canopy where I have simply no low ceiling above my head. Then, I think I would significantly experience the power of the sounds of the organ. I don't get to hear this symphony very often, and it was just stunning to listen to it LIVE. I absolutely love the quiet and deep tones of the organ when the lower notes were played.

Many thanks again to Eastcoastlife for her company. She shared with me her views on some issues which I appreciate greatly. I wish I have more wisdom to reconcile some of the issues.

Meantime, I wish for inspiring moments. Art and music remind us of the beauty in this world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Labrador Jetty

A good friend of mine told me that it would be therapeutic to be at the beach. In the hope to get some therapy from Mother Nature, I took a trip to Labrador Beach. Of all the beaches in Singapore, I decided that Labrador Beach shall be the one to visit for that day. It was a weekend on 12 Apr 2009, so I could take bus service 408 to Labrador Park.

The bus stopped me at a bus-stop that was within walking distance from the start of the aerial staircase. From the aerial staircase at Labrador Park, I could get a nice view of Labrador Jetty. I would have stood there at the aerial staircase if there had been a seat to sit on. Nevertheless, even though there was no seat, I was already offered a marvellously beautiful sight of the sea and the Labrador Jetty from the aerial staircase.

If you have a love for aerial views of the sea and beaches, Labrador Park is a good place to visit. The Labrador Jetty when seen against the sunset skies looked particularly quiet and dignified. Perhaps that was why many had visited the Labrador Jetty for the unique view that it offered.

As I was writing this post and looking at the photos, inspirations for a short poem came to my mind:

Time seems to have froze
I ask,
What do I need out of Life?
Then strangely
Many achievements in life become not as important
As a moment when one awes in the beauty of Nature.

I wonder how life would have been if it had been much simpler?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Wu Guanzhong donation exhibition

On 10 Apr and 12 Apr 2009, I visited the Singapore Art Museum to view the exhibition titled An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection. This exhibition showcases Wu Guanzhong's donation of 113 works to the Singapore Art Museum in 2008.

I had quite a bit of time on 12 Apr 2009, so not only did I spent close to an hour watching the two-parts documentary on Wu Guanzhong as an artist, I went for the guided tour. I was particularly attracted to Wu Guanzhong's ink paintings and his abstract works.

To be honest, I know very little about Wu Guanzhong and his art. As such, the purposes of my visits to the exhibition, An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection, was to get myself acquainted with the art of this master.

Particularly interesting to me was Wu Guanzhong's approach to art which basically could be summarised into the following statement in Chinese: 风筝不断线

I have found a rather long-winded quotation in English that gives a clue to his approach to art from a source:

Art is like a kite. You have to pull the string hard in order to stretch it to its limit, but you don't want to pull it so hard that you break the thread, because the thread connects you to the land and its peoples. (Wu Guan-Zhong)

In essence, what I could make out of the quotation is that Wu Guanzhong's art is rooted in and connected with the community. From the documentary that I had watched while I was at the exhibition, I learnt that 风筝不断线 could also mean that as an artist, Wu Guanzhong's art is linked and connected with he himself: his emotions, his philosophy towards life, his dreams, his vision etc.

The exhibition will be held from 9 April to 16 August 2009 at the Singapore Art Museum. It is worth a visit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Read: Dowswell's The Causes of World War II

It must have been that I am in a craze to learn the lessons that we, mankind, can draw from the World Wars. As such, last Sunday, I borrowed Paul Dowswell's The Causes of World War II.

If I were to explain the causes of WWII, I realised it is not as simple as I would like it to be. Some of the issues, according to Dowswell's The Causes of World War II., that would contribute to the start of World War II would include:
- The effects of the Treaty of Versailles,
- The effects of the Great Depressionin helping to bring extreme political regimes to power
- The role of the League of Nations and the policies of "appeasement" and "isolationism" that were used by some of the Allied countries.

It looks like the more I read, the more I realised I don't understand. I think I would need more reading soon. Yet, I am glad that I have read. It is actually a joy to read from books.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From Heritage TV: The Kangxi Emperor

While I was browsing, I came across one recent episode of Heritage TV that features the exhibition, The Kangxi Emperor: Treasures from the Forbidden City. Check it out.

If the video entices you to visit the actual exhibition, you may wish to know that the exhibition is held from 13 Mar 2009 - 14 Jun 2009 at the Special Exhibitions Gallery, ACM Empress Place.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding hope in music

11 Apr 2009, Sat: Thanks to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the 92.4 FM call-in contest, I had won myself a pair of tickets to a concert performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Many thanks to one of my good friends who had taken time to accompany me to the concert. I appreciate her company and friendship.

The programme for the evening featured Haydn's Mass in D minor which is not an often performed work in the Singapore context. In addition, for the first time in my life as a listener, I got to listen to the entire Elgar's Enigma Variations, Op. 36 live.

My favourite variations from Elgar's Enigma Variations, Op. 36 were Variation 9 (Nimrod), Variation 12 (B.G.N.) and Variation 14 (E.D.U.). I am a biased listener in some ways. I personally prefer listening to live performances compared to recordings. This is especially so for choral works.

I was particularly looking forward to listen to Hadyn's Mass in D minor for it is a work that would be rarely performed live in the Singapore context. Like the biased listener in me had said early, I state that choral works simply just have to be listened to live. It is usually in a live performance that one can experience the impact of a choral work. I particularly like how Hadyn composed the strings parts to create a sense of tension in the music.

Could mankind find hope through music? Hopefully music evokes the compassionate side of humanity.

With this post, I share with you Nimrod Variation from Elgar's Enigma Variations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An evening date with Nature and Music

On 5 Apr 2009, I visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens with one of my good friends to catch an outdoor concert by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

It has been a while since I had last visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens and I was delighted to see a lot of nice landscaped sceneries when I was there. I used to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens pretty often when I was a young adult as there were a number of nice sculptures that were displayed there in the past. The recent visit brought back some nostalgic memories that I had of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, including the several occasions when I performed in outdoor concerts there.

It was a recharging experience to be out in Nature, and at the same time, treat my eyes to beautiful works of art. I spotted a sculpture featuring the composer, Chopin, somewhere near the Symphony Lake.

A few steps away, one could see the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage on which the performers were getting ready to perform. While there was slight drizzle that day, the weather had been generally kind to the audience. I got to listen to one of my favourite repertoires scored for the Chinese orchestra during the concert.

It was a memorable evening out. I thank my friend for the treasured company.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Read: The Key Battles of World War I

Other than Ross' The Causes of World War I, I read yet another book about World War I. It was David Taylor's Key Battles of World War I.

This book focused on how the major battles of World War I were fought. As I read the book, it reminded me how absurd war can be. If the masses had known how dreadful and meaningless it was to fight the war, would the war have stopped earlier?

To be honest, most of the battles mentioned in the book were new to me. I realised how little I know about the history of Europe. There is so much to learn in this world that I should learn to use my time more meaningfully.

From this book, I read about the Gallipoli Campaign. I realised that the date of landing at Gallipoli (i.e. 25 April 1915) is made a national public holiday in Australia and New Zealand to honour members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I.

The book lent me more insights to the trench warfare that was used during World War I. It described the conditions in the trenches. It made me wonder: If the key people in power had made it necessary that they themselves must fight the war in the front-line trenches, would they have then considered peace negotiation instead of continuing to fight a dreadful war that involved so much casualties?

If there is anything we should learn from history, it is to learn the value of peace and the absurdity of war.

May peace prevail.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Names of instruments of the Symphony Orchestra in Chinese

A good friend of mine and I agreed that we shall converse in Mandarin. This proved to be a challenge yet I shall do my best to keep up to the agreement where possible.

Interestingly, the education system in Singapore is such that English is the main language of instruction for most of the subjects that are taught in the schools here. As such, I realised that even when I converse with my peers in Singapore who are Chinese, I would tend to converse in English. What helped me maintain regular contact with Chinese is the fact that I read Chinese newspapers everyday.

When my friend and I were trying to have a conversation that required us to use Chinese terms to name a number of instruments of the Western Symphony Orchestra, it left me to realise that other than the instruments of the strings family, I don't particularly know the Chinese names of most of the other instruments!

For my general knowledge and to help me in my future conversations, I decided I shall list the Chinese names of the instruments of the Western Symphony Orchestra here:

Violin 小提琴
Viola 中提琴
Cello 大提琴
Double Bass 低音提琴/ 倍大提琴

Piccolo 短笛
Flute 长笛
Oboe 双簧管
Clarinet 单簧管
Bassoon 大管
Contrabasson 低音大管
English horn/ Cor Anglais 中音双簧管

French Horn 法国号/圆号
Trumpet 小号/ 喇叭
Trombone 长号
Tuba 大号

Timpani 定音鼓
Bass drum 低音鼓
Side drum 小鼓
Cymbal 铙钹, 钗(钹)
Castanet 响板
Gong 锣
Triangle 三角铁
Celesta 钢片琴, 钟琴

Harp 竖琴

Organ 管风琴/ 风琴


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Read: Ross' The Causes of World War I

Photo credit: National Media Museum

Sometime in end of March 2009, I casually brought up the issue of World Wars with one of my friends. That made me realised that although I had read about World War I when I was younger, I did not quite understand the causes behind it. As such, the urge to satisfy my curiosity got me to pick up a few books on the subject when I was at the library last weekend.

One of the books that I had borrowed and read was Stewart Ross' The Causes of World War I. While I realised that the causes of World War I were actually pretty complex, the book did help give me a better appreciation of the causes of the World War.

The book gave a quick summary of the causes of World War I in its eighth chapter. Two long-term causes contributed to the building up of tension between the various countries, and formed the background to the war. They were:

1) The great European powers were at rivalry with each other for the domination of Europe.
2) The mistrust and suspicion between the great powers led the various countries to set up networks of alliances. "This make a limited war almost impossible".

The immediate trigger to the World War I was identified to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, Sunday. This trigged a crisis between Austria and Russia. Eventually, it set off a chain reaction of events which eventually lead to World War I.

My learning points from the book were as follow:

1) Resentment and mistrust, if not dealt with properly and early enough, can eventually lead to greater conflicts.
2) I personally felt that it is important that power needs to lie in the hands of the right people who are wise and compassionate to make effective choices that will benefit the people, or at least not endanger the people.

There is much that we can learn from history.

This book is actually intended for high-school students. Then again, it fit well with my reading needs and enabled me to appreciate the causes of World War I in a nutshell with its fairly accessible presentation and language. I finished reading the book within three days despite a very busy schedule where I generally only had the time to read while travelling on the MRT train.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Satay craze and more

On 28 Mar 2009, I was at Lau Pa Sat with a cherished friend of mine.

I have heard from a fellow blogger, Veron of, about the delicious satays from Satay Stall Number 7 & 8 from Lau Pa Sat. So when I was there, I decided I must order some satays from the stall, Best Satay.

The satay tasted nice even though yours truly isn't a lover of satay. It had actually been quite a while ever since I had eaten satay. Any food will taste wonderful with good company, so I suppose I was quite a satisfied diner that evening.

After the meal, my friend and I sat along a part of the Singapore River and we happened to be there to witness Earth Hour together. Singapore River looked pretty different when the lights of the exterior of the buildings along Singapore River were dimmed so as to support Earth Hour. I could not help but admire the sights that night.

In essence, I am grateful for meaningful time spent with a treasured friend.