Friday, July 23, 2010

Xitang Water Town

The coach brought us from Hangzhou to Xitang Water Town. On the way, the tour guide entertained us with various anecdotes and trivia. I was told that the Xitang Water Town has a history of thousands of years. Xitang is well-known for its bridges, lanes, covered corridors and old houses.

We were told that Xitang Water Town was used as one of the filming locations of the movie Mission Impossible III. That movie helped more people know about the Water Town of Xitang. The movie has also attracted a number of enterprising immigrants to open new businesses at Xitang. Many of the former residents sold or rent their ancient houses to these immigrants.

I was attracted to the idyllic way of life at Xitang Water Town and the beauty of the ancient houses. We also learnt that the people in Xitang (at least the original inhabitants of Xitang) have an organised way of life. They would do the washing of food at the upstream of the river. Then they would do their washing of dirty items at the downstream of the river. This way of organising their lives help to keep the waters of the river relatively clean for the use of all the residents. However, with the influx of new immigrants and workers from other parts of China, this organised way of using the water from the river is gradually not being practised religiously.

One of the highlights of the visit to Xitang Water Town was a leisure boat ride. The boatman who steered our boat was already in his 50s to 60s and he looked very healthy and strong. We had quite some fun taking photographs on the boat. Many thanks to the boatman for his mastery in steering the boat. We kept moving about the boat yet the ride on the boat had generally been smooth.

On the boat ride, we caught glimpses of some very lovely looking bridges. These are works of art that display the intelligence and cultured taste of the people who have made these bridges possible.

As I look at the photographs I had taken, I was left with the impression that Xitang is a calm and peaceful place. I wonder what impression has Xitang left on you?

Old Town of Xitang Travel Guide

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Happy eating at Clarke Quay Food Street

It's the Singapore Food Festival 2010. One of the highlights of the Singapore Food Festival is the Clarke Quay Food Street that is held on the Clarke Quay, Read Bridge. The view from Read Bridge is pretty scenic on a clear and good day.

Read Bridge, according to Singapore Infopedia, was named after William Henry Macleod Read. Now, I realised I don't know much about the person whom the Read Bridge was named after. It looks like I have much to learn about this bridge that I have often been crossing whenever I am in the Clarke Quay area.

I was told that back in the 1950s or so, before the rebuilding of the current Read Bridge, many folks would go to Read Bridge to listen to story-tellers tell their stories. The story-tellers charged by time. Before the start of their story-telling endeavours, they would light up a joss-stick before telling their stories. Once the joss-stick finished burning, audience yearning for a continuation of the story would have to pay for more of the stories to be told.

Back to the Singpaore Food Festival, this year's Singapore Food Festival "is about celebrating not only the vibrant Singapore Chinese dialectic tastes that our forefathers brought here, but also the evolution of these unique fusions today" (source: brochure of Singapore Food Festival 2010).

I was pretty attracted to the uncommon Hainanese chicken rice balls. These rice balls are rather unique because I normally find Hainanese chicken rice, but not rice balls in Singapore. They tasted a bit like glutinous rice with a chicken flavour. It was only natural that I decided to get myself a set of Hainanese chicken rice balls with chicken and vegetables. Each set costs $7.

Visitors and participants at Clarke Quay Food Street may wish to take note taht all payments at the Clarke Quay Food Street has to be made using the Singapore Food Festival Souvenir Card or a Kopitiam Card. The minimum top-up value per card is $10.

One of my favourite food was the seemingly simple Hakka black-bean cake from Kew Garden Restaurant Private Limited. You may find out how it looks like by referring to the brown-colour item on the left of the above photo. It costs $3 per two pieces. I decided to find out Kew Garden Restaurant is located so that I could go there for some Hakka black-bean cake fix if I crave for one. The address is: 315 Outram Road, #02-313, Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074. Tel: 62222313.

Visitors to the Clarke Quay Food Street can also look forward to popiah-skin making, live! I have a lot of  respect for people who can make good popiah-skin. In addition, visitors can purchase handmade popiah, kueh pie-tee and hand-rolls from the very same stall.

I also treated myself to Four Seasons' "Mao Shao Wang" durian gelato. It was yummy and I was pleased that I had got myself a serving of it. I may prefer durian puree paste though.

Whatever it is, if you have yet to check out the Clarke Quay Food Street, you may wish to make some time to experience the various Chinese delicacies. There were other food items such as Chilli crab, cold crab, roasted duck, carrot cake, Teochew yam paste, traditional Chinese cake, and lots more. Just please be prepared for a bit of mingling on peak hours as the turnout of the visitors seem to be more than what Read Bridge could comfortably accomodate.

Singapore Food Festival 2010 Clarke Quay Food Street
Date: 16 July to 24 July

Time: 4pm to 11pm
Venue: Clarke Quay Read Bridge
Pricing: Payment via Singapore Food Festival Souvenir Card

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More of the Night Festival: New World 2010

If my previous post "Snippets of the Night Festival: New World 2010" leaves you yearning for more, here are a few more photographs from the festival to fill you in.

Mustering some courage, I went to check out the Abusement Park on 17 Jul 2010 and it appeared that I was not ready to face the "torture" and "abuse" of the Abusement Park. Patrons of the Abusement Park could pay money to subject themselves to various "torture" and "abuse". Imagine that patrons are in an amusement park but instead of playing games to entertain themselves, they choose the kind of "torture" that they would like to subject themselves to. One of the "torture' is that of getting one's head "beheaded" by the guillotine. While I knew that all these torture were safe and would not cost me my life, I decided not to try any of these "abusement".

Nearby, the world's slowest SMS billboard was constantly in action as the team of human assemblers manually assemble messages on the giant billboard for everyone to read. There was a message wishing someone "Happy Birthday" and the team of human assemblers sang loud and clear a birthday song after they have completed assembling the birthday message.

If you are observant enough to notice that the message on the billboardin the photograph below read "If you're happy and you know it clap your hand!", you may have a vague idea what the team of human assemblers would be singing. The spectators responded by clapping their hands along with the singing.

A distance away at the Substation, we could find people delighted by the Community Mural Project. If one could bear with the strong smell from the paints, one would love being empowered to create large-scale art mural under the guidance of local graffiti artists, ZERO and ANTZ. I saw many people having lots of fun expressing their creativity.

Many people have been raving about Paraboles 2.0 but I had missed it! I was not prepared to stay up so late at night to catch the performance involving the six giant satellite dishes. The closest I could get was to take photographs of the Paraboles 2.0 which proved to be a test of my technical skills when all I possess was a simple automatic digital camera that I had bought about five years ago.

Anyway, for the curious minds, part of the synposis of the performance goes as such: "The six monumental dishes have picked up a signal. The unstructured sounds from outer space crackle and throb. Six musicians, conducted by the Women in Black, are trying to decode and translate those abstract sounds..."

On the Singapore Management University's Campus Green, there were many performances, films and installations by various artistic groups that will surely entertain.

If you had missed this year's Night Festival, do consider making time for next year's.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Snippets of the Night Festival: New World 2010

If you have yet to attend the Night Festival : New World 2010 yesterday, please think about making time tonight to relive the excitement and chilling moments of the amusement park phenomena.

What about the "amusement park phenomena"? Back in the 1960s, amusement parks have been a source of fun and entertainment for all ages in Singapore. I was told that there were three amusement parks in Singapore during that era: New World, Happy World and Great World. This year's Night Festival, produced by Theatreworks for the National Museum of Singapore, is inspired by the theme of fun and entertainment of the amusement parks of the 1960s.

Whether it is to relive the good old memories of the 1960s or to appreciate glimpses of the night life of the 1960s, folks of all ages may find the Night Festival this year to be an entertaining treat. Indeed, I could see for myself that last night's Night Festival was very well-attended by folks of all ages.

Admittedly, I would prefer to wear ear-plugs for the event as the noise level at most sites was considered too loud for my ears. Nevertheless, this Night Festival proved to be a treat to the visual senses with lots of hype and sensations.

I have decided to show a different perspective to the Night Festival by posting more photographs that I had taken during the early evening. Expect yourself to use quite a bit of your imaginations to imagine how the sites in the photos will be turned alive, dazzled by lights and gaiety once the skies turns dark.

On the grounds of the Singapore Management University's Campus Green, there are treats to the art and culture of various Southeast Asia countries. Visitors can look forward to treats to graffiti art. If visitors are game for some fiery fights, they could check out the boxing ring to catch rounds of boxing and Muay Thai. If dance-loving patrons would love a professional dancer as a partner to mambo, cha-cha and dance the night away, they could, I've read, hire a taxi girl (and taxi boy) at $1 for three dances.

A stone throw away, at the Singapore Art Museum, the daring ones could sneak into the Abusement Park, by Vertical Submarine & Black Baroque Interventions. I was told that Abusement Park would turned the ground floor of the Singapore Art Museum into an underground dungeon. Well, I did not visit this last night so you may have to just imagine what it would be like to be in an underground dungeon.

I would be more intrigued to see the world's slowest SMS billboard. I was told that one could send sms messages to (65)98659965 on the two nights. Afterwhich, a team of human will manually assemble the messages on an interactive giant billboard for all to read.

There are programmes for the young minds too. At the Peranakan Museum, I saw children and families having fun creating sand art pieces in the "Groovy Glow-in-the-Dark Crafts" corner. In the Ixora Room, there is a Peranakan Puppet Show that should delight both children and adults. For myself, I was more keen to take advantage of the free admission hours to catch glimpses of the many beautiful exhibits that were housed in the Perankan Museum.

Blogger, Hann Hann, has written a post on programmes from the Night Festival that are recommended for children. Check out the post entitled: Night Festival 2010: Hann's Picks for children.

You could also read fellow blogger, Walter Lim's preview of the event here: He has posted a number of good photographs of the Night Festival taken during the night hours.

Many thanks to my friend, KT, for lending her company for the Night Festival yesterday. It was fun travelling from one Night Festival site to another to see what each has to offer. I would have love to hear her share about her understanding of Ramayana if I had not been overstimulated by the loud volume from the nearby playing band.

Anyway, I was comforted with a free ice-cream for visitors to the Peranakan Museum. I chose the red-bean flavour and it was delicious. Be sure to find out how to obtain a coupon to exchange for a free ice-cream. Last night, the staff had lots of coupons to give away. However, learning to be contented with one ice-cream, I was happily declining the coupons!

Many thanks to the National Museum of Singapore and the National Heritage Board for organising a successful Night Festival: New World 2010.

If the description of the Night Festival entices you, get up from your seat, change into your favourite wear and get ready to check out the Night Festival tonight. It's your last chance, till 2 a.m. Admission is free!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Go and play at Art Garden

Interactive exhibits, exposure to fine arts, a treat for one's visual senses, fun. These are some of the things a visitor to the exhibition "Art Garden: Children's Season at the Singapore Art Museum" held at SAM at 8Q can look forward to experience.

It is a farsighted idea to introduce children and young people to contemporary art in an interactive and engaging manner. The exhibits are curated in a way that encourage the family to enjoy contemporary art together. In many ways, while the targetted audience of this exhibition appears to be children and their family members, adults visiting this exhibition on their own can find the exhibition to be equally fascinating and imagination-stimulating.

Walter's Garden

Even before a visitor steps into the museum's compound, he/she will see a large rabbit PVC helium float model that seems to be inviting visitors to step into the compounds of the Art Garden. Right inside (after one pays for the admission), there is an interactive playground titled "Walter's Garden" where children are 'can learn about colours, shapes and develop psychomotor skills through play'. Please take note that shoes are not allowed in the playground. Children entering this magic-like "Walter's Garden" have to have their hands sanitised and shoes removed.

There are a number of interactive exhibits that visitors can expect to see at the Art Garden. As an adult, I have learnt about the art of animation from the works by the artist, Joo Choon Lin. For the children, perhaps they would see the same works as adventures to a fantasy world involving the protagonist, the Ringmaster, against chocolate monsters and villians.

To continue this theme of fantasy and fiction, visitors could step into Sandra Lee's "Enchanted Forest". Here, "anything can happen if you just imagined it...". If one is observant, one can even spot a Merlion diving into the sea. Nearby, families were seen making paper butterflies which they can place in the Enchanted Forest. I was impressed with the story-boards that gave the backgrounds to the various characters featured in the "Enchanted Forest".

For visitors who prefer digital media and technology, they may find Funky Forest and Daisies to be fun and interactive works of art. Daisies was designed in such a way that when the shadows of visitors are cast on the ground, the digital daisy patterns on the ground will turn pitch black in shade. I saw a number of families having a good time trying to turn the entire area of daisies to pitch black darkness.

My favourite was "Floribots" by Geoffrey Drake·Brockman. Made from origami paper flowers, I simply find it fascinating how these robotic origami paper flowers could respond to the movements in the exhibition hall and then move accordingly.

I think if I were a child, I will fall in love with all these interactive and tactile activities. More so, since most of these activities were designed to be suitable for family's participation, a trip to the Art Garden could also provide the opportunities for families to bond and to simply have fun together.

After all the hype and the laughter from the fun activities, visitors could take a relaxing break and treat their eyes to screenings of a number of short films at "The Moving Image Gallery". These films presented are for and about children. In some ways, I think adult are likely to find these short films entertaining too. I have found the music that accompanies the film to be appealing for my ears too, and was listening attentively to the music until I could not remember the storyline of a few of the films. Anyway, my point is that there are a series of various activities and artworks available at the "Art Garden" exhibition for visitors of various personalities and ages.

Till 18 July 2010, Art Garden: Children's Season at the Singapore Art Museum is one art exhibition that I recommend families with children to consider visiting if they have yet to. To add to the joy of learning about the various artworks, there are activity books designed for children available for all visitors. During the weekends, visitors could also get a chance to attend workshops and special talks in the museum's premises.

For more information, please visit the Art Garden's webpage.

Art Garden: Children's Season at the Singapore Art Museum
SAM (8Q)
8 Queen Street, Singapore 188535.
Tel: (65) 6332 3222

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. (Free admission on Friday night, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.)

The usual exhibition admission charges apply. Free admission for children aged 6 and below. Each child must be accompanied by an adult holding a valid admission ticket.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dongpo meat and more

After the tea demonstration at Meijiawu Longjing Tea Plantation, there was a slight revision of the lunch plan. We were led to a nearby restaurant that was within the compounds of Meijiawu to enjoy a delightful lunch. The lunch was a pleasant one and left me with a generally good impression of Hangzhou cuisine.

We were each treated to an individual small bowl of Dongpo meat. Dongpo meat is named after the literati, Su Dongpo. Su Dongpo had served as the prefectural governor of Hangzhou for a period of time.

There seems to be various versions on how Dongpo meat came about. The version that my tour guide told us was that Su Dongpo was a gourmet who was knowledgeable in culinary art. He came up with a dish that was made by simmering pork and wine in a container that looks like tea-pot. He did not give the dish any name. Subsequently, people started cooking pork the way Su Dongpo did, and they named the dish "Dongpo meat".

I personally try to cut down on eating red meat as a dietary preference. Nevertheless, in my stay at Hangzhou, I have made an exception to eat two servings of Dongpo meat. The meat is soft and has a smooth texture. While it has many layers of fat, I suppose an occasional sample of Dongpo meat will help me better experience the culinary culture of Hangzhou. I was told that Dongpo meat goes well with cups of green tea. I guess it was perfect that the Dongpo meat that was served that the restaurant near the Longjing Tea Plantation was served in containers that looked like tea-cups. Savouring good food is an art itself in Hangzhou, I reckon.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Longjing Tea Plantation

One of the stops of my trip to Hangzhou was the Longjing Tea Plantation at Mei Jia Wu (梅家坞). I was told that Longjing is a kind of green tea that is only produced near West Lake, Hangzhou.

Actually, I do not think I have stepped into a tea plantation. However, I did learn a bit more about tea appreciation and Longjing Green Tea when I was at Mei Jia Wu. I learnt that the harvesting of tea leaves is an art itself. Choosing the good time, the appropriate season and the right kind of leaves to harvest are all critical in determining the taste of the eventual green tea.

We also witnessed a demonstration of the pan frying of the Longjing tea leaves. The pan frying of tea leaves is done by hand and it takes a lot of skills to do it well. I read that pan frying is intended to stop the fermentation process.

We had the pleasure to appreciate Longjing tea. Longjing tea has a delicate and fragrant aroma, light and mellow taste. We were told that when we brew Longjing tea, the temperature of the water should not be more than 90 degrees Celsius. Tea-drinking itself is an art. The choice of tea-wares, water, location of drinking the tea and the type of company that one has, all contribute to the overall tea-drinking experience. We were also given a demonstration of how Longjing tea has properties of an anti-oxidant.

Overall, the Longjing Tea Plantation was an educational stop-over with scenic views.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Read: What is Your Life's Work

What Is Your Life's Work?
-Answer the Big Question About What Really Matters
And Reawaken the Passion for What Your Do
Author: Bill Jensen
Publisher: HarperCollins

Reflecting on my endeavour to read at least one book a month, it was a realistic target that has gotten me to read on a regular basis. I am thankful that I have gotten myself started in the very first place.

In this book, readers get to read the work of sixty-four diarists (if I've figured it correctly) who gnerously share their reflections about what they think really matters at work. Most of these diarists wrote their reflections in the form of letters addressed to a loved ones. The diarists (letter-writers) have to write their letters based on some guidelines such as being truthful, being themselves, being specific, tell stories, be vulnerable, to describe how they wrestle with tough work/life choices.

The book was a good read overall. I suppose the greater challenge would be to accept the author's invitation to take the time to dwell in silence and thought, think deeply about, and to pen down what really matters to me.

For now, what I would need would be good health, wise guidance, a inspirational leap of faith and moral support. Wish me best of luck please.