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Day 273: Banana-dog

First day back in Paris and already have a loooooong to-do list on hand. Happily though, we are having a spell of Indian summer at the moment, so it’s not too big of a shock to be back from Malaysia. Additionally, the presence of sunshine makes me very happy.

So I decided to walk home this evening and on rue de la Glacière, I came across a florist that not only does beautiful flower arrangement, they even put on smart window display by creatively use fruits to transform it into something new. In this case, meet banana-dog. Isn’t he adorable?

Day 272: Forbidden (to me) mosque

Over the years, I have visited a lot of Buddhist temples, perhaps even more churches/cathedrals, a handful few Hindu temples, and peeked into a synagogue once (not properly visited though). I’m only really missing out on visiting a mosque now, no? The one photographed here is only a small one. Regardless, given I am non-muslim, mosque visit is pretty much out of bound.

I should have probably gone to one in Dubai or Abu Dhabi when I was in the UAE last year. Not in Sharjah though (one even was clearly marked at the doors – non-Muslims forbidden to enter). There are a couple of rare ones that are open to everyone that I know of. However, Abu Dhabi was too far from Sharjah where I was based, whereas Dubai has a fixed guided visit time at 10am that simply wouldn’t work when taken into consideration the morning office traffic flow from Sharjah that could see me stuck for 2-3 hours even at 7am departure. One word – eeek!

Day 271: Tiger en guard

Ok, I’ve been on temple overload this month and it seems you’re on the receiving end too. Between Sri Lanka and Malaysia, I have seen enough statues of Buddha to last me for a while, and taken enough photos too that while sorting through them, I’m getting confused of which is which! Additionally, in Sri Lanka, a shrine can be found easily even along any main road that one takes, so I couldn’t even tell you where I have seen which. Ooops.

This will be the last among the temple-related photos for now though. I’m heading back to Paris tomorrow, but before that, a visit to our local temple is a must, for a prayer of safe journey for myself and good health for my family. The tiger god is a guardian spirit of the temple and from where I stand, it looks calm yet alert and stern, ready to confer its protection. I feel strangely serene here.

Day 270: Cave temple

Ipoh is a former tin mining town, surrounded by caves within limestone hills, a number of which are pilgrimage sites for Buddhist devotees and for visiting tourists to the area. Among the most famous are Perak Cave, Sam Po Tong and Kek Lok Tong, each with impressive temple settings as well as scenic views atop the hills.

In the distant, from Kinta City, one of them can clearly be seen, except with my poor orientation and carelessness in not noting exactly where I was looking, I can’t tell you which it is. I can only deduce that since we were in the south of Ipoh, it would be either Sam Po Tong or Kek Lok Tong? Who wants to play guess the cave temple? ;)

Day 269: Taoist deity

Deity worship usually includes praying to idols that are culturally relatable to the community. Afterall, pilgrims need an image they could believe in. For example, for the Chinese community, there’s a perception of the kind of clothes these deities would wear. You certainly won’t find Christ’s style loin-clothes on an idol around here. (Or at least none that I am aware of.)

There are exceptions of course. This particular deity (Zhang Gong Fa Zhu) has its root in Fujian Taoism, and is particularly interesting, because not only it can be found in black, it is also found in depictions of red or green, pending on its intended purposes. This black idol symbolises its role as a saviour and a protector.

Day 268: Satay vendor

One of my favourite dishes from Malaysia is satay, where chicken or beef (although nowadays some places have even more meat options) have been marinated and then grilled/BBQ-ed over charcoal, giving this succulent skewers of meat that’s best served with chunky peanut sauce that’s spicy and slight sweet at the same time. I don’t even want big chunks of meat, but just small pieces of lean meat cooked to perfection.

No matter where I go in the world though, anytime that I have tried satay when it’s featured in the menu, they have always been rather disappointing. For one, some places thought it’s fine to deep fried the skewers of meat (no, it’s not). Other places make funny sauces and an unfortunate order once had me “enjoying” peanut butter in curry sauce disguise as the satay sauce. That is wrong at sooooo many levels.

Day 267: Guardian temple lion

A temple near home recently underwent some serious renovation and they certainly up the ante at the scale level, particularly with the erection of various statues of a pantheon of deities normally worshipped by those practicing Taoism/Confucianism. Some of them are about the height of 2-3 storeys building!

They also added some traditional decorative elements, such as this guardian temple lion, at the gate to the square of deities. The lions always come in pair, usually one with mouth open and one with mouth shut. They are signs of courage and strength, and protection against bad luck and evil. I am simply drawn to the playful nature depicted by this lion, that life is free of worry and there are bundles of good in the world.

Day 266: Melodic awakening

My greatgrandparents used to keep some chicken and duck at the back of our house (and yes, they did eventually ended up on dinner table). Every morning, the rooster would do its best in waking the household up at sunrise and for us kids who had to be in school early – the first bell rang at 7.30am – the timing worked very well. Best natural alarm clock ever.

Staying at Marina Mandarin Hotel, we are treated to another kind of natural morning greeter – songbirds. Each day a number of them are brought to soothingly entertain the morning away. There may only be a handful few of them but their musical tunes are carried through the entire hotel. It really is very nice to lie in bed while listening to the songs and forget for a moment that I’m actually in the heart of a concrete jungle that is the commercial hub of Singapore.

Day 265: View from KU DÉ TA

I suffer from the guilt of privilege.

Let’s face it – I wine and dine (at times, high end), I shop (although not very often), I travel (and now add to the global carbon burden), I have access to modern technologies, I buy things that I don’t necessarily need. I work hard to get to where I am today and I won’t apologise for enjoying the perks, but there are times I feel a twinge of guilt from the excesses.

This evening is one of those. I am conflicted. I am being treated by Dave (thanks!) to an amazing dinner at an incredible location (look at the view!). At the same time, I am conscious that there are many around the world who are going hungry tonight. On one hand, it’s great that I get to live through such experience. On the other hand, I feel like the money we spent could have gone on to do something more meaningful.

I support a number of charities – it’s not much, but it’s a start – but truthfully, where do I draw the line to balance between giving and receiving?

Day 264: Terracota Warriors

A major difference that one notices between Europe and Asia is the limited number of museums that one can visit. For an island nation of Singapore, if I were asked what can a visitor does, I’m inclined to say “shopping at Orchard Road”, because it seems that’s what many people do. Of course, that’ll also be an unfair depiction, given there are other things that Singapore has to offer.

One of my favourite museums in Singapore is the Asian Civilisation Museum. I love all things cultural and this place has just the right collection to impress me. On top of it all, a number of terracota warriors from Xi’an is currently on exhibit here, and I’d rather not miss it. The travelling army may be small but no less impressive. Perhaps one day I will make it to the original site where the entire treasure trove was unearthed, but for now, this is sufficient :)

Day 263: Chocolate lampshade

For the love of chocolate, this is what I think is the most interesting thing that I’ve photographed today – a chocolate lampshade. La classe! This should go onto my wishlist right away. Does anyone want to buy me one for Christmas? :p

My cousin and I popped in to the Ch•c•lat Research Facility earlier today, partly to admire the collection that they’ve got – they claim to have 100 different flavours (some traditional, some unconventional) – and partly to let me do some chocolate shopping. I picked a tablette of “bubur cha-cha” to test (with a plan to return if I like it) but sadly never took to it. It just tasted like a rather greasy/creamy bar of white chocolate to me. Bummer.

Day 262: Hawker dining

I’m torn. When it comes to food, say, eating out at a restaurant, I prefer one which has limited menu but serve great tasting dishes on offer. Do only a few things, keep it simple, but do it really well, and change according to season. A very sound principle in my opinion.

But when it comes to Malaysia and hawker dining, then I want lots and lots of options. Afterall, the stall owners should have satisfy the principle mentioned-above. Each stall serves a limited few items that are their specialties (at least that’s the concept). And now, I should be spoilt for choice of a wide variety of food without worrying if one single chef is being overextended in terms of his/her culinary repertoir. Win-win, right?

Day 261: Say a little prayer

As a child, I was told, that whenever I burn some joss sticks, the smoke of the incense would carry my wishes to heaven. Invariably, the wishes run along the lines of good health for everyone in my family and success for many endeavours that we undertake. To pray specifically for wealth is not something I would include in my silent chant.

I guess that’s part of the difference between the practice of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in Malaysia that I have observed. In Sri Lanka, the offerings are typically of flowers, food and oil, whereas in Malaysia, incense burning is a lot more prominent. Buddhism in Malaysia is also less pragmatic and perhaps more inclusive, shaped by a mélange of various fractions of Buddhism as well as Taoism and Confucianism, each not thought to be mutually exclusive. Fascinating things, culture and religion are. If only I have more free time, I wouldn’t mind getting to know more in details.

Day 260: Apa khabar?

After over a week of holiday in Sri Lanka, I arrived in Malaysia this morning, having just missed the Malaysia Day which was celebrated yesterday. Officially, this year, it also incorporates the Independence Day celebration, which normally falls on 31 August but due to the dates that Eid-ul-Fitr fell this year, it got shifted by a couple of weeks.

All along the route that I’ve travelled thus far, national flags can be seen prominently displayed, be it outside commercial buildings or domestic residences. Some have kept it low-key with a single flag flying above a pole while some have decided to go the other way by showing off strung small flags running along the length and/or the periphery of the buildings, with/without one (or more) large flag.

Happy (belated) Malaysia Day!

Day 259: Tuk-tuks, all on board

If there’s one mode of public transport most seen around Sri Lanka, it is the tuk-tuk. Small, colourful (some with personalised decor, both interior and exterior) and nifty vehicle that zips through the city and the rural areas, there is no escaping them. I still marvelled at the fact that I saw them up on high hills after manouvering some tricky and windy stretches little roads.

For such a compact vehicle, I have seen it carried more things than a small car could. 6-7 adults squeezed in at the back? No problem. Buying a double bed mattress? Just haul it overhead. Have a bike to carry? Slot it through. Produce to be brought to the market? Pack as much as you can sell for the day (and then some). As for us, we ordered one to take us on a tour around Colombo, seated comfortably, just two persons peering out the “windows”. My last chance too, to see Colombo, before I fly out this evening.

Day 258: Kandyan Dancing

Wedding ceremony in Sri Lanka is interesting and unlike many others that I have attended. Set by the seafront of Galle Face Hotel, my friends Eve and Pras got married at sunset, surrounded by family and friends, officiated by a priest, and entertained by singers, drummers and Kandyan dancers. It was just beautiful.

Claire and I have also actually seen Kandyan dancing while we were in Kandy. Next to the Temple of the Tooth is the largest dance association in Sri Lanka, for about an hour, the tourists are entertained by traditional cultural dances as well as fire-coal walking. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience that we were glad to get a second go at watching them at the wedding.

Day 257: Tsunami Honganji Vihara

We continued our journey towards Colombo, the last leg of the tour from Galle to Colombo. En route, we passed by Peraliya Village where a tall, 54 feet Buddha statue has been erected in memory of the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsumani, with funding assistance from Honganji Temple of Japan. An estimated 2,000 or so villagers and train passengers of Samudra Devi, that happened to be halted neat the village as water surged, perished that day.

Tsunami Honganji Vihara is built based on the Bamiyan Buddha statues of Afghanistan, which were destroyed about a decade ago by the Talibans. Today, it stands facing the sea that is a mere couple of hundred meters away, on a platform guarded by lions on all corners, surrounded by a pond, and linked to the land by a small bridge. The breezy September wind sent the coconut leaves fluttering lightly against the blue sky, revealing little of the destruction of the past, until one casts his/her eyes to the surrounding and found crumbling huts and houses that have since laid uninhabited.

Day 256: Southern coast

It’s no secret that I don’t swim (I am making some effort at learning though) and looking at the crashing waves along the southern coastline of Sri Lanka, I don’t think I’d dare to swim there even if I could! I never stepped into the waters but from where I stood, I’m sure the height of the waves could easily come up to my waist, if not higher.

There were never any breaks to the cycle of waves rolling in and out, and yet, somehow, it was mesmerising to look out from the window of the van, watching the sea riding its natural rhythm. During photographic breaks, it felt great just to stand there for a minute and let the wind weaved through my tresses (and perhaps rather unfortunately, also lifting my skirt at rather inopportune moments when I forgot to hold it down). It was also a kind of calm that I have not experienced in a very long time…

Day 255: Yala safari

During our trip, Claire and I try to vary our activities so we can experience the country as much as our limited schedule allows. We have visited both ancient ruins and modern Buddhist shrines, did a couple of hikes to better appreciate the splendour this country has to offer, soaking in the cultural knowledge whenever possible and now, a safari! Yes, with wind in our hair and a coating of red-sand dust all over us.

Now, the safari at Yala National Park is not to be equated to an African-style safari, with herds of animals running along the jeep. However, our hired 4×4 did zip around the ground, in search of the residents of the park including elephants, leopards (they were too far for me to photograph properly though), deers and macaques. We truly enjoyed this little outing, and had we had more time, we would have considered a full day safari, perhaps with an overnight stay in the park too.

Day 254: Misty railway

I may have watched one too many Bollywood movies when I was a child (my greatgrandpa loved watching the drama with all the poms of singing and dancing in the afternoon tv programming), so while we are in Sri Lanka, I have a new minor obsession – photographing railways. Better if there are people walking along it. Just a silly little image that I have in my head, you know, that I’d like to capture digitally, of the interconnectivity between lives and rail transport.

Yet, the rail-related photo that I like most is one of a small, isolated station. On a misty, seven o’clock morning. We were on our way to Horton’s Plains when we crossed this railway. Taking a chance that no train will be heading towards us, I got our driver to take a short pause so I could whipped out the camera for a shot. As you can see, I am very very pleased with the outcome. And the morning got better after that, with an amazing walk at Horton’s Plains and World’s End. Life is good :)

Day 253: Batalegala Rock

When Claire and I decided to start travelling from Colombo to Dambulla, we missed out on travelling along the scenic Colombo-Kandy Road. Luckily though, we did get to see a part of the route, thanks to our trip to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage from Kandy. The spectacular views of hills and valleys entertained us for the duration of the drive (about 90 minutes for 50km or so – yes, traffic moves slooooow here).

One of the most striking sights was the Batalegala Rock, standing solidly at nearly 800m tall, which is not unlike the Sigiriya Rock which we climbed just yesterday. Nicknamed the Bible Rock (something about resemblance to an open book), it was shrouded by thin layer of mist, giving it an aura of mystery and intrigue. I heard it could be scaled by those interested in mountaineering. Well, good luck!

Day 252: Cheeky monkey

I am torn between writing lengthy posts of my trip in Sri Lanka and keeping these daily Project 365 entries short as usual. Perhaps it would be best that I write on the trip fully as separate stand alone travel articles, where I would have more photos to go with the entries too. Sounds like an idea?

There are quite a lot of monkeys running around at the Dambulla Cave Temple complex where Claire and I spent our second afternoon in Sri Lanka. They are constantly on the move, some even involved in play (that looks more like fighting – they don’t play nice), and a few of them constantly checking out new food sources. By that, I mean the flowers offered by the visiting pilgrims. They keep sneaking in and out of the caves, and quickly swiped fresh flowers off the table to take away for a snack. Very cheeky indeed.

Day 251: Ayubowan

First, there was a technical error with our plane. Then I missed my connection flight. By the time I arrived in Colombo, I was about five hours behind the original schedule. My friend Claire flew in from London to meet me there. Luckily (sort of) she had her share of flight delay too. We ended up arriving less than an hour apart, pretty much adhering to our initial plan, except we both arrived in the afternoon instead of the morning.

It hard to believe that I’m in Sri Lanka. Hot and relatively humid weather hit me at once, not unlike the conditions in Malaysia. Eager to get going, we spotted our hired driver for the week and instructed him to start making our way to Dambulla, some 150km away. The journey would be taking us some 4 hours on the road, if not more. That’s just how things are. And we have this little elephant talisman on the van’s dashboard to keep us away from harm.

Let the week-long adventure begins!

Day 250: St Sulpice

Every so often, I’d pass by near St Sulpice. Well, usually when I’m on my way to Pierre Hermé. (A girl has got to have her pastry fix, no?) The last time I spoke about this church, I touched upon the subject of the (infamous) rose line in Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This time, I am content to just admire its external architecture and the mismatched towers.

For a few years, the external façade was under restoration work behind scaffolds. It was only in the last few months that we get to see its full glorious self again. What I really like about this church is the presence of the loggia which reminds me of the many palazzi of Venice and Rome. One could very easily be transported back in time, retracing the footsteps of the influentials who used the loggia as a place to see and be seen.

Day 249: Vintage Paris

In many ways, Paris is still locked in the past. Look at the skyline a hundred years ago, and look at it again today. There aren’t many differences to be found. Sure there may be a crane or two appearing near the periphery limit, but centrally, it has stayed true to how Baron Haussmann had intended the city to be. This picture could have easily been shot decades ago. (I was at the top of Centre Pompidou for this photo, in case you’re wondering.)

This is a good time to introduce you to Paris Avant, a site that posts pictures of Paris of today and yesteryear, side by side, every day. To date, over 1650 pairs of photos have been published. Truly amazing effort by Frédéric Botton. (And here I am, struggling to be up to date with my daily entry – how embarassing. I’m working on it, I’m working on it. I promise.)

Day 248: City lights

Strolling Champs-Élysées is not something I do at a regular basis. Since moving here, I may have sauntered over perhaps for a total of 2-3 times? By contrast, I’ve been to Montmartre about once a month, despite it being on the opposite end of the city from me. Then again, Paris as a wonderful city for exploration, there are plenty of nooks and corners to discover that repeated trips to same places are sometimes not warranted.

Nonetheless, once back on Champs, it’s easy to remember why this is the City of Lights. Even past midnight and at wee hours in the morning, there are so much lives and activities here, vehicles zooming past, shop lights glowing (like this display at Peugeot), and the clickety-clack of high heels hitting the pavements. All things dynamic and go, go, go, yet everything’s also elegant at the same time. In the distant, at the right time, you’ll even see the sparkles from la Tour Eiffel. Suddenly, life is bright and shiny again. It’s magic :)

Day 247: I spy Montmartre

With my friends from Dublin visiting, and seeing today’s also the first Sunday of the month when many museums and historical landmarks are free to visit, we opted for the Museum of Modern Art at Centre Pompidou. It has an amazing collection, ranging from the “classics” (Picasso, Miro, Gris etc) to the quirky (there are pieces I have yet to decipher) – just the perfect place to spend a lovely afternoon together.

Something outside the windows kept catching my attention – the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur. And with it, it brought to mind an exhibition by Henri Rivière which I saw a couple of years back, displaying some prints of 36 Views of Eiffel Tower, which in turn was inspired by Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Can I call dibs on photographic version of 36 Views of Sacré-Cœur? I can’t imagine it would be easy with a point-n-shoot camera, especially for distant views. Now that we’re coming into winter too, daylight hours are limited (I do need to work) and absolute clear days at weekends may be hard to come by. We’ll see…

Day 246: Portrait

Over and around the back of the Basilica of Sacré Cœur is Place du Tertre. I don’t really remember ever passing it in tranquility – between restaurant terrace seatings, artists, portrait painters and the visitors, it is always teeming with people. Perhaps one day I would get there early so I can enjoy some peace and quiet time up on the hill, overlooking the beautiful yet sleepy Paris.

The trade of portrait paintings is roaring today. From an easel to another, you may assess the style of drawing before deciding on just the way you’d like to be immortalised on paper. Some portrait painters are more serious in their endeavour, drawing classically astute portrait. Other portrait painters prefer to produce caricature or allegorical object.

There are other artists there too, whose work (many Paris-themed) I was keen to look at but alas couldn’t buy. Just the thought that I may have to move at some is enough to spook me from accummulating things. Besides, without my own apartment, where am I going to realistically hang those?

Day 245: Respect of…

… love, peace and nature.

I don’t know if it’s me paying way too much attention at random things, or if it just happens that there are a lot of notices posted on public poles lately. And most of them tend to run along the vein of massage service offered so please rip one of these phone number strips below. Yes, if you are wondering, there are people who take those numbers.

It is therefore refreshing to see a different kind of note. One with positive message of respect and tolerance, one designed to make you take a minute to reflect on its message. Perhaps it’s an aesthetique thing, but I like the representation that love transcends race. In this increasingly mobile and cosmopolitan world, relationships are certainly stretched beyond country and cultural boundary. Such transformation can only enhance our lives and the way we see the world and its people. I’d say, keep it up!

Day 244: Picasso, painted

At the junction between rue de Haudriettes and rue des Archives sits a mural called La femme, lumière de l’homme. Painted by Combas in hommage of the great Cubic master, Picasso, who called Paris his home for many year, where he lived, painted and sculpted in Montmartre. In fact, not very far from where this spot itself – less than 5 minutes walk – is Musée Picasso, where thousands of his works (plus his private collection) make up the exhibition collection.

This photo above is but about 1/3 of the entire mural.The very top panel was a reminder of how Montmartre and Paris used to be, and the middle panel, the name of the painting reflected is at the tip of my tongue yet somehow I couldn’t just spew a name and get it right. It’ll come back to me some time. Meanwhile, spot the amusing tiled floor of this picture.


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