Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Open Houses - the Malaysian Way

With Raya (aka Eid) month celebrations, went round to a few open houses in London. The concept of the 'open house' is a very Malaysian/Eastern custom - the home of the host is literally 'opened' to friends and family (and friends of friends or family of friends - you get the picture) at any time throughout the whole day. You'd have traditional food and cookies spread on the table buffet style and everyone is talking, eating and laughing - a strong sense of community permeates throughout the home.

This year I was fortunate to attend two at Lena and Richard's in Reading and at Hani's

Thank you ladies for your generous hospitality and warmth.

Open Houses

A Vista in the Kew

Was in and around a few interesting places London again for the past few weekends. Seriously, I wonder how I get into so many activities without my even trying. That's how it is with this city so much so that come Monday morning, I'm absolutely knackered and have difficulty dragging out of bed in the AM.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory

Two weekends back was the London Open House weekend- a spectacular event where 700 private buildings in and around London are opened to the public. In conjunction there were tours, walks and exhibitions to garner further appreciation and education of the architecture and landscapes of London. I managed to book two events i.e. the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the Architectural Tour of the Kew Gardens. But due to the timing, had to give away the former to A and B who had an interesting experience (A's account here) I had a totel blind 'date' to the tour as my appointed 'partner' had to go to York on a sudden emergency. But the company was just as pleasant nevertheless.

A Nice Old Tree

The Architectural Tour of the Kew Gardens consisted of the fundamental buildings in the famous Kew - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kew once belonged to the Royal family but was given to the people by Queen Victoria.It boasts the largest herbarium in the world with 7 million specimens and has the most comprehensive plant collections in the UK.

The Palm House

One of the most fascinating was the Palm House - the oldest and largest Victorian greenhouse to survive to this day with a Tropical atmosphere within. 'Palm House' because it was a status symbol then to have tropical palms growing in the greenhouse! The fact that it was built of curved glass in the shape of an ark attested to the ingenuity and artistry of the architect, Richard Turner. That was back in 1848 and still looks as intricate and imposing today.

Water lilies in the Water Lily House

Went to the Water Lily house too where they housed the giant Amazonian water lily plants and a myriad of water lily species.

The Davies Alpine House

I told a colleague of mine, J, about my visit to the Kew and he had a strange story to add. Back in the 80's, he was doing survey work on the upper floors of the Kew Palace. It was long work, looking under floorboards and measuring, and soon he and his colleague found that it was getting dark. His mate decided to get a Mars bar from the cafe downstairs and J was soon alone in the darkened rooms (it wasn't fixtured as the palace wasn't used on the upper floors. Only the first lower floors were used for the Museum). He carried on the work and in a few minutes heard the thud of footsteps of his mate walking about. He called out 'That was quick one!' but when he looked up, there was nobody there. Puzzled, he looked around but could see no one. It was but a few moments then that he broke out in cold sweat and hurried downstairs. His mate only re-appeared much later and J told him about his experience. Apparently he wasn't the only one to have heard or seen things in the Kew palace.

The Dutch House i.e. Kew Palace

Unfortunately due to having another appointment with a friend, i didn't manage to go to all the other sites e.g. the pagoda, herbarium and different gardens but it was an interesting experience. Think I'll paint a little green on my thumbs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When September Ends...

Summer has come to past, the innocent can never last, wake me up when September ends....

I could only sing this appropriate song this month. It's past mid of it and in case you didn't think it; September is quite eventful - Ramadan, Open House Weekends, final concerts, school term beginnings. But it also means summer's end is nigh, with the light fading quickly (sunsetting earlier 3 mins a day), rainy weather and cold winds. Myself, moved a step into the 30's (aaaargh!)but got nice friends for consolation:)

Here are the highlights of the first weeks of September.

September Babies

The girls of the Shard each had birthdays in September so we celebrated it 'one-leg-kick' (Cantonese slang ) together by watching Pedro Almodovar's latest 'Broken Embraces' which starred Penelope Cruz. It was another good girly night out - had a gift exchange with interesting and beautiful gifts like a piggy bank, bubble gum machine, books on Dreams and an engraved box. After that it was a yummy Carribbean dinner with jerk chicken, ackee and salt fish. Happy Birthday girls!

Imperial War Museum

Paid a visit to the (free) Imperial War Museum in Lambeth North. It was very comprehensive and well-thought with historical representation of the wars of Britain ranging from the Middle East, West Indies, Far East etc. I visited it for the Holocaust exhibition (inspired post-Auschwitz) and was impressed with the perspectives curated on survivor accounts, interviews, photographs and physical items. Jiann wasn't very keen but nevertheless every time I go into a British museum, I never fail to appreciate the respect of knowledge the people here possess and how much effort has been put in to making the exhibits and displays interesting and interactive.

Birthday Party

Had a fab night with friends, flatmates and frisbee kaki chez moi. Thanks to Kai Ling for organizing this. I got very nice presents indeed, very nice. One of them being

a Fender acoustic guitar

Books: "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" by Tracy Quan and "By the Time You Read This" by Lola Jaye

Hairdryer: Per Una by M&S 2000watt

Thank you everyone for such a lovely and memorable birthday. Bless you!:)

p.s. Another very nice book from Jas arrived from Amazon today i.e. A Woman's Book of Yoga by M.Siebel and Hari Kaur Khalsa

The Thames River Festival

The Mayor's Festival on the River Thames is an annual festival held along the popular spots on the Thames with lots of events i.e. theatre, music, dance, a free boat ride on the Thames, stalls - all very happening. Paid me a visit and got on a jembe drumming workshop...what luck!

Thank You for the Music, ABBA tribute concert

Went for my first 'picnic' concert where we spread a blanket (despite the chilly wind) and enjoyed an evening-full of ABBA goldies. Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were supposed to be present but only saw Benny onstage who played traditional Swedish folk music. Elaine Paige, Kylie Minogue, Chaka Khan, Jason Donovan, Marti Pello (lead singer of Wet Wet Wet) all belted ABBA schlager but it was glorious as Kal and I danced and sang the 70's on the field.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Krakow - Auschwitz

Took a trip to Krakow for the Bank Holiday weekend. Although I have many friends from Poland, I've yet to visit the country. I found the Poles very helpful and humble.

Krakow, the old capital of Poland, is a charming city on its own. Not as fairytale-like as Prague (though I felt a little deja-vu), the city is a grittier and tougher version of the old East-European city.

One of the main destinations for tourists like myself was the Wielicka Salt Mine about 30 mins away by tour bus from Krakow. Arriving in the city, Alden and I got rained out (bringing the British weather with us) so we took refuge underground - half a km below the surface with a maze of 300km tunnels. It was surreal and reminded me of the Derinkuyu underground city in Turkey but less smelly as the salt had absorbed moisture and odors. Of course with every structure above and below entirely of salt, one could not resist scratching the walls to have a taste. (sorry no pics as most of my photos in the dark are just rubbash)

Coming to Krakow would also mean a pilgrimage to the worst scenes in the history of mankind - the Auschwitz concentration camp. As Mr. Yap has blogged about it you can read our experience here

We also had a free guided tour from Andre from Traveller's Inn Hostel - a very nice chap who brought us around the Podgorze district. Podgorze was the former sanctioned ghetto during WWII by the Nazis coralling all Jewish Poles behind a wall. This was the location where Oskar Schindler set up his enamel and ammunitions factory and risked life and limb to save 'his' 1,200 Jewish workers.

Another interesting Polish phenomenon I've discovered are the 'milk bars' i.e. 'bar mlezcny'. A milk bar is the leftover remnants of the welfare state of Poland which offered subsidized cheap meals for workers with no canteens. Hence the food was very cheap but yummy nevertheless. It's name was derived from the fact that then, most of the food served was dairy and flour based i.e. 'pierogi' (a kind of stuffed dumpling) and pancakes.

Besides the walking, eating, taking photos, tours with the hostel guide and sharing a room with anti-fascist German students (coined-term 'Nazi Fighters'), it was a short, cheap and cheerful and I found myself culturally and educationally satisfied.