Category Archives: Blabber

Hello 2011 – Here’s 2010 in 25 photos

2010 has come and gone.  And an amazing year it was for me.

I haven’t been in this space for a couple of weeks now, but I thought I’d start the new year well by sharing these photographs of how I spent the past year.

Presenting, my 2010 in 25 photos:

This post will also be my second last here. Thank you for reading these past 7 months. But I’m not dropping off the face of this earth! I’m simply moving. So watch out for my last post as I finally reveal my new home.

Thank you 2010. You were absolutely fantastic. Now, I wonder what my 2011 would look like?

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Fulfilling Childhood Dreams: Being an Archaeologist

Archaeological Works in Progress | Caution!

We’re in a two metre deep pit, with an archaeology trowel in one hand and a dust pan in the other, ready to attack the one metre pile of dirt in front of us. We had already dug through 30centimetres worth of gravel – made up of cement and sand I believe – and barely found anything save for an occasional piece of ceremic n some old plaster. I learn that the section I was digging was not old, probably not more than a few decades old since it was previously dug up for telephone line laying purposes.

Dust pan and archaeology trowel

Dust pan and archaeology trowel

Another volunteer hard at work. Notice the grey band? That's the 30 cm gravel we had to dig through.

Some of the things we found

Some of the things we found

One of the two pits we were working on that day

Undug portions of the area

With me for company was a First Year Arts student from a local university. Other volunteers included an Archaeology exchange student from Australia, a recent graduate from a local polytechnic  who was interested in taking up Southeast Asian Studies at a local university, and some members of “Southeast Asian archaeology” I believe. One volunteer had even taken two weeks of leave off work to be part of this meaningful exercise. Another man had stumbled upon the site, walked in for a chat, and for the next one to two hours began digging away.

Some of the volunteers

Some of the volunteers

This group of people have been at this for a couple of days, while this was the first time I was joining them. My back was starting to ache, and my hands were cramping up from the constant digging, while my fingers were starting to blister due to the roughness of the gloves against the skin. I begin to wonder how they could do this everyday without a rest day.  I look around and see two volunteers digging and chatting at the same time, completely unperturbed that their clothes were gradually becoming a shade of soil-brown. I look down at my own clothes, and saw that it was still as good as new. “I must not be working hard enough,” I thought to myself.

Soiled gloves

Soiled gloves

As I continue to dig, I imagine a whole pit full of 14th century vases waiting for me to discover them. It has always been a childhood dream to become an archaeologist but I’ve never found the means to becoming one, especially not in Singapore. I’ve always dreamed of ‘hanging out’ with King Tut and his ‘mummy’ friends, as well as sweeping 2,000 year old Vesuvius-ian ash off the perfectly preserved bodies of Pompeii; digging here in between two of urban Singapore’s oldest buildings – the Former Supreme Court and the Old City Hall –  is the closest I’ve ever been to becoming an archaeologist, and probably the closest I’ll ever be.

Archaeology site

The Archaeology site

After six hours of digging an approximate 2 by 1 by 1 metre space, this was all that was found:

The Find

Some rusted nails and bolts, blue and white European/Chinese ceramic pieces (could not be identified at that time), Fourteenth century water jugs, celedon pieces, a mouth-blown glass bottle mouth piece, Twentieth century machine-made glass bottle pieces. Not a lot for a day’s work, but still giving a little insight into the life of present, colonial, and Temasek (pre-Raffles) Singapore.

In the archaeology pit

Actual sand of Singapore's beach of the past

This is the actual sand of Singapore's beach of the past. Legend says that Sang Nila Utama was allured by the white beaches of Singapore at that time. The City Hall area has been built on top of this old beach. Thanks Chen for the mini History lesson.

Soil Stratification

Stratification of the soil. The area of the left is the "untouched" land of Singapore. The bottom-most is the old beach, the middle, soil that was placed on the beach when land was being build, and the above band, rocks that were placed for foundation for the roads. The right side is an area that had once been dug up to place piping.

More artefacts found

More artefacts found

The green shards are pieces of celedon ware

The green shards are pieces of celedon ware

It was fulfilling one day of digging and playing archaeologist. If you want to join in to help Singapore understand her past better, you can contact Chen (shien[at]seaarchaeology[dot]com) with your name,contact number n available timings. The dig goes on till 30 Nov (0930-1830 everyday, rain or shine, save for Mondays). For more information on the archaeological happenings in Singapore and on this dig click here and here respectively. I’ll be there again next Sunday (14 Nov) if you would care to join me.

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Heritage Trails in Singapore


I can’t believe I just discovered this website (http://heritagetrails.sg).
This website, brought to us by the National Heritage Board in Singapore, offers trails for one to discover’s Singapore’s heritage and look into the history of the country.  This website reminds us, Singaporeans and foreigners alike, that there is much more to Singapore than Orchard Road and its shopping malls. One can, for instance, explore the areas of Balestier, Bukit Timah and Fort Canning, to name a few.
Now a perfect addition to this website would an phone app so that one can walk through the area with ease.

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The Mosuo People of Lugu Lake

Leaving Lijang Gu Cheng (Lijiang Old Town) and a 7-hour bumpy bus ride after, we arrived in Lugu Hu (Lugu Lake). Lugu Lake was not like what everyone had raved about. Translucent blue waters and clear cloudless skies? Neither of these was present. What we were treated to instead were dark waters, which only reflected the state of the skies – gloomy, grey and cloudy. We stayed for two days (not by choice, rather because we could not get a seat on the next day’s bus) walking around doing nothing much.  We had wanted to cycle around the lake, but changed our minds when we found out that not only was the lake’s circumference 53 kilometres, the route was an undulating tarred road we had to share with vehicles that passed through the area. That said, the two days spent at Lugu Lake were no less fulfilling and enjoyable for a couple of reasons – the company and the mini history lesson I received.

Lugu Lake is located in the North West region of Yunnan Province. The villages surrounding the lake are home to various ethnic minorities, including the Mosuo people (some 20,000 of them stay in this area). Now, one of the most fascinating aspects about the Mosuo people is that they are probably the only (or at least one of the very few) matriarchal societies that still exist in the entire world.

A bit of a history and culture lesson:

The Matriarchal Society

In Mosuo society, children are under the custody of their mothers, take their mothers’ surnames, and live in their mother’s household. One woman, the “grandmother”, though not necessarily the oldest of her generation, but the strongest, will become the head of the household. In short, the women in the family run the show.

We went to a local's house. This lady introduced herself as "the future head of the household"

So what then do the men do? To quote what a Mosuo man, whom we met who told us stories on the Mosuo culture, said:

“In the Mosuo culture, it is the women’s world, but it’s the men’s paradise.”

Men have no say in the household, but they do have to go out and work, though I’m not too sure what work they have to do. They do not have to manage their children, although they are very much part of their children’s lives. They have no say in their own household, neither do they have a say in their “wives” household. They have no part in the kitchen or in managing finances. Isn’t this then, as the local said, “men’s paradise”?

A Mosuo village

A typical Mosuo house

The Interior of a Mosuo Household

A Mosuo feast

The Walking Marriage

Another interesting fact is that the Mosuo society does not subscribe to a system of marriage that we’re used to – man and woman marry; woman moves into man’s household; man are the head of the household. Instead, the Mosuo man and Mosuo women do not marry and believe in a “walking marriage”.

Picture this: A Mosuo woman at coming-of-age (13 years old) gets her own room. She meets a suitor and if he’s interested, he will go to her room at night, and hang his hat outside the door to indicate that someone is in her room. He must then leave by the morning. This happens every night during their courtship. The day the man is no longer interested in the woman, he will not show up. The day the woman is no longer interested in the man, she closes the door and does not allow him to enter. As simple as that. Hence the term “walking marriage” was borne from the action of the man walking to his partner’s room every night and leaving in the morning.

This may sound like the optimum setting for promiscuity, but in actual fact, apparently some 90% or so Mosuo people stay faithful to their partners once their relationship has been stabilised.

Mosuo women (and one Mosuo man) in their traditional outfits in some touristy dance event we attended.

The History

Historically, the Mosuo people became a matriarchal society as a means of survival. To cut the long story short, every person in the Mosuo household, which typically has 10-20 people (sometimes more), has a role. In the event of a union between man and woman in the Mosuo culture, or rather the stabilising of a relationship since the idea of “marriage” does not exist, neither man nor woman will leave the household. This means that each household will not lose a particular role overnight and will remain strong in numbers in the face of adversity. Many centuries later, this culture remains almost the same.

An old Mosuo woman sitting by Lugu Lake

Those are three pigs deboned and preserved for future consumption, a tradition in a Mosuo household

Some local Mosuo kids we met when exploring the area

I had first heard of the Mosuo people in a documentary I had chanced upon on TV some years back and was most intrigued by its culture and the idea of “walking marriage”. Having known of their existence, it was most insightful for me to get a taste of  the Mosuo culture, interact with actual Mosuo people and see their stories come to life.

And here’s one ethnic minority group in China slightly better understood. Now another 54 to go.

Photo credits: Thanks to Seng for some of the photos. Your photographic skills do the place more justice.

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Volcanic Villages on Merapi

Volcanic Villages on Merapi | Photo Credit: John Stanmeyer, National Geographic (http://bit.ly/dBcYEZ)
Mount Merapi has been making the news this week with its major eruptions on Tuesday and Thursday that have killed 34 people and displaced tens of thousand others. I was looking at this album of photos on the volcanic eruptions when this aerial shot of the volcanic village on Mount Merapi really struck me. I was amazed by the sheer number of villages that were built on the mountain. To quote:

“Carving its slopes with steppes, farmers have set up croplands and villages as far up Mount Merapi’s ridges as possible. The attraction of Merapi’s rich volcanic soils is apparently greater than the threat of burning lava, toxic gas, or smothering mud from one of the word’s most active and dangerous volcanoes.

Worldwide, volcanic soils cover only one percent of Earth’s land but feed about 10 percent of all people, according to National Geographic magazine.”

If you’re keen to read more about the volcano, here‘s a good article on Mbah Marijan, the Gatekeeper of Mount Merapi. He has since passed away in the recent eruptions.

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Singapore Airlines Announcements

In the past week, Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced two pieces of good news for travellers who can actually afford to fly Singapore Airlines.

1)     Flights to South America

Now this announcement got me really excited. For the longest time, South America felt like the other end of the world (though in actual fact, it really is). With the introduction of these flights, travelling to South America feels like a much more attainable goal. Imagine the places one can visit:

Machu Picchu in Peru…

 

 

the Salt Flats in Bolivia…

 

Bolivian Salt Flats | Photo Credit: http://www.webalice.it/edmtromb/blog/salar4.jpg

 

the Amazon Forest

 

 

– the opportunities are endless.

The first SIA South America-bound flights, which will fly via Barcelona in Spain, will arrive at Sao Paulo, Brazil sometime in early 2011.

2)     SIA introduces WiFi on flights

For the social media junkie who finds the need to tweet, check facebook, and “check-in” on foursquare at any given opportunity, this service is most welcomed. Imagine an update that says,” I’m flying over the Indian Ocean”. How awesome is that.

SIA is not the first airline to introduce such a service; in fact some American airlines have been offering the service since last year. That said, I’m not too sure how high the take-up rate would be as I reckon the service will come at quite a hefty price. This article in Wall Street Journal seems to indicate that not many American travellers utilise this service.

Unfortunately, I will probably never be able to afford to fly SIA in a long time to come (or ever), so looks like South America and WiFi on flights will remain unrealisable dreams for me. For now.

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Under-travelled in South East Asia

About a week ago, I received a CouchSurfing message from an American guy a fellow Couchsurfer/friend and I had brought around Singapore when he visited sometime last year. What I learnt about him during our previous conversations was that he was a drummer who had, for 2 years, played on cruise ships, and due to his job, had been to a good 170 cities in the world. Yet, he never really fully got to experience each destination as he was often just in each place for less than 24 hours. When we met, he had just disembarked his cruise ship for the last time, and was helding back to Philadelphia, USA to find a regular job.

Now, almost a year later, he was intending to come back to South East Asia to get a more wholesome experience of the area and he asked me for some recommendations. I thought about the places that I have been to, then I realised that I could not give him any good recommendations as I had not travelled extensively enough around the region.

Malaysia: all over Peninsula Malaysia (a “million” times over), East Malaysia (once)
Indonesia: Lombok (once)
Thailand:  Bangkok (many times), Koh Samui, Krabi
Singapore: Home sweet home

Pulau Redang, Terengganu, Peninsula Malaysia

Gunung Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia

That’s it.

No Cambodia. No Vietnam. No Laos. No Myanmmar. No The Philippines. No Brunei. And I have not even been to a considerable amount of the countries I have actually stepped foot on.

I almost felt embarrassed having to admit to him that I could not give him suggestions based on personal experience as I am pretty “under-travelled” in the region, but still gave him some suggestions based on my own knowledge of “popular destinations” anyway.

It’s definitely time to start exploring this beautiful region a little more.

Now the question is: which country/city/area of South East Asia should I visit next?

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