Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Singapore I - Presentation is everything

Rather than spend all my time shopping, this time I decided I would go 50 - 50 on shopping and sight seeing.

On Orchard Road, the apple green abaya adorned with like-coloured sequins caught my eye. A creative idea for those who choose modesty with colour in mind in place of the black abaya of Saudi.
After the ritual visit to C K Tangs and Paragon, I set on the tourist trail.

First stop, the Singapore River cruise, which leaves from Clark Quay. Named after Sir Andrew Clarke, Singapore's second Governor and Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1873 to 1875, it positioned Singapore as the main port for the Malay states of Perak, Selangor and Sungei Ujong.

My last visit to CQ was about 20 years ago when the first redevelopment program of transforming the old shop houses into a cluster of quaint restaurants and pubs took place.If you get the timing right, you are in for a great photo shoot from sunset to twilight.

Having strength in numbers, a large group of Mandarin-speaking tourists led by an aggressive tour leader bull-dozed ahead of us.

Who says English is the most important language in the world? But as luck would have it, the English tour being less popular had a boatload of only 6 passengers. And so in peace and quiet we slipped into the setting sun!Now overly developed with restaurants and pubs on either side of the banks, CQ is the watering hole for expats and Singaporean yuppies. Indo Chin exudes ethnic charm but others remind of plastic fast food outlets.

The scenic trip traverses under at least 3 bridges.

The Fullerton Hotel has a colourful history, with beginings as Fort Fullerton in 1820, strategically positioned to protect the colony from intruders. In 1867 it was converted to the General Post Office Building.

By 1919 the real estate value had risen and an extravagant project or rebuilding, costing $4 million, was undertaken by the then Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford. A British architect from England with aspirations of practicing his skills in classical Greek architecture, (after having gone to town with the Mogul style in Kuala Lumpur perhaps!) tore down the Aberdeen granite turrets and up went the Doric columns.

In 1997, Sino Land of Hong Kong, a sister company of Far East Organisation of Singapore, acquired the Fullerton Building and spent close to S$300 million converting Fullerton Building into a hotel and commercial complex.

Formula One's first night race was held in Singapore on 28 September 2008, estimated to draw 80,000 spectators, but actually packed in 100,000, which exceeded other F1 events. The F1 Grand Stand and track is set around the Bay.

The Singapore Flyer, I hear, is the in-place to have family day parties and exotic theme outings from massage (in the capsule) to fashion shoots.

As we approached the mouth of the Singapore River, the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay came into view. Initially described as "two copulating aardvarks" as the original drawing comprised two unadorned glass cases covering the theatres.
Eventually when the two-architect team split, the domes were transformed by adding a cladding of aluminum sunshades in the final design, resulting in the "Durian", as this building is now affectionately called.
As the boat enters the Bay, the active construction site of Marina Bay Sands is seen in the horizon. Singapore's first casino promises to be the most expensive casino in the world with Las Vegas Sands committing an investment of S$3.85 billion in the project, not including the fixed S$1.2 billion cost of the 6,000,000 square feet (560,000 m2) site itself.

The projected date of completion is end 2009, however recent rumours foretell money woes to the tune of S$2 billion resulting in project delays. On the return trip, a bejewelled skyline and reflection on the Bay carves and elegant picture. Not forgetting the signature Merlion . . . And another charming bridge. The Asian Civilisations Museum stands across from the Fullerton Hotel. Well lit at night, it definitely attracted me enough to plan a visit the next day. A fearsome bungee jump contraption guarantees the jump of your life back in Clark Quay.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Jakarta Rediscovered IV - Pasar Ikan, the legacy of the Dutch East India Company

Day 3 in Jakarta

My trusty cabbie, Pak Tarsono, and I ventured to Pasar Ikan in search of the Dutch warehouses dating back to the Dutch East India Company. Dutch ships arrived in Jayakarta in 1596. In 1619 the Dutch renamed the city Batavia. After the bankrupt company was liquidated on 1 January 1800, its territorial possessions became the property of the Dutch government.Commercial opportunities attracted indigenous groups from Sumatra, Ambon, Sulawesi and many Chinese migrants. There were numerous wars and disturbances across the archipelago in efforts to resist establishment of a Dutch hegemony resulting in the Java War and the 30-year Acheh War. Travelling northwards, we passed the districts of Gajah Mada and Glodok. Every conceivable space is utilised for commercial enterprise, be it rent-a-park for lorries or sidewalk galleries for artists.In 1740, Chinese migrants were moved outside the city walls to Glodok after a massacre in which 5,000 Chinese were killed. Though still a landmark neighbourhood, Glodok has never quite recovered from the deadly riots that recurred in May 1998. Built in the 19th century in Art Deco style, the railway station of BEOS (Bataviasche Ooster Spoorweg Maatschappij) marks the entry to Kota Tua (Old City). The buildings approaching Fatahillah Square reflect more of the Art Deco architecture, several having undergone refurbishment and now homes to banks. On the banks of the Sungai Kali Besar (Biggest River), major reconstruction promises to rejuvenate and beautify the area to its former glory.Once more it is easy to slip back in time as the old wooden structures still remain to this day.Pasar Ikan (Fish Market) was elusive to us as signage to this important site was lacking.

The old Dutch warehouses of the Dutch East India Company were well protected by canons and high ramparts. This would have been the stronghold of spices and other eastern treasures for export back to Holland. "Konservasi Fisik Gedung Museum" was on the notice board indicating an ongoing conservation program for this historical complex.
Vestige of Dutch sluice gates adjacent to the warehouses where boats were loaded with booty, to be transferred to Dutch frigates anchored in the Jakarta Bay before setting sail for the motherland. Fast forward to the present. The middle class of Indonesia amounts to 10% of the population. Do the math: 10% of 200 million is 20 million!

A detour to Pluit district, a newer Chinatown, was a eye opener. Mega-houses set closely next to one another lined both sides of the road. The number of cars per household was notably more than two. Pak Tarsono asked me if we in Malaysia also liked having eight cars, one for each of the kids, wife etc ? So too were the satellite dishes, or parabolas as Pak Tarsono called them, on the rooftops.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Jakarta Rediscovered III - Fatahillah Square in Kota Tua

Kota Tua or Old City, formerly Batavia during the Dutch Occupation, lies in the northern limits of Jakarta, abutting the Jakarta Bay.

The ruling Dutch governed Java from Fatahillah Square. Reminiscent of European architectural style, the large expanse of space , is an unexpected relief from the congestion of the modern city. The Stadhuys occupy pride of place around the Square and remain an impressive reminder of the past, currently housing the History Museum, Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum.

The Puppet Museum or Museum Wayang, with the undoubtedly Dutch facade was previously a church built in 1640. It was destroyed by an earthquake and underwent several major renovations. It was converted to a museum in 1939 and finally was inaugurated as the Puppet Museum in 1975.

The elegant carved teak door leads to the inner courtyard where Dutch engravings are indicative of its beginnings as a church.

A large collection of wayang kulit, wayang golek and masks from all over Indonesia are cramped into the upper floor. Poor lighting and lack of annotation makes the experience less informative.

Finely crafted life-like puppets.

The museum guides lament the lack of resources and make a desperate effort to sell souvenirs to improve their coffers. The entrance fee of 2,000 rupiahs (RM0.80sen or S$0.30cents!) reflects their dire needs! It looks like the entrance fee has not been revised for some time.

In comparison the entrance fee for the Asian Civilisation Museum in Singapore is a reasonable S$5 ( RM11.50; 31,050 rupiahs).

An interesting display of wayang kulit depicting Dutch and Indonesian figures purportedly for the benefit of audiences in Holland.

Cafe Batavia on the Square has an understated frontage that you could very easily miss. Once you gain access, however, the atmosphere of the 1900's, from decor to crooners, is overwhelming.The teak staircase leads up to the long bar and dinning area. Blue and white Dutch porcelain add further detail to the walls which are covered with dated black and white and sepia pictures from end to end. The effect is dramatic.

One literally keeps slipping in and out of the present, back to the past.

Bright and airy veranda and cosy cafe.

The elegant dinning area . . .

. . . where you can almost feel the presence of past dignitaries.Diners get a great view of the Square.
And that my friends is Cafe Batavia.