Friday, 27 February 2009

Surabaya Revisited - The Rocky Story

For me, Indonesia always holds an unmistakable lure, be it Bali, Jogjakarta or Surabaya. There is magic in the air and each trip has been one discovery after another.

Since our last visit 3 years ago, I have gained a friend who hails from Surabaya. Rocky, is a yogi of Japanese-Indonesian heritage, whom I met on a yoga retreat to Bhutan, a year and a half ago. Sympatico would describe our relationship.

Luck was on my side when he confirmed he was in Surabaya at the time of my visit, and not on one of his frequent sojourns to Bali for personal yoga classes with his clients.
He had arranged a packed program for me starting with a special yoga class in a spa. It was there that the next surprise unfolded - an interview by the local daily, Jawa Pos (Java Post) for a feature article. This included a photo shoot for the spread. It turned out to be an interactive interview, where I learnt as much of Surabaya living as they did of my lifestyle.
Yoga practitioners will be interested to know that since our hoo-hah about yoga in Malaysia, Indonesia has come out with a fatwa against the practice of yoga for muslims! They blame us for this turn of events.
Many photographs later, we were off for a well-earned meal of ikan panggang (grilled fish) and pepper crab at a seafood restaurant. Yum.

The next day I attended a 7 am yoga class at Atlas Gym where Rocky had been instrumental in establishing the yoga studio. His poster stands as evidence by the poolside.

The gym has 2 swimming pools, tennis, squash, weights, machines, Pilates, dance, yoga and a couple of cafeterias which serve up a tasty nasi goreng ( fried rice). The yoga classes are popular as you can see from the number of mats laid out. You are allotted a place number upon booking for a class. By the end of the class there were mats occupying every available space - easily close to 50!

After yoga, I found Rocky working out with his personal trainer. I was given a few tips for great abs and was off to the machines.

True to fitness regimes, we kept up to the 2-hourly feeding schedule. Breakfast was a tasty fried kuey teow (flat rice noodles), not particularly a health food option, before checking out his latest project for the past year - the building of Rumah Rocky (Rocky's House). It is situated in the older residential area of East Surabaya amongst plenty of greenery and quiet narrow lanes.

Earlier I had asked as to the theme of his house - 'Indian' was the reply. As soon as I laid my eyes upon the structure, I was immediately reminded of the Red Fort or Lal Quila, one of old Delhi's monuments of red sandstone walls with turrets and bastions. The 2-storey building was 75% complete under the watchful eye of the proud owner.

Rocky tells me that he has ended up being the architect, contractor and interior decorator to achieve the outcome and effect he wants. This is his dream - a yoga studio-cum-home in gentle surroundings.

The ground floor studio is spacious with a granite feature wall recessed behind the white Mogul arches. A small pantry to cater for refreshments for clients is tucked away in a quiet nook.

The emphasis on natural ventilation of the entire house has been painstakingly thought through by the architect-cum-contractor. This vent goes all the way around the house and through to the top floor providing good air circulation. Go green Rocky!The mezzanine houses the studio apartment and a private balcony. Being a keen shopper, the walk-in-cupboard has been dedicated a luxurious space within the bathroom suite.The upstairs studio is almost double the size of the downstairs one. It is slated to be a hot studio. Note the through ventilation idea again...From the studio, the view of the surrounding neighbourhood is capitivating.

As I walked down the steps of this puri (Indonesian castle), I felt very happy for my friend who has managed to fulfill his dreams and aspirations so aesthetically. Namaste Rocky...

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Reader

The Reader, directed by Stephen Daldry, set in post WWII Germany, is adapted from the best seller of the same name by Bernhard Schlink. The author was involved in the making of the movie from start to finish and insisted it be in English.

The book took 10 years to translate. The Germans have a word for it: Vergangenheitsbewtigung — more or less, “coming to terms with the past.” It’s not an easy concept to translate into English; even less so, perhaps, into the American idiom.
The Story
The melancholic Michael Berg (Ralph Finnes) reflects on his past as certain images and places trigger his memory of the summer of 1958 when he was 15 years old.
It was by chance the young Michael (David Kross) met Hannah Schmidt (Kate Winslet), a 30-something tram conducter, on the way back from school. He was feeling sick and she gave him a helping hand. It turned out to be scarlet fever which left him bedridden for months.

On recovery, he brought a bouquet of flowers to thank her but her response was cold. His attraction to her brought him back on a second visit which lead to the begining of a summer infatuation that was to have had a profound effect on the young Michael.

Apart from the intimacy, the couple had a fairly detached relationship until the reading started. From the Odyssey to Lady Chatterley's Lover, Michael read to Hannah, initially after the love-making but then she turned the tables and insisted on the reading first.

The spoiler: No, I wont be that mean to spoil it for you . . .


The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw - Friday 2 January 2009

Under the gloss of high production value, under the sheen of hardback good taste, there is something naive and glib and meretricious. It left a very strange taste in my mouth., Mike McCahill - 31 December 2008

The revelation of evil not only confounds the characters here; it numbs the film, stifles whatever wayward life it once had in it.

Rotten Tomatoes
The Reader is a thoughtful and absorbing film, which is packed with delicately-structured twists and punctuated with truly impressive performances.

A superbly crafted yet oddly unmoving film that's easier to admire than to genuinely like.

Best evidence of what a magnetic presence Kate Winslet is: When her role diminishes in the second half of The Reader, the movie disintegrates.

A slow-moving but absorbing story of sexual awakening and moral dilemmas.

At times The Reader is an interesting exploration of both the needs of man and the limits of law. But there are so many dead spots in the film after it gets rolling that the rolling too often comes to a stop.

Have a good read or viewing . . .

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Old Friends

It would seem natural to talk of old friends on Valentines Day.
It never ceases to amaze me the surprises life has in store for us; around the next corner, the next day or the next minute.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from someone I met in 1970.

Although an image would not emerge immediately, the unravelling of the story came to light after painstaking meanderings through the archives of the memory banks yielding flashes of images, snippets of conversations and of course emotions at the time.
As I discovered, events like grave illness in the family play a major role in literally wiping out all evidence of attendant episodes in one's life. Perhaps wiping out may be too strong, but certainly buried deep would be appropriate. Priding myself as one who remembers details more than some, I was annoyed to be confronted with this obvious lapse.

Short of self hypnosis, this became an exercise in self-analysis evoking emotions from sadness, disbelief, anger, grief and finally acceptance. The journey was exciting and left me with a sense of wanting to know more. The realisation of ones individual vulnerability is humbling.

Perception is in the eyes of the beholder. We each lay significance on things that impact us personally affecting the flavour of memories. This is a good thing because when the two sides do eventually come together, the canvas becomes complete. So here's to old and new friends where ever you may be. Savour life.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Dubai - People shots

The population of the emirate was 1,422,000 as of the 2006 census, which included 1,073,000 males and 349,000 females. As of 1998, 17% of the population of the emirate was made up of UAE nationals. The rest comprised the Asian expatriate population, namely Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan, and only 3% of the total population was categorised as "Western".

The 3% enjoying the beach

The rest enjoying the beach in their own way.
Emirati ladies at Gold Souk
Diverse ethnicity

This demographic profile may change with the current economic climate in a tailspin. A number of recent reports on the state of the real estate market in Dubai show prices for residential properties falling by anything from 20% to 50%, highlighting the uncertainty surrounding the market which will consequently affect the construction sector.

Expat workers on their day off at the Creek

Expat children

The raffle offers 2 luxurious ES350 and LX470 Lexus cars
and Dh100,000 in cash & Dh3 million cash prizes in fortnightly raffles.

Perched on a bench

Emirati family time
Costa cruise group on stop-over
Water taxi across the Creek
Water taxi at sunset
Exotic movie set?
Emiratis at old Souk
Outside the mosque

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Dubai Extreme

Sleep deprivation was certainly something we didn't suffer from on this trip. After a good rest in a comfy bed in a huge bedroom, we were ready for the desert safari and some dune bashing.

For 160 AED the package included door-to-door pick up service and dinner. A 45- minute drive on the northbound highway brought us to the desert fringe where all Toyota Landcruisers assembled at a tourist trap while the drivers released air from the tyres in readiness for the trek.
Our driver decided to be cheeky and jumped the queue hoping to lead the convoy. He was duly reprimanded by the boss and instead was asked to command the rear.All 4WD's were lined up, engines revving . . . Ready or not, we're in for a roller coaster ride . . .Our driver took vicarious pleasure in seeking out the steepest slopes, flooring the gas pedal giving it his all, to the thrill of screamers and moaners.

You've heard of Tokyo Drift, the movie about illegal street drift racing, well this was Dubai Drift, skidding on 60-degree dune slopes and spewing sand.
When we reached the middle of nowhere all the 4WD's halted almost in unison, perched up high on dune ridges as far as the eye could see.
These two kutus added to the entertainment by pushing unsuspecting tourists, most of whom were still gaping at the expanse of desert before them, tumbling down slopes and scaring the girls with a desert snake that was of course a rubber toy.

The sand was cool to the touch and ever so fine. One can understand why the traditional robes are the most practical for this terrain - keeps the sand out in sand storms and allows easy shaking out of grating sand if you happen to get your knickers in a twist. Overwhelmed, an over exuberant tourist came running barefoot down the dune, much to the consternation of her grown children. "Mother behave!"We met a couple of Malaysian youngsters, chefs in fact, who were working at Atlantis, The Palm. They had just graduated from chef school, the guy a pastry chef trained in Switzerland, the girl trained in Malaysia, bagged their first jobs at this recently opened resort. They were obviously enjoying their life in Dubai and were on leave for Chinese New Year. They proudly informed us that their hotel was having a buffet promotion for 160 AED (cheap by Dubai standards) at the Saffron Restaurant. Not to be missed as nasi lemak and laksa were on the menu.

As the sun dipped below the horizon and the wind chill factor stiffened our joints, the allure of a warm desert dinner beckoned. At the camp a barbecue, hot coffee and tea were ready to be served. The PA system crackled a welcome and invited guests to enjoy the dinner. It was requested, however that men and women use separate serving stations. There was some confusion at first, as most were from the secular world, not minding to elbow in with the opposite sex. In the interim, the men had filled their bellies, while the women were still queueing! Didn't it occur to the women to move to the empty station when the men were done? Go figure!

The most adroit were the Koreans. I spied with my little eye, a group slurping on their cup noodles well before any food station was opened or any queue was formed. No worries about unisex queues mate, we invented food on-the-go! When comely belly dancer, Mona, appeared in her titillating tasseled pink gear strutting her stuff, the crowd were enthralled. She manoeuvred across the floor like a desert snake and gave meaning to the term 'table top dancing'. The men were jumping onto the stage without hesitation. Well they had been well fed, while the women were still queueing.

Hey ladies! Floor length dresses are back in vogue. Look what else you can do in them to attract attention . . .

Mona reappeared . . . . . . this time with a horse, who showed a keen interest in her belly as she worked it in a shimmering gold translucent gown. Camel was not amused by all this fanfare and was ready to go back to his tent after a long photo shoot.Passing the blur of city lights, joints stiffened not only by the desert wind but also by sitting on the carpeted floor for 2 hours eating and watching Mona do her thing, we were ready for bed like the camel.