Monday, May 26, 2008


I am a movie lover but not necessary a movie theatre-goer, the last blockbuster that pulled me back to a movie theatre was Matt Damon's The Bourne Ultimatum. This week was the Singapore release of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, I absolutely love the previous Trilogy of Indiana Jones movies, could watch them over and over again without getting tired of them. Like many, I thought The Final Crusade was the final installment back in 1989, until this new one came out this year. That was what - 19 years apart?

Crystal Skull was disappointing in many aspects, too many re-hash of what had gone before. I suspect this one was meant to provide some sort of a continuation for the next generation, i.e. Indiana's newly found son. The storyline of Crystal Skull was weak and a little too far-fetched in my opinion.

The disappointment with Crystal Skull drove me to watch a slew of DVD movies over the weekend instead..............

(1) The Darjeeling Limited (Owen Wilson)

(2) CJ7 (Stephen Chow)

(3) The Amazing Panda Adventure

(4) The Bourne Ultimatum

CJ7 was also a big disappointment, Stephen Chow going the same direction as Indiana Jones -- Extra-terrestial lifeforms. Trying to do a Chinese version of ET perhaps? The dog-like creature was cute but that was just about it really! Trying to incorporate his usual slapstick comedy elements into this particular storyline was like having coffee and tea at the same time.

Bourne Ultimatum was still just as engaging to watch as the first instance. The action sequences were more real, much more so than James Bond! I lost count how many times I have watched this and the first and second installments. Like Indiana Jones, I love this Bourne series just as much.

I had watched the Panda Adventure on cable TV previously and was captivated by the sceneries, the storyline was rather weak as was the acting. I love Pandas, I think they are the most beautiful creatures on earth, having watched them at such close range at the Chengdu Panda Base. This movie was shot, I think at the Wolong Reserves and the surrounding Siguniang (四姑娘) mountains in Sichuan. A tibetan village was thrown in for good effect. The message of this movie was the danger of extinction of the Pandas and how fragile their existence have become and this movie should be taken in that light.

I watched The Darjeeling Limited, twice in fact, because it was simply a delightful little movie and also I needed to watch it again to pick up those metaphoric moments planted within the movie. This is not a comedy and anyone looking for that will be grossly disappointed, the only humour I think exist only on the faces and expressions of the 3 main characters and in the way they carried their roles. The settings and the casting oddly enough, worked magically! The movie may appear a little slow and quirky at first but if you consider all the things put together, including the music, this movie do deliver many little things about life and relationships in very subtle ways. Not sure if it was just me but I always find a long train journey draws out the best and the worst in a person. This movie also gave a very good first-hand insight into an Indian train journey as well as a journey through this vast, colourful and oft-misunderstood country. I felt the director, Wes Anderson did a marvellous job faithfully reflecting even the tiny little details of life in India that are so commonplace. The sparseness and simplicity of the dialogue worked wonders too! Saying so much without the need for too many words. In a movie like this where every aspect of the film set were so carefully thought out that one tends to veer towards the finer details of each moment to enjoy the movie to its fullest.
There were a mix-bags of reviews of this movie online, mostly minuses but I beg to differ. One can imagine this as a beautiful picture (pun intended), starting with a basic canvas that is the Indian backdrop and the drawing, albeit very slowly at times, evolves into quite a masterpiece of art. The last bit where each character was "painted" in individual train cabins as the train chugs along was a poetic touch to reveal the endings of each character like the usual end-of-film scrolling of the credits, only this was done laterally instead. The signature of this movie in my opinion, was the custom-designed,numbered and personalised 11 pieces of LV bags and luggages the 3 brothers lug around on this trip. Apart from implying that they are financially well-endowed, the sizes and numbers of luggages also signify the heavy emotional baggage the 3 brothers carry with them on this supposedly spiritual journey and at the end of the movie they had to discard all of them while chasing to board their departing train, metaphorically letting go of the emotional trappings they have been carrying with them all these while.
In real life I guess most of us carry some emotional baggage one way or another, it is the letting go that is the most difficult part.
The 3 brothers in this movie set out to find a divine intervention to their problems but eventually it was the journey itself and the people that they crossed paths with that provided the breakthrough they were seeking. It was also within themselves that they ultimately found all the answers.
After watching The Darjeeling Limited, it got me to think about once again planning the trip to Darjeeling which was aborted in favour of the China trip in March this year. Will see if time and resources (i.e. money) do permit this time around.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Song Xinyi, a 3-year-old earthquake survivor, is saved in earthquake-hit Beichuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 14, 2008

It is a miracle that this lovely toddler, Song Xinyi (only 3-years-old) survived the earthquake in Beichuan County for more than 40 hours! She was found under the dead bodies of her parents who had sacrified their lives to protect her. Her legs were seriously injured and needed urgent surgery. It is truly amazing that one so tiny and fragile as Xinyi could survive this long without food and water and she still had the capacity of mind to sing a nursery rhyme when rescuers found her and she could still hold a conversation while rescuers were attempting to save her from under the many layers of rubbles! Truly an epitome of the Human Spirit!
Tears of both joy and pain welled up in my eyes looking at these pictures! While she had survived, she had also lost both her parents! It is such collision of emotions that makes it hard to bear seeing the news, photos and videos of this tragic event and at times I just felt like asking "Why? God!"
While I am unsure if Xinyi knew that her parents will no longer be there for her, I am very sure that with such a big spirit in her at so young an age, she will be OK to go on with life's little journey.
Her story will be one that I will always remember.
Hello! Little Miracle!

Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
--- from Loreena McKennitt's Dante's Prayer
Dedicated to those who have perished, those who as yet still unfound and those who have lived through the ordeals of the Sichuan Earthquake 5.12.2008, including those who have volunteered, contributed and those rescuers who are working tirelessly around the clock at the earthquake-hit sites, fighting against time and odds in search of lives and saving lives as we speak..........
All of you will be remembered!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Day 7: 10 March 2008
Itinerary: Chengdu-Lhasa

Taking the 1st flight (7:30am Air China) out of Chengdu to Lhasa this morning. Left the hotel at about 6 am and found out that there was heavy fog all over Chengdu. Check-in was a breeze, I did not check in my baggage as the counter staff said mine (a large backpack and a smaller backpack)were OK to go onboard. The security check was OK too, they even allowed me to bring on board a can of dessert after checking it.
Chengdu 双流机场
My ticket to ride!
While waiting to board, the public address announced delay of many flights out due to heavy fog. In fact none were allowed to fly until situation improves! That is for most other airlines except AIR CHINA!! Actual reasons I was unsure but I suspect must be the type and size of the plane or probably it's the national carrier? We boarded on time, the plane moved to the runway awaiting the fog condition to improve. However it was to be a long wait (more than 1 hour sitting inside the plane!). Luckily I had my mp3 and unblocked leg room, so it was bearable sitting in the plane. I also took the time to read up the Chinese travel guide on Lhasa. As soon as the clearance was obtained from the tower, our flight was the first off the ground.
Breakfast on board!
The only difficulty to adapt thus far in China was the lack of coffee during breakfast, apparently coffee was not the norm here. The coffee on this flight was the first 100% coffee I had for the past 7 days here and boy was it a good brew! Thick and strong, surprising for an airline in economy class! Singapore Airlines, eat your heart out! The best coffee in economy class I had was with Garuda International's flight Singapore-Shanghai. Of course Singapore Airlines in Business Class serve a variety of gourmet coffee, those were the best, especially the Kenyan beans.
Scene from the air
The wing
The Himalayas?
Snow Peaks

The descend into Lhasa
Gonggar Airport, Lhasa
On arrival at Gonggar Airport, made a phone call to one of the hotel to check if there was rooms. The answer was yes, so I was covered on that front. The number in the guide book for the hotel which I wanted was an invalid number! No choice just had to make my way there to check. Transportation to Lasa town area was a breeze, there were airport buses waiting just outside waiting to be board at RMB25 per person.

The bus terminal in downtown Lhasa was very close to the crown jewel, Potala Palace! So first stop was to get some photos of Potala from the ground since it was so close. Thus far, no signs of any altitude sickness (yet).

The crown jewel of Lhasa

After getting a couple of shots, hitched a rickshaw and head for my first choice hotel near Jokhang area to check if there was rooms available. The rickshaw man was unsure of the location we ended up having to make a u-turn. I dropped off at one of the entry points to Bakkhor Street and tried to find my way inside a crowded marketplace. Checked around with some of the shopkeepers and finally managed to find the inconspicuous entrance to the hotel. I actually missed it the first time and had to walked backwards. The signboard was on the side of the building and not easily seen as it was off Bakkhor Street. Had to climb a very narrow wooden staircase to the 2nd floor which was the reception area but no one was there. The place was so empty! No lights whatsoever, thought it was closed! Then a young lady appeared on the flight of stairs leading to the 3rd level. I confirmed with her that the placen was open and then she asked me to come up. I climbed another narrow flight of wooden stairs to the 3rd level and was told to sit and wait a while for her father to return. While waiting I looked around those rooms on the 3rd level. When the father returned, supposedly he was the Innkeeper, I asked about the availability of a room for 2 nights. He brought me to a single room on the 3rd level and then to what would be the best and biggest room of this place, the same room that was inside the travel guide. The room had 2 queen-size beds and a window overlooking Bakkhor Street! He was kind enough to offer me this room at no extra charge as it was not peak season. I will make a separate posting later with the pictures of this incredible place!
I settled in and took a rest to allow my body to adjust to the high altitude before going outside. The bed and linen was extremely comfy but the place was a little dusty probably because it was off-season and also the halogen lamps in the toilet attract a lot of insects into the toilet! The halogen lamps also served as a heater for the whole room.

Bakkhor Street views from the room window 从房间的窗口看出去的八角街景

My Room with A View is the one on the top right hand corner.房间就是右手边頂楼。
First stop: Jokhang Temple (大昭寺)

The ticket was RMB70 and comes with a card CD. No photo-taking was allowed within the Main Hall and if caught the camera will be confiscated, so be warned!

The Main Hall was rather dark as expected for a holy place, many altar rooms were sealed off with metal wire mesh but you could still take a peak from the outside. I was fascinated as it was the first time I had seen so many different statues and different variations of Buddha statues within a single temple all lined up against the walls of the entire Main Hall. I spent a long time revelling in the presentation of each statue, there were so many which I have not heard of! There were a couple of groups with guide and I heard parts of their explanation at some areas of the Main Hall. I was lucky to meet a Tibetan monk visiting the place and he was kind enough to guide me along. I also learnt from him how to pray as well. After we had finished the Main Hall, he even told me to follow him up to the roof of the temple where we took photos for each other. He also explained to me about some of the history about the place and also things which happened during World War II. We parted company briefly as later I would join him to do the prayer, walking and turning the prayer wheels around the outside perimeters of the temple. After coming down from the temple roof where you could catch a good sight of Potala Palace from afar as well as the surrounding areas of the temple, I went inside the Main Hall a second time as they had let in a line of pilgrims and I was curious to see what it was all about. As luck would have it, they were opening the altar room where the main Buddha (Sakyamuni) statue, the Holy of Holies (one of the precious cultural relics of Tibet) was located. The statue was brought to Tibet by Han Princess Wencheng during the Tang Dynasty originally for Ramoche Temple (小昭寺) but subsequently shifted to Jokhang.

I happily joined in the long line together with a group of western tourists and we took turns to pray to the seated Buddha statue. The process was to touch your forehead against the large pillow which the Buddha statue was sitting on and they did restrict the number of people allowed to enter. As I understood this was not done on a regular basis, only for specific days. I could count myself extremely lucky and blessed to be able to do this! As with all things Buddhism, it is all down to fate and timing.

As fate would have it, I bumped into the same monk as I left the temple onto Bakkhor Street and he asked me to join him in making the rounds around the temple perimeters. It was quite an experience and by the end of one round, my hands were soiled with oil and grease from turning all the prayer wheels around the temple perimeters. After Jokhang, the monk was kind enough to bring me to Ramoche Temple (小昭寺) but it was closed for the day. Despite of that we still make the prayer rounds around Ramoche and along the way also to other smaller temples along the route. We parted company thereafter as he was heading in a different direction to where his elder brother was staying. Before leaving, he was kind enough to direct me the way back to Bakkhor Street and also gave me a couple of suggestions on where to go the next day.
Pilgrims at the main entrance 信徒在大昭寺前门朝拜

Entrance to the Main Hall 中堂的入口

View of Potala Palace from the top of Jokhang Temple 从大昭寺看过去的波塔啦宫

Open air toilet on the top level 厕所!

Photos of Ramoche Temple (小昭寺):

Walking back towards Bakkhor/Jokhang area, I made a little detour to see the marketplace of Lhasa and sample a little of the local life:

Butter-- An essential item for Tibetan homes
Street bites.

Dinner for the night:
Went to one of the restaurant recommended in the guide book, not difficult to find as it was along the main road near to Jokhang area. Had what was called a Bobi, Yak meat fried with veggies and provided with rice skins to be wrapped up with. DELICIOUS!
Wanted also another item called Momo (Yak meat dumplings) but they were out. Drowned it all down with a nice cup of sweet Tibetan tea!
The ambience of the restaurant was simple but very cosy.

Went back to the hotel to savour a good night's rest after a tiring day on that irresistable cosy bed.


Day 6: 9 March 2008
Itinerary: Maoxian-Chengdu

This was to be a major detour by the tour guide to some more shopping excursions! I recalled vividly that the tour programme specifically mentioned that this tour was to have "NO SHOPPING"! At least that was to be for my case! The tour guide seemed to know it that at every shopping stop he would inform me that I do not have to join in!! For yesterday and today, we were "forced" along to a total of six shopping stops, some disguised as a tour-of-sorts. Each stop was at least an hour (even though the tour guide said that each stop would not be more than 30 minutes!), plus the waiting time to gather everyone to board, a couple of stops were at least an hour an a half to two hours.

Today we went to a factory making guasa combs and other ornamental pieces from bone, a medicine and herbs place and one factory making stainless steel knife sets made using space age technology.

There were no siteseeing tours planned for today, only an optional one to Dujiangyuan which no one wanted to go or the majority of them had already been. Hence that optional tour was scrapped totally due to zero participation.

3 snapshots taken from the moving...........wait a minute, what am I talking about, correction!.....a SPEEDING coach:

The steppes!

We reached back to Chengdu at around 1~2 pm, some dropped off along the way within Chengdu city, the rest disembarked from the same point which we boarded the coach. I suddenly realised that the whole group did not even take a single group photo!! Too late now!

I took a taxi (打车) to my hotel at 琴台路,checked-in, showered and took a rest before do some walkabout round the hotel area. It was an old style street with many old style buildings which I did not get to see the first night I landed here as it was very late. There were 2 parks in that area - 文化公园 & 百花潭公园 and I could not believe how crowded the parks were on a Sunday! Both parks were so conducive that I could stay there all day long and sleep on the open grass (with a mat of course!), it was that relaxing an environment. There were people playing mahjong and sipping tea, children amusement parks, tea houses, children taking rollerblading lessons, families fishing together etc. What a LIFE! This is what parks are meant to be, however small they may be. No such environment in Singapore for such lifestyle! Way too hot and humid in Singapore and the air sucks too!

The hotel

The front yard of the hotel.

The floor I was staying.

The hotel from across the road.

Start of 琴台路。

End of 琴台路
Water activities
Tea house & mahjong
Water activities

Flower Power!!

Tea house
Leisurely escape!

Next stop:里古街 - 西蜀第一街 Jinli Street - The 1st Street of the Kingdom of Shu.

Located next to the Marqui of Shu Temple (武侯祠), a temple dedicated to the famous 卧龙-Zhuge Liang. Unfortunately the temple closed early only on Sundays, I could not make it in time. I love the Three Kingdoms classic, it was THE read of all Chinese classics in my personal opinion. The characters, the history, the war strategies........there is so much to learn from!

The only snapshot I could take of the inside of Wuhou Temple.

Old style hotel

Full of such small food stores on Jinli Street and in many varieties too!
This one Bamboo Container Rice.
Night Scene of the Food Street
Pubs & drinking places

Picked up from a book stall on Jinli Street, a Chinese travel guide book on Lhasa - the place I'd be heading to early tomorrow morning. It was the latest release (just RMB35!) with lots of updated info on places to stay and suggested itineraries, literally pays for itself with the wealth of info inside!!

Steamin' HOT! Very juicy and aroma enhanced by the leaves beneath.
Spicy HOT! The sizes they use 量 as measure.
By the end of this I was sweating from the chilli hot.