Monday, July 28, 2008

IGNITE! Light My Fire!

IGNITE! Music Festival 2008 was organised and held at Republic Polytechnic on 25th and 26 July 2008. Went for the 26 July event as it was a Saturday primarily to catch Electrico "live" again. Never been to Republic Poly before and was quite amazed by its open concept campus where there are no gates or fencing whatsoever. The staging was amazing with 2 stages - one with the full band complements and the side stage for accoustic acts - the shows were switched between the 2 stages allowing each act more than sufficient time to get themselves ready. It was the first time I had seen light displays used as background for a free concert in Singapore. The crowd turnout was much much more than it was last Saturday at the Arts House front lawn. Really happenin', man! Missed out on Plain Sunset's show as I reached there at close to 8pm. Did catch the accoustic duo act Ngak+Clement opening with Dave Matthews' Ants Marching. The band Marchtwelve was largely forgettable while the accoustic group from Republic Poly, couldn't remember their name though, had a very good female singer with an amazing voice! I never heard of Caracal before but it seemed they had quite a big following with their head and hair whirling emo-rock. Sadly, their fans did not behave well and the security personnels were keeping a very close watch anticipating any trouble. A few idiots started to throw uncapped mineral water bottles around the crowd, dunno what they were trying to prove or achieve, nuts really and for what? Only giving such events a bad image.
The accoustic group from Republic Polytechnic
Electrico was the closing act and rightly so too because they were the most forefront and internationally-known Singapore band in recent years. Apart from some glitches in the monitors and some unwanted feedbacks their set went through very well with the same set of songs that they had played last week at the Arts House. This time though, the drums were a little muted and not well-tuned unlike last week. Still, it was a very tight performance and further proof that they are the band most likely to succeed internationally. Getting to like The Slaves and the Digits (a.k.a Gyration III) more and more with each performance, a real get-up-and-move-your-body type of number. Sweet!
In the morning was surprised to run 12:42.45 for the 2.4km! I thought sub-13 mins will be difficult to sustain considering my aging limbs but now I really had no idea what will come next!
Just Do It! as the NIKE slogan goes perhaps?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Little Milestone + A Rocking Good Time with ELECTRICO

Date: 19 July 2008
Day: Saturday

Finally managed to crack the 13 minutes barrier for the 2.4km! I think I have not hit that mark since the turn of the century, so it was almost 8 years!
I started this weekly physical regime on 10 May (14:46:12) and hit a little milestone of sorts on 19 Jul (12:58:80). I am not sure if I could go any faster from here onwards, the most feasible target is to maintain at the 13 minutes-mark (+/- 20 to 30 secs). Felt comfortable at this pace.

Also on Saturday, went to one of Electrico's mini tour to promote their new album "We Satellites" at The Arts House (front lawn). Rain delayed the event for more than an hour.

Lunarin was the first band to perform. First time I had seen or heard them, not really into their type of Evanescence-style of music.
The next was Force Vomit, this was the first time I had seen this band live although I had listened to a couple of their songs before. They were good! You could see them really enjoying themselves playing together.
The main event was Electrico and this was also the first time I had seen them live and boy, was I impressed! They really rock! I think they are possibly local music's best hope yet for the big breakthrough internationally. They nailed down the wall-of-sound effect to the T and really came to their own with an identifiable sound. Will go to their Republic Polytechnic leg next Saturday too!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Highlight No.1 - Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟

This picture is worth more than a thousand words, there is possibly no better way to put across how beautiful and captivating a place Jiuzhaigou is! DREAMY! Absolutely poetry-in-motion, this picture! (photo courtesy of the lovely lady,青青 in the picture, published with permission.)

I agree 100% that once you have seen this much water in its full pristine natural glory, everything else you see elsewhere will forever pale in comparison. The other thing is the fresh, pure, clean, high altitude air here, probably the purest you will ever come across anywhere on Mother Earth!

Highlight No. 2 - Pandas!

Absolutely love them! I have no doubt now!
I remember when I was still in Secondary School, a China circus troupe came to town and a Panda was performing with a huge ball on stage. That was the first time I saw a Panda.
The next I saw two in an air-conditioned enclosure at Hong Kong's Ocean Park about 2 years back. It was morning and both were so tired that they were sleeping and you could only see their backside!
I think the Panda Research Base near Chengdu is doing a wonderful job, giving them an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat which I think no other zoos outside of China could ever provide. I pity, for example those two at Ocean Park, wondering are they suffering under those conditions, even though delicate care is given to them. Likewise for other Pandas at different zoos around the world. At the Chengdu base you could see how playful they are and also how lazy they can be! For their size they are really very tame creatures with no care whatsoever in the world! It reminded me of this article written by saidthegramophone about plants unique to a particular place on earth and whether people also have a particular spot on earth where they will truly blossom (a Place to Be). The Pandas deserve their own little unique spot on this planet!

This picture of Pandas drinking porridge after the Sichuan earthquake left quite an impression on me. During this trip I never understood the virtues of having plain porridge for breakfast, however after the Sichuan Earhquake it finally dawned on me that porridge is like killing two birds with one stone - providing both food as well as fluids all at the same time. There is really no need for tea or coffee for breakfast. Porridge is also easy to swallow and digest. You can say that I fell in love with Porridge as well! Been cooking it for most meals these days, mostly for lunch and dinner.

Highlight No. 3 - Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

Timing is indeed everything! I had the good fortune of touching my forehead on the seat rest of the Holy of holies - the Buddha statue that was brought over by Han princess Wencheng during the Tang Dynasty, possibly the most important of relics left in Tibet. That shrine opens only on limited occasions to visitors and pilgrims and only for a limited number of people at any one time. If I did not stick around long enough I could have missed this great opportunity! It was meant to be I suppose, as I was in desperate need of great blessings and every little helps!
I felt more at home at Jokhang than I was at the iconic Potala Palace and I was lucky enough to be staying just behind this great temple at the most amazing of places I have ever stayed before.

Highlight No. 4 - Three Gorges Barrage

What are the chances to be stucked at the Three Gorges barrage for more than 24 hours? I think the odds would be quite staggering and yet the cruise ship which I took met those odds! Although as the time dragged on I was worried but on hindsight, it was an EVENT in itself!

Highlight No. 5 - 羊八井温泉(海拔4300m)

Soaking and swimming in a hotspring pool at 4300 metres above sea level? Don't think I will ever get a chance to do this at any altitude higher than this in this lifetime! And at cold climate too! Definitely unforgettable.

Highlight No. 6 - Two Gorges and Shennong Stream (神农溪、神农架)

The amazing sceneries of Qutang, Wu Gorges and Shennong Jia and getting to know first hand the real effects of the Three Gorges Dam Project on lives along the Yangtze River and in particular the minority race of Shennong Jia. Once the Dam Project kicks in and the water level rises, many places along the Yangtze will be forever changed!

Highlight No. 7 - The long distance coach trips

You get to see and experience so much more along the way than just a plane ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the Chengdu-Jiuzhaigou to and return trips.

Finding my way for the long distance bus/coach trips Chengdu to Chongqing and Yichang to Wuhan were both pleasant experiences.

Highlight No. 8 - The FOG!

We don't get these in our country so to be delayed and disrupted by the fog was indeed unforgettable events! Even though the fog delayed the flight from Chengdu to Lhasa, it did not affect the schedule in Lhasa too much. However the one at Yangtze and Yichang did leave me with a little regret of having missed seeing the third gorge and the Dam project site as well as the Yellow Crane Tower at Wuhan. Well! Another time maybe?

Highlight No. 9 - The People & New Friends!

This is perhaps the most rewarding of the whole trip. So many nice people along the way although there were some which did leave some not-so-good impression too! Ah! Life's like that and people are people.

(more coming soon.......)

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Day 14: 17 March 2008
Itinerary: Yichang-Wuhan-Shenzhen

Checked out from the hotel and hopped over to the Bus Terminal opposite to get the ticket for the 1st bus out to Wuhan. The Bus Terminal had a big display with all the bus routes, timings as well as pricing. The first bus departs at 7 am so I had more than enough time.

The check-in gate

I had a sudden attack of gout and had to keep my legs stretch out to ease the pain. The medication needed time to take effect. No finer time to admire my trusty pair of shoes (cost only S$25, it's an Ashaway running shoe) that had travelled to places like Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Lhasa, Three Gorges etc. with me! Also the same pair I am using now for my 2.4km run routine.

It was a foggy day with light rain in Yichang. The heavy fog meant that the highway to Wuhan was closed to traffic. Damn! I was beginning to wonder if I could make it on time to Wuhan to catch the flight to Shenzhen. Nothing I could do other than to keep my fingers crossed but the anxiety was beginning to set in! Luckily by about 10 am a police car came and led the way into the highway. It was still foggy but had cleared slightly. The police car travelled for some distance to ensure that visibility was OK for traffic to proceed safely. The rest of the vehicles followed at a distance behind the police. We were finally on the way to Wuhan but there was not enough time for me to visit the Yellow Crane Tower. I had to find my way to the Airport as soon as the bus reached Wuhan.

The counter staff at the Wuhan Bus Terminal was really helpful and directed me to the correct counter to get the Airport Bus ticket. She even brought me to board a bus that would take me to the place were the Airport Bus was departing from. I was amazed that even though I was the only passenger , the big bus still proceeded to ferry me to the departure area of the Airport Bus about 5 to 10 minutes drive away from the Bus Terminal. Talk about service! I was truly impressed!
I was right on time to catch the departing Airport Bus. Had some time to spare walking around the duty free area of the Wuhan Airport.

The following were photos of Wuhan that I snapped from the Long Distance Bus:

These were taken on the way to the Airport:

This little fellow sat in front of me on the Shenzhen Air flight Wuhan to Shenzhen. Really restless chap! Could not sit still, I made funny faces at him and played a little peek-a-boo with him during the flight.

I had managed to keep to the flight schedule in the end. Reached Shenzhen Airport close to 6 pm, took my dinner at the Shenzhen Airport, did a last minute shopping there as well to deplete the balance RMB before catching the Tiger Airways flight back to Singapore. The flight back to Singapore was not full and I had three seats to myself to stretch out and sleep for most of the flight. Was really tired from nearly a whole day of travelling, really knocked-out! Could not remember anything throughout the 3 hour-plus flight back to Singapore.

There, I finally finished my belated trip journal! Nearly four months after the trip! Guess I will never make it as a writer of any kind.


Day 13: 16 March 2008
Itinerary: Yangtze River Cruise Day 3

This was the iterinary for the final day of the cruise and the shore excursion to the Three Gorges Dam project was supposed to be the grand finale. Unfortunately, heavy fog meant that we were stuck in the 5th sector of the barrage for a long long while as the authorities suspended all river traffic for safety reasons. The fog, as I found out lthe next day, was to affect highway traffic as well. We were to missed seeing the 3rd one - Xiling Gorge as well because by the time traffic were allowed it was already past 8 pm. We were supposed to disembark at Yichang by noon but end up getting stuck on the ship for most the day! The chef did prepare additional one lunch and one dinner for everyone.

The 5th and final sector
The max height at the first sector was 175m, the 5th and last sector was 95m. In total the ship had gone through roughly 80m of water depth shift to get through the 5 sectors of the barrage.

The fog was really heavy. It was my first time being fogged-in by the weather!

Everyone was getting impatient as the day stretched on. News of the situation were reported on the internet the crew told us, there was nothing anyone could do as we were all at the mercy of nature. There were some suggestions that the embassies of Germany and Belgium be informed so as to get assistance from the Chinese government to arrange alternative transportation out of the docks. Yes, the Diplomatic route! It could work! As news had been reported, supposedly the respective embassies would have taken notice as both the Belgian and German groups were quite sizable.
There was nothing pretty much to do except to sit and wait. Guests either stayed in their cabins and watch TV or played their card games, game machines etc. or hang around the bar area for drinks, chit-chat, learn to play some mahjong etc.
Ah! But what better time to take another tour of the ship, right?
The front desk

Most accessible bow area of the ship.

The main ballroom/bar
Taichi lessons
As the day dragged on, desperation began to set in, not only for the guests but also for the cruise operator as they had other groups coming on board for the return leg. The respective tour groups were making alternative plans on what to do next as time was running short. Most had given up on the prospect to visiting the Three Gorges Dam project or to see Xiling Gorge as they were well behind on schedule especially for onward destinations and flights especially. The Europeans all decided to disembark at the first location where the ship could dock upon leaving the barrage. The cruise manager informed everyone that the ship would be skipping Yichang altogether due to schedule constraint and the new guests would be transported by coaches to board at the first port nearest to the barrage. Guests who wished to visit the Three Gorges Dam the next morning could stay on and disembark the next day. After making some guesstimation, I concluded that it was not feasible for me to stay on so I opted to disembark tonight.

The plan was as follows:
(1) Disembark at the next stop
(2) Find transportation to get to Yichang
(3) Stay for the night at Yichang with easy access to the Long Distance Bus Terminal
(4) Take the 1st coach out in the morning: Yichang to Wuhan
(5) If time permits in Wuhan, visit the Yellow Crane Tower
(6) If no time then head straight to the Wuhan airport for the flight to Shenzhen

By the time the all-clear was given for 5th sector gates to be opened for all the vessels to push on it was already past 8 pm.

Vessels started to move off, luckily ours was the 1st batch.

The ship docked at the nearby port at close to 9 pm.
The cruise manager was kind enough to arrange for me land transportation to Yichang by way of tagging onto the coach that brought a new batch of guests from Yichang to the ship ad who was taking another local group from another ship to Yichang.
The local guide who brought the new group over to the ship was a nice young lady who was kind enough to also booked me into the hotel opposite the Long Distance Bus Terminal in Yichang.
And so everything turned out OK as I checked into the hotel for the night.
The other local group from another ship that took the same coach to Yichang was actually changing to a smaller bus in Yichang to head out to Wuhan overnight. The lady guide tried to asked the local guide for that group if I could bumped in with them for the ride to Wuhan but the local guide did not think it was a good idea as the bus was packed and there was no space left.
It was just a hopeful thought, to improve the odds of being able to visit Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan the next morning. Ah! Well, things were not bad as they were. Potentially it could have been much worse! My contingency plan still looked OK.
The hotel in Yichang

Friday, July 11, 2008


Day 12: 15 March 2008
Itinerary: Yangtze River Cruise Day 2

Today the ship will sail into two of the Three Gorges - Qutang and Wu Gorges plus an excursion into Shennongjia (Shennong Stream) via a ferry and small boats.

A slideshow of Qutang and Wu Gorges:

A slideshow of Shennong Jia:

Shennong Jia is truly a beautiful and unspoiled area along the Yangtze. The natives are a minority race and are not affected by the National 1-child policy. Most have been relocated away from this area and very few families still stay within this area. As we were told, in the old days children need to travel 8 to 10 km by foot or a combi of foot+boat just to get to school as it was not financially feasible for the families to put them into boarding homes near the schools.
The finale of this excursion was a throwback to the old days where the boatmen who rowed the boat would also be the first to reach the shores and pulled the boats in using ropes using their hands, shoulders etc. You could see the boatmen are all very strong and fit. When we reached back to the ferry, these boatmen rowed off in their boats back to their homes and the exchange of goodbye waves were quite something, considering how isolated the place was apart from these tourist trips. I sincerely hope more tourists can come to visit this place as it would be a significant income for those families still residing near or within this area.

The ship reached the 1st gate of the Three Gorges barrage at about 8 pm. I guess everyone was really excited and overawed by magnitude of the construction, except perhaps the Belgian guests who had seen their own proven technology and history of building dams back in their own country. I supposed they too, marvelled at the scale of such a construction. There were a total of 5 sections that ships/vessels need to pass through this barrage and each section took at least a couple of hours to complete with the closing of the gates, equalisation of the water level differential between adjacent sections via pumping in or drawing out the water, opening of the gate into the next section, moving all vessels to the next section etc. These were repeated for each of the 5 sectors. The pumping in or drawing out of water (as the case may be) takes the most time.