22 January 2015

ON MY FIRST RAINY NIGHT

On my first rainy night on the island, when I had been there for about a week, in the ambiguous wet half-dark that was neither day or night, neither warm nor cold, I was picking my way back to the villa when the rain started pelting the broken coral like grains of uncooked rice. The cicadas were not screaming. One just heard water.
I saw Khem clearing up the little bay of the detritus that we have left behind through the week to keep our things from getting drenched. He was wearing scuba suit shorts and an old rag around his head (a wet rag – I wonder why – but I had ceased to ask questions; so few things made sense now). Khem was clearing our little bay, almost like a sandy, outdoor room with boulder walls, and we didn’t take things back into the villa anymore but left books and such lie out in the open, so even had the weather been. Now it rained.
Khem saw me and said: “P’CW lost his spectacles.” He was looking under the brittle plastic chairs. “You wait,” he said, “I take you back in umbrella. Big rain come.”

Then he pulled the chairs into the shelter of the beach bar that had never served as a bar ever, I suspect, and unfurled the canvas blinds that smelled musty. I waited by the narrow path going up the cliff, wondering what the rainwater carried. At least we would not run out of bath water now. Khem opened a faded gold umbrella, squeezed pass me onto the path and I followed him in the shelter of the umbrella; I wondered briefly if I should take his hand – would he mind? Khem seemed to know every rock on this island, every tree and path. The rain had started to fall in sheets and the path was slippery and alive with unseen bugs.  

16 January 2015

THE BEST THAI ESCAPE OF 2014: TRAVEL TALES

SUITE DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THESE)


Just a year old, Point Yamu, COMO Hotels and Resorts’s property in Phuket, delivers its promise of utmost seclusion in style but is this a vision of beach living for everyone? By Daniel Goh
Phuket isn’t off the beaten track for anyone – arguably very few places are now, and especially not Thailand, one of the most touristed destinations in the world – so it’s a challenge for any property seeking to distinguish itself in a location dense with hotels of all sorts. And yet Point Yamu succeeds in being memorable – perhaps this is where the Como style comes in.
Located on the eastern side of Phuket on the tip of Cape Yamu, the resort is miles away from anything, tourist or local, and is approached by driving up a gentle uphill meander through a rubber plantation. If you’re seeking a Victorian rest cure, this gated seclusion is ideal: ensconced in oversized daybeds indoors and out, comfortably propped up in nests of pillows, the serene panoramic views across the bay are a sight to soothe frayed city nerves. Unobstructed, they impose themselves on your psyche, stilling your inner chatter with the UNESCO-protected wonders of the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay, stretching into hundreds of islands on the Homeric sea, with the stately grace of a Noh screen that changes through the day in slow motion from slate-grey (early morning), to peach melba (dusk), and Tiffany blue (noon). You forget to wear your watch, and the hours melt into the ozone.
To enter this magical seascape takes something of an expedition. The calm Andaman Sea beckons, but Point Yamu has no direct beach access. Guests take the daily shuttle to the jetty, then a scheduled boat transports you to the beach of Rang Yai Island (a 15 minute transfer). Beach enthusiasts may find this inconvenient, but the schedule actually adds to the calm, imposing form on an otherwise lolling, shapeless day. Similarly a timetable of complimentary activities on a printed card marks the hours – Pilates at 11 am; Old Phuket Town tour at 3 pm; Flower arrangement 4 pm; Bike tour 5 pm. Just studying the timetable feels reassuring, like you’re on rehab or in a posh nursing home. You must take a day tour of the bay, known parochially as James Bond Island (the setting for Man With The Golden Gun), a magnet for divers, snorkelers and kayakers. Tear a rent through the gelatine skin of the sea in a longtail boat with the hotel’s guide Roman, who has been sailing these waters for 20 years, and who knows every ancient cave glittering with minerals, every deserted cove of wild monkeys, every tide, every fable, every pristine beach of every uninhabited island, as well as you know every nook of Orchard Road. His skin is the wet teak of the boat, impervious to sun.
Service staff can make or break a hotel, and at Point Yamu, the service made the experience perfect. Efficient and warm without being mechanically so, nor betraying their training, and without being anything other than Thai charm itself, patient, humourous, discreet, each attendant is Thailand’s USP. From housekeeping to front desk to the ladies serving meals, to the auntie who made ice-cream in an uproar of tinkling bells and clouds of dry ice, to the lakorn-lovely nong (braces, perfect British-accented English) who came to the room to try to fit the TV with cables so that we could watch a DVD, and failed – every one of them made the stay a joy.
The rooms have no DVD players, and the point is probably that those are outdated. Point Yamu is resolutely modern in look and feel. The interiors are contemporary without being minimalist, cheerfully coloured and have some Thai accents.

The result is light-filled spaces punctuated by splashes of aquamarines and oranges. All rooms have spectacular ocean views. Each room maximizes space, and the executive suite is larger than most four-room flats, with a generous verandah. Shorn of all gimmicks, real luxury was brought to the fore in quality fittings, firm beds dressed in the fine Egyptian cotton, a bowl of edible fruit, the bathrooms are clad in jade-coloured tiles and furnished with COMO Shambala toiletries.

Every self-respecting resort must have its spa and the pompously-named COMO Shambhala Retreat takes itself seriously and offers yoga, Pilates and treatments over two stories with a modern European feel. I didn’t try any of the treatments but must say the therapists look almost medical in their purpose so I should say you’d be in good hands (literally).
When you’re marooned in a resort and eat all three meals in - food becomes all-important. At Point Yamu, it’s elegant that there are just the two restaurants here (plus a pool bar that disconcertingly played strenuous dance music at tea – surely jazz or Noh is more suitable) serving excellent food. Located alongside the 100m infinity pool and open on all sides, La Sirena is the checkerboard dining hall where you go to for breakfast, Italian cooking and locally caught seafood. Just across the way, Nahmyaa serves really delicious, finely balanced southern Thai. The calorie-counting health junkie will appreciate the COMO Shambhala menu which is available throughout, designed for those who want their raw foods, living enzymes, unprocessed fibre and morals.
So there you have it: If your idea of escape is a cozy version of house-arrest set in stunning views, Point Yamu is the place for you.

Point Yamu by COMO, Moo 7, Thep Kasattri, Thalang District, Phuket, Thailand. Phone:+66 76 360 100

15 January 2015

WE ARE WHAT WE CONSUME: THE WORLD AS A SUPERMARKET



We consume constantly: We spend every minute of the everyday consuming fuel and fauna and destinations. We also consume ideas, and time, and people. We consume the beautiful, the complex and the simple. Enter the supermarket – the cultural symbol of our vast appetite for all that is natural and unnatural. This is our orderly paradise, an Eden of plenty with the gifts of nature – in orderly, manageable stacks, packed odorless-ly away on foam trays and inside tins, and nestled in paper and clad in glass and cling film and caught in multiple plastic bags. Nature in all its variety and then some – season-less, region-less, hybrid, we want it all! This is how we consume science – cold-pressed, vacuum-packed, vitamin-enriched, flour-less, zero fat, zero calorie, flavoured, coloured, preserved, non-stick, instant. This is where we go to consume the comforting and the familiar, carbs and creams and food from the mega-brands of childhood. It is also where we find the exotic and the delightful – stuff our parents never heard of and never dreamed of consuming. And here, finally, in the supermarket, is where we go to find ourselves, and define our next selves. Better, healthier, thinner, more sophisticated – what we are, or hope to be, is what we consume after all.

08 January 2015

PASSAGE OF TIME: Hermes's Must-See Exhibition

Becoming Again, Ran Hwang’s meditation on transience, is a fitting last exhibition at Third Floor, before the gallery closes for a one-year refurbishment. Launched in 2006, Third Floor is a non-commercial art space that promotes contemporary art by commissioning and presenting works in the Hermes flagship store on Orchard Road. Next month, the iconic Liat Towers flagship store closes for a one-year refurbishment. 
It is fitting then, that the last exhibition to show in that space, South Korean artist Ran Hwang’s Becoming Again, is a meditation on time. For indeed the 10 years since the inauguration of Third Floor (located on the third floor of the store) have flown by in a flurry of shows including works by Takashi Kuribayashi (in conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2006), Laurence Dervaux, Heman Chong, Flavia Da Rin, Luis Terán, Rei Sato, Ming Wong, Yeondoo Jung, Ranjani Shettar, Christine Ay Tjoe, Shinji Ohmaki, Joo Choon Lin, Nadim Abbas and Aiko Tezuka. 
Becoming Again is an immersive multimedia one-work installation, comprising a curved wall of Plexiglas that forms a shimmering screen studded with buttons arranged obsessively as a conflagration of cherry blossoms. As you watch, the blossoms glow with projected, shifting lights, changing colour and shapes in a kaleidoscope of moods; a golden phoenix unfurls its wings to the left and majestically flaps through the cherry forest to the right before a climax of golden showers. The artist, Ran Hwang, swathed in a grey dotted shawl, guides us through the work, a meditation on the cyclical nature of time, the brevity and fragility of life, which is represented by the evolving flowers, first chastely pale, then prettily pink, then autumnal gold, then fading into the void as the cycle begins again. The mythical phoenix – a symbol of grace, infinity and renewal – echoes the transient nature of existence that is at the core of Hwang’s work.    
Why buttons?
Beauty can be found in the most ordinary, and the humble button is a metaphor for the ordinariness of human existence. I want to encourage an appreciation of the simple things we overlook in the frantic course of everyday.
Your work uses a feminine vocabulary, with materials from fashion such as buttons, pins and needles.
My first memories of art were of my father avidly painting Chinese inks and I must have been five or six, very introverted, grinding his ink stone for him. While he painted, I would be drawing by his side. I spent all my time drawing, all through school and one day I started making paper dolls and making Barbie dresses for them and all of a sudden I found myself with friends! I became very popular, and from that time I became very interested in fashion.
When I went to study in New York, I scoured the flea markets and I would find old Chinese pieces of embroidery, and that fascinated me. I found many beautiful used items that were abandoned, and that was when I first discovered the beauty in found objects. I began to use those to create mixed media collages. My first job in New York was interning at an embroidery company. One day in the office, I found a stash of abandoned buttons in a corner. These lifeless, worthless abandoned objects were like me. I was working for a living in the day and could only work on art at night and I identified with the buttons. And so I decided to resuscitate these beautiful discarded buttons as works of art. I began to work more and more with buttons and now I make my own buttons using a traditional Asian method. Each button is made of seven layers of paper, then varnished, made just for me.
You also utilize traditional Eastern imagery.
My dad, a writer who passed away more than 10 years ago, and who never got to see my works, had influenced me a lot in this. His paintings were traditional scholar’s subjects of bamboo and plum blossoms, etc. And after I moved to New York, I began to feel the pull of tradition and history, especially embedded in vintage objects. And if I need to categorize my work, then I’m a Post-Modernist; even if the visuals may be figurative and traditional, but the techniques and medium are contemporary, so this isn’t exactly traditional.
When did you decide that you would be an artist?
I never wanted to be anything else! Right from the time that I was drawing Barbie dresses with my father, I knew I would be an artist. Now I have a permanent team of 25 working for me full time, in both Seoul and New York. I have so much to tell after surviving some really challenging personal times. I’m really grateful that I can create the art that I do.
How does Singapore and this collaboration with Hermes make you feel?
Before I arrived, I thought I would only find buildings here and I was surprised to find so much greenery! There’s also this combination of old and new, the organic and the man-made that I find really interesting. The Third Floor-Hermes space was inspiring because the sides consist of glass. This potentially makes the projected image different during daytime and night. Due to the low ceiling, the work also fills up the exhibition space, so the viewer solely focuses on the work and gets overwhelmed by the scale of it.

Becoming Again is on till 31 January 2015.  Time: 10:30 am to 7:30 pm daily. Third Floor - Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers. Free admission

         

  

03 January 2015

PASSION FOR MONSTERS: NOTES

Parco dei Mostri (Garden of Monsters), a renaissance garden an hour's drive from Rome.
"Ogni pensiero vola" - "all thoughts flee".
Vincino Orsini, a warrior duke and poet, started arranging the garden in 1552.
Located outside the small town of Bomarzo, northern Lazio.
Villa d'Este at Tivoli.
Cerberus, a three-headed dog who guards the entrance to hell.

Demetria, goddess of the harvest.
Terme dei Papi, papal thermal baths outside Viterbo
"il sacro bosco" - the sacred wood

02 January 2015

LOOKING BACK IN TIME

20 March 2005
My one week leave ends tomorrow. Sadness. Time just seems to whoosh by when I'm on leave but seems to crawl, slug-like when I'm at work. Not even slug-like but heavy and clanking and rusty - something that doesn't seem to work very well.
During this one week, I didn't do anything productive. Initially I planned to kickstart a fitness regime but one excuse led to another and soon the week was gone. I don't even feel that rested. I've been attacked by colds on alternate days and my sleep is just as disturbed as if I was working. I regret not going away for a mini vac.
The only thing I'm even slightly pleased about is I managed to write a brief little piece of fiction "You Bluff Me".
I really can't wait for my pen pal Chin to read it.
Chin and I E-mail at least twice a day, and it's been going on for quite a while now. I wonder how this epistolary relationship is going to end? Will I ever meet Chin?
That possibility makes me feel sort of anxious.
What if I meet him accidentally one day? After all, being bookish, he haunts Borders, Kinokuniya  and Plaza Singapura, as I do.
BG has not called me the entire week. I wonder what sort of mind game he's playing.
I suspect that BG is cruising at Fort Road. Yesterday, when I called him, he said "I'm on my way to Sentosa, with my new friends." He's playing mysterious.
EH is on his way to Taipei for a week. EH has been weird too - I think it's got to do with M. BG and EH have fallen out over M, tawdry but true.

21 March
Had dinner with Dylan at Akashi in Paragon, then we walked to the Heeren to take a cab to Mox where we met EH and HA, who is so cock-crazy and insisted that we go to Happy to watch a swimwear parade. Lots of champagne. HA knows the cutest model in the show, a young NUS thug called Nick Teo. He said that Nick has a bad character. HA said that Nick Teo just wants a lot of money but would give so little (in exchange). He said that Nick asked him for money to buy a car. Then we went to Why Not. It was really quite fun, mostly because of the crazy behaviour of EH and HA.

23 December 2014

3 ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS STORIES

JF's Christmas at the Pool
"It's the eve of Christmas eve, 'round 1pm, one of those very quiet times at the pool, and so I was washing up with the shower door wide open, just so to keep an eye on my stuff which I'd left on the changing station ahead of me. You know me, I'm not shy like that. 
So I'm working up a treat with my new handmade geranium essential oil soap, I always use bar soap, I don't fancy gel. And I turn around and suddenly this tiny Chinese Hobbit, not very old, probably in his early thirties, was sitting right next to my stuff, so needless to say I had to keep an eye on him. 

The ACS Swimming Pool where so many things happened in my secondary school days.

Consciously nonchalant, acting oblivious, I continued soaping up and down my smooth flanks and sides, but became increasingly irked when I realised that I was putting on a Christmas show for that guy who kept gawking unabashedly. I really just couldn't hold it in any longer so I said very loudly, projecting across the room: "Excuse me, but what the flying fuck are you staring at?" 
"Ohhh... Ahhh, I wanted to ask you if I can borrow your soap?" he replied lamely.
So I said, "My soap isn't between my legs, you fuck!" 
Still relentless, he had the cheek to say, "Why do you shave down there? It's so ugly..." 

At this, I hurled my bar of soap in his face, hitting his right eye, and only then did he scurry off, Arena trunks, rubber sandals and drippy hair. 
I wasn't a marksman in the army for nothing."
Plaza Singapura in 1977

JZD's Christmas AT THE PLAZA MALL
Last night, amidst the plastic and tin foil-y Christmas decor at the Plaza Mall, JZD told me why he’s perpetually depressed. "It's not just Christmas," he said. As I suspected, it was about his family, a broken home and worse. His depression wasn’t about Nelson as I had thought, whom he had just met, and was all excited about; All anxious and nervous that it may all turn out to be naught. JZD isn’t quite as confident as he liked to present himself to be, but just as insecure as his good friend G, who no longer lives with him. They fought over rent, amongst other things, and G moved back to her parents' last Christmas.
KL model Haikal Hazman Hashim 

AY's Christmas Online
"So I met this dude online last Christmas, and he's a Chinese dude. We have been talking for a year now and indeed, he's very entertaining for a chat buddy. We would chat every day without fail, about this and that; However, when I asked him what race he preferred to date, I felt saddened to learn that he preferred to date a Chinese dude. I know it's his preference and what not, but I’m afraid he won't accept me as a potential date, because I'm not Chinese. I have yet to tell him that I’m Malay, so he doesn’t know this, even though we've been chatting for a year. He’s seen my photos though, but he doesn't seem to think that I'm Malay. 
Should tell him my race or just wait? I'm really confused..."