France 2018, part II

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See France 2018, part I , for the first part of our trip to France. Here is again a map of the places we visited.

In 1976(!), after my graduation, I applied for a position as a physics teacher at a school in Amstelveen. The rector (headmaster) in those days was Dr B.C. Poeder, he interviewed me and decided to give me the job. He retired long ago, but we had become friends and kept in touch. Therefore I knew that he was now living in France, in the region that Aric and I were going to visit.

I wrote to him, and he invited us to stay a few days in his house, in the small village of Robiac, about 50 km north of Nîmes. Take the road via Vézénobres, he suggested.

I had never heard about that village, but we followed his advice and decided to have lunch there . A romantic, medieval village, no cars allowed, we had to park quite far outside the walls

Walking around we were wondering if there was a place to have some food. We were lucky, found a nice shop where they prepared crepes and galettes. I had a glass of cider. Very nice people too.

When we arrived in Robiac, Carel was already waiting for us at the roadside, otherwise we might have missed the small road leading to his house. The nameplate on the letterbox still refers to his past as headmaster :-).

We were warmly welcomed by Carel and Joanne, his wife. The house is part of what before has been a school. The basement, formerly a goat stable, has been transformed in a guest room.

A big garden with many flowers.

Our hosts invited us for a nice dinner in Barjac, a nearby village.

The next day we enjoyed the swimming pool and the hospitality of Carel and Joanne, but also made a trip to a cave, the Grotte de la Salamandre. This cave was discovered in the 60s, access was possible only by abseiling through a hole above the cave! Five years ago the cave was opened to the public after an access tunnel had been excavated from the side of the hill.

You can still rappel down in the original way ( for an extra fee), we chose the tunnel..:-). A guided tour, clear explanations, the stalagmites and stalactites were illuminated with varying colors, some really very bright, but also with normal white light.

A very rewarding experience.

When you click on the left picture below to enlarge it, you can see at the top people who are abseiling from the hole in the roof!

The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and continued our trip. We had decided to follow the Gorges du Tarn, a long but very  scenic route. It is a canyon, 400 to 600 meter deep, eroded by the river Tarn. Spectacular views, like here of the village of Castelbouc, deep down.

The river is a favourite playground for kayakers.

We had lunch in La Malène

We stayed overnight in Millau, our Airbnb was a nice apartment, located in the historic center of the town.

Millau is nowadays known for its viaduct, but it turned out to be a surprisingly attractive town itself. The next morning we climbed the Beffroi, a bell tower consisting of a 12th-century square tower topped by an octagonal 17th-century tower.

It was a steep climb, but the view was worth the effort. The Millau viaduct was of course clearly visible and deep down the Halles, built in 1899.

In the Middle Ages Millau was an important town, especially because of a bridge across the Tarn river, consisting of 17 spans. Nowadays only one span remains with a house built on it, formerly a watermill. Very scenic.  In a nearby cafe we had coffee with a piece of fouace, a cake specialty of Millau.

The Millau viaduct is (at the time of writing) the tallest bridge in the world, with a height of 340 meter above the river Tarn. It is considered one of the great engineering achievements of all time.

The viaduct has become a major tourist attraction. We drove over it and also under it, when you look up at the supporting pylons from the river valley, they look so fragile!

Our next destination was Albi. Here a view of the town with the Sainte Cécile cathedral and the Vieux Pont (Old Bridge) in the foreground. This bridge was originally built in 1035.

We stayed two nights in Albi in a very nice Airbnb , a complete house, a bit outside the historic center, easy parking, with a very friendly hostess, who advised us where to eat where to shop and where to park when we wanted to visit the town center. Airbnb at its best…:-)

The cathedral is an amazing building, constructed between the 13th and 15th century. Those were the days of the Cathar Heresy, and the Roman Catholic church wanted to make a clear statement of strength. What a contrast with for example the Notre Dame in Paris! It looks like a fortress and is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world.

The monumental doorway was added at the end of the 14th century

The austere outside forms a strong contrast with the flamboyant interior.

Next to the cathedral the fortress of the Palais de la Berbie, the Bishops’ Palace, dating to the end of the 13th century

Nowadays it is the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. We had a quick look , I am not really a fan of him..:-)

But the gardens of the Palace are beautiful.

For dinner, our hostess had advised us  restaurant Lautrec in Albi and that was a good choice!

Albi has of course many interesting old houses. The left picture also shows the belltower of the cathedral

Another useful advice of our hostess was to visit the small village of Puycelsi, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France . There are more than 150 of them…:-)

The weather was a bit grey during our visit, here is a view of the village

We parked our car outside the walls and explored the narrow streets, visited the church and had lunch.

During our trip we had already passed  many sunflower fields, but on our way to Carcassonne we found such a beautiful field that we really had to stop to take pictures..:-)

We visited Lautrec, another of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The view of Lautrec might look similar to the view of Puyselci, but careful inspection of the two pictures will show you they are not the same…:-)

The weather was beautiful again, that could be the reason that we liked this village better. The walls are still there and the 14th century market square is attractive

We had lunch in a nice restaurant , Le Clos d’Adele. Good food, pleasant service, value for money.

After lunch we visited one of the other attractions of Lautrec, a 17th century windmill. A steep climb, but worth the effort, we could enter the mill and had a nice view of the surroundings. When there is enough wind the mill is still operating.

With Airbnb the host often doesn’t live in  the same building, so you have to contact him/her about your arrival time. That works well in general, but in Carcassonne it took us some time, the apartment also looked more like a hotel room. But it was ok, from our window we could see the medieval fortress in the evening light. But what were those strange yellow surfaces on the walls and towers?

The next day we explored the old town. It  the largest walled city in Europe and really impressive.

Not surprisingly it is a major tourist attraction with crowds of visitors in the narrow streets. We were lucky to find a restaurant with a secluded garden, where we had a nice lunch, again value for money

The name of the restaurant is Le Jardin du Carcasses, it has good reviews

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus was built in its Gothic form at the end of the 13th century on the site of an earlier church. It was the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803. Beautiful interior. But keep in mind that this church and also the citadel itself have been “renovated” in the 19th century by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc!

Access to the medieval city is free, but to access the fortress and the walls you have to pay an entrance fee.

Carcassonne is  a Unesco World Heritage site already for 20 years and of course that had to be celebrated. The Swiss artist Felice Varini was asked to create a project.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Felice paints on architectural and urban spaces, such as buildings, walls and streets. The paintings are characterized by one vantage point from which the viewer can see the complete painting (usually a simple geometric shape such as circle, square, line), while from other view points the viewer will see ‘broken’ fragmented shapes.”

In this case he projected concentric circles on the walls and towers of the citadel. They look broken, only from one vantage point they are circles. Quite spectacular, of course many specatators, not easy to take a picture without people.

In the evening we came back especially to admire Varini’s work

Our trip was coming to an end, our last destination was the naturist village of Cap d’Agde. On our way we passed this strange landscape, the Étang de Montady, a wetland, drained in the 13th century.

What to say about Cap d’Agde? Here is a picture of the beach, when you enlarge it, you will see that the sunbathers are naked…:-)

Nudist beaches are common in Europe, but Cap d’Agde is a nudist village, where you walk around, have a drink/ food on a terrace, go to the supermarket etc, all in your birthday suit..:-)

We had booked a room (Airbnb) with Bernard and that was a lucky choice, because he had been living there for many years and could tell us the do’s and don’ts. One don’t is that you can not take pictures of other naked people. Another one is that at night, during dinner, you are supposed to be a bit dressed at least…:-)

Bernard had two other guests, Christiane and Alain, a nice couple who had been regular visitors of Cap d’ Agde for many years. We became friends almost immediately…:-) The village itself is a nondescript conglomerate of concrete apartment complexes, but the company made our visit very enjoyable.

The second (also last) night of our stay we were invited to join our new friends to a dinner in a nearby restaurant. There was music, there was drag, and both Aric and I have been dancing! A fun evening and a worthy ending of our trip

It is amazing how much you can do in twelve days. After our return ot Amsterdam we needed several days to recover…:-)

Singapore 2018

Regular readers of my blog may remember that during my visit to Taiping in April 2017, I met a gentleman from Singapore, Dr Lee. We are both interested in (Taiping) heritage and kept contact by email. He suggested that we should visit Singapore, not only for its cultural heritage, but also for its nature, he could show us some interesting places.

So we booked a hotel in Singapore’s Chinatown for three nights and took the Aeroline bus to travel. Quite convenient

On my to-do list were a few of the recent modern buildings and one of them we passed already in the bus…:-). The Interlace (2013) , a 1000-unit apartment complex, which looks like numerous bricks irregularly stacked upon each other

From the bus terminal we took the MRT to Chinatown. The Keong Saik hotel was a good choice, the room was not big, but comfortable, and we had a view of another building on my architecture list, the Tanjong Pagar Centre (2016), the tallest skyscraper in Singapore. Although designed by world famous  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it did not look very special from our balcony. The Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple nextdoor was more interesting, but we had no time to visit it.

After a short rest, we met Dr Lee and walked with him through Chinatown.

Nicely restored houses and shoplots, many consisting of three storeys, unusual in Malaysia. Also here mural art. There are several works by Zacharevic, but we had no time to look for them. Next time…:-)

During our walk passed another modern building on my to-do list, the Pinnacles@Duxton (2009), a residential complex of 50 storeys high, dominating the three storeys shoplots of Chinatown. Initiative for this development came from Prime MInister Lee Kuan Yew, who was concerned about the exodus of residents from Singapore’s center.

We walked back via Keong Saik Road, beautifully restored houses. In the 1960’s this was the red-light district of Singapore! Dr Lee told us that in those days you could not pass the street without being addressed by the ladies of the night..:-)

For our dinner we went to the foodcourt in the Chinatown Complex , where we met a few of Dr Lee’s friends. Nice food, nice company.

The next morning Dr Lee picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the “best nasi lemak shop in town” for breakfast. He was formally dressed this time because he had to work in the hospital that day.

But first he dropped us at the Botanical Gardens, where we spent the next few hours. The gardens are 158 year old and, since 2015,  an Unesco World Heritage Site.

We started with the Rainforest, a small part of the gardens, actually older than the gardens themselves! Of course Malaysia has more rainforest, but Singapore is one of the few cities with a rainforest within its borders.

We walked around, beautiful views everywhere

On many places you can find sculptures, Here are two of them, Change Kuda (2011) by Chong Fah Cheong and Girl on a Bicycle (1987) by Sydney Harpley.

A few more pictures. To the right the Bandstand (1930), no longer used for musical performances, but still an iconic landmark of the gardens.

The bandstand was a good spot to take some rest

After our rest we had again enough energy to continue…:-)

Nice flowers.

Interesting leaves.

The gardens are free and open all day but for the famous National Orchid Garden you have to pay an entrance fee. After some hesitation we bought tickets and entered. Very worthwhile. Never in my life seen so many orchid species!

Here is a collage of orchids we have seen.

First we wanted to take a “wefi”, then a friendly visitor offered to take the picture. Even better..:-)

It would have been no problem to spend the whole day in these gardens, but we had decided to spend the afternoon in another beautiful garden, the Gardens by the Bay, created in 2006 on reclaimed land. The public transport in Singapore is well-organised, we took the MRT to the Bayfront station and walked via an underground corridor to the gardens.

This passage has a few remarkable works of art. Left in the upper picture is a painting by Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing#915, Arcs, Circle and Irregular bands (1999). Further on both walls are covered with mirrors, which gives multiple reflections. Could not find the name of the artist

Perfect location to take a wefi..:-)  Can you find out who of us has taken this picture?

When you exit from the underground passage and look backwards, you see the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel towering above you. One of the most impressive buildings I have seen in my life. I have stayed once there, expensive but it was worth the money..:-).

Entering the gardens you pass three smaller gardens, Malay, Chinese and Indian, Singapore is proud to be a multi-racial country. Far away the surrealistic Supertree Grove, but first we had a simple lunch at a snack bar.

Also in these gardens you can spend easily a full day. We had only limited time and decided to visit one of the two domes in the Gardens, the Cloud Forest dome. Expensive but 100% worth it.

Inside the dome a “misty mountain” has been created, with a waterfall, and pathways leading up and round the structure. Amazing and fascinating, just look at the pictures.

Of course flowers, mosses, ferns everywhere. These are fuchsia flowers, a favourite of mine.

Look carefully, two pictures show real flowers, the other two are fake!

In between the Lego “artworks”, there are real pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants.

A lot of maintenance is needed, but the result makes it worthwhile.

Interesting artworks, made of tree roots.

There is a Secret Garden too

When we bought tickets for the Cloud Forest, we thought about combining them with tickets for the “canopy walk” at the Supertree Grove, but the friendly lady at the ticket counter advised us to wait, because there might be rain in the afternoon and then the walk is closed. Good advice, there was a downpour while we were inside the dome, when we came out we noticed that the canopy walk around the trees was empty.

We went back to our hotel and had some rest. Later Dr Lee picked us up and with two of his friends we went to the Kent Ridge Park, to have a view of the harbour. Nice surprise, his friends had brought pulut & mango for us. Delicious

Next we went to Labrador Park, where we walked a part of the boardwalk. Nice view of another building on my list: Reflections at Keppel Bay (2011), a luxury residential complex designed by Libeskind, another famous architect. Singapore knows how to choose…:-)

Here is the boardwalk

TIme for dinner. We went to the Alexandra Village Food Centre, where we had a tasty soup and claypot chicken rice from the well known Tai Liok restaurant . It really is an advantage to go out with Singaporeans, they know where to find the good food!

The next day, after breakfast in our hotel, we took a bus to the Southern Ridges for a long hike, from the Alexandra Arch bridge to the Henderson Wave. Surprising that Singapore has so many hiking and walking opportunities. On the map you can see also the location of the Labrador Park.

The bus passed two buildings I had seen before already, the Reflections and the Interlace

It was an interesting walkway. We met many student groups on a Learning Journey, as it is called.

We continued until the Henderson Wave, a pedestrian bridge with a unusual artistic design

From this bridge we had a nice view of the Singapore skyline. Dark clouds again, it was quite rainy during our visit

The Henderson Wave, as seen from below.

After this walk we took a bus to the city center, as we had planned to visit the National Gallery in the afternoon. There were still remnants of the Christmas celebration. Again we had a very simple lunch

We walked around and had a look at Singapore’s landmark, the Merlion.

View of the Theatres on the Bay, colloquially known as the big durians. Memories came back of a “concert” by MozART Madness, attended many years ago…:-)

Boat Quay, dwarfed by the skyscrapers

We walked around in what is called the Civic District. Here many of the heritage buildings are located. Left another “wefi”, right the St Andrews Cathedral (1861)

The Victoria Hall began as Town Hall in 1862, the Asian Civilisations Museum is housed in what originally were the Government Offices (1864). The Old Parliament House, possibly the oldest surviving building of Singapore was built in 1827 as a mansion for a Scottish merchant. The National Gallery occupies two more recent buildings, the Former Supreme Court and the City Hall, both built in the first half of the 20th century

We decided to keep the National Gallery for the next day, and walked a bit more along the padang in the direction of two conspicuous buildings. The left tower is part of the Raffles CIty (1986) designed by architect I.M. Pei who has been responsible for many of Singapore’s skyscrapers. The right building was new for me, and it was only after I came  back home that I found out that it is  the South Beach development.

Looking back from the padang, the skyline of Singapore, the National Gallery, the Victoria hall with in front of it the Singapore Cricket Club.

It was in this club , the oldest one of Singapore (1852), that Dr Lee invited us for our farewell dinner. The club has a dress code, fortunately we had brought long pants, shirts, shoes. We started with an aperitif and what could be a better choice than a Singapore Gin Sling?

After our dinner we walked to the Singapore river for a few night view pictures. The majestic look of the Fullerton hotel suggest that is one of the prestigious old hotels of Singapore like the Raffles. Not true, the building is from 1928 and for many years it has been the Post Office of Singapore. It was only in 2001 that it became a five-star hotel!

After the posh dinner in the club, we enjoyed at a stall coconut ice cream as a dessert…:-)

The next morning we visited the National Gallery. There was so much to see and admire that I decided to write a separate post about this impressive museum: National Gallery, Singapore

 

In the afternoon we took the bus back and arrived home around 11 pm, tired but very satisfied. There is much more to do in Singapore and we are looking forward to come back soon.

 

CNY 2017

On 28 January 2017 the Year of the Rooster started. I had created a New Year card, using a picture of a magnificent rooster belonging to a friend of mine.

The Chinese zodiac has 12 signs and 5 elements (water, fire, earth, wood and metal). This time it is the Year of the Fire Rooster.

Sometimes it is also called Year of the Chicken or even Year of the Cock, because the Chinese character used, 鷄 or 雞  , is gender-neutral

2017 is a leap year, with 13 months, the sixth month will be repeated.

As usual Aric had gone back to his hometown Parit Baru a few days earlier, to organise the festivities for day 3 of the CNY. Each year there is a dress code, this time everybody had to wear a flowery shirt, else you had to pay a fine…:-). There would be a BBQ party, a lottery and a  competition for the most original/beautiful shirt.

When I arrived on day 3 late in the afternoon, the preparations were already in full swing. It is a tradition that I visit a waterfall with my friends on day 3, but this time we failed to reach the planned waterfall after a long hike. Here is my report: An unsuccessful waterfall trip. So I was rather exhausted when I reached the family house. But in this picture I still look quite fresh with my new shirt and surrounded by flower girls..:-).

Aric had bought my flower shirt, told one of his cousins about it, who liked it so much that she bought an identical shirt for her husband…:-).

Of course many, many pictures were taken. Aric, as MC, was very busy, but still found time for some pictures. He is very popular with all the nephews and nieces

In the kampung house in Parit Baru three families have been living together, Aric’s late father and two of his uncles. That explains that there is such a crowd during CNY, when all the children and the (many!) grandchildren are coming back to their hometown.

Before it gets dark, group pictures had to be taken. Here is a picture with everybody in front of the kampung house.

In the next picture, Aric,  who was the photographer,  has split the group in families. He has five uncles, nr 1,3 and 6 are living in Kuala Lumpur. To the right the family of Uncle no 4, then the family of Aric’s father (no 2), followed by the family of Uncle no 5. To the left Uncle no 3 and 6 with a few family members. Uncle no 6 and three Aunties are not present. Nine siblings!  I find it not always easy to remember who belongs to which family, so this is a useful picture for me …:-)

Two more group photos, one with  all the ladies, and one with Uncle no 5 and his family.

Aric had planned a few fun activities. One was a competition for the most original/beautiful floral shirt. In the left picture the seven selected competitors. The guy at the right could not find a suitable shirt and had asked his daughter to paint flowers with watercolors on a white t-shirt. Not surprisingly he won the first prize…:-)

Then it was time for food, lots of food. For example 500 sticks of satay….:-) And there  were oysters! Huge size, most people liked them barbecued, I preferred them raw. Delicious.

The last activity was a lottery. Ang pow envelopes were attached to the wall of the house in two sections, one for the kids and one for the adults. Everybody had to pick an envelope, and three  envelopes contained a piece of paper with a number written on it. I am never lucky with this kind of games, but this time I had a paper with a 2, meaning the second prize!

Although very busy, Aric had still found time to create his own CNY-card

 

I wish all my followers

Gong Xi Fa Cai

CNY 2016

On 8 February, the Chinese year of the monkey started. I am a monkey myself, when you are familiar with the Chinese zodiac, you know that I will celebrate my 72nd birthday this year…:-). Oh, you thought it was my 60th? Don’t play play, lah!

This year I decided to join Aric in his hometown for the traditional steamboat dinner on CNY eve. He had gone to Parit Baru already a few days earlier to help his mother with the preparations. As usual there was a big crowd, dinner in two rounds.

Second round. In the right picture Aric’s mother and his older sister with her two children.

 

After the dinner it was time for the traditional Yee Sang ceremony. Yee Sang is a Teochew-style raw fish salad. Actually yee sang means “raw fish”, but the pronunciation is similar to the Chinese word for “abundance”. The ceremony is that the family members gather around the yee sang and toss the salad with their chopsticks. The higher you toss the salad, the more abundance you will get…:-)   It is a very Malaysian Chinese tradition.

On day 3 of CNY I was planning to visit a “new” waterfall between Beruas and Trong, with my waterfall friends Siang Hui, Nick and Rani. First I was thinking to stay in Parit Baru until then, but would I survive the crowd…:-)? Aric advised me that it would be better to “escape” for a few days, and come back on day 3 for the traditional family  party.

So I went to Taiping on day 1. I had booked a hotel in Taiping already, when my friend May protested, told me that the hotel was haunted and convinced me to stay with her in what she calls the “Maywarmers Lodge”. Of course Rani was welcome too. Malaysian hospitality!

By the same Malaysian hospitality I was invited for two CNY open houses…:-). I am a member of the Taiping Heritage Society and both Yeap, the president and Sharon, an active committee member, invited me as soon as they heard that I would be in Taiping.

I arrived in Taiping just in time for the open house lunch at Yeap’s residence

After the lunch I met Rani in town, he had traveled on his bike. Also Paul and Fahmi, who happened to stay in Taiping. We spent a nice afternoon together, visited the Burmese pool (really too crowded) and had a look at the ruined New Club swimming pool. We had a drink in the Lake Garden food court, before Paul and Fahmi went back to KL.

Later Rani and I had our dinner in the same food court, one of my favourites. And the next morning we had a dim sum breakfast with our hostess May.

Originally our plan was to visit Kuala Sepetang, but we felt lazy and only had a look in the afternoon at some of my “favourite” eyesore places in Taiping. I must have a  masochist streak..:-)

That evening Rani joined me to Sharon’s open house. In the picture you see Sharon’s husband, Dr Chan Ah Lak and his nephew Henry Chan, who also happens to be a friend of mine. As usual Malaysia is a small world….

May had warned us that she was giving a CNY party for her former school mates that evening, so we were a bit shy to go back to her house…:-)  Of course a picture had to be taken, but after a while we could escape to our room..:-)

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The following day we had arranged to meet Siang Hui and Nick (coming from Teluk Intan) at the entrance of the Allagar Estate, between Trong and Beruas. From there a plantation road would take us to the trail head. Siang Hui had discovered the waterfall a few years ago and baptised it Lata Hui..:-).

But what a disappointment. When we arrived at the trail head, we were stopped by an armed soldier, who told us that the region was out of bounds because of a military training. What to do? The only alternative was the Trong waterfall. We decided to go to the Upper Trong Fall, but we were not really in the mood, there were many leeches, we got lost a bit, and rather dispirited returned to the Trong Fall. A nice fall, we had our lunch there and a bath. But still a pity, we were so full of expectations.

Here is a short video of the waterfall

After our lunch, we all went our way, Rani back to Meru, Siang Hui and Nick to Teluk Intan, and I back to Parit Baru. Where I caused quite a sensation, entering the kitchen..:-)  Leeches, somebody screamed and yes, I had not checked my sandals and brought a few of these critters in the house. Immediately they were covered with salt, but I felt quite embarrassed.

It was a nice evening. With the traditional firecrackers, a lucky draw, gambling and of course lots of food. Each year Aric likes to take an “official” picture and this year had decided for a location on the road outside the house. Not easy to control a crowd, but he managed…:-)

Here is the official picture of CNY 2016. The rule this year was to wear either a blue or a yellow shirt.

And here are the firecrackers. Illegal, but hey, this is Malaysia!

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Middelburg

Middelburg is a town in the south-western part of the Netherlands and capital of the Zeeland province. It takes about 2.5 hour by train from Amsterdam, very remote according to Amsterdam standards…:-). So  I have visited Middelburg (en Zeeland) a few times only. A friend of mine, Henk,  is living in a small village near Middelburg, we know each other from our University days, more than 40 years ago! Since a few years we have a more or less regular contact again,  because we are both interested in astronomy and cosmology.

Finally this year we met for the first time in many decades. I could stay overnight in their “garden house”.   Did I like mussels, Henk’s wife Nel asked me? Sure, I did and Zeeland is famous for its seafood.

Henk met me at the station and had planned a walk in the historical center of Middelburg. Nice weather. MIddelburg has a rich historical past, in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century) it was after Amsterdam the most important trading center. Many lavish 17th and 18th century merchant houses and storehouses (some of them  restored after bombing in WWII) can still be admired. Center of the town is the Abdij (Abbey) with the Lange Jan (Long John) tower, built in the 14th century

We decided to climb the tower, one of the highest monumental towers in the Netherlands (91 meter). Beautiful view of the town , the abbey and the impressive town hall

We continued our walk, admired the Town Hall and had coffee on a terrace at the Market square. I tried the Zeeland specialty, a cinnamon bun called bolus. Bolus means “turd” in English, quite an apt name, I think…:-)  In May 1940 part of the historical center of Middelburg was destroyed by bombing and fire. I include one picture of the St Joris Doelen as it looked like in 1940. What a beautiful restoration. The same holds for the Abdij.

After our lunch we had a look at the beautiful sundial of the Stadsschuur. Not everybody looking at this sundial will understand the meaning of the figure eight “decorations”. They are analemma’s. See the Equation of Time for technical details.

From Middelburg it was only a short drive to Serooskerke where Henk and Nel are living in an attractive bungalow, with a beautiful garden. When they told me I could stay overnight in their “garden house”, I expected simple accommodation, so I was quite surprised that it was actually a full-fledged apartment.

We had a very pleasant evening. Nel apologised that the mussel season was over, instead we had lobster. Yummy!  And a dish with zeekraal (Salicornia, glasswort in English) and baked mussels. And ice cream with strawberries. What a treat.

We had a lot to talk that evening…:-) Memories from our shared past, stories about our respective family backgrounds. We will hopefully meet again next year. In Zeeland or in Kuala Lumpur…:-)

My artistic sister

When you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I have a nice family. See for example my recent report Family Gathering A disorderly bunch, my late parents called us lovingly. Here we are, in chronological order.

Only one sister, Lous, how she must have suffered in the past with five brothers..:-). During her working life she has been a teacher and counselor like me. But with an artistic streak which I completely lack 🙁

When I am back in the Netherlands, it has become a nice routine to visit her and her husband Arend in their  bungalow in Valkkoog, north of Alkmaar. During my last visit I took pictures of a number of her creations. Judge for yourself.

As you see, she is using a large number of different techniques. I am proud of her.

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Kemensah Krazy 12-4-2015

A few months ago Aric asked me if I was interested to join him and a few of his friends on a hike, called Kemensah Krazy.

website

They were thinking about the Kemensah Kinda Krazy, 15 km, “ideal for those who want to have a feel of what the jungle is all about without going to extremes

Could I go the distance…:-)  Hm, I was pretty sure I could, with my almost daily morning exercise in Bukit Kiara. So I registered for the 15 km hike. Checking more carefully what to expect, I found on the website this profile of the 15 km hike. It made me slightly nervous…:-)  Distance no problem, but up and down all the time, total ascent (and descent) 850 meter

profile

The start was at 9 am, but we had to be there at 7:30 am to collect the race card and a BIB number, which you have to fix on your shirt. The race card will be punched at the various checkpoints and the BIB number contains a tag that will record your start and finish  time. Here is my BIB  number. With my nickname Kwai Loh..:-)

BIB

The whole event was organised very well. Free shuttle buses took us from the car park to the start. There breakfast was provided and you could leave a bag with a fresh set of clothes at a counter. For our hike there were six checkpoints, with free water and fruits.

For the 15 km hike there were about 200 participants, just after the start there was a big crowd, slowly moving forward. The organisers had done their best to create an attractive circuit. Sometimes wide logging roads, but also narrow jungle trails and a few steep slopes. Those slopes formed real bottlenecks, at one place we had to wait for about 45 minutes, in the hot sun. We had decided to walk at our own pace, Aric and his friends were faster than me, and often I walked alone, which I did not mind at all…:-)

It was a tough hike, much more strenuous that I had expected. There were a few moments that I thought about giving up. Actually there were quite a few participants who did, halfway. And almost everybody was huffing and puffing. I may have been the oldest participant and one Indian couple asked about my age. When I said I was almost 71, they replied: Wow, we are half your age. That you can do it, gives us strength to continue.  Really nice to hear.

The last (very steep!) part of the hike could be skipped without missing a checkpoint. Aric was waiting for me around there, to tell me that…:-) Sweet. But I decided to struggle on.

And I made it !!

When I shared the finish picture with my siblings in Holland, my youngest brother commented : “Everybody else went home already?”  LOL. But his next comment was that he complimented me…:-). Actually it was true that I was one of the last finishers…:-)  It took me more than 6 hours to hike this 15 km.

Here is the official result. A few participants finished after me. Aric (Cheah Yoke Seng) finished late too , but that was because he had been waiting for me! Later he told me that he and his two friends also had moments where they considered giving up!

results

Here are my certificate and my medal.

Certificate

Medal

And here is a Google Earth map of the circuit. There were three loops, green, red and finally blue. The red one was quite strenuous. Will I (we) do it again. No lah.  But it was a good experience

Map

And of course I had to show off with my well-earned T-shirt. Here in IKEA. You may note that my tummy is still there…:-(

Showing off

Family gathering

When I am back in the Netherlands, we always try to organise a family gathering. This time on 18 April, one day after my 71st birthday. First we met in the family house at the Conradstraat, where we grew up and where my youngest brother and his family are now living.

Conradstraat

Conradstraat

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to take a walk through our hometown and see how much had changed..:-). Here are the six Stuivers, as we call ourselves. A stuiver was the popular name for a 5 cent coin, before the Euro was introduced.

The Stuivers

With the perfect weather, our native village (now a town) looked very attractive with quite a few historical buildings still standing and well-conserved. For Dutch readers of this blog, our Reformed Church is the Gereformeerde Kerk, the other one is the Hervormde Kerk. In English they are both “Reformed” and it would take many pages to explain the difference..:-)

Of course also a lot of renovation has been going on. The modern town hall (2003) has an eye-catching architecture. Next to the railway station a bike storage facility has been constructed in the form of a green apple :-).There is modern sculpture and some of the new residences look quite special

We had booked for our dinner in Casa Havana, a buffet restaurant inside  Avifauna This bird park was opened in 1950(!) as the first dedicated bird park in the world. We have been here regularly in our youth, but for me if was the first time in many decades to revisit the park. Before our dinner we had a stroll through the park. Of course birds in cages, like the hornbills and the flamingoes, but many also roaming free. Very nice, we should have come earlier, as the dinner was waiting for us…:-)

The buffet restaurant turned out to be a popular, crowded and quite noisy venue. A table had been reserved for us and we had a very friendly waitress. Starting wih a welcome cocktail, free flow of wine and beer, a large variety of food, even port with the cheese! Value for money.

“Shall I take a picture of your group”, the motherly waitress asked me. Here is the result

The family

The problem with buffet restaurants is that my stomach is not big enough..:-( Here is what I managed to consume (hm, actually there was such a variety of starters that I had two plates).

dinner

After the dinner we walked back to our cars. Spring is a few weeks late this year, so many trees still were barren. It gave the pollard willows (knotwilgen) an almost magical appearance

IMG_5925

IMG_5927

Before going home, we had a farewell drink in the family house. A very nice and satisfactory reunion!

In the Conradstraat

Anwar & Saiful

On 10-2-2015  the Federal Court of Malaysia upheld the ruling by the Court of Appeal  that  Anwar Ibrahim was guilty of sodomising his aide Saiful Bukhari in 2008, and sentenced him to five years’ jail. Article 377B of the Malaysian Penal Code was applied.

Anwar

Saiful

The last few days I have received concerned questions from family and friends, if it was still safe for gay people to live in Malaysia. My answer is: don’t worry, this was a political process, a successful attempt by the powers that be, to eliminate the charismatic opposition leader.

Why then was I so shocked and depressed the last few days? Pity with Anwar? Not really, he has behaved as a typical alpha male, like Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Chua Soi Lek, just to name a few. But I am worried about the future of Malaysia, my 2nd home.

In this blog I will give some background information, as I have noticed that there is a  lot of misunderstanding.

Let me start with the “infamous” article 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code. And not only of  the Malaysian one! It occurred in 42 (!) of the former British colonies. An archaic law, repealed by now in some of the more civilised ones.

Here are the relevant parts of article 377:

377A:  Any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person is said to commit carnal intercourse against the order of nature.

377B: Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.

377C: Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature on another person without the consent, or against the will, of the other person, or by putting the other person in fear of death or hurt to the person or any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.

I like to draw your attention to two points

  1. The definition in 377A mentions “another person”, NOT “another man” . So it covers anal/oral sex in heterosexual relationships as well.
  2. ONLY the man who puts his penis in the mouth or anus of “another person” commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature and will be punished. The other person goes free.

An archaic law. Here are results from a recent American sexual behaviour survey

Sexual Behaviour

Just an example: In the age group 30-39, an astonishing 59% of the women gave a man a blowjob. And mind you, although the woman is active, it is the man who is committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature. Sodomy? In the same age group, 22% of the women were sodomised!  The percentages for homosexual oral and anal sex are 6% and 3 %  “only”

Would the results for Malaysians be very different? If the law would be applied, the prisons would be flooded…:-) Actually the law is not applied often. According to the Human Rights Watch organisation, article 377 has been applied only 7 times since 1938! In recent memory, only two convictions, both concerning Anwar. By the way, note that in this article it is also mistakenly assumed that 377 is about LGBT!

Back to Anwar and Saiful. In 2008 Saiful started to work for Anwar as an aide. On 28 June 2008 he makes a police report alleging Anwar had sodomised him at a condominium in Bukit Damansara between 3.10pm and 4.30pm on 26 June 26 2008. Here is a timeline  published by the New Straits Times.A short resume: Anwar denies, claims that semen found in Saiful’s anus has been put there to incriminate him. In 2012 the High Court acquits and discharges him of sodomising Saiful. The prosecution appeals and in 2014 the court of Appeal sentences Anwar to 5 years. The Federal Court has upheld this verdict.

Here are the two main actors for the prosecution, the Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail and the Public Prosecutor Mohammad Shafee. Shafee may well become the next AG. Both men are long time adversaries of Anwar.

gani

Shafee

Time to give my own opinion!  Did Anwar and Saiful have sex?

Personally I am convinced they did. And I am sure it was consensual. I even would not be surprised if Saiful had started making avances. Does that mean Anwar and Saiful are gay? Anwar is a good husband and a grandfather. But he likes men too, so he is bisexual. About Saiful I am less sure. Apparently he is married now, but what does that mean.:-)? I understand that he has been fascinated by VIP’s. And from this wedding picture he has reached his goal…:-) Here the MB of Kedah is paying his respect. That is Mukhriz, by the way, the son of Mahathir. Another adversary of Anwar…:-). Coincidence?

Mukhriz & Saiful

Here is my reconstruction of the period before Saiful reported to the police on 28-6-2008. Bold by me

  1. Some time after Saiful started to work for Anwar, they get intimate. From a IPU reportMohd Saiful lodged a police report claiming that not only had Anwar sodomized him on the afternoon of Thursday 26 June 2008, but that he had been sexually assaulted some eight or nine times against his will by Anwar over the previous two months. Eight or nine times against his will! When it is remarked how a 61-year with a history of back pain can do that to a 23-year old, this part of the report is no longer mentioned. So the charge becomes 377B and not 377C
  2. On 24-6-2008 Saiful visits Najib. About a scholarship, but the topic of his “relationship” with Anwar is also discussed. Can that be true? He may also have met police officers. Why?
  3. On 26-6-2008 his last encounter with Anwar. He buys KY Jelly! From a Bernama report: Mohd Saiful, in his evidence, had spoken of his previous encounters he had had with Anwar, the unpleasant sensation of pain and the reason for bringing the KY Jelly lubricant.
  4. The next two days  Saiful doesn’t pass motion, and doesn’t rinse himself, “to keep the evidence intact”. Why wait two days?
  5. He then lodges the police report on 28-6 and next visits three hospitals to get his anus examined. Report by the Borneo Post

Looks like Anwar has been framed, don’t you think so?

I am not the only one thinking like that. Here is an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Caught in political sex trap, quoting Wikileaks info:

The cable that deals with Dr Anwar’s sodomy case, dated November 2008 and released exclusively to The Sun-Herald by WikiLeaks, states: ”The Australians said that Singapore’s intelligences services and [Singaporean elder statesman] Lee Kuan Yew have told ONA in their exchanges that opposition leader Anwar ‘did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted’.”

The document states the Singaporeans told ONA they made this assessment on the basis of ”technical intelligence”, which is likely to relate to intercepted communications.

The ONA is also recorded as saying that Dr Anwar’s political enemies engineered the circumstances from which the sodomy charges arose.

”ONA assessed, and their Singapore counterparts concurred, ‘it was a set-up job and he probably knew that, but walked into it anyway’,” the cable states.

Of course the publicity after Saiful lodged his report was enormous. Confronting the press he was accompanied by his “Uncle Pet”. Here he is, two pictures, one with Saiful’s lawyer, the other one giving an interview to Malaysiakini.

uncle pet

uncle_pet

Here is the interview. Uncle Pet discusses Saiful’s visit to the several hospitals and voices his indignation about an article by RPK in Malaysia Today , suggesting that Saiful might have been sodomised by uncle Pet himself.

Although that was a preposterous comment by RPK, it is also clear that uncle Pet was not good for Saiful’s credibility, so not surprisingly he has “disappeared” and is never mentioned in the court proceedings.

The main argument for the Federal court to uphold Anwar’s sentence was that they considered Saiful a credible witness. Credible in his account of what happened between Anwar and him on 26-6-2008. That may be true. But if my reconstruction above is correct, it should not necessarily have come to a court case. Consensual “unnatural” sex between two adults. Illegal, true, but hundred thousands of Malaysian couples do the same. Why only select and punish Anwar?

Shafee acknowledges that it has been a (legal) conspiracy.  It was sodomy, he argues, and all legal means are allowed to punish the culprit. Well, he will have a huge job to punish all (straight and gay) sodomites, when he will become the AG.

Shame on him. It was a political conspiracy. Selective persecution. Aimed exclusively at Anwar. I feel sorry for Malaysia.

Street Art in KL

During a recent visit to KLCC I spent some time in the Petronas Art Gallery to have a look at an exhibition about Street Art in Kuala Lumpur.

Last year in September, fifteen young Malaysian artists have created six large mural paintings on walls of buildings in KL. The project, sponsored by Petronas, was called  #tanahairku 2014 where Tanah Air Ku means My Homeland. In the exhibition small scale versions of the paintings were presented and in a folder the locations were shown. In a modern way, by giving the GPS coordinates…:-).

Petronas Exhibition

map

 

Quote from the folder: “Projek #tanahairku 2014 aims to encourage 30 million Malaysians – a unique melting pot of cultures, traditions and heritage – to come together, draw from our strength in diversity and unite towards a common purpose

We decided to have a look at the paintings ourselves. Here I present pictures of each of them, with the title, name of the artist(s) and a short description, as given in the folder

1. Smile by Keep It Simple a.k.a KIS

Welcome to a surreal fantasy - a mural featuring a plethora of 
national symbols, elements and historical icons

Mural

Mural

2. We Are All In The Same Boat by District Creative

A boat and its passengers. 
A country and its people. 
A juxtaposition of imageries. 
A message of strength in diversity.

MuralMural

3. Brave by Anokayer & Yumz

An artistic take on the youth of the nation portraying the many 
compilations and contradictions in one visual

Mural

Mural

4. The Village and The City by Kenji X Cloak

The coming together of two worlds - an allegory of Malaysian 
life, and a wall-sized caricature portrait of the two artists

Mural

Mural

5. Makmur, Teguh, Luhur by Phiberwryte Connection

Three essential words chosen by the artist for the youth of the 
nation to embrace.

Mural

Mural

6.The Malaysian Model Heart Kit by KangBlaBla X Reeze

What is a Malaysian heart made of? What are the attributes and 
qualities that keep us going and define us as Malaysians

Mural

Mural

Altogether an interesting collection. Colorful, often graffiti-like. The description (given by the artists?) does not always help in understanding the significance of the mural, but never mind ..:-)

A few times you see 1957 in the murals. In 1957 the Federation of Malaya became independent, celebrated yearly on 31 August. The state of Malaysia was born 6 years later, in 1963. But that is a topic for another post…:-)

A nice project, I hope the murals will be maintained properly. Very different from the murals in Penang and Gopeng. Which us good! On our way back to our car we came across another one, not related to the #tanahairku project. I wonder how many more murals there might be in KL..:-)

Mural

The project got its name from the poem Tanah Air (Homeland), written by a Malaysian poet laureate, Usman Awang (1929-2001). My knowledge of Malay language is not good enough (actually almost non-existent) to understand the poem, but apparently it is popular. Recently a  very niceYouTube video has been created of this poem.

;

As you may know I am quite worried about the future of Malaysia, with a government who is stoking racial unrest, just to remain in power. A project like this and the video offer a glimpse of optimism.