Dixit Dominus

A few months ago I listened for the first(!) time to Dixit Dominus, composed by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) in 1707.  It is an absolute masterpiece of Baroque music.

Not surprisingly numerous recordings can be found on YouTube. Here are two, one conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in 2014

The second one with Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the hr-Sinfonieorchester and her Chœur du Concert D’Astrée in 2017

When you search YouTube for Dixit Dominus Handel, you will find more than ten different recordings. I found it interesting to compare them. Listen for example to the first bars of the slow recording by Sir David Willcocks 1965) and the very fast one  by Andres Mustonen (2018)!

Händel wrote Dixit Dominus when he was 22 year old and staying in Italy, in Florence and Rome. In Germany he had already made a name for  himself with the opera Almira, composed when he was 19 year old.

But during his stay in Rome, operas had been (temporarily) banned by pope Clement XI because he considered them immoral. So Händel composed mainly sacred music while in Rome.

The portrait is dated about 1710.

Dixit Dominus is a musical setting of psalm 109 from the Book of Psalms, which is part of the Christian Old Testament. The title comes from the first line of the Latin text of the psalm:  Dixit Dominus Domino Meo, which translates (in the King James version) as The Lord said unto my Lord .

A rather cryptic line, is the Lord talking to himself? The explanation is that in the Hebrew text two different words are used for Lord. The Lord who speaks is God and he speaks to the psalmist’s lord. This lord is seen as the Messiah and in the New Testament Jesus quotes this psalm that he is the Messiah and the son of God.

That is the reason that this psalm 109 plays an important role in the Christian liturgy, the psalm is sung often in the Roman-Catholic Vespers.

Actually, Händel was not the only composer who wrote a Dixit Dominus. Vivaldi even wrote three versions, RV 594, RV 595 and RV 807 (my personal favorite). On YouTube you can also find versions written by Pergolesi and by Alessandro Scarlatti (the father of Domenico).

The last line of the psalm in the Händel version is sung as a duet by two sopranos and choir. It is impressively beautiful and in the Gardiner recording it was given as an encore. Here it is, put the volume high and listen to what you can read in one of the comments: One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

When I heard this emotional, moving duet, I got curious about the text, expecting it to be equally  emotional and “deep” ..:-). But no, the last line of the psalm is in Latin:

De torrente in via bibet, propterea exaltabit caput. 

In translation

He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

What does that mean, it sounds so trivial? I got intrigued, started searching the Internet and found this website  Psallam Domino   where all the psalms are analysed in a very thorough way.  About psalm 109 the blog says  “This is a hard psalm to interpret correctly” and “… it is very theologically dense”

The webpage about the last line has the title  “Prophesying Christ’s humility and the Ascension” . The humility is that he just was drinking water from a brook, the ascension is indicated by the lifting of the head .

Being a non-believer, I gave up after this and just will enjoy the music…:-)

Bhutan 2018

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, landlocked between India and China. The country is slightly smaller than the Netherlands, with  a population in 2016 of about 800.000, roughly the same as the city of Amsterdam!

It was only in 1974 that the isolated country opened its borders to foreigners. In that year 287 tourists visited Bhutan, a number that increased to almost 180.000 in 2016. Compare that with the 15.5 million tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2016!

The Bhutanese government wants to preserve the traditional culture and has decided to limit the tourism, by making it expensive. Tourists have to spend 200-250 USD daily, depending on the season.

Friends who have visited Bhutan, told us not to wait too long with a visit, so we decided to go and started looking for a suitable travel agency, because you can not travel on your own in Bhutan, you need to book a guide and a driver. For us that would be a new experience. Finally we chose Book Bhutan Tour ,and booked a 10D9N tour with them.  With only the two of us as passengers, it made the trip even more expensive  🙂

But it was worth it! Before I start my travelogue, here is a Google Map of Bhutan in which I have indicated the places where we have stayed overnight (A – H) and some of the highlights of the trip (red markers). When you click on a marker, you will see a picture. The map can be enlarged and you can zoom in and out.

There are no direct flights from Kuala Lumpur  to Bhutan, first we took a MAS flight to Bangkok, stayed overnight near the airport and early the next morning we departed with Druk Air for Paro, the international airport of Bhutan.

The descent to the airport was quite spectacular. Because the terrain is so mountainous, the plane can not approach in a straight line. Aric took pictures during the descent and nowadays smartphones can record GPS data, even inside the plane! The GE screenshot shows the altitude of the plane and the surrounding mountains.

 Here are the corresponding pictures

At the airport we were welcomed by Ram, the owner of Book Bhutan Tour, and Tenzin, our guide. We received as welcome gift a khata, a silk shawl, decorated  with the  Ashtamangala , the Eight Auspicious Signs. Tenzin, our guide, is wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress for men, the gho.

After a cup of coffee we drove to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where we had our first Bhutanese food.

On the way to our hotel we passed a sports meet, where students were competing in various activities. Fascinating to see how the spectators  were all dressed in traditional garb, the boys in their gho with black knee stockings and the girls in their kira.

Our room in the Jumolhari Hotel   was comfortable. As we had got up at 4am, we took a short rest.

But not for long, we were going to visit our first Dzong! A Dzong is a fortress, often built on a hill top, dominating a town. Half of a dzong houses administrative offices, the other half is occupied by the monastic body, monks quarters, chapels etc. Many of them have their origins in the 17th century, when Zhabdrung Rinpoche  unified Bhutan as a nation-state. These spectacular fortresses are  one of the main reasons to visit Bhutan.

Here is the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Built in 1641, it has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968.

Because government offices are housed in the dzong, access is only allowed after working hours and there is a dress code. Bhutanese men have to wear a ceremonial white scarf, and tourists should not wear t-shirts, shorts or sandals.

When we arrived, it was raining, they were just lowering the flag.

After a while the rain stopped and we could enter the courtyard. It was our first dzong, so we took numerous pictures. Bhutanese architecture is beautiful, very traditional and decorative.

Here are a few more pictures

Because it had been raining, there were some pools on the pavement. Aric knows how to make spectacular pictures, using the reflection in the water. Tenzin was interested and Aric was eager to explain how to do it…:-)

Before calling it a day, we drove to a spot where we had a good view of the illuminated dzong. A nice first day in Bhutan


DAY 2

We spent this day in Thimphu. First we visited the Memorial Chorten  , built in 1974  in memory of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the 3rd Dragon King, who died in 1972.

There is a lot of respect and love for the royal family in Bhutan, which may explain that daily hundreds of locals visit the memorial for praying. They walk many times around the chorten (stupa), always in clockwise direction. Or they go to the prayer wheels and turn them around and around. Old ladies sit down near those wheels and keep turning them. Fascinating.

Next we went to the Great Buddha  statue, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, 52 m high. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2015, only a few years ago. It is quite impressive, although there has been criticism that it is megalomaniac and doesn’t fit in the Bhutanese culture.

The Buddha is overlooking Thimphu and can be seen from far away. Inside the statue are temples and halls, containing ten thousands of small bronze Buddha statues.

After our lunch we visited a vocational education center, where young (and older) Bhutanese were trained in traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to just walk around and take pictures. I was impressed by the concentration of the students, even without the presence of their teachers .. 🙂

Wood carving, painting, embroidery, drawing. Notice how concentrated everybody is

It was my birthday and I had decided not to tell Ram and Tenzin. When Ram suggested that we could have a cup of tea at his house, I was not suspicious and accepted his invitation. Only when his wife came in with a cake, and everybody started singing Happy Birthday,  it became clear that there had been a complot between Aric and Ram. Really a surprise, I even became a bit emotional…:-)

Back in our hotel, we had dinner. We had several nice meals, but in general Bhutanese cuisine is not a reason to visit the country. The red rice is tasty, many dishes are prepared with local cheese and can be very spicy. Not much variety.


DAY 3

Our destination this day was Trongsa, less than 90 km from Thimphu, as the crow flies. But the connecting “highway” is winding, resulting in a driving distance of almost 200 km, traversing mountain passes up to 3400 m high. We left Thimphu at 8 am and reached Trongsa around 4 pm, just in time to visit the dzong. But the landscape is beautiful. Ram had prepared a picnic basket with coffee and cookies and we had lunch in a restaurant halfway. I could not resist the temptation to have my picture taken as a big boss…:-)

After lunch we continued and visited an interesting stupa with eyes (Nepali style) . The “highway” is the only east-west connection,  being widened, some parts were in bad condition. We passed a waterfall and finally saw the imposing Trongsa Dzong, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. Have a look at the map above to find out why…:-)

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong of Bhutan, built in 1647. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty who ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan

Also here a division in a governmental and a monastic half. A very impressive fortress.

The dzong is a paradise for photographers. Here a small selection from the many pictures we took during our visit.

We stayed overnight in the nice Yangkhil resort,  celebrating a long, tiring day with a bottle of Bhutanese wine.


DAY 4

Our room had a balcony with a view of the Trongsa Dzong.

After breakfast we continued our trip . Also here they were working on the  “highway”, widening it. We stopped for a while at the Yutong La pass, marked by a chorten and a sea of prayer flags. At an altitude of 3425 m, you feel out of breath easily!

After the pass we descended into the Bumthang Valley , the  religious heartland of Bhutan. First we visited the Jakar Dzong, founded as a monastery by the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung and in 1667 extended as a dzong. Impressive, large building.

Interesting were the many monks in this dzong. Notice that one of them is carrying a smartphone…:-)

Walking back to our car we met a group of young schoolboys going home, dressed in their gho uniform. They were friendly and could speak English quite well. It is educational policy in Bhutan to teach English already in primary school.

After lunch we visited two holy places, each with an interesting history.

The first one is  the Jambay Lhakhang. According to legend, it is one of the 108 temples, built by a Tibetan King in 659 on a single day, to pin down a female demon. The temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet and Bhutan. In Bhutan two of the temples still exist, the other one is in Paro (see later). Of course they have been repaired and rebuilt  several times. Looking at the many devotees visiting the temple, it is still a very holy place.

The second holy place is the Kurjey Lhakhang , a complex of three temples. The oldest one was built in 1652, it was locked when we were there, inside there should be a meditation cave where the Guru Rimpoche left his body print. The Guru Rimpoche lived in the 8th century and is one of the most venerated Buddhist masters in Bhutan. The second temple was built by the first king of Bhutan in 1900. The third one is very recent, built in 1984 by the grandmother of the present king. Interesting is that the architectural style of all temples is very similar

On the temple grounds we noticed this large collection of miniature stupas. They are placed here by devotees who hope that it will add to their karma. And near the temples there was a hanging bridge decorated with numerous prayer flags. Bhutan is a deeply religious country.

We were getting tired, it was time to go to our guesthouse. The Swiss Guesthouse to be precise and indeed, it felt a bit like Switzerland..:-) . With an apple orchard, a wood stove in our (spacious) room and a more or less Western style dinner.


DAY 5

Another picture of the Swiss Guesthouse. Left in the background the Jakar Dzong. Lots of apple blossom

This day no dzongs, monasteries or temples, we started our trip back to Thimphu, using the same so-called Lateral Road. Here one more stretch (to be fair to Bhutan, large parts of the road were already finished and in good condition)

At  high altitudes, there are no longer cows but yaks. And of course there were  rhododendrons.

Destination for the day was the Dewachen  hotel in the Gangteng Valley, a vast U-shaped glacial valley at an altitude of ~ 3000 m. During the winter months the globally threatened Black-necked Cranes roost here. It is a beautiful valley and our guide Tenzin suggested that we should hike a 4 km nature trail to the hotel. It was a pleasant walk.

The last few days we had been often the only guests in the restaurants and guesthouses. Here in the Dewachen Hotel there was quite a crowd.

We had a beautiful room with a view of the valley. After our dinner Ram and Tenzing joined us for a while, dressed this time in “western” outfit…:-). Both are nice guys and became our friends easily.

 


DAY 6

From our hotel it was an easy walk to the Black Necked Crane Visitor center. We knew that the cranes had already left to their breeding places in Tibet, crossing the Himalaysa at 6 km altitude! One juvenile bird got injured and broken-winged in 2016 and is now kept in the center. Read here more about Karma

We walked through the valley, as the car had a problem. Quite a long walk, but a good exercise. The landscape is dotted with farms, the region is fertile, potatoes and other vegetables are grown. The farmhouses look attractive in their traditional Bhutanese style. Look carefully at the house in the top row, second from right, next to the stairs. It is a penis! Later more about this interesting Bhutanese tradition. We bought  a drink in a local grocery shop

We passed a school and of course I had to take a look. There was a sports meet going on, so we could have a look inside.

The Gangtey Monastery is one of the most important centers of Bhutanese Buddhism.  Established in 1613, but of course several times rebuilt and restored, last in 2002-2008.

This is a monastery, not a dzong. There are prayer halls, the monks have their rooms, no government offices here.

The car had been repaired and from the monastery we continued to Punakha, our destination for the day. One of the famous views in Bhutan are the snow-capped giant Himalaya mountains. But you need clear skies to see them The best view we had was today, at least there was snow. Our altitude 3330 m

In the late afternoon we reached the Punakha Dzong. Altitude 1230 m, 2100 m lower! Constructed by the Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. Quite accessible, compared with Trongsa and Bumthang, not surprisingly there were relatively many tourists here.

Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955 and in 2011 the wedding of the present king took place in the dzong


The dzong closes at 5pm, we could not really visit in detail. Before going to our hotel we visited the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan. Modern design, traditionally decorated with prayer flags.

Another interesting day.


DAY 7

After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery near Punakha, with an interesting history. Built in 1499, it was the monastery where the “Divine Madman” lived. From the Wikipedia link:  “Some of his most famous performances include urinating on sacred, thankhas, stripping down naked or offering his testicles to a famous Lama.” It is a nice walk through the padi fields to the modest monastery.

The tradition to decorate houses with paintings of erect penises originates from the Divine Madman. Nowadays the government discourages this tradition, but in the countryside we had still seen several (see picture above). They are not fertility symbols but serve to protect against evil spirits and demons.

In the nearby village of Sopsokha it has become the main tourist attraction. Shops, restaurants, they are all decorated with modernised phallus images. A bit too much…:-)

But of course I joined the crowd in taking pictures. Here is a collage.

Leaving the village we had a nice view of the beautiful landscape. If you look carefully, you can just see the monastery on the hill top, left from the village

Next stop was at the Royal Botanical Park, where that day the yearly Rhododendron festival took place. Quite a few visitors, mostly locals.

The rhododendron season was almost over, we had to search for nice specimens.

Our last stop was at the Dochula mountain pass at 3100m.  With clear skies you can see from here the big Himalaya mountains, but, although the weather was nice, the view was not clear.

The 108 memorial chortens have been constructed in 2004, in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

We stayed overnight in Thimphu, in the same hotel as the first two nights.

 


DAY 8

Before we left Thimphu for Paro, we went to the Main Post Office. Why? Because you can buy regular stamps there with your own picture on it.

At the Dochula pass we had already taken a picture , especially for these stamps.

Here is the result. We have used them to send postcards to family and friends.

In Paro we first visited the National Museum, high above the Paro Dzong. A watchtower (left) protects the dzong, which you can see downhill (right).

Seen from above it looks rather small, but actually it is a large fortress. Notice the watchtower in the top right of the picture

This was the fifth and last Dzong we visited during our trip. Fed up with dzongs? Not at all. Although the basic architecture is the same, all of them have their own character. And they are live monuments. Here too the dzong houses both government offices and the monastic body.

Everything so colorful. A delight for photographers

During our stay in Bumthang we had visited Jambay Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples, supposedly built on one day in 659 AD to pin down a demoness. The other one in Bhutan is located in Paro, the Kyichu Lhakhang .

It is believed that the two orange trees in the courtyard of the monastery bear fruit throughout the year.


DAY 9

Probably the most famous landmark in Bhutan is the Paro Taktsang, better known as the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery located in the cliffside of the mountains near Paro, at an altitude of 3100 m. The shrine was first built in 1692 around a cave where according to legend the Guru Rimpoche had meditated in the 8th century.

It is considered the cultural icon of Bhutan , so of course we wanted to visit it. It is a strenuous hike, starting at an altitude of 2600 m, and we were not sure if we could make it…:-)

Of course we were not the only visitors. The first part of the hike you can rent a donkey, I just bought a walking stick. We started early before 8am. In both pictures the Tiger’s Nest is visible, try to spot it ..:-)

Even though we were reasonably fit, it was a tough hike, we were often out of breath because of the altitude. The pictures give the altitude and the time. Notice that we had to climb higher than the monastery, then go down steps about 100 meter and finally steep up again to the entrance.

Here is the reward for our efforts…:-)

The interior of the monastery is beautiful, but photography inside is not allowed and the checking was strict, cameras and smartphones had to be put into lockers. We stayed inside for about one hour, then walked back in  2 hours

Tired but happy that we had made it!. In the right picture you can see the Tiger’s Nest above me

I wrote earlier that Bhutanese food is not that special, but the lunch we had was delicious

Ram and Tenzin had ordered it especially for us, probably because they knew that we are interested in food..:-)

Aric had also asked them if they could arrange a Hot Stone Bath, a Bhutanese speciality. So, after lunch we went to a bathhouse. As they had to prepare the baths , we had some time to try archery.

The water in the bathtub is heated by stones, that have been roasted in a fire. When they are dumped in the tub, they not only heat the water, but also give off minerals, supposedly good for your  health. It was a fun experience, when the water cooled down, you just called the helper outside “one more stone, please”.

After we had taken some rest in our hotel, Ram and Tenzin took us to a restaurant for a farewell dinner. Again really nice food

 


DAY 10

Ram and Tenzin took us to the airport, where we said goodbye to what had become our friends..

A very rewarding trip, although we still prefer to organise our own travels, if possible

Apollo et Hyacinthus

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, in 1767, when he was eleven(!) years old. Recently  I have been listening many times to this  fascinating work of art, really amazing that it was written by an eleven year old boy.

Not many recordings exist. Here is a beautiful one.

The Greek myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus is an interesting one, because it describes the love between the god Apollo and the boy Hyacinthus. The Greek gods were not picky and had love affairs with both men and women. Famous example is the love of Zeus for the boy Ganymede.

In this case  both Apollo and Zephyros, the West Wind god, were in love with the handsome Spartan prince. Hyacinthus preferred Apollo. When the two lovers were playing with the discus, Apollo threw it very high and far and Hyacinthos tried to catch it. Jealous Zephyros blew the discus off its course, it hit Hyacinthus and killed him. Apollo was desolate, could not bring the boy back to life, but created from his blood a beautiful purple flower.

Painters loved the subject, here is a version by the Russian artist Alexander Kiselyov. The discus is lying on the ground. The flower was not the present hyacinth, but probably the blue larkspur. Ovidius who describes the story in his Metamorphoses, tells that Apollo inscribed “Ai Ai”, the Greek expression of grief on its petals. And indeed, with some imagination you can see in the flower an A en an I …:-)

How is this  homoerotic love affair between Apollo and Hyacinthus, with Zephyros as a jealous rival presented in the opera? Mozart used a libretto written by Rufinus Widl, priest and philosophy professor at the University of Salzburg that had commissioned the opera. Father Widl removed the controversial  theme by introducing a sister of Hyacinthus, Melia, who is the subject of Apollo’s love and Zephyros’ jealousy!

I got intrigued how Widl had done this. The libretto is written in Latin and my knowledge of that language has become quite rusty, but I found an English translation…:-) . I have created a webpage on my site: Apollo et Hyacinthus , where you can read the Latin and English text, while listening to the corresponding parts of the opera. Give it a try!

Here is a screenshot of my webpage. Note that there are only 5 soloists, Hyacinthus, his sister Melia, his father Oebalus, Apollo and Zephyros. More about the soloists later

Here is a  synopsis of Widl’s libretto

Act 1

The opera starts with a conversation between Hyacinthus and Zephyros . Hyacinthus is preparing an offering for Apollo, and Zephyros is wondering why especially Apollo. Oebalus and Melia appear, everything is ready, but then lightning strikes and destroys the offering. Oebalus is upset, what have they done wrong? Could it be because of what Zephyros had said?

Then Apollo appears, as a shepherd, because he has been banned from the Olympos by Jupiter. He is humble and promises to help Oebalus if he can stay in his kingdom. Melia adores him and Apollo accepts her love with pleasure. He will also be a good friend of Hyacinthus. Zephyros, in an aside:  Alas, now Apollo is snatching my beloved boy from me!.

Act 2

Conversation between Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus has no doubt that Apollo wants Melia as his wife and Melia is eager to accept him. They wait for the return of Apollo, who is playing discus with Hyacinthos and Zephyros

Then Zephyros enters with the news that Hyacinthos is dead, hit by a discus thrown by Apollo. Of  course Oebalus and Melia are upset, a marriage with Apollo is now out of the question. Zephyros, in an aside: What’s this I hear? Is the god considering marriage? Is he bent on stealing my beloved Melia from me? Will he who stole Hyacinthus also snatch her love from me?

Oebalus asks Zephyros to go back to Apollo and tell him that he is banished from the kingdom, but Zephyros replies that Oebalus better tells Apollo himself. Again in an aside: If only he expels him, so that my crime can be hidden, for I am the one guilty of committing the murder. Oebalus leaves. Zephyros again:  Everything is going as I wished, my plot is working, and my beloved Melia now remains to be my bride.

Zephyros tries to convince Melia that Apollo is bad and that she better can choose him. She is sad about her brother’s fate and refuses his advances.  Then  Apollo enters. He curses Zephyros who is transformed in a wind and swept away.

Melia is now even more furious, refuses to listen to Apollo’s explanation and banishes him from the kingdom.

Act 3

Oebalus finds Hyacinthus still alive but dying. Hyacinthus tells his father that it was not Apollo but Zephyros who killed him. Then he dies.Oebalus swears to avenge Zephyros’ crime. Melia enters, still thinking that Apollo killed her brother. She tells her father that she banished the god who also killed Zephyros. Oebalus then explains that Apollo was right, because it was Zephyros who threw the fatal discus. Both are upset that the god will take revenge after being banished wrongly

Apollo enters, saying that his love for Hyacinthus made him return. He can not bring the boy back to life, but lets hyacinth flowers spring from his dead body. Both Oebalus and Melia apologise for the banishment, asking for forgiveness. Apollo promises to stay in the kingdom, hoping that Melia is still willing to become his bride. Oebalus gives his permission, saying:  Hyacinthus is dead: you will be for me another Hyacinthus, if you deign to remain in our land as husband of my daughter.

The opera ends with a terzetto, sung by Apollo, Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus sings: “After furious battles, the joyful pledge of love unites you. After these events decreed by fate, the longed-for marriage torch will crown you and inspire me”.

As Shakespeare already wrote: All’s well that ends well… 🙂

Some comments, mainly about Zephyros

  • In the myth Zephyros is a (minor) god himself, here he is just a mortal, a “friend” of Hyacinthus
  • His aside that Apollo is snatching his beloved boy from him, doesn’t make sense in Widl’s adaptation.
  • In the second aside, he is suddenly in love with Melia, afraid that Apollo will steal her like he stole Hyacinthus.
  • Why did he kill Hyacinthus? To put the blame on Apollo? So Melia can become his bride?
  • As revenge for the  killing of Hyacinthus, Apollo transforms Zephyros in a wind. In the myth Apollo can not punish (the god) Zephyros, because Eros protects him, as the crime was committed out of love!

I hope you will agree that Widl has managed to eliminate thoroughly the theme of the original myth .. 🙂

Let me conclude with some details about the soloists. The parts of Oebalus and Melia are sung by a tenor and a soprano. Those of Apollo and Zephyros by countertenors. The part of Hyacinthus is sung by Arno Raunig, a sopranist , a male soprano. LIsten to him, singing Bach’s Ave Maria.  Four years ago I have published a post Countertenors and castrati, where you can find more information about male altos and sopranos..

There is a very simple reason why Mozart wrote his opera for these voices. During the first (and during Mozart’s lifetime only) performance, all parts were sung by boys! They were students and choristers of the Salzburg University and we actually know their names (and ages)

  • Oebalus : Mathias Stadler, student of moral theology and law: 22 years old
  • Melia : Felix Fuchs, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 15 years old
  • Hyacinthus : Christian Enzinger, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 12 years old
  • Apollo : Johann Ernst, boy contralto, chapel chorister, 12 years old
  • Zephyrus : Joseph Vonterthon, boy contralto, fourth-year pupil:, 17 years old.

Even the part of Melia is sung by a boy soprano.

Are you curious how this first performance might have looked like? In 1983(!) a television recording has made of the opera, with soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor. The quality of the recording is not that good, and the YouTube video is split in eight parts, so I have created a playlist. Here it is:  Apollo et Hyacinthus .

To give you an impression, here is a better quality video of Melia’s aria, sung by boy soprano Alan Bergius. In this aria she sings how happy and proud she is to become the bride of the god Apollo

Immediately after this aria Zephyros enters with the message that Apollo has killed her brother.

By the way, the part of Zephyros is sung by Panito Iconomou, who, two years later, excels in Es ist Vollbracht . (St John’s Passion under Harnoncourt)

I have written this blog with more than usual pleasure and I hope the reader will enjoy it

 

Taiping, April 2018

My last visit to Taiping was in December and in my blog about this trip I explained why I visit my second hometown so often: “meet friends, enjoy the food, see what is new (and what is still ruined)”  It was similar this time..:-)

I drove this time, it was the Cheng Beng weekend, but on Friday traffic was still smooth. My plan was to have lunch with Pasembor and Cendol in Ansari, but the shop was closed, so I went to the Old Railway Station and had Assam Laksa there. Not bad.

Pity that the January Cafe is closed. As a result the Old Taiping Railway Station Gallery is also closed, because the two brave girls who have tried to run the cafe, rented the space on condition that they would take care about this picture gallery.

Before checking in at my hotel (Furama as usual), I had a look at some buildings along Station Road. The renovation of the Ceylon Association Building (1901) seems to be ongoing.

However, the nearby Rest House (1894) remains in a deplorable state. I really do not understand how the Taiping Town Council (MPT) can still keep the heritage signboard in front of this dilapidated  building.

In the afternoon I walked to the Lake Gardens. Recently a small part of Jalan Pekeliling (the former Circular Road ) has been closed to traffic and become a pedestrian area. A good initiative.  The famous raintrees bordering this road are getting old and a few weeks ago one of them  has fallen down on the pedestrian stretch. For the time being MPT has decided to leave the tree there, it has become a tourist attraction..:-)

The Lake Gardens were beautiful as always. If I would be living in Taiping, I would walk here daily..:-)

I had dinner with friends. They suggested to have Western food for a change! We went to Thomas Western Food on Barrack Road, where I had a tasty pork chop with cheese. I noticed that Thomas was wearing an Amsterdam T-shirt and asked him if he had visited my country. He had not, the shirt was given as a present..:-)  Will come back to his shop

Actually I came back to the same shop the next morning. I had breakfast with Dr Lee from Singapore who was back in Taiping for Cheng Beng. He suggested a shop opposite his house in Barrack Road. Stalls with a variety of food. It looked so different that I did not recognise it as the same place where I had dinner the night before!

A few weeks ago a booklet was published, Taiping the Guide,  with 128 pages of tourist information (in English and Malay) about Taiping. Free of charge for visitors. Of course I wanted to get a copy, so I went to the Taiping Tourism Office in the Old Clock Tower. But it was closed, apparently because of “change of management”. At least a notification should have been put on the door.

Searching for more information about this booklet,  I  came across an article about Taiping in the digital edition of the famous Rough Guides. Together with the Lonely PLanet guides, they were my traveling “bibles” in the past…:-). Here is an interesting quote:

Nowadays, bypassed by the North–South Expressway and replaced in administrative importance by Ipoh, Taiping is declining gracefully, its streets lined with tattered architectural mementoes of its glory days.

This collage could be an illustration

Of course many nice heritage buildings can still be found

But many basically nice heritage buildings have been “defaced”. Awful painting, giant signboards, are there no rules and regulations about what you can and can not do with historical buildings?

Walking back to my hotel in the evening I noticed a small crowd near an Indian shop. There was music, people were playing the drums. What was happening?.

Soon it became clear, a chariot was approaching, there were devotees offering and coconuts were smashed. It reminded me of Thaipusam, but, searching the Internet later, I found out that it was actually the celebration of Panguni Uthiram, an important day for (Tamil) Hindus. It is believed that most divine marriages took place on this day, for example the marriage of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva.

This cultural diversity in Malaysia is one of the reasons that I feel so at home. Pity that politicians try to destroy it, by fueling tensions between Malay, Chinese and Indians 🙁

The next morning I went to the Nest, the “heaven on earth”, managed by my friends Suet Fun and Peter. The Maxwell Hill jeep service took me to Speedy’s bungalow, from where it was a few minutes walk to the Nest. My first visit was last year, have a look at my report Maxwell Hill, May 2017 

When I was sitting on the steps at the entrance of the bungalow, enjoying the surroundings, two hikers came up, asking me if this was the way to Gunung Hijau. When I said no, and gave them the correct directions, they asked “Do you live here”?How I would have liked to say yes..:-)

Here are two pictures of the interior.

I had a relaxing time, reading books and walking around a bit. The garden has beautiful flowers. The last morning we discovered a new-born Red Helen butterfly, just out of the pupa, still pumping up its wings. And in the kitchen a very bizarre cockroach, with a head shield resembling the head of a tiger. Apparently a Homalosilpha ustulata

Near the front porch,  bright fluorescent lights were mounted, attracting numerous moth species. Amazing variety in shape and color

The second day of my stay I decided to have another look at the Birch monument. On my way down from the Nest, I passed Speedy’s, very scenic with the misty weather

It’s a sad story. In 2004 I have celebrated my 60th birthday in Speedy’s (see the above-mentioned report) with Guna as caretaker. It was a beautiful bungalow. Later it was closed and transformed into a Biodiversity Center. A failed project, now it is empty, waiting for a new destination?

Strangely enough it is still mentioned in the Taiping The Guide booklet. The description  ends with :

The Bukit Larut Biodiversity Center will be a very interesting tourist attraction. making it a must visit in every traveler’s checklist when they are in Taiping

When I visited the Birch monument last year, my friend Amril guided me there. Now there is a sign and a clear trail leading you after 150 m (not  50!) to the monument. Why it mentions T.W.W Birch instead of J.W.W Birch still remains a mystery.  Be prepared for leeches when you visit the monument

It was a pleasant stay in the Nest, not in the least because of the food Suet Fun and Peter are preparing for their guests. Not only delicious, but also a feast for the eyes

Rather reluctantly I took the jeep back the next day. I had lunch with my friends in Prima, after which I drove back to PJ. Sunday evening (Cheng Beng!) it had taken friends ten hours to drive back, but on this Tuesday afternoon traffic was smooth

Already looking forward to go back to Taiping and the Nest 🙂

Japan 2018

A first impression of our trip to Japan, 6-22 March 2018. I took more than 1500 photos, it will take time to condense them into reports. Here is a travelogue with some highlights.

On 6 Match we took a JAL nightflight to Tokyo, where we arrived early the next morning. A connecting flight brought us to Osaka. We had (on purpose)booked seats on  the right side of the plane and were rewarded by a spectacular aerial view of Mount Fuji

From Osaka we took a train to Tanabe in the Wakayama prefecture, where we stayed overnight. It was cold!

8 March

In the morning we visited the Tokei-jinja Shrine in Tanabe.

After our visit we took a bus to Yunomine Onsen, where we stayed two nights. It is a quaint rural village with the smallest onsen of Japan. This Tsubo-Yu onsen, the wooden shed in the center of the image, has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

We stayed in a small guesthouse,where we also had our (delicious) dinner and breakfast

9 March

The reason that we wanted to visit this part of Japan, was not only because of the many onsen , but also because there are numerous pilgrimage trails in this region, the Kumano Kodō. You can hike here for weeks, we only walked one trail, through beautiful forest, from Yunomine to the Kumano Hongū Taisha shrine

Kumano Hongū Taisha, one of the three main Shinto shrines  of the Kumano Kodō

After our hike, we relaxed in the Tsubo-Yu onsen. You must book for it, maximum two people, maximum 30 minutes. A unique experience…:-)

10 March

With bus and train to Kushimoto, the southernmost point of Honshū., Japan’s main island. The tourist attraction here are the Hashigui-Iwa rocks, a natural “work of art”

We had an elaborate sushi dinner here and, back in our hotel, a big, crowded onsen, with both an inside and an outside bath.

The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise from our hotel room.

11 March

This day we visited another of the Kumano Kodō shrines, the  Nachi Taisha shrine with the Nachi waterfall, the tallest fall of Japan. We stayed in a small hotel, with a view of the waterfall from our room..:-). And an exquisite dinner prepared by the kitchen staff

Left the impressive Nachi fall (130 m tall), in the middle a part of the shrine and right the iconic image of the three-tiered pagoda with the fall in the background

The sakura season had not yet started, spring was late and it was colder than we had expected. But here and there we could enjoy already nice cherry blossom trees.

12 March

Our next stop was Toba, on the coast, the center of the  pearl fishery and famous for its seafood. Here we had our most exotic seafood dinner. Left abalone sashimi !

In the past the pearl oysters were caught by ama’s, the diving ladies. Now they still do it for show, but the production process has become high-tech.

13 March

For the next night, Aric had booked accommodation in a Buddhist temple (!) in Agui, a small town south of Nagoya. The easiest way to go there, would have been to go first by train to Nagoya and from there to Agui. We took a more adventurous route, first a ferry from Toba to Irako, from there a bus to Toyohashi, then by train to Agui. We were lucky with the timing and reached Agui station around 4 pm, where the wife of the Master of the temple was waiting for us.

The temple practises Jodo Buddhism, the most common branch of Buddhism in Japan.

Left our rooms and right the temple, at the other side of the corridor. Food was served in our room, we shared the bathroom with the family, it was a very special experience

14 March

After breakfast and a short exploration of the village, we took a train to Nagoya, where we had booked a hotel for two nights. In the afternoon we visited the castle. Completely destroyed in 1945 by US army air raids, it has been rebuilt. Not as impressive as the Kyoto and Osaka castles. The sakura was just starting to blossom.

15 March

Nagoya is not particularly interesting, so why did we stay two days there? And why didn’t we make our trip a few weeks later. so the sakura would be in full bloom everywhere? The reason was that we wanted to attend the  Hōnen Matsuri festival , held on 15 March each year in Komaki, just north of Nagoya. This fertility festival is more popularly known as the Penis Festival. Highlight of the festival is a procession where a giant wooden penis is carried around

During the procession pretty ladies carry penises around, which you are encouraged to touch. There is a free flow of sake and everywhere are penises for sale as sweets, lollipops or ice cream. I took many pictures, will write a separate blog about the festival. It was an enjoyable experience.

16 March

We had three main targets for this Japan trip, the Kumano Kodō, the Penis Festival and the Fuji Mountain.  From Nagoya we took a bullet train north and changed to a smaller train for Kawaguchiko, at the foot of the Fuji Mountain. The mountain is often hidden in clouds, we had decided to stay here three days ,hoping that at least one day we would have a clear view. The start was not promising, when we arrived in our guesthouse, it was clouded and later it started to rain. Again a very Japanese style room. We had dinner in a tempura restaurant.

17 March

The next morning the rain had stopped and there was some blue sky! There is a famous viewpoint in Chureito, a short train ride from Kawaguchiko. I took already a “safety” shot from the station and that was a good idea, because when we arrived in Chureito and had climbed up to the pagoda, the mountain had disappeared in the clouds. Pity.

Back to our guesthouse, a bit disappointed. In the late afternoon, the sky cleared, the mountain became visible again. Near the village there was also a viewpoint, although without a pagoda. Before climbing up another safety shot, and again the mountain had disappeared when we reached the viewpoint. Frustrating.

The next morning we woke up at 6 am, the sky was now blue, but for how long? We walked up to the same viewpoint and this time we were rewarded. What a spectacular view. We were so happy.

Back in the village, we decided to take the bus up halfway the mountain. Because there was still a lot of snow, the Fifth Station was not yet accessible, the bus stopped at the Fourth Station. From the 5th station hikers climb the mountain in the summer season

But the view from the Fourth Station was also fascinating, especially the surrounding mountains, still covered with snow. We really were lucky.

The last night in Kawaguchiko we moved to another hotel, the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed..:-) . Not a room, but a suite. An onsen with a view of the mountain. A culinary nine course dinner. A once in a lifetime experience…:-)

View from the onsen

Dining in style, with a cup of sake.

Our dinner, I forgot to take pictures of some dishes. Left the Assorted Appetizers, in the middle Four kinds of Assorted Sashimi. Never before had lobster sashimi…

What an extraordinary day.

19 March

The hotel shuttle service dropped us at the station, from where we took the train to Tokyo. What a contrast to be suddenly in a major metropolis. Here the view from our hotel room, with left the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building of Japan

In the afternoon we visited the Sensō-ji temple, the oldest temple of  Tokyo and a major tourist attraction. I was surprised to see many girls in traditional Japanese dress, apparently most of them are actually tourists who have rented this clothing!

For our dinner we took the metro to the entertainment district. In the picture to the right, you can see me at the end of the bar, eating my noodles.

20 March

One of Aric’s friends is living in Chiba, 40 km from Tokyo, married to a Japanese dentist. We spent an enjoyable day with them and their two adorable daughters. We visited the Nihon-ji temple complex, high up in the hills. It was cold, windy and rainy, but we had great fun. The picture to the right shows the Kannon statue, quite recently created in 1966.

The Arhat sculptures (right picture) are much older, constructed in 1774

The main attraction is an impressive 31 meter high Buddha statue, the  Nihon-ji Daibutsu, the largest rock-carved Buddha of Japan (1783)

After our visit Kimberley and Kubo invited us to a seafood lunch in a restaurant nearby.

On our way back we crossed the Tokyo Bay on the Aqua Line , an expressway consisting of a bridge-tunnel combination. Where the bridge becomes a tunnel, an island has been built (left picture). In the middle you see part of the machine used to dig the tunnel. After crossing over the bay, we had a final stop in Yokohama for a visit of the Ramen Museum, where you can try all varieties of ramen, the famous Japanese noodle dish (right picture). A rewarding, full day. Hopefully we can return their hospitality soon.

21 March

Our last day in Japan. The beginning of spring, but no spring weather. Rain the whole day. We decided to take it easy, had a look at some modern buildings and visited in the afternoon the Ueno park. The sakura season had started officially and there were already lots of flowers, but one or two weeks later it will probably much more impressive. Below, right picture, the famous Tokyo Tower at night, half hidden in the clouds, quite scenic

Flowers in the rain

Back in our hotel, we enjoyed the onsen. Actually this is a sento, an onsen uses natural volcanic spring water, rich in minerals etc, a sento uses heated tap water. For those not familiar with the Japanese onsen culture, before entering the bath, you must wash yourself thoroughly (right picture). You bath nude, nowadays male and female baths are separate. Tattoos are not allowed, and there are more rules and regulations. We are addicted to it, during our trip we had an bath almost daily, often twice a day.

22 March

We took a day-flight back from Tokyo to KL It was a wonderful trip

Bukit Kiara (North)

After I moved to Damansara Perdana in 2005 and got my own car in 2006, I started walking with friends in Bukit Kiara. At first following the tarmac roads but soon I discovered the maze of hiking and biking trails. I have written many blogs about  this green lung of Kuala Lumpur, click here

Often I took my GPS with me to record my hikes (and not get lost, haha)  Here is a compilation of my hikes from 2007 until now.

The yellow line marks the “prison” fence, erected by  the National Landscape Department (JLN) , marking the boundaries of a proposed Large Scale Public Park (TABB). Most of the time I walk in this part of Bukit Kiara where I have also hidden 5 geocaches

Here is the TABB part in more detail

The northern part has less trails and recently a lot of “development” is taking place

Last week I visited this northern part and explored a corner I had never visited. Trail not always clear, we lost it a few times. Marked in red.

We started from the Kiara Mas development, high-rise condominium complexes. The first part was quite shocking. Development or destruction? The trail seemed to end here.

Trespassing and crossing this desolate region we passed a few (uninhabited) huts.

We crossed a few bridges, some of them not looking very reliable..:-). Finally we reached unspoiled forest.

In this part of the hike, a lot of natural beauty still can be found.

Bukit Kiara is a former rubber plantation and here we still found a few trees that were being tapped. Although probably illegal, it always makes me happy to see it.

Further on we came across another small “kampung”, also uninhabited. Here we lost the trail and had to scramble up a steep slope to find it back.

The last part of the hike I had walked a few years before. It passes close to a residential area, there has been a landslide. Construction is still going on.

Towering high-rise buildings are visible everywhere. Finally you enter the forest again.

After entering the forest, the last part of the trail is nice, you walk beside a small stream.

 

‘Oumuamua

The Haleakala volcano is located on the island of Maui, the second-largest island of Hawaii. On the top of this extinct volcano, at an altitude of 3055 m, an astronomical observatory has been built. One of the telescopes in this observatory is the Pan-STARRS telescope, with  a 1.8 m diameter mirror and equipped with the largest digital camera ever built, recording almost 1.4 billion pixels per image

The function of this telescope is to scan the sky, looking for moving astronomical objects, like comets and asteroids. The idea is simple, you take two pictures of a part of the sky, at different times and compare them.

In 1930 the planet Pluto has been discovered this way. Here are the original photographs, taken 6 days apart, the arrows point to Pluto. In those days the astronomer used a gadget, called a blink comparator, which rapidly switched from viewing one photograph to viewing the other. The moving object would stand out by “blinking”.

Nowadays computers can do this much better than humans, and Pan-STARRS is connected to a sophisticated computer system, that not only analyses the images, but also communicates with other observatories all over the world, when moving objects are found.

The interest in these objects is not only scientific. Pan-STARRS is taking part in the NEO Search Program. NEO stands for Near Earth Object, and NEO‘s are objects, mostly asteroids, that could collide with Earth in the future. Readers who have been following my blog from the start, may remember my posts about the asteroid Apophis, published in 2010(!). In 2013 Pan-STARRS had already discovered 10.000 NEO’s

On 19 October 2017 a new moving object was discovered by Pan-STARRS.  At first it was assumed to be a comet, and named C/2017 U1   but as it had no characteristic comet tail, it was reclassified one week later as an asteroid : A/2017 U1


A short intermezzo about the classification of comets. The first letter describes the kind of object, P for a periodic comet, C for a comet with unknown period and A for an object that was first classified as a comet but is actually an asteroid. There are a few more categories. The letter is followed by the year of discovery and by a letter that indicates the “half-month” of discovery. A for the first half of January, B for the second half, C for the first half of February, etc. The letter I is not used, so the U means that the object was discovered in the second half of October. It is here followed by the number 1, because it was the first discovery in that half-month.


Further observation of this asteroid, by many other observatories, showed that it came from OUTSIDE our solar system!

A few years ago I have published a post about NEO’s,  Visitors from Outer Space, but Outer Space stands there for the Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud, both still belonging to our solar system.

So this was an EXTRAORDINARY event, the first observation of an object that came from another star! On 6 November 2017, less than three weeks after its discovery, it was reclassified again, as 1I/2017 U1 , where a new category was introduced, I, standing for Interstellar object. The number 1 in front of the I was added, because it was the first occurrence of this new category. And it was given a proper name: ʻOumuamua, which in the Hawaiian language means “a messenger from afar arriving first“. The symbol ʻ in front of the name is not a typo, but a ʻokina, a glottal stop.

How do the astronomers know that it comes from outside our solar system? By its speed and its orbit! Here is an animated gif of ʻOumuamua’s orbit.

The orbit is hyperbolic ! From far away it approached the solar system with a velocity of ~26 km/s. Attracted by the Sun, its velocity increased to ~88 km/s at perihelion, on 9 September 2017. When it was discovered by Pan-STARRS, 40 days later, it was already on its way out.

Here is another sketch of ʻOumuamua’s orbit, with dates. Try to view it “3-dimensional”, the orbital plane of ʻOumuamua is tilted with respect to the ecliptic (the orbital plane of the planets).

Is there anything more that we know about this visitor from outer space? For example from which star it started and how long it is underway?  It arrived roughly from the direction of the star Vega, 25 lightyear away. In that case, with its velocity it would have taken ~ 600.000 year to reach our solar system. But Vega was not in the same location, that long ago. We just don’t know, ʻOumuamua could have left its star system billions of years ago.

Surprisingly we know a bit more about its shape, its size and its color! The color is dark reddish and the size is roughly 200 x 30 m.  A kind of gigantic cigar…:-) Here is an artist impression

You may wonder how anything can be said about the shape, as the image of ʻOumuamua is only a single pixel in even the strongest telescopes! The answer is that the asteroid is “tumbling” with a period of ~ 8 hours. Therefore the amount of light it reflects varies.

Here are the measurements done by several telescopes, with a theoretical fit, assuming a 1:10 ratio between length and width  Click to enlarge.

Of course there are people who are wondering if it could be a spaceship…:-). In that case it would probably be out of control or abandoned, because of the tumbling. Anyway, both SETI and Breakthrough have been listening for any signals coming from ʻOumuamua. Without results.

For this blog I have used the very informative Wikipedia article about  ʻOumuamua and other Internet sources.

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.

 

National Gallery, Singapore

On November 2015 a new museum was opened in Singapore, the National Gallery, with a collection of over 8000 artworks. It is housed in two national monuments, the Old Supreme Court Building and the City Hall. They are adjacent, facing the padang, City Hall was built from 1926 to 1929, the Supreme Court a decade later, both in neoclassical colonial style.

In 2005 it was decided to convert the two buildings into a new museum. An architectural design competition was launched and Studio Milou Singapore came out as the winner. In their design, the two buildings are connected by a curtain like canopy roof and two skybridges. The right picture shows an evening view from the Singapore Cricket Club

Here is a scale model of the National Gallery

On the last day of our recent trip to Singapore, before taking the bus back to KL, we decided to visit this museum. Here is a view from one of the skybridges. Left the City Hall, right the Former Supreme Court. Ticketing counter and entrance to the galleries are in the basement.

I like the design, the contrast between the old heritage buildings and the modern link. In the left picture you see the tree-like structure supporting the curtain roof, in the right picture the two skybridges. There were many (very disciplined!) groups of students.

We were lucky that there was a special exhibition going on, Century of Light, consisting of two parts, Colours of Impressionism, with masterpieces from the Paris Orsay Museum, and Between Worlds, dedicated to two 19th century Asian painters who were strongly influenced by European Art.

First we visited the Colours of Impressionism. The Musée d’Orsay, specialising in 19th century art, is one of my favourites, it was an interesting experience to view the artworks here in Singapore.

I don’t know why, but I am always happy when I see a painting of Caillebotte. On my own website I have a page, dedicated to him

Gustave Caillebotte, Vue de toits (Effet de neige) (1879)

Several paintings by Monet were exhibited. In 1886 he visited the Netherlands and of course he had to paint the tulip fields…:-)

Claude Monet, Champs de tulipes en Hollande (1886)

More paintings of Monet, Signac, Renoir, Sisley and others

The gallery design was quite attractive, nice colours, good lighting

We continued with the second exhibition. Raden Saleh was born in 1811 on  Java in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). He traveled in 1829 to the Netherlands, where he became a well-known painter. He returned in 1852 to the Dutch East Indies and died in 1880.

I had never before heard about him!  What a pleasant surprise. Here I am admiring his painting Boschbrand (Forest Fire), painted in 1849. A vivid depiction of wild animals trying to escape a forest fire.

Searching information about him,  I found that this painting until a few years ago belonged to the Dutch royal family. It was presented in 1850 to King William III, and in 2014 sold in “deplorable” condition by 14 grandchildren of former queen Juliana to the Singapore National Gallery! Read the curious story here: Experts critical after Royal Family makes millions from private art sales

He was 18 when he arrived in the Netherlands where he got most of his training. It is interesting to see how his style develops

The second painter in the Between Worlds exhibition is Juan Luna, born 1857 in the Philippines, a Spanish colony in those days. He died young, in 1899. He traveled to Spain when he was young and stayed many years in Europe.

I found this painting impressive and intriguing. It is called “Les Ignores” (“The Unknown Ones”) and he painted it in 1889-1890. It depicts a funeral of humble people. A real masterpiece.

Also here a variety of styles, compare the classical romantic “Death of Cleopatra” with the impressionist “Picnic in Normandy”, both painted around 1880!

Then it was time for lunch. We had a look at the top floor, where there is a roof “garden” and a restaurant, but we only wanted a simple sandwich, so we went down to the basement

From the top floor there is a nice view of the padang and the Singapore skyline.

One of the interior courtyards and the food we had in the cafetaria

After our lunch we walked over to the Former Supreme Court. Here the large UOB Southeast Asia collection is housed in fifteen galleries. We could only get an impression in the limited time we had.

The interior of the building itself is very impressive.

From Wikipedia:  “the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery will present the history of Southeast Asian art through artistic impulses shared across the region. Starting in the 19th century, the history of Southeast Asian art is characterised by negotiations between the region’s traditions and modernity. ”

Here a collection of pictures, to show the variety of art styles and nationalities. Hidalgo was Filipino and a contemporary of Juan Luna, Mori Kinsen was Japanese (1888-1959), Inguimberty was French but worked in Vietnam (1896-1971), Chua Mia Tee is Singaporean (1931 – ), Jose Tence Ruiz is Filipino. Just to name a few.

Many of the artworks have social/political connotations. An interesting collection

When I will visit Singapore again, I will plan at least a full day for this museum.

Waterfall Nostalgia

In January 2003 Aric and I went camping at the Gombak river and during our hike I noticed a sign to the Pisang waterfall. Back home I searched the Internet and found a webpage about this Pisang waterfall, maintained by a guy named Khong. I decided to write to him and immediately got an enthusiastic reply. We met and soon became friends. He had published many waterfall pages, but recently had become more interested in birdwatching. We decided that I would manage and develop further  a website Waterfalls of Malaysia (WoM)

That was the start of what became my waterfall addiction…:-). I have collected in this blog many of the waterfalls I have visited from March 2003 until March 2006, more than a decade ago. The pictures of fauna and flora have been taken during these trips. Clicking on a link will bring you to the corresponding waterfall page of WoM.


Lata Berembun, Pahang, 6-3-2003

Lata Kijang, Negeri Sembilan, 23-3-2003

Serendah Fall, Selangor, 8-4-2003

Tanglir Fall, Pahang, 8-4-2003

Chiling Fall, Selangor, 20-7-2003

Takah Tinggi, Johor, 31-8-2003

Kanching Falls, Selangor, 12-12-2003

Gabai Fall, Selangor, 11-6-2004

Tekala Falls, Selangor, 11-6-2004

Lepoh Fall, Selangor, 12-6-2004

Lata Iskandar, Perak, 11-7-2004

Jeriau Fall, Pahang, 15-7-2004

Jerangkang Falls, Pahang, 18-7-2004

Lower Cemerong Fall, Terengganu, 14-8-2004

Pandan Fall, Pahang, 9-8-2004

Berkelah Falls, Pahang, 14-8-2004

Chamang Fall, Pahang, 15-8-2004

Titi Kerawang Fall, Penang, 28-8-2004

Siong Fall, Selangor, 5-9-2004

Upper Ampang Fall, Selangor, 21-12-2004

Trong Fall, Perak, 27-12-2004

Tebing Tinggi, Perak, 28-12-2004

Templer Fall, Selangor, 6-1-2005

Sekayu Falls, Terengganu, 29-3-2005

Lata Tembakah, Terengganu, 30-3-2005

Lata Rek, Kelantan, 31-3-2005

Gapoi Fall, Pahang, 6-4-2005

Lata Khong, Pahang, 9-4-2005

Sendat Fall, Selangor, 13-4-2005

Damak Fall, Perak, 23-7-2005

Batu Hampar Fall, Kedah, 3-8-2005

Mengkuang Fall, Kedah, 4-8-2005

Bukit Hijau Falls, Kedah, 4-8-2004

Lata Bayou, Kedah, 4-8-2005

Tanjung Kala Fall, Perak, 5-8-2005

Pisang Fall, Selangor, 22-8-2005

Lata Kinjang, Perak, 25-8-2005

Chelik Fall, Perak, 26-8-2005

Jeram Toi, Negeri Sembilan, 7-9-2005

Pulai Fall, Johore, 15-12-2005

Sg Yong Fall, Johore, 16-12-2005

Lentang Fall, Pahang, 22-12-2005

Strata Fall, Perak, 27-2-2006