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Insight Penang

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Teochew Puppet and Opera House Penang

Every time I went back to Penang, I will made it a point to walk around the old part of George Town. There is always something new to discover – whether it is a street art, cafe or shop. This time, there is no difference. I found a few new places. It was only 4 months ago since I walked around the old town. It is easy to walk around the little streets and back lanes of old town. Some streets are busier than others. The motor vehicles usually moves at a slow pace due to the narrow streets. It is quite safe to walk or to cycle.

There were many local and interstate tourists, Chinese and Malay alike, when I was there. I was told it was the school holiday. People were walking slowly and some were on hired bicycles. Most of them were looking for Penang’s famous street arts. It’s like playing a “hide and seek” find me if you can. In the hot and humid weather, it is not ideal for those who cannot take the heat. Some Chinese women were holding an umbrella sheltering from the heat. Their thinking is that “dark” is not “beautiful”. Fair skin is “nice” and perceived as an educated and refined lady. Dark skin is associated with “hard life” doing hard labour work underneath the sun. To me, that is nonsense. Some were born with a darker complexion that others. Some prefer to sun-bathed and have a nicer tone to their skin colour. After all, some sun is good with a bit of vitamin D.

Yesterday I walked around the old town for almost 3 hours. I took my time to explore the area with a little break now and then for a refreshment and snack. I found a nice traditional Cantonese pastry shop where they make a variety of “piah” (chinese biscuits) filled with sweet and savoury ingredients, “pau” (dumplings) and Chinese herbal drinks. All freshly made on the premise. I found some street arts that I have missed previously. But, the most interesting find of all has to be the Teochew museum located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town. The place is called Teochew Puppet and Opera House. It has a wide collection of iron rod teochew puppets, full dress costumes and head gears, musical instruments and an opera stage for scheduled live performance.

Teochew opera is extremely popular in olden days of Penang and usually performed at an outdoor mock-up stage to coincide with some religious festivals. The performances are not only for the human but for the Chinese deities and the “after life”. I am glad to see a place like the Teochew Puppet and Opera House, which brings back the culture and heritage to the main stream, housed in a prewar terraced double storey shophouse in a heritage protected zone area gazetted by UNESCO. It is privately owned and operated by the the 5th generation of the Kim Giak Low Choon (KGLC) Teochew Opera Troupe. All the collections in the museum were privately owned by the Goh’s family over the generations.

Ling Goh, the current owner, learnt her art forms from the age of 8. She learnt the art of opera and puppetry from her mother, who has performed in puppet show for over 50 years. She is passionate about her culture, heritage and art performances that spurred her into opening this wonderful place to share with the public. There is a small entrance fee to keep her business viable and going. I am not sure if there is any fundings from the government. I suspected there is none as this is a privately owned business driven by passion and love to preserve the art forms. However, I wish the state government, especially the tourism and cultural minister, will support and encourage a place like this.

The Teochew opera or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art forms, combines literature, music and drama with elaborate costumes and lots of make-up. The singing and music have high-pitched notes. The performance comes with stories that were told and retold for centuries – A General frames a minister and has every first-born in a village killed. A jilted lover poisons the person she holds responsible for her misery. A poor farmer gets caught up, unwittingly, in the state’s secret affairs and corruption.

Ling Goh usually plays the main character. Her skills are very versatile – she can performs as a woman, a man, an elderly – all of which were done elaborately through the costume, headgear and facial make-up. Her story is usually told through iron-rod puppets controlled by skilled puppeteers – truly a family event as Goh’s parents, brothers, nieces and sister-in-law are involved, their ages ranging from 12 to 71 years old. Her niece is now learning the art forms to carry on the Goh’s tradition into the 6th Generation! This is incredible and deserves an accolade of awards.

I was very lucky to have met Ling Goh and her staff and volunteers. They are very passionate and happy to share their knowledge and history. Every single piece of the collections in the museum has a story to tell. It is worth the visit and take some time to relax and have a chat with either one of them, including a guided tour of the collections.

They have a Facebook Page, which you can Like to find out of their latest news and scheduled performance.

The Teochew Puppet and Opera House is located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town, Penang.

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White Night Melbourne 2014

It has been a week since I came back to Melbourne after spending 2 weeks in Penang and Bangkok for Chinese New Year. I had a great time but almost didn’t make it to Bangkok wondering if it will be safe to visit due to their internal political turmoil of protestors camping and blocking some of the major streets. But my 2 nights in Bangkok on my way home was nothing but peaceful and relaxing. I went shopping. I caught the hotel river boat and the sky train.IMG_0088

Since I came back to Melbourne, I went to see Kid Creole and The Coconut live concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre. This was the first time Kid Creole has done a gig in Melbourne! It was a privilege to recall the eighties. I was also looking forward to the biggest event of the year on the weekend – White Night Melbourne 2014! A festival of arts, lights and entertainment from dust to dawn. This was the second White Night. Melbourne hosted the first White Night last year. I counted myself among the 300,000 people who flocked to the centre of the city as lucky to experience the first White Night in Australia! It was spectacular and was the best art and cultural event I have ever experienced in my life! Naturally I was looking forward to this year which started last night Saturday 22nd Feb at 7pm until 7am this morning Sunday 23rd Feb.P1160145
This year, there was much more publicity in the press, subscription newsletters and through word of mouth. There was more awareness created by the media and people. The result – more people and more crowd. I was astonished when I reached the centre of the city of Flinders Street about 11:15pm. That was about the same time as last year when I went to see the events. It was packed. Not just packed with people, but massively overcrowded with people jammed in the main intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets. It was quite daunting and the amount of people on the flight of steps on Flinders station leading to the street were people after people. It was an unbelievable sight. Nothing I have ever seen in Melbourne. It was nothing like this last year, with a more organised crowd and a live band on the steps of the Flinders station. I quickly moved away from the main intersection fearing that at any moment if there was a sudden alarming incident, there will be an unsightly crushing of human upon human. That will be a “White Night” to remember! I was more concerned about this crowd than I was when I was in Bangkok just a week ago.P1160094
I felt more at ease once I was away from the massive crowd and walked along Swanston Street across the Princes Bridge. At the south side of the river towards the Alexandra Garden, there was the trajectory light show streaming into the almost clear and cloudy sky creating an amazing criss crossed of light beams forming an hour glass into space.P1160105

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I walked towards Alexandra Garden for one reason – to find the perfect spot to see the “faces on the trees” – an artwork by Craig Walsh called “Monument“. This was the highlight for me. Having sat down on the edge on the south side of the river, it was almost surreal to gaze across the river in the dark towards the north side at the row of trees with moving images of human faces.P1160141

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Next I made my way back to the north side of the river and headed towards Federation Square. The crowd hasn’t reduced in size. It got bigger. It was past midnight! There must be hundreds of thousands of people everywhere.P1160150
By that time I almost had it and thought I should head home until I saw a crowd queuing to get into The Forum theatre – a house of human curiosities!P1160165
I joined the queue which didn’t take long before I got inside the building. The artwork was curated by Ashley Crawford, “Cabinet of Curiosities“. I wasn’t sure what to expect except the main centrepiece at the entrance foyer looked a bit strange. The entry was free and R-rated. Underage not allowed. So I was in for a big surprise and shocking experience I told myself.P1160166

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As I entered the main theatre hall on the ground level there was a heavy heart beat – a thumping heart beat with a projection of a human heart on the main screen. It was a heart beat of a heart beat.P1160176
On ascending to the first level of the building, I entered the next hall and was not sure if I should or should not sit down. In the end I did. It was a film of naked human with hooks pierced through their skins and hung up high swinging in circle. This was an extreme to the human body. I have seen hooks pierced into human skin especially during Thaipusam in Malaysia. But I have never seen human being hung up high with hooks on the body. I was thinking the human bodies were dead bodies until their feet were placed on the ground and realised they were real and very much alive! The second segment of the film, my stomach could not take any further and I had to leave before feeling sick in my stomach!P1160170
By 2am, I have decided it was time to call it the night. The crowd hasn’t dispersed much. It was still busy. I was lucky that I live in the city fringe with easy access to Tram to go home.

Hopefully next year there will be more police patrolling the streets and crowd. This year brought out more people who were into partying than enjoying the arts and culture of the exhibitions. It was a different crowd than last year. There were alcohols and marijuana in the air. A mixture of concoction spelling disaster for parents with young children and prams in the crowded streets.

Overall the event was good for Melbourne as a world class art and culture city of Australia.

Chinese New Year 2014 at Richmond

It was only 3 weeks ago that we celebrated the end of 2013 and ushered the beginning of 2014. Not long from now, 12 days to be exact on the 31st January 2014, marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. This is also celebrated by the Vietnamese around the world, known as Tet.

In Melbourne, the festival kicked off this weekend in Richmond, the first suburb to traditionally start the festival. The other suburbs – Box Hill, Springvale and Footscray will host the festival in the coming weekends. Melbourne CBD Chinatown and Crown Promenade are the ultimate venues for the biggest show of all – with a street parade of lion and dragon dances in the CBD, and stage performances and fireworks at the Crown Promenade.

This is my third year in Melbourne for the Chinese New Year festivals, and my third time to the Victoria Street Lunar New Year in Richmond, predominantly a Vietnamese suburb. The number of food stalls have increased in numbers from the previous two years – there were a few new ones – including a non-Asian stall selling American Buffalo Wings and the usual Vietnamese street foods like the grilled beef with betel leaves, vietnamese spring rolls, grilled calamari, grilled meat on skewers, pan fried radish cakes, fresh sugarcane juice and coconut juice.P1150033 P1140950

The highlight for me at the Victoria Street Lunar festival was the acrobatic lion dance performance and people watching. This year lion dance routine was different from last year and it didn’t disappoint the crowd, with a finale of exploding firecrackers strung from 3 very high poles.P1150017 P1150014 P1150012 P1140979

If there was a best traditional costume competition, I would have given that to the three Chinese deities “Fu Lu Shou“, signifying an abundance of good life –  fortune (Fu), prosperity (Lu) and longevity (Shou). These deities are mostly placed in the family living and dining room.

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Some of the women and men were wearing their traditional Vietnamese national costume, “Ao Dai“, pronounced as “au yai”. The material is usually make from silk fabric with bright colours.  P1140982P1140959

…our own version of “wolverine” sideburn.P1140990

This year is the “Year of the Horse“. The prediction is that it is going to be a good and better year than the Snake Year.

I am looking forward to the other festivals in the next 2 weekends.P1140960 P1140965 P1140969

Watch the lion dance video here.

No More Rice – Quinoa

I grew up eating rice all my life. So, what if there is no more rice? What would I substitute as my daily food? I have  been told; yes, been told by a dietitian years ago that I should cut down on my carb intake. That means, rice and pasta. Two of my most common food consumption each week. This it to slow down the risk of being a diabetic; having been diagnosed as a pre-diabetic patient. I have since cut down on my rice intake and substitute with basmati rice, rather than jasmine rice which has a lower carb content. And, in the past year 2013 I have even cut down on my rice intake each week. Some days I will go without having rice!

Towards end of 2013, I have discovered “Quinoa” pronounced as “kin-wa”. I have heard about it, but have never cook it until November 2013. It is an ancient food originated  in South America, but became the “in fashion” for the kitchen with the health conscious consumer.  It is high in protein and lack in gluten with a nutty flavour. By itself it looks boring and taste boring. It is a type of grain, not wheat, as some people would have thought.

Some of my friends have even said to me, “why, Victor? why?” “what about rice?” “how can you live without rice?” LOL! As a matter of fact, I have come to love quinoa so much that I eat at least once a week now. It is not cheap (about $10 for a packet of 500 gm compare to a 5 kg sack of basmati rice that cost $15 which can last for a few months), but then it is cheaper than having rice and to cook other dishes to go with the rice. Quinoa can be a single dish with other ingredients in it to make it taste delicious. Think about it as “making a fried rice” – mixing other ingredients to the key ingredient of the dish i.e. rice versus quinoa.

As a new year post to 2014 I am dedicating my heart and love for the simple grain with an interesting name that most people would have pronounced as “key-no-wa” like me-self. But, I was told that it is called “kin-wah”.

Quinoa is easy to cook and fast. It doesn’t take long. Each time I make it, I will make a few slight twists. Tonight I decide to finish up the 1 cup of leftover coconut milk sitting in my fridge. P1140862Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • A can of tuna
  • 4 beans cut into small dices
  • 4 shallots finely sliced
  • 5 olives cut into small dices
  • 1 carrot julienned
  • 1 lebanese cucumber cut into small dices
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves finely sliced

Cooking:

  • Wash the quinoa a few times until the water is clear
  • Place in a small saucepan with the water and coconut milk
  • Add a pinch of seasalt
  • Turn the heat up. Once boiling reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa for 10 – 15 minutes or until the liquid is almost evaporated.  Then close with a lid and simmer for another 5 minutes before turning off the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes

P1140856Serving:

  • To serve, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and crunched up some Asian fried shallots. If you have other herbs in the fridge, sprinkle some fresh mint leaves and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

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You will be amazed how wonderful a simple ancient grain can taste so good and fill your stomach for several hours. A great way to stay healthy and loose weight. 🙂

Another version of  a quinoa that I cooked in 2013 – using chicken stock to cook the quinoa. Once cooked and cooled down, add some good extra virgin olive oil, diced up herbs, mint peas, sliced white salad onion, diced up tomatoes and cucumber, a bit of seasalt and grounded black pepper.P1140719 P1140725

As this is my first post for 2014, here is wishing all of you a good, healthy and successful new year 2014 ahead!

Hosier Lane

Hosier Lane is the street art capital of Australia. Stretching the entire lane way from one end at Flinders Street to the other end at Flinders Lane, the walls on either side has recently been repainted in black for a collection of street artists to repaint and display their new street arts. This was done as part of the NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition.

Both Hosier Lane and Rutledge Lane – a U-shaped arterial lane running through the middle of Hosier Lane are the most popular lanes in Melbourne. The main Hosier Lane is famously photographed by tourists. This lane is also popular with local newly weds. The place is iconic and very Melbournian. The lanes are grungy and smell of wee stained especially along Rutledge Lane. Cover the nose or stop breathing for 1 – 2 minutes. It is worth the stroll to admire the arts.P1140562P1140569P1140579P1140592P1140591

5 Short Blasts

It’s blue. I could see them from my apartment! 5 little blue boats slowly cruising up and down the Yarra River early in the morning for the past 3 weekends. The first weekend when I saw them, I was wondering why there were 5 small blue boats taking off from the Collins Landing in front of the ANZ HQ Building Yarra’s Edge.  Then, I remember it was one of the art installation project sponsored by the City of Melbourne and supported by Port of Melbourne featuring the sounds and sights of the harbour city, created and choreographed by artists Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, which I had booked a month ago.

I have to say that I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first read about the 5 Short Blasts. All I knew was it is an art and sound installation project and it involves being on the river. P1140338I booked a 9am on a Sunday morning. Meeting point was at the Water Plaza in Victoria Harbour. It was a short 10 minutes walk from our apartment. The weather was perfect – calm water with light wind and mild temperature. There were 5 small blue boats. 4 passengers to a boat and a private “seafaring” skipper who spends most of his / her life experience working on the water city of Melbourne. Or, at least our boat skipper “Alan” has spent all his life working as a seafarer and has some wonderful stories to tell. The journey took us up the river under the Bolte Bridge and the working wharfs unloading cargos from the gigantic ships. P1140337P1140356P1140345P1140371P1140384

We were very lucky to participate on this once in a lifetime experience of the 5 Short Blasts. I will remember this special journey on Melbourne waterway for a long time. A great way to start the morning and weekend.

Thanks to all the wonderful people for putting this program together and most of all, our skipper “Alan” who even share his thermal flask of warm tea and a packet of biscuits. At the end of our trip, Alan gave each of us a small pamphlet featuring the program, sponsors, creators and people involved on the program, including history and facts on various signals used in the waterway to prevent any collision. It is a well documented little hand pamphlets 52 pages thick.

Well done!