Saturday, September 30, 2006 

Uniquely Singaporean 2

Spotted this Pooh-mobile as it pooh-led into the Bedok Central parking lot. Kinda reminds me of the Hello Kitty craze which hit Singapore a couple of years back, the folks at Mickey D's certainly got more than what they bargained for when the idea of giving out Hello Kitty dolls erupted into scenes pandemonium as the crowds battled for the stupid stuffed toys. I personally know of a 36 year old acquaintance who had devoted a room of his apartment to display his prized dolls which he so patiently waited in line for.

Do check out Uniquely Singaporean 1 if you haven't already done so.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 25, 2006 

The Living Apsaras of Cambodia

If you've ever been to the ruins of Angkor Wat, chances are that you'd have noticed the Apsara carvings that adorn the walls all around the temple remains. Traditional Khmer classical dancers bear more than a passing resemblence to these bas-reliefs and are often referred to as Apsara dancers, a somewhat inaccurate term but generally accepted nonetheless. The dance dates back to the Angkor period when court dancers performed in the thousands. Its long history was disrupted when in the post Angkor period, Cambodia was absorbed as a vassal state of Siam and much of its cultural identity was lost. The modern day revival of Khmer dance came about in the post WW2 period when the royal court under the auspices of then Queen of Cambodia, Kossamak Nearireath, sought to reintroduce the art form in Cambodia by reestablishing the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.

More recently, Khmer classical dance was put to a stop when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime gained power in the 1970s. Thousands of dancers lost their lives in the genocide which followed and many thought that the art would be lost forever. The surviving dancers banded together after the Khmer Rouge fell from power and under the direction of HRH Princess Norodom Bopha Devi, a renowned Apsara dancer herself, brought about yet another rebirth of the dance in modern day Cambodia.

Apsara dance today lives on in the form of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and other professional dance troupes, in Cambodia and other places around the globe. I was fortunate enough (thanks Chivan!) to be permitted to observe a practice session with the principal troupe of the Royal Ballet while in Phnom Penh and these images are from the 2 short hours which I spent with them.

The dance form is often characterised by delicate and complex hand gestures which represent various meanings or things. Great flexibility is required and the dancers will start a session off by stretching their fingers and limbs. I witnessed some of the dancers pulling their fingers far back enough to touch their forearms.

Performance costumes are far more elaborate than what is worn during rehersals.

A rather mind boggling pose, it's a real joy to watch such contorted movements performed with such grace and finesse. Do not try this at home folks.

An instructor provides guidance to a young Apsara dancer. The two ladies in the background provided the musical accompaniment which included lyrics which are sung. The lyrics describe the story of the dance and are usually accompanied by a full ensemble of gongs, xylophones and other traditional musical instruments during actual performances.

Dancers are selected at a tender young age and put through a regime of dance training as well as schooling. Many of the principal dancers have been with the Royal Ballet for 10 years or more.

After painstakingly seeking out the old dance teachers from around the country, and bringing them together to train a new generation of artistes, Princess Norodom Bopha Devi is said to almost have brought Khmer dance once again to its pre-Khmer Rouge level of skill and artistry.

A chorus line of a different sort.

At 75 and still going strong. This former dancer recounted the Khmer Rouge years where she avoided attention and possible death by practising the hand gestures of the dance as she lay in bed each night.

My time spent with the dancers of the Royal Ballet was one of the many highlights of my visit to Phnom Penh. If you're in Siem Reap in November of this year, be sure to look out for the Royal Ballet dancers as they perform at Angkor Wat during a week long festival to be held there. Ironically, as the beautfiul ruins of Angkor are increasingly overrun by tourists, we might find Apsara dance to be the real remaining untouched treasure of Cambodia left in coming years.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 21, 2006 

Barely legal - Banksy in Los Angeles

Spent the last weekend trolling around Los Angeles and one of the highlights of the trip was a show by Banksy, a subversive artist specialising in witty and provocative stencils and other street art. His works are usually found plastered around major cities like London and San Francisco, this is one of the few times he's actually had a show with a collection of his artworks housed under one roof. The show was set up in total secrecy and the location of the exhibits wasn't revealed until opening day. The exhibition itself lasted only 3 days and I figured out why when I found the live elephant trotting around the makeshift living room, make that a live elephant painted like wallpaper. The installation piece spoke volumes but it bordered on illegal. Animal rights activists were up in arms when the discovery of the elephant was telecast over the news channels and tried to get the show shut down. Best that they could do was to have the paint removed and the elephant was exhibited in its natural color on the last day of the show. I was personally okay with the animal being there, it seemed pretty well taken care of, with an ample supply of carrots and water within easy reach.

A characteristic of Banksy's works is the often not too subtle hints at anti-establishment, subversion and anti-war, all portrayed in rather humorous situations. Combine that with unconventional methods of displaying his pieces (he likes slipping in his works into museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Natural History Museum in London), Banksy has a strong underground following and with the mainstream media as well.

The following is but a small sampling of works from this talented guerilla artist, many more examples may be found here.

The Apache gunship looks almost cute in this scene. Banksy often uses the Apache helicopter as an anti-war icon in many of his works.

Prior to the opening of the show, Banksy managed to pull off this stunt with a similar hooded figure in Disneyland.

A very different sort of Jungle Book.

This one literally had me in stitches.

This simple piece was somehow my favorite piece of the show.

"Picnic" was purchased by Angelina Jolie after she showed up to the opening with boyfriend Brad Pitt. At £120,000 it sounds like the most expensive Banksy piece sold to date. Trust the stars to spoil the market.

Don't think you'll find this diagram in any airline safety card.

Even Mother Theresa wasn't spared!

Might want to check this video out of Banksy screwing with Paris Hilton's album.

Labels: ,

Saturday, September 16, 2006 

Top of the world


Thursday, September 14, 2006 

Wedding bliss and an aimless rant

There might have been a time when I considered doing photography full time, it was a pipe dream as it turned out. I decided it was best left as a hobby to doodle with in my spare time, engaging in projects of my choosing and at the time of my choosing. Let's not get carried away here, I know which day job pays the bills!

It was a string of weddings a couple of years back which prompted me to relook my career choices. Most of my friends seem to have married later in life, and they decided to do it within months of each other. Great for photographic opportunities but a little hard on the wallet when it came time for gifts. And of course, after the 7th wedding or so, I had had enough of running around all day after the bride and groom, trying to catch every kodak moment as they presented themselves. No, way too much work for me.

My hat goes off to talented wedding photogs I know like Kelvin and Ron, who shoot almost nothing but weddings, day in day out. It's kinda easy to run out of creative inspiration after engaging the same subject repeatedly but I'm always amazed how they can constantly produce refreshing angles. It's a sign of growth and the need for expression, marks of a dedicated photographer.

So, what was the point of this post? Not sure really. I wanted to show the last wedding I shot at originally but after editing these 2 shots, I decided an aimless rant on my photographic endeavors seemed more appropriate. Sorry if I wasted your time in making you read this.

The 2 shots were taken during a studio session by the couple's photographer, I tagged along to capture what went on behind the scenes. It was a fun afternoon recording the candid moments shared by the couple, probably the first and last time I do something like this.

Sunday, September 10, 2006 

Street art in Szentendre

A short 40 minute hop on the train from Budapest, Szentendre is a small town of art communities and museums by the banks of the Danube river. Well, that's what they would have you believe but I personally thought it was a tourist trap. Rather than exploring the many shops and galleries selling trinkets and pieces which could only marginally pass as "art", I had much more fun exploring the many works of the talented taggers which seem to have taken over the area surrounding the train station.

This last piece was obviously the work of a demented mind. The proportions of that index finger is way off. Priceless...

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006 

Lunch at The Song of India

Not one to pass up on an opportunity to go Indian, I happily lugged my camera bag and hearty appetite down to The Song of India when a lunch invitation unexpectedly appeared.

Located near the heart of Orchard Road in a pre-war conservation house, its idyllic setting could make it hard to locate especially when its facade is partially hidden by a sheltered walkway and set a little distance away from the main road. The entrance to its parking lot (complimentary valet parking available) is nondescript and sports a rather small signboard hinting at the presence of a dining establishment.

Ascending its rather steep front steps, patrons are immediately transported to a small anteroom flanked by an impressive wine collection on either side. The wines have been meticulously selected and paired by a sommelier and they come in a range of prices. There's always something for every wallet.

The main dining room is decked out in understated oppulence. Roman pillars and plush cushions, alongside large windows, modern seating and elegant tables all make for a cosy yet sufficiently sophisticated setting. The restaurant has 2 private dining rooms, the smaller of which is pictured above. The larger room is decorated like a dining room found in an English manor, a little dry and boring in my opinion but the smaller room with its modern setting appealed to me.

Now, on to the grub. August 15th just so happened to be the Indian Independence Day so the first course was decked out to a national theme (in the colors of the Indian flag for the uninitiated). This is where I'm going to fail miserably as a food critic (I'm a photo blogger turned food blogger wannabee). Due to poor note taking, I have no idea what this is except it looked like 3 layers of something which tasted vaguely of coconut and tapioca that was stabbed by a sharp object and bleeding profusely. I appreciated the visual beauty of the dish but it didn't quite work with my tastebuds.

The kitchen is led by Chef Sovani, originally the head chef at Rang Mahal. 7 other chefs work under him and each specialise in food from a particular region of the vast Indian continent. One of these prepared this appetizer course consisting of Gilawnt Kebab and Saunf Wale scallop. The soft pan-seared lamb kebab done in a Lucknavi style tasted strangely like foie gras. The scallop which was marinated with fennel and cumin was a little too fragrant did not seem to work for me.

Next up was another salvo of appetizers consisting of Lasoori Jahinga (garlic prawn), Tulsi Murgh (basil chicken), and a white bean salad. The prawn was fiery and tasty, and the chicken was done just right, flavorful yet subtle. The bean salad I should've skipped as it was a little on the tough side. You can see how the chefs take great pains in the presentation of the food, fashioning what looked like a little bonsai plant out of parsley and a pastry for a trunk. All planted onto the bean salad which looked and tasted like a pot of rocks. Notice how an errant ikura roe has slid to one side, that was me and not the chefs... a food stylist I am not.

I'm a great lover of lamb and can often be swayed by the presence of a great lamb course even if the rest of the meal was mediocre. The lamb which showed up at our table next was perhaps one of the finest lamb curries I've had. Nalli Ghosht, or lamb shank in a secret Lucknavi sauce, was expertly done and presented in a crude but strangely appealing manner. The waiter took great care in balancing the three shanks and I could almost hear a sigh of relief when he finally set it on the table. I'd recommend you ask your server to cut these up for you because eating meat from the bone like you would in Soup Tulang isn't an endeavor to be taken in such elegant surroundings. The meat itself was succulent and tender. The wonderful flavors exploded with each bite and I was in food heaven. I think this dish alone made this dining experience a memorable one.

I thought a separate mention for the roti which accompanied the lamb shank was in order. Served in a rather odd manner in a shot glass, the heat from the roti created condensation in the glass and caused some bits of the roti to moisten. Not a good presentation idea but the roti itself was as good as the lamb. It contained an oddly robust meaty flavor and was a delicious accompaniment to the Nalli Ghosht.

The rest of the mains consisted of a Chettinad prawn curry, basmati rice and more roti. The prawn curry is not for the faint of heart. Prepare your senses for a very spicy experience. I was almost in tears by the time I made my way through my one and only prawn. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious as it was spicy. I was pretty amazed that the spiciness did not mask the flavors of the seasoning nor of the prawn itself.

The meal ended with a Malai kulfi on a stick and Choco Chikki torte (with a praline base), all topped with a warm cup of Masala tea. I can always appreciate a good kulfi especially after attempting to make some myself a couple of years ago. It's a fairly easy process but getting the right consistency can be rather tricky. This kulfi was good, very good. Not overly sweet as most kulfis go, but just nice.

Our party was quite charmed by the attentive service and wonderful surroundings, though all this come at a price. Mains are in the $15-$50 range, and desserts from $11. Weekday set lunches start from $28 and I think this represents fairly good value. There is a weekend champagne brunch starting soon at $89 per diner, with free flow of beverages (alcoholic and non) with your buffet spread, a great deal especially if you drink like a fish. Check them out at...

The Song of India
33 Scotts Road
Tel: 6836-0055

Labels: ,

About me

  • I'm Mr Sanguine
  • From Singapore, Singapore
My profile

My ipod top weekly plays

mrsanguine's Weekly Artists Chart

Subscribe in Bloglines
Subscribe in FeedLounge