A travel and photography blog by Loke Chee Meng
About the title shot :
In the autumn of 2009, I found Little Bugsie, of all places, on a toilet sink in the Days Landscape Hotel located at the foot of Changbaishan, Jilin, China. I invited Bugsie into the room. I gave it the 'red carpet' welcome and took the shot above with a Panasonic DMC-LX3.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

I went to Hakodate


On the morning of 12th December 2016, I arrived at Hakodate (Hokkaido, Japan)  with the delegation from the Singapore Tourism Board comprising STB’s senior management staff and the other winners of the 2016 STB Customer Service Awards.  I am honoured to be a member of this delegation in my capacity as the recipient of the Customer Service Award representing National Gallery Singapore.

We were welcomed at the airport by the committee members of the HSS (Hakodate Singapore Society) and HITCA (Hakodate International Tourism and Convention Association).  It was a great honour as the committee members are business leaders of Hakodate and most of them are multi-millionaires in their own right.
Picture above : Night view of Hakodate Bay

Over the last 35 years, I have made many trips to Japan.  Each time, the courtesy and discipline of the people, the quality of the products and services, the efficiency of the system and the cleanliness of the place have never failed to impress me.  It was no exception this time.

Little known to most of us, Singapore has a close relationship with the city of Hakodate in tourism.  The Hakodate Singapore Society was founded by the late Mr Masaru Yanagisawa in 1992.  He was instrumental in developing the close ties between Hakodate and Singapore.  One of the significant contributions of HSS is that it has been hosting winners of the STB Awards since 1999.  Members of HSS had also participated in our Chingay processions in the past.

The late Mr Yanagisawa was so impressed with Singapore’s success that he had requested and was granted permission to erect a merlion (actually it is one big merlion and two small ones) at the Nanae Hama Beach in Hakodate.  Of course,  a visit to Hakodate is not complete without a visit to our merlions.  However, it was a pitiful sight to see the merlions rather unkempt sitting on a desolated beach.  HSS should perhaps relocate the Merlions to the Hakodate Bay Area, an area somewhat like our Clarke Quay.

Picture above : Our merlion at Nanae Hama Beach

There were official and informal events in our itinerary.  One of the highlights was the official light up of the Hakodate Christmas Fantasy at the Bay Area by the Singapore delegation.  It was awesome when we pressed the button the huge Christmas tree behind us lighted up and fireworks shot up over the Bay.  Then there was a courtesy call to the Mayor’s office.  I had goose bumps as I entered the Hakodate City Hall with the Singapore flag flying high next to the Japanese flag outside.

Picture above* : The Singapore flag flying outside the Hakodate City Hall

As part of cultural exchange, we visited the Hakodate Shirayuri Senior High School.  This was the first time I visited a school in Japan and an elite girl school at that.  It was evident that the girls had spent a lot of efforts in preparing various items to introduce Japanese culture and traditions to us. I wish we had more time in the school.

We had sightseeing too.  It was a pity that we did not get to the top of Mt Hakodate to view the famous night scene of Hakodate as the mountain was closed due to an accident the day prior to our arrival.  Nevertheless, we did visit several places of interest including the Goryokaku Fort and Tower, the Old Hakodate Public Hall, the Nanae Snow Park and Lake Onuma.
Picture above : Goryukaku Fort seen from Goryukaku Tower

Picture above : Mt Komagadake seen from Nanae Snow Park
Picture above : A frozen Lake Onuma

We left Hakodate on the 16th morning.  It had been snowing since the night. However, our Japanese hosts had once again demonstrated their warmth and hospitality.  They were at the airport to send us off and did not leave until we boarded the plane.  This is the kind of exemplary courtesy and hospitality that has impressed me for 35 years.  I have never bowed so much and so deeply.   But our hosts rightfully deserve all that.

There is no better place to appreciate and learn the finer points of service excellence than Japan.  The Japanese has perfected their ‘service excellence and courtesy’ practices into an art form.  The whole customer service industry in Singapore has a lot to learn from them.  When it comes to the finer points, it is all about discipline and mindset. If I may draw an analogy, it has become an art form somewhat akin to the display grace and elegance in the exquisite art of Sado and Ikebana. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Tassie Tassie here I come!

I went to Tasmania last month.  Beautiful place.  But it may take a while before I get down to write something.  That is called inertia.

17 May 2017 - Now I know this is bad.  It has been one year since I went to Tasmania and I have not written anything about the trip.  Inertia, Inertia, Inertia!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Visit to Twin Pagodas Hill - Did I make history?

I may very well be the first Singaporean to visit this place called Twin Pagodas Hill in Chengde, China.  A lot of people living in Beijing do not know of the place.

In October last year when I visited Beijing, I went to the Qing Dynasty's Imperial Summer Resort in Chengde.  Chengde used to be called Rehe (meaning Hot River) during the Qing Dynasty.  As a matter of fact, the later Qing Emperors spent more time in Rehe than in the Palace in the Forbidden City in Beijing.  On the northeastern side of the Imperial Summer Resort about 30 minutes drive away is a nondescript hill.  But on top of this hill is something unique and stunning.   Two huge rocks about the height of two 20-storey buildings stand shoulder to shoulder next to each other.  On top of EACH of these two rocks is a pagoda that was supposedly built many hundred years ago. Now, there is no way one can go up to the pagodas.  Well, at least that is for now.  I hate to think of the day some idiotic enterpreneur will build an elevator to fetch tourists to the top and collect 100 RMB per visitor for the ride. And to make it more visitor friendly, add a link bridge between alpha and beta to 'enhance' its appeal.

Look at the photo below, it is unique isn't?   I reached there in the morning at about 10 am. Unfortunately, the weather was not good that day and that was all I could do with the shot.

I think Twin Pagodas Hill is certainly more qualified to be a classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site than some botanic gardens in the tropics.

Twin Pagodas Hill

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The 12 months of 2016

Last year, I designed a customised calendar with sunrise and sunset as the theme.  This year I wanted something that is different from the usual scenery shots. I wanted something more imaginative.  I hope you will like it.

January

 February

March

 April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December



Saturday, 14 November 2015

Important information to note if you are flying off from Beijing

I went to Beijing again on the 18th October 2015.  This time I visited the Great Wall (again but different segment), Chengde, Bashang and Panjin.  I will write about all these later.  But meanwhile I am quite keen to share the following with readers as soon as possible because I think the information is important.

If you are flying off from Beijing International Airport, be very sure which terminal you are departing from.  Why?  Well, Beijing International Airport Terminal 3 (T3) is 15 to 20 minutes DRIVE away from T1 and T2.  (T1 and T2 are next to each other.)  If you think T3 is next to T2, you are dead wrong! If you get to the wrong terminal, you could very well be in for a lot of hassle.

Next, if you are taking Cathay Pacific Airlines (CX), be very sure you are taking the right airlines. There is a local airline with a name that sounds exactly the same as Cathay Pacific in Mandarin and in Cantonese (though it is written differently).  I will show you the photo later.  So,  if you simply go to Guo Tai (or Kwok Tai in Cantonese) without verifying you may end up in Timbuktu.

This is the photo I promised to show you all.


DISCLAIMER :  THIS IS NOT, I REPEAT, NOT, AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE AIRLINES SHOWN IN THE PHOTO OR FOR THAT MATTER ANY OTHER AIRLINES.







Friday, 2 October 2015

Circumambulating the West Lake















The charm of the West Lake is legendary.

According to a Chinese saying,

Viewing the West Lake on a sunny day is not as ideal as a rainy day;
Viewing the West Lake on a rainy day is not as ideal as a misty day;
Viewing the West Lake on a misty day is not as ideal as a snowy day.

I take that to mean that the more obscure the view, the more enchanting the West Lake is.

There are west lakes and there are west lakes

Before I go on any further, I am of course referring to THE 'West Lake' in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in China.  Well, the fact is that there are over 30 west lakes in China.  I have been to the West Lake in the city of Fuzhou in Fujian province.  It is nothing like the West Lake in Hangzhou.  So, don't bother to waste time visiting any other west lake.  From now onwards, I will only talk about THE 'West Lake' in Hangzhou.  By the way, there are also many heavenly lakes in China.  The two worth visiting are the Heavenly Lake in Changbaishan and the Heavenly Lake in Xinjiang.  I will write about these two some time later.

The West Lake in Hangzhou is one of the most easily accessible and conveniently located scenic locations in China. It is right in the city and the reasonably priced 4-star Ramada Hai Hua Hotel is just 150 m from the West Lake.  The pricey Hyatt Regency and Shangri-La are also equally well located. I have stayed in the Ramada every time I visited the West Lake.

Circumambulate the West Lake?

In the spring of 2014, I decided to circumambulate the West Lake.  Yes, I mean walk round the West Lake. I felt that in my previous visits I have not really seen the real the West Lake.  So, walking round it should be the best way to see more.  Is that possible?  Yes, it is.  How long does it takes?  I took about 12 hours including breaks for rest and taking of photographs. Was it tiring?  Yes, but not unmanageable.  In fact, I think I managed pretty well considering the fact that I was lugging along my photographic gear weighing about 20 per cent of my body weight.

As you probably already know, there are 10 classic scenes of West Lake:

1) Dawn on the Su Causeway in spring
2) Breeze-ruffled lotus in the Quyuan Garden
3) Autumn moon over the calm lake
4) Melting snow on the 'broken' bridge (The bridge is anything but broken.  The break is a visual delusion due to the melting snow.)
5) Leifeng pagoda in the sunset
6) Twin peaks piercing the clouds
7) Orioles singing in the willows
8) Fish viewing at the Flower Harbour
9) Three ponds reflecting the moon (This name is a bit of a misnomer and a mystery.  There aren't any three ponds.  What one sees are 3 pagoda-like stone lanterns about 2 metres high arising above the water.  This scene is depicted on the back of the RMB1 note.)
10) Evening bell of the Nanping Hill

(These days, the Chinese had come out with 10 'new' scenes of West Lake.  I have not visited any of them.  Firstly, they are spread out over quite a large area in Hangzhou.  Secondly, somehow, I feel that they are mainly tourist's traps.)

By circumambulating the West Lake, I tried to visit each of these locations.  Well I did 8 out of 10!  I did not make it to (9) because one would have to take a boat out to an island in the middle of the lake and (10) because one would have to deviate and go up the hill.

The following are some of the 10 scenes.


Twin peaks piercing the clouds
Leifeng pagoda in the sunset
Fish viewing at the Flower Harbour

Dawn at the Su Causeway in spring

Maojiabu

On the western edge of the West Lake are several smaller lakes called Maojiabu.  This area is seldom visited by tourists and walking along the lakes, one really gets to soak in its tranquility.  Maojiabu is not to be confused with the Xixi, the wetland made famous by the 2008-movie 'If you are the one' staring Shu Qi and Chinese actor Ge You.   Xixi wetland, is a short car-ride from the Westlake.  The following are some shots of Maojiabu.






Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Zhang Yi Mou's impression shows

Zhang Yi Mou, the movie director, has produced several large scale, live, on location shows at some of China's most notable scenic attractions.  His shows involving several hundred performers make creative use of light and sound woven into the location's setting.  The content of the show is invariably about the local customs and dances. But each show will inevitably contain some elements of surprise that vow the audience.  Zhang is credited to have provided employment opportunities to many of the local people and made a lot of money for himself too.

The following is my impression of Zhang's Impressions. 

Impression of Hainan 

It is set in a stadium-like arena.  The theme is contemporary (his only show with a contemporary theme) and is about young people's yearning to enjoy sun and the beach of Hainan.

One of the surprises is how the stage turned into a sea of water with the clever change of lighting.  I figured out that the stage is actually built of mesh over a pool.  It turns from land to water by lowering the mesh and vice versa by raising the mesh. Another surprise comes towards the end where the back of the stage opens up and 'viola', the beach,  coconut tress and the waves washing ashore highlighted by the clever use of lighting.

My rating: *

Impression of West Lake

This is probably the most unusual.  The performance is carried out on the waters of the West Lake at night.  The storyline is set against the legend of Madam White Snake which in itself is an enchanting tale.

You have boats sailing on the lake and dancers dancing on water.  The highlight is the broken bridge sequence where a huge bridge-like structure (resembling anything but a bridge, least of all, the real 'broken bridge') is mechanically raised from the lake.

The dance sequences with the creative use of light is scintillating.

My rating :***

Impression of Guilin

This show uses the unique characteristic of the Karst landscape in Guilin (more specifically, Yangshuo) as the backdrop.  It also featured the characteristically unique folk songs ('mountain songs' literally in Chinese) of Guilin.

To a large extent, the dance items are similar to the West Lake's with dancers performing 'on water'.

My rating : **

Impression of Lijiang

The only of his shows that is performed in daylight.  The reason is obvioius.  The location is at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow mountain some 20 minutes drive from Lijiang city.  The audience will be literally frozen if the show is staged at night.

The backdrop is the magnificent 4680m Jade Dragon Snow mountain.  The dances and content are centered around the local tea-trading 'horse gangs' with  real horses galloping around.  Other than that, nothing really unusual.

I think the magnificent Jade Dragon Snow mountain was a distraction as there were several times during the show that I found myself admiring the grandeur of the mountain rather than watching the show.

My rating : *


Sorry, I do not have any photographs of the night shows.  Well, I abide by the rules; no photography and video recording allowed.  Of course, that made me the odd-one-out in China.   Actually, I was prepared to 'follow the custom when one enters the village' as the Chinese saying goes.   However, it does not make sense to shoot anything in the vast night space without a firm tripod.