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Posts tagged ‘Architecture’

The Historical Charms of Medan

Ask any Indonesian here in Jakarta about Medan and its people, and you will likely get one of several prevailing opinions. Some declare it a rough and aggressive place whose unruly residents speak with a coarse accent. Others rave about the food, particularly the non-Muslim fare of the Chinese and indigenous Batak communities. Still others might say the city has a reputation for crime: cue the Medanese friend who spoke of a break-in at his family home while his mother was around – the thief escaped after hearing her screams and realizing he’d entered the window of a room that had been locked from the inside. Then he told me of a cousin’s encounters with a (sympathetic) local mafia boss who was a regular at her restaurant. Few visitors – if anyone – would describe Indonesia’s fourth-largest city as beautiful, charming, or easy on the senses. But good food is not the only redeeming quality of the boisterous provincial capital of North Sumatra. Read more

What I Love About Seoul

The first thing you might notice about Seoul is the technological prowess: sleek, quiet trains whisk you from Incheon International Airport to the central station in less than an hour, inside spotlessly clean carriages fitted with electronic maps above each set of doors – a sequence of red and yellow lights to chart the 48-kilometer (30-mile) journey. Then, once you’ve navigated the maze of passageways at Seoul station to get on a subway train, there comes a jolt of global cosmopolitanism: you may well encounter a blonde-haired expatriate who speaks fluent Korean and a local student joking in English with two African friends. Read more

Sydney: Road to the Opera House

It was a blanket of thick cloud that set the scene for our early morning arrival into Australia’s largest city. Heralding the end of a seven-hour overnight flight from Jakarta, this gloominess suggested that much of the day would be spent indoors, though it barely dampened our excitement as the waters of Port Jackson came into view. “Look!” Bama gestured from his window seat toward the span of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the nearby Opera House: two landmarks I had longed to see ever since I was a child. We descended past the skyscrapers of the Central Business District, gliding lower and lower above the rooftops until the inner suburbs gave way to warehouses and the wheels hit the runway. We were in a new country, a remote outpost of the Western world – and a far cry from the place we had left just the night before. Read more

Tales from Bhaktapur

Arriving in a taxi, the first thing that caught my eye about Bhaktapur was the warm, rust-red brick that seemed to glow in the fading afternoon light. It was our first day in Nepal, and Bama and I had come straight from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport, where we navigated a melee at baggage claim to get to our well-worn backpacks off the conveyor belt. Fellow blogger Lex had likened her own experience at Tribhuvan to a wrestling match, and we could see why: no one knew exactly which of the two belts inside the overcrowded hall would spit out their luggage. In the confusion that followed, it took a certain amount of stoicism and readiness not to be shoved aside by aggressive Indian matriarchs. Read more

In Search of Singhasari

Two summers ago, while exploring the Central Javanese highlands of Dieng at the start of our six-month Spice Odyssey, Bama and I came upon an illustrated timeline inside a museum. It charted the evolution and development of the candi (pronounced “chaan-dee”), a catch-all Indonesian term for the ancient Hindu and/or Buddhist ruins scattered across the island of Java, and to a lesser extent, Sumatra. The great majority are quarried from volcanic andesite – whose color varies from tan to slate grey – with the most prominent examples being the UNESCO-listed temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Bama had been to both icons several times, but as he traced his finger over depictions of their smaller and lesser-known counterparts further east, he declared with a sigh, “I’ve always wanted to visit these temples in East Java.” Read more

Himeji-jo: Castle of the White Egret

It towers above the neon signs and drab concrete blocks of modern-day Japan, a gleaming monument to an age when shoguns and samurai didn’t just exist in the imagination. From its hilltop perch, Himeji Castle dominates its namesake city, marking one end of the tree-lined boulevard leading to the busy train station. Read more

Hoi An: a bridge between cultures

Standing on a pedestrian walkway by the Thu Bon River, Bama and I drink in the view of a sublime architectural gem. It rests on a succession of stone piers, the timber frame bearing traces of maroon paint, faded and stripped away by years of exposure to the elements. Above the rafters, delicate blue-and-white porcelain bowls are set into the edges of the tiled roof, itself crowned by florid, dragon-like finials. It was this famous structure – the Japanese covered bridge – that had brought us to the central Vietnamese town of Hoi An. When I read last August that the 400-year-old landmark would eventually be dismantled for restoration, I knew it was high time to go. Read more

Bern: Switzerland’s picturesque capital

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Not long after that very first trip to Switzerland in the summer of 2000, my father showed me a picture book on the natural and man-made wonders of the Alpine country. One of the photos that stood out to me most was taken in the medieval heart of Bern, showing a cobbled street that led to the Zytglogge, a whimsical yet stately clock tower capped by a curving pyramidal roof and spire. Read more

Kyoto revisited

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When I was nine years old, a family friend gifted me with a branch of plastic cherry blossoms. I tied it to a pin board above my bed, wrote a haiku about Kyoto in the spring (though I’d never been at the time), then drew a pagoda and cherry trees beside the poem. It was an obsession fueled by lunch breaks spent in the school library, where I returned time and again to a thick hardcover book on the Japanese city. Read more

A walk in Kurashiki

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We were not meant to visit Kurashiki at all. Though I’d heard of the place and looked up pictures several weeks before our trip to Japan, it never became a priority. But that changed with a chance encounter inside a sushi bar at Okayama station, four stops down the Sanyo Main Line. Read more