Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Kingdom... If you can also Imagine

I watched a movie "The Kingdom" on my flight back from Manila yesterday evening. A story inspired by a true event, the bombing incident in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which took place in 2003 and said to be responsible by Al Qaeda.

Set in Riyadh, the movie started with suicide bombing by Muslim terrorists which led to some Americans, including 2 FBI agents being killed. In Washington, the other FBI agents were outraged and deeply sadden by the lost of their colleauges. One female agent even broke down in tears and another whispered something to her which calmed her emotions. Shortly after which, they left for Riyadh with a goal to track down the one responsible for this killing.

I shall skip the details and go straight to the ending. After much shooting and bloodshed, the FBI agents finally came in face to face with the terrorist leader. And in a frenzy of confusion, the terrorist leader was shot dead by the FBI agents. Just before he died, the terrorist leader whispered into the ears of his young grandson.

You are probably curious what were the messages spoken in whispers. As the FBI agent, now returned to Washington, recalled what he said, "We will kill them all", he showed neither joy nor satisfaction from his sweet revenge. Instead, his expression was full of daunt and sorrow.

And back in Ridyadh, a young boy was telling his mother the dying words of his grandfather... "Don't fear my child. We are going to kill them all." His eyes were filled with determinations.

I began to think... how could there be so much animosities and misgivings between people such that they would want to kill all of each other? In this case, it was merely religion and nationality which separated the 2 parties. Nationality, something derived from our geographical location; Religion, an expression of the human faith and yearning to do good... have I misunderstood, for how could these be so venomous?

People always say that all humans are borned pure and innocent. But I think some just inherited hatred and vengeance the minute they breathe in their first breath in this stinking world. Is it circumstances or do you call it fate? What does a 10 year old boy in Somalia, armed with rifle, knows about war when he doesn't even know much about life or seen any of the world? And why can't some Taiwanese and mainland Chinese get along, when the civil war ended probably before they were even borned?

I don't know why people would do crazy things sometimes for no reason at all; I don't know how many generations will precede before vengeance can be forgotten; And I don't know how long it will take for all the mistakes in histories to be fully erased. But I know that if we do not stop hating each other, the day may never come when the human race can all live in peace. When hatred turns into vengeance, vengeance turns into blood, blood turns into pain, pain turns into anger, anger turns into revenge, it just goes on and on... until the day I die, until I turn into fossils or even longer.

I suddenly remembered a song which I was extremely touched by when I first heard it. Sharing with you my favourite version on You Tube.

We are all unique, but then again not so different. There is really no need for us to over-emphasize our differences. If there are no boundaries, we probably can then all live as one. If we can all imagine a world like this, I am sure it will come true, some day.

Imagine I was in the audience? No, better don't image that. You'll have to tie me to the chair to prevent me from doing crazy things (like dashing forward to grab his feet hahaha...ORZ!)

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Weird Travel

Travelling is great because you get to see new and interesting things all the time. And travel photography can be really fun too, especially when you find some unexpected shots after coming home.

Here's the top 5 weird photos from my recent trips.

#5 Hotel Ring (Tokyo, Japan)

Bet you didn't know I own a hotel...

#4 The Beatles comes alive! (Tokyo, Japan)

Fancy meeting The Beatles in Tokyo. Introducing... Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band! But Lennon didn't look any bit like himself, I think they forgot his glasses!

#3 Retro (Xining, China)

Can this pass for an old photo from my mother's album? The aunty's hairstyle is soooo retro!

#2 Spooky (Golmoud, Tibet)

See the transparent image in front of the train (enlarge photo to see it better). Was it a ghost?

#1 A tale of the Human Dumpling. Rare! (Lhasa, Tibet)

Haha! That's me alright, bloated like a dumpling (blame the photographer). The weirdest of all.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Xi'an: Terracotta Warriors

I travelled 36 hours on the Lhasa Express from Tibet to Xi'an just for the sake of visiting the Terracotta Museum. And it was definitely a worthwhile trip.

The terracotta army was discovered by Farmer Yang and party in 1974 when they were digging a well in the village. This discovery changes the lives of many people in Xi'an as tourism boomed after that and brought prosperity. As my tour guide repeatedly said to me, the village used to be one of the poorest in China, but now things are very different. Of course, it is also one major discovery in the history of mankind, and many would agree that the terracotta army is indeed the true "Eighth wonder of the World".

* Farmer Yang now signs his autograph on the terracotta picture books at the museum. He hates being taken photo of and will shoo away anyone who tries to take a picture of him. Ha, too much fame already!

The site where the well was being dug.... where it all began.

About 6,000 - 7,000 terracotta warriors have been excavated to date. Yet that only represents 10% of the whole army!

So much left to be done. Look at the broken pieces lying by the side that are yet to be assembled.

General, archer, soldiers on display. Did you notice that their faces are all different?

2 of the most treasured pieces of exhibits at the museum. The carriages and horses are almost still complete.

I am truly amazed by what I saw at the terracotta museum, these treasures of over 2,000 years old created during Emperor Qin's reign in 200 B.C. Each of the warrior has a different face. As explained by my tour guide, the artists and craftsmen created the statues based on actual images of one another. And I am also fascinated by the amount of details on each statue; there are hairlines, palm lines, laces on the clothes, bows, etc...

History remembers Emperor Qin as a tyrant. Yet, he left behind some great legacy for China which people today simply awe at. The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors are truly magnificent and personally, I think they are some of the greatest things I have ever seen in my life.

In my opinion, everyone has to see the terracotta warriors for themselves at least once in the lifetime. Believe me, you won't know what you are missing out on until you see them for yourself.

Archaeologists excavating at the site. I'm really impressed by the work they are doing, painstakingly putting together the broken pieces of the statues.

The original terracotta warriors were painted with colours. However, due to oxidisation, the colours faded away within minutes after the statues were being excavated. Here, we can still see some remaining colours on the statue (Link).

Travel tips: Charter a cab from Xi'an city to go to the Terracotta Warrior museum (slighly outskirt of town). You can get a cab for one whole day from as low as Rmb100 (I got mine at Rmb150 but I think it could go lower if I bargain harder). Any cab driver will be willing to do this, but you have to make sure that they get you there not too late after lunch because the museum closes at 4pm/5pm (I spent 2 over hours inside). My advice is to start early, so that you can visit the Emperor Qin Mausoleum along the way.

There are also various versions of the "official" Terracotta picture books on sale, some are cheaper than the others. To be on the safe side, I suggest buying from the official souvenir shop inside the museum as I cannot tell which are "pirated" copies. May cost slightly more in the official souvenir shop but at least you know it's genuine (and comes with autography of Farmer Yang as a bonus, ha!). Same goes for the terracotta figurines. They are more expensive (very much more expensive) inside the official shop as compared to those selling in other souvenir shops outside of the museum. I got a small army which I paid over S$100 for.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Just for laughs

There are too many funny episodes happening around us all the time. Sometimes, it just takes a clear head combined with a little sense of humour to identify them.

I came across these during the course of my work. When I first read them, I stared at the computer screen and laughed out loud!

Just for laughs, hope they'll break some of your mid-week blues.

(1) Dresscode at the Embassy of the Philippines

Visitors are requested to come appropriately attired. The Embassy will not allow entry to skimpily attired and barefoot people or those wearing the following who are deemed to be inappropriately attired:

  • Shorts with cuts of more than three (3) inches above the knee;
  • Slippers;
  • Mini-skirts with cut of more than three (3) inches above the knee;
  • Underwears (briefs, panties, bras, boxer shorts, kamiseta) ; (honestly, have you ever seen anyone walking in the streets dressed in only underwears???)
  • Shirts/blouses with plunging necklines;
  • Shirts/blouses that intentionally show the belly button/navel;
  • Pants/shorts with very low waistlines that reveal portions of private parts such as the buttocks (and...??);
  • Transparent shirts and pants that show undergarments (they obviously have something against underwears)

Link to the Embassy's website

(2) The Shakesperean Art of Writing

I recently reviewed some of our company's procedures and wrote a report on my findings and recommendations. Here's a response from my counterpart on one of my points:

"The description formulates the exact devil in our operation completely. But the recommendation provided should lead to tragedy from the stock clearance and wastage point of view."

My gosh, this is so Shakesperean. My counterpart must be a poet!

Anyway, I felt really sorry... for causing a tragedy....

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
~ William Shakespeare, As you like it

Friday, 11 January 2008

Going green, the Chinese way

The environmental issues have received much attention lately. One of the "in" thing to do now is to go green.

In 2008, I have resoluted to make every Wednesday a no driving day; put on my walking shoes, leave the heals at home and take public transport to work. Well, this is my small way of supporting the green efforts, even though it may be so microscopically small.

I am thrilled to see in the news that China has imposed a law to ban free distribution of plastic bags in supermarkets and other retail shops with effect from 1 June 2008. The manufacturing of ultra thin plastic bags (which often requires double bagging) will also be prohibited. This will be a great contribution to the green efforts!

Coincidentally, I recently had a discussion with my Chinese colleague about the use of recycle bags in China. He was telling me that the people are not ready for this. Given the current level of affluence in the society, many people would probably be more worried about livelihood than the environmental issues at large. Yet the Chinese government has made such a bold and radical move today, which I am totally impressed! So communism may not be entirely bad, as long as the government is wise. This is a good example that it can work for the better.

I am not so naive to believe that there is no political agenda hidden behind this ban. As much as most could guess, it would have got something to do with the upcoming Olympics 2008. However, do I need to dwell so much into it when I can choose to be superficial? Afterall, I think this ban of the use of plastic bags will definitely have positive contributions to the environment.

There is no doubt that China is a big country. With a population of 1.2 billion (that's 20% of the world's population), this nation can make huge differences to our world. Yes China might have received much negative publicity lately (unsafe level of lead contents in toys, artificial and unsafe ingredients used in the manufacturing of food, etc) but let us not be oblivious to the great things that it is capable of. This country can contribute positively to the world we live it, all it needs is time. And I shall wait patiently for the dragon to rise, to see how it can become the leader towards a better life for all of us.

In case you are interested, here's the link to the announcement on the Chinese government website.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Goodbye 2007, Welcome 2008

In anticipation for the arrival of Year 2008, Shanghai Shoe and I planned a 2-day "celebration" to make this new year a memorable one. It will probably be the first and the only time that both of us will be spending new year's eve together in this city.

30 December 2007 Huang Pu Jiang River Cruise(浦江游览)

9.15pm: The temperature was 2dc. We hesitated a long time before we decided to go on the cruise. We knew that it will be even colder as we cruise along the river but we thought that if we suffer some hardship, the last days of 2007 will be forever memorable to us.

10.00pm (+/-): At this time, we were in the midst of the river cruise. Although we may look rather compose, it was in fact freezing cold! Behind us is Oriental Pearl, one of my favourite icon in Shanghai.

31 December 2007 The Bund(外滩)

4.30pm: Were strolling along HPJ in Lu Jia Zui (陆家嘴). We watched the sunset, the last in 2007. Just have to capture this beautiful and memorable moment.

10.00pm: We were back along HPJ, this time at The Bund side (Puxi). On this special day, we wanted a picture of us 2 with Oriental Pearl and The Bund as background. So we hired a photographer (only after checking which model of camera he is using) and that cost us Rmb8 per photo. Here is my other photo of Pudong... I like it's funky-ness, looks as if it is snowing.

11.30pm: In a bar at The Bund. Because it was New Year's eve, most restaurants were fully booked and bars impose expensive cover charges (Rmb850 - Rmb1,000). We found a cheap bar which cost only Rmb100 for the entrance ticket and that comes with a glass of sparkling wine as well as some party stuff (party popper confetti, mask, devil's horns and lucky draw).

1 January 2008 Happy New Year

12.00am: 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1... Happy New Year! We popped the party popper and watched the fireworks. The Oriental Pearl still looks ever so beautiful.

After the countdown, I performed a simple ritual of making my new wishes for Year 2008. Today, we reset all the past and start afresh. I hope these wishes will all come true.

Confetti flying around and even dropped into my Margarita.

12.45am: The dancing began, and it's time for us to go home.

Happy New Year!

Dear friends,

Happy New Year from freezing Huang Pu Jiang!

May all your regrets be left behind in 2007 as you embrace new hopes in 2008!