Sunday, January 23, 2011

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Much like our concerts in the botanical gardens of Boise during the summer, Singapore has similar events in its own botanical garden.  Tonight we met our friends Stephan and Lubka for a picnic dinner and a wonderful one hour concert (free) in the Singapore botanical gardens.  The concert featured the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, and was part of the celebration ramp up for Chinese new years.
The band shell and outdoor amphitheatre couldn't be better.  The band shell is at the bottom of a gradually sloping hillside, on a pier structure with a koi pond surrounding it.  There are trees and shade along the edges of the hillside, and it provide a very pleasant environment for music and a picnic.
The orchestra was splendid, playing traditional Chinese new year music.  Although the instruments were mostly Asian (some research will be required to properly identify the instruments), the music bore a strong similarity to western culture classical music.  My ignorance of the history of the Asian music and the instruments is great--  I am wondering  if western stringed instruments have roots in the east, or if these developed independently?

UPDATE:  A quick check of Wikipedia informs me the primary instruments in the orchestra are erhu, a 2-stringed instrument played with a bow, from a family of bowed instruments called huquin.  These instruments evolved out of central Asia, and have roots over a thousand years old.  As my hypothesis proposed, the violin and other stringed instruments of western culture emerged out of Northern Italy in the 16th century, and are likely descendants of the huquin instruments, invented much earlier.

Singapore Botanical Gardens Bandshell--  The Singapore Chinese Orchestra performed a free 1 hour concert featuring traditional Chinese New Years music.

Jim, Elaine, Stephan, Lubka, and Estelle--  A nice picnic dinner, complete with champagne.  The weather was mild, with some of the monsoon breezes keeping things cool.  A delightful evening of music, food, drink, and great conversation with friends.   Estelle wasn't as entertained as the rest of us, but I am certain enjoyed an evening out with "the folks", and the broad attention from the crowd at the gardens.  The cat had a quiet evening home alone without Estelle.

Six Degrees of Separation from Singapore

If Kevin Bacon is the center of the entertainment universe, and can be linked to any other actor by six steps of separation, then Singapore must share some similar weird connection like that, where everyone in the universe is somehow connected to this place.
Yesterday we experienced yet another one of those "You've got to be kidding" circumstances that seem to keep happening.   Elaine and I were in the Chinatown MRT station, when this tall person walked up to me to say hello.  The face was familiar, but the context was all wrong.  I looked, then looked again.  The person was Mark P., whom I worked with in Boise for many years.  I hadn't seen him in perhaps 20 years.
As it turns out, Mark (who still lives and works in Boise) was in Singapore on business-- his first visit.  He was in Chinatown to see some of the sights, as Singapore is preparing for Chinese New Years.  We met for dinner that evening, and caught up on the last 20 years.
One of these chance meetings alone would be unique, however, this is the third occasion where we have met someone with first or second order linkage back to our world in the U.S.
Perhaps there actually are only two or three hundred people in the world, who are moving about constantly.   This would make the chances of these odd encounters occurring much more likely and believable.
And yet they do happen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thaipusam Festival

Singapore is truly a melting pot of cultures and ethnicity, with resident communities of Arab, Tamil, Chinese, Malaysian , and many more.  One of the more unique of the many festivals and holidays celebrated in Singapore is the Hindu Thaipusam Festival.  This festival is held during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, which  falls in the Roman calendar months of January or February.  The festival is in honor to the god Murugan, who was created by the god Shiva to help lead the Devas to victory over the Asuras in battle.  Murugan is the Tamil God of War.  The festival is highlighted by a procession of followers showing their devotion to Murugan by carrying ornate Kavadi (burdens) which are attached to their bodies by hooks [more].

Thaipusam procession--  a devotee and his entourage shows his devotion to the god Murugan by bearing a kavadi (burden) in the procession between temples during the Thaipusam Festival 2011 in Singapore.