Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Giant Egg and The Bird's Nest of Beijing

Beijing Giant Nature Structures. Musically Gifted Chick. Two's a Company, Three's a Crowd.

I visited the Beijing National Stadium in 2012 (this is the stadium that hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). It's known affectionately as the Bird's Nest (鸟巢) because of its likeness to a bird's nest. This probably is the artist's inspiration for the concept.

Bird's Nest, Beijing Olympic Park, Beijing, China

In another day, I also visited National Centre for the Performing Arts, which was nicknamed The Giant Egg (巨蛋). Again because of its shape.

The former structure was designed by a Chinese artist Ai Weiwei while the latter one was designed by the French architect Paul Andreu. Both were completed and ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

While these 2 concepts were designed separately, I wouldn't think one has to do with the other. Still, I can't help but wonder if the Giant Egg would fit into the giant Bird's Nest. Would it?

 Here are the facts and figures.

Birds Egg

Giant Egg212m114m
Bird's Nest330m220m

It fits!!!! Otherwise, the Egg would has no home for hatching. While it fits into the Nest, it doesn't leave too much room for the birds couple. The chick, after it's hatched, is surely smaller than the egg. So that's ok. As this is Beijing, birds are used to smaller spaces anyway. HK birds would find this Nest a palace indeed. I know for a fact that the chick comes out of this Egg is very musically gifted. Its songs are above average. Its chirping, musics to our ears.

Alternatively, let's compare them using google satellite photos. Needless to say, the scales of these 2 images are identical.

the national centre for the performing arts, beiijing, China Beijing national stadium, China

Not so squeezy ?

I think it fits better if the egg is placed into the nest sideways as shown in the photo above (as supposed to how I suggested in the diagram).

2 such eggs might be able to fit into the nest, but 3 might be difficult. As they say, two's a company, three's a crowd. So goes people as goes eggs.

The last question I have is, which came first, the Nest or the Egg? Based on the official grand opening dates, apparently the egg came first ! Although only 6 months earlier with an egg without a nest (NCPA opened on Dec 2007 while the Bird's Nest opened on 28 June 2008).

Also, note the alignments of all the important public buildings with the North-South Axis from the Forbidden City to the modern Water Cube (National Aquatics Centre), the Bird's Nest and the Giant Egg, to name just a few.

This North-South Axis alignment is an ancient celestial / astrological principle that laid down in Ancient China where the construction of such important places as imperial palaces, or the Temple of Heaven were followed. It seems the modern day Beijing architects / city planners are also following this principle (feng shui). I don't know if this is some unspoken building policy in the city planning bureau, or it's simply because that since Beijing city is laid out the grid along this axis and so it's natural that the modern buildings would align itself this way.

You could think of Beijing public buildings like giant compass needles floating on a giant bowl of water, and they all align themselves in N-S direction.

Temple of Heaven aligns in N-S axis, Beijing, China
The 3 important structures and the central path or the Imperial Walkway of
Temple of Heaven are all aligned in the N-S compass directions***

*** For those who have eyes of eagle will notice that all the buildings with N-S alignments are off by a few degrees in the google maps by the same amount in the same orientation. I believe google maps showing geographical north while the ancient Chinese used magnetic north (because they relied on the magnetic compasses to determine directions).

Ok, now that Beijing has the Bird's Nest and the Giant Egg, what Beijing needs now is a building looks like a giant bird to complete the theme.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Wonder Full Light and Water Show


I remember that when I lived in Hong Kong back in 2009, the Victoria Harbour hosted a nightly light show called the "Symphony of Lights", and I wonder if there's something similar in Singapore. As it turned out, there is, and it's called "Wonder Full Light & Water Spectacular".

Wonder Full Light and Water Spectacular, Marina Bay, Singapore

While I shouldn't make comparison and should enjoy them in their own rights, but the critic in me can't help it.

The Hong Kong one is obviously started early because when I watched the HK show in 2009, the Marine Bay Sands Hotel hadn't been even on the drawing board (maybe it was already on the drawing board, but its grand opening was in Feb 2011). I mentioned Marina Bay Sands because this spectacular is projected and coordinated by the Hotel and its associated buildings like its shops and the ArtScience Museum.

While the HK's light show is far more sweeping and involving many buildings, the Singaporean one is much more concentrated and offer the Water as well as the Light show. Because the HK's laser lights are so spread out, it's lessened its visual impact. In art, less is more, and is applicablle here.

Overall, I say the Singapore one is more visually stunning, especially the Water show.

Actually you can't really see both the Light and Water shows at the same time. They're really 2 separate shows that occur the same time. Well, you can watch both from east side of the Bay (left side of the map below). As the water show takes place just in front of the west side of the Bay (Event Plaza), the water fountains are tiny viewing from the east side, and the background music and sound effect aren't very audible.

Best vantage points for viewing the Wonder Full Light and Water Spectacular
(click to enlarge)

The best thing would be viewing them one by one. As there're 2 shows a night at 8pm and 9:30pm. You can watch one, and walk to the opposite side of the Bay to watch the other. On Friday and Saturday, the show also repeats for night owls on 11pm.

The soundtrack that accompanies the light show is broadcast live on 103.9FM, which is the official station of the Marina Bat Sands. So you can turn on the radio on your ghetto blaster while watching the show. Perhaps, the spectator would watch you instead of the show.

In the Youtube video bellow that I made, because I can't get my hand on the actual orchestral piece that's specifically designed for this light show, I just make use a public domain classical score to accompany the video. Not perfect, but I think it works okay. In some places, the audio score synchronise with the video action so well it's spooky.

If you're pressing for time, and have only time to see one show, your choice should be the Water Show. It's much more interesting. It's more than a "water" show, it combines water droplets, fountains, laser lights and fire, sound and music to give the total evocative (or using their own words, wonderful) effect.

Wonder Full Light and Water Spectacular, Marina Bay, Singapore Wonder Full Light and Water Spectacular, Marina Bay, Singapore

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Festival Lantern Displays in Gardens by the Bay

Lunar bunny (Yutu) in Westgate shopping mall, Singapore
Lunar bunny (Yutu) in Westgate shopping mall
The main decorations of Mid-Autumn (or August Moon) Festival used to be in Chinatown in Singapore. The decorations are everywhere, but the focal point seems to be shifted from Chinatown to Gardens by the Bay. Well, Gardens by the Bay didn't exist until only 2 years ago. It hadn't opened yet when my friend Bill visited me, and I remembered the conversation we had on the balcony of the Marina Bay Sands hotel overlooking Gardens by the Bay 2 years ago. You can read more my visit to Gardens by the Bay here.

Of course, there're still festive decorations in Chinatown (and large shopping malls). It simply doesn't have the space that this place has to display all these big lantern set peices.

Mid-Autumn Festival street decoration in Chinatown in 2009
Mid-Autumn Festival street decoration in Chinatown in 2009

Mid-Autumn Festival street decoration in Chinatown in 2014
Mid-Autumn Festival street decoration in Chinatown in 2014

In getting there, I also took the opportunity to check out the new blue DT (Downtown) Line. Quite a number of mega projects had completed since my last 5 years stay in Singapore. The CC (Circle) Line was  completed only some 2 odd years ago, and the DT Line has now just opened this year for business.

Even without these 2 new MRT lines, if some places in Singapore aren't covered by MRT trains, they will be covered by buses. Just about every inch of this city-state is covered by the cheap and efficient public transport (sorry, I meant every metre, not inch. Only 3 countries in the world are still clinging onto the Imperial System, and Britain isn't one of them).

Resort World Sentosa under construction, Singapore
Resort World Sentosa under construction. Taken in 2009

Several large projects in Sentosa Island (Universal Studios, RWS Casino, S.E.A. Aquarium, etc), this sprawling Gardens by the Bay complex, the neighbouring Marina Bay Sands hotel, ArtScience Museum next door, 2 MRT lines, all these and more were all completed within the 5 years that I stayed here.

This Asian Tiger economy was leaping in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it's slowing down to a prey hunting speed. It isn't slowing down to a crouching position any time soon by the look of it.

After got off at the Bayfront MRT station, we needed to walk through the Singapore Hall of Mirrors, ok, it's more like Tunnel of Mirrors to get to the Gardens. It looks more like some post-modernist art installation than your typical subway tunnels (or a swanky and extremely roomy barber shop).

Underground tunnel connecting the Gardens by the Bay and Bayfront MRT station
Singapore solution to the Hall of Mirrors in Palace of Versailles

The theme for this year's lantern display is obviously international cultures with iconic images of different cultures.

Lantern display of iconic images of India: Taj Mahal, Hindus and Sikhs,  cobra and snake charmer, and Ganesha, Garden by the Bay 2014
Lantern display of iconic images of India: Taj Mahal, Hindus and Sikhs, cobra and snake charmer, and never forget Ganesha
The Indian lantern display lit up at night during Mid-Autumn Festival, Garden by the Bay, 2014
The Indian lantern display lit up at night
(click photos to enlarge)

Lantern display of Zhenghe's voyages to the Western seas on his Treasure Ship, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, for the Mid-Autumn Festival 2014
Lantern set piece based on Zheng He's voyages to the Western Seas (鄭和下西洋) on his Treasure Ship
I wrote a piece on Zheng He's Voyage in passing in this article.

Lantern display of Chinese Eight Immortals Crossing the sea, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, for the Mid-Autumn Festival 2014
Lantern display of the Chinese Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea (八仙過海)

Some more international cultural images. Some of the things Down Under made me little homesick...

Of course, the exhibits couldn't be considered complete without the following theme.

Chang'e flying to the Moon (嫦娥奔月), accompanied by Jade Rabbit or Yutu

Etta was quite disappointed by all these large, impressive and elaborate lantern set pieces. When I said to go to see lanterns, she expected to see the small handheld paper lanterns that hold candles in the middle. This is  understandable, and revealing that she's from the baby-boomer generation (the late end). Because these small traditional paper lanterns would bring back fond childhood memories of kids spending Mid-Autumn Festival carrying such lanterns, running around in rowdy delights.

I believe that these set pieces were made out of silk, which is waterproof as they're displayed outdoor in all weather condition during their appearance in the few weeks around the August Moon Festival.

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore is full of activities, but I haven't seen any kid doing the traditional game of carrying  lanterns. Perhaps, I'm guessing here, because of the fire hazard, this festive activity was discouraged, and maybe even outlawed in Singapore.

Well, if it is, it's really a shame. As anyone who grew up with this tradition would tell you that some of the happiest memories were made of these. The other day, I saw a group of 6 people in their early 20s attempted to revive this tradition. They're a bit old for this, and apparently they didn't have any idea how it was done. They just stood there holding their lanterns. None of them was familiar with the spirit of the game. Well, nobody show them how. Even then, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

This is one tradition that I hate to see it's gone. Too bad.

We were also entertained in the gardens by traditional performances from China.

Chinese folk dance routine for the Mid-Autumn Festival, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Chinese folk dance routine
Chinese performers at backstage, the Mid-Autumn Festival, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Chinese performers at backstage

The unassuming bridge had been smarten up with heart-shape lanterns during this last few weeks. This display created traffic jam at this bottleneck at night time due to the attraction of its photo ops.

bridge with heart shape lantern decoration during Mid-Autumn Festival, Gardens by the Bay, SIngapore
Lovey dovey bridge
bridge with heart shape lantern decoration during Mid-Autumn Festival, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
in the cold day light

Saturday, 13 September 2014

National Lion Dance Championships 2014


There's always something going on Orchard Road, especially this time of the year when Mid-Autumn Festival, and F1 Racing coming. I didn't know anything about this Lion Dance Championships, and only all too delighted when I realised it was the last day of the competition. So I decided to stick around and watch it.

National Lion Dance Championships 2014, Singapore

This may be all part of the Mid-Autumn celebration, I'm guessing.

National Lion Dance Championships 2014, Singapore
One of the team making their appearance

National Lion Dance Championships 2014, Singapore
Moving the posts or stumps into position
National Lion Dance Championships 2014, Singapore
Testing out the posts before the competition starts

Every team brought in their own posts/stands/stumps. The lion dancers are going to perform with their difficult maneuvre on top of these posts. One false slip of the foot, and they came tumbling down. It happened a few times during the competition. Some just jumped right back onto the posts and resumed the match. Points will be deducted for falling. One team fell so hard, they had to forfeit. You could see it in the video (if I remember correctly).

I always had the mistaken belief that the lion dancer in the front of the 2-man lion dancing does all the heavy lifting (of the lion head). I had to change my mind after tonight. The rear member had
to lift the front member a lot of the times. Of course, it's a close-knit teamwork.