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Monday, August 31, 2015

A New Generation of Shopping-Malls : The EMQuartier Bangkok

EM Quartier
Bangkok's skyline is changing fast these days. Architects seem to compete in building new forms of design : skyscrapers, condominiums, hotels or shopping-malls. The trend remains largely a taste for world-class luxury.
One of the latest examples is the EMQuartier shopping-mall in Klong Toei district. This is east of Sukhumvit/Asok at the BTS ('Skytrain') Phrom Phong station.The Emporium already existed there facing Benjasin Park. But the EM group has now opened a new complex on the opposite side : and this is called EMQuartier. Both shopping-complexes are linked by a large open plaza.
EMQuartier is not only a superb mall but it also brings forward a new concept of design. It comprises two U-shaped aisles joined by multiple skywalks. The narrow courtyard between the two aisles displays an incredible man-made waterfall 40 meters high. Fauchon has now opened a shop and an outside café in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the left part of the edifice offers an even bolder look. It is made of three distinct features.The first lower half section functions like a luxurious shopping-mall featuring many of the top brand names. However, the main attraction
Man-made waterfall
comes at the next level, which displays an amazing water-garden. It has been designed in a beautiful tropical environment offering great city views as well as resting areas to sit and relax. This stunning suspended garden is in fact at the level of a huge indoor atrium. A long grass serpentine hangs from the top in the middle with water dripping from above. Then, a walking ramp meanders around the atrium to restaurants, cafés or specialty-shops all the way up. This third section conveys a fabulous atmosphere of beauty and relaxation.
It seems that the creators wanted to integrate a taste of nature within the created urban design while providing at the same time large bayviews over the Bangkok cityscape.

Christian Sorand

The two aisles of EM Quartier
Water-garden
View from water-garden
Amantee's coffeeshop & bakery
Atrium
Fauchon's courtyard café near waterfall

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RETURN TO THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF KUALA LUMPUR

ISKL


A trip back in time

It takes a bit of stamina to return to a place you had worked for so long mainly after many years of absence. How much has it changed ? How many people you know will still be working there ? Will anyone recognize or even remember you ?
ISKL reception
  ISKL has always been dear to my heart. First of all, this was the first international school I had ever joined. Moving there was a new path in my life at the time. A big gamble that many other people I knew had not approved of ! I owe this posting to Dick Krajczar, our beloved former school-head, to whom I will always be grateful. He trusted me and gave me a chance to start a new career within the IS network. When I first arrived at ISKL coming from the far-away island of Borneo, I had no idea I would stay there for ten years ! And yet, I left after not because I wanted to. At the time, teachers could not stay longer in Malaysia. Anyhow, ISKL remains the school I stayed in for the longest period of time ever. It has always been the institution where I have felt best at ease due to its endemic atmosphere created by the admin, the staff, fellow teachers and a group of fantastic students. Up till now, Facebook has given me the opportunity to keep in touch with many of these wonderful people, who once were caught in the ISKL web.
This is just what I had in mind on the cabby ride to the school. KL has already expanded its network
Courtyard view of administration offices
of expressways ; a new huge construction dwarfing everything else is being built at Ampang Point ; but to my surprise, the school is still set in the same green environment ! Even, the hill cemetery - with all its ghosts - is still there on site ! The school security ushered me to the administration building. Except for the foodcourt area, everything still looked the same. Bridgette E. Miller, Director of Alumni, greeted me heartily. She gave me some memorabilia on ISKL and even provided an Alumni ID card for me. It made me so happy!
My former classroom
  Then, I walked through the school for a couple of hours. So many former staff members are still working here. They recognized me straight away and gave me poignant greetings ! I went to see some former colleagues, like Marie-France Blais in Middle School. But since it was still teaching time, I thought it would be better for me to have lunch here and wait till people would come to the staff-room during their lunch-break. And for goodness' sake that was a riot ! So many of my former colleagues are still here. I had no idea I would meet so many : Sally, Karen, Noreen... Ann Whiting saw me too : we know each other from Balikpapan, East Kalimantan even before being at ISKL ! There are people I would have loved to see as well like John Stupka or Rob Whiting but they were not on campus at the time. After lunch, I walked to my former classroom with a view on the sportsfield. An then I finally visited the language department. I was thrilled to meet Thara, Laura and Nian-Nian, my former department colleagues. We spent a long moment together before I left the campus in the afternoon.
View on the sports field from my former classroom.
My visit to ISKL made my day back to town. I cannot express how much I was happy to be back to the campus. I am really sorry I missed the 50th Anniversary event last April. But this is because I was not on the Alumni mailing list. Fortunately, this has now been corrected. And for sure, I'll be back !

Christian Sorand,

Saturday, August 22, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR HERITAGE LEGACY

Merdeka Square
Kuala Lumpur is a realtively new city. It was established around 1857 as a small settlement for
River confluence
Chinese miners. It took place where two small rivers meet : the Gombak River (
Sungai Gombak) and the Klang River (Sungai Klang). These two rivers have kept carrying alluvions. The name for the city originates from their muddy appearance as it actually means 'muddy confluence'.

Before becoming the modern southeastern city of today, Kuala Lumpur had a rich historical past, which can still be seen in the old city-center. This perimeter is rather small. It is limited in size having Chinatown on one side and roughly spreading to Merdeka Square area. The heritage quarter has two major historical interests : the original colonial townhouses and the British colonial monuments that were built later during the era of the British colony of Malaya.
  1. The colonial townhouses.
Heritage trails
The only real way to appreciate the beauty of the original buildings is to walk leisurely in this area. The Malaysian Tourist Board provides maps for self walking-tours in this section of town. Some houses have recently been revamped and look absolutely gorgeous in their new vivid colors. Since there seems to exist an active conservation movement, some have been transformed in cafés, restaurants, hotels or simply shops. This is a positive trend but unfortunately many of these lovely townhouses still await better days. To admire their great charm, you must look up to catch a glimpse of all the different facades. They have often kept their foundation dates.
This is a busy and lively part of town with a mixed blend of cultures : Chinese, Indians, Malays and today also with migrants from Nepal or Bangladesh.
  1. The British Neo-Mughal Legacy.
The country became a British colony from the 18th to 20th centuries (British Malaya). It gained its independence on 31 August 1957. Yet, it only became a federation called Malaysia in September 1963.
Rickshaw at Central Market

During the British period, an English architect named A.C. Norman (1858-1944) was commissioned to design some of the downtown public buildings between 1893 and 1903. A.C. Norman had worked in Africa and India before. As he had been inspired by the Mughal architecture, he created a new style known as Indo-Saracenic or more prosaically Neo-Mughal. His successor Arthur Benison Hubback (1871-1948) continued building monuments in the same style.

Many of these iconic monuments stand on Merdeka Square or in its proximity. They are :
  • The former Chartered Bank building of Kuala Lumpur (1891) : link
  • Sultan Addul Samad building (1897) : link
  • Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque) (1909) link
  • Old KL Railway Station (1910) : link

  • The Old High Court building (1915) : link

  • Former Natural History Museum :  link

  • Former KTM headquarters (1917) : link

It is encouraging to see that many conservationists in Malaysia have actively fought to preserve the country heritage and avoid such past mistakes done in Singapore for instance. KL historical legacy is worth the attention of UNESCO. Hopefully, the old townhouses will continue being restored in an effort to preserve Malaysia's national heritage for future generations and for the greatest enjoyment of the tourists visiting the country.


Christian Sorand

Friday, August 21, 2015

ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM MALAYSIA (IAMM)

Being an admirer of Islamic Arts among other forms of Arts, I had to go and visit the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It is rich, well presented and displays collections classified as the largest in southeast Asia. I had already visited the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (MIA) but not yet the one in KL. Both are outstanding museums sharing a modern architecture.
Gold leaf calligraphy
IAMM is on a green hill called
Lake Gardens near the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) and the Mughal-inspired railroad station. The museum opened in 1998.
Its architecture is modern without having the glamorous design of MIA built by the iconic Sino-American architect I.M. Pei. However, it is a diverse and fascinating place with a pleasant overall presentation The museum guidebook says that « the aim is to have a collection that is truly representative of the Islamic world ». But they add that « an emphasis on Asia. China and Southeast Asia are especially well represented ».
There are three highlights to the visit : the building architecture, its various collections and the facilities it provides.
  1. The Museum Architecture.
Even though the general design is contemporaty, it provides a resolute attempt to add a touch of
Glassware
Islamic Art. The tiles at the entrance were the work of Iranian craftsmen as well as the main roof dome, which stands as a testimony of the former grandeur of Persian Art. The main entrance hall is lit by large bay windows engraved with a modern Islamic design. A large copper lantern is hanging in a corner above the staircase. The floor bears a design inspired by Islamic geometry and the museum gallery ceilings have five large domes designed by craftsmen from Uzbekistan, all different in color and design. Note, that number 5 has a symbolic significance in Islam (re.'The Five Pillars of Islam').
  1. The Gallery Collections.
The museum has permanent galleries as well as two galleries for temporary exhibitions. The permanent collections are spread on two vast levels.
The 6 calligraphic styles
- On level 1, the galleries are for architecture, Qurans & manuscripts, and they also provide a glimpse of the Islamic spheres of China, India, and the ancient Malay world.
- On level 2, the galleries present textiles, jewelry, arms & armors, coins, wood and ceramics.
Among the most conspicuous collections, I found the following ones particularly interesting : the explanation of the keris, the Chinese Muslim blue-and-white porcelains, the Turkish Izmik ceramics, the Indian miniatures, the Moroccan jewelry. The enclosed glass display called the Standard Chartered Ottoman Room (from 19th century Syria) and the scale design models of famous world mosques were also particularly fascinating. (I will add a more detailed comment on these latest items further down.)
  1. The Facilities.
Besides providing lectures, newsletters, and education programs, IAMM also provides two great facilities :
    • A stylish restaurant largely open on a courtyard and serving a selected Middle Eastern cuisine. It is a good addition because the museum is so vast and rich that you may want to spend a couple of hours exploring all its collections.
    • A splendid museum shop not only displaying a varied selection of books on Islamic Art, but also some fabulous articrafts imported from many Islamic countries. This includes ceramics, textiles, jewels, silverware as well as pieces of furniture. A special section is reserved to children.
The description would not be complete without mentioning that the Islamic Arts Museum has also an auditorium, a huge library, and even a conservation center like many other world museums.
  1. Further comment.
At this point of time, I would like to come back to the introductory quote of the museum regarding its
Distinctive regional styles
goal and emphasis. I did find the Architecture Gallery particularly interesting because among many other items, there was an extraordinary display of some of the world's best Islamic architectural achievements under the form of scale models. Here is a list of some of these prestigious monuments :
- The Masjid al-Haram with the Ka'aba (AD 638), in Mecca, Saudi Arabia : the holliest and largest mosque in the world.
- The Dome of the Rock (AD 691) in Jerusalem, Palestine.
- The Taj Mahal (AD 1632) in Agra, India
- The Shah Mosque (AD 1629) in Shiraz, Iran
- Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo (AD 879), Egypt.
This is just to name a few because there are many more models : Edirne & Istanbul (Turkey), Bukhara (Uzbekistan) or Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.). All these represent the Asian contribution to Islamic Art if we accept to include Egypt in the Middle East too.
Some more scale models contribute to represent « a collection that is truly representative of the Islamic world ». For instance, one can see :
- The Alhambra in Granada (mid 11th century), Spain.
- The Great Mosque of Djenné (13th century) in Timbuktu, Mali, the largest mud construction in the world.
- Dar al-Islam Mosque in Abiquiu (AD 1981), northern New Mexico, USA.
If we add the Al-Andalus glass diplay and a rich collection of Moroccan jewelry, it seems that this is a pretty extensive coverage of Islamic Arts. Among the Moroccan items, which by the way are purely Berber in style, the most conspicuous item is a gold crown inlaid with gemstones (AD 1800) worn by the bride at her wedding ceremony.
However, I was slightly dismayed by the fact that Northern Africa, namely the Maghreb, was underrepresented for its outstanding contributions often recognized by UNESCO. Perhaps, the museum ought to consider adding the following additions in the future:
- The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh (AD 1184-1199), Morocco.
- Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque & Madrasa in Fes (AD 859), Morocco. Its illustrious madrasa is considered to be the oldest university in the world (re.UNESCO & Guinness Book of World Records).
- The Great Mosque of Tlemcen (AD 1136) in Algeria.
- The Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba in Kairouan (AD 670) , Tunisia.
- The Giralda in Seville (AD 1184), Spain.
- The Great Mosque of Córdoba (AD 987), Spain.
Actually, if scale models cover too much space, it could be done through the use of panels and photos with an explanatory coverage of Northern Africa's artistic Islamic contribution.
This suggestion is there simply because I felt that the above-mentioned architectural monuments were absent or not fully-mentioned yet. Let's recall that Malaysia commissioned, some Moroccan craftsmen to create a tile mural at Menara KL Tower.
Yet, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia remains a great and wonderful place to visit. It gives the visitors a didactic view of the richness and stunning diversity of the Islamic forms of Arts.
The parts of the keris.


Christian Sorand
Links :

Bibliography :
  • Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, guide-book, 2005, ISBN 983-40845-6-0
Photo gallery

Thursday, August 20, 2015

REVISITING KUALA LUMPUR


A 4-day Memory Lane trip to KL

15-18 August, 2015

Flight route BKK-KUL
Returning to a place you lived in before can be a heart-breaking experience. It may also bring back memories or you may even encounter people you were familiar with. It has indeed a double-sided effect.
I am just back from KL, a city I lived and worked for ten years. One cannot stay that long in a place without keeping a long-lasting affinity with it. I had already gone back a few times since I left. But for some reason this time became more special bringing a mixed feeling of joy and some disappointment too.
Nevertheless, I left KL with a strong feeling of fulfillment after meeting so many friends and people I know. It also gave me the opportunity to visit places I had not been to before even though I lived there for so long ! The places I went specifically are :
  • The Islamic Arts Museum
  • Majdid Jamek (Jamek Mosque)
  • Majdid Negara (National Mosque of Malaysia)
  • The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL)
  • And finally, I explored on foot the city heritage trail with my cameras.
Most of these places will get a section of their own after this intoductory statement.
The best way to talk about a place is undoubtedly to go back there and write down your impressions straight away.
International satellite


Arriving in Malaysia is easy and stressless. The Immigration do not require filling a form anymore. Just show your passport by choosing the right lane. The International Airport of Kuala Lumpur (KLIA) has added a new terminal for low-cost airlines (KLIA 2). But it clearly remains one of the most pleasant and beautiful airports, not only in the region but also worldwide. Its modern design mixed with a touch of the country green environment is truly unique. It is spotlessly clean, efficient and amazingly quiet and peaceful. If you are a seasoned traveler used to other regional hubs like Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong, KLIA remains a world of its own. 
KL public transportation has increased substantially too. Now, you can commute on all its extensive network with the same ticket at a very reasonable price. KLCC Park is still a wonderful place to go. The Petronas Twin Towers may not be the highest buildings in the world anymore but their style remains uncommon and futuristic. Suria KLCC, which is the shopping-mall below, is
Suria KLCC at night
still a happening place to see.
Bukit Bintang's new mall called Pavilion is the other shopping landmark in town these days. In the same area, nearby Jalan Alor remains the all night's star on the hill. (In Malay, Bukit Bintang means 'Star Hill'). This mostly Chinese street of all foods becomes alive after sunset until the wee hours. This is where I had dinner for almost every evening while living in KL. Soon after I first arrived in the city as a (still) young teacher, our highschool principal, who now lives in Chiang Mai, took the group of his highschool new recruits to Jalan Alor to test how these guys would react at eating Asian street-food ! This is when I discovered the true taste of chicken-wings, the best ever !... The food in KL, and particularly at Jalan Alor, is a legend ! So, I went back to my favorite stall. The old Chinese lady that used to cook for me was still there and she recognized me straight away ! I ordered my usual char kway teow ('stir-fried ricecake strips'), a noodle dish with a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. Of course next evening, I went back to Jalan Alor to get chicken wings and also an oyster omelet with a glass of fresh fruit juice.
At Jalan Alor
Bukit Bintang was the place I lived for nine years. (I stayed at Ampang Hill the first year). But this was my main disappointment due to the road construction going on there. On the other hand, I also felt it had been downgraded. There were no more music bands in the evening. The hearty feeling of walking along Bukit Bintang Walk had gone : modern glass stalls have reduced the size of the sidewalk and the crowd looked so different too. Hopefully, when the planned construction is over, it will regain its past glamor.
The cityscape changes fast these days. In Europe, there has been a strong lasting movement to embellish the look of city centers. Chance is it might also be the case in KL. Chinatown has lost a bit of its past charm. Friends told me it is now run by migrant workers. Yet, it is still a pleasant experience to visit Central Market or admire some of the historical townhouses in the old heritage section of town near Merdeka Square (Independence Square). It seems there is a general trend to keep on preserving this area. Several buildings have already been revamped. Hopefully, this will continue. It would certainly be a good idea to consider classifying this part of town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At this point of time, I am not sure local people realize how valuable this is.
Whatever the touch of disappoinment may have been, it does not eradicate the happy feeling of being back to Kuala Lumpur, 'the Garden City of Lights'.
Christian Sorand
KL panorama from KLCC Park

Thursday, August 13, 2015

AYUTTHAYA – The past splendor of Siam's former capital. [พระนครศรีอยุธยา]

Historical reminder.

Bangkok is the third capital of Thailand and only since the 18th century. The first capital was Sukhothai in the central northern end of the country. Sukhothai is a wonderful place to visit too. It is located in a huge and well-tended park as it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bangkok to Ayutthaya
However, from the 14
th to the 18th centuries, Ayutthaya became the second capital of the country known then as Siam. Founded in 1350 by King U Thong, it retained an important, historic role because Siamese kings kept having strong ties with the rest of the world. With China to the East but also with the West. After settling in Malacca, the Portuguese were the first to establish diplomatic and commercial ties with the kingdom. And this happened in the 15th century in Ayutthaya. Soon, the French followed and in the 16th century the king of Siam sent a delegation to Versailles, where King Louis XIV welcomed the Siamese in a lavish ceremony that later lead the two countries to seal diplomatic relations. It also happened when Ayutthaya was the capital. Progressively, other Western nations arranged settlements with Siam : the Dutch and the British.
Ayutthaya acquired an important position at the time. In fact, the city grew and became a major center of commerce and diplomacy. Its monuments reflected the grand role it played during the 16th and 18th centuries. At that time, it even became one of the world's largest cities with an estimated population of one million. Ayutthaya gave birth to a school of art that reflects a culture permeable to diverse foreign influences. The site of Ayutthaya was chosen originally because it is located at the meeting point of three major rivers. It was an island naturally protected by water. Rivers and canals were an important means of communication for Thai people. They were not using ground transportation at the time. The main body of water was the Chao Phraya River that gave access to the sea. It protected people from foreign invasion. And at the same time, it served as a way to regulate the recurrent floods in the monsoon season. Yet, this is how Chinese and Westerners were able to set their commercial exchanges with Siam.
Unfortunately, Ayutthaya was attacked by the Burmese at the end of the 18th century. To this day, the
Map of old city @ Heiner Klein
historic episod of the King of Siam fighting with the King of Burma, both on their royal elephants, has remained an important episod still engraved in local memories. The Thais lost and the Burmese destroyed the city in 1767. A Siamese army general became the monarch under the title of King Thaksin. He fled Ayutthaya with the rest of the royal army and founded a new capital in Thonburi near the estuary of the Chao Phraya River, just across Rattanakosin, the future old town of Bangkok...

A day's visit to Ayutthaya.

Today, the city is known to the Thais as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. The name Ayutthaya comes from the Indian city of Ayodhya , Rama's birthplace. It has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is only at about 80km north of Bangkok. There are many things to do and visit there. And since the different sites are scattered a bit everywhere in the area, it is impossible to visit everything in one day.
This is what we were able to do on the day we went there.
  • Ayutthaya Floating Market [ตลาดน้ำอโยธยา]: Floating markets are a frequent scene in Thai social life because rivers and canals have always played an important role in local
    Floating market show
    transportation. The Ayutthaya Floating Market is a Thai theme park that recreates the traditional atmosphere. It caters more for the Thai public than to foreigners. It makes it more interesting. It is made of a vast rectangular perimeter filled with water and islands in the middle. There are shops and food-stalls all around. As it is common in Thailand, there are plenty of places where you can taste some delicious Thai delicacies. You may choose to sit on the floor according to the local custom or choose a place with regular chairs and tables. One island is used for shows. Since this is Ayutthaya, they have recreated the battle of the Thais against the Burmese on a stage. As this is mainly intended for a Thai audience, the Thai language is only used. But the performance is good enough for
    Show music performer
    anybody to enjoy the show provided you have read about the local history before. The whole floating market site provides lots of fun. You can also choose to go on a boat-ride. But walking along the board-walk already gives you a feeling of the country and of its rich culture.


  • Elephant Village  : This is next to the floating market. There, you get a chance to approach Asian elephants and you can also choose to go on a ride. They ask for 700B/per person to go for a 30 minutes' ride. An elephant can only take two adults with the mahout. The ride is interesting because they take you around the ruins of an old temple called Wat Chang (Elephant's Temple). The chedi (also known as a stupa) is still towering above the field.
    Elephant in front of Wat Chang Chad
  • Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol : This imposing temple is a few kilometers away on the way back to the city. Its name means 'Great Monastery of Auspicious Victory'. Its main chedi is so high (about 61m) that it can be seen from far away. The monastery was built by King U-Thong in 1351. It has a Singhalese influence because the monks of this temple used to study Buddhism in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Stairs lead up to the chedi and you can go inside. There is also a Reclining Buddha on the premises. 
    Wat chedi
    Reclining Buddha

  • Ayutthaya Historical Park : This is located within the city on an island surrounded by rivers. It is too big to visit all the monuments at once. So, we mostly concentrated on two major sites: Historical Park (Wikipedia)

    - Wat Phanan Choeng [วัดพนัญเชิง]: This huge temple is highly frequented by Thais and foreign tourists. Built in 1324 – before the foundation of the city – the wihan [วิหาร] ('shrine hall') houses a 19m-high gilded seated Buddha built in 1334. It is highly revered by the Thais and is a guardian for mariners.
      Head of Buddha
      Wat Mahathat [วัดมหาธาตุ] : 'Temple of Great Relics' is a very hold brick temple standing by a lake. It has a chedi and many prangs (tower-like spires with carvings). It was built in the 14th century and was once the residence of the Supreme Patriarch. The main curiosity there is a head of Buddha entwined in the roots of a tree.
Local information
Historical information
This ends a full day at Ayutthaya. There are more sites to visit but this will be done on another occasion. Prior to this current visit, I had seen the Summer Palace and the nearby Gothic Monastery, two other curiosities in Ayutthaya.

Christian Sorand

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bangkok Flower Market [ Pak Khlong Talad ปากคลองตลาด]

Map of area
This market ia another landmark of the city. It is located near the Chao Phraya River near Rattanakosin (the old town) and Memorial Bridge. It spreads between two canals, still in Chinatown. Actually, its name means 'the market [talad] near the mouth of the canal [khlong]'.
It is on both side of Chak Phet Road and has several sections. It used to be a fish market. There is still fish and sticky rice but the largest section sells fruits, vegetables and an incredible array of chilies of all colors and shapes.
However, it remains the largest wholesale market of the capital. There are bundles of roses and other colorful flowers at incredible prices. But there are also fresh orchids, lotus and jasmine. There is an old tradition in Thailand to make offerings of flowers to temples, shrines or spirit houses. One section of the market near the river specializes in weaving fragrant garlands known locally as phuang malai. These garlands are often hung at car or taxi mirrors as well for good luck and protection.
As this part of town still retains its sheer identity, Pak Khlong Talad remains an interesting and authentic part of town life to watch.


Links :

Christian Sorand

Orchid stall
Street market

Orchids
Garland stall
Chilies
Lotus for offering

Fragrant garlands (phuang malai)