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I was on a business trip in Seoul last August and had some free time to explore the city – in Gwangjin-gu (광진구 · 廣津區) a district that is mostly residential, but consist not of apartment buildings characteristic of the city, but of three or four-story row houses separated by small roads and alleyways.


It was dusk when I arrived in the area. There were lots of restaurants and bars, just turning on their neons. Apparently, this place is known for its night life along with Hangdae 弘大 and Sinchon 新村 in other parts of Seoul, where there are universities.


The streets were busy with cars – a major interchange is a couple of blocks away and there were lots of people, mostly locals. The metro line 2 runs on elevated tracks here and the elevated Konkuk University station 建大入口 is not far from Common Grounds.


Common Ground (커먼그라운드) is a collection of pop-up stores housed in 200 large containers which is capable of transforming into different structures or moving into different places. Web site here.


The containers were set up in a previously empty parking lot. When I looked it up online, Common Ground was not in the then current version of Goggle map Street View.


It almost seemed strange that inside the perimeter of Common Grounds, the environment is calmer than the streets outside. Perhaps I was too early – the night was still young.


In the middle is a weekend market that is held with different themes. There were also four food trucks each serving something interesting.


Wonder truck selling BBQ and Kimchibus.


Structurally, the containers are stacked two or three-storey high with footbridges linking the stacks.


There is a 1-minute time-lapse video of the construction of Common Ground here on Youtube.

Cafe and restaurants are located at the top where natural light is welcoming.


Internally, there was an atrium with stairs connecting the floors.


In addition to lots of little stores, there were quite a few restaurants. It must be a great place to hang out in the evening, being outdoors and a little higher where one can see the people in the center below and the buildings in the background.


Apparently, various events such as exhibitions and performances are held regularly. While I was there, there was an exhibition of art relating to The World of Warcraft in the Toy Republic shop/area and a performance space promoting the launch of a new version of the game.


Despite the onslaught of mega-brands setting up shops ubiquitously across the globe in shopping malls, it was heartening to see the appearance of these smaller, independent retail enterprises. We saw such enterprises inside a bookstore in our last post about Eslite Spectrum in Hong Kong – click here.


The place reminded me of another retail complex I visited several years ago also in Seoul – Ssamsagil  – it was more artsy – I did not go there this time. I will have a post about a similar set up in Hong Kong – PMQ.  Look out for it.


The Shchusev State Museum of Architecture is presenting an exhibition of the original plans and photos of the Moscow Metro (Метро, March 17, 2016 – August 14, 2016). It will close in less than a month’s time. So go see it or click here to visit the museum’s web site.

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The Shchusev Architecture Museum is celebrating the magnificent Moscow underground system with an exhibition called “Moscow Metro. Subterranean Monument.”

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Visitors can retrace the history of this symbol of Moscow in the exhibition halls of the Architecture Museum and be convinced once again that the metro system is not just public transportation, but a living museum.

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Because it came out of research in their archives, “Moscow Metro. Subterranean Monument” focuses on the first four stages of metro construction, between 1935 and 1954.

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The drawings of such renowned architects as Ivan Fomin, Alexei Dushkin, Dmitry Chechulin, Alexei Shchusev and Vladimir Gelfreikh are exhibited alongside photo chronicles from the TASS news agency, photographs and documents from the Shchusev Museum and the Moscow Metro Museum.

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Not only are the designs fantastic, the draftsmanship on display is superb.

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The exhibition presents the Moscow metro as an architectural and artistic wonder, an important part of Russia’s history and development. The curators hope that the exhibition will aid them in their efforts to include the main stations on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

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“We want to draw people’s attention to unrealized plans and the many variations of architectural design, and we hope that Muscovites and visitors to the city will appreciate our exhibition and see its value.”

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Stations such as Sokolniki, Teatralnaya, Mayakovskaya, Kropotkinskaya, and Komsomolskaya are presented in their first paper incarnations, and you can compare the original ideas to what was eventually constructed. You can also see structures and details that were torn down and lost.

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Many Metro stations and pavilions were erected as the result of architectural competitions, although winning projects were often altered in the building process.

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Particularly valuable in historical terms are original versions of Moscow Metro station plans and decoration designs that noticeably differ from their present-day appearance.

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Unique station projects entered in competitions but never implemented are exhibited here for the first time.

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These rare architectural drawings are complemented by photographs from different years, as well as photographic records of structures that no longer exist and are now lost to posterity.

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Beside baroque and neoclassical styles, the more recently proposed stations are modern and exude an uniquely Russian aesthetics, utopian and futuristic.

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The drawings are behind glass, hence some ghostly reflections in the photos.

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Although there were some English explanations on the wall, I wanted to buy the exhibition catalog. But the catalog was not yet ready.

This youtube video is a true gem – not only are the photos bright and vivid, showing so many of the stations, including the lesser known modern and hi-tech ones, the accompanying lounge-y music soundtrack is also superb. Don’t miss it.

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Going underground …


The Moscow metro system (Московско метро) is truly fascinating – essential for the citizens and a must-see for tourists. I(Chris) have always been interested in exploring bus and train transit network, especially the maps and stations. So, this is exciting for me.

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Opened in 1935 with one 11-kilometre (6.8 mi) line running from Sokolniki to Park Kultury and 13 stations. As of 2016, it has 200 stations and its route length is 333.3 km. The average distance between stations is 1.7 km. 44 of the stations are national cultural heritage sites.


It was one of the USSR’s most ambitious architectural projects and the artists and architects worked to design an infrastructure that embodied the ideological and technological success of socialism. With the reflective marble walls, high ceilings and grand chandeliers, this palatial underground environment reminded riders that their tax had been well spent.


It was pure luck that on the weekend when I was there, the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture opened an exhibition of the original plans and photos of the Moscow Metro. Some photos of architectural drawings were taken from the exhibition which will have its own blog post later.


This was my stop – the Komsomolskaya (Комсомо́льская) station which is noted for its being located under the busiest Moscow transport hub, – Leningradsky (St Petersburg, Estonia, Finland), Yaroslavsky (western terminal of the trans-Siberian railway) and Kazansky (Kazan, Yekaterinberg) railway terminals. How does the real platform compare to the artist’s impression ?



The station and the square in front of the station vestibule was called Komsomolskaya to commemorate the Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) members who helped build the metro.


The square was also named in 2003 as Tryokh vokzalov (Square of the three train stations). The capitals of the columns are decorated with the Komsomol’s badge “KNM”.


I can certainly testify on its level of activity – even after 11pm, there were a steady flow of riders – many heading for the late night long distance train departures to far flung corners of Russia.


Apparently, the station was designed to separate passengers leaving and arriving at the station.


Hence, two galleries are built along the walls over the tracks with bridges spanning the station hall.


One part of the station was opened in 1935 being one of the “first stage” stations.


Designed by Dmitri Chechukin, he won the highest honor for workers in science and arts, the Stalin prize grade 1.


At either end of the exit of the station are panels illustrating the labor of the Komsomol metro builders.


The second part (Ring line station) was opened in 1952 and designed to impress first visitors of the capital city arriving at one of the three train stations. 34 arches resting on octagonal columns covered by blue grey and pink marble.


Think of it as a subway station under a combo of Paddington+Euston+St Pancras railway stations or Grand Central + Penn stations.


The station’s decor is based on Moscow baroque motifs used before the revolution in the Kazan railway station above it. Lenin bust at one end of the platform.


So much history and artistry in the metro system, not to mention cleanliness and efficiency.


This station has its own video with lounge music on the a Moscow Metro youtube channel.

More stations to come.

We went up to Basel for a weekend in July to see this annual musical festival. Sue has always been interested in marching band and drum line. So this event is perfect.

We found a bunch of Youtube videos of the performances uploaded by others. Some are now embedded below, don’t miss them.


Music, choreography, fireworks and light show in a breezy summer evening.


This year is the eleventh performance and it involved 30 formations from five continents giving 15 performances over nine days.


We have no idea why the event is called a tattoo. According to Wikipedia,

A tattoo is a military performance of music or display of armed forces in general. The term comes from the early 17th century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”), a signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks.


According to Wikipedia,

The Basel Tattoo was started in 2006 by the local Top Secret Drum Corps. It has grown to be the world’s second largest military tattoo in terms of performers and budget after the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Apart from military marching band music, there were choirs, local pop singers and dancers (Celtic-like Riverdance). The Korean Air Force band performed and brought with them traditional folk dancers.


This Italian band – Fanfara 8th Reggimento Bersaglieri – came running into the arena several times in between other acts. It was really funny the first time since the audience expected them to remain and perform but they ran out of the arena almost immediately. Amazing that they were running and playing at the same time.


Someone posted their “running-in” on Youtube.

Popular singer Chloë Agnew from Ireland


The Blue Devils are 16-time world champion in the marching band division – about 100 musicians performed.


See a part of their performance at the Basel Tattoo here.

Imps motorcycle display team from the UK –  6- to 16-year-old youth motorcycle acrobatics – the team started in the 60’s as a leisure activity for poor schoolchildren from London’s East End. They added some stunts and humor to the otherwise formal, high-precision marching band performances.


A short clip of a stunt by Imps.

The Top Secret Drum Corps – the founder of the Basel Tattoo – apparently all amateurs – had a face-off with the Blue Devils’ drum line – it was great but a bit too short. We wanted more time and more drama like in the 2002 hit movie – Drumline.


We found a video of the two team’s first practice session.

This looks like World War I uniform.


There were several bands with bagpipes and one performed Mull of Kintyre which was great.


Mull of Kintyre was a 1977 song by Wings (Paul McCartney’s group) about Scotland which included bagpipes.

The whole show started and finished more or less on time and lasted for 2 hours without intermission.


At the venue, all the CDs and DVDs of past performances were available for sale. They even had a shop in downtown Basel. Go to their website here on the event and descriptions of the bands.


Here is a highlight of the show we found on Youtube. Enjoy.

We recently signed up for Hulu Plus.  I(Chris) has been really excited about the possibility of accessing online the Criterion Collection via Hulu Plus, him being a Criterion fan.

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Criterion is an American video-distribution company that sells “important classic and contemporary films” to film aficionados. It is noted for helping to standardize the letterbox format for widescreen films, bonus features, and special editions for home video. – Wikipedia

The first film we saw was Breathless (À Bout Souffle), a 1960 black-and-white piece directed by Jean-Luc Goddard, starring Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo.


It is the first time I saw the entire film from beginning to end. I can see why people say it is a very cool film in many different ways.


To promote the film, Criterion puts a clip on Youtube and cites three reasons to watch it.

Many essays have been written about this renowned film as it is one of the earliest French New Wave film, a film noir, a jazzy soundtrack, and it pioneered a modern editing technique – the jump cut. Wong Kar-Wai cited it as an influence. This film is more than 50 years old.


The second film I saw this weekend from Criterion was Tie me up ! Tie me down ! (Atame !) made by Pedro Almodóvar in 1990. I saw it when it first came out.


This technicolor, slightly noirish comedy was apparently the first Almodovar’s film released in August 2014 under Criterion. Surprising that it took so long to happen for this Spanish master. Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril are the leads.


Delightful and instantly recognizable art direction.


The choice of these two films for viewing over one weekend was purely coincidental. We are viewing Tie me up Tie me down 25 years after it was made, and it was made 30 years after Breathless. These are really quite old movies. But there are a few parallels in the narrative. SPOILER ALERT !

The male protagonist in both films came into town to look for a girl that he knew before. Both guys were small time criminal, stealing stuff everywhere they went as the need arose. Both guys insisted they loved their girl and wanted her to leave town with him in a stolen car. Both convinced their girl to sleep with them. However, the outcomes of the two films cannot be any more different.


Well, if we view some more interesting films, we will write about them here in the future.

These two films are classics (according to me).

Film and TV titles design is an art form. However, many such works have been overlooked, ignored, or forgotten. Unlike a trailer which contains actual footages, film title is often created separately from the film itself. Title art grew in 1940’s out of Hollywood studios’ desire to present a more complete list of credits and using better quality artwork to distinguish their productions from others.

Here is a brief history of film title.


Title design has to inform (who worked on what), entertain (otherwise no one will pay it any attention), and impress (set the tone if it precedes the main).


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


The James Bond franchise defined a very distinct and iconic  style for presenting its credits.

Casino Royale


These are two of my favorite anime TV series, both by Shinichirô Watanabe (渡辺 信一郎), and each accompanied by a great soundtrack and title sequence.

Samurai Champloo


Cowboy bebop


I (Chris) seldom watch a film more than once, unless it is so good or so opaque that it warrants a second viewing. But for film titles, I can watch it several times in a row and then come back and watch it again several months later.

Stranger than Fiction – End sequence


Here is another remarkable film about type – no CG was used in this film !


I am a fan of the web site – The Art of the Title – which does a really good job of presenting interesting new as well as old title designs. Check it out!

Continuing with our nocturnal exploration of the Rolex Learning Center at EPFL, one of our local universities … (part 1 is here).

Even though it was nearly 10pm, the place was still open and there were a few students studying inside. Standing in the middle of one of those open circular space, one can have a 360-degree view of who is in the building. We wandered into the campus, walked around underneath the ribbon-like structure, and even entered one of them.

This is what the EPFL’s press release said about the building:

The Rolex Learning Center is a large one room space. Five external patios, intimate court- yards are sympathetically landscaped with informal seating, providing outdoor relaxation areas for visitors and students. …  The floor undulations and curved patios not only softly divide the different programs but also connect in a gradual and calm manner.  …  Spread over one single fluid space of 20,000 sq meters, it provides a seamless network of services, libraries, information gathering, social spaces, spaces to study, restaurants, cafes and beautiful outdoor spaces. It is a highly innovative building, with gentle slopes and terraces, undulating around a series of internal „patios‟, with almost invisible supports for its complex curving roof, which required completely new methods of construction.

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The undulating structure looked like a landed spaceship – Close Encounter of the Third Kind-like, or it is a bioweapon research center.  The light and the glass walls gave everything inside a whitish green, eerie Sci-Fi look – that’s the impression we had that night.

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One of the major engineering issue that had to be resolved was the issue of building “perforated shells” – which gave the Swiss cheese appearance of the building (aerial view which I cannot provide, but see the official video below). Due to its unconventional form, the actual construction is an entire story of its own.

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In the beginning, one rhetoric question that was asked about investing into such a building was that, given the efficiency of electronic information distribution, why should students physically come to a building to retrieve those information – why build a library ?

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The building has been called many things during its construction: the pancake, the slice of cheese, the gadget, the layered cake of difficulties, the bad example and the Rolling Center. I suppose it can be a really good space for skateboarding too. I will return to look at the building and see how it is being used, now that almost three years have passed since its opening.

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This is the official video.

To read more, here is a link to an article by the New York Times about the building.

When writing this in 2013, I was aided by a book “Rolex Learning Center” published by EPFL press (whose office is  inside the building), a gift from a professor at EPFL. This hard back book appears to be out of print now.


But an English guide is apparently in print.


We should have posted these videos and pictures two and a half years ago !  But this adventure is worth the wait.

One summer night in 2010, while IT was visiting, we had dinner in Morges. And on our way back to Lausanne, we avoided the highway and used local roads which pass the campus of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) located at the edge of the city.  We saw this brightly-lid, strange-looking structure and made this drive-by video.

We were curious and decided to explore the campus without knowing what it was. IT and I sneaked around to take these pictures, while Sue waited in the car with the engine running.

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It turned out to be the Rolex Learning Center designed by SANAA, two japanese architects – Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. With this building, they won the 2010 Pritzker prize (five weeks after the building opened), the world’s top prize in architecture!

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EPFL is one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and is ranked high in engineering and technology in Europe, much like MIT or Caltech in the US. According to the President of EPFL:

A vibrating sail during the day and a magic lantern at night, the Rolex Learning Center, as imagined by the Japanese architects, possesses these singular qualities that with Sobriety and subtlety, transcend the need foe functionality in order to touch the mind and soul – binding a community together with the art of living collectively.

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SANAA beat eleven other firms to win the competition in 2004. The other firms, some with star architects included Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Didier Scofidio + Renfro, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas/OMA. SANAA also built the New Museum on Bowery in NYC in 2007 which I very much admired (in fact more so then the contents on display at the time of my visit).

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The Rolex Learning Center is a traditional library, an electronic library, a network of stimulating spaces (including an auditorium), a bookstore, a career center, a lab for learning technologies, a student association, a bank, and the university publishing house.

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The internal spatial experience was unique as it has no walls to separate the reading area, the cafe, etc. yet it has identifiable zones for the users to linger, encounter and study. There were no stories and yet the floor rises and falls in this one-room space.

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We did not know at the time that the building is open to the public. The official website of the center is at: After all, we did not trespass.

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The building was named after (I presume) the company who donated the most money. The Rolex Learning Center was opened in May 2010 to much fanfare in the local press. Apparently, some members of the Rolex management are EPFL alumni.

Last year (2012), Nestle opened a new research center in the same EPFL campus. I have to return to look  around this building and take a look at the new one on campus (who built it ? what does it look like ?).

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In case you are wondering, the other lesser-known sponsors – SIPCA is a maker of security ink for printing bank notes and Bouygues is the construction company involved in building the Rolex Learning Center.

The adventure continues with more videos, pictures, and architecture lore in part 2.

During our stay on Ko Samui, we went on two speedboat tours of some of the neighboring islands. On the first tour, the highlight was snorkeling in the clearest waters around Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan (see earlier post here). On the second tour, the Ang Thong marine national park was our destination.
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The national park consists of 42 small islands covering a total area of about 102 km². The park was established on November 12, 1980.
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These islands were made famous by the movie – The Beach – made in 2000 starring Leonardo di Caprio who

“while at a hotel in Bangkok, finds a map left by his strange, whacked-out neighbor, who just committed suicide. The map supposedly leads to a legendary island paradise where some other wayward souls have settled.”

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While the map used in the movie indicated that the Beach is located on one of these islands, the movie was not actually shot here. It was made on Ko Phi Phi Le on the other side of the peninsula. Nevertheless, the islands are stunningly beautiful.
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The day we went on the tour, the sea was relatively calm. We wandered how much empty space there is back there. One can kayak into that arch and get through to the other side.
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Our itinerary of the day consisted of cruising between the islands in the Gulf of Thailand, snorkeling at Ko Wao, visiting a lagoon on Koh Mae Koh, lunch at Ko Paluay, and swimming/kayaking at Song Nee Pong beach also on Ko Paluay.

The speedboat circled some of the islands allowing us to see them up close.
This was our snorkeling site for the day. There were a lot of fishes around that little piece of rock in the middle. But of the three snorkeling sites we visited the day before, the best was the one at Ko Tao, both in terms of the variety and density of viewable marine life.
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To see the lagoon on Koh Mae Koh, we disembarked at a beach and climbed up a series of metal stairs. At the top is a viewing platform perched on the rim of the lagoon.
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This lagoon is more like an inland lake surrounded by cliffs and jungle. It is clearly visible on Google map (above).
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We then went down another series of stairs to reach the surface of the lagoon.
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According to the guide, the lagoon is connected to the Gulf as the water level fluctuates similarly and it is full of sea urchins.
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We only saw these long-nosed fish.
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The stairs to get to the lagoon were so steep and shallow that they were essentially ladders. The area is now relatively accessible  to tourists but it has forever lost the mysterious allure suggested by the movie.
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More stunning sights of the islands in part 2 to follow.

While touring Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว, Temple of Emerald Buddha, see earlier post here) in the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok, we came across a series of murals on the walls of the surrounding cloisters.


The murals depict the legend of Ramakian or Ramakien, a big part of the Thai mythology.  The Ramakian is a Thai adaptation of a popular Indian tale, Ramayana written by Valmiki in the fifth century B.C. Much of what we say below comes from this very scholarly website maintained by Northern Illinois University.


Apparently, there were 178 murals painted in the late 1700’s by King Rama I’s men and they have been repainted regularly up to now.


The Grand Palace appears in many of the murals, including the white perimeter wall.


Basically, the Ramakian is a story of a demon king, Tosakanth (Ravanna in the Indian version), who abducts Rama’s wife Sita. Rama is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Rama gathers the support of a monkey army, led by Hanuman,  in order to rescue Sita.


Thailand was not the only country to which the epic appeared; many countries in Southeast Asia, e.g., Malaysia, Indonesia, adopted the tale. The Thai version appears to be a combination of several versions.


The demon king Tosakanth does not appear totally bad in the Thai version. His emotions towards Sita are genuine even if they cause him to do bad things.

Paklan the giant (I think).


The Thais have changed the story to suit their taste. Since they are Buddhists, they have stripped the story of its Hindu religious elements. The closest it comes to having religious significance lies in the fact that Rama is viewed as Buddha in a previous life.


There are many characters, superheros and monsters. This giant monkey(?) allow others to use its tail as a bridge to cross a river.


A massive curtain emerges from the mouth of this character to cover or protect the palace.


Every country has at least one such epic, saga or legend, which permeates its popular culture.  This might be applicable even for the modern US. Many of those who grew up with Star Wars would consider it a story which is shared and enjoyed by many, and the story is told in different media, though I do not see murals of Darth Vader being installed in the White House anytime soon.


Gold paint is used liberally to highlight certain groups of individuals and many of the buildings. In the darkened gallery, it creates a pleasing effect on the murals.


On each pillar of the gallery is hung a poem which presumably describe one of the neighboring  murals. Some of the poems are translated into English on this webpage.


Many puppet shows and dances (especially, Khon) in Thailand and in Southeast Asia are based on episodes from this tale. I found this Khon on youtube – I think it shows the recruitment of the most important monkey, Hanuman.


While we were in Ko Samui, we went to see a traditional Thai sport – Muay Thai. Sue was not keen but came along reluctantly. The event was held at Chaweng beach which is the main commercial area on the island.
We were picked up at the hotel and were the first to arrive at the Chaweng stadium, a small venue that also stages concerts and DJ appearances. Seb Fontaine (a DJ who made a few popular remix back in early 2000) was to play there some time later in January.
We were seated at one of the reserved tables at the front row. I was trying to remember a movie (possibly a James Bond movie from the 70’s – yes, just looked it up, it is “The Man with the Golden Gun”) that depicts Muay Thai as a deadly blood sport. The villain/henchman and our hero would meet at such a venue and either one or both of them would each have a female companion who salivates at the violence. In the background is a raucous crowd shouting and leaning into the ring with a handful of bills.
That night, the crowd was less energetic, smoking was not allowed but sitting along the front row not far from us was a blond young woman who was  snapping pictures with great enthusiasm (outdoing me) while the boyfriend looked on.
Before the match starts, the fighters walk around the ring and perform a series of solemn ceremonies, such as praying, bowing, etc.
The sport is extremely popular in Thailand, like football. Gambling is legal and we saw crowds watching it on a giant LED screen in a street of Bangkok, cheering for their fighters when they entered.
It is a full contact fight – a regulated form of kickboxing. The rules are complicated and allow attacks made with 8 parts of the body (fists, elbows, knees, feet, left and right sides). Head butt is not allowed.
There were a total of seven matches, the first and the last were matches between junior trainers. They look shockingly young and we could not help but think that they were fighting because of the money.
Each match has 5 rounds and each round lasting 3 minutes. This was the main fight of the evening.
This is a video of one of the late rounds when the fighters were visibly tired. Three and a half minutes long of action accompanied by traditional Thai music.
Two Hungarians were in the line up. They were probably trained in mixed martial arts. We think they were visiting a local Muay Thai camp to learn this form of  martial arts. Their friends and  families were sitting behind us and were really supportive, i.e., loud.


The first Hungarian won by KO.
Posters advertising the event were all over town. There was going to be another one next week. It was high tourist season after all.
When this video was shot, I was focusing on the fight. It was the last round and both fighters were cut and bleeding. On playback, I noticed how excited the girlfriend/wife was in the blue corner. See her go at 00:12. In the end, the Thai fighter (gold pants) beat the second Hungarian (black pants) on points.
In another fight, the wife/girlfriend of one of the fighters (red shorts) brought their child to the corner. The mother brought him around to give us high fives – very cute. I will not be surprised if this child will grow up wanting to fight like his father.

Wikipedia describes zipline as a pulley suspended on a cable, usually made of stainless steel, mounted on an incline. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to travel from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable by holding onto, or attaching to, the freely moving pulley.

We have never done a zipline before, only saw it on the Discovery channel.  So when our taxi driver was offering us a menu of activities, ranging from handicraft workshop (yawn) to visiting the long neck tribe (no thanks), flying through the jungle hanging on a wire was compelling.


The Zipline Chiangmai site consists of 27 platforms, a total of about 2,200 meters of wires,varying in length from 20 meters to the “truly amazing” 400 meters. The route also included tree abseiling (rappelling) and walks at the canopy level.

CaptureTwo guides gave us a 15-minute tutorial about the equipment and the setup. After we tried it a couple of times on a hammock-sized line between two tree trunks, off we went into the jungle. First we had a short canopy walk over a rickety “sky” bridge, presumably designed to test our nerves or to familiarize us with the elevation.

zipline-2Then action !


Sue was screaming due to excitement not terror. Towards the end although she is no longer visible, we knew she was stilling zipping due to the “whistling” sound from the cable.

None of us seemed afraid of the heights. We were quite happy jumping off  treetops into the air. Here’s I.T. zipping along calmly down a rather steep section.

Sue zipping through the same section which traverses the Mae Taeng river.


One of the launch pads where we zipped off. One guide always zipped ahead first while the other guide unhooked us from the guard cable (usually tied around a tree) and hooked us up to the zipline.


This is me (Chris) going over the 180 m between platform 21-22. As you will see, it was hard to stop myself from spinning while filming the flight and I ended up braking too early. As a result, I was slipping backwards along the wire causing the guide to be rather concerned. But it really was no big deal as I quickly pulled myself back up to the platform. Wished I had a head-mounted camera.

Truth to tell, when the jungle is so thick, one can hardly see the ground. We really did not register our distance from the bottom, except when we were zipping across the road or the river.


We also rappelled down a couple of trees (with assistance).


We were so psyched about the zipping part and totally forgot to enjoy the sights from the treetops.


It was really a lot of fun. Like rollercoaster rides, it finished too soon.

On the third leg of our Thailand trip, we went south to the third largest island of Thailand, Ko Samui (or Koh Samui).   Ko or Koh means island in Thai. Ko Samui is located on the “east” coast in the Gulf of Thailand. The better known island in Thailand, Phuket is on the “west” coast in the Anderman sea. While we were staying on Ko Samui, we took two speedboat trips to some of the nearby islands. We went to Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan on the first day, and the Ang Thong marine national park on the second day (see later post).

A van came to pick us up at the hotel and took us to the departure point –  it was just a short stretch of beach front and a pontoon. Our speedboat was equipped with 3 outboard motors producing a total of 750 hp.

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On our way in the Gulf, we passed the island of Ko Pha Ngan – it is famous for its full moon beach party. Notice the beach on the bottom left ?

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Our first stop was Ko Nang Yuan. The journey took about 1 hour 45 minutes from Ko Samui.

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Ko Nang Yuan is a privately owned island and it charges each visitor an entrance fee of about $7 and prohibits anyone from bringing plastic bottle onto the island.

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I think Ko Nang Yuan has the most beautiful beach I have ever set foot on. It is mesmerizing to watch the water.

The beach is essentially one idyllic sand bar connecting two small islands.

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A big clump of rocks (almost a tiny island) in the middle of the sandbar serves as the landing site.

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One side of the sand bars was just below water. Waves lap at your feet from both sides as you walk across it.There were a few bungalows by the beach.

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We suspected that it was mid to low tide at the time when we crossed over.

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A wooden walkway and concrete steps led me (Chris) up to a rock at the top where one can see all two and a half islands.

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It was so hot and humid that within minutes I was soaking wet with sweat. Wisely, Sue did not climb and stayed in the shade.

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The view from the top was worth the sweat and sunstroke.

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Loved it.

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We had lunch at Ao Mae (the main village) on Ko Tao  – about 10 minutes boat ride from Ko Nang Yuan.

Ko tao-12Leaving Ao Mae to snorkeling.

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The focus of the trip was snorkeling as Ko Tao is very well known for the clarity of its water and the coral reef. And I had never seen such a variety of fishes as well as coral and other invertebrate marine life. This is the snorkeling site near Ao Mamuang – nothing to see up here.

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For a while, I was swimming/drifting inside a school of colorful fishes. We could have rented an underwater camera but decided against it since we only had an hour at each location. So there won’t be pictures of fishes here. This place was definitely better than those locales we snorkeled in Cancun and Grand Cayman island. Ko Tao is supposedly one of the best and cheapest places to get scuba diving certification – we might return to try it on another trip.

This is the itinerary of our speedboat tour  – In Sea.

I(Chris) have been a Kraftwerk fan from when their music was played on the radio  in the 70’s. I have posted a German version of their 1977 international hit – “The Model” and Coldplay’s “Talk” which sampled it, here.

Kraftwerk is usually translated as “power plant,” but  one of the founders Ralf  Hütter said the band’s name can also be pulled apart for meanings: “kraft” is energy and dynamics, “werk” is simply work, or labor, and also (as “werke”) an artist’s oeuvre.

Since we are not living in NYC any more, I did not know until recently that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) organized a retrospective for the band:  Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8  -:

Over eight consecutive nights, MoMA presents a chronological exploration of the sonic and visual experiments of Kraftwerk with a live presentation of their complete repertoire in the Museum’s Marron Atrium. Each evening consists of a live performance and 3-D visualization of one of Kraftwerk’s studio albums—Autobahn(1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986),The Mix (1991), and Tour de France (2003)—in the order of their release.

I would have loved to see them perform or visit the exhibition in PS1. Here’s a video with hilarious subtitles for non-German speaking folks titled “Hitler reacts to Kraftwerk MoMA ticket limit”:



Their most “recent” album Tour de France was released almost ten years ago.  The gap between the last two albums (Tour de France 2003 and Electric Cafe 1986) was 17 years while they spent a lot of time touring the world.  I saw them in concert in 2005 (if I remember correctly) and my sis saw them in Hong Kong in 2008?. With industrial quality bass and concert hall acoustics, they sounded awesome! But I cannot wait for a new album to come out once every ten or twenty years.  Please hurry.

On Youtube, there is a video: “Musique Internationale” which was released purportedly by Kraftwerk and the visuals effects look like something they would use in their concerts. Some media has accused it as a fake.

It was uploaded by 2011Klingklang from Romania?!  Klingklang is the name of Kraftwerk’s studio in Dusseldof.

Ralf  Hütter said in an 2011 interview around the time of the MOMA  retrospective that a new album was underway and would be released “soon”.

Another video was released on Youtube in July 2012 – “Electronic Music”  – it also claims to be Kraftwerk’s creation and was uploaded by 2012Klingklang from the US.

Again the fans said that it is a fake.  The video looks a bit like a Windows 8 promo. Neither of these video received much hits on Youtube (180,000 and 33,000).

Overall, both songs are quite pleasant, and listenable –  I would consider both efforts as “Kraftwerk light”.

I wonder how much longer do we fans have to wait for Kraftwerk’s  next release, and when will we find out whether these videos are real or fakes.

During the four days of Festival of Lights in Lyon, there were 62 listed shows or exhibits scattered around the city. We spent the weekend of December 8-9 in Lyon (see earlier post here).

Many of the buildings were lit up, some had projected static images, and a few played moving video clips. Théâtre des Célestins was the site of a show called “Lumieres Archipicturales” which was based on the idea of an artist working on the facade as if it is a painting.


Here is a short segment of the animated show with music. My fingers were frozen towards the end.

This video is about a minute long but the entire show is about 5 minutes.


The show was being repeated continuously so there was a constant flow of people.


Our friend F who went to school in Lyon wanted to see this particular exhibit despite the crowds.


The small garden with a fountain in front of the theater was packed with people.

celestines-3When we first got into the square, the show had already started. After the show was over, we moved into a better viewing position and saw the show again.




In a nearby area, we saw the Corazon (Heart) at the Place de la Bourse.


The bars of light on the heart change with the sound of a heartbeat.


This is Rue de la Republique which is one of the main streets for shopping that runs through the city.


While we were in transit at Lisbon airport from Madeira, we ducked out for 2 hours to do a quick tour of the Oceanario do Lisboa. This is the second of two videos I(Chris) shot at the Oceanario in Lisbon.

Penguin Carousel is a three minute video shot while I was standing on a viewing platform above a pool, which was full of penguins, swimming in circles … some disappearing under the platform on the left and then reappearing moments later on the right.

At 1:28, watch them all vanished under water.

It would be really mesmerizing if I could pair this sequence with some Philip Glass’s minimal repetitive music.

The other video I shot is Otter Foot Massage. Click link to see it.


On top of the main tank are several habitats for birds and marine mammals. There are about 20-30 penguins in total, each named and tagged for recognition, and many belonging to the same family.

The aquarium had two exhibits: a permanent exhibit – the 5 main tanks, and a temporary exhibit which contains giant turtles. Due to the shortness of time, we decided to skip the turtle exhibits.

Close-ups of the tiles that made up the mosaic sealife graphics.

Beside the main tank, there were many smaller tanks which housed a variety of animals.






After a frentic 1.5 hours running through the aquarium, we got back to the same spot where the taxi dropped us off earlier (see photo below). But now, there is hardly any traffic, let alone a taxi. We panicked a bit … what if we cannot get back to the airport … 10 minutes passed, a taxi came from the other side, so I(Chris) ran across the street to hail it – a sport that I had plenty of practice in NYC.  In the end, we made the flight home even with a bit of time for duty-free shopping.


On our way home after A and F’s wedding in Madeira, we had to change plane in Lisbon but the wait was four and a half long hours! We asked our friends about the possibility of seeing the center of Lisbon – but the trip is 30-45 minutes each way, so it was not quite long enough to do a city tour (plus we had been to Lisbon before).

Our friends told us to visit the city’s aquarium which is located not far from the airport.  So as soon as we stored our luggage at a deposit service in the airport, we hopped onto a taxi and went to the Oceanário de Lisboa. This is one of two videos I shot at the Oceanario, named “Otter Foot Massage”, the other is “Penguin Carousel” which will be in our next post.

There were three otters, just lying on their backs, floating around the pool. One kept massaging its foot  and the other two wagged their tails occasionally to keep themselves rotating slowly, while looking up at the spectators nonchalantly. This type of otters are known to have the thickest fur of marine mammals and can use tools (rocks) to crack open shellfish.

This aquarium is the largest indoor Aquarium in Europe and second largest in the world.

It was built for the World Expo in 1998 and is located in the Parque das Nações next to a cluster of high tech office buildings.

The main tank is in fact 5 tanks cleverly designed to look like one vast mass of  oceanic water. The tanks contains all kinds of sharks, sting rays, tuna, barracudas, eels and groupers, plus many others. The tanks have a total surface area of 11,000 square feet and are each 23 feet deep.

Also kept in here is a school of fish that is shimmering under the sunlight in the middle of the tank. Both bottom dwelling and surface fishes coexist in this tank.

This is a sun fish which is massive but slow moving, a rare species for aquariums apparently.



A grouper ?

Some of these fishes were fed by hand with bits of squids.


They also kept birds around in the aquarium but it is not clear how they prevent these birds from catching some of the smaller fishes  in the tank.


More animals in the next post.

As I was saying in the previous post on visiting the MIT Press bookstore, we really crave visiting English language bookstores while living in continental Europe. This is the American Book Center we visited in Amsterdam.

So, back to when I was in Boston, the other academic bookstore I visited was the Harvard Coop in Harvard Square.

The store sells popular books, text books, Harvard Business Press books as well as a whole range of Harvard paraphenalia.

The lower floors stock popular titles. Text books are sold on the upper level across a passage way that bridges the next building.

As expected, they have on display the full selection of Harvard Business Press books as well as journals. I got the month’s Harvard Business Review from the source rather than a news stand.

Like the MIT bookstore, the staff selection of books are particularly interesting – here is a table full of books that have been made into a movie.

“The Doorstops” – i.e., books that have lots of words in them.

Upstairs, there are places to sit, read, fall asleep …

… or look outside at life on Harvard Sqaure.

Also displayed prominently is a selection of books about Harvard University and the application process (including 150+ successful essays that resulted in admission into undergrad, b-school or law school!) targeting the incoming students, next year’s hopefuls and their parents.

Towards the end of the day, I passed another academic bookstore – “Books+Music” of the Berklee School of Music. But I was too late to enter as they were closing. Too bad, as I am really curious of the kind of academic books they stock, in addition to sheet music and recordings.

By the way, the Berklee School of Music was attended by Psy who is responsible for this rather addictive video – Gangnam Style.

Apart from visiting bookstores, I had the chance to see P’s family and my transplanted colleagues S and L.  And that’s what I did in Boston (apart from work).

I(Chris) have not visited London for many years, and while visiting during the Olympics, we heard a lot about the Spitalfields markets. So one morning we decided to check it out. This area of East London felt quite different from what I was expecting. The Spitalfields markets contain a new and an old section.

We wandered around the stalls, bought some stuff (including a London Underground shower curtain) and had lunch at Canteen. A pleasant, inexpensive chain serving British food.

Afterwards, I ventured further east and the streetscape changed to that which reminded me of Camden lock market. I did not have a chance to revisit Camden this time and am wondering if it has changed.

By chance, I stumbled into the flagship store of Rough Trade East just off Brick Lane – a record shop with a bit of history.

I bought their album of the month – Solo Piano II by Chilly Gonzales – a special edition containing an additional Rough Trade bonus track featuring some improvisation.


Here is a clip of video featuring a medley of the tunes on the album. Enjoy it while reading the rest of the post.

If you like it, go to his site – where several more videos are posted. The pieces are relaxing without being New Age-y – but a few are liable to be used as background music in Korean soap opera.

The front of Rough Trade has a cafe – the Broken Arms.

Rough Trade’s store front is disproportionately smaller than the inside. It is quite big inside, I guess the rent was cheap. Hope they signed a long lease.

Huh, Hang the DJ – Dance counter.

They have a photo booth, monochrome shots only – just 3 pounds.

They sell more vinyl than CD here.

They have mixers and keyboard for customer’s use and even a separate room for trying some synthesizers. I don’t think they sell synthesizers so I am not sure of the purpose.

Any one can go in to play assuming one knows how to operate the synthesizers. I have never seen this type of setup before but it is very cool!

There is a test listening area.

They also sell some books organized by the categories of Steidl, Caught by the line, London, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, Street art and Musical making and instruments.

They also have a “hobby” section – titled “Prick your finger” which sells knitting supplies for the ladies, and robotics kit “Technology will save us” for the boys.

This kind of stores are slowly becoming extinct but I hope this one can diversify and survive despite itunes, Spotify, … etc.

The velodrome, located in the western edge of the Olympics Park, is a simple but beautiful piece of architecture. With a curved and sloping facade of natural wood, the outside mimics the inside. We went on Day 10 of the games to see track cycling (would have loved to see BMX cycling which started after we had left).

When we arrived, the races had already begun. But we managed to find seats near the starting/finishing line.

We saw a series of men short distance sprint races. This type of one-on-one race required just three circuits around the track.

A lot of strategy is involved in this type of cat-and-mouse race – until one decides to start sprinting. If one is at the edge on top the slope,  extra speed is gained when coming down.  The leader has to constantly looking back to see where the opponent is. Sorry about my shaky hands holding the camera.

Jason Kenny of Team GB won the gold medal, beating the French.

In the middle of the track (the pit) was where all the preparations for the races were done.

The next event was the elimination race of the women’s Omnium. We had no idea of the structure or rules of the event until it started. But it was a lot of fun to watch. The match started with 18 riders and every two laps, the slowest rider was eliminated.

The omnium consists of 6 events, according to the 2012 web site:

– Flying lap: this is a race against the clock. 
– Points race (30km for men, 20km for women): riders score points for sprints which occur every 10 laps during the race, and for lapping the field.
– Elimination race: a bunch race with an intermediate sprint every two laps; the last rider each time is eliminated.
– Individual pursuit: (4,000m for men, 3,000m for women): two riders start at opposite sides of the track and race against the clock.
– Scratch race: This is a straightforward race over 16km for men and 10km for women. The first rider to cross the line wins.
– Time trial (1km for men, 500m for women): Each competitor rides the course aiming for the fastest time.

In an elimination race, in the back of the pack, the riders are all trying not to be the last, while those in the front wants to ride at an even pace to conserve energy.

Towards the end of the elimination race, when there are only two or three riders left, the strategy resembles those used in a sprint race.

It was a really very exciting event to watch!

Laura Trott of Team GB won the elimination race, and won the gold medal for the Omnium event on the following day.