P.Ramlee Memorial, Kuala Lumpur – A Tribute to Malay Cinema’s “Golden Boy”

Hollywood’s Golden Age had figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, James Dean and Clark Gable.

Early Malay cinema had Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Potret P. Ramlee.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Born Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh on the island of Penang, Malaysia (then the Federated States of Malaya) in 1929, P. Ramlee was a man of many hats. Beginning the late 1940s, he acted in, produced and directed numerous films (some of which are still considered beloved classics till this day), and also performed and wrote hundreds of songs. At the height of his career, his fame reached as far as Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan – cementing his name in the annals of classic Malay music and cinema. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 44.

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My dad is a big fan of P. Ramlee’s black and white films, and as a kid, I often joined him to watch movies like Bujang Lapok, Nasib Do Re Mi and Tiga Abdul, which were usually shown on weekend afternoons on national TV (or during the patriotic month). Being young, my comprehension was limited – but I still enjoyed the acting and stories, which often had a moral behind them.  Now as an adult, I can fully appreciate the simple and heartfelt artistry that went into the characters and the film, something which I think is missing in many modern films, despite the big budget CGI, better equipment and techniques, and whatnot. Old films had soul. 

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If you’re keen on finding out more about our national icon, there are a few places dedicated to remembering his contributions, such as the P.Ramlee Memorial House in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Tucked within a housing estate, the building is one of Ramlee’s old homes, and was converted into a mini museum in 1986. The space is small, but there are a couple of interesting exhibits. I suggest pairing a visit with nearby attractions such as the Visual Arts Gallery and the National Library.

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PS: Filming is not allowed within, but you can take photos.

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The exhibition space is neatly divided according to themes. There are sections dedicated to his childhood growing up in Penang to Achehnese parents, his directorial debut, and his love story with another iconic Malay actor, Saloma. Ramlee was married twice, but it seems third time was the charm for these two lovebirds. In fact, Saloma was so overwhelmed with grief at the death of her husband, she suffered from depression and various illnesses, and passed away at the still young age of 48, 10 years after Ramlee’s death.

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There is a small AV room within where visitors can watch old P.Ramlee films.

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Ramlee’s impressive filmography. My favourite is Tiga Abdul, which draws inspiration from old Malay folktales. Set in a fictional Middle Eastern Country, the movie tells the story of three brothers, who are tricked by the cunning businessman Sadiq Segaraga, who uses his three daughters to force the brothers into parting with their wealth. The story is lighthearted, humorous and dramatic all at once, but with a moral lesson behind it about greed and honesty. Another must-watch is Anak-ku Sazali, where Ramlee shows off his acting chops playing dual roles as both the father and son characters.

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Films were not the only thing Ramlee was known for – he often sang and wrote/composed the soundtracks for them as well. In total, he wrote about 400 songs throughout his career.

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He was also apparently quite a tall man, judging from these clothes!

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Ramlee’s old piano.

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Although he is celebrated today as an icon of Malay cinema, it was said that Ramlee’s final years were mired in financial trouble and setbacks, with his once celebrated movies flopping, as the entertainment scene moved on to better, shinier things.  Some even saw him as a ‘has-been’, and Ramlee died a broken man, ridiculed by the public and the industry he loved so much. Recognition might have come too late and he might have died poor, but he left behind a rich legacy – one that will hopefully inspire and entertain new generations for years to come.

“Karya seni adalah satu daripada kerja Tuhan. Oleh itu, buatlah sungguh-sungguh dengan penuh kejujuran.” (Art is god’s work. Do it with diligence and honesty.) – Allahyarham Tan Sri P.Ramlee

P.RAMLEE MEMORIAL HOUSE 

22, Jalan Dedap, Taman P Ramlee, 53000 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM (Tuesdays – Sundays, closed Mondays). On Fridays, they open from 10AM – 12PM and 3PM – 5PM to allow for Muslim prayer break.

Admission: FREE

*There are no designated parking spots, since it is a residential area – so you can park by the side of the road. Do be mindful of where you park the vehicle though as you don’t want to block someone’s front gate! 

 

**PS: I am now on Patreon!  You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance Is a Video Game Trial By Fire

Video games are meant to be fun. They’re meant to be a place where you can escape from the real world; where you can be a cat-eyed mutant who kills monsters for a living (but dies when falling off an eight-foot-high wall), or an elf trying to stop spirits from crossing over into the physical realm and tearing the world apart. Maybe even an annoyingly perky tween who throws his balls at every wild creature to cross his path, then force them to battle against their own kind in bloody gym battles.

Video games are fun because they require a suspension of disbelief. 

But what happens when you have a video game that tries to ground itself in reality?

You get Kingdom Come: Deliverance. 

I’ve always been fascinated by medieval European history and its tales of brutality and war, of politics and glory and knighthood and chivalry. I’ve often wondered how I’d fare if I was born in that era, or if a time machine was invented and I could go back and observe how things were like (ala Timeline by Michael Crichton – although we all know how that turned out for the characters lol). So when independent Czech studio Warhorse released KC:D in 2018, I filed it as one of the games I’d play eventually (didn’t have a good enough setup at the time). A couple of months ago, I finally upgraded to a decent gaming laptop, and promptly bought the game which was on sale on Steam, for RM60+.

Like a fat kid settling down to a buffet after a day of fasting, I gleefully start off on what I thought would be an epic adventure. Instead, I found myself questioning my very worth as a gamer, as my Henry – the character players control in most of KC:D – gets brutally hacked to pieces for the seventh time in a row by bandits, while innocently travelling on the road. The worst part? Having to replay two hours worth of game play, because KC:D has one of the shittiest save systems in the history of gaming.

HENRY WHO?

You play Henry, son of the Skalitz blacksmith in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The realm is in chaos due to feuding between King Wenceslas (a useless layabout who only cares about women, drink and the hunt), and his half brother the Hungarian king Sigismund, who wants to bring ‘peace’ to the land by force and subjugation. Anyhoo, you don’t really give a shit because hey –  you’re just an apprentice blacksmith, your village is peaceful, and you’re going to the dance with the tavern wench later in the evening. Speaking of shit, one of the first objectives you can do in the village is throw a bunch of it at the newly whitewashed house of your neighbour, because he’s been talking shit about King Wenceslas, the rightful king. Your dad also asks you to help get some stuff so that he can forge a sword for the lord of the town, Sir Radzig Kobyla, which you will have to deliver once it’s done. Of course, you never get to do so because Cumans – savage mercenaries hired by Sigismund – arrive to pillage and kill. Your world crumbles into chaos. You attempt to run to the safety of the town’s fortified walls, only to watch your parents being brutally slaughtered, along with the rest of the villagers. Jumping on a horse, which you don’t really know how to ride well because you’re a peasant and not a knight, you flee towards Talmberg, the next big town, to warn them – all the while being pursued by the marauders. You survive the ordeal – but the face of the general who cut down your parents burns bright in your mind. You vow to avenge them and regain the sword your father made, which was stolen by bandits.

WELCOME TO BOHEMIA 

KC:D is set in 1403 Bohemia, aka what is now the Czech Republic. Most of the characters in the story are based on real people, like Wenceslas and Sigismund, as well as Radzig of Kobyla, Hans Capon, Hanush of Leipa and Divish of Talmberg – powerful lords whom your character will have to run errands for throughout the game, including (but not limited to) eliminating bandit camps, fetching stuff, and distracting the butcher by singing so that a lord can have his way with the daughter lol. The game prides itself in historical accuracy – the devs even consulted historians and architects on things like weaponry, clothing, combat techniques and architecture, to ensure they made the game as close to real life as possible. The result is breathtaking. The landscapes are beautiful and you can see the meticulous attention the devs have put into everything, from the swaying of trees to the detailing on buildings.

Fookin beautiful Czech scenery, pardon my French

Speaking of which, realism is a big thing in KC:D. Your character needs to sleep and eat or you’ll get tired and hungry, which will eventually lead to incapacitation (even death). You have to wash frequently and clean your clothes, because no one likes to talk to a dirty hobo, let alone trade with you. If you keep food in your pocket to snack on and forget about it, it will rot and cause food poisoning. NPCs go to sleep at night, so you can’t go barging into their homes to complete a quest – gotta wait for morning. Want to go the route of the antihero? You can even steal, pickpocket, lockpick chests and pick fights – but if you’re not smart about it and get caught by guards, you’ll have to answer to the law with a fine or jail sentence. People will remember it to and your reputation will suffer. And if you’re thinking that you can slog through this game’s enemies Rambo style.. well. You’ve got another thing coming.

THE GAME THAT KEEPS ON SHITTING (ON YOU) 

When they call you a peasant, they weren’t kidding. Other than having the most punchable face, Henry starts off with no skills or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Heck, you can’t even lift a sword properly, and will have to run away from most enemies until you’ve leveled up your swordplay a little. Even then, you’re useless against any battle which involves more than one enemy,  because the AI in the game is pretty intelligent and will 100% stab you in the back while you’re distracted with the bandit in front of you.

I learned this the hard way after trying to play the hero in the beginning of the game, bravely facing off against three Cumans who were attempting to rape the mill wench during the Skalitz invasion. “This is what heroes do!” I thought as my Henry jumped off the saddle, sword in hand. I promptly got cut into ribbons. I didn’t even have time to get back on the horse to flee. An hour later (which is probably more than what animal trainers use to train animals not to do something lol), I finally realised that being a hero does not pay off. Not when you’re a weak peasant armed with a stick and a lot of courage. Sorry, Theresa. flees (PS: I found out later you can actually whistle to distract them, without having to fight them. Whew) 

That “oh-shit” moment when they leave the girl you like alone but are going to murder you instead

After the invasion, you start off completely broke, with just the clothes on your back. You can’t even buy a decent knife, let alone a sword and shield to practice with – unless you go for training at the combat arena where they kick your ass over and over again. If you don’t want to die repeatedly from being ambushed by bandits, though, this is the only way that will give you at least a fighting chance (haha, get it?) to survive any unpleasant encounters you might have on the road. You will spend 10 or more real-life hours (at the very least!) honing your fighting skills before you can even think about facing any enemies, and not die while trying to run away. Even if you’re a proficient fighter, one slip of the hand – and your enemies might just hack you to pieces.

Swordplay isn’t the only thing you have to master. You can fight with bows, maces, axes and bludgeons, all of which have their own pros and cons. When the direct approach doesn’t work, stealth is often the best – but at level 1 you’re a bumbling idiot who can’t conceal himself properly so you often get caught and thrown in jail, or discovered by enemies and killed. So you have to spend time leveling that up as well, and getting dark coloured gear to avoid detection. Lockpicks break while you’re attempting to open a trunk? Killed / thrown in jail. Not good enough at pickpocketing? Killed/thrown in jail. Carry stolen goods around and don’t have a high enough rep to weasel your way out when stopped by guards? Killed/thrown in jail.

“Henry: fuck this shit I’m joining the monastery”

There are also plenty of other skills to hone which will help you in your quest to become Bohemia’s No.1 errand boy. Picking herbs helps you level up herbalism, so you can collect them to make potions for buffs (Trust me, you need every little advantage you can get in this game). But wait! You can’t brew potions without alchemy, and for that you need to learn how to read recipes. Henry also gains speech and intimidation points over time. The higher the points, the better equipped you are at dealing with situations that arise, and the higher the chance you can avoid any unpleasant fights. There’s also horsemanship from riding, and you get to train your trusty companion, Mutt, whom you can sic on enemies or teach to fetch and hunt.

If this doesn’t sound complicated / difficult enough, there’s also the absolutely shite save system. Unlike games where you can simply reload from the last (convenient) save point, KC:D deliberately makes it difficult for you to save – you can only do so by sleeping at an inn, one of your home bases, or by drinking a Saviour Schnapp (alcohol – which is expensive unless you know how to brew it – hence why it’s good to level up alchemy ASAP). There were times I wanted to rage quit because I could not save my game in between quests (inn was too far away, no Saviour Schnapps in bag, etc) – only to get killed while travelling between towns and losing like 1.5 hours of gameplay.  It’s as if the devs made this game solely to punish you for daring to be a serf in a medieval game where everything and everyone is out to kill you. Which is probably how it really was irl. If you weren’t a lord or royalty, you probably had to work from dawn to dusk just to get enough food on the table – and even then you’d still be held to the whims and demands of your liege lord.

THY KINGDOM COME

You’re probably thinking “this sounds like an awful lot of work and stress for a  game. I want to enjoy my downtime, not add to my anxiety.” And you’re 100% right. This is not a game where you can sit down to enjoy a couple of mindless hours of entertainment after work. KC:D requires dedication – and time – which many of us with busy lifestyles might not have. It needs grinding in game, in multiple disciplines, so you have to be prepared to spend at least a few real life hours improving your skills. Coupled with how weak you are initially (and sometimes well into the middle of the game if you have no patience like me and just want to get through the story), you’re probably going to experience a tonne of frustration – from not being able to complete quests and just dying. A lot.

But. 

If you stick with it, you WILL be rewarded. As much as I hated the combat and the save system (in the early stages), I stuck to the game because it is refreshing to play a medieval game based in real life – without the magic and dungeons and dragons lol. You get to learn history in a fun way, like why the royal brothers were feuding and how war affected the life of the citizenry, the types of armour and weapons they used in battle, how medieval towns were laid out, etc. Imagine if Malaysians had a game like this on Hang Tuah – like you had to go fight with Jebat or something – students would be so much more apt to remember history. And of course, the game is absolutely beautiful. 

Not so subtle intimidation once you’ve honed your badass skills, because why not

Henry and his punchable face (sorry, Tom McKay!) kind of grows on you as well. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, I started to enjoy leveling him up, and got real satisfaction from developing the character into a decent man-at-arms. The first time I was able to defeat three bandits on my own, I was ecstatic. It felt like the time and energy I had invested was finally paying off (Now if only I had the same zeal when it comes to real life lmaooo).

In short, KC:D is not a game for the faint-hearted, where you can hack and slash your way to glory. It is a game that requires skill and intelligence, not just in the way you complete quests (which can sometimes be resolved in multiple ways ie through violence or peaceful means), but also knowing which battles to fight, and when to fight them. In a funny twist of irony, this game teaches you that you need to work and put in the time in order to be good at something – exactly like real life. 

 

*Course, the game can’t be 100% realistic. There are some pretty funny things that can happen (including bugs). One of my favourites was raiding a bandit camp and murdering everyone, then sleeping in the camp surrounded by their corpses (after looting them, of course) because my character (and the player, yours truly) was just too drained after all that fighting. 

 

 

10 Of My Favourite Places To Visit In Manila, Philippines

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I have a love-hate relationship with Manila.

On one hand, I love how culturally rich and historical it is, with its museums, churches and art galleries (And Jollibee, of course!). On the other, I’m not a fan of its insane traffic, the pollution, and the fact that its one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It’s extremely difficult to find a quiet space.

Image: Assy Gerez via Unsplash

Having been here several times, I often get friends asking me if Manila is worth visiting (for many Malaysians, the Philippines is not as popular as other S/E Asian destinations like Thailand or Indonesia – and if they do visit, it’s usually to Boracay). My answer is always “It depends on what you like.” If you’re thinking the type of packaged cultural offerings you often get in Bali or Chiang Mai, or a beach getaway (because Manila is by the sea right? lol), then you will be disappointed. Manila is not a place to ‘get away from it all’. But if you’re up for a bit of urban adventure in a chaotic and colourful city…then Manila has a certain charm.

While quarantine restrictions are still in place due to COVID, that doesn’t stop you from planning for your next adventure. Since June 24 marks Manila Day – commemorating the 449th anniversary when Manila was proclaimed as Spain’s capital city in the Philippines – I’ve made a list of my favourite places to visit! For those who have never been to Manila, this will give you a good idea of what to expect.

INTRAMUROS 

If you’re new to Manila, Intramuros is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the city’s rich history. Dating back to the late 1500s, this old walled city has walls that are at least two-metres thick and six metres high, and is home to many historical landmarks, from churches and gardens to old mansions and museums. You can walk around the impressive stone ramparts, some parts of which have cannons on them, or ride around in horse-drawn carriages called kalesa.  

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH

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One of my favourite places to visit in the area is the San Agustin Church, which was founded as a monastery by Augustinian monks. Part church, part museum complex, the building has a sad and haunting beauty, with austere stone hallways and sombre oil paintings. This is in stark contrast to the church proper, which features stunning architecture rivalling the grand churches of Europe. There are also galleries filled with religious artefacts and even a crypt. If you’re a history nerd like me, a visit to San Agustin is a must. 

BALUERTE SAN DIEGO / SAN DIEGO GARDENS 

The San Diego Gardens is one of those rare oases in Manila that offer a quiet respite, with tranquil European-style lawns and fountains that make it popular as a wedding photoshoot venue. The Baluerte San Diego, a small fort within the gardens, is the oldest structure within Intramuros. Its purpose was to ensure a clear view of the place and prepare against invaders. Back in the day it had all the facilities: courtyard, water supply tank, lodging and workshops – but all that remains of what must have once been a thriving fort are bare brick and stone.

FORT SANTIAGO

The story of Jose Rizal fascinates me. I am no revolutionary, but as a writer, there is something very moving about how Rizal’s writing set a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people that eventually led to their fight for freedom against their Spanish oppressors. His story is a true embodiment of how the pen is mightier than the sword.

Fort Santiago is where Rizal was housed before his execution in 1896, and visitors to the fort will see a pair of bronze footprints embedded in the ground and leading out to the gate – said to retrace Rizal’s last footsteps. Inside the fort, you will also find a shrine/museum dedicated to this Philippine National Hero, which contains various memorabilia including poetry pieces, letters he wrote to family and friends, replicas of sculptures, paintings and more.

PLAZA SAN LUIS 

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One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Vigan, a town known for its Spanish colonial architecture. In Manila, you have Plaza San Luis, a complex that contains five houses, a museum, theatre, hotel, souvenir shops and eateries. Since Intramuros was nearly levelled during the war, many of the old homes were destroyed, and the homes here have been replicated to represent different eras in Filipino-Hispanic architecture. The overall colonial feeling of the place – with its quaint courtyards and staircases – makes it easy to believe that you are peeking through a window in time. You can almost believe that some rich young ladies in traditional Filipinianas, giggling behind their fans in the summer heat while out for an afternoon stroll, are just about to round the corner.

MANILA CATHEDRAL

This cathedral was rebuilt a whopping eight times – it kept getting destroyed by fires, earthquakes and whatnot. While the architecture is not as grand as St Agustin, I like the stained glass art that it has, as well as the replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in which Mary cradles the broken body of Christ

RIZAL PARK 

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A short distance away from Intramuros is Rizal Park, one of Manila’s few green areas. Like many old parts of Manila, it teems with history – hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, including Jose Rizal. It is fitting then, that the Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was read in this spot, and that the park was named after the revolutionary himself. When Pope Francis visited the Philippines and conducted a mass at the park, six million people turned up – that’s 1/5 of Malaysia’s population! While I wouldn’t say Rizal Park is the best park I’ve ever been to (litter is a problem), I think it’s a great place to visit if you’re sick of Manila’s endless malls. There are a few smaller parks within like the Nayong Filipino which are nice to explore.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY 

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With it’s tall, white-washed Corinthian columns and wooden doors, the grand-looking National Museum of Anthropology (aka Museum of the Filipino People) is hard to miss and is just a stone’s throw away from Rizal Park. Part of the National Museums of the Philippines, it houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions, spanning five floors. Coming from Malaysia where we have pretty lame museums (sorry, got to call a spade a spade), I was blown away by the quality of Manila’s major museums. The quality of the exhibits, as well as how they are arranged (with sections dedicated to indigenous art and culture, the history of the Philippines during the colonial era, etc.) offer interesting insights into the development of modern Filipino society.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

Filipinos are artistic people – there’s even a stereotype about how all Filipinos are good at singing and dancing (these people have obviously never met my husband) – and art has always been a way for the people to express themselves, even in times of oppression.

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The National Museum of Fine Arts, which is housed in the former Legislative Building, is a testament to this creativity and resilience, with works by national artists such as Juan Luna, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Guillermo Tolentino. In fact, when you walk in, the first thing you will be greeted with is an almost floor-to-ceiling work of Juan Luna Y Novicio’s Spoliarium – possibly one of the Philippines’ most popular pieces of art. The gallery is filled with artistic treasures, most of which reflect the country’s European-influenced past, and there are pieces that are so intricate and detailed, you can’t help but marvel at the level of craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s definitely a place that you can get lost in for hours.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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Another must-visit is the National Museum of National History, which has a very picturesque central court that boasts a structure called the DNA Tree of Life, as well as loads of interesting exhibits on nature and geology in the Philippines. There are sections dedicated to botany and entomology, marine life, mangroves and more. Even if you’re not into natural history, the architecture of the building alone is worth dropping by for.

BINONDO 

I try to visit the local Chinatown whenever I visit a foreign country. Idk, call it a subconscious need to reconnect with my roots or whathaveyou, lol.

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Manila’s Chinatown, Binondo, is the oldest in the world, dating back to 1594. Its narrow, chaotic streets, with its haphazard signboards and buildings, can feel claustrophobic, but it has a charm of its own. What I like about Binondo? The food. There are legendary establishments here that have been in the same family for generations, such as Eng Bee Tin – known for their hopia (a type of pastry) and tikoy (sticky rice cake – in Malaysia we call it niangao). If you’re here, look out for a shop called Ling Nam, which serves mami noodles (plain or with pork asado) – I stumbled across this gem purely by chance. There are many restos around the area that I haven’t had the chance to try yet, so I’m looking forward to another visit!

 

 

 

 

Why Labour Day Is Celebrated On May 1st

Labour Day, or International Workers Day as it is known in some countries, is celebrated annually on May 1st to honour the achievements of workers and labourers. In modern times, many of us treat it as just another holiday – forgetting our predecessors fought hard, and sometimes lost their lives, so that we may enjoy better working conditions and rights today.

Image via needpix.com

Labour Day traces its origins to the late 19th century and the Industrial Revolution in the United States. The boom of the manufacturing industry, coupled with a lack of laws to protect employees, meant that the average American worker often worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week – sometimes in extremely unsafe or unsanitary environments – just to earn a basic living. Children were also exploited, as were the poor and immigrants. Over time, labour unions formed and began organising strikes and rallies to negotiate better hours, pay and working conditions.

A group of factory workers circa 1890. H.Armstrong Roberts / Classics Stock / Getty Images

1 May is significant as it commemorates the Haymarket affair of 1886, which began as a peaceful rally for workers striking for an eight-hour workday. The movement was massive and involved close to half a million workers all over the country, with the one in Chicago involving some 30,000 workers. Protests and demonstrations were held all across the city. The situation soon got out of hand when a group of workers on strike rushed barriers to confront strikebreakers (people who work despite a strike), and police guarding them fired into the crowd, killing two people. The next day, rallies resumed, and an unknown anarchist threw a dynamite bomb at members of the police force as they were attempting to disperse the meeting. The resulting gunfire saw seven police officers and four civilians dead, and dozens injured.

The event sparked an uproar not just in the States, but also made international headlines. Eight people were arrested on charges of anarchy, six of whom were German immigrants, which sparked widespread fear among the American public and general anti-immigrant sentiment. Four were hanged; another committed suicide in his jail cell while the rest were sentenced to prison. The deaths elevated the men to martyrdom, spawning even more protests across the world.

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An 1886 engraving of the Haymarket Affair. – Image via public domain 

In retrospect, the trial was widely believed to have used the men and their status as immigrants as easy scapegoats, and that there was never any substantial evidence against them for the bomb-throwing – the actual culprit has never been found. 7 years later, the Illinois Governor would sign pardons for some of the men, and acknowledged that the failure to hold the police and guards responsible for their repeated use of lethal violence against striking workers as the spark that lit the fuse and led to such a tragic outcome.

The men’s deaths were not in vain, as in the face of such injustice and violence, it only served to stiffen the resolve of unions and workers’ associations all the more. Four years later, in 1889, a meeting was held to call for international demonstrations on the anniversary of the Chicago protests, to be held on May Day, and in 1904, there was finally a call from the International Socialist Congress to make it “mandatory upon the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on 1 May.” Companies would eventually start adopting better practices, but it wasn’t until 40 years later, in 1926, that Henry Ford finally mandated an eight hour, five day work week for workers, which forms the foundation of how we work today.

Today, Labour Day is observed on May 1 in most countries around the world, except (ironically) in the United States (and Canada), where it is celebrated in September, to distance itself from the Haymarket incident. It remains a prominent day for workers, and demonstrations are often held every year in some countries to voice demands for better pay or policies to help workers.

In this difficult time, I think it is even more imperative to honour the sacrifices that workers make, especially our front liners, in order to keep businesses running and provide essential services to the people. This one’s for all the healthcare professionals, the construction workers who build our homes and soaring skyscrapers, the postal service workers and delivery guys who get our parcels and food delivered to our homes, and everyone else who works and contributes to society in a meaningful way. No job is lesser than another – this day is for you.

Happy Labour Day!

 

 

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Why You Should Visit The Orang Asli Crafts Museum: Muzium Seni Kraf Orang Asli, Kuala Lumpur

When visiting the National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, most people make a beeline for the grand main building – a three-storey structure with various galleries within chronicling the history of Malaysia from Palaeolithic times up until the modern era.

Next to it, however, is a smaller, humble-looking building that can be easy to miss – which houses the Orang Asli Crafts Museum, aka Muzium Seni Kraf Orang Asli. Displays are limited but they offer an interesting insight into the often overlooked Orang Asli community in Malaysia.

Suku Jahai (12478358795)
The Jahai tribe. Image via Muhammad Adzha from Penang, Malaysia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The Orang Asli (literally ‘aborigines’ or the ‘original people’) are natives of Peninsular Malaysia who pre-date the arrival of the Malays. Numbering around 150 – 200, 000, they form around 0.7% of the population.

Despite being the true natives of the land, many of them live below the poverty line, with their rights often trampled upon (especially in regards to land ownership, as many Orang Asli live off the land) and their access to modern facilities such as healthcare and education are limited. There are three distinct groups: the Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay, further divided into 18 ethnic tribes, each with their own language, culture, traditions and practices. Most still live in or close to forests, and practice animism. Some of these tribes include the Mah Meri, Jakun, Temuan, Temiar, Seletar, Bateq and Semai, among others.

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Most of the items on display at the Museum are masks and carvings from the Mah Meri and Jah Hut tribes. The Mah Meri of Selangor are among the most well known Orang Asli tribes. They live close to the coast and make a living as fishermen, although in recent years, tourism has also become an important source of livelihood. They are extremely skilled at woodcarving, hence the masks which are used in rituals and ancestor worship. Ancestor Day, a massive celebration that honours the tribe’s ancestral spirits, is a spectacle to behold, attracting tourists from all over the world to Pulau Carey, where most of the tribe are concentrated at.

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Typically carved from Pulai wood which is soft and pliable, Mah Meri masks are a representation of their ancestor spirits, called Moyang. Some are based on animal figures as well, such as Siamang (monkey – far left), and cow (top row, far left). The masks are named after the Moyang Spirits, such as Moyang Bojos, Moyang Hapok and Moyang Belangkas, which the Mah Meri believe are imbued with extraordinary powers.

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Tools used for carving.

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Masks are not the only thing unique to the Mah Meri, as they also have statues that represent the spirits. (Above) Spirit of Mother and Baby, carved from Angsana wood, depicting a mother carrying a suckling babe.

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Another wood carving of a tiger spirit in chains.

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Aside from Mah Meri carvings, visitors will also find many Jah Hut wood carvings on display. The Jah Hut live in the highlands of Pahang, with the name ‘Jah Hut’ meaning ‘different people’ in their language. They live in or near forests with agriculture as their main income, as well as hunting and gathering the bounty of nature. Pahang is home to lush and dense rainforests, and the Jah Hut, like many Orang Asli, have a strong connection to spiritualism and the land. Their carvings are representation of beings from their beliefs and mythology.

(Above) Spirits of Genting, Batu Hulu and Sawan.

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The carvings are actually a little frightening to look at, almost demonic.

I believe that there exists a realm beyond our own, which is why you should never disrespect anything while you’re hiking in a jungle (in Malaysia, we believe in ‘makhluk halus’ and ‘penunggu‘, ie spirits). Having to live off the jungle, I’m sure the Jah Hut know more of these things than we city folk do, and who is to say that these representations are not real?

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Another room in the museum houses displays on traditional clothes, arts and crafts, tools and burial ritual items.

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Pensol or nose flute, a traditional musical instrument

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Some Orang Asli tribes, such as the Jah Hut, build wooden tombs for their departed, while others place the body in bamboo or a simple wooden coffin.

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Many tribes are also known for their weaving skills, such as the Temuan and Temiar. In recent years, NGOs such as Gerai Orang Asli have helped to promote these handmade crafts to the public, where they have amassed a loyal following – thereby providing the women of these communities a way to utilise their skills for income.

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Mah Meri clothing, which consists of a tree bark shirt and palm leave skirt, as well as additional garments and accessories that are intricately plaited. The headdress worn by both the men and womenfolk resemble long dreadlocks.

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A life-sized carving of Penjaga Gunung Tahan or the Guardian of Mount Tahan. Tall and long limbed, the guardian is shown as having long protruding fangs and holding a stick, with a loincloth and a container slung around the waist. A scary apparition to bump into if you’re out hunting, to say the least.

While the Orang Asli Crafts Museum is not large by any standards, the displays are certainly interesting, offering a fascinating insight into one of Malaysia’s smallest but oldest communities. The Orang Asli have been here for thousands of years, way before any of the great civilisations came to be, and their knowledge of the land and seas have been handed down the ages. Their language and culture is slowly being eroded in modern times – which is all the more reason to educate the public on the importance of preserving them.

That being said, I think there are a couple of things that the museum can improve on to make visitor experience better:

  • Update the data and stats on display, which are a little outdated.
  • Improve the information billboards, especially the portions in English. The explanations were rife with odd syntax and grammatical errors, which is unseemly for a national museum.

How To Get There 

The Orang Asli Crafts Museum is located within the grounds of the National Museum complex. From KL Sentral, KL’s main transportation hub, there is a 240-metre covered walkway to the museum grounds. Alternatively, take an MRT and alight at the Muzium Negara station.

MUZIUM SENI KRAF ORANG ASLI (ORANG ASLI CRAFTS MUSEUM) 

Jabatan Muzium Malaysia, Jalan Damansara, 50566 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 9AM – 6PM

*Tickets cost RM2 (USD 0.50) 

Book Review: The Lady Of The Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Most tales in history tell the stories of men, who ride to wars for gospel, glory and gold, or scheme and plot against their political rivals. Little is said of the women who lived in these times, except as ‘commodities’ – pawns to be married off to cement alliances, bring wealth into a family, or treated as baby-making machines. But historians and storytellers often forget that women are individuals of their own, with hopes, dreams, wants and desires beyond what has been laid out for them by men and people in positions of power. And even in misogynistic societies that try to control and suppress women even as they fear them, there are brave women who dare forge paths for themselves, grasping their fate in their hands to change their own fortunes.

It is for this reason that I enjoy reading Philippa Gregory‘s novels and her rich descriptions of events and life in medieval Britain. Gregory’s characters are colourful, passionate, and while we can only speculate to the person’s nature based on what happened in history, her highly romanticised and embellished accounts breathe life into them. In any case, I think it’s a great way to introduce lay readers to these extraordinary people, often female, who are otherwise forgotten as mere footnotes in history.

While most of us would know prominent figures such as Anne Boleyn or Margaret Tudor, (thanks to popular portrayal in modern media), there isn’t much about Jacquetta St Pol, despite her being a lady of importance in the court of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses.

Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers shines some light into this often overlooked figure.

Synopsis

Young Jacquetta is a lady of a noble Luxembourg household, whose family claims ancestry from the water goddess Melusina. She befriends Joan of Arc, held prisoner by her uncle, and who was later burned as a witch by English troops. This early encounter teaches Jacquetta the fate that awaits a woman who tries to overstep her role in a world of men. Even so, Jacquetta is gifted by the Sight, and is determined to make her own way in the world.

Three years later, Jacquetta marries John, the Duke of Bedford, who seeks to use her otherworldly ‘gifts’ to discover the secrets of alchemy. After his death, Jacquetta is left a wealthy widow. She falls in love with her husband’s squire, Richard Woodville – an honourable man, but poor. They get married in secret, much to the displeasure of the King, and are exiled from court after paying a heavy fine. Jacquetta gives birth to their first child, Elizabeth Woodville. Little do they know the future in store for her.

The couple is eventually forgiven and allowed back to court, where they rise in favour with the ruling house of Lancaster. Jacquetta and Richard Woodville are allies to Henry VI and his French bride Margaret of Anjou, Jacquetta’s kinswoman, but the royal couple become increasingly unpopular. No thanks to favouritism and the lavish of titles and land to select nobles, rivalry between the houses of Lancaster and York come to a head. Margaret of Anjou falls pregnant with the heir to the throne, although it is heavily implied that the baby was fathered by the court favourite Duke of Somerset. To make things worse, the king falls into a coma, and civil war breaks out. Jacquetta, her husband and their allies are now forced to navigate a dangerous minefield as the country descends into chaos.

Verdict 

The Lady of the Rivers is signature Gregory, woven around a central female character full of fiery passion and a refusal to go quietly into the night. Gregory’s protagonists are never shrinking violets, but actively working behind the scenes to secure their future and ensure the survival of their families and loved ones. As a character, Jacquetta seems to crave a quiet life surrounded by her husband and her children, but cannot resist a higher calling and is torn between her sense of loyalty for her household and doing what is right for the country. Jacquetta’s foresight does not give her much relief, as even though it is told as if she has the power to foresee certain events or what may come to pass, she is often powerless in doing anything to stop or change what is to come.

As usual, actual events in history are used as the basis for much of the novel, and it was a good entry point for me to find out more about the Plantagenets, the 300-year dynasty that came before the Tudors. Truth is stranger than fiction, and these historical accounts are juicier than Game of Thrones : there’s murder, treason, adultery, betrayal, war and savagery, kinsmen turning on kinsmen.

Gregory’s works often feel rushed at the ending, and this was no exception, ending almost abruptly – but all in all, The Lady of the Rivers was a solid read. I’d recommend picking one up if you’re interested to expand your knowledge on British medieval history (as well as her other works), although they shouldn’t be used as factual basis.

Score: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

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The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

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The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

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Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

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Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

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Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

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Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

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Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

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The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)