KL 2017 SEA Games Opening: A Journal

The SEA Games opening last Saturday is an excellent spectacle, a visually stunning display of the colours that make up Malaysia – and who we are as a nation.

The event had a wet start – spectators were drenched as they lined up to get in. There were also no clear signboards indicating where the queues were formed or where the lines began, so it was quite confusing. All we knew was, the gate we were supposed to get it, which did not really help, as the queue extended more than 500 m from the main stadium.

Pretty chaotic. People were getting frustrated. The organiser could’ve managed the crowd better.

The pedestrian plaza that stretches between the Bukit Jalil LRT station with the main stadium was a party ground. Plenty of food trucks filled the space, selling yummy stuff from mango juices to buttermilk chicken. I wish I could try all of them, but the queues were really long, so I didn’t really bother. The foodtrucks will be there until the end of the Games, so you should probably check them out.

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Anyway, once I got in and took my seat, I was in awe. The team behind the refurbishment of the two-decade-old stadium clearly did a good job. The stadium looked fantastic, with brand new seats and brilliant purple roof lighting. Very elegant and classy. We have a world-class national stadium, indeed.

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The rest of the evening happened smoothly – Aznil came out with a campy rendition of a Sudirman’s song, complete with some colourful rickshaws (very fabulous).

Dayang Nurfaizah performed the Games’ theme song – she delivered a rousing vocal performance, but the song sounds like it belongs to AJL, not a regional games. I’m a fan of her ensemble, though – the crystal headgear is definitely a highlight. Very glamorous.

MonoloQue Ft Lan & MaliQue delivered a strong performance of another song for the Games, Tunjuk Belang, which is a much better tune for the purpose.

The rest of the evening was filled with cultural performances – a spectacular show that displayed our nation’s diversity and long history of tolerance. It was aptly opened by the orang asli (recognising their status as pioneer of this land), the Malay, Chinese and Indian segments would only follow after. There were also caravels traversing the ocean – a homage of the Malay’s renowned seafaring capability way before the Portuguese discovered the Nusantara.

The different ethnics in East Malaysia were also amply represented in the show. There was even a scene of bajau laut horsemen traversing the water, a reminder of the forgotten history of the bajau people.

Good job to Saw Teong Hin for the very visually stunning show that encapsulated the very essence of Malaysia’s diverse culture and traditions.

18-year-old diver Dhabitah Sabri had the honour of lighting the Games’ torch. The ceremony ended with a 3-minute firework show – that we, at the stadium, couldn’t see as clearly as the people outside the venue lol.

I posted below a compilation of some photos that I took throughout the opening ceremony. There’s also a timelapse video that I took during the event here.

Good luck to our boys and girls competing in the Games!

FH

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Because no Hello is in vain

Every human connection, be it a fleeting bond or a lifelong commitment, starts from a Hello.

Have you ever wondered how many people have you met in your entire life so far? It’s impossible to keep track – a few thousand, perhaps?

There are more than seven billion people living on this Planet. Each with different character, quirks, values and habits. No two persons are the same – because each and every one of us is given free will to decide how we want to live our lives.

Everyone is given some leeway to chart their own destinies. Everyone is exposed to different preconditions and environments – these moulded them into who they are today.

What are the building blocks of a human mind?

A human mind is a complex territory, it is nothing but a fascinating hodgepodge of different things, an amalgamation of a person’s personal experiences, stacked on a domain constructed upon a person’s view of the world.

So powerful our mind is, that our interactions with the society, the way we treat others, and our daily actions and reactions, are all mere manifestation of the state of our mind.

Actions and reactions. How we treat others, is affected by what we have experienced as a human being.

Therefore, how a person treats you, tells a lot about what he has experienced in his life.

Every time we have a human encounter with a person who has been through a lot, we get to see his view of the world and of course the complex concoction that created who he is a person today, just by dissecting the way he treats us.

By having an emphatic pair of eyes, we can embark on a journey to his past, and draw lessons from what he had been through. Suddenly, his tragedies become relatable. His triumphs become something that we glorify – and feel somewhat envious about. His insecurities suddenly makes us feel less mystified by his over-sensitive nature – we become understanding and more discerning.

We eventually learn to treat a person, not based on what our experience tells us, but with a solid understanding of what the other party is like.

We become kinder.

Everyone has their life stories to tell.

What we need to do is, for every encounter, listen to what the other party has to say.

Dissect their reactions. Study their actions. That way, we’ll find out that with every encounter, good or bad, and with each Hello, we get to take a peek into yet another human’s soul.

No Hello is in vain. No relationship is completely futile. No friendship is worthless. The least that these human connections do is, they allow us to look beneath a person’s skin, right into his soul. Their experiences become ours. The travails that moulded them, that turned them into an angel, or morphed them into a devil, become important lessons to us too.

And when the time Goodbye is said, we know, deep in our hearts, that we have become a much richer person.

 

FH

12 Hours in Porto, Portugal

I had the opportunity to visit Porto in May – just as the summer began to hit Portugal. While I did not get to spend as much time there as I did in Lisbon, Porto has definitely left behind a lasting impression.

When it comes to beauty, few cities match Porto. It is so maddeningly beautiful. A feast to the eyes.

The streets are charming and not too busy. The old, historical inner quarter exudes the vibes that are very typical of any other Southern European city – weathered buildings, slightly corrugated window bars, laid-back ambiance, cobbled streets, and al fresco cafes. The main streets are not as touristy as in Lisbon, and the cafes and restaurants cater to the locals, so they are quite affordable.

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Portugal is significantly cheaper than Western European countries – you can get a cup for coffee for EUR1.5 here, and a decent no-frill meal at EUR5. Pastries are plentiful in Portugal, and in Porto, you must try the codcake. It’s EUR3.5 each. Very tasty, especially with the melted cheese filling.

Cod cake, Porto, EUR3.5
A lavish squid stew, EUR10

Bom Sucesso is a popular food market in Porto. It’s quite upmarket, so prices are slightly higher here than other smaller, less known markets in the city. However, it’s still quite affordable – EUR10 should be enough for a decent 2-course meal here. There’s a lively seafood section as well, and you should try the barnacles – locals seem to love them.

Bom Sucesso MarketPorto also has a medium-sized railway station – rail infrastructure in Portugal isn’t as developed as in France/Benelux/Italy, and the railway station caters to regional trains. There is a regular service between the city and Lisbon too.

The railway station is stylishly decorated with some really impressive artworks depicting Portuguese history.

Porto Railway Station

Porto’s subway system isn’t very complicated – it consists of several light rail lines, mainly at-grade, but with underground sections in the city centre. It’s quite cheap too, fare starts at EUR1. The light rail is very extensive and it takes you to nearly all of the popular tourist attractions in the city. The system is also very easy to navigate – much easier than the relatively poorly signaged and convoluted Lisbon Metro.

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Porto also has its share of modern architecture, and the most impressive display of this in the city’s new opera house. Designed by Dutch maestro Rem Koolhaas, Casa da Musica is an impressive performing art centre, surrounded by a very attractive urban square. Critics raved about this building -Nicolai Ouroussoff of NYT called it “one of the most important concert halls built in the last 100 years”.

Too bad my visit to Porto was so brief – it would be nice if I could go there again to catch a performance at this impressive venue.

Casa da Musica

And here’s the best part about Porto.

Its dramatic setting.

No trip to Porto is ever complete without a stroll across Ponte de Dom Luis I. The walk gave me vertigo – the bridge is as high as 85m. Completed in 1886, the bridge was, at one point, the world’s longest.

Just have a look at the pictures below. The view from the bridge was so brilliant I ended up coming to the same spot twice. The breathtaking view, soft wind blowing on my face, the slowly changing hues of the skies as the sun began to descend – I felt calm and very much at peace just sitting there at the bridge. So simple, yet so beautiful.

Definitely the highlight of my Portugal trip.

FH

A Walk in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is a gorgeous city, with laid-back vibes and modern shopping malls emerging amidst streets with rickety cars and weathered shophouses.

I was there last weekend for a short getaway with friends – we spent much of the time at the beach, so the city wasn’t really the main focus of the trip. We did, however, take a walk around KK’s downtown area, where some humble hawker gems and charming old coffeeshops could be found.

The walk was something that I looked forward to, as I had not been in KK for quite some time – my last visit was in 2005.

My observations:

First of all, most of the buildings in KK City Centre were constructed in the 1970s-1980s – this was the time when Sabah was one of the wealthiest states in Malaysia. There are some really popular kopitiams serving local fares like the piping hot laksa and wantan mee.

We went to Yee Fun on Gaya Street for laksa – it’s a RM9 bowl of rich laksa broth. It’s alright, but I prefer spicier and less creamy broth of Kuching Laksa.

Sabah Laksa

Gaya Street, one of the main thoroughfares in KK City is lined with weather shophouses, some of them are already converted into fashionable cafes and boutique hotels, while the rest is still occupied by kopitiams, family-owned hardware stores and corner shops.

The old Milimewah at Jalan Pantai, which used to be quite popular during its heyday, is still there – albeit in the rickety state.

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Much of KK’s new developments are concentrated outside the city centre, with the area surrounding KK Times Square and Imago mall attracting much of the new money in the city.

Gleaming condo blocks, KK

This has culminated into the decaying state of some of the office blocks in the city centre.

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Inner city urban decay is something that is typical in many Malaysian cities – and KK is no exception to this trend. Kuching and Penang city centres also have some underutilised commercial and office spaces.

Fortunately, there are still many active 5-star hotels operating in KK City Centre, like Grand Hyatt and Le Meridien, ensuring the somewhat continuing viability of the inner city.

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There are also some interesting cafes to explore at the area, most of them rustic (faux-rustic rather) – if you fancy some latte and cakes, that is.

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For a good bird’s eye view of the city, we took a 10-minute hike up the Signal Hill lookout point. The view is quite impressive – too bad we were there just before a heavy rain descended upon the town, so the picture below was taken sans a backdrop of a blue sky.

KK City view

KK’s waterfront is a fantastic spot to catch sunset. Upon sundown, it becomes a vibrant social hub in the city, where tourists and locals mingle and drink. The Irish pub here is also popular among the expats living in KK.

We also went to the Filipino Market located just next to the waterfront – it’s a bustling place in the evening, with hawkers frying noodles and grilling fish amidst the chaotic scene of noisy trinket peddlers and fruit sellers. While the waterfront is a neatly maintained place that taps into the tourist market, Filipino market is unkempt and messy. A different world.

No trip to KK could be perfect without a seafood feast. Kampung Air near Plaza Shell is an excellent spot for that. The place is filled with Sunday dinner patrons, many of them mainland Chinese tourists. We had a really good dinner of lobsters, tiger prawns, smallers prawns, clam soup, steamed fish and local vege – and the price was reasonable at RM140/pax. Considering the size of the feast – this is a fraction of what you’d have to fork out in KL.

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The seafood dinner was the highlight of the trip – the lobsters are to die for, easily amongst the best meals I’ve had this year so far.

With its picturesque outlying islands, great seafood and interesting inner city streets, KK is quite a place to visit. Perfect for a weekend getaway. I like it.

FH

Turkey at Crossroads: The Story of Istanbul

I had a short visit to Istanbul last month.

Having already been to the city four times, I skipped Istanbul’s major tourist attractions (which are magnificent by the way, but let’s talk about them in a future post).

Instead, I went to some neighbourhoods in the European part of Istanbul that I’m most familiar with – Nisantasi, Beyoglu and Istiklal.

Rocked by several significant terror attacks and a large-scale political upheaval, one of the common questions that the international community has about Turkey is, “What the hell happened?”.

Turkey is a rapidly-evolving society, economically, politically, and to a large extent, socially.

What is Turkey like nowadays? Have things changed?

Here are some of my observations.

The Turkish society has become, visibly, more Islamic

  • While it’s nowhere as ubiquitous as in other Muslim-majority nations, headscarf is making a resurgence in Turkey. Many of the hijabis in Istanbul also adopt some very fascinating designs of head covering; this is, after all, a very fashionable city. There are also some fashion billboards that feature headscarf-wearing women – something that you would never see a few years ago
  • However, you can still also see the growing disparity between the secular Turkish population (traditionally, they make up the majority of the population in the cities) and the religious ones. It’s very rare to see women wearing headscarves in wealthy neighbourhoods like Nisantasi, but a few kilometres away in the old neighbourhoods surrounding Sultanahmet the proportion is likely to be much higher
  • This being said, Istanbul, and Turkey in general, remain very secular in nature and in outlook (even with Erdogan firmly in power), especially when compared against other Muslim majority nations

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The Turkish economy is visibly booming

  • Construction cranes are everywhere in the city, especially as you leave the historical core of Istanbul. Levent, Istanbul’s new CBD looks like Dubai, with its many gleaming skyscrapers, most of them constructed over the past few years
  • The Istiklal Avenue is currently being upgraded to match some of Europe’s most prestigious shopping streets – it is currently being repaved too, so the nostalgic tram, known to be running along the street is currently not in service
  • Many huge new malls popping up – this sets Istanbul apart from other European cities
The huge Venezia Mall – one of the newest malls in Istanbul
Levent, Istanbul

Uber is still not very popular (or reliable) in Istanbul

  • Istanbul taxis are not known for their good reputation – tourists do get fleeced massively, and with no Uber as a safer and more reliable alternative to this, good luck.

Beyoglu has become even more of a hipster central – with the youth using street arts and graffitis as an effective medium for expression

  • With the rise of the opposition amongst the Turkish millennials against the current Turkish establishment, the streets of Beyoglu have become a place where the youth manifest their dissatisfaction in street arts. This area is located near the place where the famous Taksim Square uprising was held (and subsequently quelled) a few years ago.
  • Many of the street arts depict Ataturk and his ideals – portraits of Ataturk are painted over shop fronts, in different colours. Ataturk is viewed by the anti-establishment Turkish youth as a symbol of their resistance against what they perceive to be an affront to the secular, Republican ideals of the nation

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Things have become cheaper for Malaysians

  • The Turkish Lira, which used to be much stronger than Ringgit a few years ago, has experienced gradual and steady devaluation over the recent years
A delightful Turkish breakfast – the heavily spiced Turkish sausage is simply the best
  • The current conversion rate is TL1 = MYR1.2. It was TL1 = MYR2, five years ago. Shopping, eating and sightseeing in Istanbul has therefore become even more affordable for Malaysian tourists, IF, and only IF, you don’ get…

Scammed.

Turkish cabs, desperate for cash due to the dwindling number of tourists, have become even more notorious for scamming unsuspecting visitors. The most common scam involves the “swapping” of notes, where the drive would swap the TL50 note that you had given him with a TL5. I had the misfortune of experiencing this twice.

For tips to protect yourself from the rampant scamming in Istanbul, follow this link.

Apart from the vicious scamming, if you know what to do, Istanbul is safe. Pickpocketing, while a problem here, isn’t as rife as in Rome, for example. Streets are busy and fairly well-lit even in the middle of the night. Like in any other big cities around the world, precaution and common sense goes a long way.

The following photo gallery contains other images that I took during the long so-called layover trip last month. Enjoy!

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A recollection – and what I think 

For nearly a century, Turkey was looking strictly to the West as a template on which its future destiny should be moulded.

With Erdogan firmly in power, Turkey is today witnessing a transition towards social conservatism that no era after Ataturk’s installation of the republic has witnessed.

I remember my first visit in the city several years ago – it was the time when Istanbul used to host one of the largest Pride events in Europe, and the city was buzzing for the whole month (I still keep a rainbow mug and a t-shirt that I got at one of the merchandise shops in Nisantasi).

This year, the Pride parade was banned by the government. It was banned too last year. People who still insisted on marching this year were shot with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. To put this shameful step backward in perspective, the Ottoman Empire was one of the first European powers to decriminalise homosexual activities.

***

Turkey has changed a lot over the course of several years. And it is still changing as we speak, as it seeks to find its bearing in the world today. This nation rises over the ashes of one of the world’s most powerful empires of all time. The strong dichotomy between the nation’s past glory and its underwhelming present (this is very well documented in Orhan Pamuk’s memoirs), plays a pivotal role in shaping the psyche of the Turkish people today.

Turkey demands respect, and as it seeks to be stronger in its own terms, let’s hope that the nation will not implode.

Selamat Hari Raya

Wishing you all a very joyous Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration.

Let the period of festivities herald a new chapter of closer ties between us and our families, friends, and of course, loved ones too.

What’s amazing about Hari Raya in our local context is the ability of the festive season to bring the Malays of different ideological standpoints, spectrum of conservative-liberal stance, and to a certain extent, faith structures, to come together to celebrate the beauty of our culture, customs, fashion and food.

While Hari Raya has an undeniably Islamic origin, the modern day interpretation of the festivity varies, from cultural to religious.

Well, whatever it is, just enjoy lah.

Take care.

Selamat Hari Raya!

Photo Story: London, May 2017.

I was in London for a 3-day visit last month. It was a pretty much a standard jaunt, filled with lunches and catch-ups with friends, pleasant strolls along the city’s thriving streets (the weather surprisingly happened to be gorgeous for the large part of the visit), gallery visits, and the obligatory nights-out in Soho.

Museums and Galleries

I got to visit the new London Design Museum, housed in a formerly derelict structure in Kensington for the first time. Everything in the museum smacks of brand new, it opened its doors in December 2016. There was an interesting ‘Imagine Moscow’ exhibition going on – it basically chronicled the Soviets’ use of grandiose architectural statements to propagate communist propaganda, especially during the era of Stalin. Interesting stuff.

I also spent some time at Tate. It’s a huge modern art museum, and one of the exhibitions highlighted the use of arts as means of anti-Nazi resistance during the earlier days of the Third Reich. John Heartfield defied threats of arrests by creating satirical pieces and photomontages that exposed the follies of Hitler’s propaganda. One of the pioneers in using art as a political weapon, Heartfield, facing an imminent deportation threat to Czechoslovakia, fled to the UK in 1938.

If you’re looking for a good time to visit London, now is probably the best time to do so.

Nothing much has changed in the city, except for the fact that things have become slightly more affordable (albeit still fairly expensive, it’s London after all), thanks to the post-Brexit vote GBP depreciation.

Food markets, as usual?

I also spent some time at the Portobello Market, which has grown far too crowded to my liking – there is still an interesting array of shops selling quirky collectibles and antiques, so if you’ve never been there, it’s worth checking out. The street food scene there is still as vibrant as usual, however, except for the fact that at Portobello, everything is at least 20% more expensive than in other parts of London. If you’re into food markets, Borough Market is definitely a much better option.

Danke, Syafiq!

Major shoutout to Syafiq, for lending me his room throughout my stay in London this time (last year it was at Izuan’s, also shoutout to him!). His apartment is located just next to the Bayswater tube station, so getting around is tremendously easy. Bayswater is traditionally a popular area for Malaysians, with its high concentration of halal eateries and shopping options – Malaysians love shopping after all.

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Jakarta within a day – a peek into the soul of the city

Jakarta, with its population of 20 million, is a huge, sprawling metropolis. While culturally rich, the city is also infamous for its perceived concrete jungle character and the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s worst traffic . Travellers visiting Indonesia often skip the capital for Bali, Bandung and Yogyakarta – which is unfortunate.

While I agree that macet in Jakarta is incredibly frustrating (imagine spending 2.5 hours in the car for what would have otherwise been a 30-minute ride from the airport), this is a very exciting city. It’s clogged and congested, but also very vibrant and cultured, if you know where to look.

I have made it a point to visit the city every year over the past three years, and I was there last weekend, this time around with four cousins, for our own little family bonding time. We had a massively good time exploring the city.

For those who want to check out what Jakarta has to offer, and learn a bit about Indonesia’s history that culminated into the making of its people’s modern-day psyche, here’s a short itinerary of what you can do in Jakarta within a day.

Jakarta within a day

Start with a cuppa

Indonesia is known for its quality coffee beans, with regions like Acheh and Papua having their own distinctive beans.

Some of Jakarta’s best cafes and coffeehouses are outside the main CBD area, which may take some time to get to, considering the traffic.

So, if you want to try out the coffee without leaving the city centre, head to Djournal in Grand Indonesia – there’s a good selection of drip coffee there for you to try out. The ambiance is pretty decent too, and since it’s located in Jakarta’s version of our Pavilion (vibes and location), the crowd is pretty much young-ish. Expect a lot of Snapchat and Instastory shooting taking place around you, as you take your morning coffee.

The cafe also has a decent, albeit relatively limited range of brunch menu and sandwiches to choose from.

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After the coffee, it’s tempting to walk around the lavish Grand Indonesia mall for some shopping and people watching – it’s a great place to be, with many familiar international brands and some local names as well. There are also plenty of decent places to eat, and one thing you’ll notice about Jakarta is that a lot of them do make a serious effort to look good and dress well when spending their time in the mall. Quite a contrast from what we in KL; I, for one, prefer going to the mall in the most casual attire I could find in the wardrobe.

Enough with the mall. From Grand Indonesia, take an Uber, or as locals love to do it, Gojek (motorbike taxi) to Jakarta Cathedral.

Understanding Indonesia’s religious diversity

Indonesia prides itself as a beacon of religious tolerance, and a visit to Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque is a good way to understand the people’s pluralistic view towards religion.

Jakarta Cathedral, constructed during the colonial period, is a large Gothic style structure that wouldn’t look out of place in Europe. It’s still bustling with worshippers every Sunday, and acts as a symbol of strong Christian presence in the city.

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Locals worship in Bahasa Indonesia, and just outside the cathedral are Muslim hawkers selling Bakso and light snacks for hungry worshippers. Truly an image of harmony in the predominantly Muslim country (Indonesia is 80% Muslim).

Just across the road from the Cathedral is Istiqlal Mosque, one of the largest in the world. The location close to the cathedral was chosen by Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno, to symbolise religious harmony in the then recently independent nation. Sukarno’s Pancasila assured equal rights to six major monotheistic religions. Unlike Malaysia’s constitution, Pancasila does not recognise Islam as the sole religion of the Federation, and because of this, it is often deemed to be comparatively much more secular and pluralistic in nature.

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Kota Tua – understanding Indonesia’s colonial history

Jakarta was called Batavia during the colonial period, and it derived its much of its prosperity from the bustling port of Sunda Kelapa. The Kota Tua area, which orientates around the Fatahillah Square, is the most preserved remnant of colonial Jakarta. Formerly run-down, many buildings in the area have seen successful revitalisation efforts over the recent years.

Jakarta’s Kota Tua is very touristy, however, so expect the main square to be extremely crowded during the weekend. Locals love their selfies, with many taking photos of themselves using tongsis (tongkat narsis selfie sticks). If you want to join in the fun, there are plenty of stalls selling low-grade selfie sticks, along with other cheap souvenirs.

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While buildings surrounding the main Fatahillah square are fairly well-maintained and taken care of, some of the gems of old Jakarta have sadly fallen into various stages of disrepair, like this one:

So much potential, let’s hope the authorities will do something to preserve the building as a reminder of the city’s history.

For some cooling drinks and a respite from the searing heat outside, head to Cafe Batavia, conveniently facing the main square. While the food is mediocre at best, the colonial cafe has a very Instagram-worthy interior. Expect to pay premium prices here, as this place is a tourist trap.

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Monas – still a popular hive of activities

Construction of Indonesia’s national monument (Monas) began 1961, during a turbulent chapter in Indonesia’s post-Independence history. President Soekarno wanted Jakarta to be Indonesia’s showcase capital, a manifestation of the nation’s emergence as a new regional power, and he directed for Monas, with its gilded flame of Independence on the top) to be erected during the time of tough economic situation in the country – still a controversial decision for some critics today.

Monas is still a prominent landmark in today’s Jakarta – it’s no longer the tallest edifice in the city, but it remains as an enduring symbol of the city. The parklands surrounding Monas is also extensive, and functions as the much needed green lung in the city where parks are scarce.

At night, Monas park becomes a hive of activities, popular amongst many Indonesians, especially those from the working-class backgrounds. Families picnic here during sunset, and couples sit on the benches, holding hands into the night. There are also some bikers testing their rides just outside its compounds.

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Immersive cultural experience at Dapur Babah

Five minutes from Monas is Dapur Babah Elite, a place that I have fallen in love with. Set in an old shophouse building in Gambir, the restaurant is owned by a prosperous Chinese Indonesian family. The interior is very intimate as much as it is lavish, with antiques owned by the family faithfully put on display. Dining there does feel like eating in a well-curated museum gallery.

The food is also top-notch, from the perfectly marinated sweet beef satay to the rich sup rawon, the kitchen definitely does the Indonesian rich gastronomy justice. It’s also not too pricey, considering the opulent setting – expect around Rp200,000 (MYR70) per person.

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Martabak for dessert

Martabak is a new street food phenomenon in Indonesia – it works like our apam balik, but thicker, and commonly prepared with thicker fillings. There are many variations of martabak, some of them savoury (eg cheese and meat), while others, and arguably the more popular ones, are sweet (eg Nutella, cheese & banana, Toblerone).

Martabak Boss in South Jakarta is particularly popular – I got to try this one, and their chocolate martabak is sinfully good. Expect to pay about Rp60,000 (MYR20) for a good size of martabak that can feed 2-3.

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Party with the locals

Jakartans know how to party too – clubs in the city close at 4pm. There is no centralised entertainment districts and bar strips like KL’s Changkat and Singapore’s Clarke Quay here, however, so make sure you have your Uber and Grabcar application ready if you plan to do bar hopping.

Bauhaus in Kuningan is my favourite – the crowd here is predominantly made up of friendly young professionals. The place is quite small however, and the place works more like a bar than a nightclub, so if you love dancing, this might be a deal-breaker. The space, with its small mezzanine floor, sofas and lounge seats, wouldn’t look out of place in Berlin and London.

After a drink or two in Bauhaus, head to Dragonfly for the real action. This is where Jakarta’s wealthy young socialites go to for a dance, and the steep entrance fee Rp350,000 (MYR120) means that the place is out of reach for many. The music is awesome, however, and the club’s awesome 360 degree lighting setup adds on to the experience.

I felt a little too old for Dragonfly, so Bauhaus is definitely my favourite :p

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So there you have it –

Within a day you will have seen different sides of Jakarta, from Jakarta Cathedral to Dragonfly, where the trendiest youth dance their night away, and from Soekarno-era Monas to the remnant of the Dutch colonial legacy in Kota Tua.

What this one-day itinerary shows you is the great diversity that not only Jakarta, but also Indonesia, possesses. This is by no means a monochromatic society; it is plural, artistic, rich and in many ways, tolerant – the latter, I found to be very precious.

Will be back for sure.

Speak soon,
FH

Cairo’s Garden City – a tale of decay and perseverance

Cairo, throughout the first half of the 20th century, was one of the world’s capitals of culture – the indisputable primary city in the Arab world, with strong and growing European influences adding a unique character to the Egyptian capital.

Wealthy travellers from across the world flocked to the city, not only for the Pyramids in Giza and the exotic, colourful bazaars in its Old Town, but also for its stylish Haussmann-style Downtown and its glamorous cafe culture.

It was also during this period that Cairo received its Harrods-style department store Omar Effendi and some of Africa’s best hotels like the Heliopolis.

As efforts to Europeanise Cairo at that time intensified, Garden City, a planned neighbourhood with tree-lined avenues and Italian style buildings, was founded. Located next to the famous Tahrir Square, Garden City, whilst still stylish to these days, exudes the air of rustic grandeur – a witness of Cairo’s enduring story of growth, decay and perseverance.

Over the years, some of the neighbourhood’s grand buildings fell into disrepair – many of its original inhabitants of the Greek and European heritage fled the country in the 1950s during President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign. The exodus left some of the villas in the area unoccupied. While the attractive address attracted wealthy Egyptians to move in to fill the void, some of the area’s most palatial mansions are still left in various stages of ruins to these days.

I strolled around the area in October 2015, and took some photos that I feel best encapsulate the area best. It is still a beautiful neighbourhood, and an oasis of calm in the middle of the maddening frenzy that Cairo is. It’s impressive how they managed to keep the area’s calm character intact, while the rest of Cairo became engulfed in blocks and blocks of tall apartment buildings and miles and miles of gridlocked streets.

Take a look here:

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Speak soon,
FH

Of having something but not everything

We all want the best of everything.

Me too. Sometimes I feel that I want to have everything in my life sorted and in order. Just the way I like it.

I want to have a fulfilling job that pays well, while maintaining a healthy amount of friendship with people who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them.

I want parents who understand me, a partner that deeply values me, a home that is fault-free, a car that does not act up on me.

I want to look good and still eat to my heart’s content. I want to not have breakouts.

I want to go on big trips to exotic locations without having to worry about emails from my clients. I want to be able to pay the bills on time every month without having to worry about how much aircon I have been using. I want to go shopping without having to be afraid about the consequences it will have on my finances.

I want Life to be perfect. I want things to fall into place, to run smoothly. I want perfection, because, perfection allows me to be content.

But that’s not what Life is.

***

We as human beings have a degree of control over how things are going to turn out to be in the world.

We are given a degree of freedom to chart our own course.

But at the end of the day, it’s not us who decide how fate should treat us.

And this is when God’s wisdom is at full play.

***

The compassionate God does not give us every single thing that we want.

No one in this world gets everything. There must be one thing that we want so bad, but do not have.

No one lives a perfect life. A billionaire may die alone. A high-flying career man way not have the time to do what he truly enjoys doing – painting. A woman may receive boundless love and affection from someone who appears to be perfect, except that he also happens to be debt-ridden. A successful couple may have everything sorted, except for the very fact that one of them is barren.

You see, for every blessing that we receive, there is something that we yearn for, but do not have.

I used to blame fate for playing game with us – how could we be made happy and content with all the good things that have happened to us, only to feel sad one day because the thing that we really want in this life is just not ours.

Why must our lives, no matter how hard we work and how meticulous we have been, are still imperfect? Why must there be imperfection?

***

Then it occurred to me that imperfection is important – by not having everything, we discover the feeling of yearning for something. We know what it feels like to lack something. We know how crushing it feels like to need something without getting it no matter how hard we try.

This, eventually, leads to empathy. Because we have been through that situation, we understand the feelings of people who want or need something, but do not have them.

We become kinder to them. We treat people, including strangers, with kindness because we know that there is one thing that bonds us, and them.

That we’re all struggling, and that the personal journeys we all take are all marred with difficulties.

That we all live imperfect lives.

And this, the empathy, is a beautiful thing.

Speak soon,
FH