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.

The #KL2017 opening ceremony is a visually stunning affair. . It's a display of Malaysia's cultural heterogeneity and diversity, the colourful spirit of our people and the nation's history of openness and tolerance – there's a part that shows the locals welcoming foreign vessels with open arms, a homage to pre-colonial Malaya's status as a cosmopolitan civilisation. The cultural performances, which chronicled Malaysia's journey, were kickstarted by the orang asli – a fitting gesture, considering their role as the pioneer on this land. . Dayang Nurfaizah was also there – while her singing was on point, the song fell short – KL1998 did a much better job with Ella, back in the day. . I had a good time. Made a compilation video of the #timelapse that I took just now, so enjoy!

A post shared by Faizal Hamssin (@faizalhamssin) on

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

FH

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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 thinkĀ 

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.