Saturday, 25 May 2013

Haw Par Villa

The Tiger Balm kings Aw Boon Haw (gentle tiger)  and Aw Boon Par (gentle leopard) moved their Tiger Balm business from Burma to Singapore in 1926. The balm itself had been created by their father, a Chinese herbalist working in Rangoon in the late 1870s.

If  you've lived or travelled in Asia you will have come across tiger balm. Or if you've been into a health food shop in the UK. It's a bit like deep heat if deep heat were herbal. It's made from a mixture of menthol, cloves, cassia, camphor and mint. There's a red version and a white one.

So they made a fortune. And what does one do with so much money? What else but build a theme park in the garden of your house teaching traditional Chinese values through the medium of garish statues?

A few of my colleagues remember being taken there as children, before it was restored, and scared witless by the ten courts of hell. Apparently you used to go through by boat, but that was too dangerous so now you walk instead. It's very similar to depictions of hell in European churches, but there's something about them being in 3D that makes it extra gory.

What a lovely day out for all the family!

This is the dirty blood pool, apparently.

A classic view of Singapore with the dockyards and cranes in the background.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lunch for beginners

A friend picked me up on not having posted for a while. It has been a while.

Part of the reason is that life has just been plodding on without anything notable to write about. Or to put it another way, I haven't been on holiday recently.

The other part is that I have been writing, but other things. After years of failing to make time to write I am finally managing to sit down, almost daily, and write for about an hour a day. My job is very un-taxing. I have finished everything I need to do this term with two and a half weeks left to go.

It's normal to take a for many Singaporeans to take a long lunch. So I've got into the habit of taking my laptop out when I go for lunch or for a coffee and making time to write my plays.

That's the first hurdle. The next and far bigger one is making what you write good. Elizabeth Gilbert who achieved huge success with 'Eat, Pray, Love' talked in her TED about being blocked as a writer and how to get around it. About being at a place in her life where she has probably achieved her greatest success already. She talks about the idea that writers can be possessed, almost by spirits, daemons or a genius. So genius is not something you have control of. You give yourself up to the genius. It's their responsibility to create, well or badly. It's a very soothing idea.

Except when you read through your play and wish it was better.

I know I'm feeling homesick when I find myself reading to the Royal Court Theatre's website, sometimes the Manchester Exchange or the National. I read the cast lists, watch the videos, curse that I'm so far away from high quality theatre.

Which leads me neatly onto the Shakespeare in the park, a Singapore tradition, staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre in Fort Canning park each summer. Very popular among the expats, though I suspect largely for the picnic.

This year was Othello, which was MUCH better than Twelfth Night last year, but still, agh. It depresses me to compare it to what I am used to.

Going to the theatre in Singapore is like watching a third year drama school production. There's probably someone in the cast who is really good, a few very solid actors who'll end up teaching and then a lot more who are appalling and hideously miscast and would NEVER EVER be employed in the UK.

Rant over.

A few people have been asking if I'm coming back in the summer. Two years are up in July. Not yet, is the answer. I'll be home in December for a visit and am certainly starting to think about making plans to move back unless I can find a job that stretches me a little more or moves my career on.

So if you've been thinking of visiting come. Sooner rather than later.