spunktitud3

Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Photography – The Centre of the Universe

Singapore Skyline

Physicists have been trying to ascertain where and what is at the centre of the universe for the longest time. To me, life lies in the centre of the universe and as we modernise, we should take effort to ensure nature is not endangered. It pains to hear of deforestation, demolition of historic buildings, loss of habitats to make way for new buildings. Nature and culture has existed and evolved for millions of years, and we have been doing much harm to Mother Nature of late.

This thought struck more poignantly as I rendered a photo of Singapore’s iconic structures for fun, and the photo produced was that of a plant growing out from the centre, seemingly reaching out to the sun – what a zest for life!

Singapore Skyline

No matter how you look at it, nature is beautiful. The clouds, the plants, the sunset. :)
Doesn’t the centre part look like a prehistoric fossil? I think Mother Nature is sending me a message…time to start wearing my “Save the Earth” T-shirt and start planting.

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Musings – Dirty Job, Cleaning Stunt

Marina Bay Sands cleaning

Modern-day Spiderman?

I was sauntering across the link bridge from Marina Bay Sands Hotel to Gardens by the Bay, admiring the scenery when I almost jumped out of my skin to see a man plastered on the building’s glass panes as I turned my head to the side. We must be about 10 storeys above street level! With urbanization, most buildings opt for glass façades for a modern feel. The cleaning though – is not easy at all; cleaners such as this Indian have to risk their lives to do their jobs.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Marina Bay Sands Hotel
I got cold feet just looking at the height, much less to don on a harness and scale down the building.

Some of us complain incessantly about our air-conditioned office jobs. Before I do that now, I will remember our humble high-rise building cleaners, how some of them left their homes to find work, and risk their lives doing such a tedious job that no one wants to do – just to provide better lives for their families. One tip I took away from this brief encounter – Crocs are great on slippery surfaces. :)


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Musings – A Forgotten Time

Street barbers

Looking back in time
Once a common sight at Singapore’s back alleys in the 1960s, street barbers will soon fade away into history books as Singapore’s vanishing trades. I chanced upon one of the four remaining street barbers at the back alley of Mohamed Ali Lane, and I stood transfixed, looking at the no-frills retro set-up. It was as if I stepped back 50 years in time. I was so intrigued, I set out to research on the street barbers of Singapore.

Armed with makeshift awnings, a reclining chair and mirror, street barbers used to do brisk business offering fuss-free trims during our grandfathers’ time.  Street barbers were commonly found along Barber Street, a backlane between Jalan Sultan and North Bridge Road. Armed with just a few simple tools, the services the barbers provided were all-encompassing – a haircut came with trimming of eyebrow, facial and nostril hair, as well as ear digging. All for the price of S$6 (current price; it was S$4 20 years ago. If only the rate of inflation was at that slow a pace).

Every barber has a different tale to tell of how he entered the profession. Most of them honed their skills by working as apprentices under an established barber or were self-taught. They would then start their career along the five-foot way, or be called to homes to provide haircuts. After the development of public flats by the Housing Development Board in the 1960s, street barbers were often seen along the corridors of housing blocks, crying out “cut hair” in various dialects. And to think it is an absolute luxury now getting a haircut in the comfort of our homes – how ironic!

As Singapore progressed, old buildings were torn down to give way to high-rise modern buildings. The street barbers lost their space and were gradually replaced by modern, air-conditioned hair salons. All that Singapore is left with now are four elderly street barbers, faithfully holding on to their trade, snipping away , rain or shine.

Young entrepreneurs have recently started to set up shop to preserve the art of the back alley barber, wooing then men with luxurious male grooming and dandy-looking shops – with prices more than 10 times the street barber. With the current trend being retro, I wonder wouldn’t it be even more cool to go to the real-deal street barber? It’s so much cheaper, and most of my guy friends just want a fuss-free cut anyway. Maybe I shall drag one of them (you know who you are, heh) to try a street barber soon.

The National Heritage Board interviewed street barber Mr Lee Yong Tong who has been in plying his trade for the past 50 years to document Singapore’s traditional trades. Mr Lee attends to about 6 to 10 customers a day and is busiest on Saturdays when office workers visit him after their half-day work. He earns about $800 a month. Working hours are from 10AM to 4PM. Most street barbers have rest days now as they are already in their 80s. They are never lonely – their friends sit around the ‘shop’, drinking coffee and chatting the time away (they help to welcome customers too). Most of them have their own family who give them an allowance, but still want to retain their financial independence – and sanity (meaning get outta the house!).

I think Mr Lee has a great sense of humour:
“Nowadays, the young people think that it is art with their hair looking one side longer than the other, or with ‘holes’ in them…In the past, mothers brought out the cane to get their children to get a proper haircut. But now, the parents bring in the law when the teachers try to cut the students’ hair.”

Why not go say hello to Mr Lee at the back alley of Boon Tat Street (Tanjong Pagar) and get a haircut from him today before he hangs up his scissors for good? You may not have much time left before he does that.


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Taiwan – SHIFEN十分放天灯: Sending Wishes to the Sky

Shifen Sky Lantern

Sending the Queens’ shopping list to the sky :)

Shifen Sky Lanterns

The two most popular attractions in the quiet town of Shifen would be the Shifen Waterfalls (nicknamed “Taiwan’s Niagara Falls”) and Shifen Old Street where visitors go to release sky lanterns. While you can release sky lanterns all day long, we planned Shifen as the last stop of the day after Jiufen (about 30mins away by car) with since it would be nicer to release the lanterns at night.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Releasing sky lanterns (放天灯) is a significant ritual in Taiwan and the most notable places to do that would be Pingxi and Shifen. It’s a fun experience for most visitors to Taiwan (and the locals too); there’s just something very alluring about being able to write your wishes on a lantern which would carry your prayers to the sky (祈福) – think of it as a direct courier service to heaven.
Releasing sky lanterns is so popular that thousands of people gather for the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every 15th day of the Lunar New Year.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Shifen Old Street
Shifen got its name as there used to be 10 families living in the town (ten portions). Shifen Old Street is the most famous stop along Pingxi Branch Rail Line. The 13km rail line was originally built in 1918 to transport coal and was re-purposed as a tourism route in 1992. All the shops sell either sky lanterns or souvenirs.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Seal your love with a declaration to the sky

Shifen Sky Lanterns

And off the lanterns go, higher!

Shife Sky Lanterns

And the train goes past…whoaaaa *hair flies up* (luckily not the skirt)
Notice how close the shops along Shifen Old Street are to the train line. It’s also pretty interesting – and dangerous – that visitors actually stand on the tracks to release the sky lanterns, and have to shun when a train comes along. Talk about an adrenalin rush. But worry not – the shopkeepers are all very familiar with the train timings and will ask you to get off the tracks before the trains pass through.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Colour-coding wishes
The sky lanterns range from NT$100 to NT$150 depending on the number of colours chosen. Apparently each color represents a wish (e.g red=health and peace, yellow = money luck) so the more wishes you have, the more you pay.
You can also choose to add a string of firecrackers at the bottom of your lantern at an extra cost, perhaps this will gain the attention of the heavens and grant your wish faster? Since I was just in for the fun of it, I went with just one basic colour at NT$100.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Budding Picassos
I was amused that we were given calligraphy brushes to doodle on the lanterns. The last time I held one was in elementary school when I took Chinese painting lessons. And looks like XT had other ideas with the brush. I’m not the canvas!

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Having so much fun

Shifen Sky Lanterns

The Queen’s Lantern
Ta-da! I’m sure you weren’t expecting a ‘normal’ wishing lantern from me, riggght? *wink*

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Setting off our sky lantern

Sky Lantern in Shifen

Fly strong & high…
It was kinda surreal to watch it rise. Curious, I asked the shopkeeper what happens to the sky lanterns. Apparently they stay in the air for 8-10minutes, float to the mountain behind and then fall back to the ground after the candle finishes burning. The shop pays workers to pick up the fallen lanterns afterwards to dump away. Oops. Sorry to burst the bubble…still it’s a very fun thing to do. You should try it! I had a lot of fun.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Bring home a wish
I bought a few of these home as souvenirs and gifts for friends. They look great hanging by the window.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

It was a poetic end to a long but absolutely fun day exploring Yehliu, Jiufen, Jinguashi and Shifen. No trip to Taiwan would be complete without seeing all these locations at least once.

Travel in a Day by car: Yehliu 野柳 > Jiufen 九份 > Jinguashi 金瓜石 > Shifen 十分

More on Taiwan:
Taiwan – Blooming Delights and Cultural Richness in Daxi 大溪
Taiwan – Nature’s Wonders at Yehliu Geopark 野柳地質公園
Taiwan – Jiufen’s 九份 Golden Nostalgia
Taiwan – Urban Respite at Beitou Hot Springs 北投溫泉
Taiwan – Tamsui 淡水:Of Romantic Sunsets & Tantalizing Snacks
Taiwan – Jingguashi 金瓜石:Goldmine of Yesteryear
Taiwan – SHIFEN十分放天灯: Sending Wishes to the Sky
Taiwan – Sun Moon Lake 日月潭: Picturesque Nature

Explore Taiwan with Spunktitud3!


Getting to Shifen

By Bus:
MRT Muzha Station (捷運木柵站) -> No. 15 Taipei Bus (台北客運15路公車) -> Shifen (十分)

By Train:
1. Take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) at the Taipei Railway Station (TRA). It’s where Taipei Main Station is – follow the underground signs to get to TRA. Train schedule: http://twtraffic.tra.gov.tw/twrail/English/e_index.aspx
2. Alight at Ruifang Station and buy tickets for the Pingxi Line (平溪支線). Take the train to Shifen Railway Station (十分火車站). Rides are unlimited on the Pingxi Line.

Taking a Taxi from Ruifang Station
You can save some time by taking the train to Ruifang Station, and taking a taxi there. The prices are regulated by the authorities and clearly indicated, so the taxi drivers cannot overcharge. Save even more by sharing a taxi with other travelers going the same way.
Single destinations: Jiufen (九份): NT180; Jinguashi (金瓜石); NT240, Shifenliao (十分): NT480; Shuangxi (双溪): NT600
Packaged destinations:
– Package A (NT$1,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街)
– Package B (NT$2,300)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
– Package C (NT$2,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Yehliu Geopark (野柳风景区)
– Package D (NT$2,800)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
*Prices for reference only. Check the prices when you are there.

Driver
If you are looking to hire a driver, you can consider Mr Liu 刘先生. He’s a burly uncle who used to be a truck driver, and very honest. He charged us a very reasonable per day rate, brought us to all the places where the locals went, and none of those touristy crap. And we felt safe with him. You can give him a try if you wish. Mr Liu’s Mobile: (0)988-121-529.

Another contact you can try is Lucky Zhao +886 913 185 157, slightly pricier but good service and speaks well.


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Look of the Day – Monochrome

monochrome

PVC Cut-out Top: From Hong Kong
Skirt: Jil Sander
Studded sneakers: Christian Louboutin
Sling Bag: Daily Dolly

Wonder Anatomie

Necklace: Wonder Anatomie

monochrome

Hair Ribbon: Topshop Semi-precious stone bracelets: DIY

Crystal Bracelets

Lots & Lots of Bracelets: From Korea

Karen Walker

Silver round shades: Karen Walker