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Bhutan – The Craft of Tsho Lham Bootmaking

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingSomething which I really wanted from Bhutan were their traditional boots – it was love at first sight when I first saw them on the feet of a Bhutanese gentleman some time ago. To me, it felt like wearing like an amalgamation of Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage on my feet. Plus they made me look five inches taller LOL.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingI asked my guide at least six times when we were going to buy my boots from the moment I arrived. At last we came to a traditional boot-making shop in the capital city of Thimphu.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingApart from boots, the shop makes ceremonial face masks that are used at tshechus (festivals).

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham Bootmaking

These traditional knee-length boots known as tshoglham, came to Bhutan with Zhabdrung (great Tibetan lamas) in 1616. They were worn by Bhutanese men (usually noblemen) during formal and festive occasions, and they were padded with aromatic pine needles for warmth and comfort. The present King of Bhutan attended his coronation wearing a pair of traditional Bhutanese boots designed by Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo.
(Images from Kuensel and Italy Magazine)

As the craft of boot-making (tsho lham) involves needlework on leather and silk, it is categorized under the art of appliqué and embroidery (tshem zo) in Zorig Chusum, the Thirteen Traditional Crafts of Bhutan. Craftsmen in the villages also make simple boots from uncured leather.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingOne interesting fact that I discovered – culturally, tshoglhams are worn by people according to their social status. The colour of the middle part of the boot (tshoglham kor) designates the rank of the wearer – yellow is reserved for the King and Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot), orange for ministers, red for high-ranking officials, blue for members of the Parliament or National Council, and green for normal citizens. And that, I only knew after an excruciating 20 minutes of trying to decide which colour to choose. Looks like it was a no-brainer from the start afterall lol.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingBy the end of the 20th century, only ministers (lyonpo or lyonchhen) and Dasho (royal government officials awarded the honorary title by the King) were the only people left wearing these boots, and the craft of boot-making faced the threat of dying out. Traditional boot-making involves very time-consuming and difficult work, and the demand for such boots is undeniably small, being limited to dancers, high-ranking monks and officials who need no more than two pairs in a lifetime, as well as the occasional tourist.

The relatively high price of these boots also make them unaffordable for most Bhutanese – an ordinary pair cost about 1,800 Bhutanese Ngultrums (USD30), and can go up to over 6,000 Bhutanese Ngultrums (USD150) for a more elaborately embroided and quality pair. (The average monthly disposable income of a Bhutanese is about USD235.24) Hence, the craftsmen also face the threat of much cheaper tsholghams from Kalimpong and Jaigon, West Bengal.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham Bootmaking

As people gradually preferred more comfortable and practical styles of footwear – there was only one Royal Bootmaker Shabgye Tshoglam Wangdi left in the whole of Bhutan and he was unable to find any apprentices to pass on his craftsmanship to. Ap Wangdi had learnt the craft from a master in Tibet and was the only person who could make tshoglhams for the members of the royal family and senior civil servants.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingThe revival of this craft finally caught the attention of the Bhutanese government, who in 1999 invited Ap Wangdi, through the Nationel Technical Training Authority (NTTA) to teach the art of bootmaking at the Zorig Chusum Institute. By 2002, five masters and 16 apprentices were produced at the Institute.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingTo create work for the new craftsmen, the Royal Civil Service Commission then established a code of etiquette where civil servants were required to wear tshoglhams during official events, thus creating demand for these young bootmakers.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingHAPPINESS! Simply elated I finally got my boots. Each pair is tailor-made to your measurements, and take from 4 days to 2 weeks on average to make depending on the complexity of the design and availability of the craftsmen.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham Bootmaking

Although the main design of tshoglham has not changed, the materials have changed – thin leather soles have been replaced with thick rubber soles to make them more comfortable, and customers can bring their own design for the shaft of the boot or request to add zippers. Lham, the female version of tshoglhams, are being designed and recently, half-tshoglhams have also surfaced. While it is inevitable that footwear needs to evolve with the modern times, we need to be mindful that an item with that much cultural heritage and tradition is not drastically altered.

Bhutan - The Craft of Tsho Lham BootmakingFor me, I will stick to the traditional tshoglham. This original tall shaft design is typically worn by men, while the modern ones with high heels or platforms are for women (so they can look taller!). I would have bought every colour available if not for the fact that I was only allowed to buy the civilian green colour (yes culture does come before money for the Bhutanese). So looking forward to strutting down the street with a representation of Bhutan at my feet :)
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan

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Makko Teck Neo – Little Peranakan Cafe with Irresistible Pineapple Tarts

Makko Teck NeoEvery year, my aunt never fails to gives us loads of Chinese New Year goodies labelled with the name “Teck Neo.” I will usually start on the pineapple tarts first, and they are usually half gone when Chinese New Year finally arrives. I found that out of all the numerous pineapple tarts I have tasted over the years, Teck Neo is one of the most consistently delicious ones – melt-in-the-mouth buttery crust, not overly-sweet crunchy pineapple filling with a Peranakan oomph. I later learnt that they were the ones who supplied these tasty morsels during the APEC Summit in Singapore.
Makko Teck NeoMy interest (or rather, gluttony) piqued, I wanted to know more about them and found out that they operated a café tucked away in the sleepy heartland of Blk 35 Telok Blangah Rise.

Makko Teck NeoYou can’t miss the block from the road, for sure :)

Makko Teck NeoIt would be easy to miss Makko Teck Neo’s little Peranakan café located at the end of the block, if not for the people happily eating at the al fresco area in front of the entrance.

Makko Teck NeoUnlike the usually showy Peranakan restaurants plastered with a blinding number of Peranakan décor, Makko Teck Neo is fuss-free, preferring to focus on churning out authentic and affordable Peranakan dishes. Her family helps out at the café too.

Makko Teck NeoThe cafe offers different dishes on each day of the week while some signature dishes such as dry mee siam, nasi lemak and Nonya pork chop are available daily.

Makko Teck NeoThe space is not big, but they do pretty brisk business especially during lunch time. Makko Teck Neo does catering as well.

Makko Teck NeoPineapple tarts are undoubtedly the star of the show. I like the mini pineapple tarts, which makes eating them feel only half as guilty haha. But being so tiny, it also means it’s easier to pop the whole jar into your mouth without realising it, hee.

Makko Teck NeoDon’t lose control…don’t lose control…helppp! Just looking at the wide variety of Chinese New Year goodies is enough to make me happy :D I’ll think about diet later…

Makko Teck NeoI buy the home-made nonya kueh once I reach now – the first time, I waited till I finished my meal to buy, almost everything was gone :S Some which I think are a must-try are the rempah udang (spicy shrimp fillings in glutinous rice rolls), kueh salat kaya (Pandan egg coconut milk custard on glutinous rice), kueh lopes (glutinous rice cake served with palm sugar syrup) and kueh dar dar (gula melaka coconut in pandan crepe roll).

Makko Teck NeoAnd go for the Nonya meat dumplings – they are the BEST I have eaten. Furthermore, they come decorated with nature’s best dye – a bluish extract from the blue pea flower. It’s as Peranakan as it can get.

Makko Teck NeoBon appetite!

Makko Teck NeoThe al fresco area is named the “Tok Panjang” corner, which translates to “long table feast” usually associated with Peranakan weddings and special occasions. Peranakans practice such sharing during meals to bring closeness to the family, relatives and friends, and signifies prosperity and joy.

Makko Teck NeoOne of my favourite dish – the dry mee siam. I was crazy enough to specially cab there to-and-fro just to eat this, haha. It’s slightly on the sweet side compared to the usual Malay-style spicy mee siam. Makko Teck NeoRempah Ayam Goreng (Crispy Fragrant Fried Chicken)
Finger lickin’ good.

Makko Teck Neo Rice with pineapple salad
I bought extra pineapple salad home. ‘Nuff said.

Makko Teck NeoAssam Fish Curry (Patin Fish in Spicy Tamarind Curry Gravy)

Makko Teck NeoNonya Ngoh Hiang (Fried Meat Roll)
You have to order this…it’s really good!

Makko Teck NeoAnd the finale of the meal – a lovely Burbur Cha Cha (sweet dessert of coconut milk with sweet potatoes, yam and tapioca pearls). It is one of the more authentic ones in Singapore, still retaining the robust taste of how this Peranakan dessert should be.

If you are looking for a casual place serving authentic Peranakan delicacies which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, give Makko Tack Neo a try. With Chinese New Year just round the corner, it’s also a great place to buy some goodies home and share the love (and carbs) with the family :)

Makko Teck Neo
Blk 35 Teloh Blangah Rise, #01-303 Singapore 090035
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 7:30AM – 9:00PM
Tel: +65 6275 1330
Email: sales@teckneotarts.com
Website: www.teckneotarts.com
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Taiwan – Living in History at 銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

欢迎来到銃樓民宿 Welcome to Chong Lou Minsu!

When visiting heritage-rich Kinmen, there is nowhere better to stay than a historical resident house. These traditional southern Fujianese 闽南 buildings often came with a rich history and heartening stories as Kinmen was the site of fierce fighting between Communist and Nationalist forces when the latter withdrew from the mainland in 1949. I stayed at Chong Lou Minsu 銃樓民宿 located in the Shuitou village cluster.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

One of the most distinguishing cultural characteristics of Kinmen would be the red-bricked Min-Nan style architecture and villages, mirroring those found in Zhangzhou and Quanzhou where most Kinmenese immigrants came from.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Shuitou in Jinchen Town was a community inhabited mostly by the Huang clan. The 18-house complex of the Huang clan, constructed during the Qian-lung reign is characterized by its lower gates and walls, wide roofs, smooth and flat stone plates in the yards, and alleys between houses leading to narrow passes.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Spotting the signage for our minsu

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Chong Lou Minsu was the movie setting for a Taiwanese idol drama Summer Fever 戀夏38℃. It was the home of the main actor Ah Kuan 阿宽。This signage at the entrance was left untouched after the movie was completed. It’s also easier for us to identify which is our minsu out of the umpteen houses along the row!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Poster of Summer Fever proudly displayed in the minsu

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

这不是阿宽,是阿凯 This is not Ah Kuan, but Ah Kai who loves to get into my camera frame lol. Scoot! :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Looking at the western-style Quanzhou white stone wall house built in 1934, I felt like I stepped back into history. Nice.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Shuitou villagers mostly engaged in agriculture or fishery, which may explain the use of fishes to adorn the house exterior. Fishes also mean abundance “鱼=余” in Chinese so it’s a prosperity symbol.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

OMG, this is the first time I am seeing a hand-drawn well pump, and it works! Someone quick pass me a bucket of clothes to wash haha!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

I may be living in history, but I still have wifi to link me back to civilization! Phew, and I was just about to hunt for carrier pigeons ☺

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

An air of serenity greeted me at Kinmen; everything just slowed down and bade me to enjoy the calmness…a hard-earned one considering the years of war the island had gone through.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Say ni hao to the minsu owner Sister Li. She is a burst of energy and so friendly! She used to drive a 小蜜蜂 or Little Bee, which is a truck selling snacks and everything you can think of to the army boys around Kinmen. Maybe that’s why she has a motherly feel about her, and very huggable haha!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The main hall of the minsu decorated with cultural momentos and memorabilia

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The wind-lion god 風獅爺 is something very symbolic of Kinmen. Seen here as part of a chess set.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Side hall

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Little courtyard perfect for a little chat or intimate meal gatherings

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Kitchen

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Chong Lou has rooms that can accommodate 1 to 8 people. They come with the essential basic amenities such as air-con, TV, wifi and ensuite bathroom.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Exploring the rooms upstairs

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Large enough for the whole family or a group of friends

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

I was intrigued by the stairwell with an iron grille. In the past, residents would lock up this stairwell when they slept at night to prevent pirates from sneaking in and kidnapping them. Of course, there is no need for that now.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

And here’s my cosy little room! Shucks I should have brought my cheongsam to match the ambience lol

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Toilet equipped with bath towels and shampoo/bath gel. And flushing system :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

It’s a nice, sunny day to explore Chong Lou’s surroundings!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Most of the Min Nan style houses here are relatively well-preserved. I was soaking in the atmosphere with much enthusiasm, and couldn’t stop taking photos.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Jinshui Elementary School
The building of Jinshui Elementary School in 1931 at the sponsorship of overseas Shuitou natives marked the beginning of new-style school architecture in Kinmen. During the Japanese occupation, the school had served as a wartime makeshift hospital. It was later transformed into an elementary school.

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

A very important place to note just opposite the school – food! :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Look what I spotted growing just beside Deyue Tower 得月楼 – a tree full of longans! Yumz!!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

All in a day’s work

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

The minsu provides a hearty breakfast. Just come eat with the rest of the guests at the communal dining hall, very village-feeling indeed. And a great way to make friends :)

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

This Cantonese porridge, a Kinmen delicacy, was chockful of ingredients and delish to the max! And I am still thinking of it…

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

Bon Appetite!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

A group photo of us all from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore
We may come from different parts of Asia, but we are one happy big family in Kinmen!

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu, Kinmen 金门

And the 2 monkeys showing how much they enjoyed Kinmen :D

銃樓民宿 Chong Lou Minsu
金門鎮金城鎮前水頭84號
Tel: 0980 988 077 / 0919 761 231 (Look for 李碧玉 Li-jie/Sister Li)
Website: www.5657.com.tw/baewan
Email: libe03@yahoo.com.tw

Getting to Kinmen
You can reach Kinmen by domestic flight in approximately 1 hour. Flights are aplenty daily from 3 domestic carriers from Kao Hsiung, Taipei, Taichung or Tainan. You will fly to Kinmen Airport金門尚義機場。

Another way to get to Kinmen is via Xiamen International Ferry Terminal or just from Wutong port which is close to Xiamen airport (around 30 mins). Another way is from Quanzhou Shijin port which takes about one hour (Taiwan passport only).

When to go Kinmen?
Kinmen worth visiting all year round. The annual average temperature is around 21 degrees Celsius, though it can get quite hot in summer (hats and sunscreen are a must unless you are aiming for aboriginal-worthy tan skin). There are northeasterly winds during the winter and the rainy season runs from April through to September. Travel between Taiwan and Kinmen is often affected by heavy fog during early Spring.

In spring, admire the golden sea of rapeseed flowers. In summer, hang out on the beach. Autumn is the best season to feast on fat yellow fish and crabs. Come winter, migratory birds make for an impressive sight.

Map of Kinmen: bit.ly/KinmenMap

Getting to Chong Lou Minsu
Map:
http://www.5657.com.tw/baewan/p04.htm
Public Transport: Take the public bus from Kinmen Shang Yi airport to Jincheng Bus Station金城車站, change to Bus 7 towards Shuitou Village水頭村莊. Alight at Li Gong Suo Zhan 里公所站, turn left and walk 1 minute to the minsu.

Pick-up from airport or car rental (with GPS navigation) can be arranged by the minsu, contact Sister Li via mobile or email for more details. You can ask the minsu to help arrange for sight-seeing activities as well. I would recommend getting a driver/self-drive if you can so as to save travelling time and see more attractions. It’s pretty affordable.

Read more posts on Kinmen
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