Monday, 27 June 2011

Preview: The Temple Of The Emerald Buddha

Meet the Emerald Buddha.

This cheeky little chap is a good example of how size sometimes doesn't matter. Despite only being 66cm high and tubby 48cm wide, he has managed to gather an entire temple complex around him...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Preview: The Petronas Towers

About four years ago, I fell in love with a city.

That city was Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. I had spent the previous week somewhere on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia (i.e. the bit connected to Thailand), preparing for a job that was eventually cancelled. With that cancellation came a flight back to the UK, which naturally had to go via Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and so I requested a couple of days stopover in Kuala Lumpur, which my work granted. I had heard good things about the city, so felt I should give it a quick hello while I was in the area.

Like gazing at a divine frock-clad goddess poised elegantly on the other side of the room, it was love at first sight. Except unlike the goddess, who would keep moving away nervously before finally having me arrested (honestly, love, I was just trying be friendly), Kuala Lumpur embraced me. It was two days of heaven, ambling about in a daze simply enjoying the friendly atmosphere, and staying in an affordable but wonderful hotel.

The hotel - the Hotel Maya: I strongly recommend it - overlooked KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre), a development in the heart of the city's commercial district, the Golden Triangle. This landscaped area, with paths and ponds and green and grassy areas was the very model of a bustling but relaxed urban centre, with families and tourists and businesspeople all merging into a wholesome utopian society blur; and right in the middle were the two massive 452 metre spires of the Petronas Twin Towers.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Preview: Marina Bay Sands

The majority of mankind's fantastic buildings and monuments have been built for worship. Stretching back thousands of years, churches, mosques, temples and tombs have been constructed for the worship of a variety of gods or the venerated deceased. For all that religion may be maligned by today's Dawkinsian posses or by twig-waving new-agers, there is no doubt that religious fervour has inspired a fantastic amount of the magnificent monuments that grace the earth.

But before the imams, monks and gurus get too smug about their architectural achievements, and start sarcastically asking atheists how many beautiful buildings have been raised in tribute of Darwin or the double helix, let us look at what the modern man now worships. Christ, Shiva, Mohamed and their pals may still have plenty of supporters, but they've kind of dropped out of the more fashionable circles. And while generations of followers once ploughed their resources into pleasing these otherworldly deities with world-class buildings, these days there is a new god in town: commerce.

The Marina Bay Sands in Singapore makes absolutely no pretence at anything otherwise. It is the most modern building on my list, and is resolutely built for profit. Costing a grand total of about $8 billion Singapore dollars - about £4 billion - the developers, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, were clearly hedging their bets that their reward would be not in heaven but in good old-fashioned earthly profit. And as all gamblers (claim to) know, don't bet against the bookmakers. Together with its fellow resort-casino, the Resorts World Sentosa, the only other casino permitted in Singapore, it was estimated to have made the equivalent of £2.5bn in profit last year, with this figured projected to keep rising, which would come close to outdoing the entire Las Vegas strip.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Preview: Borobudur

Sometimes the best way to save something is to forget all about it.*

The Buddhist pyramid temple of Borobudur is a good example, being lost for over a thousand years in the jungle of Java, Indonesia, but beautifully preserved as a result. Losing the biggest Buddhist temple in the world after spending three generations building it may seen like a careless thing to do, but they did things differently back then; besides, it's amazing what a little volcanic ash and jungle growth can do.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Preview: Sydney Opera House

Let's be honest, when you think of Australia, culture isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind. Beaches, the outback, putting shrimps on the barbie, dangerous and improbable animals, Harold from Neighbours, sporting prowess, and running over aborigines all spring to mind, but a refined centre of the cultural arts does not.

Most modern-day residents of Sydney, I have no doubt, would not be greatly concerned at this observation, simply shrugging as they poured yet more Foster's down their throats and another aborigine disappeared over their bonnet. But this was a different picture in 1950s Sydney, where the residents - or the upper echelons at least - began expressing discontent at the lack of suitable venues for the performing arts. The then premier of New South Wales, John Joseph "J. J." Cahill, got on board and on 8th November, 1954, he announced "Crack open the tinnies, cobbers, we're going to build a bloody big opera house." (Or words to that effect.)

What then happened was one of those convergences of improbable fortune that when blended with just enough vigour results in something unlikely and marvellous. Something wonderful. Because by all rights, instead of the iconic sail-like structure that now adorns Sydney harbour, we should really have had this:

Monday, 6 June 2011

Summer Beckons

Before the travelling commences, there is the small matter of summer.

Just a couple of days ago, I returned home from my last job with my now-former company and am savouring the prospect of a summer of unemployment. For those that may not have been familiar with my movements over the last five years, I have been working for a small oil service company that provides pressure and temperature data for oil companies, usually for exploratory wells but increasingly for completion and production purposes also. If none of that makes much sense to you, don't worry - it frequently didn't make much sense to me either. Nonetheless, it was a fantastically interesting job that sent me round the world to the most unlikeliest of locations and I cannot imagine any job in the last five years having suited me so well.

My previous blog at pretty much covered the highs and lows of this offshore existence.