I know many bloggers and travel writers do blog while on the road – I rarely do! However, I will be posting a photo a day.
Why? Well, I’m always too busy ‘doing’ ‘observing’ ‘photographing’ – as well as eating and generally ‘experiencing’ rather than writing.
As some of you know I will be at music and cultural festivals, I’ll also be exploring and hiking in national parks, snorkeling in warm waters, and, and and – so lots to follow in my daily photos and then the future blogs on this site.
So, if you want to follow my travels in Malaysia, (Sabah, Sarawak Penang, & KL) and Mongolia) follow me on my Traveling Writer Facebook page, and/or my KiwiTravelWriter Instagram page as I plan on posting a photo a day during my adventures over the five weeks I’m on the road. (I’m leaving NZ 30th June and back on 7th August)
Then, if you want to read my blogs after I have digested all I saw and experienced on these travels (And get notified by email as they are published) make sure you sign up for this blog on the top right of this blog page.
Now I will zip up my bags and head off to the airport – see you back here in August.
Of course you can read any of the some 1300 blogs I’ve written since 2008 – just use the search box by topic, country, year or word.
In 2 weeks’ time I’m off to Mongolia, so have been doing a little research. It seems the Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th century was the largest land empire that ever existed – stretching from Korea to Hungary and most of Asia (not India or Southeast Asia) and it lasted for over a century.
While I’m there I’ll be attending Naadam – an annual, traditional festival: which, in 2010, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
I’m looking forward to “the 3 games of men” of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. It seems women now take part in the archery and horse racing games and I’m expecting to get some great photos in this, the biggest festival in the Mongolian calendar.
One of the things that confused me about Mongolia were the terms Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia. Wikipedia tells me that Outer Mongolia ( where I will be) is an independent, landlocked democracy, between China and Russia. Inner Mongolia was, or is, the part of the country closest to China and is not really part of the country known as Mongolia. I have no doubt I will be learning a lot in the 10 days I’m there!
I’ll be based in Ulaanbaatar, where about half of the of the 3 million population live, and expect to be posting on Instagram and Facebook (The Travelling Writer) while there – my blogs will follow once I’m back in New Zealand and had digested all I’ve seen and learnt.
Staying in this ever-changing, emerging city is, for me, best done by having accommodation in the city centre, so thought I’d tell you about the hotel I was hosted in earlier this year. Breakfree on Cashel (Street) impressed me as soon as I arrived as, the electric jug was easily able to be inserted under a tap for filling: why is this simple thing so rare around the world!
More and more is opening in post-quake-five-years-on Christchurch and I’m excited to be going down again in a couple of weeks – this time for the WORD Writers and Readers Festival in the newly opened The Piano Centre for Music and the Arts( official opening in Sept) at the end of New Regent St and directly behind The Isaac Theatre Royal
Guards, in crisp khaki uniforms, insist I cannot go into the palace. They do not believe Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar is really expecting someone like me – after all, I’ve arrived on foot, tired and dusty, carrying a backpack. Royal guests usually arrive by private plane and taxi.
Twenty–two generations ago, Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore, the celebrated Indian Queen renowned for her piety, charity, and statecraft, built a fort at Maheshwar on the banks of the holy Narmada River. Now her direct descendant, Prince Richard, son of the last Maharaja of Indore, hosts a few people in the restored palace and, when I finally get past the guards, I too become one of those royal guests.
With its whitewashed walls and wooden beams, it is hard to imagine it as he saw it when he returned from France. Several decades of bat droppings and dust covered everything and chipmunks and snakes were living in its decaying walls. Restoring one room at a time, and replanting the gardens in traditional style, has been a long process: the result, fantastic.
Arriving by way of a 36-hour train trip, then two buses and a 2 km walk, has been challenging. Inadvertently leaving my guidebook on the train, when it finally arrived at 5am, I was relying on memory of a quick read to find my way.
On the first bus, an irate, moustached man insists the driver has given me his seat and I should sit in the back. Not wanting to get nauseous, and not able to change his determination that I should move, I move right off the bus and find another where I can sit near the front.
Travelling over a long hilly part of the road, on a hairpin bend, the bus suddenly changes to driving on the right-hand side the road. Luckily so does all the other transport too. Cars, taxis, buses and trucks all display images of the one of the pantheon of Hindu divinities, the amorous Krishna, bloodthirsty Kali, or the elephant-headed Ganesh – they seem to protect the vehicles, and me too, and I’m soon safely in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh – the very heart of India – physically and culturally.
Next morning, from the 300-year old Ghats below the palace walls, I hear a steady plop, plop, plopping sound. When I look I see it’s from women washing their clothes, many using wooden paddles to beat them clean. From the breakfast terrace, the views down to the ghats and the river that runs east to west, means the sunrise and sunset are spectacular.
Maheshwar is seeped in rhythms and traditions – its two favourite and biggest festivals are Shivratri and Muharram. Fortuitously I’ve arrived in this small town of some 20,000 in time for Muharram. “It’s the biggest day in our Maheshwar calendar,” the prince tells me.
It has been said that where the holy Narmada flows only Shiva is worshiped – for he is the only god who has the tranquilly to calm her. However once a year, locals, no matter their religion, commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in AD 680. The prophet’s son-in-law Ali, and Ali’s elder son Hassan, are also remembered during this period as having suffered and died for righteous causes.
It seemed the entire town turns out watch both Hindu and Muslims carry tazias (replicas of the martyr’s tombs) through the streets before sinking them in the river.
“In most places all over the world this is a time of mourning, but we celebrate them as martyred saints too. They are holy men who died for truth and we mourn their deaths too,” a Hindu man tells me.
It’s taken a month to build the palace tazia: these replicas of the martyr’s tombs take on various shapes and sizes. Many have a pari, an angel, on the front, representing the angel who aided the martyr’s ascent to heaven.
Men cut intricate designs into white paper then paste it over coloured paper before covering the wooden frames. Some tazia have coconuts hanging from them and it seems each nut represents a wish or a prayer.
Shia Muslims in many parts of India (and the world) observe the event in this, the first month of the muslin calendar, the month of mourning. Maheshwar adds an extra day to the remembrance and the night before the carrying of the tazia I fall asleep to the sound of drums throbbing and beating.
Next day I am up very early and walk around this friendly town. While some people are still sleeping on porches beside their tazia, other men and boys are adding last minute touches their works of art, all happy for me to photograph them and explain the festival.
Drums are again beating all over town – round ones, double and single sided – and tazia are carried, on men’s shoulders, through the town to the place where the procession will start.
I return to the palace for breakfast. The guards, now my new best friends (we laugh about them not letting me in when I arrived) salute as I go through the huge gates, then into the peace of one of the palaces five courtyards.
The Ahilya Fort tazia is ready to be sent on its way: the prince, dressed as always in traditional clothes, arrives for the prayers at the tazia before its procession to the river. The few other guests arrive to witness the noisy event. Among the smoke, incense and drumbeats, Hindu and Muslim stand beside the prince as he prays or pays homage in front of the large frame of wood and paper mausoleum. At the end of the small ritual, all are given roats (biscuits made of flour, clarified butter, sugar and dry fruits) which are made especially for the tazia ceremony.
Drummers and young boys carrying smoking incense lead the way. Although the streets have some women, the parade mostly consists of men and boys, their hats are of velvet, satin, or brocade, and, while some are decorated with gold or sequins, many worn by Muslims are white to show they have been on a hajj to Mecca. Young children squat in the centre of the narrow roads so the tazia, carried high on men’s shoulders, will pass over them, believing it will bring them good health.
People place incense in the earthenware containers the young boys are carrying or that sit before each tazia. People pass their hands through or over the smoke, some putting their palms to their face or touch their forehead, the smoke wafting over their heads.
Other men walk ahead of each tazia carrying long poles with wooden triangular shapes on the top, which they use to hold up the countless wires that line, cross, and recross the streets so the tazia isn’t caught in them.
“Yah Hassan, yah Hussein,” they chant as the carry the replica through the streets and down to the ghats on the riverbank where they need to be immersed by sundown – sandhya – a time of transition.
Tazia’s are loaded onto boats that rock alarmingly with the number of men jostling get on too. Traditional boats are poled and paddled to the middle of the river. I am in one too, albeit without a tazia, so I can see the finale up close. Muslim and Hindu men call and wave, happy it seems to have a little boat of westerners watch the rituals.
Tipping the tomb replicas overboard, they make sure they sink immediately by pushing it down with hands or poles while still chanting ‘Yah Hassan, yah Hussein.’
Hindu shrines line this river: pieces of sculpture daubed with orange are propped against trees or walls, and huge temples provide a photographic skyline. I’m glad to watch this juxtaposition of two of the world’s major religions as they combine to observe a major Muslim event, on one of Hindu’s holy rivers.
The web page of the Confucius Institute at Victoria University says it “is dedicated to promoting artistic, cultural and intellectual exchange between China and New Zealand. Through exhibitions, concerts, festivals, lectures, workshops and courses, we bring you closer to the heart and mind of one of the most important and enduring civilisations in the world.”
Recently I went to Confucius Festival on the Wellington waterfront. I love attending events like these: it’s sort of travelling when you’re not travelling! (I’ve never been to China so these are a bonus)
I have just been asked for permission to use this for secondary students – which I have given. I’ve not put it on my blog before – it was published a few years ago as a guest post for 2camels about worldwide festivals. See their website for a couple of other festivals that I’ve written for them.
My weapon of choice was a bright green, double-barreled, pump-action, water pistol. Never has New Year been so much fun!
Everyone is armed. Old and young, all have buckets, bottles, hoses, urns, water guns and even the fire tender is on hand to add to the total sum of water. Much of the liquid is gold coloured and yellow flowers float in it. The crowd is sprayed, monks and police officers are as wet as everyone else is. The smiling Thais love to see Farangs (foreigners) joining in the celebrations and fun.
What is all this festivity about? It’s a festival called Songkran in Thailand and each April Buddhists observe the Buddhist New Year.
Buddha images are dowsed with water and carried in processions around the temple and streets to the accompaniment of music, laughter, and water water water! The water blesses and purifies everything. Homes are cleaned ready for family and friends visiting to celebrate new beginnings.
My first day, of the three of the fun and games, was at the temple Wat Phochai in the little city of Nong Khai on the banks of the mighty Mekong River (bordering Laos) and off the tourist trail, I was one of only five or six visitors there so became a real target for being constantly blessed – by being dowsed.
“Farang, farang” the cry goes up.
“No! No!” I join in the fun, “Khon Thai. Khon Thai” I call. They laugh at this visitor thinking she is Thai. By nine in the morning I’m soaking wet – long before I’ve reached the temple steps.
The atmosphere is a mixture of reverence and fun, prayers and laughter, dancing and music.
‘Come with us – come’ a woman calls. Captured, or adopted, by a family as they dance out of the temple grounds, I too dance after the pied-piper-like man playing his khaen, a flute-like reed instrument. . . .
I was confused at my first jazz festival. I thought jazz was the music I listened to on the streets of New Orleans but not all the performers and their music were like that at the Christchurch Jazz Festival (New Zealand). I loved the music but I wasn’t sure it was jazz!
I also heard music that was labelled jazz at WOMAD New Plymouth (NZ) – I thought it was big band or ska so knew I was missing something.
Now that I’m off the annual Borneo Jazz Festival (Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia) it’s time to do some research (via Google) but find even the people writing about it there have different opinions – but there are many similarities.
Wiki tells me: ‘Jazz is a type of African-American music that originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the Southern United States as a combination of European harmony and forms with African musical elements such as blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note. Jazz has also incorporated elements of American popular music.
It goes on ‘As it spread around the world, jazz drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, giving rise to many distinctive styles’ and it was in this list I started to recognise styles I knew; New Orleans jazz, big band swing, 1940s bebop, and ska jazz.
Think the quote attributed to Louis Armstrong, sums it up for me! He was one of the most famous musicians in jazz when he said to Bing Crosby on the latter’s radio show, “Ah, swing, well, we used to call it syncopation, then they called it ragtime, then blues, then jazz. Now, it’s swing. White folks – yo’all sho is a mess!”
So seems I was not alone in being confused, a ’mess’ I carried on reading then and thought a blog about ‘What is Jazz?’ seemed a way to clarify it for me and anyone else who is all a mess too.
Here are some bullet points about what I learnt: ( thanks to the people and pages quotes)
In a 1988 interview, trombonist J. J. Johnson said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will”.
In a CNN OPINION ( @CNNOpinion) piece Jonathan Batiste (Stay Human Band and is the associate artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.(@jonbatiste) said ‘This is an impossible question, and one with many answers.’
. . . contemporary jazz seems too circuitous for most listeners to enjoy casually. The challenge for the contemporary jazz musician, as I see it, is making this subtle and complex art palatable to the greater public. Jazz is complex.
. . . to play jazz is to contribute to world history. To be a part of this tradition means that you are challenged to transform other people with the sound of your instrument. You are challenged to swing. You are challenged to contribute to the body of work established by some of the greatest artistic minds of all time, work that includes these treasures:
• A performance of “Fine and Mellow” by Billie Holiday, Lester Young and others from a CBS television broadcast in New York on December 8, 1957.
• “It Don’t Mean A Thing” by Duke Ellington features catchy vocals, hard swing, jazz violin and awesome horn section parts that epitomize what the jazz tradition is all about.
• “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” from the album by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. It is a supreme example of the blues with utmost sophistication and feeling. The way Duke accompanies Satchmo is masterful, and the personality of the two of them signifies what jazz is all about.
Jazz is an experience; it’s all about the moment – it’s the language that we use to state our deepest, truest feelings; It is the American art form that is globally owned. (Jonathan Batiste).
“The most pressing, in my opinion is “What Is Jazz?” Or, more to the point, “What Is Jazz Right At This Moment?” The old definitions, which themselves were inadequate and vague, composed of personal biases and half-truths, are now completely antiquated. Just think about the difference between what defined the simple telephone thirty years ago, compared to today’s reality of what a telephone is. And compare today’s smartphones to what a telephone was just five years ago. The more you think about it, the more you realize not only how far things have come, and how quickly they are changing, but how much your own initial definitions are rooted in long-held ideas that no longer apply. “
“While these definitions still apply to some of Our Music, it is no longer descriptive of the entire purview of Jazz. Electric and electronic instruments now share the stage with the classic horns, strings and keyboards that have been standard instrumentation almost since the very beginning. It is incorporating more world music from Middle Eastern to Asian.
None of that really answers the question of what Jazz is right now, possibly because that is virtually impossible to define. Jazz is a living thing, Jazz breathes, it grows, it changes, it adapts.
“in the moment” this is called improvisation and is the defining /key element of jazz
There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble: individual freedom but with responsibility to the group. In other words, individual musicians have the freedom to express themselves on their instrument as long as they maintain their responsibility to the other musicians by adhering to the overall framework and structure of the tune
it’s kind of like musical conversation.
is like a language.
the spontaneity heard (or “felt”) in jazz requires the listener to be alert at all times to the ever-changing aspects of a given interpretation of a tune.
the same jazz tune (song) is never performed the same way twice; while it might start and end the same, the middle part is played differently every time.
In jazz, it’s more about the way a song is played, rather than what song is played.
In order to be able to hear the difference, you’ve got to listen a lot; the more you listen to a particular jazz musician, the more you’re able to recognize that player by his/her sound alone.
Jazz is hard to play but good players make it look easy.
I’ve just been sent the media release music lovers will love – be a volunteer at the wonderful Rainforest World Music Festival. I attended it in 2013 and it’s great! (see my blogs and photos in this blog)
The 17th annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF), to be held in Kuching city, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo as well as the 9th annual Borneo Jazz and 2nd annual Asia Music Festival, both to be held in Miri city, Sarawak is currently accepting applications for volunteers. ( see website www.rwfm.net )
Festivals project coordinators, Fiza (left), and Mona showing the volunteer form
The 2014 RWMF will be held on June 20th – 22nd, while the Borneo Jazz 2014 and Asia Music Festival 2014 will be held on May 9th – 10th and October 3rd – 4th respectively.
The Festivals are made possible year after year because of the hard work of over 200 volunteers yearly. Next year, all the three Festivals are looking for individuals or groups to help in the logistics, technical and operational aspects of the event management, event marketing and its operational plan. This volunteer program is designed to provide an overall understanding of the operational aspects of the festivals in order to ensure the success of the musical events organized by Sarawak Tourism Board.
Those interested to volunteer for these musical events in Malaysia may register respectively on RWMF website at www.rwmf.net, Borneo Jazz website www.jazzborneo and Asia Music Festival Website www.asiamusicfestival.net. This is only the application process where those interested in taking part are registered, while the successful applicants will later be notified via email or telephone.
The festival event management areas will require volunteer skills as liaison officer for performing artists, as well as schleppers for handling of the musical instruments among others. These volunteers are required to work during the workshop as well as concert and practice sessions. Volunteers for the event marketing management will participate in sales promotion, product development of festival tour packages, management information, media and public relations program as well as Media Centre operation. Event operation management areas will oversee the site readiness, vendor management, admission and gate operation, event secretariat, equipment and materials preparation and transportation.
The volunteer program has seen many repeated volunteers and it provides not only a learning platform but also a time to get together. Although ideal employee attributes will vary from role to role, all volunteers must be able to conduct themselves in line with the Festival’s core values, which is integrity and teamwork.
With more than 500 officials, media and performers making up the team at the Festivals, the volunteers are sure to meet new friends, sharing experience, learn the new skills, and most importantly gaining new experience in event management.
The festival organizer will provide T-shirts to be worn while on duty. The volunteers will be assigned to perform duties on shift, which covers day or night festival program. The volunteers maybe needed to run the selected management areas a few days before the festival starts in order to ensure festival readiness.
Closing date for Borneo Jazz and RWMF submission form is on 4th April 2014, while Asia Music Festival submission form will close on 4th September 2014.
Other information about the Festival such as the program, packages and many more will be updated on each websites from time-to-time.
All Malaysians are foodies. Ask a local where to get the best rojak or Sarawak Laksa and they will tell you. Ask what is the best dish in this resaturant or food stall? Once again they will immediately answer you, or have an animated conversation with others at the table as they try to reach a consensus about ‘the best’.
Sarawak makes if very clear as to the grade each café or restaurant has with large A. B. or C letters on green, orange or red! A bus driver taking a group of media people ( here for the annual Rainforest World Music Festival )around the city suggested we visitors would be better to eat at places with A and B’s – however, I ate at all and had no tummy problems in my 8 weeks in the region.
Returning to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, after staying at an Iban longhouse (on the beautiful Batang Ai lake) on the my driver tells me ‘Go to stall number 25 at Topspot. That’s the one I always go to and I always have the wonderful omelette with oysters.”
A local radio station reporter introduces me to ‘the best laksa in China Street.’ We walk under Harmony Arch on Jalan Carpenter where, directly opposite the Sang Ti Miao temple, is an unpretentious but very busy Chinese hawker food hall. She is right! The laksa served there was wonderful and for the rest of my 8 weeks in East Malaysia it became the standard I used to compare various dishes of Sarawak Laksa.
For recipes about the great dish see these web pages – both here and again here. I will be interested to see what the Facebook group, Kuching food critics, and Malaysian friends, have to say about the recipes.
I have heard Sarawak Laksa being referred to as the “great Borneo breakfast” as that’s when this noddle dish with it’s spicy and sour shrimp paste and coconut gravy, is served – unlike in Singapore or peninsula Malaysia ( or New Zealand!) where it’s usually a lunch or evening meal!
On my last days in Kuching its time for the annual, 3-week, Kuching Festival Fair, where many concerts and exhibitions are held, it seems the food fair -with some 220 food and or drink stalls – is the main attraction. There for the first night, it was good to watch the fireworks as they exploded nosily, and colourfully above us.
With a city of foodies, the Sunday market, Medan Niaga Satok, is a must-visit for locals and travelers alike. Many of the stalls are open every day, so just hop into a taxi and say “Sunday market’ on any day of the week and your driver will take you straight there!