This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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All the temples on Bali

batukaru-9On Bali, every building has a place and every item, even a flower placed, has significance. Balinese homes are built according to a certain layout, and so are towns. The underlying logic is that upstream means pure where as the further downstream you go, the dirtier becomes the use of the water or a place. And on an island littered with volcanoes, the highest upstream one can go is to the flank of the volcano. batukaru-8Thus, the temple for the god Brahma (pura puseh) is best located on the highest end of the village, facing a sacred volcano (usually Mt Agung). In the middle of the village one can find a pura desa, the temple for Vishnu and for local village deities. And in the lower end of the village, preferably furthest away from a sacred volcano and most often near the cemetery, lies a pura dalem, the temple of Shiva and death (and rebirth). batukaru-6The sea is a frightening might and requires special attention. Thus sea temples are special (like Tanah Lot and Uluwatu). On the island, water is sacred and necessary for the Balinese, especially for rice cultivation. Water temples are special, too. Like the “temple by the lake”, Danu Bratan; as well as the Batukaru temple, located on the foothills of the eponymous volcano.batukaru-5Our little bemo minivan drove a bunch of us curious tourists up to the doors of the temple. We were fortunate: it was open for non-worshipers.

Not every temple on Bali has a job to shield the island from evil. Only nine most sacred temples have this all-important task. Also, it is not every day an important temple renews the roofs of its pagodas, the meru. Thus a celebration will be in order – once the ladies are finished with putting the last touches of palm fiber on the new roofs. Tomorrow there will be curries, barbeques, fresh fruit, and coconuts: a real feast.
batukaru-4(Pura Luhu Batukaru, Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia: August 2018)


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Growing a green city

marinabaysands-2European cities may have a few large, designated parks and many small green patches squeezed in later between the houses and streets. In Singapore, urban greeneries and jungles are not inserted here and there after the city is planned and built. Instead, since 1967, they have been consciously included in the plan as the city grew. Surprisingly large areas of green have been retained, such as the Botanic Garden and the Gardens by the Bay. Access is free from dawn until late, in some cases until midnight. My local friend spends most of his weekends in the Botanic Gardens with his wife and baby, discovering new things every time.

Because this is Singapore, “conventional” is not a word used in the urban planning office. The Gardens by the Bay include huge mushroom-like structures of steel towering above the treetops, connected with canopy walkways. There are many theme gardens with colorful sculptures, and two huge, air-conditioned glass domes: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The city is littered (or “decorated” if you prefer) with tiny parks, and each park is a carefully constructed piece of art, with surprising sculptures or a decorated walking path. Such attention to detail and imagination only happens when two aspects are met: enough affluence to invest a little extra in every structure being built; and a strategy to consciously incorporate greenness into city planning.

Only this way are there people employed to really rethink the greenness of spaces planned, before they are built.
marinabaysands-1(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)


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In the cloud forest

cloudforest-4If it is too hot to enjoy gardens outside, why not build a hollow mountain with a cool cloud forest on the outside, complete with mist, underneath a huge glass dome?cloudforest-1The Cloud Forest consists of a large, hollow, man-made “rock” planted with flowers, ferns, mosses, and climbers. The entire construction is misted every two hours, and this is the main attraction: visitors time their visit to enjoy the cooling sensation of mist on their skin while strolling the 6 stories of criss-crossing walkways in the skies. Because this is Singapore, one can naturally ride the elevator all the way up. cloudforest-3But the best surprise awaits the one who makes it all the way down and still has eyes for more beauty: the waterfall cascades down into a clear pool lined with the most interesting ferns, mosses, epiphytes, and climbers. Oh if only I had a private garden in a cool, shady area – this and a few trees would be the gorgeous landscape. Who cares if there was no sun, as long as there are ferns, mosses, and no mosquitoes?
cloudforest-2(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)


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Green wisdom

SPbotanicgarden-3On a whim I took the metro to the Botanic Gardens. I had no idea it was famous – until I entered and realized it probably must be. I have visited many botanic gardens in my life but nothing comes close to the one here in Singapore. The garden is easily 2-3 kilometes long and 1 kilometer wide. It contains two lakes, several ponds, a rainforest (large enough for a proper stroll!), a palm tree valley, an orchid garden, a symphony orchestra stage in front of a lawn – and approximately 20 themed gardens.

One of the most interesting gardens is the ethnobotany garden. It is divided into themes: symbolism, spirituality, food, crafts, and so forth: thus how people, especially local ethnicities, use or used plants to their advantage. There are plants used for hunting, for medicine, for building boats and houses, and for crafts.SPbotanicgarden-4It strikes me that still 150 years ago we Europeans too knew all about the properties and uses of our plants and trees: which wood is pliable, which is durable like steel, which plants are medicinal, and how to weave bowls and from what. All this knowledge here on the Malaysian peninsula will be lost soon, too, unless it is specifically conserved. Even here in Singapore I would wager to claim it is already lost from the collective mind of commoners and preserved only among few with an interest in herbology and healing.
SPbotanicgarden-2(Singapore; July 2018)


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Singapore: mulling it over in Haji Lane

hajilane-2Deep in what was once called “Little Arabia” and now renamed “Kampong Glam”, sits a lane that once was poor, then totally dead, and now a hipster mecca with artsy boutiques and little independent cafés and bars. The two-storey, colonial style buildings are decorated with street art and at night, music is booming. Here you can grab a cocktail, while a street down into the heart of “Little Arabia” you cannot find any alcohol (or non-halal food) at all.

This is Singapore: layers upon layers of culture, morphing into something new by quick swings of time. What once was dead is now the heart of cool. And in the midst of it all stand old buildings that have seen so many trends pass by. Not sure what they think of their current coat of paint. hajilane-3Singapore is ever-evolving, but it is also very orderly and safe. What else could it be if one is fined 300 SGD (170€) for eating a durian fruit at the hotel, 500 SGD (300€) for eating or drinking on the subway, and 2,000 SGD (1,200€) for smoking in the wrong place? Perhaps this is not the most constructive way to encourage good behavior, and it certainly is not the way to function in a positive space, but it works. This, combined with a pleasant and polite demeanor makes the busy society work at least in the superficial view of the visitor.

One cannot help but wonder if such is the only way? If threatening by proper punishment is the only way to “encourage” large masses to adhere to rules that make living pleasant for all? While waiting for a train at the MRT station I watched a video reminding me that molestation is a serious offence. Victims were encouraged to shout out for help, indicating they had been touched and by whom, and passers-by were encouraged to interfere. Molestation in Singapore is an Outrage of Modesty, punishable by prison AND caning. Yes, caning. In the 21st century. hajilane-1But as long as I do not eat durian or smoke, and nobody accuses me of molestation, I should be just fine with a glass of wine here on Haji Lane. And perhaps some Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner, while darkness descends on the golden domes of the Masjid Sultan mosque.kampongglam-1(Singapore; July 2018)


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A wooden town

porvooPerhaps once this was a busy street, crowded with horse-drawn carriages, pedestrians in fine suits and long dresses, and dogs and children running around? Now it is simply quiet and idyllic, with greens shooting up between the cobblestones that get to rest most of the day.

Porvoo was founded in the 13th century but has probably burned down many times since. Most of the houses currently standing are from the 19th century. As it is once again fashionable to cherish old houses, perhaps these houses could survive longer than most wooden buildings used to do (before they happened to burn down into ashes)?

(Porvoo old town, Finland; July 2018)


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Lazy days in Bordighera

bordighera-2Plastered, ochre and sand-colored houses with moss green window shutters. Stone slab pavement. A few potted plants. Sparrows chirping in the alleys. A group of locals having pasta with wine for lunch underneath a parasol. Bordighera must have been the same already centuries ago. bordighera-1A century ago one could reach Bordighera from Paris in “just” 24 hours, and London was not much further away. Claude Monet found much to paint in the stillness of hot, languid Bordighera summer days. George MacDonald came over to warm his Scottish bones and to write of fantastical, sometimes dark places while sitting in the shade from the scorching sun.

Bordighera is also one of the two locations André Aciman thought of when writing Call Me By Your Name. Because there are only a few places where days pass in such a lazy pace that there is time to discuss the origins and meaning of the word “apricot”.bordighera-3(Bordighera, Italy; July 2018)