Showing posts with label museum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label museum. Show all posts

04 December 2019

Lakeland Car Museum, England

Today visit the Lakeland Motor Museum. Lots of vintage oldies, I was struck by the Amphicar the most.



13 September 2018

Shanghai Museum of Music Boxes and opulent lunch


A remarkable personal collection, about 120 years old, now open to the public.

It is not among the most widely advertised attractions of this megacity, but it is well worth looking for in the Science and Technology Museum in Pudong.

music box museum we'd been told in Singapore, similar size but the experience is not as good. the young lady doing hourly tours does not know much, looks bored and cuts corners in her presentation. Here is a video of our visit.


We can also admire a 1750 "first": a singing birdcage, where an air pump pushes air through a flute to imitate a bird's singing. The bird has been constructed accurately, 250 parts in all, and covered in real feathers!

Some drawings and projects of music boxes complete the collection.

Too bad the museum is left in the hands of a bored and boring girl who makes a dull presentation, what a contrast with the enthusiastic older man who showed us the Singapore museum!

Today's lunch is at the "Ark" restaurant 2nd floor of a grey concrete building, like many others. Restaurants in China are often not at the ground level, like in Europe, but higher up. Someone told me it is because Chinese patrons like having their own private room, only for themselves and their friends, away from the prying eyes of others. And of course no windows on the streetside! 

(On the other hand, doctors’ and dentists’ practices are often at the ground level, with large windows so that anyone passing by can almost literally look straight into the mouth of a patient while a tooth is being drilled.) 

Large samples of Shanghainese cuisine, meat, and seafood, not spicy but intense flavors. 

A few memories from the huge menu ordered by Qinlong: Shanghai baby eels, garlic oil pepper spring onion, fried fish, turnip, pork ribs, crab meet with crab roe, in whole orange with orange pulp and prawn,

Then, shanghai bun with sweet minced pork and crab and a pot of chicken, ginger, leek, with chicken stock lept warm in a pot on live fire which the waitress placed smack in the middle of our table.

Following the above, asparagus with Tofu and "century egg", a chicken egg that smells from a kilometer away after it has been treated and "aged" for not quite a century but a few weeks and up to month or two.

All washed down with a drink of fermented sweet potatoes, rice and barley, just 11 abv, easy on the palate and well paired with the food. 

I still preferred a mildly bitter but round and consistent local beer. 

This was quite a treat by Qinlong, and although he is not a local in Shanghai by any means, he is from Leiyang like Carrie, but he works here and therefore considers it a sacrosanct duty to treat us to impress us. But I am sure he is genuine, he likes us and we like him, that was clear at his wedding a few months ago.

A walk in the beautiful "Century Park Garden" ends the afternoon with warm sunset rays that pierce through the thick branches of the tall trees near Century Square near the metro stop where we will catch a train to the hotel. 

Short walk to a subway station nearby, I have to be careful with electric motorcycles, can't hear them coming! All motorcycles in Shanghai are electric haven't seen a single petrol engine on two wheels the whole time since I've arrived in China.

Electrification moving forward fast, they're building a dozen nuclear power plants (half of all those under construction in the world), hydroelectric dams, solar, wind, gas powered plants, and unfortunately still oil and coal powered ones.

The Chinese planners are pretty good at building lots of cement, steel, and glass structures in their new cities but also much green space, and plant many trees all over the place.

Quite a few dogs without a leash, the Chinese are picking up a bad western habit.

Evening at the hotel's spa, we are not hungry after Qinglong's huge lunch and so skip dinner. In the pool, a child is learning to swim, still unusual in China, where most people, including divers, do not know how to swim.

Then we go to the famous Peace Hotel jazz bar and drink a good Belgian beer ! It is an old group made up of old players. They have been playing for 38 years, ie ever since they were allowed to play again after the death of Mao in 1978! 

They play tunes from 1920 and 1930s, with a female vocalist for most of the program. Their sax player is the best, the others look tired, even bored. Some of the music we hear still got energy to it, some less. The bass player is 87 years-old. I am thinking: on one hand it's great he's still got energy but he's really just pinching one or two strings, not moving either hand, his notes are almost imperceptible. Maybe it's time he gave room to a younger player

22 August 2018

Singapore music box museum and cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world

The highlight of the morning is the Singapore museum of music boxes. It is the property of a Japanese collector who somehow decided to open this exhibition to the public here in Singapore three years ago.

It contains about 45 pieces, mostly Swiss machines but also German and American ones.

Our guide is a part time employee, an elderly man, maybe about 70 years old, who gives a private tour for two of us. He loves the boxes, knows everything, and treats them, literally, with white gloves. He knows in great details the inner workings of each machine and his meticulousness and enthusiasm for this technology is apparent at every step of the presentation. He plays several of the instruments for us as well.

The ticket is 12 very well-spent dollars.

He also recommends a bigger museum that apparently the same Japanese collector opened in Shanghai. It does sound strange that a Japanese would open a museum in China and one in Singapore, instead of Japan, I will have to research this.

Dinner is with CK, my classmate at MIT. This time he takes us to Hawker Chan, the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, 3.6 SGD for rice chicken, their signature dish, but more for veggies.

After we order and sit down they close the restaurant, it is not yet 9 in the evening but they said they ran out of food. Victims of their own success. I am very grateful to CK for having taken us there, of course, he is always generous when we meet in Singapore. 

He is a remarkable man. His grandparents immigrated from China, they were farmers. he studied hard, went to university and became a researcher in the engineering department. He then won a scholarship to get his master's degree at MIT, where we met, and returned to a brilliant career in Singapore, crowned with his appointment to head the engineering school at the National University.

But the rice chicken was good, not great, I am not sure it was worth a Michelin star. And I have eaten at quite a few multi-starred venues over the years.

As we walk back to our hotel after dinner we noticed lots of workers getting the lights and lanterns ready for the upcoming Chinese mid-Autumn festival. Lifang talks to some of them and we find out they are temporary workers, mostly from Sichuan province, who come for a few months to make some money and then go home.

Apparently many Chinese come here for work on a tourist visa, they do not have a work permit but the government leaves them alone as long as they don't stir up trouble.

22 August 2017

Asian Civilization Museum and Night Safari of Singapore

Today culture and nature. The Asian civilizations Museum of Singapore is a well-organized center of the celebration of art from the whole continent. Well-run guided tour with a volunteer guide.

Interesting fountain in Singapore

The day ends at the famous night safari, for which Singapore is famous. There is a long line, I think we waited almost an hour to get in, but it is worth the wait. After paying for the ticket you are driven on a small train to the zoo itself and start walking along the cages. All kinds of animals from around the world are shown here. It is my first (and probably last) time to see a leopard up close!

We were the last ones out, the guards politely waited for us and escorted us to see the last exhibits on the way to the exit.

31 August 2012

Emily of Emerald Hill and the Peranakan Museum, Singapore

Peranakan Museum in Singapore
Today I visited this unique museum in Singapore, dedicated to the Peranakan, or Chinese from the Malay peninsula. A unique contribution to Singapore's multicultural identity, where each component cultural heritage (Chinese, malay and Tamil) and its language is protected, while English is the cement common to all.

In the museum I could see an exhibition of Emily of Emerald Hill, a short play by Singaporean playright Stella Kon.

As she tells us in her blog, Emily of Emerald Hill is a one-woman play about a Nonya matriarch who dominates her family, yet in the end finds that she loses what she loves most. The play won the First Prize in the National Play-Writing Competition 1983. Since then it has been presented more than a hundred times, by eight different performers, in Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii and Edinburgh. It has been translated into Chinese and Japanese and broadcast over Radio Iceland. A film version is under negotiation.

Emily is a short and passionate play that takes the reader inside the heart of a Peranakan family of the 1950s. Traditional Chinese values are intertwined with English habits that were common in the richer class of Singapore. The matriarch defers to her husband, but in the end it is she who calls the shots in the house. She is loving but also possessive. Servants are treated with dignity but firmness, children (especially sons) are spoiled and daughters-in-law are expected to be submissive. Wives are expected to tolerate their husbands' cheating. It is a materially comfortable life but also a straightjacket for the younger generation that wants to try it out on its own.

You can buy the book and other works by contacting Stella Kon at

You can watch a trailer of the play here.

And another here.

21 February 2010

Taipei: National Palace Museum, 101, Longshan temple

National Palace Museum
My morning is entirely devoted to the National Palace Museum. I was here eight years ago but I am just as excited today. The best museum for Chinese art in the world. The story is well known. Chiang kai-shek took about 20,000 trunks wirth of art from the imperial collection of the forbidden city when he had to leave Beijing during the civil war. All that stuff traveled around China, but when Chiang saw that he was losing to mao, he had his staff pack "only" about 7,000 trunks of the best items and shipped it over to Taiwan. This treasure is still a major bone of contention with Beijing, though in recent years there have been cooperation programs with museums in the mainland.

This is la crème de la crème of Chinese art, collected by emperors as far back as the Tang dynasty. Chiang had a nuclear bomb proof vault buil in a mountain next to Taipei and then, next to the mountain, this museum. The world is lucky that the stuff is here, or it would probably have been dstroyed during the cultural revolution in China. Today, only about one percent of the items are on display, and the Museum's staff rotates it ever so many months. Incredibly refined, pottery, ceramics, calligraphy, jewellery, jade, bronze...

I can see myself coming back here many, many times...

Leaving the Museum I head to the XXI symbol of pride of Taiwan, Taipei 101. When it was completed in 2004 it was the tallest building in the world, and it remained that until last month, when Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai. Taipei 101 is a controversial project. My friend S., who openly sympathizes for the independentist school of thought in Taiwan, says it was not really necessary and it was motly a trick by the Nationalists to impress an increasingly disillusioned electorate.

Taipei 101

Moving fast in 101 elevator
Be that as it may, it is still impressive. Inside, there is a slurpy food center in the basement. Then several floors of shopping mall, and what a shopping mall! Luxur brands from all over the world and a pleasant yet awe inspiring carousel of escalators, lifts, lights, and immense empty spaces that provide a welcoming and warm atmosphere.

At the top, it is cold and windy today. Not the best day to enjoy the landscape. I don't spend much time there, but again I must admit to being impressed: this time by the elevator, the fastest (at this time) in the world, going up and down at 17 meters per second without the slightest discomfort for the user. Well, may I should say the traveler, since it's over half a kilometer up from ground level!
Inside 101

An impressive 730 tons tuned mass damper is installed near the top to absorb shocks caused by wind or earthquakes.

tuned mass damper in 101
In the evening I went to the Longshan temple, where I spent some time looking at the faithful perform Buddhist ceremonies and giving offerings. It is a mystic atmosphere, welcoming and somewhat magic. Free CDs with Buddhist music ara available.
Longshan temple

19 March 2009

Al Museo Nazionale delle Maldive, Malé

Pur avendo un aspetto esteriore piuttosto miserello (NDA: nel 2009 il museo è ancora ospitato un un vecchio edificio, ma dall'anno prossimo sarà trasferito in uno nuovo, donato dalla Cina), il museo di Malé ospita reperti di importanza fondamentale per capire la storia dell'arcipelago. Qui sono custoditi gli unici reperti risalenti al periodo pre-islamico delle Maldive, un'eccezione che conferma la regola che fa divieto di custodire nel territorio della repubblica islamica oggetti di culto di altre religioni. Gli artefatti più significativi sono infatti i reperti buddhisti, trovati soprattutto durante la spedizione di Thor Heyerdahl nel 1982, di cui racconto in un altro post di questo blog.

Heyerdahl era un esploratore norvegese, famoso non tanto per il lavoro svolto qui quanto per aver portato a termine la traversata dell'oceano Pacifico orientale con il Kontiki, una zatterona di balsa con la quale voleva dimostrare che i primi abitanti della Polinesia vi erano arrivati dall'America meridionale. Costruì una barca con antiche tecnologie e materiali locali in Perù e la chiamò Kontiki, dal nome di un dio Sole degli Inca. Con altre cinque persone a bordo, partì dal Perù nell'aprile del 1947, per arrivare quattro mesi dopo nella Polinesia francese. Dimostrò così che gli abitanti dell'America pre-colombiana avrebbero potuto navigare il Pacifico, ma non che lo avessero effettivamente fatto. Successivi studi antropologici infatti convergono nell'ipotizzare che i Polinesiani discendano piuttosto dal sud-est asiatico. Ma Heyerdahl non si perse d'animo, fece buon viso a cattivo gioco e ripartì, stavolta con un aereo di linea, per un altro oceano.

Stanco del Pacifico, approdò alle Maldive nel 1982 e riuscì ad ottenere dal presidente Gayoom uno speciale permesso per continuare nel sud dell'arcipelago le ricerche che l’inglese Bell aveva cominciato decenni prima. Il rilascio di questa apparentemente innocua autorizzazione non era affatto scontato, in quanto ogni immagine sacra che non sia islamica è vietata nel paese, e non si fanno sconti a nessuno. Rinvenire e magari mostrare in pubblico opere risalenti al periodo induista o al buddhismo poteva essere considerato sconveniente, anche se questi reperti fanno incontestabilmente parte del bagaglio storico delle isole. Comunque Gayoom acconsentì agli scavi.

Nel corso di vari mesi Heyerdahl trovò un vero e proprio tesoro di reperti archeologici. Gli scavi erano in parte facilitati dai precedenti studi di Bell, che tra la fine del XIX secolo e l’inizio del XX aveva dimostrato senza ombra di dubbio che le Maldive erano buddhiste ed induiste prima di essere convertite all'Islam nel XII secolo. Il buddhismo arrivò con ogni probabilità durante il regno di Ashoka il Grande in India, durante il III secolo a.C., dunque più di mille anni prima della conversione all’Islam.

Ashoka era un re della dinastia indiana dei Maurya, ambizioso quanto illuminato, che regnò nel III secolo a.C. Si racconta che dopo aver vinto in una delle più cruente battaglie della storia indiana contro il regno di Kalinga, l'ultimo che non avesse ancora accettato la sua autorità, fu traumatizzato dal massacro di cui era stato artefice. Quindi, pur vittorioso, si convertì al buddhismo ed alla non violenza e fu molto attivo nel propagarne il credo, non solo nel suo regno ma anche al di là, fino addirittura all'Egitto e a Roma. Ma se la sua ambizione mondiale era forse eccessiva, egli convertì comunque al buddhismo quasi tutto il subcontinente indiano. Al di là della dimensione leggendaria di Ashoka, è certo però che questo fu l’unico periodo di affermazione continentale della religione buddhista, che qui era nata (Buddha era nato nell’odierno Nepal ma visse e morì in India) ma che poi sparì nel corso dei secoli per il risorgere dell’induismo più tradizionale, che lo fagocitò: Buddha è infatti considerato la nona reincanazione di Vishnu.
Dopo l'islamizzazione forzata dell’India poi, sotto la spinta dell’invasione di Tamerlano nel XIV secolo e culminata con l’impero Moghul duecento anni dopo, il retaggio buddhista fu quasi completamente dimenticato in tutto il subcontinente indiano. A tutt’oggi i pochi buddhisti rimasti trovano rifugio soprattutto nelle valli himalayane al confine con il Tibet. Della presenza buddhista alle Maldive, fino alle scoperte di Bell ed Heyerdahl non si seppe più nulla. Molte delle lastre di corallo utilizzate per i templi furono asportate e riciclate per abitazioni e moschee. Tuttavia gli scavi di Heyerdahl furono molto proficui, ed egli riuscì a raccogliere dalle sabbie una discreta collezione di sculture che erano scampate a razzìe e devastazioni dei secoli precedenti.

Nel museo di Malé ho potuto ammirare delle vere perle di quel periodo. Tra queste mi hanno colpito particolarmente alcune teste umane e teste di mucca in pietra di corallo, busti di Buddha e poi alcuni scrigni con simboli buddhisti, tutti risalenti al X secolo. Mi compiaccio della lungimiranza di Gayoom che ha permesso le ricerche e la conservazione di questi reperti nonostante non siano islamici. Mentre visito il museo, mi auguro che questa sua scelta sia di buon auspicio per gli studi futuri della regione. Ho letto che la Cina farà una donazione per ristrutturare il museo e valorizzarne le opere. Ma, come racconterò in seguito, sarò destinato ad una cocente delusione.

Nelle stanze successive sono esposti vestiti appartenuti ai sultani, con tanto di medaglie, pantofole finemente decorate e persino strumenti musicali, tra cui qualche vecchio bodu beru, il tipico tamburo che avrò la fortuna di ascoltare a Felidhoo, come racconterò in seguito. C'è persino un vecchio pianoforte di fabbricazione inglese. In un angolo, un ritratto di Ibn Battuta mi scruta intensamente. Bene! Sarà contento che stia utilizzando i suoi meticolosi appunti per il mio libro.

Nel museo ci sono anche preziosi esemplari dell'artigianato maldiviano così come si è sviluppato nei secoli. In particolare attirano la mia attenzione pregiati tappetini, oggetti laccati (con materia prima importata tradizionalmente dalla Birmania dato che qui non se ne produce) e gioielli finemente cesellati in oro. Una volta, leggo nel diario di Pyrard de Laval, i gioielli in oro erano prerogativa esclusiva del sultano e della moglie: chiunque altro volesse indossarne doveva comprare un permesso, portando così al Sultano un ricco e facile flusso di tributi. Non era però permesso a nessuna, neanche alla più nobile delle donne, indossare bracciali o alcun tipo di ornamento sulle caviglie. C’era poi una complicata regola gerarchica per cui gli anelli potevano essere indossati solo su certe dita e non altre, in modo che tutti fossero immediatamente riconoscibili per il proprio rango. Gli uomini potevano portare anelli solo sul pollice.

Purtroppo nel tempo queste arti (lacche, tappeti, gioielli) sono andate via via scomprarendo, e la produzione che oggi si trova in commercio risponde più a esigenze di turismo da paccottiglia, magari importata dall'India o dall'Indonesia, che a espressioni artistiche tradizionali del luogo. Si può solo sperare che un turismo più selezionato possa ricreare una domanda di qualità prima che questo artigianato sparisca per sempre. O forse che con lo sviluppo economico di fasce più ampie della popolazione si crei anche una domanda interna per questo tipo di merce pregiata, a volte di lusso, che permetta agli artigiani di continuare a produrla? Forse non è ancora troppo tardi.

Here are some of my own pictures of the Museum, taken in 2009 when it was still housed in the old premises and, of course, before the destruction of February 2012.

Questo post è un estratto del mio libro sulle Maldive

01 April 2007

Visit of the Vittoriale degli Italiani, home of Gabriele D'Annunzio

Gabriele D'Annunzio was an iconic writer that polarized Italian literary critics during his lifetime and continues to do so decades after his death.

His home is still an incredible collection of stuff that made his life in peace and war.

The museum is worth a detour if you are around Lake Garda.

The MAS (Mezzi d'Assalto Siluranti), a highly successful family of weapon systems of the Italian navy in WW I and II.

Here is a model from WW I.

Pictures were not allowed in most of the home so here is a few I took where I could. You can find more pictures of additional items here on Wikipedia. His home was full to the brim with all kinds of art and mementos.

I feel close to him in his abhorrence of empty spaces. Horror vacui it was called, and I share it a bit in my home.

Italian warship Puglia

12 June 1980

Leningrad churches, gasoline and romantic white nights

Touring under the rain around Leningrad city.

At the Saints Peter and Paul cathedral all we can see is a few tombs from Tsars.

Then to Saint Isaac church. We read on a poster that "the people requested that the state take it over from the Church in order to better preserve it and remedy the neglect that it had been abandoned to and because of which many artistic masterpieces were being ruined by time".

Some pictures show damage from WWII but at a closer look they are infantile photographic alterations to magnify the state's role in the restoration and its respect for religion. It is true that Stalin and the Orthodox Church did collaborate during WW II to defeat Germany, but that did not last. On a wall there is a quote from Lenin: "The Church is an enemy of the people, not historically, but by definition".

We climb the stairway to the dome but from the top it is not allowed to take photos of the city landscape. Military secret. There is a large bin with hundreds of film rolls, the film pulled out allegedly from tourists who violated the ban on photos.

We then move on to the Hermitage Museum. Here it is allowed to photograph. Many Italian exhibits. The best exhibit of the Soviet department seems to be a large low-relief map of the USSR which allegedly " stunned visitor from all over when it toured the world in a roving Soviet exhibition.

We then move on to buy some fuel. We have official and perfectly legal coupons, but the lady at the service station does not want them. We guess it is too much paperwork for her. So we pay the local price in rubles, only 6 rubles for 30 liters!! Basically free gasoline!

Evening dinner at the Austeria restaurant, where we eat a lot of caviar and other delicacies to spend all the rubles we have left. At the end the waitress proposes that we pay in dollars, exchange rate 1 to 1. Not so interesting for us. We counterpropose to pay in rubles but give her 8 dollars on the side for two bottles of Soviet champagne. She accepts without hesitation and runs to get the two bottles for us.

Back at the hotel we spend some time chatting in the terrace of our room, it is mid-June, one of the brightest nights of the year, and Leningrad is famous for its "white nights". Very romantic.

07 June 1980

Hard currency shopping, Kremlin Museum and Bolshoi dancers

Lazy morning and lunch at the Rossiya hotel, absolutely forgettable. Much (most?) of what is on the menu is not available. After repeated "we don't have" by the waiter we ask what they have. Some mediocre meat and potatoes.

Kremlin and Saint Basil

We then visit the "Beriozka" shop, that sells all kinds of stuff that is much in demand in the USSR but taken for granted by us. These shops have a long history and exist in several Communist countries, we use Pewex in Poland, but here they have a special transgressive flair, maybe because most Soviet citizens are not allowed in. Prices are quite high, really the same as in the West and much more expensive than Poland for certain items: for example a beautiful book on the Kremlin that I bought in Warsaw for 430 zloty (15 dollars) here costs 40 dollars. In fact they sell quite a few beautiful art book, Soviet authored and Soviet produced, that are not available to normal Soviet consumers in regular bookstores.

Unknown soldier's monument

Kremlin march
We then go the Kremlin for another walk. Lots of soldiers marching around. There are many churches in the citadel (the meaning of the word "kremlin" but they are ALL closed NA REMONT, "for restoration". We try to buy tickets for the famous "multifaceted palace" but they tell us you must book several weeks in advance. No luck. However we are treated to a free show of thousands lining up to visit Lenin's embalmed body in his mausoleum.

Long line to see Lenin

We all feel a bit depressed and keep walking along the Kremlin wall, chatting with Igor. He says that it is very difficult for a Soviet citizen to travel abroad. First, you must apply at the local police station, and they will apply on our behalf to the relevant foreign consulate. Then, after you have a visa, you can apply for a passport. Strange, hard to believe in fact, that any embassy would issue a visa to someone without seeing a passport. Anyway it is well knows that it is difficult, most of those who do leave go on organized tours. Private trips abroad almost unheard of and usually require an invitation by someone in the country to be visited.

After a while we see a small door that is half-way open. There are a couple of guards but they are mostly intent at chatting with each other. We decide to try our luck and walk through the door. The guards notice us and come to meet us, speaking Russian and indicating fairly unequivocally with their hands that we must leave. I reply to them in Italian that we are tourists, only here for a few days, we'd like to see more of the Kremlin. I was about to say I am Communists and a friend of the Soviet Union but that would not have been very credible with three Americans by my side. Meantime, some stranger, a Russian, comes by and starts talking to the guards. Not sure what they say for the next few minutes, but at the end of it all the guards escort us to a ticket office where we can buy the last three student tickets + a regular ticket for who knows what.

Church in the Kremlin
Once inside our jaws drop at unison. There is a fantastic museum of the Tsars' ceremonial weapons and armour, robes, furniture, carriages, etc. Absolutely stunning. There is a separate museum for the jewels of the imperial family but that requires yet another ticket and we can't get it today. Not allowed to take photos, unfortunately.

In the evening, another amazing show in the Kremlin's Congress Palace's theater: a dance performance by the Bolshoi ballet, one of the most famous in the world. Much much better than anything I've ever seen before, or that I am likely to see again any time soon. So much better than the one we saw in Warsaw. Again, no photos.