Tales of Asia II – Batavia (Jakarta) HIGHLIGHTS

Highlights from the second Tales of Asia talk on Old Jakarta, at the Toa Payoh Public Library, Singapore on 25 October 2015 are here. A link to entire talk to follow soon.

A link to the full talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD81C_LExjo

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and London. Find it also at http://www.amazon.co.ukhttp://www.amazon.com, http://www.waterstones.com and http://www.bookdepository.com.   

Tales of Asia II – Batavia (Jakarta), 25 Oct, Sunday, 2 – 3 pm, Toa Payoh Public Libary

The Amsterdam Gate, Old Batavia.

The Amsterdam Gate, Old Batavia.

Part II of Tales of Asia features the canal city of Batavia, capital of the former Dutch East Indies, and better known today as the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Join me as we journey back in time to explore a Jakarta that you’ve never seen before. Together we will…

  • Trace the history and origins of the Dutch East India Company – the Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, or V.O.C.
  • Explore the former walled city of Batavia and Batavia castle, and uncover how the Dutch built Batavia to resemble Amsterdam, complete with canals and bridges.
  • Visit major landmarks of Old Batavia and hunt down what remains of these landmarks in today’s Jakarta
  • Take a leisurely tour through Weltevreden – Batavia’s leafy suburbs and learn more about the mixed (“mestizo”) Indies architecture
  • Come face to face with the Indische – the Dutch-Eurasian peoples that lived in Batavia, spoke Malay and wore saroeng kebaya.

…amongst other things.

Tales of Asia I – Malacca & Manila (Highlights)

Dear armchair time-travellers, here’s a clip featuring highlights from my talk at the Woodlands Regional Library, Singapore on 18 October 2015.  A link to entire talk to follow soon.  In the meantime, enjoy…

A link to the full talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYa3SA8_7HY

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and London. Find it also at http://www.amazon.co.ukhttp://www.amazon.com, http://www.waterstones.com and http://www.bookdepository.com.   

Tales of Asia I – Malacca and Manila, Sunday, 18 Oct, 2 – 3 pm, Woodlands Regional Library

1 - Malacca and Manila ImagePart I of Tales of Asia – my series of talks on port cities in Southeast Asia – features Malacca and Manila, mediaeval walled cities built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and the Spanish respectively.

Join me as we explore the cities’ rise and fall, and uncover traces of the Portuguese and Spanish heritage that still remain today.  In particular, we…

  • Trace the path of the former walls of the Fortaleza de Malacca, and understand the colonial history of the city through one remaining portion of the wall – La Porta de Santiago.
  • Visit the Portuguese Settlement in Melaka today to explore Kristang food and culture.
  • Retrace the journey of the fabled Manila Galleon across the Pacific from Manila to Acapulco
  • Revisit the walled city of Manila at the height of its splendour, in the 1700s and 1800s.
  • Understand the unique mestizo architecture – the bahay na bato – that developed due to the adaptation of Spanish colonial styles to the tropics

…amongst other things.

Map of Intramuros, 1917. Private Collection.

Map of Intramuros, 1917. Private Collection.

Tales of Asia – Public Talks in Singapore, 18 Oct – 14 Nov 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 6.31.20 pmFor those of you who are in Singapore, join me in October and November for a series of 5 weekend public talks, featuring histories and images from The Romance of the Grand Tour.

Tales of Asia takes the armchair time-traveller back in time to the East Indies – what we know as Southeast Asia today. Over the course of 5 talks, we visit 10 historic port cities in the region.  In each city, we journey back through time to the 1500s – 1800s, and back again to the present day to hunt down traces of the past that remain in the cities today.

The talks will be visually rich – featuring archival images, maps, prints, as well as contemporary photography. We shall explore castles and forts, rivers and canals, city streets, and the often strange, hybrid architecture and cultures that evolved in these cities where the East and the West met.

Here are the dates, times and venues for the talks.  No registration is required. Just come and be ready for an hour of travel, wonder and nostalgia!

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 6.57.56 pmMore details on each talk shall be posted here on The Romance of the Grand Tour each week.  The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia shall also be available for purchase at selected talks.

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and London. Find it also at http://www.amazon.co.uk, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.waterstones.com and http://www.bookdepository.com.]   

5 Essential Sights for the Grand Tourist’s Itinerary: Old Manila

Fort Santiago, Intramuros.  This is a latter-day restoration of how the Fort entrance would've looked like in the Spanish Colonial era.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros. This is a latter-day restoration of how the Fort entrance would’ve looked like in the Spanish Colonial era.

Manila was once the Pearl of the Orient, until it was largely demolished in the aftermath of World War II (the Battle of Manila). Since then, restoration of the city, particularly the historic Walled City of Intramuros, has taken place in fits and starts. But don’t let it stop you from visiting the Walled City though – amidst the ruins, and the informal settlements, are beautiful pieces of Spanish-Filipino architecture, most restored, but some original.

Here are the 5 must sees:

Intramuros

✑ The Church of San Agustin (1607), to be transported into the world of mediaeval Spain. The Church was the only one of Manila’s eight churches left standing in the aftermath of World War II – inside, there is a stunning museum of 17th – 19th century religious art. The church was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Casa Manila, for a so-authentic-its-eerie reconstruction of a wealthy colonial-era mestizo (Eurasian) household. The museum was commissioned by Imelda Marcos herself, and demonstrates the wealth and opulence of many a resident in Intramuros in the Spanish Colonial era.

Fort Santiago, to gaze in amazement at the mediaeval fortifications and walk along parts of the Wall. Follow this with a general wander through the streets of Intramuros, in particularly down General Luna / Real de Palacio Street, for Manila Cathedral and other ruined/restored colonial-era facades.

Extramuros

Rizal Park, formerly known as La Luneta in the Spanish Colonial era.  Pay your respects at the Rizal Monument, and pay a visit to the Philippine National Museum for its excellent collection of Spanish colonial era objects, as well as objects salvaged from wrecked Manila Galleons.

✑ Have High Tea at the fabulous Manila Hotel, which sits on a stunning riverfront location overlooking Manila Bay. The hotel and its immediate surrounds was built by the Americans during a brief American Colonial era from 1898 to World War II.

Note that Manila is by any standards, an extremely dangerous city. If you are venturing out alone, even in the day, keep your wits about you.  Don’t carry anything that would draw attention to you. That includes expensive cameras.  

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and London. Find it also at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.waterstones.com and http://www.bookdepository.com.] 

Baluarte, or ramparts over the Pasig River, Intramuros.

Baluarte, or ramparts over the Pasig River, Intramuros.

Calesa, or traditional horse-carriage, Intramuros.

Calesa, or traditional horse-carriage, Intramuros.

The San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Casa Manila, restored with traditional Hispano-Philippine architecture.

Casa Manila, restored with traditional Hispano-Philippine architecture.

The Rizal Monument is guarded 24/7 by two "Knights of Rizal."

The Rizal Monument is guarded 24/7 by two “Knights of Rizal.”

The iconic cast-iron entrance to Manila Hotel.

The iconic cast-iron entrance to Manila Hotel.

...and a final look back at Intramuros.

…and a final look back at Intramuros.

5 Essential Sights for the Grand Tourist’s Itinerary: Old Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake, shrouded in mist.

Hoan Kiem Lake, shrouded in mist.

Hanoi is a twin city, encompassing both the ancient Sino-Vietnamese Old Town of Hà Nội, or 河內 (meaning “river interior”), as well as a more recent French confection – Hanoï ville. For 1000 years, the city has existed, and has variously been anointed capital city of what is today’s Northern Vietnam. It was also the capital city of French Indochina from 1887 to the Vietnam War.

As a result of its illustrious past, the city is suffused with history and memories, both glorious and painful, intimate and royal.  Here are 5 essential things to do:

✑ Spend some time lingering by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake 湖還劍 (“Lake of the Returned Sword”)- which lies at the very heart of the city and of Hanoi-ans’ collective memory. Go at dawn when the mist hangs heavy over the water and the view is heart-stoppingly beautiful. While you’re at it, visit the Ngoc Son Temple 祠玉山 (“Jade Mountain Temple”), situated on its very own island; and try to spot the one remaining giant turtle in the Lake’s murky depths before the entire species goes extinct.

✑ Explore the Old Town, also known as the 36 Streets (36 行), each dedicated to a particular traditional trade. Again, go at dawn, when people and motorbikes have’t yet appeared, so you can actually see the surprisingly varied architecture of the buildings, and leisurely stumble onto the dozens of temples dotting the area.  Note that in Chinese, the character for “trade” is the same as that for “street” – 行.

✑ Pay a visit to the Temple of Literature or Van Mieu 文廟, and pour over the ancient stelae documenting the names, in Chinese characters, of scholars who passed the Imperial Examinations. Temples of Literature are dedicated to Confucius and may be found in China and nations traditionally in China’s sphere of influence: Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

✑ Take a walk down the city’s colonial quarters situated to the East and Southeast of Hoan Kiem Lake. Here you will find such grandiose monuments to la civilisation française – the likes of the Old Opera House, the Gothic Cathedral of St John and the former Banque de L’Indochine. Here also, you will find the infamous Maison Central, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton” and used as a prison for dissidents during the Colonial and Vietnam War eras.

✑ Take a tour of the city by a vintage 1950s Citroën (offered by the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel), for a delightfully nostalgic trip down memory lane, and the novelty value of having people stare at you through the windows.

Hanoi, like its sister city Saigon, is polluted, noisy, difficult to navigate and oftentimes completely enervating, on account of the traffic (and those thousands of feral motorbikes). The best time to see the city is at dawn, when everything is still and you are able to experience and appreciate the city as it was a hundred years ago. The best time to visit the city is during its winter season – Hanoi is only one degree south of Hong Kong and does actually get chilly towards December.

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and London. Find it also at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.waterstones.com and http://www.bookdepository.com.] 

Hang Ma (or Votive Offering Street) in the Old Town, decked out for Tet - the Vietnamese / Chinese Lunar New Year.

Hang Ma (or Votive Offering Street) in the Old Town, decked out for Tet – the Vietnamese / Chinese Lunar New Year.

A variation on the traditional shophouse architecture found all over Southeast Asia - here in Hanoi's Old Town.

A variation on the traditional shophouse architecture found all over Southeast Asia – here in Hanoi’s Old Town.

Names of graduates of the Imperial Examination, carved onto steles at the Temple of Literature.

Names of graduates of the Imperial Examination, carved onto steles at the Temple of Literature.

Hanoi's gothic Cathedral of St John.

Hanoi’s gothic Cathedral of St John.

The Hanoi Opera House and the Hilton Hotel.

The Hanoi Opera House and the Hilton Hotel.

The other "Hanoi Hilton."

The other “Hanoi Hilton.”

Vintage Citroens at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.

Vintage Citroens at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.

Inscription in Chinese characters at the Ngoc Son Temple reads "Wind and Moon."

Inscription in Chinese characters at the Ngoc Son Temple reads “Wind and Moon.”