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Friday, May 06, 2011

France/Spain 2011 - Day 2, Part 1 - Colmar, Unterlinden Museum

"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest." - Hermann Hesse

***

France/Spain 2011
Day 2 - 18th March - Colmar, Unterlinden Museum
(Part 1)

Starhub informed me that it would be more expensive to call Singapore from France than to make any other sort of international call. Way to go.


The Ciarus hostel included breakfast (a croissant, a cut length of baguette and fruit/jam), so I dined before setting out for Colmar (a town to the south).

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"Ici c'est pas une usine. On fait de la vraie cusine !!!"
("This place is not a factory. We cook real food!!!")

The croissant was flakier than the one I had last night, because there had been no heat light at Paul's. The baguette length was cold but still reasonably crusty.

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Unfortunately the fruit looked like it'd seen better days (it looked worse IRL).

The ticket machine at the train station rejected my credit card and I had to go to the counter, so I missed the 7:51am train to Colmar and had to take the 8:19am. On the upside I got to walk around.

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"Promotion Etudiants et Militaires"
("Student and soldier promotion")
1€/sandwich is not bad. Maybe soldiers are paid as much as slaves in Singapore - but that seems impossible.
The fine print actually says what you buy at this price is identical to what you'd buy at the normal price.

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The ugly Strasbourg gare (station)
It's a glass shell and the real station is underneath

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Gare de Strasbourg

I then took the train to Colmar.

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"Association Espoir. Boutique de la Solidarité" (Hope Association)
It provides social services

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"Institut Positive. Beauté, Bien-être, Onglerie"
("Positive Institute. Beauty, Well-Being, Nails")

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Good life - they open Monday-Saturday, 1pm-7pm.
Also they have a cute "no pets allowed" sign which reads: "We regret that we cannot accept your friends"

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"Prix Sympa" ("Nice Price")
1€ Coke ad

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"Vous prenez ma place. Prenez aussi mon handicap" ("You take my parking spot. Also take my handicap")
Shaming people into leaving handicapped places empty on Avenue de la République

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Pâtisserie window

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I love how the mannikin heads come in multiple skin tones: black, light black, nude, beige, North African.

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Rue des têtes (Road of Heads)

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Beignet à la crème (Cream donut)

At the tourist office, I found out that the Castle of Haut-Kœnigsbourg, which I wanted to visit this day, did not have shuttles going to it during the week; I had decided to venture out of Strasbourg this day (Friday) instead of the next (Saturday) because the weather was supposed to be better. This threw a wrench into my plans.

I resolved to ponder this issue later, then went to the Unterlinden Museum, arguably Colmar's star attraction.

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The Last Communion of Marie the Egyptian, 12th c.

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Lion of St Mark, Eagle of St John. 12th c.

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Virgin and Child, early 16th century

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This box was unlabelled

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Stained Glass with Virgin and Child, St Sebastian and St Philippe (?). Early 16th/second half of 15th c.

I then tested out my new camera's HD video function on the cloisters.


HD


Non-HD (big difference)

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Martin Schongauer drawings

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More Martin Schongauer drawings

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The crucifixion - a Strasbourgian painter. 1410-15.
The good thief and bad thief flank him. On his right is the good one - you can see the souls escaping.
The Dominican monk at the bottom is presumably the one who commissioned this piece. The breath of the lion in the cave breathing on its cubs is like that of God bringing stillborn babies to life.
The painting reflects post-Black Death morosity and is in the International Gothic Style.

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The Life of The Christ with the 2 St Johns. ~1420

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Altarpiece: Life of the Virgin. ~1420.
Christ is holding the Virgin's soul represented as a small child

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Stauffenberg Altarpiece. 1454-60.
The gold represents timelessness

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Altarpiece of Tempelhof de Bergheim. Jost Haller. ~1445
This is the desert as imagined by Northern Europeans who had never seen one - it looks like a clearing in Vosges
St George is here because he's the patron of the Knights of St John

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism?

''Whatever happened to poetry that required rhyme and meter, to songs that required lyrics and tunes, to clothing ads that stressed the costume rather than the barely clothed females and slovenly dressed, slack-jawed, unshaven men?''

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A cute video


"Darth Vader PAP supporter"

Real Apologies vs Pseudo-Apologies

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

***

Some time before today's headlines ("PM says sorry") I was musing that I couldn't remember the last time the Singaporean government had apologised about *anything*.

Everyone's favourite ex-ISD agent claimed that:

"A look back shows that PAP ministers do say 'sorry'.
 
Known for his candour, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has apologised for remarks he made on immigration in Australia (1988), the crime situation in Johor (1997), and the Chinese in Malaysia (2006).
 
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong too has had occasion to apologise, to Singaporeans. He apologised for using the phrase 'no-brainer' to a teacher, for Singaporeans, unfamiliar with the American term meaning 'it's obvious', thought he was calling her names. In 2006, he apologised for saying 'fix' the opposition.
 
A more recent example from the PAP ranks is Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan, who faced flak over hiccups in the organisation of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
 
He apologised last month when certificates of appreciation were sent out to volunteers with the wrong signatures. In Parliament, quizzed on the YOG busting its budget, he admitted the ministry got the initial estimates wrong."

I found this claim very suspicious. So I looked at the examples raised:
 
1) Lee Kuan Yew apologising on immigration in Australia (1988)
 
Apparently he said that with their new immigration policy, Australia would become "the new white trash of Asia".
 
I can't find the context of this, but according to The Political economy of foreign policy in Southeast Asia (1990):
 
"[Singapore is] resolutely independent in its foreign policy, determined to frequently - and often defensively - assert its sovereign rights, and to resist what it too readily perceives as
foreign 'interference', even from close friends like the US and Malaysia. It nevertheless remains ever ready and willing to criticize foreigners and foreign countries and governments for their policy shortcomings, reflecting a curious blend of insecurity and arrogance in government policy-makers. For example, after making a fetish of foreigners not being entitled to comment on Singapore's domestic politics, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was himself forced to apologize to the Australian Prime Minister for criticizing his immigration
policy while on a state visit to Australia in 1988"
 
So it seems he did apologise - to a foreign country that was not in Southeast Asia.
 
2) Lee Kuan Yew on the crime situation in Johor (1997)
 
In an affidavit against Tang Liang Hong, he said that Johor Bahru was "notorious for shootings, muggings and car-jackings". Tang leaked these remarks to the Malaysian press, and he had to apologise "unreservedly" through his press secretary. Haas's "The Singapore puzzle" notes that "Lee had the remark stricken from the record, though with no penalty, in contrast with the judgment against Chee Soon Juan for stating an error in parliament".
 
Once again, this was an apology (and to Malaysia too!)

3) Lee Kuan Yew on the Chinese in Malaysia (2006).
 
LKY had said that "My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they are hardworking and, therefore, they are systematically marginalised".
 
In a letter of 'apology' sent to Abdullah Badawi, he proclaimed that "I was explaining to a liberal audience of westerners", "Singapore understands the reality of Malaysian politics", "I have not said anything more than what I have said many times before" and "I am sorry that what I said has caused you a great deal of discomfort". A long annex of Malaysian leaders' words on the marginalisation of Singapore Malays was also attached.
 
In short, regardless of your views on the merits of what he said, this was no apology.
 
Indeed, the 'apology' was rejected: "'I certainly do not agree and I certainly reject the premise upon which he made the statement in Singapore"
 
4) Lee Hsien Loong on using the word 'no-brainer' on a teacher
 
"Singaporeans, unfamiliar with the American term meaning 'it's obvious', thought he was calling her names"

It seems he "apologized for any offense caused". That isn't a real apology, but I don't think he needed to apologise in this case. Ironically this is an inversion of the American tendency to impose their cultural context on the rest of the world.
 
5) Lee Hsien Loong on saying he would 'fix' the opposition.
 
At a rally, he had infamously said that if there were more Opposition members in Parliament, "I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them".
 
His Press Secretary issued a clarification that "What PM meant by his remark was that if there were many more opposition MPs in Parliament, the government and opposition would spend all their time and energies countering each other, and Singapore would be worse off for it. He used direct language to get this important point across to a mass rally crowd. If the exact words he used offended, he is sorry".
 
Again, this is hardly an apology.
 
6) Vivian Balakrishnan on the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

"He apologised last month when certificates of appreciation were sent out to volunteers with the wrong signatures. In Parliament, quizzed on the YOG busting its budget, he admitted the ministry got the initial estimates wrong."

He did say sorry for the former, but what he said about the latter was that he had "underestimated the requirements and consequential cost of several major functional areas which were necessary to host these Games". Which again is no apology.

One could also look at perhaps the most recent example:

7) Lee Kuan Yew on Malay Integration

After saying that Islam could not be integrated he later said that he stood "corrected" based on events in the last 2-3 years. Here he did not even apologise that people took offence, let alone apologise for his words.

In short, apologies are few and far between.


In contrast, the apologies we got yesterday at the lunchtime rally:

"I'm sorry but we will try and do better the next time"

"We should acknowledge it, we should apologise, take responsibility, put things right... And we must learn from the lessons and never make the same mistake again"

(Amusingly half the people the ST interviewed in reaction were skeptical)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

N. China - Day 9, Part 1 - Great Wall (Mutianyu)

"You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" - Steven Wright

***

N. China
Day 9 - 7th November - Great Wall (Mutianyu)
(Part 1)

Today I woke up early to venture to the Great Wall with Charis. While Badaling was the most popular part of the wall, we decided to go to Mutianyu, a less touristy and restored section.

I had originally intended to go to Simatai, but I kept hearing conflicting reports. Some said it was closed (for redevelopment - someone had bought the land and was building a result) and others not. Others said one could hike past.

While exiting my hostel I had a look at the Hutong it was in.

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碾子胡同 (NianZi Hutong) alley

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Especially given how dark it was there wasn't much to see.

At the bus station, while waiting for Charis I went to McDonalds.

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"Livey Forever
hi, im not here to waist your time and no this ainta
there girl i know that heart thats in your chest it ca grab your waist next thing you know youll have y you do deserve to get down ouve been working ha"

I was very puzzled by this and thought they'd hired a Japanese to write copy, but it turns out that this gibberish comes from the "lyrics" of a song called "I'm Lovin' It", as transcribed on Sogou (whose domain name is somehow sohu)

A bit more digging reveals that it's a badly transcribed Justin Timberlake song of the same name. Presumably they typed "I'm lovin' it" into a search engine (it being McDonald's slogan) and pasted the rubbish they found onto their wall.

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My policy when travelling is to, as far as possible, not eat things I can find in my own country. This was why I went to McDonald's, as its menu had the magic word: 猪 (pork).

I ordered a hot plate chicken thigh McMuffin and a REAL sausage McMuffin with egg.

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hot plate chicken thigh McMuffin

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REAL sausage McMuffin with egg (pork) wrapper, with cute pig on it

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REAL sausage McMuffin with egg (pork)
This was much nicer than a 饼 (bing) and anyway the Muffin was a sort of 饼 anyway.

I was in glee and this guy walked past and gave me a strange look. He was probably wondering which destitute province I had come from, it being my first time seeing McDonalds.

The taste was pure and it occured to me that the probably reason why I dislike McDonald's breakfast in Singapore is that the shit faux pork taste in the chicken patty.

Interestingly at the bus station one tout tried to get me to go to Jinshanling and hike. I was surprised, as usually the Chinese don't like to hike.

We took the bus in the direction of Huairou, from which we would take other transport. There was a Singaporean in front of us on the bus who had worked in Beijing for 4 years, and he said he was going there for the third time. The first two times he had turned left, but this time he would go right.

He also said NEVER to let the PRCs know you were foreign, or they would swindle you, and that he told them he was from Fujian.

He said we should get off at Mingzhu and take a taxi. So we did, and he excellently bargained the 17-18km ride down with the driver to 40¥.

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Mutianyu plaque

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Mutianyu area map

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Entrance to Mutianyu wall area

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“城石夢華中”
Weird UNESCO sign for "China Stone Museum" (which is definitely not UNESCO listed - I suspected a scam)
At first I had a lot of trouble searching for the middle character. Then I realised that it should be read right to left, and Google finally coughed out results.

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Camels you can ride (?!)

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The cable car service policy tells them that they can't keep money they pick up, "unify our thought" (maybe this is a Borg reference) and provide a "homy" (homey) and grateful environment
This goes beyond linguistic issues and into cultural territory

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Mountain view from Cable Car station

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"Great Wall Shrouded in Mist"
FAIL!!! (it's wrong in Mandarin too)
On the right you can see an unrestored section

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This cabin was marked as having been sat in by Clinton.

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"The Running Cable car. Perfect Monitaring System. Advanced Equipments"
I am very reassured of my safety.

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Great Wall from Car

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"The Seventeenth Living Buddha of Tibet Mageba Took Riding Cable Car on Jan 20th 1999"

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Great Wall and a Barren Tree

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Corporate Sponsorship from Henkel in gratitude for their help for the 1989 restoration

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UNESCO plaque

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Great Wall and people

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Tour flags (?!)

This being China there were vendors on the wall. And they seemed more expensive than on Taishan.

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Mountains through a tower window

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Plaque for No 14 tower (1404)

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Inside of No 14 tower

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I don't have a smart caption for this

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Mountains through window

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A little town

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Plaque for one tower

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View off the side of the wall

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