I had the pleasure of a quick night time drive through Orchard Road in Singapore in mid-November.
These shaky cellphone pictures from a moving vehicle really don’t do justice to the Christmas lights. The theme, which some have questioned as being un-Christian, is ‘A Disney Christmas’.
But what struck me was how, a three-minute drive from the end of the shopping belt, we came across this other light up for Diwali or Deepavali – the Hindu Festival of Lights, in Little India in Serangoon Road.
This festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness.
How wonderfully brilliant that two diverse festive occasions can be celebrated peacefully and harmoniously almost side by side.
It made me realise that while I’ve taken photographs of historical buildings, quirky art, gorgeous gardens on my travels, I have pitifully few photos of my morning cup of coffee, my after-dinner coffee or even my hotel-room coffee.
Yet, these cups of comfort represent many special moments: the quiet contemplation on a balcony, the thrill of discovering a local coffee shop speciality, the restful recuperation on a photo stop after two hours on a coach, even a conversation starter on a long train journey. Indeed, each cup was often a cultural experience and history lesson in itself.
So here are some royalty-free stock photographs that come closest to what I’ve encountered. My thanks to the photographers for their generosity in sharing, and for capturing what I should have.
This reminded me of kopi tarik (co-pee tar-rake) or “pulled coffee” in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The stall owner would raise his metal pot way above his head, take perfect aim and pour coffee (or tea) into a mug. He would pour the liquid in the mug back into the pot the same way, and repeat the pot to mug transfer. The result was a frothy beverage with the temperature just right for sipping. The old-fashioned cappuccino, perhaps?
This is Vietnamese dripped-coffee. In the tin cup are coffee grounds with hot water poured to the brim and kept warm by the saucer on top. In the mug is sweetened condensed milk. When all the liquid had dripped into the mug, you stirred your drink with the metal spoon and ta-da! … coffee.
I must confess this was something I didn’t actually try, although my fellow travellers did. In Singapore, traditional coffee shops in the 1930-40s served coffee with condensed milk and a blob of butter; this was called kopi gu you (co-pee goo you, where gu=cow, you=fat, hence coffee butter). The butter was said to add flavour to the coffee, and to “smoothen” its taste. Today, this drink has made a comeback, and also flourishes in parts of the US as Bulletproof Coffee, blended with the butter, coconut oil and protein powder.
And these two cuties remind me of my too-short trip to Nagoya, Japan.
My recent travels opened my eyes to a great deal of beauty, both natural and manmade over centuries past.
But beauty was also right there in the acts of kindness, courtesy and graciousness I witnessed every day.
Such as the cheery “Good morning” and warm “Have a good day”.
Such as the door patiently held open and the simple “After you”.
Such as the orderly queuing and waiting for a turn in crowded loos, fitting rooms, and packed food courts.
Such as the lady who reached the front of a London store fitting room queue after 20 minutes, and told the sales clerk to let a pregnant young woman right at the back take her place, and that she was prepared to trade places.
Or the elderly man in Bath who was ushered into a coffee shop and given a cool drink to escape the 31-degree heat.
Or the endless rows of dog dishes of fresh water in Looe, regularly replenished by shopkeepers, so our canine friends would be happier trotting about in the heat.
Or the Cardiff Castle guides who stayed on to tell their stories past the closing hour.
Or the men and women who offered food and drink to the homeless and hapless in the sudden evening chill.
Or this little lad who toddled forward to drop some money. Then proceeded to join in the performance – his way. The singer was delightful and talented, and won more hearts by singing with him.
One of the nicest things about travelling is the unexpected and often endearingly unforgettable little things that you come across.
Here are some of my favourite things. (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
This is Shakespeare’s Wallbook in Stratford-upon-Avon. Every one of his plays is represented in chronological order. You can read more about it here.
Then there’s this gorgeous carousel in Cardiff, Wales.
Here are some of the most amusing traffic signs in London. They are done by Clet Abraham, who is regarded as a menace by some councils, and as an artistic genius by others. He uses vinyl stickers for his art.
And a poignant poem on a train:
And, perhaps the most unexpected of all, two 30-metre tall Kelpie heads seemingly rising out of nowhere, in Falkirk, Scotland. Kelpies are said to be supernatural water horses, each with the strength of 10 horses.
Cardiff Castle, in Wales, may not be as famous as the castles and palaces in Scotland and England but it boasts some spectacular architectural surprises.
The brainchild of architect William Bruges, the almost 200 year old castle has an Arab Room with an ornate gold leaf ceiling, a nursery with fairytale murals and lamps, and exotic animal statues. And these are just a tiny sample of its treasures.
Believe me, these pictures don’t do any justice to the real thing.