Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Little Fireworks Music

24 February 2018

Gong Xi Fa Cai - that's how you say "Happy New Year" in Chinese, but using Roman letters.  Which people use in Malaysian.  So, Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!

We've been having fun with all the new year celebration events.  One of the biggies is lion dancing, but I'm saving that for a separate blog.  There are also "Gods of Prosperity" who visit various hotels and malls, and people go to have good luck (and obviously prosperity) for the coming year, this year of the dog.

The Central Market has a wonderful display of three-dimensional animals of the Chinese zodiac - the dog was so-so, but the tiger was adorable (rather than fierce), and the dragon looked quite friendly (rather than breathing fire).  People were posing for photos with the dog, and possibly the animal for their year.  

There are shops all over selling red lanterns, seemingly necessary for new year's celebrations around here.  The streets are lined with the red lanterns, but the shops were amazing!  Who knew there were so many kinds of red lanterns?  Not just spherical, but shaped like hot air balloons, like an inverted raindrop.  Some plain red, others with gold borders, or pink flowers, or gold prints.  Some with tassels, others with streamers.  It was fascinating to see all the lanterns just jammed together.

I didn't buy a lantern, because we just have hotel lights.  But I thought we needed a little some- thing for the Year of the Dog, so I bought us two small red dogs with tassels.  Both have embroidery, sequins, gold stitching, and are crazily over-decorated for how small they are.  One is free-standing, the other is more like a holiday ornament - two sided but fairly flat.  We have them hanging from a window, and it makes the hotel room look just a little more personal.

For several nights around the 16th, the actual day for the new year, we were surrounded by fireworks!  Not big huge fireworks, but the smaller fireworks and rockets that people buy and fire off to make noise and lots of light - to scare off the evil and negative influences, spirits, demons, depending on your point of view.

Our hotel room (first hotel) was on the 3rd floor, but that's actually five floors above ground level.  (Ground floor; mezzanine; first; second; third.)  Less than half a block away, for three nights in a row, someone set off a series of rockets and fireworks which exploded just about eye level for us when we were in our room!  It was fabulous!  We both love fireworks, both the noise and the explosions and the flashing colors and lights - and this was like a private fireworks show just for us!!!  Absolutely wonderful!  

There have been other small fire- works exploding around the area, since we're on the outskirts of Chinatown.  We often hear them, but don't always see them.  Sometimes we only see the top portion of the exploding lights, barely reaching above the buildings across the street.  But it definitely makes for a festive atmosphere!

We can also see the KL Tower from our hotel window (new hotel), and the tower puts on a light show every night!  It's lit up and white, then changes through a rainbow of colors, sometimes half and half, sometimes the tower body in one color and the viewing area on top in contrasting colors.  Fun to watch it every night to see what colors show up.

Other than the various light shows and fireworks, we haven't been doing much.  A couple of dentist visits (but things are closed for two weeks for the Lunar New Year), a doctor visit and some physical therapy (and more to come), and me painting batiks at the Central Market.

So we bought tickets for the Malaysia Philharmonic Orchestra.  This city of 1.6 million people has a very good orchestra, with visiting conductors and guest performers as well as the in-house conductor.  Members of the orchestra are from all over the world, although they appear to be predominantly of either Asian or Caucasian descent.  (I'm looking at the program from tonight's performance, and many of the names seem very European - German, French, English, Spanish, and possibly Slavic.)

The Philharmonic Concert Hall is located in the Petronas Towers.  That's pronounced PEH-troe-nas, for the Malaysian petroleum company.  But what can I say, I never remember and just pronounce it petronus, like a petronus charm.

The Petronas Towers are gorgeous, all shiny steel and glass, huge towers of overlapping squares and circles.  Very Muslim in style, because the design is based on geometric shapes rather than any natural objects like plants or animals, which would be considered making a graven image.

The concert hall itself is also beautiful, full of horizontal beams of wood and lights, with more lights making a geometric pattern of the ceiling - concentric circles in the center, then criss-crossing lights like quilting across the rest of the ceiling.  We like the first tier of seats, looking down on the lower floor and the orchestra - the acoustics are definitely better there.

Tonight's performance started with Mahler's Symphony No. 7.  I don't know much of Mahler's works, but I do know he's known for his often discordant pieces as well as use of unusual instruments.  The Symphony No. 7 definitely had all those aspects.  I went to the concert with no idea of what the piece was about, so listening with naive ears (for lack of a better description), it first sounded like gathering the military, then marching armies.  Clashing discordance battling in the orchestra and on the battlefield.  At times the music was so unmelodic, it almost sounded as if part of the orchestra lost their place - except obviously the music was written that way.  The battles gave way to something triumphant, then the French horns calling across a valley and echoed by the oboes and clarinets.  Eventually the music turned into frolicking lambs in green pastures, young people gathering flowers, peace across the land - then a sudden burst of clangs and clashes and drums and the army was marching home.  Back and forth, scenes of the homeland and the army at march, until they arrived and all was resolved.

Yeah, Mahler saw the various movements of the symphony as four differing aspects of night, followed by the brightness of day.  Oh well.

I'm always amazed by the synchronized movement of the string musicians, all moving their bows in unison, creating rippling waves on a sea of music.  Except on bass player, possibly the first bass, a very large man who was the only musician actually smiling as he played.  He looked like he was dancing with his bass, moving his body with the music, moving his bass fiddle, ending each session of energetic bow work with a slowly raised hand in a balletic arch.  He was fascinating to watch.

The second piece was Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nümberg.  It was classic Wagner - grande, dramatic, melodic, dynamic, majestic.  Clashing in emotion and volume, but always melodic.  Powerful and emotional.  Much shorter than the symphony, obviously, but it was a nice fit with the Mahler.

Then we had wonderful views of the Petronas Towers lit up for the night, as we left to head back to our hotel.

It's late here, so I'll end - but in the next few days, I'll post a blog about all the lion dancing we've seen!!!


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Year of the Dog, Three Years of the Cat

10 February 2018

We're back in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur.  The  Chinese New Year begins on 16 February, and it will be the Year of the Dog.

But the last time we were in KL, late November / early December 2014, I helped mother a lost little tiny kitten.  The short version is that he somehow got into a hollow pillar in the dining room of the hotel where we were staying.  He was rescued (through a removed electric outlet), and raised by the hostess for the dining room.  For about a week or two, I gave him his post-breakfast bottle, then snuggled him as he napped, or played with him when he felt feisty.

And then we left for Vietnam.  After very heartfelt good-byes to Comel the cat (pronounced cha-MELL) as well as all the kitchen and dining room staff, who all became friends with me as I helped feed the baby cat.

For anyone who wants to read his whole story, here are the links:

The kitty is lost:

The kitty is found:

Breakfast with the kitty:

Continuing kitty:


Saying good-bye to the kitty and kitchen crew:

What can I say, I'm a cat person.  (In case you couldn't tell.)

Anyway, that particular hotel was booked for our arrival dates, so we're staying at the slightly more posh sister hotel on the other side of the intersection.  I figured I'd go over to our original hotel to find out what is going on with my kitty buddy Comel and his mother Anna.

We arrived exhausted, since our flight left Sri Lanka at 7:30 AM (meaning arrive at the airport no later than 5:30 AM), so we went to the restaurant down in the lobby of our hotel for a bite of dinner.

And the new dining room hostess?  Yes, Anna the kitty mother!

She looked up and recognized me instantly, just as I had recognized her.  Before I had a chance to say more than "good evening," she had whipped out her phone and said, "You must see pictures of Comel, he is all grown now!"  He has turned into a gorgeous big grey cat, and apparently is quite pampered and maybe even spoiled - he was posing regally for several photos, and looked very happy with his life.  "My husband!" said Anna, proudly, and she and I laughed.

So my little baby cat buddy Comel is doing well and is well taken care of, and his adopted mother continues to adore him.  Don't you love a happy ending to the story?  I always do!

And back in Malaysia!  It almost feels like a second home, although of course there have been changes in the past three years and a couple of months.  The bus station next door no longer has as many vendors - that was always a good spot for a quick meal, but the many shops and stands are no longer there.  The city has grown and there are more tall buildings on the skyline, though the KL Tower and the Petronas Towers still dominate.  

And many places are the same.  Our favorite local/Indian restaurant still serves wonderful biryani, though in Malaysia it's call briyani.  The market is still down the road, and I'll get there to do some batiks.  (Plus the dramatic thunderstorms are the same!)

Every place is gearing up for the Chinese New Year, hotels and shops are decorated with Year of the Dog signs.  Most are cutesy, as in dogs in Chinese clothing.  Or cartoony, in a very juvenile kind of way.

But one shop had a really great sign with a very Chinese style dog complete with chrysanthemums and all.  I asked if it would be okay to take a photo of the sign, because this was the best dog I had seen.  The young man said yes, no problem.  After I had finished with my photos, he then handed me a package with five envelopes that had the same dog, in reverse.  I thanked him very much, it was a lovely gift - and I think these are the kind of envelopes you put money in for gifts to people for the New Year.  (The sign said you get this packet if you buy something in the store for 200 ringgit or more.  I guess being a friendly traveller was close enough.)

Our hotel has red pussywillow for the New Year - and yes, the stems are rather red, so these are normal grey pussywillow steeped in red water to dye the fuzzy buds red.  (I'd have thought they'd just go with red flowers, but I guess pussywillow is seen as a late winter/early spring flower?  Though you'd think seasonal flowers wouldn't change much here, we're 3 degrees north of the equator.)

The supermarkets and grocery stores have lion dancer Happy New Year signs.  Even Coca Cola has a special Happy New Year (or maybe good fortune for the New Year) cans!

Not everyone who is Chinese is celebrating the Chinese New Year.  Malaysia is an interesting mix of people - there are the Malay and Bumiputera people, the original inhabitants along with some other smaller ethnic groups; the Chinese and Indians who came and stayed during various kingdoms; and Europeans arriving during the great age of exploration, colonizing and then centuries later leaving.  Malaysians are rather mixed ethnically, although most of these groups have retained their distinct cultures adding to the broader Malaysian culture.  Just as Deepavali (Diwali) is celebrated by more than the Hindu Malaysians, and Christmas is celebrated by more than the Christian Malaysians, so too is the Chinese New Year celebrated by more than Chinese Malaysians.

We're hoping for fireworks.  We've been told that there aren't big organized fireworks displays.  That families celebrate the New Year within the home. 

We're hoping that those families have some fireworks stashed away to fire off into the night on 16 February!  So that we too can help celebrate the Year of the Dog!  (Rather ironic, though, considering how many poor dogs are terrified by fireworks.)

Richard is working on his dentist visits (and the dentist recognized us), and finding a good neurologist to get a second opinion on his back.  Plus finding a physical therapy facility.  We'll be in KL for a while, it seems.

Good thing there's so much to do, and that we like this city so much!