Saturday, August 18, 2018

Rich and Poor London

London is wonderful, if you can afford it.  It is true many museums are free, for some of the exhibits.  Some rooms at Tate Modern are free.  But to see the special Picasso Exhibition, you have to pay 22 pounds, which is 220 Hong Kong dollars.  

At Covent Garden, there is quite a bit of entertainment.  You don’t have to pay the performers if you do not want to. although you will probably feel uneasy if you don’t, after watching them work so hard.  

Royal Albert Hall provides world class musical performances.  But each ticket sets you back 30+ pounds.  

Sumptuous food abound.  Succulent steaks aged dry or wet, for a specific number of days.  

Fresh fish that look as if they are still alive. 

Cakes that look like colourful caterpillars.  

If you really like your cat, you can buy her organic beef.  Really. 

Jamie Oliver’s kitchens.  He is an amazing person.  It has been fun watching his rise from a young chef with some fresh ideas into an institution, making an impact into areas such as school lunches.  

But only if you can afford it.  

Right in the middle of all these, in front of underground stations, outside of monuments, just a few steps from posh restaurants, …, sitting in the rain, are beggars and street sleepers. 

There are older white males, young white males, female south asians, and young white females. 

They must have their own stories.  But they all have something in common.  They cannot afford it.  And there are many of them. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

British museums

Three hours after flying out from Iceland, my wife and I landed in London.  This is not the first time we are in London, and we decided that we would just take it easy here.  In the past 2 days, we have been to Tate Modern Gallery, National Gallery and British Museum.  All of them offer free admission, with so much to see.

Van Gogh.




Andy Warhol.

Gustav Klutsis.  He was a artist in the Soviet Union.  In a poster made in 1931, he showed members of Stalin’s politburo leading the world’s workers in a procession.  By 1939, two of the politburo members were executed, one was assassinated and another committed suicide.  Klutsis himself was arrested and executed by Stalin’s orders in 1938.  

And so much, all for free.  

My wife said this is “大國風範”.  Which other countries offer admission to their best museums and galleries for free?  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Iceland - Njal’s Saga

“Nial’s Saga” was written by “anonymous” in the 13th century.

Hallgerda, Hauskuld’s daughter, was good looking, tall of stature, and fair-haired, but she was also lavish and hard-hearted. When her father accepted, on her behalf, a marriage proposal from Thorwald, Oswif’s son according to the custom, she was upset because her father did not consult her.  

Hallgerda was prodigal and grasping, and there was nothing that any of their neighbours had that she must not have too.  When the spring came there was a scarcity in the house.   When she complained to her husband, “thou and thy father have made your money by starving yourselves”, Thorwald got angry and gave her a blow on the face and drew blood.  

Hallgerda complained about it to Thiostolf, her foster father, who went on to kill Thorwald.  Hallgerda sent Thiostolf to seek refuge with Swan, a great wizard and Hallgerda’s mother’s brother.  

When Oswif led many men to go after Thiostoff, Swan took a goatskin and wrapped it about his own head, and said, “Become mist and fog, become fright and wonder mickle to all those who seek thee.”  A great mist then came against Oswif’s men, they could see nothing, fell off their horses and dropped their weapons.  

When Oswif confronted Hauskuld and his brother Hrut to seek atonement for his son, Hrut make an award of two hundred in silver - that was considered a good price for a man - Hauskuld did so and Hrut gave Oswif a gift of a good cloak.  

Later on, Gunnar, a great fighter proposed to Hauskuld to marry Hallgerda.  This time, Hauskuld made Hallgerda betroth herself.  

Hallgerda compelled a slave/servant to steal food and cheese by threatening to kill the servant.  When this was founded out, Gunnar got angry and gave her a slap on the cheek.  Hallgerda said she would bear that slap in mind and repay it if she could.

Gunnar is a great fighter and won many fights.  At one point, Gunnar was travelling with his brothers Kolskegg and Hjort.  They were ambushed by 30 men.  They killed 14 of the men and wounded many others.  But Hjort was also killed.  

Many chiefs joined in praying for an atonement, and so it was brought about the twelve men should utter an award in the matter.  As a result, Gunnar was sentenced to go abroad for three years.  Gunnar agreed to the award.    However, when he started his journey, Gunnar’s horse tripped and threw him off, and he decided to stay home.  

At “The Thing” the following summer, it was officially announced that Gunnar had become an outlaw.  

A very large group of men attacked Gunnar at his home.  After killing many, Gunnar was wounded and ran out of weapons.  He asked Hallgerda for two locks of her hair to be twisted into a bowstring for him.   Hallgerda said, “now I will call to thy mind that slap on the face which thou gave me.”  At the end Gunnar was killed.  

The leader of the attackers, Gizur the white, said, “We have now laid low to earth a mighty chief, and hard work has it been, and the fame of this defence of his shall last as long as men live in this land.”

There were a lot more to Nial’s Saga. 

It is said the Sagas inspired the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Iceland - whale watching is exciting

We drove 6+ hours to the northern port of Husavik to go whale watching.  

The day that we traveled was sunny.  But it turned dark, cloudy, windy and then it started to rain.  On the morning that we sailed it was still in the balance whether the winds and the waves were too dangerous to sail.  Eventually we did go out, but it was really windy and raining throughout. 

Almost everyone took medicine to prevent seasickness.  But many still could not handle the big waves.  Many big guys threw up multiple times.  It seems being big and strong is not protection against seasickness.  Fortunately I was OK.  

There were several boats out there.  Many of them were smaller than ours.  Watching them made us realise how such pitching and rolling was happening to us in the open sea north of Iceland.  That puts us inside or at least very close to the Artic Circle.  

The smallest boat, a blue one, was the most nimble.  Every time we encountered a whale, it was the closest to the animal.

We did manage to encounter 3 whales.  I caught a glimpse of the back of the first one.  The second one I missed completely.  The third one was very kind to show her back a few times and finally its fluke.  I think they are humpbacks but I am not sure. 

They were too quick for me to take pictures of them.  Our tour guide sent us a picture that she took last year, in the same area.  Perhaps it is one of those that we saw?

We were out there 3 hours.  Many thought it an ordeal.  As for me, once I realised I was not going to throw up, it actually was quite exciting and enjoyable, pitching up and down, forwards and backwards, rolling left to right, in the open sea.  As long as the boat does not capsize, of course. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Green Iceland

Iceland is 100 times the size of Hong Kong in area, but only less than 5% of the population.  And more than half of that population live in and around Reykjavik. Once we get out of Reykjavik, there is hardly anybody anywhere.  

My impression so far is it is so green.  I was told that there has been plenty of rain this season.  So the grass is growing well, and lots of them have been cut, packed for the winter, and sold to other countries.  

There is also plenty of water, from the rain, run off from the glaziers, etc.  

So there is plenty of space to raise those horses, sheep, cows, etc.  

And hot springs to give you energy in the form of heat.  It seems the moss has grown adapted to it. 

I was also told that the land is not particularly fertile.  There was once so many horses and sheep (more than humans) that the land cannot support them.  Now the number is more manageable. 

It would seem that one can choose to live in small groups apart from others, on grassland at the foot of your mountain.

Or you can choose to be completely alone, with on once else in sight but grass, water, and mountains.  

It looks somewhat similar to my image of Norway, and northern Canada.  

Beautiful. And would surely be enjoyable for a get away.  

Monday, August 06, 2018

Iceland - First Impressions

My first strong impression of Iceland is vast fields of volcano rocks and pale green moss on the way from the airport outside Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring.  

The hot spring at Blue Lagoon is set in the middle of the field of volcanic rocks, surrounded by low lying mountains in the distance.  It is clean and tidy, and hot.  They give you volcanic mud to put on your face, which many people claim to be very good for your skin.  

I was told that the the water from the hot spring is actually recycled from a power plant.  The power plant draws bot water from deep down in the ground to generate electricity.  The waster water is still hot enough for people to bath in. Iceland is very environmentally conscious.   

In the city hall, there is a very large model of Iceland.  It is very nicely made, enjoyable and educational.   Why don’t we do something like that in Hong Kong?  

Outside there is a beautiful pond with ducks and geese ...

and a friendly seagull.  

All in all, a very pleasant way to meet Iceland.  


Thursday, August 02, 2018

Young Old Penang

Our family just spent several very enjoyable days in Penang, Malaysia.  We have heard that Georgetown, the largest city in Penang was built by the British, and that Penang has a large Chinese population among Malays and Indians.  We are still pleasantly surprised by how well the heritage has been preserved. 

Georgetown was built by the British in 1786 to control the trade through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Sumatra of Indonesia.  So it is only 200+ years old, relatively young by world history standards.  Unlike cities like Hong Kong, however, it does try hard to preserve and revitalise the historical character of the city.  

We stay at a hotel converted from a row of shop houses.  It has very high ceilings and pleasant heritage furnishings.  Very comfortable and right at the edge of the old city.  

Opposite from the hotel is an old cinema with a familiar name, which seems to be used as a venue for parties these days.  

We took our first meal at a popular restaurant covered from an old gold jewellery shop. 

There are many temples, worshipping gods that we are familiar with.  

Apparently the Chinese have been coming to Malaysia, Penang specifically, for hundreds of years.  

They brought with them food, clothing, customs and gods.  

There are many ancestral halls worshipping the ancestors who have contributed to the prosperity of the clans.  

Just like those in Hong Kong and China. 

There are clan halls for gathering and accommodation of members of the clan who come to this part of the world to work, trade, … from China.  

There are schools for the education of the children of the clan, no doubt in the study of Chinese classics.  

There is another hotel converted from an old medicine shop.

I understand 70% of the population has Chinese heritage.  Many people speak Mandarin, Hokien, Hakka, Cantonese, etc.  

Penang is not very old.  Yet it preserves its heritage very well.  All these gives Penang a very distinctive and interesting character.  

There are, of course, also sizeable and distinct communities of Malays and Indians.  I understand that at other cities and states, there are similar communities with different sizes and proportions.  I keep wondering what is the meaning of a nation (and nationalism) with such multi-cultural compositions.