November 30, 2005

The Lions

Some lions in the pampas of the lion city here:


Monika sent me a link to a CNN story about the looming execution of the Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van this Friday 2 Dec at 6am. It is a very interesting case to see how media works here and what kind of coverage this story gets..

I'm following it quite closely through various blogs, but the mainstreem media (THE newspaper at least, I don't watch much TV) keeps it strictly off front page and main headlines. Some stories about unreasonable Australian reaction to all this is reported in the World section, Australian part as if it is an internal Australian matter that doesn't directly involve Leijonakaupunki. There are a lot of letters published in the Forum page (a lot of them written by Australians) encouraging Leijonakaupunki not to give up its strict position. There wasn't a single letter that I would remember, written in a clever and intelligent manner that would reason against death penalty. Today was the first time they published couple of letters saying that Leijonakaupunki should maintain their strict laws, but could show some mercy..

Pauline Ooi Chen Ni, for example thought on Wed:

AUSTRALIA, in indulging in mob hysterics (and maybe a false sense of moral superiority), has chosen to ignore Leijonakaupunki's sovereignty and the laws governing our land and people.

Continuing to champion a convicted drug smuggler, and not acknowledging his crime and the harm his act would have brought to (Australian) society, reveal much of the sorry state of law and order, and sense of social responsibility, in Australia.

Ted Rehak, says today:

THE hysterical outbursts in the Australian press and silly comments by various do-gooders are basically due to two factors. Firstly they think it wins votes and, secondly, Australians simply envy leijonakaupungilaiset.

We envy you for being able to walk your streets at night without fear of being attacked. We envy you roaming sands of Sentosa without worrying about discarded needles.

We envy you for ahving a prime minister who spends his time running the country, rather than defending convicted drug-runners.

We do not have any of these things in Australia so we are jealous.

And here is an interesting story on the Leijonakaupunki executioner that was supposed to hang Nguyen on Friday, but was sacked (?) after blabbering too much to the foreign media..

Just throw Nguyen to the lions of the Leijonakaupunki!! Surely that would be a spectacle! Why bother with gallows and moral hardship of killing another human being?

Posted by gkligyte at 06:54 PM | Comments (9)

November 29, 2005



The door is finally there!!! It didn't take even a year to get it installed in our kitchen. We started complaining about the noise coming from the construction site through the kitchen window sometime in April and look - by the end of November (+ 4 visits to measure) we finally have it!!! That's swift! This weekend we'll have a chance to test if it keeps a bit of noise from the living room.. Sometimes simple things can be very complicated.. For example, it took Kaj 5 visits to the locksmith + 3 for me to get a copy of our apartment key: "doesn't work? ok, here's another one, try this", "oh, doesn't work again, ok maybe this will work?", "but these are exactly the same, uncle, can you do something?" "ah ah.. ok lah, here's another one.." :) Kaj looses his temper about these things, but as we usually get things done (with 7 months delay sometimes.. :) I don't mind that much...


Last weekend I went to explore Dempsey road surroundings by bicycle. It is an amazing area of old military barracks. Still UNDEVELOPED. Not UPGRADED. Not RENOVATED. I can't believe that they just leave it like this (surely not for long).


There's almost no NOISE and no construction CRANES peeping from each corner. There's "antique" furniture warehouses, wine wholesalers and organic fruit/vegetable market every Saturday. Lots of space and place to rest your eyes on. No cafe though (why not?)! And very empty.. Not much of entertainment I guess..


There's a lot of old abandoned houses around that area (the one on the left is actually some Malaysian sultan's ex-palace - plans for upgrading/demolishing are already drawn for this one..). I find it very strange that this kind of atmospheric beautiful houses are left to rot in the prime areas of the town. Our school had some plans to renovate old army barracks in the city center, but the plan was rejected as too expensive - "its a conservation area, all protected, you can't build 10 stories up", was mentioned as one argument against. Unfortunatelly most of these beautiful areas it "State land. Enter at your own risk" or "No tresspassing. Offenders will be prosecuted".


And this is what happens when somebody takes the UPGRADING seriously. I couldn't believe what they've done to Clark Quay. The sheer horror of these FUTURISTIC structures and amazing LIVELY colours almost made me puke. This was the first place where we had a beer when our plane broke down on the way to Bali some 3 years ago. And it was beautiful! Good enough!! Not really needing any RENOVATION..


I wonder what will happen to Little India when they will decide to CLEAN UP. Its one of my favorite places in town, because it feels real with all the dirt and chatty people, vegetable stalls, messy colourful beautiful and its not RENOVATED. This Deepavali decoration elephant (picture on the left) is at the crossroad for about a month now, but nobody bothers to clear it.. Its somehow very nice!!! The picture on the right I took on one of my bicycle trips - its some kind of church/community center/playschool/kindergarden/school complex. And there are these live human sized sculptures of Jesus in all the Golgota scenes (must be at least 12, but probably more). What stroke me was that these sculptures are arranged around the childrens playground. What better way to grow good-God-fearing citizens there could be?!? I'm often shocked to find how deeply religion (Christian) is embedded in people's lives here. A boy that I met while taking pictures said "God bless you" when we were parting, a colleague that is leaving school may write a farewell email ending "Into the Lords hands I hand in my future", etc.


Some more nice discoveries on park connectors (bicycling trails along the canals). There's actually nothing more disconnected than "park connectors" here. The road may go some 2km and end abruptly bumping into an expressway (with no way to cross it) only to continue on the other side with fresh marking of 0km.. And no way to get there at all, unless carrying your bike into the bush and on that kind of railway bridge or making a 1/2 hour detour into the neighbourhood. If they're so good at digging, why don't they did a underpass for bicycles?!?! Obviously people who ride cars are more important. But why call it a "connector" if it is literally "disconnected"?!?!


Some remains of the Design Festival still, the Phunk Studio exhibition. One of the few homegrown design companies that somehow "made it" internationally.

Posted by gkligyte at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2005

Win & Loose. But mostly loose.. :)


There's new developments at the construction site outside our windows - apparently the piling works are over and the new contractor took over. Everything they do looks scarily professional. First thing they did was to build workers' barracks & install an electricity generator that was running overnight (!!!) at first. The low vibrating sound (humming outside the window right now) can drive you nuts when you try to get some sleep.. After several calls to the National Environment Agency they switch it off at 10pm. A victory of sorts, but it also means that we have constant low frequency noise 7am-10pm at our home.. It seems that ever since we moved into our apartment things were going worse and worse with each passing week.


To escape the noise we went cycling yesterday and made a 5 hour round in the Bukit Timah biking trail. This was my 3rd time on that trail and the first time that I dared to go downhill some slopes. The road is really bumpy, there's rocks, tree roots and loose gravel or slippery clay, plus the path drops at some 45-60 degree angle. It is actually pretty damn dangerous place and at times I was just gripping my bicycle handles with just one thought in my head: "if you chicken out now, you're dead meat. You better stay on that bike!" while the surroundings were getting blur (because of speed?). I still don't think that is quite "my thing", but I was impressed with what I'm capable of (Kaj was impressed too, although he can take those slopes blindfolded by now.. :)


Jurgen stayed overnight at our place before leaving to Finland. He attended a conference here and won the Best Paper award (that's nice!). Just before leaving we went to eat chili crab (Leijonakaupunki speciality!!) and had some great seafood in a place not far from our home. It was nice as you can see from our appearances.. :) If you're coming to visit anytime soon, we'll take you there!! Anybody planning to come?!? Hurry!!!


Besides all that we went to see Giuliano's band's performance in the band's competition in the Dutch Club on Friday. I thought their band was really great, but the judges for some reason thought that the only real asset in that band was Giuliano himself, so he won the "Best Keyboard Player" award! Yippii! Not bad after 1 month of joining the band!!! (btw, did other bands have keyboard players?.. ha ha.. :) That concert was one of the rare glimpses that we have here to the "real expat life". Superficial as our encounter was, I can't say that it was "our crowd" - hanging out in the country clubs with other rich corporate people, having maids cleaning your house, sending kids to international schools, etc... Funnily enough many of the women in the audience looked like clones - blondish longish hair, slimish anorecticish build, wrinklish tight-lipped brownish tanned faces.. The stereotype of an expat wifey?!? Or rather a French expat wifey?!?


Otherwise the weather is becoming interesting and quite pleasant here - the rainy season is starting and we have rain almost every day. On some days the sun doesn't even peep out from the clouds (like today). Great!! Funnily enough it is also some kind of spring here - many of trees are in bloom and I started buying "forest" flowers from Tekka market - some tiny little blossoms on spikey branches. Beautiful! The monsoon season is supposed to bring waves to Desaru, but it was quite flat last time we went there couple of weeks ago..


Posted by gkligyte at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2005



Last week end was great - there's Leijonakaupunki Design Festival happening right now. I didn't expect anything good - last week was also the first week of the semester ( that means that all the students are trying to finalize their time schedules - that means a whole lot of work for me and Yong, the poor small timetabling team..)


At the end I just decided that I'll just go to the DesignEDGE conference no matter what, as there were lots of stellar names among the speakers (Designers Republic, Unkle, etc). So I abandoned Yong to struggle with the timetabling and...


...boy ow boy it blew my mind... Ever after Japan I feel inspired to do things and this conference gave me few more kicks in the backside.. Damn, Giedre, go ahead and do it!!.. Go and Play!! Why does life have to be so boring?!?


A bundle of design magazines and books down the road I announce myself officially INSPIRED!


Taking DFuse guys to give a speech at our school added more to that - these people are so damn pretty normal.. They also have their daily ups and downs, but they manage to do good stuff somehow (on their free time at that!).. Yeah, I think I forgot how to Play last year.. And life started pressing its heavy boot upon my shoulders after a while..


And yes, definitely, silkprint is next on my "to learn" list. I didn't get the Faile print on a Tshirt that I bought, so I'll have to make my own. I already have an idea and a small design (4 colours!! I must be crazy to make it!!).. As soon as I open the print line here, you can start queing for the Tshirts.. :) I already started making arrangements to understudy some lecturers that teach textile decoration.. Finally I'm back on track. Play!

Posted by gkligyte at 08:17 PM | Comments (2)

November 05, 2005

My last Japonism


I'll try to finish the Japan stories with this one - its been a while since I came back and I'm tired of all the "ah.. oh.." how beautiful.. :) Besides there's new things happening already.. For example, on Thursday we went to the beach in Desaru and today we went cycling (and I'm so damn tired!)... Bear with my Japonisms just one more time.. :)

Ok lah.. Back to Japan.. I had hard time finding accommodation in Kyoto before the trip. Apparently it was because there were 2 matsuri (festivals) on the same day while I'm in Kyoto. Of course, I was delighted to find out that I'll get a chance to see them both.


First there was Jidai matsuri - a long parade of people dressed in clothes from different Japan epochs. The costumes were quite entertaining, especially the stupid looking ones. Some of the armors seemed to be completely useless in a battle, but in general I was happy to see lots of colours and floral designs in men clothes. Some of the ancient looking men were sporting Luis Vuitton handbags and umbrellas (see the picture? :)


Once again I was struck about the apparent lack of importance in the women's role in Japanese society throughout ages (all represented by this festival). Women were nowhere to be seen and if they'd pass by, their faces would be painted in white and they'd move in small steps like dolls (the geisha type). Why there were no female in samurai dresses? or in any other superior looking dress?


The fire festival was not in Kyoto, but in Kurama, a suburb/village some 45min train ride away. The main attraction obviously was the generously revealed men's buttocks .


The men from the village were carrying immense torches, supposedly showing dead people the way to the underground. It was relatively interesting and romantic to warm my hands at a fire and the whole idea of freezing during an autumn night was very fresh for me (it must have been below 10C degrees).


The problem was that all of Kyoto felt equally romantic about this idea. I had to que for 2 hours just to get on the train (if I wouldn't have met one girl from Israeli, I wouldn't have gone there at all - which would have been a good thing afterall.. :), almost fainted in the train, almost froze to death and had to que another 2 hours to get back to Kyoto.. Wahh.. If you ask me, the men's butts are not really worth that much trouble!


While travelling in Japan I stayed in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). That is a very excellent way to experience more of Japanese culture. The rooms have tatami floor and you sleep on a futon (and they give you a hard buckwheat pillow! Yes, just like home!!) carefully layed out for you by a maid or the owner of the place (its rolled up in a wardrobe during the day). You get slippers, a thermoss of hot water, green tea set (with a sweet!) a yukata (a comfortable cotton kimono-like dress).. Often you can slide open all the walls of your room or the windows that are made out of paper and you'd usually have a small garden in the inner yard. You'd notice that most of the time you kneel while in the room, because everything is so low, you have to kneel at your table, kneel to put the table lamp on, etc.. Some common courtesy things reminded me a lot of the Lithuanian courtesy during the soviet times (as time goes I notice more and more Korean and Japanese influences in Russian culture!). Take off your shoes before entering the room, if you're a guest you're given slippers (how unhygenic!), the tea is always brewing, you change into a cozy home-robe as soon as you come home, even some of the traditional designs reminded my kindergarden furniture - rounded door handles, etc.. The Japanese go one step further and introduce common baths (where everybody is naked (female, men separately) and even bath water is shared - everyone dips!). This is not very far from Finnish sauna though..


The last destination in Japan was Koyasan - the heart of the Shingon Buddhism sect high up on the Koya mountain.


There are over 100 Buddhist temples in that small area and over 50 of them offer accommodation.


There's the Shojoshin-in temple where I stayed overnight in the picture up there ^ and down there v. I had very high expectations about Koyasan (must be a very spiritual place with so many temples, I thought), so maybe that's why I was disturbed by the noise (fixing the roof right above my room! ow no! Really made me feel like home.. :) blowing dry leaves with loud machinery, construction here and there...


Besides the noise, I read up in the room regulations that members of Japanese gangs as well as radical nationalists are not allowed to stay in the temples since the new regulations were introduced in 1991. I assumed that until then Koyasan had been infested with macho/fashist/yakuza members that would come to this place to look for the roots of their national pride or smth like that (besides all that, surprise surprise again, women were not allowed in Koyasan town until the end of 19th century!). All this got even worse when at 16:30 (thats when the sun sets in there) they started playing some music (sounding quite nationalistic) through the loudspeakers outdoors and some 20 eagles started flying over the valley (apparently scared by noise).. Hmm.. Men in leather clothes riding bisycles, men in souvenir shop looking like Chinese gang members in their bourdox jackets, jade necklaces.. I realized that I didn't like the place at all!!!


Luckily it was time for dinner and besides having this woderful meal (all that food just for me! :) I met Randy, an American man who saved the Koyasan experience for me! (I guess he's reading the blog too..:)


We went for a walk in the nearby cemetary (that is attraction on its own - its huge and as you can see - very very mossy and beautiful). Randy was a super curious person, who would tirelesly wonder about everything around, so I found myself coming up with hundreds of theories of why things work/look in a certain way, as well, as starting to wonder about things myself. This sharing of the travel experiences really lightened up my heart and after all, I quite liked Koyasan!!


The guests that stay in the temple are invited to join the morning meditation session at 6am. I really waited for the 6am to come the whole night and I'll explain why, later.. :) It was very cold in the morning - only 4C degrees and the walls of Japanese buildings are very flimsy (don't even want to know how it is in winter!). We sat in this freezing cold for about an hour, but it was a very special and beautiful experience.. When the monks started with "oooooommmmmmm.." and a gong, I could really feel the whole world vibrating.. Funny that in Lithuanian "nubudo, bunda, budeti" that means "woke up, is waking up, is awake" sounds very similar to Buddha (it actually means "Awakened One" or "Enlightened On" in sanskrit). Well, here's a proof that the Lithuanian language is the pro-language for all the other languages! Or maybe just that it didn't stray too much from sanskrit.. :)


I couldn't sleep the whole night in the temple (thats why i was waiting for the 6am!). I went to sleep early just to wake up around 22:30 in terror. Somehow I got very frightened (there's a huge cemetary some 20m away!!) and couldn't get rid of the feeling that there's a lot of suffering around this place.. The Thai horror movies that involve buddhist monks didn't help either. I couldn't close my eyes, because I'd see (imagine) ghosts walking on the ceiling upside down and showing their tongues...

During the prayer session in the morning in couldn't help thinking that Buddhism is a very dark and mysterious religion. The chanting, the darkness in the temple, the idea that a much better alternative to life is nothingness.. If you'd like to imagine the exact opposite religion, it would be some cheerful protestant branch with their brightly lit (simple!) churches, lambs and everything so squeeky clean.. I think that Buddhism comes close to some ancient form of Catholicism - the same kind of sense of mystery, very close relation with another world, no-problem attitude to cruel deaths (nailing to the cross, dead bodies hanging on the walls), worshiping body parts of dead holy men, etc..


It wasn't until last Wednesday that I got to know more about the Koyasan in a Discovery channel documentary. Apparently Kukai, the initiator of the Shingon Buddhism sect, has not only been a prominent thinker and an architect (building water reservoirs, etc). He also come up with a 10 year program for the buddhist monks to starve themselves to death. By the choice of diet - 3 years eating nuts only, 3 years of pine tree bark and branches, 3 years of nothing (?) + drinking highly arsenic water from a holy spring, - they actually enbalm themselves alive. In one of the mausoleums in the cemetary there are several monks that died in this way. Their bodies do not decompose, because during 10 years of starvation they got rid of most of the flesh and water in their bodies. They are so dry & poisoned that when they go to their undeground grave (yes, alive, they just go there), their bodies pose no interest to worms and germs at all. A superb way to reach immortality, don't you think? No wonder I couldn't sleep in that place... Luckily I was completely unaware about all this then.. :)

Posted by gkligyte at 08:39 PM | Comments (6)

November 01, 2005


"Kirei" is an untranslatable word that means "beautiful", "simple", "fair", "pure", "plain" or "clean". This is the best word to describe most of things in Japan.


I heard a lot about Kyoto, especially about the temples and shrines, relaxed pace and beautiful walks. My expectations were quite high, but the gardens in Kyoto really blew my mind.. How can anyone be so sensitive and particular in designing their environment? - I don't understand. How much time these people need to spend maintaining their gardens? How do you even start one?


These were not even temples, just gardens of normal people in Kyoto (probably very rich people, but still!!)


And the smell of autumn again - persimmon trees, smell of the earth and rotting leaves...


It seemed that people still grow their vegetables and rice. I couldn't understand how anyone could sustain so small farms and tiny rice fields. My colleagues say that the small Japanese farmers do quite well. Consumers are very particular about where their food comes from and they are ready to pay for the quality (1kg rice may cost about 25sgd). Home grown pears, not imported from China, seaweed from the home shore, rice from your neighbour's field.. For me, everything looked very romantic, kind of "old school". You probably noticed that quite often I long for the better olden times, naive as I am.. :)


However, after Kawaguchiko Kyoto seemed to be very "cultured" and crowded. A lot of Japanese tourists (mostly elderly!) everywhere, school children having day trips to the nearby temples, etc. At times it felt too "set up" - all the cute small streets lined up with souvenir shops, tea houses with pretty gardens, a bit like Tallinn, I have to say.. ;)


The modern part of Kyoto was still very nice - narrow streets and very humane proportions of everything. I think it must be because of the earthquakes that they can't build very tall buildings (although government buildings in Tokyo are overwhelming!). Even if modern architecture is nothing to rave about (generally), when you walk down the street, you still get the happy/cozy feeling. I don't know why, but I guess that its because the size of the buildings is very manageable. The cities are built for humans, not for cars. If you ask me, this is what makes a city great. This is where Leijonakaupunki should look for the x-factor and everything..


This was the first Japanese cemetary that I saw. You can gather where the modern Japanese architecture is drawing its inspiration, don't you?.. ;)


In Kiyomizu-dera, one of the temples in Kyoto (btw there's a shinto shrine inside a buddhist temple, isn't that true religious tolerance for you?!), I learnt that rabbits are actually the messangers from moon (and in this temple, apparently messangers of love too). The rabbit lives in the moon (you can see rabbit's face on the moon) and makes mochi (chewy rice balls).


There are also 2 rocks set some 18m apart in Kiyomizu-dera. You're supposed to walk with your eyes closed from one to another and if you stumble upon the rock, you'll find true love in your life. I was very amused by all the school groups blindly "looking for love" (girl and boy groups separately, of course!!). You should have seen what kind of delight would errrupt once they hit and almost fall over the rock! The whole group would start jumping out of joy!


Other important shinto spirits are foxes that are the messangers of the god Inari (any connection with Finland?). Foxes are able to transform themselves into the shapes of human (racoons can do that too).

Kitsune, or fox, grow in power as they age. After a century, they grow a tail and gain the ability to shape-shift and possess people. The most powerful foxes are those who reach the grand old age of 1,000 (the so-called nine-tailed fox). When a kitsune gains nine tails, its fur becomes silver, white, or gold, and it gains the power of infinite vision.

Kitsune are renowned tricksters. In many Japanese folk tales, the kitsune appears in the form of a bewitching woman who seduces and tricks unworthy men or rewards and protects deserving people. In human disguise, the she-fox can breed with a man. Fox folk can also cast illusions, appear in dreams, and read thoughts.


And, of course, the humble cat has great powers in Japan. Cats are lucky. They're fat and they're everywhere in Japan.

The rule for today:
Touch my tail, I shred your hand.
New rule tomorrow.


Towards the end I slightly overdosed on temples, but this bamboo forest was still exceptionally amazing. There's plenty of places in Japan where you'd just want to stay, watch quietly completely stunned by the beauty..


You'll come across many small kiosk-like shops, where you can get your simple meal of tofu.. At some point in trip you just start breathing differently. Everything is so "kirei"!!!


Posted by gkligyte at 10:17 AM | Comments (1)