28 June 2014

Hong Kong - G.O.D. HK Street Culture Gallery at JCCAC

Date of Exploration : 12 May 2014

Won over by the cheeky phonetics of "Delay No More" that made swearing in Cantonese legit, I've since become a fan of the creative minds behind G.O.D.'s uncanny talent to reinterpret Hong Kong's street culture. And when the lifestyle brand launched its hilarious line of buttocks-shaped mooncakes with such names as "Spread My Cheeks", "Full Moon" and "Mind the Gap", I needed little persuasion to take the road less travelled to visit its headquarters while in Hong Kong.

The anti-tardiness wall with passing eras captured on the faces of the clocks.
Founded by two HK architects in 1996, G.O.D. (which is an abbreviation for 'Goods Of Desire' while its Cantonese name '住好啲' means 'Live Better') specialises in homewares, decorative items, fashion and accessories that find their design inspiration from everyday scenes and folk vocabulary of its home country. From a humble warehouse in the densely populated Aberdeen Island (Hong Kong), the company has expanded to a occupy a mall with a presence in London, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney, shanghai, Guangzhou and Singapore.

Getting to G.O.D. HK Street Culture Gallery

The company's HQ and its HK Street Culture Gallery (a.k.a. G.O.D. Street Culture Museum) are located within a former garment factory built in 1977 at Shek Kip Mei (石硤尾). The disused factory is now converted into an art enclave housing creative agencies and businesses supported by Hong Kong's Jockey Club Charities Trust and renamed Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC, 賽馬會創意藝術中心).

The green facade of JCCAC. It's a pretty prominent landmark and hard to miss along Pak Tin Street. I call it the Incredible Hulk building.
To get to JCCAC, take the MTR to Shek Kip Mei Station, use Exit C and walk towards Pak Tin Street 白田街 (about 10 minutes). Ask for directions along the way if you get lost.

Alternatively, you can catch a cab from the MTR station.

Shek Kip Mei itself is a historic site as this is where high-rise public housing was first introduced when a fire razed the area's slums in 1953 and left 53,000 immigrants homeless. Many of the earlier flats have been demolished but this old factory was given a second life.

Interior of JCCAC with design studios, artists' creative spaces and offices holed up in units within the 9-storey building.

Works from the various art studios curl, spread and stand exhibited on the first level and throughout the various floors.

In Singapore, our flatted factories usually have their corridors facing out but the ones at JCCAC face in with a hollow center. I think it is more communal this way.

Do you spot something sinister in this photo?

Yeah, that's right, there's a huge creepy-looking head watching over the building like a leftover Halloween decor. Imagine if you need to work overtime and upon coming out of the office, you see this head smiling at you.

Some studios have their artwork spilling to the corridors and my fave were these psychedelic dolls. Maybe they are the man-head's girlfriends!

Playing into the retro aura of the place, various tenants reached into their memories and recreated their version of nostalgia. Riding on a yesteryear toy taxi (not literally!), my senses were brought to...
G.O.D. HK Street Culture Gallery

If you are thinking of just walking into the gallery, you can't. It is "by appointment only" and you need to email info@god.com.hk to book an appointment to visit. It is free to visit but do email early as they take quite some time to respond. We emailed about our visitation a week before our HK trip and were still trying to get a confirmation from G.O.D. a few days after we touched down.

Thankfully the acknowledge and "permit" came in time so we found ourselves...

... getting an eyeful of Hong Kong's retroliciousness!

According to G.O.D.'s website, all the artefacts are original pieces salvaged over the years. None of the items are replicas except maybe how everything was artificially brought together to mimic a teahouse or restaurant of bygone eras.

While many private galleries frown if you take photos, the Street Culture Gallery says "Please anyhow take photos"! Is that sign really from the old days? Shows that the history of camwhoring has a longer history than we thought!

Trash or treasure? You decide. I didn't know there was a fizz called Watson's!

Trashsure were strewn all over the small gallery that can essentially be divided into 3 sections - the replicated interior of a cafe, a store area lined with miniature scenes of old Hong Kong, and a studio where designers work. Photos are not allowed at the working zone.

Miniature replicas of 花牌 (congratulatory decorative boards).

Yesteryear dim sum 茶楼.

Love the details of these mini sets that make Lego look lame.

If you love feeling mahjong tiles, your hands would be all over this lucky boxer.

I didn't know it initially, but this is actually a no photography zone as it is next to the designers' desks...

... however, staff didn't stop me from photographing the intriguing wall of letterboxes and clocks opposite it until I took some shots of products on display (see photo below). At that, I was politely asked not to photograph the items and 'escorted' to the door.

Spent about half an hour at the gallery and left feeling like I've walked into the living room of someone with a hoarding problem but I guess therein lies the real flavour of Hong Kong... a talent in having a lot going on in compact spaces.

G.O.D. HK Street Culture Gallery makes for an interesting sideshow to complement any tour of the fragrant harbour!

Address : L2-06 JCCAC, 30 Pak Tin Street, Shek Kip Mei
Opening Hours : Weekdays 2 - 6pm. Closed on public holidays. Visitation is BY APPOINTMENT ONLY via email.
Email : info@god.com.hk

03 June 2014

Kuala Lumpur - Sek Yuen Restaurant (适苑酒家)

Date of Exploration : 7 June 2013

Under the recommendation of the friendly staff at KL's Ascott Serviced Residences, we came to Sek Yuen Restaurant, an old eatery specialising in authentic Cantonese dishes cooked over wood-fired stoves since 1948. Some of the dishes here are so tedious to prepare and rare, they've become extinct from the menu of modern-day Cantonese cuisine.

A 15-minutes cab ride took us from KL Ascott Serviced Residences next to the Petronas Twin Towers to Sek Yuen. The restaurant which serves 2 dining venues side-by-side isn't too far from the city's Bukit Bintang shopping belt. The building on the left is air-conditioned while the other decorated in neon is where diners usually try to get a seat to sponge up the delights of nostalgia.

Entering the restaurant is like stepping out of a time machine. Such retroliciousness!

I'm not sure, but I think the guy in white is the boss and descendant from the Sek Yuen lineage. His outfit reminded me of those yesteryear kopi tiam tow chiu. While many restaurants serving generational recipes dressed up their premises for that artificial retro flavour, Sek Yuen has the real deal! It's as though yesterday never left.

We didn't make a booking and just walked in for dinner. During Chinese New Year period, I heard it is impossible to get a table without any reservation.

Pig trotters stuffed with glutinous rice (糯米猪手). This dish is so exotic I'm never laid eyes on it until now.

Other dishes that require pre-ordering, sometimes up to a week in advance included the Roasted Suckling Pig, Stuffed Chicken with Eight Treasures (八宝鸡
), Seven Coloured Cold Dish (七彩冷盘) and the legendary Braised Duck Stuffed with Sharks Fin that apparently costs RM1,000!Another very popular festive dish that requires pre-ordering is the restaurant's Yusheng (raw fish salad) served during Chinese New Year.

Being a table of two with my friend having a conservative palate, we didn't get to try many dishes and went for the more conventional orders.

The thing that pressed my curiousity button was the rice served in a metal bowl. Instead of using a rice cooker, I read that the rice at Sek Yuen is steamed in these bowls.

Stir-Fried Chives with Siu Yuk (roast pork). This dish brought me back to childhood where my maternal grandmother, a Cantonese, is fond of stir-frying vegetable dishes with roast pork.

Seng Kwa Tofu (Braised Beancurd with Luffa Gourd). This is also a dish of nostalgia as I was introduced to the taste of luffa gourds by my granny. The tofu is excellent with a crispy skin and soft center.

One of the signature dishes at Sek Yuen is the Pipa Duck (琵琶鸭) which is first boiled then slow roasted till the most of the fat is gone and the skin crispy... a process that takes up to 6 hours! Other signature dishes include Stir-Fried Sharks Fin with Eggs, Sweet and Sour Pork, Steamed Beef with Ginger, Jellyfish Chicken and a couple more.

Sek Yuen is one of the last remaining guards of time-honoured Cantonese recipes so drop by for a taste of the old days (古早味) before it's gone!
Address : 315 Jalan Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel : +603 9222 0903, +603 9222 9457

Opening Hours : Tuesday - Sunday (closed on Mondays)
Lunch : 11:30am - 2:30pm / Dinner : 5:30pm - 9:30pm

25 May 2014

Kuala Lumpur - Chat Masala Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

Date of Exploration : 18 May 2014

Taking a break from fooding on Kuala Lumpur's famous Chinese eats, we brought our stomachs out of Jalan Alor and the congested Petaling Street (Chinatown) to the city's Little India for some taste adventures...

Am I Bollywood-ready or what?!
There are a number of restaurants that get the thumbs up from foodies online but due to a recent badass gout attack that limited my diet to low purine foods (fruits, vegetables and dairy), my only choice on the recommended list is Chat Masala, a restaurant serving South and North Indian vegetarian cuisine.

I'm not really a big fan of Indian vegetarian fare as I don't fancy pureed vegetables in the form of chutneys and pastes. Not to sound disrespectful of another culture's culinary heritage, but they remind me of baby's vomit. As you can imagine, despite the restaurant's top rating, I'm about as excited about dining at Chat Masala as going to work everyday on Mondays.

Opened in 2004, Chat Masala specialises in masala dishes (dishes cooked with a mix of spices) and the inventor of Indian-style mock chicken and mutton. It is named one of KL's TimeOut Top 40 Restaurants from 2008 - 2010.

Interior of Chat Masala. One of the founding philosophies of the restaurant is to provide fine dine dishes popular in India at affordable prices. According to its website, the spices used are imported directly from India for that taste of authenticity.

We prepped our appetite with an order of Strawberry Lassi (RM4.50) and Ginger Lemon Drink (RM3.00).

Then came our OVER orders! The menu is pretty extensive and resulted in us over-ordering in a bid to try as many variety as there is stomach space. Even though we chose small, the portions were still pretty big for the two of us. Our waiter should've advised us if we've ordered too much.

Fronting the table are the staples Andhra Masala Thosai (left, RM4.50) and Paneer Thosai (right, RM4.00) with servings of Palak Paneer (RM8.00), Butter Chicken (RM7.00), Malay Kofta (7.00) and Mutton Masala (RM7.00). Total bill : RM46.50

Thosai (also spelt Dosa, Dosai, Dosay, Dosha, and Thosay) is a crepe / pancake-like flour sheet usually made from fermented rice batter and black lentils. It is eaten with sambar (creamed vegetables) and chutneys (wet or dry side dishes made from fruits, vegetables and spices).

My vote goes to the Masala Thosai as the filling of potato, onions and spices was more flavourful than the comparatively blander Paneer Thosai.

Palak Paneer (pureed spinach with cheese)... taste is light but very filling due of the dairy.

Butter Chicken... this was recommended by our waiter. Taste-wise, it's pretty good but texture-wise, it's not quite like chicken. At the back is the Mutton Masala which is a must-order! The dish is fragrant and the mock mutton tastes like the real thing!

Malay Kofta... this is our favourite dish. Even though we were too full and couldn't finish all that we ordered, we finished this one. It's bursting with flavours and the Kofta which feels like a cheesy version of the Malay potato nuggets is supreme in taste! Absolutely loved this. And the malai (sauce) goes well with papadums (RM1.50).

Eating like the locals do... with my hand! Attracted quite a bit of stares from the Indian diners. I know they were looking because I was stealing glances at them to learn how to finger my food.

A spread of crayon coloured cakes and desserts greeted us at the entrance of Chat Masala.

I made a mental note to try this tulip shaped dessert but by the end of our meal, we couldn't eat another bite. Perhaps next time.

After the meal at Chat Masala, my opinion about Indian vegetarian food flipped 360 degrees... I'm now a convert and in love with the baby vomit chutneys that this restaurant does so well!

As the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. If not for my gout condition, I wouldn't  consider trying Indian vegetarian food while on vacation and discovered this delightful restaurant. Because of Chat Masala, my culinary vocabulary of Indian cuisine now goes beyond roti prata and biryani. This restaurant is a definite must-try when in Kuala Lumpur!

Getting to Restoran Chat Masala : The restaurant is located in the Brickfields district (Little India) and within walking distance from KL Sentral. Look out for the road with the orange-red tiled pavement and colourful arches. The restaurant is along this main road.

Tip : We took a cab here from Bukit Bintang (RM8.00) and lucky us, we got an Indian driver who knew the exact location of the restaurant just by mentioning its name. So if you want to take a cab there and the Chinese or Malay driver is clueless about Chat Masala, look for an Indian one.

Address : No. 259G, Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Brickfields, 50470, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel : 03 – 2260 3244

Opening Hours : 7:30am - 11:30pm (Thursday - Tuesday), 3:30pm - 11:30pm (Wednesday)

08 May 2014

Bangkok - Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Date of Exploration : 22 Feb 2014

Seeking to detox myself of the usual sights in Bangkok, I decided to pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and discovered that creativity is not the only thing that runs deep in this time capsule of Thailand's artistic evolution. The other thing that MOCA is steeped in is... pheromones. And lots of it.

There is no lack of information online that will give you the 101 about MOCA and what a delight it is to visit so I will not delve into too much details about its origin and purpose. Instead, I'll set out to confirm my suspicion that underneath all that aesthetic flair, the museum is actually a glass closet homage to sexuality! If Singapore had something like MOCA, maybe then our birth rate has hope of resuscitation. LOL.

The Louvre has its 'Winged Victory of Samothrace' and MOCA has the 'Great Hornbill Lady' as one of its defining artworks. Found at the museum's entrance, this huge sculpture represents the everlasting nature and instinct of love.
This post is going to be heavy on photos so I shall keep my ramblings short to let the pictures speak their thousand words. Many of the photos will be of artworks and although I placed my blog address on them, I don't claim copyright of the works other than having photographed them. I love museums and galleries where I can take photos of their collections!

Okay, copyright disclaimer stated, let's explore this latest visual aphrodisiac in Bangkok...

An Outdoor Gallery of Graffiti

I'm not sure if they were commissioned by MOCA, but there's an impressive line up of graffiti art on bridge pillars near the museum. There were countless of them along a stretch of about 2 kilometres of concrete bones and they form an unofficial welcome party to MOCA.

MOCA sits next to a train track with construction ongoing for an expressway at the point of my visit. I wonder what fun led the Minion to squirt. Hahaha...

My favourite art-ffiti (graffiti that is art) is this ingenious blending of the painted mural with the real world. I didn't realise it initially but after a shot, I realised that the artist was trying to assimilate the branches of a nearby tree into his painting. Let's hope the tree grows slowly and doesn't get removed!

Spray-painted doodles are found on every pillar like tattoos on a limb. Some pillars are even 'tattooed' on all 4 sides.

What's amazing about the free-form graffitis here is the variety of artistic styles.

I think it is fun to drop by this gallery of graffiti across MOCA as a supplement to visiting the museum. But look out for traffic while crossing the road and watch for the occasional passing train too!

Giftbox on the Horizon

Rising seemingly out of nowhere, the windowless Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok building resembles a giant understated giftbox; the kind of minimalist boxes that looks expensive because they have very little going on.

Opened on 23 Mar 2012, the museum is the result of one man's vision to provide a solid platform on which Thailand's contemporary arts can proliferate and reach new corners of creative expressions. I was floored when I found out that MOCA and its entire collection belonged to one man... Mr Boonchai Bencharongkul. A business mogul who founded one of Thailand's biggest telco, DTAC, Mr Boonchai is a passionate patron of the arts who amassed his collection over many years. Not sure about the value of the entire collection at MOCA but the man's net worth is estimated at over US$1.4 billion as of 2013.

I want to call him godfather!

Entrance of MOCA. No bottled water is allowed inside the museum so you'll have to either drink up or leave it at the ticketing counter. A drink coupon is issued with ticket purchase (180bht per adult) and you can exchange it for a bottle of drinking water at a cafe inside.

A sculpture catches the eye at the entrance. Don't you think it resembles a lotus bud made up of breasts and nipples?

From another angle, the motive on the building looks like... erm... a guy with his legs spread out and his schlong pointing to nipple lotus!
The MOCA Collection

Mr Boonchai's collection of paintings, sculptures and some artistic installations are distributed across five levels within MOCA with all the country's National Artist recipients have a spot here. Some of the bigger pieces have been specially commissioned to take up feature spaces and the museum has every artistic genre represented... from traditionalists to surrealists, from folk art to mixed medium experiments, from religious to the controversial, from scenes of everyday life to screams of wild imagination!

Most of the artworks are anything but boring and many are provocative, thought-provoking and even funny. Oh, and of course, lots of nudes.

Level 1 of MOCA's minimalist interior acts as a canvas for shadow 'wallpapering'. A cafe is found at a corner and there's also a gift shop.

A life-size Madame Tussauds-esque figure of Salvador Dali wearing a traditional Thai head dress by Watchara Prayoonkum sets the tone of the museum's collection. Expect the unexpected it says.

The father of impressionism finding inspiration within himself?

From afar, I thought the sculpture depicted a farm accident. Then I got closer and oh my, the stallions were having a Brokeback Mountain thing going.

Titled 'Adum & Steve' by Roengsak Boonyawanickul, I wonder if the misspelling of 'Adam' is intentional because 'U' resembles the tongue in a tribute to all that lapping action. LOL.
Of late, I've grown fond of photographing sculptures to form a personal interpretation of a piece through the captured angle. This black mannequin holding a Hitler puppet speaks of our actions being manipulated by an inner demon.

Behind blackie is a solemn white mannequin that suggests evil happens when we turn away from our conscience.

Eerie puppets of political figures including Gandhi (bottom left) and what I thought is Abraham Lincoln but turns out to be Saddam Hussein (right).

'Toy in 2008' by Suradej Wattanapraditchai. Interesting mix of media where the 2 boys in the foreground are actually painted on 3D wood planks with strings for hair.

Here's how to act virgin with Nonthivathn Chandhanaphalin's work simply titled 'Nude'.

Make love not war... Kissing 'Sumo' sculpture by Riharn Opas.

Level 2 is one of my favourite because of the totally disturbing and bizarre sculpture series found here...

... that looks like Dr Moreau's experiments ran amok!

Someone left a comment on my Instagram (@darrenn9) that the man's face belongs to that of Jumlong Srimuang.

Petting is allowed.

This installation titled 'Responsibilities' is being irresponsible with malfunctioning screens. I think the blackened screens are supposed to show something that adds to the full appreciation of this work's message.

'Knot' by Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew is an ethereal piece where a mesh of wires support layers of translucent canvas that form a sitting girl. Subtly captivating.

In an environment-built section of MOCA, Thai classical literature "Khun Chang - Khun Paen" where two men fought over the beautiful Pimpilalia was interpreted by two artists of different generations - Hem Vejkorn and Sukee Som-ngoen.

Cute sculptures and figurines of dogs are plenty so I was totally amused by this tongue-in-cheek depiction of a pooch pooing! The dog's expression is just hilarious!

A spaceship the gods arrive in?

Ganesha all bronzed up.

Left : Carnal meditation. Right : 'The Blessing of Lord Buddha' by Chalermchai Kositpipat.

'Nursing' by Vichai Noonpun.

'Chao Praya River 2' by Sompop Budtarad.

'Churning of the Milk Ocean' by Prateep Khotchabua.

The Hereafter's colossal artwork of The Three Kingdoms - The Human Realm, The Celestial Realm (Heaven), and The Unfortunate Realm (Hell).

Gallery of Thawan Duchanee, National Artist (Level 4).

Buddha on steroids.

Free your rainbow beast with Stud Krishna? Check out those pecs!

(Left) Mesmerising piece that drew me in so much that I forgot to register the work's title and artist. (Right) 'Time' by Chairat Saengthong.

(Left) 'MK82 GP Bomb' by Vasan Sitthiket. (Right) 'Madonna with 6 Bebies' by Singaporean artist Olga Polunin (yup, it was spelt 'Bebies' on the label).

'Mirror No. 5' by Amarin Buppasiri.

'Songkran' by Lumpu Kansanoh... accurate right down to the sleazy looking farang.

'Their Family & Your Family' by Sirote Thongchompoo. Hmm... Thong chomp poo.

Life as interpreted by 3 different artist... (Left) 'Real Life' by Sirote Thongchompoo. (Top Right) 'The Differences of Living 1' by Sudjai Chaiyapan. (Bottom Right) 'The Steps of Life' by Kiettisak Chanonnart. Looks like Kiettisak left the heads in Sudjai.

'Heaven Garden' by Wuttikorn Kongka.

'Prostitutes Under the Tree' by Tawee Rajaneekorn.
'Two-Dimensional Village' by Sompong Adusarabhan is an allusion to "the Buddhist doctrine in which all created being must pass through the cycle of birth, growth, decay and death."

Zoom in of visual components in the village illustrating that beauty will fade and what remains in death is a mere skeleton.

'Stream of Life' by Sompong Adusarabhan.

'Journey to the Next World IV' by Prateep Khotchabua. Did MOCA get the inspiration for the titties sculpture at its entrance from this crab of bosoms?

'Out of Buddhist Lent' by Prateep Khotchabua. Fancy some sashimi served on a naked torso?

Miniature of 'Great Hornbill Lady' by Thongchai Srisukprasert. While its beautiful naked form inspires promiscuity, the work is actually a metaphor for monogamy. Hornbills mate with a single partner life, a diminishing practise in today's world of sexual liberation.

'Three Worlds' by Thongchai Srisukprasert.

Breasts, testicles, animal hinds, human torso, demon, god... the under view of the sculpture sure straddles more than 'Three Worlds'!

'Kama-Tanha' by Thongchai Srisukprasert.

'Enchantment' by Thongchai Srisukprasert.

'Orahan' by Thongchai Srisukprasert.

What 'Orahan' wants to fly towards...

... more winged creatures by Praphan Srisouta titled "The Brave Versus Mara".

After all the weird and crazy works, it's comforting to find a mental breather through more 'normal' paintings of landscape and the rural in Thailand.

There's also a gallery that features temporary exhibits next to where the cafe (Level 1) is so be sure to check it out after touring the other levels.

The oddest 'room' that seemed out of place at MOCA is this space-themed ambient chamber that would make a nice entrance for any science centre. But it was pretty mesmerising looking at the swirl of stars.

I'm no art connoisseur but after visiting MOCA, I felt like I've gone through a rebirth in art appreciation.

I budgeted 2 hours for MOCA but ended up spending 4.5 hours in this enchanting playground of creativity and imagination. I haven't been to that many art houses but MOCA sets a standard that would be really quite hard to top.

This is definitely one place worth checking out... if not for an induction into Thai contemporary art, then it's for looking at truth through the nakedness of the many pieces. After all, sex = the moment of truth so what better way than way to allude reality than nudity right?!

Getting to Museum of Contemporary Art, Bangkok

The museum is located 10 minutes by cab from Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Take the BTS to Mo Chit Station OR MRT to Chatuchak Park and catch a cab from there. The cab will drive along Vibhavadi Road, pass the museum and make a U-turn into Changwattana Road (a small road running along a train track) to reach MOCA's entrance.

Tip : It is useful to print the Thai name of the museum (found on MOCA's website) and show it to the driver.

Address: 3 Vibhavadi Rangsit, Chatuchak, Bangkok
Tel: +66 (0) 2953 1005
Website : http://www.mocabangkok.com

Opening Hours : Tuesday - Sunday, 10:00am - 6:00pm (closed on Monday)
Entrance Fee : 180bht (Adult), 80bht (Students)
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