death by paper cut

{June 19, 2014}   The Aeta of the Philippines

The main destinations of this year’s YEP expedition were 2 Aeta villages (also known as sitio in the Philippines), one of which is in remote Alunan, Tarlac and the other closer to township is Maporac, Zambales. Other than these sites, side trips were made to Mt Pinatubo and the slums in Baseco, Manila.

The wide spectrum of experiences can be measured in several ways. One way could be by the number of places we put up for the night (tent, home-stay with the villagers in both Alunan and Maporac, a dormitory and a hostel). Another was by the number of people got to know. Yet another could be the different modes of transportation taken (airplane, coach, jeepney, van, four-by-four and bullock cart). And there was walking, lots and lots of walking especially between the villages in Tarlac because that is the most common way to get from one village to another in the hilly ranges of the highlands.

Tarlac 25 - Sitio Sitler

Zambales 2 - Journey to Marporac from Alunan

Tarlac 28 - Sitio Sitler Tarlac 86 - Sitio Alunan - Sweet Potato Farming

Tarlac 120 - Sitio Malabatay Tarlac 121 - Sitio Malabatay

Mostly nomadic and agrarian, the Aeta lived off the fertile land before the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991. Until the eruption, they could get by in isolated areas without much contact with others in the lower regions.

However, the massive eruption changed everything because firstly, it wiped out half of the Aeta population we were told and secondly, the eruption has altered the landscape for a long time to come by making it no longer as arable as before.

ecogreen explains:

Aside from causing climate change by cooling temperatures around the world, volcano eruptions also cause havoc on the immediate vicinity where they are located. In 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. Days before the massive explosion, water around Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga was undrinkable due to sulfur contamination. Ash obscured sunlight which damaged crops and killed farm animals.

Years after the explosion, lahar or mudflow composed of pyroclastic material and water during the rainy season, caused the displacement of thousands of residents.  Agriculture and farming was also at a standstill due to damage sustained by the eruption. What was once fertile and arable land became ash covered and deemed infertile destroying the livelihood of thousands of farmers around the region.

As such, the Aeta had to seek refuge in the lower regions. This inadvertently meant more intermingling with non-Aeta and an irreversible undoing of their quality of life. Although it has been 23 years since the eruption, the Aeta especially the olders ones who survived the eruption speak fondly of their former prosperity with prelapsarian wistfulness. Sitio Sitler for example, a small village in the highlands, had to relocate three times before they managed to settle where they are now.

For a first hand appreciation of the geographical and geological understanding the aftermath of Mt Pintatubo’s eruption, we made a trip to a crater that is now a tourist attraction. To understand how remote it is, this is how one would get there from Manila: a four-hour coach ride from Manila to the town of Santa Juliana, a transfer to a one-hour ride in a four-wheel drive from Santa Juliana to the start of the walking trek, and than a two and a half hour trek towards the crater. That trek to the crater is a mostly flat two-hour walk amongst rocky outcrop in the valley with no shelter and then another twenty to thirty-minute gradual ascend. We started our journey at 4am to reach the crater at 11am.

Mt Pintatubo is not extinct, but dormant. Hot springs in the surrounding area are still bubbling.

Mount Pinatubo 4 Mount Pinatubo 2

Mount Pinatubo 8 Mount Pinatubo 9

Mount Pinatubo 11

Mount Pinatubo 18 Mount Pinatubo 20

The Aeta in the lower regions are more racially diverse and modernised than those in the highlands because of the higher exposure to non-Aeta people, being connected to the power grid and being located closer to townships. Maporac, Zambales describes the former and Alunan, Tarlac the latter. This is not to say that one’s lifestyle is better than the other, it is just different with its own host of pros and cons.

The homestay experience in the villagers’ houses constructed mostly of bamboo was actually quite comfortable. The homes are neatly partitioned with the bedrooms (elevated platforms), kitchen and dining/living areas not unlike the kampongs of Singapore. The houses in Alunan, Tarlac are smaller, but more closely clustered around a civic area while the houses in Maporac, Zambales are more spread out, have a larger compound and sometimes their own outpost toilet and water-pump. 4 days were spent in Alunan and 7 days in Maporac. Maporac was where our core project site was; we helped to catalog their under-used community library and set up a new herbal garden.

Sitler, Tarlac (one-night stay enroute Alunan)

Tarlac 7 - Sitio Sitler Tarlac 5 - Sitio Sitler

Tarlac 15 - Sitio Sitler Tarlac 13 - Sitio Sitler

Tarlac 16 - Sitio Sitler Tarlac 12 - Sitio Sitler

Tarlac 11 - Sitio Sitler

Alunan, Tarlac (three-night homestay)

Tarlac 40 - Sitio Alunan

Tarlac 42 - Sitio Alunan Tarlac 39 - Sitio Alunan

Tarlac 78 - Sitio Alunan Tarlac 84 - Sitio Alunan

Maporac, Zambales (three-night homestay and four more nights at a dormitory located onsite)

Zambales 14 - Sitio Maporac Zambales 12 - Sitio Maporac

Zambales 16 - Sitio Maporac Zambales 18 - Sitio Maporac

Zambales 28 - Sitio Maporac

Being off the power gird, out of range of mobile reception and having limited water supply, the people at Alunan get on by being extremely ingenious and frugal. As city slickers, we did not know the first thing about surviving in such a setting. The Aeta however, showed us that the environment was not hostile, but a rich resource. They showed us how to make fire with bamboo, steam rice in bamboo and of course cook bamboo shoots.

Tarlac 49 - Sitio Alunan - Starting a Fire Tarlac 50 - Sitio Alunan - Starting a Fire

Tarlac 52 - Sitio Alunan - Starting a Fire Tarlac 54 - Sitio Alunan - Bamboo Rice

Tarlac 55 - Sitio Alunan - Bamboo Rice Tarlac 56 - Sitio Alunan - Bamboo Rice

Tarlac 57 - Sitio Alunan - Bamboo Rice

Tarlac 63 - Sitio Alunan - Food Preparation

With more amenities, the folks at Maporac had other resources but are still very in touch with making do with their natural environment. Almost the entire herbal garden was constructed from scratch within four days with bamboo obtained in the vicinity.

Zambales 85 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 93 - Maporac Community Garden Zambales 95 - Maporac Community Garden Zambales 94 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 102 - Maporac Community Garden Zambales 104 - Maporac Community Garden Zambales 108 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 117 - Maporac Community Garden Zambales 120 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 122 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 128 - Maporac Community Garden

Zambales 131 - Maporac Community Garden

Although the Aeta’s ancestral claim to the general domain is recognised by the government, there are areas that have been bought by developers and privatised for mining purposes such as parts of a river. Because it was the dryer midyear season when we were there in June, the water levels were low. However, the situation has been made worse as the water source is being diverted due to damming, mining and other developments. In fact, the underground wells of Maporac were depleted at certain times of the day during our visit.

Public awareness by activists has been raised to guard the Aeta against encroaching developers as can be seen from this publication in Tagalog.

Zambales 65 - Maporac Library Zambales 66 - Maporac Library

However, in the more remote rural villages such as in Tarlac where the Aeta are illiterate or might not even speak Tagalog, they are more susceptible to deception and exploitation. Arguable, they can lead sustainable lives with subsistence farming, but they are not spared the inflation of the wider economy when the cost of purchasing a buffalo has risen multiple-fold while the value of their cash crops continue to be depressed. In spite of the odds, the Aeta who spoke with us continue to be resilient and hopeful for their future. Humbling indeed.

Tarlac 10 - Sitio Sitler


{June 13, 2013}   Laos

Visiting Laos on a school facilitated YEP trip provided me with the experience of both a tourist and a local because the bulk of the time was spent in the village and interacting with the villagers. The access to the places, insights and hospitality that we gained because of our local network was invaluable and aspects I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy on my own.

Because I’ve already spent a fair amount of time driving the facilitation sessions and seeing to the nuts and bolts of the operations and logistics, I shan’t endeavour further to unpack the experience.

This 2012 Guardian article that discusses the social costs of backpacker debauchery in Vang Vieng is worth a read.

The following photos are from a year-end trip in 2012 and a return mid-year trip in 2013.

Ban Pong Xong (Pong Song Village)

Laos GPS 2013 6 - Ban Pong Xong

Laos GPS 2013 56 - Ban Pong Xong

Pong Song Village 3

Pong Song Village 34

Rice Harvesting 32

BBQ River Picnic, Pong Song 3

Laos GPS 2013 114 - Morning Trek

Laos GPS 2013 122 - Morning Trek

Laos GPS 2013 47 - Ban Pong Xong

Laos GPS 2013 52 - Ban Pong Xong

Laos GPS 2013 53 - Ban Pong Xong

Laos GPS 2013 335 - Dry Farming

Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 370 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 372 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 373 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 396 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 419 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 423 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 442 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 454 - Vang Vieng

Laos GPS 2013 464 - Vang Vieng


Vientiane, Laos 1

Laos GPS 2013 484 - Vientiane

Laos GPS 2013 492 - Vientiane

Laos GPS 2013 495 - Vientiane

Laos GPS 2013 512 - Vientiane

Laos GPS 2013 476 - Vientiane

Laos GPS 2013 499 - Vientiane

Rainbow from above

Laos GPS 2013 1 - Transiting at BKK

Between two skies

Laos GPS 2013 539 - Transiting in BKK

{December 20, 2012}   New Zealand

My year end new New Zealand vacation was one year in the making because it required some conscientious preparation not so much in the logistical planning but more on strength and body conditioning because a highlight of the trip was a 5-day Alps to Ocean Cycle tour with Adventure South.

Although it has been some years that I’ve learnt to move a bicycle forward, it was really in the recent 6 months that I gained enough proficiency for the cycle tour. This involved planning cycling routes around Singapore’s park connectors to clock mileage incrementally and subsequently buying my own bike, a Dahon, for mobility. Just before departing for New Zealand, I clocked my furthest distance (near 60km) to feel that I’m good to go.

60km Bike Ride

Dahon on the Move 1 Dahon on the Move 2

Although the general gradient of the cycle tour was a downhill journey from the Alps to Ocean, there were still a number of uphills that made for a really good workout, some of which I had to get off my bike to push. Headwind was another factor that I couldn’t have conditioned for in Singapore because we just don’t have that here. I took it in my stride though, and viewed it as a lot of fresh air coming my way.

In all, I clocked 209.87km over 5 days – the most covered in a day was 59.01km (Day 4) and the shortest, 16.08km (Day 5 – a day of constant dogged headwind). There were more than sufficient rest stops to be plied with really good refueling amidst the splendour of scenic New Zealand. Picnic lunches featured frequently as midday lunch breaks which consisted of all my favourite things –  potato salad, antipasti with olives and sundried tomatoes, ham, salami, roast beef, multigrain bread and an assortment of spreads. These breaks were prepared by our impeccable Adventure South guides, Stefan and Josh, who also doubled up as our drivers, safety officers, bike mechanics, tour guides and all-round warm and friendly kiwis.

Alps to Ocean Day 5 29 - Pareora River Road to Pleasant Point

Alps to Ocean Day 3 28 - Picnic Lunch at Aviemore Lake Alps to Ocean Day 3 27 - Picnic Lunch at Aviemore Lake

Alps to Ocean Day 2 53 - Picnic Lunch at Mount Cook Village Alps to Ocean Day 4 27 - Picnic Lunch at Kakanui

Our ride took us through an array of terrains and geological formations – from along canals, to open coastal roads,  meadows, snow-capped mountains, dams, valleys and bike-only paths by lakes. My favourite ride has to be the portion of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail along Lake Pukaki.

Alps to Ocean Day 2 41 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Alps to Ocean Day 2 31 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Alps to Ocean Day 2 35 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki Alps to Ocean Day 2 32 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Alps to Ocean Day 2 47 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki Alps to Ocean Day 2 27 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Alps to Ocean Day 2 34 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Other great routes and destinations

Opihi Winery (also lunch stop on Day 1)

Alps to Ocean Day 1 15 - Lunch at Opihi Winery, Pleasant Point Alps to Ocean Day 1 18 - Lunch at Opihi Winery, Pleasant Point

Lake Tekapo (first night’s accommodation)

Alps to Ocean Day 1 37 - Lake Tekapo Alps to Ocean Day 1 57 - Dinner at Reflections Restaurant

Tekapo Canal (also site for Salmon Farming)

Alps to Ocean Day 2 22 - Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki

Aoraki Mount Cook

Alps to Ocean Day 2 50 - Picnic Lunch at Mount Cook Village Alps to Ocean Day 2 67 - Aoraki Mount Cook to Glentanner Park Centre

Alps to Ocean Day 2 72 - Aoraki Mount Cook to Glentanner Park Centre Alps to Ocean Day 2 70 - Aoraki Mount Cook to Glentanner Park Centre

Alps to Ocean Day 2 76 - Aoraki Mount Cook to Glentanner Park Centre

Twizel (second night’s accommodation at Omahau Downs B&B)

Alps to Ocean Day 2 81 - Omahau Downs B&B Hotel, Twizel Alps to Ocean Day 2 80 - Omahau Downs B&B Hotel, Twizel

Lake Aviemore

Alps to Ocean Day 3 23 - Twizel to Aviemore Lake

Alps to Ocean Day 3 25 - Twizel to Aviemore Lake

Oamaru (fourth and final night’s accommodation)

Alps to Ocean Day 4 29 - Oamaru Historic Precinct Alps to Ocean Day 4 30 - Oamaru Historic Precinct

Alps to Ocean Day 4 54 - Oamaru Historic Precinct Alps to Ocean Day 4 55 - Oamaru Historic Precinct Alps to Ocean Day 4 43 - Oamaru Historic Precinct

New Zealand traffic – sheep crossing and cattle underpass!

Alps to Ocean Day 5 16 - Pareora River Road to Pleasant Point

Alps to Ocean Day 4 22 - Duntroon to Oamaru

And a cat that plots to take over the world, from Mount John Observatory no less.

Alps to Ocean Day 2 13 - Mount John Observatory

Alps to Ocean Day 2 12 - Mount John Observatory Alps to Ocean Day 2 9 - Mount John Observatory

Sight-seeing New Zealand on bicycle was definitely a great way to see the country. Personally, it was quite a feat because prior to this trip I never envisioned myself to be able to have the stamina or skill to cover this distance. And now I’ve become better for it. Besides us, there were nine other Kiwi grannies and grandpas on this trip in their 70s and who absolutely whipped my ass and left me to bite the dust. At their age, I am in awe of their fitness, good humour and zest for life! I can only aspire to lead the next half of my life to arrive as such.

Alps to Ocean Day 1 11 - Lunch at Opihi Winery, Pleasant Point Alps to Ocean Day 5 26 - Pareora River Road to Pleasant Point

Other than the 5 days on the road, we spent a few days exploring Christchurch and its surrounds. Although devastated by the earthquakes, and not fully recovered from them, the resilient city shows creativity and determination to make the best of it. The main shopping stretch has taken the form of a strip mall set up in containers – a project aptly named Re:START. It was heartening to see in mostly quiet Christchurch, that people were out and about enjoying the festive spirit amidst the visible urban ruins cordoned by fences.

Cashel Mall Re:START 1

Cashel Mall Re:START 4 Cashel Mall Re:START 9

Cashel Mall Re:START 14 Cashel Mall Re:START 17

Rebuilding Christchurch 3

Rebuilding Christchurch 10 Rebuilding Christchurch 12

Rebuilding Christchurch 6 Rebuilding Christchurch 24

An art initiative called Gap Filler that seeks to “temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city” takes site-specific art installations new heights.

On our way back from dinner one evening, we noticed a suspended disco ball in what seems to be an open-air club near a carpark. Nearby, was a souped-up coin-operated washing machine that invited people to activate the sound system from our own mp3 player with a 2 dollar coin. And guess what? The Dance-O-Mat worked! The theme song from Wrack-It-Ralph was blasted from the geek’s iPhone into the streets of Christchurch. No dancing flash mob appeared though.

Dance-O-Mat 12

Dance-O-Mat 6 Dance-O-Mat 5

Dance-O-Mat 4 Dance-O-Mat 1

Near the shopping area of Riccarton is Riccarton House & Bush where the Saturday Farmers’ Market is held weekly. Alongside the picturesque gardens runs the Avon River and the attendant dawdling ducks. The Avon river continues its course through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Riccarton Farmers' Market 3 Riccarton Farmers' Market 11

Riccarton Farmers' Market 22 Riccarton Farmers' Market 32

Riccarton Farmers' Market 29  Riccarton Farmers' Market 19 Riccarton House and Bush 7

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens 1

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens 5

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens 13

A short 2-hour leisurely drive away from the city is the harbour town of Akaroa of French orientation. History has it that the French were a little late in claiming this coastal village because the British had beaten them to it just days before. Regardless, because they found Akaroa so lovely, they stayed anyway attested by the current French flags, street names and accent we encountered. In fact, one of the founding operators of the Akaroa Dolphins Cruise can trace his lineage to the first French settlers.

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 8 Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 28

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 27 Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 17

Because this sagacious looking dog can detect the frequency of the Hector Dolphin’s echolocation, he will alert us when they approach. How clever!

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 3

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 49 Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 48

Other marine life – seals and sea lions along the cliffs

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 52 Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 55

Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 56 Akaroa Dolphins - Cruise 50

The waterfront of Akaroa, on a beautiful day.

Akaroa Waterfront 22 Akaroa Waterfront 4

Akaroa Waterfront 12 Akaroa Waterfront 21

Akaroa Waterfront 33

Within Christchurch, the other places of interest that are worth spending a day at are the International Antarctic Centre and the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. There is so much more to New Zealand I’ve yet to get acquainted with, however, in the span of nine days, the pace and depth at which I explored the places was just right. Future trips to the other parts of New Zealand Middle Earth are in the horizon.

Getting Around Christchurch 1

Complete photo album here.

{July 5, 2012}   Boston & Cambridge, MA

after a week in new york, i proceeded onto boston to attend a week-long conference organised by harvard. since this region is in essence a university town, the visit to boston anchored by harvard provides a pretty comprehensive insight to the place.

for just $15, i took a fuss free 4 hour bolt bus ride to boston from manhattan. traveling overland seems to be less complicated than air travel on this trip. without going into too much harrowing details, suffice to say, boston logan airport was in a state of chaos on our return which led to a cancellation of our domestic flight resulting in us missing our singapore airlines connection from jfk. after more flight drama, we managed to be rescheduled two days later. better late than never, right?

being accommodated next to charles river, it was never far from our sight. on one side of charles river is cambridge where harvard is situated and on the other side is boston where the cbd is. throughout the day, we would see scullers gracefully slicing the calm blue waters. just watching them is therapeutic. and somehow, there is always something charming and quaint about the boathouses from which the scullers move out from.

Boston 26 - Charles River Boston 13 - Charles River

Boston 17 - Charles River

Boston 11 - Charles River Boston 31 - Charles River

Boston 33 - Charles River

Boston 27 - Charles River Boston 57 - Charles River

harvard square and harvard university are unmissable attractions. for us however, they were integral to our visit to boston and a source of food and supplies which gave us a pretty close encounter with the place. obviously, it is trawling with students and has a very youthful vibe. in a way, it is kinda surreal like a movie set.

Harvard Square 5

Harvard University 43 - The Coop

Harvard University 46 - The Coop Harvard University 35 - Campus Tour

Harvard Square 19 Harvard Square 13 Harvard Square 23

Harvard University 5 - Lowell House Harvard Square 6 Harvard University 33 - Campus Tour

Harvard University 8 - Lowell House Harvard University 10 - Lowell House

it was in harvard square that i discovered the sumptuousness of uno chicago grill. obviously, it didn’t originate in massachusetts so i did a search for its other locations and noticed that there is an outlet in new york that i’ve been walking past every day when i was there. in any case i was busy eating up the rest of new york. anyway, i’m so glad that in my time in boston, i managed to dine there twice.

the main things i had at uni chicago grill are its famed deep dish, delectable soups and dessert. the deep dish is something like a pizza, but the base is made of very tasty and savory bread topped with fresh and crunchy ingredients.

Uno Chicago Grill 6

Uno Chicago Grill 7 Uno Chicago Grill 5

one of the desserts we had must have been concocted by a mad and ingenious chef – it is a freshly baked cookie in a pan topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce. mind you, the size we ordered was “small. the cookie was both doughy and crumbly with melting chocolate bits oozing from its semi-solid state.

now you see it

Uno Chicago Grill 9 a

now you don’t

Uno Chicago Grill 11

thanks to the suggestion of my colleague, we had dinner at legal seafood when we were in downtown boston. legal seafood was first established in cambridge and continues to make its base in masachusetts which makes it a local specialty. as we were a fairly large group, we could order a variety of dishes which we heartily enjoyed but faced a bit of struggle towards the end trying to finish it. i think we did well. the lobster and clams we had were the most succulent and full-bodied seafood ever!

Legal Seafood 3 Legal Seafood 9

Legal Seafood 6

Legal Seafood 7

Legal Seafood - Legacy Place, Dedham Legal Seafood - Legacy Place, Dedham

the day before we departed from boston for jfk airport, we spotted a full arc rainbow after some rain. rainbows are like silver linings – they do not ever appear in azure blue skies on a balmy day. rather, they appear briefly under dark clouds and actually begin to dissipate as the sky brightens. seeing the rainbow was very uplifting for us because it was seen during the additional days in boston as a result of our cancelled flight. in any case, since we had to be linger around another two days in the US, boston / cambridge are good places to spend extra time at.

Boston 58 - Rainbow

Boston 61 - Rainbow

{July 5, 2012}   New York – Redux

i’ve never encountered the perils and anxiety of flying till my recent trip. flight delays and cancellations mostly happened to other people, until now. on my way to new york on singapore airlines, the A380 was delayed while transiting at frankfurt first for 30 minutes, then 2 hours, and only took off after 4 hours. and this was after a very strange 20 minute bus ride from the boarding gate to some far flung hanger. this was 9 june 2012, german time.


airplane finally in sight for boarding


at frankfurt, there were also countless announcements about a change of gate for the flight returning from frankfurt to singapore, needless to say the return trip is also being delayed. incidentally, my colleague who was to take the same singapore airlines flight but a day later experienced the spill over effect of this particular delay and was told that his flight would be delayed for 5 hours at changi airport due to engine problems. a pair of colleagues who were also to take the same singapore airlines flight 5 days later were told that their flight was to be delayed for 8 hours. national pride was at stake. actually, more like national embarrassment. my colleagues and i were to arrive in new york enroute to boston for a conference.

eventually, i managed to safely arrive in new york, but 6 hours behind schedule due to additional delays at the congested runways of jfk airport and then the attendant manhanttan-bound traffic jam. fortunately, i am able-bodied and traveling relatively light (inbound) to be able to weather the weariness of air travel mostly unscathed.

so, finally, hello new york and beloved friends d.c. and c.w!

thanks to c.w’s prodding suggestion, we spent the most part of my first full day in new york at governors island. the entirety of the island is a recreational park that can be reached via a 5 minute free ferry ride on weekends, but be prepared to be in line for 30 minutes to board it.

embarking at governors island on a brilliant summer’s day

FIGMENT at Governors Island 5 - Ferry to Governors Island

FIGMENT at Governors Island 4 - Ferry to Governors Island

governors island was all abuzz with the arty and free-spirited vibe of Figment – “an explosion of creative energy. It’s a free, annual celebration of participatory art and culture where everything is possible. For one weekend each summer, it transforms Governors Island into a large-scale collaborative artwork – and then it’s gone.”

since i’ve covered the usual touristy new yorker icons in my visit last year, i was glad that i managed to check the more offbeat and in a way ephemeral attractions this time. the concept of Figment is that anyone inclined to showcase an artistic or conceptual display can do so by taking any spot in the park and set up shop. the contribution is therefore ground up in nature and supported administratively by volunteer organisers.

c.w.’s contribution – travel with stamps

FIGMENT at Governors Island 7 - Clara's Travel With Stamps

FIGMENT at Governors Island 6 - Clara's Travel With Stamps FIGMENT at Governors Island 9 - Clara's Travel With Stamps

and everyone else’s

FIGMENT at Governors Island 66

FIGMENT at Governors Island 19 - Nolan Park

FIGMENT at Governors Island 26 - Nolan Park FIGMENT at Governors Island 30 - Nolan Park FIGMENT at Governors Island 73

FIGMENT at Governors Island 24 - Nolan Park FIGMENT at Governors Island 28 - Nolan Park

FIGMENT at Governors Island 34 - Nolan Park FIGMENT at Governors Island 35 - Nolan Park

FIGMENT at Governors Island 37 - Nolan Park FIGMENT at Governors Island 49 - Parade Ground

FIGMENT at Governors Island 75 FIGMENT at Governors Island 72

another thing i did that was off the tourist radar is a free guided tour of the new york public library. it was also a great way to spend a rainy summer’s day indoors.

The New York Public Library 2 - Astor Hall The New York Public Library 44 - Jill Kupin Rose Gallery The New York Public Library 3 - Astor Hall

in singapore’s ever changing landscape, where no physical structure, land parcel or library is really accorded a high degree of sacredness, it was very enlightening to read these words stately etched in the new york public library – “The city of New York has erected this building to be maintained forever as a free library for the use of the people” and “on the diffusion of education among the people rest the preservation and perpetuation of our free institutions.”

the rotunda in the upper level of the library displays floor to ceiling paintings depicting the development of the written word. these works of art were commissioned by the government during the great depression to provide employment for artists.

The New York Public Library 23 - McGraw Rotunda The New York Public Library 24 - McGraw Rotunda The New York Public Library 25 - McGraw Rotunda The New York Public Library 26 - McGraw Rotunda

images that strike a chord with me – children at the library on opening day in 1911

The New York Public Library 39 - Jill Kupin Rose Gallery The New York Public Library 43 - Jill Kupin Rose Gallery

sketching of the cross section of the library’s book delivery system in 1911

The New York Public Library 37 - Jill Kupin Rose Gallery

the top level of this cross section section is the main reading room that currently looks like this.

The New York Public Library 32 - Main Reading Room

the thoughtful and continual preservation of the new york public library is a testament that “books are the carriers of civilization.” what is passed on in this building is not only the content within the pages of its collection, but also the reminder of the generosity of various philanthropists who have enabled the assembly of the bricks and mortar of such a mammoth endeavor to come into being and with it, the longevity of the spread of knowledge made accessible.

in the periodical room on the ground floor of the library hangs paintings of prominent publishing houses including the iconic times square.

behold! times square then, times square now.

The New York Public Library 13 - Periodical Room NYC By Foot 6 Hour Walking Tour 74 - Times Square

the high line and central park are other absolutely free must-dos attractions in new york. without actually planning to do so, i’m quite glad to have seen both of these places in a different light (pun not intended) because this time i visited them in the later part of the day.

i’ve had extended walks in central park but thought it might be informative to do so with a guided tour which for me means free tours by foot as my go-to tour company. this central park sunset tour would make it my fourth with them.

new yorkers working out

Central Park Sunset Tour 4 Central Park Sunset Tour 12

new yorkers walking their dogs

Central Park Sunset Tour 5 Central Park Sunset Tour 32

intricate stone carving in the bridge leading to bethesda terrace that i never before noticed

Central Park Sunset Tour 10 Central Park Sunset Tour 9

evening light upon central park

Central Park Sunset Tour 27 Central Park Sunset Tour 17

Central Park Sunset Tour 22

Central Park Sunset Tour 20

game to walk some more, m.k. and i headed to the high line after the central park sunset tour and began walking downtown from 30th street past 14th street. in my previous visit last year, i walked up town in the day from chelsea market, so this walking experience is quite different.

The High Line by Night 3

The High Line by Night 14 The High Line by Night 5

The High Line by Night 12 The High Line by Night 4

The High Line by Night 10

another park that i frequent in new york is carl schurz park in the upper east side because it is just blocks away from d.c.’s place and the usual destination to walk her dog. it is not a big park, but it is compact and lies along the popular jogging route of the east river. also because of the dog runs in the park, it is a point of convergence for dog walkers, families and picnickers, like us!

East River Park 1

East River Park 28 East River Park 16

East River Park 29

East River Park 31

a new region in new york that i checked out this visit is further upstate in the lovely and quaint town of beacon. the highlights of the trip were the contemporary art museum dia:beacon and the shops along beacon’s main street. however the hour long train ride from grand central station along the hudson river is quite a feature in itself.

Beacon, New York 5 Beacon, New York 7

Beacon, New York 11 Beacon, New York 10

Beacon, New York 16

beacon’s main street is lined with galleries, lifestyle shops and cafes set amidst a hilly backdrop and vast open spaces. it is about a 20 minute walk from the beacon train station.

Beacon, New York 23

Beacon, New York 20 Beacon, New York 27

Beacon, New York 24 Beacon, New York 25 Beacon, New York 26

a good lunch spot is homespun foods good for their fresh ingredients and sandwiches. the cafe is very cozy and as its name suggests, homely.

Beacon, New York 31 - Homespun Foods Beacon, New York 32 - Homespun Foods Beacon, New York 37 - Homespun Foods

Beacon, New York 36 - Homespun Foods Beacon, New York 35 - Homespun Foods

back in manhattan, amazing food is plentiful. although new york bagels is in no short supply, the only bagels i make a bee line for is H&H Midtown Bagels East and they open 24 hours! look at that beauty! my default order is the “everything bagel with cream cheese scallion”.

H&H Midtown Bagels - Everything Bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese 2 H&H Midtown Bagels - Everything Bagel with Scallion Cream Cheese 1

a really nice place for ice cream in the east village is van leeuwen artisan ice cream. for an ice cream, pastry and coffee place, the shop has quite a large seating capacity. both the store front and the interior are very inviting. the soft flowery pastel hues of its decor puts you at ease instantly and the music played with vinyl records sets a chic yet rustic tone. if you are not in east village, van leeuwen also has a food truck you might come across in the city. i had the chocolate ice cream at the shop and the earl grey tea flavour from the food truck. i think the earl grey is more unique and fragrant.

Van Leeuwin Artisan Ice Cream 1 Van Leeuwin Artisan Ice Cream 2

Van Leeuwin Artisan Ice Cream 5

Van Leeuwin Artisan Ice Cream 6 Van Leeuwin Artisan Ice Cream 8

another great place to pop by for dessert, and with a great view to boot, is bouchon bakery at time warner center, columbus circle. although pretty posh looking, i was quite surprised that the mains and desserts are not as expensive as i expected. for example, the immaculately prepared chocolate souffle is priced at $11.95. for that quality, that price is hard to find in singapore.

Bouchon Bakery 6 Bouchon Bakery 7

Bouchon Bakery 8 Bouchon Bakery 9

view of columbus circle from bouchon bakery which is located at the south west corner of central park

Bouchon Bakery 2

although this recent trip to new york was about half the duration of my visit last year, i didn’t feel that it was more hurried. i managed to achieve my objective of shopping for clothes (in fact a whole new wardrobe) at discounted rates, stuffing my face, taking long walks and busking in the company of d.c and c.w. also, with the use of a 3G prepaid data plan, i could rely on google for information on demand and directions.

other photos of interest

go burger at hester street fair

Hester Street Fair 11

tiny moth at the 5th avenue apple store

Apple Store at 5th Avenue 7

tile and mosaic art in the east village

East Village 6 - The Bean East Village 10 - St Mark's Place

filming on location in 5th avenue traffic

5th Avenue, Manhattan 3

justin bieber fans camping overnight on the streets

Toyota Concert Series - Justin Bieber 1 Toyota Concert Series - Justin Bieber 2

brooklyn botanic gardens

Brooklyn Botanic Garden 12

Brooklyn Botanic Garden 20

trees of brooklyn’s side walks

Park Slope, Brooklyn 9

vinyl records at park slope

Park Slope, Brooklyn 17

colourful balloons in the sky

Park Slope, Brooklyn 21 - Grand Army Plaza

et cetera