Tag Archives: Singapore

Diwali: the Festival of Lights (Singapore and India)

I first ‘experienced’ Diwali in 2011, at Little India in Singapore.

Happy Deepavali
Happy Deepavali

I was walking around with two friends when I saw these massive makeshift arcs lining the streets of Little India. Clueless that we were, we thought these were just day-to-day decorations to the community, reflecting the Indians’ colorful way of life.

Lalai and Tetet (and Starbucks?!)
Lalai and Tetet (and Starbucks?!)

Little did we know that we were right smack in the middle of a full on Festival of Lights and a season of prosperity for Indians, particularly the Hindus.

Massive Deepavali arcs at Little India, Singapore
Massive Deepavali arcs at Little India, Singapore

I celebrated Diwali properly while a VSO volunteer with Yuva Rural in India, assigned in Nagpur, east of the state of Maharashtra where I was based. When I say “properly”, that means we lit up some diyas (oil lamps) and firecrackers (although I don’t really light one these days), made (well, watched how they make it for me) rangoli (colorful and beautiful designs people put by their doors or house surroundings), participated in the community events, performed the puja, and ate Diwali food!

Lights and Firecrackers

Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is being celebrated in India for several reasons, mostly religious. Most commonly (or at least that I was made aware of), Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom in Ayodhya after saving his wife Sita from the Demon god and his exile in Sri Lanka. According to the Ramayana, Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya was welcomed by his loyal subjects and celebrated through the lighting of diyas or oil lamps, hence the “bursting” of fire crackers and lighting of fireworks.

My colleague Ratna was the chief instigator, err, organizer for the simple Diwali celebration at our office. She got this oil lamps. They’re really small!

Unlit diyas ready for Diwali celebration
Unlit diyas ready for Diwali celebration
Lit diya at the office (yes, it gets this dark in my area in Nagpur)
Lit diya at the office (yes, it gets this dark in my area in Nagpur)

She also played as my fairy godmother and draped me into my first saree ever!

Me in my first saree with Samta and Ratna
Me in my first saree with Samta and Ratna
My landlady's daughter Pratiksha lighting firecrackers (Uncle and Auntie were supervising)
My landlady’s daughter Pratiksha lighting firecrackers (Uncle and Auntie were supervising)
Me and the fire fountain!
Me and the fire fountain!

Prayers, songs and dances

The community temple also played songs (and I guess prayers) all the time (and I mean all the time) during Diwali!

The community temple
The community temple

They also set-up a pandal (like a stage/platform) wherein prayers were sung and performance were, errr, performed.

I especially liked it when they had the cultural performances of several dances! Every song has meaning of course but I was enjoying too much to ask my translators — the Meshram kids and their friends!

Colors and more colors

With Diwali comes not only lights and firecrackers but of course, colorful-than-usual idols, rangoli powders and other decorations!

My friend Rahul, who happens to be from Nagpur, invited me to their home which is on another side of town. The trip was worth the wait meeting his family and seeing all the Diwali action!

Idols and diyas sold on the street
Idols and diyas sold on the street
Colorful decor store
This decor store is just so…colorful!
everlasting and marigold
Flowers and leaves for idols and pandals
Step 1: Get some colored powder; Step 2: Create your design outline; 3: Steadily "color" the design outline by carefully  "pouring" powder; Step 4: Tada!
Step 1: Get some colored powder; Step 2: Create your design outline; 3: Steadily “color” the design outline by carefully “pouring” powder; Step 4: Tada!

I liked taking pictures of rangoli so much that I took a picture of almost every rangoli I passed by — on the street, by the gates, in a supermarket! Literally, every rangoli, everywhere!

Rangoli! Rangoli! Rangoli!
Rangoli! Rangoli! Rangoli!

The Puja and the Food

Diwali is also the time to perform Lakshmi puja, a prayer ritual to goddess Lakshmi (and other gods too!) for wealth and prosperity.

Ratnas Neighbors Altar
Ratna’s Neighbor’s Altar – This really isn’t that many considering the 330 million deities of Hinduism!
See all that cash? :D
See all that cash? 😀

So, as part of the celebration, I had my fair share of firecracker bursting and fireworks lighting! And, I observed and participated in a family’s Lakshmi puja and aarti!

puja 1
Uncle, as the head of the family, began the Puja
puja 2
My colleague Ratna performing her part
puja 3
A family that prays together, stays together. Right?!
puja 4
Uncle and Auntie 🙂
puja 6
They had two altars. I think this one is the more permanent in the house.
puja 7
I had to practice several times before I actually performed the puja. I can’t remember what I prayed for but given that I’m pretty happy where I am now, maybe it was granted. Di ba?! 🙂

Of course, an Indian festival, or any other Indian occasion for that matter, is incomplete without food! I got to taste Auntie’s cooking (and Ratna’s too I think!) and that of their neighbor too!

Diwali Food 1
Sweet and savory snacks!
Diwali Food 2
Gulab jamun and savory food at the neighbor’s house
Diwali Food 3
Auntie’s sweet paratha!

Being a foreigner who, even after eight months of living in India by that time, remain unknowing of the many facets of Indian and Hindu culture, I consider myself lucky to have experienced Diwali in a truly Indian fashion! I even got Rs. 100 note from Ratna’s neighbor, since I was the youngest of the visiting people! I felt like it’s Christmas and all my aunts and uncles are giving me money! Hehe 🙂

with ratna family
Yes, I think, even without praying for it, I have already been blessed. 🙂

For this, my heartfelt thanks to my adoptive family the Meshrams, to Datta Sir’s family, my colleagues at Yuva Rural, and Ratna’s family. I probably wouldn’t have experienced Diwali the way I did if not for y’all!

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#100Days Photo 13: Clarke Quay, Singapore

20140415-234146.jpg
Like most Filipinos, the first international travel I did was in Singapore, back in 2010. It was mostly a choice of Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong at the time. And since going to Singapore means easy access and a side trip to Kuala Lumpur, the choice was clear. Hehe 🙂 Clarke Quay in Singapore is probably one of its most photographed landmarks, especially from the angle where the Merlion, Singapore’s well-known symbol, stands in wait to greet the travelers. This photo, however, was taken while crossing the fascinating double helix / DNA bridge connecting the area of the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands. In late 2011, which was when I took it, the helix bridge was already built. Either way and either angle, Clarke Quay is such a sight both at daytime, with it’s clean and calm waters and floating tour boats, and night time, with the shining lights and bustling night life. If you thrive in the urban jungle but would at times seek the comfort of calm water scenes, Clarke Quay is a must-visit place whenever in Singapore! >

Backpacking South East AsiA – A Beary Nice Hostel in Chinatown, Singapore

During my solo backpacking South East Asia month in 2011, I mostly stayed at hostels and dorm-type accommodations. So, even when I was momentarily joined by two friends in the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia leg, they were made to follow the backpackers way of hostel-type accommodations. And, I would like to think that we all had a very good experience staying at the Beary Nice Hostel in Chinatown, Singapore.

Singapore - Beary Nice lobby
it’s a beary welcoming reception

Back in 2010, I have wanted to stay at the Beary Good Hostel, also in Chinatown, during a very short couple vacation in Singapore. We decided otherwise and it was only during the 2011 backpacking trip that me and my friends stayed at Beary Nice Hostel, which happens to be a sister hostel of Beary Good. Continue reading Backpacking South East AsiA – A Beary Nice Hostel in Chinatown, Singapore

FotoFolio: The Helix Bridge and Singapore Flyer

I have been to Singapore twice: first in April 2010 for a quick 4-day Singapore and Kuala Lumpur birthday holiday and second in October 2011 as part of my 4-week backpacking South East Asia trip.

Helix Bridge and Singapore Flyer
Helix Bridge and Singapore Flyer: Metallic Wonders

The first time we went, as we had limited time in Singapore itself, I think we only saw a glimpse of the Singapore flyer and the newly-[half] opened helix bridge. The entire Helix Bridge, which connects the Marina Bay area, officially opened in July 2010.

Inside the Helix
Shaded walkway for a fine afternoon stroll

When we came the second time, we spent almost an entire day just walking around the streets of Singapore. And of course, when we visited the Marina Bay Sands area before heading to the Singapore Flyer for our ride, the Helix Bridge served as a pleasant, interesting and [most importantly] shaded connecting walkway.

View from Helix Platform
The Singapore River and Skyline (leftmost is Fullerton Hotel, with the small Merlion a little to its right; rightmost is the Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, with a bit green of The Float)

Not only that. When you walk through the walkway, you also get a chance to have a different vantage point (opposite side of the Merlion area) to appreciate the calm Singapore River with the bustling skyline in the background.

Happy walking! Click here to read the Wikipedia entry for Singapore’s Helix Bridge.

Backpacking South East Asia: the Say What?! incident turned blessing in disguise

(I strongly suggest that you first read the “Borneo Quick Summary” before continuing with this post.)

As promised in the previous post, I will be posting  more  about my arrival at Senai Airport in Johor Bahru just to get it off my chest already. Hahaha. No, it wasn’t anything serious or dreadful, I just want to relive the moment before I forget the details of that night. This is the SAY WHAT?! situation I got in when I decided to go with and spend the night at the home of a half-Malaysian and half-Filipino guy and his family living in Masai, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. This one will be quite detailed so, bear with me, ok?!

Meet Jhulson
Meet Jhulsona and his newly-bought scarf at a Muslim fashion store (around him are not pants but the Todong donned by Muslim women

Day 5, about 11pm: We touched down at Senai Airport 30 minutes too late for the final bus to the city center. As I was warned by couch surfers not to take the taxi which will just rip me off and I have no prior hostel reservation, I chose to accept the offer of Jhulson to sleep at her Aunt’s place. He was the guy seated on the row behind me, who I thought was complaining about my reclined seat. It was only until he spoke Filipino in a bit louder voice that I realized he just wanted to talk, as he wants to brush up on his Tagaloog (he is of Zamboanga descent and understandably, knows very little Tagalog). I wanted to talk to him but I was too tired and  groggy from waking up early, crossing from Brunei to Miri, and walking continuously for five hours within the city. And so, I told him I would like to rest a little and that I would talk to him later. This never happened as I woke up upon landing.

So, his act of kindness of offering me a place to stay was totally unexpected. In his words, “Huwag ka na hiya. Ano ka ba naman. Siyempre, Pilipino, tayo na lang tulungan.” Since he was picked up by his uncle (wearing the usual Muslim hat/headdress) and a little boy in tow plus an Indian driver friend, I assumed that they do not belong to any syndicates who are into human trafficking. So, I went with him.

I texted my Johor Bahru couchsurfing contacts and asked them where Masai is coz that’s where I’m headed. Of course, there was still doubt in my mind! One of them replied and said it’s about 30minutes or so from the airport. I also sent a message to Rajie, my Malaysian co-volunteer and told her what happened. I was under stress at the time and I didn’t know if I called her, she called me or we just texted each other. But then, perhaps Jhulson had more trouble about my presence since his phones were beeping with messages and ringing off the hook.

I did not understand what was happening but with the very little Malay I learned in the past five days and with him mentioning Miri, Tagalog and Singapore in a succession of words for almost each call I figured I had something to do with it. So I asked if the conversation was about me and he said yes.

Apparently, his brother, sister and sister-in-law are panicking coz HE IS BRINGING A GIRL HOME. I told him to clear with them that I am just some helpless stranger to whom he had shown kindness. I already did, he said. By the time we reached their place, which is about 30minutes of being in the car, his Aunt has welcomed him in open arms and though she genuinely welcomed me into their house, she looked at me warily. Continue reading Backpacking South East Asia: the Say What?! incident turned blessing in disguise