A Night At The Ballet

So here’s my outfit for this week’s SIA, inspired by Degas’s sculpture, “Little 14-Year-Old Dancer.” The outfit itself is pretty self-explanatory – I simply took inspiration from the neutral colors and ballet theme of the sculpture, hence the ballet flats and the skirt (which I think should be called my “ballet skirt” from now on.) However, you may notice that this is not the usual background for my outfit photos. In fact, it is very unusual – it’s the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia!!!

That’s right, I just came back from a 2-week trip in Russia, during which time I had the wonderful opportunity to watch a ballet at the prestigious Mariinsky (I originally wanted to go to the Bolshoi in Moscow, but their schedule didn’t quite line up with my travel plan.) I had to admit, this was the reason I picked this sculpture as the inspiration for SIA, because I knew I’d have the chance to take my outfit photos at the theater itself. I’m still kicking myself for not getting a picture of me in my seat, but I was so overwhelmed by the experience that I barely even remembered to take pictures at all (I snatched these quickly during the intermission.) So here are some pictures from my seat instead – our seats were not the best, but they’re the best we can afford (we were in the 3rd box on the 1st tier, and they cost about $70 each). The ones with a better view of the stage are naturally more expensive.

As for the show, we saw La Bayadère, which, while not as well-known as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, is actually one of the most famous classical ballets in Russia. It’s good that I knew nothing about it beforehand, because that means I could fully enjoy the experience and understand the story from the dances alone – and it’s truly amazing how the ballet manages to tell the story so clearly just with music and dance moves. Of course, this being the Mariinsky, the technique, music, and costumes are all top-notch. And the three leads are perfectly cast too – I’ve seen photos of other productions, and while I have no doubt the other dancers are all experts, their looks are not as well-matched to their characters as the ones I saw (being a filmmaker, I can’t help but notice these things).

(You’re not supposed to take photos during the performance, so all of my photos were during the curtain calls.)

Stay tuned for my travel posts, and don’t forget to come back on Wednesday to see other outfits inspired by this sculpture!


Malaysia Diary #2: Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, or KL as most Malaysians call it, is often overlooked despite being the capital – usually, people view it as a stopover to get to other destinations or just a place for shopping. However, for the city traveler like me on this trip, it can have a lot of great stuff if you know where to look.

I arrived in KL from Melaka in the afternoon. After checking in at the Melange Boutique Hotel, I headed out to visit the famous Petronas Twin Towers. You can buy a ticket to go up on the walkway between the towers, but the very thought of it made me break out in a cold sweat, so I was quite happy snapping photos from the ground. I also popped into the huge shopping mall underneath – Suria KLCC – to buy a nice watch for myself. Know what you’re looking for and where it is, or you’ll waste hours inside (unless you’re into window shopping!)

Watch-buying mission accomplished, I continued to Thean Hou Temple, a Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (the name is literally translated into “Heaven’s Queen”). It’s located outside of the city – you can walk there from KL Sentral, the main hub of transportation, but it’s a bit long (about 2 miles), and there are some scary parts where you have to cross the road with no traffic light or pavement. I find KL not a very walkable city, unlike, say, Singapore, for example. While most of the attractions are free, their locations are not convenient, so you end up paying for transport anyway.

I opted to walk because the road leads through Brickfields, KL’s Little India. It’s just one main street, but because of its small size, it feels much more… concentrated. The sights, sounds, and smells make it feel like a street plucked straight from New Delhi.

Finally, after an uphill trudge, I made my way to the temple. It looked quite impressive, with five storeys rising up on the hillside under the setting sun, and the intricate decorations on the roofs and ceilings are simply gorgeous. Another plus is that it wasn’t very crowded, which makes it a nice place to relax and watch the sunset.

As it was getting dark, I booked a Grab (SE Asian version of Uber) back into town and headed to Jalan Alor for dinner. This famous pedestrian street is a giant food court, and there were so many choices that I got overwhelmed. I’ve said before that I’m not much of a foodie while I’m traveling – to me, food is just fuel. But if you love food, then Jalan Alor is the place to be.

Afterward, I walked to KLCC Park to watch the light show at the fountains in front of the Twin Towers. However, I got the time wrong – I thought the show started at 10 PM, but it actually starts at 9:45 PM – so I only caught the tail end of it. It looked great though.

The next morning, I headed out early to go to the Batu Caves, the site of a famous Hindu shrine. Most guides say to get there early, but unfortunately, my train got delayed, so by the time I arrived, it was super crowded and super hot. So after climbing the 272 steps up the hill, wandering around the main cave for a bit, and taking some photos of the cheeky monkeys there, I returned to KL Sentral. It would’ve been nice to spend more time at the Caves and take in all the colorful architecture of the temples, but the crowd was stressing me out.


They may look cute, but they’ll steal your stuff – don’t have any food or drink hanging out!

I ended up seeking refuge from both the crowd and the sun at the Botanic Garden.

From there, I walked to Merdeka (Freedom) Square and Central Market for some souvenir shopping (my niece’s initial is KL too, so it was great fun looking for KL-themed things for her.) I briefly considered going back to KLCC Park to see the light show properly, but I was exhausted after a full day of walking, plus I had to pack, so it was back to the hotel for me.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Merdeka Square

The Jamek Mosque

The Jamek Mosque viewed from the “River of Life” walk


The HQ of the Malaysian national oil & gas company, and Katsuri Walk, next to Central Market

The next day, I had some time before my flight, so I went out hunting for street art. My hotel is located in the hipster area of the town (Bukit Bintang) and there is plenty of street art just around the corner. It’s a great way to pass the time; plus as it was early in the morning, I practically had the streets to myself!

The view from my room

 

And that concludes my travel in Malaysia. If I had more time, I would’ve checked out some other destinations (like the Cameron Highlands), but I’ve had a good taste of the country too. And frankly, the experience of seeing Snow Patrol live is so wonderful already that this is really just the icing on the cake.


Malaysia Diary #1: Melaka

As mentioned in my post about the Snow Patrol concert, I chose to go to Malaysia because I wanted to combine seeing the show with some traveling, and Malaysia makes the most sense with the short time that I had (4 days).

So, the morning after the show, I set out for the city of Melaka (or Malacca), which is 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus (I booked the ticket online; you don’t have to as there is a bus once every 30 minutes, but as it was the holiday weekend in Malaysia, I thought it was better to be prepared.) Arriving in Melaka Central Bus Station, I was picked up by a driver from my hotel, Tripod – it is located outside of the Old Town, but it provides free transport to all the touristy areas, which is a big draw for me.

After checking in, I got dropped off at the Red Square in the center of the Old Town, so called because of the red colors of its Christ Church and the Stadhuys (town hall.) The Old Town of Melaka reminds me a lot of Hoi An, with its rows of traditional shop houses lining the river, but in a way, it reminds me of the Netherlands as well, with a river instead of a canal – not surprising, considering Melaka was under Dutch rule for over 100 years.

I had lunch at a riverside café and spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around, turning down any alley or side street that caught my eyes.

Colorful houses of Melaka

I also had a great time searching for street art – it appears to be a Malaysian specialty, with every town and city having its own famous pieces:

I also came upon this gang of street cats

When it got too hot for walking, I took a river cruise (30 RM, which is about $7, for 40 minutes), which is a good way to cool off, rest your legs, and see the town.

More street art from the river!

You can also get a ride in one of the decked-out trishaws gathered on the Red Square, but they’re more expensive (about 25 RM/15 minutes) and a bit too touristy for me. Yes, the river cruise is touristy too, but I’d feel like a wimp riding around in a Hello Kitty or Minion-themed trishaw blasting “Gangnam Style” or “Let It Go” or whatever (but if that’s your thing, feel free!)

They’re certainly fun to look at though

Later in the afternoon, I got picked up by the hotel’s driver again to go to the Masjid Selat Melaka, or Melaka Straits Mosque, a mosque built on a manmade island on the Melaka Straits. It is almost prosaic compared to the outrageous mosques of Iran, but it’s cool in a modern kind of way. Besides, the best view is from the outside, at sunset and all lit up at nightfall. You’re not allowed to go out on the rocks to take photos, but everyone does anyway.

Afterward, the driver dropped me and a few other guests off at the Old Town again for the Jonker Walk night market, which sells everything from housewares to souvenirs and snack food. This is when the Old Town really comes to life. Everywhere there was a riot of colors, sounds, and smells. Even the river got lit up.

I went through Jonker Walk twice, nibbling on a few snacks in lieu of dinner, but eventually, the crowd got too much for me (though according to the driver, it was nothing yet!) so I retreated to the river and just sat there taking in the colors until it was time to go back to the hotel.

The next day (August 31) was the National Day of Malaysia and there was a big parade in town, but I’m not keen on crowds, so I just had a lazy morning at the hotel before heading to the bus station and back to Kuala Lumpur. If you’re a foodie, you may want another day in Melaka, but for me, one full day is just enough to see all that this small but lovely town has to offer.


Iran Packing List

As I mentioned in my “Overview” post on Iran, the dress code is one of the things that stress people out about visiting Iran, but it’s actually quite simple. All you have to wear is a headscarf (no need to worry about covering up all of your hair) and a top/jacket/coat that cover your butt and with sleeves past your elbows (the men have to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants as well.) Other than that, it’s anything goes – skinny jeans (and other tight clothes), heels (or sandals in the summer), and bright colors are all allowed.

You may have heard of the “morals police” going about admonishing people for not sticking to the dress code, but I only witnessed one instance on Tabiat Bridge, in which a local girl was gently reminded by a security guard to fix her headscarf, which had fallen down. As long as you don’t walk around with your head bare, you’ll be fine. The ladies in Tehran are especially stylish; I felt a bit underdressed with my travel wardrobe!

The usual sightseeing uniform

Travling during the winter, like I did, definitely makes covering up easier, but I imagine that in the summer, the scarf and long shirts would actually be cooler than baring it all (as anyone who lives in a hot climate knows, you should cover up in the heat.) That being said, here is what I packed for my 10-day trip:

– Tops: 4 thermal tops (I get cold easily), 1 turtleneck top.

– Bottoms: 3 pairs of tights/leggings (for layering under my jeans), 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of fleece-lined pants.

– Outerwears: 2 turtleneck sweaters, 1 cardigan (these are all long enough in case I had to take off my coat), 1 waterproof coat.

– Shoes: 2 pairs of boots (one lightweight for city walks, the other for more vigorous hikes.)

– Acessories: 3 scarves (they are harder to keep on my head than I expected! Bring a hairclip to fix them to your hair if necessary.)

I did feel relieved to take off my headscarf upon boarding the flight home, but I never felt any pressure from having to dress a certain way while in Iran. Don’t let it deter you from visiting this wonderful country!


Iran Diary #6: Shiraz

Shiraz is my favorite place in Iran for three reasons. One, the hotel, Niayesh, is easily the biggest and fanciest place I’ve stayed in during the whole trip. I booked a single room, but I was put in a huge room with a king-sized bed, and, get this, separate bathroom and toilet. If you’ve seen how tiny the bathrooms in Iranian hostels are, then you’ll appreciate the sheer joy of not having to put away the toilet paper every time you shower (to keep it from getting wet).

The hotel also has several restaurants, and it was here that I got to try dizi – a stew of mutton, beans, chickpeas, potatoes, and tomatoes. I wanted to try it not just because it’s traditional, but also because it’s so fun to eat. First, you pour the tomato sauce from the stew into your bowl and eat that with the flatbread. Then you mash up the stew itself and scoop it up with the rest of the bread. It’s good and very filling!

Two, I spent the longest time in Shiraz, so I actually got to know the city. Actually, I had just as long in Tehran, but in Shiraz, I wasn’t so exhausted that I couldn’t remember anything. Also, the sights in Shiraz are well incorporated into the “everyday” part of the city, so it feels harmonious and graceful.

I arrived in Shiraz late in the evening after my Persepolis tour, so I decided to take it easy. The next morning, I headed out early to beat the crowd to what is easily the second most famous attraction in Iran, after Persepolis – the Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque, aka the Pink Mosque, so named because of the pink roses on the tiles used to decorate it.


The exterior of the mosque

It’s best to visit the mosque from 8 to 11 AM, when the sun shines through its stained glass windows, so I was there at 7:30. Turned out I made the right decision – a Chinese couple was there before me, and another couple arrived just after me. Still, I managed to grab a couple of photos before the place filled up. It would’ve been nice to just sit there and watch the windows lit up, but alas, that’s the way it goes with popular destinations.

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, I went to a couple of historical houses nearby – Naranjestan Qavam and Zinat-al-Mulk. They’re not as big as the ones in Kashan but better preserved, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are also museums attached to them, so you can learn more about the history of Shiraz.

Details of the mirror work at Zinat-al-Molk House

You can also rent traditional clothes for photoshoots at Naranjestan Qavam

Later, I headed to Vakil Bazaar, the main bazaar of Shiraz. However, thanks to my genius sense of direction, I ended up lost. That’s when I got to experience the third reason I fell in love with Shiraz – the kindness of its people. As I was wandering up and down the main street looking for the bazaar’s entrance, I ran into an elderly gentleman who spoke English. I asked him for direction, and he not only showed me to the bazaar but also spent the rest of the afternoon taking me to other sights in Shiraz – the Ali Ibn Hamzeh Holy Shrine (which is not as famous as Shah Cheragh, but it allows photos while Shah Cheragh doesn’t), Hafez’s tomb, and the Citadel.


A cool alley outside the bazaar, and colorful cloths being sold inside the bazaar

The Citadel with its “leaning tower”

The exterior of Ali Ibn Hamzeh shrine


And of course, you know the inside


It is still a working shrine, so at the gate, women are handed chador (a long cloak that covers your whole body) to wear


Tomb of Hafez, Iran’s most famous poet

Oh, and he insisted on treating me to lunch as well. Having read about taroof, a complex form of Iranian etiquette in which people may offer to pay for you (but it’s just their way of being polite), I tried to refuse, but he kept insisting, so in the end, I accepted. At least he let me pay for tea and snacks afterward!

A Shiraz specialty – cabbage rice with lamb meatballs


Fried dough with pomegranate juice, and ice cream with carrot juice (sounds weird, but it tastes really good!)

As we walked around the city, we talked about his family (he and his wife were both teachers, now retired), about Vietnam and Iran, and the culture and history of Shiraz. It was the best time I had in Iran. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an email address or any kind of social media, so I don’t know how to stay in touch with him, but I’ll never forget him.

Sorry for the wonky photo. My phone and I are not used to selfies

And that makes for the perfect ending for my trip, because that’s what Iran is all about. The sights may be marvelous, but what’s more wonderful is the kindness of its people. From little things like the family sitting next to me in a restaurant in Kashan who reminded the waiter to take my order and the old lady sharing her trail mix with me on the bus to Yazd, to the grand gestures like this gentleman I met in Shiraz, it is what stays with me and what will bring me back to Iran.