Wednesday, July 24, 2013


 This is a sketch I did as an idea for the front cover of INTERSECTION; the local architect's institute newsletter. I edit the quarterly with Ivy and Si Yong and we decided that our little newsletter which we adopted 4 years ago is growing into a magazine and deserved a look that suited its maturity.
- the PAM Awards trophy with shadows cast in Sarawakian tattoos headlines our main (back) story

For the title of my editorial, I made use of jokey replies when asked why Sarawakian architects feature so consistently in the national architecture awards. I tell them - "it's the water we drink..."

The newsletter can be downloaded from

Monday, July 22, 2013

Colour Malaysia

Leh Soon with some of his new-found friends
His day as an illustrated piechart
I met an interesting young man last night when we were having a 'buka-puasa' dinner with the students in our office. Loh Ley Soon has recently completed His Bachelor of Science in Architecture and he is planning to cycle from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu with a simple objective. He thinks that as Malaysians, we do not see enough of our own country and its people - he feels that cycling provides the best pace to interact with the surroundings and local people. He thought up a simple plan to engage with strangers (especially children) whom he meets. He gives them a box of colour pencils and some paper and asks them to draw their village, their dreams and ambitions, from which conversations begins and initial shyness falls away. 

Leh Soon has a large collection of these drawings and posts his exploits in the Colour Malaysia+ FaceBook page. He also has an interesting way of recording his diary (see above). 
Impromptu drawing studio

Ley Soon sleeps where he can, recently in the store room of a temple

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rangoon War Cemetery

The Rangoon War Cemetery
The Rangoon War Cemetery was not initially on our list of places to visit. But its manicured lawns and Memorial structure stood out from the street-scape of dusty buildings and straggly vegetation as we drove past from our day trip to the "Gold Rock" pagoda. We decided to visit the next day.

The Taukkyan War Cemetery (as it is known locally) is a memorial to the Allied soldiers from the British Commonwealth who died in Burma during the World War II; British, Burmese, Indian and African soldiers are buried here. I was a little weary of temples and pagodas and glad to visit something with more architectural content and as it turned out, emotional content as we wandered through the grave stones and read the inscriptions on the plaques.
Each headstone has an inscribed brass plaque with a flowering shrubs beside it - some of the inscriptions were quite moving and I found myself on an emotional verge several times. I noticed that a large number were from India and most were very young, 16 - 17 years old - the same age as Sara. She was also reading the quotes and having a little cry, as was Sam. The unidentified soldiers' grave were inscribed with 'Known onto God' while many others gave an insight to the men interred here.
One read 'Father, not my will but Thine be done' which to me speaks of a reluctance and obedience to do one's duty for a perceived greater good. It is from the Bible (Luke 22:44).


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Running to Shwedagon

At 5:30 one morning, I ran here from my hotel - a distance of 4 kilometres. No risk of getting lost as the brightly lit golden leaf covered stupa can be seen from a long way off. There were quite a few locals there as well - exercising, stretching and chatting among themselves. After their workout, one of them brought out a box of bottled water from his car and passed them around; I got one too.

There are four gateways into the Shwedagon Pagoda Complex - the view is from the main entrance located along the main axis, which takes you up to the main 'stupa' via a series of internal and external steps.

I wandered 'innocently' into the temple complex and watched people worshiping and meditating in the blue light of dawn. - very peaceful. Until a watchful security guard asked to see my ticket which I did not have and since I did not have any money on me (USD 5) - I left via the east entrance using the lift to take me to street level.

Look who was there as well.....

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blessed Burmese Slippers

I like to get freebies when I buy stuff; a free biscotti with my coffee or a bookmark with the purchase of a book. It doesn't take much to amuse me. However, these are material things. They pale in comparison to the 'free gift' that I received when I bought slippers in Yangon's Bogyoke Market. (formerly Scot's Market).

These are the brown 'flip-flops' with velvet straps worn by most Burmese men with their 'longyi' - I wanted a pair to go with my longyi as I pretended to be Burmese for my 5 days in Yangon.

The owner was an old man, he sat amongst a storey high backdrop of Burmese slippers. He found a pair that suited me, and when he stood up to accept my payment - he did a strange thing. He put one hand on my chest and the other of my back, closed his eyes and recited in Burmese. After about a minute he stopped, gently patted me on my back and smiled. Shein who was observing this nearby told me that that the old man was reciting a blessing for safe journeys and good health. Good value for 3,000 kyats (USD3)

Buying slippers at Scots Market
For free blessings and good Burmese slippers, go to the shoe store next to Shwe Yardana Jewelry store in the Bogyoke Market (right side as you walk in)

Monday, July 1, 2013

It's the water we drink...

- I tell them when asked why Sarawakian firms feature consistently at the PAM Awards.
This is an extract from my editorial in the PAM newsletter - touching on the winning entries for PAM Awards. This year, 3 out of the 16 nominated entries from Sarawak won prizes in their categories; making it 7 years in a row that local firms have won awards. DNA took gold for the Phoenix Gym.
I used the editorial to address some architects who behave as though designing stops after the schematic design stage. They are like absent fathers - there during the conception and nowhere to be found during the night-feeds and difficult adolescence. Even when they are around, they are pre-occupied with other issues of the 'practice'.

I am not an expert in design theories so I am merely sharing my observations and experiences here. Some of my readers are students - so perhaps this is directed to architecture students.
So this is a reminder that design does not end at the butter-paper stage  but continues well into the construction stage. I am reminded that Renzo Piano monitors design development and production drawings after hours by marking and making comments in distinctive green ink, while Glenn Murcutt spends entire weekends on site with builders to discuss construction details.

On that note, this set of hand sketches are completed to discuss steel joints with Kiong, the steel fabricator who in another life would have made a good product designer. All this work for a fence and car port, well - this is what wins national awards and the water we drink, in Sarawak.

Tell you about these sketches later