13 Apr Armchair Travel: 8 Quarantine Reads to Satisfy Your Wanderlust
Since travel (beyond our neighbourhood, at least!) is out of the question for the foreseeable future because of the virus-that-shall-not-be-named-yet-again, we are relying more than ever on stories to transport us to a different place. To satisfy your wanderlust a little while in quarantine, we have selected eight of our favourite travel stories from our blog. Hop on Yangon’s Circular train with local photographers, venture inside Colombo’s iconic abandoned movie theatre, find peace and quiet in the hectic city of Hong Kong, discover cool street art in the colourful alleyways of Slave Island… vicarious adventures through the eyes of locals await you just below!
1. ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST PHOTOGENIC TRAIN JOURNEYS; THE YANGON CIRCLE TRAIN IN MYANMAR
Join 50 passionate local photographers as they hopped on the train for hot, sweaty and bumpy ride as they capture intriguing scenes and share their tips for great street photography.
As the train moves snail pace from station to station – the whole loop takes three hours – the pace of life in the cocoon of the train quietens. Old ladies sit peacefully with their plastic baskets, monks in colourful robes stare out of the window, young girls check their plaids and tanaka make up in small mirrors, children play around and it’s almost impossible not to strike up a conversation with some complete strangers. The train becomes a colourful moving market as the journey progresses, at each station vendors rush to the platform with baskets with everything you didn’t know you needed. This train has been in operation since 1954, and still transports thousands of local commuters every day. Even for us the train journey is a mesmerising one, a true feast for the eye. We explore neighbourhoods that we otherwise would never have gone to. “Ahlone is lovely and quiet. I am surprised that it’s only 30 mins from Central. It’s a new experience for me” says Kitty, one of the young photographers.
2. RIO CINEMA IS COLOMBO’S ICONIC MOVIE THEATER AT SLAVE ISLAND
No longer a prison island in crocodile-infested waters, Slave Island is a diverse vibrant community that is unique in Colombo. But it may not be there much longer. The whole quarter is being swallowed up by the skyscrapers rising around it. Buildings are demolished, rotting away or simply forgotten.
One of these is the iconic Rio Cinema, the social hotspot of Colombo during the golden days of Sri Lanka cinema. For a place that had so much history written into its walls, the movie house is just barely alive. Today, after 54 years in existence, the cinema is a run-down ghost building with dark corridors showing seedy films. We go to meet owner Ratnaraja Navaratnam to talk about the history and the future of this iconic cinema and the neighbourhood where he grew up.
3. KWUN TONG REVEALS THE RAW AND REAL HONG KONG; A PHOTOGRAPHER’S GUIDE
When iDiscover asked me to do the photography for a neighbourhood guide to Kwun Tong I had to look it up on the map. My job as a photographer takes me all over Hong Kong, but Kwun Tong was uncharted territory.
Known for large housing estates and industrial buildings it wasn’t a neighbourhood high on my ‘cool places to go list’. Even for Hong Kong standards, Kwun Tong is a bit daunting. Factory workers in white vests push carts with boxes to big lorries, a cigarette hanging in the corner of their mouth. Buildings where you don’t quite know where the entrance is and not a word of English. Not knowing where I was going to made me a bit nervous and I also did not quite know what to expect.
4. STEPPING INSIDE THE ABANDONED CLAN HOUSES OF YANGON CHINATOWN
We meet the Wong family to find out more about the mysterious abandoned clan houses of Yangon Chinatown.
“This clan house is over 100 years old,” says house keeper Wong Guai Yin as he gives an informal tour of the building. “We come here to hang out, eat food together and gather for celebrations like Chinese New Year.”
Most Chinese families in Chinatown belong to an ’association’ or a ‘clan’. The clan house doubles as a community space where people gather to play mahjong, pray or just hang out and drink tea. Now you can spot the clan buildings on the streets of Chinatown with their elaborate gold-plated character plaques, but in the old days there were more hidden. Very often the ground floor of the building – which is usually the most sacred part of a clan house – would be rented out as shops, particularly electronics of hardware shops, a pragmatic choice to help preserve the future of the association. Wong Guai Yin shrugs “perhaps it means we’ve adjusted to the Burmese influence, they put the most important things high up.”
5. GALLE FORT IN SRI LANKA; WHERE DIFFERENT FAITHS COME TOGETHER
Fort is a spiritual place where churches, temples, and mosques are all in the same street, and people from all faiths live together.
Prayers are called out across the rooftops while church bells ring and orange-robed monks sweep the temple. As Sri Lanka is largely a Buddhist country, the multitude of religions in Fort is one of the things that makes the place unique. We sat down for a chat with the head priest at Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist temple, one of the trustees of the mosque, and the reverend at the Dutch Reformed Church, to hear their perspectives on Fort life.
6. SILENCE IN THE HECTIC CITY: QUIET PLACES IN HONG KONG
An escape from the noise and chaos of the ever-busy streets of Hong Kong, Victoria and her sister Michelle went hunting for spaces of silence in the cobblestoned streets of Tai Ping Shan, a picturesque pocket of the bustling Sheung Wan neighbourhood where for decades ‘ghosts’ have kept it ‘off-the-beaten-track’.
It was mid-morning, with only a few elderly people and young children scattered about. Chinese elements all around – ponds with koi fish and tortoises, moon gates, pavilions, bamboo and big banyan trees – give the park a tranquil, soothing atmosphere. The occasional shriek and squeal from five-year-olds running by didn’t break the contemplative atmosphere. It rather was a quieter reminiscence of the park’s much louder history.
7. STREET ART & SHOPHOUSES: HOW A COLOMBO COMMUNITY FIGHTS TO SAVE THEIR HERITAGE
Slave Island is a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the city where skyscrapers are going up faster that one can imagine. What used to be a unique and vibrant urban district is being transformed beyond recognition, swallowed up by shiny new apartment buildings rising around it.
Artist Firi Rahman has lived in Slave Island his whole life. As he saw the destruction happening before his eyes, he started a campaign, #WeAreFromHere, to save the soul of the neighbourhood. This unique artistic initiative dedicated to mapping stories of both famous and anonymous local heroes to highlight the unique multicultural community of Slave Island. Now, as an iconic row of historic shophouses — considered by many as the face of Slave Island — is threatened by demolition, we join Firi and his friends to find out why this place matters so much to the local community.
8. ON A HONG KONG TRAM RIDE WITH LAURA LAVIANI, LOOKING FOR HIDDEN GEMS
Meet Laura Laviani, a third culture kid, born in Hong Kong but grew up in Indonesia. Four years ago, she moved back to Hong Kong to reconnect with her roots.
A keen photographer Laura started exploring her old hometown, carrying her Canon AE-1 film camera by her side. Inspired by shapes, colours, and smells of the old neighbourhoods like Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok she became fascinated by the city’s heritage. She wandered the streets and wondered about its secrets. As a native Cantonese speaker, it proved surprisingly easy to find the nooks and crannies in the city. Laura documented the city’s many faces, quickly establishing herself as a photographer. These days she travels the world as a freelancer and never leaves home without her camera. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we took Laura for a Hong Kong Tram Ride to explore the different side of this city. We hopped on a tram to find some iconic spots along the tramline.
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