(Further) Branding Kuching

Culture and city brands of Sarawak had a shot in the arm over the weekend, thanks to a new festival which came to town.

The launch of the inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) in Kuching, has proven to be a boost for Sarawak tourism, art, fashion, food and culture, thanks to festival director Joe Sidek, who has for close to a decade, placed George Town in Penang on the world map of festivals.

The ten-day RFF serves as a prelude to the world-famous Rainforest World Music Festival which sees visitors from all over the world converge on Sarawak.

Tourism arrivals into the state last weekend included visitors from Singapore (like Val), Kuala Lumpur (Shireen and her entourage on the Kuching Express) and Penang (Ed and the festive-making Stuart).

RFF’s exciting ten—day programme includes highlights such as the spectacular fashion extravaganza (SARAWAK: Theatre of Clothes), an entertaining musical showcase (Sada Kamek: Music of Sarawak), various engaging art and photography exhibitions, eye-catching mixed media art showcases, a myriad of products at the craft and vintage market, internationally acclaimed film and documentary screenings, and various talks. 

Apart from taking in all the festival related events beyond the heritage-rich and charming Old Courthouse building, visitors were also treated to warm Kuching hospitality wherever they turned.

Carol and I were touched by Joanna and Jit’s warmth in feeding us in the middle of Chinatown and later being given a lightning tour (by Jit) of the elegant Ranee heritage boutique hotel.

Kuching sunsets are as spectacular and colourful as her famed “kek lapis” (layer cake) and what a joy it has been for Ed, Carol and I to take in the gorgeous “paintings in the sky” all weekend and consider ourselves blessed.

The generosity of Jason & Ronald in sharing their favourite spots for Laksa Sarawak with us are reason enough to return to this vibrant city. Our touristy and less discerning standards saw us make a beeline for the cafe overlooking the river for what we thought was great laksa!

Thank  you to Nabin, the friendly and articulate waiter at The Granary who made us feel welcome for brunch more than once at the trendy cafe. Yvonne from The Marian, is another of the city’s great envoys whose tour of the newly-opened The Marian Boutique Lodging House has left us hatching (more) plans to return to Kuching.

The black and white-themed Marian is touted as Kuching’s very first heritage boutique lodging accommodation and a sister property of the Ranee Boutique Suites. 

It was once a pre-war family mansion that later became the all-girls St.Mary’s boarding house and the diocesan centre for Kuching’s St. Thomas Cathedral. 

The little detours we made to spots such as these over the weekend were proof enough that the fringe festival and the people of Kuching have what it takes in making the city and its sights a happy place to be.

This art of creative place-making can do with the goodwill of tourism industry players like airlines, hotels, event venues and the continuous support of the Sarawak state authorities in getting their brands a prominent spot in festivals such as the RFF, in exchange for VIP perks at the event.

Thank you Joe Sidek for gently reminding Malaysians that culture and traditions do not need to be compromised or forgotten, as cultural diversity and inclusiveness continue to be celebrated!


Charlie and the CSR Colour Factory

He brings comic relief to those having a bad hair day by giving them classy haircuts and listening to their woes. He also never fails to give them  his take of the world and continues coming up with all kinds of thoughtful gems.

Charles Stephen Ramachandran (CSR) is also a gentle yoga instructor who always makes his students feel grounded and at peace.

In seeking his own sense of peace, Charles takes acrylic paint to paper and has taught himself to bring art alive with colour and masterful strokes.

The upcoming and  month-long George Town Festival in Penang (beginning at the end of July) will showcase one CSR piece, as the artist joins some fellow artists in showcasing their work.

Tok Tok Mee and the isle of foodies

An 18-month gastronomic discovery of Penang’s great eats served with a spot of nostalgia and love for romantic island living, has morphed into a coffee-table book ‘Tok Tok Mee: A Portrait of Penang Street Food’  which will be unveiled this weekend.

Penang-born TV producer and food writer Gerald Tan unveils childhood stories and historical anecdotes about dishes which have made their mark around the world. Tan, together with Sydney-based award-winning cinematographer and photographer Benjamin Emery, have dished up charcoal-kissed char koay teow and sar hor fun to the briny broths of Hokkien mee and asam laksa in 192 pages of the hard cover book.

Watch this space for more details from Trishaw Press, the book’s publisher. The Penang-based boutique publishing house promotes local content via collaborations with authors and artists working on heritage matters on the island


Tok Tok Mee is now available for purchase online!


(Images courtesy of Trishaw Press)

George Town Fest rolls on…

It’s back! And for the 8th year running, George Town Festival (GTF) is set to claim its space on the world map of festivals and continue growing into one of Asia’s leading arts festival.

The annual fest will run from 28 July to 3 September this year, together with its satellite event Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF) on 12 August and 13 August. BFF, which is into its third year, is a two-day street festival comprising local and international acts.

“With this year’s edition primarily oriented towards the youth, community and women, the Festival will host more than 100 shows; out of which 60% focuses on local content. The programmes vary from art, design, photography, film, music, dance to drama. GTF will transform George Town into a universal stage where different arts from traditional to contemporary, local to international converge,” promises Festival Director Joe Sidek.

Award-winning Indian theatre director Roysten Abel is returning with The Manganiyar Classroom since his maiden performance in Penang back in 2012 titled The Manganiyar Seduction and 2014’s The Kitchen.

 The former was a widely acclaimed production at the Perth International Arts Festival and WOMADelaide. The Manganiyar Classroom showcases 35 village children as young as eight on a four-row bench terrace on stage, spontaneously singing and dancing to their schooling days.

A group of handpicked ordinary Penangnites varying from generations and backgrounds will take on the stage in the form of a dance routine. Directed by French choreographer Jérôme Bel, Gala showcases the beauty of diversity, united through the passion of dance. The show has been performed over 55 times worldwide in the past year.

Australian acrobatics ensemble, Gravity & Other Myths presents A Simple Space, where seven acrobats push their physical limits and beyond, leaving the audiences holding their breath.

Beijing-based acclaimed choreographer Tao Ye brings two of his “Straight Line Trilogy” series, 6 and 8 to GTF. The mesmerising dances study the logic of movement and discovers the full potential of human bodies, albeit all kinds of limitations.

Meanwhile, director Naohika Umewaka and choreographer Aida Redza will present a dance-theatre, The Italian Restaurant. The story emerges from a chance meeting of a woman and a man in a restaurant. Destinies are forged and hearts are entwined.

For the first time, Singapore-based the TENG Ensemble will bring their unique brand of music to Penang for TENG @ George Town. Bridging Eastern and Western sounds in a contemporary blend, the band revisits music of the past and reimagines them in the present.

There are several kid-friendly shows, appealing to families alike. They include The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik about deep ocean exploration; Chorus a monumental installation of giant kinetic sculptures and a celestial choir of spinning sound machines; COSMICOMIC Toyscape Workshop consisting of six life-sized toys; and CELL with its Asia premiere in GTF.

Other highlights of GTF 2017 include a talk, exhibition and workshop by Jimmy Nelson, the author of ‘Before They Pass Away’. Macallum Theatre will host special shows including a performance by gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze; In The Amorphous Beings choreographed by Ong Tze Shen and Christy Ma; and The Memories by Orang Orang Drum Theatre.

Programme updates are found at http://www.georgetownfestival.com or on GTF on social media. 
(images courtesy of George Town Festival)

Helloooooo Kuching!

The man who placed George Town on the world festival map is now taking his crazy brand of style and fun to Borneo.

Joe Sidek, the director of the George Town Festival wants Kuching to rock on the fringes of the internationally-acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in July.

He is curating and presenting the Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) and promises it to be a 10-day (7-16 July) spectacle of the best which Sarawak has to offer by way of art, food, fashion and music. 

“The festival happens right in the bustling capital town of Kuching in Sarawak and will provide the ultimate lead up to the annual Rainforest World Music Festival. 

“The inaugural Rainforest Fringe Festival will also give prominence to Sarawak’s rich indigenous arts and culture, giving festival goers a true sense of the beauty and energy of the state, its people and rainforest,” says Joe.

Festival-goers will rediscover Sarawak through film screenings, fashion showcases, photography exhibitions, art and craft bazaars and other displays of Sarawak’s highly underrated trove of local talents.

The Old Court House in Kuching will serve as the venue for most events – such as a craft and vintage market, talks, exhibitions and various movie screenings – tied to the fringe festival.
The “Sarawak: Theatre of Clothes” fashion gala will showcase exceptional and multi-talented fashion and accessories’ designers originating from Sarawak.

In upholding their Sarawakian roots, these designers such as Datuk Tom Abang Saudi, Eric Ong, Ramsay Ong, Tanoti and Neng Kho Razali have made their mark on local and international high fashion runaways and will bring to the festival, their show-stopping works.

A special fashion treat awaiting those coming to the fringe festival would be Singapore-based contemporary womenswear label Ong Shunmugam. The label owner is Malaysian-born Priscilla Shunmugam, whose work is designed and made across Asia and offers ready-to-wear ranges and bespoke designs. She is working with `Pua Kumbu’ the traditional patterned multi-coloured ceremonial cloth used by the Ibans and in Sarawak for the fringe festival.

“Music is the way nature speaks to us. It is found in the splash of a waterfall, the rumble of the wind and the flutter of a bird’s wings …These are our music; it means Sada Kamek in the Iban language.”

The Rainforest Fringe Festival will open with an official concert `Sada Kamek’ at the Kuching Amphitheatre, with a line-up of Sarawak-born performers like Dayang Nurfaizah, Noh Salleh, Tony Eusoff, Nading Rhapsody, At Adau, Pete Kallang, Alena Murang and Matthew Ngau.

(Images courtesy of Joe Sidek and the Rainforest Fringe Festival)

Cookie Bake-Off with Flex

They came, they baked and impressed the judges, their colleagues and all cookie monsters present! Forty Flex Penang employees comprising 20 teams rose to the challenge yesterday in displaying their baking prowess at making Hari Raya cookies. 

Left to concoct their own recipes or fall back on traditional festive ones, the teams did Flex proud by displaying so much love, joy and pride in what they were doing while having fun.

Stella, Faten and Joe had a field day sampling the bakers’ delights and Val conceded that every single team and their cheering supporters present were winners. The attention to detail, creativity and taste were amazing while Flex’s generosity in allowing the bakers to take home the Pensonic ovens and cake mixers and a host of other goodies are enough reason for it to remain employer of choice and have more employees asking for more corporate cooking events.

Pensonic’s abilities in organizing cooking events were put to the test and they emerged with flying colours and have proven that their corporate headquarters are more than just a place to view their products and impressive test kitchens, but also a spot to cook and have fun in.

M is for Massage and (Jo) Malone

It’s one of those treats which money cannot buy. And this is simply because the quintessentially British Jo Malone London does not charge you for their oh-so-blissfully relaxing (20 minute) hand and arm massages (yes, it’s free BUT by invitation only).

Betsy and I ambled over to the brand’s first boutique in Penang this evening, The generous invite on thick and creamy paper said to bring along a friend  (Betsy) and we were welcomed by the gracious Lillian and equally warm and familiar Carmen.  Lime infused water and a black velvet Jo Malone complimentary pouch were offered (to store our respective watches and other jewellery items) before we submitted ourselves to a relaxing and scented journey.

Lillian used a latte whisk to form a warm frothy hand wash in a fragrance of our choice (mine being grapefruit, although my first introduction to the brand by Bina years ago, has had me hooked on their signature Lime Basil & Mandarin).  She wiped it off gently with a warm towel, leaving the skin feeling softer and noticeably lighter.

Lillian’s firm yet soft hands are the perfect ad for the body products and the incredible layers of scents  combined, and so telling of the brand which is synonymous with a bespoke style of service.

We were waved off in a shower of multiple sprays, and continued to feel cocooned in the warmth of this British fragrance for the ensuing hours spent as mall rats.