Sunday, February 19, 2017

Partaking in History at Saudi ComicCon




Did someone say ComicCon? They did…and I was there. This past weekend marked the first ever ComicCon event in Saudi Arabia and it was pretty amazing.

It took place in Jeddah and the guests included Charles Dance and Julian Glover from “Game of Thrones”, Giancarlo Esposito from “Breaking Bad” and one of the world’s best creepy baddie, Mads Mikkelsen. I admit I was surprised at the caliper of the guests who came all the way to Saudi for the inaugural event.



Saudi ComicCon was fairly small as far as ComicCons go, which also meant that it was really crowded inside the venue. I think the organizers underestimated how much the people here are into entertainment, gaming and fantasy. Plus, according to one guy running a video game booth, it was one of the few events where men and women could attend together. He said there are other gaming shows in the country, but they are men only.



That being said, even with the crowds, everyone was very respectful. There were separate lines for men and women as well as separate areas in the speakers’ area. The Cosplay area was also kept separate. Women could dress up and compete in the Cosplay contest, but only in a special female-only area – so they could still have fun without being photographed. Of course, you would see a few of the guys wandering around the exhibit hall in their superhero suits.



The exhibits were also treated with respect. In the US, there would be no way that the Star Wars figures would be left unguarded for fear that someone would steal or damage them. No such case at Saudi ComicCon. People took photos with the life-size figures (including me), but that’s about it.

Even though it was small, it had enough cool things going on to keep the curious people like me entertained for more than a few hours. With the success of this one, I’m sure the next Saudi ComicCon will be even bigger and more amazing.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Strange World of Old Jeddah




Walking in Old Jeddah (also known as Al-Balad) is like going back in time, but strangely that time really isn’t all that long ago. While parts of it were built in the 7th Century as a route for the pilgrims on their way to Mecca, other parts were built just a 100 years ago.



The harsh weather and sea air in the area has left many of the buildings in ruin, but they are still charming in their own way.  Most of them were constructed out of bricks of coral showing how the people of the time used what was available in the area – or in this case, the sea – for building supplies.  



The shutters also were constructed in such a way that they hid the women while still allowing a breeze to flow through the homes to keep them cool during the hot summers in the area.



As Jeddah grew in size and in wealth, many of the residents moved out of the old town and into the newer homes in the North. But still Al-Balad is bustling with life in the late afternoons. 




The mosque is the oldest one in the city and still widely used, and the bakeries, fabric shops and other stores are also visited by the locals.  And many of them have been there for generations and carrying on the traditions of the ancestors.


Friday, January 13, 2017

PHOTO MOMENT: Prepping for a creativity



Library at KAUST set up for a workshop in Calligraphy during WEP2017.

Contemporary art in Saudi Arabia



People always seem to be surprised that art (and really good art) exists in Saudi Arabia.  There may be certain restrictions due to Muslim religion, but art can still bloom within restrictions.  And often what comes out are powerful and memorizing images that speak to you.



This was the case of the Maïmouna Guerresi's  Solo Exhibition entitled, "The Journey Of The Sparrow Hawk & Other Stories." You can see more of her work on her website: https://www.artsy.net/artist/maimouna-guerresi

Her work is currently being shown in the Hafez Gallery (http://www.hafezgallery.com) in Jeddah and the work is haunting with images showing the emptiness hidden under the abaya of the women and the isolation.  And yet in each piece you sense the quiet strength within the women.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mesmerized by the art and words of Qin Tian


Qin Tian's exhibit at KAUST in January 2017
Writing has always been a part of my life. I wrote my first novel when I was 6 about an Irish Setter named Cinnamon and his adventures living with a koala bear in New Zealand (it wasn’t very good). All my life, I have always jotted down lines of poetry, movie plot ideas or the first couple chapters of a book whenever inspiration hits.

But it was art that I focused on throughout university. My art went on hold when I became a journalist over 20 years ago, but my artist’s soul is still there.

This week I had the honor of having dinner with Qin Tian, one of China’s national artists. His work is incredible to see, but when you hear him talk about his passion and the vision behind the paintings, they completely come to life.

The talk he gave at KAUST during their WEP2017 lecture series was in his native dialect from his area China, but I asked his interpreter to send me the English version so I could share it with you.

These are his words:


I'm Qin Tian from China.

I have long been yearning for an opportunity to pay a visit to your esteemed university ever since I gained my understandings of it via internet. Today I am so much thrilled with joy to personally visit here, and I am overwhelmed by your hospitality and I am really honored.

This visit to your university has been greatly supported and assisted by my friends in China and the leaders of the university. I hereby extend my sincerest appreciation to them. Also, I appreciate your attendance to my speech. Hopefully, may all of you have a general understanding of Chinese calligraphy and painting arts through my academic lecture and exhibition of my works, and may you be benefited in this wonderful visual feast.


The following is what I am about to share with you:

一、书法作品 

1. Calligraphy works


My calligraphy works are mainly divided into two categories: Modelled calligraphy -- including the regular script structure and the structure of Jiucheng Palace of Ouyang Xun; the Hundred Rhyme Song in cursive writing by Wang Xizhi; and the Memorial before Battle in cursive writing by Yue Fei.

Painting elements are added in my calligraphy works so that the writing and painting are perfectly blended. In addition, the artistic compositions and forms are diversified and go beyond limitations. These works are not only spiritual sustenance and implied with spiritual connotations but also revelations of the state of mind.



Photo by Jian Zhou

My calligraphy works are mostly “freehand”, as in Chinese characters are used as the models of creation for integral and harmonious beauty. My creations are not limited to the traditional calligraphy expressions. Instead, painting and other classes of arts are often borrowed to express my aesthetic tastes to the maximum extent.

二、中国画作品 

2. Chinese painting works


I have been looking for the appropriate status and development space of Chinese painting in contemporary cultural context throughout my artistic career, and never have I stopped my attempts of trying new patterns of expression so that Chinese painting can adapt itself to the development of times and be accepted and acknowledged by more and more youths.


Autograph is not used as one of the fixed elements in my Chinese painting works, in which way not only the works are more pictorially tense, but they also happen to coincide with western paintings so that the paintings are illustrated in a purer way. I don’t have the habit of preparing drafts before painting. I am more inclined to improvisation as in the painting is created spontaneously along with my sensations.

My Chinese painting works are mostly depictions of plum blossoms, lotuses and landscape.



Traditionally speaking, plum blossoms and lotuses are categorized as the bird-and-flower genre in Chinese painting. They are independently categorized in my works. Chinese literati are historically inherited with the habitude of making use of objects and landscapes to express their ideas and emotions. 




Plum blossoms and lotuses are respectively featured with their own characteristics and endowed with unique spirits. When everything withers in the winter, plum blossoms bloom against the world, and they tend to be more vigorous when the weather becomes colder and fiercer.



A lotus remains its pureness despite its origin in sludge, and it never becomes coquettish after being cleaned in clear water. Lotuses have long been favored and respected by people from of old since they stay elegant while being low key. Lotuses are indeed the role model of high moral character among flowers. They not only make a place more beautiful but also purify human heart.



Lotuses have to be depicted with soft brushwork. I usually use goat hair brush which tends to be more moist so that lotuses can be painted with more textures but their character also stands vividly revealed on paper.



三、我的写意山水画

3. My freehand landscape paintings


Imitation of the reality world or subjective expression are the fundamental factors that determine the level of artistic tastes. I personally prefer the latter, as in turning objective images into subjective ideas so that the imagery expressions and brushwork may present abstract formal significance and vast aesthetic perception in an implicit and indistinct manner.



The ranges and peaks, and floating clouds painted in these works are all filtered and screened subjectively by souls without exception in order to manifest my unique spiritual sustenance. Naturalness, magnificence, grandeur, “luxuriantly green” in close distance and “boundless” in further distance, all of which are the significant features of my landscape paintings.




I learned from the nature predecessors to form my own style of landscape painting in combination of my own aesthetic orientations. My use of brush is succinct in creation and I use ink boldly. The lines in the paintings are interlaced and finished smoothly, demonstrating the charm of landscapes to the fullest.






四、我的抽象水墨画作品实验


4. My experimental works of abstract ink & wash painting


惚兮恍兮,其中有象;恍兮惚兮,其中有物。

——老子

There are images and objects in absent-mindedness. - Laos

Laozi’s discussion of “objective images” serves as the inspiration of my abstract landscape paintings. Intentional or unintentional scribblings totally follow the lead of my feelings during the creation of this series of works, and I was completely immersed in an atmosphere where I lost the senses of objectivism and subjectivism.





I was allowed to create freely in my inner world, and the traditional context of Chinese painting has been completely overthrown. Emotions, colors, inks, points, lines, sides and spaces are intertwined in these works, making up exciting visual patterns one after another, which are indeed “lingering”.



Good works not only catch the eyes of the audience, but are also visually pleasing. These works are not given names, leaving unlimited space and aftertaste for the viewers. This series of works breach the restraints of traditional Chinese paintings, and reflect the concerns and tolerance for different regions, ethnicities and cultural contexts.

Due to the limited space of the exhibition hall, there are only 45 works being exhibited, including: Chinese calligraphy works – semi-cursive writing. Chinese painting works – freehand bird-and-flower paintings, freehand landscape paintings; freehand plum blossoms collection, freehand lotuses collection, freehand landscape collection. Abstract ink and wash collection. All these works were created in recent years and represent my creations in this period, demonstrating my areas and academic concepts in calligraphy, painting art, research, creation and practices.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Surfing in Muizenberg



“Danger” is my middle name. No, not really. I’m actually more of an analytical risk-taker and what I mean by that is I know my limits and take risks that push them just a bit – like when it comes to surfing in Muizenberg.




Muizenberg is one of the top places to surf in the world. On most days the waves are long and never ending which is why so many people are there surfing. What makes it risky for me is that I’m not the best surfer, I don’t really swim and the water is infested with sharks. Although, truth be told, I didn’t really factor in the shark part in my “risk” equation as it seems all surfing areas are infested with sharks.

Sure shark attacks happen, but Muizenberg beach has a shark warning system. This sounds all high tech, but really it’s a couple of spotters located at high lookout points who are supposed to sound an alarm if they happen to see a shark in the area. The problem is that on a lot of the days, the spotting conditions are poor so you are pretty much just hoping the sharks aren’t hungry.



Anyway, let’s forget about the sharks, and talk about the surfing – which was amazing. The great thing with Muizenberg is it’s all about the surf, but they know that tourists aren’t going to have all the stuff to pull it off. So you can rent boards and wet suits by the hour there for really cheap. And you will need a wet suit as the water was pretty chilly when I went in December.

You can also take surf lessons from the Roxy Learn to Surf place in the Surf Emporium. I booked a 90 minute lesson for around $20 US and that included my board and everything.



I’ve taken lessons before, but because it’s always a few years in between my surfing extravaganzas, I figure more lessons can’t hurt.  Each instructor has taught me something new and the best part is that they push you into the wave so you don’t get too exhausted with the paddling and just have to focus on standing -- which is hard enough.

My surf instructor, Richard.



I admit this has been my best surfing experience so far – even though I did drink lots of sea water and fell off the board 90% of the time. I was so hooked that I was planning to go back a second time – until I woke up the next morning and felt the soreness in my muscles. But I do see another Muizenberg trip in my future.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Aloha Hawaii!


Living in Switzerland in pretty sweet. It’s got mountains, lakes and hiking paths that lead to breathtaking views. But it doesn’t have pineapples…or coconuts…or palm trees. I like palm trees. I miss palm trees. I also miss drinking cheap Pina Coladas while looking at palm trees.



After nearly two years in the Alps, it was time for a real hardcore island vacation, and what better place to do this than The Big Island, Hawaii.




I’ve been to Maui and I’ve been to Honolulu before, but I’ve never been to the Kona. I’ve also never had to fly there from Europe, which is really, really far away from Hawaii. 

This was something I didn’t consider when planning the trip, but think about how far away the island is from the US and then add in another 24 hours of flying and train travel – and you pretty much get how sore my butt was after sitting that long.



But once I landed and saw my friendly neighborhood palm trees, it was worth it. It really is a heavenly place.



The previous times I had been to Hawaii, I’ve stayed in hotels. This time I decided to stay with my trend of staying like a local in an AirBnB, and it was a blast.
My private veranda at the AirBnB

My first few nights I stayed in this Sylvia and Karen's Balai Kona Tropical Paradise (see listing here) that had an outdoor shower. If you haven’t tried this, you need to consider it on your next trip to the tropics. First of all, it’s refreshing. And secondly, it totally makes sense as you don’t have all that extra humidity in your house (it’s already pretty humid there to begin with). 

Door to my outside shower
My room had its own bathroom (inside) which is still a necessity for me when traveling. For some reason, I’m okay with sharing a living area, but like my own private toilet. And the hosts of the house were very helpful in mapping out my day for me.

Inside the shower. They had little fairy lights for night showering. Much cuter in real life.

I think I saw more of the island than I would have due to their suggestions – and also got the insider’s guide to the best happy hours, best place to run, best place to swim with dolphins in the wild (for free) and best place to sit and watch the sunset.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Strolling through Vevey




With so many cool places to visit, you often forget about the amazing things in your own backyard. I too am guilty to this. Since moving to Switzerland, I’ve done trips to France, Italy, Prague and other places, but I haven’t really explored here.



With the My Switzerland App, I learned that you walk from the town of Vevey to Montreux – all along with the lake. I had been to Montreux for the Christmas Market, but Vevey was uncharted territory. And because they say it’s one of the “pearls of the Swiss Riviera”, I had to check it out.




It turns out Vevey is an unexpectedly interesting place. They weren’t exaggerating when they said it had a beautiful waterfront promenade. Lined with flowers and palm trees, you forget for a moment that you are in the Alps.




Then there is the giant fork. If you’ve been there, then you know what I mean. The fork is…well it’s funny…and unexpected…and for some reason the humor of having it there, along with the chairs set up on in the rocks so you can relax while looking at it, feels very Swiss.





The fork, like many other regular forks, is made of stainless steel. But unlike regular forks, it is 8 meters high and stuck in Lake Geneva. It is in fact, the world’s tallest fork. It was created for the Alimentarium, the world’s first food museum.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Visiting the other Bellagio



This weekend it was time to visit the other Bellagio.  You know…the one that’s not in Las Vegas; but the one that’s in Italy on Lake Como.




Instead of taking the train, I decided that I would drive this time.  Let me say that there are pros and cons to driving. 



The pros include being able to drive around the lake and staying in a little AirBnB outside of the tourist area.  The cons include having to drive on narrow roads that are very winding and not being able to find parking in the city.  

Actually, that is not true. You could find parking if you park like an Italian.  How they do it is they pull into an impossibly tight spot and then back up and gently push the car behind them to make room. The Canadian in me could not pull this off. Purposely backing into someone's car and pushing it, just did not work with me.  So instead, I had to park far away and walk into the heart of the village.


Sleeping in an old convent

Rather than staying in a hotel, I decided I wanted to live like a local so I rented a place via AirBnB called L’appartamento Gloria (see listing here https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2745463) .  It was located just up the hill from Bellagio (all of Bellagio is up a hill) and used to be a convent in the old days.

It was super cute and the little village it was in was ancient and all made out of stone.  There were few roads big enough for cars.  Instead, the village was made up of narrow pathways.



I admit there wasn’t much for eating out in the area – but that’s what you get when you want to live like a local, but there was a little bakery, grocery store, a pizza place and a fancy restaurant about five minutes away.  These worked for me as I was only there for three days. 

If you are looking for 5-star fare, then you would need to drive down the hill to Bellagio, where you would have lots of places to choose from.



Bellagio is as cute as the photos


The Bellagio in Vegas is famous for its dancing fountains and posh interiors.  You won’t find any dancing fountains in the Italian version.  But you won’t be disappointed.  The village isn’t big, but it’s jam-packed with cuteness. 



There are pastel-coloured buildings that line the lake, steep narrow staircases that take you up the hill into the shopping and restaurants, tiny cafes where you can relax while people watching and little bakeries, butcher shops and wine shops. 




It’s a maze of wonder.  And because of its close-knit quarters, evening strolls would be romantic – which could be why so many people honeymoon there.  The pace is slower than Rome and Milan.  And when the moon is out and you’re sipping coffee under the stars at a sidewalk café, it’s easy to forget the rest of the world exists.