Guan Yin

One of my favorite museum artefacts from October…….with links to modern day China 
 Guanyin is a Buddhist bodhisattva which is deity who gave up their passage into the afterlife to remain in the world and help others to reach enlightenment. Guanyin is the bodhisattva of compassion. Bodhisattvas have no gender and can be represented as masculine or feminine. In India they are male but in China Guanyin was eventually transformed into a female representation. Although strictly speaking she is an attendant of the Buddha she has actually come to become worshiped in her own right.
     In this gilt bronze Guanyin she takes a very feminine form with a lot of elaborate jewelry. This pose with one leg folded and the other hanging down is called the posture of royal ease and she is often represented this way. The way she holds her hands is a symbol that she is preaching the Buddist law. To really reinforce her femininity Guanyin has also been depicted as a ravishing young woman who enlightens the men she make loves to.
   In China she is the bestower of sons and people pray to her for a male heir. In Chinese culture the family continuity and prosperity is achieved through the son and this has led to the situation today where there are many more sons being born in China than daughters, leaving a big imbalance and a large number of single men. I think that’s a good example of how the ancient culture and the worshiping of deity’s like Guan Yin are still impacting on modern day China.

The Asian Civilisations Museum

Having started my training to become a tour guide (Docent) at the Asian Civilisations Museum almost a month ago it feels like a good time to mention what I have been up to. Each week generally consists of a number of readings to be done at home, Tuesday morning lectures and Fridays where we spend time in the Museum galleries learning from existing docents and practicing out weekly words. The weekly words are a combination or artefacts (physical items in the museum) or concept words (e.g. Monsoon). Each of the 3 is studied and facts collected before writing a 2 minute summary which we should attempt to commit to memory. Later we will take these 2 minute summaries and combine them into a 1 hour tour.
There is no way to tell you everything I am learning, that will have to wait for a guided tour but I can start at the beginning, with the Asian Civilisations Museum, or ACM as we call it. The museum itself was built in 1864-65 as government offices and a courthouse. The building also stored the countries coinage and the old vault door can still be seen incorporated into the gallery today. After the death of queen Victoria (Empress of India) the building was renamed Empress Place.
The building was first used as a museum in 1989 when it opened as the Empress Place Museum. Unfortunately it didn’t survive and closed due to financial difficulties in 1995. At the same time however the Asian Civilisations Museum was being born when the newly appointed minister of Information and Arts decided to divide up the National Museum.
He wanted a museum that helped multi-cultural Singapore continue to grow by understanding the culture that had influenced its past and present. Although the Asian Civilization Museum opened in other premises in 1997 it always had its eye on Empress Place. Its strategic location by the river, which drew in multi-cultural trade, was symbolic to the museums existence in the first place.
From 1998 to 2003 the building underwent large scale renovation during which time every single piece of wood was replaced due to infestation. It finally opened its doors as the Asian Civilisation Museum in 2003.
Today the ACM is thriving and in 2014 it won the Trip Adviser Travelers Choice award.

To reach the museum I cross the lovely old Cavenagh Bridge, today it is for pedestrians only but the old sign warns about the use by horses and cattle.

Mt Kinabalu

Gunung Kinabalu, as it is known in Malay is more than the highest thing on the worlds third largest island. It is also Malaysia’s first UNESCO world heritage site. The trail to the top is lined with many steps that take you through a changing landscape for 8.7 km. This takes your from the Timpohon gate at 1866m to the summit at 4095.2m and this is no jaunt in the park!

It was a little grey when we started out at 9am but the weather cleared a little and we saw some lovely blue skies later in the day. Its takes around 5 hours to travel the 6km on the first day when you reach 3289m. Here we were barely settled in when we were called for our via ferrata talk. This is Asia’s only via ferrata and the worlds highest and we were very excited about giving it a go the following day after reaching the summit of Mt Kinabalu.

We were woken at 2am to the smell of toast and everyone rushed around getting ready for their summit attempt. At 2:30am, as we all planned to leave, a wild storm passed over and the gate to the summit was closed to all. 2 hours later, with the wind and rain still blowing, we were told to return to bed and wake again at 7am, ready to make our descent at 8am. Both our summit attempt and via ferrata dreams were over.

Unable to sleep we played with the camera and drank tea until we realised the rain had stopped and the sun was rising. Warm clothing on again I sat outside and watched the clouds below our feet and the sun peak up over the top, thinking even if this was all I saw then all was not lost, that feeling of being on top of the world you can only truly get at these altitudes.

Then suddenly we were being told the via ferrata was possible after all and we rushed around to ready ourselves. As we reached the via ferrata start point there was some discussion that some would still like to make a summit attempt. I chatted to the guide about our chances and he said the rain may come again and that we had limited time to make the attempt. I felt sure that I was taking a huge risk and may miss out on both the via ferrata and the summit but I couldn’t resist the idea of giving it a go.

Only 4 of us decided to make the attempt with the rest off to via ferrata. Feeling good and strong I moved ahead with one of the other guys and soon the remaining two were far behind. I was aware of the time and the changeable weather and I pushed on, always expecting my body to give up at some point. Somehow it coped with my demands on it, despite little sleep or food and when the rain started really heavy I was only 20 minutes from the summit. I picked my way carefully up the rock for a quick photo stop before retreating back down. The guys behind were forced to retreat so my instinct to push forward had been spot on.

I returned to the hut for a quick bite and to collect the few things I had left before we both started the 6km route back down the mountain. By this time it had been raining constantly for 24 hours bar a 3 hour window and the path had turned into a river. It was a slow and tricky descent and 2 days later stairs are still an issue for my exhausted legs. Thankfully I have been there so many times before on a Scottish hill, where you ache all over and just want to be down, you just have to get there. Once you are, you forget those bad times and you look at what you have achieved. There is nothing like a physical and metal challenge to help you feel strong and ready to take on the world………….just as soon as you can walk again.

These little squirrels looked cute but they were a little too used to being fed and had a tenancy to try and steal peoples food as they paused at the rest huts.

A porter carrying some rice up the mountain.

A glimpse of the mountain through the trees.

Beautiful flora and fauna.

Our friendly guide takes a well earned rest.


The white ropes lead the way to the summit and offer support on the slippery granite when its raining.

A rainy summit and all a bit of a rush in the end!

Trail from the hut to the summit.