Red Square

It was around 11 a.m. when I arrived, but it felt like 6 a.m.  The temperature improved – about nine degrees. It was zero only twelve hours back. The sun seemed undecided whether it would come out already or not.  I was too excited to mind.

“Snow fell two days ago,” Julia, my guide remarked.  “Do you think I might be lucky today?” I responded, “the last time I saw snow was nine years ago in England.”

The weather remained predictably unpredictable.  No snow. Red Square soon became bright as the sun finally shone. Probably the same way it did in 1941…

i.    The name Red Square has nothing to do with the color of surrounding buildings, eg. the State History Museum is very red, all red; nor does the name have to do with communism
ii.    At one time Red Square was called ‘krasniya’ which means beautiful
iii.   Red Square became an official name in the 17th century
iv.   In the 1400s it was a site for rabble rousing
v.    Red Square began as a slum, and a place where the low lives, i.e. drunks and criminals, dwelt.
vi.   Red Square was once called “Fire Square” after a number of times medieval Moscow burned.
vii.  Red Square had a brutal past being the site of fierce fighting and public executions
viii. By the 20th century it became the site of military parades displaying Soviet armed forces might
ix    1941 – cadets marched through the square and straight to the front line less than 50 kilometers from Moscow
x.    1945 – Nazi standards were thrown in front of the mausoleum and trampled on by mounted Soviet commanders
xi.   2000 – celebrations to mark the end of World War II were done in the square.  Imagine the fireworks here when the world welcomed the new millennium
xii.  Around Perestroika, Red Square became the site for large musical performances, fashion shows, festivals, etc.
xiii. I thought the sound of your footsteps on Red Square sounded similar with those you make on The Shambles in York, UK.

Source: mosco.info (#1-12)
ABC Wednesday / Thursday Thirteen

Queen

Independent.co.uk

(Wikipedia) Fast facts:
~British rock band formed in 1970 in London
~Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (lead guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals), and John Deacon (bass guitar).
~Their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert has been ranked among the greatest in rock history by various music publications.
~Estimates of their record sales range from 150 million to 300 million records
~They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

My 13 favorite Queen hits:

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody
  2. We Will Rock You
  3. Don’t Stop Me Now
  4. Another One Bites the Dust
  5. We are the Champions
  6. Somebody to Love
  7. Killer Queen
  8. Too Much Love Will Kill You
  9. Radio Ga ga
  10. Love of my Life
  11. Friends will be Friends
  12. Fat Bottomed Girls
  13. Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Last night I stayed up late watching a documentary of Freddie Mercury’s last days. Suddenly The Great Pretender seemed such a lonely song to listen to.

As soon as it was announced that Queen was coming to The Big Mango, I ‘stampeded’ my way to get a ticket for a chance to see live the greatest band on Earth – only to find out I had no cash on hand.

Manic at the agent: please hold a seat for me (turning my purse upside down) or I swear I’m gonna have a Sheer Heart Attack.

Ticket Agent: (looking intently at my terrorized purse) Madam, how about using your MasterCard? Would you then like to insure your ticket?

Me: I will if you stop calling me Madam, but what MasterCard? (suddenly remembering I do have one but realizing it’s the emergency fund) Oh, well this is going to be an emergency if I don’t snag a seat in the next 3 minutes….

While my seat was sorted, I thought of how crazy I sounded trying to make sure that I get to see a set of aging rock stars. The money I was spending to do that did not come in cheap.  I did not even care about who replaced the dearly departed among them. I just thought this would be my way of saying ‘I wish you were still around, Freddie.’

Queen Brian May playing God Save the Queen on the roof of Bucking Palace, 2002

My main motivation probably was the fact that Queen has been part of my childhood. At twelve I got spanked in the butt for practising Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano instead of a two-score worship song that my mom, the head chorister in church wanted me to master.

A few hours before heading off to the concert venue, I shared a video on Facebook with this caption: Brian May, commander of the British Empire, see you in the flesh tonight.

Sounds and laser lights. Six tennis courts capacity smoke machine – an epic show for a bunch (thousands really) of delighted Bangkokians. I sat emotional and nostalgic as Freddie Mercury materialized on stage to deliver Queen’s most legendary hit, and Impact Arena exploded.

If my mental telepathy was successful that night, Mother could have heard her happy rebel daughter tell her as she sang along Bohemian Rhapsody, “Mama Mia, that spanking drama has come full circle. Justice is served.”

Thursday Thirteen  /  ABC Wednesday

Prepping for cremation

“As the royal cremation completes the most glorious reign the Thai people have ever known, we are saying goodbye to a great king whose final departure will take with it a collective part of us, the Thai people.” ~ Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

King Bhumibol Aduljadej, 1927-2016

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch will be laid to rest on Thursday, October 26th, a year and thirteen days after his death on October 13th last year.

Final preparations have begun as early as the beginning of October. It is a five-day public event. Building of the crematorium, procession rehearsals, arrivals of heads of states and representatives of countries who are attending the funeral ceremony have kept the capital in solemn motion.

On the day the king died I picked up the phone to tell my son who was based in the Philippines that time. He was quiet after I broke the news. Unlike the usual things he pitches after pleasantries are exchanged like “Mom, buy me this; Mom, buy me that…” he breathed a quiet, “oh.” I like to think that was His Majesty’s philosophy of self-sufficiency economy working wonders on a Thai subject – offshore.

King Bhumibol plays the piano; Queen Sirikit looks on

Thursday, 26 October, 12:19PM. I sit alone in my apartment watching the funeral alternately on TV and social media. These are things I would want to remember from this day –

i    He played the piano and that appeals to me

ii   The cremation pyre has been built for over a year. It represents a sacred mountain, Mt Meru and the area around it represents heaven. Surrounding the pyre is an element that depicts the King’s life’s work: water.

iii  Out of around 4000 royal projects, 3000 were water-related

iv  Holy water in a conch shell is poured over the chariot by a high priest before all the craftsmen set to work.

v   Prapasok Ratmai, head sculptor emphasizes perfection in their work

vi  “We pay attention to every step of the process.” ~ PR

vii  Sacred animals are placed on the first platform. Horses to the west, elephants to the north, lions to the east (Dharma teaching) and cows to the south (abundance)

viii  At the moment, funeral procession is going on. It starts from the Grand Palace where the King’s body lay in state since last year

ix  The king’s coffin has depiction of garuda, a mythical creature believed to carry his spirit to the heavens. The royal urn is placed in a chariot which, along with the king’s body is taken to the pyre for cremation among the pagodas

x    King Bhumibol presented himself as a caring monarch

xi   He built his prestige by connecting with his subjects in a way they understood and grew to love

xii  “His legacy is a highly personalized monarchy”

xiii  A popular king no doubt. He held a demigod status but “is this love the people are showing genuine?” asks a BBC reporter of Narisa Changkrabongsri, a relative of the king

As an expat for twenty years, I echo Narisa’s answer: yes.

Thursday 13  / ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

October

Once upon an October dream
of pages and fall
of teas and maple
of cheese-laced Olenna tongue and
golden petrichor

Photo Credit: Chaotic Bookshelf
Photo Credit: The Chaotic Bookshelf

October. How I love the month!

Before I wax dreamy though, I would like to take note of something remarkable out there which happened over the weekend in my home country (Philippines): Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon are dead. Gone. Killed by government forces. Finished! Maute and Hapilon are top leaders of an ISIS-linked militant group, some of FBI’s most wanted terrorists.

There I said it. I may like sweet dreams a lot (who doesn’t) and would prefer to dwell more in them if not for daybreak, but I am also aware that many present day events are nothing but sweet and they affect us one way or another. Life. Living it is as real as nightmares and dreams. Now back to October and what I love about it –

i-ii   Oatumn. I don’t care that I live in the tropics, obviously. I am in love with the season. That’s that. Looking at autumn scenes is a joy to me. While I am not where the season is happening, I make do with photos taken in October.

Fall in the tropics

iii-iv   October is the opal month of the year. It is the month of glory, of ripeness.  It is the picture-month. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Strawberry cheese cake to accompany going over three dozen abstracts before publication.

v-vi   October is crisp days and cool nights, a time to curl up around the dancing flames and sink into a good book. ~ John Sinor

Acmonan. Photo Credit: Gary Buenaventura

vii-viii   October is a symphony of permanence and change. ~ Bonaro W. Overstreet

Roadside Farm, Saraburi

ix-x   Sweet October, fill with praise, Rich and glowing as thy days, Every poet’s heartfelt lays. ~ Caroline May

October fruits

xi-xii   The sweet calm sunshine of October, now Warms the low spot; upon it’s grassy mould. The purple oak-leaf falls, the birchen bough Drops its bright spoil like arrow-heads of gold. ~ W.B. Yeats

Receiving area centerpiece, Wattana Apartment

xiii   October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace! ~ Rainbow Rowell

Thursday 13  /  ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

Novodevichy

Novodevichy: necropolis of the famous Russian dead, and where interments are second only to those in the Kremlin in prominence. Inaugurated in 1898, it rose in significance in the 1930s when important Russians who were buried in medieval monasteries around Moscow were reburied in Novodevichiy during the Joseph Stalin era. After the fall of the Soviet Union, when the Kremlin Wall Necropolis was no longer used, Novodevichy became the place of rest for Russian notables in the arts and sciences, and of course, politics.

[envira-gallery id=”343″]

Note: This is Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. It should not be confused with Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg.

Novodevichy Convent. Right behind is the Novodevichy Cemetery

One thing that draws me to graveyards is the quiet. It is calming while the world outside goes on and on with its drama. Reading epithets wondering what those people were like in life is a fun mental exercise, if not spiritual or emotional. You do not know them, they do not know you, you are visiting, nobody is complaining. There is something mystical in a non-verbal, one-way acquaintance. And then there are the well-known names. You know them, or not, they still do not know you, no problem. They are free from signing autographs or giving interviews; you are free to stare at or take silly selfies with them all you want.

As a fan of literature I went to Novodevichiy for Anton Chekhov. Since Boris Yeltsin is right in front so conspicuous, it was nice taking a shot at his tombstone too.  Heck, I wouldn’t have minded dropping by Rasputin’s spot if he was there. With so limited time though and Novodevichiy rather massive with a guide who was not familiar with graveyard interiors, not that I blame her, I missed the following

Names in Novodevichiy

1   Nikita Khruschev (1894-1971) head of Soviet Union
2   Nadezhda Alliluyeva (1901-1932) wife of Joseph Stalin
and the Notable Nikolais
3   Nikolai Podgorny (1903 -1983) statesman during the Cold War
4   Nikolai Burdenko (1876-1946) neurosurgeon
5   Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852) dramatist, satirist
6   Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881) pianist and composer
7   Nikolai Zabolotsky (1903 -1958) poet
8   Nikolai Zelinskiy (1861 – 1953) chemist
9   Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904 -1936) writer
10 Nikolai Tikhonov (1905 – 1997) politician
11 Nikolai Bulganin (1895 – 1975) Minister of Defense
12 Nikolai Semashko (1874 – 1949) Soviet sports administrator
13 Nikolai Tomsky (1900 – 1984) sculptor

I would spend proper time with them if I visited Russia again.

Thursday 13  /  ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

Moscow Moments

My moments in Moscow began when I inadvertently followed an interaction among members of an FB expat group regarding Russia’s national carrier.  The desire to see the place though began back in childhood. Like other parents, mine spent considerable time telling me stories. Later I was no longer content just being told of heroes from faraway lands. By adulthood I had to see evidence or at least come close to traces of their existence.

Curiosity + A love of History + Wanderlust = Moments of

~ excitement when a plane lands bringing you to a place for the first time

~ adrenaline for traveling alone, just you and your wits wondering about safety and whether your guide would show up, making sure Plan B is intact in case Plan A runs into problems

~ tongues. You hear yourself speaking a few words of the local language and the locals smile at you. Either your attempt is passable or they are just amused to hear you try

~ cold horror. A Dementor engulfs you at airport exit. The zero temperature.

~ mounting worry when the hotel does not accept any mode of payment except the one in your wallet that does not match, and it’s midnight!

~ relief at finding an ATM that spits out currency which determines whether you spend the night on a warm bed or an airport bench

~ joy in beholding a riot of colors; your favorite season happens to be trending while you are visiting

~ awe in finding yourself on the same spot where history-making events took place and historical figures once trod

~ contrast: on the very same ground stood the first man in space, marched a battalion oozing power and there you are taking a silly selfie

~ faux pas looking for the grave of a famous person and the news is he is still alive (I will be brave in a later post and tell it)

~ pride in having survived traveling solo without breaking a limb

~ regret that you could not stay longer to immerse in details. Note to self: next time apply for a longer visa

~ gratitude for childhood wishes that come true, for learning experiences, and this adventure we call Life.

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13

Layover

Layover is defined briefly as a period of rest and waiting before a further stage in a journey. In air travel, it is a stop or transfer, from one airplane to another, or connection up to a certain maximum allowed time (Wikipedia).

Some or most travelers find layovers stressful. Who tolerates lethargic hours in an airport when a proper sun shines brightly in your paradise destination? Layovers are cheaper than nonstop flights, but people are willing to pay more to avoid extra waiting. Not me in this case. I deliberately chose a flight schedule with enough time for a layover when I booked a trip to the UAE in 2015.

If you googled layovers, results might show people asking advice and specifying the number of hours they would be in a certain place.  Some say four. Others six. Yet others eleven.

I had twenty-three hours.

With a 48-hour visa I exited the airport, checked in to a hotel for the night, then toured the city the whole day before returning to the airport in time for the last leg of my journey back to Bangkok.

My tour guide Julia was wonderful. Prior to meeting her I acquainted myself with her native tongue by addressing her Yulia in our chat the way she signed it on email, and started practising spasibo and zdravsvuyte to the cats in the parking lot that I pass by on my way to work.

This kind of layover worked perfectly according to my purpose of maximizing the number of places I can see in one go. Thus, saving money, effort and time.

In a single week I was in two different countries and three major cities: the United Arab Emirates and Russia; Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Moscow.

The only drawback was getting sick after being baked and curdled almost simultaneously between two opposite temperatures.  Small sacrifice to fulfilling another sweet little dream.

As a child I was fascinated by Papa’s stories of powerful leaders and historical events (Mama covered the Bible, as well as the routine Snow White, Rapunzel, Brothers Grimm stuff). I would later skim through pages on the Soviet Union in particular – Yuri Gagarin, Stalin, the Romanovs … and while twirling my Barbie’s golden locks, I promised myself this – “when I grow up I would find them all.”

This layover experience was enough for me to not mind having no new international trip for two years after that.

I am planning another trip with, you guess it, a layover again. What do you think of Istanbul (I do like calling it Constantinople), Beijing (which the Thais call Peking you would think of Peking Duck), Cairo, Lisbon or Helsinki?  I am eyeing them all.

Let us raise our glasses to more adventures!

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13