Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post Tsunami: Sendai on the way to revival

I received an email from an old friend, Toru Tanaka, from Sendai, Japan, recently. Sendai is the capital city for Miyagi Prefecture in Japan. It is a city of a million inhabitants. Quite recently, we also got to know Sendai (and its vicinities) as being the area worst hit by the tsunami which overwhelmed the east coast of Japan in March of this year.

One would surely recall the images of destruction played out umpteen times on the television when the earthquake hit the area, only to be swiftly followed right after that by the devastating tsunami. The physical, social and psychological damages to to this island nation have been deep and profound.

But if there is one thing I have learnt from my three year stay in the Land of the Rising Sun, it is that the Japanese are a disciplined, hardworking people with a strong sense of identity.

They will rebuild, recover and rise up again from the disaster. And I'm talking from experience. For I have seen how they've rebuilt Kobe after the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995.

Being located 10km from the coast, the Sendai city centre itself is not much affected by the tsunami. But the outlying town and villages in the coastal areas were devastated and some have disappeared completely.

Some people are still staying in temporary housing as they still cannot afford to rebuild their homes. But the good news according to Tanaka-san is that the revival plan for Sendai City has been approved at the City Assembly last month. So, a full-scale revival of Sendai is just waiting to happen.

Incidentally, Tanaka-san just got married last September and is building a new life for himself too. He is also now in charge of managing the budget for the road planning program for Sendai.

The beautiful pictures of autumn Japan above were emailed to me by Tanaka-san. It makes me miss Japan. Very much.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lyon Light Festival 2011

The City of Lyon by the River Rhone, all lighted up

Lyon is the second biggest city in France located 470km south-east of Paris. The Lyon Light Festival is one of the most famous lighting festivals in Europe. 

The festival has been held every year since medieval France. It has its roots in a religious-related event. But nowadays it has been re-branded into a modern, high-tech lighting festival much anticipated by many in France and near-by neighbouring countries. It attracts some of the best minds and most creative lighting experts in Europe who come to display their flair and hardware.

We were there at the festival to soak in the atmosphere and to see first-hand how a lighting festival is run.

Come 2013, we will have our very own full-fledged world-class lighting festival: The Putrajaya Light Festival.

Watch this space.

Town Planning lessons in Paris

Avenue de La Grande Armee, one of the many boulevards put in place by Haussmann, viewed from  the Arc de Triomphe

I was in Paris two weeks ago. Yes, France, land of the guillotines and home to Zinedine Zidane.

We landed at Charles de Gaulle at 6.20 am and was received by a cold Paris weather with temperature hovering at 5 Celsius. Charles de Gaulle is an old airport. But it is very functional in its design minus all the frills of a so called "modern" airport. For example,  it has proper, separate prayer rooms for all the major religions. Even fancy, modern Changi can't beat that.

The airport is only about 20km away from downtown Paris. But due to the notorious Paris traffic jam, we were forewarned by Thomas, our guide, that the journey would take us a good one hour plus.

We were also told by Thomas that Paris is a city of more than 12 million inhabitants. That's big. But still, that's no excuse for gridlock traffic jams.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but notice that the Paris traffic is a tad more chaotic as compared to say, London or Tokyo. The French drivers also seem a bit more, well, should I say, more of a dare-devil? They'd just weave in and out of their lanes almost without a care for others. And then there are the scooters and motorcycles. Their numbers are noticeably much higher then in other major cities I've been. And their riders are just "super crazy" according to Thomas.

Surprisingly, over the course of one week I was there, I didn't notice any accident. Not even a single one!

Paris is a city of many long straight boulevards lined by trees like the one above. Now this is mainly the work of one fine gentleman by the name of Baron Georges Haussmann. Haussmann was civic planner commissioned by Napoleon III in 1852 to re-plan Paris. 

I had studied Haussmann when I was learning to be a town planner at university. Only now do I see his work with my very own eyes. Quite spectacular and very visionary.

Another feature of Paris town planning are the courtyard building typologies.

The buildings which line the boulevards always seem like they are surrounded on all sides by long, unbroken street walls. Whereas one know very well that many of the buildings are mixed-use buildings accommodating commercial as well as residential elements. So, where are the back-of-house facilities and car parks then?

The answer is that they are right there in the centre of the buildings themselves, within the courtyards.

Now I know better what the planners in Putrajaya are trying to achieve through their urban planning exercise, especially for the Core Island.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Cold Paris!

View from my room at Hotel Pullman Montparnasse, Paris. The sun just coming out but the temperature is actually around 5 Celcius.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Double-tracking comes to Kg Kepayang

The railway line passes by our kampong. As far as I can remember, it has always been there. The trains pass by every few hours daily and as they approach, we were sure to feel the rumbling and vibration and hear the unmistakable chugging noise of the engine.

We used to spend many happy hours playing on the track and the areas within its vicinity. We used to fly kites here with Apak. We used to lay nails on the track so that they'd be flattened by the trains untuk buat pisau. We used to wait and watch for the trains to pass. Or sometimes, we'd just come here just to take in the beautiful views of the limestone hills and the trees and the long rail track which disappears into the horizon.

There used to be just a single track. But now, as the picture above shows, there are three!

Actually the line is undergoing the double tracking development as part of the northern Electrified Double Track project from Ipoh to Padang Besar.

A massive 329-km project, it involves the laying of two new parallel tracks to replace the existing single-track. In the picture above, the track on the right and in the middle are the two newly laid ones. Whilst the one on the left is the old one which will be removed soon.

The electrical cables and power system are not yet in place. Once those are up, electric-powered trains will swoosh by our kampong like never before.

Modernity comes to quaint, old Kg Kepayang.