Saturday, October 6, 2007

Oct 1, 2007

228 houses, buildings in Katong, Joo Chiat picked for conservation
By Tan Hui Yee

THE rich heritage of Katong and Joo Chiat area will get added protection soon as the Urban Redevelopment Authority has earmarked another 228 buildings there to be saved from the wrecker's ball.

These buildings include well-known landmarks like St Hilda's Church as well as Betheda (Katong) Church, as well as the former Grand Hotel in Still Road South.

Three other bungalows, in Marine Parade Road, Chapel Road and Joo Chiat Road have also been earmarked.

The conservation plan was revealed by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan on Monday at Urban Redevelopment Authority's Architectural Heritage Awards ceremony.
The East Coast area, the traditional home of Singapore's Eurasian and Peranakan communities, have been a popular residential district and is well-known for its diverse and charming architecture.

It is also a treasure trove of eateries serving both local and international favourites

The URA has informed the owners about its conservation proposal and will make the final decision after getting their feedback.

If they are given conservation status, the owners cannot tear them down or alter major structures or facade of the buildings.

These 228 buildings will bring the number of conserved buildings in the district to about 900.
There are more than 6,500 buildings that have been conserved islandwide.

As early as the 1920s, the Katong/Joo Chiat area was regarded as an attractive residential suburb.

The main roads were lined with rows of colourful and distinctive shophouses, with the retail businesses on the ground floor and the living quarters above.

Off the main roads were Kampongs and terrace houses. It was also known for big bungalows for the rich. Larger and grander seaside mansions dotted the coastline, giving their occupants unobstructed views to the sea and the beach front.

Winners of the 2007 Architectural Heritage Award
1) The National Museum of Singapore

Zinc fish-scale tiles of its dome were carefully taken down, cleaned or replaced. Part of the original tiled roof was cut away to incorporate a glass connector, which also gives visitor a see-through view of the historic dome. The new rear extension complements and invigorates the grand old dame.

2) Chek Jawa Visitor Centre
This is believed to be Singapore’s only remaining authentic Tudor-style house with a fireplace. It was sensitively restored - from the honeycombed-shaped terracotta floor tiles right down to its door knobs and light switches.

3) National University of Singapore’s Law School
Home to the varoius institutions for more than 80 years, it had to be adapted to meet the functions of NUS’ law faculty. Boarded-up windows were opened again while distinctive sun-shading fins of its Science Tower were reinstated. The original forecourt between the two buildings were enhanced as an entrance courtyard.

4) Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa
The former military barracks on Sentosa were converted into an eco-sanctuary with a tropical feel. Working around the many mature trees in the area, the owners restored the original timber louvre windows and doors, as well as the balustrades and other features like the terracotta roof tiles.

5) 13 Martaban Road
This transitional style terrace house was formerly used as a dormitory for orderlies fom the nearby Tan Tock Seng Hospital. It has since been restored into a modern home filled with natural light and ventilation.

6) 62 Niven Road
This low and squat shophouse in the Mount Sophia area is nestled between a sari shop and a Indian grocery store. Its tight space with maximised with a four-storey extension at its rear, where full length glass windows and a steel mesh sunscreen bring modern function to old world gravity.

(Sergei Korolev stands with Sputnik, the world's first satellite)

Machinations behind the Iron Curtain
By Sergei N. Khrushchev (4 Oct 2007, ST)
MOSCOW - ON OCT 4, 1957, my father, then-Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, waited anxiously for a telephone call. The Soviet Union's chief designer Sergei Korolev was expected to report back from the Tyuratam launch site (later renamed Baikonur Cosmodrome) in Kazakhstan on the launch of the world's first man-made satellite.

Earlier that day, my father was in Kiev, Ukraine, on military business. He attended a demonstration of tanks crossing the Dnieper River, then discussed with Soviet generals the fate of defence minister Marshal Georgy Zhukov. (Zhukov was suspected of plotting to seize power, and, before forcing a decorated World War II general to resign, my father and his colleagues enlisted the support of other high-ranking generals, who all agreed with Khrushchev's plan.)
That evening, my father dined with the Ukrainian leaders. I sat at the end of the table, not paying attention to their conversation. Everybody was tired, but my father was in no hurry to sleep. Around midnight, the door opened and the secretary asked my father to take a phone call. When Khrushchev came back, he was smiling: Sputnik's launch was successful.

Soviet engineers began designing Sputnik in January 1956. The plan was to launch it with the R-7, an intercontinental ballistic missile in development since 1954. But the rest of the world paid no attention to the vague pronouncements of a possible launch that had been appearing in the Soviet press; everybody outside the Soviet Union knew the United States would launch the world's first satellite.

Soviet scientists believed the Americans would keep their plans secret until after they had succeeded in launching a satellite, so our efforts were on beating the Americans to the launch. In August and September, R-7 missiles were successfully launched twice. Work went on around the clock.

Sputnik's launch made the front page of Pravda, but just barely. The story occupied the same amount of space as a report on Zhukov's visit to Yugoslavia, and ran in a less prestigious position. There were no banner headlines or enthusiastic comments.

The reason was simple. My father and all the Soviet people thought that Sputnik's success was natural, that, step by step, we were getting ahead of the Americans. After all, we - not the Americans - had opened the world's first nuclear power plant.

The Soviet MiG set world records in the 1950s, and the Soviet Tu-104 was the most efficient airliner of its class. So Sputnik did not surprise us.

Nor did the press report Korolev's name. The KGB knew there was really no need to keep his name secret, but, as KGB chief Ivan Serov told me, the enemy's resources were limited, so let them waste their efforts trying to uncover 'non-secret' secrets.

But the world was desperate to learn his identity. The Nobel Prize committee decided to give an award to Sputnik's 'chief designer', but first it needed the name, so it requested it from the Soviet government.

My father weighed his response carefully, but his concern was not confidentiality. The Council of Chief Designers was in charge of all space projects. Korolev was the head of the council, but the other chief designers - more than a dozen - considered themselves no less significant.

My father understood the chief designers were ambitious and jealous people. If the Nobel committee were to give the award only to Korolev, my father thought, the members would fly into a rage. They would refuse to work with Korolev. A well-organised team would collapse like a house of cards, and the hopes for future space research and missile design would be dashed, threatening Soviet security.

As my father saw it, you could order scientists and engineers to work together, but you could not force them to create something.

In the end, my father told the Nobel committee that all the Soviet people had distinguished themselves in the work on Sputnik, and that they all deserved the award. Korolev was offended but kept silent. The Nobel Prize went to somebody else.

But, despite the pains my father had taken, the other designers expressed growing discontent about Korolev getting all the publicity, even if anonymously. In their 'secret' world, it was not any secret who was behind the title 'chief designer'.

The first to rebel was engine designer Valentin Glushko, whose RD-170 liquid-propellant engine is used on Russian and some American rockets. During one council meeting, Glushko said: 'My engines could send into space any piece of metal.'

Korolev was offended; his rocket was not just a piece of metal, and, after his success with Sputnik, he no longer considered Glushko his equal. The dispute was hushed up, but the resentment lingered. Soon, Glushko offered his services to other Soviet rocket designers, Mikhail Yangel and Vladimir Chelomei - Korolev's rivals.

Even my father could not make peace between them. Technically, Glushko, by government order, continued to design engines for Korolev, but the work was no good. So, despite Sputnik's initial triumph, a decade later the Soviets lost the race to the moon to the Americans.
The writer, son of former Soviet prime minister Nikita Khrushchev, is a senior fellow at Thomas Watson Jr Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Roar of Rumi - The Poet

The roar of Rumi - 800 years on
By Charles Haviland BBC News, Balkh, northern Afghanistan

30 Sept 2007

For many years now, the most popular poet in America has been a 13th-century mystical Muslim scholar.

Translations of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi's - better known as Rumi - verse are hugely popular and have been used by Western pop stars such as Madonna.

They are attracted by his tributes to the power of love and his belief in the spiritual use of music and dancing - although scholars stress that he was talking about spiritual love between people and God, not earthly love.

Rumi, whose 800th birth anniversary falls on Sunday, was born in 1207 in Balkh in Central Asia, now part of Afghanistan.

I came here to see whether he has much resonance in his native country which, under the Taleban, went so far as to ban music.

Still standing

A young Afghan archaeologist, Reza Hosseini, took me to the ruins of the mud-and-brick-built khanaqa - a kind of madrassa or religious school - where Rumi's father taught and the young boy is believed to have studied, lying just outside the old mud city walls and probably within yards of his birthplace.

It is a quiet and melancholy place, the structure eroded and encroached on by shrubs and bushes.

But an amazing amount of it is still standing - the square structure, its four arches with pointed tops, in the Islamic style, and half of the graceful dome.

Mr Hosseini says the floor was originally constructed of baked bricks and lined with carpets donated by those who came to share the learning.

Sufism - or Islamic mysticism - was already enshrined here before Rumi's time and Mr Hosseini imagines that this corner of the town, by the madrassa, would have echoed to the sound of Sufi singing and prayer.

But, he says, it is unclear how widespread, or acceptable, practices such as music and dance were in the wider population.

When Rumi was barely out of his teens, Balkh was reduced to rubble by Genghis Khan's marauding Mongol invaders.

Rumi had fled in advance with his family and settled in Konya, now in Turkey.

After the murder of his close friend, a Persian wandering dervish called Shams-i-Tabriz, he was depressed for years but later wrote his greatest poetic work, the Mathnawi.

It describes the soul's separation from God and the mutual yearning to reunite.

With his injunctions of tolerance and love, he has universal appeal, says Abdul Qadir Misbah, a culture specialist in the Balkh provincial government.

"Whether a person is from East or West, he can feel the roar of Rumi," he says.

Great love

"When a religious scholar reads the Mathnawi, he interprets it religiously. And when sociologists study it, they say how powerful a sociologist Rumi was. When people in the West study it, they see that it's full of emotions of humanity."

The Sufi mystical tradition is not immediately apparent in modern Afghanistan.
But with Mr Hosseini's help, I traced a small group of eight Sufi musicians in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif whose great love is Rumi's poetry.

First there is a solo from Rumi's favoured instrument, the reed flute.

Then the flute player is joined by Mohammed Zakir, usually a shopkeeper, who fills the room with his powerful voice in interpreting the words "I'm a man who's not afraid of love; I'm a moth who's not afraid of burning".

In the third song, all the men join in with an extraordinary, percussive vocal sound which, Mr Zakir says, comes straight from the heart. It continues for nearly 10 intense minutes.

I meet Professor Abdulah Rohen, a local expert on the poet, who says that, regrettably, knowledge of Rumi - also known as Mawlana - has declined recently.

"Forty years ago the economic situation of the people was good. People would work in the summer time collecting food and would eat it in winter. In winter they were free. They would gather in mosques and sing Mawlana's poems.


"But in the past 10 or 15 years people's economic situation has deteriorated, so they are far from Mawlana."

He says the advent of communism in Afghanistan brought poetry into disfavour because it was seen as backward-looking.

Then the Taleban attempted to crush Sufism and outlawed all music, but Prof Rohen says it has since regained huge popularity.

According to him, Rumi brought Sufi mysticism away from asceticism and into the heart of the people.

Many western fans of Rumi have secularised his message.

It was in fact a religious one; and, says Prof Rohen, Christians and Jews as well as Muslims flocked to his funeral.

I ask him to sum up the poet's message and he offers a quote.

"Mawlana says - if the sky is not in love, then it will not be so clear. If the sun is not in love, then it will not be giving any light. If the river is not in love, then it will be in silence, it will not be moving. If the mountains, the earth are not in love, then there will be nothing growing."