Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Wee Bit of Rome on English Soil

Today was one of the best days of my first summer here in the UK so far. I went on a weekend excursion organized by the lecturers here at the International Office of my university to the city of Bath. I was occampoined by one of my bestest friends in the whole wide world (sebut gaya kanak2 riang) Eunice Tan Shi Min, and our cheerful and ever sweet senior Aeman. Michael, one of our lecturers, was the head of the trip.

You will notice the Bath Abbey at the background below...

After a two hour journey on the bus, we arrived at Bath. The first place we visited was the Roman Baths.  It was an interesting fact to know that the Romans traveled all the way here to discover the hot springs. The hot water is said to originate from rainwater trapped underground centuries ago and now they have somehow popped out as hot water! Over a million liters of water is produced a day.

If you watch closely, you will notice the steam from the water. It is really THAT hot! Thankfully this spring overflow was too far ever for me to reach out or people would be burning their hands everyday!

The water from that waterfall-like place flows through this little stream into the big bathing area build by the Romans. That white rectangle thing is actually a sign warning 'gatai' people like me not to touch the water. Eunice's theory is that it has high concentration of radioactive substances which makes it hazardous or something. In fact, a child back in the late seventies swam and drank some of the water in a newly restored bath and died a few days later. There are modern baths around that allow visitors the experience the warm baths in a safer environment.

This is the Great Bath built by the Romans. As the world knows, they were one of the most skilled architectures of their time. This is proven by the very beauty of this place! However, they could not explain the phenomenon of the hot springs and believed it was the work of their gods.

The entire area I was standing on while this (awfully hideous) picture was taken was built much later after the fall of the Roman empire.

As I entered the lobby of the building, it was like stepping into one of the duomos back in Italy. The striking Roman architecture of the ceiling and the walls was breathtaking.

Above the Great Bath, on the newly constructed structure are statues of governors of Roman Britain. They looked very Roman that I had no idea they were newly included in the area. I assumed they were part of the ancient structure itself!

Now I know where the movie makers of the second Harry Potter film got their inspiration for the Salazar Slytherin's head statue in the Chamber of Secrets. It is from the Gargon, which is the center of this ancient carving piece. I am not sure what it is, but it serpents for its hairy beard.

Nobody has any idea who the woman of this statue really is. But whomever she is, she must have been someone very important, considering the fashionable hairstyle which would have taken ages to complete, with the help of many servants.

 Here is a Roman mosaic piece of a mythological creature called a Hippocamp, which is part horse and part fish.

This is a model of the Roman Bath and the temple of  the goddess Sulis Minerva as it would have looked like in the fourth century.

This altar would have been used by priests to perform animal sacrifices.

The golden-plated head of an idol of the goddess Sulis Minerva.

A Sacred Spring for healing purposes, I suppose.

Devotees of the goddess would throw curses of people who have done something bad to them, like stealing something from them, into the waters. This proves people can be really mean when cursing those who have wronged them. Some curses would be written backwards.

The Victorian superstructure, Bath Abbey can be seen from the Great Bath.

Eunice and I with one of the staff members of the Roman Baths, dressed in a costume which would have been worn by the aristocratic women of Roman Britain at that time.

The hot air would flow through this area to heat up the floor.

This is the Pump, where visitors to the Roman Baths can take water from the springs which is just next to this restaurant and consume it here.

Once we were out of the Roman Baths, we hanged out around the Bath Abbey. I took the pretty picture with the statue of the Roman soldier and this 'pengacau punya budak'.

The Bath Abbey has quite stunning architecture as well...

The stained windows...

The magnificent fan vaulting on the ceiling...

 This must be some metaphorical or allegorical representation of the angels climbing Jacob's Ladder I thing...

I really wanted to stop by this famous restaurant to try its famous bread. But we only passed by it, and I bought a piece of Bath bun for my lunch. Not exactly recommendable for diabetic patients, but it was quite feeling.

Our next stop was the Jane Austen Center. As a big fan of her work, Eunice and I felt it was a must we go there, and we managed to pull Aeman along too! The place gave us a clear picture of how Bath would have been like during Jane's two different period of stays here, when it was a famous fashion city.

The whole center does not look quiet like a museum despite all the exhibitions. It seems more like house ripped out of one of the BBC movies made based on Jane's novels.

Two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were set in Bath, though both give us a different impression on the city, reflecting two different parts of Jane's life.

Would you BELIEVE what's written on this wall?!

As we walked out of the place, we met this jolly friendly 'pak cik' in his Georgian attire. He was more than happy to take a picture with us.

As we walked back to our tour bus, we passed by some other famous landmarks in the city.

Gay Street... Jane Austen might have used this street frequently...

 The cathedral of Bath...

Holburne Museum...

The river of Avon...

The Crescent, which is a row of houses build in the shape of a 'bulan sabit', thus the name.

Bath also houses many other interesting places. I would have loved to go on the cruise, and visit more museums. But we did not have much time. I would love to go back there someday, God bless.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Holy River

The Holy River's current state of pathetic-ness

I cannot cannot cannot believe it. The Harry Potter movies have come to an end. I am genuinely crying right now as I type this. Believe me, I am. There is no exact words to describe this. Sentimental, emotional... maybe it is all of it merged into one. The books, and in some ways the movies too, have taught me so much about life. They may have been set in a completely fantasized, fictional world. But the problems and issues the characters face are so real life- like. Here is my personal journey within the world of Harry Potter.

I still don' understand why the American and international version had Sorcerror's Stone in it instead of Philosopher. I mean, people outside Britain do understand what 'philisopher' means right? And how does that differ from a wizard? Poor kids had to do two separate scenes where the say Philosopher during one shoot, then Sorcerer at another. So much confusion...

Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone (2001)

I was eleven and in Standard 5 when I first watched the first Harry Potter movie. I was not totally crazy about it. But then I bought the first book in the saga and read it, trying to make a comparison with the movie.

And it hit me...

I immediately fell in love with the world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets (2002)

I read the second book a few months later. But it was difficult getting a hold of one book because they are quiet costly - over 30 Ringgit, which does not fit in with my allowance. So my dad would usually buy them for me. And on some occasions, my aunt, who has always been fascinated with my love for reading, would buy them as birthday presents for me.

The Chamber of Secrets was my favourite book in the series for a while. The fact that Tom Riddle was not only the heir of Slytherin, but also the younger version of Voldermolt, just caught me by surprise. Initially, I assumed it was the pompous Percy Weasly, as he appeared to be too good and too well-behaved even for a respectable prefect.

Maybe I would have experienced the same effect had I read the Philosopher's Stone first rather than watch the film instead. Since I already knew that it was Professor Quirrell who was plotting with Voldermolt rather than Professor Snape since I had watched the movie first, there was no much thrill in reading the book, thought I instantly fell in love with Rowling's humour and suspense in writing.

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban (2002)

I remember dad buying me the third book  - The Prisoner of Azkaban somewhere in the middle of the year before sending me off to tuition. Despite my UPSR examination being just around the corner, I made it a must to complete the book no matter what. Maybe I could not stand the pressure of not knowing how the third book would go while studying. I might have not been able to concentrate.

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire (2003)

I don't quite remember when I started reading the fourth book, though it was given to me by my aunt before I watched the first film, which she had borrowed from her school library. I remember pushing the book away because I was turned off by the thickness of The Goblet of Fire. It looked like a dictionary for heaven's sake! But then I bought my own copy and read it perhaps somewhere during my first year in secondary school, in Form One if I am not mistaken.

For the first time, someone with much character development died - Cedric Diggory. It was not that much of an important character, and some might have disliked him since he had the girl that Harry likes, Cho Chang. And once again, the writer had managed to trick the readers. Nobody would have expected the Barty Crouch that Harry saw in the Marauder's Map was actually pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody all along! I mean, he helped Harry win the Triwizard Tournament for heaven's sake! JK Rowling, you're a genius! Unlike the guys who made the movies, and were dumb to have not included this part into the film. It would have been epic! 

It was also around the same time the Chamber of Secrets movie came out. All the scenes were there just like I visualized!

Like this one! It was amazing!

Harry Potter & The Order of The Phoenix (2003)

It was also on the same year I read The Order of The Phoenix. This was the first time I received a hard cover version as a birthday present from my aunt. The paper cover was beautiful but irritating, and I would keep it away most of the time and only carry the book. I think it was a relative who commented once that it looked like I was carrying a Bhagavad Gita everywhere. How cynical.

There was much build-up from the press during this time since someone dies in the book. It was disappointing that it turned out to be Sirius. The hype of the anticipation was so big back then that I was expecting it to be either Ron or Hermionie (touch wood!).

But yes, Bellatrix was a monster!

The third movie came out a year later in 2004 and it was then when I really fell in love with the movies. The director was changed from Chris Columbus to Alfonso Cuaron. I liked the latter's interpretation of the world of Harry Potter better. The kids return to Hogwarts as teenagers, and there is a touch of real life in the film with the characters wearing jeans, t-shirts and hoodies. The scary, PG 13 Dementors were also rather horrifying. The movie franchise was definitely growing up, just like its fans. I remember fighting over a newspaper cutting with a classmate of mine who was also a Potter maniac like me, except she liked the movies solely and had never read the book. What a waste...

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince (2005)

Somewhere in mid 2005, there was the sixth novel in the series, The Half Blood Prince. Forget my PMR trial examination. Forget the actual PMR itself. I wanted the book! And I wanted it bad! This time, it was back to dad's turn to get me the book. It was another hardcover one, and yet another anticipated mocking of the "carrying the Bhagavad Gita around would be more useful and blah.. blah.. blah..

Once again, there was much more hype prior to the release of the book. Unlike before, writer JK Rowling [and my own personal here :)]  did not release any teaser-like comments about a character dying and increasing the anticipation of her wide fan base.  But this time, the title itself created much speculation on who the Half Blood Prince actually was. All Jo (as JK is fondly known) mentioned was it would not be Harry Potter himself or Voldermolt @ Tom Riddle @ The Dark Lord @ He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named @ You-Know-Who @ Orang takde hidung.

But my dad did not buy it for me immediately. I don't really remember, but I think I only received the book after my actual PMR and read it hungrily like a starving person who has just been served with dinner at a fancy restaurant. I refused to read any reviews, or listen to the summary of the story from any of my friends who had finished the book. Instead, like a true Potter maniac, I read the book myself, page by page.

And once again Jo had successfully stunned me with her beautiful writing, and not to mention the twist end. Who would have known? The not-so-good and not-so-bad Professor Snape could have been the Half Blood Prince all along. And not it the way we would have expected it. And with that second last book, the hype and speculation for the next and final book was thus created.

Is Professor Snape good or evil?

Now forget about the book. This was also the same year The Goblet of Fire film came out and my family and I went and watched it in a cineplex in Ipoh since Taiping, my hometown, did not have one yet. Though some of my favourite parts were not included, it surely appeared to be more of a teen film compared to the goody goody Chris Columbus ones. This was the period of sexual awakening for the characters.

There was Rob Pattinson, the soon to be Twilight dude, as the dashing Cedric Diggory, and the super macho, alpha male Viktor Krum. And Hermionie had never looked more enchanting. The Yule Ball scene was most spectacular.

Harry Potter & The Deadly Hallows (2007)

Since it is the most recent one, I remember almost vividly how my journey within the world of Harry Potter came to an end. It was after my SPM exam trial. Despite my more brainy friends deciding to read the book after the actual SPM examination, I could not concentrate on my lesson knowing that the final book in the saga of a lifetime was out and I was desperate to know how it all ends!

So once the SPM trial was done with, I pestered dad to get me the book. The final book! The very last one! I would never ask anything else from you, Pa! Just this one tiny last book! Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I begged.  And I must have been super annoying because dad obliged.

I was done with the book in less than ten days. It took a rather long time since I also had to study for the exam. But when I was done, there was no emotional crying or anything. Maybe there was the pressure of having to study for the exam.

A few months earlier, the Order of the Phoenix movie came out, and it was heavily panned by the critics. And when I say critics, I'm talking about my classmates who are fellow Potter maniacs. But in reality, their chief was just jealous of Daniel Radcliffe for being named the richest teenager in the UK not too long ago.  So this person simply decided to hate all his movies to, I don't know, demasculinate him! Haha!  There were all kinds of problems with the movie for this person; like the kissing scene, and the nightmare scenes. I was like what???

After that... (2009 - 2011)

So, I started to relive the magic of Harry Potter via the movies, since the books have ended. The Half Blood Prince movie came out during my second foundation year. The experience watching it in the cinema with my buddies turned out to be a nightmare. I suppose the two Japanese or Korean ladies sitting in front of us, who spoke fake queen English didn't like me explainng the story to my friend who had not read or seen the previous installations. So one of them turned to us and just said...

"Excuse me, I paid for my ticket too. So could you please SHUT it!"

Wow. And as if that was not painful enough, while walking out of the cinema, the same woman said to her friend, "Harry Potter is the most read book in the world. I don't need someone telling me the story."

"Hello, missy! Nobody was telling YOU the story, I was merely explaining some unclear details to my friend. The whole world does not revolve around you. So get out of yourself. And by the way, haven't you heard of something we civilized people call manners? I don't know about from whatever rude, God-forsaken country you come from, but over here, when someone does something unpleasant, you tell them to stop it nicely and sweetly. Not by cursing or raising your voice. And if being polite doesn't work, you call the authorities. Okay? Tell whomever you're dating or in a relationship with, if such a person exists in the first place, that I wish them good luck having you in their life, because you're definitely not socially inclined. Thanks. Bye."

Even though I did not actually tell her this, it was running over in my head. How I wish I could just spank her right then and there. Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure she is unhappy with her life right now, if not completely miserable. I mean, the humiliation she caused us that day is still clear in my head. Something as traumatizing as that does not just go unaffected. There is something called Karma. And it will get back to you.

I'm not sure if it was because my mood was out that day, or was the movie simply not up to my expectations. I mean, Dumbledore showed Harry lots of memories in his Pensive. Some of the best memory scenes were ignored. Like, I had always visualized a handsome and normal looking Ralph Fiennes in the memory where he returns to Hogwarts as a grown man, seeking the position as the Defense teacher, to which Dumbledore rejects his application, and ever since then, no Defense teacher ever lasted more than a year at the school. It would have been great if it was included. Not to mention the memories in the Gaunt house. I was disappointed.

The final book was split into two films. I watched both of them here in the UK with my buddies. These movies were everything that I had expected. After watching The Deadly Hallows Part 2 recently, I came home and just cried like a baby. It was like the last remaining chunk of my living childhood was forcefully taken away from me.

This was me, the rose among the thorns... hehe... when we went to watch the Deadly Hallows Part 1 last winter after our School Based Experience.

Speaking of crying like a baby, during the scene where Harry supposedly dies, a few girls in the cinema hall, who clearly had not read the books, simply cried................ aloud! How can one not giggle at that? You tell me. And the way they cried, God! It was like the end of the world. Well, can't really make fun of them. I cried too. But for a more dignified reason, if I may say so. Huh.

Though I have always been in love with the books, the ending of the movie saga also made me realize how much the movies had helped me bring the magic of the books to life. I had grown up with the books, the movies and even the actors. Seeing the first and second movie, and seeing how young Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton and the rest of the young cast were, just reminds me of how much I myself have grown. I read the books alone, but all those memories of watching and enjoying the movies with  my family is something I would treasure always...