the miniature

It is ironic that my M.A. thesis at Wesleyan University was about pieces of an extended duration, and that I have, as mentioned in my previous post, turned to the miniature for a while. My interest with the form is for two reasons: 1) whenever I engage with a new instrument, I tend to write them a set of miniatures to get to fully understand then, and 2) the utility of the miniature as a form has proven to be fruitful in overcoming my current anxieties and challenges in staff notation.

On 2nd January, I completed a set of seven miniatures for toy piano, entitled:
Seven Gates or Choices for the Lost Leaves of Time.

In each miniature I explored a different aspect of affect, energy, notation, and compositional content – I would say ‘style’, but they were written by me, and therefore despite having stark contrasts of content from one piece to the next, they all display facets of my voice and musical interests* – and because of this the tension relations between pieces are as equally interesting as the works themselves (at least for me as a composer). This is also an intentional and useful activity in the exploration of instrumental capabilities as much as it is compositional interest – one might not ever fully grasp the nature of playing an instrument if one only ever writes slow music, or fast music for that instrument for instance.

Here I will give a description of each movement, and reveal some of the creative intentionality behind them:

  1. Theatre
    Here I explore the unfolding of two separate melodies through the style of monody. There are never any coincidental notes, only successive implications of harmonies.
  2. Song
    In contemporary classical music, forms are often highly original, and inventive, but they also tend to eschew more traditional, or typical structures. Therefore, I wanted to explore the tensions that would arise from utilising the structure of a pop song as the structure for my piece.
  3. Anxiety
    This was an exercise in the organic exploration of atonal materials – I wanted them to have a rise and fall, yet still remain lyrical.
  4. Fantasy
    Just before writing these miniatures, I was listening to a lot of Frescobaldi, and noted how flamboyant and adventurous his keyboard writing was. It definitely was the initiator of the stylus phantasticus, a highly improvisatory and fashionable style of playing in the German Baroque (although he was Italian!). Here, influenced by my listening, I explored utilising blocks of harmony vertically through flourished writing and trills.
  5. Expectant
    The toy piano is not a very resonant instrument – yet the voice is. I wanted to explore the tensions that would arise through resonance by having the player play a chord for an extremely long time, implying toy piano resonance, and then the player would either play silence, or sing a note from the previous chord in the rest given, to imply another type of continuing resonance. (This is the work that allows the piece to have a bit more of an open duration, as there are a lot of choices about time given to the player).
  6. Melody
    This one was more straightforward as I essentially wanted to write a monophonic melody that at times was square enough to be memorable, but then explore an ebb and flow that resulted in it being difficult to memorise as a whole (by memorise I am thinking of it as a ‘tune’, one might whistle for instance).
  7. History, supposedly
    Here I was interested in exploring the tensions that might arise from utilising Medieval rhythmic modes, Jazz influenced harmonies, and my developing interest in counterpoint. Again, the toy piano is a somewhat ironic instrument for this, as it’s extremely limited, and harmony isn’t particularly that effective given that it lacks the resonance offered by a guitar or piano, which are instruments one normally associates with effective harmonic writing.

Despite being seven miniatures, of varying approaches and content, they come in at anything between 12-18 minutes, depending on how a performer might realise them.

After completing them I sent them to one of my previous teachers, and we had an interesting exchange about the idea of a miniature – is a miniature a miniaturisation of a musical idea, a reducing, or even redaction of time, but with all the content of 5 minutes, within 1. Essentially, is it a short piece? I have seen many commissions or calls for scores with miniatures that say ‘ the piece needs to be either less than 60 seconds, or contain fewer than 100 notes’. OR on the other hand, can the miniature actually, despite its name, be an implication for something much larger, an infinite space or environment. Then if the latter, how miniature can something be, yet still imply an immense scope.

I also sent them to a friend of mine who will hopefully be giving them a go sometime soon, so watch this space!

This conversation with my previous teacher has spurred and inspired me to explore this as a concept in my next set of miniatures – Brief Infinities, which will contain 6 miniatures for Domra, a Russian folk instrument. 3 have been composed, and I have ideas for the other three, so given their brevity, these should be complete fairly soon.

Similarly, this idea of a small amount of material equating to infinity, is actually not all that an absurd concept to me. I have found that in writing music that is of a much larger scope and duration, less really does equate to more. You would think that if you were to compose a 30-minute piece, you might need lots of material – the reality, however, is that you do not need a lot of material to get to 30-minutes. Of course, it depends on what you’re trying to go for, but generally, if a listener is willing to engage with a piece for that long, this gives you an wonderful opportunity to allow the listener to have an experience, as opposed to them having to attentively follow the typical 5-minute tropes that all compositions seem to be right now. It also affords the composer the opportunity to really sit with a relatively small amount of materials, and say ‘OK, what can I do with this to make it into a piece, and keep some form of interest’ – ‘interest’ being a rather relative term dependent on the artistic endeavours and aims. Watch out for a future post on the relationship between attention, and experience.

In this pursuit of exploration through the miniature form, I am also working on a set of 5 miniatures for electronics. These came about through the need to explore many of the electronic plugins I have managed to accrue over the past few years – each miniature will be from a single sound source, and will use a limited number of plugins as to fully explore some of the potentialities of each electronic process that is available to me, in order that I might actually delve into something on a much larger scale (this is also due to my recent interest in self-sufficiency at a time where longer projects are extremely difficult to delve into both in terms of focus and resources – electronic music, however, does not pose this problem, and therefore it may take up a more substantial amount of my time this year than I had originally intended).

Miniatures offer a chance to explore something, but more importantly it is often without a terribly large time investment. For a composer, the thought of not getting something performed is often a terrifying prospect, and therefore if one is wanting to explore something, but does not yet have the resources available to do it on a larger scale, the miniature is a useful endeavour as it often allows for a deep exploration of thought into a topic, and the realisation itself is brief in terms of its execution, and therefore a heavy learning process is incurred, whilst the process of labour is relatively minimal. Similarly, when a performer then comes to tackle the work, they also do not have to invest the same amount of time, only the same level of rigour.

* I would also point out that here I have not released any information or specific writings on my pursuits as a pluralist with interests in eclecticism as both style and practice – this was the topic of my MA by Research at the University of Birmingham, and can be found on their e-repository pages for those who are interested.

the anxiety of the staff

I have to admit, I am currently in a (hopefully) temporary stage where I am rather scared of notation. Of course, the blank page can be the most horrific image to any artist, writer, or maker, but for me, a blank page is preferable to seeing those five, straight, bold lines squished together moving from one side of their boundary to another filling me with the deepest dread, to the extent that it has, for the past 6 months, crippled any thought process I might have – that is, until the last week or so.

The anxiety of the staff is a rather ridiculous idea for me. How can someone who, for the bulk of their education and experience making music, utilise the western staff suddenly perceive it as if it were some foreign object, some kind of other, even though previously it was studied, understood, and perfectly comprehensible.

I believe this is a thing of training, and the anxieties that develop through the conditioning of the various models of composer. In the highly complex musical culture we find ourselves in, and perhaps indebted to a philosophy of pushing limits, we have come to a place where people operate at the margins – no longer is ‘less, more’ – more is more, and less is less – the extremity of practice, and the world in which one situates themselves can have a large affect on the perception of the ontology of the staff.

Within settings of compositional pedagogy, white space, and whole notes are seen as lazy, lacklustre, creatively devoid, and in some situations, are insulting to players of a particular pedigree. The more hyper-detailed one’s score, and the more demanding it is on players, the more work you must have done, the deeper level of thought that must be there, which in turn promotes the idea of a sophisticated and well learned practitioner aware of the trends at the height of modernist practice, or what we might call a ‘serious’ composer. – this is not necessarily a criticism of either a simple or complex practice, it is, naturally, just a set of easy conclusions that are made based on visual factors of the score, that ultimately are judged before any sonorous quality is experienced.

As a pluralist interested in these sonic extremes from the simple to the highly complex I have experienced both situations. I have been judged for utilising only whole notes in a score, to be then told it was an extremely beautiful piece once it was heard. I have also had experiences where the initial perception of a rather complex looking score was one of full engagement, and enthusiasm, and upon its experience was told it was ‘kind of very strange’ – both were educational settings – and this is just on the surface level of the score.

Once one goes to deeper considerations of the staff, the anxieties that arise are mostly ones that are ingrained within settings of compositional pedagogue. To be a ‘serious’ composer, is the equivalent of having elocution lessons, and making sure you pronounce your Q’s, T’s, and P’s, only this time articulation is with dots, beams, stems, and lines of varying meanings. The vocabulary available to a composer from the Post-WWII period until the present is continually getting richer and simultaneously more complicated – Do composers have more to say? Is it an attempt to say something differently? Or do the limitation of the score require continuous reconfiguration for the musical language people are attempting to achieve? Either way, the further into the present-history of music we go, the more level of detail is required to at least be understood – for some composers, employing the entire battery of articulations and extended techniques is natural – but for others it might just be a specific element that is required – but ultimately both have to know the accepted norms of practice. The micro-details of the staff go deeper and deeper as the years go on, and regardless of whether you are a tonal, atonal, or non-idiomatic composer, it is an expectation and duty to understand them all.

The micro-details of a score can often be a barrier or hindrance to the creative process – all composers would like a machine that transformed what was going on in their brain onto a staff, without the laborious and tedious process of scoring. These micro-details, however, are considered a necessary component in the conveying of ideas – therefore they have to be perfect, and to some extent, these are the only elements of music that can be presented as perfect – yet due to the very nature of a score, the actual realised sound is never perfect, and that in itself is rich and interesting terrain – although perhaps not to be occupied in this small entry. Ultimately, we as practitioners, can sometimes spend so long with how something looks, that we forget its purpose – to convey information of a sonic nature – and if we interrogate this idea – do we really need the western staff to be able to do this?

The western staff is just one of many sophisticated approaches to conveying information of a musical nature. The basic version of what we have now, unsurprisingly, developed at a time when the utility of literacy was one of power and economy – culture had started to move away from oral practice, and ‘folk’ started to have less facility and agency within the operations of the every day world – literary culture was taking over, and orality went into decline. Just like the relationship between words on a page, and the sound and meaning those words might have when spoken aloud, the staff itself is not music; it is not sonorous, nor is it affective. The staff is an artefact and fragment of something much larger and involved. Yet due to its cultural reverence and placement, and the fetishisation of urtext, the western art score holds a hegemony over the actual music making and experiencing processes – we as practitioners have given an excessive amount of agency and power to an inanimate source.

Naturally, I am also aware of two ironies here: 1) I am using a text editor to create a blog that sits inanimately somewhere on a cloud, and 2) In writing about the staff, I give it a certain place holder, or reverence that does very little to shake the shackles of anxiety it holds over practice.

That being said, I personally came to the staff very late. I studied piano from the age of 7, and the score was always in front of me, but my stubborn little self never got around to being even slightly proficient in being able to read a score until 17 (when my teacher at GCSE told me that I should not do A-level music unless I was seriously going to learn how to read it!). For 10 years of my life I learned music solely by ear – it was a novelty to my piano teachers, as they regarded me in a way that was both encouraging of learning by ear, but slight dismay that I was never getting to grips with the staff, and they would play the works I wanted to learn, and I would learn from their playing. I was also creating music in this time too, and found many different approaches to communicating ideas (for myself to play). I then went to university to study music, and for 98% of that time, I was then engaged with the staff.

I am hugely aware of the fact that the language of western art music is enshrouded in that of the score, a language that is elitist, exclusionary, and simply not available to many.

Arriving at Wesleyan, however, I started to engage with many other approaches to communicating musical information, from cipher scores, to graphic scores, and text scores, to improvisation. A significant amount of time was spent avoiding western staff notation. Through time spent away from western staff notation, and time spent with other communicational methods of composition I enriched my possibilities of music making. I spent a lot of my time engaging with works of an extended duration, and found that there were more ideal approaches to realising and creating a work of a long duration, than focusing on the micro-details of each second that I might have done in the western score. I submitted my thesis in May, and it was not until August where I started to write notes again – but in a very free manner, for the collaboration between Anya Shatilova, a domra player and ethnomusicologist at Wesleyan, and myself.

In the past 6 months, I have not engaged with the staff very much. Each time I have considered writing something with the staff, I have rejected the idea, and created something with electronics, or a text score instead. The anxiety keeps rising, and I feel this is mostly due to the fact that with very few players and opportunities around and available (because of the elephant in the room that is a global pandemic), the need and urge to write music in this way is not all that overwhelming. That being said, I feel that if I leave it too long, I’ll want to avoid it completely! But, despite the many issues with it, I enjoy the score, I like the fact I am familiar with it, and I like that it can be a detailed source of information on the microlevel – it is one of many tools I have available, and one I feel is necessary to keep in practice. Therefore, I have started, as a way to oil the hinges, to write miniatures for toy piano, an instrument with large limitations in sound (the timbre changes little in its span), harmonic quality (I find anything more than a few simultaneous notes sounds dreadful), and range (2 octaves). By working within such strict limitations, the anxiety of staff notation starts to slowly dissipate – when you only have so much at your disposal, you avoid the worries that might plague you if you might otherwise be writing for orchestra.

The toy piano miniatures are called ‘Seven Gates or Choices for the Lost Leaves of Time’, and they will slowly be presented to the world in time to come. Watch this space! Also look out for another blog on my thoughts on miniatures. After this I plan on writing some miniatures for domra, some solo songs, and then some motets, whilst continuing to create more extended works with electronics & field recordings.

St Magnus International Festival & Composer Course

So I spent from 10th-24th June 2017 on the beautiful Orkney Islands, attending the most phenomenal composition course and festival, with the marvellous composition tutors Alasdair Nicolson and Sally Beamish.

There were 8 composers on the composers course, and this ran alongside the writing and conducting courses, 9 and 8 individuals in each respectively.

Our task, before arriving in Orkney, was to create a piece that was near finished, but had room for improvement and changes; this should have been about 5-6′ of material. Mine ended up being 7′. Throughout the course we worked extensively with some of the best musicians I’ve encountered, The Assembly Project. Their dedication and commitment to workshopping, playing, rehearsing, tweaking, and finally performing all 8 new pieces was absolutely stunning. Every composer on the course was thrilled about their time with the ensemble, and even more thrilled about the results during the final performance.

As part of this project the composers were each paired with a conductor from the conducting course, and my wonderful collaborative partner was Tom Coult, a brilliant musician who is both a composer and conductor – there was no one better for my piece. A non-stop, ever changing, theatrical onslaught needs a conductor who understands the whacky wants of composers, and Tom was exactly that!

I hope my piece hasn’t scared all the players away! A big shout out to Fraser Langton for being the best diva on stage!


Alongside this project, we also collaborated with those on the writers course. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with two writers – Aileen Ballantyne, and Kate Oldfield. Their poetry was extraordinary, and the composers were to compose short string quartets in response to these poems. The string quartets were workshopped by the wonderful Gildas Quartet. One of mine was definitely successful, the other lesser so, but the poetry was nonetheless stunning. I’m hoping to collaborate further with both writers in the future.

One of the most difficult, yet rewarding projects of the course, was the collaboration with Hear My Music, an organisation that helps those who have learning difficulties experience music making. All the composers were paired with a child from a local school in Kirkwall; the children all composed and provided a bit of musical material as a starting point for the composers on the course to write something for The Assembly Project (again! they must have been fed up of us!). I was paired with a lovely girl called Evie, who provided me with 6 notes. I found out that Evie likes mysterious shipwrecks, so I tailored the 6 notes to that kind of mood. During the concert I noticed how a lot of children found some of the pieces very difficult to cope with, either being too tense, not resolving, or not to their taste. After the concert I discovered that Evie really liked it! So at least one person was definitely happy!!

During all of this we were supported by Alasdair and Sally, who both provided the most invaluable advice. There was also a wonderful workshop with Rafal Łuc, a Polish accordion player, who introduced us to its amazing contemporary repertoire. And of course this was all complimented by all of the concerts in the festival!

I stayed in a place called Berstane House, which was a 30 minute walk into Kirkwall, with 3 other composers, all of whom I’ve come to greatly respect, and hope I will keep in touch with! (That also goes for the rest of the people on the course too!). Berstane overlooks the sea, and has the most stunning views, views that no photo can do justice.We also had the most marvellous views of cows and sheep (pretty good pictures of those though!), pretty much in 360.

The opening reception took place at The Sound Hub, a new club for Kirkwall, in the presence of Norwegian Royalty! Many a night was spent at the Festival Club (the same place) with all the musicians, performers, composers, conductors and tutors – I was introduced to Kirkjuvagr Gin and I think I may be hooked!

As the course was so intense with so much work and revising of scores, there was very little free time! But with some perseverance, however, and a few days spare at the end I managed to fit in some trips with my Berstane-housemate Matt Grouse, an absolutely fantastic composer, based in Glasgow, Derrick Morgan, a conductor based in Edinburgh, and some of Matt’s friends. We went to Stromness, Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar, The Standing Stones, Scapa Beach and Scapa Distillery.

Alasdair, Sally, Tom, Matt, David, Mike, Lillie, Angela, Carol, Anselm, Derrick, Fraser, Fenella, Emma, Rachael, Ian, Clea, Emily, & everyone else involved in the 2017 St Magnus International Festival, thank you so much for making it the most incredible experience, I will cherish the memories I made with all of you.




Secrets Untold Devour

I have recently finished a piece for the wonderful Jennie Boase, a trumpet player at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The piece is titled Secrets Untold Devour, it’s around 14 minutes long, and is for trumpet, piano and percussion. Jennie commissioned the piece as part of her Major Project, where 4th year students undertake a large project to show their skills in a number of different areas, not just performance or composition.

Jennie’s goal with her Major Project was not just one for the sake of fulfilling an academic requirement: her goal was to get composers to write a varied set of adventurous works that will encourage other trumpet players to work with more than just the available means, which she tells me is as a soloist, sometimes with piano, mostly without, or as various brass ensembles. There is a void of chamber music for trumpet that needs to be filled!

Working with Jennie thus far has been a fantastic experience, she has walked me through the trumpet, and showed me many of the marvellous merits it has. As part of this project Jennie is taking the mammoth task of learning all of these pieces by February 2017 and recording them after. The result will be a CD, and I am so excited to work further with Jennie and for the CD.

I’ll keep you posted!


Return to go forward

I have returned to the University of Birmingham for my masters, which I’m doing by research. I tend to fall asleep in classrooms, so I am giving the research approach a go! Sometimes I think going back is a bad idea, but sometimes one can also really benefit from having familiarity, whilst taking the challenge from a new changed angle.

So with new studies comes a new website, something a bit cleaner, tasteful and hopefully more stylish!

I’m currently also re-thinking my research ideas. I was originally going to pursue research into vocal music, and the relationship of the voice with other mediums including electronics, text, dance and choreography, and theatre. Whilst I still think this research is worthwhile, I’m currently having ideas for many other compositional endeavours, some of which I think are more interesting, such as exploring emotionality, expression, dramatic and teleological structures, and the Romantic in the Postmodern Era, insofar that I can still create vocal works, but also venture out into other mediums. I also have a number of performers and friends asking me for works, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

I am looking forward to whatever this year may have in store for me, and for you!

Until later,



Works, works, everywhere! Well…not EVERYWHERE…

So in the last two months I’ve had two works performed: one for Violin & piano at the Stratford Upon Avon Music Festival, performed by Alessandro Ruisi & Dina Duisen,  and one for Orchestra, as part of the Composers’ Orchestra Project at the Birmingham Conservatoire, performed by the Composers’ Orchestra and the wonderful Edwin Roxburgh.

It’s always so wonderful to hear works performed! As a composer it can be so easy to just write a piece, probably not hear it, forget about it, and move onto the next piece. In the case of both pieces …sonata… (Vl & Pn) and …miniatures… (orch.) I wrote the piece some time beforehand, submitted them, and kind of forgot about them. So it was a great experience to hear my own work, in a somewhat unfamiliar way! This kind of composition allows the rediscovery of the parts that you like, or even love, about your craft, and the parts of your technique that you need to address (this was what was so good and beneficial about the 4 days rehearsal I was so privileged to experience with the Composers’ Orchestra – I could change, add and remove elements that I thought were needed, or not expressed clearly enough etc.).

Being at a Conservatoire allows for a continual working relationship with other musicians, and it is always a delight to receive feedback on writing because it means that I’ll only keep getting better on writing for particular instruments. There are a number of composers who have expressed a disinterest with working with players, and this just baffles me: THE PLAYERS ARE THE BEST BIT! Without them a composer isn’t very much (unless s/he works in an electronic medium)!

I’m still energised from last nights’ performance, so thank you everyone who was involved! It was a delight!


Catch you later!

Bzzzt Bzzt Bzzt: E-L-E-C-T-R-O-N-I-C!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m writing, and have realised that a lot of my current works are actually for Instrument & Electronics – which is not a medium I’ve not really explored. I’ve explored Instruments, and I’ve explored Electronics, but I have never combined the two until recently.

I’m looking forward to the many pieces that I am about to release on the world that are for instruments with electronics! I hope you are too!

Catch you later!


The last moments of time of my first time in Asia…

So now I’ve gallivanted from one side of the world to the other I have very little time to do anything! So I shall write up the blog of my last two weeks in Asia.  

On the following Monday (from our last day in Thailand) we travelled back from the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’ to Singapore. Our tour guide gave us a lovely farewell (despite sending us to the wrong place for departure! Haha!). 
Whilst at the Airport I bought a book called ‘Quiet’ which is about Introverts in a society dominated by Extroverts. It is a highly interesting book and I have now finished it; I would recommend it to everyone. 

We landed around 10pm and after customs, baggage and travel we got back to NUS at around 11:30pm. 

The Tuesday was mostly a day of recovery for most people, as everyone was worn out. I spent the day writing up postcards as well as buying some memorabilia from the Bookstore at NUS UTown. On the evening I had dinner with Kareem! 

On Wednesday I finally got my Canadian Study Permit application sent off, at the expense of not going out! Other than that there were two dreary lectures. I then had a fantastic chat with Adanna, a Kings College (London) undergraduate, who’s studying International Politics. we both discussed introvertism quite extensively. 

Thursday was a very good day, despite having little in it. I gained confirmation from the University of Western Ontario, that I would most likely be able to do the composition courses that I enrolled onto. This was an amazing feeling as I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to composition there. I sent off the postcards that I wrote on the Tuesday and edited photos from the field trip (which I’m still doing!). On the evening I met up with Duy, a guy from Vietnam who I quickly became friends with. 

On Friday we had a presentation day. MERGH! Actually it went quite well. Our powerpoint and presentation included various aspects of Singapore’s culture and diversity. After the presentation Victor, Trent, David, Maggie, Rahavie and I packed and went to Bintan, a resort Island in Indonesia. The Ferry was OK, but David fell ill. When we arrived we went through the most stupid system I’ve ever encountered for visas. We then found our rooms, went to a restaurant (that was bloody expensive!) and then went to the Beach (in the dead of night, where we sat and chatted). After this we returned to bed, where I slept very badly. 


On Saturday David and I spent some time after breakfast on the Beach.


We then met up with Maggie and went for some archery and shooting.


Our party then went on to get lunch, after which David needed to nap, so Maggie and I went to the beach! We returned to David after 50 minutes and went on one of the best experiences so far – we rode Elephants! 

On the resort, however, were a few things that really upset me, one was that there was a horse that was being used to entertain people, yet its condition of living was disgusting, as was its treatment. The people there glorified Elephants, yet neglected an equally magnificent animal. 

To our delight some people from NUS decided to join us. We all went for dinner, then the group decided to get merry off drink. 

On the morning we had breakfast, and I returned to Singapore, ahead of the rest of the group. I met with Duy and we walked and chatted for a while. On the evening I met up with Jing, a friend on the Main campus of NUS. 

On Monday I had a few lectures which were the last lectures of my time at NUS. On the afternoon I met up with Duy and we went to the cinema to see ‘White House Down’, which was a fantastic movie. 

On Tuesday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Pei, a friend of mine who was studying at UoB on a Ministry of Education Scholarship from Singapore. Pei took me to the zoo, after which we had a wonderful lunch.



Whilst at Lunch Pei discovered that she had won another year of the MoE Scholarship to study for a Masters at Oxford, I was so happy for her! After the exciting news headed to the Gardens at the Bay, a magnificent park, that reminded me a lot of the Eden Project. Whilst there we bumped into Ngiam and his friend, which was fun! 




After exploring this fantastic place we went on to meet up with Steven, another Singaporean who is studying at Birmingham. The two of them took me around various places, such as the Esplanade, Marina Bay, Bayfront, and the Merlion (All fantastic picture opportunities).

ImageImageWe then went for Bean Curd, which was an interesting experience, but wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I cannot remember whether it was before, or after but we also had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I drank copious amounts of Chinese tea that was infinite in supply and ate a wonderful array of dishes, including a soup dumpling thing that is exactly what it says – a dumpling filled with various things (Crab, fish, pork) and soup! It was wonderful. After our wonderful day we departed, and I hope to see them both some point this year. 

On Wednesday and Friday, instead of lectures we visited several museums; the Maritime Museum on Sentosa Island, the National Museum of Singapore and the Asian Civilisation Museum.



I then had the most wonderful shock to find that Anna, a friend of mine who’s originally from Italy, but has had a lot of her education in the UK, was also in Singapore on an Internship at the Nanyang Polytechnic. I immediately contacted her, then an hour or two later we met up at Bishan for a coffee! We then parted ways, then I later met up with Jing. 

Thursday morning was spent gathering thoughts and items to take home together. I then met up with Duy where we went and got food at a Vietnamese Restaurant, whilst here I had Vietnamese Pork Pho, which was a really tasty, and interesting dish (a few elements weren’t to my taste, such as the heart and intestines, but I gave it all a try!).

Friday was primarily spent exploring the Museums. I returned back to start packing everything up as I had a very early morning flight. On the evening was the Farewell Dinner, which was a sad and happy time. We all ate and were jovial! I received a wonderful gift of Eileen with an even more wonderful note, both of which I shall forever treasure. The professors then requested that I play the piano to them, as they had not yet heard me play, so I did, and they, along with the rest of the students (to my terrified delight) seemed to really enjoy it! 

I bade many people farewell, some I assumed I would meet again, others I assumed I wouldn’t. Being the type of person I am, I don’t get particularly emotional (I’ve been called heartless numerous times this year). I was, however, very sad to leave some people, so I’m not as heartless as I might seem. 

I decided that to make sure I wasn’t ridiculously tired when I arrived in England that I would stay up all night (it sounds contradictory, I know), then sleep on the plane, so when I arrived in England it would have been as if I slept in the UK, rather than in Singapore (there is a 7 hour time difference!). 

The time to leave eventually came, so I said farewell to Trent, who was the last person in the suite. I then met up with my friend Duy who so kindly said he would accompany me to the airport, which I am still grateful for. I then said farewell to Ngiam who gave me a small, but amazing note, in return I gave him my room key and a promised dedication. 

Duy and I then got the Taxi to Changi where he also gave me a card. I checked in my luggage which was incredibly overweight, but due to the airline I was charged no extra fee. I had a wonderful last drink in Singapore with Duy in the airport. Duy and I joked a lot about this, and it was eventually time to say farewell, which is always difficult. 

Both Ngiam and Duy had requested that I wasn’t to read their messages until I had parted from them. Along with Eileen’s note, the wonderful words found on paper brought me to tears. It was a very emotional flight home. 

The flight itself was uneventful; weirdly enough, like on my flight to Singapore I was sat next to an English person, and an Australian was next to him, but instead of Right to left, it was left to right. I tried the famous Singapore Sling on the way back, which was OK… To my despair there were two babies on board. One was excellent, but her father was highly irritating whilst the other baby cried a lot, but he was too cute to be irritating. 

I slept for around 5 hours, making up for my lack of sleep the entire evening before. Once I landed I knew what my immediate reaction would be: I HATE BRITAIN! And it’s safe to say, I guessed correctly! London Heathrow is a vile and disgusting place. 

My memories of Southeast Asia will always remain with me. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to study there and meet all of the amazing and wonderful people that I did, both on the Summer school as students and staff, and outside the summer school. My experience there was one of wonder, awe, excitement, thrills and above all it was fulfilling to gain an understanding of some of the cultures in the gem of the world that is Southeast Asia.

Thailand: Sex, Drugs and Cults

Now please do not expect such an enthusiastic report of Thailand as it was for Cambodia. Thailand did not impress anything onto me, other than disdain for the ‘Land of a Thousand Smiles’. 

On the Thursday we drove from Siem Reap to the Cambodia-Thai border, which we crossed. The day was perhaps the hottest day I experienced in Southeast Asia, so it wasn’t all that nice! 

The border was busier than I thought it would be. It was filthier too, I was expecting it to be more stately, or to have an element of grandeur, it had neither! 

Once we crossed the border we met with our Thai Guide, who was very welcoming, but seemingly false. 

We travelled to luncheon where it turned out we had to pay for our water; something that in Cambodia was free (for us at least). Ironically I didn’t order a water, I got coffee, which was free with the free meal. 

Now Thai food has a reputation for being spicy, but nothing compares to what many of us experienced at this restaurant. Ning, Kareem, Maggie, Ngiam, and I all participated in a game where we had to guess what number another person was thinking; the person who guessed had to eat a chilli. Peoples reactions were highly comical! As I didn’t guess a number I still tried one…O.M.F.G. THE BURN! My mouth burnt for 20 minutes straight! And the more I breathed the worse it got! Never again! We checked into an OK hotel (Nothing like Lin Ratanak). 

The following day we had a lecture at Kohn Kaen university, and I eventually fell asleep as it was just so dull. (I hadn’t yet recovered from Bayon…that’s my excuse…) We then had lunch and went on to do the best thing of my time in Thailand. 

First off we visited a school at the Ban Don Han village where a large number of people played football with the young children of the school. (I took lots of photos instead!). 



Others played community games and volleyball. The children were so lovely and were all bundles of joy! Communicating was rather difficult but it wasn’t impossible! 


It was here that I met Emmi, a wonderful girl who had studied English at University and was working in the Village school. 

We then onto the activity I was dreading most, but turned out to be the best part of our Thai trip. Rice Planting! It doesn’t need much description, we had bundles of rice plants, took our shoes and socks off, got down and dirty knee deep in mud into the paddy and planted rice in the entire field. It was so much fun!




We then travelled back for dinner, then went to bed! 

The following morning we set off to Ayutthaya to visit, wait for it…TEMPLES! The joy. We then visited the Thai Studies Museum at Suranaree University where we learnt more about village life. There we let our our childish sides loose and played with the variety of pre-electronic toys that appear to be similar all over the world, such as spinning tops.



After we finished being 8 year olds we travelled to the Krung Sri River Hotel, where we had dinner on a boat that took us around what used to be the Ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya. On the Sunday we checked out of Krungsri and visited what can only be described as…more temples.

After leaving the many many many many many many many many many (got it?!) temples we departed for Bangkok, but on the way we stopped at another Temple: but this time a modern one!!! Wat Phra Dhammakaya: that famous one that looks like UFO. 

I have never felt so uncomfortable from the aura of a place. The people, the architecture, the entire infrastructure of Wat Dhammakaya gave me the heebie-jeebies.


ImageThere were signs saying ‘If you pass beyond this point you will not return’. It was surreal, it was a cult. The followers of the religion (Buddhism) were all residents on the premises (It’s incredibly big…) and they all wore white and simultaneously bowed as we passed, as if they were automated robots. We were then taught how to meditate, in which I was afraid he was going to brainwash us all, like his other victims in white. After visiting the many weird parts of this business (all the guide did was talk about money) we departed to Hell’s Asshole, Bangkok. 

We checked into the nicest hotel of our time in Thailand. The food at this place was AMAZING, there was so much variety, and there was also a beautifully excessive amount of Sushi. 

As the food was so exceptional Adanna and I were the last people of our group who were still eating; we were just on our Ice Cream when we realised all of the group had gone to the meeting with Archen, whom was giving a talk on his life-story. We lapped p the ice-cream and joined them for the meeting, which hadn’t started as they were waiting for us! How embarrassing! My stomach, however, was content! We listened to the wonderful Thai gentleman talk of his life which was incredibly interesting and it was an honour that he shared it with us all. 

The following day we were to depart homeward bound to Singapore, but we first visited the Royal Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple. They supposedly had regulations for wearing trousers as to cover all skin, but I sauntered in with shorts! =D! 


After getting lost, a few…thousand times with Maggie and Olga, we eventually returned to the entrance (meeting with Ning on the way!) to find that we were the last people to arrive back (I was always part of the last group, what does that say about me eh?). 

We then got to the airport and flew to Changi Airport, Singapore. I shall blog my last two weeks in Singapore when I next have time! 

Cambodia: Khmer Temples, Khmer Peoples, Khmer Rouge

On Sunday 30th June we flew from Changi Airport over to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was highly surprised at how nice the plane was, after all ‘Jetstar’ is the economically-valued equivalent of Ryanair. 

As soon as I stepped off the plane I experienced heat, not the humid heat that I had become accustomed to in Singapore, this was the heat of a roaring fire or a furnace! 

After adjusting we went through customs, which was highly frustrating as none of the representatives or staff of the airport could speak English, only Khmer. Now I feel hypocritical for saying this, but who in the world is going to know Khmer except people from Cambodia and researchers with interests in the country. 

Talking of researchers I forgot to mention that on the plane I met Geok, a specialist in the history of Myanmar (Burma), and by far the most interesting and fun person on the trip! It was a bit awkward because when we were given seats on the plane they were random, I ended up near Geok, and we didn’t really speak until we had to fill in the Visa forms. Once we did speak, however, I found out that she was a very interesting person and over the trip I learnt a lot from her. 

We then met the tour guide, and found the coach, eventually embarking to our new destination, the Lin Ratanak Angkor Hotel. 

During the drive there the tour guide introduced us to various aspects of Khmer life, society and culture, so I was highly shocked when we arrived at, what seemed to be in comparison to everything else, our luxury hotel! 

Once everything was unloaded we were paired into rooms, I was paired with David which I was quite happy with. 

We settled in, freshened up, then David and I met with the wonderful Rahavie in the lobby, and she then took us to the market area, which was a few metres away from the hotel. 

Never in my life have I experienced what I felt in that Market. My senses were continuously attacked and my emotions couldn’t keep up. The smell of human fluids mixed with durian; the sight of children wandering parentless; the sight of trash everywhere; within this unlit shelter there was the impossible comprehension that these peoples homes were their markets, and their markets were their homes. POVERTY! POVERTY! POVERTY! my mind screamed at me. Yet just a few metres behind me RICHES! WEALTH! PROSPERITY!. You hear and view articles, TV programmes, and radio programmes about things like this, but nothing ever informs you like the empirical attack of reality. 



Just from 10 minutes in this market my entire outlook of life immediately changed. I was completely thrown outside of everything I was ever used to. Thankfully we eventually left and returned to the hotel. We (uncomfortably) wined and dined (I had my first ever cocktail – Blue Lagoon) on Western cuisine. WAIT! WHAT?! Yes, the hotel served western food as Khmer food is notorious for being terribly unhygienic. 

Post-dinner events included a trip to the Night Market, a very charming place. Now, transport in Cambodia is interesting to say the least. In Siem Reap there are only 5 sets of traffic lights, so naturally there are a lot of accidents and deaths on the road. Similarly there aren’t many cars! What there is, are these fantastic little vehicles called Tuk-Tuk’s, which is the most exciting form of transport I have ever been on! A tuk-tuk is a carriage attached to a motorbike. Most Tuk-Tuk drivers have 4 customers a day which would be about $12-16…Not a lot really! Their vehicles are usually given as donations from sponsors. Although it sounds like this would be incredibly unsafe it’s ironically the safest form of transport in Cambodia. 

The Night Market was a fantastic and vibrant place, so much was going on! I knew that I would have to buy things there, which I eventually did, at a later date. 

After the Night Market we went to an Irish bar where we got raped by mosquitos. We then returned to our hotel. 

We started the next day bright and early and went to various places. We first visited the Centre for Khmer Studies, where two monks gave a lecture on the types of activities that went on there. We then visited Artisans creating various things such as paintings and Buddhist statues. Following this we went on to the War Museum where we met with a Vietnamese man who had lost an arm. His story was saddening as was the environment we were surrounded by. Through everything the man had been through he still managed to relay his experiences. The site included all manner of treacherous weapons of war: tanks, anti-air artillery, land-mines etc. 

What struck me most was the pictures from the war that were stuck to boards. To see children wielding guns is incredibly distressing. 

After the museum we went forward to Tonle Sap. He was my first experience of Traditional Khmer Music and what a wonderful experience it was! The sound was glorious! I even bought a CD of Traditional Khmer Wedding Music! 

The group then boarded the boat and we started our journey through the Floating Villages of the Tonle Sap Lake. 

Just like my 10 minutes in the market by Lin Ratanak, I experienced a further attack on my senses, only this time I couldn’t escape! Here lived people who spent their entire time on the water, none lived past the age of 40 and children were tools used as benefactors of tourism. One dollar for picture! they would scream. Children in boats were wearing snakes around their necks; babies were left without clothes, children were forced to learn to swim, else they would perish (understandable considering the surrounded terrain); people would bathe in large groups not cleansing themselves, only adding to the lake of watery hell. On numerous occassions I felt ill. I even found some things incredibly difficult to comprehend, which is why it took a while to take pictures. It is here in Tonle Sap that I took, or at least by my own thoughts, my most powerful picture from the entire trip. 

I was glad once we returned to land. 

After our time on the lake we trekked up a mountain to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. We went to Phnom Krom, a 9th Century temple, where we stood on a hill for about 40 minutes watching the sunset. It was ironic that the next morning I was going to experience the sunrise at an equally splendid place.


The company then went onwards to dinner. Here I had a rather heated debate about ‘Art’ with the photographer Eric, who invited us to join him at 4AM to experience the sunrise at either Bayon or Angkor Wat (it wasn’t yet decided). We returned back to the hotel with a rather drab talk with a historian…

The most wonderful part of Monday was that I met up, or at least was visited, by my most wonderful friend Dom! He joined me at the hotel and we chatted for about four hours! I then decided, as it was 3AM (at this point Dom, sadly, went back to where he was staying) to get ready! Yes! I had no sleep! Haha.

I met Eric in the lobby, and then, to my surprise, Lina also joined us! A tuk-tuk driver then picked us up and we travelled for about 20 minutes to the most fascinating of all, Bayon. (Angkor Wat is so overrated).

Watching the sunrise at Bayon was an absolute glorious experience, and definitely a once in a life time one. We arrived in total darkness. The entrance to the temple was unlit. I think we were all about nervous. The tuk-tuk driver guided the three of us into the temple and then left us there. We explored the temple of the Four Faces and watched as the sun illuminated the marvellous display of stonework that was, seconds before, cast in shadow. The temple maintained its mystical feel even in broad daylight. This was by far my most memorable experience of Cambodia, if not my whole time in Southeast Asia. 
Many photos and 2 hours and a half later we departed for Angkor Wat; but before that, BREAKFAST! We then explored a small part of Angkor before rendezvousing with the rest of the group. 

After my time at Bayon no other temple impressed me, so I shall not go into the details of how wonderful and sublime each and every one was; from this point we visited A LOT of temples, Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm included. We also revisited Bayon, although this time I forgot my pass in the Bus, so Julius had to accompany me back to where the bus was parked to retrieve it, which was incredibly embarrassing. 

After the many MANY temples we had dinner and watched an Apsara show,  only I fell asleep in it. Quite embarrassing as my topic of research for the field trip was “Performing Arts and how they are affected by tourism”. 

You would have thought that after getting back to the hotel I would have gone to bed. Nope. I went out clubbing instead, and this was my first time! Never again! As if people enjoy that?!

The next day arrived and we visited several museums, none of which enchanted me that much, except for a small art gallery in the corner of one. We then had dinner. After finishing everything in the day we had a talk on the evening about what we were going to write about. We then went back to our rooms to get ready to depart to Thailand on the following morning.