Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Day 59-SriVina aka Sylvia & Her Tulips

Everyone thinks tulips are from Holland. The truth is both the flower and its name originated in the Persian empire. The tulip, or lale (from Persian) لاله, lâleh) as it is also called in Turkey, is a flower indigenous to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and and other parts of Central Asia.

Legend has it that tulip was first brought to northwest Europe by Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, Ambassador from Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1554. This was derived from poetries in Persian literature too laborious to repeat here.

Another account is that of Lopo Vaz de Sampayo, governor of the Portuguese colonies in India. It was said that when he returned to Portugal in disgrace, Sampayo supposedly took tulip bulbs with him from Ceylon, then a part of ancient India. This account is now hotly disputed because tulips, unlike tea, cannot be grown in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka and the island itself is far from the route Sampayo's ships should have taken.

Even if the stories are true, none of this explains how tulips ended up in the Netherlands. Accordingly to my sources (2 little birds I sent across), it was the work of an Indian Kashmirian girl called SriVina nicknamed Sylvia who is reputed not only for her craft but also her beauty and cleverness.

Now, tulips have been found near her family compound at Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir (also part of ancient India and now part of India) since 1000 AD (see postcard on left). Although its beauty has been likened to the the eyes of Narges and its intoxicating effect to glasses of wine, few outside of India had seen or heard of this flower.

Sylvia knew that if she could bring these flowers to the attention of the rich and famous, they would become an instant hit and their fame would spread far and wide. That would mean immense wealth for her family as the mountain behind her home were overgrown with at least 1.2m tulips, 60 varieties in all.

So Sylvia carefully harvested the best of her crops, sorted them in the dozens and cleverly wrapped them in papyrus and Egyptian preservatives.

She then distributed them to all her gypsy friends (you can see Rosanna and Walter in the picture together with Mercedes and Sans) who brought with them these preserved beauties to places as far away as Italy, New Zealand, Australia and even Singapore.

In particular, Sylvia's own family who eventually joined the Dutch to set up the East India Company in the Netherlands made tulips an instant hit with foreign dignitries like Ferdinand I when he saw a single stalk of tulip being worn on Sylvia's silky hair.

Thanks to Sylvia, tulips became such a hit that the purchase price for a single tulip-bulb of the Viceroy variety (see left pic) included “two loads of wheat and four of rye, four fat oxen, eight pigs, a dozen sheep, two oxheads of wine, four tons of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, some clothing and a silver beaker.” Such a high price, estimated at approximately 2,500 guilders, for a single tulip was not unusual. During the height of the Dutch ‘tulip mania’ in the seventeenth century, a Semper Augustus, considered to be even more precious than the Viceroy tulip, could bring in close to 6,000 guilders. In fact, tulip prices and the practice of tulip speculation became so excessive and frenzied that in 1637 the States of Holland passed a statute curbing such extremes.

And that is how lale became the national flower of the Netherlands, the largest producer of tulips in the world. Ironically, after centuries have passed, Sylvia's garden at Kashmir had to now import the very same tulips from Holland so that in Spring every year, Kashmir celebrates the Tulip Festival with a million vibrantly coloured tulips in what many consider, the best Tulip Garden in the world.

The Maharajah will like to express his heartfelt gratitude to Sylvia for the magnificent flowers (and the postcard). The gorgeous tulips will hopefully grace the palace garden unless the harem concubines steal them first either to beautify their own rooms or to sell them to the evil Maharajah for an indecent profit.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Day 60-Kiva's Desserts

THIS IS a pewter platter of handcrafted, one of a kind, 1:12 scale miniature Kalakand, a popular type of Indian sweet, made of Indian cheese and sweetened condensed milk, topped with chopped nuts, usually pistachios and/or almonds!

This is a platter of handcrafted, 1:12 scale miniature, Indian Khasta Kachori, yummy deep fried pastry with spicy filling! A little bowl of mint sauce is included.

I won these from Kiva's Kitchen (something I coined for Kiva Atkinson) on ebay early this month and they arrived today. Yes, I know, lucky me (trying not to smile smugly).

Seriously though, you know how important desserts/pastries are to the Indians when they spell them with capital letters! And as some of you know, I live very very close to where loads of Indian food is sold. So I can assure you Kiva's desserts in real life look just like the real thing in real sizes and that they are really real. See for yourself if you don't believe me. How? Well make some. Here's a bit of the facts and the recipes (from other websites, links provided)

KALAKAND
(Milk Cake)

Would you believe that Kalakand is actually one of the most popular traditional Indian sweet from Rajasthan? It originated from a place called ‘Alwar’. This sweet is so renowned for its excellent taste that there is even a street in Alwar named after this particular dish.

Apparently in the old days, name of a good sweet shop in India depended upon how good their Kalakand was.

There are so many ways to make this dessert from the 2 day version to the 17 minute one. Here's the 17 minute version from
Rediff Food:

Preparation time : 10 mins.
Cooking time : 7 mins.
Makes: 900 gms.

Ingredients
Milkmaid Sweetened Condensed Milk : 1 tin
Every Day Dairy Whitener : 30 g (2 heaped tb sp.)
Paneer : 500 g
Chopped Pistachio Nuts : 1 tb. sp.
Green Cardamom Powder : 1/2 tsp.
Ghee For greasing

Method
1. Grate Paneer and mash well to get a smooth paste. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Add Milkmaid Sweetened Condensed Milk and Every Day Dairy Whitener. Mix well and microwave on high power for 7 minutes stirring twice (at 2 minutes and 5 minutes).
3. Remove from the oven. Spread on a greased flat tray.Garnish with cardamom powder and pistachio nuts. Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Cut into 2" squares.

KHASTA KACHORI
(Fried Spicy Puffs)

Yet another common dish in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab especially in weddings! To all of you herbs lover (Rosanna, attention!), this one is for you.

This recipe is from Indian Food Forever:

Ingredients
3/4th cup skinless dried black beans (urad)
4 cups Flour (atta)
1 green chili chopped
1/2tsp Salt
Oil for deep frying
1tbsp anise seeds (Saunf)
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp white cumin seeds
1/2tsp red chili powder
1/4th tsp asafoetida powder

Preparation:
  • Soak the beans in water overnight then rinse and drain.
  • Sift the flour and gradually add enough water to make soft dough. Cover the dough with damp cloth and leave for 30 minutes.
  • Grind the drained beans with the chili powder, salt and spices to make stuffing. Mix well and divide it into 16 equal portions.
  • Divide the dough into 16, using wet hands, and smear each portion with a little oil.
  • Flatten and roll out into 2inch round.
  • Wrap one portion of stuffing in each round and roll into a smooth ball, using greased hands.
  • Flatten and roll into a 3-4 inch round.
  • Heat plenty of oil in a deep frying pan or a kadhai.
  • Now lift the rolled kachori and carefully slip it into the hot oil.
  • Immediately start flickering hot oil over the top of it with a spatula so that it will swell up like a ball.
  • This should take only a few seconds. Flip the kachori over and cook the other side until golden brown.Serve the dal kachori hot with chutney.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Day 54-58 Pt 3-National Palace Museum

Day 57 -National Palace Museum, Taipei
(3 3/4" length 2 1/2 " width 5/8" height) 5 hours to complete
The treasures of the National Palace Museum have come a long long way. The Palace Museum originally at the Forbidden City, Peking, was opened in 1925 after the last emperor was expelled. During WWII and fearing the imminent danger of an assault by the Japanese, more than 1 million of the finest imperial treasures were carefully placed into wooden crates and shipped south, beginning a 30-year odyssey that took the art over thousands of miles by train, boat, truck, and even hand towed barge, usually under the most adverse wartime conditions. In order to divert attention, these treasures were divided into several shipments, each going by a different route.

When the war ended, the treasures reunited in Nanking for a short while before Chiang Kai-shek after losing China, moved a selection of the finest of the lot, containing more than 600,000 pieces to Taiwan in 1949.

Now they say if you want to see the best in Chinese art, you do not go to Beijing because they are all at the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Opened in 1965, it is ranked as one of world's best museums Since the museum only has space to display around 15,000 pieces at any given time, the majority of the treasures (about 700,00 in total) are kept well protected in air-conditioned vaults buried deep in the mountainside. The displays are rotated once every three months, which means 60,000 pieces can be viewed in a year and it would take nearly 12 years to see them all.

These are the significant exhibits of the museum. (Descriptions and pictures are taken from the National Palace Museum website:)
"Cabbage"
aka Jadeite Cabbage with Insects

Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Length: 18.7 cm, width: 9.1 cm, thickness: 5.07 cm
This piece is almost completely identical to a piece of bokchoy cabbage. Carved from verdant jadeite, the familiar subject, purity of the white vegetable body, and brilliant green of the leaves all create for an endearing and approachable work of art. Let's also not forget the two insects that have alighted on the vegetable leaves! They are a locust and katydid, which are traditional metaphors for having numerous children. This work originally was placed in the Forbidden City's Yung-ho Palace, which was the residence of the Kuang-hsü Emperor's (r. 1875-1908) Consort Chin. For this reason, some have surmised that this piece was a dowry gift for Consort Chin to symbolize her purity and offer blessings for bearing many children. Although it is said that the association between the material of jadeite and the form of bokchoy began to become popular in the middle and late Ch'ing dynasty, the theme relating bokchoy and insects actually can be traced back to the professional insect-and-plant paintings of the Yüan to early Ming dynasty (13th-15th c.), when they were quite common and a popular subject among the people for its auspiciousness. In the tradition of literati painting, it has also been borrowed as a subject in painting to express a similar sentiment, indirectly chastising fatuous officials. For example, in a poem written in 1775, the Ch'ien-lung Emperor associated the form of a flower holder in the shape of a vegetable with the tradition of metaphorical criticism found in the T'ang dynasty poetry of Tu Fu, in which an official was unable to recognize a fine vegetable in a garden. The emperor thereupon took this as a warning to be careful and alert. Regardless of whether it is a court craftsman or the maker of this jadeite bokchoy cabbage, all are merely giving play to their imagination and creativity, following the taste and directions of their patrons. Despite not having more historical records to probe these ideas, it nonetheless provides the viewer with greater room for imagination.

"Meat"
aka Meat Shaped Stone
Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Height: 5.73 cm, width: 6.6 cm, thickness: 5.3 cm
In the collection of the National Palace Museum, two of the most famous works on display are "Jadeite Cabbage" and "Meat-shaped Stone", which is why these two are often exhibited together for the appreciation of visitors. At first glance, this meat-shaped piece of stone looks like a luscious, mouth-watering piece of "Tung-p'o meat". Made from banded jasper, it is a naturally occurring stone that accumulates in layers over many years. With time, different impurities will result in the production of various colors and hues to the layers. The craftsman who made this meat-shaped stone took the rich natural resources of this stone and carved it with great precision, and then the skin was stained. This process resulted in the appearance of skin and lean and fatty layers of meat, the veining and hair follicles making the piece appear even more realistic.

You may wish to know that at the time when I was in Taipei, China who has gifted Taiwan with 2 panda bears, "Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan" (which means "reunion" in Mandarin) has requested as an exchange of goodwill, that Taiwan loan them "Cabbage" and "Meat" for a term exhibition. Apparently the Taiwanese government has said yes to their request although many of the Taiwanese people fear that their national treasures may never be returned.

The other well-kept secret about these treasures is that for a brief moment in history, both "Cabbage" and "Meat" were in fact residing at a Maharajah's Palace.

Court records including bamboo writings, stone carvings and cave paintings have revealed that while the rest of the world was still grappling with "fire", 2 of the oldest civilisations were already exchanging gifts.

Here is Lady Ching presenting "Cabbage" (3/4" by 1/4") to My Maharajah:

A Soong Scholar presenting Meat (3/8" by 1/4"):

Records have revealed that the following less well known but just as precious treasures were also presented:

Tang Princess presenting a pair of "Pi-hsieh" (exact replica in size)
Pi-hsieh
Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220)
Height: 9.3 cm
The "pi-hsieh" is a mythological creature commonly thought to be able to ward off evil forces with its magical powers. In fact, its name means "to ward off evil" in Chinese. In the Han dynasty, "pi-hsieh" were commonly represented as winged, four-legged beasts, a form that was probably transmitted from Western Asia. Often found as huge stone statues, they would be placed along the spirit road leading up to tombs. Some were also carved from quality jade and used as ornaments for the wealthy and powerful. This example, originally carved from a piece of green jade, is represented with its head raised and jaws open as if the creature is emitting a low growl. Its stance alludes to the fact that it is walking forwards, and although the wings are pressed to its back, they give the impression that they will unfold and beat at any minute. The long beard of this spectacular creature sprouts from its lower jaw and extends all the way down to its chest, its tail brushes the ground behind it. Over the years, the color of the jade has changed to a mottled yellowish brown. This is one of the larger examples of Han dynasty jade "pi-hsieh" known. It is different from other jade carved "pi-hsieh" in that its snout is relatively long, resembling that of a horse, where others appear more like that of a tiger’s. Furthermore, it bears an uncanny resemblance to objects that scholars refer to as "dragon heads", adornments on bronze furnaces recently unearthed in Inner Mongolia and dating to the middle and late Han periods. This example in the collection of the National Palace Museum was once an important part of the imperial collection, and one of the emperor's poems is carved onto the chest. The Museum also has a two-tiered rosewood stand that accompanies this piece, the upper tier of which is carved with the words "Imperial curio for the Ch'ien-lung Emperor", and the lower tier carved with the same imperial poem found on the creature’s chest. These carved characters are also inlaid with silver.

Su Dong-po, the poet presenting Revolving Vase (1" by 1/2"):
Gilt Laced Cobalt Blue Revolving Vase with Decoration of Swimming Fish
The outer part of this vase with a revolving inside showing fish swimming appears at first glance to be a single piece but is actually divided into three parts--1) the mouth and neck, depicted with a pattern of suspended jewels; 2) the shoulder, decorated with golden chrysanthemum petals, winding floral branches, and four small rings; and 3) the body and bottom--which have altogether four panels of openwork so that when the inner vase spins, one can clearly see goldfish swimming leisurely in the greenish water. Each part was originally first fired separately and then after completion put together and fired with low-temperature glaze to fuse them.

The vase with revolving inside was a new type researched and developed by the Ceramics Superintendent of the imperial kilns in the Ch'ien-lung reign--T'ang Ying--and his assistant Lao-ko, who brought the level of technical expertise and craftsmanship of porcelains at the time to new height.

Madam Yuan presenting the best gift of all, 8 barrels of the finest Chinese wines:
And so here they are once again, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Chinese Gift Bearers of
My Maharajah's Palace




By the way, my vase revolves as well.

And so this marks the end of my journey to Taipei, at least for now.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Day 54-58 Pt 2-Taiwan

DAY 55 & DAY 58

My main and almost singular purpose for coming to Taipei - Miniatures Museum of Taiwan ("MMOT"), a sneak peak of which was given in Day 37. I have already published my 1st post on the MMOT in my Projects Blog. I will continue to post pictures of the exhibits on that blog and I believe I have enough pictures to last a lifetime (in dollhouse years).The ones I post here are those relating to my Maharajah Palace. I must say there are not many.

ETHNIC PRINCESSES
Firstly, these Ethnic Princesses would have been invited to Raj and Tara's wedding if only they were of the right scale but alas, Barbie Dolls are not allowed at the palace for they make Prince look puny.



Museum Artifacts
These are artifacts crafted by artisans that are really beautiful and in my humble view, should belong to a palace instead of a museum.


Museum Furniture
Heirloom pieces collected from all over the world. The 1st set is from the Venetian Mansion and the other is a finely painted Chinese Chest. My Maharajah who loves all things gold will want to acquire these priceless treasures.

There are many more and I will undoubtedly find them when I finish sorting out the pictures but in the meantime, this page is about to explode with these wonders and high resolution pictures and there's still pictures of my purchases.

You know, as I was clicking away at the Museum, so many of you popped into my head. I realise how much I have come to identify you guys with the minis you create. I hope you will visit my project blog and let me know if I am right identifying you with that particular exhibit.

So to end my most memorable museum visits, here are some of the palace acquisitions (I have picked only the more note worthy pieces because you can find the rest quite easily except in Singapore)

PALACE TREASURES
The Golden Urns
(1 1/2" by 1/2" at widest)


In Tibet, children believed to be the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama are identified by a lottery method, where names of competing candidates are written on folded slips of paper placed in a golden urn. This controversial method originated from a decree passed by Emperor Qianlong in 1792. There are two Golden Urns issued by the Emperor. One is enshrined in Jokhnag Temple in Lhasa for choosing Dalai and Panchen Lama reincarnations, the other is in Yonghe Palance, or Lama Temple, in Beijing for choosing Mongolian Khutughtu reincarnations

This method of selection is not always approved by the Government of Tibet in Exile. A picture of the real Golden Urn is below (standing at 34 cm high) :

Quite clearly, mine are imitations.

Qinghua Porcelain Series
(Vases-1 7/8" for tallest piece-1" (widest)

The evolution of Chinese Porcelain began during the Shang Dynasty, flourished during the Yuan and thereafter the Ming and Qing dynasties which were the golden age of "china" . During the thriving period, Jingdeshen, the Porcelain Capital extended for a number of kilometres with 100,000 ceramic workshops firing and kilning china. Yet Qinghua porcelain has outlasted all the works. Its production leverages on the art of Chinese Painting as well as sophisticated kilning techniques. Qinghua porcelain wares feature blue and white, creating the style of elegance and beauty.Hence Qinghua porcelain wares not only represent Chinese cultural and artistic treasures but also serves as a remarkable subject in the world cultural and art history-Written on card that came with these fridge magnets.

The Antique Notebook
(3" by 2" when closed and 67" long when open)

This book opens out to almost 60" of continuous Chinese landscape painting in traditional style with calligraphy. Some critics regard landscape painting as the highest form of Chinese painting. It is really quite amazing in real life. Mine is of course just a print reproduction.

Blue and White Porcelain Plates
(1 2/8" diameter)

Sporadic with the blue and white colour, blue and white porcelain had been exquisite in the Yuan Dynasty (around the 14th century) in China.Its perfectly glazed colour and rich arrangement of layers make it the representative work of China-More souvenir card literature

Imperial Dragon Gowns (Manchurian Dynasty)
(7/8" to 1 2/8" (extended sleeves)

The Manchurian (Ching) Dynasty represents an era in Chinese history when the Manchurian and the Han cultures were in close interchange. The Manchurian dresses and adornment stood for the most significant change in the Chinese history. The Dynasty also represented a non-Han ethnic era which maintained most of the Manchurian traditions. The Manchurian dresses and adornment were made largely to cater to the Manchurian horseback riders . Imperial Dragon Gowns made to be worn by Emperors often entail fine and exquisite workmanship, fastidiously selected materials and magnificent colors.

This is my 2nd favourite purchase.

PALACE CHAIR
(6" BY 4")

This is my favourite, favourite piece and the only one at the museum shop There is no history and the oldest staff at the shop told me it was there since her 1st day of work. If anyone of you know or have seen this piece of furniture, do let me know.

REAL LIFE BOOKS

I believe I bought all the titles available on MMOT's exhibits, in particular there are 5 books featuring the winning pieces of MMOT's annual miniature room box competiton.





Day 55 (Evening) Taipei 101

And so after a most satisfying day at the Miniature Heaven, we made our way to the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. You need to pay S$19 to get to the 88th 89th and 91st floor but it was worth it. The stunning night lights from up there is both beyond my power to describe or the capability of my Cannon to capture so I won't even try. There is one thing though that I must record. As we walked out onto the verandah on the 91st floor, we witnessed the most fantastic phenomenon. Right above our heads, a billowy cluster of fog was twirling around with the hissing winds. It is a most amazing feeling because it felt like you were walking admist the clouds! Wow, 2 heavens in 1 day, what more can you ask? Below is a poor attempt to capture the feeling but maybe you will know what I mean.

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