Japan: Ghibli Museum in Tokyo-A Must-Visit For Studio Ghibli Fans

[Photo Credit: Ghibli Museum Souvenir Program]

When in Japan: If you are a huge fan of Studio Ghibli or animation in general, visiting the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo is a must.

The brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki, renowned Japanese animator and co-founder of animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, the one-of-its-kind museum is dedicated to all things Ghibli and the art of animation. Being a longtime Studio Ghibli fan—from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea to The Red Turtle—visiting Ghibli Museum was hence my top priority whilst I was in Tokyo last November.

By Advance Reservation Only
Opened in October 2001 and located in Mitaka, a short train ride from Shinjuku Station, the Ghibli Museum is so exclusive that no tickets are sold at the venue. They can only be purchased online with authorized dealers which you can find on the museum’s website. As it is a very popular destination, tickets get sold out as soon as they are available. Thus, to avoid disappointment, I simply left it to my travel planner, Joey of Atlas Travelz, to book tickets for me and my travel mate after providing her with our preferred date and time of visit. It was with joy when she confirmed the purchase prior to our leaving for Japan!

Have your passport and ticket ready whilst queuing at the museum's entrance. [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

From Mitaka Station, it’s a 15-20 minute walk to the museum which is located in the west of lush Inokashira Park, but we decided to take the shuttle bus instead—which alas is not a Cat Bus but a vehicle gaily painted with Studio Ghibli characters—that goes from the station to the museum (round-trip ¥320/SGD4).

We chose the 2pm entry time slot as my BFF, who had visited before, said more than two hours will be needed to thoroughly cover every nook and corner including the museum’s exteriors. (Thus 4pm is too tight as the museum closes at 6pm). Besides tickets, a passport for identification purposes is also required for entry, so do remember to bring yours along if you have a ticket for visiting the museum.

For Your Eyes Only – No Photography Allowed Indoors

Just seeing the brightly colored, European-styled building, bedecked with leafy coverings, from the outside already made you feel like you are on the magical setting of a Studio Ghibli film. The glee of finally being there was halted somewhat when we were told at the entrance that no photography was allowed indoors. Sob! However, what awaited us within more than made up for that slight disappointment…

A Museum Where Those Seeking Enjoyment Can Enjoy

A Ghibli Museum poster showing a cross-section of the 4-story building. [Credit: Ghibli Museum]

In a museum souvenir program filled with his original concept illustrations, sketches and notes, Miyazaki stated the kind of museum that he wanted to make is one “that is interesting and relaxes the soul… where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy… and a museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!” Well, it’s definitely all these and then some.

Upon entering you will be greeted by colorful flora and fauna, as well as recognizable Ghibli characters such as Totoro, Satsuki and Mei, painted on the ceiling and walls, as well as on the stained-glass windows. At the reception, a museum ticket in the form of a 35mm film strip is handed to every visitor in exchange for the ticket voucher. (Mine I think is a strip from Castle In The Sky but I have to re-watch the film to be sure!)

Fascinating Rooms and Spaces

[Credit: Ghibli Museum souvenir program]

From the reception, we went down a flight of stairs which brought us to the Central Hall in the basement, whilst its domed glass ceiling (with images of Ponyo and her sea friends) is way above the second floor. Here you will have a fish-eye view of the number of spaces you can explore – a spiral staircase, a cast-iron elevator, a bridged passage, intricately designed restrooms, etc. This floor also houses the Saturn Theater, a small but vibrantly decorated screening room that screens Studio Ghibli original short films made exclusively for the museum including Miyazaki’s last known work, Boro The Catepillar (2018).

Exclusive Screenings of Studio Ghibli Short Films

During our visit, we first got to watch Imaginary Flying Machines (2002), which features director Hayao Miyazaki himself in the form of a humanoid pig akin to the main character in 1992’s Porco Russo, narrating the history of aviation. The second was the charming and heartwarming tale of Mr Dough and the Egg Princess (2010) which tells of a tiny egg girl who decides to run away with her new dough friend, so to escape the clutches of her evil witch mistress. Both were equally delightful, well worth the 25-30 minute wait to get into the 80-seat theater.

Insightful Look Into The Art & Processes of Animation

One of the museum’s highlights are the rooms with exhibits devoted to the art of animation. In “The Beginning of Movement”, visitors get to see many original artworks from different Studio Ghibli films, including an amazing 3D Zoetrope “Bouncing Totoro” display showing how animators made Satsuki and Mei dance with a grinning Totoro in My Neighbour Totoro. In “Where a Film is Born”, rooms are bedecked with things you will find in the working spaces of an animator — from storyteller to background artist, staging to inker and painter.

There are also temporary exhibits that will change from time to time. For instance, the special exhibition we saw, “Sketch, Flash, Spark! — From the Ghibli Forest Sketchbook” —showing how the museum was designed and built—will run till May 2021 (tentative).

Other Enchanting Spaces

[Credit: Ghibli Museum souvenir program]

The museum also boasts a giant cuddly-looking Cat Bus which only young children can play with (bah!) Here’s hoping that the planned Studio Ghibli theme park in Nagoya due for completion in 2022 will have either a giant Totoro or Cat Bus that adults can play with!

Robot soldier at the museum's rooftop garden. [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

As photography is allowed outdoors, needless to say, the Robot Soldier from Castle in the Sky (1986)—who many mistook for the Iron Giant from 1999’s The Iron Giant (including us)—on the rooftop garden was a very popular selfie / wefie target. To get up here, one has to climb a towering iron-cast spiral staircase located outside the Cat Bus Room.

In the premises, there’s also has a library-cum-book shop, cafe (with indoor and al fresco areas, selling ice cream, hotdogs, etc), children’s play area, garden patio and an extremely popular gift shop named Mamma Aiuto! (Italian for “Mama, help me”.) Named after the sky pirates in Porco Russo, the shop has everything Studio Ghibli you would love to own, from pins to handicraft sets to adorable plushies. As we are not super rich, we found the pricing rather expensive sadly. But if you can control your must-buy urges, there’s a store within Tokyo Station that sells official merchandise at slightly more affordable prices. But of course, the museum gift shop also have more exclusive stuff.

Ghibli Museum souvenir programs available from the museum gift shop, Mamma Aiuto! [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

In the end, I decided to go for this set of two Ghibli Museum souvenir programs which cost only ¥1000 and also came with a complimentary, almost 4-foot long poster of a cross-section illustration of the museum (pictured midway in this post). The booklet top left is filled with Miyazaki’s original concept sketches of the museum as well as his thoughts of what he wanted for it, while the one on the right is filled with well-shot photos of the museum’s key features. And oh, I also bought a key-chain with a mini Totoro plushie ‘cos you just can’t leave here without a memento of the iconic creature. (Especially when it seems we missed seeing the giant Totoro figure that was supposed to be housed in the museum’s old reception!)

All in all, it was a totally worthwhile trip to the Ghibli Museum for this animation and Studio Ghibli fan. Do consider going if you are one too and planning a trip to Tokyo, Japan in the near future. You won’t regret it!

Ghibli Museum is in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan. Closed on Tuesdays, special holidays, and often for periodic maintenance, so do check its website at http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/ for its calendar, ticketing details, and other information.

My Studio Ghibli haul (mainly plushies, socks, and towels), plus the Museum's cool film strip ticket. (Mind not my free Frozen 2 sticker sheet from a Shinjuku store...)

Read also:
* 5 Things We Want to See in Studio Ghibli’s Theme Park in 2022
* Studio Ghibli Sees First East-west Collaboration in the Wordless Wonder ‘The Red Turtle’
* 6 Great Fantasy Films That Studio Ponoc’s ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ Will Lovingly Remind You Of


Japan: 5 Best Spots To View Mount Fuji In Kawaguchiko

When in Japan: Catching a good glimpse of Mount Fuji is a must.

After years of trying, my dream of a Mount Fuji holiday finally materialized in November 2019. I have always been fascinated by Japan’s tallest peak (at 3,776 metres)—and an active volcano at that—and thus for my second trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, I wanted to be at the best spots to view the iconic mountain.

I have always managed my own travel arrangements but for the first time (in forever), I gave all my requirements to Joey Sim of Atlas Travelz agency and let her handled all the arrangements of this Japanese trip for me.

My original plan was to travel to just Hakone and Tokyo, but upon knowing my wish for “a hotel with onsen and a Mount Fuji view, with or without lake”, Joey recommended that I go to Kawaguchiko instead, before moving on to the other two destinations. And her recommendation was truly appreciated as the opportunities to view Mount Fuji at different angles in the Yamanashi Prefecture – about 2.5 hours by bus from Tokyo – went beyond my expectations.

Thanks to the great sunny autumn weather we had during our stay at Kawaguchiko – my BFF had joined me by then – my Mount Fuji obsession was totally satiated. (It also more than made up for the disappointment of our totally rained-out Hakone jaunt.) If you too would like to be at good locations to admire the picturesque peak, here are 5 best spots in Kawaguchiko to do so.

5 Best Spots to View Mount Fuji at Kawaguchiko

  1. Fuji View Hotel

Of course, there are other hotels, resorts or ryokans in the vicinity which may also boast good views of Mount Fuji, or are much closer to the central Kawaguchiko Station, but then again, there is a very good reason why this hotel is named “Fuji View”. Thanks to Joey’s recommendation, the awesome view from our 2nd-floor room balcony (see above) was worth the price alone. The fact that the hotel also has a well-equipped onsen, as well as beautiful gardens bursting with autumn colors made it even more worthwhile.

2. Mount Fuji 5th Station

About an hour ride on the Hiking Bus from Kawaguchiko Station will bring you to Mount Fuji 5th Station, located at 2,300m above sea level and the closest you can get to the peak (unless you plan to climb it of course). Upon disembarking from the bus, I asked my travel mate, “Where’s Mount Fuji?” “You are on it,” she deadpanned. And whoa, she was right! Just look up and you can see the breathtaking snow-covered summit in all her glory, against a clear blue sky and beautifully lit by the sun. Besides many areas for visitors to take selfies/wefies with the mount, the tourist hotspot also houses a shrine, a post office, shops, eateries, and platforms to view the Fuji Five Lakes area.

3. Lake Kawaguchi

A cruise on Lake Kawaguchi – from its eastern shore to and fro Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge – will provide you with unblocked views of Mount Fuji, ie, if you could get a good spot by the side of the boat. It was a tad misty the day we were there but the view was still absorbing nonetheless. Along the promenade, the trees were a delightful sight with their autumn colors of reds, orange, and yellows. Cherry blossoms are said to be in abundance here around mid-April. You can get here via the Red Line Bus or the Mount Fuji World Heritage Loop Bus from Kawaguchiko Station.

4. Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway

Directly across the Lake Kawaguchi cruise pier, you will find the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway which provides great, yes, panoramic views of the sacred mountain and the lake districts. You can actually skip the cruise and go directly up the ropeway, but you get a discount if you buy a combo ticket for both attractions at the pier, so why not? Unless you stand at the ropeway carriage window facing the lake, there’s not much to see but trees until you reach the observation deck which is about 1000 metres above sea level and near the peak of Mount Tenjo. If you get here just before sunset, there’s a lovely reddish-orange glow over Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi, and the provinces around them.

5. Chureito Pagoda

“Visit Mount Arakura Sengen Shrine for undoubtedly the best postcard view of 5-storey Chureito Pagoda against the backdrop of Mount Fuji”, trumpeted my itinerary. Guess I missed out on the tiny detail that there is also a hefty 398-step climb up before one reaches the observation deck for the famous image of Mount Fuji flanked by a pagoda and cherry blossoms seen on many a Visit Japan brochure! But thanks to my trekking stick, and lots of rest stops, have to admit that the view was ultimately worth climbing for. There’s a slight jostle for the best spot to take the above-pictured view but once you get it, do take time to check out other areas on the hill where you can admire the grandeur of Mount Fuji.

All photos by Marguerita Tan.
No text or photos to be reproduced without the blog author’s permission.

Chinese New Year Celebrations 2020 @ Chinatown Singapore

Rats! Lots and lots of them in Singapore’s Chinatown! Big ones, small ones, all gaily dressed in their Chinese New Year finest. Yes, as you read this at the start of 2020, the Year of the Rat will be upon us faster than you can say, er, “Rats!”

This year’s Lunar New Year is from Jan 25 till Feb 8, and Chinatown is already all geared up to usher in the Metal Rat with a host of festive activities and celebratory events. Musings on the M49 was chuffed to be invited to a media preview organized by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Committee to have a close-up look at this year’s lights!

Street Light-Up

In collaboration yet again with students from the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD), the annual Street Light-up boasts 1,388 handcrafted lanterns—in the form of rats, gold coins, ingots, mandarin oranges, and firecrackers, etc—projecting much glow on Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road, South Bridge Road and Garden Bridge.

There are 200 rat lanterns in all, mostly placed along Eu Tong Sen Street, with the main 12m-tall centrepiece (see top main picture) located at the junction where the street meets Upper Cross Street.

Amongst the rat lanterns, look out for many a ferris wheel made of gold ingots (with mini rats inside a few of them) which represents an eternal cycle of luck and wealth.

The Year of the Rat also marks the start of the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. According to legend, the Rat outsmarted larger animals such as the Tiger, Ox, Dragon, etc, to win the race set by the Jade Emperor and hence that is why the little creature ended up being at the head of the Zodiac. Lanterns of the other 11 animals that made it to the Zodiac (pictured above) can be spotted a distance behind the main centrepiece.

Official Light-Up and Opening Ceremony: Sat Jan 4, 2020

If you want to see the Chinatown lights, you can actually go now. BUT, if you enjoy big dazzling excitement and pomp, the official Light-Up and Opening Ceremony will be on Sat Jan 4 from 6pm-10pm at Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road and graced by Singapore’s President, Mdm Halimah Yacob. There will be music, dance and Cantonese Opera performances, and a lion dance troupe performing “21 Plum Blossoms Poles”, a festival first. And oh, stay on till the sure-to-be-explosive fireworks and firecrackers finale!

Heritage & Food Trail: Weekends Jan 5-19, 2020

Among the many activities planned for Chinatown’s 7-week Chinese New Year celebrations is the Heritage & Food Trail with an emphasis on Cantonese influence. The guided tour (available in English and Mandarin) takes one through the culturally-rich streets of Chinatown, before descending on Chinatown Complex Food Centre where participants will indulge in delicious Cantonese cuisine such as Yam Ring and Yam Cake from five popular hawker stalls including Heng Kee Cantonese Cooked Food and Jia Ji Mei Shi (pictured). A ticketed event, visit chinatownfestivals.sg for more information.

Other Highlights

Other Chinatown Chinese New Year events include a Festival Street Bazaar (Jan 3-24; 6pm-10.30pm daily and 6pm-1am on CNY eve) with over 300 stalls selling Chinese New Year delicacies, decorative items, apparel, etc; nightly stage shows at Kreta Ayer Square (Jan 4-24, 8pm-10.30pm) including lion dances and musical performances; and a Wishing Tree at Chinatown Point (Jan 3-24; 11am-9pm) where each “Make A Wish” card costs $2 and all proceeds will benefit the underprivileged elderly residing in Chinatown. A Countdown Party will also take place on Chinese New Year Eve on Fri 24 Jan.

Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre will also host a special Cantonese Opera show on Sun Jan 5, as well as the 13th International Lion Dance Competition on Sat 11 and Sun 12 Jan. For enquiries and ticket purchase, call Kreta Ayer Community Club at 6222 3597 (9am-9pm).

Last but not least, Chingay 2020 (Jan 31-Feb 1), Asia’s largest annual street performance and float parade, will make an appearance at Chinatown on Sun Feb 2, 6-10pm along New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street. So, if you can’t get to the F1 Pit Building for the parade, get on down to Chinatown instead!

For more info on all events, visit chinatownfestivals.sg.

All photos by Marguerita Tan.
No text or photos to be reproduced without the blog author’s permission.

‘Frozen 2’ Fun @ Singapore Changi Airport

Look out for a giant Olaf at Singapore Changi Airport T2!

If you or your kids are big fans of Disney’s Frozen 2, do make your way down to Singapore Changi Airport where there are loads of fun Instagram-worthy opportunities with the lovable characters from the blockbuster animated film, which has since grossed over US$1 billion (S$1.36b) at the global box office.

The main highlight of A Frozen Wonderland At Changi is located at the airport’s Terminal 3 Departure Hall (in front of Departure Immigration). Here you will find a handful of life-sized sets inspired by the enchanting film featuring key characters namely Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven, and Grand Pabbie.

Every night till Jan 5, 2020, there will be an entralling light, sound and snow show at 7.30pm, 8pm, 8.30pm and 9pm, which primarily tells the story of Frozen 2, in which Queen Elsa and company go in search of a mystery voice she’s been hearing that or who may save the kingdom of Arendelle from grave danger. Needless to say, spoilers galore at the attraction (and this blog post) if you have yet to see the film!

Grand Pabbie, the wise old troll, should be the first figure you see if you approach the set from the front as he’s extremely well lit.

Over to the right, you will find Anna and Olaf in a boat, depicting the scene when Elsa sent them away for their safety.

At a lovely autumn-inspired spot, and besides four elemental pillars, you will find macho Kristoff and his faithful reindeer, Sven, in the midst of life-like looking trees and plants and in a great rush to find his beloved Anna.

Last but not least, on the biggest structure, you will find the getting-more-powerful Queen Elsa tackling Nokk, the mythical water horse spirit, in stormy seas. This set has a big part to play during the daily show, so make sure you have a good view of it during the performance!

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW

Each show will end with a dramatic snowfall scenario that everyone of all ages thoroughly enjoyed! It’s mainly soap suds in case you are wondering!

This moment lasted quite long and, have to say, my pal and I had great fun taking wefies and being covered in “snow”, as did everyone around us!

OTHER FROZEN 2 SIGHTINGS…

Elsewhere in T3 Departure Hall, you will find an Enchanted Forest as well as an Arendelle Castle, where you can pose with cardboard cut-outs of Elsa and Anna, or check out these utterly cute 1-metre-tall plushies of Olaf and Sven.

These sections have areas and activities primarily designed for kids, but you would require a pass (and probably need to spend some money on a single receipt that kind of thing.) Visit https://frozenwonderland.changiairport.com/ for more information on how one can participate.

Over at Jewel, there is also some Frozen 2 content. At the Cloud9 Piazza on Level 5, there is an Arendelle-inspired festival market with a few stalls selling Frozen 2 merchandise. But the draw is definitely these life-sized models of Princess Anna and Queen Elsa. An Olaf figure can also be found at one of the festival’s gates.

For a great shot of the lovable snowman though, you have to pop to Terminal 2 for this larger-than-life, 3-metre-tall, spinning Olaf which is easily a big draw. Don’t miss it!

A Frozen Wonderland At Changi will be at T3, T2 and Jewel until Jan 5, 2020.
For more information, visit https://frozenwonderland.changiairport.com/.

Read also:
* ‘Frozen 2’: The 20 Best Quotes from the Disney Animated Blockbuster Sequel
* ‘Frozen 2’ Leaked Image Shows Elsa and Anna in an Autumn Setting

Top 5 Highlights Of ‘Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience’

Mama T-Rex eyeing the audience in Walking With Dinosaurs - The Live Experience. [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

“Open the door, get on the floor, everybody walk the dinosaur!” Ever since the globally-acclaimed show, Walking with Dinosaurs, arrived on our sunny shores weeks ago, the catchy refrain from the 1988 Was (Not Was) hit, “Walk The Dinosaur”, kept playing in my head. When opening night for the live arena spectacular came last Thursday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, I still didn’t get a chance to walk with a dinosaur, but I sure saw a good lot of them doing, well, a whole lot of things!

Based on the 1999 award-winning BBC docu-series of the same name, Walking with Dinosaurs – The Live Experience is a US$20 million (S$27.7m) production that features 18 life-sized dinosaurs—the tallest of which is almost three-stories high!—comprising nine different species and operated by skilled performers who bring them to life.

WWD paleontologist Huxley hosts and narrates the theatrical show amidst vibrant lights, projections and special effects. [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Through the show’s paleontologist Huxley, the audience is given a 200-million-year paleontology lesson deftly compressed into a 100-minute show (with a 20-min interval) filled with special lighting and projection effects, and not forgetting, some amazingly realistic-looking dinosaurs!

Musings on the M49 was delighted to be invited to the Walking with Dinosaurs‘ opening night rehearsal (partial) and performance. A unique educational yet fun show for both young and old—and a real treat especially if you are a big dinosaur fan—here are the top 5 highlights of Walking with Dinosaurs – The Live Experience.

Walking with Dinosaurs – The Live Experience: Top 5 Highlights

5. Battle of the Torosauruses

Territorial Torosauruses on the Warpath.[Photo: Marguerita Tan]

A herbivorous dinosaur, the Torosaurus immediately catches your eye thanks to its hardy elongated frill and two long sharp horns atop its bulky head and build. And when two of them are strolling around and grunting at each other, you know they are going to lock horns when they come head to head. For every big dinosaur, a team of three people is required to operate it – two puppeteers called Voodoos (who handle various movements) and one driver who makes it walk on steerable polyurethane wheels (the thick plank-like structure seen between the dino’s legs pictured above).

4. Carnivore & Herbivore Fight

Let’s face it, even among us humans, meat eaters and vegetarians seldom see eye to eye (thankfully, just a small faction). But in prehistoric times, the herbivore IS unfortunately meat for its carnivore counterpart, represented here by the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus respectively. The Stegosaurus, highly recognizable by its broad, upright plates, has a spiky tail which it uses primarily for defence and which, as you can see in the video above, it is furiously swinging for dear life as it tries to avoid being dinner for the rampaging Allosaurus.

3. Snappy Utahraptors Eating Their Prey

Fast and snappy, the carnivorous Utahraptors.[Photo: Marguerita Tan]

At just 2.5m tall, Utahraptors may look scrawny compared to their massive counterparts, but they are fascinating to watch as they move and run very fast because of their size. And also being meat eaters, they have no qualms of eating one of their own, or hunting down large herbivores in packs of two or three. Brrr!

Performance-wise, it is also very intriguing as these critters are small enough to be operated physically by one puppeteer in a costume suit (which alone could weigh about 35-40kg), simulating not only limb movements but everything from the eyes to the tail to even the sounds the creature makes.

2. Mama T-Rex Rescuing Baby T-Rex

Mama T-Rex(top left): "Nobody puts baby in the corner!" [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Hell hath no fury like a Mama T-Rex’s wrath. When a tiny scruffy Tyrannosaurus Rex came galloping out, everyone thought it was oh-so-cute until it was caught between a rock and a hard place – or, more specifically, the armored porcupine-like Ankylosaurus and the winning Torosaurus from an earlier scene. Just when we thought Baby T-Rex is going to end up as dino snack, out came ferocious Mama T-Rex, in all her 7m x 13m glory, showing the two predators exactly who’s boss.

Mama and Baby T-Rex sharing a tender moment. [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

It’s no wonder that WWD touring director Ian Waller calls the T-Rex the “star of the show”. The moment the towering adult T-Rex steps into the arena, first as a silhouette, then under the spotlight, its imposing build is not only instantly recognizable but also extremely intimidating. Yet the creature also shows an inquisitive nature (as it looks over the audience, see top main picture), plus a tender side when consoling its precious baby.

1.The Brachiosaurus Ballet

The T-Rex may be the superstar but if truth be told, the graceful long-necked Brachiosaurus is the one that took my breath away. Measuring 11m tall and 17m from head to tail, it is also the biggest dinosaur on the show. And Baby Brachiosaurus ain’t exactly tiny either (unlike baby T-Rex) – it is just a tad smaller at 9m tall and 15m long. And it also needs its mama to rescue it from bullies and/or predators. There is a moment in the show where the pair just glides around, occasionally munching on greens, as if waltzing to a ballet. Simply lovely. And even though you know it is not real, you just can’t not wave to Mama Brachiosaurus when she is looking directly at you during the show!

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: BEHIND THE SCENES

At the Walking with Dinosaurs rehearsal, besides the rare opportunity of seeing and filming selected scenes of the show itself, Musings on the M49 also had the chance to hear Lead Voodoo Puppeteer, Amanda Maddock (above left), showing us various equipment used by Voodoo puppeteers and drivers to operate the large dinosaurs.

One Voodoo will operate head and tail gross motion, while the other is in charge of minor movements such as jaw, blinking and sounds. As you can see on the keyboard machine (above right), the sounds that can be made include snorts, roars and even farts! Yes, modern-day puppetry has come a long way since the days of using just fingers and strings!

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience runs until Sept 8, 2019 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Performances : Tue-Fri 7pm; Sat-Sun: 10.30am, 2:30pm and 6:30pm. Tickets: $78-$148 from www.sportshubtix.sg/WWD2019

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Walking With Dinosaurs: The Man Who Brings A Life-Sized Baby T-Rex To Life

Neal Holmes (left) in costume as Baby T-Rex at the Walking with Dinosaurs press conference in Singapore.

I still remember the goosebumps I had when I first saw the animated yet so realistic-looking dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park. So when there was a chance to meet and interview the man behind the Baby T-Rex from Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience (WWD), I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Based on the 1999 acclaimed BBC TV documentary series of the same name, the US$20 million (S$27.7m) live arena spectacular originated in Australia in 2007 and went on to become “the biggest and best dinosaur show in the world”. Last here nine years ago, Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience will run at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from August 29 to September 8, 2019.

Musings on the M49 was thus chuffed to be invited to the Walking With Dinosaurs media conference held at Capitol Theatre, where a life-sized Baby T-Rex, operated by British performer Neal Holmes, was the featured star.

ON THE FLOOR WITH A BABY DINOSAUR

Baby T-Rex mingling with the audience at the WWD press call!

The baby Tyrannosaurus Rex—to give its scientific name in full—is but one of the 18 life-sized dinosaurs, operated by skilled performers via animatronics and physical puppetry, featured in the highly successful Walking with Dinosaurs arena show. Using state-of-the-art technology, lighting effects and projection, the 100-minute show is presented as a theatrical story of the prehistoric creatures’ 200-million-year existence on Earth.

Nine species from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods will be represented. You can expect Mama T-Rex to be super huge, but it will not be the biggest dinosaur on show — that honor goes to the Brachiosaurus which measures at 11 metres tall and 17 metres from nose to tail!

WWD resident director Ian Waller introducing the Baby T-Rex.

After introducing Baby-T—as it is affectionately called—WWD resident director Ian Waller filled us in with details of what the young critter is like, what went into the production of the show, and what we can expect from the live performance.

As he was talking, Baby T continued to strut around, doing its own thing as what you’d expect an inquisitive creature would do. Truth be told, puppeteer Neal Holmes’ movements were so realistic that at times you simply forgot that it is just a human being in a fancy costume!

One of the lucky kids who got to pose with the Baby T-Rex!

Highlight for everyone was without doubt the photo op with Baby T in all its glory. Many of the kids in attendance were thrilled; one even came clad in a green dinosaur head costume! “Generally, kids love dinosaurs,” Holmes would confirm later during the interview session. Most adults were thrilled to bits too (especially yours truly)!

TALKING WITH THE MAN IN THE DINOSAUR SUIT

The man who makes Baby T-Rex comes to life!

It was exactly 10 years ago when Briton Neal Holmes, then a fitness instructor, went for an audition in London, not knowing exactly what was required, and ended up with an agent plus a full-time job as a dinosaur puppeteer all within a week.

With the Baby T-Rex costume weighing about 35-40kg, the job is needless to say, physically demanding but the now 35-year-old, who has a background in acrobatics and parkour, takes it all in his stride. Not only does he have to walk and run like a dinosaur, Holmes also controls other movements of the “baby” creature from the eyes to the tail.

Revealing that he can’t really see much out of the suit, one key thing Holmes has learnt to be extra mindful of while performing is to “not bump into things, or run into other dinosaurs”. Depending on demand, performances could be as many as three shows a day, or nine shows during weekends.

Neal Holmes speaking to the media at the WWD press call.

When Musings on the M49 asked whether has anything gone wrong for him during performances, Holmes admitted that “the worst is falling over.”

He elaborated: “I’ve never been injured, but it could be due to a slippery stage or just an error. ‘Cos with big dinosaur feet, it could happen when you cross your legs. It’s quite difficult to get out of. That’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever done.”

But there’s help when such mishaps occur. “Stage people will look out for you and rush out to pick you up. If you are okay and not injured, and the suit is okay, you just continue from where you left off.”

After a decade as a dinosaur puppeteer, Holmes also realizes that “less is more” when it comes to performing.

“It is easy to do too much in puppetry, so I’m careful in not going too crazy like a puppy dog (when portraying a baby T-Rex), but to allow for moments of stillness. The (dinosaur) suit itself looks amazing just standing still, so to just allow those moments to happen ‘cos there are so much other things going on,” he explained.

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience runs from Aug 29 to Sept 8, 2019 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Performances : Tue-Fri 7pm; Sat-Sun: 10.30am, 2:30pm and 6:30pm. Tickets: $78-$148 from www.sportshubtix.sg/WWD2019

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Casa del Mar @ Langkawi

Having been to Malacca and Penang for my last two short-haul breaks, I opted for Langkawi as my next Malaysian holiday destination as (1) friends who’d been there liked it, and (2) it was also where a few key scenes of the global hit, Crazy Rich Asians, were shot. That’s how I ended up at the lovely Mediterranean-style boutique hotel, Casa del Mar Langkawi.

All I wanted was a cosy beach resort with a nice pool, scenic beachfront views, and good grub and grog. A pal hence suggested Casa del Mar and what a good recommendation it was. It was strategically located in the popular Pantai Cenang beach town, right on the edge of the white sands of Cenang beach.

Cab from Langkawi airport to the hotel (MYR30/SGD10) took only 15 minutes and as I was a tad early for check-in, the front desk staff ensured that I was comfortable with a chilled welcome drink and towel. I even had the opportunity to see them celebrating the birthday of another guest who was also checking in that afternoon.

For a 4-star hotel, Casa del Mar projects all the traits expected of a 5-star establishment. Staff was chirpy and helpful, and I always love hotels that make the effort to remember your name. I was given a tour of the facilities close to the lobby before being taken to my room, and even there, Enlyn patiently went through practically every amenity in the room with me.

THE ROOM

My seaview room was on the second floor of the main building, which includes a balcony with deck chairs, beach umbrella and drying rack. Pleasantly decorated, the spacious room was fully-furnished with all the necessaries such as free Wi-Fi, safe, bathrobes, slippers, and TV (with movie DVDs available at front desk). Extra perks—which are very much appreciated—include a coffee machine, complimentary fruits/ biscuits/ peanuts, and even bath salts. The king-sized bed was super comfy with four pillows at your disposal.

THE POOL

There are actually tons of things one can do in Langkawi and the hotel actually provides guests upon arrival with an extensive list of payable activities available ranging from island hopping to jungle trekking, jet skiing to yacht dinner cruises. Alas, I was only there to chill and the Casa del Mar pool already had me at hello.

With beach towels readily available in your room, the captivating pool was where I spent most of my time and, more often than not, I had it all to myself including the jacuzzi. (Which is why it is always good to travel during off-peak periods and during weekdays!) Pool service was also quite exquisite – as long as you are on a sun lounger, staff will periodically serve you iced water or fruits. A really lovely touch.

THE BEACH AND OCEAN VIEWS

A big draw of Casa del Mar is the fact that it is located right on the popular Pantai Cenang beach, which is the longest and most popular beach in Langkawi. The beachfront views here are breathtaking – picturesque clean white sands, clear blue skies, and warm blue seas. It was also cool that the area facing the resort is considered private and hardly crowded with people though there are still some activities as the beach is a watersports haven.

The sandy stretch on the right of Casa del Mar’s beachfront is also considered private, so really, if you laze at the hotel’s sun lounges, what you get is beautifully unblocked scenic views with cool breezes keeping you cool even when under a blazing hot sun. If I was not at the pool, I would just park myself for a good long time on a sun lounger that faces the amazing beach expanse.

BREAKFAST

My friend told me that the food at Casa del Mar was good and she wasn’t wrong. Complimentary breakfast came with the room and though the buffet selection wasn’t extensive—understandably as the hotel only has 34 guestrooms—it has the usual suspects of breads, cereals, sandwiches, cheeses, and a local favorite that is nasi lemak (Malay fragrant rice dish). Add to that, each guest can choose an item from the a la carte menu such as omelette or pancakes and it will be served a la minute to you. Cool, that.

Breakfast and lunch, provided by the hotel’s La Sal Restaurant, are served outdoors albeit under shade. Luckily, the heat during my stay was bearable and it’s tad cooler if you chose a table along the wall-length water feature. The restaurant prides itself in producing “homemade” items including a variety of breads, pastries, and an incredible range of jams including pineapple, watermelon and chocolate hazel! And yes, I tried all the jams as you can see in the previous photo. 🙂

LUNCH

On arrival, I was in time for lunch but as I browsed the menu, an afternoon tea for two caught my eye. When I asked if I can have just a set for a single person, the waitress Adila said certainly and it was charged at half the price of the original set. Which was simply brilliant, as you can see above. Love it when establishments are willing to be flexible.

Dinner & Sunset Watch

If you are into sunsets, La Sal at Casa del Mar is actually one of the best places in Langkawi to catch one. For dinner, the restaurant set up their tables right up to the edge of the beach and guests will have a bird-eye’s view of the sun setting. Early reservations have to be made though, even for live-in guests, as tables are limited. (Walk-ins are welcome only if seating permits.)

So, even though one can find cheaper food fare elsewhere in Pantai Cenang—and there are loads of alternatives from burger joints to Chinese-style seafood restaurants throughout the town as well as along the beach—I opted to have dinner at La Sal on both the nights I was there as it provided me not only with a great view of the sun setting over the horizon, but also of people having fun either on the beach or paragliding in the air as dusk falls. And oh yes, the food was good too. As was the grog from the pool bar (especially the free beer courtesy of the management on Tuesday nights!)

The Spa

Almost forgot: If you are on a chill trip, not only the resort should have a good pool, it also should have a good spa. Housed on the second floor in a secluded wing of Casa del Mar (in the midst of guestrooms), Satkara Spa may be small, but it nonetheless offers a good range of treatments and therapies. I chose a massage-and-facial combo which they kindly allowed me to split into two one-hour sessions on separate days (as I rather spent most of daylight time at the pool). The treatment rooms were cosy and relaxing, and the therapists top-notch. Best to make reservations early if you plan to spend time here.

HOME BY THE SEA, GREAT PLACE TO CHILL

The unique “Clean My Room” door sign at Casa del Mar.
The eyes are closed for “Do Not Disturb”.

All in all, I had an absolute great time at Casa del Mar. Kinda regretted not staying longer. For its brilliant service, facilities and location, it was definitely worth the price. Would definitely patronise it again if finances permit!

Casa del Mar Langkawi is at Jalan Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia.

Langkawi: Sun, Sand & Sea @ Pantai Cenang

All Photos by Marguerita Tan

When in Langkawi: If you are into sun, sand and sea, the offshore island(s) district of Kedah, Malaysia will be right up your alley. Located off the northwestern coast of West Malaysia, the 99-island archipelago is well known for its many great beaches, of which Pantai Cenang is one of the most popular especially for swimming and water sports.

I personally am a lounge-by-the-pool lizard myself but if a holiday resort has great access to a nice beach, I’m all for it. It was thus why I opted for Casa del Mar which is strategically located at a relatively quiet section of the 2km-long Pantai Cenang, said to be the longest beach in Langkawi.

One of things I loved doing during my stay was walking up and down the pristine beach via a cosy boardwalk that seemingly starts from Casa del Mar, all the way southwards to a spot where you will find the rainbow-colored “Pantai Chenang” sign (see main picture) and where the beach is arguably at its most crowded.

Views From A Boardwalk

Clean white sands, clear blue sky, warm sea, and idyllic islands on the horizon – that will be the first things that take your breath away on Pantai Cenang. Even if not on the private beaches of the fancier resorts, the elements are still wonderful sights to behold.

Walking along the stretch also allows you to check out the other beach accommodations available, many of which are rustic chalets such as this…

…and there were even beachfront tree houses such as this cool one here! There are also resorts which have swimming pools right alongside the beach.

Food and drink outlets are in abundance in Pantai Cenang too – along the beach, such as the popular Kalut Bar, and especially along the main road of Jalan Pantai Cenang.

Needless to say, al fresco wining and dining is very popular on the beach (as long as you don’t dirty the surroundings)…

Water sports is also very big here – you can go jet skiing, paragliding, kayaking, sailing on a banana or longboat, or even parasailing on a “flying machine”. It’s fun just to watch brave souls taking to the skies in various contraptions.

Colorful jet skis of various shapes and sizes can be seen parked, as well as in action, up and down the beach.

Loads of boats too… including signs to please “keep clean our island”. And I have to say, Pantai Cenang is one of the cleanest beaches I’ve ever been to in all my travels.

As mentioned, you will find food and drink options aplenty up and down the beach, with signs to direct you if you aren’t quite sure of where to go…

Random beach bars and “discos” do pop up on the sands which is really cool…

There is even an artistic compound, complete with cool graffiti art and tree swing…

Last but by no means least, Pantai Cenang is a great place to catch sunsets. Many people would gather around the Pantai Chenang sign—it’s directly opposite Cenang Mal—and just catch the sunset every evening (usually between 7.15-7.40pm). Or you can watch it while having dinner at any of the eateries or bars along the stretch.

There are actually lots more things one can do in Langkawi, but if you are happy with just sun, sand and sea, Pantai Cenang is one beach worth visiting once in your lifetime.

Langkawi: Sunset Over Pantai Cenang Beach

Photo by Marguerita Tan

When in Langkawi: Sunsets in the Malaysian 99-island archipelago are usually between 7.20pm and 7.45pm. In end July, it’s roughly 7.35-7.40pm and if you are on the western shoreline of the island district of Kedah, the best spot to catch one in full glory is to seat yourself anywhere along the 2km pristine white sands of Pantai Cenang beach.

I knew staying at the Casa del Mar Langkawi resort would plonk me right in the midst of the popular beach, but I didn’t realised that the hotel restaurant La Sal actually placed their al fresco dinner tables right by the edge of the sands so that guests—if they are seated at the right time⁠—will be able to enjoy the full course of the sun setting over one of Langkawi’s mini islands on the horizon.

So, as I sipped my chilled pre-dinner beer, it was blissfully joyful to watch the sun lighting the clear blue sky, from glaring whitish gold to a lovely golden-orange yellow hue, as it slowly disappeared behind the island on the horizon.

Definitely one of my favorite sunset watch in recent times…

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ The Musical – 8 Reasons To See The Show

If you are a fan of Disney’s Aladdin, 2019 has been a good year.

On the week that the 2019 live-action adaptation of the beloved 1992 animated film crossed the magical US$1 billion (S$1.36b) mark at the global box office, the hit Broadway adaptation made its debut in Singapore and is entertaining audiences in a whole new way.

Boasting energizing song-and-dance sequences, amazing sets and effects, and stunning costumes, Aladdin the musical—which is based on the 1992 Oscar-winning film—premiered on Broadway in 2014 with book by playwright Chad Beguelin, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin. Singapore will be the only Asian stop and final run for this Aladdin tour.

Musings on the M49 was chuffed to be invited to the official opening night at Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands. Here are eight reasons why Aladdin the musical is a must-see, especially if you are a fan of the Disney films or musicals in general. (Aladdin Photos Credit: Base Entertainment Asia)

1. “Friend Like Me”

The Genie’s signature song in the treasure-hoarding Cave of Wonders is a spectacular 14-minute showstopper comprising breath-taking choreography and cool magical effects. The scene-stealer was without question Gareth Jacobs whose creative genius as the Genie made the vibrant and pulsating sequence an absolute joy to watch.

2. “A Whole New World”

The Oscar-winning song is a timeless classic and watching Aladdin (Graeme Isaako) and Princess Jasmine (Shubshri Kandiah) singing it while seemingly flying on a magic carpet for real on stage is simply a thrill – even though you know it is manoeuvred by a special albeit well-hidden contraption. Easily the show’s second top highlight, drawing lots of oohs and aahs from the audience.

3. A Genie Like No Other

He’s not blue (except for his costume) and does not appear vaporizing from a lamp, but Gareth Jacobs’ Genie totally stole the show from the word go. He sang and danced with gusto, and his wisecracking had the audiences in stitches. His shout-outs to Singapore at appropriate times was a nice touch as well.

4. Classic And New Tunes Combo
Besides the unforgettable tunes from the 1992 film such as “Arabian Nights”, “One Jump Ahead” and “Prince Ali”, fans can savor seven new songs in the musical. Menken and Beguelin wrote four tunes specially for the stage production and these are “These Palace Walls”, “A Million Miles Away”, “Diamond in the Rough” and “Somebody’s Got Your Back”. Also included are three songs by Menken and Ashman that were cut from the original film – “Proud of Your Boy”, “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “High Adventure”. Let’s hope for future productions, they will consider adding “Speechless”, Princess Jasmine’s empowering anthem from the 2019 megahit, too!

5. Stunning Set Design

From the colorful mythical city of Agrabah, to the Sultan and Princess Jasmine’s luxurious palace, to the gold-glittering Cave of Wonders, the show’s 500 captivating sets, props and backdrops are to be lauded. The audience is easily transported to every location in a blink of an eye, whether it is a Middle Eastern-influenced marketplace or a cave in a dark, isolated desert.

6. Shining, Shimmering, Splendid Costumes

The costumes in Aladdin have to be one of the most vibrant and sparkling set of outfits I’ve ever seen in a musical. And this is thanks to some 1000 fabrics and half a million Swarovski crystals that were used to make and decorate the 300+ costumes in the show. There was so much sparkle, they should have warned us to wear shades…

7. Incredible Special Effects
Besides a believable flying magic carpet, the show also employs a great number of whoa-inducing magical effects on stage such as slide of hand tricks, disappearing box acts, and quick change illusions, some of which were even executed effortlessly during song sequences.

8. Funny Bytes Galore
Thanks to some great one-liners and hilarious ad-libs, there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that didn’t just materializes out of the Genie, but also from supporting characters such as Jafar (Patrick R Brown) and his scheming sidekick, Iago (Doron Chester). I would arguably say there were more laughs generated from the musical than from the cinematic version!

All in all, Aladdin the musical is great fun, a spectacular that is easily enjoyed by both young and old. Though the first half felt a tad draggy (though understandably having to introduce every key character), the show nonetheless does present a whole new world of Disney’s Aladdin that is truly worth a watch.

Rewind: At the Aladdin Red Carpet
Attending stage shows, it is always fun to see people dress up for the occasion or are game to participate in entertaining activities. Prior to the show’s start on opening night, we witnessed a few folks who shook a tail feather or two on the “purple” carpet! (Photos by Marguerita Tan)

For starters, you always want to give a thumb’s up when theatre goers take the trouble to dress up according to the theme of the show!

And from the young to the young-at-heart, a few were sporting enough to sing ‘A Whole New World’ in front of cameras!

And here’s some of the famous faces spotted: 2009 Singapore Idol Sezairi Sazali (left) and author/humor writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo (far right)

Aladdin the Broadway musical plays at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore till Sept 1, 2019. Performances: Tue to Fri, 7.30pm; Sat 2pm & 7.30pm; and Sun 1pm & 6.30pm. Tickets from $68++ from www.sistic.com and www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing.

Read also:
* Top 10 Songs by Disney Princesses – From “Let It Go” to “Speechless”