Asia’s best summertime festivals – Zafigo.com, May 16 2018

It’s already halfway through the year, and if you haven’t been to a festival yet, it’s time to get organising! Over the next three months, countries across the continent will spring to life as music, cultural, and food festivals kick off. With so many to choose from, and something for every preference and budget, here’s a taster of what’s out there:

Music magic

For many of us, festivals mean just one thing: Music. There’s nothing better than hearing your favourite band live in the great outdoors while chilling with good friends. Even if you don’t know all of the artists, music festivals give a great opportunity to make some new discoveries.

At the 20th annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia (July 13-15, 2018), you’re bound to do just that, as a wide array of international and local artists will converge in the stunning heart of Borneo’s jungle for the occasion. Acts include Tunisia’s Yallah Bye, and home-grown talent SwarAsia Malaysia, to name a few.

The Fuji Rock Festival (July 27-29, 2018) in Japan has the added bonus of a breath-taking backdrop, with the majestic Mount Fuji presiding over the event’s 10 stages. This year’s event includes some big-name acts like headliners N.E.R.D., Kendrick Lamar, Bob Dylan and Vampire Weekend, while drumming circles, workshops, massages and ‘Cinema Fuji’ will ensure you won’t get bored.

Other top music festival picks are the diverse and fun-filled Good Vibes Festival (July 21-22, 2018) in Genting Highlands, Malaysia, and Bali’s Sunny Side Up Tropical Festival (July 20-21, 2018) in Indonesia which offers the perfect concoction of music, art, and sustainability.

Culture vulture

There are plenty of impressive festivals in Malaysia, and the month-long Georgetown Festival (held every August) in Penang is as good as it gets. A true tourist magnet set in the streets of one a UNESCO World Heritage site, this annual event consistently holds an impressive line-up that showcases concerts, art exhibitions, theatre, dance, storytelling… Need we go on?

Another one for Malaysia, but this time in Borneo and cited as a celebration of the promotion of peace through culture, Sabah’s International Folklore Festival (July 23-30, 2018) in Kota Kinabalu is certainly worth a trip.

Dating back to the ninth century, Japan’s Gion Matsuri Festival in Kyoto (July) is one of the country’s most famous festivals; and for good reason. With origins rooted in an ancient religious purification ritual, and a name stemming from the famous Gion District, this is a must-go if you want to get a taste of traditional Japanese culture during your trip. Festival highlights include a float procession (a series of elaborate floats that often require teams of 50 to pull them), the procession of mikoshi (portable shrines) and  Nagoshi-sai (summer purification ceremony).

Other noteworthy festivals are China’s colourful Dragon Boat Festival (known as Duanwu), centred mainly in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Foodie fests

While most modern-day music and culture festivals offer a diverse range of delicacies – one needs energy for all that partying – there are many events where food takes centre stage. For instance, the Singapore Food Festival which runs from July 13-29, 2018, requires an expandable waistband to allow for all of that feasting! Visitors can gorge on many of Singapore’s best local eats, hear the stories behind the dishes, attend the ‘Fifty Cent Feast’ and test their own skills at cooking workshops before dancing off their dinner to the sounds of local musicians.

Meanwhile, fruit fans can rejoice as the Rayong Fruit Festival in Rayong, Thailand is set to return from June 1-5 , 2018. Dine on a delectable assortment of locally-grown fruits while supporting local farmers in the process. Delhi’s International Mango Festival (July 9 and 10, 2018) is also a good choice for fans of the five-a-day.

Finally, the Mogumogu Festival (short for ‘more goods, more gourmet’ and also known as MoguFes) is a mouth-watering celebration of world foods being held in Hokkaido, Japan from August 5-11, 2018.

Weird and wonderful

There are some things that you have to experience once in your lifetime, and Asia’s festival schedule certainly contains a few things worth putting on the bizarre bucket-list.

The Cheung Chau Buddhist Bun festival (May 19-23, 2018) in Hong Kong is a unique cultural extravaganza that culminates in the Bun Grabbing Contest at midnight on the last day of the celebrations. This sees the construction of a 60-foot tower of buns, up which participants scramble in the aim to collect as many buns as possible. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted!

If you’re not afraid of getting a little bit dirty, the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea (July 13-22, 2018) is the place for you! Held near Daecheon Beach, the aim of the event is to embrace your inner child and roll around in the mud through activities such as a giant mud bath, mud body painting and mud prison.

Finally, if you’re in need of a good conversation starter, tell friends you’re heading for the Hokkai Heso Matsuri (belly button festival) in Furano, Japan on July 28 and 29 , 2018. The main highlight of this is the ‘Hokkai belly button dance competition’ that attracts entrants in their thousands, and involves painting large faces on your belly. Local restaurants also get involved in ‘belly button gourmet’ by preparing unique dishes that somehow relate to the belly button.

(First published on Zafigo.com on May 16 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/asia-summertime-festivals-2018/)

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The definitive guide to avoiding Penang’s tourist traps – Zafigo.com, February 8 2018

colour-1298862_1280 (1)As a cultural melting pot, foodie hub and historical hotspot, Penang has become a major tourist destination for both Malaysian and international tourists. However, with so much to do here, it comes as no surprise that the island’s main landmarks can be crowded 365 days of the year. If you’re staying a while and are sick of the hustle and bustle, try this list of alternative activities:

BEST VIEW

Skip Penang Hill

See Muka Head Lighthouse

Photo-4

The stunning views of Penang’s coastline. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

Gazing down at the twinkling lights of George Town from the peak of Penang Hill is certainly worth ticking off the list. However, if you’re seeking something a bit more tranquil and wish to avoid the crowds, head to Muka Head Lighthouse at Penang’s National Park. It’s not easy to get to – prepare for a sweaty hike through the forest! – but the stunning views of Penang’s coastline will revitalise a tired body and mind. Climb up the twisting staircase to the top and perch yourself on the balcony to watch white-tailed sea eagles soar and be soothed by the sound of the crashing waves below.

BEST BEACH

Skip Batu Ferringhi

See Gertak Sanggul

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This small fishing village is the epitome of a lazy afternoon. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

When you have eaten double your weight in Penang’s famous hawker food, what better place for an afternoon doze than the beach? Batu Ferringhi is Penang’s most popular beach and while it’s beautiful, you will likely have to battle for towel space on a busy day. Head to Gertak Sanggul instead. I stumbled across this beach during a drive around the island and found it to be the perfect place to digest both my thoughts and my food. Nestled along the southern coast of Penang at the edge of a quaint fishing village, it’s rarely frequented by tourists and so, is the epitome of calm. Come here with a good book and watch the boats and your worries float away.

BEST MARKET

Skip Batu Ferringhi Night Market

See Hin Sunday Pop-Up Market

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin's Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin's PopUP Facebook)

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin Pop Up Market)

Every Sunday, the grounds of Hin Bus Depot spring to life with a small artisan market brimming with local crafts and trinkets. Handmade batik garments, natural cosmetics, mouth-watering food and statement jewellery are just some of the treasures on offer at this weekly affair, which sees new stalls springing up each week. While you won’t find the same offering of cheap clothes available in Batu Ferringhi, you will come across plenty of unique gems unavailable anywhere else. What’s more, by buying something here, you are supporting local artists and craftspeople. For the perfect Sunday, take a yoga class at nearby Wholey Wonder and peruse the market stalls before crashing on the grass at Hin Bus Depot to tuck into a tasty lunch.

BEST FOR A COFFEE AND CATCHUP

Skip Starbucks

See The Alley

Skip the staple branded coffee houses and spend an evening at a local shop instead. (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Why go Starbucks when you can have churros at The Alley? (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Let’s face it: I can go to Starbucks anytime. Despite having a three-letter name, they can never get mine right! If I’m in need of an afternoon energy boost or want somewhere to chill with friends, The Alley at Stewart Lane is my top pick. Why? One word: Churros! The small and simple café is famous for the warm doughy delights, which offer crispy skins and fluffy centres in good, equal measure. Paired with a selection of sauces (try the salted caramel) and a steaming mug of coffee, it makes for the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The only downside of going with friends? Having to share.

BEST BAR

Skip Love Lane

See Magazine 63

(Photo Credit: SM Butler)

A true speakeasy bar, Magazine 63 is quite a challenge to find, but oh so worth it once you do. (Photo Credit: SM Butler)

Walking through Love Lane at night feels a bit like being in a bizarre video game – you have to dodge and leap over dozens of pushy bar promo staff to get to the power up i.e. a refreshing cocktail or mocktail at the end of a busy day. On top of that, the crowds and noise continue to swell as the night goes on. Ditch the hectic nightlife and head to Magazine 63 on Jalan Magazine instead. Nestled behind an inconspicuous doorway, it’s quite a challenge to find; but trust me, it’s worth it. Behind its shabby exterior sits a trendy speakeasy dripping in vintage class, with a unique cocktail menu to boot. Add to that cosy seating, regular live bands and DJ sets and you’ve got yourself the perfect watering hole. A word of warning: at bars this trendy, drinks don’t come cheap.

BEST UNIQUE PHOTO SPOT

Skip 3D Trick Art Museum

See Penang Avatar Secret Garden

(Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh )

The mini forest comes to life with dazzlig lights. (Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh)

Trick art museums have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. If you’re hoping to get some unusual snaps for the ‘gram, head to Avatar Secret Garden at Tanjung Tokong before sunset instead. When the daylight fades, the mini forest is transformed into an enchanted land that is alive with dazzling lights in myriad hue. A near replica of the mystical land of Pandora in Avatar, this hidden gem is sure to take your breath away.

BEST CAFE WORKSPACE

Skip Co-workingspaces

See BEAN Sprout Cafe

Fancy working out  of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Fancy working out of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Co-working spaces certainly have their place and I’d be the first to praise them for their reliable Wi-Fi and endless networking opportunities. However, when in Penang, you might as well soak in the atmosphere while getting some work done. Enter BEAN Sprout Café. Set in a beautiful two-storey heritage building, this relaxed coffee shop is a good spot to escape to when you need to get stuff done and dusted. If the rustic décor and chilled music fail to inspire, sit and work from the balcony which offers great views of the hustle and bustle of George Town. Failing that, their delicious coffee or tasty brunches should be enough to set the brain cogs into motion.

BEST CITY CENTRE OASIS

Skip Armenian Park

See Garden at 23 Love Lane

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit 23 Love Lane)

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit: 23 Love Lane)

Who knew that such a serene oasis existed along hectic Love Lane? Well, it does, and it’s in the form of this boutique hotel’s stunning garden courtyard. It’s the ideal place to escape the mid-afternoon sun and catch up on some reading over a refreshing drink. Non-staying guests are welcome to enjoy the garden courtyard provided they purchase something from the hotel bar. Coffee al fresco amid restful settings? Who can say ‘no’ to that?

(First published on Zafigo.com on February 8 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/guide-avoiding-penangs-tourist-traps/)

 

Wexford Drama Group celebrates 50 years in the spotlight – Wexford People, December 10 2016

Wexford Drama Group celebrated their 50th anniversary in theatrical fashion with a celebration in the Irish National Heritage Park recently.

The group pulled out all of the stops to ensure the night was unforgettable, with plenty of drama, music and nostalgia to keep the crowd going. Over 60 people attended the event, which marked an end to the celebrations for this year.

Mayor of Wexford Frank Staples held a Civic Reception for Wexford Drama Group at the beginning of the evening. He spoke about the history of the group and, on behalf of the people of Wexford, expressed his pride in having such an organisation in the community.

It was a nostalgic evening for many as members from years gone by joined together with current members. Three of the former members – Des Waters, Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer – were part of the original group founded 50 years ago and in honour of this, they were presented with a lifetime membership by the current members. Throughout the night, different generations of the group performed short pieces, while old memorabilia such as posters and photos were dotted around the venue. A particular highlight was a moving video featuring interviews with some of the older members, which was compiled by John Michael Murphy.

Chairperson of the group Carol Long said a few words to the crowd, as did Phil Lyons, who shared some of his memories about his years in the group. Phil was also part of the event’s organising committee, along with Aine Gannon, Hilda Conway and Paul Walsh.

To top everything off, everyone enjoyed a meal, music by Damian Nolan and plenty of dancing until the early hours.

‘It was a really great night. It was lovely to mark the occasion as people do come and go. The event got people back in touch with the group,’ said PRO of Wexford Drama Group Tom O’Leary.

The night followed on from an event in Wexford Library the previous day, during which excerpts from the group’s first play ‘The Heiress’ were performed by former and current members. The play was produced by the group back in 1966 and in honour of the occasion, original cast members Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer played their parts once more. An exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the last 50 years was also unveiled.

Following a successful weekend, the show must go on for the drama group. The will now turn their attention to their next production ‘Portia Coughlan’ by Marina Carr which will hit the Arts Centre stage in February.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-drama-group-celebrates-50-years-in-the-spotlight-35270067.html)

Teaching a different tune – Wexford People, September 1 2015

In a venue on the outskirts of Wexford town, the steady strum of guitar and low bass tones waft out from underneath a doorway

It’s not long before some drums join in on the action, followed by a melodic female voice belting out the lyrics of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones.

One would be forgiven for thinking that this music is coming from an established band, who have over 20 years of gigs and musical experience to their names. However, on entering the small school hall in Scoil Mhuire in Coolcotts, it becomes clear that many of these performers haven’t even spent 20 years in existence.

Such impressive performances are standard for students at the School of Rock summer camp, who have spent long days preparing for their end of week concert. Now, only hours before their final show, the young musicians and singers feel ready to rock the stage in front of over 60 people.

‘I’m really excited,’ said Aoife Doheny, a young singer from New Ross. ‘Some members of my family are going to come to see us play.’

Aoife will perform on stage with other members of her band, who despite having only met each other a little over a week ago, have already formed a special bond.

‘This is a great place to make new friends,’ said Aoife.

Encouraging this interaction between young people is one of the key reasons for the formation of the School of Rock, according to co-founder of the project, Peter McCamley.

‘Kids from all areas of Wexford came here a week ago and they didn’t know each other,’ explained Peter, a freelance music teacher originally from the U.K. ‘Now they are in bands creating music together.’

The camp also helps young people to learn a skill and build confidence, which Peter feels is an important part of growing up.

Peter came up with the idea for the weeklong rock music summer camp while working as a music teacher in Scoil Mhuire. Inspired by a band of past-pupils, which he helps to run with fellow music teacher Louise Malone, the pair decided to create an outlet for children interested in rock music.

‘It’s a great opportunity for children who aren’t into sports,’ said Louise, who is originally from Birmingham. ‘Life can be lonely for a teenager who is into guitar. The camp allows them to meet other musicians and make friends.’

After they secured Scoil Mhuire as the premises for the summer camp, Peter and Louise began to spread the word. The pair were delighted when their posters received a massive response, with over 20 students signing up for the first camp. They were even more pleased when they heard the young musicians perform for the first time.

‘There is a massive amount of musical talent in Wexford,’ said Peter.

The children and teenagers, who are aged between nine and 15, were formed into three bands over the course of the week: Subway, Detour and the very imaginatively-named, Infected Suspension.

‘I suggested a few words on our board,’ said Al Power from Enniscorthy, who plays both base guitar and drums for the band. ‘Others made suggestions too and then we put them together and came up with the name, Infected Suspension.’

According to Al, the camp has allowed him to learn and meet new people. One of these is Oisin Tiernan, a talented piano player from Kilmore.

‘I saw a poster for the School of Rock one day and decided to give it a go,’ he said. ‘It’s been great. I’ve met some really awesome people.’

Prior to setting up the School of Rock, Peter was struck by the lack of facilities for young people with an interest in rock music.

‘I have taught classical music to young people but they just aren’t as interested,’ said Louise. ‘With the School of Rock, they are more enthusiastic.’

Each band spent the week with Peter and Louise, who taught them a selection of songs from bands such as Greenday. The students also made their own song request, which proved to be a surprising one for Peter and Louise.

‘They wanted to perform Zombie by The Cranberries,’ said Louise. ‘I didn’t think they would want to do any older songs at all.’

Although the School of Rock have only just completed their first week of camp, the project is already proving to be a big hit amongst the young musicians, who have given Peter some ‘overwhelming feedback’. Owing to this early success, Peter and Louise have decided to run some more camps in the near future.

‘We hope to run more at Halloween and Christmas,’ explained Peter. ‘We are also talking about doing a camp that teaches participants how to write their own song.’

However, it seems that the music isn’t going to stop just yet as these young rock stars refuse to wait until October to meet again.

‘Detour are going to keep on playing,’ said Millie Murphy from Barntown. ‘We are recruiting new members.’

Millie’s new friends and fellow musicians agree, with some having ulterior motives for keeping the music going.

‘I do it to annoy my parents,’ joked Oisin.

Whether these young musicians attend the camp to form new friendships, to have fun or to make their name on the stage, there’s clearly no way you can stop the School of Rock.

(First published in the Wexford People: print edition. Available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/teaching-a-different-tune-31493623.html)

Vicar Street South may be revived – Gorey Guardian, August 29 2015

The ambitious Vicar Street South project may be back on the agenda following Wexford County Council’s advertisement of a Compulsory Purchase Order for land at the rear of Gorey’s Market House.

If granted, the CPO, which is advertised in this week’s Gorey Guardian, will pave the way for the redevelopment of the site. Once the land is acquired, a public consultation process will be held to establish what will be done with the land.

Cllr. Malcolm Byrne welcomed the move, saying that he is happy to see that progress is being made with the site since its regeneration was first discussed in 2012.

‘We have been working towards getting something done here for quite a while,’ he said. ‘Gorey Market House is a very important building. It is a key part of our history and will be a key part of our future.’

Five proposals for the site’s redevelopment were put forward in 2012 at a special meeting of Gorey Town Council. A proposal for a ‘Vicar Street South’ theatre was made by businessman Harry Crosbie, receiving widespread support from people in the locality. It is understood that this idea may now be revived.

‘There is no decision as of yet,’ said Cllr. Byrne. ‘It is possible that it might be brought up again.’

Mr. Crosbie, who is known for his involvement with the O2, Vicar Street and Bord Gáis Theatre, previously proposed the development of a 1000 seater venue, which would be the sister venue to the renowned Vicar Street in Dublin. He also suggested building a multi-purpose ‘black box’ building to the rear of the Market House, joined to the Main Street historic building by an atrium at the rear.

The proposed venue would attract headline acts to Gorey, supporting somewhere between 75 and 100 concerts a year. Promoters would book the concerts as additions to shows which run at Vicar Street in Dublin, and the promoter would be charged a set rent, regardless of ticket sales. Mr. Crosbie also proposed developing a ‘green room’ in the upper chamber of the Market House, with facilities for refreshments before shows.

Mr. Crosbie’s proposal received widespread support from the public when it was originally proposed. According to an online poll run by Gorey Chamber in 2012 regarding the redevelopment of the site, 97 per cent of respondents backed the plan for a ‘Vicar Street South’ theatre. Cllr. Byrne believes that Gorey would be a suitable location for such a facility.

‘North Wexford has long been known for its rich art and music background,’ he said. ‘Something like this would add to Gorey’s reputation.’

Cllr. Byrne said that any arts and music venue would also significantly improve employment prospects in the town, not only within the venue itself, but in the surrounding area.

‘If people were visiting Gorey to attend an event, they might eat out in the town beforehand or stay overnight in a hotel,’ he explained. ‘I’d love to see it happen.’

Should there be no objections to the CPO within six weeks of the publication date, it will be approved by An Bord Pleanála. Following this, members of the public will be invited to come forward with their ideas for the site.

‘We need to think big,’ said Cllr. Byrne. ‘However, there are lots of steps to be taken before anything can be done. This isn’t going to happen overnight. All big dreams take time to achieve.’

Mr. Crosbie’s submission was one of several ideas submitted in the past. Other ideas included a facility to support the performing Arts, a Heritage Centre, an Art Gallery, and an Exhibition Centre.

(First published in the Gorey Guardian: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/news/vicar-street-south-may-be-revived-31474727.html)