Tuscany: Two Castles, One Revelation

8 08 2012

This is the second in a series of articles about my recent trip to Italy. Enjoy!

Views from atop Castello di Broli. With a vantage point like this, advancing enemies can be seen from miles and miles away.

It’s always a bit of a pleasant surprise when you find out that so-and-so shares mutual friends with you:

Oh, so you know him too!”

Oh my, how do you know her as well?”

...we’ve all had moments like these. That little spark of affinity when you realise that your paths have crossed with someone else’s; when you find out that your are not a lone island but rather one of many interweaving, intersecting tributaries; when you appreciate the fact that however vast the world may seem, we are not separated by as much distance as we may originally thought. This may seem to you like a timeworn fact, but to me, it made all the difference on my recent Tuscan Castle Tour.

We had two castles down on the list for that day’s tour: Montessori Castle, picked because there was a geocache there; and Castello di Broilio, chosen because it was ‘highly recommended’.

The ruins of Montegrossi castle.

The castles couldn’t have been more unlike. Montegrossi, an 11th century fortress, stood dilapidated, in ruins, overgrown with weeds. No signposts indicated its existence, and we only reached the ruins after climbing up an obscure footpath. Castello di Brolio, on the other hand, stood proud and majestic, immaculately maintained, a potent symbol of wealth, power and status. This was a fully functioning castle, with a chic osteria at its base, a winding dirt road lined with cypresses and conifers leading up to the gates, and a lovely garden to stroll through.  Nothing suggested any kind of connection between the two disparate castles. And yet, as I soon found out to my amazement, the two castles do in fact share a mutual history. In Facebook-speak, they share mutual friends.

Castello di Broli…and this is just one part of it!

It turns out that the Ricasoli family (owners of Castello di Brolio), when they first arrived in the region, had at first lived at Montegrossi Castle before moving in to di Brolio. Despite the two castles being entirely dissimilar, here was an unmistakable link drawing the two together. In Facebook-perspective, both castles shared a mutual friend in the Ricasoli family.

Inside the ruins of Montegrossi. The Ricasoli family had lived here when they first arrived in the region, before moving into Castello di Brolio.

It’s fascinating, really, how seemingly contrasting elements can actually have close links. It’s almost  like a spider web, or tangled tentacles of an octopus. You may start off on one lone spoke of the web, or one solitary tentacle of the octopus, thinking you have no connections with those around you. Yet as you dig a little deeper and probe a little further, connections start to appear one by one and before long, a whole cobweb of an intricate system has emerged. That’s when you realise that though you may be but a speck in this world, you are also latched on to a highly network – a network which, unless you explore relentlessly, you will never fully appreciate.

And that is my revelation from my little Tuscan Castle Tour.


Movement 134.

5 09 2011

One hundred and thirty four people slowly filtering in onto the grounds of Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong…

Each year, LPC says goodbye to half its population. What defined half of LPC for one full year leaves to pursue their own dreams.

Now, as one hundred and thirty new students arrive, LPC embarks on another journey.

They are the new half of LPC – the half that makes LPC whole.

I think this, among a host of other factors, is what makes LPC such an exciting place to be. Rarely do you ever come across an institution where each year is completely different from the one before: the people, groups, dynamics, culture, energy. And yet there is no loss of identity or definition – rather we build on our foundations, and add new elements to the thrilling melting pot of brilliant minds.

As the two halves slowly begin to mingle, a new blend emerges. There are new forms of interaction, new ideas, new thoughts, new minds. At the same time, we are still on the same journey as before: bringing people from across the world together – uniting people, nations and cultures.

I can sense excitement in the air, and am thrilled to be able to both take part in, and witness, this momentous movement of two halves in a singular whole.




Watching the Hongkers: Things you Learn from Living in HK

25 07 2011

Expanding on my earlier post, ‘Watching the Hongkers’,  here are a few things that you tend to pick up – consciously and unconsciously – after years of living in Hong Kong.

1. Very good agility in extremely crowded areas like Central MTR station at peak hours. This means being able to get from point A to B despite having a million people blocking your way. How? Keeping your head held high, making quick nimble movements with your feet as well as your entire body, weaving in and out of people, abruptly (but smoothly, somehow) changing body positioning so as not to crash into other strangers

2. Becoming squeezable. Squeezing yourself into the smallest possible area on the bus, tram and MTR – before the doors close, millimeters from your face.

Not quite HK, but you get the idea. Squeezable, squishable sardines. Photo by yushimoto_02

3. Very Serious Multitasking. Seen someone watching a movie on their iPhone, getting off the train, maneuvering between the crowd all at the same time before? They’re probably Hongkers. Time costs here. So we make do with some Very Serious Multitasking.

4. Eating super fast. You can’t really help it if your meal arrives in front of you, piping hot, within 60 seconds of you ordering it – as is the norm at the famous cha chan teng Australian Dairy Company.

5. Keeping off grass. There’s not a lot of grass in HK. And when there is, there’s probably a sign telling you to KEEP OFF. So we’re pretty good at doing that too.

This mean is by no means exhaustive. It’s just a quick little fun brainstorm that I though I’d do. So if you have any other things that you’ve learnt and don’t mind sharing, pop them in the comments below!

Watching the Hongkers

20 06 2011

‘Watching the English’ by the anthropologist Katie Fox is an absolutely fascinating read. She basically observes, dissects and analyses each an every aspect of English behaviour in the most amusing ways possible.

Reading through the book, I thought: If I find it so fascinating to read about English behaviour, why don’t I try observing Hongker (that is, Hong Kong-er) behaviour? So here it is – my crude attempt at observing my fellow Hongkers’ behaviour on the train.

Hongkers on the MTR

Photo by t-a-i

There are two types of Hongkers travelling on the MTR (train) at any given time: 1) Those glued to their phones; 2) Those not glued to their phones.

1. Those Glued to Their Phones:
People in this particular demographic group are clinically addicted to their mobile phones. The symptoms for addiction are numerous:

  • tapping/swiping/scratching furiously away on their touchscreens all for the purpose of some game.
  • incessantly swiping their fingers down the touchscreen to renew their live Facebook speed, and chuckling to themselves when they see an amusing picture of their drunk friend.
  • watching some trashy TV show
  • texting
  • talking very, very loudly on the phone about personal issues which no one else could care less about. This symptom may also point to an inability to recognise the fact that: 1) you’re not invisible on the train, and 2) everyone can hear you on the train.

2. Those NOT Glued to Their Phones:
People in this group exhibit more diverse behaviour, which I have summarised as follows:

  • the sleepers: commuters trying very hard to stay awake, but in failing to do so, nod off in the comfort of their hard metallic train seat with their head bobbing madly from left to right, much to the demise of those next to them.
  • the fashion-junkies: mostly females who decide that the train has transformed into their bathrooms and thus justifies their taking out their make-up kit and boldly applying their mascara, eye liners etc.
  • the newspaper-aficionados: mostly middle aged men reading the horse racing guide on Apple Daily
  • the love birds: couples who can’t resist the temptation of cuddling on a jerky train while being squeezed on all sides by sweaty commuters, or who for some reason deliberately choose to publicly and physically display affection.

Of course, this fun little experiment of mine to observe my fellow Hongker commuters is far from complete or fully representative of the Hong Kong population. If you have any other observations to chip in, feel free to do so in the comments section.

Subscribe to this blog via RSS, or enter your email in the email subscription box above.

You can also follow me on Twitter to receive regular updates.