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Posts Tagged ‘India’

This week at a global nomad dinner party — guest list drawn up virtually by a mutual friend who met the diners all over the world — I had the pleasure of chatting with an artist and his architect wife. Seattle-area residents, they spend a third of their time abroad in places like Kerala, India and the Neapolitan island of Procida, creating public art and advising governments on historic preservation and ways to make it a sustainable choice.

Penang shophouse

Penang shophouse

A year before I moved to Penang, the couple was based in that Malaysian state. Patricia worked with local officials on a conservation plan for the Georgetown city center, a collection of vernacular architecture unmatched by other Southeast Asian nations making it a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage status. In modernizing, hot-to-trot Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore leveled most of their shophouses. (The New York Times highlights one Singapore restoration this week.) She inventoried a thousand shophouses. These two- or three-story rowhouses mostly built between the 1890s-1930s with a shared five foot-wide covered arcade were both places of work and home, ensuring 24/7 vibrancy in the tropical port city.

To me, shophouses embodied the equatorial island’s melange of cultures and its exotic mercantile history.

I marveled at the crumbling lime facades and the multilingual signs that reflected the city’s waves of traders, immigrants and British administration. A native majority saw $$ in tearing them down, so openly loving these decrepit structures under threat was my foreigner quirk.

Here’s Patricia on the merging of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European styles in Penang’s shophouses:

From the Chinese came the courtyard plan, the rounded gable ends and the fan-shaped air vents; from the Malay came the carved timber panels and the timber fretwork; from the Indians, urban construction techniques, including a hard-wearing plaster; from the Europeans, French windows and decorative plasterwork.

How does architecture influence your understanding of a place, its people and history?

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I’m on vacation/in post-TED Global recovery this August. Taking social networking easy as well, I posted a chocolate cake recipe on Facebook. You can whip up the quickie soufflé-like treat in a coffee mug with the help of a microwave.

The indulgent little formula emailed by my Sacramento sister comes from a world I haven’t lived in for years. Microwave cooking. White sugar and vegetable oil. It’s so mainstream retro — and a crowd pleaser.

The instant mug cake drew twenty times more reaction than an ultra-topical link to TED Fellow Evgeny Morozov’s explanation of the Russian state-sponsored censorship of a Georgian blogger which caused massive outages at Facebook and Twitter last week. Morozov, a Belorussian Internet scientist I met in Oxford, studies how the online world influences global affairs. He might have had better luck framing the issue this way: cyberwarfare trend = blocked access to future cake recipes.

Even so, the spontaneous manifestation of cupcake-community activism was cheering. Friends from Alaska to Florida, Malaysia to India to Germany engaged and collaborated. They experimented and shared results from pudding and “the perfect soufflé” to admitting a skimped-on-the-oil need “to compensate by eating it with some vanilla ice cream”. Others predicted child-friendliness or posted the instructions to their own walls.

Dog days of summer may not be the best time to come together to solve the world’s weighty problems but apparently it’s a good time to master soufflé-for-one.

Ever experience a heavy-to-soufflé moment that shifts your sync point?

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