Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kasut Manik Nyonya (Nyonya Beaded Shoes) - An Art of Timeless Beauty

To understand, appreciate & finally fall in love with the beauty of the Nyonya Kasut Manik, one has to delve back into the annals of Malaccan history a little.

Way back in the 15th century when Malacca (a historical town in Malaysia which was     declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008) was a thriving port, traders from all over the world would converge at its river mouth to ply and trade their wares.

In 1409, Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He), the head of China's trade fleet and his chiefs arrived in Malacca to strengthen ties between the two countries.  Some of the men settled down  and  married  local  women  thus  starting  a new ethnic community  called  the  PERANAKAN.

“Peranakan refers to the descendants of the early Chinese community who settled in the Malay Archipelago and who has integrated with the Malays in this region."

The men were called ‘Babas’ and the womenfolk ‘Nyonyas’.  While the menfolk could go about freely, the womenfolk of 
era went about their daily activities behind closed doors. Even if she came from a wealthy background, it was considered improper for a Nyonya to have a professional career back in the old days (such a thing was actually unheard of) and she had to find ways to occupy and improve herself.

The upbringing of a Nyonya, as eloquently described by art historian Dr. Khoo Joo Ee went something like this: she was guarded and confined to utter domesticity, spending all her time acquiring housekeeping skills. Tasks like sewing and
cooking were done over and over in order to prepare the Nyonya for her ultimate role – that of a perfect housewife.  If  her parents could afford it, the Nyonya was home tutored by British women. She never went anywhere without a 'bodyguard' in tow, and the only time an unwed Nyonya was seen in public was on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year.

Aside from lessons in wifely and home making duties, grooming and cooking, a Nyonya also learnt genteel crafts like flower making, embroidery, fashioning food covers, handkerchiefs, pillow ends, bags, assorted decorative items, and many other objects of beauty.

Given such a strict, letter-perfect and       unblemished upbringing, it was only natural that the Nyonya would be endowed with one very distinguishable feature – her  attention to the minutiae of everyday life, which encompassed everything she was responsible for. 
Her handicraft had to be perfect, meticulous, refined and beyond reproach; anything less would indicate sloppiness and reflect badly on herself.

As such, the making of the Nyonya’s beaded shoe was a meticulous exercise in patience and precision.  Crafting a well-made pair of beaded slippers was a time consuming affair, and the 'face' for each pair could take several months to complete. The maker had to possess an infinite amount of patience and perseverance, a steady hand, good eyesight and of course a flair for aesthetic creativity. 

Such shoes were ‘de rigueur’ for social occasions like weddings and reunions and woe betide a Nyonya who wore anything else with her coiffed hair, accessories, kebaya labuh or Nyonya kebaya! (traditional costumes of the Nyonyas)

The art of making these shoes are still kept alive today by the descendants of those who settled down in the Straits of Malacca centuries ago.  Designs have evolved in tandem with current fashion trends, but the precision in which the beads are hand-sewn to swatches of cloth  are  fiercely  maintained. 

The original kasut manik has metamorphosed into more modern designs like mules, open-toes, cross-straps and heels. Whatever shape or style they may assume, beaded shoes still exude an aura of magnificence and are exquisite engineered works of art. Unlike regular modern footwear which are cut from fabric and sewn together, the kasut manik is a composition of jewel-like beads and crystals to form an amazingly intricate mosaic of textures and rainbow colours.

The art of kasut manik literally transforms footwear into objects of captivating and timeless beauty. Each pair is intricately designed and requires many hours of stitching, one bead at a time, hence the expensive price tags. 

A pair of shoes can take weeks to months to complete.  But these historically &culturally-rich shoes are worth every cent. Moreover, a good pair of beaded shoes lasts a very long time and can be re-soled many times over once the cloth wears out. These timeless pieces could even be passed down through the generations. Just like good old wine, the longer you keep it, the better it tastes.  Kasut manik is the perfect compliment to any elegant outfit, traditional or modern.

Steppin’ Out ( is proud to offer our customers our line of Nyonya beaded dance shoes.  Take a piece of art, history and culture onto the dance floor with you, whether it be for a party or a dance competition!

Monday, April 28, 2014

New Dance: GRATEFUL HEART (感恩的心)

Grateful Heart is written to the mandarin track 感恩的心 sung by Ouyang Fei Fei.  I was introduced to the song by my husband.  The music itself captured me the first time I heard it.  Then the lyrics blew me away as I began to understand what it was trying to convey (with heaps of help from Google Translate. LOL!)

I hope I have done justice to it with my choreography.  I've tried to keep the steps as uncomplicated as possible to cater to all level of line dancers.  

Mother's Day is just around the corner and I feel this song is so appropriate that I'd like to dedicate the dance to all mothers on this special day.

The stepsheet is included below.  I hope you'll enjoy the choreography.

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY (in advance!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

August 2013: My Latest Choreography

Here it is finally!  My latest dance!

I did the choreography and wrote the stepsheet towards the second half of July.  Tested it, and rewrote, and tested it again.  Had two versions going at one time, but finally still liked the original version better :D

Just shared the dance with the FunStompers yesterday at their weekly jamming session at Mont Kiara. Came back, added in the optional ending and voila!  the stepsheet is done!

Was having a bit of trouble translating the Chinese title into English.  Finally gave up on a direct translation and decided to use the name of the singer instead, as tribute to him and in his memory.  Here is the stepsheet.....  Hope you enjoy the dance. :D

Monday, July 22, 2013

偏偏喜欢你 (JUST LOVE YOU) by Danny Chan

It's been so long since I posted in this blog of mine.  Posting in Facebook is so much more convenient :p

I have recently just completed a dance to the above song by Danny Chan.  In English, it's called JUST LOVE YOU (or as I prefer....STILL LOVE YOU)

Here are the lyrics in Chinese (Cantonese) and also the translation in English.


* 愛已是負累相愛似受罪

Just Love You

Melancholy cannot be dispersed, depression cannot be waved away.
Why is there only emptiness in my heart?
I've lost all feeling, total complete loss.
The hatred and worry in my bosom cannot be removed.
Why do you always utter those same words?
Why can't my heart die?
I know that our love is over, everything feels wrong.
Why do I then still love you?
‎*Love has been a burden, loving you is like a punishment.
The bottom of my heart, right now, is full of bitter tears.
Drunk with feelings of our old love, yet am afraid to continue pursuing it now.
Yet my heart keeps wanting to see you.
Why do I always keep thinking of the past?
Why is it that you can’t remember even just a bit?
**Feelings have been lost, love has also gone,
Why do I then still love you?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Day in Tokyo (24-04-12)

Hiro called early in the morning to say that he'd decided to take me to view Mt Fuji as the weather is behaving itself...clear showers.  I'm to meet him downstairs at 9:30am. I was already packed and ready when he called, so all I had to do was to make sure all my stuff were in order and accounted for, carry them to the lift, down to the lobby, and arrange my checkout.

I left my luggage with the concierge and went to the coffee house for a quick breakfast.  The breakfast buffet line had the usual spread every morning.  The center buffet table would feature hard-boiled eggs, omelette, mini sausages, hash browns, fried chicken meat, a japanese light stew with radish, and a fried mix of vegetables. At the end of this line one would find fresh plain yogurt and various toppings like strawberry, honey, etc, on the side.

Lined along the three sides of the wall at the buffet are are various stations.  Starting from the right and continuing in a U-shape around one side of the coffee house, would be the bread station, followed by the salad and fresh fruits area.  Next to it, the beverages station.  There you can make yourself a cup of coffee or choose to start your day with some coca-cola from the table top vending machine. can choose the healthier option of fresh fruit juice or plain water.

The station just next to that is the desserts spread.  Another two tables following that served some local dish.  I have no idea what it was because everything was labelled in Japanese. The last station, placed perpendicular to the one before it had rice and pots of soup.  The only soup I was familiar with is the miso soup and that's the one I took everyday :)

My usual breakfast fare is one bun or 2 slices of baguette with healthy dollops of butter :)...some cherry tomatoes & grapes....hash browns, omelette, vegetables, miso soup and japanese rice (did I mention I love japanese rice?)  I tried the fruit juices the first morning but found it too tangy.  Instead, I'd get a glass of water and add in my Fitline energy drink powder (Fitline Activize) to kick-start my day. 

Hiro arrived on the dot and we loaded my luggage into his car.  The drive to Mt Fuji would take approximately 1.5 - 2 hours depending on traffic and weather conditions.  At the moment, weather conditions were great!  

Notice the number plate on Hiro's car?
A dancer through and through :)

Scenes along the road leading out of Tokyo area

After driving for a bit, Hiro decided to take a rest at an R&R area in Ashigara.  While he grabbed a cup of coffee from Starbucks, I browsed through the small supermarket inside the building.  I bought a keychain for Justin (my 2nd son; he collects keychains) and two pocket-size sewing kits.  I especially liked the sewing kit because it has a mini pair of scissors inside.  

Parking area at the R&R
As we entered the parking lot, I noticed signages indicating
spots where electric cars can plug in and recharge.  Electric cars?......
The main building housing small food outlets, Starbucks,
a mini supermarket, souvenir corner and convenience store.
Row of food stalls
My snack.  Deep-fried minced meat coated
with breadcrumbs..on a stick ;)
Grinning from ear to ear.
Nothing like a cup of hot Starbucks coffee &
sitting under the sun to make Hiro a happy man. :D

Refreshed from the rest, we pushed off once more and before long Hiro told me to keep a watch out for Mt Fuji.  "There, there! Can you see it?"   I looked out my side of the window and after a while I saw a white peak peeking out over the sea of trees we were driving past.

First glimpse of Mt Fuji
Still slightly obscured by trees
Gasp! My first full view of it just blew me away.

When the mountain finally came into full view, the scene was priceless.  I couldn't stop snapping away at it with my camera.  I was awed and humbled at the same time.  In 2008, when I was here, the mountain was covered by clouds.  This time I got to see it in it's full glory and I consider myself truly, truly lucky.

Hiro wanted to drive up one of the roads leading to trekking paths so that I could get a closer look at the majestic mountain but alas, it was closed.  Hiro explained that it's most likely because there was still a lot of snow on the road and they closed for safety reasons.

So we drove to Kawaguchiko instead to view the mountain and sakura blossoms.  There are 5 lakes surrounding Mt Fuji (aka Fujiyama or Fujisan), but Hiro said Kawaguchiko is the most scenic.

Sakura trees in the foreground, just blossoming.  Buds could still be seen.  
Lake Kawaguchi (Kawaguchi-ko)

Upon reaching the lake area, we noticed that many people had also come to view the just-blossoming sakura trees and Fujisan.  Many more visitors will be expected during the weekend, said Hiro.  Free parking areas were prepared all along the road, and attendants were on hand to direct traffic.

Stalls selling handicraft and freshly cooked local food/snacks dotted the path leading up to the lakeside giving the area a festive feel.  Hiro bought me a name-stamp, made from clay and shaped into a cute cat figure, featuring my name 'Mei' in Hiragana.  Thank you Hiro, I love it! :D

Handicraft stalls
Food/Snacks stalls
Path leading to lakeside
Beautiful sakura blossoms
Lakeside, lined with blossoming sakura trees on the right
and pink moss (a flowering ground cover) on the left.

My favourite pix of the mountain and the beautiful sakura blossoms.
Two of nature's beauties in one snapshot.

It was about time for lunch.  Hiro wanted to have lunch at his favourite Italian restaurant in this area but he said it closes at 2pm so we'd have to hurry.  When he brought Niels and Hsiao Ling here last week, the restaurant had already closed for the day.

Scenes of the area as we drove around Kawaguchiko
to the restaurant.

Upon reaching the restaurant, we saw that it was not bustling with activity as an open restaurant would be during lunch time.  It wasn't 2pm yet, so it couldn't possibly have closed for the day... or could it?

Hiro was perplexed....why is it closed?  He got down to investigate further but the restaurant was definitely not operating and no sign or notice was placed anywhere to explain why it was not open for business.  
Walking towards the restaurant to investigate further.
Hiro, not too happy about the closed restaurant... lol

We drove back to the lakeside where we had seen a very nice and cosy cafe called La Boheme.  It's a big white bungalow converted into a cafe, with a lovely patio and a big lawn in front.  Beautifully decorated in the style of an English country cottage with bright splashes of spring flowers everywhere.

La Boheme

Lovely interior decor...
.....and floral arrangement
The front lawn
Hiro selected Arabiata spaghetti for his main meal while I opted for Carbonara.  We were served a delicious salad as entree/starters, followed by the main meal, and then fresh fruits for dessert.
Fresh greens

Love the burst of yellow.  So cheerful!

Soon it was time to leave or I might be late checking in for my flight home.  On the way back we passed many signboards with the words 'Aokigahara' and I asked Hiro what it was because the signs seem to be pointing to the forest of trees on one side of the road.  Hiro explained that Aokigahara means literally 'a sea of trees'.  He continued to say that one can easily get lost in there and because of this, many people go there to commit suicide. 

This is what wikipedia has on Aokigahara...  
"Aokigahara (青木ヶ原?), also known as the Sea of Trees (樹海 Jukai?), is a 35-square-kilometre (14 sq mi) forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest contains a number of rocky, icy caverns, a few of which are popular tourist destinations. Due to the wind-blocking density of the trees and an absence of wildlife, the forest is known for being eerily quiet.
The forest has a historic association with demons in Japanese mythology and is a popular place for suicides; 54 completed the act in 2010,despite numerous signs, in Japanese and English, urging people to reconsider their actions. 
Aokigahara is the world’s second most popular suicide location after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge."

The drive back was uneventful.  In fact I dozed off! :P  Traffic was smooth and I got to the airport with ample time to spare, but not before one last stop at an R&R nearby for Hiro's Starbucks coffee :)

Hiro dropped me off at the departure hall while he went to park his car. As I'd earlier done my check-in online, I only needed to check-in my luggage.  I headed straight for the MAS counter, dropped off my bag and collected my boarding pass.  A few minutes later, Hiro met me there and we chatted a bit more.  Finally we said our goodbyes and I headed upstairs to see what they had to offer for dinner.  I wanted to have another bowl of ramen before I left Japan but unfortunately, all the food outlets were closing.  It was just 8pm!

Left with no choice and a hungry tummy, I went to the only outlet that was still open. McDonald's.  McDonald's in Malaysia only serves beef, fish and chicken burgers.  Here, they have McPork!.  That, to me, was a novelty and therefore a must-try.

Looks just like any other McD burger


I finished my meal and headed straight to the check-in gates.  Just before boarding the sky train to the departure lounge, I stopped by one more shop to buy some compact umbrellas for my mom.  Price ranged from 500-525 yen each.

Sigh....goodbye Japan.  I had a wonderful time these past seven days.  I hope to return soon!

Sweets & cookies from Japan

To all the friends I met and made at Hiro's 12th Tokyo Crazy Country Dance Festival...

Let's meet again....and soon! :D