…dreaming, in a city, of light & colour…


The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heavens, a.k.a. Mexico Cathedral (1573 – 1813), at the Plaza del Zòcalo – the main square of Mexico City. It sits atop an Aztec complex linked to the nearby Templo Mayor.

These past couple of weeks I’ve been in a dream of a city… an imperial city… wandering its streets, admiring its architecture and its art, appreciating the warmth of its people even as I remain wary of the danger that lurks just around the corner.

And it seemed to me that this was a city that couldn’t be further away than any city I’d ever known, with its rich, colourful culture and cuisine, surprisingly influenced by (far-flung) contact with the East; by way of those fabulous Nao de China, or Manila Galleons – treasure ships! – that took precious commodities from China and Japan, via the entrepot port of Manila, to Acapulco and then on to Here.

2 - Biombo Macau

A biombo, or folding screen, depicting Noah and the Flood. Collection of the Museo Soumaya, Mexico City. The screen was made in Macau for the Hispanic market, and brought to Mexico by way of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, which the Mexicans call the Nao de China (Chinese Galleons). Mexican biombos are directly copied from/inspired by Japanaese namban byobu, or 屏风, in Chinese.

3 - Chocolate Paraphernalia

Chinese exportware used for storage (left) and consumption (right) of chocolate. Ming & Qing Dynasties. Collection of the Museo Nacional del Virreinato (the Viceroyalty of New Spain), Tepotzotlán. An entire tradition of chinaware arose in Mexican for the consumption of chocolate, which was a thoroughly Latin American pastime. To the left, these porcelain jars with metal tops were very commonly used in Mexico to store spices, or very often, chocolate. To the right, chocolate was poured into the central, perforated cup and allowed to flow onto the dish, where biscuits would be placed to soak up the chocolate. The piece on the left has lotus motifs while the piece to the right is shaped like a lotus or scallop shell.

4 - Talavera

Talavera, Collection of Frans Mayer Museum. Talavera is a Mexican tradition of (often blue and white) ceramic that clearly copies from/is inspired by Chinese export blue and white porcelain. The most important centre of making Talavera is Puebla. It is one of a few important Mexican traditions that were strongly inspired by the East due to the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade.

Though physically in the City, the City itself was a distraction, and therefore it was never clear if I was truly in this City, or if the City itself was a dream, so caught up was I in my own deeper reverie, my own deeper and occasionally confusing, occasionally painful searching for the self.

For, of course, that’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks since signing off on my 440th blogpost here: searching for the self.

It’s been impossible to concentrate.

5 - Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor, Mexico City. The Templo Mayor was the most important temple of the Mexica (or Aztec) people, in the city of Tenochtitlan (present day Mexico City). The temple and city had been demolished by the Spanish conquistadors, and subsequently built over. Excavations started in the 1900s but it took till the late 1970s for a full excavation of the site to be authorised – an entire city block had to be demolished to reveal the ruins of the temple. It was worth it. The site is simply mind-blowing. The on-site Templo Mayor Museum is also excellent.

That chance encounter in Bali revealed to me how the source of the issues I’d been grappling with went further back than I had hitherto thought, and with some help I’ve been delving deep, resuscitating dead memories, re-encountering that which I had buried so long ago.

For starters, I realised and acknowledged that the situation with my childhood and both my parents was far more complex than I had remembered and will perhaps continue to be; that my obsessive pursuit of perfection and my constant need to please were a result of my own needs always being subservient, never being met; that Home for me was always fraught with fear and danger, and my own considering of it as “home” (with all its positive implications) these past 20 years was ironically a result of systematic, Pavlovian conditioning (I won’t elaborate).

[As an aside: I happened to have binge-watched three seasons of a marvellous MARVEL TV series called LEGION, marvelling at how the Lead Character’s predicament – the monster ensconced in his mind since he was a child, conditioning him to grow up to be a confused and broken adult – seemed to resonate so strongly with me.]

I now know that what I’ve always craved, was simply a sense of being safe: safe from the world outside, safe from the world inside, safe in and from my own skin.

And since there was never anyone there to protect me, I had to protect myself.

6 - Olmec

Olmec Head (San Lorenzo Colossal Head 6), Collection of the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City. The Olmec civilisation is an ancient civilisation, far older than that of the Aztecs (or Mexica). It developed in Mexico between 1500 – 400 BC.

I did so with an armour that consisted of an impenetrable veneer of beauty and politeness; a wall of roses with thorns hidden just underneath – the forest of thorns that protected the Princess Aurora as she slept her dreamless sleep, waiting for the Prince to arrive…. La belle au bois dormant… not knowing that the Prince was never going to arrive, because there was no Prince in the first place.

And so I slept on, dreaming of a City; another city, in which everything was picture perfect, and the life I led was the very epitome of perfection – loving, supportive family and partner, ideal job, everything in its right place.

Except it was all a dream… a construct doomed to crumble…

…and suddenly I find myself awakening…

…to what?

7 - Bellas Artes

Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), designed and constructed between 1904 – 1913, and again between 1932 – 1934. This resulted in the exterior of the building being in Neoclassical and Art Nouveau style, while the interior is in Art Deco style.

8 - Azulejos

Casa de los Azulejos, dates to the 18th century. This is the former residence of the counts of the Valle de Orizaba. The house was covered in Azulejo (talavera) tiles from Puebla in 1737. Today, the building houses a restaurant.

9 - Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, turn of the 19th century. This building was originally a departmental store, but was transformed by the owner into the city’s Grand Hotel in 1968. The building is best known for its gorgeous Art Nouveau interior, and the spectacular Tiffany-style stained glass ceiling. It stands at the edge of the Old Portal de Mercaderes (the former market district) at the Plaza del Zòcalo.

10 - Gran Hotel

The breath-taking Tiffany-style, Art Nouveau stained glass ceiling of the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico.

*  *  *

Even as my slumber-heavy eyes awakened inevitably to the light, the world around me also awakened – so it seemed – to a kind of chaos, plagued, as it were, with a bug variously called the Wuhan virus, the novel coronavirus and now the COVID-19.

Ensconced in my dream of a city, far, far away from the epicenter of the imminent – so people thought – pandemic, I watched and observed as people and nations became paranoid and vigilant in turn, as best-laid plans for the year crumbled in the wake of something beyond anyone’s control; as it became increasingly clear that what the virus symbolised was the need for a New World Order to emerge from the eventual-ruins of the world-order-before(-COVID-19).

11 - Murals

Diego Riviera, The History of Mexico (1929 – 1935), National Palace, Mexico City. This is the largest and the most famous mural done by Diego Riviera in the National Palace. The mural was government-commissioned to criticise the Spanish, and to celebrate the Mexican Revolution and overthrow of dictatorship, a.k.a. to proclaim a new order.

At the museum, our next exhibition had to be postponed as it was a collaboration with the Chinese, and the latter could not travel. This meant all exhibitions for the next 3 years – we planned our calendar 3 years in advance – had to be postponed. This also meant there was now no urgency to travel in preparation for upcoming exhibitions, and so all my trips for the next few months were canceled.

Suddenly, I found out myself experiencing a sort of pause… a breather from the constant swirl and churn of work and activity.

Suddenly, there was time to think.

And the first thing I reflected on, in this moment of respite, was how one could have the best-laid plans, but the Universe had its own Order, that trumped all.

12 - Aztec Calendar

Aztec Sun Stone (Piedra del Sol), 1502 – 1520. Collection of the National Museum of Anthropology. This monolithic piece was once believed to depict the Aztec calendar, but it has since been deciphered and actually depicts the Aztec cosmogony, centred on the Sun.

13 - Aztec Gods

Xochipilli, Aztec God of art, music, flowers and beauty. Collection of the National Museum of Anthropology. “Xochitl” means flower and “pilli” means “child” – so the name means, literally, “flower-child”. This statue particularly spoke to me during my visit to the museum – I had no idea who he was. I suppose now I know who he is, it makes complete sense. =)

14 - Tepostotlan

Interior, Church of San Francisco Javier (St Francis Xavier), Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán. The spectacular main altar of this Jesuit church, completely covered in gold leaf, was the highlight of this day trip to Tepotzotlán. Despite their gods and cosmogony, the Aztecs were unprepared for the Spanish Conquistadors, who brought a new world order of Gold, Greed, Violence and Empire to Tenochtitlan.

15 - Closeup

Close-up of one of the side altars of the Church of San Francisco Javier, depicting St Ignatius of Loyola. One of Saint Ignatius’ main attributes is a book with the letters IHS on it.

In the years since I became an adult, I had believed that my world needed to be scrupulously circumscribed; that what I needed, above all else, was STRUCTURE (in capital letters), self-imposed in the form of goals, strategies, frameworks, deadlines, daily and weekly schedules, etc etc.

That my work-day was meticulously scheduled would seem self-evident. But even on weekends, I was unable to function, or at least feel comfortable, without the Saturdays and Sundays being similarly, scrupulously planned out (literally, with activities slotted into my calendar): 8 am – Run, 930 am – work on blogpost, 11 am – grab lunch, 1230 – meet-up with friend… and so on and so forth till bedtime.

Again, with professional help, I have since realised that the obsessive Structuring and Scheduling was a form of escape; a way of filling in the time, to leave no gaps within which my pesky inner voice – the voice of my parents that had become my own – could tell me, punitively, how I was being lazy; how I couldn’t possibly be doing nothing at this moment; that I needed to work hard in order to succeed, in order to be beautiful and perfect, in order to be loved by anyone.

And so I structured, and I scheduled, and I worked, and I worked, to the extent that I even penciled in time for “relaxation”, and relaxation itself became a sort of work.  Reading on the couch – which I used to enjoy as a child – became a kind of achievement: an “I MUST finish reading these books I PLANNED to read”, rather than enjoyment.

And there was no spontaneity, no serendipity, no possibility of encounter in my tightly-structured and -scheduled life. Just a continuous, circular, circumscribing… a constant, reassuring certainty… even as I was ostensibly “exploring” the world on my Grand Tour, which, unbeknownst to anyone, was always scrupulously planned and scheduled such that there was never any time or opportunity, really, for real, spontaneous exploring and relaxation.

16 - Puebla

View across the rooftops of the city of Puebla, also known as Puebla de Zaragoza, or Puebla de los Ángeles. The view was taken in from the spectacular rooftop terrace of the Museo Amparo. Puebla was an exceptionally beautiful city and I regretted only visiting it on a day-trip. Definitely worth a return visit and a weeklong stay.

17 - Biblioteca

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana, 1646, Puebla. This is the first and the oldest public library in the whole of the Americas. It was founded by Juan de Palafox de Mendoza, Bishop of Puebla. The library interior was finished in 1773 and it is simply stunning.

18 - Meseo Amparo

The Museo Amparo was one of my favourite museums on the trip. This is a view of its contemporary wing, appended onto a 16th century hospital building and an 18th century residence. It is one of the most successful examples of a museum refurbishment involving the appending of a contemporary wing to historic structures. The museum itself is simply exquisite and the artworks are exemplary. It maintains a programme, also, of contemporary Mexican art commissions.

19 - Manila

Travelling chest with the earliest surviving depiction of Manila, 1600s. Collection of the Museo José Luis Bello y González, Puebla. This was one of the highlights of the visit to Puebla, and it sits in yet another gorgeous museum – a house museum this time, with an amazing collection of Asian Export Art. The Museum Director was extremely hospitable and kind – in actual fact ALL the Museum Directors we met in Puebla were so warm and kind!!

With the virus in full-play, faced with an enforced pause, or breather, in the coming weeks, I sat in a random Starbucks on a street corner, in the far-off Imperial City where I was, staring into the distance, unsure of what to do, or if there was a need to do anything at all…

Sipping at my latte, I simply observed…

Outside, beyond the glass walls of my glass box, a sort of street carnival spontaneous happened. A mariachi band had popped up out of nowhere on the pedestrianized high street of the city’s main shopping precinct. A couple started dancing on the street, watched by a crowd that thronged bigger and bigger… It was a Sunday, after all, and in the afternoon, after a late lunch, people were emerging from their homes and the restaurants, to take in the sun and to generally enjoy themselves.

Just in front of me, beyond the glass walls of the Starbucks/goldfish-bowl I was in, a young teenaged couple – a girl and a boy – walked into view. They were both randomly dressed in Spiderman costume – something I found particularly amusing. To the pulsing Latin music in the background, they embraced and kissed, right in front of me, in full view of everybody – Spiderman kissing Spiderman.

That’s it, I thought to myself, tossing my coffee cup into the trash. I’m emerging from my goldfish bowl to explore the streets.

I had hitherto only explored the street leading in the direction of my hotel. The Street of Certainty.

But what about the other part of the street? I thought. The street that led away from the hotel, that extended to some uncertain, hitherto unexplored, possibly scary, maybe beautiful destination?  

Striding out of Starbucks, I stood momentarily at the street corner, mariachi music playing as cinematic soundtrack. There were two choices before me: I could take the street back to the hotel – walk the familiar path, in other words, and spend the rest of the afternoon in my room. Or I could head toward where I had never been before, to see what lay in that direction; to see what lay in store.

The first path was the path of familiarity. In taking that path, I would risk nothing, give up nothing. And I would perhaps, gain nothing new in return.

The other path was the path of Risk. I had to take a leap. I had to give up control completely and to just go with the flow.  And maybe I would discover something. Maybe I would discover nothing at all. Maybe I would be striding headlong into danger. Who knew?

It was all or nothing.

I had to decide.

20 - Cafe Tacuba

Café de Tacuba, opened in 1912, is one of the oldest restaurants in Mexico City. It is housed in a former convent, and stepping into it is like stepping back in time. The food was also awesome – this was a recommendation of His Excellency, the Mexican Ambassador in Singapore.

21 - Soumaya

The space-age silhouette of the Museo Soumaya, Mexico City. Museo Soumaya is a private museum helmed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. It has an amazingly comprehensive collection of modern European and Mexican fine art, as well as decorative art.

22 - National Gallery

The Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL) opened in 1982 in the former, neo-classical Palace of Communications. It happened to be the once-a-month Noche de Museos (Night of Museum) when I visited – when the museums opened till late – so I was given a tour of the museum by a curatorial colleague who only recently used to work there.

Taking a look at the still-kissing Spider-couple, I knew which length of the street I had to choose.

I walked in that direction, without hesitation.

And as if by magic – or perhaps it was the Universe making a point – as soon as I walked down the path of uncertainty, I was very quickly rewarded.

I stumbled upon a whole Museum!! One I had no idea existed, one that sat literally around the corner from my hotel, but which I had not even realised was there!!!

That was how myopic I had been; how limited my whole life had been!

In the Museum was an exhibition of contemporary Mexican craft – an epic, mind-blowing exhibition full of the most beautiful things; things I never thought man could create. I spent the rest of the afternoon giddily meandering through this exhibition – this feast for the eyes and the soul – taking countless pictures of the objects with my smartphone, peering over details of flowers, birds, skulls and crosses, losing myself in the surfeit of colour and materials, imbibing all I could about the traditional crafts of the city, and how they were being preserved and innovated on.

What a delightful surprise!!!

As it so happens, that afternoon spent in the (Banamex – El Banco Nacional de México) Museum, admiring these beautiful objets d’art, happened to be my happiest afternoon in that dream of a city, that Imperial City, la Ciudad de México, aka CDMX.

And so it was in this far-flung dream of a city; furthest away from my own; far, far away from any city I had ever been to, that I realised the following: only when one laid one’s self bare; laid one’s self open and vulnerable to uncertainty and thus experience; only when one decides to take a leap into the unknown, would one allow for the possibility of encountering unprecedented joy, beauty and wonder.

Dear Kennie, a new inner voice emerged to tell myself, in dulcet tones… It’s alright, you know. No one’s there to judge you anymore. So just relax, go with the flow and be surprised by what the Universe has in store for you. You deserve it. 

And indeed I do!

23 - BAnamex

The Citibanamex Culture Palace, formerly the Iturbide Palace (1779 – 1785). This is a private museum and foundation set up by the Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex) to promote Mexican art and culture. The Palace of Iturbide was a Mexican Baroque-style palace established by the Count of San Mateo Valparaiso. It is just gorgeous, inside and out, and it sat a mere 5 minutes away from my hotel, without my noticing it was there!

24 - Museo Banamex

The Citibanamex Culture Palace presently has an exhibition, Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular Mexicano (Grand Masters of Mexican Popular/Folk Art), presenting the Foundation’s collection of contemporary Mexican folk art and craft. It was beautifully staged and designed, and very well curated. This, for example, was a contextual display of contemporary talavera.

25 - Banamex ceramics

More contemporary ceramics at the Citibanamex Culture Palace. The exhibition was both mind-blowing and breath-taking in scale, scope and beauty.

26 - View

Peek from the second-floor down to the first-floor. The Palace itself was just gorgeous.

*  *  *

In the last year and a bit, I’ve been laying myself bare on this blog and on social media, using the blog as a kind of journal, in order to better process heartbreak, change and growth.

I’ve been told, on occasion, that I’m “so brave to expose my vulnerability”.

Maybe so.

I’ve exposed my vulnerability partly as a form of self-defense… to remind the people around me, especially those I work with, that I am only human. That beneath the veneer of an ever-smiling, ever-forward-looking Museum Director, I’m a human being. And human beings have emotions, moments of weakness and vulnerability. This is what it means to be human.

And so indeed, exposing vulnerability is perhaps a sort of strength, because in admitting my own vulnerability, I am admitting that I am a whole human being; I am allowing myself to be WHOLE, which is not the same as perfect.

Whole assumes imperfection, whereas perfect excises the less-than.

In the process of allowing myself to be whole, and understanding that I am whole, I am suddenly made to see that I don’t need those self-imposed defenses anymore; or at least, I should more closely examine those self-imposed defenses, in order that I may consider which parts of those self-imposed defenses I can discard, and which parts I can retain.

Structure is always good; but overdoing Structure is not. A new Order needs to emerge, organically, from the ruins of the ME-Before.

Roses are good, but a forest of thorns, is perhaps, not quite. In today’s world, princes no longer brave thorns to rescue slumbering princesses. The princesses themselves need no rescuing. They clear their own self-assured paths through the riotously blossoming rose forest, to merge whole and wholly-awakened in the world outside, ready for experience and for love.

27 - Roses Banamex

Contemporary Mexican Lacquer Work at the Citibanamex Culture Palace. I love roses and flowers in general, and this was one of my favourite pieces.

28 - Golden Pear

A golden lacquered pear, with birds and flowers all over it. Love it!!! Citibanamex Culture Palace.

29 - TExtile

Spectacular contemporary textiles – in this case, embroidery – on the second floor. Citibanamex Culture Palace.

30 - Day of the Dead

More contemporary lacquer work inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos). In Mexican culture, death is seen as part of the natural cycle of human life and the Day of the Dead is a major holiday here.

Speaking of roses…

The most important thing I’ve discovered in this year of processing, and in these couple of months of self-reflection since Bali, is that I am LIGHT, COLOUR and LIFE.

I repeat: I am LIGHT, COLOUR and LIFE.

I am not Darkness.

My spirit is ultimately strong and luminous.

And I express this vitality and luminosity through festooning myself, literally, with flowers.

My friends and colleagues will know that for months now, I’ve taken to exclusively wearing floral shirts; and for much, much longer before, I’ve had a penchant for adorning my suits with floral ties and pocket squares.

This is because, to me, FLOWERS, more than anything else on earth, represent LIFE.

And I want to ALWAYS be BURSTING with LIFE. I want to throw my head back and find myself metamorphosing rapidly into an exuberantly flowering tree à la Daphne.

In my dreams, I see myself as a walking (Persian or Mughal) garden, replete with flowers, bees, birds, and courting lovers with their wine and mandolins.

When I dream, it is always in Technicolour. Never black and white or in shades of grey.

My cup is always at least half-full… its water succoring a grand bouquet of roses.

And so here’s to a new beginning: 在一个风和日丽的早晨…  Once upon a time, on a bright and sunny morning…


Happy 2020.

31 - Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles for breakfast. Oh, did I mention the food? It was awesome.

32 - Tapas

Spanish tapas for lunch. This was the first time I had ever tried elvers – they were simply delicious!!!

34 - Steak

Argentinian-style steak for dinner. OMG – the meat was to die for.

33 - ME

ME – going about my business, and allowing a new order to emerge from within.

35 - Quetsazlcoatl

Quetzalcóatl, also known as the plumed, or feathered, serpent. Collection of the National Museum of Anthropology. Quetzalcóatl, the Aztec god of wind, air and learning, is one of the most important deities in Aztec tradition. Legend tells of him coming from across the sea to the Mexica peoples. It has been widely believed that the Aztec King Moctezuma II regarded Hernan Cortes’ and the Spanish arrival in Tenochtitlan as to be Quetzalcóatl’s second coming.

36 - MExico biombo

Baroque-style Mexican biombo depicting an early view of Mexico City. Collection of the Museo Soumaya. The other side of the biombo depicts the Conquest of Mexico. Biombos are Mexican folding screens that are directly inspired by Japanese byobu, or folding screens. They are a key instance of how the Americas were influenced by the cultures of the East, by way of the Manila Galleons that took treasures of China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia, by way of Manila, across the Pacific, to Acapulco in Mexico.

37 - CDMX

CDMX – Ciudad de México. Plaza del Zòcalo, with the Mexican flag in the foreground, and Mexico Cathedral as backdrop.


About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, Landmarks & History, Museums, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to …dreaming, in a city, of light & colour…

  1. Beautiful writings and photos!

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