April 25, 2011

Beautiful Tibetan pastures and villages around Daocheng, Sichuan

Locations: Rupuchaka Hot Springs, Sichuan, China (28° 46′ 0″ N, 100° 19′ 0″ E)
Date: 2 June 2004; 5.30pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

This Hot Springs is a few km from Daocheng, which is the gateway to the Yading Reserve. Yading Reserve is a major Tibetan pilgrimage site with 3 mountains considered sacred by Tibetan Buddhists. The Reserve has many snow-peak mountains and alpine lakes and is especially pretty in autumn. Like most beauty spots in China which are converted to Reserve, the whole process is messy. After the pasture has been converted to a Reserve, the activities of the people who lives there are heavily curtailed; but compensation was agreed based on a small % of the door intake. However apparently nothing was paid out and there were racial tension (the Reserve operators is a well-connected Han company while the Reserve and surrounding area is predominantly Tibetan) resulting in a couple of deaths. As a result the Reserve was closed to the public for a few years as the security establishment sort things out (which is normally not a pleasant thing in China). It has now been reopened for a couple of years. However with the recent deadly protests across Tibetan areas and the current protests at Kirti Monastery (which resulted in Tibetan deaths), Yading Reserve might be closed to foreigners soon as China customarily applies sledgehammer approach to balcking out of information about domestic problems.


April 18, 2011

Buddha statues are everywhere in Thailand and Sri Lanka

Location: Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand (13° 44′ 47″ N, 100° 29′ 37″ E)
Date: 24 June 2010, 1.35pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Canon 70-200/f4.0

One of the things I dislike about reading guidebooks such as Lonely Plant and Rough Guides is that they seem to always focus on one element of the places that they wrote about. If you read the book on Vietnam, the pages are filled with Pagoda this, Pagoda that and when one come to Thailand (apart from the islands), it is this Wat and that Wat. I guessed the guidebooks are written for a certain audience and that audience is people like me. I would be much more excited to read about things that are unique and local- sights and things that locals do- such as this article about Singapore. I do not suggest that it is inappropriate or irrelevant to focus on highlights such as local places of worship & endearment, it’s just that the average independent tourist- the target of such guidebooks- is more keen on discovering local going-ons than knowing where ALL the pagodas, wats etc are.


April 14, 2011

If you like to see minorities in their traditional costumes, go to the markets

Location : Bac Ha Sunday Market, Vietnam (22° 33' 0 N 104° 16' 0 E)
Date : 5 June 2005; 9.20am
Camera : Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

I always try to visit the local markets wherever I travelled to. One reason for doing so is to satisfy my stomach as quite often the market is where one finds most of the unique local snacks and food at very cheap prices. It is also a good place to see and understand what the local people eats, what’s special fresh produce for the region and so on. However one of the major reasons I visit such markets especially the all-important weekly (or whatever regularity) market/bazaar is to mingle and see the ethnic people in their traditional costumes. In most of the remoter places, there are no regular morning market but only once on a certain day of the week or month. During this day, people who lives in the nearby villages will congregate here to buy, sell, eat, gossip and meet up with friends. And ethnic people in remote places also normally still wears their traditional costume every day. So whether the Yi’s of Yunnan, Uighurs of Xinjiang or Kashmiris Muslims, Market Day is an important date in their weekly or monthly routine.


April 12, 2011

Islam is very much alive in the world’s most populous country

Location: Kuqa Grand Mosque, Xinjiang, China (41°43'11"N, 82°55'27"E)
Date: 22 May 1999; 2.30pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with negatives and scanned

Only 2.5% of China’s population is Muslim, however she has the 9th largest Muslim population in the world. China’s Muslim broadly fall into 2 large groups:

  • the bigger grouping of Muslim population of the Uighurs and other Central Asian ethnic groups concentrated in the western provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu
  • the Hui minority who are descendants of centuries-old inter-marriage between Arab settlers and Chinese, spread all over China.

The former still retain very strong Muslim traditions and practices that are similar to those in Central Asian and other Muslim-majority countries while the Hui minority has incorporated many aspects of Chinese culture. Example of the subtle differences can be found in their mosque architecture- while the former’s mosque are simple and “strong” to withstand the elements, similar to those of Central Asian countries, the Hui’s mosque are sometimes indistinguishable from a Chinese pagoda.

A fine example of the former is the Kuqa Mosque, the second largest mosque in Xinjiang.

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April 10, 2011

The DNA-like double-helix stairs of the Vatican

Location: Vatican Museums, Italy (41° 54′ 23″ N, 12° 27′ 16″ E)
Date: 23 March 2006; 10.35am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

The Vatican Museums’ spiral staircase is probably the most photographed and recognisable stairway in the world. The spiral stairs is actually two separate helixes, one leading up and the other leading down, that twist together in a double helix formation. the stairs is the exit from the Vatican Museum. It is especially popular because photography is forbidden in the amazing Sistine Chapel and this is like the last photographic opportunity in the Vatican. before one exits.


April 5, 2011

A unique bird describe as having a “Swiss Army Knife” beak

Location: Near Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand (44° 38′ 0″ S, 167° 51′ 0″ E)
Date: 21 May 2009, 4.40pm
Camera: Canon 300D with EF 70-200/f4 IS L

Kea is one of a very few alpine parrots in the world, and its only habitat is the South Island of NZ. It is a fairly big bird, measuring around 45-50cm and weighs an average of 1 kg. It is well-known for their curiosity and intelligence- it will peck and carry away any unguarded items, investigate backpacks, boots and so on. It is attracted by prospects of food scraps and have known to pry apart rubber parts of cars. So the next time you meet a kea in NZ, do not get too friendly or close to it and watch out for any loose hanging items.


April 3, 2011

This fountain “earns “ 3,000 euros a day!!

Location: Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy (41° 54′ 3.15″ N, 12° 28′ 59.4″ E)
Date: 2 April 2005; 7.40pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

There are many fountains in Rome; however the most visited and famous of all is probably the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is thronged by tourists day and night. One reason may be that it has featured in a few movies before. The key figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea (this go is common in many Italian fountains such as Bologna’s Neptune Fountain). He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. One of the common sight that one will see around the fountain is coin throwing by tourists. There is a legend that visitors throwing coins into the fountain are ensured a return to Rome. It is estimated that 3,000 euros in coins are thrown into the fountain each day. The coins collected had been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy.