Saturday, August 06, 2011

Updating the map

Back in 2005 I posted a map showing the countries of the world I have visited. From the time I visited Sri Lanka in 2003 up until this year I hadn't visited any new countries. However, in the past few months I have visited Japan and Singapore so it is time to update the map.

*create your own visited country map

One day in Singapore

Colorful Little India

On 26 July 2011 I spent a day in Singapore. The one day stopover was necessitated by the schedule of JetStar, which has a 22 hour gap in the arrival and departure times of its flights from Taipei and to Darwin. I arrived at the rather inconvenient time of around one o'clock in the morning.

I had booked a bed at The InnCrowd Hostel in Little India. After arriving there by taxi the check in was very efficient and I managed to get some sleep. The hostel provided free breakfast and wi-fi internet connection. It was a few years since I had last stayed in a hostel. This one was a good experience.

Giving blessings

I spent some time wandering around Little India in the morning. There was a busy stream of worshippers at a Hindu temple and I took some nice photos there. After that I went to a nearby restaurant where I had a delicious masala dosa. It was as good as I remember the ones in India. Overall Little India wasn't perhaps the same as India because it was much cleaner and less chaotic, but it still had a very strong Indian flavour.

Oyster omelette

I then spent some time wandering around the shopping area. I found a good market area for lunch. It had a wide variety of Southeast Asian, Chinese and Indian food on sale and mostly priced at S$5 or less. The variety, quality and reasonable prices of food in Singapore was the thing I liked most about it.

In the late afternoon I took the MRT to the airport. I found my JetStar flight was delayed but the airport terminal was comfortable enough to relax in and fill in the waiting time.

*More photos in the Singapore photoset at flickr.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Japan is amazing!!

Kyoto view

I have dreamed about visiting Japan for a long time. I finally made my dream come true by visiting Kyoto and Nara for five days. Japan was everything I ever imagined it to be and a whole lot more.

After arriving at the Kansai Airport I took a train to Kyoto. The train travelled with clockwork precision through the urban conglomeration of Osaka. The conductor bowed as he entered and exited the carriage. After arriving at Kyoto Station I wandered around the futuristic station for a while before catching a bus to my hotel. Although I only know a few words of Japanese I had no trouble finding the right bus and getting off at the correct stop.

Cycling and talking

The hotel I stayed at was in the north of Kyoto. It was in the midst of a residential area. After I arrived I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. I was truly impressed by the number of people riding bicycles and also the bicycle related infrastructure. These impressions were only reinforced over the next few days.

Daibutsu-den Hall

The next day I took a train to Nara. The huge parks and historical buildings were impressive. Tame deer wandering around the parks gave it a slightly surreal feel. The Daibutsu-den Hall is the worlds' largest wooden building and contains a very large and beautiful Buddha statue.

I also visited the Nara City Museum of Photography. I was deeply impressed by an exhibition of photos by Irie Taikichi  (入江 泰吉). The photos were mostly landscapes, but in each one the light, the color and the composition was just perfect. There was also another exhibition featuring photos of temple festivals in Japan. It made me eager to see these events for real.

View from Kiyomizu

The next day was dedicated to visiting some of Kyoto's many temples. I started with the beautiful Kiyomizu. The temple is constructed of wood and perched on a mountainside. There were great views over the city of Kyoto.

Two geisha

I then wandered along the picturesque narrow streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. It was here that I snapped a photo of two geisha. Actually I don't think they were real geisha, but just women dressed as geisha. Still they were a beautiful sight and the photo in many ways represents the idyllic and romantic image of Japan that existed in my mind.

Kodaiji Temple

The Kodai-ji Temple was another one of the beautiful temples I visited that day.

The Golden Pavillion

The Golden Pavillion or Kinkaku-ji is perhaps the most famous in Kyoto. It was the only place I went where I felt the place was crowded with tourists.

Everything's Zen

After visiting the Kinkaku-ji I went to the Ryoan-ji Temple which contains the famous stone garden.

The final place I visited that day was the Kyoto Museum for World Peace. As I arrived late in the day I didn't have enough time to look through all the exhibits. However, with the benefit of an English-language audio guide I still had a good experience. The museum dealt very frankly with the rise of militarism in Japan and its subsequent acts of aggression in the Second World War.

Path to Koto-in

The next day was my last full day in Kyoto. In the morning I went to visit Daitoku-ji. It is a large compound containing a number of Buddhist temples. The photo above shows the entrance to the Koto-in. It was a beautiful temple was set in the middle of a bamboo forest. It was like a world within a world within a world. The temple really gave me a deep appreciation for the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition. I was also deeply impressed by the stone gardens at Ryogen-in. I thought they were even better than the one I had visited at Ryoan-ji the day before.

Picture-story show

In the afternoon I visited the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It contains a huge library of manga from Japan as well as comic books from other countries around the world. The introduction to the museum says that manga is often regarded as a subculture. However, it has played a significant role in Japanese culture. Visiting a bookstore the next day and seeing the huge amount of space dedicated to manga I would say it is well and truly the mainstream in Japan.

At the museum I was lucky to see a performance of a picture story show. These were a popular form of children's entertainment in Japan until they were overtaken by television in the 1960s. The actor was very talented. Of course he did the show in Japanese, but he did throw in a few words of English here and there so I could get some idea of what was going on.

EVA Air at Kansai Airport

My trip came to an end the next day. I took a bus for the return trip to Kansai Airport where I caught an EVA flight back to Taipei. In a few days I had just scratched the surface of Japan, but I found that surface to be very beautiful, rich and amazing!

*More photos in the Kyoto and Nara photoset on Flickr.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kakadu Tour

A trip to Darwin to visit Ween and her new baby Max was the first time I had visited the Northern Territory. To see Kakadu National Park I chose to join a tour organised by 4wd Wilderness Adventures

Day 1 - 10 August 2008

I was picked up early in the morning from Ween's house and the Toyota Landcruiser troop carrier then headed out of town. We stopped at the Corroboree Park Tavern which was a chance to meet everyone. The people on the tour were Julia and Esmerelda from Spain, Sarah and Marion from France on a round the world trip, Penelope and Guillame from France who had been living in Sydney for the past two years, Kathrin from Germany and Damien an Australian electrician working at the Alcan refinery in Gove, NT. Our tour guide was Noni.

The first point of interest was the Corroboree Billabong where we went on a crocodile and wildlife viewing cruise. It was quite amazing to see so many crocodiles and the waterway was also teeming with birds.

We drove into Kakadu National Park via the Old Jim Jim Road and went to Maguk. A beautiful waterhole where we had a swim. We camped for the night at Gunlom and had time to climb up to the lookout and enjoy a great view and watch the sunset.

Day 2 - 11 August 2008

This day we hiked along Koolpin Gorge which is an area that requires a permit to visit. Once again I was struck by the amazing landscape. The sun was pretty hot in the afternoon but we had the chance to swim and cool off.

Day 3 - 12 August 2008

This day involved a hike up to the top of Jim Jim Falls. There was a bit of a climb up to the top of the escarpment and then a long walk through some dry and rocky country. The view from the top of the falls was quite amazing and there was a 220 metre vertical drop. I went for a swim up there, but the water felt very cold as it is in the shade most of the day.

After eating lunch up there we hiked down and then went to the bottom of the falls. There was a bit more of a crowd of people there, but it was a good place to relax for a while.

Day 4 - 13 August 2008

The morning began with a visit to Twin Falls. To get there involved a short boat trip through the gorge. The falls were spectacular although you couldn't swim there because of crocodile danger.

In the afternoon we visited the Warradjan Cultural Centre and it was great to finally start to learn something about the aboriginal culture and history of the area.

Later in the afternoon we went to the Anbangbang Billabong where there were plenty of birds to see. The 55-250 lens on my Canon 400d got a good workout. Then we hiked up to the Nawurlandja Lookout which gives a good view of Nourlangie Rock and a huge area of the park. Noni told us that you can see 10-15% of the park from there. It lets you appreciate how huge the area is you can see over a large section of the escarpment and plains of the park there.

We watched the sunset before heading to Muirella Campground. It was next to a billabong and we were warned not to go near the water. A crocodile had been sighted there quite recently. Damien made a great fire and BBQ for the final night. Later Noni and Brad took a group for a night walk. We saw a few cane toads and the eyes of a couple of crocs in the torch light.

Day 5 - 14 August 2008

The first place we went in the morning was Kakadu Culture Camp. It was nice to finally make some real connection with the aboriginal people living in the park. They showed us some traditional weaving and cooking methods and then we had a go at spear throwing.

From there we went to Ubirr, a rock art site. The art work was quite amazing and the rock formations there formed a perfect site for it. After that we started the drive back to Darwin with stops at the Mamukala wetlands, a termite mound and the Didgeridoo Hut. The five days went so quickly but it was a chance to discover something of a very amazing place.

*lots of photos from the tour at flickr.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Visit to Melbourne

It is hard to believe it is almost ten years since I last lived in Melbourne. Since then I have only been there for a few short visits. After being back in Australia from Taiwan for almost two weeks it was time to head from the bush to the big smoke.

I caught the 8:29 V/Line express train from Kyneton to Melbourne. The first thing I noticed that was different was many new buildings in the Docklands area. There was even a big ferris wheel under construction. The new Southern Cross Station looked very modern.

I caught a tram down Collins Street and then walked to Federation Square. There I discovered a book launch for a new book about Peter Brock. They had several cars on display including the Austin 7 that Brock drove around his family's farm when he was twelve years old.

I then went to have a look at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) which is located in Federation Square. The exhibition there included small booths with video screens where you could watch short films. I watched four shorts including a 1973 short directed by Philip Noyce called The Caravan Park. I thought the whole concept was wonderful as so often these short films only get screened at film festivals. I could have easily sat there half the day selecting more films from the menu.

The next place I visited was the Immigration Museum in the old Customs House on Flinders Street. I thought the displays were excellent. It detailed the history of immigration to Australia from the 18th century up to the present day.

There was a special exhibition of "Kimono: Osaka's Golden Age". There was also another exhibition "Waters of Tuvalu: Nation at Risk". The latter exhibition wasn't open as there was an ABC TV crew doing interviews there. I saw them interviewing Rob Gell. As well as being a TV weatherman he is quite knowledgable and outspoken about environmental issues.

I had lunch at Crossways Vegetarian Restaurant. The restaurant is run by ISKCON (Hare Krishna) and it is $6.50 for all you can eat. The place hadn't changed much since the last time I went there. After lunch I went to see a movie at the Kino Cinema. I saw the new Australian film The Square (official website). I quite enjoyed this Australian crime thriller.

In the evening I went to stay at Will and Fiona's house. It was the first time I had been to their place in Brunswick. We went to Sydney Road for dinner at a Moroccan Restaurant. I had lamb shanks with couscous. After dinner we walked up to Blyth Street to have a look at the house where I used to live. It hadn't changed much although it looked like they were renovating it.

Next day after Will left for work I caught a tram on Sydney Road to Melbourne University. I wandered around the campus and then walked over to Lygon Street. I had a pizza for lunch and browsed in Readings and Borders bookshops. Finally I met Dad and then we drove back to the bush!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Trip to Indonesia

During the Chinese New Year vacation I travelled to Indonesia for six days. Indonesia was the first Asian country I visited some 11 years ago. It was interesting to return.

My sister and her boyfriend live and work in Bogor and my parents flew over from Australia so we could all travel together. I was lucky that my sister and her boyfriend were both fairly competent in Bahasa Indonesia and they did a great job as tour guides.

It was also great to be with my parents. They had visited me a year earlier in Thailand and this was their second trip to Asia.

On the train

Train at Gambir Station

I began the trip by flying into Jakarta and met my family at Gambir Station. We then took the train to Bandung.

Jakarta sky

Just as the train was about to leave there was a thunderstorm with lots of lightning. The skies looked quite dramatic. The train was a very comfortable express train and took about three hours to reach Bandung.

Bumi Suwunggaling

We stayed at Sumi Buwanggaling, a hotel built by the Dutch.

Dinner in Bandung 1

Later we enjoyed dinner at a roadside warung (shop). I had Ayam Goreng (fried chicken). I was the only one in the family who at the chicken's feet!!!

Superhero store

The next day we explored Jeans Street (Jalan Ciampelas). This street in Bandung is famous for its factory outlets selling cheap jeans. I bought a pair for just 105,000 rupiah (about US$12). Some of the shops are famous for being decorated with superheroes and cartoon characters. There is a Rambo, Spiderman and Superman store. The shop in the photo above had a whole line up of superheroes.

Kawah Putih

The next day we had a car and driver. Our first destination was to drive high up into the mountains to Kawah Putih, a volcanic crater on Gunung Patuha (2334m). This place was eerily beautiful, like something out of a sci-fi movie. The lake was steaming hot and the surrounding area totally barren.

Situ Patengan

The next stop was a little further on but still in the mountains. Situ Patengan was a n idyllic crater lake in the mountains. Unlike Kawah Putih the water wasn't steaming or acidic and we paddled a boat out on the lake.

Malabar Estate

Next we drove to the Malabar Tea Estate where we stayed for the next two nights. We stayed at the Malabar Mess. The Tea Estate is at an altitude of 1,500 metres which made the weather quite cool. It also rained a lot. With the Dutch colonial mansion and beautiful gardens it would be easy to think you were in Europe not near the equator!!

Hill of tea

We walked across the tea plantation to visit the tea factory. The tea factory was interesting to see. The best quality tea is exported to the Middle East. The lower quality ends up in tea bags.

After visiting the tea factory we walked to some hot springs. Will was the only one who had a dip. It started raining while we there and continued to do so for most of the afternoon and night. It was a good chance to play some games of cards together in the Malabar Mess.

With my family at Puncak Pass

Next we drove to Bogor where Will and Ween live. On the way back we passed some flooded areas. We stopped for lunch at the Puncak Pass where we took the photo above. Finally arriving in Bogor we reached Will and Ween's house. It was a very beautiful house too, a lot more palatial than my apartment in Taiwan.

We took the chance to relax and unwind there and unfortunately Dad became sick with stomach bug. My time in Indonesia was almost at an end. I got up at 5:00 am the next morning to take a taxi to the airport and fly back to Taiwan. It was great to spend some time with my family in Indonesia though.

You can find more photos at flickr.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Provinces of China I have visited

map of provinces visited in china
create your own China map

I found this online tool that shows the provinces of China visited. It is similar to a tool at World66 that creates a world map showing countries visited. You can see my world map in an earlier post.

PLEASE NOTE: Even though Taiwan is coloured in red, it is an independent country. It is NOT a province of China.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year in Malaysia

Na and I spent the new year in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. Getting there involved a long haul overnight train journey to Sungai Kolok, followed by a walk across the border and then a relatively short bus ride to Kota Bharu.

Kota Bharu is the capital of Kelantan State, in the northeast corner of the Peninsular Malaysia. It is the most distinctly Muslim area of Malaysia and the city prides itself on being a centre of Islamic culture. In contrast to the cultural diversity of Penang the population here is mostly Malay Muslim with a few ethnic Chinese.

Main mosque in Kota Bharu
Main mosque in Kota Bharu

The city features a number of museums. Some of them were former royal households that have been opened to the public. They display various royal paraphernalia. The Royal Palace occupies a central place in the city. It is rather understated in its design, being mostly of wooden construction. The nearby main mosque is large without being extravagent or overpowering.

Jahar Palace and Royal Museum
Jahar Palace and Royal Museum

The city is also just a few kilometres from the beach. We took a bus there and found the beach somewhat windswept. It may not have looked its best after the floods and storms that recently hit the area.

It was interesting to visit Kota Bharu and compare it with Penang, which I had visited a few months earlier. It has made me curious to further explore Malaysia.

beach near Kota Bharu, Malaysia
beach near Kota Bharu

Monday, October 24, 2005

A city of surprises

Good things come in small packages. This is certainly true of the city of Georgetown on Penang Island in Malaysia. The city may not be as big or as glamourous as Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, but it makes up for its lack of size with many small but special attractions.

What most impressed me about the city was its ability to surprise. It is a place where you can wander the streets and discover beautiful and interesting places by chance.

While walking along Armenian Street I noticed an interesting, but not especially attractive, Chinese gate. Entering through it and wandering down a small alley I suddenly came across a stunningly beautiful traditional Chinese courtyard house and temple. Cheah Kongsi, built in the 1870s is described as "a classic 'Penang style' temple -- a hybrid of a Chinese temple, a Chinese courtyard mansion and a colonial bungalow".

Cheah Kongsi in Penang, Malaysia
Cheah Kongsi

The many small but beautiful Chinese temples that dot the streets of Penang are perhaps the highlight of the city. The temples there in fact surpass anything I have seen in China or Taiwan. Their artwork -- stone carvings and murals -- is exquisite.

Nearby Cheah Kongsi is the larger Leong San Toon Khoo Kongsi temple and museum. It is well worth the MR5 entry fee to see the temple's beautiful artwork and the informative museum.

Leong San Toon Khoo Kongsi temple and museum
Leong San Toon Khoo Kongsi temple and museum

A quick bus ride away on the edge of the city is Kek Lok Si, a Buddhist temple complex which sprawls over a hillside. It claims to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Exploring its halls and pagodas reveals many beautiful Buddha statues and artworks. The temple's hillside location also offers many great views of the city. The temple's crowning glory is a 108 feet tall statue of Kwan Yin reached by a ride in an inclined lift.

Kek Lok Si temple sprawls across a hillside in Penang
Kek Lok Si temple

Buddha statue in Kek Lok Si temple
Buddha statue in Kek Lok Si temple

To talk only of the Chinese features though would to ignore the vibrant Asian cocktail that makes up Penang. The Malay Muslim and Indian communities also give life and color to the city. Mosques and Hindu temples are almost as abundant as the many Chinese temples.

Kapitan Kling Mosque in Penang
Kapitan Kling Mosque

Hindu temple in Penang
Hindu temple

The food in Penang deserves as much praise as the architecture. You can enjoy many of Asia's finest culinary delights -- Indian, Chinese and Malay cuisine. The street stalls offer cheap food at all hours and many of the restaurants are only slightly more expensive.

Hokkien style noodles with oyster
Hokkien style noodles with oyster

Penang is small enough to be easy to travel around -- walking is the best way to enjoy most of its sights -- and big enough to offer a many attractions. For a true Asian experience it would be difficult to find anything better.

Penang signese

Continuing on the theme of signese here are a few photos from my recent trip to Penang, Malaysia. The earlier posts about signese can be found on my other blogs. See Not Chinese but Signese, Siamese Signese and Signo-Thai.

teh means tea in Malay and Hokkien

Lok Lok
Lok Lok

Hairdresser's shop

East Xiamen Delicacies
East Xiamen Delicacies