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Sydney Sights

The iconic images of Sydney are hard to overcome, so some are shared here along with some less iconic, and some wildlife images. The Australian water dragon was fun to watch.

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Marcus, Iwan’s friend from college took us on a great harbour trip, with his boys.

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Evening races in Sydney harbour.

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Australian water dragon on the beach path.

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Australian water dragons have long powerful limbs and claws for climbing, a long muscular tail for swimming, and prominent crests at the base of the head. These spikes continue down the spine, getting smaller as they reach the base of the tail.

Including their tails, which comprise about two-thirds of their total length, adult males can grow to over 3 feet long and weigh around 3 lb. They live on fruit, insects and small mammals throughout most of Eastern Australia.

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Beach near manley.

 

Various other local friends, most but not all living in the Sydney zoo.

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Friendly guy on the walking path.

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Wild flowers close to the city at the botanic gardens.

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The original Harbour View Hotel stood in the way of the bridge construction. It was rebuilt close to the bridge and was in place and open before the old one was demolished, so no loss of business.

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Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur Heritage

The Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad building was opened in 1897 as the administrative headquarters of the Federated Malay States. Perhaps because the bulk of the population was Muslim the building was designed with an Islamic-styled design.

The Federated Malay States consisted of four protected states in the Malay Peninsula—Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang—established by the British government in 1895, which eventually evolved into Malaysia in 1963.

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Joget is a traditional Malay dance that originated in Malacca. It was influenced by the Portuguese dance of Branyo which is believed to have been spread to Malacca during the spice trade. The dance is one of the most popular folk dances in Indonesia & Malaysia and normally performed by couples in cultural festivals, weddings and other social functions.

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And finally;

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Relaxing after dinner in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.

 

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Wales in Winter

Stopped off in Wales to see family before Xmas. There were a few snow showers plus storm Christine which provided strong winds and hail, all in all a lot of fun.

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Storm Christine on the Llyn peninsula
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Porthmadog golf links 12th green with Snowdonia mountains in the background.
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Shaft of light through the clouds.

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First snowfall of the winter.

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Lleyn peninsula stormy ocean.

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Storm passing through.

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Harbour at dawn.
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Hailstorm at the beach.

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Himeji Castle

Evocative, and both imposing and graceful at the same time, Himeji castle is the largest castle in Japan and was subject to a 5 years restoration which was completed in 2015. The castle dates from an original fortification built in 1333, and perhaps miraculously survived 1945 air raids which completely destroyed the city but left the castle intact. The walls are protected by a white plaster finish which is over 1 inch thick and made from lime, shell ash, hemp fiber, and seaweed.

The structure is interesting because from the outside it appears to have five stories but in the interior there are seven stories. 20171031-01637

20171031-01618The castle is famously associated with Princess Sen.

The daughter of Shogun Tokugawa Hiteada, Princess Sen was married by her grandfather when she was only 7 years old to Toyotomi Hideyori. They lived in Osaka castle and several years later, after being defeated there in a major family dispute, Toyotomi Hideori and his mother committed suicide (or were forced to), whereas Princess Sen was rescued.

The legend surrounding Princess Sen is intertwined with the siege of Osaka Castle, her escape and the second marriage. It is a tale with all the romantic ingredients that made her one of the most popular Japanese characters. According to the legend a man named  Sakazaki Naomori planned to take her as his wife and he is said to be the one who saved the Princess from Osaka Castle

However, Princess Sen refused to marry Naomori, whose face had been wrecked by fire when he rescued her, choosing in his place a more handsome alternative.

In 1616, Sen was married to Honda Tadatoki and a few years later they moved to Himeji Castle, where they lived till Tadatoki ‘s death, in 1626. After that, she left Himeji Castle to enter a Buddhist convent until her death, in 1666.

The charm of Himeji Castle has survived, as has the fascination for Princess Sen and her tragic fate.

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The city is dwarfed by the castle, on a hill at the end of the main street.

There is also a nearby garden (nishi-oyashiki-ato garden) which was built rather more recently, in 1992, but in the old Edo style, and is very lovely.

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20171031-01786Plenty of fish to choose for lunch, but the heron didn’t feed – must have had a big breakfast.

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Had a short trip to Hong Kong and Japan

Having worked in both these places several years ago, and so with friends to be visited and some new places to discover set off for two weeks of touring. It turned out that the touring could have been improved upon by taking a little longer, but all the goals were met – we enjoyed the company of friends, had fun along the way, and took plenty of photos, some of which are displayed here. Japan images will wait until the next post.

The Hong Kong skyline is truly dramatic, with the highest density of skyscrapers in the world.

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Arrived in HK after 16 hours from Newark – in economy class, not too bad, still able to focus as we approached HK.

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For some relaxation from the craziness of Kowloon, went over to Stanley on the Southside of the island. Visited the Pak Tai temple, built for the Taoist god “Pak Tai” by local fishermen in 1805.

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Local fisherman, actually a fisherwoman, of today.

Causeway Bay early morning;

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20171105-02210.jpg Sunrise over  Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

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St David’s Episcopal Church, Radnor, Pennsylvania.

The church of St David’s, in what is now Radnor, was established in 1715 by Welsh immigrants. There are several notable people buried in the graveyard, including General Anthony Wayne, a major figure in the revolutionary war who died in Erie, Pennsylvania and was buried there. His son Isaac, wishing to bury him at his home church, traveled to Erie in 1809 and had the body exhumed and rendered to separate the bones from the flesh. All the bones that would fit in Isaac Wayne’s luggage were brought to St. David’s.

Also, a the grave of a surgeon in attendance at the death of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar is also located there.

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The grave of Henry Carter MD, born in London 1750, and served as a surgeon to Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar 1805.

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The Mercedes Museum, Stuttgart

I rarely take pictures of cars but these were so exceptional that I figured I didn’t have any choice. The cars from the 1950’s were just gorgeous.

This car was owned by Princess Di but she only drove it for a few months because there was an outcry from so many quarters about the royal family driving a foreign car. She returned it in September 1992.

The worlds oldest existing truck, originally sold by Daimler into the U.K. in 1898. Truck sales were originally very difficult because motorized vehicles were for the wealthy and people could not envisage their commercial use.

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Whistling Sands – Porthor, N Wales

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Whistling Sands is a beach spot in a place known as Porthor, in N Wales. (Note – video might take time to load).

The phenomenon of whistling sands occurs at a few locations around the world and is not fully understood. Basically what happens is that movement of the sand grains against one another causes a noise. The movement may be induced by wind, or by gentle kicking. The noise seems to require spherical sand particles with a consistent size, and at Porthor is easily generated by either mechanism. The sound here is rather more of a squeak than a whistling, or at least it was when I visited. Aside from the noisy sand this is a quiet undeveloped place with wonderful natural scenery and wildlife – the gannets were furiously diving for the plentiful fish.

The reddish tone of the rocks is an indication of the local jasper mining for which the area was once famous.

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Sarasota Dolphins and Ospreys

Some of the wldlife of Sarasota is best seen from the water, and we were lucky enough to find some cooperative dolphins and some hungry ospreys.

Views of Sarasota and surrounding area;

The dolphins, several of which stayed around the boat and in a very friendly manner even gave us a tail splash.

 

And the ospreys were hunting nearby,

Not an osprey but a lovely looking seabird nontheless.

And finally, a human creature enjoying the water, especially enjoying the wake from our boat;

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Florida Wilderness and the Deep Hole

The Myakka River State Park is in Florida, near Sarasota, and is a place where alligators like to congregate. In particular they like to spend time at one very special location; Park Rangers and guides say that though their numbers fluctuate greatly, they have counted as many as 120 at one time. It’s a place in the park’s nature preserve called “Deep Hole” and for reasons scientists do not yet understand it attracts the gators in large numbers.

The “Deep Hole” has been estimated at about 140 feet deep, but no one knows for sure the real depth. Apparently no one wants to go diving, with all those alligators around, to find out the true depth.

It is located in a 7,500 acre wilderness preserve area, and access to the “Deep Hole” is restricted to no more than 30 humans a day and it requires a special access permit.

Its called a wilderness area for good reason, and the vegetation along the way is interesting and photogenic.

But the reward for the hike is the sight of dozens of gators in the wild.


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Bear Sanctuary

The “Free The Bears” organization has an active program in six Asian countries to end the practice of bear bile farming. Bear bile and gallbladder is a component in Chinese medicine. Farming was at one time thought by some to be an acceptable alternative to hunting in the wild but most of the business, however conducted is now illegal.

Within Laos, most of the illegal trade occurs near the China border. The sanctuary near Luang Prabang has 38 bears with plenty of space and playthings including pools, climbing towers, and toys for stimulation. At noon each day food is hidden around their enclosures to simulate the work that they would need to do to feed themselves in the wild. 

At the rescue center they mostly take care of moon bears, otherwise known as the Asian black bear or white chested bear. This bear is prevalent throughout Asia, and is mostly herbivorous, but is apparently very aggressive when approached by humans, as the following report from Japan illustrates.

In Japan, in 2016 three men died in bear attacks while harvesting bamboo shoots in three separate incidents in a mountain forest. The body of a fourth victim, a badly mauled woman, was subsequently discovered with reports saying she had been picking wild plants. Hunters killed an Asian black bear just 10 meters from the spot where her remains were discovered. Officials said Monday that human remains were found in the stomach of the bear. so these cuddly-looking guys can be fierce indeed.

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Images from George Town, Penang Island

A few images from George Town, Penang Island, Malaysia.

George Town was established by Captain Francis Light to establish trade relations in the Malay Peninsula, acting for the British East India Company.

Light landed on Penang Island on 17 July 1786 to estblish a commercial trading post, and establish a strategic location to check Dutch and French territorial gains in the region.

At the time, Penang Island was part of the Kedah Sultanate, which was threatened with imminent invasions from Thailand and Burma.Taking advantage of the situation, Light negotiated with the Sultan regarding the cession to the British East India Company, in exchange for British military protection.

Francis Light died from malaria in 1794.

A Trip up to to the top of Penang Hill.

A little chameleon fellow that joined us as we walked on Penang Hill.

Crag Hotel buildings.

The old Crag Hotel on Penang Hill. Around 1885 a bungalow was built on the site by Captain John W Kerr, an employee of the East India Company. Penang Hill was a favourite location for Europeans living on Penang to come to escape the intense heat and humidity of lower elevations.

In the late 1880s the Sarkies brothers, were busy establishing hotels throughout South East Asia, including the Oriental Hotel in George Town (from where this blog was drafted) and the famous Raffles hotel in Singapore. They bought the Crag bungalow and developed it into a hotel, opening it in 1894.

The Crag Hotel continued operation until World War 2. After the war, the building was disused for a decade before being leased to the Uplands School. The school opened in 1955. The relatively isolated location was considered a bonus in terms of safety – this was the time of the Malay Emergency. The school was even visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972. Uplands School moved to a new site in 1977, and the Crag Hotel site was abandoned.

The site has seen brief action as a movie and TV setting which required some renovations, but has otherwise been mostly overgrown by jungle.

Another resident of Penang Hill,

View of the mainland city of Butterworth from Penang Hill.

Storm over the Strait of Malacca, seen from the Eastern and Orient Hotel.

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Lunar New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year in Penang is spectacular.

The Kek Lok Si Temple “Temple of Supreme Bliss”is a focal point of festivals of the Chinese community in Penang and is one of the largest temples in S E Asia. For 30 days following Chinese New Year, thousands of lights turn the temple complex into a sea of light. The temples were built over a period from 1890 to 1930. The main draw in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI (Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas) with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 100ft tall bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy.

Celebrating the year of the rooster, Penang, Malaysia

Lion dancing, Chinese New year, Penang.

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Penang Snake Temple

The snake temple of Penang is situated in the south west of the island and was built about 1850 by a Buddhist monk. After the construction of the temple, snakes reportedly appeared by themselves. The temple is filled with the smoke of burning incense and a variety of pit vipers. The snakes are believed to be rendered harmless by the sacred smoke, but as a safety precaution, the they are reported to have also been de-venomed but still have their fangs intact. Visitors are warned against picking up the reptiles and placing them on their bodies to take pictures. While some warnings seem over cautious this one was easy for me to follow.

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Kota Kinabalu Sights

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Of the various things to do in KK, aside from the wonderful grandeur of Mt Kinabalu, we also traveled to view some proboscis monkeys in their natural environment, plus fireflies. It was overall OK, saw a few monkeys. Viewing fireflies was never going to be too exciting because for part of the year we have them at home. These were interesting because they were smaller but congregated in larger numbers and flickered at a much higher frequency. Apart from that we were merely bitten to shreds by mosquitos.

The local food markets provided lots of color.

And the local children enjoyed themselves like children virtually everywhere.

Sunset at KK.

Part of the KK fishing fleet.

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Mt Kinabalu and vicinity

Mt Kinabalu in Borneo is 14,000 ft high and the 20th “most prominent” peak in the world. The mountain and its surroundings are among the most important biological sites in the world, with between 5,000 and 6,000 species of plants, over 300 species of birds, and more than 100 mammal species identified. Among this rich collection of wildlife are famous species such as the gigantic Rafflesia plants and orangutans. We didn’t see any orangutans because they are further into the wild than we were prepared to go. But we did see a few Rafflesias. The full day tour was organised through downbelowadventures,  http://www.downbelowadventures.com located in Kota Kinabalu, and they were great to work with throughout.Blog version 3807

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We had a wonderful guide, Walter, who pointed out a number of things that we would certainly have missed, including this orchid, the world’s smallest.

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Local pineapple seller, probably checking emails.

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An ants nest on the jungle floor – probably best avoided.

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Our guide Walter explaining how the sap of this tree is drained near the roots, then allowed to dry before being ground into a powder. The powder is then put on a dart in a blow pipe and used to paralyze animals. The area around the wound caused by the dart is never eaten because of the poison.

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Shoots of new growth from a ginger plant.

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Frogs eggs on the jungle floor.

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The Rafflesia flower, named after Thomas Stanford Raffles. The plant has no stems, leaves or true roots. It is a parasite of vines, spreading inside the tissue of the vine. The only part of the plant that can be seen outside the host vine is the five-petaled flower. In some species the flower may be over 40 in. in diameter, and weigh up to 20 lb. This one was probably almost 2 ft in diameter. The flowers apparently look and smell like rotting flesh, and its local name is “corpse flower”.  The visible growth of the plant starts with a small bud which takes around a year to form the flower, which then only lasts around one week. The foul odor attracts insects such as flies and beetles, which transport pollen from male to female flowers. Successful pollination is not easy because male and female plants need to be close together and of course in flower, so they are very scarce.

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Walking on the jungle canopy, around 150 ft up from ground level.

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Our excellent guide was able to point out a couple of creatures towards the end of the walk near this waterfall, even as it was getting gloomy in the forest. He spotted a pygmy squirrel and a chameleon, which he said had just been squabbling. It was too dark, and I was too slow, to take any pics of the squabbling creatures.

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