Friday, December 23, 2005

Day 140: The Pyramids

The Pyramids, Giza, Egypt

Day 139: 'Peace out!'

Chillin' with a cup of tea while puffing away on a waterpipe, a common sight on the street, Giza, Egypt

Day 138: 'Polish engineering gets a boost from the Egyptians'

Fiat 125p, Giza, Egypt

I was amazed to find that Egypt is where old Polish cars go to die. And they weren't exactly the model of reliability when they were new either. Notice that safety features like side mirrors or working lights are very much optional...

Day 137: 'Magic Mushrooms'

The Mushrooms, White Desert National Park, Egypt

Day 136: 'Hot-Rod'

Farmer and his donkey cart, Bahariyya Oasis, Egypt

If I had to guess the specs: 0.5 horsepower, 0 to 6 in under 5 seconds, low natural-gas emissions…

Day 135: 'Joy of the simple life'

Farmer, Bahariyya Oasis, Egypt

Day 134: 'Giza Sunset'

View west from the Cairo Tower, Cairo, Egypt

Day 133: 'Scribbles'

Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt Building, Cairo, Egypt

Day 132: 'Not all that glitters is gold'

Brass wares, Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Day 131: 'The street'

Young bread vendor, Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt

Day 130: 'Spires'

Mosque of Quaitbey, Cairo, Egypt

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Day 129: 'Beauty and the Beast'

Beduin and his camel, Giza, Egypt

Day 128: 'The Dome'

Dome, Mohammad Ali Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Day 127: 'Love the eye-lashes!'

Bar-pouched Wreathed Hornbill (captive), Jurong Bird Park, Singapore

I don't normally photograph birds in captivity but my efforts to photograph hornbills in the wild have come to nothing. I had a nice chat with the handler at the park and found out among other things that hornbills are the only flying birds with eye-lashes and they look rather striking!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Day 126: 'Christmas Madness'

Orchard Road, Singapore

Day 125: 'Ring my bell!'

Main Gate, Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

Day 124: 'Funny house'

Hill Street Building, Singapore

Day 123: 'Don't try this at home kids!'

Tribal Perfromance, Night Safari, Singapore

Day 122: 'Lion City'

Merlion Park, Singapore

The curious statue in the foreground is the merlion: half-lion, half-fish. First historical references to this mythical beast go back to 1970 AD and the marketing department of the Singapore Turism Board…

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Day 121: 'Dark clouds'

Masjid Putra (Putra Mosque), Putrajaya, Malaysia

Day 120: 'Worshippers'

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Shah Alam, Malaysia

Day 119: 'Foyer'

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Shah Alam, Malaysia

Day 118: 'Fssst!'

Wagler's Viper (Temple Viper), Temple of the Azure Cloud (Snake Temple), Pulau Pinang (Penang Island), Malaysia

Yes, they're venomous and I have been assured that the snakes in the temple have not been de-fanged! Still, they are well fed, nocturnal, generally not an aggressive species and likely doped-out on the incense that is burned continuously in close proximity. The temple itself is a bit of a tourist trap. Yes, I've had my picture taken with about a whole bunch of these around my arms and neck. They only told me that the snakes they use for picture taking have been de-fanged after I've had my picture taken...

Day 117: 'Forget Goldfinger...'

Statue of Luang Phu Tuad covered in gold leaf by worshippers, Wat Buppharam, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang (Penang Island), Malaysia

Day 116: 'What's with the funny hat?'

Jubliee Clock Tower, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang (Penang Island), Malaysia

Day 115: 'For a little monkey you got balls to wake me up from my afternoon nap running around on the roof!'

Baby Long-tailed Macaque, Teman Negara National Park, Malaysia

And for goodness sake, cover up!

Day 114: 'Don't look down...'

Canopy Walk, Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

At 500m in length the canopy walk in Teman Negara National Park (confusingly 'Teman Negara' means 'National Park' implying there is only one which is not the case...) is the world's longest. It's also 50m above ground in places which elevates it above the rainforest canopy for a wicked perspective! And it's seriously wonky!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Not very long ago in a land far, far away...

Here are some random thoughts, observations and experiences in no particular order. I kept meaning to put all this into a more coherent whole and fill in the many gaps but life's too short so here is what I have...
I mentioned to a local traveller how uniformly, exceptionally dire the roadside culinary experience is in Australia. With a sort of apologetic shrug he explained 'We're an ex-Britsh colony, what do you expect!?'. I haven't thought of it that way. Good point there mate!

Fraser Island is Australia's second largest island. It also holds the distinction of being the world's largest sand island. Essentially a 150km long sandbar with no paved roads, it is a great place for a 4x4 off-road adventure! With my previous sand driving experience limited to a semi-controlled sideways slide through an unexpected patch of deep sand on a shortcut through Death Valley a few years back, this was going to be fun! The first test of driving skill came earlier than expected. I got stuck in deep sand before I even boarded the ferry to the island. And then immediately again after getting off. Clearly there was something I was doing wrong. Fortunately in both cases I regained traction with just a little rocking back and forth. After discovering that the secret to success it to never stop in deep sand the next few days were a breeze. There are essentially two kinds of roads on the island. And I'm using the word 'roads' very loosely here. First, there is the beach. Wider then the widest highway at low tide and unpassable in places at high tide, the eastern shores '75 Mile Beach', a national highway with an 85km/h speed limit, is a blast. With no lanes traffic is very much freeform with a mix of mindless beachgoers, drunk fisherman, small planes landing and taking off, deep stream run-offs and countless opportunities for playing chicken with oncoming traffic, providing hours of fun against a backdrop alternating between bald sand dunes and cliffs covered in lush vegetation all to the gentle rythm of the ocean surf. And then there are the inland tracks. Imagine riding a rodeo bull down a bobsled track, for hours at a time. I'll give you two tips. Bolt down anything you don't want to hit you on the head as you amaze yourself time and time again how much abuse the suspension of your vehicle can take. And don't attempt it on a full stomach...

I stopped at a small noodle shop on the way from the airport and found that the water taps in the sink in the restroom only work after you've flushed the toilet. The only logical conclusion that I could draw from this was that the Japanese don't wash their hands before they eat. I was sure to remember this next time a friendly local offers to share her chopsticks with me. It also didn’t fit with the image of the Japanese that I had in my mind. I was therefore greatly relieved when upon sitting down at my table I was given a small plastic bag containing a wet towel to clean my hands. Ah, the Japanese efficiency, that’s better!
It was with great disappointment that I found that the average, young, Japanese female in knee-high boots, a short skirt and a funny hat, in essence the fashion here, speaks little more English than my in-car navigation system. This, combined with my just having acquired, but not yet studied, a basic phrasebook, was really a fairly serious roadblock to meaningful communication, nevermind being in any way helpful in solving my immediate problems. Some three weeks into my trip as I passed a group of young girls at a stroll garden in Nikko I noticed that one of them had a leaf caught in her hair. I casually remarked on this to her and to my great surprise she replied in fluent English. Well, it turns out she and her friends were Chinese on a day-trip from Tokyo where they're studying Japanese. Another time I was sitting in a coffee bar in the entertainment district of Tokyo when I overheard a girl at the next table practicing her English. She and her sister were Korean. I'm not making this stuff up! In Japan, if she looks Asian but replies in English, she's probably a turist...
A couple last minute itinerary changes and I ran out of cash in the somewhat out of the way town of Ise. I tried my cards in a half dozen ATMs, first in roadside stores, then in every bank I could find, with no luck. It was time for a new approach. I walked into the biggest of the bank buildings and in a loud voice asked if anyone here speaks English. The large open plan room fell silent and some twenty pairs of mostly female and clearly startled eyes looked up at me from above their desks. It then occurred to me that perhaps I raised my voice just a tad much and not wanting to add getting arrested for accidentally holding up a bank to my list of adventures, I stopped playing with my knife, slowly pulled my left hand out of the pant pocket and, now clearly unarmed, beamed them all back a goofy smile. I could see that they started breathing again and I even got a few faint smiles back. But no reply. However, it appeared that I was in fact understood as suddenly a burst of chatter ensued and a short hushed phone conversation later a young woman in a pin-stripe suit appeared out of a room in the back to deal with the rude barbarian in front. She spoke very good English but no, she did not know where there was an ATM that would allow me to withdraw cash from an overseas account but she would try and find out. Over the next twenty minutes I waited while the crisis management team at the bank scrambled to find a gaijin-friendly ATM. At one point there were four people shouting a visual description of my bank card into their phones. Eventually the woman came back carrying a humongous taped together sheet of paper that turned out to be a photocopied street level map of the central part of town. Not only did the map show every building and traffic light, it left enough space for you to draw in the rooms and doors. She apologized for the wait and explained that she does not know for sure but they think that maybe a machine at another bank would work to which she marked directions on this here map. I was doubtful but thanked her profusely for her efforts. As I left she bowed and wished me good luck. The deeply concerned expression on her face told me she thought I would need every bit of it. Because of the scale of the map, streets that looked like major thoroughfares were barely wide enough for two cars to pass and despite being able to visually locate the bank building from a few blocks away it took me a while to navigate the narrow and mostly one way streets to the right building. The machine inside didn't accept my cards. By now over two hours have passed since I started my search and I was getting hungry. I went back to my car and with great sadness carefully unwrapped a perfectly crisp ten thousand yen note, nary a crease on it, that I was saving as a souvenir and went to lunch...
After observing me for a few minutes a suited Japanese gentlemen seemed somewhat perplexed that I'm photographing the girls instead of the exquisite cars and bikes on display at one of the world's premier motor shows. I explained that we have lots of Japanese cars and bikes in America, but very few cute Japanese girls. His big smile told me that now he understood perfectly!

Day 113: 'Latest zombie fashion'

Kuala Lumpur Asia Fashion Week, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Day 112: 'Majestic'

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Day 111: 'Your nails are fine, now get on with it!'

Dancer, Cultural Show, Malaysia Turist Center, Kuala Lumpur

Day 110: Wat Arun

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

Day 109: Mister! You want fried banana mister? Only 20 baht mister!'

Floating Market, Damnoen Saduak, Thailand

Oh, go on then...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day 108: 'Shy'

Young girl from the Kayen 'long-neck' tribe in a traditional dress, Ban Huay Pu Keng, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

This is the middle of the three daughters of the woman in whose house I stayed. Her mother told me that she is always very shy around foreigners. This is the closest I could get to a smile from her...

November 22nd, Huay Pu Keng Village, Thailand

The village, some 190 heads strong, has no road (access is by boat only), no electricity (except for a diesel generator for special occasions and a solar panel to charge batteries) and only the most elementary plumbing. It is inhabited by people of two tribes famous for the unusual customs of their women, the 'long-neck' Kayen and the 'big-ear' Kayew. The women of the first tribe wear brass coils around their necks. They start at the age of 5 with a 1kg coil and increase the weight of the coil by 1kg every few years up to 6kg. The weight and eventually the length of the coil pushes the shoulders down deforming their bone structure as they grow, causing them to appear as if they have unusually long necks. They never take the coils off except when changing to a longer, heavier coil. The women of the other tribe force increasingly larger rings into their pierced ear-lobes. They also start at the age of 5 increasing the diameter of the rings over time with the largest ring exceeding two inches in diameter. There are three villages in the Mae Hong Son vicinity inhabited by the two tribes and most tourists stop for a quick picture in one of them before moving on. I was fortunate enough to visit all three, eventually spending two days and two nights living in the smallest one. At first sight the tribes would appear to be better off than others in the area being heavily visited by tourists doing the Mae Hong Son loop. When you talk to the villagers you find out what the guide books don't tell you. The Kayen are refugees from Burma and are essentially living under indefinite house arrest. They're not allowed to work in Thailand other than to produce and sell their simple crafts in their villages. The Thai government will not issue them with identity cards and they're not allowed to travel. This is enforced by the many military and police checkpoints in the ares (my car was inspected several times). No-one I spoke to has ever been further than the town of Mae Hong Son, only 15km away. Still, their situation is much better than that of the Kayen living in refugee camps (off limits to visitors) and those still living under persecution in Burma. They are extremely proud of their tradition and who they are and do the best with what they have. I was most impressed with their little school where all the children are taught and speak four languages: Kayen, Burmese, Thai and English. Living in the village, even for such a short time, was a beautiful experience and I am forever grateful to the people of Keyen for their hospitality.

Day 107: 'At work'

Woman from the Kayen 'long-neck' tribe in a traditional dress, Ban Huay Pu Keng, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Day 106: 'My, what big ears you have!'

Little girl from the Kayew 'Big-ear' tribe in a traditional dress, Ban Huay Pu Keng, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Day 105: 'Waitress! When I said 'bring me a couple long-necks!', this isn't quite what I had in mind...'

Mother and daughter from the Kayen 'long-neck' tribe in traditional dresses, Ban Huay Sua Tao, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Day 104: 'Umbrellas'

Bo Sang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Day 103: 'Guardians'

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand