Monday, July 05, 2004

Iran's Ancient City of Bam among the 34 new sites inscribed on World Heritage List


Iran's Ancient City of Bam among the 34 new sites inscribed on World Heritage List

Posted: 03 Jul 2004, Contact: WHC

The rich archaeological remains of the Iranian city of Bam, where 26,000 lost their lives in the earthquake of December 26, 2003, was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, alongside 12 other new cultural sites listed today by the World Heritage Committee holding its 28th session in Suzhou. This brings to 788 the number of cultural, natural and mixed sites now on the List.

Bam Cultural Landscape was inscribed on the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki, expressed the commitment of UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura to continue efforts to salvage the cultural heritage of this devastated city.

Experts from ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, who presented the Bam Cultural Landscape to the Committee, explained that the rich archaeological remains of Bam had been severely hit by the earthquake but not as badly damaged as the new city.

Situated in the desert on the southern edge of the Iranian high plateau, Bam developed as a crossroads of trade in silk and cotton. Its origins can be traced to the Achaemenid period (6th-4th century BC) and it reached its heyday from the 7th to 11th centuries. Bam grew in an oasis created mainly thanks to an underground water management system (qanāts), which continues to function. The site’s main ancient remains are within a fortified citadel area (Arg), which contains 38 watchtowers, Governmental Quarters, and the historic town with its 8th or 9th century mosque, one of the oldest in Iran. This is the most representative example of a fortified medieval town built in vernacular technique using mud layers. As a result of the destruction, archaeologists have discovered new evidence of the history of the place in the Arg itself and in the surrounding territory. This includes remains of ancient settlements and irrigation systems, dating at least to the Parthian-Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C.

Bam Cultural Landscape represents an exceptional testimony to the development of a trading settlement where various influences met in a desert environment in Central Asia. It bears an exceptional testimony to the use of mud layer technique (Chineh) combined with mud bricks (Khesht). The qanāts further provide an outstanding representation of the interaction of man and nature in a desert environment.

A total of 34 new sites were inscribed by the 21-member World Heritage Committee during its current session (29 cultural sites and five natural sites). This brings to 788 the number of listed sites (611 cultural sites, 154 natural sites and 23 mixed sites). Iceland had a site inscribed on the List for the first time today. It joined Andorra, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, St. Lucia and Togo as a new entrant on the list.

In addition to Bam, the following new sites were inscribed today:

  • Germany - Dresden Elbe Valley. The 18th and 19th century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley extends some 18-km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the northwest to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the southeast. It features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace and the centre of Dresden with its numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The landscape also features 19th and 20th century suburban villas and gardens and valuable natural features. Some terraced slopes along the river are still used for viticulture and some old villages have retained their historic structure and elements from the industrial revolution: notably the 147-m Blue Wonder steel bridge (1891-1893), the funicular (1894-1895), and the single-rail suspension cable railway (1898-1901). The passenger steamships (the oldest from 1879) and shipyard (ca 1900) are still in use.
  • Germany - The Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen. The Town Hall and Roland on the marketplace of Bremen in northwest Germany are outstanding representations of civic and trading rights as they developed in the Holy Roman Empire in Europe. The old town hall was built as in the Gothic style in the early 15th century, after Bremen joined the Hanseatic League. The building was renovated in the Weser Renaissance style in the early 17th century. A new town hall was built next to the old one in the early 20th century as part of an ensemble that survived the bombarding during the Second World War. The statue stands 5.5m tall and dates back to 1404.
  • Germany and Poland - Muskauer Park/Park Muzakowski. A landscaped park of 559.90-ha astride the Neisse River and the border between Poland and Germany, it was created by Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau from 1815 to 1844. Blending seamlessly with the surrounding farmed landscape, the park pioneered new approaches to landscape design and influenced the development of landscape architecture in Europe and North America. Designed as a ‘painting with plants’, it did not seek to evoke classical landscapes, paradise, or some lost perfection, instead it used local plants to enhance the inherent qualities of the existing landscape. This integrated landscape extends into the town of Muskau with green passages that formed urban parks framing areas for development. The town thus became a design component in a utopian landscape. The site also features a reconstructed castle, bridges and an arboretum.
  • Iceland - Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the National Park where the Althing - an open-air assembly, which represented the whole of Iceland - was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws - seen as a covenant between free men - and settled disputes. The Althing has deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland. Located on an active volcanic site, the property includes the Þingvellir National Park and the remains of the Althing itself: fragments of around 50 booths built of turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from 18th and 19th centuries, the Thingvellir Church and adjacent farm, and the population of arctic char in Lake Thingvallavatn. The park shows evidence of the way the landscape was husbanded over 1,000 years.
  • Italy - Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia. These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century BC, and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture. They are the first remains of Etruscan culture, which over nine centuries developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean, to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality. The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. The site contains very different types of tombs: trenches cut in rock; tumuli; and some, also carved in rock, in the shape of huts or houses with a wealth of structural details. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the 7th century B.C.
  • Italy - The Landscape of Val d’Orcia is part of the agricultural hinterland of Siena, re-drawn and developed when it was colonized by the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. The landscape’s distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes. The inscription covers: a planned colonized agrarian and pastoral landscape reflecting innovative land management systems; towns and villages; farmhouses; and the Roman Via Francigena and its associated abbeys, inns, shrines, bridges etc.
  • Lithuania - Kernavė Archeological Site (Cultural Reserve of Kernavė). The Kernavė Archeological Site, in eastern Lithuania about 35 km northwest of Vilnius, represents an exceptional testimony to some 10 millennia of human settlements in this region. Situated in the valley of the River Neris, the site is a complex ensemble of archaeological properties, encompassing the town of Kernavé, forts, some unfortified settlements, burial sites and other archaeological monuments from the late Paleolithic period to the Middle Ages. The site has preserved the traces of ancient land use, as well as remains of five impressive hill forts, part of an exceptionally large defence system. Kernavė was an important feudal town in the Middle Ages. The town was destroyed by the Teutonic Order in the late 14th century, however the site remained in use till modern times.
  • Mexico - Luis Barragán House and Studio. Built in 1948, the House and Studio of architect Luis Barragán in the suburb of Mexico City represents an outstanding example of the architect’s creative work in the post-Second World War period. The concrete building, totalling 1161-m2, consists of a ground floor and two upper stories, as well as a small private garden. Barragán’s work integrated modern and traditional artistic and vernacular currents and elements into a new synthesis, which has been greatly influential, especially in the contemporary design of gardens, plazas, and landscapes.
  • Portugal - Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture. The 987-ha site on the volcanic island of Pico, the second largest in Azores archipelago, consists of a remarkable pattern of spaced-out, long linear walls running inland from, and parallel to, the rocky shore. The walls were built to protect the thousands of small, contiguous, rectangular, plots (‘currais’) from wind and salt sea water. Evidence of this viniculture, whose origins date back to the 15th century is manifest in the extraordinary assembly of the fields, in houses and early 19th century manor houses, in wine-cellars, churches and ports. The extraordinarily beautiful man-made landscape of the site is the best remaining area of a once much more widespread practice.
  • Serbia and Montenegro - Dečani Monastery. The Dečani Monastery - at the foot of the Prokletije mountains, in the western part of the province of Kosovo and Metohija - was built in the mid 14th century for the Serbian King Stefan Dečanski. It is also his mausoleum. It represents the last important phase of Byzantine-Romanesque architecture in the region and is the largest of all medieval Balkan churches. It contains exceptional, well-preserved Byzantine paintings, which cover practically the entire interior of the church with over 1,000 individual depictions of saints. It also has numerous Romanesque sculptures. The original marble floor is preserved, as is the interior furniture, and the main 14th century iconostasis. The Dečani treasury is the richest in Serbia, with, notably, about 60 exceptional icons from the 14th to 17th centuries. The Monastery represents an exceptional synthesis of Byzantine and Western traditions.
  • Sweden - Varberg Radio Station. The Varberg Radio Station at Grimeton in southern Sweden (built in 1922-24) is an exceptionally well preserved monument to early wireless transatlantic communication. It consists of the transmitter equipment, including the aerial system of six 127-m high steel towers. Though no longer in regular use, the equipment has been maintained in operating condition. The 109.9-ha site comprises buildings housing the original Alexanderson transmitter, including the towers with their antennae, short-wave transmitters with their antennae, and a residential area with staff housing. The architect Carl Åkerblad designed the main buildings in the neoclassical style and the structural engineer Henrik Kreüger was responsible for the antenna towers, the tallest built structures in Sweden at that time. The site is an outstanding example of the development of telecommunications and is the only surviving example of a major transmitting station based on pre-electronic technology.
  • United Kingdom - Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of the maritime mercantile City of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries. Liverpool played an important role in the growth of the British Empire and became the major port for the mass movement of people, e.g. slaves and emigrants from northern Europe to America. Liverpool was a pioneer in the development of modern dock technology, transport systems, and port management. The listed areas feature a great number of significant commercial, civic and public buildings, including St George’s Plateau.

Cultural sites inscribed from June 28 through July 1: Andorra – Madriu-Claror-PerafitaValley; Australia - Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens; China - Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom; Democratic People's Republic of Korea - Complex of Koguryo Tombs. India - Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park; India - Chhatrapati Shivaji Station (formerly Victoria Terminus); Islamic Republic of Iran – Pasargadae. Japan - Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range; Jordan - Um er-Rasas (Kastron Mefa’a); Kazakhstan - Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly. Mali - Tomb of Askia; Mongolia - Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape; Morocco - Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida); Norway - Vegaøyan – the Vega Archipelago; Russian Federation - Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent; Togo – Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba.

Natural sites inscribed during the 28th session of the World Heritage Committee : Denmark - Ilulissat Icefjord; Indonesia – Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra ; Russian Federation - Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve; Saint Lucia - Pitons Management Area; South Africa - Cape Floral Region Protected Areas. This brings to 154 the number of natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The Committee - chaired by Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Education of China and Chairperson of China’s National Commission for UNESCO - will continue its work through July 7, notably reviewing the state of conservation of properties recognized as being of outstanding universal value. As part of this work, it will update the List of World Heritage in Danger.



Landlocked Mongolia's Seafaring Tradition & Bizarre Links with North Korea & Singapore

Landlocked Mongolia takes to the waves
James Brooke NYT
Saturday, July 03, 2004

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia Down an avenue named after Genghis Khan, up to the third floor of a Soviet-era government ministry building and down a creaking wooden hallway, its carpet frayed and faded with the dust and the sun of the steppes, one office door has a freshly minted sign: Maritime Administration.

In a one-room office, with computers, a fax machine at the ready and model ships for decor, two civil servants oversee the Mongolia Ship Registry, an international service that offers quite competitive fees and no restrictions on the ownership of any ship.

Mongolia, the world's largest landlocked country, with its capital almost 1,600 kilometers, or 1,000 miles, from an ocean, is the latest entry in the business of flags of convenience. With Mongolia's red, yellow and blue colors now flying on 260 ships at sea, this unlikely venture is part business, part comedy and part international intrigue.

"We earned the treasury about $200,000 last year," Bazarragchaa Altan-Od, head of the Maritime Administration, said, slightly tense for his first interview with the world press. "We have 20 to 30 new registrations every month. The number is increasing."

New international shipping security rules, which went into effect July 1, require that ships and ports adopt verifiable, uniform security plans. Intended to prevent hijackings of large vessels for terrorist attacks, the rules are promoted by the International Maritime Organization, a UN body with no enforcement powers.

The U.S. Coast Guard has said it will check compliance by boarding selected major ships approaching American ports.

It was an unexpected twist of fate that brought Mongolia, a nation of nomadic herders, to the high seas.

In the 1980s, a Mongolian university student known only as Ganbaatar won a scholarship to study fish farming in the Soviet Union.

But the state functionary filling out his application put down the course code as 1012, instead of 1013. As he later told Robert Stern, producer of a documentary on the Mongolian Navy, that bureaucratic error detoured him from fish farming to deep-sea fishing.

Upon graduation, he was sent to work with the seven-man Mongolian Navy, which patrolled the nation's largest lake, Hovsgol. Its lone ship, a tugboat, had been hauled in parts across the steppes, assembled on a beach and launched in 1938.

After the collapse of Communism here in 1990, Ganbaatar wrote Mongolia's new maritime law, which took effect in 1999.

The registry opened for business in February 2003. Perhaps to play down any negative connotations of being landlocked, the glossy color brochure of the Mongolia Ship Registry shows Mongolia surrounded on three sides by a light blue blob that, on closer inspection, turns out to be China.

The registry's international intrigue may be found in its management - and its management's relations with North Korea.

Sovereign Ventures, a Singapore-based classification company, handles the Mongolia Ship Registry, and Chong Koy Sen handles the business.

According to Lloyd's List, the maritime trade publication, Chong is a major shareholder in Korasia Shipping and Trading, the Cambodia Shipping Corp. and Sovereign Ventures. Korasia operates ships for North Korea and, through Sovereign Ventures, explores for oil and gas in North Korea.

Cambodia Shipping registered foreign vessels - many of them North Korean - for Cambodia, until 2002, when the French Navy seized the Winner, a Cambodian-flagged cargo ship, for cocaine smuggling.

The seizure, the latest in a series of mishaps for Cambodian-flagged vessels, prompted the Cambodian government to cancel its contract with Cambodia Shipping.

North Korea, which has revived relations in recent months with the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, the former Communist party, plans to reopen its embassy here in the fall.

Vessels under the North Korean flag increasingly are watched around the world. Under the Proliferation Security Initiative, the United States and a dozen nations started last year to monitor North Korean vessels for illicit cargoes such as drugs, missiles or nuclear weapon fuel.

Here at the one-room office of the Maritime Administration, the cheerful calendars illustrated with pictures of tropical fish and coral were not enough to break the tension caused by a question about flagging ships from North Korea.

"Within international agreements, some countries have friendly relationships with Mongolia," Altan-Od said. He declined to specify where most registered vessels originated, but did note, "We have one to two American ships."

With or without North Korean vessels, critics say Mongolia is registering anything that floats and can pay the fee.

Mongolia "is indicative of the larger, growing trend of the weakening of the nation state on the high seas," William Langewiesche, author of "The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime," a new book, said in a phone interview.

Over the last 25 years, he said, the use of flags of convenience has grown from a small portion of the roughly 40,000 large vessels at sea "to account for a large percentage of shipping worldwide, over half."

Critics say that safety is the victim of an international shipping system that leaves enforcement of international rules to countries that register vessels and to ports where they drop anchor.

For example, last Nov. 21, 13 Russian sailors were rescued from the Fest, a 40-year-old Mongolian-flagged ship loaded with logs that was sinking in the Sea of Japan. In 6-meter, or 20-foot, waves, the ship's main engine had failed.

And on Dec. 9, the Indonesian Navy seized the Mongolian-flagged MV Bravery Falcon because it had no documentation to prove that its load of 17,000 cubic meters, or 600,000 cubic feet, of tropical hardwood had been legally logged.

The New York Times

Saturday, July 03, 2004

So is this place for real?

So is this place for real?

Jeremy Atiyah sees behind the mask of Singapore

04 April 2004

I'm in Singapore to find out if the whole country isn't one big PR stunt, something dreamt up by the ministry of tourism.

Because on the face of it, this place is just too good to be true. It must be the result of government spin. It will vanish as soon as my back is turned. The charming façades of those "heritage" quarters will be removed to reveal ugly concrete blocks and piles of garbage. The lovely canopies of rain-trees embracing the highways will be replaced by hoardings of naked women. The quiet couples slurping noodles after dark on verandas will become rioting, spitting, drug-taking delinquents. The very history of this island state will be unwritten.

Either that or I'm envious. My analyst would suggest the latter. Perhaps, deep down, I just can't bear to accept that the old patriarch Lee Kuan Yew had the foresight decades ago to train his people in civic virtues, and to plant all these trees, and to place conservation orders on the quaintest areas of local housing.

Anyway, this is what my mission boils down to: has Singapore been designed as a pleasure park for tourists? Or is it a real country, with needs and interests of its own?

I'm starting my investigation with breakfast in a place called the Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre, which is an outdoor market sheltered by a 100-year-old roof constructed of iron lacework from Glasgow.

How can there possibly be anything fake about this? I see vast numbers of food stalls and communal seating for everyone. Hundreds of fans are swishing overhead. In all directions, real Singaporeans are slurping, sucking and chewing on fish balls, duck rice, dim sum, curry and sushi. Most meals cost a pound or two. This cooling breeze, these strips of bitter gourd filled with fish paste, this ice-cold soy milk - they are real all right. This has got to be the best restaurant in the world.

I must say that if Singapore is a stunt, it is turning out a pretty clever one. When we climb into a taxi, I notice our driver drinking tea out of a plastic bag, hung from the ceiling of his car. "That's great!" I say. "Authentic!" "It is convenient and hygienic," says the driver.

A few traffic-free minutes later we are standing outside a beautiful old yellow palace, said to have belonged to the family of the local sultan. (It was the sultan who permitted Stamford Raffles to establish his colony of Singapore in the first place.) We are in the middle of a place called the Arab Quarter. It's a nice spot all right, with mango trees dotted about the garden. Muslims from Java and elsewhere, my guide tells me, used to gather here to prepare for the haj.

There is only one thing that looks fishy: that the palace, right now, is in the process of being converted into a heritage centre. So there aren't any real live Arabs in the Arab Quarter any more, I ask my guide. She promptly leads me round a corner to find a crowd in skullcaps scoffing noodles and drinking milky tea under a nearby colonnade. In fact they are Malay Muslims, but I suppose that'll do, especially given that we are now at the corner of Muscat Street and Kandahar Street, opposite what is undeniably a mosque. This Muslim food looks jolly good too: I can see piles of barbecued lamb and spicy aubergine, all being served on banana-leaf plates.

In true Singapore style, everything round here has been renovated to perfection. Picturesque palm trees line the streets. The fronts of the two-storey houses are still Chinese baroque, all half-moon tiles, bamboo roof-ridges, Malaysian swing-doors and Corinthian columns. Old saloon doors have not been torn down; ornate lattice vents, once used by women for peering out at strangers, are still visible.

We stroll about the local shops looking at brocaded fabrics and silks, carpets and jewels. Some of these traders claim to have been here since the 1820s. Shop signs betray their origins: "Abdul Aziz and Co" is next door to "Hui Leong Textiles". It is hard to find any genuinely crumbling plaster, but I do come across a genuine Arab food shop, Café Le Caire, where I can get hummus, kebab and a hubbly-bubbly to smoke.

Who cares about authenticity when things are as gaily multicultural as this? Not me. Not really. Just round the corner from the Arab Quarter is its subcontinental counterpart, Little India. Until the 1930s, cattle roamed this area; now it too contains a heritage centre, explaining its curiosities to us tourists.

I don't know how the locals feel about being exhibits, but they do look indisputably Indian. In the local food arcade crowds of short, dark people are tucking into masala dosa and eggs and milky tea. In the shops I see bangles and marigold wreaths. Shops are decorated with Hindu altars. Men are queuing up at the barber to have their eyebrows trimmed. A fortune-teller with yellow turmeric smudges on her face is talking about her customers to a green parrot.

We knock back a cup of cardamom tea in a posh vegetarian restaurant. Gandhi's exhortations are printed on the walls; jewel-encrusted ladies in silk saris are carrying plastic trays. On the wall outside is a facility for selecting and paying for our order by credit card. I would not describe this as a particularly authentic touch, but the air conditioning is excellent.

And next up on our tour of this touristic heaven is Chinatown itself. On the way there, my guide feeds me shocking details of the "four evils" that recently plagued this area, namely prostitution, gambling, opium and drink. She tells me about the "death houses", where lonely old people went to spend their last days (for a fee). And she generally paints me a picture of a hubbub of fish-sellers, food-hawkers, barrow-pushers, drink-pedlars, fortune-tellers and opera-singers packing the streets.

I would like to exclude the possibility that this is a fantasy, dreamt up to provide material for another of Singapore's heritage centres. But funnily enough, the first thing we see in Chinatown is another heritage centre, the excellent Chinatown museum, showing the original Chinese immigrants as the boat people of their day, arriving en masse, fleeing hunger in China. The journey by junk from Hong Kong, I now learn, took about a week, and many perished en route. Most came with the intention of returning, though few did.

The highlight of the museum is the re-creation of the shop-houses of the 1950s, showing how entire families lived in narrow rooms separated from their neighbours by thin partitions open at the ceiling. Today, we tourists can peer in to see their hard wooden beds, their reed matting, their thermoses, their pots, bowls, sewing machines and other knick-knackery. We can even hear the sound effects, on tape, of cooking and quarrelling - safe in the knowledge that today's Chinatown contains nothing but food stalls, trendy restaurants and boutique hotels.

Wandering later through the same quarter, I'll choose a bowl of noodles with huge and delicious shrimps costing only slightly more than nothing. I'll drink from a fresh coconut. And I'll sit there and watch acrobats prance in the street while listening to snippets of Chinese opera and watching otherwise rational people burning incense sticks and paper money for the spirits of their ancestors. Isn't this authentically Chinese all right?

After my three-hour potted tour of Asia, it's time for a burst of Europe. Singapore, you see, has it all. My guide suggests that we drop in at Raffles Hotel, which, when we get there, does indeed turn out to be an intensely charming place, with modestly proportioned courtyards and palm trees and tiffin and turbaned porters. The famous Long Bar may have lost something with the advent of air conditioning and of recorded pop music. (Would Somerset Maugham have listened to Abba?) But if Raffles had been in Hong Kong, I muse, it would now be 40 storeys tall and have helicopters landing on its roof.

Which is not to say that Singapore can't do modernity. Of course it can. When I've finished looking at Singapore's past, my next task is to visit its future. This means a visit to the Esplanade Theatres right in the middle of town.

These two world-class concert halls may have cost more than £200m, but Singaporeans do not seem to be complaining. For one thing, they look great. In fact they resemble two monstrous prickly durians. Big international orchestras have already played here; operatic megastars such as Jose Carreras have given it their blessing. And, as everyone knows, Singapore will not be a proper city unless it has a proper concert hall.

Night falls, suddenly, and it's time for dinner. My guide proposes an ex-convent called Chijmes. Why not, I say, gazing over a lovely complex of shops, bars and restaurants amid green lawns and frangipani trees. Over there I even see a chapel with stained-glass windows and a gothic tower. This place, it turns out, was run as a school by French nuns until the 1980s. But that must have seemed like a waste of a good heritage site, which is why the school has now moved out, and we lucky tourists have moved in.

After dinner, my guide surprises me yet again, announcing that a huge outdoor party called Zoukout is being held on reclaimed land not far from the city centre. Lots of trendy musicians and DJs will be in attendance, and we are going to join them. Getting into Zoukout is a bit like getting into the Pentagon. Only after many police checks do we finally step into an enclosed grassy field to meet a PR called Harry Ng, who is perhaps the only man in Singapore wearing a woolly hat. "Yeah, people are really gonna be freakin' out and enjoying themselves all night long," shouts Harry. He is probably right. Mild-mannered young people are queuing up outside. Skyscrapers glitter to one side. The weather is perfect. Does Singapore have an existence independent of its desire to please visitors? I am beginning to think it does.


How to get there

The writer traveller as a guest of Singapore Tourism. Return fares to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (0870- 608 8886; start from £560.

Where to find out more

Call Singapore Tourism on 020-7437 0033.

13 more properties added to World Heritage List at 2004 Committee session

13 more properties added to World Heritage List at 2004 Committee session
Posted: 02 Jul 2004, Contact: WHC

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea had its first site inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List today with the addition of a complex of Koguryo tombs. Andorra also entered the List with the cultural landscape of Madriu-Claror-Perafita Valley. They were among 13 cultural sites listed in Suzhou today. Below are the new sites inscribed on July 1 at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Suzhou, along with three extensions to existing sites:

Andorra - Madriu-Claror-PerafitaValley. The cultural landscape of Madriu-Claror-PerafitaValley offers a microcosmic perspective of the way people have harvested the resources of the high Pyrenees over millennia. Its dramatic glacial landscapes of craggy cliffs and glaciers, with high open pastures and steep wooded valleys covers an area of 4,247-ha., nine percent of the total area of the Principality. It reflects past changes in climate, economic fortune and social systems, as well as the persistence of pastoralism and a strong mountain culture, notably the survival of a communal land ownership system dating back to the 13th century. The valley, the last in the country to have no roads, features houses, notably summer settlements, terraced fields, stone tracks, and evidence of iron smelting.
Australia - Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens. The Royal Exhibition Building and its surrounding Carlton Gardens were designed for the great international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888 in Melbourne. The building and grounds were designed by Joseph Reed. The building is constructed of brick and timber, steel and slate. It combines elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance styles. The property is typical of the international exhibition movement which saw over 50 exhibitions staged between 1851 and 1915 in venues including Paris, New York, Vienna, Calcutta, Kingston (Jamaica) and Santiago (Chile). All shared a common theme and aims: to chart material and moral progress through displays of industry from all nations.
China - Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom. The site includes archaeological remains of three cities and 40 tombs: Wunu Mountain City, Guonei City and Wandu Mountain City, 14 tombs are imperial, 26 of nobles. All belong to the Koguryo culture, named after the dynasty that ruled over parts of northern China and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula from 277 BC to 668 AD. Wunu Mountain City is only partly excavated. Guonei City, within the modern city of Ji’an, played the role of a supporting capital after the main Koguryo capital moved to Pyongyang. Wandu Mountain City, one of the capitals of the Koguryo Kingdom, contains many vestiges including a large palace and 37 tombs. Some of the tombs show great ingenuity in their elaborate ceilings, designed to roof wide spaces without columns and carry the heavy load of a stone or earth tumulus (mound), which was placed above them.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea - Complex of Koguryo Tombs. The property includes several groups and individual tombs - totalling about 30 individual tombs - from the later period of the Koguryo Kingdom. The tombs, many with beautiful wall paintings, are almost the only remains of this culture. Only about 90 out of more than 10,000 Koguryo tombs discovered in China and Korea so far, have wall paintings. Almost half of these tombs are located on this site and they are thought to have been made for the burial of kings, members of the royal family and the aristocracy. These paintings offer a unique testimony to daily life of this period.
India - Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park. A concentration of largely unexcavated archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties cradled in an impressive landscape which includes prehistoric (chalcolithic) sites, a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and remains of the 16th century capital of the state of Gujarat. The site also includes, among other vestiges, fortifications, palaces, religious buildings, residential precincts, and water installations, from the 8th to the 14th centuries. The Kalikamata Temple on top of the Pavagadh Hill is considered to be an important shrine, attracting large numbers of pilgrims throughout the year. The site is the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city.
India - Chhatrapati Shivaji Station (formerly Victoria Terminus). The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, in Mumbai, is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving from Indian traditional architecture. The building, designed by the British architect F.W. Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the ‘Gothic City’ and the major international mercantile port of India. The terminal was built over ten years starting in 1878 according to a High Victorian Gothic design based on late medieval Italian models. Its remarkable stone dome, turrets, pointed arches, and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. It is an outstanding example of the meeting of two cultures as British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition and idioms forging a new style unique to Bombay.
Islamic Republic of Iran - Pasargadae. The first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus II, the Great, in Pars, homeland of the Persians, in the 6th century BC. Its palaces, gardens, and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization. Particularly noteworthy vestiges in the 160-ha site include: the Mausoleum of Cyrus II; Tall-e Takht, a fortified terrace; and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace, and gardens. Pasaragadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. This was reflected in Achaemenid architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures.
Japan - Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, three sacred sites - Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan - linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan from China and the Korean peninsula. The sites (495.3-ha) and their surrounding forest landscape reflect a persistent and extraordinarily well-documented tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years. The area, with its abundance of streams, rivers and waterfalls, is still part of the living culture of Japan and is much visited for ritual purposes and hiking, with up to 15 million visitors annually. Each of the three sites contains shrines, some of which were founded as early as the 9th century.
Jordan - Um er-Rasas (Kastron Mefa’a). Most of this archaeological site, which started as a Roman military camp and grew to become a town as of the 5th century, has not been excavated. It contains remains from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Moslem periods (end of 3rd to 9th century AD) and a fortified Roman military camp, ca 150-m by 150-m. The site also has 16 churches, some with well-preserved mosaic floors. Particularly noteworthy is the mosaic floor of the Church of Saint Stephen with its representation of towns in the region. Two square towers are probably the only remains of the practice, well known in this part of the world, of the stylite monks (i.e. ascetic monks who spent time in isolation atop a column or tower). Um er-Rasas is surrounded by, and dotted with, remains of ancient agricultural cultivation in an arid area. It is here that the Prophet Mohamed, travelling as a tradesman, met a monk who convinced him of the virtue of monotheism.
Kazakhstan - Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly. Set around the lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multi-layered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient tombs are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings.
Mongolia - Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape. The 121,967-ha Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape encompasses an extensive area of pastureland on both banks of the Orkhon River and includes numerous archaeological remains dating back to the 6th century. The site also includes Kharkhorum, the 13th and 14th century capital of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan’s vast Empire. Collectively the remains in the site reflect the symbiotic links between nomadic, pastoral societies and their administrative and religious centres, and the importance of the Orkhon valley in the history of central Asia. The grassland is still grazed by Mongolian nomadic pastoralists.
Norway - Vegaøyan - the Vega Archipelago. A cluster of dozens of islands centred on Vega, just south of the Arctic Circle, forms a cultural landscape of 103,710-ha, of which 6,930 is land. The islands bear testimony to a distinctive frugal way of life based on fishing and the harvesting of the down of eider ducks, in an inhospitable environment. There are fishing villages, quays, warehouses, eider houses (built for eider ducks to nest in), farming landscapes, lighthouses and beacons. There is evidence of human settlement from the Stone Age on. By the 9th century, the islands had become an important centre for the supply of down which appears to have accounted for around a third of the islanders’ income. The Vega Archipelago reflects the way fishermen/farmers have, over the past 1,500 years, maintained a sustainable living and the contribution of women to eiderdown harvesting.
The Russian Federation - Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent. The Novodevichy Convent, in south-western Moscow, built in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the so-called Moscow Baroque style, was part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The Convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin. It was used by women of the Tsar’s family and of the aristocracy. Members of the Tsar’s family and entourage were also buried in its cemetery. The Convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artefacts.
The extensions to existing sites concern:
China - Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang has been inscribed as an extension of the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties inscribed in 1987. The property is now to be known as the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang. The Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang consists of 114 buildings, constructed between 1625-26 and 1783. It contains an important library and testifies to the foundation of the last dynasty that ruled China, before it expanded its power to the centre of the country and moved the capital to Beijing. This palace then became auxiliary to the Imperial Palace in Beijing. This remarkable architectural edifice offers important historical testimony to the history of the Qing Dynasty and to the cultural traditions of the Manchu and other tribes in the north of China.
China - Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, represents the addition of three Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Liaoning to the Ming tombs inscribed in 2000 and 2003. The Three Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Liaoning Province include the Yongling Tomb, the Fuling Tomb, and the Zhaoling Tomb, all built in the 17th century. Constructed for the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty and their ancestors, the tombs follow the precepts of traditional Chinese geomancy and fengshui theory. They feature rich decoration of stone statues and carvings and tiles with dragon motifs, illustrating the development of the funerary architecture of the Qing Dynasty. The three tomb complexes, and their numerous edifices, combine traditions inherited from previous dynasties and new features of Manchu civilization.
India - Two great Chola Temples of the 11th and 12th centuries have been added to the 11th century Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, inscribed in 1987. The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of South India and the neighbouring islands. The site now includes the three great 11th and 12th century Chola Temples: the Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram. The Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. It has six pairs of massive, monolithic dvarapalas statues guarding the entrances and bronzes of remarkable beauty inside. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the Cholas brilliant achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.

The Committee will continue reviewing sites submitted by States Parties to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger over the coming days and is expected to finalize inscriptions by Friday. The session, chaired by Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Education of China and Chairperson of China’s National Commission for UNESCO, will continue until July 7, notably to discuss important matters such as the state of conservation of World Heritage sites. The Chairperson, accompanied by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki and by Francesco Bandarin, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre will give a press conference at the close of inscriptions, at the Suzhou Town Planning Conference Centre.

The following natural sites have been inscribed by the Committee yesterday : Denmark - Ilulissat Icefjord; Indonesia - Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra ; Russian Federation - Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve; Saint Lucia - Pitons Management Area; South Africa - Cape Floral Region Protected Areas. This brings to 154 the number of natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The cultural sites inscribed yesterday are: Mali - Tomb of Askia; Morocco - Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida); and Togo - Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba.*

10 reasons why Singapore isn't a good target for terrorist

10 reasons why Singapore isn't a good target for terrorist
     1. Too confusing: is Singapore in China?
     2. Too valuable: Singapore is the place in Southeast
     Asia with the best facilities to hold a terrorist conference.
     3. Too risky - your robes might get caught in MRT
     doors and you could be dragged to your death.
     4. Too expensive: to buy cars in Singapore to place
     the bombs in them.
     5. Too little airspace: Trying to fly a plane into a
     building is too difficult as you're very likely to accidentally
  langgar either airforce jets practicing for the National Day
     Parade or the Starhubblimp.
     6. Too leceh: to hit a sizeable mass of people, you
     have to be constantly updated as to which part of the island is
  having a closing/ opening/ moving/ renovation/ mid-year/ end-of-year/
  end-of-season/ anniversary/ pre-whatever/ post-whatever/ storewide/
  Great Singapore/ Heartland Singapore SALE; or giving away free
  tickets/ books/ gifts/ Hello Kittys/ balloons...
     7. Too gross: you have to drink your recycled pee here.
     8. Too complicated: before you conduct a campaign of
     terror, you'll have to make sure you don't clash with the Courtesy
     Campaign, the Speak Good English Campaign, the Speak Mandarin
     Campaign, etc, etc
     9. Too late: by the time the terrorists get here, most
     of the Singaporeans would have emigrated anyway.
     10. Too small: it takes too much time finding the
     small dot on the world map and they may miss it and hit M'sia
     That's a no-no as M'sia is largely occupied by Muslims.

Friday, July 02, 2004

New sites on World Heritage List

New sites on World Heritage List
Posted: 01 Jul 2004, Contact: WHC

A glacier-fjord in Greenland, the Ilulissat Icefjord, is among the five new natural sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, while the extraordinary earthen architecture of Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba, in Togo, is one of three new cultural sites inscribed by the World Heritage Committee in Suzhou today.

The ongoing 28th session of the Committee, chaired by Zhang Xinsheng, Vice Minister of Education of China and Chairperson of China's National Commission for UNESCO, also approved extensions to three natural sites already on the List.

Over the coming days, the 21-member World Heritage Committee will continue reviewing sites submitted by States Parties to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, and sites to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and is expected to finalize inscriptions by Friday. The session will continue until July 7 notably to discuss important matters such as the state of conservation of World Heritage sites.

With the new sites approved so far, two countries, Saint Lucia and Togo make their appearance on the World Heritage List. Greenland, administered by Denmark, also makes its first entry.

The following sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List, which now includes 154 natural properties:

Denmark - Ilulissat Icefjord - Located on the west coast of Greenland, 250-km north of the Arctic Circle, Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord (40,240-ha) is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest (19-m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. It annually calves over 35 cubic kilometres of ice, i.e. 10 percent of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. Studied for over 250 years, it has helped develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs makes for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.
Indonesia – Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra - The 2.5 million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The site holds the greatest potential for long term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species. The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orangutan. It also provides biogeographic evidence of the evolution of the island.
Russian Federation - Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve - Located well above the Arctic Circle, the site includes the mountainous Wrangel Island (7,608-km2), Herald Island (11-km2) and surrounding waters. Wrangel was not glaciated during the Quaternary Ice Age resulting in exceptionally high levels of biodiversity for this region. The island boasts the world's largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens. It is a major feeding ground for the grey whale migrating from Mexico and the northernmost nesting ground for 100 migratory bird species, many endangered. Currently, 417 species and sub-species of vascular plants have been identified on the island, double that of any other arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. Some species are derivative of widespread continental forms, others are the result of recent hybridisation. Twenty three are endemic.
Saint Lucia - Pitons Management Area - The 2,909-ha site near the town of Soufriere, includes the Pitons, two volcanic spires rising side by side from the sea (770-m and 743-m high respectively), linked by the Piton Mitan ridge. The volcanic complex includes a geothermal field with sulphurous fumeroles and hot springs. Coral reefs cover almost 60 percent of the site's marine area. A survey has revealed 168 species of finfish, 60 species of cnidaria, including corals, eight molluscs, 14 sponges, 11 echinoderms, 15 arthropods and eight annelid worms. Hawksbill turtles are seen inshore, whale sharks and pilot whales offshore. The dominant terrestrial vegetation is tropical moist forest grading to subtropical wet forest with small areas of dry forest and wet elfin woodland on the summits. At least 148 plant species have been recorded on Gros Piton, 97 on Petit Piton and the intervening ridge, among them eight rare tree species. The Gros Piton is home to some 27 bird species (five of them endemic), three indigenous rodents, one opossum, three bats, eight reptiles and three amphibians.
South Africa - Cape Floral Region Protected Areas - A serial site - in Cape Province, South Africa - made up of eight protected areas, covering 553,000-ha. The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5 percent of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20 percent of the continent's flora. The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region. The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora are of outstanding value to science.

The following cultural sites have been inscribed so far:

Mali - Tomb of Askia - The dramatic 17-m pyramidal structure of Le Tombeau des Askia was built by Askia Mohamed, the Emperor of Songhai, in 1495 in his capital Gao. It bears testimony to the power and riches of the Empire that flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries through its control of the trans Saharan trade, notably in salt and gold. It is also a fine example of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel. The complex, including the pyramidal tomb, two flat roofed mosque buildings, the mosque cemetery, and the open air assembly ground, was built when Gao became the capital of the Songhai Empire and after Askia Mohamed had returned from Mecca and made Islam the official religion of the Empire.
Morocco - Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) - The Portuguese fortification of Mazagan, now part of the city of El Jadida, 90km southwest of Casablanca, was built as a fortified colony on the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. It was taken over by the Moroccans in 1769. The fortification with its bastions and ramparts is an early example of Renaissance military design. The surviving Portuguese buildings include the cistern and the Church of the Assumption, built in the Manueline style of late Gothic architecture. The Portuguese City of Mazagan - one of the early settlements of the Portuguese explorers in West Africa on the route to India - is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures, well reflected in architecture, technology, and town planning.
Togo – Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba - The Koutammakou landscape in northeastern Togo, which extends into neighbouring Benin, is home to the Batammariba whose remarkable mud tower-houses have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo. In this landscape, nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society. The 50,000-ha cultural landscape is remarkable due to the architecture of its Takienta tower-houses which are a reflection of social structure; its farmland and forest; and the associations between people and landscape. Many of the buildings are two stories high and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies.

The Committee also approved extensions for the following sites:

U.K. - St Kilda (first inscribed as a natural site in 1986) a volcanic archipelago with spectacular landscapes, is situated off the coast of the Hebrides and comprises the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray. It has some of the highest cliffs in Europe, inhabited by large colonies of rare and endangered species of birds, especially puffins and gannets. The marine area around the archipelago was extended, almost doubling the size of the site.
U.K. - The 14km2 Inaccessible Island was added to the Gough Island Wildlife Reserve , in the South Atlantic, first inscribed in 1995. The site, now called Gough and Inaccessible Islands , is one of the least-disrupted island and marine ecosystems in the cool temperate zone. The spectacular cliffs of each island, towering above the ocean, are free of introduced mammals and homes to one of the world's largest colonies of sea birds. Gough Island is home to two endemic species of land birds, the gallinule and the Gough rowettie, as well as to 12 endemic species of plants, while Inaccessible Island boasts of two birds, eight plants and at least ten invertebrates endemic to the island.
Costa Rica - The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (inscribed in 1999), was extended with the addition of a 15,000-ha private property, St Elena. It contains important natural habitats for the conservation of biological diversity, including the best dry forest habitats from Central America to northern Mexico and key habitats for endangered or rare plant and animal species. The site demonstrates significant ecological processes in both its terrestrial and marine-coastal environments.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Birthday of Twa Ya Peh

Thanks to Victor on the lead.  I went to the tentages at the empty land next to Redhill MRT.  It's the temple "Long Chuan Dian" (in Mnadarin) celebrating the birthdays of Cheng Wan (City God) and Twa Ya Peh (Mandarin: Da Er Yeh).  Da Er Yeh refer to the two Nether Gods - the tall Bai Wu Chang and the short Hei Wu Chang. 
The ceremonies began on Thu night when the Jade Emperor "arrived".  Since then, there have been wayang performances and this will continue for the next few days.  On Sat night, there will be "spiritual consultation" at 8:15pm.   On Monday 8:10pm, there will be a major spirit possession ceremony during which visitors are requested not to wear black clothing.    On Tuesday 10pm, there will be possession by "Ji Gong", the monk deity, who will send off the various gods, thus ending the celebrations.
Wee Cheng

Victor Yue  wrote:
Hi Ronni,
Thanks for the tip off. I actually went cruising in my car today (took an afternoon off) looking for the now familiar taoist temple related flags and banners being put along the road leading to the celebration.
Saw one tentage just behind Mobil Station, along Alexandra Road. They are celebrating the birthday of "Tua Li Ya Peh". I am sure there are also quite a number in Singapore. Will try to check out the field opposite to Maxwell Food Centre (this place has already been marked for the building of a Buddhist Temple) as this is the place where there are celebrations of the birthdays of "Tua Li Ya Peh" (in Hokkien) and "San Huang Wu Ti" (in Mandarin).
Send your sightings to the list. (^^)

Friday, June 25, 2004

Wang Hai Da Bo Gong Temple, Shenton Way

I went to the "Fu De Ce Wang Hai Da Bo Gong" temple ("Temple of the Da Bo Gong Overlooking The Sea" & the "Shrine of Fu De") at the southern end of Shenton Way near MAS Building today. Picked up a leaflet that says that the temple will be celebrating the following events on Sunday 25 July 2004:

- 185th Anniversary of Wang Hai Do Bo Gong (1819)

- 160th Anniversary of the rebuilding of Fu De Ce (1844)

- God Mercy Birthday (Lunar Calendar 19th day of 6th Moon)

There will be a ceremony conducted by Taoist priests and a puppet opera staged. Vegetarian food will be provided from 10am to 3pm.

I thought Da Bo Gong is also Fu De Zheng Shen, so why is it that they seem to imply Fu De Ce is different from Da Bo Gong? Does anyone know?


Wee Cheng

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Should there be any World Heritage Sites in Singapore?

World Heritage Sites (WHS)


UNESCO is going to announce the latest additions to WHS end of this week or next week.  Looking at the list of more than 700 sites, I sometimes wonder if it’s difficult to qualify at all.  Although the list includes world class sites like the Great Wall and Pyramids, it also includes many lesser known ones – including a Swedish submarine base and an 18th century iron mill factory site in England.  I have been asking myself if any site in Singapore qualify. 


The issue of Singapore having withdrawn from UNESCO aside – we left UNESCO together with the USA years ago due to political reasons – but are there places in Singapore that merit this status? 


The WHS label has become a kind of ISO 9000 for historical sites.  Having a WHS in Singapore would certainly help dispel the notion that Singapore has no historical sites or heritage, and is nothing but a sterile, cultureless, soulless city with North American style infrastructure and concrete jungle.  It would also provide greater impetus and incentive to conservation of heritage in Singapore.


I don’t know whether any of our heritage buildings qualify in terms of UNESCO’s conservation standards and requirements.  Personally, I do think that some of our districts do qualify for their historical and anthropological value.  Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and the Civic District are the result of colonial urban planning for a city designed as the political, military and economic capital of the British Empire in Southeast Asia.  The old bungalows and architecture of Katong / Joo Chiat area are unique products of the combination of European and Chinese building style, and was once the centre of the Peranakan, an unique culture that was the marriage of two great Asian cultures.  The combination of these can be combined into a single submission to the UNESCO, as the “Old City of Singapore”, “Historic Centre of Singapore” or “Ethnic Quarters of Colonial Singapore”.


Any views or insights?


Thursday, June 17, 2004

What are your favourite countries or regions? Name 10

What are your favourite countries or regions?  Name 10
Wee Cheng's Favourite Country/Regions
- Yunnan Province, China
- Peru
- Vietnam
- Italy
- Thailand
- Mongolia
- Morocco
- Spain
- Guatemala
- Turkey
What's yours?  Post a Comment below!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

What's Your Top 10 in Singapore?

Here’s my list of top 10 places to see and things to do in Singapore, and top 3 weekend trips (limited to 2 days’) from Singapore. 


My TOP 10 places to see and things to do in Singapore:


1.                  Food, Food, Food!  (Maxwell & Newton hawker centres)

2.                  Exotic festivals (Thaipusam) and traditional rituals (Taoist spirit mediums)

3.                  Asian Civilisation Museum Empress Place branch

4.                  Little India (most exotic area in Singapore)

5.                  Views from the Esplanade rooftop & the National Arts Library

6.                  Architecture & food in Joo Chiat/Geylang area

7.                  Chinatown (food all year round & the Chinese New Year bazaar)

8.                  Lizards of Sungei Buloh

9.                  View from Merlion & One Fullerton

10.              Zoo & Night Safari


Top 3 weekenders from Singapore:


  1. Bangkok
  2. Kuala Lumpur
  3. Melaka food-driveup trip


What’s yours?  Add your list by clicking “Comments” below – and then “Post a Comment”

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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Whose Dragon Boat Festival?

Whose Dragon Boat Festival?
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For traditional Asian culture facing same modernization challenge, China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are both only one of the representatives, perhaps in the process of breaking through an encirclement, Dragon Boat Festival [Duan Wu] (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month) will become a shared cultural heritage in the East Asian cultural circle.

No matter whether or not the ROK applies for making Dragon Boat Festival a world cultural heritage for its own country, the topic of China's traditional national culture has once again aroused the Chinese people's attention, the ROK which is also in the same cultural circle has many things that are worthwhile for China to use as reference.

"Duan Wu as a cultural heritage" in S. Koreans' eyes
Reporter Zhang Li of the International Herald Leader stationed in Seoul reported: the news about the ROK prepared to apply for making the Dragon Boat Festival a world cultural heritage has touched off divergent opinions, then what does S. Korean Dragon Boat Festival look like? To what degree has the ROK application work proceeded? And how do S. Koreans view China's "defense of Dragon Boat Festival"?

"Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" applied for status as cultural heritage to boost local economy
Dragon Boat Festival, Spring Festival and Mid-autumn Festival together are the three major festivals of the ROK, Duan Wu Festival is quite popular in the eastern areas centered on Jiang Ling. There are records on the customs of spending the Dragon Boat Festival in ancient South Korean books: "The Annals of Wei" and

The Classic of ROK" which recorded ancient customs and habits.It is said that the "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" has a history of more than 100 years and currently has been formed into a complete set of comprehensive activity system featuring the folk customs of the ROK, the procedures encompass "brewing nectar", "worshipping mountain god", "felling god trees", "memorial rites of welcoming gods", "sorcery of Duan Wu", and "memorial rites of seeing off gods" as well as various other activities of offering sacrifices to gods. A special official is assigned to preside over these activities.

Besides sacrificial activities, there are also swing, wrestling, masque, the pleasure of farmers, folk songs and many other folk customs, games and cultural activities. In addition, the Duan Wu memorial rites also include "disorderly sites", i.e., large markets and sites where performances regarding folk customs are staged. Because the "disorderly sites" can attract large groups of people to come for sightseeing and consumption, they are therefore regarded as one of the most important factors in applying for the status of ¡°Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" as a world cultural heritage.

At present, large-scale Jiang Ling sightseeing folk customs festival, centered on the "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites", is held by Jiang Ling City every year, which invites theatrical troupes and personages in the cultural circle from various countries to come to participate in the activity. In recent years, the city has invested more than 10 billion won in building a "Duan Wu Village" on the 6,000 -sq. m. land vacated by dismantling residents' sports grounds, its aim is to preserve and publicize this "invisible culture-related finance", create an atmosphere of applying for the status of world cultural heritage and finally boosting the Jiang Ling regional economy.

The Jiang Ling "Duan Wu Memorial Rites" of the ROK was designated as the country's "important invisible culture-related finance" in 1967. In early 2003, the Culture Finance Department of the ROK decided to report the country's No.13 "important invisible culture finance" to the UNESCO, applying for it the status as a cultural heritage. It is reported that currently the ROK has ancestral temple memorial ceremony, sacrificial rite music and traditional comic dialog, which have been granted the status as world cultural heritages by the UNESCO. Currently the S. Korean government and Jiang Ling City authority have produced propaganda trailers of 10 minutes and two hours in length respectively, a 150-page application document as well as photos and other materials, applying for the status of "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" as world cultural heritages, the preparatory work of application is now drawing to an end, they are prepared to formally file an application with the UNESCO in September this year. It is reported that UNESTCO will finally decide in July 2005 on whether S. Korea's "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Ritres" will be granted the status as world cultural heritage.

S. Koreans' reaction to China's "defense of Duan Wu"
After Chinese media reported the news about the ROK ready to apply for the staus of Dragon Boat Festival as a world cultural heritage, ROK media gave rapid reaction. Chosun Iibo of the ROK published a commentary saying that although Dragon Boat Festival originated in the story about Qu Yuan in the Chu State of China, the ROK and Japan had designated Duan Wu as festival long ago. S. Korea's "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" brought together dozens of sacrificial rites and folk customs and games, making them rich and grand farming cultural celebrations which have attracted world attention, that's why the ROK decided to apply for their status as world cultural heritages.

In the opinions of S. Korean scholars, the Dragon Boat Festivals of the ROK and China differ vastly. China's Dragon Boat Festival contains Dragon Boats offering sacrificial to Qu Yuan, while Jiang Ling, though located by the seaside, doesn't contain this activity. S. Korea's Duan Wu Festival contains the activity of worshipping regional renowned figures as patron saints. These scholars pointed out that at the Asia International Folk Customs Symposium in 1997 and the 2002 Seminar concerning the Drgon Boat Festival held by S. Korean, Chinese and Japanese scholars, Chinese scholars acknowledged that Jiang Ling's Duan Wu customs are different from that of China's.

According to a ROK media report, Liang Ling City and Jiang Ling Cultural Academy will take the disputes sparked by Dragon Boat Festival as an opportunity for them to publicize the actual conditions of Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites to the International community and are ready to gather together experts, professors and other scholars to jointly study and explore countermeasures.

By People's Daily Online

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Question of culture

Question of culture
Date: 2004-05-18 00:00:00
Topic: Front Page

FOR Chinese, it's a time for dragon boat racing and Zongzi. But across the Yellow Sea in Gangneung, South Korea, wrestling and swing play are the highlights. However, both events go by the same name ¡ª the Dragon Boat Festival ¡ª which falls on May 5 of the lunar calendar...


FOR Chinese, it's a time for dragon boat racing and Zongzi (ôÕ×Ó). But across the Yellow Sea in Gangneung (½­Áê), South Korea, wrestling (ˤõÓ) and swing play are the highlights. However, both events go by the same name ¡ª the Dragon Boat Festival (¶ËÎç½Ú) ¡ª which falls on May 5 of the lunar calendar.

One festival, two cultures: does one nation have the right to call it its own? It has been reported that South Korea will apply (ÉêÇë) to the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ÁªºÏ¹ú½Ì¿ÆÎÄ×éÖ¯) to make the celebration in Gangneung an intangible (·ÇÎïÖʵÄ) part its cultural heritage (ÎÄ»¯ÒŲú). If successful, people from other countries may see the Dragon Festival as a Korean creation.

As the birthplace of the yearly event more than 2,000 years ago, China is not happy with the situation. "It would be a shame if another country successfully made a traditional Chinese festival part of its own cultural heritage ahead of China," said Zhou Heping, deputy culture minister. The Ministry of Culture is even thinking of making its own application to UNESCO, covering all traditional Chinese festivals, including the Dragon Boat event.

"I don't like some of the food eaten at the festival, but I am shocked by South Korea's move," said Jin Yutong, a Senior 1 student at Xi'an Senior High School. "We should better protect the cultural heritage left to us by our ancestors."

It is thought that the festival is held in memory of the great poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), who lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period (Õ½¹úʱÆÚ). Qu was known to be a patriot (°®¹úÕß) and admired by ordinary people.

He is said to have jumped into Miluo River, because he had lost hope in his country's future. When people heard about Qu's death, they sailed up and down the river searching for his body. They also beat the drums to frighten away fish and threw Zongzi into water. These were supposed to stop the fish touching Qu. Dragon boat racing is said to come from this search for the poet's body.

Over the years, the Dragon Boat Festival has spread throughout the world. In Japan and Viet Nam, as well as South Korea, the festival has mixed with and become part of local culture.

With this in mind, some experts say that it is meaningless to argue about which country the festival belongs to. "No one can deny that it came from China," said Long Haiqing, an expert from Hunan Province. "But if all the countries involved can protect culture heritage together, they will all benefit."

Working to protect tradition

According to UNESCO, intangible cultural heritage is represented in five ways: oral traditions and expressions, including language; performing arts; social practices, rituals (ÒÇʽ) and festivals; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship (ÊÖ¹¤ÒÕ).
"The Dragon Boat Festival, with its boat racing and eating Zongzi have been part of China's cultural heritage for more than 2,000 years." said Professor Wu Bingan of Liaoning University.

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