Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beautiful Sun Moon Lake

An amazing place.  Another Taiwanese tourist attraction well-known among the Chinese diaspora.  I have skipped it on my past 2 visits to Taiwan as it sounded really touristy,  Touristy it may be, but I have to admit that this is one of the most beautiful lake resorts I have visited anywhere.  Sun Moon Lake certainly deserves all the reputation it radiates.

On the road in Taiwan's central mountains

Alishan: Taiwanese Mountain Resort immortalised by a song

阿里山的姑娘美如水 ,阿里山的少年壮如山

Alishan, a Tschou tribal village located in the central mountains of Taiwan, is one of the most famous Taiwanese tourist attractions in the Chinese world.  The popular and timeless 1970’s pop song, Alishan, which sang praises of the place’s beautiful maiden and handsome young men, has propelled this small hill station initially developed by the Japanese as a timber station into a renowned attraction amongst Asians.  We began the day in Chiayi, had a nice dip at a nearby hotspring known as Guanzhiling, then drove on to freezing 2’C Alishan through winding mountain roads.


We woke up at 5am this morning and got onto the quaint Japanese built steam train to the summit to watch a sunrise that Taiwanese tourism authorities described as one of the world’s top ten (no comments on the merit of the claim), before a very pleasant walk in the Alpine meadows and forest full of giant thousand year-old trees.  We ended our stay here with a Tschou tribal cultural performance before driving for 3+ hours to Sun Moon Lake.

Chiayi's City God Temple

Chiayi’s City God Temple is another excellent example of the island’s exuberant Minnan architectural style. The colours and sculptures of the many gods and deities are simply amazing.

Taiwan's Chiayi City: Foo Paradise

We began our drive around Central Taiwan from Chiayi City, which is the base for visits to Taiwan’s famous Aishan hill station.  Taiwan is a gastronomical paradise and many Taiwanese cities and towns have their own local specialty that they brag about.  Armed with Taiwan Tourism Board’s food brochure, we had a great time exploring Chiayi’s food delights, including fish head, glutinous rice with minced meat and the super yummy turkey rice.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another day in Okinawa

Historic Castles & Royal and Sacred sites of Kingdom of Ryukyu

Nine sites relating to the Ancient Kingdom of Ryukyu are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Apart from the Shuri Castle, there are also the royal tombs, royal gardens, sacred sites and a number of castles built on the most impenetrable cliffsides.  These monuments are not only a testimony to the cultural advancement of this long gone civilization and their historic trading and political links to countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, but also the pride of the Okinawan people in preserving their unique culture and heritage.

WWII in Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa bitterly fought between US forces and Japan during WWII was the only major land battle fought on Japanese soil during the war.  Despite overwhelming military superiority, US forces took almost 3 months to conquer this small island.  Over 200,000 Japanese civilians and military perished together with 12,000 US soldiers. Many Japanese soldiers committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs during the final stand, often forcing civilians to kill themselves before that.  Today, remnants and monuments to those horrifying battles still stood in Okinawa. 

The legacy of the war remains – Okinawa has since then become the most important US bases in the Far East, and nuclear weapons aim at China and Russia from these islands. The major US bases and the land they occupy are hated by the islanders who would want to regain control of their ancestral properties.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Classical Dances of the Kingdom of Ryukyu: Video

Shuri Castle & sites of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Classical Dances of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

I watched a 45min performance of Ryukyuan classical court dances today at the Shuri Castle in Naha.  The dances of the Kingdom of Ryukyu were said to have been influenced by both Chinese and Japanese dances.  Court dances that they were, they were very much restrained in movement.  A biased bystander commented that the dancers resembled individuals walking slowly with constipated stomachs.   Even those dances described in the official brochures as tense appeared to be tense only by mood and not by exuberance of movement.  I cannot comment as I am untrained in such matters but I have to confess that many of those who were present could easily fall asleep.  To give them credit, the dancers did have elaborate face make-up, controlled yet intense facial expressions and rather difficult constrained movements that could be achieved only after many years of training.

Naha Day 2

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hong Kong - Yuen Long/Pingshan Heritage Trail

I visited Yuen Long in the New Territories for the first time.  Again, another relaxing food and heritage walk. A different kind of HK - a more casual and relaxed one...

Hong Kong - Random Snapshots

A city that I have visited countless times... a place I've enjoyed the food, ferry rides and more.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Singapore's changing shoreline

I've always enjoyed watching the changing shoreline of Singapore, in particular,Pulau Tekong, whenever I take off from Changi Airport. Looks like Selat Johor is now rapidly being turned into an inland waterway. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Taiwan R.O.C.

Taiwan R.O.C. - Yes, Taiwan. It's known to the WTO as "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu" 臺澎金馬個別關稅領域.  In the Olympics and elsewhere, it's known as Chinese Taipei 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

East China Sea Trip 2010 (东海2010)

On Saturday, ET and I would depart for Hong Kong. After 2 nights in HK, we would fly to Naha (那覇), Okinawa (沖縄島) via Taipei.  Okinawa is the southernmost and newest of the Japanese prefectures.  We will learn to appreciate Okinawan/Ryukyu culture and cuisine, as well as visit sites relating to the Ancient Kingdom of Ryukyu (琉球國) and the WWII Battle of Okinawa.  The Kingdom of Ryukyu was once a Chinese tributary state but invaded by Japanese Satsuma warlords in 1609 and officially abolished and annexed by Japan in 1872.  

On 25th Dec, we will fly to Taiwan and join A-Long and Shaun in Chiayi City (嘉義). We will drive around the central mountainous region of Taiwan, including Alishan (阿里山), Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) and Taichung (台中), before making our way to Taipei on 29 Dec in time for the new year celebrations.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sgtravelcafe@St Sophia: Toraja/Sulawesi & East Africa

We had an interesting session on 10 Dec 10 during which Soon Khai introduced us to the fascinating funeral buffalo sacrifices of Torajaland, Sulawesi (Indonesia); while Patricia told us about her adventures in Kenya and Tanzania and emotional ascent to Kilimanjaro.

Well done and thanks to the presenters!

14 Jan 2011 Gathering: Ukraine & Phuket's Vegetarian Festival

Edwin & Ying Ying will be presenting Ukraine 360', while Matt will be presenting the month's Brief Moments "Phuket Vegetarian Festival". 

Date: 14th January 2011, Friday 730PM 

See for more details

Thursday, December 09, 2010

BBC News - Phones calls used to redefine UK regions

BBC News - Phones calls used to redefine UK regions

The new map of the UK? Looks like Wales would be split into smaller regions and Scotland would be independent.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Palle Huld, Danish Actor Said to Be Model for Tintin, Dies at 98

Thank you, Mr Huld. You have inspired generations of travellers. R.I.P.

Palle Huld, Danish Actor Said to Be Model for Tintin, Dies at 98

Palle Huld, a Danish actor whose fleet, youthful and highly public circumnavigation of the globe as a cowlicked teenager is believed to have inspired the popular comic-book character Tintin, died on Nov. 26 in Copenhagen. He was 98.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Kuda Kepang - ancient Javanese/Malay dance

Kuda Kepang - the Javanese horse dance - has long been a feature of Malay cultural performances.  However, the version that is often played in official ceremonies and cultural festivals is devoid of its original pre-Islamic spiritual highlights.  On Saturday night (27/11/10), I brought my Japanese friends, Azusa and Kazuto, to the Malay Village to watch the Tedja Timur group perform.  Amazing stuff with the performances going into trance and possessed by the ancient war gods and battle horses.  This time around, however, the spirits did not possess the audience or performance assistants as it might occasionally.  Great fun anyway...