Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some random ponderings about a newspaper story…cheese in a can and gingernuts

There was a story on the front page of the Bangkok Post on Friday about a Black Hawk helicopter crash on the Thai-Burmese Border.  It had been searching for another military helicopter that had crashed in the area earlier in the week. 

The picture that accompanied the story was of the military mules that were supporting the rescue effort in tough terrain.  It seemed an odd juxtaposition of high tech military equipment (Black Hawk Helicopters) and an army battalion that still maintained mules.  Sadly a 3rd helicopter went down in the same spot earlier today.  The causes of the first 2 crashes was weather and the 3rd mechanical failure – according to the military.  There is a little speculation the helicopters have been shot down but a quick internet search also suggests the Tahi military don't have a spotless safety record with helicopters.

Also you have to wonder about their banner sub-heading - the "Bankok Post.  The Newspaper you can trust"  as opposed to all those newspaper's you can't trust? 

And another random advertisement from the Bangkok Post classifieds.  It’s all available here

We have been eating some wonderful French Camembert.  It is a normal small circle but it comes in a pressurized can and it has wonderful mature buttery flavour.  Pere Toinou ....mmmmmm yummmm
Real cheese in a can, French wine in a box...what will we try next?

And lastly when we were in Sri Lanka we found gingernuts that look like Griffins gingernuts – but the flavour is like the NZ gingernuts put on steroids.  Smaller in size to the NZ biscuits, the punchy ginger makes the NZ version seem almost insipid in comparision.  Paula bought 10 packets to bring back to Laos.

Random musings, over and out...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sri Lanka - Colombo

We finished up with a couple of days in Colombo and a nice 5 star hotel.  We had intended to go south for a day, but the slow traffic caused us to change our plans and instead we had our driver take us around Colombo for the morning.

We headed out to the seaside area of Mt Lavinia.  While it was a nice residential area there was no compulsion to go anywhere near the sea, it looked rough and looked dangerous.

Then we headed off to see the new parliament buildings, designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, 16km from the centre of town.  The building sits on a 2 acre island in the middle of countryside.  It was designated as a high security zone and there were roadblocks and guns.  Andrew asked our driver to stop for a photo and he was decidedly nervous about that, but stopped.  Andrew took a quick drive by snap out the window and we zoomed off again. 

Colombo has a high level of military presence.  We saw numerous convoys pass us with heavily armed soldiers at the ready.  If you were really important there was an armed jeep in front pointing it’s machines guns at the front of your vehicle and another following behind with an equal number of soldiers with machine guns ready to go. They were soldiers on motor bikes with machine guns and a frequent number of check points. The long war with the Tamils still has a definite impact on normal life.

We walked down to the old fort area, heading toward the Old Clock tower.  There was plenty of directing of traffic going on and lots of people standing watching guarded cars go past.  We wandered up to the big building near the Hilton hotel and spotting a bit of slow down in proceedings Andrew made as is to cross the road.  A soldier, with a machine gun, politely waved it in his face and suggested he did not want to do that.  Turns out it was the road to the President’s place and central bank and the security was high.

We did manage to complete our walk around the fort area.  Commerce and people going about their daily lives was the key here.  Andrew had a chat to a local and got an invite to look inside – so he popped his head in.

We had a superb lunch in this peaceful and tastefully decorated restaurant (it was Geoffrey Bawa’s office some time ago), the food really was delicious with a glass of wine. Gallery Cafe  - Paradise Road  We will go back when next in Colombo.

Right around the corner was a wonderful textile store – Barefoot.  Bright fabric and lovely quality.  We did buy a few things here.  But it was the event after the store that was another highlight for Andrew.  The Sri Lankan tuktuk.  Having observed them for days from our aircon van he watching to have a blat in one.  So we zoomed back to the hotel in the little red tuktuk – wind in our hair, weaving in and out of traffic.  It was all that he hoped.

One evening we had a beer by the sea at the grand old Galle Face hotel ( recommended by two sets of friends).  

It was delightful, sun set, warm sea breeze and a butler bringing a fresh cold beer with hot roasted cashew nuts. Wonderful decadence and a very colonial feel “very Somerset Maugham”.

Sri Lanka, we loved it. Great food, nice people, a bit expensive and we have some more places to see – south and west coast. Recommend? – yes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sri Lanka - Pinnawala Elephants

Hmmm.  The positives.  We visited an elephant orphanage and it was great to see so many together - there are around 80 elephants. 

It was set up to care for animals that were injured in the wild. Sama (below) lost a foot at age 2 stepping on a land mine and is now 12 years old.  She does lumber along, having to significantly re-balance her weight to walk.

The orphanage try and emulate wild conditions but some structure is introduced where the elephants are taken to the river and bathed twice a day, and animals under 3 years old are bottle-fed.  Interesting fact each adult is given 76kg of green feed a day plus 2kg of dry feed.

We were there at lunchtime and saw the babies being feed.  It was a bit of a zoo.  The massed elephants were good, the feeding blah-blah.  It felt a very tourist orientated operation.

Warning a gratuitous cute baby elephant photos follow.  The little elephant was having a great time scratching here skin rubbing it against the concrete.  It was as if she was made of rubber as she cavorted about.

But in the end it was expensive, touristy and we departed generally disappointed.

In our short time in Sri Lanka there were several opportunities for an elephant ride.  Our driver regularly tried to get us to do so (for the commission he would be paid for bringing us).

In Sri Lanka there are about 175 elephants in captivity and 1,000 in the wild. One person we spoke to had 'owned' 3 elephants.  He had leased his first elephant having been told she was about 40 years old – which is not too old for an elephant.  Then the mother of the elephant's owner fell ill.  Her dying wish was to see the elephant again before she died, as they had been friends in childhood, and the elephant was trucked south.  The mother was in her 80's.  Simple mathematics of course tell you the elephant was nowhere near 40 years old, and sadly the elephant also died before being returned.

Undeterred he leased a 2nd elephant and she also became unwell was returned to the owner.  Despite their tough appearance they have thin skins and are susceptible to illness unless they are well cared for. 

Elephants for purchase are rare, but he heard about an elephant for sale from a Buddhist temple for about US$30,000.

It is important the Mahout (keeper) and the elephant have a good relationship.  Turns out most Mahout have a bit of a liking for alcohol.  Looking after elephants is a bit of a precarious operation and a high proportion get injured or killed by their elephants.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sri Lanka Peradeniya Gardens

Located not far outside Kandy are the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. A very nice place to walk around looking at various plants and themes

There was an outstanding Java Fig tree - it covers an area equivalent to 7 tennis courts

We saw a number of people looking up at a tree.  It was a nice tree, but there had to be more to it than initially met the eye.

Perhaps this might give a clue - just like the movie symbol
Yes, a fruit bat colony. 

A gardner said they could be up to 1 metre across.

And we did notice that the gardens were the place young courting couples came to.  Everywhere we turned another pair quietly sitting in the shade

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sri Lanka - Around the tea plantation

We did a lot of walking around the plantation and the surrounding countryside.  It was very quiet and people were very friendly.
There is a river running through the estate which provides 3 swimming areas, the waterfall, the serentity pool and the spa.  Andrew had a lovely swim.

Note the middle small picture where the force of the water threatened to wash his ears off.

Walking around the countryside we came through a labour line and found small children playing cricket on a small patch of ground

Following the sound of the loud hailer commenting on the game we found the full blown cricket match

Later we met some boys walking home who had been playing cricket.  They asked if we spoke Tamil - we don't but we do speak the international language of mime/charades.

The Hill Tamils are not 'related' to the Tamil tigers of the north.  The hill Tamil came from India as workers on the coffee/rubber/tea plantations from the 1830s onwards.  In the 1970s large numbers were sent back to India, while others were allowed to take Sri Lankan citizenship.  But today it is estimated that of 900,000 hill Tamil there are 100,000 who have no citizenship of any country.  We were told that in recent time the birth registration books were being brought to the area.  This means at least the current/next generation have a chance of having a citizenship document and all the rights that goes with that.

We also met a lovely pair of children on their way home from school in their white school uniforms.  It is a long walk to the nearest village.  When I took their photo as they were approaching they were all smiles. (note the big kid smiling in the background)
 When I asked if I could take their photo, the 2nd photo was a much more formal expression.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another example of the world revolving around Andrew

Based on a true story.  The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Laos Fire video - link reposted

Original video link was removed by the VT, but has been reposted here.  I believe it was taken down because there was some rather strong language that was on the first version - but is silent on this one.

Original story just-in-case-we-forget-we-are-living-in-Laos

 or from youtube

Sri Lanka - Tea Plantation

We stayed on a tea plantation about 1 hour outside Kandy at about 2600 feet.  It a most restful time and one of the things we both enjoyed most this trip.
The house was built in the 1930's as the plantation managers house.  We ate many meals on the front veranda overlooking the valley below. Ashburnham_estate  It is a working tea plantation and we can highly recommend it.

It has been purchased by a British owner and it was interesting to hear the views of various people attached to the property about  Sri Lanka, rather than our brief observations as passing tourists.  Issues about bureaucracy, ethnic tension (which was often overshadowed by the war with the Tamils), about the Tamil conflict, and how tea is grown.

Tea bushes have a productive life of about 45 years and are cut back to the stump every 4 years to keep the woody growth under control.  The bush needs to be plucked about every 10 days so the estate is broken into blocks to achieve this.
Generally only women pluck tea.  It is a delicate operation, nibbling the new growth 2 leaves and a bud.  Apparently men given the task, rip off all the leaves - for bulk rather than quality :-).  The bags they carry on their heads weigh up to 25kg.  Andrew did try lifting one and found it challenging.

In the 1970's Sri Lankas plantations were acquired by the government and many fell into bad repair.  gradually they have been sold again and production/quality is improving

The pickers pick 6 days a week.  Starting at 7 in the morning and stopping for morning tea, lunch etc.  The day's weighing is done about 4pm each day.

Leaves are packed into bags weighing 15kg and the truck from the tea factory comes around to pick up the bags each evening.  Much of Sri Lanka's tea goes to the Middle East, whereas India's goes to Europe

There are about 36 families accommodated on the estate.  Where they live is referred to as the labour lines.  Traditionally women have worked and the grandmothers have looked after the children.  But this is changing as many prefer to go to work each day in the towns, and the grandmothers are doing the picking instead. 

Isn't it lovely how the tourists stand and watch the work being done.

Just in case we forget we are living in Laos

A story from the English Language newspaper The Vientiane Times shows how things happen in a typical Lao manner. For those of you who haven't been here yet, the location -Nam Phou - is pretty much the main street area of Vientiane...   

Power lines in flames, but firefighters stay away

Flames erupted from an electricity pole at Nam Phou yesterday but, as the blaze enveloped a forest of power and telephone cables, fire engines were nowhere to be seen, despite frantic calls for help.

As the fire spread along wires crossing Setthathirath Road, alarmed onlookers even went to the fire station about 1km away to beg firefighters to come to the scene. But despite the numerous calls and personal visits, no one could be persuaded to turn a hose on the flames.

As car owners rushed to remove their vehicles from under the falling cables, employees of nearby offices and restaurants came running with fire extinguishers to quell the blaze.

A security guard on duty outside the Vientiane Times said he saw a spark similar to those he had witnessed on other days, but this time the spark ignited a bird's nest and flames spread rapidly among the thick tangle of wires towards nearby buildings.

Within a few minutes of the start of the fire, hundreds of people in the Nam Phou area were out in the street, gazing upwards in horror. Some shouted out warnings to stay away from the pole because the live power lines would come free and land on the street. Most of the telephone cables were alight within five minutes and then a few large electricity cables caught fire, causing sparks to engulf the transformer in a series of cracks that sounded like fireworks. The live power cables began to break free, landing on the road and striking the roofs of vehicles.

Traffic came to a standstill, as fallen cables blocked the road. After about 20 minutes the fire had burnt itself out but left live electrical cables and telephone wires strewn across the road and a charred pole as evidence of the damage.

An official from Electricity du Laos said such fires were common in hot weather and that a number of electricity poles in Vientiane are vulnerable because of the great many cables they support and the presence of birds' nests, which act as kindling. “In hot weather, people use a lot of electricity, which can cause small electric cables to overheat and begin to spark. The birds' nests are then set alight and the sparks spreads to the telephone and power lines,” he said.

As evidenced by today's fire, city and fire officials need to work together to solve the problem and prevent further dangerous fires from breaking out. Thanks to the rapid response of a few quick-thinking individuals, the fire was contained and no one was injured.

B y Souknilundon Southivongnorath

Oh, and tonight we had Gordon Bleu chicken according to the packaging :-)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sri Lanka - Dambulla Cave Temples

Having spent a couple of hours climbing up and down Sigiriya Rock we thought we should climb some more steps.  It was a major change for us - living in Vientiane the entire city is flat and as the buildings are mainly low-rise we have not climbed many stairs or hills lately.

I wasn't expecting much when we drove into the parking area at the Dambulla Cave Temple and saw this Buddha - luckily this was a museum and we skirted around it heading for the hills
Unesco has done some work to help restore and light the temples, built into caves high up on the hill

According to the guide there are 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of god and goddess. The murals painted on the rock face cover an area of 2,100 m².

The caves were serene and full of the smell of tropical flowers brought as offerings

Most locals were dressed in formal clothing or school uniforms, this sunny Saturday afternoon.  On the way up we saw monkeys 'attacking' children to steal the flowers they carried and then eating the centres of the flowers.  The kids took it in their stride, didn't make a fuss, didn't scream or cry.  And these weren't the cute storybook variety of monkey - they meant business

After an overload of step climbing and descending we returned the van to drive to the tea plantation where we were spending three nights.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sri Lanka - Climbing Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a World Heritage listed site and an iconic symbol of Sri Lanka. 

In the heat it is quite a hike to the top but of course it wasn't a problem for us and the other 1,000 people already there before the site got too busy.

Part of the way up is the picture gallery and the mirror wall, both now protected from the elements by a fabric enclosure - along from the metal gangway, tucked into the rockface.

The frescoes are internationally aclaimed

The tourists who came to see these paintings from the 6th - 13th Century left graffiti on the nearby mirror wall.  It is a highly polished porcelain surface, and the paintings would have been reflected in them.  Today there is still a faint shine.

Then through the lion gate to the upper palace ruins.

An upper palace was built on the top around the 4th/5th century A.D. and a lower palace built with intricate layout.  Today the remains of walls and moats still exist and on the top, water cisterns still retain water.

It is hard to capture in photographs the scale of the works and just as hard to imagine what went into building it.

Down below, formal layouts can be seen

A good workout for our legs and well worth doing.

Although who would have thought the crumpled front hat is going to be the next big trend? Well that is what the hat wearer tried to tell me!