Friday, December 28, 2012

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya Historical Park

The Ayutthaya historical park covers the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya, Thailand. The city of Ayutthaya was founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1350 and was the capital of the country until its destruction by the Burmese army in 1767. In 1969 the Fine Arts Department began with renovations of the ruins, which became more serious after it was declared a historical park in 1976. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Thirty-five kings ruled the Ayutthaya kingdom during its existence. King Narai (1656 CE to 1688 CE) not only held court in Ayutthaya but also from his palace in the nearby city of Lopburi, from where he ruled 8–9 months in the year.

Built during Ayutthaya period, Wat Mahathat temple was then known as Wat Salak. Soon after Bangkok was established as the capital of Siam,[3] the temple became strategically situated in between the newly-built Grand Palace and Front Palace (residence of the vice-king). As a result, the temple was used for royal ceremonies and funerals. Throughout the past two centuries, the temple has been renovated and elevated in status by many Thai kings and royalties. It became the Wat Mahathat of Bangkok in 1803 and was given its current name in 1996. The temple is also home to Vipassana Medidation centre.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm in Siem Reap

Angkor Wat was built for King Suriyavarman II in the 12th century as his state temple and capital city.  As the best preserved temple, Angkor Wat is the only is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation- first Hindu dedicated to god Vishnu.  The temple has become a symbol of Cambodia   appearing on its national flag and is the country's prime attraction to visitors.  

Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital of the Khmer empire.  It was established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII.  It covers an area of 9 square kms.  One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city his bride.  The Bayon was built int eh early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana's Buddhist Kign Jayavarman VII.  Its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on many towers.

Ta Prohm is originally callled Rajavihara and is located 1 kilometer east of Angkor Thom.  Unlike many Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found.: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings which have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples which was created by King Jayavarman VII in 1186 AD.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

La Grand Palace in Brussels

The Grand-Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region. Through the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open space, it illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity. The earliest written reference to the Nedermarckt (Lower Market), as it was originally known, dates from 1174. The present name came into use in the last quarter of the 18th century. It is located on former marshland on the right bank of the River Senne, to the east of the castellum, a defensive outwork of the castle built around 977 by Charles of France, Duke of Lower Lotharingia. The marsh was drained in the 12th century.

 The present rectangular outline of the Grand'Place has developed over the centuries as a result of successive enlargements and other modifications, and did not take up its definitive form until after 1695. It has, however, always had seven streets running into it. In the 13th and 14th centuries the market-place was surrounded by haphazardly disposed steenen (the stone-built Cloth, Bread, and Meat Halls or Markets) and timber-framed houses, separated by yards, gardens, or ambiti (passages serving as fire-breaks). During the 15th century the houses on the south side were replaced by the east and west wings of the City Hall (1401-44) and its bell tower (1449). A new Bread Hall was built on the north side in 1405.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Four Major Town Houses by Victor Horta

The appearance of Art Nouveau in the closing years of the 19th century marked a decisive stage in the evolution of architecture, making possible subsequent developments, and the four town houses of Victor Horta in Brussels (Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, Maison et Atelier Horta) bear exceptional witness to its radical new approach. They brilliantly illustrate the transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries in art, thought and society. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterized by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building. The Hôtel Tassel can be considered the founding work of Art Nouveau. Commissioned by Professor Emile Tassel in 1893, it was the first work in which Horta was able to realize his original conception of architecture. The house was finished in 1894, but Horta continued designing the furniture for some years. After the Second World War, the house was split into small flats so that little of the decoration remained visible.

 In 1976 the street facade and the main doors were restored and the building was adapted as prestige offices. The street facade, built from stone, is remarkably integrated into its context. Above the entrance there is a two-storey bow window in an innovative steel structure. On the street site the building has the entrance floor, a mezzanine, first and second floor, and an attic. These levels are shifted towards the garden side by way of a central staircase. The four town houses by Victor Horta form an essential link from the classical tradition to the Modern Movement in the history of architecture, as conceived by one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau. He revolutionized the architectural concepts of his time by introducing the idea of an open plan and creating real dialogue of materials and their uses according to their intrinsic nature within a new way of conceiving decoration. The Horta buildings revive the 19th-century tradition of bourgeois residential buildings, combining residential and representational functions, which require a subtle organization of spaces and differentiated circulation. In each case, Horta's genius created a coherent unity of architecture and decoration, reflecting the personality of the owner.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Autumn in Siberia (Part 1)

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia was the venue for the Hepatitis C and Co-infections conference which I attended together with two other gastroenterologists from Cebu, Dr. Arlene Kuan and Dr. Jenny Limquiaco. While reviewing the world map (which I always do before travelling), I can see that China was below Mongolia while Russia was above it. “I’d love a side trip to the Asian side of Russia”, I told my wife.  The city of Ulan-Ude, one of Russian Siberia’s major cities was just an hour and 15 minutes by plane from Mongolia. Siberia conjures images of a perpetually cold and dreary place where prisoners and outcasts were exiled like in the movie Gulag, a Russian forced labor camp, which I have watched a few times during my childhood. This movie has somehow imprinted this scene in my mind. Is this the kind place I would want go?

Tick encephalitis, Lyme disease, Hepatitis A were some of the diseases one might acquire while traveling to Siberia, I am warned by The Lonely Planet guidebook. As a doctor, this made me quite apprehensive about going there. But the love of traveling, especially the off beaten track, and my penchant for learning about remote people and their culture somehow compelled me to push through.  For me, the journey was more important than the destination and I realized that this was a once in a lifetime trip.  For full article as published on Sunstar, Cebu click here, Autumn in Siberia.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Guatemalan Anthem Lyricist on Stamps

Written in response to a contest calling for a national anthem to be adopted, the first ever playing of the winning entry took place during a lyric-literary meeting taking place at the Colon Theater, the night of Sunday 14 March 1897, as one of the main events of the Central American Exposition, and the author of the music was decorated with a gold medal and honor diploma. (Ovalle had been known previously for setting to music "Himno Popular" (The People's Anthem) by the poet Ramón P. Molina. It is unclear whether the music used for Ovalle's work was the same as the music that was submitted for the national anthem competition.)

The author of the lyrics, however, was submitted anonymously, it was not until 1911, when it was discovered that the author was the Cuban poet Jose Joaquin Palma, who on his deathbed was honored with a silver wreath placed on his head, while outside the public and the bands sang the Himno Nacional. The original lyrics were modified slightly in 1934 by Professor Jose Maria Bonilla Ruano, a Spanish grammar scholar. Some verses were softened in their bloody context while others were enhanced in their poetic beauty. The anthem has four verses (including four separate choruses at the end of each verse). Unlike many other nations with multi-verse anthems, all four verses are official and sung in Guatemala. The anthem is sometimes erroneously called "¡Guatemala Feliz!" (Guatemala, Be Praised) from the opening words of the anthem, but officially there is no title and is simply referred to inside the country as "Himno Nacional". (

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Russian with a Filipino Heart

Tick encephalitis, Lyme disease, Hepatitis A, etc.- these are some of the diseases one might acquire when traveling to Siberia, and as a doctor I was a little apprehensive at first.  The Lonely Planet guidebook which I read thoroughly gave these warnings.  Should I really go? I think I shouldn't.  But, this is a one in a lifetime experience.  

Good that this book also mentioned a contact person- Petr Ishkin, a well-traveled Russian teacher who is proficient in English.  So I tried to email him, expecting he would never answer. He must receive hundreds of these requests, why would we bother to respond to mine?  I was requesting him to accompany and guide me through this Siberian rendezvous which brought me from island of Cebu, Philippines to Seoul, Korea, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia then to Ulan-ude, Siberia.  I was quite surprised  when he answered back the next day. After this, we were regularly exchanging emails and then we became Facebook friends.  I learned he spoke  more than five languages and has traveled extensively,  to almost all the continents. I introduced him to my frantic wife, Grace, who from day one, was uncomfortable with my travel plans. Petr offered so much help from choosing the hotel to my visa applications and advised on where to go and what to visit.  Once my wife got to know him, she changed her mind, and  half heartedly supported my planned side trip to Siberia.

Upon arrival at the airport in Ulan-ude, I was greeted by a smiling Russian- "Hello, Vicente", I immediately recognized him from the Facebook pics and in a second, all my apprehensions were gone.  "I'm so happy to see you Petr", I said.  He introduced me to his companion and fellow teacher, Anatoly, who was very quiet at first. Most Russians I know, especially tourists in our city in the Philippines are stoic and not too friendly.  "Smiling is a sign of weakness for us.  Initiative is punishable", he quipped. What a difference from our part of the world, where smiling is a natural gesture and shows respect and hospitality.  But this is their culture and character - it is who they are.  Maybe because they are colonizers. they feel subservient to no one

The next day, Petr guided me through the city in his own car and took me to museums, churches, theaters, temples, the mountains and even arranged  my trip to Lake Baikal for the next day.  Lake Baikal was wonderful and I felt "peace" while I was standing on its powdery aureate shores. He introduced me to several wonderful people- his co-teachers, his school head, his wife, his friend Gongor and even invited me to talk to some of his students in the Lyceum for the Gifted about my country.  He even invited me to his home for lunch with his charming wife were I had a taste of the Omul- a freshwater salmonid endemic to Lake Baikal and the cranberry-strawberry juice concoction, which he made himself.  I learned so much from him about the Russians, the Buryats, Buddhism, Geser, Orthodox churches, the Datsuns and about life in general.  He was a funny, witty, patient and truly knowledgeable.

My three days stay in Siberia felt short, especially that I was having a blast.  Petr drove me to the airport and escorted me to the departure area.  He never left my side until the flight was confirmed and I was ready to go.  It was a long wait at the airport before boarding, and sensing that he was tired, told him, "You can go Petr, I'm okay here".  "No", he said, "I wanna make sure that I see you leave coz you might be calling back to inform me you haven't left due to some unforeseen circumstance."  How much do I owe you for this trip? He just smiled and wished me a pleasant journey.

In this wonderful city of Ulan Ude, I didn't only find the perfect guide, I found a friend.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mongolia's Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape

The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (OVCL) lies in the central part of Mongolia, some 360 km southwest of Ulaanbaatar. The site covers 121,967 ha of grassland along the historic Orkhon River, and includes a buffer zone of 61,044 ha. The archaeologically rich Orkhon River basin was home of successive nomadic cultures which evolved from prehistoric origins in harmony with the natural landscape of the steppes and resulted in economic, social and cultural polities unique to the region. Home for centuries to major political, trade, cultural and religious activities of successive nomadic empires, the Orkhon Valley served as a crossroads of civilizations, linking East and West across the vast Eurasian landmass. 

 Over successive centuries, the Orkhon Valley was found very suitable for settlement by waves of nomadic people. The earliest evidence of human occupancy dates from the sites of Moiltyn Am (40,000- 15,000 years ago) and “Orkhon-7” which show that the Valley was first settled about 62,000-58,000 years ago. Subsequently the Valley was continuously occupied throughout the Prehistoric and Bronze ages and in proto-historic and early historic times was settled successively by the Huns, Turkic peoples, the Uighurs, the Kidans, and finally the Mongols. 

At the height of its cultural ascendancy, the inscribed property was the site of historic Kharakhorum – the grand capital of the vast Mongol Empire established by Chinggis Khaan in 1220. Within the cultural landscape are a number of archaeological remains and standing structures, including Turkish memorial sites of the 6th-7th centuries, the 8th9th centuries’ Uighur capital of Khar Balgas as well as the 13th-14th centuries’ ancient Mongol imperial capital of Kharakhorum. Erdene Zuu, the earliest surviving Mongol Buddhist monastery, the Tuvkhun Hermitage and the Shank Western monastery are testimony to the widespread and enduring religious traditions and cultural practices of the Northern School of Buddhism which, with their respect for all the forms of life, enshrine the enduring sustainable management practices of this unique cultural landscape of the Central Asian steppes.

The Serenity of Lake Baikal, Siberia

As the vast evergreen forests of Russia's Siberian taiga extend southward toward Mongolia, the ground rises and the terrain becomes more varied. The border between Siberian Russia and Mongolia is a natural divide here, with rugged hills and mountains forming series of wrinkles between the sprawling Russian forests to the north and rolling grasslands to the south. About midway along this border, in a gigantic stone bowl nearly four hundred miles (636 km) long and almost fifty miles (80 km) wide, lies almost one quarter of the all the fresh water on earth--Lake Baikal. Baikal is easily the largest lake in Eurasia, and it is just as easily the deepest lake in the world (1,620 metres). On the merits of magnitude alone the lake is renowned as one of the earth's most impressive natural wonders, and rightfully so--Baikal is so large that all of the rivers on earth combined would take an entire year to fill it.

What fewer people realize, however, is that Baikal's majestic expanse is situated in a region of surpassing beauty, its forested shores surmounted by the jagged, snow-clad peaks of the Barguzin mountains. In the winter Baikal freezes over, with ice so thick that the Trans-Siberian Railway was briefly run over its surface. At this time of year the lake provides an unsurpassed venue for the pleasures of a tour by sleigh. In the summer, its crystalline blue waters are transparent to a depth of forty meters, and its shores are ringed with the brilliant colors of seasonal wildflowers. Boat tours offered during the warm months are one of the best ways to gain an introduction to the lake, as is hiking amongst the forests, streams, and waterfalls of Baikal's parks. The lake region is home to an enormous variety of plants and animals, most of which--like nerpas,the lake's freshwater seals, and its trademark delicacy, the omul salmon-- are found nowhere else in the world. Bears, elk, lynx, and sables abound in the surrounding forests.

Lake Baikal long ago became famous for the purity of its waters and surrounding shores, a pristine state that had been seriously threatened by planned industrial development in recent years. Luckily, Baikal was one of the first regions to benefit from the new Russian government's reversal of decades of anti-environmental industrial policies. Since 1992 Lake Baikal and the entire surrounding area have been designated as a national park, and Baikal is today a naturalist's paradise and an idyllic holiday destination. With fine beaches, excellent hiking, birdwatching, and pleasure boating, Baikal is well-positioned to become one of the most attractive vacation spots in Asia.

Hwaseong Fortress- Unesco World Heritage Site

Hwaseong Fortress is an impressive structure from the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and the official fortress of Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do. The fortress (constructed from 1794 to 1796) was built as a show of the King’s filial piety towards his father Jangheonseja and to build a new pioneer city with its own economic power. The fortress wall stretches for a total of 5.52km and has a great variety of military facilities that’s hard to find anywhere else. Four gates face each of the cardinal directions—Janganmun (north), Paldalmun (south), Changnyongmun (east), and Hwaseomun (west)—and the seven-arch style Sumun gates straddle the point where the nearby stream reaches the palace. Above the Sumun gates is a pavilion called Hwahongmun.

Hwaseong Fortress was constructed under the guidance of Yu Hyeong-Won (1622-1673) and Jeong Yak-Yong (1762-1836), and is believed to have been constructed very scientifically. The fortress wall was built using Seokjae and Jeondol (bricks) and the holes between the bricks are just big enough to fire guns, arrows, or long spears through in case of an attack. During construction of the fortress Jeong Yak-Yong invented ‘Geojunggi,’ which uses a ‘hwalcha’ (lever) to lift up heavy stones, greatly reducing construction time.

The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress went through many turbulent times and damage, and in the battle of June 25th, many of the facilities became so damaged that they were deemed irreparable. Even though the fortress restoration initiative (1975-1979) restored many of the sites to their former glory, Paldalmun to Dongnamgakru (an area 491 meters in length) has still not been renovated.

The fortress was designated as Historical Monument No. 3 in January 1963, and in December 1997, it was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Jongmyo Shrine in Seoul

Jongmyo Shrine was built by Lee Seong Gye (1335-1408), the first king and founding father of the Joseon Dynasty. It was a primary place of worship for kings throughout the Joseon Dynasty and has been registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site for its well-preserved ancient customs such as memorial services and traditional music. One of the many unique characteristics of Jongmyo Shrine is the 3-forked path of slightly raised roads that starts from in front of the main gate. The middle path is in honor of kings of the past and leads to Jeongjeon, where mortuary tablets of kings are preserved and memorial services are held. The tradition of enshrining successive kings was originally handed down from China, and has been well maintained. Jeongjeon has 19 different rooms in all, honoring 19 different kings.

The east road of the shrine’s forked path is for the living king and the west is for the living prince. These two paths connect to a room where the king and the prince used to go for ceremonial cleansing and to prepare for memorial services. After preparations had been complete, the king and the prince would then move into Jeonsacheong, a square-shaped room with a yard where the food for the service would be prepared.

The memorial service, called ‘Jongmyo Jaerye,’ is said to be the oldest complete ceremony in the world. It is annually reenacted on the first Sunday of May. Jongmyo Jaeryeak, the musical part of the ceremony, is produced by instruments, songs, and, dances that originated over 500 years ago.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Isle of Man Anthem on Europa Stamps

This is a Europa stamp featuring the lyrics of the anthem of the Isle of Man on the tab.  This set is compose of two stamps values of  25p and 30p.  Previously the anthem of the Isle of Man was already feature here.  The anthem composer and lyricist were shown in the stamp.  A Europa stamps are special stamps issued by European postal administrations under the aegis of PostEurop and which have Europe as their central theme. Europa stamps should underline cooperation in the domain of posts, particularly as regards the promotion of philately and contribute to making the public aware of common roots, culture and history of Europe and common goals." In 2002, more than 50 European countries and territories issued Europa Stamps. The first issue dates from 1956 with 6 countries participating.

From 1993 all the stamps have "Europa" inserted into the design in small print. For the new millennium in 2000, the common design once more replaced the common theme. The stamp design for 2000 clearly shows a column of 6 stars representing the original 6 members of the ECSC. 4 Children,(of different heritage) represent Europe's future and are adding to the Vertical Star Column with the background depicting the GREEN letter E meaning a fertile Europe. CEPT is from the French acronym Conférence Européenne des administrations des Postes et des Télécommunications.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trail Running in Liloan,Cebu

I've been road running for the past 4 years. A few days ago however, I ventured into a different running adventure-  trail running.  Earlier on, I always wanted to run in varied off-road terrain, but friends warned me that injuries are higher in these types of run.  A colleague of mine, dislocated his knee and another had bruises in his shins and foot courtesy of the rocky terrain.  Some even got lost (due to absence of signs) and became severely dehydrated (due to lack of water stations).  So, I told myself: "I'll have to prepare for this event"- the first R.O.X. (Recreational Outdoor Xchange) Trail run in Cebu sponsored by Salomon.  After much reading from various books and frequent site visits to Runner's World, I came up with these strategies, which I call the ABCDE strategy, for a successful trail run.

A- Awareness- Trail running is different from road racing because of the varied terrain.  Your eyes should be looking several feet ahead were a sudden drop in elevation might occur or an animal might suddenly cross your path.  Discard your MP3 player or any music device, as these will distract your concentration. Because trails are narrow, you'll usually run in single file and a fast runner might suddenly bump you if you are not alert.  Branches of trees might also hit your head if your wearing a cap and you're not extra careful.

B.- Balance- Poor balance and weak muscles lead to injuries and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). One additional training I did was to improve my balance was by doing special foot/ankle stability exercises and using the balance board or the bosu ball.  There are many demo of these type of exercises in Runners World and Youtube. I particularly liked the carioca, half-kneeling run, and the mountain climber exercises.  During our off-road run, we encountered, rocky, grassy, muddy and hilly terrains.  

C- Core exercises- Doing core exercises is a must for trail running and for almost other types of running.  You'll easily tire yourself in elevated and uneven terrains if your abdominals and hip muscles are poorly conditioned.  I did a lot of abdominal crunches and machine workouts for the rectus abdominis and erector spinae muscles. I particularly liked the Josh Cox dynamic core routine (eg side plank, bird-dog). You have to perform these exercises at least 2x a week.

D- Dress appropriately-  Proper gear is essential in trail running.  You'll need specialized trail shoes which is quite different from the regular road running shoe.  For one, a trail show has special "bumpers" at the heels to protect your feet from rocks and other hard objects.  You'll easily get bruised if you wear ordinary shoes.  You'll also need water-resistant/waterproof or Gore-tex shoes for muddy and watery terrain because wet shoes can slow you down and increase blister formation.  You will also most likely need a hydration pack (eg. North Face enduro) because water stations are scarce and  may not provide plastic cups during these races (for environmental reasons).

E- Enjoy-  Trail running is about enjoying and appreciating God's creation.  You will enjoy the mountain ,sea views, flora and fauna and most especially the fresh air which you cannot experience in road racing.  Forget the time; the most important part is finishing the race injury free.

Happy Trails.....

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Capilla Santa Ana Museum in Toledo

On a recent visit to Toledo City, Cebu,  we had the opportunity to visit the Capilla Santa Ana Museum and Community Center in Diosdado Macapagal Highway, about 7 kilometers from the city center.  The museum is housed in a quaint chapel and hosts a variety of religious icons, art and relics from 18th and 19th century Europe.

The exhibits are unique to this place as they are from all over Europe acquired through the fervent acquisition and collection of  a relative of the Gaite family. The family runs and maintains the museum.  We saw several relics of Saints (more than 10) and of the Cross where Jesus was nailed.  Several European renaissance paintings, wooden and bronze sculptures, vestments and sundry religious items are exhibited here.  There is even an 1859 Steinway piano displayed at the upper part of the chapel.

Entrance fee is 200 pesos for foreign tourist and 100 and 50 pesos for local tourist and students respectively.   This is a must see for religious art lovers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yugoslavian Anthem Lyrics and Score on FDC

The National anthem of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes 1918–1929) was created in December 1918 from the national anthems of the Kingdom's main three constituent historical provinces: Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. In those times the official authorities considered the three nations, Croats, Serbs and Slovenes as one nation with three names. The official language was thus called the Serbo-Croato-Slovene language. Although a law on the national anthem did not exist, the anthems of all three South Slavic nations were unified into a single anthem of the Kingdom. It started with a few measures from the Serbian anthem "Bože pravde", continued with a few lines from the Croatian anthem "Lijepa naša domovino", which were in turn followed by a few lines from the traditional Slovenian anthem "Naprej zastava slave". The anthem finished with some lines from the Serbian anthem again. It was officially used between 1919 and 1941. There was no official document that declared the anthem invalid, or void. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was not in effect after the April capitulation.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Puerto Princesa Underground River- Truly a World Wonder

Entering into caves gave me goosebumps.  No video or photos can justify this truly world class experience. All your senses are stimulated- the sound of flying bats and sparrows, the cold air draft, the taste of dripping water( or bat urine?),the unforgettable subterranean whiff, the magnificent and jaw-dropping stone formations.  This is a heritage site all Filipinos should visit at least once in their lifetime.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 kilometres (30 mi) north of the city center of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. The river is also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. The park is also known as St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short 5 kilometer hike from the town of Sabang. In 2010, a group of environmentalists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor, which means that there are small waterfalls inside the cave. They also found a huge cave dome, measuring 300 meters above the underground river, incredible rock formations, large bats, a deep water hole in the river, more river channels, another deep cave, marine creatures, and more. The river is more than 8 kilometers long but only 1.5 kilometers are available for tourist. On November 11, 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was provisionally chosen as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. This selection was officially confirmed on January 28, 2012.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ukraine Anthem Lyrics on Stamp

"Shche ne vmerla Ukraina" ("Ukraine has not yet perished") is the national anthem of Ukraine again since 1992  Before its re-adaptation a concourse for a national anthem among three patriotic songs was taken place with one of the other songs being Za Ukrainu by Mykola Voronyi. The lyrics constitute a slightly modified original first stanza of the patriotic poem written in 1862 by Pavlo Chubynsky, a prominent ethnographer from the region of Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and were influenced by the words and themes of Poland's national anthem, Poland Is Not Yet Lost. In 1863, Mykhailo Verbytsky, a western Ukrainian composer and a Greek-Catholic priest composed music to accompany Chubynsky's text. The first choral performance of the piece was at the Ukraine Theatre in Lviv, in 1864. The song was first the national anthem of the Ukrainian People's Republic, Carpatho-Ukraine and later the independent post-Soviet Ukraine.

The stamp above was issued this year (2012) on the 20th anniversary of the anthem together with the state arms and flag.

Friday, April 27, 2012

French Stamps at Petite France

Mr. Han had a dream: to offer his fellow Koreans a taste of what inspired his love for France. This dream became the  Petite France project: an hour’s drive from Seoul, an urban area home to some 25 million residents, Mr. Han found a quiet location on the shore of Lake Gapyeong. Here he built something between a town and a museum: each house reflects French culture. Visitors can take a few days’ break here, staying in French-style houses furnished in the French manner with furniture imported directly from France. The distinctive architecture of Petite France has even proved a magnet for the film crew of Beethoven Virus, a hugely popular TV series in Korea.

Here, the Little Prince is the guest of honour. Mr. Han takes a keen interest in French literature and enjoys the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in particular  The Little Prince. His favourite passage? The meeting with the fox, of course! In a country where over 350 different editions of  The Little Prince are to be found, not to mention the comic strip versions, those who are familiar with the Little Prince or even those who have only heard of him are delighted when they come to “Petite France” to find statues and wall paintings evoking the world of this magical character at every turn.

With the support of the Saint-Exupéry estate, Mr. Han was keen to combine French lifestyle with the message of a tale that is also a lesson for life. In Korea, Saint-Exupéry is seen as a kind of legend, a knight of the skies and also a philosophical and humanist touchstone.  Mr. Han is delighted to share his admiration with those he welcomes to his village. Visitors queue up to have their photos taken standing next to the statue of the Little Prince or his friend the fox. A permanent exhibition introduces them to the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the origins of “The Little Prince”, and a theatre show has been specially created for the youngest visitors. More than just a tourist attraction hoping to attract some 500,000 visitors annually, Petite France is a special place, offering not only the pleasure of living life French-style but also a chance to reflect on life in the company of a fairytale character.

The Republic of Namirara

Nami Island is an oasis for culture and leisure in peaceful harmony with humanity and nature. After a five-minute ferry ride, guests meet a forest of verdant trees holding up the sky and open grassy areas where ostriches, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks and peacocks warmly welcome visitors in the midst of wild flowers. On Nami Island, artists from all over the world show-off their talents and share the sense of peace of mind the island creates. The island is the site of Nami Island International Children's Book Festival (NAMBOOK) and other cultural events take place every weekend, making Nami one of the main cultural and artistic tourist attractions in Korea. In 2006, the island declared its cultural independence and was reborn as Naminara Republic. They have their own national flag, anthem, currency, passport and phone cards, stamps, orthography and even a certification of citizenship. Nami is home to several galleries and is the site of the Song Museum, which also houses an outstanding collection of international ethnic musical instruments. There are indoor and outdoor stages, facilities for seminars and workshops in addition to a 46-room modern hotel and 10 cottages. 

Nami Island is dedicated to improving the mental and physical well being of children throughout the world. As such, they serve as the main sponsor of the Hans Christian Andersen Award and contribute generously to Unicef. Serving as the location for the internationally famous television series Winter Sonata has helped the island attract 2,000,000 Korean and foreign visitors every year. Naminara is unique in other ways, also. At night, all the lights are turned off on the island so that visitors can harmonize with nature under the light of the moon and stars. Most of wood and bottles generated by visitors to the island are recycled and re-used. Nami has a very open hiring and retirement policy so a diligent and honest person can work until they are 80 years old if they wish. On Nami Island all feel close to nature. Smiling people with peaceful hearts walk, Along the river where a song of love spreads. And become one, With lasting freedom, As poets, painters and musicians.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sierra Leone National Anthem on Stamps

Formerly a British colony, this west African nation adopted its national anthem, "High We Exalt Thee, Realm Of The Free", upon independence in 1961. The composer of the music, John Joseph Akar, was the first post independence Director of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) as well as the founder of the Sierra Leone national Dance Troupe, and the lyricist Clifford Nelson Fyle, was a professor at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone.

John Joseph Akar (1927–1975) was a Sierra Leone-an of Lebanese descent entertainer, writer, and diplomat. He served as Sierra Leone-an Ambassador to the United States. Today, he is probably best known for composing the music of the Sierra Leone's National Anthem.

Akar was born in the small town of Rotifunk, Moyamba District in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, to an ethnic Sherbro mother and to a Lebanese father. Akar attended the E.U.B. primary school in Rotifunk, and proceeded to Albert Academy secondary school in Freetown. After he completed his secondary education, he moved to the United States to study commercial radio and television. In 1960, Akar became the first non-Creole and the first Sherbro to be appointed Director of Broadcasting of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services (SLBS).

In 1963, Akar founded the National Danced Troop. He used the group to encourage Sierra Leone-ans to be proud of the cultural heritage. In 1964, Akar and the National Dance troop were invited to the United States to perform at New York world fair. They won the best performance of the fair, and was presented with plaque. In late 1964, they performed at the art festival in London. In 1965 they performed at the Negro Arts festival in Dakar, Senegal. In 1966, they went on a four months tour of Europe, including performances in Germany, Sweden and France.

Above, flag, coat of arms and title of the national anthem on postage stamp issued in 2011. Below is the map and score of the anthem.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rarest Straits Settlements Cover

This envelope is the only known cover used in Singapore bearing all four 1854 values on Indian stamps used in the Straits Settlements. This cover bears two 1/2 anna blue (Die 1), 1-anna Red (Die II), two 2-anna green and a cut-to-shape 4-anna blue and red (1st printing). All stamps are tied by a diamond-of-dots cancellation.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Elephant Stampede and the Latest Exhibits at the Singapore Philatelic Museum

This is my third visit to the Singapore Philatelic Museum. The museum featured 5 current exhibits in addition to their permanent exhibit. Elephant Stampede- which traces the evolution of these giant creatures from mammoth to elephants, their shrinking habitats and the factors which led to their destruction. It also highlighted the symbolism of elephants in Asian culture and religion- like how some kings reincarnated into elephants and the Hindu God Ganesh which had an half elephant body. The exhibit ended on how we humans can help the elephants in their quest for survival. I enjoyed the interactive session, differentiating elephants from Africa and Asia. African elephants are bigger, have 5 toes and larger ears shaped like Africa while their Asian counterparts are smaller, have 4 toes and ears shaped like India.

I was able to see "Baby Emily", an elephant made of postage stamp designed by local sculptor and artist Mr. Sun Yu-Li. This was in conjunction with the Elephant Parade held in Singapore last year to raise awareness and funds for the dwindling elephant population. 161 elephants were auctioned and the proceeds donated the Asian Elephant Foundation. The other exhibits were: The Adventures of Tin Tin, Imagine Dragons, The Story of Dr, Sun Yat Sen and Message Me, an exhibit which explores the development of communication from picture language to the latest technology.

The Singapore Philatelic Museum is a must-see destination for collectors, trivialist and philatelist. It is located at the corner of Coleman and Armenia street and is a few minutes walk from Orchard road. In Singapore, I noticed that young students are frequently brought out of their classroom into the field. Several of these youngsters were seen in the museums and botanical garden which we visited. I was watching some of the Singaporean teachers and they seem to be very firm and strict but easily smiled to me when I passed by. Near the Museum you can also see an old Armenian church, the Bible House and the Perenakan Museum.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area- World Heritage Site

A spectacular area stretching over more than 26,000 ha in China's Hunan Province, the site is dominated by more than 3,000 narrow sandstone pillars and peaks, many over 200 m high. Between the peaks lie ravines and gorges with streams, pools and waterfalls, some 40 caves, and two large natural bridges. In addition to the striking beauty of the landscape, the region is also noted for the fact that it is home to a number of endangered plant and animal species.

The site lies in the Wulingyuan District of the city of Dayong and covers the entire drainage basin of the Suoxi Brook, which winds for 69 km through the site. The most notable feature, dominating about two-thirds of the site, are more than 3,000 quartzite sandstone pillars and peaks. Between the peaks are numerous ravines and gorges, many containing attractive streams, pools and waterfalls. The site also contains a number of karst features, notably some 40 caves which are concentrated on the banks of the Suoxiyu River and the south-east side of Tianzi Mountain. Huanglong or Yellow Dragon Cave is said to be one of the 10 largest caves in China. Spectacular calcite deposits are a major feature of many of these caves.

There are two spectacular natural bridges in the area: Xianrenqias (Bridge of the Immortals) and Tianqiashengkong (Bridge Across the Sky). It lies 357 m above the valley floor and may be the highest natural bridge in the world. The site is popularly known to have '800 brooks and streams' but in reality, there are far less, perhaps 60. Many drain into the Suoxi River which runs through the center of the site. One of the side branches of this river has been dammed at one point, creating Baojeng Lake. This lake has been created for water supply, flood control and to enhance the habitat for the Chinese giant salamander as well as for recreation.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gion- Kyoto's Geisha District

Before we visited the Yasaka shrine, we passed by a a very old district in Kyoto- the Gion District. Our young guide told us that the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha" was filmed here. Originally developed in the Middle Ages, the district was built to accommodate the needs of travelers and visitors to the shrine. It eventually evolved to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan. The geisha in the Gion district do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, Gion geisha use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means "artist" or "person of the arts", the more direct term geiko means essentially "a child of the arts" or "a woman of art".

This neighborhood in Kyoto has two hanamachi (geiko communities): Gion Kōbu and Gion Higashi. Despite the considerable decline in the number of geisha in Gion in the last one hundred years, it is still famous for the preservation of forms of traditional architecture and entertainment. Part of this district has been declared a national historical preservation district. Recently, the City of Kyoto completed a project to restore the streets of Gion, which included such plans as moving all overhead utilities underground as part of the ongoing effort to preserve the original beauty of Gion.

Gion remains dotted with old-style Japanese houses called machiya, which roughly translated means "townhouse", some of which are ochaya or "tea houses". These are traditional establishments where the patrons of Gion—from the samurai of old to modern-day businessmen—have been entertained by geiko and geisha in an exclusive manner for centuries.

Inside the ochaya is a private and closed world where the evening's entertainment may include cocktails, conversation, and games as well as traditional Japanese music, singing and dancing. To this day, geiko and maiko (geisha in training) in full regalia can still be seen in the evenings as they move about through the streets of Gion to and from their various engagements at the ochaya. They dance and sing and they entertain for everyone.

There is a popular misconception that Gion was a red-light district. It was a geisha district, and as geisha are entertainers, not prostitutes, Gion is not, and never was, a red-light district. Shimabara was Kyoto's red-light district. The geiko of Gion still maintain the annual dances, the most popular being the Miyako Odori, "Cherry Blossom Dances" or "Dances of the Old Capital", staged by the geisha of Gion Kōbu. The dances run from April 1 through April 30 each year during the height of the cherry blossom (sakura) season. Spectators from Japan and worldwide attend the events, which range from "cheap" seats on tatami mats on the floor (approximately US$15.00), to reserved seats with a small tea ceremony beforehand (approximately US$40.00).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, A UNESCO World Heritage Site (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the capitals of ancient China, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. As the center of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over.

Kyoto was the main center for the evolution of religious and secular architecture and of garden design between the 8th and 17th centuries, and as such it played a decisive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions which, in the case of gardens in particular, had a profound effect on the rest of the world from the 19th century onwards. Buddhism had already been introduced from China and Chinese culture was having a profound influence on Japan when the capital was moved from Heijo-ko (Nara), after 10 years at Nagaoka, to Kyoto, under the name of Heian-ko, in AD 794. The city plan was modeled on Chinese cities such as Changshan, capital of Tang China. It was the heart of the aristocratic society that clustered around the imperial court for the four centuries of the Heian period (794-1192). For most of this period there was a prohibition on the building of Buddhist temples inside the city, apart from the two imperial temples (To-ji and Sai-ji).

Properties on the World Heritage site that date from the foundation of Heian-kyo are Karmwakeikauchi-jinja (Shinto shrine), Amomioya-jinja (Shinto shrine), Kyo-o-gokoku-ji To-ji (Buddhist temple), Kiyornim-dera (Buddhist temple), and Enryaku-ji (Buddhist temple); the two large Buddhist temples of Daigo-ji and Ninna-ji are representative of the early Heian period. By the end of the Heian period the military samurai class was growing in power, and the resulting unrest, coupled with the fact that the world would enter its final years, according to Buddhist doctrine, in 1052, led to an increase in religious fervor. The Buddhist temple of Byodo-in and the Ujigami-jinja date from this period.

A civil war in 1185 led to the establishment of a samurai military regime at Kamakum; however, the imperial court remained at Kyoto. The Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji is the best example of the residential architecture of this period, which ended in 1332 with the establishment of the Muromachi Shogunate. This period saw the building of large temples of the Rinzai Zen sect, such as Temyu-ji, and the creation of Zen gardens, of which that at Saiho-ji is a representative example.

At the end of the 14th century, the Muromachi Shogunate reached the apogee of its power, and this is reflected in buildings such as the villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which later became the Buddhist temple Rokuon-ji. The villa of a later shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, built in a more refined style in the mid-15th century, was also converted into a temple, Jisho-ji. Garden design was refined into pure art, as demonstrated by the garden of the abbot's residence at Ryoan-ji. Much of Kyoto was destroyed in the Onin War (1467-77), but it was rebuilt by a new urban merchant class, who replaced the aristocrats who had fled during the war. In 1568 Oda Nobunaga seized power, and he was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified the country and built a 23 km wall round Kyoto. The centre of power moved to Edo (present-day Tokyo) when a new shogunate was established under Tokugawa Ieyasu. The authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate was given material form in Kyoto with the construction of the strong castle of Ngo-jo at the heart of the city. At the same time Hideyoshi's defences were dismantled.

The political stability of the Momoyama period (1573-1614) saw a new spirit of confidence among both the military and the merchants, reflected in the opulence and boldness of the architecture, represented by the Sanpo-in residential complex and garden at Daigo-jo and the prayer and reception halls at the Buddhist temple of Hongan-ji, moved from Osaka to Kyoto as a symbol of the city's revival. The beginning of the long Edo period (1615-1867) saw Heian temples and shrines, such as Kiyomimdera, being restored in traditional style. During this period the supremacy of Kyoto as a center of pilgrimage became established. After the Meiji restoration of 1868 the capital and the imperial court moved to Tokyo.

One of the results was the adoption of a modernization policy that led to the transformation of Kyoto into a modern city. This caused the city's cultural heritage to be neglected; however, the national government was aware of what was happening, and introduced the first ordinance for the protection of antiquities in 1871. This was superseded in 1897 by the important Ancient Shrines and Temples Preservation Law, which marked the beginning of the protection and conservation program-mes of modern Japan.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Zhongzheng (Jhongjheng) Park in Keelung,Taiwan

Keelung City (also Jilong or Chilung) is a major port city situated in the northeastern part of Taiwan and is currently administered as a provincial municipality within Republic of China. It borders New Taipei with which it forms the Taipei–Keelung metropolitan area, along with Taipei itself. Its frequent rain and maritime role earned it the monicker Rainy Port. It is Taiwan's second largest seaport after Kaohsiung.

Keelung City has several attractions, one of which is the Zhongzheng (Jhongjheng) Park. The park is situated on the side of Dashawan Mountain, which is at the east of Keelung City. There is a white statue of Goddess of Mercy in the park. This 25-meter high statue has become one of the characteristics of Keelung. The park overlooks Keelung City and the harbor. There are three levels in the park. On the first level is a historic canon fort. On the second level is a Buddhist library, Martyrs' Shrine and Zhuputan Temple. The temple attracts many worshipers on July 15. On the third level is Guanhai Pavilion. Sitting in the pavilion, visitors can see the entire Keelung and the ocean.

The statue of Goddess of Mercy is the landmark of Zhongzheng (Jhongjheng) Park. It is the biggest Goddess statue in Southeast Asia. Inside the statue is a stairway leading to the top. Zhuputan is where worshipers gather on Zhongyuan Festival. The first immigrants to Taiwan used to fight with each other for land. In order to stop the disputes, they set up a temple for yearly worship. The temple was in Gaosha Park during the Japanese occupation and moved to Zhongzheng (Jhongjheng) Park.

The Atayal Aborogines of Taiwan

Before the Han Chinese immigration began in the mid-1600s, Taiwan was inhabited by people belonging to the Austronesian race, the members of which lived in a vast area extending from Madagascar in the west to Hawaii and Easter Island in the east, and from New Zealand in the south to Taiwan in the north. Taiwan's aborigines are believed to have come from the Malay archipelago in different waves about 6,000 years ago at the earliest and less than 1,000 years ago at the latest. Since their languages are very different--more varied than those of the Philippines--some scholars suggest that Taiwan is the original homeland of all Austronesians. Archeological findings indicate that Taiwan had been inhabited by other people before the current aborigines came. However, little is known about them, particularly when and why they disappeared.

When the Han Chinese came to Taiwan, they divided, for convenience, the aborigines into Pingpu (plains) people and Kaoshan (mountain) people. They further subdivided the Pingpu people into 10 tribes and the Kaoshan people into nine. These labels are misnomers, for they don't reflect cultures and languages, or place of residence, properly. A tribe in one division often has more similarity with one in another division than with one in its own division, and the tribes of "mountain people" don't live in mountains at all. One of the 9 mountain tribes are the Atayals. The Atayal are distributed over a large area in northern Taiwan. Their language can be divided into the Atayal and Sediq branches and is not closely related to any other aborigine language. Atayal men are good hunters, and Atayal women good weavers. In the past, facial tattooing among men and women, for beauty and distinction and to ward off evil spirits, was a feature of this tribe. This practice has been outlawed since the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). Now only those Atayals over 80 years old still have tattoos on their faces. They have a native bamboo dance similar to the Philippines "tinikling".

The Atayal kinship system is patrilineal. Leaders of several religious groups of a community usually constitute the political authority. The prototypical Atayal house is either semi-subterranean or built at ground level, and is made of wood and thatch. There is a watch tower for each cluster of houses.

Wulai Atayal Museum. With its scenic beauty and diverse cultural charms, Wulai District offers a perfect rustic retreat close to Taipei City. Visitors can explore the indigenous culture and history of Wulai at the Wulai Atayal Museum of New Taipei City, situated at the entrance to the Wulai shopping area. The four-story museum presents displays on the history, culture, customs, religious faith, rituals and festivals of the Atayal people as well as the natural ecology of the Wulai area.

Mountain peaks, valleys, waterfalls, hot springs, old-growth forests, and other natural attractions create a perfect setting for a scenic excursion, fitness walks, spring soak and cherry blossom watching. Visitors can also ride on a train and feast on the local indigenous cuisine; experience the living traditions of the Atayal people through tribal festivals.