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).