Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Flamenco, but where are the Castanets?

Who would have thought that my visit to Roma would have brought bake memories of Barcelona? Certainly not me. For me Barcelona is the ultimate Spanish destination. For a girl so smitten with mosaic, this city was always going to feature high on my list of favourite cities. The other memories relate to food and to flamenco. It is memories of flamenco that Roma revived. The group Flamenco Fire was in town. One performance only and we were invited to attend. My initial concerns that an Australian group would be sadly lacking, turned out to by my inaccurate assumption. These guys know their stuff. They live and breath flamenco, and this was evident as soon as they began to lure the audience under their spell. With two dancers Simone Pope and La Chica plus three musicians (Andrew Veivers, Andrej Vujicic and Shenzo Gregorio) and a singer (Eva Pinero) the combination of talent was magical. Gypsy Pathways, as performed by the group took us from the ring of the bullfighter to the gypsy camp. The passion of these dancers was incredible to see, at times performing individually, at others it was like a battle of wills taking place on stage. As for costume changes, the stage presence of the dancers was matched only by their costumes. While I loved La Chica taking on the role of the toreador, and then later, battling her shawl it was the impromptu encore that most captured my imagination. If I half closed my eyes, I could almost believe I was back in the streets of Barcelona, and that isn't a bad place to be.

Lest we forget

Streets paved not with gold, but bottle trees, is what makes Roma unique. This town in central Queensland is beautiful, layered with green the way it is. The tradition of the bottle trees relates back to the end of World War One, and a desire to honour the local boys who served their country so well. With a Council accolade awarding the "largest" bottle tree in Roma to the tree at the park adjacent to the intersection of Bungil and Edwardes Streets, it never occurred to me to question the announcement. I had started on my quest to identify whether this large tree still existed on the request of a colleague who had located historic photos identifying this address within the images in our (State Library of Queenslands) historic collections. The tree is huge and apparently deserving of the title of "largest". After all it has a fence around it, a sign declaring its status and a road sign to direct tourists to e location of the tree. On questioning how the tree is measured, by height?.... by girth?...I was surprised to have a local tell me that the largest bottle tree is not this one, but another one, located on private property a few streets away. With access restricted it seems that a Clayton's "largest tree" is preferable to a sign declaring "Second largest tree".

Steeped in history

Roma is a Queensland town steeped in history. A history that the locals both know and value. I was lucky enough to spend the week of Monday 18 February there working with members of the Roma and District Family History Society Inc and staff from libraries in Roma, Injune, Mitchell and Surat for a HistoryPin session walking the streets of the town. In total we had 17 of us exploring town with mobile devices in tow. The challenge this time was how to capture so much history in a limited timeframe. So, we started where we usually do by capturing repeat options of existing images of Roma. These existing images had been loaded prior to our visit by the "pixies" we work with so that we have a reference point to work from Brisbane to Roma, here we come. We spread out to tackle the range of options, with small groups capturing images of Roma in 2013 using iPads and iPhones in addition to capturing current images on the digital camera that we will load when back in Brisbane. It continues to amaze me how challenging it is to capture the repeat. The angle, the view, the additional elements added over time that you need to work around, like trees and fences not to mention roads - and then there's the weather. Solid drizzle all day in a town that has been suffering drought conditions. All in all though a profitable morning with St Paul's and the local primary school captured in repeats, alongside the Capitol Theatre, Royal Hotel and the Post Office. Interest was such that we offered to run a follow up session the morning we flew out so that we could revisit some of the repeat locations under sunny skies. As for hotels, they abound in Roma. The Royal Hotel has been on its current site since 1870, with the building you see today operating since 1920. The Queens Arms on the other hand, although trading since 1870, was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original building, reopening in1916. Then there's the School of Arts Hotel. This site has had a licensed hotel on it since 1866. The original School of Arts opened in 1885. Again, fire saw the need to demolish the building with the "new" hotel reopening in 1919. My favourite destination though had to be Ace Drapers. Now relocated to a nearby site, this Aladdin's Cave looks like it should feature on one of those "hoarders" shows on Foxtel. You know the ones - where the person has so much stuff they can only navigate a small path to and fro because of the accumulated piles of essentials that they just can't bear to get rid of? Just before the floorboards threaten to collapse someone comes to the rescue and helps the hapless person sort and rehome their treasures and everyone breaths a sigh of relief. Well, Ace Drapers is in this category. As one young local describes it - junkloads of stuff, although to give the gentleman credit he seems to know the exact location of every item of stock. From all accounts he provides the ultimate in customer service too, going above and beyond the call of duty to deliver items to local residents who can no longer make the trek to town. Images of all of these destinations were captured, so keep an eye out as they should appear on HistoryPin some time soon!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Art of the brick

We spent our last morning in Singapore exploring the Art and Science Museum. Adjacent to the Marina Sands Complex it is in an amazing, flower shaped building. As far as museum visit go I was as much interested in the feasibility of the design and architecture as the permanent exhibition. That said, we did purchase tickets for two of the three visiting exhibitions and were interested to see the diversity of content on display. From a Lego exhibit to a photography exhibition. Couldn't be more different, but both enjoyable in different ways. Lego comes of age in this show touted by CNN as one of the Top 10 "Global Must-See Exhibitions", and it is probably justified. Seeing anything that is an everyday item, let alone a toy, elevated to the status of Art is good to see. The technical prowess behind the construction of these works is pretty thorough and really does elevate these works beyond what you might expect something made of Lego to be. Always a fan, but more so after seeing Brian May's Lego episode in his toy series on SBS, I was expecting to enjoy this exhibition. I was not disappointed. Whereas the other exhibition space - Outside In: a Magnum Photos Showcase, did not allow photography (quite amusing given it was a photography exhibition) it was refreshing to see that photos of the Lego creations were allowed so long as no flash was used. Fine by me. The nuances of the lighting would not have been evident if everyone went flash happy. The lawyer turned artist who created these works is Nathan Sawaya. He has now turned his passion into a full time career, leaving law behind. This is the largest show of his work ever and it features numerous human forms, including one of his most famous works - Yellow, in addition to the Art and Science Museum and a six metre long skeleton of a T-Rex dinosaur. Pretty amazing all round, including some fun interactive element for children. 8.2.2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who's a brave girl?

As a good Aussie girl I have a strong respect for snakes. The thing that intrigues me is that this borders on a fear, when I have rarely if ever come across a snake, let alone been in the position that one has hurt me. So, ingrained? Irrational? Who knows, but when the opportunity was presented to hold a snake, I decided to take it. The fact that the snake on offer was a cute striped red one, known as a "milk" snake, probably helped. As did the fact that I had not yet been to visit the Reptile House where there was a 4.1 metre King Cobra on display. These guys apparently grow up to 6 metres. Even without his hood up and in a non threatening position this guy meant business. The look on my face says it all - once this girl started exploring I was keeping a close eye on where she was headed. 7.2.2013


Fulfilled a long term dream today and spent the day at Singapore Zoo. Many highlights but one of the best things had to be having breakfast with the Orangutan's. These gentle giants of the rainforest are such calm trusting animals. It was a privilege to be so close to them and to be able to spend time in their company. The breeding programme at Singapore Zoo is a successful one with a number of babies to show for their efforts. Both adults and their young came in for feeding and we were able to take photos. In addition, there is an outdoor area, this forms an arboreal exhibit, which must be unique to Singapore. Unlike anything I have previously seen, it has a separate are for Sumatran (golden) and Borneo (red) Orangutan's. This large space provides them with multiple opportunities for engagement, with sleeping platforms, trees and networks of ropes, allowing them free access to their area. With so much to do, the orangs act pretty much as they would in the wild, displaying few if any of the signs of boredom that you sometimes see of animals in zoos. Adjacent is a walkway ramping up to a viewing platform that allows people visiting to gain a good view of all of the activities. We saw large males, on the ground and on lower sleeping platforms, babies doing aeronautics from high ropes, and Mums nesting in aerial hammocks after constructing shade structures from branches to protect themselves and their young ones from the heat of the day. It really was a great way of being able to watch the Orangutan's and we spent some time here. 7.2.2013

Singapore awaits.

Singapore sits at the opposite end of the scale to Thailand. Beautiful in its own way, pristine and very green, but io would not choose to live here. Coming from Thailand as I have I miss the humble generosity of spirit I have come to expect from Thai people. Singapore is very clean and extremely business like. It takes a little getting used to and to be fair, we are probably not here long enough to give the city a fair chance. Perhaps another time. Traffic is still busy, but less chaotic than Thailand. The signage though interests me. Today I saw signs that showed a white silhouette person with a green silhouette person. Only challenge was, the green person held a "gun" so I can only assume the message was "trespassers will be shot or something to that effect". Amazing. We are staying in the Marina Bay Sands. A city in its own right, with the hotel, a casino, major shopping precinct and restaurants all within the complex. You could stay here for a week without leaving the precinct and never get bored. Only two years old, the complex is famous for its infinity pool. The highest as it is on the 57th floor, and longest infinity pool in the world at this point in time. There are three parts to the pool, adults only, everyone and chords, plus three separate spa areas, bars, restaurants and a towel concierge. It really is amazing with its view over the Singapore CBD. 7.2.2013

Thank you

Kop ken car - is the way a woman says thank you in Thai. That is the phonetic spelling at least. So, from me, to the wonderful people and places I experienced during my time in Thailand - kop ken car. It really was a wonderful sojourn and I value very much what I learnt and saw. It really has been a special trip. Tonight is our last night, tomorrow we fly home from Singapore. Still smiling. 7.2.2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chaweng - round two.

This morning we decided to take the shuttle and revisit Chaweng. The shuttle runs at 10.00am, Chaweng was still in lock down from partying hard until the wee hours and most businesses didn't seem to open up until at least 11.00am. It was good to have a look around in the day light and see another side to this destination. That said, it doesn't really improve first thing in the morning. For one, the smell is something that takes a bit of getting used to. The other thing is the hustlers trying to tout their business. The number of Indians calling "boss" to attract Franks attention so that he would get fitted for an "Armani" suit was beyond annoying. Then there are the people on motorcycles who zip up beside you looking cool then try to sell you a day trip or the like. We finally twigged that saying "thanks, but no thanks" was a better way of getting rid of them. Otherwise it was 20 Questions - where are you from? Are you from Australia? was incessant and never ending. Eventually I just told a white lie, saying "sorry, it's our last day" which it sort of was. Through it all we soaked up the atmosphere, drank lots of water, melted a little, and found one treasure to buy. All in all a good morning, then a swim and quiet afternoon at home. Post cards to write, bags to pack etc. Good bye Koh Samui as tomorrow we fly to Singapore on the homeward leg of our journey. 5.2.2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

Birds of Southern Thailand

While visiting the Big Buddha temple on Koh Samui, I saw a small tortoiseshell cat gazing intently at something. I stopped to watch for a few minutes and soon my patience was rewarded. Just above her in the foliage was this pigeon. I think it might be a little green pigeon, though am unsure as there are lots of similar pigeons, short billed, wedge tailed, white bellied etc. If I had not noticed the cat, I would have missed this guy. Goes to show that taking time out sometimes has its rewards. We do forget to slow down and look around us sometimes.
Bird life in Southern Thailand is abundant and as many Thai people keep caged birds often I have seen the birds this way rather than in the wild. That said, those kept in cages often seem to correlate to those found naturally in that region. We also saw white rumped shama in cages and also a few hill mynahs. These large black birds have amazing bright yellow wattles on their heads and are easy to teach to speak. As for having birds in cages, it is not my thing, but each to their own. 4.2.2013

Name that island!

The Marine Reserve islands are all named. Some gain their name from their resemblance to a specific thing. So, King Kong Island has a resemblance to a big gorilla, and Sleeping Buddha Island, as the name suggests looks a little like a sleeping Buddha. That said, not everyone has the creative vision necessary to "see" the resemblance so I will let you decide for yourself! King Kong Island, with a visual clue courtesy of my visit to Sydney Zoo.
Sleeping Buddha Island
Needless to say I then started seeing "faces" everywhere, rocky outcrops, clouds, much to Frank's amusement.

Phalauy Seafood

Lunch was pretty amazing. We were taken by boat to a genuine fishing village on an island.
We selected our fish and seafood from the mornings catch, negotiated the price and how it was to be cooked, then walked through the village while our lunch was cooked. We saw, real fishermans huts, a pet monkey, pet tortoises, a couple of birds that I haven't yet seen since being in Thailand and got to try Jack Fruit for the first time. All before lunch!
The meal cooked for us was great. We were served a Thai style soup to start, then we had our grilled seafood and fish.
Yum yum. Funny how good food (or an elephant) can bring a smile to my face! 4.2.2013

Monkey Island

Next island stop was "monkey" island within the Angthong Reserve.
This island is set up for paragliding, catamaran hire and camping, however if you are very lucky you might also see Thai monkeys in the wild. A nice change from the macaques chained up at the monkey show, or the tiny gibbon baby we saw in Chaweng. The scam there being to pay to have your photo taken with the sweet little baby. Ethical issue for me being that the baby was probably no more than six weeks old and should still have been with mum, not hanging off some tourist! Anyway, we didn't see any monkeys, however did see beautiful black butterflies with white detail, and red flashing from under their wings. So, even though I took a dive getting from the boat to the beach, the injury I sustained was worth it.
I had to get cleaned up at the camp site first aid hut and had to sign my name in the First Aid book. Not everyone gets to do that! 4.2.2013

Lake Island

We stopped at one island known for its interior lake. The challenge is the "staircase" you have to climb to access the top of the island to look down into a view the lake. I use the term staircase loosely. Ladder might be more appropriate. It was extremely steep, with rungs being a better description than steps. You even descended backwards as you would a ladder.
The lake looked amazing, but it is inaccessible, so you expend the effort to look only.
If you want to swim, you paddle at the ocean edge, navigating the tourists who arrive from larger boats via smaller traditional Thai longboats, packed to the gunnels with tourists. I was ever so thankful to have just the crew, Frank and I on our boat. Tourist pack mentality seems to ensure the loss of manners, which I find hard to tolerate.

Marine Reserve

It is an incredible thing to swim with, and hand feed, fishes. This was just one of the highlights of our day. We took the opportunity to explore the Marine Reserve off Koh Samui so hired a boat for the day. Daeng, our local guide put us onto the Captain, who is a mate of his brothers. Given Daeng's brother manages a dive company, a good contact to have. The boat is available for diving tours or day trips. With 42 islands in the reserve, 17 of them are considered large. Many of them you visit for a specific purpose, like to snorkel or kayak. So, first stop for us this morning was within the cove of the best island for snorkelling. Hence the opportunity to feed the fishes. Daeng had very kindly stopped to get some bread on his way to pick us up, and it turned out to be the perfect thing to attract the fishes.
Using a mask and snorkel even I was able to see the fishes as they came right up to you, literally bumping into you in the frenzy to eat. Two main varieties were there in numbers, one a striped variety, the other a little less common was a spotted species. Not knowing my Thai fishes I am unable to identify the species at this stage. We did however have lots of fun and I am determined to try snorkelling again at some stage. 4.2.2013