Fortress of Seoul

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An ancient map of Seoul.

When dynasties once ruled the empire of Goryeo (what Korea was named once), kings were born & thrones were fought for. King Taejo Yi Seonggye declared a new dynasty in 1392 under the name of Joseon, thus reviving an older dynasty also known as Joseon that was founded four thousand years previously and renamed it to “Kingdom of Great Joseon”. He established himself a palace, known as Gyeongbokgung which served as the main palace for successor Kings of the Joseon dynasty and their households until it was systematically destroyed & burnt to ruins during the Japanese invasion. Restoration & reconstruction work began after it was left derelict for centuries & it stands as the most beautiful & the grandest of all five palaces in Korea today.

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Walking alongside the fortress.

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The old & new stone blocks as part of the restoration process.

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Taejo’ is a temple name, a posthumous title used for Chinese, Korean & Vietnamese royalty. Chosen to reflect the circumstances of the emperor’s reign, it means ‘ancestors.’ In Korea, temple names are used to refer to Kings in the Goryeo & Joseon dynasties.

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One of Gyeongbokgung’s grand entrances.

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The palace was not the only grand structure he built. The foresight of King Taejo who was once a General of the army of the dynasty he overthrew, knew the grandeurs of a kingdom should be demarcated by a structure around the city he ruled. He wanted to build a fortress. He decreed & enlisted the service of one hundred ninety seven thousand four hundred (197,400) young men around the country over two years to participate in the erection of an 18 kilometre fortress with four main gates and four auxiliary gates that fell in line with the Chinese cardinal directions of East, South, West, North. They are Heunginjimun (East Gate), Sungnyemun (South Gate), Donuimun (West Gate) and Sukjeongmun (North Gate) with the East & the South gates being designated as National Treasures today. The fortress took 30 years to complete.                 
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Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.

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The Throne Room.

King Taejo designated an auspicious day for the groundbreaking ceremony on 1 January 1396. The fortress was completed in 98 days after the war along the mountains of Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. The wall contained eight gates, all of which were originally constructed between 1396 and 1398. He ordered for the stones to be inscribed with the names of the county and prefecture responsible for constructing a given wall section, as well as the name of that section, while in the mid-Joseon, they were marked with the names of the supervisors and lead technicians, and the construction date. The inscribed stone blocks in the photo below, can be seen outside the wall, at the end section of the Naksan Trail.

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Mayor Park arriving at the start of the tour.

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Mayor Park elaborates on the history of the Fortress.

There are six walking courses or trails you can do, the Baegaksan/Bugaksan Trail, the Naksan Trail, the Namsan Trail, the Inwangsan Trail, Heunginjimun Trail & Sungnyemun Trail. We were taken on a journey along the Naksan Trail by the Mayor himself, Mr. Park Won Soon, who’s fondly loved by the people of Seoul for his candour & spontaneity. We walked along the path parallel to the section of the wall that cordoned off Ihwa Mural Village from the ‘’outer city’, marvelling at the artists who painted the stairways & walls of this village with vibrant murals, thus enlivening the place. We passed these colourful expressions either adorned with paint or mosaic-plastered on the riser of the staircase making the vertical hike not so challenging. This village was once left out in the urbanisation process, used to be seen as a backward neighbourhood but a collaboration between the public, cultural artists, the metropolitan government and the residents turned Ihwa-dong into a vibrant art village.

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Despite the fact that he overthrew the dynasty of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, King Taejo Yi Seonggye was very much regarded as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts. His sons of different wives, fought & killed each other in a preemptive move after the death of his beloved second Queen (wife). While he was still mourning, he crowned his second son to be king but 2 years later, this King voluntarily abdicated it to his brother, Yi BangWon, who became King Taejong, the one who rightfully deserved the throne as he had demonstrated the best potential of a good ruler even during his father’s reign.

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An artisan in the village who specialises in tie-dye artwork.

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The artisan explains the colouring process.

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The Joseon period has left an indelible mark on modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues. A substantial legacy was left to the Koreans of today, with much of the modern Korean language and its dialects derived from the culture and traditions of Joseon.

This fortress, even with some parts of it torn down in the city’s development process, significant parts had been preserved as a historical reminder of the dynasty that influenced the culture of Koreans today. It has in the running to be listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site by 2017.

What else can you do in Seoul? Gwangjang Market food experience, silver ring smithing & kimchi making workshop in the next post as I bring you other hidden treasures!

For more information, go to Seoul Tourism’s official page of the Fortress here and download your guide book! http://bit.ly/1gc6iJl
To download the English version, you need to view the site in Korean to get to the download section because the English section of the guide book doesn’t work. I’ve simplified the process for you by including the direct download link here:- http://bit.ly/1IuQ88R

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How To Select A Good Dive Instructor

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Added Number 8!

Dear divers, I’m putting this together for the benefit of the many who had asked me ‘how would I know if someone is a good instructor or not?’  As most newbies have no idea where to start, or may have been referred to one by his/her friend who has done the course, take this as a guide for you and your non-diver friends to select the right instructor for your dive pursuits.

1) Always ask to see the instructor’s qualification card/credentials. You are placing your life in his/her hands, you better know for sure if the instructor in question is REALLY CERTIFIED & QUALIFIED, RENEWED & CURRENT with their respective training agencies and is AUTHORISED to conduct courses. If police can stop you on the road to demand to see your driver’s license when you are not a threat, why shouldn’t you exercise the same courtesy on someone you hardly know who will give you instructions to dive?

2) Find out how long your instructor has been diving, when he/she became certified as instructor & how many dives they have logged. Some instructors still keep physical logbooks that run into hundreds of pages but some have chosen to keep digital memory in their computers. It’s great to have new instructors teach you because they would be placing a great amount of care to your wellbeing & mastery of skills. It’s also great to have seasoned instructors teach you because every skill taught is almost effortless and without anxiety because of what’s ingrained into the instructor’s memory.

3) Be aware of team-teachers, your dive theory sessions, confined water (pool or beach) & open water (sea) sessions may be taught by different instructors and it’s imperative that you know each of them are QUALIFIED TO DO SO, not have divemasters-in-training put in your care (a common practice that’s against the standards for new divers). State your questions & preference when signing up for the course in a dive centre/resort. (For foreign instructors, check if they have work permit to operate in Malaysia because if anything happens & you want to proceed with a legal battle, you may not find him/her again. Having said this, there are a good number of dive instructors of foreign nationalities who have made Malaysia home and have  Malaysian spouses. They offer a wealth of knowledge that locals can’t so there are pros to it. Do your checks first). – This is not meant to be discriminatory but due to the liability issues, I need to state this out so please don’t get offended, my dear foreign peers!

4) Be aware of instructors who are already suspended/expelled from any dive training agencies. They may continue to teach but have other instructors SIGN OFF your certification card. Reasons for expulsion could be due to serious violation of standards and procedures, negligence & error, some leading to death of students. This is a malpractice that you should not accept. Be sure that your instructor FOLLOWS THE STANDARDS. Ask to see the standards for each level of dive course that you are embarking on, then you would know what are the skills required for you to master at each one.

5) Instructor’s reputation. If you have been referred to your instructor, chances are, he/she had been teaching well. You would still need to do your due diligence check of point 1 – 4 above. For example, a fierce ex-military instructor may be uttering mouthfull of profanities during your training so be prepared for it. A octo-instructor may have hands everywhere, just like an octopus so if you don’t like to be groped, state beforehand that you don’t like to be touched although, you must be aware that during water training sessions, there is a lot of contact between instructor and student. A worldly instructor is someone who has probably travelled the world to dive leisurely but lack the experience to teach in different kinds of environment. Be sure to ask ‘where has he/she taught before (which seas, as each geographical location has different sea conditions). (Though I have been diving in cold waters, I still get a shock each time I enter the water & I certainly would not want to teach in those kinds of temperatures.)

6) Find out your instructor’s knowledge of marine life & marine conservation. If anyone makes a living off the seas, that person ought to know a great deal about the ocean & its inhabitants. The passion towards preservation of marine life must be paramount in an instructor’s life and walk. What you are getting from an instructor is years of experience with encounters of marine life that would influence how you would interact in the water. If you get an instructor who pokes & prods animals or catches a Nemo to put inside his/her mask then releases it only to be preyed upon by a lizard fish, or teaches your to ride a turtle or break open a sea urchin, or worse, pulling a poor octopus out of its lair till it has to squirt ink in defence to run away, you are getting a rogue, unprofessional cowboy instructor who has no regard for all life forms. Avoid him/her. Be sure to ask around, ask your diver friends for recommendations and don’t be afraid to change instructors or appoint someone new to teach you. You are not bound to one with a lifetime contract.

7) Watch out for instructors who get high on drugs/weed/alcohol. The last thing you need is a mentally impaired instructor in the water. Watch out for dilated pupils in their eyes or drunken breath. Don’t be afraid to say no to his/her instructions to enter the water. If he/she passes out, you are not trained to lift him/save him/her & can be a liability to you.

8) Don’t go for the cheapest dive course. You pay peanuts, expect monkey service. Dive instructors assigned to you when you sign up at the dive expo would be those in training or worse, those who have yet to qualify to teach. Not all dive centres would do that but most who want to cut cost, would. A dive operation has costs to upkeep, equipment to maintain and staff to pay. If you pay peanuts, the effects will be passed down the line, you’d get untrained/lackadaisical crew, lousy service and have no avenues to complain because of the price you paid that came with no perks. When I learnt how to dive, I chose to learn from the best and paid a premium to get as much as I could out of someone who was encouraged to teach me. When you learn from the best, you would spot all those mistakes from people who didn’t acquire the skills when they ought to have learnt them in their course. You won’t know what the instructor didn’t teach you if you don’t even know what they are suppose to teach. Refer to point #4 on laying out the set of standards that you must learn before you earn your certification.

9) If an instructor tells you that you don’t need to know how to swim to be able to dive, please mark his/her name and report to the dive agencies. You MUST BE ABLE TO SWIM 200m WITHOUT SCUBA gear nonstop and tread water for 10mins. This is in the ISO Standards that reputable dive agencies are accredited with. You will spend 95% of the time in water so what makes you think you can save yourself should you get into trouble or get separated from your group? Can you fly? No? Then learn to swim first. The ocean can wait for you and so can your instructor. Don’t be so eager to be run before you learn to walk. Safety is of utmost importance. In 1999/2000, Oriental Queen liveaboard hit a rock and sunk, but the instructor on board was quick to alert everyone who was sleeping to jump overboard and swim to shore. They did and was saved. What happens if you are in that same situation?

I hope the above serves as a guide for you to select your appropriate instructor. Do not be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they are stupid/silly questions because a good instructor will always make you understand what you are getting yourself into.

Straighten Crooked Teeth With No Pain or Braces

Do you have an odd looking tooth jutting out or inverted (recessed)? Is one or more of your teeth crooked or misaligned? Do you have stains or marks on your teeth that are beyond repair? Or any broken tooth that robbed you of a beaming smile?? Have you got a gap between your two front teeth? Or constantly aware of your cute Bugs Bunny teeth? Maybe your childhood dentist drove so much fear in you that you vowed never to visit one again? Let me offer you a respite, you can have a set of wonderful looking teeth again without breaking your bank account no matter how impossible you think it is done.

Gone are the days where extract-happy dentists freely rule your jaw as they are no more with the emergence of bright, cheery and friendly women dentists who would make you feel at ease with their assuring conversations with you as you go through normal procedures. I have known Dr. Fauziah, or Fay as we fondly call her, for good number of years since we went diving but only began my dental appointments with her since 2010. She had made known to me about this procedure called composite veneer makeover but I’d put it at the back of my mind until recently when I decided to do it as I was going to represent Malaysia for Samsung to visit Korea sponsored by Korean Tourism Organisation!

Composite bonding or just bonding — which refers to direct composite veneers — is an inexpensive and effective way to restore and correct small chips,  cracks, crookedness and discolouration in the teeth. I’ve had too many teeth grow out at once when I was growing up and removing them caused the other teeth in their position to misalign. Now with this procedure of placing this translucent clay (veneer) on the tooth enamel that has been roughen by polish and bonding agent applied, Fay shaped this clay-like veneer over each tooth that’s crooked and aligned it to make the row flush with the rest of the teeth in proper positon. Then UV light is zapped onto the tooth after applying the final polish to set the veneer to harden. She did this with each tooth till the jaggedness is as even as possible.

She spent about 15 minutes on each tooth and after about 2 hours, I could beam with a smirk from ear to ear because I finally have sorted out my imperfection with this perfect method! This minimally invasive method does not remove any teeth (which is permanent) and is built around my jawline, and it’s almost instant,  which was one of the deciding factors for me. The best thing about it is, Fay and her team of dentists have been restoring people’s smiles for years and their expertise is rivalled by no other. When other dentists charge an arm or a leg to have you do a crowning at RM1,800 per tooth, composite veneer only costs RM400 per tooth, a figure afforded by many more.

This brilliant procedure is for you if you have any of the following:-

Spaces between the teeth.
Poorly shaped or crooked teeth.
Broken or chipped teeth.
Permanently externally stained and/or internally stained teeth.
Unsightly or stained fillings.

You can improve your appearance by having this composite veneer makeover but it cannot change your jawline or give you orthodontic help. It’s suitable for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a few years of their adulthood in braces but want to have an almost perfect, aligned set of teeth!

You can find Fay & her special team of dentists at www.drfauziah.com and do tell her that you read it here at pummkin.net! Her clinics are at Publika & Jalan Raja Laut but if you want to see her, she would be at Publika. Here’s to a new life with painlessly straightened teeth!!!

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Tickling The Feather Star Open for Critters

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See the Clingfish and its pattern?

Crinoids are what divers know as Feather Stars, sporting feathery arms that sway back and forth towards the centre of the body. One of the easiest subjects to photograph, crinoids are prehistoric animals in the class of echinoderms with male and female species found clinging onto coral reef cliffs often asleep in the day or actively feeding at night. The challenge is to photograph the tenants that the Crinoid itself hosts. It’s important to note that no photograph is worth abusing the animal for so please handle your subjects with care as you would a live animal on land. Crinoids are somewhat sticky and brittle. You wouldn’t want to break any of their arms off in your quest to shoot the shrimp within so keep your buoyancy neutral and coax the star to do a grand opening for you. I will teach you how.

After witnessing so many dive guides using their swizzle sticks to roughly ‘part the arms’ of the Crinoid to show divers what it holds within, I felt compelled to write this article to educate the many of you who might follow the bad habit of disturbing nature for your pictures. I practice a minimal disturbance to no disturbances in all my shots. They are never manipulated, nor had my subjects tossed in mid water to get them flaring, fearful or angry and I implore all of you to nurture good habits. The ability to boast of your shots is in the way you photograph them, not how the shot was obtained with manipulation. When you understand marine animal behaviour, you will get your incredible shots. Having spent the last 17 years teaching and 12 years of photographing underwater, I am moving towards educating the diver of the habits that you should possess to encounter your subjects.

What you need in your gear:-
1) Dive equipment of course.
2) Carabiners/loops/holsters to streamline your dangling hoses (SPG/Octopus/reels/SMBs)
3) LED torch
4) Dive computer to record depth and time you see the animal to relocate it next time.
5) No gloves unless you are diving in 15? waters
6) Hood to keep your hair tucked away from curious octopuses
7) Any camera housed in respective cases
8) Marine life guide books

Pre-dive preparation:-
1) Clean your hands after you use sunblock
2) Secure all gadgets with lanyard in your pockets.
3) Identify the subject you want to shoot.
4) Decide with buddy how much time you want to spend on each subject and if you find your target, be considerate to allow your buddy to take shots as well.

It’s not what camera you have but your knowledge of marine life that would get you nearer to the animal. By knowing what your subject lives on and feeds on, you have already increased your chances of finding it. By knowing your reef, you would have access to the inhabitants if you know what feeds on what and when.

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The Shrimp also took on the colours and pattern of this Crinoid, Oxycomanthus Bennetti.


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Close-up crop of the shrimp.

The basis of not touching anything in your dive education has been the point of contention in dive circles as we see dive guides competing with one another to find elusive critters with their sticks/pointers and completely lifting the animal out of the sand even though it’s meant to be camouflaged. I found it deeply offensive and I usually stop following the guide to find my own interaction with critters when I am not the one guiding the trip. When marine scientists collect specimens for research, they can’t avoid touching. We are not scientists neither are we collecting any specimens but we want to document them and there would be some degree of touching (hence rule number 1 in pre-dive preparation is to have clean hands) but not to the point of harassing the animal.

Not all crinoids have critters within. There are several species that host them. One of my favourites is the Oxycomanthus bennetti. 9 out 10 animals that I find have ‘tenants’ within them! On this particular one, I found 3 different types of critters! They all form a symbiotic relationship with the host and even adapt to its colours and patterns. Two Clingfish, a shrimp and a crab (not displayed) were darting about as I got closer.

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There are 2 Clingfish in the picture and a shrimp. Can you spot them?

How do you get a Feather Star to open up its multiple arms for you? You only need to tap the spine of the arms gently & softly. As you begin tapping, be mindful that your neoprene suit doesn’t touch any of the brittle feathers or you might end up ripping the poor little thing apart. By tapping with your finger pads softly, it will begin to spread out. Your camera settings would have to be ready for the shot as you might only get one or two shots of the critters within. Set your focusing to Spot and metering to Centre-weighted. Crinoid will stay ‘open’ for you if it feels tickled in all its arms as long as you avoid touching the cilia (feathers). I use a drink stirrer with a ball tip to coax the critter (shrimp/crab/clingfish) into view from the opposite side carefully without touching the Crinoid. Once I get about 4 or 5 shots or a video if the subject is actively moving, mission is accomplished & I move on to other subjects on the reef. Minimal touching and absolutely no disturbance to the Crinoid. It will soon curl up to get back to sleep when it senses no threat.

For more on marine life and nature documentation, follow Pummkinography on Facebook or follow Pummkin on her trips!

Catastrophic Event at Dog Shelter

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In the last few months of hiatus, I’d spent my time with friends, relatives and catching up on outdoor pursuits all over Germany & Italy and getting a bit of underwater time in Egypt. I took a break from myself because I wanted to get more input to be able to give output. I was writing for work so much that I’ve lost some mojo in the things that once brought me such joy. One event led to the next, and though people may envy my travels, they don’t really know how disconnected I become when I come back from each trip, catching up on friends’ FB feed and desiring fellowship with great buddies. One friend got married, had a baby with a man I didn’t know she married because I thought she was still dating her long time boyfriend whom I happen to also know. I asked her privately, of course, much to my confusion and thankfully, it wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be. Honesty and forthrightness go a long way to preserving relationships. I don’t believe in talking behind anyone’s back unless I’m giving them praises.

I got to a stage in life where I started to place importance in keeping friends who want to stay in touch, I began to keep away from those who are malignant. I became less attached to social media starting with my weaning off Twitter & Google+, using it only to communicate with several people pertaining to current issues. I stay in touch with good friends who are also busy, making no demands on their time as they made no demands on mine and when we meet, it would be as if no time had passed between us at all. I made a resolution last year to only write what would be of good cheer, useful and informative articles for the benefit of my audience who take the time to journey with me.

I was also getting over a traumatic event.

Just before the turn of the New Year, a Christmas party I attended at a dog shelter ended up in a disaster. I couldn’t write about it then because I was distraught and injured. What seemed to be a fine afternoon of celebration in the sun with cheery dogs running about, a sudden storm turned the river outside into a raging torrent that submerged the shelter and all other houses in the vicinity in over 2 metres of muddy water. 13 volunteers and workers including Puspa, the founder of the shelter, Aziz & myself, were scrambling to raise the cages & free the dogs but the flood waters rose so fast, there wasn’t enough time to get all to safety and dry ground resulting in deaths. Everyone did their best to get as many dogs out, those of us who could swim, were grabbing dogs paddling about to hoist them to higher platforms, those who couldn’t, were clinging on to several dogs on trees, pillars & roofs for their dear lives. The scene was right out of a catastrophic mudslide except that this happened in Kajang, on our soil, to our people. Having my supposedly waterproof Sony Xperia Z1 phone in my pocket while I swam to & fro the main gate of the shelter’s compound to call for help, had actually flooded it. If only I can get hold of the footage I filmed when the flood happened, it would give you an idea what we endured before risking our lives to save our dogs. The incident left many broken hearted.

The rain didn’t stop. When the waters rose passed knee deep. I began to pray. This was way beyond what I was trained for in disaster management and life saving but I couldn’t leave them stranded and knowing the majority of our nation could not swim, it was a call of duty. I knew Aziz could swim, having been educated in the U.K., I expected him to be able to. He was rescuing bags of food and the box of frozen chicken. I asked God what to do. By then, the water had reached my waist. A rat swam frantically by. There was also a snake in the water. I didn’t flinch. I was just stunned. It was barely minutes. I had a backpack filled with documents, electronic gadgets, tablets & devices that weren’t protected. I pleaded for help. Lord, if you want me to do this right, please protect my belongings! God made me turn around & there, I saw a bungee cord hanging on the door! Then He showed me a pipe near the roof for me to climb up the window sill to tie my bag there. In my breath, I heaved a sigh of relief and gave thanks to God who always fished me out of trouble. Then the rescue really begun. I tried to stay calm and talked to those who couldn’t swim. We released all dogs within our perimeters to fend for themselves. My priority was human beings, dogs go to heaven any way. Dogs have an inbuilt ability to swim. Humans don’t. The larger dogs in the outside compound cages were freed in time and being social animals, they clamoured onto us & clung on for dear lives onto our shoulders and backs. If I wasn’t a strong swimmer, I would’ve drowned in all that weight. I tossed whoever was in my grasp to either Baskaran, the staff who got onto the higher platform with 20 other panicky dogs or Aziz who would bring the dogs to stand above the hoisted cages. Somehow, they know trouble was brewing. I couldn’t let my voice falter or they would hear my tone of distress that would trouble them even more. The last thing I needed was for the 20+ dogs to jump out of the holding platform at once to head for the torrential river outside the gate. I had scratches and bruises and like the rest, I wasn’t going to let go of them. Joey lost her car in the floods. It was almost like a repeat of Pulau Selat Kering back in 2009.

When the firemen finally got to us, they asked us how many we were and if there are children present. They asked us if we needed to be rescued in the waters well over my head. I said to them, where’s the boat, we only want to be rescued if we know we can leave here with our dogs. Bomba left us. Hmmm……I guess they don’t rescue dogs.

Thiaga from DAP, the party who came to our aid, offered Puspa a factory premise nearby to temporarily host the dogs till she can find something more permanent. Having had floods before, the current shelter is no longer a safe haven and she has got to move before another flood hits and by then, it wouldn’t be coinciding with any more parties with volunteers who know how to swim being present. Coming out to attend Pesta Balakong, the DAP councillor gave us new T-Shirts to change from our totally soaked & stinky attire. My foot was bleeding from having kicked some sharp object underwater but the pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing these beloved dogs in the flood. I don’t know the figures because I didn’t stay behind to witness the depressing sight which the workers had the terrible task of doing. More volunteers arrived after our calls for help reached social media. Anthony was my beacon. I never cried so hard before for the loss of these innocent lives caught in a catastrophe. It was something beyond our control. I cannot speak for the accusations levelled at Puspa on the running of the association but I was there at the scene with her to see her risk her life for her dogs. And so did her workers and volunteers present. I went home in a daze and washed my hair 3 times. I caught a chill but my thoughts were with MIAR. We can leave the incident but the incident can never leave us.

Upon hearing our ordeal, Steven Yong on behalf of HTC Malaysia came forward and gave the 13 of us at MIAR a replacement phone each. What a wonderful thing to do! A major commercial brand reached out to those who stayed behind for their four-legged friends. Thank you, HTC! The HTC Desire 610 is serving me very well. I’m reminded of the dogs that didn’t make it and the dogs that did. I asked God for a place in heaven for each one of them who crossed the Rainbow Bridge that day. And may those who lent a hand during the rescue and the post-rescue clean-up be blessed abundantly for answering the call for help. The empathy shown just blew me away.

Protect Your Credit Cards & Identity From Thieves

Ever since I read about identity thieves using RFID (radio frequency identification), I’d been shopping around for a wallet that contains RFID-blocking properties. What exactly is RFID? According to this Wiki, “Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information. Some tags are powered by electromagnetic induction from magnetic fields produced near the reader. Some types collect energy from the interrogating radio waves and act as a passive transponder. Other types have a local power source such as a battery and may operate at hundreds of meters from the reader. Unlike a barcode, the tag does not necessarily need to be within line of sight of the reader, and may be embedded in the tracked object.”

This simply means, anyone with an RFID reader/tracker who comes close (or not, depending on tracking device) to your wallet containing credit cards & ATM cards, they may steal vital information and access to your identity (and bank account) within seconds. Pacsafe has a range of RFID-blocking bags & packs, built with anti-theft features such as slashguard wire mesh woven into the bag and slashproof straps and temper-proof zips.

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Tatonka Euro Wallet with RFID Blocker

Getting around in Frankfurt & scouring around to look at equipment in their outdoor shops, I found Globetrotter, a 5 -storey trekkers’ haven, that stocks the most comprehensive solutions to camping, trekking, hiking, kayaking & climbing located at the East end of Frankfurt. Here, I found a range of Pacsafe bags amongst other big names in outdoor equipment & bought the Stashsafe100 GII in Midnight Blue, a hip pack with built in anti-theft features & RFID-blocker. I also bought a Tatonka RFID Block wallet for days I don’t need to use the hip pack.

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Pacsafe Stashsafe 100 GII hip pack

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Inside of main compartment.

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Comes with a lock/keys and slash proof strap!

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5 storey of excitement!

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Bags! Globetrotter has all kinds of backpacks!

To think that Malaysia is the first country to adopt the smart passport system, using RFID technology in 1998, our passports are vulnerable to identity fishing. Whenever I fly, I always have this insecurity about falling asleep & waking up to a ransacked bag. With a hip pack that is lockable on your body, zips that can be secured from opening & straps that are slashproof, I doubt anyone would want to attempt to remove/grab it from me but the added peace of mind of knowing that they can’t is already worth the money paid for. If you travel as much as I do, get the Pacsafe Stashsafe100 GII anti-theft hip pack. You would be glad to walk around the streets of South East Asian cities with the knowledge that nothing would fall out of your bag if it gets slashed neither could anyone pry the bag off you.

Onboard Komodo Dancer – Learning Human Behaviour – Day 3 & 4

Dinners were always served in style. Sit down with a glass of wine as the first course is served by Rizal, who tirelessly wait on us. A purpose-built massive wooden table that acts as an emergency exit from the cabins below, had the capacity to fit 16 divers comfortably, 17 divers cosily. Captain Kassim set sail on the 2nd night towards Sumbawa islands & that’s when the real adventure had begun.

Sumbawa & Komodo islands seem to harbour some monstrous sized reef life and their pelagics are ginormous. Giant Trevallies are gigantic, Titan Triggerfish titanic, gargantuan Gorgonians that can wrap you twice over. The Napoleon Wrasse waltzes into schools declaring itself the emperor of the reef and Giant Groupers (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) prance the neighbourhood without a trace, giving away its camouflage only when it moved. I was many a time, frightened by one in close proximity when I hovered to take pictures over the colourful terrain. The more vibrant cousin, the Coronation Trout (Variola louti), was more visible as it changes colours upon entering & leaving the reef, the prime reason for my decision to take more videos.

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By this time, everyone except Team Russia (language barrier), was warming up to one another around meal times as food had always been the centrepiece of conversations in Asian communities. Free access to the soda fridge meant I get to be sugar-powered by Coke after a nitrogen-loaded gawking session underwater. Again the swollen moon made everything explode, not sure if they got excited but I sure did when I caught the courtship ritual of the Trumpetfish at Padang Bai. Could it be that we would get to witness the spontaneous spawning of the reef at this time of the year? It’s hard to contain my joy…..

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Anticipating the view of the recently erupted Sangeang volcano that sent a 19km plume of ashcloud into the sky, eager beavers like us (Team China & Team Malaysia) continued to check our location with the map & GPS to see how far off we were & if there was a possibility to get near. The Captain expressed that he was not going to take the risk as molten lava can be seen miles away in the following nights. We were told to get a glimpse of it when we moved closer to Komodo.

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Team Austria had to be the walking pharmacy and most medically-equipped couple ever. On the first few days, they kindly whipped out a magic bottle of eardrops that dry out people’s ears as one member of Team Everything-Is-Wrong had gotten an ear infection. Very soon, Team Austria took out some Voltaren pills for one member of Team USA who had gotten a sprained ankle from an injury before she went onboard. She was also my lovely roommate! Her enthusiasm for muck dives was unquenchable as she voraciously searched the guidebooks after each dive for the things she had found.

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By that time, I was getting to know everyone except one aloof member of Team China who doesn’t speak English & required his diving buddy to interpret dive briefs to him. A man of few words, he was exceptionally expressive underwater, gesticulating to his awesome interpreter buddy who happened to be an incredible photographer. I think I like him already! We can sign language! And so it was that I would speak Cantonese to him & he would speak Mandarin to me……..bliss!

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Onboard Komodo Dancer – Day 1 & 2 in Bali

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It takes an amazing mix of divers with a love of the ocean to traverse across continents to get to Bali and embark on a glorious 10 days of diving. The idea of crossing treacherous seas to dive pristine sites usually out of reach to common folks, MV Ombak Biru or known as Komodo Dancer, was built to be like a Dutch Schooner. Sailing off Tanjung Benoa Port in Bali with her crew of 16, the same number of divers from Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Canada, USA, China & Malaysia went aboard to experience 5 star diving.

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Our Cruise Director, Lea Jorg, the head of dive operations on board, prepared us with a comprehensive dive briefing detailing the zones where we were to assemble, gear up & stow away our personal dive gear after each dive. With the aid of a very experienced team of Divemasters & boat crew, dive sites were plotted with near accuracy, giving divers concise plans to move along even if the snail-paced photographers like me lose sight of the group. The sites map were drawn daily by Gedeh, a local DM with 6 years of experience onboard Komodo Dancer. His knowledge of the dive sites astounded me when the creatures & critters mentioned during dive briefing were actually seen on each of the dives at almost any turn of the corner!

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Expecting something spectacular in the midst of a waning gibbous (transition of a full moon to half moon), our maiden dive was done at Padang Bai, East Bali, under the jetty lined with annoyed anglers sending out invisible daggers at us as we descended with our GoPros, Nauticams, wondercams & whatnots. Being told that it was a muck dive, a few divers who were kitted with macro lenses were surprised to see prolific growth on the structural pillars of the jetty, teeming with sponges, soft corals, tunicates & Gorgonian seafans. The colours that greeted us was such a sight to behold, left me in awe as I scanned every centimetre of the encrusted walls for nudibranchs & invertebrates. Gedeh hijacked us to show us a huge Lacy Rhinopias that he had found, a lifer to many who hadn’t seen the clumsy-looking brightly coloured weedy specie of scorpionfish before. Swirling schools of Fusiliers, suspended Sweetlips & basking devilfish on the sand made the jetty somewhat of an exciting fish underpass for divers! The hazard is, of course, getting hooked by any of the anglers above, which one of the Canadians discovered when she felt the hook tug on her ponytail!

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We redescended after a hot breakfast served ala carte when we couldn’t get enough of this peculiar marine refuge equipped with glass domes on our ports to get our fill. The Captain sailed as soon as everyone returned to a spread of tropical fruits & Indonesian buffet lunch!

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Category: SCUBA  12 Comments

Osteoarthritis (OA) in Youngsters?

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My daily intake.

When people hear of arthritis, they usually have pictures of old people in their mind but the onset of Osteoarthritis (OA) can strike anyone between 20 to 40 years of age. Falling into this age category as an active sports person, I have had an old injury recur twice recently, immobilising me on one of my dive trips. The only relief I got was being in the water as I became weightless then. Symptoms of this possible onset of OA include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking and ‘crackling’ of joints caused by loss of cartilage by the wear & tear of the joints. Sharp pains shot right down my legs and upon returning to KL, I went to see my chiropractor immediately. He adjusted my hip & pushed it back into socket and I rested for two weeks before I prepared for my China expedition.

OA is associated with the breakdown of cartilage in joints, commonly occurring int eh weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees & spine although it can affect other areas too. What is this cartilage? Think of it as the shock absorbers in between your joints that give the spongy cushioning that it deserves. When that wears off, the grinding of the bones will cause pain & a lot of discomfort. I had to find alternatives to not suffer such severe pains when my hip occasionally falls out of socket from my vigorous activities so I sought the advice of a scientist he told me to up the dosage of my supplements from 500mg to 1,500mg per day for the first 3 months before regulating a lesser dose daily. I’m now on the 3rd week of taking Livewell Ostesamin that contain glucosamine sulphate & MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) supplements which has helped me control the mortifying pain & allowed me to carry on my usual active lifestyle. If my body is wearing away cartilage, what about the older folks? Cartilage repair is even slower amongst seniors and the only way is to take supplements as they may not have the luxury of hip replacement surgeries.

Keeping my weight in check is another crucial factor in preventing further effects of OA. The heavier you are, the more weight your bones have to carry & whilst our joints degenerate, you wouldn’t want them to work overtime unnecessarily & causing you excruciating pain in the process. I bought a core muscles builder exerciser for me to train and strengthen my core muscles to hold my posture upright, one of the ways of lessening the stress on my spine as the nerves were also pinched when my hip got dislocated. I walk as much as I can & have whole grain carbohydrates, lean protein with lots of vegetables in my diet. If you are overweight, you would definitely benefit from weight loss which would help you ease pressure on your knees. Though I’m not overweight, I have a duty to keep fit for the work that I do and being immobilised by pain is not something I see myself accepting! Yes, though ageing is a part of life that I can accept, what I can’t is if OA sets in. If I can do something to prevent it now, I will give it my all. We cannot prevent ageing but we can slow down the process by living a healthy lifestyle, eating a proper diet & have regular exercise.

Supplements that are really effective include Glucosamine + Chondroitin Sulphate and MSM. You can get them here:-

http://www.livewell2u.com/products.php?p=ostesamin

Category: Products  Leave a Comment  Tags:

Inaugurating First Edition of Flock in Zamboanga

Flock, the birding e-magazine by Amazing Journey Asia Media, reporting on the events in Zamboanga in conjunction with the 9th Philippine Bird Festival 2014. This edition will be updated progressively as the videos are edited & uploaded. I hope you would enjoy this birding chronicles in Flipbook style! A big thank you to the Department of Tourism in Philippines & the people at the Wild Bird Club of Philippines, without you, this experience wouldn’t have achieved so much fun, action & camaraderie! Enjoy the e-magazine!

Get Flock here.

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Where Every Grain Matters

In Daocheng county, Sichuan, China, the people farm wheat as the climate doesn’t allow them to plant other staple foods like rice. They can only harvest once, at most, twice per year. Stopping for a scenic take of the autumn trees, the workers clearing the wheat chaff on the land attracted my attention to cross the busy road plied by tourists buses using that route to head to Yading. They were constantly bent over, picking & plucking, occasionally rising to toss the little bundles into a woven basket that a boy was carrying. At the scene was an elderly lady with a baby strapped to her back. She seemed happy to converse with the workers. Looking at Andy Phua snapping away, I joined him & watched a scene in the daily lives of this Tibetan tribe.

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A view that leaves you speechless.

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The elderly lady with the baby.

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Back-breaking labour, pulling chaff to prepare the ground for winter before planting again.

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A panoramic view of the stream in Daocheng.

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A scruffy boy I met there.

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A sun-kissed toddler I’ve had the privilege of giving treats to.

Travelling further inward into the country, I caught sight of another group of farmers separating wheat grains using a blower, still manual work of hoisting the basket & pouring the contents into the wind, it was a fascinating experience for me. Learning how hard it is to get so little grain and yet this is all they have got.

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Wrapped my head in Buff™ & with my Cocoons sunglasses and hood, I approached the flying chaff onward to give you an insight of this hard labour.

Technical Jackets to Tackle Terrains

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Yading Nature Park, Sichuan, China – I almost passed out getting this picture. Subzero temperatures, sitting on frosted ground waiting for clouds to clear.

Having zero tolerance for the cold prompted me to look for different jackets & baselayers available for all my outdoor pursuits. Not sure if it’s owing to the lack of hair on my body or my internal heating system/metabolic rate is virtually not working or I may just be wearing clothes with poor insulation. My trip to China allowed me to truly rate each jacket’s warmth & insulation. Let’s just take the last reason for me to shop some more. 😛

I have a Max Cocos insulated micro fibre winter coat for city trips to help me withstand the cold in winter countries when I have to attend meetings but I can’t use the same delicate jacket for outdoor adventure. I remember when I had to cover fam trips in all kinds of expedition around the country where I would tear a pair of pants or two every trip. It was quite a costly affair & this is in the tropics. What about zero degrees or sub zero terrain? I didn’t understand what ‘technical jacket’ was all about until I learnt the technology behind it.

My favourite brand is of course, Animal from UK. They have sizes that fit my long arms & legs perfectly. At 175cm, I tower over most Malaysian men & that’s without heels. I fell in love with the turquoise colour of this jacket & having a waterproof rating of 10,000mm & MVP of 15,000g, this jacket was perfect for times when I have to brave the rain or chilly wind on the dive boat ride back to shore.

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Animal Amaya Jacket

This 3 layer technical fabric is designed to keep water & wind out while venting away excess body heat.

Technical specifications:- 

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Textured Nylon 3 Layer Fabric With DWR
  • Waterproof Rating of 10,000; MVP 15,000
  • Taped Seams
  • Waterproof Zippers
  • Underarm Ventilation
  • Grown On Hood
  • Adjustable Hem And Hood
  • Adjustable Cuffs
  • Reflective Logo

Let’s examine this MVP rating. MVP is moisture vapour permeability. It tells you how much moisture can vaporise through the fabric per m2 per 24 hours. Which means, even if the fabric is waterproof from the outside, it allows sweat to permeate through the fabric without leaving you soaking wet. The waterproofing rating involves testing using a number of different testing protocols but most involve the equivalent of placing a 1” x 1” square tube over the fabric and determining how high (in millimeters) a column of water you can suspend over it before it starts to leak. So when I read that the Animal Amaya jacket has 10,000mm WP, I knew I had to have it.

Then came the Trespass Balbi. Trespass is another UK brand (I love their size 12) that is available online through their website. Being dark grey, I could use it for birding! So I got it in time for my trip to China.

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Trespass Balbi Jacket

Technical specifications:- 

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Adjustable Grown On Hood
  • 3 Zip Pockets with Water Resistant Zips
  • Water Resistant Zip at Centre Front Opening
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjustment
  • Form Cut Rubber Cuff Tab
  • Shell: 100% Polyester/ TPU
  • Membrane/ 100% Polyester
  • Waterproof 10,000mm
  • Breathable 3000g/m2/24hrs
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

Though I loved this jacket, upon the 3rd day of use, the inside started to peel away at the waterproofed seams. Since it’s still new, I am going to ask for an exchange. Coupled with the Trespass Wendy jacket as a midlayer, it provided me with enough warmth but due to a switch of bags for the journey, I didn’t get to wear this in Yading & wore the less effective Karrimor 3in1 parka instead. Naturally, I froze & almost passed out.

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Leong took a picture of me taking a picture of something! In my Trespass Balbi jacket.

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Standing atop a pile of earth at the edge of the ravine, we were in Yunnan, China. I was covered in my Buff™ balaclava & was wearing Animal Ski Pants!

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Trespass Wendy jacket – the soft shell fleece midlayer I wore in China. 

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Lafuma LD Donegal CLIMACTIVE® Jacket i

This is one of my favourite all-year round jacket. The lightest of them all, this pink jacket packs a hood in the collar & it’s great to ward off the rain on your photo walkabouts. I often wear it when I have my dinner outdoors at Chinese restaurants to repel wind. Did I mention that I have no tolerance to cold? As soon as the temperature dips to 24? or less, I will start to feel uncomfortable.

Technical specifications:-

  • 100% POLYESTER
  • 3 in 1 protective jacket with removable fleece
  • Structured Twill-effect fabric
  • Attached hood which stows inside collar
  • 1 zippered chest pocket with invisible zip
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets
  • Adjustable hem with elasticated drawcord and toggles
  • Velcro tab adjustment at wrist.
  • 2 zippered hand warmer pockets.
  • Seam sealed.

This Lafuma jacket can be found at Lafuma Bangsar. I believe there are men’s versions as well & certainly not pink in colour. ?

My fascination with pink has to do with being female. I can be a typical female when it comes to colour choices but for practicality sake, no one would want to steal ‘pink.’ This is my second pink jacket, the first being the Animal Kapelle Ski jacket.

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The Animal Kapelle is a soft shell fleeced jacket that works great in the cinema! I haven’t actually brought this on my expeditions yet to test the warmth rating & I should do so.

Technical specifications:-

  • Anitex Technical Fabric
  • Softshell Fabric With DWR
  • Grown On Adjustable Hood
  • Mesh Lined Pockets For Extra Venting
  • Cuff Adjusters
  • Inverted Zips And External Taping Detail
  • One Handed Adjusters At Hem
  • Waterproof: 8000mm
  • MVP: 10,000g/m2/24hr

JadaCassis

My latest haulage is the Trespass JADA Women’s Waterproof Jacket. Similar to the Animal Amaya, the JADA jacket is the ultimate outdoor piece of kit. The Tres-Tex membrane is made with 3 layers – outer shell, membrane and inner shell- which are laminated together. High performance but lightweight, the thing I like about this jacket apart from its high visibility is the detachable hood. The highest waterproof-rated material at 15,000mm & I would really like to put it to a test in the harsh conditions of some snowy mountainous region somewhere or the jungle! I wanted to a more neutral colour but it only comes in Pink, Black or Turquoise which I already have. I never liked black. My Jada arrived in the mail yesterday!

Technical specifications:-

  • Shell – 3 Layer Fabric
  • Ventilation Zips
  • Adjustable Zip Off Hood
  • 3 Water Repellent Zip Pockets
  • 1 Sleeve Zip Pocket
  • Hem Drawcord with Side Adjuster
  • Flat Cuff with Velcro Tab
  • Back Tail
  • Waterproof 15,000mm
  • Breathable 8000mvp
  • Windproof
  • Taped Seams

All these jackets above are not padded with additional insulation. I thought it should work with base & midlayers & it did plus you can also use it on its own in the tropics to repel rain. Should I come across another highly rated jacket again, I will post it up here but chances are, it would be pink again. 😀

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Donned in my Karrimor Parka, which could only help me withstand down to 7?C. I was freezing throughout until I got my to my main luggage & changed back to my Balbi & Wendy.

Category: Adventure  4 Comments

Benzilan – The Place I Barely Remember

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Panorama of Benzilan

Hit by an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale, Benzilan in Yunnan, China had temporary make-shift tents as accommodation for the people which lined the street outside our hotel. We got there at night & it was the start of a series of cold nights thereafter. And the hotel doesn’t have any lifts! I felt sorry for the guys who brought unbreakable chunky luggages. Walking up the stairs with such load is enough to bring on back pain. My room that I shared with Miss Lai was on the first floor, not that bad considering that I had brought a convertible Eminent trolley bag which I hauled up like a backpack.

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My camera backpack, the Lowepro Photo Sport 200AW was filled with 80% essentials (survival equipment) & 20% photographic gear. On the first 2 days, people on the trip got a little surprised as to why I had a relatively big pack but only carried a Samsung NX200 wherever I went. I began to whip out things…….Lifestraw™……Lifeventure Shelter 2 Bothy Bag……Gerber multitool…….Sealskinz gloves…..survival kit…….Fenix PD32 light…hiking pole…..travel pillow….thermal blanket……spork…….power bars…..soup packs……purifying tabs……Platypus drinking bag……..alcohol wipes……first aid kit…..Garmin 76CSX…..batteries….. I explained to them that survival was my priority when going out into the wilderness for my adventures. Photos are secondary.

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Nice bag, no?

If I was going to travel for an indefinite period through the cold, mountainous region, I wasn’t going to leave my safety to chance or the tour guide. If we had gotten stranded for whatever reason, at least we would have purified & filtered water to drink. I’ve never been to China before & didn’t know what to expect except that the people look very similar to me. 😀

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Angela posing.

Sandwiched between the demure Angela & the excitable Leong, their antics drove me to the toilet. I have never laughed this much, all 12 days mind you, at two contrasting individuals trying to take pictures & get along. Leong’s model-opportunisticism, both as the photographer & the one being photographed, was worthy of commend. He took very flattering shots of Angela but Angela felt that he did better with aunties & housewives making them look like stars. So the hammering begun. Leong was untameable. He went after cows, goats, yaks, whatever that moved……even other tourists, to get his portraits. He even managed to herd a bull back across the bridge over a torrential river! In witnessing such charismatic flaunts, I decided to document him. I don’t remember much about Benzilan or the journey thereafter except that I was always in stitches as the taunts & threats were continually thrown at Leong by Angela, should he not succeed at taking flattering shots of her again. Leong took his task seriously & clicked furiously to get that right shot afterwards!

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Feeling the pressure…..Leong has to perform, or else…..

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Leong succeeded to ask Alex to photograph him. Alex is a hotshot photographer!

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He got Uncle Nigel to take a shot of him too! How does he do it??? 😀
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He would make sounds through the lens hood….

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And the only time we stopped laughing was when he was deep in slumber…..

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I took him taking me.

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Benzilan was beautiful but I can only remember how much those two amigos made me laugh.

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Walking across the suspended bridge.

A Great Man Has Gone Home

Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela. 18 July 1918 – 6 December 2013.

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Taken at Madame Tussauds, Wien, Austria.

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Taken at Madame Tussauds, Wien, Austria.

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But I’ve only just met you! Or your towering wax figure Tussauds made out of you. You looked so weathered, stood so tall, yet the battles you fought for the people against apartheid and poverty will make us all stand proud with you for eternity. God bless your soul and may you receive the many promised crowns in heaven!!! Thank you for the gift of yourself, Mr. Mandela!

Arriving in Kunming, Dali & Erhai Village, China in 24hours

As far as my eyes could see out of the little pane on my window seat, we were descending into a mountainous region. Whatever I’ve seen in paintings of old China plastered on the wall of coffeeshops as I was growing up actually reflected what was before me. Landing in Kunming, Yunnan, China, my 12 day trip began. The superfluous road journey was enough to set my hip off if it weren’t for the BackJoy Posture+ seat that I had lugged along. Absolutely necessary for long car rides. Each day, we travelled between 150 – 350km, stopping along the way for scenic spots & photo opportunity. Given the chance, I would have loved to stay put longer in one place to experience the culture & life of the people.

Our first stop was at ErHai Fishing Village, a lake that the Chinese term as the sea for the never-ending sight of the horizon. Not getting much sleep from the night before when we arrived at The Ancient City of Dali (Dali Gusheng), I woke up to a temperatures too low for my liking. A cotton-loving girl donned in Uniqlo HeatTech, fleece & technical jacket is hardly anything to marvel at. I saved my waterproof ski pants for the coldest sector of my journey…….Yading, in Sichuan near the Himalayas.

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At dawn, these boats are parked by the lakeside.

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Boats parked.

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Fisherfolks row out to haul in the catch.

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Wheat clusters left by the road.

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Mode of transport for the village folks.

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Taking out the vermicelli noodles at the factory.

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Noodles hanging out to dry.

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Garbed in balaclava, beanie & hooded jacket.

This was our first stop on our long & arduous journey to Yading Nature Reserve. On the bus, there were 12 other photographers & an MPV with 6 people plus the driver. Travelling 350km upon arrival in the evening was anything but nice. The fun only began on the 3rd day when I was accosted by Leong Taoping (Long Bean Army as I called him) and the demure but bean-bashing, Angela.