Archive for February, 2012

5-minute movie: Maldives: The island president deposed – paradise lost?

February 28, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s blog just got this from one of my wife’s colleagues at the UN. I’ve only been to the Maldives once and stayed a week. It was hellishly expensive. I didn’t see the main island apart from a brief flirtation with touts at the Intl airport and a boat trip, and didn’t catch any of the politics. An archipelago of great beauty unquestionably but not one I’d visit again. Like the Seychelles. Just too costly. I admire the nation’s no commercial shark fishing policy, its stance on global warming (prompted by the fact a few inches of sea level rise could reduce real estate to a significant degree) and the fish and waters are exquisite. But no, not my sort of place. Sulawesi Bunaken Cha Cha still has my unequivocal thumbs up for quality diving, quality accommodation, quality company and when you leave you leave with regret. I cleared out of the Maldives for Sri Lanka with relief. And with my shirt still on my back. But only just.

Anyway this post isn’t about dive sites or over priced Indian Ocean tourist destinations. It’s about politics in the Maldives. My correspondent takes the current crisis more seriously than I do. He may well be right to do so. But this one’s definitely not my fight. If you have fonder memories of the Maldives maybe it’s yours!

Over to him!

START

For those interested in the history and political situation in Maldives, this short video is a must-see:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/opinion/the-island-president-deposed.html?ref=opinion

Brigitte’s Pick: Polish Salt Mine

February 28, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog visited Poland and spent most of my time chasing radio collared wolves along the Belarus border. I missed this salt mine completely! But I loved the Polish people. And I sensed that they were capable of many great things. But no, I missed this salt mine.

Check it out people, check it out!

START:

Deep underground in Poland lies something remarkable, but little known outside Eastern Europe.
For centuries, miners have extracted salt there, but left behind things quite startling and unique.
Take a look at the most unusual salt mine in the world.

From the outside, Wieliczka Salt Mine doesn’t look extraordinary, but it is extremely well kept for a place that hasn’t mined any salt for over ten years. Apart from that, it looks ordinary. However, over two hundred meters below ground it holds an astonishing secret.

This is the salt mine that became an art gallery, cathedral and underground lake.

Situated in the Krakow area, Wieliczka is a small town of close to twenty thousand inhabitants. It was founded in the twelfth century by a local Duke to mine the rich deposits of salt that lie beneath.
Until 1996 it did just that. But the generations of miners did more than just extract. They left behind them a breathtaking record of their time underground in the shape of statues of mythic, historical and religious figures. They even created their own chapels in which to pray.

Perhaps their most astonishing legacy is the huge underground cathedral they left behind for posterity.

As you descend into the depths of this

world after a one hundred and fifty

Meter climb down wooden stairs, the visitor to the salt mine will see some
amazing sites. About the most astounding in terms of its sheer size and
audacity is the Chapel of Saint Kinga.

The Polish people have for many centuries been devout Catholics and this was more
than just a long term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground.
This was an act of worship.

Amazingly, even the chandeliers in the cathedral are made of salt. It was not simply hewn from the ground and then thrown together; the process is more painstaking for the lighting.

After extraction, the rock salt was first of all dissolved. It was then reconstituted with the impurities taken out so that it achieved a glass-like finish. The chandeliers are what many visitors think the rest of the cavernous mine will be like as they have a picture in their minds of salt as they would sprinkle on their meals! However, the rock salt occurs naturally in different shades of grey (something like you would expect granite to look ike).

Over one million visitors yearly (mainly from Poland and its eastern European neighbors) visit the mine to see, amongst other things, how salt was mined in the past.

For safety reasons, less than one percent of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is still almost four kilometers in length – more than enough to weary the average tourist after an hour or two.

The mine was closed for two reasons – the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to extract here. Also, the mine was slowly flooding – another reason why visitors are restricted to certain areas only.

The religious carvings are what draw many to this mine – as much for their amazing verisimilitude as for their Christian aesthetics. The above shows Jesus appearing to the apostles after the
Crucifixion. He shows the doubter, Saint Thomas, the wounds on his wrists.

Another remarkable carving is The Last Supper. The work and patience that must have gone into the creation of these sculptures is extraordinary. One wonders what the miners would have thought of their work going on general display?

The cream of Europe’s thinkers have visited the site – you can still see many of their names in the old visitor’s books on display.

It comes as no surprise to learn that the mine was placed on the original list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.

A catastrophic flood in 1992 dealt the last blow to commercial salt mining in the area and now the
mine functions purely as a tourist attraction. Brine is, however, still extracted from the mine – and then evaporated to produce some salt, but hardly on the ancient scale. I f this was not done, then the mines would soon become flooded once again.

Not all of the statues have a religious or symbolic imageryattached to them.
The miners had a sense of humor, after all! Here can be seen
their own take on the legend of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The intricately carved dwarves must have seemed to some of the
miners a kind of ironic depiction of their own work.

The miners even threw in a dragon for good measure!

To cap it all there is even an underground lake, lit by subdued electricity and
candles. How different a few minutes reflection here must have been to the noise and sweat of everyday working life in the mine.

Brigitte’s Pick: When its not your time to die – that magnificent man in his flying machine!

February 28, 2012

Hugh Paxton Blog admires our Namibia correspondent, Brigitte, for constantly raising the bar. This blog’s not heard many opinions on the veracity of the killer whale eating the young boy. But this footage prompts the same question. True or False?

Don’t try this at home. And don’t try it anywhere else.

Thai Days: Baby elephant seizure in Phuket

February 28, 2012

Police yesterday confiscated two baby elephants from two tourism operators on Thailand’s resort island of Phuket. This is another domino falling flat as a result of the recent high-profile elephant killings in Kaeng Krachan National Park (see earlier Hugh Paxton blog posts for details) and the farcical raids on the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand’s wildlife rescue centre following the WFFT’s director’s allegations of oallegations of official corruption and collusion in elephant poaching and baby elephant trading. The Phuket confiscations occurred at ATV Seaview On Tour and Laguna Excursions. Both establishments offer elephants as tourist attractions and claim that they had been renting the babies from Saiyok Elephant Park in Kanchanaburi province since last year.

Thai Days: Three billion baht allocated to forest restoration

February 28, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s blog is happy to be the bearer of glad tidings. Shortly after the Thai King made a speech blaming greedy bureaucrats for allowing illegal logging to continue and expressing his opinion that such malpractice was partially responsible for last year’s devastating flooding, the Thai government has budgeted three billion baht (30 baht to one USD) for forest rehabilitation and preservation over the next five years. Emphasis is to be placed on community involvement which is good news for the rural poor and will hopefully engender a sense of popular ownership and stewardship. The Prime Minister has also announced her intention to increasing penalties for those involved in forest encroachment. Not before time. It’s a shame that it is necessary to have a catastrophe before taking action – but that’s the way people and governments seem to work.

Brigitte’s Pick: ANKLE DEEP – AND EATEN BY A Whale

February 27, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has yet another true of false test. Did this kid get eaten by two killer whales while sporting about on a beach? Brigitte wants to know your verdict! I’d like to hear it, too!

Thai Days: Three More Iranian Idiots Nabbed

February 27, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog  seeks to ease fears of further Iranian idiots in Thailand should you be worried about visiting this wondrous country. Three more have been arrested in connection with the recent, and most incompetent, terrorist farces in living memory.

They were traced by the police via Sim cards collected from the imbecile who blew his own legs off after his bomb bounced off a car and returned itself to sender. Bang Kwang prison will soon be needing a new Iranian wing.

Now enjoying Thailand’s penal hospitality are Rahimi Rad Iraj (a hotel chef), Mahboobh Tasbehi (the chef”s wife) and Madani Seyed Merhdred who skulked in his room and ordered room service from the chef and his wife who were both working in the vicinity.

Adding interest to an otherwise stupid episode in human interest history is the word “Sejeal.”

QUICK BLOG QUIZZ:

Is a Sejeal:

a) One of those things that you order in an Indian restaurant and then have to eat because you don’t want to offend the waiter.

b) A burning rock dropped by holy birds on an invading Yemeni army mounted on elephants that was determined to kill the Prophet M.  And that prompted the elephant riding hordes to flee.

c) A spelling mistake.

d). A bunch of stickers slathered over Bangkok streets that might/might not provide escape routes for Iranian terrorists.

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is happy to report that the sticker stickers have also been caught on security cameras.

Iranian idiots! I’m not sure which answers are correct on this blog quiz. But B and D are strong contenders!

I lived in Iran and loved it then. But I was ten years old and had a lot to learn.

I still do!

Best!

Hugh

Thai Days: Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand – the Mountains of the North

February 27, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is consistently impressed by the writing and nature photography of Lawrence Bruce Kekule and today’s photo essay on Thailand’s northern mountain parks is another Kekule triumph. Kekule, an American by birth moved to Thailand in 1964 and for the last 15 years has been roaming the Kingdom’s wild places burdened with a camera the size of a surface to air missile launcher.

You can see some results in today’s LIFE supplement of the Bangkok Post (front page, continued on page nine) in a story called Patrimony Imperilled. But I’d suggest that for best views  you consult his blog “Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand”  www.brucekekule.com

The blog post describes the history of the region, the national parks, and the history of slash and burn, logging and encroachment that in part contributed to the disastrous flooding that caused such chaos and suffering in much of lowland Thailand last year.  And, I regret to say, may cause similar miseries this year.

Kekule gives us visions of beauty. These compensate for text that is rather sad and frightening at times. Give it a whirl if you are visiting the north, particularly Doi Inthanon or Doi Suthep-Pui national parks,  or Mae Tuen and Omkoi wildlife sanctuaries.

HUGH PAXTON BLOG TRAVEL ADVISORY: Northern Thailand is not a good place to be right now if you have asthma. Recent slash and burn, forest fires, and field stubble burning have created a choking haze of particulate matter that, in the most sorely affected areas, is more than double that of levels deemed safe.

Air quality monitoring stations at 11 locations have recorded particulate matter air pollution at levels ranging from 279 PM10 in Lampang to 174 PM10 in Chiang Mai. Safe levels of PM10 are considered (by people who know what they are talking about) to be 120 PM10.

BLOG ED QUERY: I’ve no idea what you are talking about. What the heck is a PM10?

Hugh: A tiny dust particle. Less than ten microns in diameter. One of the most harmful of air pollutants because when inhaled it stays with you and clogs your lungs. It is not a helpful guest but you can’t evict it. It also causes eye irritation and a grim legion of respiratory problems. Forest burning in South East Asia (particularly in Indonesia) regularly smothers Singapore and Malaysia in this poisonous muck.

BLOG ED: Me again. What’s this got to do with Wildlife in the Kingdom of Thailand?

Hugh: Check the man’s blog.

 

We’ve been waiting for this one: Charlie’s Thai Green Currier Blog: A Tale of Two Parks – park 2

February 26, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is delighted to see that Mr Clarke has risen from the grave and has unleashed part two of his Tale of Two Parks story. His second choice of park is extremely apt. The park was the scene of recent elephant slayings, tusk thefts, genital and trunk severances, park staff arrests and these have precipitated an escalating series of events that have involved further arrests, raids on animal welfare organisations running wildlife rescue/rehab sanctuaries and will in all likelihood expose malpractice and corruption in government and parks authorities circles and raise a huge number of uncomfortable elephant baby trade issues. Mr. Clarke may be late. But his timing is impeccable! Here’s his account of a peaceful (?) visit. If you want the blood, guts and anarchy check Hugh Paxton’s blog recent posts.

Over to Charlie Clarke, master and editor of The Green Currier! His blog, incidentally, is linked in to mine.

START

A tale of two Parks – park 2

Have a good week!

Charlie

charlie clarke

___________

email: charlie.clarke

blog: http://thaigreencurrier.wordpress.com/

twitter: thaigreencurrie

Thai Days:The Woman in Black

February 25, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has just watched The Woman in Black at one of Central department store’s fifteen or so cinemas. Bangkok cinemas are first rate!  Tickets are cheap. Facilities are luxurious. The only moan I have is trailers and sub-Arctic temperatures. Mitigate both by turning up 15 minutes after the screening is scheduled to start and wear a woolly jumper. Then enjoy the show!

I certainly enjoyed The Woman in Black. It’s a period ghost story involving a young solicitor who is sent by his London legal firm to tidy the affairs of a client who has died in Eelmarsh House, a decaying mansion on an island surrounded by saltmarsh and only linked to the mainland by a causeway that is flooded during high tide.  Arthur Kipps (the solicitor) is played by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame and Radcliffe does well. I didn’t think of him as Harry Potter at all. I thought of him as Arthur Kipps. Not every actor can manage this trick of transformation and reivention. The actor who so brilliantly played Frodo in The Lord of the Rings has popped up on screens since but in my eyes he is always a hobbit, even if he’s playing a soccer hooligan. And I fear he always will be. Such is not to be Radcliffe’s fate.

The Woman in Black is a scary flick and drenched with atmosphere. The setting is perfect. Yes I enjoyed it, and the ghost’s a real piece of work. But actually I watched another film version of the same story made for ITV starring Adrian Rawlins and Bernard Hepton and although it is not as slick I found this earlier version a great deal more chilling. It lacks the special effects of the one I saw today but the plot is more complex and when the scares come, they come! It’s available on DVD from Amazon and if you are short of ideas for a Halloween treat, this is it.

I also saw The Woman in Black performed in a lovely Victorian theatre in the West End. I think the play is still running. It certainly was last time I was in London. Very eerie. Particularly the theatre. Lots of narrow stair cases and funny shadowy corridors, tiny bars, balconies, muted wall lamps, velvet curtains…If you can’t get tickets for Les Miz or the Phantom, this is a great alternative.

I haven’t read the original book by Susan Hill, but I’ll look out for it and let you know what I think.

 


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