Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bora Bora Island - Probably one of world's most beautiful Island

Bora Bora is an island in the Leeward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. The island, located about 230 kilometres (140 mi) northwest of Papeete, is surrounded by a lagoon and a barrier reef. In the center of the island are the remnants of an extinct volcano rising to two peaks, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, the highest point at 727 metres (2,385 ft). The original name of the island in the Tahitian language might be better rendered as Pora Pora, meaning "First Born"; an early transcription found in 18th- and 19th century accounts, is Bolabolla (or "Bollabolla").

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mesa Verde: A Storied Island in the Sky

By Gregory McNamee on History

On a winter morning more than a century ago, an Arizona rancher went searching for a lost calf deep in a winding canyon on the Colorado Plateau. Descending into a draw so steep that his horse could not follow, he stumbled upon an astonishing find: a large cliff house that seems almost to hang in midair before a sheer, high sandstone wall. In the ruin, he found baskets, pots, and preserved grains and ears of corn that lay out on wooden benches as if ready to be eaten. It was, he recalled, almost as if its occupants had been chased away in the middle of a meal.

The rancher’s discovery excited the attention of generations of archaeologists. Through their work, much is now known about the people once called Anasazi, now more often referred to as Ancestral Pueblo.Homeimage

That people was a blend of migrants from central Mexico and descendants of the so-called Basketmaker culture. By the 12th century, the Ancestral Pueblo numbered in the many tens of thousands, possibly even more. Having given up the old hunting-and-gathering ways, they settled into scattered farming villages and soon developed great skill as builders.

One of the largest of their cities, now encompassing more than 4,000 archaeological sites spread out over more than 50,000 acres, stands near the spot where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado come together. Mesa Verde, whose name means “green plateau,” rises like a giant island from the floor of the nearby desert in far southwestern Colorado, affording a fine natural defense against enemies and, in the bargain, sweeping views of the rumpled red-sandstone territory below.

The Ancestral Pueblo first began to build permanent structures at Mesa Verde about AD 550. The mesa had a few lakes and springs from which they could draw water, and it harbored great groves of pine that afforded them abundant building materials. About 750 years later, they abandoned it as a severe and long-term drought drove them east to lands bordering the Rio Grande, just at the time that invading peoples arrived to claim the Colorado Plateau as their own.

Mesa Verde lay silent for generations, a place that the neighboring Ute and Navajo feared as haunted. The Spanish explorers of the region placed the great mesa as a landmark on their maps, but even they kept their distance. Only when another rancher, a man named Richard Wetherill, began to poke around on Mesa Verde in 1888 did the great city begin to give up its secrets. Bits and pieces of its remains were soon scattered to the winds, for Wetherill and subsequent explorers shipped great quantities of pottery, arrowheads, and other goods to museums as far afield as New York and London.

Archaeologists found plenty to occupy them all the same. At first they supposed that the Ancestral Pueblo had built their elaborate cliff dwellings to protect grain stores from scavenging rodents, though war may have been a more pressing cause. They also supposed that the Ancestral Pueblo were a religious and ritualistic people, arguing that the high ratio of the circular rooms called kivas to other living areas meant that Mesa Verde was a ceremonial center of some kind. Some modern scholars, however, believe that the kivas more likely served as storage rooms—or perhaps even private spaces for the crowded residents.

Whatever the case, over the centuries the Ancestral Pueblo built a labyrinthine city of pueblos, plazas, and kivas, as well as a sprawling temple that was never completed. By the 12th century, perhaps because of overpopulation and a resulting shortage of housing, the Mesa Verde people began to settle in the caves and rock niches that dot the plateau. The elaborate cliff dwellings they left behind are among the best-preserved ruins in the New World, rivaling the great Mayan architectural complexes of Mexico and Guatemala in sophistication.

South and east of Mesa Verde lies Chaco Canyon, in what is now northwestern New Mexico, enshrining the remains of one of the largest cities in the prehistoric Americas, a place that represents Ancestral Pueblo culture at its height. It contains more than 2,000 monumental structures, with large apartments and ceremonial complexes on the valley floor, and other apartments and grain-storage areas built high in the cliffs above. One such apartment, Pueblo Bonito, stood five stories tall and had more than 800 rooms and some 40 kivas, rivaling contemporary dwellings in Europe. Judging by material remains from Chaco—copper bells and parrot feathers from Mexico, beadwork from the Great Plains, wooden artifacts from east of the Mississippi, and seashells from the Pacific coast—its people were prosperous enough to afford expensive imported goods in great quantities.

Like Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon holds its share of mysteries so profound that archaeologists refer to the whole matter as “the Chaco phenomenon.” The city was abandoned, too, and no one has settled in it since. Historians have yet to explain why a people who lacked wheeled vehicles should have needed to build a network of straight, graded roads that resemble those of the Inca Empire, yet there they are, often in better condition than portions of the modern unpaved road that leads into the canyon.

Perhaps some scholar will one day stand among the rubble of Chaco and piece together the answers. Even in ruins, it is among the continent’s greatest cultural treasures. So, too, is Mesa Verde, one of the first national parks in the American Southwest, protected by conservation-minded President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. So important is Mesa Verde that the United Nations included it among the first places to be given the designation World Heritage site.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Lost Island of Anuta

The island of Anuta is a tiny, remote tropical outpost in the South Pacific. It is one of the most isolated communities on Earth, 75 miles (four days sailing) from its nearest neighbour.

It is a small volcanic island with a fringing coral reef. The highest point on the island is 65 m (213 ft) above sea level. The island is quite small, its diameter being only about 750 m (½ mile). The island is known as ‘te fatu sekeseke’, the slippery stone, due to it being such a small spot in the ocean - just half a mile in diameter and 70 miles from the next populated island, so hard to find and so easily ‘slid’ away from.

They are an ocean-going culture, still capable of navigating great distances by the stars. The current population descended from Tongans who arrived in 1580. The island is ruled by two chiefs. The chief's status is marked by tattoos.

Due to its extreme remoteness, Anuta is one of the most intact Polynesian cultures remaining on earth. Two hundred and fifty Anutans inhabit a beautiful island just a half mile wide. Historically, some of its inhabitants have used the small island of Fatutaka, about 60 km (37.5 mi.) to the southeast, as a gardening location. The men fish with hand lines from traditional out-rigger canoes for sharks and marlin. They dive on the reef for lobster and collect shellfish at low tide. The women cultivate every available patch of land with taro, manioc and bananas.

To the Western eye it looks like paradise, white beaches, turquoise sea, swaying palm trees. But what is life like for the people who inhabit paradise?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Next Barcelona

Gray skies and gritty reputation aside, Liverpool is trying to remake itself as a hip European destination.

Liverpool, England

Liverpool has long been known as an industrial city with blighted neighborhoods and violent crime. Rowdy fans descend for soccer games, spilling out of pubs after hours. Its biggest claim to fame: the birthplace of the Beatles.

Now, the 800-year-old port is trying to become Europe's next hip destination. This year, the city has been designated Europe's Capital of Culture, and it just launched its first fashion week. There's a digital-art gallery where there was once an old tea warehouse, designer-driven hotels and restaurants are opening and, in the fall, the city will host the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Liverpool sits along the River Mersey, once crammed with container and passenger ships and now home to a cluster of waterfront museums and galleries like the Tate Liverpool, as well as the hum of construction projects. In the city center, there are bustling piazzas with fountains or bronze statues and wide walkways lined with stores like the Gap and H&M. There are narrow streets lined with brick and stone buildings, some that date to the 1700s, that have dramatic archways and blackened chimneys jutting from sloped roofs.

On a recent Friday night in the city center, the vibe is almost South Beach-like, even though the temperature hovers around 40 degrees. Outside Kingdom Liverpool, a new nightclub that sells $13 Grey Goose martinis and VIP membership, young women in miniskirts, stiletto heels and blousy silk tops totter around without coats or sweaters.

Key to the city's rebirth is the exploitation of this year's Capital of Culture billing, an annual European Union title rotated around member countries. Culture and tourism planners in Liverpool plan to spend more than $40 million on more than 350 cultural events this year, including partial funding of one of the United Kingdom's largest exhibitions of work by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Liverpool's total spending on these events surpasses what cities such as Glasgow, Scotland, and Lille, France, spent during their reigns as the culture capital, says Beatriz Garcia, director of Impacts 08, an academic-research program funded by the Liverpool City Council.

Organizers admit the largely ceremonial culture title isn't always a catalyst for a successful makeover. It's lately been given to obscure spots like Sibiu in Romania and Patras in Greece, cities that need an economic or tourism boost. Unlike Olympics funding, there aren't necessarily major sponsors or a huge financial grant. And it isn't a solo honor. This year, Liverpool shares the title with Stavanger, Norway.

The Liverpool region's drab reputation is another challenge. More than 60% of travelers from the south of England say they're turned off by visiting northern cities like Liverpool because they're "cold, bleak and unsophisticated," according to a recent survey from hotel chain Travelodge. Many people who do visit, like Linda Atkinson, come for one reason: "We're just here for the football," Ms. Atkinson says on her recent first trip from Hartlepool, a town several hours north.

Some in Liverpool look to other cities that have overcome grey skies and violent reputations. In 1990, during Glasgow's stint as the EU's culture capital, the Royal Concert Hall opened and overall theater attendance jumped more than 40%. Today, the city is filled with artsy bars, hip hotels and critically lauded restaurants.

Some people are already noticing a change in Liverpool. Mike Dewey, who manages the new Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel, moved to the city seven years ago from Cambridge. "Coming from the south, you expect your car to be pinched and your house to be broken into," he says. Instead, Mr. Dewey says, he's found a friendly place with a downtown skyline filling with new buildings since he first arrived. "It's a vibrant city."

Many of Liverpool's major cultural institutions and galleries are being overhauled. The Bluecoat, an art gallery, performance space and working artists' studio, has just undergone a $25 million expansion that will culminate in a performance by Yoko Ono during upcoming reopening festivities. Housed in the city center's oldest building, a large school for poor children built in the early 18th century, the Bluecoat has doubled its gallery space and has a restaurant with a locally sourced dinner menu. In January, Liverpool got its first large concert venue, when the 10,000-seat Echo Arena opened along the waterfront.

Liverpool is small enough that almost everywhere can be reached within less than a 25-minute walk. One drawback, however, is that most of the city's museums are stretched along the waterfront, while the rest of the major attractions are in the center of the city. They're close but separated by a busy, high-speed roadway. Tourism officials say a new shopping and entertainment area, which will have 36 buildings by 25 architects when complete, is part of a solution to merge the two areas.
Where to Stay: Liverpool has several new upscale hotels, including Malmaison in an industrial-style building along the waterfront. Room rates start around $200 a night. For Beatles fans, there's the new Hard Days Night Hotel in the city center. It's Beatles-themed, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney suites, and a swanky lobby lounge. Room rates start around $335.
What to Do: There are more than 350 cultural events this year to coincide with the Capital of Culture designation, including music performances, seminars by artists and a biennial celebrating contemporary art that starts in September ( At the Tate Liverpool are major works from the 20th century, including Mondrian's "Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red" and Picasso's "Weeping Woman" ( Nearby is the new International Slavery Museum, which explores the history of slavery and slave trade around the world ( For edgy, technology-based artwork, try FACT, a digital art-themed gallery that also has a movie theater showing first-run and indie films (
Where to Eat: For fine dining, Panoramic is one of the newest options, on the 34th floor of a skyscraper, with views of the River Mersey and the city ( The London Carriage Works is in a 19th-century factory and includes an extensive wine list and a menu with organic and locally sourced ingredients (

Five years ago, the Foundation for Creative Art and Technology, or FACT, moved to a building on the site of a dilapidated old tea warehouse in the Ropewalks, a gentrifying neighborhood that has nightclubs and loft apartments in spaces once used for storing ship-building materials. The gallery highlights the works of well-known artists like Pipilotti Rist, whose video-installation pieces have been shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art. "It's an edgy city that's got character, and artists are attracted to that edginess," says Laura Sillars, the head of programming at FACT.

For tourists, there's also a new $38 million cruise terminal and a $2 billion shopping complex, opening in May. At 42 acres, it will include two hotels, more than 600 apartments and a park. High-end restaurants are rapidly opening, including Panoramic, which serves foie gras and braised lamb rump on the 34th floor of a new skyscraper, making it one of the highest restaurants in Britain.

Pinning a city's regeneration on the arts isn't a sure-fire strategy. Artists can be independent agents who don't always conform to tourism ambitions. "Managing culture is difficult," says Bryan Gray, the chairman of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, an economic development group for the area, and the chairman of Liverpool's Capital of Culture organizing group. For several years though, the government has been trying to broadly revive the Liverpool area's struggling economy, which hit a low point in the 1980s as major industries like sugar manufacturing and coal mining shuttered and crime and violence grew.

Encouraged by European Union funding and local initiatives, commercial development has been on the rise in the region. Growth industries include car manufacturing, biotech and digital technology (Sony has a videogame-development studio in Liverpool). The city is adding 30% more hotel rooms over the next 18 months.

Hotels like U.K.-based Malmaison have already opened. The 130-room property, with an exposed-steel-beam and brick interior, sits along the waterfront and features gothic-style chandeliers in the lobby and a restaurant with a chef's table in the kitchen. With sister properties in Glasgow and Belfast, Northern Ireland, the hotel looks for cities "where regeneration is maybe a little off-piste at the moment but we know it's going to be a hot spot," says Robert Cook, Malmaison's chief executive. "We like to get in early."

Beatles fans also have the new Hard Days Night Hotel, with John Lennon and Paul McCartney suites. Beatles lore is so intertwined with the city's identity that there's a constant stream of camera-toting fans on "Magical Mystery" buses stopping at John Lennon's childhood home and Penny Lane.

"My whole life, I've been listening to the Beatles," says Gustavo Gonzalez, a 22-year-old visitor from Mexico City, looking over at a bronze statue of John Lennon near the famous Cavern Club, where the band got its start. "I think tomorrow I'll probably take the Magical Mystery Tour."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lost Hope: Once Glittering, Yangon Is Now a Ramshackle City of Fear

Despair and Neglect in Myanmar's Old Capital;
Locals See Spies on Every Corner
YANGON, Myanmar -- Fifty years ago, this city was one of the bright spots of Asia, a glittering, proud capital of a newly independent nation rich with natural resources.
A World War II era bus on the streets of Yangon.

But what I saw during a recent visit was a city in shambles -- a melancholy outpost of crumbling colonial architecture, economic neglect and deepening paranoia. These problems predate Cyclone Nargis, which shook the city and villages to the south in early May, and no doubt will continue long after the disaster recedes from glare.

Once-grand ministries and British-era mansions sit abandoned or neglected, with collapsing roofs, peeling paint and smashed windows. Unemployed youths loiter about, smoking cheap cigarettes. Hawkers scratch out a living on the street selling tobacco, knickknacks and wan produce. Jury-rigged vehicles prowl the streets; one I saw was little more than an engine and fan belt attached to a wooden platform on wheels.

Soldiers are everywhere. They walk aimlessly, looking for something to do, or gather in foyers, or ride by in military vehicles. On more than one occasion, local residents warned that some people in plainclothes were "military intelligence." In the absence of more reliable information, it was impossible to know if the locals were correct, or delusional.
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Women walked to a market in a middle class township of Yangon on May 29.

Wandering on foot in the center of town, I stopped at one of the more impressive colonial structures, a four-story red-brick office with stone lions reclining along the roofline. It looked to be abandoned. Most of the windows were cracked and open to the hot, humid air.

"There's no maintenance at all," said a man in street clothes who was acting as a guard for the building, a former High Court. Although some staff still use it, he said, others moved away after 2005 when Myanmar relocated its capital to Naypyitaw, a remote town about 180 miles to the north.

I was warned by my tour guide that the man might be "military intelligence."

Later, I walked past another British landmark with ornate latticework. The tour guide said it was once a railway office. Now, the latticework is falling off and vines grow from cracks in the facade.

"What do they use the building for now?" I asked.

"Storage," my guide said.

"What do they store there?"


I pulled out a video camera to take a shot. But I was told not to film the building, because it is a government office, and therefore "sensitive."

Most of the cars on the road date to the 1980s or early 1990s, and many appear to have been painted by hand. Locals say the government blocks most imports of private vehicles, so people are forced to keep dilapidated cars on the potholed roads long after their prime. According to a recent story in the Myanmar Times, the hottest cars in Yangon right now are the 1986/87 Nissan "Sunny Super Saloon" and the 1988 Toyota Corolla SE Limited.

I hired a newer, mid-1990s Hyundai, with fading black upholstery and power windows that didn't work. "You can keep a car in good condition for 30 years," said my driver cheerfully. With so few vehicles to go around, he said, used cars actually gain value over time in Myanmar, instead of depreciating as they do in most other countries. Owning a car "is the best investment there is," he said.

Cyclone Nargis has added to the woebegone air of Yangon. Although the city was spared some of the worst destruction that occurred in areas closer to the coast, felled trees nevertheless litter the place. Diplomats joked that at least now it's possible to see the city's historic buildings more clearly, since so many trees were uprooted or destroyed.

Crews of soldiers were busy clearing the debris, but many seemed more interested in hanging out than working. One group of a dozen or so uniformed young men sat glumly along the trunk of a giant dead tree, smoking cigarettes while one soldier gave another a haircut.

Hard-Hit Economy

The cyclone made a marginal economy even weaker. At the Scott Market, a warren of tin-roofed storefronts popular with tourists, vendor after vendor said business was lousy, and had slowed even more since the storm. One young woman proffering bright blue, red and green longyis, or Myanmar-style sarongs, said she hadn't sold anything all day.

Only about 200,000 of Myanmar's 48 million people have working mobile phones. Residents say the government controls the issuance of SIM cards and prices them beyond most budgets. Although there are 100 or so Internet cafes in Yangon -- typically located in dark, narrow storefronts -- they rely on agonizingly slow connections and require generators to offset constant power outages.

International aid workers continue to operate in Yangon, though not as many as would normally be present in the aftermath of a natural disaster because the government has refused to grant many visas. Most of the aid workers hang out at the Traders Hotel, a bunkerlike building more than 20 stories high where many nongovernmental organizations from the West also now maintain offices.

During the day, the foreigners gather in the lobby; at night, they retire to the bar, which looks a bit like an airport lounge, with too much light, a dart board, and a menu that includes fish and chips, nachos and chicken burgers.

Aid workers said they were saddened by the low standard of living, the restrictions imposed by the government, and their own lack of access to cyclone areas. Several were convinced the hotel's rooms, and the main lobby area, were bugged by the ever-present "military intelligence."

At times, the notion of an all-powerful military with spies on every corner seemed almost laughable. One afternoon I drove past the Shwedagon Pagoda, a majestic golden stupa that is one of the most famous sites in Myanmar. On my left, two soldiers in uniform sputtered by in a ramshackle red Toyota sedan that looked like it had been built in the early 1980s. As they passed, I noticed two teddy bears in the rear windshield.

Whether spies are everywhere or not, it doesn't matter; local residents believe they are being watched, and that is all that counts. The government continues to arrest citizens who are openly critical of the regime, and it sends messages to residents through state media. The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, for example, had an article warning that "unscrupulous elements" were spreading misinformation about the government's response to Cyclone Nargis.

Censorship boards decide what's shown in movie theaters, locals say. Two films were advertised along Yangon's main thoroughfare: "Aliens vs. Predator 2 -- Requiem" and "Fight Club," an Indian import bearing the same name as a Brad Pitt film.

Sanctions from the West have taken their toll, too. Among other things, they prevent U.S. banks from doing business in Myanmar. As a result, it's very difficult to use a U.S. credit card. The city functions primarily on cash; residents must carry fat wads of local currency, known as kyat. Or, they can use U.S. dollars -- but not just any greenbacks. All bills must be new and free of marks, tears or other blemishes; otherwise, they won't be accepted.

While browsing at a streetside bookseller one day, I picked out a laminated hardback titled "The New Burma," published by the Economic and Social Board of the Government of the Union of Burma in 1954. Written after Burma gained independence from Britain, but before the military came into power, it outlined bold goals for economic development, including a futuristic new engineering college and huge investments in electrical power, ports, railways and health care. A cartoon showed tractors replacing elephants for hauling lumber.

The book proudly suggested that Yangon -- or Rangoon as it then was known -- would someday have as many telephones per person as Tokyo. No one would compare Yangon to Tokyo now.

Friday, May 30, 2008

South Pacific tragedy: The island that had (and lost) everything

Twenty years ago, the people of Nauru had the highest per capita income in the world. Today they are destitute: their natural resources exhausted, their wealth (and health) squandered, and their future scarcely imaginable.
At first glance, the rows of concrete shacks on the Nauru foreshore look derelict, with their cracked louvred windows, smashed walls laden with graffiti, and narrow passageways strewn with junk. But many of these miserable dwellings are inhabited – by the poorest of the poor – among them Sue Diau and her large extended family.

It is a shock to encounter such living conditions in a nation that once enjoyed the highest per capita income on the planet. But the affluence that flowed from Nauru's deposits of phosphate – extracted from fossilised bird droppings – has gone, and only one thing has saved the island from economic collapse: a detention centre housing Australia's unwanted asylum-seekers.

While Canberra's decision to dump would-be migrants on its impoverished Pacific neighbours was internationally reviled, it was embraced by Nauru, the world's smallest republic, once administered by colonial powers including Britain. One hundred locals, including Ms Diau, were employed at the detention centre, earning incomes that fed an estimated 1,000 people – 10 per cent of the population.

Now the vagaries of domestic politics 2,500 miles away are set to alter the fortunes of this remote coral island again. John Howard, architect of the "Pacific Solution", was ousted as prime minister last year, and one of the first acts of his successor, Kevin Rudd, was to scrap the offshore processing policy. The last refugees – 21 Sri Lankans – have just left Nauru, and the camp that is the island's economic lifeline is about to close.

Ms Diau, a shy 46-year-old, has worked there since 2001. A kitchen hand, she earns more than twice the A$140 (£65) a fortnight salary of a Nauruan public servant. Her husband, Philip, was employed at the centre as a painter and carpenter, on a similarly handsome wage. He was laid off three months ago; his wife will be out of a job next month.

Mr Diau has looked in vain for work. The government is the only major employer on Nauru, a potato-shaped island of just eight square miles. The unemployment rate is about 30 per cent, and there is no social security system. The Diaus support six children, as well as a dozen relatives, and neighbours who ask them for money or food. It is the Nauruan way to share.

"I don't know what we'll do," said Ms Diau, sheltering from the heat outside her tiny, dilapidated house, which is situated next to a rubbish tip. "Everyone is depending on my income."

The sprawling harbourside slum once housed foreign workers who toiled in the phosphate mines. For six decades Britain, Australia and New Zealand – mandated to administer Nauru after the First World War – profited from its lucrative resource. They stripped the island's interior, exporting the mineral and leaving behind a bleak moonscape of grey coral pinnacles.

A commission of inquiry later found they violated international law by failing to restore Nauru to "usable condition". However, mining continued after independence in 1968, and during the 1970s and 1980s the locals grew fabulously rich. The island had a shipping line and airline, with seven planes and half a dozen ships. No matter that two-thirds of Naura was uninhabitable.

Presidents would commandeer aircraft to take their wives shopping in Melbourne, New York and Singapore. Households owned three cars, including, in one case, a Lamborghini, although the island has a 40kph (25mph) speed limit and only one 12-mile circular paved road. Jobs were plentiful, housing free, and no one paid tax. Children went to the best schools in Australia and Nauruans gave lavish gifts, such as three-piece suites.

Eventually the bubble burst, as a result of corruption, mismanagement and sheer profligacy – and by 2001, when a Norwegian freighter rescued 438 asylum-seekers heading for Australia, the country was broke. Little wonder it was Nauru that Canberra approached – after it had refused to allow the Afghans and Iraqis to land – with promises of generous foreign aid.

While the offloading of the asylum-seekers – some of whom spent years on Nauru – was branded a scandal, life for Nauruans improved enormously. Hundreds of expatriates – security guards, catering contractors, maintenance staff – injected cash into the economy. Air Nauru flights and the government-run Menen Hotel were full.

In addition, Australia pumped vast sums of aid into the island. Schools were refurbished, along with the hospital, and notoriously unreliable power and water supplies were upgraded. One former Australian aid official described the cash as an "unmitigated bribe" to keep Nauru sweet – and Nauru's fear now is that the aid will be slashed.

Kieren Keke, the foreign affairs and finance minister, estimates that the centre represents 20 per cent of the economy. He said: "The closure will have a major impact. If the level of aid is reduced at the same time, it's going to totally cripple us."

The sense of anxiety is palpable in Nauru, which has suffered such hardships as workers going unpaid for months, power cuts for up to 20 hours a day, the telephone system collapsing for weeks, and the airline (now a single plane) being grounded repeatedly – and once even wheel-clamped due to unpaid bills.

Even the Sri Lankans who flew out to Brisbane this month voiced concern for the people they were leaving behind. Earnest young men, they chatted quietly in a yard at the centre, just before heading to the airport. One said: "We're very happy to be starting a new life. But the Nauruans, they are not happy. They need financial support from Australia."

On Nauru, the lush tangle of tropical vegetation fringing the island, which from the air resembles an upside-down pie, soon gives way to "Topside" – the mined-out, barren interior. It was here, on a hot and dusty plain, surrounded by a sea of coral pinnacles, that the original detention centre was set up. A second camp opened in 2003.

In the canteen, Evayne Gaubidi said: "It's my first steady job." Ms Gaubidi, 32, added: "We were hoping John Howard wins so the camp will continue." At the centre, workers receive three free meals a day. On Nauru, fresh food– mostly imported – is expensive. An onion can cost A$2. Nauruans are famously obese, a legacy of the days of excess.

Employees are also given 20 litres of water daily – a significant benefit at a time of drought. Nauru suffers from the "oven effect", with its denuded rocky interior reflecting the sun's rays back upwards and dispersing clouds and rain.

Around the island, few signs remain of its colonial past. The Nauru Phosphate Club – where expatriates gathered at sunset to play billiards and enjoy the sea view and evening breeze from its peeling balustrades – is now a Pentecostal church. A nearby nine-hole golf course is parched and overgrown, its abandoned club house a wreck.

The locals reminisce about the days of reckless extravagance. "After independence, it was like we suddenly won the lottery," said Mathew Batsuia, the health minister, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant. His wife, Tricia, said: "It was like there was a pot of gold and it would never run out. The Kiribati people [from a neighbouring Pacific nation] worked in the mines, and served us and cooked for us, and we just went shopping. It was mad with a capital 'M'."

But as Nauruans splurged on foreign travel and consumer goods, a trust fund established from mining revenues – intended to secure the country's future post-phosphate – was shrinking.

Nauru bought showpiece properties around the Pacific. However, millions were frittered on harebrained schemes including a West End musical about Leonardo da Vinci. The entire cabinet flew to London for the opening night. Panned by the critics, it swiftly closed.

After being swindled by foreign powers, the Nauruans were swindled by their own leaders, who raided the trust fund, and by "consultants" of dubious repute. The island became a money-laundering centre and at one point had 400 offshore banks, all of them registered to one government mailbox.

In 2004 the government defaulted on a A$236m loan to an American financier, which seized its properties. Nauru had no assets, and no money. Without the Pacific Solution, things would have been grim. But Australian aid is believed to have been wasted. Up to A$40m, for instance, has gone on improving the electricity supply – yet power is still rationed to 12 hours a day.

Many locals were jealous of the 1,300 asylum-seekers spirited to a distant and unknown country. As one woman recalls: "They were living better than us. They had power 24/7. A Hercules flew in once a month with fresh fruit and vegetables. They even had an internet connection."

A major drain on the country's finances is health. The hospital has seven dialysis machines. In some age groups, nearly half of Nauruans are diabetic. A favourite snack is a fried chicken, washed down with a chocolate milkshake. Life expectancy is 49 for men and 55 for women.

On his hospital bed, Henry struggles to sit. His right leg is missing – amputated as a result of complications associated with diabetes. He is lucky. Doctors believe they can save his left leg.

The man who will plead Nauru's case with Australia is President Marcus Stephen, a former Commonwealth Games weightlifting medallist. He said: "We don't want to be seen as a beggar state. We just need help to stand on our own feet."

Nauru has little to offer potential visitors. The hotel swimming pool is empty, with only a stray dog lounging by it. Richie Halstead, director of tourism, has not had a budget for three years. "We just sit around talking about tourism and playing computer games," he said.

There is one glimmer of hope. Secondary deposits of phosphate were recently discovered, and exports have resumed. At the same time, an ambitious programme to rehabilitate the interior has begun. The pinnacles will be crushed and levelled. Trees will be planted. The land will be used for schools, housing and recreation.

To Nauru's leaders, the mining represents a second chance: an opportunity to give the islanders a future. But it still has A$1bn of debt from the bad old days – and as one observer puts it: "It will take forever to pay that off, no matter how much bird poo they export."

Isolated tribe spotted in Brazil

One of South America's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been spotted and photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru.

The Brazilian government says it took the images to prove the tribe exists and help protect its land.

The pictures, taken from an aeroplane, show red-painted tribe members brandishing bows and arrows.

More than half the world's 100 uncontacted tribes live in Brazil or Peru, Survival International says.

Stephen Corry, the director of the group - which supports tribal people around the world - said such tribes would "soon be made extinct" if their land was not protected.

'Monumental crime'

Survival International says that although this particular group is increasing in number, others in the area are at risk from illegal logging.

Uncontacted tribe near Brazil-Peru border

What do the pictures tell us?
In pictures: Brazil tribe

The photos were taken during several flights over one of the most remote parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil's Acre region.

They show tribe members outside thatched huts, surrounded by the dense jungle, pointing bows and arrows up at the camera.

"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," the group quoted Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, an official in the Brazilian government's Indian affairs department, as saying.

"This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."

He described the threats to such tribes and their land as "a monumental crime against the natural world" and "further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilised' ones, treat the world".

Disease is also a risk, as members of tribal groups that have been contacted in the past have died of illnesses that they have no defence against, ranging from chicken pox to the common cold.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Terracotta Army, China

The Terracotta Army (traditional Chinese: 兵馬俑; simplified Chinese: 兵马俑; pinyin: bīngmǎ yǒng; literally "soldier and horse funerary statues") are the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Shi Huang Di the First Emperor of China. The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers near Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Chinese: 秦始皇陵; pinyin: Qín Shǐhuáng Líng). The figures vary in height (184–197cm - 6ft–6ft 5in), according to their role, the tallest being the Generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority still buried in the pits.
The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor of Qin (Shi Huangdi) in 209-210 BC (his reign over Qin was from 247 BC to 221 BC and unified China from 221 BC to the end of his life in 210 BC). Their purpose was to help rule another empire with Shi Huang Di in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as "Qin's Armies". Some people think that the army was also built for protection.

The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Lishan (Mount Li).[2] Mount Li is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors originated. In addition to the warriors, an entire man-made necropolis for the emperor has been excavated.

According to the historian Sima Qian (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 700,000 workers. Sima Qian, writing a century after its completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and 'wonderful objects', with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury and above this heavenly bodies below which he wrote were 'the features of the earth'. Some translations of this passage refer to 'models' or 'imitations' but in fact he does not use those words. [3] Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to the writing of ancient historian Sima Qian.The tomb of Shi Huang Di is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 square meters. The tomb remains unopened, in the hope that it will remain intact. Only a portion of the site is presently excavated.[4]
A terracotta soldier and his horse
A terracotta soldier and his horse

Qin Shi Huangdi’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. The remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb have also been found within its confines, and it is believed they were sealed inside alive to prevent them from divulging information about the tombs.

In 2007 Chinese archaeologists, using remote sensing technology, located a 30 meter high building buried above the main portion of the tomb. It appears to have four large stair-like walls. Although one of the archaeologists, Duan Qingbo, suggests that it may have been built to aid the departure of the Emperor's soul, another expert, Chen Jingyuan, questioned the nature of the discovery. He suggested that speculating as to the findings' purpose might cause complicatons for future archeologists. [5]

Of note is that fact that the terracotta soldiers are life sized and that no two are alike. Most researchers believe that each statute is based on an actual soldier of that time.

[edit] Construction
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.
Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.

The terracotta figures were manufactured both in workshops by government labourers and also by local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used and then the clay was added to give them individual facial features.[6] Once assembled the intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line style of production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it. In those days, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced so as to ensure quality control; this has aided modern day historians in verifying that workshops that once made tiles and other every day items were commandeered to work on the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits outlined above in precise military formation according to rank and duty.

The terracotta figures are life-like and life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and replica weapons and armor used in manufacturing these figures created a realistic appearance. The oroginal weapons were stolen shortly after the creation of the army and the coloring has faded greatly. However, their existence serves as a testament to the amount of labour and skill involved in their construction. It is also a confirmation of the power the First Emperor possessed that enabled him to command such a monumental undertaking as this army's manufacture.

[edit] The Pits

The four pits associated with the figures are about 1.5km east of the burial mound and are about 5 meters deep.They are outside the walls of the tomb complex as if placed there to guard the tomb from attack from the east, where all the conquered states lay. They are solidly built with rammed earth walls and ground layers as hard as concrete. Pit 1, 230 meters long, contains the main army, estimated at 6000 figures. Pit One has 11 corridors, most of which are over 3 meters wide, and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of noblemen and would have resembled palace hallways. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing and then mounded with more soil making them when built about 2 to 3 meters higher than the ground level.[7] Pit 2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots, and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit 3 is the command post, with high ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty, seemingly left unfinished by its builders.

[edit] Destruction and gradual decay
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.
Terracotta figures in various stages of re-assembly after being unearthed.

There is evidence of a large fire that burned the wooden structures that once housed the Terracotta Army. It was described by Sima Qian, who said that the fire was a consequence of a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu less than five years after the death of the First Emperor. According to Sima Qian, General Xiang’s army looted the tomb and the structures holding the Terracotta Army, as well as setting fire to the necropolis and starting a blaze that allegedly lasted three months (though no other recorded great fire in history ever lasted more than seven days). Because of this, only one statue has survived intact: a statue of a kneeling archer. Despite the fire, however, much of the remains of the Terracotta Army still survives in various stages of preservation, surrounded by remnants of the burnt wooden structures.

In 1999, it was reported that the warriors were suffering from "nine different kinds of mold", caused by raised temperatures and humidity in the building which houses the soldiers, and by the breath of tourists.[8] In addition, the South China Morning Post reported that the figures have become oxidised grey from being exposed to the air, which may cause arms to fall off, and noses and hairstyles to disappear. [9] However, officials have dismissed these claims.[10] In Daily Planet Goes to China, the Terracotta Warriors segment reported that the Chinese scientists found soot on the surface of the statue, concluding that the pollution introduced from coal burning plants was responsible for the decaying of the terracotta statues.

[edit] Terracotta Army outside China
Warriors' horses in a row
Warriors' horses in a row

* At the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art of the Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, Michigan, on display from January 20 to April 13, 2008. Timeless Warriors & Relics: 1500 Years of Ancient China. 50 objects including 2 warriors and a broad selection of relics rich in ceramics, with examples of bronze, silver, copper, and jade. The relics range from sculptural figures of humans and animals, to vessels, architectural elements, utilitarian objects and weaponry.[11]

* At the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA, on view from May 18 to October 12, 2008. Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is the largest loan of terracotta figures and significant artifacts to ever travel to the U.S. from the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.). Considered one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century, the First Emperor’s monumental tomb complex is contains thousands of terracotta warriors that were intended to protect him throughout eternity. The exhibition showcases 120 sets of objects that include more than fifty “level one” objects—the most important and highly restricted Chinese antiquities—and approximately twenty complete life-size terracotta figures representing all aspects of the Emperor’s army. After premiering at the Bowers Museum, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor is scheduled to travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (May 18–September 25, 2009) and the National Geographic Society Museum (November 19, 2009–March 31, 2010).

* At the British Museum in London from 13 September 2007 to 6 April 2008: “The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army explores one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, giving an insight into China’s First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, and his legacy. The exhibition includes a number of the world-famous terracotta warriors from Xi'an, China, which were buried alongside the First Emperor in readiness for the afterlife, as well as some of the most striking recent discoveries made on the site.” [12] 120 objects as well as 20 warriors are on display, making it the largest ever exhibition outside China.[13]
* Six of the warriors were displayed at Selfridges department store in London in 1981 as part of a marketing event called 'East Meets West'.

* Four terracotta warriors and horses from the Mausoleum were displayed at 1982 World's Fair; this was the first time China had participated in a World Fair since 1904.

* In 2004, an exhibit of the terracotta warriors was featured at 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona. It later inaugurated the Cuarto Depósito Art Center at Madrid [14], El Mundo, 28 September 2004. It consisted of ten warriors, four other big figures and other pieces (totalling 170) from the Qin and Han dynasties.

* Silent Warriors, 81 original artifacts including ten soldiers, were on display in Malta at the Archaeological Museum in Valletta during 2007. [15]

* The Drents Museum[16] in Assen (the Netherlands) displays 14 warriors of the Terracotta Army and over 200 other pieces, both from the First Emperor's grave as well as from other graves of the Qin and Han Dynasties and before. The exposition takes place in the period of 2 February to 31 August 2008 as part of their GoChina Project.[17]

* Forbidden Gardens, a privately funded outdoor museum in Katy, Texas has 6,000 1/3 scale replica terra-cotta soldiers displayed in formation as they were buried in the 3rd century BC. Several full-size replicas are included for scale, and replicas of weapons discovered with the army are shown in a separate Weapons Room. The museum's sponsor is a Chinese businessman whose goal is to share his country's history.

* The Santa Barbara Museum of Art included a display of the terracotta soldiers in 1998.

* Other replicas may be seen at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

Pink and White Terraces, New Zealand.

The world famous Pink and White Terraces were considered to be the eighth wonder of the natural world and were New Zealand's most famous tourist attraction. Unfortunately they were completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption on the 10th June 1886, at 3:00 am by Mt Tarawera, which violently erupted, belching out hot mud, red hot boulders and immense clouds of black ash. Several hours later, the bed of Lake Rotomahana blew out, burying the Maori villages of Moura and Te Ariki under a deep layer of liquid mud, stones and ash.

The Mount Tarawera eruption was New Zealand's most violent and destructive volcanic eruption in recent history. Mount Tarawera is 30 kilometres from Rotorua amidst the North Island's volcanic- thermal region. This eruption caused approximately 153 deaths.

The explosions were heard as far away as Auckland to the North and Christchurch to the South, and were thought to come from a ship in distress, whilst many in the Manawatu believed that the visiting Russian man-of-war, Vestnick was bombarding Wanganui. In Rotorua, no one was in any doubt as to what was happening.

Sigiriya in North Central Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya is an archaeological site in North Central Sri Lanka. It contains the ruins of an ancient palace complex, built during the reign of King Kasyapa (477AD - 495 AD). It is one of the 7 world heritage sites in Sri Lanka and is one of it's most popular tourist destinations.
To start of Sigiriya, was a palace complex cum fortress built on a rather unique granite mountain [the one that looks like a giant boulder in the first picture].

The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts.
Built in the 5 century AC this magnificent complex of geometrically laid gardens, pools, fountains (still working today) as well as oldest surviving murals of maidens has been a palace of the King Kasyapa.

Built on top of a 200m high rock, the entrance to the climb once has been through a lions head. Only the huge paws remain today. Half way up the rock are beautifully drawn painted bare breast Maidens whose existence is still a mystery. Which should be the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriaya, is a must see item in Sri Lanka. The occupation of the gigantic fortress ended when Kasyapa killed himself in a battle with his brother.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Researchers Stranded on Palmyra Island

The story about the researches stranded on an island in the south Pacific caught my interest because that is the general area my father was during World War II. Its also interesting that there are people stranded on a tropical island. I guess we don’t think of that sort of thing happening these days! At least they are able to communicate with the outside world as opposed to just being there and no one knowing where they are!

It seems that a certain type of plane is needed to transport people back and forth between Hawaii and Palmyra Island. The plane that is used to do that has broken down and needs a new engine. This isn’t good for the people who are currently on the island. The special plane is needed because Palmyra has a coral runway.

The island is a wildlife refuge and nature preserve that is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. Scientists, environmentalists and researchers go there from all over the world to study the wild life and nature. This group of twelve trustees from Louisiana went down there last Saturday to do whatever it is they do. Now they are stuck there.

The Nature Conservancy is working with Pacific Air Charters based at Honolulu International Airport to use a twin-engine Cessna to retrieve the stranded travelers. they have to fit the Cessna with a special 75-gallon fuel tank so that they can get the plane to Christmas Island which is about 300 miles from Palmyra. From there they will shuttle the trustees from Palmyra in two trips. Before it can make the trip they have to go through the bureaucratic paperwork necessary for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearances and approvals. I’m sure they prefer to wait for the plane to be airworthy!

Meanwhile, the trustees are waiting on the island. Fortunately, the island is set up to be a research outpost and therefore has running water, cabins and other supplies.

At least it looks like a lovely place to be stranded!

Hiroshima & Nagasaki Today