Category Archives: Australia

Surfing Outback

This week LGS is stepping in the ol’ time machine (otherwise known as my dusty photo album) to go back some 15 years.  It was not the best of times for me.  I was very  stressed, terribly unhealthy and quite unwell.  During this dip in my life, I took a trip to Australia to visit relatives.  I was so worn out that I slept most of the time there.  But I did go on a road trip with them towards the interior of Oz.

Our journey started from Perth and we made our way south for hundreds of kilometers to Albany before we struck out to the north and inland towards the heart of the continent.


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As it was spring, the journey started lush and green and colourful (Stirling Range National Park)
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Canola fields
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After the Stirling Range, we endured seemingly endless boring kilometers of flat, dry , dusty featureless landscape (the wild flowers were pretty though)
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Any distraction from the long drive was welcome.  Even a dog cemetery.
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But there were beautiful things to see if you took your time to look
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And there were local inhabitants to meet
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Finally, we made it to our destination of Hyden.  This is where we spent the night.
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Near by is the Hippo’s Yawn Cave.  Caves nearby have aboriginal hand paintings.
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And finally, this was what we traveled all those long dusty kilometers to do!  To go surfing! (Wave Rock, Hyden)

No chance of drowning or shark attack here!


Rumble in the South Pacific

There is war in the South Pacific!  Once every four years, warriors from some 20 nations meet in contest on the field of war.  This testosterone laden spectacular is known as the Rugby World Cup and in 2011, it is being fought on New Zealand soil.

For rugby fans like the squirrel, the next six weeks is an adrenaline feast of action, drama and machismo strutting.   New Zealand’s team, also known as the All  Blacks are the winning-est team in rugby union history.  They have won 75% of their international matches since records started in 1903.   Only 5 other nations have ever defeated them in a game.  They are also the leading point scorers of all time and the only international team with a winning record against every other nation that they have ever played.

Yet, despite such credentials, New Zealand has only won the Rugby World Cup once in 1987 which was the very inaugural World Cup.  Since then, Australia won twice in 1991 and 1999;  South Africa also won twice in 1995 and 2007; while England picked up the title in 2003.

South Africa returned to world cup rugby only in 1995 after being boycotted due to its apartheid policies.  However, with Nelson Mandela at the helm of the country, he made it a point of ensuring that South Africa’s team was racially integrated and represented all South Africans.  Much beyond expectation, the team,the Springboks, managed to narrowly defeat New Zealand in the finals and in doing so helped galvanise and unite the newly democratic nation.  This inspirational story is captured in the Clint Eastwood film, “Invictus” which starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

Based on performances in the last four years, the All Blacks should be the overwhelming favorites and they were named the international team of the year for 2006, 2008 and 2010.  Yet, they lost their last two international matches immediately before this World Cup against arch-rivals  Australia and  South Africa and that makes some wonder if the All Blacks will continue to under perform in this World Cup.  Based on recent form, Australia must be considered a real threat to All Black’s aspirations.

I know that has been a lot of sports talk in the paragraphs above.  So as compensation to the ladies, I offer to you a video of hunky, sweaty men and much testosterone flying about.  This is the confrontation between New Zealand and the Pacific island nation of Tonga in the opening match of this Rugby World Cup 2011.  Both teams perform their traditional Haka (New Zealand) and Sipi Tau (Tonga) which are their respective, traditional ways of offering a challenge to their enemies on the field of war.  Be afraid……be very afraid.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Dolphins of Mandurah

The city of Mandurah is the second largest city in Western Australia.  Located about 70 km south of Perth and well-connected by highway and more recently by train, it has boomed and become a favored place for retirees as well as the playground for the rich.  It also happens to be where my mother-in-law has lived for more than 15 years.  My wife and I have made a few trips during that time to visit her and have seen the place grow from a small community to the city it is today.

If you take a boat ride through the wonderful waterways and canals, you will get to see many multi-million dollar homes along the waterfront.

Canal Homes of the Rich

But for me, of greater interest is that Mandurah sits astride the shores of the Peel-Harvey Estuary which makes it an important place for waterbirds and marine life.  Therefore, on that same boat ride, you may also be fortunate to see dolphins.

First Tantalising Sign of Dolphins

On one such trip some years ago,  the dolphins played alongside the boat for quite a long while.  Dolphins like to swim just in front of the boat where they get the extra push of the bow wave created by the boat.  Anyway, this all gave me the opportunity to take the following shots.  These were originally taken as slides and was only recently scanned into digital format.  The quality of the photo was unfortunately affected by the process.  Still, I hope you enjoy these.

Riding the Bow Wave
Dancing on Sunlight
Flirting with the Tourists
Watching Me Watching You


4 Chord Song

Sorry to have been neglecting you guys but the real world just has been rude and has kept butting in this last two weeks and the situation is likely to remain unchanged at least to the middle of next week.   Believe me, I’d want nothing more than to be snug in my hammock, swaying with the breeze, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves beneath me and blogging on my laptop.  Unfortunately, I do not currently have the luxury of doing that, which brings me to the purpose of this short post  – “How to get rich enough to spend all my time on the hammock!”

Since I was young I have found inspiration from Broadway musicals.  It was from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof“,  that I got my creed, my life’s quest, which I share with all of you below.

“Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?
If I were a wealthy man???????????”

This squirrel has tried to make it rich with all manner of get rich quick plans but none of them worked and I never got back any of my deposits.  I really should not have invested my money in the slide-rule industry (do readers even still remember what that  is?).   I even considered marrying some rich millionairess but my wife objects.  But I recently found a sure-fire way to make my fortune …………write a hit song.  Yes, it’s so simple.  Taylor Swift says that she can turn out a  hit song in a day.  So how hard can it be, especially if you knew the SECRET.

Yes, there is a secret to writing a hit song ……and like most things of importance in life, it is such a simple thing.  Not being the selfish type, I have decided to share my good fortune and the secret with all of you loyal readers.  Just watch the video below and the secret to writing a hit song will be revealed.  There is a follow up video to actually teach you how to do it step by step which I can send to you for the small postage fee of  “everything you have in your savings”.   Don’t say I didn’t try to help my friends when you see my name on the Top Hits Billboard.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Year So Far (2011)

I had earlier joked about how a tough year this was going to be with the evil Rabbits in charge (Beware the Year of the Rabbit).  But the humor seems very flat as the year has indeed turned out to be a tumultuous one thus far and it’s not even the end of February yet.  In an earlier post, “Feeling Flat“, I wondered about the unprecedented floods in Queensland, the uber powerful cyclone Yasi, the drought in New South Wales, the flooding in Victoria and the forest fires around Perth.  Australia was reeling under the combination punches.  There was also the political turmoil, starting with the ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and then the “who would have thought possible” ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt by popular uprisings.  That chain of events is not over yet with the on-going protests in Libya, Yeman, Bahrain, Iran etc.  There was also the issue of religious freedom and oppression which I covered in “Say no to Intolerance“.  Did I say that it isn’t even the end of February yet?

In Malaysia too, the news has been less than encouraging and upbeat.  In no particular order, here are a few.  First, there has been a rash of very public suicides and murder-suicides (mother kills child and then commits suicide).  This was followed by a recognition that Malaysian suicide rate per 1000 pax is at least as high as that of the USA and is most likely under-reported.  Then, there is the continuing saga of the inquiry into the suspicious death of a political aide, Teoh Beng Hock, where justice still seems to be wanting.  The latest is that the family and the state of Selangor has withdrawn from participating in a Commission of Inquiry after there objection to the fact that there is a conflict of interest had been rejected.  The conflict arises as the officers of the commission were also officers of the Attorney General’s office and the AG’s office is currently making a court appeal to have Teoh’s death declared a suicide.  How can officers of an organisation which is pursuing a particular judgment be also the impartial officers of a supposedly “independent” commission of inquiry?  It is just the latest of a series of things that Teoh’s family has had to suffer.  Meanwhile, there has been a rash of  deaths of young people taking part in National Service Camps.  In each case, the deaths were reported as sudden and mysterious onset of illnesses.  I think it warrants an “independent inquiry” but I don’t have much faith in that either.  This morning, I read that an “anti-establishment” student political group had all 33 of their student council delegates (both those who won and those who lost in recent student council elections) disqualified immediately after the election.  This was based on one un-investigated complaint.    After, student protests, the decision was rescinded.  But instead of taking the University officials to task for trying to tamper with an election and for breach of protocol and procedure, the authorities are trying to appear magnanimous by saying that they do not intend to “punish their naughty children”, i.e. the students, for their protests.   Well, now that I think about it, this sort of news in Malaysia  isn’t unique to  2011.  No, it’s same ol’, same old.  It’s tiring and life sapping though.

But, the latest earth-shaking  incident (literally), was the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand and the surrounding area at around 1 pm on Tuesday 22nd February.   My condolences to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand.  Every loss of life is a tragedy and there have been many lives lost in this incident.  With the rest of the world, I await news of the rescue operations going on and celebrate with each news of someone pulled out alive.  For many, their lives will have forever changed by injury or by loss of loved ones.  I am glad to report that Marja of Dutchcorner is well as is her immediate family.

For now, the most important thing is still the on-going search for survivors but after that will come the task of cleaning and re-building.  It will be a long and difficult task.  I have heard that some survivors are experiencing severe mental stress especially as strong aftershocks are still occurring regularly but the trauma may extend deeper than that.  Christchurch  has always been a charming and small close-knit community.  If I were to volunteer a couple of words of description, I would say “tranquil” and “safe”.  Now something big and ugly has appeared to shatter that cocoon of safety and tranquility and the scars of fallen and damaged buildings will be around for a long time to remind them of this threat and vulnerability.

Still, New Zealanders are definitely tough and resolute people and I am sure that they will rise from this despite the difficulties.  I had wanted for a long time to post on New Zealand and Christchurch which I had visited twice before, but I had procrastinated.   Here below is a picture of Christchurch which typically exemplifies the safety and tranquility of the city.  Here is a salute to a wonderful city and an inspiration to rebuild and to regain what has been damaged.

Oh, and the year so far?  It sucks.


Peace and Tranquility (photo by LGS)


Feeling Flat


Who Let THe Air Out?


Both 2011 and the Year of the Rabbit have barely begun but doesn’t it seem like the world is somehow off-kilter.  The public demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in quick succession has already toppled the leader in one country and placed the remaining leaders in a precarious situation.  Nature too seems to have gone extreme.  The landslides in Brazil, the snowstorms in Europe and USA (extending all the way to Texas), the floods that led to the inland sea in Queensland, Australia has now been topped by the most powerful cyclone to have ever hit Australia (Cyclone Yasi).  What phenomena has raised the blood pressure in the Middle-East and stirred up the weather systems around the world?  Would that  be the El Loco and the El Nino effects?

Like many, I have been following the drama in Egypt these last two weeks that has already claimed about 300 lives.  I know little about the politics and the situation there in Egypt but happily, Malaysia has been able to evacuate some 10,000 Malaysian citizens and students out from that volatile situation.   I am also  glad that the Egyptian family of a friend are safe even though they are concerned about safety from mobs and are concerned about the food supply situation.  I certainly hope that the Egyptians will be able to achieve a resolution to the situation without further violence and loss of life.

Meanwhile Australia has been hit by the combination right – left hook of massive state-wide flooding in Queensland and now by the monster storm Cyclone Yasi – the strongest and biggest storm ever to hit the country.  The latest is that the remnants of Yasi is causing flooding in Victoria in the south.  Yet New South Wales in the east is suffering from water shortage and there are forest fires near Perth in the west.  The people and the businesses are reeling under the punches.  Insurance companies are really having a bad time.  Now will this become a regular and even possibly an annual occurrence due to climate change?

It’s enough to take the wind out of our sails.

Still, dear reader, let’s not get ourselves down yet.  Let’s be hopeful that the year can only improve from this point.  Every one think “bunnies” now.

Last Raid on RAAF Georgetown (Part 2)

Forty unsupervised thirteen year olds on a road trip to a tropical island may sound like a license to unlimited fun (or a passport to disaster,depending on your point of view) but even in those circumstances, there were chores.

To save money, we cooked some of our meals at the old mansion where we were staying. Now we actually handled that very well without much problem. However, we were unsure of the quality of the tap water at the old building for drinking. As a precaution, we followed the standard practice of boiling the water and allowing it to cool before drinking.

Here lies the problem; it was a lot of work to provide drinking water for forty, active,sports-playing kids. Our daily drinking water requirement was at least 80 liters. We had two large kettles that could boil about 4 liters each. That allowed us to boil 8 liters of water at a time. The problem was that it took about 20 minutes to boil the water each time. That meant that we had to had someone on duty boiling water continuously for almost four hours each day. Also the water would be too hot to drink immediately and we had to wait at least two hours for it to cool down to room temperature. We tried this for the first two days but found it difficult since none of us wanted to waste so much time on water duty when there were places to go to and games to play.

We had a crisis meeting on the morning of the third day. The meeting was short but boisterous. However, we all agreed that we could not go on with our current water boiling schedules. We also agreed that there was a simple solution to this water crisis. We were aware that there was an abundant of water coolers within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Centre and there never seemed to be anyone around most of the time. We also knew there was a no trespassing sign at their entrance at the base of the hill. However, we concluded that the simple solution would be to obtain water from the base and that the “no trespassing” order did not apply to thirteen year olds.

And so, we collected all the available water containers we had (fortunately most of us had water bottles that could hold at least 1.5 liters) and a raiding party of twenty of us boldly set off down the hill along the front road. We entered the base unchallenged and soon found that there was a water cooler providing sweet, cold water almost every 100m within the complex of buildings. It took less than 10 minutes for us to fill our containers and we retreated up the hill without any incident. We celebrated with a drink of icy cold water back at the old mansion.

We did this twice a day for the next few days. Not every expedition was without incident. On some occasions, we had encounters with some of the Australian soldiers. Mostly, we pretended not to understand English and boldly walked away but at least one pair was collared by a couple of military police and warned not to come back.

On the second last day of our stay, we found a notice had been delivered to us at the old mansion. It was a letter from the RAAF authorities informing us that the base was out of bounds and that stern action would be taken against us if we were caught in it again. This really shook us up and that night we made no raid.

However, on the last day, after we spent a whole day out, we came back in the early evening and were too tired and lazy to go through the water boiling process and so we ignored the danger and plotted our last raid on RAAF Georgetown.

The Plan
We decided on some changes in our raiding plan. We split ourselves into the HQ Team, the Recon Team and the Raiding Party.

At 1900 hours, Recon Team consisting of four of our guys would walk down the road towards the main RAAF base entrance. On the way down, they would look for sign of activity in the building complexes as they past them on the right. If they see no threatening activity like secuirty patrols, they were to flash their torchlight three times. If they subsequently saw any activity that may jeapordise the operation, they were to flash the torchlight continuously and run back up the hill.

The HQ team would sit at the top of the hill and watch for the signal from the Recon Team. Upon seeing the signal, they would signal the message to the Raiding Party who were waiting at the other end of the hill top to begin the mission. Should the Recon Team signal danger, the HQ team was to alert the Raiding Party by means of ringing a bell we found at the old mansion and by dispatching two runners.

The Raid

The signal was given to start and we proceeded down the dark covered staircase which would bring us to the back of the RAAF base. There were twenty of us in the Raiding Party and we each had at least two water containers and we were also equipped with about 8 torchlights. The covered staircase was very dark but we decided not to use the torchlights because that would make us more visible. Instead we went down using the side of the stairs to guide us and keeping a hand on the sholder of the one in front of us.

We suffered a few falls, missteps and also a few wounds from the thorns of the weeds growing at the side of the stairs but we made it to the highest level of the RAAF complex buildings. On the way down, we could hear what sounded like about 50 Australian soldiers practicing Tae Kwan Do. Even though we could not tell where they were exactly, it was clear that there were personnel active within the base and we had to be careful.

The next stage was for us to move out in teams of two and seek out 10 water coolers which are located every 100 meters along these rows of buildings. While the buildings were in darkness, the corridors were brightly lit with no cover whatsoever.

We fanned out to our objectives like a well trained commando troop with the exception of one team that dropped their metal pot with a loud clang! We all immediately retreated to the darkness of the staircase and waited there with pounding hearts. But there was no response from the enemy and after another 5 minutes, the operation resumed.

Four of us went for a pair of water coolers located about 200 meters from the staircase and began to fill up our containers. We were about 10 minutes into the operation when suddenly, the lights came on in the room behind the water coolers. We were startled, a quick look showed shadowy movement throught the louvered windows. We quickly collected our water containers and we scuttled away and just in time. Almost immediately after we left, we could see the louvered windows open as if someone was trying to see if anything was going on.

We fell back to another group further down the corridor to warn them but before we reached them, the lights in the room near them also came on. When we looked down to the next row of buildings, we saw lights coming on all over the place. Our boys began to scuttle back to the staircase. As we rushed silently along, we suddenly heard the bell ring from the top of the hill. With that all attempt at stealth was abandoned. All twenty of us ran as fast as we could back to the staircase, our feets pounding on the cement corridors.

We heard some shouting but did not look back. When we reached the staircase, we did a quick head count and when we were satisfied all were present, we started up the lightless staircase. Initially, we kept our torchlights off as according to plan and proceeded up the same way as we came down. I was quite proud at how cool all of us were.

That did not last, however. Suddenly we hear movement in front of us and that was scary in the pitch darkness. Our leader shone his torchlight ahead and to our collective horror, we saw the pack of wild dogs snarling at us and blocking our way. What followed next was pure pandemonium. Our leader bravely yelled, “Run! Everyone for himself!” and that is exactly what we did. There was a lot of noise. Dogs barking. Dogs growling. Boys yelling. The sound of running. Sound of falling. Some tripping over the dogs. Dogs yelping. Torchlight beams were swaying violently all over. Possibly if you had really good hearing, you could hear a few curses and a few prayers.

It seemed like an eternity but we were clear of the gauntlet of dogs within a franctic minute. We made it to the top of the stairs and back into the light. The HQ party was there with sticks to keep the dogs at bay. We quickly retreated to the downstairs kitchen where we finally were able to laugh away the adrenaline in our systems. Mission accomplished. We had forty water containers of cool water. Casualties were few; some with thorn injuries, others with bruises and one who had a bad scrape on his knee.

As a precaution against a counterstrike, we had an all-lights blackout for an hour to try to fool the Aussies into thinking we were not in or that we asleep. When the Aussies did not appear, we returned to our merry making with a great deal of boasting and teasing of our individual roles in the great last raid on RAAF Georgetown.


Last Raid on RAAF Georgetown (Part 1)

Like many international incidents, this story had a seemingly innocent beginning. It began with the meticulous 6 month planning of a class of forty independent minded 13 year olds. The objective was to have a week holiday in the island of Penang or the Pearl of the Orient as it was known with minimal supervision.

First, we had to find a suitable place to stay. We searched the classified adverts and found it. The place was an old Catholic clergy retreat facility. The advert said, plenty of beds in small dormitories, large kitchen facilities, space for outdoor games and a sea-view. On top of that all, it was exceedingly cheap. We booked it straight away.

Next we had to find suitable teacher advisors that would satisfy our parents and school regulations and yet allowed us to achieve our objective of minimal supervision. After some negotiations, we recruited Mr. X and Miss. Y. Both of them were from Penang and would rather spend time with family rather than babysit us and so an arrangement was made that Mr. X would meet us every other day in the morning and Ms. Y would keep in touch with us by telephone. That was our understanding, one which we kept secret from both our parents and the school.

We then booked the school bus and worked out our itinerary and all was set for the greatest minimally supervised adventure of our lives.

However, when we finally got to the old Catholic Retreat, we learnt a valuable lesson about the power of advertising and positive spin doctoring. The place was located on a hill and it did indeed have a sea-view from its lofty perch but the beach was in fact almost 30 minutes away by foot down an extremely steep hill. The place itself was a large old wooden mansion. Entry into the building was by the kitchen which occupied all of the ground floor and had tables and benches that could sit at least 60 people and functioning though ancient kitchen utensils. In fact the whole ground floor looked like it came out of a gothic horror movie.

Upstairs, we were pleasantly surprised by a large open hall which ran from the front to the back of the building. It was fantastic; cool and breezy and ideal for all the board games and card games that we wanted to play.

Next we realised that our accommodation was in rooms on either side of the main hall. Into these tiny rooms were packed so many double-decker bunk beds that the Black Hole of Calcutta came to mind. The bunk beds were so ancient that they creaked even if the wind blew. Worse, the springs on the beds were so badly mangled that it hardly gave any support and many of us believed they were custom built for the Hunchback of Notre Dame and apparently his 40 other siblings.

Although there was a small field at the front of the building, we had to be very careful when we played soccer. Just to the left of one of our goal posts was a shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Clearly, we would be in deep trouble if the shrine or statue was damaged. This led to some strange soccer games where the goalkeeper was more concerned about stopping volleys from hitting the shrine than protecting his goal. Also, being on the top of the hill meant that every time the ball was kicked out of bounds, there was a high probability that it would roll all the way down the hill.

It was when we tried to retrieve the ball that we discovered that there was an additional hazard in the form of a pack of stray dogs. If the pack saw only one of us try to retrieve the ball, they would snarl and threaten to attack. So retrieving the ball had to involve at least 3 -4 of us waving sticks which would cause the pack to retreat.

Despite all of these peculiarities, we loved it cause it was an opportunity for adventure without our parents. Just to complete the picture, something must be said about the surroundings. On one side of the hill, was a hospital and though the nurses quarters which was nearby gave us some ideas, it was protected by a barb wire fence and a sharp cliff face. On the other side and near the foot of the hill was a very large and expansive complex of low buildings which formed part of the Royal Australian Air Force Centre in Georgetown, Penang. The facility served the needs of the RAAF personnel based in nearby RAAF Butterworth who flew Mirages and Sabres as part of a South East Asia Treaty Organisation agreement which was meant to counter fears of the Vietnam conflict from spreading and causing a domino effect throughout South East Asia.

To get to this facility, one could take a long way around following the road down the hill but that approach was very closely guarded as it was near the main entrance of that facility. We soon found that there was a short-cut which was in the form of a stairway down the side of the hill from behind our kitchen facility. This was a broad covered cement stairway which had no lights and had dense vegetation at its sides which look like they would recolonise the structure within a couple of years. However, this led straight down to a block of single storey buildings near the heart of the RAAF base.

The scenario was all set. It was only a matter of time before there would be an outburst of hostilities between the 40 young hormonally maladjusted Malaysian school kids and the 5,000 foreign servicemen of the RAAF base. All that was needed was an incident to light the smoldering fuse and it did not take long for that to happen. (continued in next post)

Disclaimer: The names of people and places have been changed to protect the innocent, hide the guilty and because the memory of the author is suspect in certain cases. Other changes have also been made in the name of artistic license. Some facts and truths may have also been distorted or exaggerated in the same tradition as television docu-dramas. That leaves about 50% which are mostly true but I won’t swear by it!

Ming Dynasty – Tea Ceremony

Regular readers will remember that I was in Australia at the end of last year. The reason I was there was to help with the preparations and to witness the wedding of my nephew, Ming. Despite the distance, I would like to think that we have always remained quite close even as the boy grew up to be a man. In our culture, we often refer to the couple on their wedding day as King and Queen for a day. So indeed, I feel that with his wedding to his lovely wife Jean, old foggies like myself begin to slide into the sunset to make way for a new exciting chapter in the family history ……the Dynasty of Ming!

The wedding is in three parts; the tea ceremony, the exchange of vows and the wedding dinner. The newly wed couple cannot immediately begin reigning their own household until they pay homage to their parents and elders which they do so by offering cups of tea to their elders as a symbol of servitude and respect. In turn, the parents and elders will give them a symbolic gift or “ang pow” (red packet filled with money) to signal acceptance into the family and also to wish them good fortune in their new life together.

This wedding was also exceptional as the groom was from a Malaysian Chinese culture and the bride was Korean. Hence, the day was full of colourful representation of both rich cultures.

Ming & Jean – the King and Queen for the day, making their entrance
The Tea Ceremony – for Ming’s parents
The Korean side of the Dynasty in colourful traditional dress (hanbok)
Malaysian relatives
(Chinese Cheong-sam – ladies at both ends of the line)
(Peranakan Sarong Kebaya – the two ladies 2nd and 3rd from left)
(Batik Shirt – sole gentleman amongst the ladies)
Fruits and cakes from both cultures
Emperor Ming discovers Korean Tradition of carrying Mother-in-law!
All photos are by LGS.

Growing at the Time of the Dinosaurs

Way back in October 2007, I posted about my trip to Australia for my nephew’s wedding. In that post, I mentioned that I “visited a beautiful garden and shared something with dinosaurs.” The beautiful garden was the amazing Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens which I also described in a following post. However, I totally forgot to elaborate on what I shared with the dinosaurs, which brings us to today’s post.

One of the key exhibits at the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens is a tree whose closest relative is known only from fossils dating back some 2 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs.
It was discovered in 1994 by David Noble, a field officer of the Wollemi National Park in Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, New South Wales. It was found in a difficult to reach valley whose exact location remains a closely guarded secret to help protect the remaining 100 or so trees of this species.

It was given the name Wollemia nobilis and is commonly known as the Wollemia Pine. It is however, in fact, not a pine but a conifer of the Araucariaceae family which includes the Kauri tree of New Zealand. Amongst its more interesting features is its dark knobbly bark which has often been described as resembling the Cocoa Pops cereal. The tree can grow to approximately 40 m high.

As a result of its status as a living fossil, there is much demand for the tree and a propagation program intended to supply botanical gardens has now successfully become a commercial venture. It is certainly one of the Mega-stars of the botanic world.

That being said, it was a little odd looking but after all that hype and anticipation, the experience was a little bit of an anti-climax. (all photos by LGS).