Category Archives: Secret Spots

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 16 : United Nations Memorial Cemetery


In the middle of the bustling city of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, lies a 14 hectare oasis of tranquility.  It is the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, the only one in the world honoring those that have fallen while serving the UN cause.  Twenty-one nations sent men and women to serve in the Korean War and 11 of those countries are represented with plots in the cemetery.

However, it is still relatively unknown to many people.  When I made enquiry about it to a couple of local Korean tourist guides, they expressed surprise that I would be interested in visiting the place.  However, one of them came with me and left with a different and much more appreciative attitude.  She promised that she would recommend it to other visitors in the future.

The Korean War was the costliest conflict involving troops serving under the United Nations flag with about 41,000 killed or missing.  Among the casualties were not just soldiers but medical and aid personnel.  The United States lost 36,600 service personnel with another103,300 injured.    Last weekend, was Memorial Day in the U.S. which was the spur for this post.

When visiting a war memorial cemetery like this, one cannot help but ponder about the young men and women who served and died for a people and a place that they did not know and are now interred forever away from home.

There are 2,300 lie buried here including 4 known only to God.

The place is beautiful and serene.  The Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery (CUNMCK) has  done a wonderful job and the Korean soldiers that stand watch over the place give honor to those that died in service for their nation.

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly

Before they’re forever banned?

(Bob Dylan)

IMG_2653
(Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2656
Memorial Chapel (photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2658
Flowers for the UN Fallen (Photo by LGS)

IMG_2655
The Gardens (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2666
For each of the countries that answered the call. (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2663
Those That Are Buried at the Cemetery (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2665
The Layout of the Cemetery (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2671
The Rows of the Fallen (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2677
The Stones Tell a Story (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2679
A Soldier’s Kit (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2674
Memorial to the British Soldiers (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2675
The New Zealand Memorial with Mauri Motif (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2680
Thailand – one of the many that contributed to the UN forces (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2682
To the Unknown Heroes (Photo by LGS)

 

IMG_2685
Canada’s Memorial remembers the sacrifice of the servicemen and their families (Photo by LGS)

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 15: Korea – Hahoe Style


My nephew’s wife (would that be my niece-in-law?) is a lovely Korean girl.  So I guess it was just a matter of time that there was a family vacation to Korea to get to know the culture better and that is what we did last September.

We did make a trip to Gangnam to witness the Gangnam Style made famous by Psy ( the ladies wanted to do some shopping)  but for me, it was just a cityscape like you could find almost anywhere in the world and filled with overpriced designer goods.  So the real Gangnam like the Gangnam Style video just left me cold.

Instead, the highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Andong Hahoe Village.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is a snapshot of Korean life that has remained relatively unchanged since the Joseon Dynasty at around the 16th Century.

Hahoe Village is beautifully located within a bend of the tranquil Nakdong River with beautiful sandy beaches and the imposing Buyongdae Cliff on the opposite bank.  It’s name actually means “Village that is enveloped by water”.

Its buildings represent the architecture of the 16th Century and the Confucianism philosophy ascendent at that time.  Indeed the village was suppose to be an incubator of intellectuals and court officials of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, what really makes this special is that the place (unlike many) has not been put on for tourists – it is still very much a real, working, living village with the villagers still living a mostly traditional life.  A real time capsule with insight to the Korean psyche.

The villagers still work the land.  Paddy fields, vegetable gardens, and orchards are found both in and around the village.  Traditional crafts like mask making are still practiced and traditional costumes are still worn especially at weekends.

I loved the place.  Hope you will enjoy the photos (all photos by LGS).

Oh, and the beef bbq Korean style in Andong is mucho delicious. A must try.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 14 : Regent Canal and Camden Locks


Hi folks. Sorry I have been away for so long. It hasn’t been a great start to the year for me so far and that included being so swamped with work that I haven’t been able to even go see “Avatar” for the last three weeks. But that is not the focus of today’s post.

Instead, I want to carry on with my series of posts about my recent trip to London, England and coincidentally also add the 14th installment of Squirrel’s Secret Spots from around the world (which is another series that I have not posted on for quite awhile).

Well, one fine winter day (which means typical wet, cold and miserable in England), having sated my appetite for tourist attractions and bored myself silly, window shopping along Oxford Street for the umpteenth time, I followed my nose (which was buried in a tour guide) and found myself at a rather interesting place.

I took the Underground to Camden Town, got out and went in the wrong direction and ended walking along the northern end of Regent’s Park and took a circuitous route that almost took me back where I started but only after a walk of about 30 minutes. But I did not really mind apart from the bitter wind blowing because this route led me to walk along the blissfully charming Regent’s Canal.

The Regent’s Canal is a great place in summer to take a water tour by historical canal narrowboats from the Industrial Revolution period of the 19th Century. There is also a tow path that remains open for long walks in relative solitude long after the boating season is over. As the canal meanders its way between fields and buildings, walking along its towpath is like stepping back in time. I am a big fan of canals and canal boats. The calm surroundings, the brightly and gaily painted narrowboats, the often eccentric boat owners as well as the beautiful houses and buildings along the way would be more than enough to make me score this place very highly.

Stepping Back in Time (LGS)

Narrowboats (LGS)

Someone’s Traveling Home (LGS)

However, the Regent Canal walk rewards its adventurers by leading them to the Camden Locks. This area was once the confluence of a number of different transportation modes. The Locks themselves were important to allow the canal boats to go upstream to a higher water level. Nearby there were the Camden Stables where many horses were kept. Also nearby are a couple of railway bridges which mark another important transportation mode. At sometime in its history, the area became depressed and many of these facilities fell into disuse. But more recently, the whole area has been revived with a mixture of recreational boating and a lively outdoor and indoor market scene, rich in arts, crafts and souvenirs.

Sure some of the stuff was tacky but a lot of the others were quite imaginative. My wife bought some Lithuanian amber at a great price. I, in turn was rewarded with a taste of Moroccan cuisine for less than 4 pounds sterling. Wonderful. And I ate it sitting on these cute seats made to look like mini-scooters and with a great view of the canal.

I loved it. I’d go back again. And so Regent Canal and Camden Lock Market makes it on to the Squirrel’s Secret Spots’ list.

Camden Locks in Action (LGS)

Art Climbing the Walls (LGS)

Camden Lock – Also Good Shopping (LGS)
Even the Stables Now Host Shops (LGS)
Art Galloping off the Walls (LGS)

Mini-Scooters by the Canal (LGS)

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 13: Sagrada Familia


This post was meant to be my second post about Barcelona, Spain but I reconsidered because the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família deserves to be part of the Squirrel’s Secret Spot series (for the others, look for “Secret Spots” in my topics panel on the right column). I have been fortunate to visit this place twice and would love to visit again in another 5 years or so as it gets closer to completion. Yes, this cathedral which began construction in 1882 is still an on-going work.

More commonly called the Sagrada Familia, it was designed to be the Temple of the Holy Family. The main architect which has been responsible for the vision and design which is Sagrada Familia was the eccentric genius, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). He worked on the project for 40 years and most of the design which is being carried out even today is based on his drawing and plans. The current director for the project, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has introduced computers to help with the design and construction work since 1980. While this has sped up the work, it has made for cleaner modernistic lines which while are beautiful in their own way, cannot compare with the original work of art which was Gaudi’s work. This can be clearly seen by comparing the wonderfully complex and creative Nativity facade by Gaudi and the more modern interpretation as represented by the Passion facade.

In my opinion, this should be on the list of modern Wonders of the World. This was obviously the ultimate work of a passionate and visionary artist. When I look at it I am awestruck and find it difficult to take in all the creativity, craftsmanship and symbolism. Parts of the building seem almost organic in nature; like a living growing organism. Some parts resemble giant works of sculpture rather than a functioning building. This monument in worship of God is truly awesome.

The only way to really enjoy this building is to visit it yourself. I hope you will have that opportunity to do so. For now, please enjoy my humble video.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 12: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian


Back in 2005, I had exactly half a day during the week and two days over the weekend to sightsee in Washington D.C. I had imagined myself spending one and a half days trying to cram in all the Smithsonian Museums and the final day touring the numerous monuments and memorials. Of the museums, I was targeting the Air and Space Museum and Natural History museum. However, on that first free half day, I stumbled upon the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of the American Indian (opened in 2004). I liked it so much, I returned the next day and spent another half day there; severely curtailing my visit to the Air and Space Museum to just a couple of hours and causing me to miss the Natural History Museum altogether.

I am not idolising the Native Peoples. They are human as are all of us and because of that, they have their short-comings and flaws. However, also because of that, there is also greatness and as it is in all cultures, there is both common and unique wisdoms and perspectives of life. These are jewels worth preserving and worth knowing and internalising. I am glad that the U.S. finally is promoting and showcasing the cultures of their First Peoples.

The museum is good and has room for improvement. Amongst the first things to try is their cafeteria which gives you an opportunity to try the traditional staples and meats of native peoples throughout the American continent. I could spend a few lunches there.

There were of course many interesting exhibits of the different tribes and peoples. One of my favorite places was this dark chamber where you can sit and listen to different stories and fables. I could fall a sleep and find myself in those stories when I dream.

Of course, the museum has also to deal with the dark truth of the decimation of the native peoples with the coming of the Europeans. There is a wall with all the names of all the tribes and native peoples in the Americas. All have been decimated and many have even ceased to be but their names still live on in the stories told and on the wall was these words, “We are the Evidence.” And now, there is this fantastic museum to help keep their names from fading into the mists of time.

The beautiful curves of the Museum
The stylised harmonious first meeting of Whites and Natives (on left is a Chinese U.N. Observer)
The faces of a people….the Yakima.
It is claimed that the U.S. constitution was based on the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which included the Mohawk.
My Mohawk Pin-up Girl. (I mean it with the greatest respect. I believe she represents the strength of grace and form, the power of a resilient people.)
The Craftmanship of the Native Peoples
The Superior Killing Technology of the Whites
The Names that call out to be remembered.

All photos by LGS.

 

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 11: Ribe, Denmark


There are many great cities to visit in Europe. However, to visit city after city can be all so tiring for a country squirrel like me. That is when a side detour to a small and hidden gem can be so refreshing. One such place is Ribe which is the oldest town in Denmark. It was founded in the early part of the 8th Century AD and was at that time a very important merchant port in Scandinavia.

Today, it is a small and quaint town without the plague of tourists that crowd the larger and better known cities. Nevertheless, a quick walk through its quiet and narrow streets reveal several interesting things about the town.

Located in south-west Jutland, this coastal town is surrounded by low sand dunes and serviced by canals. Tied up along the canal and near the middle of town is the ex-merchant ship which has been converted into a floating museum (below).


Ribe has a beautiful cathedral. I had just had my fill of the obscene opulence of some of the churches in Germany and by contrast, the simple elegance of Ribe Cathedral was refreshing. This looked like a living, serving church of God rather than some over done monument to man’s wealth instead of God’s glory. Below is a picture of the Cat’s Head Door which actually is one of the oldest bronze doors in Denmark. On the door is the image of a lion’s head surrounded by four dragons. It depicts the strength of the church in the midst of a hostile world.


Another interesting thing that you would notice as you walk about Ribe is that there are many storks which nests around the chimneys of houses in Ribe. That is quite a sight.

Perhaps the highlight of a visit to Ribe would be Ribehaus Castle Hill. The castle is long gone but what remains is a wild, windblown rise which is surrounded by a moat. As you wander the small island amidst the tall grasses, you will come across a strange and powerful statue of Queen Dagmar (below).


Queen Dagmar’s statue shows her on a boat perhaps the boat ferrying her to the afterlife as the back of the statue shows a relief depicting her on her deathbed. Note that someone has put fresh flowers in her arms. Queen Dagmar is known to be a popular queen according to tradition and is clear that her popularity amongst the population remains even to this day.

Margaret Dragomir of Bohemia was the daughter of the Bohemian king, Premysl Ottokar I, and Adela of Meissen. In 1205, she was shipped to Ribe in great splendour to be married to the Danish King Valdemar the Victorious. In Denmark she was given the name Dagmar.
In 1209 she gave birth to a son, Valdemar den Unge (Valdemar the Young). In 1212, seven years after her arrival in Denmark, she died, and was buried in St. Bendts Church in Ringsted on Zealand.

However there are many traditional stories of her which paint her as a foreign woman who became the Queenand won the hearts of the Danish people through acts of kindness and charity. The legends tell of how the King rode with haste from a town 130 km away to be by her side at her deathbed in Ribe as soon as he heard that she was seriously ill. In his passion and grief, he outrode all the hundred soldiers escorting him and arrived in Ribe alone.

Alas, the story tells us that he arrived too late for she had died. However, she somehow mysteriously re-awoke to ask three promises of the King. The first was to release all the prisoners in jail. The second was that their youngest son should succeed him as King and the third was that he should not under any circumstances marry Berengaria, the daughter of King Sancho I of Portugal.

Legend tells us that he immediately set all the prisoners free. Unfortunately, history tells us he married Princess Berengaria two years later.

Ribe is rich in history and is a pleasant spot to wander around and to get away from maddening crowds. This squirrel recommends it.

(All photos by LGS)

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 10 : Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens



This is a recent discovery but I enjoyed it so much that it immediately makes it to my Squirrel’s Secret Spot list. This is the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens which is located about 1.5 hours drive from Sydney, Australia in part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Site. This Botanical Gardens is at 1000 m above sea level and specialises in higher altitude or cool climate plants. The bog plants in my last post was one of the attractions that piqued my interest.

However, it has a number of gardens and I enjoyed them all. Amongst the highlights are a section on desert plants from Australia as well as from South America and South Africa. There was a pine forest. There were the herb gardens and many more. The view into the valleys were also grand. Another attraction is the presence of the wollemi pine – which is a living fossil.

I had about an hour to spend there which was much too short. It could easily have taken a day just to see everything, two days to see and digest the information and many days just to enjoy the place. The pictures below all by LGS and for your enjoyment.

Unusual sighting of a lone grey squirrel in the gardens
Beautiful Flower

Brilliant Colors

Strange desert plant

Waratah Flower

Squirrel’s Secret Spot No: 9 Bruges






PhotoCredit: LGS (1. View from Belfry; 2. The beautiful canals; 3. Jerusalem Church; 4. Inside the Church; 5. Windmills; 6. Romantic canals and horsedrawn buggies)

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a gem; a portal to a different age. The old town centre transports you magically back to the Middle Ages for this compact 430 hectare site has hardly changed since its heyday from the 12-15th Centuries when it belonged in the Flemish court. Today, it lies within the boundaries of modern day Belgium.

This city made its wealth as a trading port and as a centre for the wool trade and for weaving. Later, it would also become famous for producing intricate lace. This delicate craft is still demonstrated and displayed at a local museum.

For the visitor though, it is like a wonderland with its cobbled streets revealing historical and architectural marvels at every turn. You can find the influences of the First Crusade in the form of relics found in certain churches. The Jerusalem Church is said to be a replica of a church found in that distant Holy City. Another landmark is the Belfry with its 47 bell Carillion which is still played till today.

The canals are beautiful and both surround the city centre as well as penetrate into it. Some parts of the canals weave past tightly packed buildings and might be reminiscent of Amsterdam or Venice while others are bordered by belts of green which are a great place to rest weary feet and have a picnic. Around the edge of the city there are also picturesque windmills to enjoy.

At a certain time of the year, the streets come alive with clourful and gay period costumes and parades which represent all the guilds that once made the city wealthy. This is probably one of the best times to visit except for the accompanying crowds.

Bruges is a place to immerse oneself in history in a pleasant environment and at a wonderfully slow pace. It is also a very romantic location and to top it all off, the cuisine and the local beer are also exceptional. It packs a lot into a small compact space. You could probably see it all in a day but it would be so much better to savour its charms over a week.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot No: 6 (Canals of England and Wales)










1.The Crew of the Oliver Cromwell sans Photographer; 2. Lowering the boat in a lock; 3. Raising the boat through a lock and James’ shoes about to get soaking wet 30 seconds later; 4. Have you heard of Hot Cross Buns? It originated here in Banbury and this is the Banbury Cross; 5. This farm dog taught us how to play fetch with it; 6. Hotel Canal Boats; 7. learning about Industrial History; 8. Making friends along the way; 9. Ah, the peace and solitude at night. (Photocredit: All by LGS except No:9 which is a postcard).

For a long time when I should have been studying for my second year exams, I was actually looking at travel brochures and day-dreaming about having a holiday on a long, narrow canal boat. I wanted a lazy, relaxing holiday with the wonderful company of close friends and to enjoy the clean air and to bask in the sun and a canal boat holiday seemed to fit the bill.

While juggling my exams, I managed to organize the holiday on a canal boat called the Oliver Cromwell on the Oxford Canal. I had hand picked James, Katherine and Julie to be my crewmates as the close confines of a canal boat is one that you wish to share only with people you got on well together.

We picked up the boat on Lower Heyworth with great excitement. Spent an exciting hour learning how to handle the boat and then we were off. Within 5 minutes we were having a great big argument. On a canal that only runs north and south, the crew were split on whether to go north or south! It appeared as if the cramp quarters had already made everyone snappy and crabby. The decision was finally made on the call of a coin toss and we headed north.

Ah, soon the bickering was forgotten as we cruised along at 4 miles per hour. The anticipation of the next 7 days intoxicated us even more than the beers in our hands. It was as I had imagined. This illusion, however, only lasted until we reached the first lock. We had been briefed about locks which are the means by which canal boats can be raised or lowered between sections of the canal which are at different heights. Locks are fascinating bits of engineering history. They can also be back-breakingly hard to operate. First you have to maneuver these heavy wooden gates and then you have to use a key to open the paddles that control the water levels. Did I think this was going to be a lazy holiday? It was hard work. A Good Samaritan who witnessed our pitiful efforts of trying to push the gates open and close, advised us that it was actually easier to sit on the beams of the gates and to push with our legs. Bouncing on the beams on our behinds also helped if the gates were stucked. We tried it and it worked like a charm and we happily operated several gates that first day, only to discover in the evening that our buttocks had turned blue-black and was covered with painful wooden splinters!

My other illusions about the canal trip were similarly exposed before long. Clean fresh air was replaced by miles of farmland reeking of cow dung. Basking in the sun? Did I forget this was England where rain is like a friend that drops in unannounced all the time and often outstays his welcome. And when night came, so did the mosquitoes.

Yet despite all these setbacks, it was one of the most enjoyable holiday I have ever had. The fun was in the people that you met along the way; the fellow novices, the old salts and the local characters. There was freedom in deciding where to go and when to stop. The historical pubs along the way were great places to stop and sample local hospitality, food and beer. It was away to learn about the history of the country especially around the period of the Industrial Revolution for which these canals were built to serve by bringing coal from the Midlands to London.

It was the surprises that awaited you at every bend. A water vole. A heron. It is waking up in the morning to the sound of cow bells in the adjacent farm or sleeping with visions of the stars and the sound of the crickets. It was having picnics on the boat or in the fields with close friends. It was terrific.

In the end, the holiday came to an end too quickly and I have been enamored with canal boats, their history and associated crafts and culture ever since. The Oxford Canal is not even one of the more interesting canals. I would love to go on the Llangollen Canal with its Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in which the canal boat would glide across the valley more than 40 m above the Dee River and to glide into Llangollen town during their celebration of Celtic culture in music, poetry and dance, the Eisteddfod Festival. That would be so wonderful.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot No: 5a (Bogor Botanic Gardens)


Bogor is a city with many interesting facets. It is located about 60 km south of Jakarta in the Indonesian island of Java. Located between the hot coastal plains and the mountains and also receiving the most rain on the island, it is a popular retreat from the heat of Java. It is also a very historical city. In the 5th Century, it was an important part of Java’s first Hindu kingdom of Tarumanegara. Then in the early 19th Century, for a short period, it served as the administrative centre for British controlled Indonesia. When the Dutch took control of the Indonesian archipelago, it then became the capitol of the territories during the dry season and went by the name of Buitenzorg which apparently means “beyond cares”. Today, Bogor is a sprawling city of over 3 million people. If you have even a flleting interest in botany, then it also holds another gem…….the Bogor Botanical Gardens.
These gardens were the inspiration of Sir Stamford Raffles but officially completed and launched in 1817 by the Dutch. They are 87 hectares of botanic wonders from the Malesia and Wallacea regions and today also borders with the Presidential Summer Palace. It is estimated that there are about 15,000 plant and tree species in this garden.
It is too big and wondrous to be covered in just one post. This will be the first in a series of three and will focus on the town and large trees and plants.
Entrance to the Gardens

Bananas with the heart (flower)

World’s Tallest flower- too
bad it isn’t blooming

What it is supposed to look like

Bird’s Nest Ferns
Very big buttress roots

Extremely Rude Fruit