Vietnam – Cao Dai

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About 90kms northwest of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, , whichever you wish to call it, heading for the Cambodian border, lies Tay Ninh, the site of the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. The religion, said to be the fastest growing religion in Vietnam with now an estimated 6m followers, was only founded in 1929.

 

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Cao Dai is the name of God the Father, the other deity being the Holy Mother, the Yang and Yin respectively of the religion; the Cao Daiists believing in the Yin and Yang, the harmonious balance in life. The full name of God, Cao Dai being a shortened version, reflects the fact that this religion is a combination of the three main religions of the area, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The symbols of the religion combine symbols from all of those creeds.

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Omnipresent is a symbolic eye, the left eye of God, symbolising that God sees everything, and it is the left eye as it sits above the heart and soul from where comes learning and wisdom. The religion teaches that historically God spoke to mankind through many prophets, but that now God speaks direct to mankind.

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The Holy See covers several hundred hectares of land, its main focus being the Temple where the faithful gather daily for reflection and prayer. The floor of the temple inside consists of a number of platforms which rise as you progress to wards the front, and as your learning and understanding of the creed increases, so you move forward to a higher level.

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The building is beautiful, but almost quirky in its colours, its realism, and above all its colours, which are like confectionary and might be seen decorating a cake. The images are detailed, realistic and prominent everywhere. Adherents follow a path of learning and meditation which gradually leads them through the levels of the religion to the highest levels.

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It is a bit of a hike out of Ho Chi Minh city but a good day is to combine the visit with one to the Cu Chi tunnels a short distance away and that makes for a great day out. The site is extraordinary, in that it is known as the Holy See, as the Vatican, and the symbolism is unique, but Cai Dai is the fastest growing religion so has obviously something to offer, and the site buildings and people there certainly do. There are also some holy monkeys contemplating the meaning of their lives!

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Travel – Vietnam

 

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Vietnam has a long history of insisting on its own identity and culture, dating back to the 10th century when they ceased to be part of the Chinese empire and became an independent state. Since then modern wars against the French there from the 19th century to 1954 and subsequently the US resulting in reunification in 1975 have cemented that sense of independence and pride you find in Vietnam.

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Vietnam’s geography is distinct and varied from the Mekong Delta south of Ho Chi Minh City through the central highlands to the old north and its national parks and mountains. The best way to see Vietnam I think is to start at one end and work up or down according to your choice. Many people but motorbikes in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and sell them in the other city when they arrive.

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The people of Vietnam are approachable, friendly curious and direct. They have an instinct for trading and business and the whole country gives a strong impression of going somewhere fast, accompanied by massive investment into tourism and business. The tourism industry is growing at a huge rate with ever increasing numbers from Asia so Vietnam is changing fast and it might be good to go soon while the traditions are still very visible.

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Its an amazing place to visit but a place where you need to take your time. There is so much to see, so much variety and so many contrasts that you need to absorb them slowly or you will miss a lot. I am going to write various pieces on various aspects so hope readers enjoy those as much as that country is enjoyable.

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London – Kew Gardens

 

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Kew Gardens, also known as The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, is set in 300 acres on the southwest edge of London. It is an area of London replete with history of British Kings, from Richmond Palace, the home of King Henry V11th through Tudor times to the reign of George 111 who owned what is now Kew Palace, as a nursery for his children. It is one of the most visited places in London but its big and the ticketing systems efficient so its an easy visit.

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There was a Palace at Kew from the early 16th century but the Palace that you see now dates back to late 18th century and is a microcosm of 18th and 19th century life including the Royal kitchens that have not been touched since 1818.

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The gardens are beautifully landscaped with large open areas filled with trees shrubs flowers and endless walks. The river Thames runs through the gardens and you can take time to walk its banks.

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Inside the gardens is the Great Pagoda build in 1762 and the Japanese gateway, and 4/5ths replica of the entrance to a Japanese temple. There are a number of other amazing buildings including the Palm House in which there is a walkway high up enabling you to look down on the trees and the Orangery.

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As well as being incredible gardens, Kew is a serious research establishment containing the world’s largest collection of living plants and a huge seed bank, there for conservation purposes as well as research in conjunction with over 80 international organisations. It also has the largest herbarium in the world.

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In the park itself there is a treetop walkway and endless places to sit talk relax picnic, eat, and just be enclosed by nature close to the centre of one of the largest cities in the world. Definitely a place for a day out if you are in London and you want to get away from the crowds noise and stresses of big city life

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Noordhoek Beach – Cape Town

 

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I have been to many beaches in many countries, but the one that stands out most, my favourite of all, is Noordhoek Beach In Cape Town. The word Noorhoek means literally North Corner. It sits on the edge of the city, a 20 minute beautiful drive from the centre along the cliff road called Chapman’s Peak. noordhoek_beachThe beach is 8 kms long bounded at one end by the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak and at the other end by the Hamlet of Kommetjie with its famous lighthouse. It faces the Atlantic Ocean, being on the west side of the Peninsular and the back of the beach is made up of protected wetlands so that this is not a beach with bars and clubs and crowds, it is just the beach.

img_2584It is a beach for surfers and kite surfers and swimmers, but best of all it’s a beach that is so big, that no matter how many people come you can enjoy the feeling of a beach to yourself. You want to escape the pressures of city life then there is nothing like walking in the early morning sun here, to commune with nature, be on a white sanded blue watered beach surrounded by nothing but nature itself, perfect to take you out of yourself and get some perspective on life. img_2491-1The water is not warm since the beach is brushed by the Benguela current that rises on that side of the peninsula, which includes sub Antarctic water that surfaces there due to prevailing winds, but in summer its warm enough. The beach has its very own shipwreck at one end, a ship than sank when driven aground by storms, a reminder of how this tranquil place can erupt when huge storms come

img_2500It’s a perfect place to relax, swim, think, walk, take time, have a picnic, and generally escape. The evenings bring sunsets that on a clear day are intense and can be watched until the last edge of the sun disappears below the horizon. In October the Southern Right whale coms to this part of the world with its young and the sunset can be made even more special by the sight of these beautiful creatures in the water, not far off shore, with their young learning to breach. img_3325

Magical

 

 

The Life Inside Flowers

 

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No matter where you travel in the world there are flowers. Their colours textures brilliance and contrasts are different but nature delivers flowers everywhere. They grow on trees, bushes, from the ground and even in the sea but they are ever present and add to the memories of a place and its flavour.

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What has always fascinated me is what happens inside the flower, at its root, where nature creates the flower, because inside there is a whole world of activity that goes on in the life cycle of the life of a flower, and some of the most beautiful parts of a flower are those that we don’t see close up. They add to the picture but they are not completely visible

 

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That inner world has perfect shapes, bugs and microbes, contrasts of colours and shades which together create the perfection of a flower. Its as if you can see the mechanics, the motor, the engine room the beating heart of the creation.

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The varieties in different places in the world are extraordinary and even flowers we see every day and perhaps take for granted, have that hidden life that is so fascinating.

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If you see a beautiful flower that inspires you its worth taking a look really close up and see what is at home and what is happening inside. Flowers are conditioned by their environment but it does not matter if you look in a garden or a park or the other side of the world, nature is at work.

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The Reincarnation of the Quagga.

 

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Quagga is the name for a now extinct species similar to the plains Zebra that became extinct in the 19th century. It was found in large numbers in what is now South Africa. Quagga is the Khoi Khoi name for Zebra, the Khoi Khoi being the inhabitants of the southern areas of South Africa originally.

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When settlers came to South Africa in the 17th century the Quagga were hunted in large numbers such that they became extinct in the wild in 1878 and in captivity in 1883. The Quagga had diverged from the Plains Zebra as a species some 250000 years ago.

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In the 1950s the idea was raised that with careful cross breeding of the Plains Zebra it might be possible to recreate the Quagga, although this idea was met with little interest since it was thought that the Quagga and Plains Zebra were unrelated as a species.

 

 

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However in the 1980s, by means of DNA sampling of the skins that remained and that of preserved Quaggas from museums, it came accepted that the species were related and the project to recreate the Quagga coomenced, known as The Quagga Project and based around Cape Town.

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The process is known as “breeding back” and is intended to create the striping patterns of the Quagga from careful breeding, since the technology for cloning using recovered dna does not yet exist, and as such the new off spring look like the Quagga but are genetically different.

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These offspring are known as Rau Quagga, to differentiate them from the Quagga and the Zebra, named after Reinhold Rau who initiated the project. The process has produced a number of generations of offspring and these are beginning to show the markings of the Quagga as it was. This represents a fascinating way to try to rectify some of the wrongs of man to the natural world.

 

Colourful Travelling

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When I look back at travels I have made, journeys completed, the memories are always associated with colours. A place, some food, a building, nature, all these are associated with deep colours, sharp colours and they reflect the mood of the memory. Even difficult travelling experiences have colours attached to them

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The shades and intensities of the colours may differ from place to place but nonetheless it is colour that guides the mind. At home our own colours surround us every day, and being at home we can to some extent control the colours we see, try to ensure that they are the ones we like most. But somehow the colours never quite seem so intense. It is, I am sure, partly due to over familiarity and partly because our choices are made to create an environment that we feel comfortable in, and can blend into.

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Colour affects the imagination. When we see a building or a town or village in colours that are not familiar we wonder why, and there is a nervous admiration for the bravery of it. The purity of colours in nature can be spellbinding; the mixtures of the colours of nature’s palate surpass anything that an artist can create by mixing. The primary colours are intense sharp and pure.

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Then there is the interaction of nature and its creatures. See a butterfly resting and marvel at its colours and realise that each one of these seemingly random combinations of colour has a reason, a camouflage in the actual environment in which it exists.

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Why does food that is colourful seem to taste more exciting that the staples of life which we need to survive? Even the combinations of colours in a meal in a foreign place make the experience of eating more enervating and satisfying.

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Landscapes that unfold in front of us carry varieties of colours with mountains melting into hills and fields and even to the sea where the contrasts of blues and greens echo the land which houses the seas and oceans.

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Even under the seas and oceans we experience a world of unique colours. Their combinations and the creatures that live their blend in and give wonderful contrasts to the background shades of the undersea world.

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When I was young I was given a box of crayons, the few basic colours, and as time when on I wanted to get a bigger set because it had more colours and shades of those colours. I was no artist but the joy of the varieties of colours inspired me, and now there they are in the journeys I take.

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