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Sun 19 Jul 2015

Historic Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

Historic Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

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Big Lantern

After several hours on a bus, I arrived in Penang, called “The Pearl of the Orient.” Penang is an island just off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia, and historic Georgetown is its major city and the food capital of Malaysia.

Colonial Buildings.

Colonial Buildings.

Colonial Buildings

Colonial Buildings

Handyman special!

Handyman special.

A center of global trade for hundreds of years, Georgetown is a multicultural city with Malay roots. Over the centuries it has been affected and influenced by traders, colonizers and settlers from Portugal, Holland, Britain, China and India.

Are they from Denmark?!

Are they from Denmark?!

I wandered around on streets that were lined with colonial buildings, some restored and some dilapidated and crumbling. I enjoyed excellent vegetarian food in Georgetown’s Indian enclave and I found a Chinese tea shop specializing in Pu’er tea.

Sheng Pu'er tea, aged ten years.

Sheng Pu’er tea, aged ten years.

Today’s Georgetown is known for its street art. I enjoyed taking photos of the art as well as the many huge hanging Chinese lanterns I saw all over town.

That's me, blending in.

That’s me, blending in.

Wall Mural.

Wall Mural.

Children on a bicycle!

Children on a bicycle!

The Blue Mansion of Georgetown businessman and politician Cheong Fatt Tze (1840 - 1916).

The Blue Mansion of Georgetown businessman and politician Cheong Fatt Tze (1840 – 1916).

Temple at the top of Penang Hill.

Temple at the top of Penang Hill.

Big Lantern.

Big Lantern.

Khoo Kongsi Clan House.

Khoo Kongsi Clan House.

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Tea

Thu 16 July 2015

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Boh Tea Estate.

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I stayed five days in Malaysia’s Cameron highlands, originally a hill station in colonial times. Having visited the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok several months ago, I was intrigued to explore the place where the “Thai Silk King” disappeared around 48 years ago, apparently without a trace.

Jim Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands many years ago.

Jim Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands many years ago.

My guest house was in Tanah Rata at an elevation of around 1500 meters, which meant pleasant days and cool nights. On Monday I walked downhill about four kilometers to a nearby tea plantation. Over the last few days I also did some hiking on the many trails near the town. Yesterday I took a day tour which included another tea plantation, a butterfly garden, hydroponic strawberry farm and a visit to a mossy forest.

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Mossy Forest.

Mossy Forest.

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Sat 11 Jul 2015

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.

Image of an old postcard of Hoan Kiem Lake, from a display of old photographs near the lake.

Image of an old postcard of Hoan Kiem Lake, from a display of old photographs near the lake.

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Phố Mã Mây, Quận Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.

Old post card of Phố Mã Mây, Quận Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.

Old post card of Phố Mã Mây, Quận Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.

After completing the four-week CELTA course in Hanoi at the end of May, I spent several days in Cambodia, mostly at the beach in Sihanoukville. Yesterday I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I spent a few hours at the Hojo tea shop in KL, where I tasted several teas, including a first flush Darjeeling and a Yunnan wild black tea, both of which I purchased. Tomorrow I will go to the Cameron Highlands where much of Malaysia’s tea is grown.

View of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from my hotel room.

View of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from my hotel room.

Hojo Tea Shop, at The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur.

Hojo Tea Shop, at The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur.

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Mon 20 Apr 2015

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Rice Terraces in Yuanyang, Yunnan, China.

A few days ago I arrived in Duoyishu, Yuanyang, in the midst of the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in southern Yunnan. The Hani is a minority ethnic group in Yunnan who first settled in the area around 2500 years ago. Over time, in order to subsist on the rugged terrain they learned to work the mountains and hills into terraces on which they grew rice. They now have been farming rice in this way on this beautifully sculpted land for over 1200 years. 

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Sat 18 Apr 2015

Classical style roof, Jianshui.

Classical style roof, Jianshui.

Thankfully the real-life visual images around me were not censored by the Chinese government.

On a lighter note, I was fascinated by the ornamental details of the traditional Chinese roofs. I liked looking at the different designs on the little disks at the ends of the eaves.

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I found some interesting examples of these disks in Jianshui.

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And, while wandering about the grounds of the Confucian Temple in Jianshui, I found a whole pile of these disks just hanging around in a courtyard, along with some other cool architectural pieces and parts.

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I’ve read a lot about the terrible pollution in China. But one of the things I really appreciated throughout my travels in Yunnan was that the two-wheelers were almost all electric scooters of some sort. Because of this, in all the cities and towns I visited, there was much less traffic pollution compared to other places I had visited in Asia.

Electric Scooter in Jianshui.

Electric scooter in Jianshui.

Electric scooter, Jianshui. The Union Jack was by far the most popular color scheme!

Electric scooter, Jianshui. The Union Jack was by far the most popular color scheme!

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Fri 17 Apr 2015

I had to go through Hong Kong, Singapore or Los Angeles to get around the Great Firewall of China.

I had to go through Hong Kong, Singapore or Los Angeles to get around the Great Firewall of China.

After arriving in China I gained internet access through both WiFi and a local SIM card. However, I soon realized that I did not have access to some important information and services. No Google services would work in China, and I was unable to access any social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and could not update this blog. Neither could I read the New York Times and other news from sources in the USA.

I was aware that China censored internet access but I expected this would be limited to certain sensitive issues such as news about Tibet, Taiwanese politics, the Chinese Army’s killing of nonviolent protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, etc. However, I found that the censorship by the Chinese government was massive. Outside China, it is referred to as The Great Firewall of China.

Prior to entering China I was already using a VPN but it did not work in China. After some research I was able to find a VPN that worked in China and regain full access to Google, social media, and all news sources. (See this NY Times article).

In general it seemed that all of the young Chinese people I met who spoke English were aware that the government censored the internet and that they could get around this by using a VPN. However, most people did not use VPNs due to the relatively high cost. Also, since few had ever had access to the uncensored internet, they did not have an awareness of how much they were missing.

I did not initiate any political discussions with the Chinese citizens I met during my travels in China, but many of them voluntarily offered their opinions and ideas. A young man who went by the English name of Johnny said “I love my country but I hate my government” and he had a few colorful words to further describe his feelings. Like me he had studied social work but was not working as a social worker because, “the government only hires social workers to monitor and control people they think might cause problems, not to actually help them.” Interestingly, he said he was a member of the Communist Party.

One young woman named Jo An referred to the 1989 Tiananmen killings as an “accident,” in comparison to the western media’s description of it as a “massacre.” Sadly, Jo An said “I think we have had many accidents in the past,” but she said she did not really know for sure, due to the lack of a free press. She spoke about her admiration for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. She said, “I think he really loves his country.” Going through the VPN on my smartphone I found some news about Liu but we decided it would not be a good idea for me to send her the link or a copy of the article. However from our discussion it was obvious that she was really starving for more information about Liu and other Chinese dissidents.

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Thu 16 Apr 2015

At Zhu Family Garden, Jianshui, Yunnan.

At Zhu Family Garden, Jianshui, Yunnan.

En route from Xishuangbanna to the Yuangyang rice terraces, I stopped for a few days in Jianshui (建水), more out of logistical necessity rather than a strong desire to see the place.

Only a few hours from Kunming, Jianshui would probably be crowded on weekends with an influx of visitors from that city. However, I was there during the week and found relatively few tourists around, including only a handful of other foreigners. It was a pleasant enough place, with a tidy old town of cobbled streets flanked with interesting architecture and a few historical sights worth seeing.

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Facade in Janshui.

I spent yesterday exploring the Zhu Family Garden (and home) built by that family in the 19th century during the latter part of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). 

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Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden.

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Zhu Family Garden

Today I went to see Jianshui’s famous Confucian Temple, completed in 1285 and one of the largest Confucian temples in China.

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Statue of Confucius at entrance to grounds of Confucius Temple, Jianshui.

Statue of Confucius at entrance to grounds of Confucius Temple, Jianshui.

One of the gates to the temple.

One of the gates to the temple.

The lake on the grounds of the Confucius Temple.

The lake on the grounds of the Confucius Temple.

Detail of carved door panel, Confucius Temple.

Detail of carved door panel, Confucius Temple.

Stone tablet, Confucius Temple.

Stone tablet, Confucius Temple.

Good vegetarian food was hard to find in Yunnan, but in Jianshui it was a bit easier since tofu seemed to be a local staple. I enjoyed trying a very spicy stewed hotpot tofu, as well as barbecued “stinky” tofu grilled up on outdoor braziers. 

Lunch.

Lunch.

Several panels of cartoonish artwork were on display at the temple. Here's one example. Does anyone know what it could mean...

Several panels of cartoonish artwork were on display at the temple. Here’s one example. Does anyone know what it could mean…

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