Friday, November 21, 2008

Dubai airport

Terminal 1 concourse
Dubai airport is WOW !!!

I arrived at Dubai airport at 4.30 am and was amazed at how busy it was. The duty frees were really bustling. Such a contrast to KLIA which is quiet even during the peak periods.

I was in Terminal 1, also known as Shiekh Rashid Terminal . The concourse is an extensive area of duty free shops, entertainment and restaurants. There are 25 eating outlets, with many of the well known fast food places and coffee shops. There is even an Irish pub. The alcohol selection in the duty free shops is huge, and the prices are cheap compared to KLIA.

The Dubai International Hotel is right in the middle of it all and looks down on the concourse.

The thing that really struck me was the length of the terminal. It is one straight, incredibly long building. It is actually 1 km long ! As my transit gate was near one end, I had to walk a long way. I went past an area which had dimmed lighting and many people were lying on the floor asleep.

Then there was an area designed as a garden with a water feature, which reminded me of Singapore's Changi airport. There is free, and fast wifi internet service if you have your own laptop.
[Update - these gate numbers have now been changed to a letter and 2 numbers e.g. B12 as it has been proved that it is easier for passengers to remember this format rather than 3 numbers]

On my return trip, my Emirates plane went to the brand new Terminal 3.

Terminal 3 is the single largest terminal building in the world. It is also 1 km long but there are less distances to walk. It was only opened in Oct (2008). Unfortunately we arrived almost an hour late, due to a late departure. I had been planning to buy some duty free and use the free wifi, but I was unable to do either, as we were met at the arrival door and escorted immediately to our transfer gate. So I was unable to see and enjoy the new terminal.

The 2 terminals are actually attached but are separated by the control tower.

From the outside, each looks like a squashed oval. It's an impressive shape. It's actually designed to look like an aircraft wing.

As we flew into the airport, I was sitting on the right side of the plane and I had a good view over the city of Dubai, 4 km away, and saw the Burj Al Arab, the world's tallest hotel. Unfortunately it was too far to take a photo and the 8.30am light was a bit hazy. I could also see The Palm Islands (aren't they going to copy this off the west coast of Malaysia??!!).

When when we took off, I was sitting on the left side, and we took off in the direction away from the city.


In Oct 2013 National Geographic channel were showing a series called "Ultimate Airport Dubai" on TV in Malaysia. It shows behind the scenes running of the aiport and the construction of Terminal 3.

"Terminal 3 – the largest building on earth by floor space, measuring 359 football pitches in size!"

Dubai airport is now "With a staggering 344,000 flights, 57 million passengers and 2 million tons of cargo flying in and out each year, it is the world’s third busiest airport for international passengers."

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Autumn colours in England

I arrived in England at end of Oct which was too late for the really good autumn colours. However they were still colourful to me, as living in Malaysia, I've forgotten about autumn!
view from mum's bedroom

Mells in Somerset

bare trees on Mendip

a country path

old tree
Burrington Combe

blue sky only lasted one day

Priddy Pond with reeds

I  skated on here in winters past
someone painting

pines and blue sky

 And some scenes from Richmond Park -

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mae Sai to Mongla

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

A drive through Myanmar's Shan state

The beauty of Shan: The big golden temple on the hill at Mongla; The temple at Kengtung, which is a sleepy but historical capital of the Shan State's Khun culture; members of one of the ethnic groups that inhabit the Shan area. Picture: Liz Price

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TOURISTS are normally not allowed to travel through the area of Myanmar between Thailand and China. From the Thai town of Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province, non-locals are allowed day passes to visit the Burmese border town of Tachilek by surrendering their passport. It is also possible to get a 14-day visa which allows you to travel in the local area, and continue as far as Kengtung which is 160km from Thailand and 100km short of China's Yunnan province.

I was lucky as I was on a 4WD expedition and we got special permission to drive from Thailand right through Myanmar into China. This is something few foreigners have been able to do.

Myanmar's Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and is almost a quarter of the total area of Myanmar. We just bisected the eastern corner of the state.

From Chiang Rai we drove the 60km to Mae Sai, and had quite a long wait at the Thai immigration so spent the time taking photos. As soon as the papers were in order we crossed to no man's land and waited on the bridge over the Sai River which separates Thailand from Myanmar. Our cameras were clicking the whole time as we snapped the locals walking across the borders.

Once we had clearance to enter Myanmar, we set off through the town of Tachilek. We drove as a convoy the whole way through Myanmar, which made it easier for the Thai drivers to remember to now drive on the right side of the road.

Some Burmese agents joined us, presumably to keep an eye on us. And we also had an official escort. There is now a new sealed highway all the way to the Chinese border, built by a Chinese company. It is a toll road, but fortunately our group was exempt from paying the tolls. The first toll booth is close to Tachilek. It is a very scenic road, initially following a river, then going up and over some small mountains. The road follows a series of narrow steep river gorges, with high ridges on both sides and there are hill tribe villages dotted here and there on the mountainsides and rare wide spots on the valley floors.

Shan state is largely rural and takes its name from the Shan people, one of several ethnic groups that inhabit the area. The Shan are mostly Theravada Buddhists, which is one of the oldest forms of Buddhism. Shan people are believed to have migrated from Yunnan in China, which is the province that borders the Shan state. The Shan are similar to the Dai people in Yunnan.

The Shan are one of the largest minority groups in Myanmar. They have been fighting an on-and-off war with the central Myanmar government for several decades. The government allows these groups to have a high degree of autonomy, including maintraining separate armed forces. The political situation, however, remains relatively unstable.

One thing I remember is the number of security checkpoints we had to pass through. Each checkpoint marks the border between a territory (usually a Special District or a city) controlled by a different army. This area, which comes under Region 4, is actually quite safe with all the security, as the authorities want to protect the trade link between China and Thailand.

The route crosses a narrow plain before following narrow rushing rivers, and we passed through Shan, Akha, Wa and Lahu villages. We stopped for lunch at Kengtung, which is the sleepy but historical capital of the Shan State's Khun culture. It is 163km from Mae Sai and situated at the end of a long valley.

The town is built around a small lake and has crumbling British colonial architecture and aging Buddhists temples. It is probably the most interesting town in Myanmar's entire Shan State, and in fact was the only town we went through.

The Khun speak a northern Thai language related to Shan and use a writing script similar to the ancient Lanna script. Lanna was an ancient kingdom in northern Thailand. Kengtung was founded in the 13th century. The king's palace that was built in 1905 became a historic landmark, but was destroyed in 1991 by the Myanmar government.

In the centre of town is a group of striking 19th century Buddhists sites, and the Wat Ho Khong temple and monastery. After a good Chinese style lunch, we continued on our journey. We went up and over two mountain ranges. It was a pleasant ride with autumn colours, dry rice fields, and wooden or attap houses. I saw lots of hay lofts in the fields.

We stopped at a pagoda on a hill. There was a primary school across the road and we took photos of the children and it was nice to see people were wearing their traditional tribal clothes.

Late afternoon we reached the border town of Mongla, 85km from Kengtung. It's quite a new town with a big golden temple on the hill, and seemed very developed after the part of Myanmar that we had just seen.

There were lots of Chinese tour buses crossing the border, mostly to go to the casinos and wild life markets in Mongla. There are also other forms of entertainment frequented by the Chinese such as bars, karaoke and discos. The main currency used in town is the Chinese Yuan.

Mongla is controlled by the local ethnic Wa group who once fought against the Yangon troops. The city is said to be built on drug money. In the 1990s it was a real boom town with the casinos frequented by Chinese citizens living and working there, but this business has largely dropped off as the Chinese have left. Now the town relies more on tourists from China but even that trade seems to have dropped off.

There are few tourist attractions in the town. There is a large decorated entrance arch at the border which was opened in 1994 and there are several pagodas dotted around the town.

Mongla is a strange place, very un-Burmese in character. But it had been a wonderful experience being able to have the opportunity of driving through this little visited area of Myanmar.The Brunei Times

Mae Sai to Tachilek

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Crossing the border bridge at Mae Sai

The Golden Triangle: (From top) On the border bridge overlooking Myanmar's Tachilek; The border gate entering Myanmar; A heavily-laden vehicle leaving the Myanmar border gate. Mae Sai is the northernmost district (Amphoe) of Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand. It is a major border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar, which Asian Highway Network AH2 (Thailand Route 1 or Phahonyothin Road) crossing the Mae Sai River to the town Tachilek in Myanmar. Pictures: BT/Liz Price

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I WAS quite engrossed just standing in the street and taking photos of people as they were coming and going across the border. I almost forgot that I had to go to immigration office to get my own papers authorised for entry into Myanmar.

The bustling border town of Mae Sai in northern Thailand is only small, but there is a lot happening. It's a great place for people watching and resembles a modern trading post.

We left Chiang Rai early morning and there was thick fog all the way to Mae Sai. As we reached the border, the fog lifted and gave way to the sun. The Sai River separates the two countries, and this is one of the few official land crossings between Thailand and Myanmar.

Foreigners are allowed to cross the border to Tachilek and continue as far as Kengtung which is 160km from Thailand and 100km short of China's Yunnan province. Luckily both border towns are relatively free from traffic, as you have to remember that in Thailand they drive on the left side of the road, and in Myanmar it's on the right side.

As you approach the Thai border crossing you see rickshaws lined up at the end of the road waiting for customers. And also waiting for tourists is a gaggle of Thai children, dressed in colourful hill-tribe costumes, and cajoling money in exchange for posing for photographs. I was told they're not really from the hill-tribes, they are local children whose families have bought them these costumes to try and make a quick dollar.

There are no real tourist attractions here, although the area is overlooked by a Thai temple. This wat was reputedly built in memory of thousands of Burmese soldiers who died fighting the KMT in 1965. The KMT or Kuomingtang are the Chinese troops who had fled to Myanmar and were fighting the Chinese communists and were financed by the opium trade.

This Golden Triangle area, where the three countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, is notorious for the growing of poppies to make opium. This drug was possibly first used by the Chinese in the 13th century during the reign of Kublai Khan.

The trade became really lucrative in the 1960s and 1970s. The poppy is mostly grown by the hill tribe people and it flourishes on steep slopes and in nutrient poor soil.

As opium became more available, more was consumed and therefore more was grown. The name Golden Triangle came from the fortunes amassed by the local opium warlords. Today the Thai government is trying to stop this trade and has encouraged the growth of tea, coffee, corn and Chinese herbs. However this could just push the opium market into Myanmar and northwest Laos.

The infamous bridge which was Lo Hsing Han's former "Golden Triangle" passageway for opium and heroin spans the Sai River between Thailand's northernmost town and the border town of Tachilek in the Shan state.

Lo Hsing Han is a former Burmese drug trafficker and present-day major Burmese business tycoon. In 1994-95 the crossing was closed for a few months due to fighting between Shan insurgent armies and the Burmese. Many Burmese come over from Tachilek during the day to do business or work, but have to return by sunset.

Conversely many Thais cross over to go shopping. Although not many Westerners use this crossing, locals in Mae Sai have set up souvenir stalls offering a range of local handicrafts and clothes. They cater mainly for Thai tourists.

Apart from Thai items, you can also see Burmese lacquer ware, gems, jade and other items from Myanmar and Laos. There is even a gem market. Although Thailand and Myanmar are predominately Buddhist countries, there are a few Muslims living in Mae Sai and there are some Muslim restaurants.

Once you clear Thai immigration, you enter "no man's land" and go over the bridge. The river is surprisingly small and shallow. You then go through immigration formalities on the Burmese side. It's soon apparent that it's quite a different world.

Men are wearing the longyis (sarong-like skirts) and smoking cheroots, which are Burmese cigars. There are few cars and much of the transport is by rickshaw. There are also pick up trucks like the Thai songthaews which serve as buses.

Across the other side in Tachilek there are stalls selling Shan handicrafts, and the traders accept Thai baht. Thais shop for items such as dried mushrooms, herbal medicines, cigarettes and other cheap imports from China. Everything from cigarettes to whisky carries the "Made in China" label. There are also the usual modern items such as DVDs, sunglasses and watches.

It's a good idea to hire a Burmese rickshaw driver to take you around Tachilek and inspect the temples and markets. It is interesting to see that in the Tachilek temple, the Buddha statue is adorned with giant rubies. People believe that they won't be stolen.

Surprisingly in the markets many of the stall-holders are not locals, but Bangladeshis who are selling merchandise that is predominantly from China. Traders also sell animal parts from endangered species. It is sad to see tiger and leopard skins hanging up for sale, as well as tiger fangs and claws. There are monkey skulls and bits of dried animal tissue. Customers drink a cocktail made from bear gall bladder. Many of these items contravene the "International Convention referring to Endangered Species", but there is no enforcement.

Near the bridge is an inevitable duty free emporium, which again has a distinctively Chinese feel. It seems that everywhere you go now, you see more imported items flooding the local markets.

However despite that, this border area of Mae Sai and Tachilek is still an interesting place and offers a glimpse into this infamous border area.

The Brunei Times

Sago, a resourceful plant

Resourceful plant


THE STAR Weekend
15 November 2008

The sago palm is known as the Tree of a Thousand Uses because, like the coconut tree, virtually every part of it can be used.

Eating frogspawn for dessert was a common dish when I was growing up in England. It wasn’t really frogs’ eggs that my mother was feeding me, of course, but sago.
Cooked with milk and sugar, and eaten with a dollop of jam on top, sago was frequently nicknamed frogspawn due to its texture and resemblance to frog’s eggs. It resembles tapioca pudding which had a smoother texture, but that’s from cassava.
Getting it ready: The preparation to process sago happens right on the river banks.

In Malaysia, sago dishes are commonly eaten with gula melaka. However other societies use sago as a staple food item instead of rice or potato. It forms a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and Maluku (the Moluccas). The sago plant has dozens of uses, as I was able to see for myself when I was in Maluku.
The islands of Maluku in Indonesia were originally known at The Spice Islands, Today many spices are still grown there.
Although not a spice, sago is an important commodity in Maluku.
Sago is basically a powdery starch made from the processed pith found inside the trunks of the sago palms (Metroxylon spp.). These palms grow alongside rivers and in freshwater swamps. The sago palms grow all over South-East Asia, and are used as staple foods in places where there is insufficient rain to grow wet rice.
During my stay on Seram island, I was able to see the process of sago preparation right on the river banks. The tall palm trees grow at a rate of up to 1.5m per year. The palm builds up a store of starch during its life span of about 15 years and attains the maximum amount of starch just before the inflorescence opens. The tree will die after flowering.
When the palm is judged to be mature, men will cut it down and divide the stem into several lengths. Each piece is split in half lengthwise, and used as a container into which the pith containing the dry starch is put. Buckets of water are hoisted from the river and added to the pith, then the mixture is pounded and washed in order to free the flour from the fibres.
Sago is a major staple food at Seram Island.

Pieces of sago bark are used as a filter although nowadays they also use manmade materials.
When the slurry is ready, it is allowed to flow down a sloping ramp into a goti or container made from another length of the palm trunk. This wet sediment will form the sago flour. Round-shaped baskets are made from sago leaves, held together by strings made from sago fibres. The wet sago is put into these baskets and transported from the river. The purified starch is then dried and preserved as flour.
Just two men work on one palm tree, one pounding and the other washing. It takes about seven days to extract the flour from one palm. One tree can produce 400-600 kg of wet sago flour, which is 80% starch, 16% water and 4% nitrogen.
The waste fibres left over from the washing process are dumped on the ground, forming a soggy carpet. However, these fibres are still rich in protein and can be fed to pigs and chickens, and can also be used to make strings.
The prepared sago flour can be preserved in the form of baked biscuits. During my stay in Maluku, I saw various types of biscuit. Some tasted OK whereas others resembled chewing a small wad of compacted sawdust!
The “toasted bricks” in the market caught my eye but I never tried them. They looked like hollow, extremely thick slices of bread. No doubt they are meant to be eaten with a sauce. The slices of toast made from sago were just about edible on their own. Sago flour is nearly pure carbohydrate and has very little protein, vitamins, or minerals.
Some of the products produced some sago tree.
Papeda is the sago pudding which resembles thick glue and is eaten with fish sauce. It reminded me of the glue we used to make as children for sticking papers in scrapbooks! Sago starch is also used in making bread and noodles. Pearl sago is the same starch mixed again into a paste and sieved through a mesh of various sizes. The finished sago pearls have a long shelf life.
Sago is also used in the textile and pharmaceutical industries, especially as a thickener. For textiles, it is used to treat fibres to make them easier to machine.
The sago palm is like the coconut palm, in that nothing is wasted. Traditional Maluku houses are 90% made from sago palms. The roof is made from the leaves which resemble attap, but is more durable than the nipah commonly used in Malaysia. The walls are made from the fronds.
The palm parts can even be useful inside the house – the midribs for making brooms and baskets, and the barks woven into mats. So sago certainly lives up to its nickname of the “Tree of a Thousand Uses”.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kellie's Castle

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

The secret tunnels of Kellie's Castle

Saturday, November 1, 2008

IT'S hard to believe that there is a Scottish man's castle in the heart of the Malaysian countryside. Although it has been abandoned since 1926 the place is still shrouded in mystery and there are rumours that the place is haunted.

Kellie's Castle was built by William Kellie Smith, a successful planter in the Ipoh area of Perak. Smith was born on the Kellas Estate in Scotland in 1870, and the name Kellie was actually his mother's maiden name.

When he grew up he left Scotland in search of the rich life he had dreamt of, and ended up in Malaya. In those days there was money to be made as a planter or tin miner. Smith ended up working with a rubber planter called Alma Baker. Baker was involved with clearing forests and making roads for the government in south Perak. Smith joined him and they made good money.

Smith used his new wealth to buy 900 acres of land south of Ipoh. He cleared the jungle for his rubber plantation and built a new estate and manor house for his wife Agnes and their daughter.

The house was named Kinta Kellas. Kinta Valley is the name of the area surrounding Ipoh, and Kellas was in memory of his family farm back in Scotland.

The house was built in 1909-1910 in Greco-Roman and Moorish styles with extravagant columns and arches and keyhole windows. The bricks and tiles were imported from India.

The house supposedly had a wine cellar with its own hidden tunnel. A bridge crossed the Kinta River which flows in front of the house. The manor was well located, sitting on a little knoll just by the bend of Sungai Kinta, and had a clear, unobstructed view of the Kinta Valley.

The grounds were transformed into large open spaces, with luxuriant gardens, lawns and a lake. It typified a British gentleman's estate in the Victorian era. Smith continued to make his fortune in rubber and also turned to tin.

When their first son was born in 1915, Smith wanted a larger, more stately home. Work began on a new wing to the manor, which took 10 years to complete. As it was just an extension to the existing home, there were no servants' quarters or kitchen. The existing ones were connected by a covered walkway. Many of the workmen were Indians. In the early 1920s a flu epidemic occurred and many of his estate workers died. The Indians asked for a temple to be built in honour of the deity Mariamman who would hopefully give them protection. The temple was soon built and was 1500m from the house.

After completion of the temple, work resumed on the manor house. In 1926 Smith and his daughter made a trip home to Britain to visit the wife and son, as the son was schooling there. Smith had ordered a lift for the manor from Lisbon, Portugal. This would have been Malaya's first manually operated lift. Tragically he caught pneumonia and died in Lisbon in December 1926.

His wife sold her interest in the Kellas Estate and the Smith family never returned to Malaya. The son was killed in World War II. Since the estate was abandoned in 1926 not much of the first home is left today, apart from the covered walkway, an open courtyard and part of a crumbling wall from the old wing.

Legends were born, one said that ghost of Smith still wanders through the ruins. Other legends were of secret underground tunnels. But apart from two known tunnels, none were ever found.

The Museum of Antiquities refurbished parts of the castle, mostly in the old wing by replastering the walls and laying floor tiles. An interesting discovery was made in June 2003.

During the course of widening the Gopeng - Batu Gajah road at the 6th kilometre stretch, workers unearthed a section of a tunnel. This 1.5m high by one-metre wide passageway is believed to lead from the castle to the Hindu temple nearby.

Now the castle has been turned into a tourist attraction. The grounds have been restored and visitors can now explore the empty wine cellar, the cool and shady rooms of the castle, and the ruins of the family's old home beside it.

Today the Sri Maha Mariamman temple is still used by the local Indian community. If you look closely at the statues of the deities on the temple roof, you will see a figurine of a colonial-looking man dressed in a white topee, green jacket and khaki coloured pants. This is William Kellie Smith. It is thought the workers put it there to honour Smith for building the temple for them.

Smith still stands with the deities watching over his estate. And there are still mysteries and folklore associated with Kellie's Castle and the Sahib of the Kinta Estate.

The Brunei Times