Osaka 09 Pt. 02: Tennoji Park

Tennoji park is a beautiful park in the middle of Osaka and quite close to where we were staying in Kyobashi. One of the reasons Queenie wanted to go there was to see the brown autumn leaves which makes Osaka so special in October.

Autumn Leaves in Tennoji Park
Autumn Leaves - Tennoji Park (Osaka)

I think the video below covers most of what can be written here about the park, so enjoy.

As you can see in the video above, the park was fairly empty on a Saturday morning and really peaceful considering it is in the middle of the city. We loved being there. There were a lot of people paintin and some people doing excercise. There were also many beautiful flowers and scenes. The pictures below capture all this.

Beautiful Queenie in Tennoji Park
Queenie in Tennoji Park - My beautiful wife in a beautiful park

Autumn Leaves in Tennoji Park
Autumn Leaves in Tennoji Park - the main reason for going to Osaka in Autumn is to see the trees changing color. It was really beautiful.

Flower Display - Tennoji Park
Beautiful Flower Display - This display was near the front entrance of the park area next to the lake. Really pretty.

Tennoji Park Trees
Beautiful Park - looking at this picture it is hard to believe that this park is in the middle of a busy city.

Tennoji Park Lake
Art Museum - The building is the art museum that is built inside the park

Osaka Samuraii - Tennoji Park
Kendo - This guy looked older but looked really fit.

As you can see from the video and pictures above, Tennoji Park is a beautiful place. If you are visiting Osaka it is probably worth the visit and add onto that the Art Museum and I am sure you will enjoy. We had a good time on a crisp but sunny Autumn day.

More pictures @ Tennoji Park - Flickr Set

Uzbek Tales Pt. 6: Weddings in Khiva, Uzbekistan

When we were in Khiva, Uzbekistan, we landed up eating dinner at a wedding party and on the second day we danced on the streets of Khiva. We had an absolutely awesome time and to this day Khiva holds special memories for us.

Wedding Couple - Khiva, Uzbekistan
Wedding Couple on Parade in Khiva

We arrived in Khiva in the dead of winter. The Lonely Planet said that when travelling in Uzbekistan in the winter, Uzbekistan is yours. For most of the trip we had bumped into one or two other travellers, but in the ancient walled city Khiva, we were the only ones. Needless to say all the restaurants were shut and most of the guest houses were shut too. We had met an English teacher and her students and we were wondering through the streets late on Saturday night looking for something to eat when we saw a huge party going on. Our new friends told us that it was a wedding party. So me being me, dragged everything and everyone along to look. I poked my head through the door to see what was going on and before we knew it Queenie, myself and our Uzbek friends were dragged into the hall sat behind a table, plov was served for us and vodka shots were flowing my way. What an awesome experience!

Khiva Bride
The Bride

Wedding Banquet - Khiva, Uzbekistan
The Banquet

The wedding was alive with a live band playing Central Asian music and a dancer. All the men at our table (and they were all men except for Queenie and the English teacher and students, took to us immediately and started downing vodka shots with me. Little were we to know that later in the evening we were to dance and I was to give a speech. We were later told that weddings actually go on for three days and this party we were in was the brides sending off party (the groom wasn't present) and that the groom and bride would be joined the following day so we didn't actually get to see the wedding ceremony.

Khiva Wedding Belly Dancer
The Wedding Dancer

Wedding Dancing - Khiva, Uzbekistan
Queenie Dancing

On the second day in Khiva we were wandering between the old mud buildings of the town when we stumbled accross a couple of wedding parades(see picture at the top). The bride, the groom and their entire entourage walks with them through the streets of the town to show the world they are married. We saw two entourages. The first thing we noticed was the flimsy dresses the brides were wearing. This is significant because it was FREEZING (close to 0C). If you compare what Queenie was wearing in the video below you will actually notice the difference in attire. The second think that completely blew us away was that both groups stopped outside the music museum in Khiva and out of nowhere music started and people danced in the streets.

Wedding Dancers - Khiva, Uzbekistan
Dancing in the Street

Wedding Dancers - Khiva, Uzbekistan
Dancing in the Streets

Both the sending away party and the wedding parades are showed in the video below. We hope you enjoy.

These two events made our time in Khiva unforgettable. It would not have been possible without the hospitality and the open hearts of the people there. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.


Osaka 09 Pt. 01: Arrivals on the JR

In 2009 Queenie and I went off to the Merchant capital of Japan, Osaka! Neither of us had ever been in that city before so we were looking forward to it. We arrived around 9 o'clock at night and jumped on the JR (Japan Rail) train direct from the airport to Kyoboshi, where our hotel was.

Osaka Samuraii - Tennoji Park
Kendo in the Park

The train ride from Kansai airport to Kyobashi took longer than an hour (closer to 90 minutes as I recall) but was comfortable enough. We were staying at the Keihan hotel right outside the station so it was convenient. What we didn't realize before going there was that Kyobashi was one of the main entertainment centers for Osaka. It was pretty interesting to arrive. Anyway, to start this journey off here is a video of us on the JR shortly after arriving in Osaka. Enjoy, and comments are always appreciated.

On this trip we spent a few days in Japan. We spent a couple of days in Osaka, a day touring in Kyoto and a day going out to Himeji Castle and then to see our friend Mike in Kobe. All in all it was a good trip. We will post more updates later.


Uzbek Tales pt. 5: Urgut Bazaar

Urgut Bazaar is one of the most authentic market we visited in Uzbekistan. The roads were muddy and dirty and everything from fabrics, to carpets to goat heads were sold. A truly original place and somthing that would be hard to emulate.

Free Apple  - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Queenie in Urgut Bazaar

Getting There

Getting to Urgut from Samarkand is easy: just take the bus. Many people suggested we rent a driver for a day, or hire a Mashrukta but at the end of the day we asked around and figured out which bus to take. It wasn't that hard! The bus was fairly cheap and since we were among the first to get on, we did manage to get seats. The trip itself from Samarkand to Urgut was (if memory serves correctly) about an hour, and it wasn't too uncomfortable although the bus did fill up the closer we got to Urgut.

The Market  - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Urgut Bazaar

Urgut Bazaar

The Lonely Planet we had says of Urgut that the town is "one of the best places to buy silk and old textiles in the country." However, the Lonely Planet continues saying "some readers report being disappointed by this markt, but that may be because they showed up on the wrong day. This market in only happening on Sunday and to a lesser extent on Thursday." Well we were definitely not disappointed, and we went on a Tuesday. The market itself was a hustle bustle of activity. From the crowded traffic in the street in the market entrance, to the bustling business of all the vendors and stalls in the market, the market itself was filled with color and sound. As the two videos show, the market is busy and the people incredibly friendly.

Outside Urgut Bazaar

Inside Urgut Bazaar

As you can see from the video above, the market is crowded with people and different foods. Actually, we found the market to be divided into distinct sections: food, fabrics, clothes, carpets etc. It was fairly interesting to drift through the different sections and see the different wares for sale. We later learned that the cotton for the fabrics and clothes was produced in Uzbekistan and shipped to Korea/China to be woven into fabrics and clothes. These were then shipped back to Uzbekistan to be sold. The controversy was that instead of building a fabrics/clothes factory, the government had invested a significat amount of money into building a car factory when they didn't have the technology or experience to do that.

Lunch - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Goat Head

Vendors - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Bread Stands

Vendors - -Urgut, Uzbekistan
Spice Sellers

Oil Sellers  - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Oil Vendors

Fruit - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Fruit Vendor - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Selling Bread - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Market Street - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Fabrics - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Carpets - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Queenie Shopping - Urgut, Uzbekistan

Lunch in Urgut Bazaar

One of the highlights for me was eating in the bazaar. We walked into the restaurant area of the market and found a restaurant serving shashlik (skewered meat) and plov (a traditional Uzbek rice dish). bearing in mind the market and restaurant didn't have the highest standards of hygiene, we were a little concerned but decided to try the food anyway. The food turned out to be awesome and we didn't get sick so the risk was worth taking.

Lunch in Urgut Bazaar

Market Plov -  Urgut, Uzbekistan
Plov - Part of our lunch

Fellow Diner - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Fellow Diner - this guy helped us order and chased off beggars

The People

Of course the best part of the market (as always) was the people. Always friendly, always smiling, always waving at us. We really did feel welcome and although we did draw a lot of attention our way, at no point did we feel uncomfortable. We were warned we should be careful of pickpockets so we made sure wallets and valuables were stashed away properly so nothing would get stolen but we we felt safe all the time.

Tajik Girl in Urgut Bazaar
Tajik Girl - notice the single drawn in eyebrow which is considered attractive in Tajik culture

Market Boys -  Urgut, Uzbekistan
Market Boys - these kids were so excited to see us and have their picture taken. They were really friendly.

Vendors -  Urgut, Uzbekistan
Worker - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Market Worker

Video Review  - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Reviewing Videos

Mother and Daughter - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Mother and Daughter

Shopper - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Out Shopping

Vendor  - Urgut, <br />Uzbekistan

Old Man in Urgut Bazaar
Old Man

Market Workers - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Market Workers

Urgut Bazaar - Mom and Baby

Market Girl  - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Market Girl

One of the great things of walking through the fabric section of the bazaar was the color of the sunlight streaming through the fabrics. The light was soft and colored and almost magical and seemed really surreal and out of place in a place like Urgut. Truly magical and added to the color and the splendour of the market.

Streaming Light

Fabric Shimmer -  Urgut, Uzbekistan
Fabric Shimmer in Urgut Bazaar

The Bus Home

So after drifting around the market for a couple of hours it was time to head off back to Samarkand. We found the bus (pretty easy) and jumped on. Now the conductor on this bus was really funny: the bus filled up pretty quickly and when a lady with a baby got onto the bus he insisted I sit down and hold the baby. The baby was horrified. No matter how much we protested he wouldn't let us stand. Even when old ladies got on the bus he insisted we sit and berated anybody who tried to take our seats. He also berated anybody who didn't want their photo taken and took photos of everybody (we haven't included those here). The bus was pretty full but by the time we got back to Samarkand it had emptied out.

Kid and Us - Urgut, Uzbekistan
With the kid on the Bus

Crowded Bus - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Crowded Bus

Fellow Passanger - Urgut, Uzbekistan
Bus Passenger

All in all it was an awesome day. We went to the market on the Tuesday and were duly impressed and would encourage all travellers to Samarkand to go to this market. It is colorful and loud and raw and real and it is what you are in Central Asia to see. Later on when we were in Bukhara we went to the local markets that were highly sterilized, super hygenic shopping places that show some level of modernization is creeping into Uzbekistan, but Urgut will take you back a few years, and its fun!


Thinking About Easter Island

Queenie and I were chatting the other day about where to go next year on our annual trip. I suggested the crazy idea of going to Easter Island, one of the most remote places in the world. However, a trip there seems to be extremely difficult and the marginal benefits of going to an island that can be covered in a day by car might make it not worth it at this point of our lives.

Easter Island Ahu Tongariki
(Picture by Nicolas de Camaret)

Just thinking about the route, there are two (maybe three options). The first is to fly from Taipei to Taihiti, and then from Taihiti to Easter Island (I hear you say why not just stay in Taihiti). The second option is to fly either to Lima (Peru) or Santiago (Chile) and then take a flight from there to Easter Island (and here again I hear you - why not just stay in Peru/Chile). The problem with the South American options I believe is that we would need to still fly to the Western seaboard of the United States and then from there head to Lima or Santiago. And from Santiago to Easter Island the flight is apparently something in the region of six hours. We would really have to spend a lot of time in the air to get there and back. Not sure how long but certainly more than 30 hours.

The main reason to go to Easter Island are of course to see the Moai statues carved out by the original Polynesian settlers on the island. The second reason to go would be to experience the remoteness of the island and see a part of the pacific at its wildest and most remote. Below I have linked to a five part play list of Richard Attenborough's documentary: The Lost God's of Easter Island. Its pretty interesting

The Lost God's of Easter Island - Richard Attenborough

I recently became interested in Easter Island again after reading Jared Diamond's Collapse where he uses Easter Island as an apocalyptic parable warning against the inconsidered and unhindered use of both renewable and unrenewable natural resources arguing that the Easter Islanders completely used their resources which led to a ccatastrophic collapse in their society. Diamond argues that they (stuck on a remote island with no contact with anybody else) like us (stuck on a single planet with no contact with any other intelligence) were all alone and completely self sufficient. They got it wrong and the consequences were tragic in the extreme. Will we get it wrong, or right?

Anyway to get there seems to be quite a challenge and would need to be coupled with a week in Santiago or some other place in Chile. The distance is too far to go without staying for a longer period of time. I can also imagine that the cost of the airline tickets would be pretty high and not sure what the hotels would cost. Anyway, we are thinking about it but still not sure.

If anybody has any suggestions or ideas, let me know. Hopefully we will make up our mind soon.


Picture of Us

Our niece Rochelle is growing into a wonderful artist and she has been selected for a special art class after school. She is really and enthusiastic about the class. The other day we visited and she painted our portrait. I thought I would share it here.


Its a great picture I am sure you would agree.


Hiking to Shek O (石澳) - Dragon's Back Trail

As mentiioned in an earlier blog post(Shek O (石澳) Beach), we recently went on a hike to Shek O (石澳), a small fishing village on the southern peninsula of Hong Kong island. Our good friend Sam invited us on the hike that was, by my standards, pretty easy but done at a mellow pace. Apparently the Dragon's Back Trail was declared as the Best Urban Hike in Asia in 2004 by TimeASIA

All of us Above Shek O
Sam, Queenie and Paul above Shek O (石澳)

Our friend Sam kindly invited us to go hiking on Saturday morning (08 October,2011) after a very late night at a KTV. We met at Taikoo MTR stop and then carried on to Shau Kei Wan station where we jumped on the No. 9 bus to Shek O. The bus was fairly full but we managed to find some seats and enjoy the pleasant drive to Shek O. Shortly before arriving at Shek O we jumped off the bus and started trekking towards the Dragon's Back trail.

King of the World
Our Friend Sam

Paul and Sam
Sam and Paul

On the Trail
Sam on the Trail

Queenie on the Trail
Queenie on the Trail

On the Dragon's Back Trail
All of us on the Trail

The initial part of the trail seemed daunting: there were a lot of steps and we thought, since we were walking to a peak, this would be the norm for most of the hike, fortunately it wasn't. Once the initial set of stairs were negotiated the trail flattened out quite a lot and we were walking on a flat, smooth trail, under beautiful sub-tropical vegetation in a cool breeze. It was a beautiful place to be walking and surprised us a great deal as to how relaxing, and easy the walk was, especially since the internet site we referred to suggested the hike was really difficult.

The first part of the trail was mostly undercover and therefore very pleasant with a cool breeze blowing through the trees. We also had some good views of Stanley and the Stanley peninsula. All in all it was a fairly good day for hiking in the mountains. We did see quite a few people on the trail but it wasn't too noisy and for the most part (at least in the initial stages) we felt as if we were alone.

Stream in the forest
Stream in the Forest

On the Trail
Covered Trail

We eventually reached a fork in the road that would take us around the back of the mountain or up the Dragon's Back trail. We chose the Dragon's Back trail so named I imagined because of all the jagged rocks on the path. The path goes up to Shek O peak and gives tremendous views of Big Wave Bay, Shek O golf course, Shek O, Stanley and of course the ocean.

Dragon's Back
Dragon's Back Trail

Shek  O
View of Shek O

Shek O View
View of Shek O

Shek O Golf Course
Shek O Golf Course

Big Wave Bay
Big Wave Bay

Dragon's Back Trail
View from the Trail

We spent time at the top enjoying the view and just fooling around. There was a pole in the ground that we all decided to try and stand on. It wasn't that tough and Sam decided to go ariel and jump off

Sam Jumps
Sam Jumps

Yoga Pose
Yoga Pose

As you would expect in a sub-tropical climate like Hong Kong there was plenty of wonderful vegetation to see. From some colorful flowers to many different shades of green. Some of it was interesting and some beautiful. We had an awesome time just stopping and enjoying the vegetation along the way. Some pictures of the vegetation is shown below:

Flower in Hong Kong

Flower in Hong Kong

Textured Leaf in Hong Kong

Ants in the Flower

Tree Bark

Sprouting Flower

Chewed Leaf

Tree Fruit

Ferns on the Trail

Beautiful Berries on the tree

After walking for about 4 hours at a really slow pace we finally arrived back on the road where we started (just a little further down) and decided to go to Shek O for lunch.

Waiting for the Busof
The Bus Stop

We had a really great hike and are thankful to our friend Sam for taking us out there. It was fun.


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