Loke Yew Graveyard

In 1858 a young Chinese boy, 13(!) year old, decided to leave his home province Guangdong (former Canton) and try his luck in Singapore. His name was Wong Loke Yew. He worked there in a provision shop, before starting his own store. Business went well and  in 1867 Loke Yew decided to go to Perak, where he was active in tin mining and other business. In the 1880’s he moved to Kuala Lumpur, where he stayed the rest of his life until he died in 1917.

A remarkable man, his life is described in more detail in an interesting blog Overseas Chinese in the British Empire.

I had come across his name a few years ago, when I visited the Sam Wong Yah temple in Kamunting, built in 1882. Loke Yew was a supporter and patron of this temple and  the caretaker showed me the wooden bench used by Loke Yew as a bed when he visited the temple. Proof that even though rich,  he remained a humble man.

Left the interior of the temple, right the bench.

Recently Bernard, a geocaching friend of mine, told me that there existed a Loke Yew Graveyard in Kuala Lumpur! We are both interested in cemeteries, would I like to join him in an “expedition” to this graveyard? Of course I accepted his invitation.

And an expedition it turned out to be…:-). Because the graveyard is located in Desa Tun Hussein Onn, a military residential complex in Kuala Lumpur (below outlined in green). You need a permit as a civilian to enter the village!

When we arrived at the entrance of the village, and told  an officer that we wanted to visit Loke Yew’s graveyard, it took Bernard considerable time to convince the officer of our honest intentions. It helped that the officer was interested in history and rather surprising that he did not know anything about the graveyard, although he had been living for many years in the village!  We got our permit..:-)

Naively I had expected that there would be a clear access road to the graveyard, we drove around the hill, but didn’t find any signboard. However, we noticed something that looked like a trail, followed it, and indeed, we reached the graveyard, but there was a solid fence and a locked gate.  At least I could take a picture  🙂

We didn’t give up and tried another access, from near the  school, climbing the stairs, then turning right along the wall.

We were of course more or less expecting that we would again be blocked by a fence.  But no, this time, after some jungle hiking, we could enter the graveyard!

A beautiful place, on the slope of the hill, good feng shui. Dominated by a statue of Loke Yew. An elaborate memorial hall next to it. Amazing that this exists in KL..:-)

From the top of the hill we had a view of sprawling Kuala Lumpur. Guardian lions kept watch over the graveyard.

You find these guardian lions often at graveyards. Lots of symbolism, see the Wikipedia article Chinese Guardian Lions. The lions have a “pearl” in their mouth, a stone ball which can move freely inside, but not be removed. Unfortunately there had been vandalism, the mouth had been broken and the ball inside was gone.

One of the  lions is male, the other female. Of course we had to check..:-)

There were many more signs of vandalism and graffiti. Even the secluded location does not fully protect the graveyard. Imagine how bad it would be if this place was easily accessible.

The graveyard itself looked good, the grass was cut, there must be regular maintenance, probably by the family. Not only Loke Yew has his tomb here, also several of his descendants.

Here is the grave of Mr Lu Yun Huai, born 25/5/1897, died 16/10/1941

Walking down the hill we arrived at the “official” entrance, closed and heavily protected with barbed wire.

It was a very rewarding experience!

Loke Yew may have been a humble man, but his graveyard is truly monumental!

Note: Both Wikipedia and the blog mentioned above give 9 October 1845 as Loke Yew’s birthdate , but according to the tombstone it is  9 October 1846.

 

Taiping, July 2018

After my visit of the Gunung Rapat Cave Temples, I drove to Taiping, my 2nd hometown…:-). I arrived just in time for a forum discussion organised by the Taiping Heritage Society.

When I checked in in my usual Furama hotel, the reception warned me that it might be noisy in the evening, because in  kampung Peng Loong, near the hotel, a temple festival was going on, to celebrate the birthday of Datok Keramat Empat. These Datuk temples are very interesting, you can read more about them here.

And yes, it was noisy, but it stopped at midnight. I expected Chinese opera, but it was more disco style with a scantily dressed lady singer! The times they are a changing 🙂

There was a friendly atmosphere, with food and beer. And also people were praying..:-)

The next morning I went for breakfast to the stall of Mr Tong for my chee cheong fun (see my earlier Taiping reports). I asked him if I could come to his house that evening to watch him making the chee cheong fun. I was welcome.

I had another look at the Datok temple, now of course everything was quiet. The shrine is standing against a giant tree. Walking back to my hotel, I noticed an impressive old bungalow with the year on the facade, 1915. A friendly lady, living in the house showed me the name of the bungalow on one of the gate pillars: Spring Lodge

THS had organised an excursion that morning to the Bukit Berapit train tunnels. These tunnels (there are four) are no longer in use after a new tunnel, three km long, has been excavated for the ETS train from KL to the Thai border. Bukit Berapit is a pass between Taiping and Kuala Kangsar, Isabella Bird passed here in 1879 on the back of an elephant..:-). From the no 1 trunk road, we followed a trail leading to the ruins of the former Bukit Berapit station.

From there we walked to the tunnel entrance. Until a few years ago the rails were still there, now they have disappeared, probably sold as scrap iron. The tunnel was dark, partly muddy and flooded. Great fun, although too much for some of the ladies..:-). See the captions of the images.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped at the tombs of Long Jaafar, the father of Ngah Ibrahim. Legend has it that he discovered tin in the region, after one of his elephants came back , his legs covered with tin mud.  Long Jaafar had his fort here, now only the tombs remain

Nearby, in Bukit Gantang, we had lunch at a road stall, nice Malay assam laksa. It was a nice excursion, we visited only one tunnel, I would like to explore the other ones as well.

In the afternoon I met my friend May for tea, in the patisserie next door to the Boo Bee shop of Yeap. This attractive  townhouse was owned by  Kapitan Chung Keng Kooi (1829-1901).

The recent renovation of the left half of the house is well done, and it was quite busy with a young crowd. Hope it will be a success, the cempedak cake was nice.

After tea I walked to Tong’s house, quite near to my hotel. His wife and he were already busy preparing the chee cheong fun. Interesting old fashioned process. But very hot inside, after a while I escaped to the Lake Gardens.

It was a nice evening, the gardens were beautiful as usual, with many people enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I walked around a bit, always like to have a look at one of my favourite trees , the cannonball tree. Probably many walkers are not aware that a few of these trees are growing in the lake gardens.

Since a few months MPT has closed part of the circular road for motorised traffic, it is now a pedestrian area, called the Raintree Walk. A good move of MPT. Less successful are the planters, placed along the Raintree Walk. Click on the right picture, to see how some of them are used…:-)

The next morning I went with two THS ladies to Aulong. Aulong is a “New Village” created around 1950 during the Emergency. Its purpose was to house squatters who were living near the fringes of the jungle, to isolate them from the CT’s,  the communist guerrillas. Those new villages were fenced, with guarded gates.

I am interested in the experiences of people who lived in those new villages. One of the ladies had a classmate whose father had been living in Aulong since 1958, and we went to interview him..:-) It was a nice meeting, but not very informative, when he moved to Aulong it was already more or less a normal village.

The left picture shows a GE screenshot of Aulong. The arrow-like road pattern in the center could have been dating back to the creation of the village. The blue line is where in the past the first railway, from Port Weld to Taiping, was located. And north of Aulong you can see the former airport of Taiping.

As we were so close to the airfield,we decided to have a look. Big empty space, I wonder if there are plans to develop it. I have heard that the land is still owned by the Ministry of Defence.

I had been really very busy after my arrival in Taiping, so I was looking forward to two relaxing days in the Nest, up Maxwell Hill!. The weather was nice, here is a view from the Nest to Gunung Bubu, about 65 km away.

After the jeep has dropped you at Speedy’s bungalow, it is a short walk to the Nest, with each step you feel that you are moving into a different world, into the past…:-)

In earlier posts I have written already a lot about Suet Fun and Peter’s paradise, here a few pictures only. The food was delicious as usual, and the feeling to live in the past was stronger this time, as there was a problem with the electricity, so no hot shower…:-)   Brrr, but refreshing.

What a difference with Speedy’s. Waiting for the jeep back to Taiping town, I had time to explore. Officially all doors were locked, but I have been living long enough in Malaysia to know that there is often a backdoor still open…:-)

Back in town, I stopped for a short while in the Taman Botani, the new mega project to create a botanical garden in Taiping. I must say, it looked nice, although I personally still think the money could have been spent better, for example in upgrading the Maxwell Hill bungalows.

My last appointment before driving back to KL was with Dr Indraraja , who was going to show me  the renovated building of the Ceylon Association. I was a bit early, so that gave me time to have a look at the buildings along Station road which for me represent the Shame of Taiping, Bandar Warisan.

The two buildings between the former First Galleria and the Rest House, can still be entered. But when I did that, a half-naked squatter started shouting at me, so I thought it safer to leave the place…:-)

The Rest House is slowly deteriorating. Click on the pictures and read the signboard, the tablet and the banner. MPT should at least remove all three. The last picture shows the “entrance” I used in the past to go inside. At least that entrance has been blocked.

Let me end this post in a positive way. The restoration of the Ceylon Association has been completed, and the result is pleasing. Here is a view of the backside.

And here are pictures of the front. Pity that the ground floor windows are modern, but Dr Indra explained that the window frames were beyond repair.

Here some pictures of the interior. The ceiling is nice, with the old fan. The first floor planks were very uneven and had to be covered with a kind of laminate. The interior is still empty, furniture etc had to be removed for the restoration.

It was again a visit full of variety.

Singapore, July 2018

In January I visited Singapore, see my blog post Singapore 2018 . We met my friend Dr Lee and had a wonderful time. It was only a short visit and there was no time to visit his penthouse in the iconic  Pearl Bank apartments, the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.

In February the building has been sold to a developer and it will likely not be conserved despite the wishes of heritage lovers 🙁

The building was designed by architect Tan Cheng Siong, here is an interesting interview with him about the Pearl Bank apartments. 

Dr Lee invited me to stay a couple of nights in his penthouse. The C-shape of the design is very impressive, both looking up from the central courtyard, as looking down from the 37th floor where he has been living since the completion of the building!

From his penthouse you have an unobstructed view of Singapore. It was slightly hazy during my visit, but Dr Lee told me that you can even see the sea and Indonesia when the sky is clear.

The apartments are built in split-level style and as a penthouse occupies two floors, there are many levels. Fascinating, how I would love to live in an apartment like this!

But as the building probably will demolished in the near future, my friend is already preparing to leave. Very sad. There have been proposals for conservation, read more details here, but at the end of the day it came to nothing.

Two more pictures, a night view looking up, and a proposal for conservation/renovation, prepared in 2014 by Tan Cheng Siong’s firm, Archurban Architects Planners. Pity that this beautiful design will not be realised.

After I had arrived in Singapore (by First Coach bus) and met Dr Lee in his apartment, we went out in the afternoon to visit an exhibition of textile art, Nüshu: An Inspiration , just opened the day before I arrived. The artist, Benny Ong, was present to explain to us the meaning of the artworks.  Even without any explanation his work is quite fascinating. Ong became famous as a fashion designer, but switched in the 2000’s to textile art

The exhibition was held in the Goo Loo Club, more than 100 year old, and a couple of years ago revitalised. It used to be the club for the Peranakan millionaires of Singapore The building next to it (right picture) is even grander and was the club for the Chinese millionaires…:-). It dates back to 1891 and was more modestly named the Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club

We had dinner with friends  in another prestigious club, the Singapore Cricket Club , the second oldest club of Singapore, established in 1852, the present clubhouse is from 1884. Very good cuisine, I had a delicious lamb shank

After dinner we had a walk through town. Every time I visit Singapore, I enjoy it more. Traditionally in Malaysia the opinion about Singapore is rather negative, concrete jungle, over organised etc. But when you see everybody enjoying the evening temperatures on the Esplanade, with everywhere activities, it is a pleasant, peaceful town.

The next morning, after breakfast we visited the Flower Dome in the Gardens by the Bay. Special exhibition during our visit was an orchid display, nice, but I prefer the Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

There are many different gardens in the Flower Dome, each dedicated to a specific continent or plant species. I liked the cactuses..:-)

Nice flowers, old olive trees, a baobab tree, you wonder how they transported those trees from their original locations.

Decorated by Peranakan facades and other decorative items, it was a pleasure to walk around, although the other dome, the Cloud Forest, visited during my January visit, is more spectacular.

Walking back to town from the Gardens by the Bay, you pass Marina Bay Sands hotel, the iconic landmark of Singapore. Not cheap but worth to stay there at least once, see my 2013 report Singapore.  The ArtScience museum nearby is by the same architect

My next destination was an exhibition in the ArtScience Museum by a Dutch(!) artist, Theo Jansen, who has been designing and building “beach animals”, constructions of PVC tube that are able to move along the beach when there is enough wind.

It was a fascinating exhibition, I have written a separate post about it: Strandbeesten, (the Dutch translation of beach animals). Here one of his creations

My trips are not complete without food..:-)   For lunch we went back to the Singapore Cricket Club, where I had a tasty laksa. That evening we had dinner at a friend’s place, he had prepared a delicious meal with many different dishes. And the next morning we went to the Tiong Bahru Food market, where I had nasi lemak. I think it is a misconception that the Singaporean food culture is inferior to the Malaysian one.

This day I spent on my own. After breakfast Lee dropped me at the Peranakan museum, near the Fort Canning Hill. I had never visited this part of Singapore, it was a pleasant walk. The hill has a rich history, read the Wikipedia link.

In the 19th century there was a Christian cemetery on the hill, the Gothic gate (1846) is a remnant and probably the two attractive cupolas as well. Several tomb stones have been placed in the surrounding wall.

I was interested to visit the Battle Box, the Military Command Center during the Japanese invasion in 1941/42. It is now a museum with a guided tour. After I bought my ticket there was just enough time for a cup of coffee in the National Museum of Singapore, located nearby.

The guided tour was very informative. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the maze of corridors and rooms, pity but understandable.   I found a picture on the Internet with the most impressive room, where on 15 February 1942 Lieutenant-General Percival decided to surrender, in spite of Churchill’s order to keep fighting until the last man.

I am very interested in the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, see my report Japan invades Malaya 1941/42 which describes the first part of the invasion, until KL.

Some pictures outside the Battle Box. A sally port is a hidden door to enter and exit the Battle Box undetected. In case of emergency or fire you could escape via a ladder. What is now the Fort Canning Arts Center, were originally British Army Barracks, constructed in 1926. And Hotel Fort Canning was the British Far East Command Headquarters during World War II.  Everything looks so peaceful and serene now..:-)

After the Battle Box I walked down the hill to the Peranakan Museum, a beautiful building in Classical style, originally built in 1910-12 for the Tao Nan Chinese School.

You can explore the museum on your own, but I decided to follow a (free) guided tour, which was again very informative. The Peranakan are are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries. Another term for them is Nyonya (for the women) and Baba (for the men). I didn’t know that Yap Ah Loy, Capitan Cina of KL and Lee Kuan Yew, first president of Singapore, were Peranakan…:-)

Dinner that night was in the Tanglin Club, one of Singapore’s most prestigious and prominent social clubs, founded in 1865. Even more upmarket than the SSC, I would say.

Western food this time. Walking around in the lobby I noticed a board with the past presidents of the club. Surprised to find J.W.W. Birch in the list, the first British resident of Perak, murdered in 1875 in Pasir Salak. In 1876 the club had no president, just a coincidence?

After breakfast the next morning,  I took the bus back to KL. Already looking forward to my next visit of Singapore…:-)

Strandbeesten

The Dutch artist Theo Jansen has become famous by the creation of Beach Animals, otherworldly constructions that are able, under favorable wind conditions, to move along the beach. In Dutch language they are called Strandbeesten and on the Internet you can find many fascinating videos of them.

Here is a compilation

I had never seen a Strandbeest in the real, so I was thrilled when I read that there was an exhibition of Jansen’s works in the ArtScience Museum in Singapore! I had planned already to visit my Singapore friends before my next trip to Holland, this was an extra reason. A full report of my Singapore trip will come later.

The iconic ArtScience museum was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 2011. The Strandbeest exhibition fits perfectly in the concept of this museum. Theo Jansen actually studied physics before becoming an artist and you can still see clearly the scientific/technical background of his creations.

Theo Jansen started the creation of his animals in 1990, basically using PVC tube. The first Strandbeesten are now fossils, they have evolved during the years, the newest species is the Burchus family, resembling giant caterpillars

The exhibition shows 13 large-scale Strandbeests, fossil ones and new developments. They have been assembled in the museum by a team of Jansen’s helpers, according to a museum attendant it took months..:-)

It is really a pleasure to view these creations, even when they are static and don’t move

But of course it is even nicer when they  move..:-) At certain times of the day demonstrations are given with a few models, using a wind generator, but not during my visit.

However, there are two models you can move by hand. Fascinating!

Of course I had to do it myself.

It is a nice exhibition, occupying one floor of the museum. You can experiment yourself, the kids can make drawings.

Some of his creations look like prehistoric animals.

The details are often astonishing.

A few more pictures

If this one was supposed to move, I don’t know. But so beautiful!  This exhibition brings you in a happy mood.

The exhibition in Singapore will be on until 30 September 2018. More information about opening times, guided tours etc, can be found here.

For the Dutch readers of this post, here is a very readable interview with Theo Jansen, from 1996: De schaamte van een strand-eskimo

 

Gunung Rapat Cave Temples

Gunung Rapat is a limestone hill, south of Ipoh. When you drive the no 1 trunk road from KL to Ipoh, you will pass  a number of Chinese temples, built in the limestone caves of Gunung Rapat. One or two I must have visited in the past and several times I have been to the Kek Lok Tong temple, on the other side of the hill.

Searching the Internet I found 8 major temples on the slopes of Gunung Rapat and I decided to make it a project to visit all of them during a visit of Ipoh. Here are the results. In the Google Earth screenshot below, the locations of the eight temples are given.

We started our trip with a visit of Tasik Cermin, the Mirror Lake. Until not long ago this was a “secret” location, known only to a few people. The lake is located within a quarry and can only be reached through a tunnel. Access was not always allowed by the quarry owner. This time it looked like quarry operations had stopped, there was no entrance barrier and we were told that the lake is nowadays becoming popular for wedding shoots!

If there is no wind, the water is really like a mirror, but during our visit there was a breeze. Aric tried to operate his drone, but between the steep cliff walls, GPS reception was not good enough.

Da Seng Ngan

Our first temple. When we visited Tasik Cermin in January 2017 (read my blog here), we noticed that there was a cave temple nearby. We visited it and the caretaker told us that the temple is quite old but has been covered by a landslide for many decades, and was only rediscovered in 2006! Restoration has now been almost completed. To get funding, devotees can “sponsor” statues of the Amitabha Buddha. For more information, click here .

From this temple you can actually walk to the Kwan Yin Tong temple nearby, but we were by car, had to u-turn twice on the busy trunk road, which made it more efficient to first visit the Ling Sen Tong temple.

Ling Sen Tong 

There are three temples along the trunk road next to each other, when you leave Ipoh. Lin Seng Tong is the first one, and that might be the reason that it is quite touristy and gaudy. A bit too touristy, we did not spend much time there

Nam Thean Tong 

The second one, next to Lin Seng Tong. A 19th-century Taoist cave temple with colorful shrines.

We explored the elaborate network of steep, dark stairs. Interesting, but a bit rundown

The third temple is Sam Poh Tong, but it was closed when we arrived there in the afternoon. It even looked closed indefinitely, we continued to the Kwan Yin Tong temple

Kwan Yin Tong 

Dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Numerous statues of Guan Yin. An attractive Buddhist temple

Then it was time for food, always an important aspect of our trips 🙂  For dinner we went to a food court, where we ordered deep-fried Mantis prawns, sotong with kangkung, popiah and teochew kueh, everything nice, but way too much..  Breakfast next morning at Chooi Yue, one of the famous dim sum restaurants in Ipoh. Good quality dim sum, many varieties.

Unfortunately it was raining heavily the next day, a real downpour. Before continuing our temple tour, our Ipoh friend took us first to another “mirror lake” location, a former tin mining pond at the Iskandar Polo Club. Attractive scenery.

Kek Lok Tong

We started with the Kek Lok Tong temple, the most beautiful of the Gunung Rapat cave temples, in my opinion. In the 1920’s it was already a place of worship. In the 1960’s it became part of an iron mining site, the entrance to the cave was widened to allow lorry access.  When mining ceased it was dedicated again to religious purposes and opened to visitors in the 1970s.

Interesting feature of this temple is that after entering and crossing the cave, you will exit to a beautiful garden. Because of the heavy downpour we could not visit the garden this time. Here you see the laughing Buddha, contemplating the view of this garden.

Searching the Internet, I had found two more temples on the North side of Gunung Rapat

Panna Tong

The first one, Panna Tong, was closed, so only a photo of the exterior. By the way, tong means cave in Chinese language

Miaw Yuan Chan Lin

The second one was a pleasant surprise. It is a Thai style Buddhist temple and relatively unknown, compared to the popular, more touristy  temples on the West side of Gunung Rapat. Nice environment, very scenic.

When I play tour guide again for my friends, I will include this temple in the itinerary!

Sam Poh Tong

Before finishing our temple trip, we decided to go back to Sam Poh Tong, because I had checked on the Internet that the temple was not closed forever. And indeed, now it was open, we were told that the day before they had closed early because there were no visitors!

It is quite a large temple complex, but as it was still raining, we did not explore everything. We had a look at the famous turtle pond and bought some kangkung to feed the turtles. But we did not enter the gardens, because of the rain. Will have to come back here.

In the afternoon I continued to Taiping, but that will be another post.

My friend David May has written informative web pages about many of the Ipoh cave temples, for example this one about Da Seng Ngan, with references to other temples.

 

New Horizons

The first time I wrote about the New Horizons spacecraft was in a February 2015 post: Close Encounters. Launched in 2006, its primary destination was Pluto.  During the long voyage it had gone into hibernation (to save energy) and now it had woken up successfully to prepare for the flyby of Pluto in July.

To give you an impression of the size of the spacecraft, this picture is taken in 2005 during preparation for the launch.

Note the black “tube” to the left, it is the RTG, the power source for the spacecraft.

Solar panels can not be used because of the large distance to the Sun, instead radioactive plutonium is used.

The heat of the radioactive decay is  converted into electricity by thermocouples.

My second post was titled Close encounter with Pluto and published July 2015, a few days after the successful flyby. Here is a picture of Pluto, in high resolution, taken by New Horizons. Although the flyby took only minutes, the transmission of all photos taken, took more than a year, because of the slow bandwidth. Analysis is still going on.

In that post I wrote that New Horizons would try to visit another member of the Kuiper Belt before it left the Solar System. Soon after the Pluto flyby, in August 2015,  it was decided that (486958) 2014 MU69 would be the next destination.

What a name ..:-). Let me explain. The Kuiper Belt is located outside Neptune and contains trillions of objects, remnants of the early solar system. Pluto, once seen as the ninth planet, is now seen as a Kuiper Belt object. The Minor Planet Center keeps track of all the observed Kuiper Belt objects and the present count is 779736 !

The target of New Horizons is minor planet no 486958, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

In this image (taken by the Hubble telescope)  you see the object (surrounded by a green circle) at 10 minute intervals

The code  MU69  tells in a complicated way that the object was the 1745th Kuiper Belt object, discovered in the second half of June! Curious about the code?  Have a look at the Wikipedia item about Minor Planet naming.

 

After a public voting campaign, NASA announced a few months ago that 2014 MU69 would get the nickname Ultima Thule. In classical and medieval literature Ultima Thule got the meaning of any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”

First estimate of Ultima Thule’s size, based on distance and brightness, was about 30 km. After it was chosen as the next target of New Horizons, of course many more observations have been made. How to get more information about an object of ~ 30 km, at a distance of more than 6 billion km?

Well, it can happen that Ultima Thule passes in front of a background star! In that case it will block for a short while the light of this star. This is called an occultation. Last year Ultima Thule occulted three different stars in June and July. Such an occultation can only be seen from specific locations on Earth (similar to a solar eclipse).  Here are the three predicted occultation paths.

On 3 June 2017, the NASA scientists tried to observe the “shadow” of Ultima Thule from Argentina and South Africa, but detected nothing. It turned out later that the predicted occultation path was not accurate enough, so the telescopes had been placed in the wrong location..

The second occultation took place over the ocean, therefore the airborne telescope SOFIA was used, flying along the predicted occultation path.

Main purpose was to check for hazardous material around Ultima Thule, which could endanger the fly-bye of New Horizons.

First they thought that they had missed the shadow, but later analysis showed that there had been a short dip from the central shadow

The third attempt was very successful. 25 telescopes were placed along the occultation path in South Argentina and five of them observed the dip.

Here is an example. It is an animated gif, time between the frames is 0.2 seconds.

Watch the star in the centre and notice how it “disappears” for a short while!

Careful analysis of the “dip” gives a lot more information. Ultima Thule might be actually a contact binary, with a very elongated shape.

More information about this amazing scientific exploration can be found in this  NY Times article.

Here is an artist impression of Ultima Thule. The Sun is not more than a very bright star, you can see how New Horizons is approaching… 🙂   To the  left you see a “moonlet” orbiting Ultima Thule, for a while the scientists thought there could be one, but it is now disputed.

On New Year’s Day 2019 at 05:33 UTC, if everything goes well, New Horizons will pass Ultima Thule within about 3500 km.

New Horizons has woken up from its hibernation last month and is healthy. The coming months preparations will be made for the encounter.

It will be exciting to see how Ultima Thule looks in the real. But it will take time to transmit pictures back to Earth.  It takes almost six hours for data to bridge the distance between New Horizons and Earth!

An update will follow later.

Dixit Dominus

A few months ago I listened for the first(!) time to Dixit Dominus, composed by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) in 1707.  It is an absolute masterpiece of Baroque music.

Not surprisingly numerous recordings can be found on YouTube. Here are two, one conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in 2014

The second one with Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the hr-Sinfonieorchester and her Chœur du Concert D’Astrée in 2017

When you search YouTube for Dixit Dominus Handel, you will find more than ten different recordings. I found it interesting to compare them. Listen for example to the first bars of the slow recording by Sir David Willcocks 1965) and the very fast one  by Andres Mustonen (2018)!

Händel wrote Dixit Dominus when he was 22 year old and staying in Italy, in Florence and Rome. In Germany he had already made a name for  himself with the opera Almira, composed when he was 19 year old.

But during his stay in Rome, operas had been (temporarily) banned by pope Clement XI because he considered them immoral. So Händel composed mainly sacred music while in Rome.

The portrait is dated about 1710.

Dixit Dominus is a musical setting of psalm 109 from the Book of Psalms, which is part of the Christian Old Testament. The title comes from the first line of the Latin text of the psalm:  Dixit Dominus Domino Meo, which translates (in the King James version) as The Lord said unto my Lord .

A rather cryptic line, is the Lord talking to himself? The explanation is that in the Hebrew text two different words are used for Lord. The Lord who speaks is God and he speaks to the psalmist’s lord. This lord is seen as the Messiah and in the New Testament Jesus quotes this psalm that he is the Messiah and the son of God.

That is the reason that this psalm 109 plays an important role in the Christian liturgy, the psalm is sung often in the Roman-Catholic Vespers.

Actually, Händel was not the only composer who wrote a Dixit Dominus. Vivaldi even wrote three versions, RV 594, RV 595 and RV 807 (my personal favorite). On YouTube you can also find versions written by Pergolesi and by Alessandro Scarlatti (the father of Domenico).

The last line of the psalm in the Händel version is sung as a duet by two sopranos and choir. It is impressively beautiful and in the Gardiner recording it was given as an encore. Here it is, put the volume high and listen to what you can read in one of the comments: One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

When I heard this emotional, moving duet, I got curious about the text, expecting it to be equally  emotional and “deep” ..:-). But no, the last line of the psalm is in Latin:

De torrente in via bibet, propterea exaltabit caput. 

In translation

He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

What does that mean, it sounds so trivial? I got intrigued, started searching the Internet and found this website  Psallam Domino   where all the psalms are analysed in a very thorough way.  About psalm 109 the blog says  “This is a hard psalm to interpret correctly” and “… it is very theologically dense”

The webpage about the last line has the title  “Prophesying Christ’s humility and the Ascension” . The humility is that he just was drinking water from a brook, the ascension is indicated by the lifting of the head .

Being a non-believer, I gave up after this and just will enjoy the music…:-)

Bhutan 2018

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, landlocked between India and China. The country is slightly smaller than the Netherlands, with  a population in 2016 of about 800.000, roughly the same as the city of Amsterdam!

It was only in 1974 that the isolated country opened its borders to foreigners. In that year 287 tourists visited Bhutan, a number that increased to almost 180.000 in 2016. Compare that with the 15.5 million tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2016!

The Bhutanese government wants to preserve the traditional culture and has decided to limit the tourism, by making it expensive. Tourists have to spend 200-250 USD daily, depending on the season.

Friends who have visited Bhutan, told us not to wait too long with a visit, so we decided to go and started looking for a suitable travel agency, because you can not travel on your own in Bhutan, you need to book a guide and a driver. For us that would be a new experience. Finally we chose Book Bhutan Tour ,and booked a 10D9N tour with them.  With only the two of us as passengers, it made the trip even more expensive  🙂

But it was worth it! Before I start my travelogue, here is a Google Map of Bhutan in which I have indicated the places where we have stayed overnight (A – H) and some of the highlights of the trip (red markers). When you click on a marker, you will see a picture. The map can be enlarged and you can zoom in and out.

There are no direct flights from Kuala Lumpur  to Bhutan, first we took a MAS flight to Bangkok, stayed overnight near the airport and early the next morning we departed with Druk Air for Paro, the international airport of Bhutan.

The descent to the airport was quite spectacular. Because the terrain is so mountainous, the plane can not approach in a straight line. Aric took pictures during the descent and nowadays smartphones can record GPS data, even inside the plane! The GE screenshot shows the altitude of the plane and the surrounding mountains.

 Here are the corresponding pictures

At the airport we were welcomed by Ram, the owner of Book Bhutan Tour, and Tenzin, our guide. We received as welcome gift a khata, a silk shawl, decorated  with the  Ashtamangala , the Eight Auspicious Signs. Tenzin, our guide, is wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress for men, the gho.

After a cup of coffee we drove to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where we had our first Bhutanese food.

On the way to our hotel we passed a sports meet, where students were competing in various activities. Fascinating to see how the spectators  were all dressed in traditional garb, the boys in their gho with black knee stockings and the girls in their kira.

Our room in the Jumolhari Hotel   was comfortable. As we had got up at 4am, we took a short rest.

But not for long, we were going to visit our first Dzong! A Dzong is a fortress, often built on a hill top, dominating a town. Half of a dzong houses administrative offices, the other half is occupied by the monastic body, monks quarters, chapels etc. Many of them have their origins in the 17th century, when Zhabdrung Rinpoche  unified Bhutan as a nation-state. These spectacular fortresses are  one of the main reasons to visit Bhutan.

Here is the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Built in 1641, it has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968.

Because government offices are housed in the dzong, access is only allowed after working hours and there is a dress code. Bhutanese men have to wear a ceremonial white scarf, and tourists should not wear t-shirts, shorts or sandals.

When we arrived, it was raining, they were just lowering the flag.

After a while the rain stopped and we could enter the courtyard. It was our first dzong, so we took numerous pictures. Bhutanese architecture is beautiful, very traditional and decorative.

Here are a few more pictures

Because it had been raining, there were some pools on the pavement. Aric knows how to make spectacular pictures, using the reflection in the water. Tenzin was interested and Aric was eager to explain how to do it…:-)

Before calling it a day, we drove to a spot where we had a good view of the illuminated dzong. A nice first day in Bhutan


DAY 2

We spent this day in Thimphu. First we visited the Memorial Chorten  , built in 1974  in memory of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the 3rd Dragon King, who died in 1972.

There is a lot of respect and love for the royal family in Bhutan, which may explain that daily hundreds of locals visit the memorial for praying. They walk many times around the chorten (stupa), always in clockwise direction. Or they go to the prayer wheels and turn them around and around. Old ladies sit down near those wheels and keep turning them. Fascinating.

Next we went to the Great Buddha  statue, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, 52 m high. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2015, only a few years ago. It is quite impressive, although there has been criticism that it is megalomaniac and doesn’t fit in the Bhutanese culture.

The Buddha is overlooking Thimphu and can be seen from far away. Inside the statue are temples and halls, containing ten thousands of small bronze Buddha statues.

After our lunch we visited a vocational education center, where young (and older) Bhutanese were trained in traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to just walk around and take pictures. I was impressed by the concentration of the students, even without the presence of their teachers .. 🙂

Wood carving, painting, embroidery, drawing. Notice how concentrated everybody is

It was my birthday and I had decided not to tell Ram and Tenzin. When Ram suggested that we could have a cup of tea at his house, I was not suspicious and accepted his invitation. Only when his wife came in with a cake, and everybody started singing Happy Birthday,  it became clear that there had been a complot between Aric and Ram. Really a surprise, I even became a bit emotional…:-)

Back in our hotel, we had dinner. We had several nice meals, but in general Bhutanese cuisine is not a reason to visit the country. The red rice is tasty, many dishes are prepared with local cheese and can be very spicy. Not much variety.


DAY 3

Our destination this day was Trongsa, less than 90 km from Thimphu, as the crow flies. But the connecting “highway” is winding, resulting in a driving distance of almost 200 km, traversing mountain passes up to 3400 m high. We left Thimphu at 8 am and reached Trongsa around 4 pm, just in time to visit the dzong. But the landscape is beautiful. Ram had prepared a picnic basket with coffee and cookies and we had lunch in a restaurant halfway. I could not resist the temptation to have my picture taken as a big boss…:-)

After lunch we continued and visited an interesting stupa with eyes (Nepali style) . The “highway” is the only east-west connection,  being widened, some parts were in bad condition. We passed a waterfall and finally saw the imposing Trongsa Dzong, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. Have a look at the map above to find out why…:-)

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong of Bhutan, built in 1647. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty who ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan

Also here a division in a governmental and a monastic half. A very impressive fortress.

The dzong is a paradise for photographers. Here a small selection from the many pictures we took during our visit.

We stayed overnight in the nice Yangkhil resort,  celebrating a long, tiring day with a bottle of Bhutanese wine.


DAY 4

Our room had a balcony with a view of the Trongsa Dzong.

After breakfast we continued our trip . Also here they were working on the  “highway”, widening it. We stopped for a while at the Yutong La pass, marked by a chorten and a sea of prayer flags. At an altitude of 3425 m, you feel out of breath easily!

After the pass we descended into the Bumthang Valley , the  religious heartland of Bhutan. First we visited the Jakar Dzong, founded as a monastery by the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung and in 1667 extended as a dzong. Impressive, large building.

Interesting were the many monks in this dzong. Notice that one of them is carrying a smartphone…:-)

Walking back to our car we met a group of young schoolboys going home, dressed in their gho uniform. They were friendly and could speak English quite well. It is educational policy in Bhutan to teach English already in primary school.

After lunch we visited two holy places, each with an interesting history.

The first one is  the Jambay Lhakhang. According to legend, it is one of the 108 temples, built by a Tibetan King in 659 on a single day, to pin down a female demon. The temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet and Bhutan. In Bhutan two of the temples still exist, the other one is in Paro (see later). Of course they have been repaired and rebuilt  several times. Looking at the many devotees visiting the temple, it is still a very holy place.

The second holy place is the Kurjey Lhakhang , a complex of three temples. The oldest one was built in 1652, it was locked when we were there, inside there should be a meditation cave where the Guru Rimpoche left his body print. The Guru Rimpoche lived in the 8th century and is one of the most venerated Buddhist masters in Bhutan. The second temple was built by the first king of Bhutan in 1900. The third one is very recent, built in 1984 by the grandmother of the present king. Interesting is that the architectural style of all temples is very similar

On the temple grounds we noticed this large collection of miniature stupas. They are placed here by devotees who hope that it will add to their karma. And near the temples there was a hanging bridge decorated with numerous prayer flags. Bhutan is a deeply religious country.

We were getting tired, it was time to go to our guesthouse. The Swiss Guesthouse to be precise and indeed, it felt a bit like Switzerland..:-) . With an apple orchard, a wood stove in our (spacious) room and a more or less Western style dinner.


DAY 5

Another picture of the Swiss Guesthouse. Left in the background the Jakar Dzong. Lots of apple blossom

This day no dzongs, monasteries or temples, we started our trip back to Thimphu, using the same so-called Lateral Road. Here one more stretch (to be fair to Bhutan, large parts of the road were already finished and in good condition)

At  high altitudes, there are no longer cows but yaks. And of course there were  rhododendrons.

Destination for the day was the Dewachen  hotel in the Gangteng Valley, a vast U-shaped glacial valley at an altitude of ~ 3000 m. During the winter months the globally threatened Black-necked Cranes roost here. It is a beautiful valley and our guide Tenzin suggested that we should hike a 4 km nature trail to the hotel. It was a pleasant walk.

The last few days we had been often the only guests in the restaurants and guesthouses. Here in the Dewachen Hotel there was quite a crowd.

We had a beautiful room with a view of the valley. After our dinner Ram and Tenzing joined us for a while, dressed this time in “western” outfit…:-). Both are nice guys and became our friends easily.

 


DAY 6

From our hotel it was an easy walk to the Black Necked Crane Visitor center. We knew that the cranes had already left to their breeding places in Tibet, crossing the Himalaysa at 6 km altitude! One juvenile bird got injured and broken-winged in 2016 and is now kept in the center. Read here more about Karma

We walked through the valley, as the car had a problem. Quite a long walk, but a good exercise. The landscape is dotted with farms, the region is fertile, potatoes and other vegetables are grown. The farmhouses look attractive in their traditional Bhutanese style. Look carefully at the house in the top row, second from right, next to the stairs. It is a penis! Later more about this interesting Bhutanese tradition. We bought  a drink in a local grocery shop

We passed a school and of course I had to take a look. There was a sports meet going on, so we could have a look inside.

The Gangtey Monastery is one of the most important centers of Bhutanese Buddhism.  Established in 1613, but of course several times rebuilt and restored, last in 2002-2008.

This is a monastery, not a dzong. There are prayer halls, the monks have their rooms, no government offices here.

The car had been repaired and from the monastery we continued to Punakha, our destination for the day. One of the famous views in Bhutan are the snow-capped giant Himalaya mountains. But you need clear skies to see them The best view we had was today, at least there was snow. Our altitude 3330 m

In the late afternoon we reached the Punakha Dzong. Altitude 1230 m, 2100 m lower! Constructed by the Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. Quite accessible, compared with Trongsa and Bumthang, not surprisingly there were relatively many tourists here.

Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955 and in 2011 the wedding of the present king took place in the dzong


The dzong closes at 5pm, we could not really visit in detail. Before going to our hotel we visited the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan. Modern design, traditionally decorated with prayer flags.

Another interesting day.


DAY 7

After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery near Punakha, with an interesting history. Built in 1499, it was the monastery where the “Divine Madman” lived. From the Wikipedia link:  “Some of his most famous performances include urinating on sacred, thankhas, stripping down naked or offering his testicles to a famous Lama.” It is a nice walk through the padi fields to the modest monastery.

The tradition to decorate houses with paintings of erect penises originates from the Divine Madman. Nowadays the government discourages this tradition, but in the countryside we had still seen several (see picture above). They are not fertility symbols but serve to protect against evil spirits and demons.

In the nearby village of Sopsokha it has become the main tourist attraction. Shops, restaurants, they are all decorated with modernised phallus images. A bit too much…:-)

But of course I joined the crowd in taking pictures. Here is a collage.

Leaving the village we had a nice view of the beautiful landscape. If you look carefully, you can just see the monastery on the hill top, left from the village

Next stop was at the Royal Botanical Park, where that day the yearly Rhododendron festival took place. Quite a few visitors, mostly locals.

The rhododendron season was almost over, we had to search for nice specimens.

Our last stop was at the Dochula mountain pass at 3100m.  With clear skies you can see from here the big Himalaya mountains, but, although the weather was nice, the view was not clear.

The 108 memorial chortens have been constructed in 2004, in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

We stayed overnight in Thimphu, in the same hotel as the first two nights.

 


DAY 8

Before we left Thimphu for Paro, we went to the Main Post Office. Why? Because you can buy regular stamps there with your own picture on it.

At the Dochula pass we had already taken a picture , especially for these stamps.

Here is the result. We have used them to send postcards to family and friends.

In Paro we first visited the National Museum, high above the Paro Dzong. A watchtower (left) protects the dzong, which you can see downhill (right).

Seen from above it looks rather small, but actually it is a large fortress. Notice the watchtower in the top right of the picture

This was the fifth and last Dzong we visited during our trip. Fed up with dzongs? Not at all. Although the basic architecture is the same, all of them have their own character. And they are live monuments. Here too the dzong houses both government offices and the monastic body.

Everything so colorful. A delight for photographers

During our stay in Bumthang we had visited Jambay Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples, supposedly built on one day in 659 AD to pin down a demoness. The other one in Bhutan is located in Paro, the Kyichu Lhakhang .

It is believed that the two orange trees in the courtyard of the monastery bear fruit throughout the year.


DAY 9

Probably the most famous landmark in Bhutan is the Paro Taktsang, better known as the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery located in the cliffside of the mountains near Paro, at an altitude of 3100 m. The shrine was first built in 1692 around a cave where according to legend the Guru Rimpoche had meditated in the 8th century.

It is considered the cultural icon of Bhutan , so of course we wanted to visit it. It is a strenuous hike, starting at an altitude of 2600 m, and we were not sure if we could make it…:-)

Of course we were not the only visitors. The first part of the hike you can rent a donkey, I just bought a walking stick. We started early before 8am. In both pictures the Tiger’s Nest is visible, try to spot it ..:-)

Even though we were reasonably fit, it was a tough hike, we were often out of breath because of the altitude. The pictures give the altitude and the time. Notice that we had to climb higher than the monastery, then go down steps about 100 meter and finally steep up again to the entrance.

Here is the reward for our efforts…:-)

The interior of the monastery is beautiful, but photography inside is not allowed and the checking was strict, cameras and smartphones had to be put into lockers. We stayed inside for about one hour, then walked back in  2 hours

Tired but happy that we had made it!. In the right picture you can see the Tiger’s Nest above me

I wrote earlier that Bhutanese food is not that special, but the lunch we had was delicious

Ram and Tenzin had ordered it especially for us, probably because they knew that we are interested in food..:-)

Aric had also asked them if they could arrange a Hot Stone Bath, a Bhutanese speciality. So, after lunch we went to a bathhouse. As they had to prepare the baths , we had some time to try archery.

The water in the bathtub is heated by stones, that have been roasted in a fire. When they are dumped in the tub, they not only heat the water, but also give off minerals, supposedly good for your  health. It was a fun experience, when the water cooled down, you just called the helper outside “one more stone, please”.

After we had taken some rest in our hotel, Ram and Tenzin took us to a restaurant for a farewell dinner. Again really nice food

 


DAY 10

Ram and Tenzin took us to the airport, where we said goodbye to what had become our friends..

A very rewarding trip, although we still prefer to organise our own travels, if possible

Apollo et Hyacinthus

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, in 1767, when he was eleven(!) years old. Recently  I have been listening many times to this  fascinating work of art, really amazing that it was written by an eleven year old boy.

Not many recordings exist. Here is a beautiful one.

The Greek myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus is an interesting one, because it describes the love between the god Apollo and the boy Hyacinthus. The Greek gods were not picky and had love affairs with both men and women. Famous example is the love of Zeus for the boy Ganymede.

In this case  both Apollo and Zephyros, the West Wind god, were in love with the handsome Spartan prince. Hyacinthus preferred Apollo. When the two lovers were playing with the discus, Apollo threw it very high and far and Hyacinthos tried to catch it. Jealous Zephyros blew the discus off its course, it hit Hyacinthus and killed him. Apollo was desolate, could not bring the boy back to life, but created from his blood a beautiful purple flower.

Painters loved the subject, here is a version by the Russian artist Alexander Kiselyov. The discus is lying on the ground. The flower was not the present hyacinth, but probably the blue larkspur. Ovidius who describes the story in his Metamorphoses, tells that Apollo inscribed “Ai Ai”, the Greek expression of grief on its petals. And indeed, with some imagination you can see in the flower an A en an I …:-)

How is this  homoerotic love affair between Apollo and Hyacinthus, with Zephyros as a jealous rival presented in the opera? Mozart used a libretto written by Rufinus Widl, priest and philosophy professor at the University of Salzburg that had commissioned the opera. Father Widl removed the controversial  theme by introducing a sister of Hyacinthus, Melia, who is the subject of Apollo’s love and Zephyros’ jealousy!

I got intrigued how Widl had done this. The libretto is written in Latin and my knowledge of that language has become quite rusty, but I found an English translation…:-) . I have created a webpage on my site: Apollo et Hyacinthus , where you can read the Latin and English text, while listening to the corresponding parts of the opera. Give it a try!

Here is a screenshot of my webpage. Note that there are only 5 soloists, Hyacinthus, his sister Melia, his father Oebalus, Apollo and Zephyros. More about the soloists later

Here is a  synopsis of Widl’s libretto

Act 1

The opera starts with a conversation between Hyacinthus and Zephyros . Hyacinthus is preparing an offering for Apollo, and Zephyros is wondering why especially Apollo. Oebalus and Melia appear, everything is ready, but then lightning strikes and destroys the offering. Oebalus is upset, what have they done wrong? Could it be because of what Zephyros had said?

Then Apollo appears, as a shepherd, because he has been banned from the Olympos by Jupiter. He is humble and promises to help Oebalus if he can stay in his kingdom. Melia adores him and Apollo accepts her love with pleasure. He will also be a good friend of Hyacinthus. Zephyros, in an aside:  Alas, now Apollo is snatching my beloved boy from me!.

Act 2

Conversation between Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus has no doubt that Apollo wants Melia as his wife and Melia is eager to accept him. They wait for the return of Apollo, who is playing discus with Hyacinthos and Zephyros

Then Zephyros enters with the news that Hyacinthos is dead, hit by a discus thrown by Apollo. Of  course Oebalus and Melia are upset, a marriage with Apollo is now out of the question. Zephyros, in an aside: What’s this I hear? Is the god considering marriage? Is he bent on stealing my beloved Melia from me? Will he who stole Hyacinthus also snatch her love from me?

Oebalus asks Zephyros to go back to Apollo and tell him that he is banished from the kingdom, but Zephyros replies that Oebalus better tells Apollo himself. Again in an aside: If only he expels him, so that my crime can be hidden, for I am the one guilty of committing the murder. Oebalus leaves. Zephyros again:  Everything is going as I wished, my plot is working, and my beloved Melia now remains to be my bride.

Zephyros tries to convince Melia that Apollo is bad and that she better can choose him. She is sad about her brother’s fate and refuses his advances.  Then  Apollo enters. He curses Zephyros who is transformed in a wind and swept away.

Melia is now even more furious, refuses to listen to Apollo’s explanation and banishes him from the kingdom.

Act 3

Oebalus finds Hyacinthus still alive but dying. Hyacinthus tells his father that it was not Apollo but Zephyros who killed him. Then he dies.Oebalus swears to avenge Zephyros’ crime. Melia enters, still thinking that Apollo killed her brother. She tells her father that she banished the god who also killed Zephyros. Oebalus then explains that Apollo was right, because it was Zephyros who threw the fatal discus. Both are upset that the god will take revenge after being banished wrongly

Apollo enters, saying that his love for Hyacinthus made him return. He can not bring the boy back to life, but lets hyacinth flowers spring from his dead body. Both Oebalus and Melia apologise for the banishment, asking for forgiveness. Apollo promises to stay in the kingdom, hoping that Melia is still willing to become his bride. Oebalus gives his permission, saying:  Hyacinthus is dead: you will be for me another Hyacinthus, if you deign to remain in our land as husband of my daughter.

The opera ends with a terzetto, sung by Apollo, Oebalus and Melia. Oebalus sings: “After furious battles, the joyful pledge of love unites you. After these events decreed by fate, the longed-for marriage torch will crown you and inspire me”.

As Shakespeare already wrote: All’s well that ends well… 🙂

Some comments, mainly about Zephyros

  • In the myth Zephyros is a (minor) god himself, here he is just a mortal, a “friend” of Hyacinthus
  • His aside that Apollo is snatching his beloved boy from him, doesn’t make sense in Widl’s adaptation.
  • In the second aside, he is suddenly in love with Melia, afraid that Apollo will steal her like he stole Hyacinthus.
  • Why did he kill Hyacinthus? To put the blame on Apollo? So Melia can become his bride?
  • As revenge for the  killing of Hyacinthus, Apollo transforms Zephyros in a wind. In the myth Apollo can not punish (the god) Zephyros, because Eros protects him, as the crime was committed out of love!

I hope you will agree that Widl has managed to eliminate thoroughly the theme of the original myth .. 🙂

Let me conclude with some details about the soloists. The parts of Oebalus and Melia are sung by a tenor and a soprano. Those of Apollo and Zephyros by countertenors. The part of Hyacinthus is sung by Arno Raunig, a sopranist , a male soprano. LIsten to him, singing Bach’s Ave Maria.  Four years ago I have published a post Countertenors and castrati, where you can find more information about male altos and sopranos..

There is a very simple reason why Mozart wrote his opera for these voices. During the first (and during Mozart’s lifetime only) performance, all parts were sung by boys! They were students and choristers of the Salzburg University and we actually know their names (and ages)

  • Oebalus : Mathias Stadler, student of moral theology and law: 22 years old
  • Melia : Felix Fuchs, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 15 years old
  • Hyacinthus : Christian Enzinger, boy soprano, chapel chorister, 12 years old
  • Apollo : Johann Ernst, boy contralto, chapel chorister, 12 years old
  • Zephyrus : Joseph Vonterthon, boy contralto, fourth-year pupil:, 17 years old.

Even the part of Melia is sung by a boy soprano.

Are you curious how this first performance might have looked like? In 1983(!) a television recording has made of the opera, with soloists from the Tölzer Knabenchor. The quality of the recording is not that good, and the YouTube video is split in eight parts, so I have created a playlist. Here it is:  Apollo et Hyacinthus .

To give you an impression, here is a better quality video of Melia’s aria, sung by boy soprano Alan Bergius. In this aria she sings how happy and proud she is to become the bride of the god Apollo

Immediately after this aria Zephyros enters with the message that Apollo has killed her brother.

By the way, the part of Zephyros is sung by Panito Iconomou, who, two years later, excels in Es ist Vollbracht . (St John’s Passion under Harnoncourt)

I have written this blog with more than usual pleasure and I hope the reader will enjoy it

 

Taiping, April 2018

My last visit to Taiping was in December and in my blog about this trip I explained why I visit my second hometown so often: “meet friends, enjoy the food, see what is new (and what is still ruined)”  It was similar this time..:-)

I drove this time, it was the Cheng Beng weekend, but on Friday traffic was still smooth. My plan was to have lunch with Pasembor and Cendol in Ansari, but the shop was closed, so I went to the Old Railway Station and had Assam Laksa there. Not bad.

Pity that the January Cafe is closed. As a result the Old Taiping Railway Station Gallery is also closed, because the two brave girls who have tried to run the cafe, rented the space on condition that they would take care about this picture gallery.

Before checking in at my hotel (Furama as usual), I had a look at some buildings along Station Road. The renovation of the Ceylon Association Building (1901) seems to be ongoing.

However, the nearby Rest House (1894) remains in a deplorable state. I really do not understand how the Taiping Town Council (MPT) can still keep the heritage signboard in front of this dilapidated  building.

In the afternoon I walked to the Lake Gardens. Recently a small part of Jalan Pekeliling (the former Circular Road ) has been closed to traffic and become a pedestrian area. A good initiative.  The famous raintrees bordering this road are getting old and a few weeks ago one of them  has fallen down on the pedestrian stretch. For the time being MPT has decided to leave the tree there, it has become a tourist attraction..:-)

The Lake Gardens were beautiful as always. If I would be living in Taiping, I would walk here daily..:-)

I had dinner with friends. They suggested to have Western food for a change! We went to Thomas Western Food on Barrack Road, where I had a tasty pork chop with cheese. I noticed that Thomas was wearing an Amsterdam T-shirt and asked him if he had visited my country. He had not, the shirt was given as a present..:-)  Will come back to his shop

Actually I came back to the same shop the next morning. I had breakfast with Dr Lee from Singapore who was back in Taiping for Cheng Beng. He suggested a shop opposite his house in Barrack Road. Stalls with a variety of food. It looked so different that I did not recognise it as the same place where I had dinner the night before!

A few weeks ago a booklet was published, Taiping the Guide,  with 128 pages of tourist information (in English and Malay) about Taiping. Free of charge for visitors. Of course I wanted to get a copy, so I went to the Taiping Tourism Office in the Old Clock Tower. But it was closed, apparently because of “change of management”. At least a notification should have been put on the door.

Searching for more information about this booklet,  I  came across an article about Taiping in the digital edition of the famous Rough Guides. Together with the Lonely PLanet guides, they were my traveling “bibles” in the past…:-). Here is an interesting quote:

Nowadays, bypassed by the North–South Expressway and replaced in administrative importance by Ipoh, Taiping is declining gracefully, its streets lined with tattered architectural mementoes of its glory days.

This collage could be an illustration

Of course many nice heritage buildings can still be found

But many basically nice heritage buildings have been “defaced”. Awful painting, giant signboards, are there no rules and regulations about what you can and can not do with historical buildings?

Walking back to my hotel in the evening I noticed a small crowd near an Indian shop. There was music, people were playing the drums. What was happening?.

Soon it became clear, a chariot was approaching, there were devotees offering and coconuts were smashed. It reminded me of Thaipusam, but, searching the Internet later, I found out that it was actually the celebration of Panguni Uthiram, an important day for (Tamil) Hindus. It is believed that most divine marriages took place on this day, for example the marriage of Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva.

This cultural diversity in Malaysia is one of the reasons that I feel so at home. Pity that politicians try to destroy it, by fueling tensions between Malay, Chinese and Indians 🙁

The next morning I went to the Nest, the “heaven on earth”, managed by my friends Suet Fun and Peter. The Maxwell Hill jeep service took me to Speedy’s bungalow, from where it was a few minutes walk to the Nest. My first visit was last year, have a look at my report Maxwell Hill, May 2017 

When I was sitting on the steps at the entrance of the bungalow, enjoying the surroundings, two hikers came up, asking me if this was the way to Gunung Hijau. When I said no, and gave them the correct directions, they asked “Do you live here”?How I would have liked to say yes..:-)

Here are two pictures of the interior.

I had a relaxing time, reading books and walking around a bit. The garden has beautiful flowers. The last morning we discovered a new-born Red Helen butterfly, just out of the pupa, still pumping up its wings. And in the kitchen a very bizarre cockroach, with a head shield resembling the head of a tiger. Apparently a Homalosilpha ustulata

Near the front porch,  bright fluorescent lights were mounted, attracting numerous moth species. Amazing variety in shape and color

The second day of my stay I decided to have another look at the Birch monument. On my way down from the Nest, I passed Speedy’s, very scenic with the misty weather

It’s a sad story. In 2004 I have celebrated my 60th birthday in Speedy’s (see the above-mentioned report) with Guna as caretaker. It was a beautiful bungalow. Later it was closed and transformed into a Biodiversity Center. A failed project, now it is empty, waiting for a new destination?

Strangely enough it is still mentioned in the Taiping The Guide booklet. The description  ends with :

The Bukit Larut Biodiversity Center will be a very interesting tourist attraction. making it a must visit in every traveler’s checklist when they are in Taiping

When I visited the Birch monument last year, my friend Amril guided me there. Now there is a sign and a clear trail leading you after 150 m (not  50!) to the monument. Why it mentions T.W.W Birch instead of J.W.W Birch still remains a mystery.  Be prepared for leeches when you visit the monument

It was a pleasant stay in the Nest, not in the least because of the food Suet Fun and Peter are preparing for their guests. Not only delicious, but also a feast for the eyes

Rather reluctantly I took the jeep back the next day. I had lunch with my friends in Prima, after which I drove back to PJ. Sunday evening (Cheng Beng!) it had taken friends ten hours to drive back, but on this Tuesday afternoon traffic was smooth

Already looking forward to go back to Taiping and the Nest 🙂