Guilin, March 2019

Our last visit to China was in 2015 with our friends Pat and Roger, I published four reports about the trip, there was so much to see 😉 This time the same problem, I took almost 1000 pictures. Planning to write three reports, but that will take time.

Here is a first impression, just a few photos for each day of our visit with a short description

Friday 1 March

We had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3am to catch our Air Asia flight to Guilin! The airport of Guilin is brand new. As it was cold and drizzling, we took a taxi to our hotel in the center of the old town and we had our first Guilin food, quit porky 😉

In the evening we went out to have a look at the twin pagodas, one of the (modern!) tourist attractions of Guilin.

Saturday 2 March

Cold and grey weather, we decided to visit the Reed Flute Cave, one of the many caves in the region. A showcave, with gaudy colors.

The cave is located on the outskirts of Guilin and a real tourist attraction with guided tours.

Sunday 3 March

We left most of our luggage in our Guilin hotel and took a bus to Longji, with its famous terraced rice fields. The hotel Aric had booked, was located high up in the hills and could only be reached on foot! It was still off-season, there were hardly any other guests. We were lucky that the weather was quite good this day.

The view from our balcony was spectacular and worth the steep climb 😉

Monday 4 March

The weather was foggy with intermittent drizzle. Good that we had brought our umbrellas. We walked two hours among the rice fields to the cable car station. Then we took the cable car down to the bus station, had lunch and walked up again to our hotel.

An iconic picture as a reward !

Tuesday 5 March

Originally we had planned to stay three nights in Longji, but two nights was enough. We walked back to the bus station following the footpath, passing picturesque villages. The local people are still wearing traditional dress.

Back in Guilin, we had enough time to visit one of the Guilin landmarks, the Elephant Trunk Hill. Because of the frequent rains, the water level was high, impossible to walk under the trunk.

Wednesday 6 March

Before leaving for Yangshuo, we spent the morning, visiting the Jingjiang Princes’ Palace, a kind of Forbidden City in Guilin. We climbed an isolated limestone hill within the compound, with a nice view of the karst hills surrounding Guilin.

Yangshuo is the main tourist center of the Guilin region. About one hour south by bus. Aric had found another romantic hotel/homestay, with a balcony overlooking the river. You can see the town on the other side of the river, the water level was so high that the usual crossing by ferry had stopped!

Thursday 7 March

Raining the whole day, we decided to have a rest day, had lunch in a local shop nearby and asked our hostess to prepare dinner for us, the local speciality, fish in beer sauce.

It was a nice meal, notice the people at the back, playing cards, with a electrical heater under the table… 😉

Friday 8 March

The weather was a little bit better, but still very misty. We decided to visit XingPing, a small town, north of Yangshuo. We walked along the Li river and climbed another steep limestone rock. Good exercise, but no view 😉

The traditional way of fishing is by using cormorants to catch the fish. Nowadays mostly a tourist attraction.

Saturday 9 March

Not yet sunny, but no rain, so we hired a bike, to explore the surroundings of Yangshuo. One of the attractions is the Moon Hill, another steep climb, but the view was fantastic. Many tourists here and eateries along the road. We tried a local speciality, pork with yam. We are not very impressed by the local cuisine, but this was eatable .

The landscapes are impressive.

In the evening we went to the Liu San Jie musical show. The show is based on the legend of Third Sister Liu, in 1961 a beautiful movie was made about her, which you can view on YouTube: Liu Sanjie

Sunday 10 March

Slowly the weather was improving. We went to Gongcheng, hoping to see the peach blossom, but not expecting too much, because of the cold weather. Not easy to find the place, first a big bus, then a smaller van, finally a three-wheel taxi.

With the help of our friendly lady-driver we managed to find a few nice spots with blossom. Not really clear if the season was over or not yet started.

After this excursion we took the bus back to Guilin. A bit reluctantly, because now finally the weather was nice. The water level in the river had gone down, riverboats were operating again.

Monday 11 March

Our last day was the first day with beautiful weather. First we walked along the river.

The rest of the day we spent in the Seven Star Park, the largest park of Guilin. There is a lot to see, caves, limestone outcrops (like the Camel hill) , temples, etc.

We climbed one more hill, with a view. No jackets needed 😉

After a long, nice day, we enjoyed the sunset from our hotel room, with a glass of local firewater .

Tuesday 12 March

Before going to the airport, we had the traditional noodle breakfast. Near our hotel was a popular shop, people were queuing, and had their bowl of noodles often just standing outside. I love all kind of noodles, but this was not my favourite.

Back home. We were a bit unlucky with the weather, but still a memorable trip.

Taiping, March 2019

No big plans for this visit. Actually I had one specific plan. Through a friend I came in contact with Syed Bakar, a retired teacher who has been living from 1952 until about 1995 in Pokok Assam. Pokok Assam is one of the New Villages, created during the Malayan Emergency, and I am interested in its history. But he was away during my visit, giving art classes in Sabah (although now 83 year old !), so meeting him will have to wait until my next visit 😉

I will write this blog as a kind of diary.

Monday, 25 March

I arrived in Taiping in the afternoon, traveling by ETS, comfortable, but bring some warm clothes! Preparing for the trip I could not find my umbrella, which you definitely need in Malaysia’s wettest town. Fortunately it was sunny when I arrived and I decided to walk to my hotel. First I stopped at Ansari for cendol. There I bumped into May Cheah, an old friend.

I decided to buy an umbrella in the Taiping Mall and just before I reached there, the first raindrops fell. When I continued my walk, with umbrella, it was absolutely pouring. As I was hungry, I managed to reach Casual Market for a plate of Char Koay Teow, but there I had to wait until the rain got less.

I had booked a room in my favourite Hotel Furama and after taking some rest I went out to Prima for a light meal of Chee Cheong Fun. After the heavy rain the atmosphere was cool and fresh. I walked back having a look at the beautifully restored Shun Tak Association and the Silver Jubilee Jetty (1932). A nice first day.

Tuesday, 26 March

I had breakfast with my friend Yeap at the Lian Thong restaurant. It is a popular eatery in Taiping. Yummie soft-boiled eggs on toast! The shop is housed in an attractive building, just forget about the ugly background.

No blog about Taiping is complete without a few pictures of the Lake Gardens. The fallen tree at the Raintree Walk is very attractive.

I hired a bicycle at hotel Furama, so I could explore a few places further away from the town centre. My first destination was the Kempe Club in Assam Kumbang. Built in 1922 as an alternative for the more posh New Club . In its heydays very popular with sport fields around the club. Now no longer an official club, but a group of (senior) citizens uses the building for their meetings.

The caretaker invited me in and offered me teh tarik. More people arrived and a game of mahjong was started. The different races mix here easily like in the days of yore. Very pleasant atmosphere.

My next stop was an abandoned pre-war bungalow, next to the official residence of the MPT chairman (who recently received in Berlin an award for Taiping being third in the Best of Cities category in the world). See my report About Taiping.

It must have been an impressive bungalow until it was abandoned about 20 years ago. It may have been occupied by government servants (KE VII school staff?

Now it is an impressive ruine, you can just walk around and enter it (at your own risk). I must confess that I am fascinated by decaying buildings, but of course it is a shame that the authorities have allowed this to happen.

For my lunch I went to the Casual Market, the Malay section, where I had a plate of popiah’s at Famous OMar Popiah.

I had dinner in Prima with my friends George and Jenny, and I invited them for coffee and cake at Yinn’s Patisserie, next to Yeap’s shop. A few years ago beautifully renovated by the brother of Yeap. Thean Hock was in the cafe and happy to show us around.

Wednesday 27 March

A “social” morning. I went to Tong’s CCF shop for breakfast with George, who was in Taiping for Cheng Beng and , not surprisingly, met a former classmate ;-). After that I visited Suet Fun, who has closed the Nest bungalow, up Maxwell Hill, for one year, because she is going to write a book about Maxwell Hill. I wish her good luck!

My next destination was the Taiping Municipal Gallery, which was now open, although still only partially operational. But at least there are several posters and banners about the things you can see and do in Taiping.

I met the friendly manager and asked her if she had ever visited the ruined Railway building opposite the Gallery. She had not yet, because she was a bit scared of the squatter who had taken the building as his “residence”. I had a look, he was not there and , with me as a guide, she and her assistant were brave enough to have a look inside 😉 .

In the afternoon my friend Bok Kin and her husband Ng Teng Hin picked me up from my hotel to visit the tomb of Ng Boo Bee and his relatives. Ng Boo Bee is the most famous tin miner, opium farmer and contractor in the history of British Malaya and Teng Hin is a great-grandson.

The grave is located in the Hokkien Cemetery of Taiping. Cheng Beng was approaching, when Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors for cleaning and prayers. Ng Boo Bee’s grave is almost a fortress, very impressive.

My friends told me that last year the grave had been thoroughly cleaned and repaired, they walked around and inspected it, but everything still looked in good condition.

There are also graves of descendants, both around the main grave and on a separate plot. From left to right, the graves of Ng Boo Bee’s mistress, one of his sons, and a grandson (Teng Hin’s father).

The graves are decorated with statues of lions and guardians.

I like to visit cemeteries, see for example my recent post about KL Cemeteries. We walked around a bit, beautiful trees, there is a War Memorial for those who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation. And there is cattle roaming around, not always good for the graves, but very romantic.

After visiting the cemetery we had dinner in West Joy Cafe, near Prima. Nice Thai food, will come back.

Thursday 28 March

My original plan was to go back home by train on Thursday. But when our Singapore friend ST Lee told me that he was coming back for Cheng Beng that day, and would like to meet me, I changed my plan: Aric decided to come by car, we would stay one more day in Taiping and drive back on Friday. I got a 50% refund on my train return ticket 😉

I decided to hire a bike again and first went back to Lian Thong for my breakfast. Soft-boiled eggs on toast again ;-). Had a nice conversation with Teoh, the owner.

When I told in my hotel about my cemetery visit, they told me about an isolated tombstone on the slope of Residence Hill, near the esplanade. I had a look, there are actually three tombstones, one of them recently painted, so somebody must take care about it. Would be nice to know who has been buried there.

Next I went to the Tourism Office in the Clocktower. Had a short chat with Miss Eng, she was busy as there were several visitors. A good sign, although the interior still looks more like an antique shop and there should be more leaflets, etc.

With my bicycle it was easy to ride the full length of Jalan Kota and take pictures of the heritage buildings along this street. Clockwise, from top left the Residence of the OBJ, the building of the Hokkien Association , the Malay Mosque ( oldest mosque of Taiping) and the Hosian Temple.

The Mariamman Temple can also be found along Jalan Kota. I was invited in, a priest prayed for me and I received some ash on my forehead. Nice.

I was clearly in the Cheng Beng mood and decided to have a look at the Hai San Communal Memorial, located in the new Botanical Garden of Taiping. Hai San and Ghee Hin were the two fighting groups of Chinese during the Larut wars. This grave is dated 1864 and could well be the oldest monument of Taiping.

The Botanical Garden is still under development and looks a bit barren.

Close by is the impressive Taiping War Cemetery, immaculately maintained, with separate sections for Christians and the other religions.

I rode back to my hotel through the Lake Gardens. I will hire a bicycle more often during my future visits, Taiping is very suitable for cycling and the bicycles of Furama Hotel are very good quality.

Aric arrived in the afternoon and, after some rest, we drove to Barrack Road 100 to meet St Lee and his sister Mrs Long. It was a very pleasant meeting with dinner in the Chinese Recreation Club (CRC).

Friday 29 March

The next morning we took them to the new Telegraph Museum, which they found interesting.

ST got quite excited when he saw this railway bridge (actually not related to the museum, but to the former First Galleria next door). This bridge has been relocated here from Bukit Mertajam and ST (who is from BM) has been crossing this bridge numerous times when he was schooling!

Then it was already time for a farewell meal! We went to the Lighthouse Restaurant in Matang and enjoyed their famous seafood porridge. Delicious.

A very nice trip!

About Taiping

As readers of my blog know, I love Taiping and I have written many posts about what I consider to be my 2nd hometown.

They will also have noticed that I can be quite critical about Taiping, Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town).

Before I write a blog about my last visit to Taiping, it may be good to report here about the opinion of others..:-)

In January and February 2018, the Malaysian television channel Astro Awani has aired six episodes of a documentary about Taiping, brought by the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority and the Taiping Municipal Council.

I missed the broadcast last year, but discovered later that all episodes are available as YouTube videos. You find them below.
When you click on an episode, you get the full version (each about 25 minutes), including an intro and with several breaks between the different topics. You can also view each of the topics in that episode (click on the start time)

Altogether almost 50 topics, a lot of variety. And everything very positive 😉

Episode 1

  • Trong Leisure Farm & Resort 2:20
  • Ethno Valley Resort, Bukit Gantang 6:00
  • Antong Coffee Mill 8:40
  • Taiping Lake Gardens 11:50
  • Doli Kuay Teow Goreng 16:30
  • Spritzer Eco Park 18:10
  • Trong Hot Spring 19:50

Episode 2

  • Kampung Sempeneh, rock climbing & bat cave Batu, Kurau 1:55
  • Kelulut Honey Farm, Jelai 7:55
  • Mee Udang Banjir Mak Teh, Kuala Sepetang 11:00
  • Matang Museum 12:50
  • Matang Mangrove Eco-educational Centre 16:10
  • Kuala Sangga Fishing Village 22:25

Episode 3

  • Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory 2:05
  • Ansari Famous Cendol 5:45
  • Batu Kurau Fruit Farm 7:40
  • Kampung Anak Kurau, Bertam weaving 9:15
  • Kampung Dew Firefly Jetty 11:10
  • Fadzil House restaurant, Pokok Assam 15:00
  • Burmese Pool 16:35
  • Ulu Tupai Nature Retreat 20:05

Episode 4

  • Zoo Taiping 2:55
  • Mergastua Restaurant (Zoo) 6:35
  • Night Safari 7:25
  • Gate Cafe, Taiping 10:15
  • Bukit Larut 12:20
  • Nafis Kitchen restaurant, Taiping 15:50
  • D’Muhibbah Nasi Lemak 18:35
  • ATV Adventure Park Larut 19:00

Episode 5

  • Taiping Heritage Trail 1:50
  • Oasis Restaurant, Assam Kumbang 9:50
  • Taiping Prison Gallery 12:05
  • Little India 14:35
  • Tai Sian Hoot Temple 15:20
  • Indian Muslim Mosque 15:50
  • Tanuntaya Batik, Assam Kumbang 16:55
  • Raintown Brother Western restaurant, Kamunting 19:40
  • Cross Street Bazaar 21:05

Episode 6

  • Pesta Taiping 1:55
  • Warisan Anak Utura (pottery), Changkat Jering 4:20
  • The Train restaurant, Taiping 7:20
  • Taiping Street Art 9:20
  • The Greenhouse restaurant, Taiping 10:00
  • Perak Museum 10:55
  • 5D Art Paradise 14:25
  • Locs & Thyme restaurant 17:15
  • Coronation Swimming Pool 20:14

I have decided not to give my opinion about the documentary, but I invite my readers, and especially the Taipingites among them, to send comments to this blog. Some comments have already been given on YouTube.

I came across these YouTube videos, after I read a few months ago in the New Straits: Times: Taiping makes it to 2018 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations . Probably I was not the only one who was surprised. Taiping a sustainable destination, even belonging to the top 100 in the world?

I searched for more information and found this list:

And here is a world map with (in green) the 2018 top 100 selection and (in purple) the 2019 top 100 selection. It looks like each year there is a new top 100!

This map and the list come from the Sustainable Destinations Top 100 website. When you click on this site the green circle for Taiping, you get a webpage about Taiping with this text:

Perak’s second-largest town is defined by water and greenery. Locals laud it as the ‘City of Peace’ for trailblazing Malaysia’s first museum, first railway and first newspapers in English, Malay and Tamil. But it’s Taiping’s ‘Rain City’ title that has stuck. Taiping has the biggest volume of rainfall in Peninsular Malaysia: all the better for its verdant lake gardens (and the pastime of ‘rain betting’, where locals take a punt on what time downpours will start and stop).

Taiping is a tourism destination with elements of nature such as mountains, waterfall and wildlife. Taiping is popular with the beauty of flora and fauna that attract tourist. Taiping always gets the most frequent rainfall catchment that is near 320 days per year.

Taiping’s nature welcomes wildlife and lush plants. The beauty of the nature is able to give a feels of relaxation to the tourists that come to Taiping. Tourists can enjoy the beauty of Lotus Flower in the lake and other plants around the garden.

The page contains four photos (Raintree Walk, Perak Museum, Lake Gardens and the former First Galleria, now the Municipal Gallery) and a video, the first episode of Discover Taiping. That’s how I got to know about the Astro Awani documentary 😉

Not only did Taiping make it to the 2018 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations, here is an article from the STAR, 7 March 2019: Taiping is No 3 most sustainable city in the world :

Taiping was placed third, behind Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and Vancouver, Canada in the “Best of Cities” category, which awards cities that show leadership in urban sustainability and in avoiding disruptive over-tourism.

The awards were presented at the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair.

Here is part of the (long) awards list. The whole list can be found here. No idea why for the Best Of Cities award, only Ljubljana is mentioned and not the no. 2 and 3, Vancouver and Taiping.

Here is the presentation of the rewards to representatives of Ljubljana and Taiping.

Also here I will refrain from giving my opinion. Comments are welcome

A Pale Blue Dot

On  December 7, 1972, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, on their way to the Moon, took a picture of Earth at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers. It has been named The Blue Marble and is one of the most reproduced images in history.

Five years later, in 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1, to explore the outer solar system. It was a highly successful mission with flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

After completion of this primary mission and before leaving the Solar System, it was suggested by astronomer and author Carl Sagan, that the Voyager 1 should look back and take one last picture of Earth. This picture was taken on  February 14, 1990 at a distance of about 6 billion km from Earth. The picture has been named the Pale Blue Dot , because in this picture Earth is not more than a single pixel. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it and see Earth more clearly. The coloured bands are artefacts, caused by reflection of sunlight in the camera.

Inspired by this picture Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot in 1994. Here is a quote from this book:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

I have used the Blue Marble image for a long time as background on my monitor screen. Recently I have changed it to the Pale Blue Dot.

At the moment Voyager 1 is still (partly) operational at a distance of about 22 billion km from the Sun, speeding away at more than 60.000 km/h.

The Seven Last Words of Christ

In a few weeks time it will be Easter, always a time of the year that I get in the mood to listen to Passion music. See for example my posts St Matthew Passion and Stabat Mater . In this post I will write about another masterpiece of religious music, the Seven Last Words of Christ, written in 1786 by Joseph Haydn.

For those readers who are not familiar with the Christian religion, some information. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he came to Earth to save mankind by carrying the burden of their sins. His sufferings culminated in his crucifixion and his death. On the third day he resurrected from his grave and fourty days later he ascended to heaven.

The resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday (this year on 21 April). On the Friday before in some churches a devotion is held from noon till 3 o’clock , the Three Hours’ Agony, commemorating the three hours of Christ’s hanging at the cross. This devotion was devised in the 17th century in Peru by Jesuit missionaries and soon became popular in Europe. It consisted of sermons and meditation about the seven “words” uttered by Jesus when he was hanging at the cross.

In 1786 Joseph Haydn was requested by the clergy of the Cádiz Cathedral to compose seven instrumental adagios, to be played after each of the “words” and meditations. Not an easy job, as Haydn wrote himself: ” …. it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners ..“. Haydn added an Introduction and a Finale.

The work became a success immediately and the next year Haydn wrote a version for string quartet. It is this version which is usually performed nowadays. In 1801 he published a choral version.

For this blog I have used the orchestral version, recorded in 1965 in Barcelona.

I decided that it would be interesting to split the work into its separate pieces and combine them with the corresponding utterances by Jesus.
The seven last words come from different gospels. Here is the introduction.

Introduzione in D minor


Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

While Jesus is hanging at the cross, he is being mocked by the Jewish rulers, the soldiers and many of the spectators.

Sonata I in B-flat major


Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Two criminals are crucified at the same time, one at Jesus’ left side, one at his right side. One of them also mocks Jesus, but the other one rebukes him, saying: we are punished for our crimes, but this man didn’t do anything wrong. And he says to Jesus: Lord, remember me when you arrive in your kingdom.

Sonata II in C minor, ending in C major


John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother

Of course Jesus’ followers are also there, among them John, the writer of this gospel. Jesus says this when he sees his mother Mary, and the “disciple whom he loved” (i.e John) standing nearby.

Sonata III in E major


Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Jesus says this in the Aramaic language: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani and the crowd thinks that he is calling the prophet Elijah.When somebody wants to give Jesus something to drink, they say, don’t, let’s see if Elijah will come

Sonata IV in F minor


John 19:28: I thirst

As John explains in his gospel, Jesus says this because he knows that everything has now been fulfilled.

Sonata V in A major


John 19:30: It is finished

In Bach’s St John Passion, this is one of the emotional peak moments, listen to Es ist vollbracht

Sonata VI in G minor, ending in G major


Luke 23:46: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.

After Jesus calls this with loud voice, he breathes his last.

Sonata VII in in E-flat major


Matthew 27:51: And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent

This is the description given by the gospel of St Matthew. Haydn uses it for the finale, no adagio for this part, but “Presto e con tutta la forza”!

Il terremoto (Earthquake) in C minor


When you listen to this masterwork, put the volume on loud! And when you are interested, search YouTube for The Seven Last Words of Christ. You will find many recordings.

KL Cemeteries, part I

Five years ago, on CNY 2014, I visited with my friend Joe Yap a number of Houses of Worship in KL. This year I decided to visit cemeteries in KL on CNY day. Not with Joe this time, but with my Dutch friend Paul.

And not as “exhaustive” as the 2014 trip. There are many cemeteries in KL of course, often on the outskirts of the town, we visited only two major ones this time, the Kwong Tong Chinese Cemetery and the Cheras Christian Cemetery.

The Kwong Tong cemetery is huge, split in two parts by the Middle Ring Road 1. There are sign boards with information about interesting graves, but only in Chinese.

From the sprawling cemetery. you have a nice view of the imposing KL skyline.

It is a beautiful cemetery. In two months time, at Cheng Beng, it will be crowded with people cleaning the graves of their loved ones, now it was very quiet and serene. I like cemeteries 🙂

There was one grave in particular I wanted to visit, that of Yap Ah Loy, generally considered to be the founder of Kuala Lumpur. With the help of the very informative Malaysia Traveler website of my friend David, I had found the approximate location, in part C (see the map). Walking around we found without problem the marker stone at the beginning of a small lane leading to his grave and those of a few relatives. Beautiful flowers.

Near his grave a plaque gives information about his life

His grave is nice, but not especially impressive. In case you like to visit yourself, the GPS coordinates are 3° 7.31’N 101° 42.05’E .

Left the inscription on Yap Ah Loy’s grave, right the inscription on the grave of his wife.

Some of the graves nearby are much more impressive.

We visited two memorials. This is the Kuomintang Cenotaph, erected in 1947 as a memorial for the Chinese who repatriated to China to fight against the Japanese. I guess they went back after the start of the Second Sino-Japanese war and the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.

The other memorial is for the victims of the Japanese occupation in World War II. Click on the right picture for background information.

There will be many more interesting things to see in this cemetery, but you really need a guide who is fluent in Chinese.

Next we visited the Christian cemetery in Cheras, also with a nice view of the KL skyline.

A nice part of this cemetery, probably Roman-Catholic, has beautiful graves with statues of Jesus, Mary and angels.

Part of the Cheras cemetery is a war cemetery, immaculately kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It contains the graves of military personnel, killed during the Malayan Campaign and the Japanese Occupation, but also of those killed during the Malayan Emergency.

Also in this cemetery I was interested in one grave in particular, that of Henry Gurney, the British High Commissioner, who was killed in 1951 during the Emergency. We found it without much difficulty, next to the war cemetery proper. GPS coordinates are 3° 6.38’N 101° 43.95’E . The tombstone was put in the center of a separate compound and well kept. Not far away another tombstone with “Here lie buried” with illegible names. I was struck by the difference …

The tombstones of Henry Gurney, and two servicemen, one English, the other one Gurkha. All three killed during the Emergency.

War cemeteries are impressive because many of the people buried there are so young. They gave their lives, so others could live.

Several of my friends feel uncomfortable in a cemetery, but I don’t. Maybe because I don’t believe in an eternal soul or an afterlife?

I am planning to visit more cemeteries in KL. Next on my list is the Ampang Muslim cemetery, where I will try to find the grave of P. Ramlee. There is also a small Japanese cemetery.

Trip down South

Well, not really that far south…:-). We had not been on a trip for some time and decided to make a 2D1N trip to Negeri Sembilan and Melaka.

Aric has a few projects. One is to try out assam laksa shops all over Malaysia and report about it on his Assam Laksa website. Another one is to take drone videos of fishing villages along the Malaysian coast. See for example Trip up North 2017 .

Our first destination was not an assam laksa shop and not a fishing village but…. a mosque! The Old Mosque of Machap was built in 1902 by Datuk Machap, a Makasar descendent from Indonesia. During the Japanese occupation he helped the local Chinese communities and in return they collected money for the renovation of the mosque after the war. That’s why the mosque looks like a Chinese temple!

The mosque is located on the shores of the Durian Tunggal reservoir in Melaka. We were a bit unlucky, because when we arrived at the mosque, it was closed. We waited some time for the caretaker to come back, but finally gave up. So I could only take a picture from a distance.

And of course Aric took some pictures with his drone. The location is very romantic.

For our lunch we went to the outskirts of Melaka, to Uncle Low’s Cafe. I am not an assam laksa expert, but this one was really nice, I finished the bowl until the last spoon..:-)

From Melaka we followed the coastal road to our first fishing village, Kuala Sungai Baru. Still in the town, we passed two interesting historical monuments. The Menara Lama Surau Tengkera (1728) in the left picture is all that remains of the oldest mosque in Melaka. Nearby we noticed an interesting isolated pillar, no idea about its history.

We stopped for a while at Tanjung Kling, 10 km west of Melaka, and visited the Mausoleum of Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah is a famous Malay warrior from the 15th century. There is some controversy about him, did he really exist, was he actually Chinese, etc. The mausoleum is well kept, with posters surrounding the tomb, describing his life.

The huge tomb is surrounded by a Muslim cemetery. A quiet, serene place, not the tourist attraction I was expecting.

Kuala Sungai Baru hardly deserved the name village, it was not more than a few fishing boats, on this drone picture you can not even see them. More conspicuous is the ambitious project in the foreground, with an observation tower, a surau and a few food stalls. Not in good shape, but the food stalls were operating.

Our next stop was at Kuala Linggi. No fishing village, but the remains of a fort, Kota Linggi. This fort was built in 1757 by the Dutch (who at that time controlled Melaka) and the Bugis, to tax the trade on the Linggi river. Here is a drone view of the Linggi river. The fort is located just outside the bottom right corner of the picture.

Not much is left of the fort, except some ramparts. The cannon is fake…:-). You reach the fort by a promenade which was not yet there when I visited the fort in 2008, see my report Linggi Adventure.

Pantai Cermin was our next destination. No fishing village, but a nice beach. While Aric was droning, I walked along the beach to a mangrove forest.

The aerial roots (left) are called pneumatophores, they take oxygen from the air and are characteristic for these mangroves. Many leaves were covered with a kind of woolly substance. A friend explained later to me that they are nests of whiteflies. When you enlarge the photo, you can see a few of these flies.

In the meantime Aric took drone videos and pictures of the Hibiscus resort nearby.

Pantai Cermin is located at the “neck” of the Tanjung Tuan peninsula. Our last stop for the day was another beach at the peninsula itself. To get there we had to climb first halfway to the lighthouse, then follow a trail down. Nice beach. Beautiful evening skies.

Two drone pictures. The left picture shows Tanjung Tuan with its lighthouse. You can see the beach to the left. The right picture shows the neck of the peninsula. The beach to the right is Pantai Cermin and in the background you can see the Hibiscus resort.

We had booked accommodation in a resort between Tanjung Tuan and Port Dickson, where we took some rest and enjoyed the sunset.

For our dinner we went to the Weng Yin Seafood Village, where we had a light dinner of sotong (cuttlefish) and lala (shells). Excellent food.

Next morning, after breakfast in our resort, we went to Port Dickson and found a few fishing boats there. You can see them in the center of this drone picture.

From Port Dickson it is not far to Lukut. In the 19th century, when PD did not yet exist, Lukut was a thriving town, because of the tin mining. In those days the region of Lukut was part of the Selangor Sultanate, but it was effectively controlled by powerful chieftains, like Raja Jumaat, a Bugis prince from Riau. He built a fort in 1847, Kota Lumut. In 1878 the Lukut region was ceded to Sungai Ujong (Negeri Sembilan) and the fort fell into disrepair. Not much is left these days, but there is an interesting museum about the history of the region. Here is drone picture of the museum (the building at the right) and the hill where the fort was located.

The museum gives information about the tin mining and the history of the Lukut region. Artifacts from daily life, like for example the coconut grater in the left picture. Really worth visiting.

Not much is left of the fort, parts of the remparts. two water reservoirs, the moat. Nowadays you climb the hill from the museum side, the original access road was from the other side, barely visible in the right picture

The nearby fishing village of Kuala Lukut was nice. Here is a drone view and some details.

We had planned to have lunch in the popular Soon Huat seafood restaurant, near the jetty, but we found that it opens only for dinner on weekdays, so we had lunch in a small food court close by. Also not bad and probably a lot cheaper.

After Lukut we left the coast and drove to Seremban, where we visited the Then Sze Khoon temple, 3 km north of the town center. It is a Taoist temple, established in 1864, beautifully located on a hill slope. Left a drone view, right the central court with a statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

The temple is nicknamed the Centipede Temple. It is said that it brings you luck when you find a centipede on the temple grounds. Besides the gigantic centipede sculpture we did not find any, but there were tortoises.

When we followed the path up the hill we passed several colorful groups of statues. I am not an expert in Chinese mythology, but I think these are (several of) the Eight Immortals from Taoism.

And this could be some of the Eighteen Arhats, which actually belong to (Mahayana) Buddhism. The mixture of Taoism and Buddhism is quite common in Chinese temples.

Of course there are many shrines. Left a Taoist shrine, in the middle a Datuk Kong temple. I am very interested in this kind of temples, where local (Malay) spirits/deities are worshipped. No pork here! In the right detail you see the many songkoks left behind by devotees. Also note the tree roots!

It is no problem to spend a few hours in this temple, there are many things to see. In this picture you see characters from the famous Chinese novel “Journey to the West” where the monk Tripitaka goes on a pilgrimage to find sacred Buddhist texts. He has three companions who help him in the many adventures they experience on the way. The Monkey God (upper left), Pigsy(right) and Sandy (left). When you enlarge the picture you may be able to find me as Tripitaka…:-).

Of course Aric had to use his drone, while I walked around. From the temple terrace you have already a nice view of the surroundings, and of course the drone shows more. The mountain at the horizon, right of the middle, could be Gunung Angsi.

Before we left we took some pictures for the album. Aric is a dragon, I am a monkey, but the Monkey God was too high up, so I stood next to the centipede.

Before we drove back home, we had another assam laksa in Senawang,
Laksa Tempurung. Nicely served in a coconut shell, but for the rest quite mediocre. The dessert, Lin Chee Kang, was nice.

Another nice trip, full of variety.

Solar System Explorers

In this blog I will give updates about three space exploration missions described in earlier posts and report about two new ones.

New Horizons

I will start with New Horizons . In Close Encounter with Pluto I described how this spacecraft had a successful flyby with minor planet Pluto on 14 July 2015 and in an update New Horizons that it was on its way to 2014 MU69  , an object in the Kuiper belt.

A few days ago, on 1 January 2019, it had a flyby of Ultima Thule, as
2014 MU69 has been nicknamed. The distance between Earth and Ultima Thule is at the moment 6.6 billion km, never before has there been a close encounter at such a huge distance! (Distances in the picture are expressed in Astronomical Units, 1 AU = 150 million km)

During the brief flyby, New Horizons collected about 7 gigabytes of data, which in the coming months will be sent back to Earth. Radio signals take more than 6 hours to reach Earth, the 15 Watt transmitter can send ~ 500 bits per second, it may take 20 months.

Here are the first images. Left a vague color image, middle a more detailed black and white one, right the merger of the two, a kind of reddish snowman, size about 31 km. As was already expected, Ultima Thule is a so-called contact binary, it consists of two halves, now dubbed Ultima (the larger one) and Thule.

Mars InSight

A few months ago I wrote a blog Landing on Mars, about the Mars InSight spacecraft. Mission of this spacecraft is to study the interior structure of Mars. It has now deployed the seismometer, to detect Marsquakes.

Next month InSight will start drilling into the surface of Mars.

Hayabusa2

As I reported in my blog Hayabusa2 , it came as a surprise that the surface of asteroid Ryugu was very rough and rocky. Here is a picture of Ryugu’s surface.


The first sampling touchdown, scheduled for October, was postponed until at least the end of this month. The engineers are still studying how to land the spacecraft safely.

The two tiny hopping Minerva rovers are still working correctly and have been renamed Hibou (French for Owl) and Owl. If you are curious about the reason, read this: Naming our MINERVA-II1 rovers 😉 .. Don’t think that scientists have no sense of humor 😉

Osiris Rex

When I wrote my blog about Hayabusa2, I was unaware of another mission to send a spacecraft to an asteroid, collect some material and bring it back to Earth. It is an American one, the Osiris Rex mission. Here is some information:

Launched 8 September 2016 with as destination the asteroid 101955 Bennu. Bennu is even smaller than Ryugu, about 500 m diameter. In December 2018 Osiris Rex reached Bennu and on 31 December it fired its thrusters to go into orbit. It will remain there for the next two years, studying the asteroid and it will try to acquire at least 60 gram of regolith (the surface material of Bennu) in a procedure very similar to Hayabusa’s.

Here is an artist impression of Osiris approaching Bennu, with the sampler horn extended.

And here is an image of Bennu, taken by Osiris.

Planned return date is 24 September 2023.

One aspect of the mission is worth mentioning here. OSIRIS is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security. Why security? Because Bennu is a potentially hazardous object, it is possible it might hit Earth in the future. Don’t worry, not in our time, but possibly between 2175 and 2199. The uncertainty is there because the orbits of these “small” asteroids are influenced by many factors, for example the disturbing influence of the other planets. But also the effect of heating and cooling by the sun light, the Yarkovsky effect  and it is this effect that Osiris will study. (Forget about this if you find it too complicated… 🙂 )

Chang’e-4

China confirmed its role as global player in space exploration on 3 January 2019, when it landed for the first time in history a spacecraft on the far (“dark”) side of the Moon. The Chang’e 4 was launched on 7 December 2018 and consists of a lander and a rover, the Yutu-2. The set-up and landing procedure were similar to the Mars Pathfinder mission, after a powered descent of the lander to the Moon surface, the rover rolls down a ramp (see my Landing on Mars post).

Here is an image of the Yutu-2, taken by Chang’e 4, just after deployment.

Compared with the missions to Mars and the asteroids, a Moon mission has the advantage that the destination is ~ 384.000 km away from Earth, communication signals take only a bit more than one second. However, for a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, there is a problem, the Moon itself will block signals to Earth!

China has found an elegant solution for this problem: a separate satellite has been launched, the Queqiao, a few months before the Chang’e 4 launch. This communication satellite is now in a lunar orbit and will transmit the signals of the spacecraft to Earth and vice versa.

Actually the Queqiao is not orbiting the Moon, but orbiting the L2 Lagrange point, about 60.000 km above the far side of the moon. In my blog Where does the Moon come from, I have discussed a bit the concept of Lagrange points, where the gravitational force of Moon and Earth are in balance. Too complicated to explain the details, check Wikipedia for Halo Orbits.

This infographic illustrates the Chang’e mission. The Chang’e 4 has landed in the Aitken basin, near the Moon’s South Pole. This huge impact crater is 2500 km in diameter and 13 km deep !

There is one amusing detail/mistake in this infographic. It looks like the rover has four headlights! Has the creator of the infographic assumed that you needed lights, because this is the dark side of the moon?

I will update this blog when there are new developments.

Taiping again

My third visit in 2018!  This time a bit longer than usual, first three nights in hotel Furama, then two nights in the Nest bungalow up Bukit Larut.

I took the 10:55 ETS train from Sentral and arrived 14:18 in Taiping, where my friends Lay Chun and Bok Kin were waiting for me. We had a late lunch together and chatted a lot about Taiping heritage. As the weather was rainy, they dropped me at my hotel,  and arranged to meet again the next morning.

After some rest, I walked in the evening to the Lake Gardens, to have a look at the second raintree, recently fallen down. Both trees fell down in that part of Jalan Pekeliling (Circular Road) that recently has been closed to traffic and is now called the Raintree Walk. A coincidence?

The trees have become a tourist attraction! Armed with my umbrella I walked to the Larut Matang food court for my dinner. I had popiah’s at the famous Omar Popiah stall (now renamed Jaffan Popiah). Delicious and value for money (RM 0.70 each).

Walking back to my hotel, I passed the floodlit clocktower, now tourism office, which I was planning to visit the next day. 

The next morning I met Dr Indra of the Ceylon Association. We had breakfast together and a look at the renovated Association building, one of the few successful restoration  projects in Taiping. Left the building as it looked in December last year, right the present situation

Since my last visit, a new fence has been erected. The interior still has to be refurnished. 

Nearby (corner of Jalan Taming Sari and Jalan Idris) an example of what unfortunately is more common in Taiping, the skeleton of a ruined building, waiting for its final destruction.

One of the plans I had for this Taiping trip, was to visit the history galleries of two famous Taiping schools, St George’s Institution and the King Edwards VII school.  Here is the beautiful facade of SGI. It is a Lasallian school.

At the school I met Lay Chun and Bok Kin. And Yeap Thean Hock, who had the key of the gallery, because it is not open to the general public.

The gallery was opened in 2015, when SGI  celebrated its centennial. Yeap, who was involved in the creation of the gallery, guided us around. An interesting collection of photographs and memorabilia.

After a char kway teow lunch with my friends in the Peace Hotel, we went to the recently opened Telegraph Museum, another example of a successful restoration.  

Both outside and inside it looks magnificent. The first telegraph lines in Malaya connected Taiping to Port Weld and to Kuala Kangsar, so it is apt that a museum about the history of telegraphy and telecommunications has been established here, in the old Post & Telegraph Office (1885).

I hope the museum will become a success, the collection is well presented but quite technical. And the ticket price is too high, RM 8 (15) for Malaysians (non-Malaysians). Compare that with the National Museum in KL, RM 2 (5) or the Perak Museum in Taiping, RM 2 for everybody.

Around the corner the former Topo and Survey Office (1891), also a few years ago beautifully renovated. It housed the First Galleria until a few years, now a signboard says that it is the Galeri Perbandaran (Town Gallery), it looks empty and closed.

My next stop was the Tourism Office in the Old Clock Tower (1890). During my last visit it was closed “for renovation”, now it was open, a friendly young lady was mopping the floor because it had been raining and the roof was leaking (!).

I asked her if there was a Taiping heritage trail leaflet, she told me that it was out of stock, but she had a tourist map of Taiping. It showed all the traffic lights (!) and had a list of tourist attractions, some of them (13, 14, 17) not existing anymore.

I appreciated her attitude, she can not help it that this “Tourism Office” is pretty useless at the moment and looks more like an antique shop.

I realise that this blog is a bit pessimistic and sombre, I can’t help it. Taiping is still my favourite “second hometown” in Malaysia, but a Bandar Warisan (Heritage Town) , as it proudly promotes itself? I don’t think so. A Town of Past Glory would be a better epithet.

Take for example the Central Market, Malaysia’s best preserved example of a 19th century market building (1884/1885). What will be its future? Hopefully not changed into a Central Market, KL-style!

Of course there is some good news too, like the renovation of the well-known Ipoh Bakery. Here two photos, one earlier this year during the restoration and the final result.

One reason for this Taiping visit was that I wanted to meet my friend ST Lee, living in Singapore but with a keen interest in Taiping Heritage, where he owns a beautifully renovated house in Barrack Road.

I met him, his sister and her friends for a nice dinner at the Chinese Recreation Club (excellent food!) and the next morning for breakfast at my favourite Chee Cheong Fun stall of Mr Tong, together with Yeap Thean Eng.

After our breakfast we went to the King Edwards VII school. Yeap, the president of the Taiping Heritage Society, had warned us already that the history gallery might be closed, because the building where it was housed, was infested by termites.

But I still was shocked by what I saw. Yes, the century old raintrees are still impressive, but the iconic building is locked and cordoned off.

How can this have happened? And what will be done about it? No history gallery, but I was told that there exists one in a different building of King Edwards. Will check during my next visit.

Opposite the school there are a few buildings which are in a much worse condition. Five years ago I have published a blog post, Shame on Taiping, about these buildings, the Town Rest House (1894) and the former Perak Railway Building (1885/1893). Both buildings abandoned and slowly going down the drain.

Here is the Perak Railway Building, later housing various government offices. You can just enter, if you don’t mind meeting an occasional squatter. I explored the buildings this time with my friend Amril and took many pictures. I am planning to write a separate post about these buildings and the Resthouse. I have visited them almost every time I was in Taiping.

And this is the Rest House, in slightly better condition, at least the floor boards are still there.

Incomprehensible that in front of the Resthouse there is still a signboard about the Rest House , one of the “Firsts” of Taiping and part of the Taiping Heritage Trail. What will a tourist think when he follows this trail and sees this building?

Early afternoon Aric arrived from KL, we went to Kamunting for Assam Laksa, one of his favourite dishes, he is always looking for new stalls and collecting the info on his Assam Laksa website. This stall was not very special (pretty awful according to Aric).

We had much better food that evening, with ST Lee and his sister, in vegetarian restaurant Teik Ee, Jalan Tupai.

After the busy days in Taiping, it was time to relax. The next morning we picked up our friends Paul and Fahmi from the station and drove to the jeep station of Bukit Larut. From there with the 4WD to the Nest, where we were warmly welcomed by Suet Fun and Peter. They have really done a wonderful job, I love the colonial atmosphere.

And the food, Suet Fun is a creative cook. It was quite chilly, with occasional rain, we were the only guests that night, and spent the rest of the day doing nothing 😉

Evening view. Left Gunung Bubu, about 20 km away

The next morning I took pictures of some beautiful “creatures of the night”

After breakfast and some droning by Aric, we walked up the hill until the Cottage bungalow, the oldest bungalow of Maxwell Hill, now out of bounds because it is part of the telecom installation.

We were back in time for lunch, where a group of nice ladies had arrived, former school mates of Suet Fun.

In the afternoon we walked down to the “Sixth Mile”, looking forward to a cup of tea in the Cafeteria, but it was closed already. Misty weather, very scenic.

The evening dinner was exquisite and the company pleasant.

The next morning the weather had changed, blue sky, nice views of the plains and the Straits. Compare with the evening picture above.

Aric did some more droning. In this short video you can see how the Nest is surrounded by jungle, with Taiping deep down and far away the coastline.

Reluctantly we had to leave, our jeep was taking us down at 11am. Still enough time to take more pictures. Looking forward already to a next visit.

On our way back to KL, we had lunch in another Assam Laksa stall, near Bukit Gantang. Much better quality!

It was again a very rewarding visit, although it must be clear to the reader that I am rather pessimistic about what is (not) happening in Taiping. The authorities may claim that Taiping is a Bandar Warisan, but I miss a sense of real commitment.

In my April blog I quoted from the Rough Guide (digital version):

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.

Maybe I just will accept that, of course it has its own charm.

Landing on Mars

Landing a spacecraft on the planet Mars is not a piece of cake!

After several failed attempts the first successful landing took place in 1976, when two(!) spacecrafts, the Viking 1 and 2, landed safely on the surface of the Red Planet. And a Red Planet it was. Here are the first (color) pictures taken, left by the Viking 1, right by the Viking 2

The next successful landing was more than 20 years later, the Mars Pathfinder in 1997. The lander contained a small separate vehicle, a Mars rover, that could independently explore the surface. Here you see the Sojourner, after it had just rolled down from the Pathfinder. It is a tiny vehicle of 63 x 48 x 28 cm and with a mass of about 12 kg.

The next mission was the Mars Exploration Rover in 2004. Two separate missions actually, landing two rovers on Mars, the Spirit and the Opportunity. Both missions were very successful, the two rovers were planned to operate for 90 Sol’s (a Sol is a Martian solar day), but Spirit remained active until 2010 and Opportunity until June this year. Actually they are still trying to contact Opportunity, hoping it survived the huge dust storm that raged on Mars this year. Check this update for the latest info.

Here is an artist impression of the Opportunity rover. Compared with the Sojourner this is a big boy..:-) , 2.3 x 1.6 x 1.5 m, mass 180 kg. Until the loss of signal on Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018) it had traveled 45.16 km.

Four years later, in 2008, the Phoenix landed on Mars, for the first time a landing in the polar region. It confirmed the existence of water ice on Mars. Here is an artist impression of the Phoenix landing. Mass about 350 kg

In 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission landed a rover on Mars, the Curiosity, which is still active at the moment. Dimensions 2.9 x 2.7 x 2.2 m. mass 900 kg.

This photo shows the difference in size. In the foreground the Sojourner, left the Opportunity and right the Curiosity.

The last successful landing took place two weeks ago, 26 November 2018, when the InSight lander touched the surface of Mars. Diameter of the lander 1.5 m (without its solar panels), mass 360 kg.

Main mission is to get more information about the interior of the planet. A seismometer will record “marsquakes” and a “drill”  designed to burrow as deep as 5 m, will measure the heat flow from the interior. Here is an artist impression of the lander with the solar panels deployed. Foreground left the seismometer, right the drill.

Here is a map of Mars with the location of the eight successful landings.

More than half of all missions failed, for example the Beagle 2 in 2003 and the Schiaparelli in 2016.  For a full report , see the Wikipedia article Mars Landing.

Why is landing on Mars so difficult and risky?

Let us look in more detail at what is called the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) phase of a  Mars mission. This phase starts when the spacecraft enters the atmosphere of Mars and ends about 6-7 minutes later, when it lands on the surface.

For the MSL (Curiosity) mission in 2012, NASA created a fascinating YouTube video: 7 Minutes of Terror, in which scientists and engineers explain how many things can go wrong in this phase, while they can only watch helplessly. Watch the video, it takes only 5 minutes and gives a better explanation than I can provide here…:-)

But let me try. I will concentrate on the Curiosity lander because until now it is by far the most complicated mission of all.

The atmosphere of Mars is very thin, but the spacecraft enters with a high velocity of about 20.000 km/h and would be destroyed if it was not protected by a heat shield. Here is an artist impression of the so-called aeroshell in which the Curiosity (and all other landers) is safely stowed away. It consists of a backshell and a heat shield.

Here is the aeroshell in the assembly hall. The diameter is 4.5 m. You can see the Curiosity inside the backshell. On top of the backshell is the cruise stage which controls the spacecraft during the cruise from Earth to Mars.

An exploded view of the aeroshell. From left to right the cruise stage, the backshell, the descent stage, the Curiosity rover and the heat shield.

All Mars landing missions have three parts, two of which are basically the same: 1. slowing down by atmospheric friction and  2. further speed reduction by a parachute. You need one more step, because the Martian atmosphere is so thin that a parachute can not reduce the speed to (almost) zero at ground level. One way or another, you need (retro) rocket power for the last part

When the spacecraft is a lander, the “easiest” way is to provide it with retro-rockets. After the lander detaches from the backshell, it will unfold its legs and use its rockets to land. See the picture above of the Phoenix. The InSight used the same solution. Here is a picture of the InSight landing.

Rovers have to move around, so it doesn’t make sense to burden them  with the extra weight of these rockets. That’s why for the Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity another solution was developed. Put the retro-rockets in the backshell, lower the rover on a tether connected to the backshell,  protect it with airbags(!), use the rockets until almost zero speed, then drop the rover. Here is a collage of what it would look like for a Martian observer. Left, the airbags are already inflated, the rover is still hanging under the backshell, which is retro-firing. Middle, the rover has touched the surface but is still bouncing many times, before it comes to rest (right). Then the airbags will deflate and the rover is ready for action. Here is an animation of the landing of the Spirit rover.

The Curiosity is too heavy and voluminous for this airbag technique, so a spectacular new (and expensive) solution was developed. A sky crane!

Here is  a schematic view of the EDL process for the Curiosity. The first phase, atmospheric braking, looks normal, but there is a difference. Before the aeroshell enters the atmosphere at an altitude of 125 km, with a velocity of 20.000 km/h,  some mass is ejected one sided (“Cruise Balance Device Separation”). The resulting “unbalance” has as effect that the aeroshell will not move ballistically (like a projectile) but can be “steered” a bit through the atmosphere. The Martian atmosphere has turbulence,  storms, pressure differences etc, affecting the trajectory of the aeroshell, resulting in a considerable uncertainty in the final landing location.  The “hypersonic aero-maneuvering” reduces this uncertainty, important for Curiosity which had to land close to the rim of  the Gale crater.

At an altitude of 10 km from the ground, when the velocity is about 1500 km/h, a huge parachute (diameter 17 m!) is deployed, slowing down the aeroshell further. The heat shield is ejected 20 seconds later. From that moment,  using radar, the exact altitude can be measured, and the precise time when the descent stage & rover have to detach from the backshell. The descent stage starts firing the retro-rockets, first to move horizontally away from the backshell and the parachute. Meanwhile the rover is lowered 7.5 m  on cables, it deploys its wheels, while still connected through an “umbilical cord with the descent stage. Here is an artist impression.

                                                                                                                                             As soon as the rover touches the ground, the connecting cables are cut and the descent stage will fly up and away, to crash a few hundred meters from the rover

Curiosity has landed!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       All this  (and numerous details I have skipped) must happen  in less than 7 minutes. Seven minutes of terror, because everything is automatic. If something goes wrong, nobody can do anything. Besides, the radio signals back to Earth take about 14 minutes, so, when Mission Control gets the message that the spacecraft has entered the atmosphere, it has actually already landed (or crashed….) Here is an animation of the Curiosity landing. Spectacular.

Compared with the Curiosity mission, the landing of InSight was a lot simpler, basically the same as the Phoenix in 2008. The mission of InSight is to study the interior of Mars, the precise landing location is less important, as long as the surface is flat. Therefore no “guided entry” through the atmosphere was needed. The InSight is also much lighter (360 kg)  than the Curiosity (900 kg), so it was decided to provide the lander itself with rockets.

Although the EDL phase for the InSight was 6 minutes,  the catchy description “7 Minutes of Terror” was again used in the media  for this mission…:-) The BBC:    Nasa’s Mars InSight mission heads for ‘7 minutes of terror’

Of course it is still a major technological achievement! NASA published a very good explanation of InSight’s EDL phase:  InSight landing on Mars .

Here are three pictures taken by the InSight. The lander has two cameras, the Instrument Context Camera is a fisheye camera, mounted underneath the lander deck. In the first picture (left), taken a few minutes after landing, the lens is still protected by a transparent cover, because of the dust whirled up by the rockets. In the right picture the cover has been removed. and as you can see, still a lot of dust has managed to crawl under the cover and stick to the lens. Unfortunate, although the images will still be usable.

The second camera is mounted on a robotic arm, Here is a superb picture taken by this camera. The scientist are very happy with the sandy, rock-free location. The reddish box is the seismometer which later will be deployed after the best location has been determined.

The latest news about the InSight mission can be found here