Sunday, 25 August 2013

When the Lord closes a door... he's probably taking a photo of a window

In The Sound of Music, Maria wisely says: "when the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window".

And just as well given my preoccupation with taking "portal photos" while travelling.

Seville, Spain
Forbidden City, Beijing
Not necessarily photos of windows or doors with people or animals in them.  In fact, I usually prefer the opposite.  Just the window.  Or just the door.

Open or closed.  Ornate or plain.  It seems I don't really care.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Grand doors to a grand ceiling in Denmark
Is this the result of the trauma inflicted during childhood from not picking the right window to look through on Play School?  Or do other travellers share a similar obsession with these inanimate objects?

Window with bonus flower box in Finland
Looking back through some travel photos recently, I was a bit shocked by the volume of window and door shots I seem to have collected.   Is this some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, voyeuristic tendencty, or is there some hidden meaning here about wanting to discovering what lies behind the superficial?

Seville cathedral
No door or window, but a wall in Riga, Latvia

With their plethora of ornate windows and doors, certain buildings, like churches, temples, castles and halls, are a bit of a mecca for me.   Though I'm also a sucker for a good window flower box it seems.

Doors and windows surrounded by snow, forest or desert, I don't mind.   Just make sure there's no one standing in front of it or coming through it.  I don't need them crowding up the shot.

Snow-covered temple in Nozawa Onsen, Japan
Jodhpur, India

Looking back, I seem to have really hit my stride in Spain.  Either there were a lot of decorative portals in this country or I had a lot of sangria... or both.

Window blackboard in Finland
Castle window with a view in Estonia
Though photos of doors and windows in India and Asia also seem to swallow up their fair share of megabyte storage.


The Circus, Bath

I do wonder what I thought I was going to do with all this "portal porn"?   Perhaps I thought one day I would try and recreate some of these in my little Brisbane unit?   Just not sure how the body corporate might feel about medieval stained glass windows or oak doors.

Houses of Parliament, London
In my defence, I would like to think windows and doors sometimes make pretty nifty framing devices.

Window with a view of Budapest

Doorway leading to the Taj Mahal, India

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Walking like an Egyptian

The recent turmoil in Egypt has had me thinking about my trip to the country a decade ago.

My memories of the trip are of amazing monuments, friendly people, and carefree floating down the Nile.  Quite a contrast to the images I see on the internet or television.

I met my friend in Cairo at the start of the trip and remember feeling perfectly safe walking around the streets of the city at 1am trying to shake off the jetlag.

The pyramids just outside Cairo
Mosque in Cairo
In fact the only violence I encountered on my visit was when I accidentally staked our tour leader Kate's foot while setting up a makeshift loo on the banks of the Nile at sunset.

With its pyramids, tombs and other monuments, few other countries can give you a clearer sense of what everyone was up to five thousand years ago.  It seems like Egypt was the happening hub.

Cruising along the Nile
Church on Mt Sinai
This week I pulled out my photos to take a walk down memory lane, Egypt style.  And I might add that it didn't take very long as it was a time before my first digital camera.

At that stage, I rationed my holiday photos to six rolls of 36 exposure for the three-week trip.  This will make no sense to Gen Y and Z, but what it means is that I have a small but treasured collection of photos to remember my visit by.

Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel
For a country that seems to have been in the tourism game before anyone knew what to call it, the events of the past few years must have seen a significant downturn in Egypt visitor numbers.

In many ways I'm grateful I got to see Egypt during more peaceful times as it seems it might be a while before stability returns once more.

I for one would love to go back, even if it's just to expand my photo collection.

Valley of the Kings, Luxor
Desert road

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Vote one for the uninspired

Let's face it, regardless of your political persuasion this election is shaping up to be as inspiring and exciting as the bag salad I had for dinner last night.

And the dull mediocrity is not just limited to one party.

We've got the resurrected Kevin Rudd and recycled Peter Beattie for Labor (was Gough Whitlam not available?), and in the Liberal corner is Tony Abbott still desperately trying to convince us he respects women, while simultaneously trying to will Australia back to the 1950s.

I find my fingers involuntarily changing the television channel at the slightest whiff of a political ad.  I'm finding refuge in the home shopping channel so often now that if the election campaign goes on too much longer I'm going to end up buying three vacuum robots and a cross trainer.

Speaking with some friends recently it seems we're all in the same boat (only we hope this one isn't being re-routed to PNG).  We've found ourselves wondering exactly when Australian political leaders became so horrible.   Have their attempts to be "everything to everyone" resulted in them being nothing to anyone?

Shouldn't we be excited by the upcoming election and the prospect of selecting a government that will shape Australia for the next few years?   At this rate, the only reason to wander to the local booth on election day seems to be the prospect of a decent sausage sizzle.

Like most others, I just don't like being lied to.  I'd like to see election campaign material forced to undergo the same scrutiny and research as legal or financial documents.   And if they were found to be misleading or incorrect, the party is penalised.  I'm sure that would free up my letterbox for more interesting mail, like phone bills.  

Even better, perhaps each party could submit a legally-binding tender outlining their complete offering, timeframes and pricing, just like we do in the corporate world.  Granted, this would set a dangerous expectation that parties needed to deliver on their promises.

This general apathy also seems to have created a curious desire to "reverse vote" on election day.   This strategy doesn't involve voting for the political party you think is best for the country, but rather picking the one you're least repulsed by.  And let's be honest, it's a pretty even race for the bottom.

Casting my eye across the candidates in my electorate it seems I can't even rely on the Australian Sex Party or Pirate Party to spice up my 7 September.  Instead, I've just got candidates from Labor, Liberal and The Greens, along with those from the Palmer United Party and Australian Stable Population Party (Whatever the hell that is.  Doesn't sound racist at all).

I tried the ABC's Vote Compass website application to see what it thought I should do.  I was buoyed by the insightful questions and no-nonsense approach to determining my vote, but was dismayed when I ended up smack bang on the fence between Liberal and Labor.  Apparently I not only dislike both parties, but dislike them with equal measure.

Not that I'm suggesting that Australia's electoral process should mirror the theatrics and extravagant expense of America's presidential election campaigns, but sometimes watching Americans screaming and shouting with passion for their leader makes me wonder what I'm missing out on.   I suspect I'll never come across an Australian political leader that will make me wave a coloured balloon in their direction let alone make me spontaneously burst into tears of joy when they enter the room.

With three weeks to go I guess there's always a chance that someone might emerge from the quagmire to inspire and delight us with a clear vision and sensible and sustainable policies for a fair and mature Australia.

Of course, I've probably more chance of finding Harold Holt in my next bag salad.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Snow Ghosts

Battered by winds and caked in snow and ice, the "Snow Ghosts" of the Canadian ski fields stand firm and unrelenting throughout the winter.

In summer, they are merely pine trees, but with the change of seasons, they transform into deformed and twisted snow shapes on the mountain top.

And because they sitting high above the snow line, the army of silent snow soldiers will remain trapped in their icy casings until spring arrives.

Some look like snowmen in the making, but never reaching true Frosty status.

It's a stark contrast to the winter I'm currently experiencing in Brisbane, Australia, where dry, sunny days and daytime temperatures around the mid-20 degree Celsius range are the norm.

In memory of a winter wonderland that Queensland will never see, here's a selection of my favourite "Snow Ghost" shots from Big White ski resort, near Kelowna in British Columbia.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

To Hellfire Pass and back

It was the shadows created by the emaciated bodies of the POWs building "Hellfire Pass" on the Thai-Burma "Death Railway" that led to the cutting's distinctive nickname.

These tall, thin and dark figures dancing on the rock walls in the flickering light of bamboo torches and bonfires must have surely looked like a scene from hell itself.

Entrance to the narrow Hellfire Pass

"Hellfire Pass", also known as Konyu Cutting, is a 73m long, 25m deep railway cutting - the deepest on the 415km Thai-Burma Railway built by POWs and Asian labourers under the direction of the Japanese during World War II.

It has since come to represent the suffering of Australian (and other) prisoners of war during the war in the Pacific.

A tree now grows in the narrow and deep cutting
About 13,000 Australians worked on the railway, with about 2,700 dying because of disease, limited rations and medicine, poor working conditions, and beatings.

In total, about 3330,000 people (including 250,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied POWs) are believed to have worked on the railway.   Of these, about 90,000 labourers and about 16,000 Allied prisoners died.

Torches threw hell-like scenes on the cutting's walls
From April 1943, the work pace on the railway was increased as the Japanese strove to meet their revised completion deadline.  The guards shouted "speedo" while POWs and labourers were made to work up to 18 hours a day.

With basic equipment, earth and rock were broken by shovels, picks and hoes, and carried away in baskets and sacks.   The Hellfire Pass cutting was essentially created by hand in about six weeks with metal taps and sledgehammers used to drill holes for explosives.

Hellfire Pass
Walking along a fraction of the disused railway amid wet season downpours and attacked by mosquitoes, I'm equally amazed by the physical feat and appalled at the conditions the workers endured.
Small memorials in Hellfire Pass
Australian, British and Dutch tourists regularly come to Hellfire Pass
Makeshift memorials by visiting Australians
Plaque remembering "Weary" Dunlop in Hellfire Pass

As an Australian, I also find it quite an emotional place.  It's one thing to visit concentration camps, war cemeteries and memorials in Europe, but this feels very close to home.

A small but excellent museum above Hellfire Pass

Peace Vessel, created by former POW Peter Rushford, at the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum

I had certainly heard of the Thai-Burma Railway before visiting Hellfire Pass, but was unaware of the real story and magnitude of the project.  It also made me realise how the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a complete work of fiction with only token nods to the actual wartime events.

Nearby, the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery holds the remains of many Australians who did not make it back home.   Originally, many of these POWs were buried in makeshift graves beside the railway before being recovered and properly laid to rest after the war.

The graves of POWs who worked on the railway

The Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

One of the many poignant graves

Far from home, but not forgotten
While much of the Thai-Burma Railway was completed, sections were bombed by Allied forces.  After the war, the poor condition of the railway meant most of it was left to the jungle with the original steel rails salvaged for other projects.

Remnants of the railway remain

On my last day in the area, I travelled on part of the 130km section of the railway that is still used today in Thailand.

Weaving through dense jungle, across wooden bridges and alongside the River Kwai, I can't help but think about the sheer scale and brutality of the railway's construction, made all the more difficult by the beautiful, but impenetrable jungle and mountains.

View from the train on the operational part of the railway

I travelled as a guest of River Kwai Jungle Rafts (; Scoot Airlines (; The Pullman Bangkok King Power (; The Tourism Authority of Thailand (; and the Ibis Bencoolen Singapore (