Leopard tears

21 09 2016

 

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The Formosa cloud leopard is a sad case, officially declared extinct in 2003. It had once been the second-largest predator to stalk the Taiwan countryside, after the Formosan black bear which still haunts some of the island’s lonelier mountain stretches. The leopard however has been reduced to a single specimen, which sits stuffed, in Taipei’s Taiwan National museum.

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Above, a photograph taken in 1900 shows an indigenous Taiwanese person wearing a snow leopard pelt. Below, the stuffed specimen in Taiwan National Museum today.

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Taiwan blue magpie

21 09 2016

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Bangkok round-up

19 06 2016

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As its rainy season gathers, Bangkok continues to sparkle with its golden lottery-predicting toads, awesome gyms for transgender (female-to-male) men, marauding lizards named after Disney stars and new hipster hangouts.

But my favourite story to come recently out of the effervescent Thai capital was the “Fat Run”, held in the city’s Lumphini Park. Designed to encourage people of all weights to enjoy exercise without shame or embarrassment, it adopted the slogan: “Run 5km – and then eat whatever you want!” Participants received a medal decorated with pictures of pizza and cupcakes.

I love this for two reasons. The first is that it reminds me of my own sweat-drenched communal runs around the park, weaving in and out of a heaving mass of runners of all shapes and sizes including the odd shirtless gym-bod with rock-hard torso. We all ran together, heaving and sweating, dodging bugs, bats and birds. Music blasted, people danced to techno in mass aerobic exercises and in the dry season, the Bangkok Symphony orchestra struck up on the central lawn, as a tropical twilight fell swiftly over the city. It was a great experience.

But other than that I love the sentiment, so different from the exercise cults coming out America and rabidly adopted in HK, with their barely disguised puritan ideology that suffering is what makes you a better person. In the Fat Run, exercise, like food, is something to be celebrated and enjoyed, not a gruelling punishment to prove your self-worth (think: no pain, no gain). It is this pro-exercise, pro-life, pro-joy philosophy that powered me to make the switch into semi-serious running. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it and I think that is a great, powerful message to be sending: exercise can be fun, too!





Nattura!

30 05 2016

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The mystery of the turtle lake

3 04 2016

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Hanoi is dotted with lakes, big and small. It’s traditional centre is the Hoan Kiem Lake, circled by trees and colonial buildings, it’s whole circumference joggable in thirty or forty minutes. In the mornings, the lake shores boom with techno music, colour-runs and Herbalife rallies. People take pictures with selfie sticks and practice ballroom dancing under the banyan trees. In the evenings, its banks are partly lit up and given over to strollers and gay cruising. A pleasant cafe sits on a terrace looking over the water. And traffic swirls around it day and night. But even with all of this, the lake maintains an aura of calm – its waters calm, grey and serene.

In a small island in the centre of the lake stands the Turtle tower, commemorating the lake’s greatest mystery, the strange giant creatures which perhaps still inhabit its grey depths.

These turtles became symbols of the city in Vietnamese myth after one of their forebears supposedly retrieved a magical sword lost in the lake. In fact the species, which can weigh up to 250 kg per specimen, was considered a myth itself until a turtle surfaced in the lake – in the very heart of a major city – in 1998.

That specimen has since died, and lies embalmed in pride of place at the Temple of the Jade Mountain, on a small island in the lake’s Northern reaches, connected to the city by  vermillion bridge thronged with local day trippers.

Another specimen was found floating dead earlier this year, leading to an outpouring of grief in the city and speculation as to the meaning of this omen.

Whether there are others in the lake still, or this was the very last of its kind, is not yet clear.

 





Strange beasts

3 03 2016

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Bangkok this week was surprised by the sight of a roaring T-rex stuck in Sukhumvit traffic – it is to be a star attraction at a new robot-dinosaur park apparently about to open in the latest extension of the Emporium mall, on the former site of Washington Square, home to an entirely different species of dinosaur.

Meanwhile, Shanghai was being terrorised by its own mysterious beast, a stealthy web-footed carnivore leaving a trail of dead poultry in its wake.

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I also came across this article on an unlikely intruder in Germany.





Art X Science II

1 02 2016

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The beautiful anatomical drawings of Albertus Seba, a kind of seventeenth century Dutch Takagi Hauyama  who produced exquisite illustrations of all manner of birds, animals and sea creatures brought to Holland by ships from the newly discovered tropical countries, as well as the Hydra Hamburg (below), a creature on display in the German city later revealed to have been a fake made of weasels’ heads glued into snakes’ skins.

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Seba’s work has recently returned to popularity with a reprinting of his ilustrations by Taschen.