Saturday, 28 June 2014

Thai Festival in Thai Embassy

We usually get off at the Thai Embassy bus stop when we visit Orchard Road. We did the same today and saw that there's a Thai Festival being held in the Embassy. It was an event to promote Thai tourism. We decided to hang around for awhile.

Thai artisan creating ritual ornament from flowers
Artisan creating ritual ornaments from flowers

The object he was creating

Thai craft of making object that he made from flowers
Another object he made

Ingredients for the flower making art

Fruit carving is widespread, and not uniquely Thai.

Thai craftswomen doing fruit carving
Thai craftswomen doing fruit carving
Tool for fruit carving
One of the tool for fruit carving

Carved watermelon
Carved watermelon

Carved honeydew
Carved honeydew


We bought some junk food, and ordered a Pad Thai and a Thai green mango salad (Som Tum Mamuang) for lunch.


The salad was quite yummy, and was my first intro to mango salad.

In many SE Asian countries, people eat these green mangoes with fish sauce and sugar (I grew up on these). I guess this salad is a natural evolution of that.



Thursday, 19 June 2014

What Widgets installed on my Sidebar and Why


Are you wondering what kind of widgets I have installed on my sidebar, and how much does it cost?

How much is that widget in the sidebar?  (woof woof)
The one with the wiggly line.
How much is that widget in the sidebar? (woof woof)
I do hope that widget is for sale.

Wonder no more. All the widgets in my sidebar aren't for sale. They're free! I don't believe in spending a cent on SEO. On the internet, some of the best things are usually free.

Let's go through the widgets in the sidebar on the left, one by one. Shall we?


Google Translator

Google Translate widget

I put this widget on and off a few times. On the surface, this widget is useful because it allows foreign readers who don't speak English to read my blog.

Well, how do visitors come to my blog? Usually they do so via Google searches. And the reason they find me on Google search is because they type English into the search. If they type, say, in Hindi, my site would never come up in their searches.

Or would they?

Well, I was wrong because one user did come to my site by typing the following querry "وانغ يو ديفيد شانج". This is obviously not English. This translates into "Wang Yu David Chang" in English. I don't read Arabic, this comes from google translator. And if google has such a translator, it's not surprise it would do a translation for such a search query as well. Of course, Arabic isn't the only non-English search query that points to my site, it's just stands out in my traffic report.

And then one can argue, maybe the visitors to my site are bilingual, but they can understand their own language better. I have used this widget to translate my blog into Chinese. Well, the result is funny at best, plain misleading at worst. Machine translation isn't going to replace human counterpart any time soon.

Or would they?

Here's an example of a possible machine translation of a well known Biblical quote from Matthew 26:41 (King James Version):

             "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"

This could easily translated by machine into something like,

             "The alcohol is agreeable, but the meat is soft"

Sounds like a great dinner.

Food aside, according to scholars, the Bible is full of erroneous translations by people. Since machine is far short of the human standard, how well can be expect machine to match human? After all, translation is as much as an art, if not more, than a science. Machine isn't good at arts.

So for all these reasons, I question how useful is the Google Translator. Having said that, the google translator is getting smarter. Furthermore, in the resulting translated pages, one can hover a mouse over the text to look at its original content in English. So if something looks very strange after translation, check it out by looking at the content in its original language.

In any case, the cost of including this widget in my sidebar is low. It didn't slow down the page load time significantly. I decided that the small price worth adding it in.



Paypal Widget



Some people may refer this donation button as begging. Begging is where someone standing (or sitting down) on a street sidewalk, do nothing and expect hand outs. Perhaps they appeal to the sympathy of the passer-bys. Buskers don't.

Busking involves providing something to the public - singing a song, playing an instrument, juggling some balls, drawing some artworks on the ground - for voluntary donations. In the bloggers' case, they provide blogging. The blog posts can be as entertaining as juggling, as inspiring as singing, as artistic as street arts, etc. In fact, what they offer are far more varied than buskers, and in greater quantity. And you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home.

So if a busker deserves some monetary rewards, why shouldn't a blogger? We're busking, not begging. Having said that, I don't expect cash donation is flooding in any moment as the idea of busking as a blogger have never caught on. I suspect because readers believe that bloggers are getting paid by advertisers. Yes, we do. But most of us are getting it at a small fraction of what the buskers are getting. Some of us are getting a few dollars a year !!! Well, things might improve a few more years down the lines. Well, let's say you can't do this full time, in general. Only for fun.

In any case, I'm barking up the wrong tree. Because the readers who read this post are likely going to be bloggers. I'm preaching to the choir.

To add the donation button, go there, follow the instructions to obtain the code to put into your page element.



Feedburner Subscription



Go to Feedburner to install it, and follow the instructions.

The installation of this feedburner widget is important at least in several ways.

1.  It allows your readers to be notified when you add any new posts, and they can read your blog posts using their favourite feed readers such as Google Readrs or Bloglines, etc. Or you can simply get notified by email if you decide to read the blog post on this site.

2.  Another benefit of RSS feed is syndication. After all, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. This way the subscribers can read our blogs on their favourite readers or aggregators.

Once you have created your RSS feed, you can submit your feed to many directory that accept RSS feeds. Of course, the best known of this is Technorati. But you're spoilt for choice. Once you submit those directory sites, users of those sites will be able to find you from their directories.

However, submissions to some of these directory charges fees, some expect reciprocal links. Scroll to the the bottom of my blog (Ctrl + End), and you'll see a few rows of widgets. They're directories that need reciprocal links from me. Feel free to click on them, and they will take you to their directories.

3.  Another benefit of submitting our feed to the various feed directories are possibilities of increasing backlinks if users decide to put your URL in their sites or forums, and also improve link buildings.

4.  Feedburner let you track, and manage your feed in all kinds of ways.

Just a final note regarding to the "subscribers" number appear on this widget. Most of us would notice that these "Subscribers" figure can jump wildly from day to day. One wouldn't expect subscribers to subscribe or unsubscribe from your site in great numbers on a daily basis.

This figure can change by as much as 80% from day to day. Instead of think of them as "subscribers", one should think of them as "Readers". This term is in fact what I, and many others, use in this widget. This is the number of "Subscribers" who actually read the content of your site via your Feedburner feed (as supposed to access your site via google searches, or directly, or other means). If nobody accesses your feed on a given day, this count would be zero. This doesn't mean suddenly all your subscribers have left you en masse. No need to panic.

Most days, visitors come to my blog through google searches.



Blog Stats



This simple widget tells visitors to my blogs a little stats about my blog. It reports the total number of published posts and comments on my blog.

Nothing fancy. A nice widget if your blog actually has a lot of posts to impress your blog readers.

As this widget is implemented in JavaScripts, I thought it doesn't increase my load time significantly, so I've decided to throw it in.

To implement this widget, add the following javaScripts into the page element:


If you want the font colour to be black because your blog has a white background, then change the "font color" from "white" to "black".




Flag Counter



Once again, I like to share my blog's stats with my visitors. While the Blogger's own traffic reports would tell me the stats, but there's little that I can share with my blog visitors in the form of a widget. The Blogger's own widget shows only the total traffic. This isn't too interesting for the visitors.

After looking around on the net, I found this Flag Counter. It doesn't just report figures, but do so in a snazzy ways. It also reports the countries of origin of the visitors to my blog.

There's a forum associates with this Flag Counter. One of the thing the forum members do is collecting flags from different countries. This could become an addictive hobby. I was too addicted to it briefly in the beginning, seeing a new flag appearing on this widget. A new flag represents an internet user discovering my blog from the people of a country that had never visited me before.

Many people in the forum like me would wake up in the morning and check their Flag Counter to see if any visitor from a new country had came to their blogs.

Other have developed the whole new hobby of collecting as many different flags as possible by trading flags from others in the forum. Before this, I knew only about people collecting international stamps or currencies, now people have invented the hobby of collecting virtual national (and regional) flags. What do they think of next?

While I don't get much excited as I used to, but I still leave it here to share both the traffic info as well as this strange hobby with my blog visitors.

In this article "Blogger vs Flag Counter Pageviews Stas", I talked about the difference between the 2 widgets in greater depth.

This widget, together with the next 3 widgets, allow the webmaster to monitor the popularity / authority of its blog in a quantitative way.



Google PageRank



According to Matt Cutt of Google, there're some 200+ signals that Google uses to work out your Google search results, and the Google pagerank (PR) is just one of them. While there're 200+ signals, I imagine they aren't carrying the same weight. Judging from the attention it's getting, it must be quite an important single measure.

This widget let you find out the Google PR for your blog. The question is, now that you have the widget and the PR number, how do you interpret it? In other words, is a PR of 3 good, bad or ugly?

The table below gives you some idea.

PR What does it mean
0 You probably just started your blog, and Google has not crawled it yet.
1 Very low ranking. Your blog probably has only a few posts.
2 Below average. You don't have many posts, and / or you publish them infrequently.
3 Average. Most of the blogs - including mine - fall into this rank.
4 Above Average. You're doing well as an individual blogger. Keep it up.
5 Good. Your site is probably a commercial website.
6 Very good. Many popular porn sites ranks here. E.g. xvideos.
7 Excellent. A number of regional Google rank here. E.g. google.ae.
8 Outstanding. Sites with household names like amazon.com and bing.com.
9 & 10 Few make it here. They're usually social media sites like Twitter, facebook and addthis.

I suspect that if anyone has enough data to plot a distribution of Pagerank of websites, I think it would be a positively skewed bell curve with a mode of 3.

With the purpose of my blog and my limited resources (I've spent zero dollar on SEO), I don't expect it will ever go above 4, and quite happy when it achieves a PR4. If I ever get a PR5, I'll be quite ecstatic (I can't really be more popular than porn sites, can I now?).

I have came across sites with the same PR3 as mine, but it has 100,000+ backlinks while I have far far less (not even in the same league) because I haven't really tried to build them. It seems that you can have maybe 1,000,000 backlinks and if they're low quality, they don't really boost your PR. Because I spend only minimal effort (and zero cost) in building backlinks, I've to conclude that all the backlinks I have must be of reasonable good quality that resulted from my articles. My advice is, focus on your content. Content is king.

To check if my Google PR is real, simply google "pagerank checker" or simple "pagerank check". Go to these websites, and check out my PR.



Alexa Traffic Rank



Some people think that Alexa Traffic Rank is a joke. For one thing, it can be gamed to your advantage. Another thing, it seems to be only ranked among Alexa users. Is it true?

Alexa Traffic Rank and Google Pagerank have quite a bit of overlap. But there're also some very wide divergence.

As my blog isn't a commercial website where generating incomes is its main purpose, I don't take my Alexa Traffic Rank too seriously. Like all the previous 2 widgets above, I put here to share info with my visitors. And they can interpret these figures anyway they like.

For people who are more serious about Alexa, they may want to know if installing this Alexa widget would help to improve their ranking.

Firstly, I have installed the Alexa toolbar about a year ago before this widget. And my traffic rank just after I installed the Alexa toolbar was around 25,500,000 (you can see this figure from waybackmachine. Yes, my blog looked a little different then). Just after I installed this Alexa widget, my Alexa Traffic Rank was 1,300,000. It improved quite quickly from 1.3 million to a touch under 1 million in a matters of days. But it had stabled around this figures for a couple of weeks now.

Now, this is what Alexa said about if Alexa toolbar does or does not effect your site's ranking,
"Alexa’s measurement panel is based on a very large and diverse set of browser extensions and plug-ins. Alexa toolbar is just one of many browser extensions that include Alexa data"
Let me put it this way. Before I installed the Alexa toolbar, when I tried to find out my Alexa Traffic Rank, Alexa returns no data. I think most of you have similar experience. I guess I have none of the browser extensions or plug-ins that they mentioned (and they didn't mention what they are). If we don't have them, we don't get measured, meaning you're ranked lower than anyone who has been measured. As soon as you install Alexa toolbar, you're placed at the end of the queue, and measurement starts. Your traffic ranking can only improve from the last position. As more and more traffic data about your site is gathered, naturally, your traffic rank improves.

At first, it improves very quickly as you start off from the last position even if your site have a lot of traffic and/or visitors. Eventually, your Alexa Traffic Rank stabilises as it should be. In other words, your improvement by installing Alexa toolbar is because comparison is being made among Alexa community (those that are measured by the above mentioned browser extensions and plug-ins, whatever they're, and not just the toolbar).

This also makes sense when it was claimed that Alexa Rank is more accurate for the sites that rank near the top than the bottom. It's unlikely that the high profiled sites aren't being measured by Alexa. Many tiny fishes would escape its large but sparse net.

Ok, now that you have the toolbar and the widget, what are these figure means? Is the Alexa Traffic Rank of around 1 million good or bad? Well, considering that there're more some 600 million websites worldwide (at the time of the publication of this post), I reckon ranking 1 million is not bad. I'm happy I don't rank 600 million. If you're measured by Alexa (you're a member of the Alexa Club), you're already better off than those who aren't being measured (Outsiders), as far as Alexa Traffic Rank is concerned.

So I could say that installing the Alexa toolbar alone would "improve" Alexa ranking in the way I describe above. I don't know how much more improvement, if any, by installing this Alexa widget as well. As I said before, I'm doing this for the purpose of sharing my blog's stats.  I suspect it only reports and doesn't measure, which makes sense. Why would Alexa needs 2 tools to do the same thing?

Before 2014 (I don't know the exact timing), you can get JavaScripts for this widget from this link,

http://www.alexa.com/siteowners/widgets.

When I tried to access the above URL just a few weeks ago, it seems to have terminated. Now (as I'm typing this post) it seems that this dead link has been redirected to another link,

https://alexa.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201514680.

Just in case the link is gone again, here's the html snippet that you need to place into your page element,



Of course, you need to replace "your_site" with the URL of your own blog or website.

By the time you read this post, my rank would have moved up much more...or not !

This is another difference between Alexa traffic Rank and Google Pagerank. Alexa Rank tends to fluctuate regularly as your site traffic is higher or lower relative to other sites. Google Pagerank is much more stable, and tends to grow organically and gradually with time as your site evolves. But this could simply be an illusion as Google Pagerank is divided by only 10 values while Alexa Rank uses actual values.

Also Google update PR only 1 or 2 times a year while Alexa updates its values more often, even these values are based on a 3 months average.



MozRank







This is the 3rd and last widget I installed that measures the popularity of my site (actually I only installed this after I published this article).

If you don't want to bother to read the official definition of precisely what MOZ Rank measures, here's a quote of their brief explanation,
MozRank represents a link popularity score. It reflects the importance of any given web page on the Internet. Pages earn MozRank by the number and quality of other pages that link to them. The higher the quality of the incoming links, the higher the MozRank
Since the page is the home page of my site, the MozRank is therefore referred to the website. In terms of how it is scored, the MOZ website has this to say,
We calculate this score on a logarithmic scale between 0 and 10. Thus, it's much easier to improve from a MozRank of 3 to 4 than it is to improve from 8 to 9. An "average" MozRank of what most people think of as a normal page on the Internet is around 3.
You could say that my MozRank is above average with a score of 4 (actually is 4.07). For now.

Since this is a logarithmic scale (like the Richter Scale that measures earthquake), an increase from 3 (the average) to 4 isn't equalled to an increase of 33%, which is an arithmetic scale increase. It's an increase that much more than 33%.




Copy Space



This isn't really a widget, but simply a banner to warn people who want to steal my content. Clicking this image simply take you to to their website. I don't know how well they work, but I know for a fact that Google is far better at detecting duplicate content. After all, it's all part of their operations. One way that Google goes about this is through Google authorship, which Google help me to claim my content. But this warning banner works better in scaring off potential scrapers.


All the little "widgets" at the bottom of the blog are reciprocal links that are required by these directory sites if my blog were to submit into their directories.


For third party widgets (those that aren't supplied by Blogger), you can always can it by clicking onto the widgets themselves. In fact, this is usually the requirement to allow my blog visitors to sign up to their widgets.

Happy widgetting !!!



Thursday, 12 June 2014

Tips for Taking Photos in an Aquarium


Fishes and other aquatics could be great subjects for photography. Unfortunately, many conditions make taking photos in aquarium more challenging. They include reflections from the glass surfaces of aquariums as well as weak light condition. Hopefully the following tips can shed some lights (sorry for the bad pun!).

Turn off the Flash
When you use flash to photograph any object behind the glass surface, you will end up capturing more of the flash, and less of your subject matter.

In fact, most aquariums would have a sign to warn against using flash photography. Apart from harming your own photos, flashes also blind visitors. The aquariums' aisles are usually dark, and the flashes could be quite blinding as people have getting used to indoor lighting conditions.

The people who use flashes are more likely because they have automatic setting on their cameras, which would set off the flashes when it detects low light conditions. Apart from annoying others, you also depleting your battery level rather quickly.

These days just about every camera - even the humble phone cameras - let you turn off the flash.

Use High ISO
The lighting in aquariums are quite weak. Without the flash, your only other alternatives are opening up the aperture and a slow shutter speed. A slow shutter will lead to blurry photos, and there's only so much you can open up your aperture. So the only ammo left for the photographer is to increase your ISO number. With high ISO, you will end up with pretty grainy photos, but it's more preferable than blurry ones.

Use a Lens Hood
One nagging problem with taking photos of any subject matter behind glasses is the reflections. While the aquariums these days make the viewing and photography easier by dimming the lights in the hallways to minimise reflection from the aquariums' surfaces. Sometimes reflections are inevitable. They could come from sources like an doorway, the lit sign of an exit or toilet, somebody's phones, or simply lights from nearby aquariums.

One way to completely eliminate this glare is to lean (not too hard) your camera lens squarely against the glass surface leaving no gaps in between. If bringing your camera right up to the glass surface is too close to photograph your fishes, then add on a lens hood to extend the distance between your camera lens and your fishes. One more benefit for resting your camera lens on the glass surface is essentially using it as a tripod (more like monopod) to minimise shaking from your hands.

Tulip and tubular lens hoods
3 Tulip and 2 tubular lens hoods
Source: wikipedia
Don't use tulip lens hoods as there are gaps letting outside light into the lens hood, use the tubular ones instead.

Even better, use the rubber one like this one instead of hard plastic. The flexible rubber and wide opening allow you to tilt the camera ever so slightly to get your desired angle. It also protects your lens as you accidentally hit the glass surface (when you couldn't see very well as you push the camera towards the glass surface). For our purpose, the more flexible the lens hood, the better.

Rubber lens hood
Rubber lens hood
Source: Wikimedia

Visit there on a Weekday
In general, aquariums would be more quiet on weekdays and make your shooting easier. Of course,
if you're going there with your kids, you have no choice but do it on weekends. Going there on weekdays on school holidays probably just as busy as normal weekends. If possible, go there on weekdays during non school holidays.

Back to Nerdy Stuff Page  



Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Misadventure of My 1st Visit to Sports Hub

While they had completed the Sports Hub, much of the peripheral things hadn't quite finished. I thought the best way, at least the shortest way, would be to walk to the Sport Hubs from Kallang MRT station.

From the MRT station, you can spot the Sports Hub. It was a sunny day (meaning a hot and humid day. There's no other type of sunny days in Singapore). I followed some signs that pointed towards Sports Hub. After some walk, I reached a dead end.  The sky-bridge /overpass that takes pedestrians over Nicoll Highway was being dismantled, and to be replaced by a new one, I imagine.

View of Sports Hub from across Nicoll Highway. Look at the rare blue sky. Hot!
So close yet so far...

I could see the Sports Hub loomed large on the other side of the highway, but there's no way of crossing it because the highway has a fence between the 2 opposite traffic lanes. I should be able to climb over it. But then the highway traffic was unending.

I didn't want to give up after investing about 1/2 litre of sweat, 120 calories, and it was less then 50m away. It didn't add up if I give up now. I refuse to give up after bad loss. This is how I invest. So shall I apply to everything else.

I even tried to walk down to a tunnel underneath Nicoll Highway to see if I could somehow cross highway from there. Passing motorists looked at me curiously as I walked on the ledge of a tunnel with rushing traffic.

Tunnel vision

Nope. After some walk on the ledge of the tunnel, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I could see that there's no way of crossing the highway. Just because there's light at the end of the tunnel doesn't mean there's a way up.

I returned to the surface (like the emerging of the innocent Eloi who's lost in the underground world of the Morlock).

I tried another route and another. I walked and I walked and I walked. Eventually, I collapsed in a park with heat exhaustion some 2 hours of walk in the sun. It was proven. My constitution wasn't equipped for tropical sunny days.

I took this photo before collapsing onto its moist, soft grass.
It's a nice way to go.

I saw a tunnel of light just before recovering. But that could just be flashback of the tunnel beneath Nicoll Highway.

Well, that's that. So close, yet so far (I'm talking Sport Hub, not death. But Mr. Death may say that about me). In this heat, the Sports Hub could have been a mirage, after all. Was there some vultures circling in the sky? I didn't notice. It could had been a black crow. Which is worse?



Sunday, 8 June 2014

Zheng He Voyages in SEA Aquarium

A Walk Down the Memory Lane of the Maritime Silk Road. Aquaphobic Kingdom in SEA Aquarium.

 35°C

I'm not an aquarium goer. But when somebody offers you a free ticket, it would be rude to refuse.

S.E.A. Aquarium is the world's largest aquarium (for now), which is sort of makes sense. Because Singapore already has an Underwater World in Sentosa Island since 1991, the new aquarium must have something better to offer. The bigger the better in this case. Bigger water tanks, more fishes, more variety of species of marine life, etc. They even added a museum and a cinema.

map of S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore
map of Aquarium
(click image to enlarge)

The aquarium is essentially 3 things rolled into 1. This is to cater for different age and interest groups. These additional things are what sets S.E.A. Aquarium apart from your typical aquariums. If aquarium is all you're interested, just skip the other additional things.


Maritime Experiential Museum

On entering the aquarium at the street level, you're in what essentially a maritime museum area, which shows the the history of trading nations in the maritime silk road. This is probably more appealing to the seniors, mums and dads than the kids.

Despite being an international port city, an island, a city-state whose history is so closely intertwined with maritime history, it has no independent maritime museum (perhaps Singapore being younger than me is one of the reason), until now. This museum is finally answered that call.

Wax figures in the Maritime Experiential Museum, S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore
Wax figures showing ethnic costumes. So life-like that it looks eerie

Henna hand painting, S.E.A. Aquarium
Henna hand painting. Popular with the kiddies

Bedouin riding a camel, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Bedouin riding a camel

Arabian shoes
Arabian shoes


Typhoon Theatre

At the end of this section is the Typhoon Theatre. During off-peak period, admission is free. Otherwise you're charged with a $10 admission. This - I thought - is a good idea to control the traffic in this theatre within the larger aquarium.

This is a so called 4D multimedia theatre, which is similar to the Sentosa 4D Magix locates at the Imbiah Lookout (not far from here). As with most such 4D cinemas, you will be watching a tall screen in 3D. The "4th dimensional" comes from the experience you get from the chairs you're sitting. In this Typhoon Theatre - as well as Sentosa 4D Magix - expect to get wet. The idea is to experiences with all your senses (wetness is one of them).

From there, you walk down to B1 to the Zheng He exhibits.


Zheng He's Exhibits

The centre piece of the Maritime Experiential  Museum is the cutaway of a life-size Zheng He's Treasure Ship (or Bao Chuan 寶船). It's so large that it's placed in the atrium, taking up 2 levels.

The following photos aren't showing the inside of Noah's Ark (quite understandable), but Zheng He's Bao Chuan that carrying exotic animals, herbs and spices that he collected during his grand expeditions.

The most stand-out  (no pun intended) "catch" in his ship is the pair of giraffes. The Ming court mistakenly identified them as the ancient Chinese mythical creature. In fact, one of the motives for the returning voyages to Indian Ocean was to fetch these fabled giraffes. Other exotic animals like the rhinos (see photos below) were also taken back to Ming court.

Pet giraffe presented to emperor Yongle
by the ruler of Bengal
source: wikipedia

Cutaway showing the interior of Bao Chuan, Maritime Experiential Museum, S.E.A Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Cutaway showing the interior of The Treasure Ship

Cutaway of Zheng He's Treasure Ship showing animals and spices, Maritime Experiential Museum, S.E.A Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Cutaway of Zheng He's Treasure Ship showing its treasured cargo of exotic animals and spices

The animals give you the scale of the enormous size of this 15th century Chinese junk. To give the sense of the technological cutting edge of this ship built during this period, let's compare it with the Christopher Columbus' flagship Santa Maria. Bear in mind that this Chinese junk was built more than half a century before Santa Maria that "first" discovered America.

Comparison of Zheng He's admiral ship with Christopher Columbus' flagship Santa Maria
source: militaryphotos.net

I guess you would appreciate Zheng He's exhibits more if you have a bit more background knowledge.

There're a few good reasons why Zheng He's exhibits are chosen not the least because these expeditionary voyages have a big following in Singapore. It's also very impressive to look at, and Singapore is proud of its association in these historical voyages.

Zheng He's Great Armanda of Chinese junks during the expeditionary voyages, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Zheng He's Great Armada of Chinese junks during the expeditionary voyage

Dragon Teeth Gate (Long Ya Men 龙牙门) - a craggy granite outcrop at Keppel Harbour in Singapore - was used by Zheng He as a landmark during his voyages. Ancient Chinese navigational charts were quite different from Western ones. It consisted of landmarks that help them to chart their course. Long Ya Men is one such a landmark.

This landmark had been destroyed by the British to widen the channel (very symbolic act as you shall see after reading the rest of this article). A replica of this rocky outcrop was recreated, and placed in the Labrador Park to commemorate Zheng He's 600th Anniversary Celebration in 2005. The location of this replica isn't very far from its original location.

This symbolic gesture shows Singapore's affinity to Zheng He's voyages. And hence this exhibit as a centre piece of this museum.

Zheng He was a very unique naval admiral in 2 ways - being a eunuch and a Muslim. But much more unique is the voyages itself for 2 reasons: China had been an isolationist for millennium, and had never been a naval power up until then, and since. This naval power projection was unique, almost like a spark in the dark night of Chinese long isolationism.

While the Silk Road linked China to the West, few ancient Chinese used it to venture out to Europe.  While Marco Polo visited China, no Chinese visited Europe. The Silk Road existed to only serve Chinese as a trading route for exporting their goods.

Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China

The long Great Wall of China is a perfect example of the long Chinese history, and an ultimate expression of these 2 things - isolationism and terrestrial power (as supposed to naval one). The Great Wall stretches across its northern border, and it's stopped dead where the land meets the ocean. Neither ancient Japan nor Korean were great naval powers, so these 2 ancient kingdoms never posed any threats to the Chinese imperial courts.

One of the peoples that the Han Chinese wanted to barricade with the Great Wall was the Manchus, who lived at the north-east corner of China just the other side of the Great Wall. Geographically, they live at the coast. They could easily circumvent thousands of miles of the Great Wall with ships that only needed to sail a few nautical miles to reach behind the Great Wall. Funny enough, that never took place. Because the Manchus (or any other continental ethnic Chinese), like the Hans were also sea-fearing, not sea-faring people.

They fight on horse backs, not ships. This aversion of the blue-water led to some very basic military blind spot. Of course, if any of the ethnic groups north of the Great Wall was a sea-faring people, the Great Wall would likely be extended along the coast line. Of course, it's much faster for the Manchus to build ships than the Chinese to build the defense wall along the coast. But there you have it, the thought never cross the Manchus' mind. (Having said that, the Manchu was able to get through the Great Wall of China because the General Wu open the gates for the Manchu forces. The Great Wall of China is only as strong as the weakest link. And the weakest link is of course people).

When the invaders are great naval power like the British Empire, the Chinese (now ruled by the Manchus who had overthrown the Ming dynasty by waltzing into the Great Wall) had no experience in fighting such naval invasion, and lost dismally. If the Chinese anticipated this ("the British are coming" - Paul Revere), they would probably extend the Great Wall along the coast as well. Mind you, the Great Wall that was built many centuries earlier wouldn't make good defense against the 19th century canons any more, anyway.

So it's a very unique moment in ancient Chinese history for this inward-looking, sea-fearing 15th century dynastic empire that suddenly decided to engage the rest of the known world, and did so with mammoth seagoing vessels instead of along the traditional terrestrial silk road.

The 15th century sown the seeds of a new world order where economic powers had been shifted from the terrestrial Silk Road in the East (Chinese dynastic empires, Ottoman Empire) to the maritime Silk Road of the West (Portuguese, Spain, France, Netherlands, and Britannia - each enjoyed roughly a century of empire between the 14th to the 20th century).

The very century when Zheng He launched these voyages, Christopher Columbus "first" discovered the New World. Incidentally or ironically, Columbus sailed towards America in search of an undiscovered sea routes to the Orient, especially China (he was very much inspired by Marco Polo's tales as one would expect). You could say the search of China gave birth to USA. The path of Chinese history would had been so drastically different if these voyages weren't abruptly stopped (soon after it started), but continued in deeper and more frequent trading engagements.

The late 20th century is the new late 15th century where there's a gradual power reverse shifts between the the 2 East-West hemispheres. Perhaps, this is another reason for the keen interest in the history of Zheng He (by both scholars East and West).

Isolationism and lack of naval development are 2 sides of the same coin. Even in 20th century, especially during the Mao Era, it had developed nuclear weapons and even space technology, but there was no blue water navy. Not until 21st century when China's international trading demanded a well developed navy. And China was the only member in the UN's P5 that didn't have a single aircraft carrier until practically the 21st century when they bought one from Ukraine. Yes, Ukraine has several, and had a spared one to sell to China.

This naval development isn't implying that China is giving up their isolationism any time soon, but simply out of the same fear that China always faced: invading forces. Only in this century, these invaders are much more further afield, if they come (of course, there won't be any. But this is the new game of geopolitics of arms race not dissimilar to those during the Cold War), they come in ships.

Oh, did I mention that China is the largest shipbuilder in the world by 2013 ? One should expect that from the world's factory. Think about it, China is the largest shipbuilder in the world, and yet they only have one aircraft carrier by 2013.

The logical follow-up question would be, "why the Chinese was never a great naval power?" The answer is certainly not because they weren't capable of building great ships (then or now). The short answer is because of the size of China. A longer answer is because there were always neighbouring ethnic groups who nibbled at the fringes of the Middle Kingdom to keep the Imperial courts way too busy to look beyond the shoreline. Chinese ancient history is a history of the established central powers throughout time trying to fend off neighbouring invading forces (Manchus, Mongols, Tartars, Tibetans, Turkics, etc) since the formation of the first dynastic empire of Qin. This article explored more on this.

USA before WW2 was an isolationist. And then Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, which isn't just one of the worst military blunder in 20th century, it's also a pivotal moment for American modern history, and the shape of the global geopolitical landscape. Before this, USA was an isolationist, afterwards, it became an interventionist, for good or bad.



There's no doubt that this part of the exhibit is very much appeal to the seniors - or senior at hearts like myself. Most older visitors sat at the bleacher admiring the gigantic Treasure Ship hanging precariously on the ceiling of the museum.

While I was engrossed in the Zheng He's exhibits, lost in musings of the historical analysis, I was being dragged away, with a stern warning, that we hadn't even got to the aquarium yet. I must not forget that we were going to an aquarium, not museum. Mind you, I didn't know about the existence of this museum within the S.E.A. Aquarium.


Aquariums

It's much larger than the Sydney Aquarium I went to if I remembered correctly (as I only remember vaguely because it's such a long time ago).

The variety of species are quite impressive. The various aquarium displays are designed for ease of photography. As much as such effort are made, taking photos in aquariums are very challenging. Here is an article with some photography tips that hopefully help a little.

Stingray, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Smiley face of a stingray

ocean gallery, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
One of the large ocean gallery

The Dome, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
The Dome, this locates inside the largest ocean gallery

Angelfish eating corral, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Angelfish eating corral

Leopard sharks
Leopard sharks

sardines, S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore
Packed like sardines. They're used to this crammed condition before being put into tins.


Don't forget to turn on closed captions and volume when watching the following videos.








Read my review on Underwater World for comparison.



Monday, 2 June 2014

Funny Caption 9 - Babies in Pots

Babies in flower Pots














"The Flower Power babies."

"OMG! I said put them into potties, not pots!"



Funny Capture 12 - Dog Shows Baby How to Paddle

Dog Shows Baby How to Paddle












"That's not how you dog paddle. Here's how you do it."

"Did somebody just drain all the water from the swimming pool?"

"Baby, let have a race. I'll be on twos, and you can be on all fours."