Friday, March 25, 2005


Did You Know?

Did you know that a female kangaroo is usually pregnant in permanence, except on the day she gives birth? Or, that she has the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch? Or, that the mother is able to simultaneously produce two different compositions of milk, one for the newborn and one for the older joey who still lives in the pouch? Or, that a group of kangaroos is called a mob?

Did you know that the Tasmanian Devil is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial? Or, that it is slow and has terrible eyesight and therefore must live opportunistically upon road kill and other carrion? Or, that it quickly devours every last bit of a carcass including all the bones and fur?

Did you know that when the first European explorers in Australia captured a platypus and brought it back to Britain it was generally believed to be a hoax instead of an actual animal? Or, that this period of uncertainly was followed by 70 years of scientific bickering and a reclassification of nearly the entire animal kingdom? Or, that it is one of only two egg-laying mammals?

Did you know that the Koala Bear is not a bear, but a marsupial? Or, that it has two thumbs on each front paw? Or, that it eats nearly two kilograms of eucalyptus leaves a day?

Australia’s critters are really pretty nifty, don’t you think?

Enjoy the Australian Animals Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Animal Videos:
Devils Fighting for Food.
Devil Chow Time.
Fairy Penguins.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Wild Beauty

"Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins,
as in art, with the pretty.
It expands through successive stages of beautiful
to values as yet uncaptured by language."

-Aldo Leopold

The more one sees of Tasmania, the more one wants to stay there forever. Walking through the rainforest is mind-boggling: huge eucalyptus trees dripping with silver-green moss stand guard over every inch of the trail, while ferns dapple the surface of the countless frisky streams below. As the impenetrable forest canopy soars like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel overhead, you think, “what have I done to be so lucky?”

You follow a gravel path in and around the giant trees, as trout-choked rivers thunder past. Wallabies poke their heads out from under silver ferns, inquisitive to the intruders in their densely wooded playground. Walls of mountains soar in the distance, giving a dark green backdrop to the already emerald palette before you.

Every turn reveals another amazing vista. Every step brings a new sight or sound to your already dazzled mind. You are in Tasmania, and its beauty makes your heart ache.

Enjoy the Western Tasmania Photo Gallery.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Under Down Under

“Welcome to JetStar Airlines...wait, wait, wait! Let me guess! Hmm, you must be Scott and Lynn?”

“Well, did you know? Are we late?”

“Oh, no. Our flight to Tasmania this evening only has 22 passengers.”

“Really? Why is it so empty?

“Don’t you know? Nobody goes to Tasmania.”


“Yeah, there’s nothing interesting down there. Anytime someone asks about flying to Tasmania, I tell them not to waste their money….I mean….not that you are wasting your money, (uncomfortable pause), but you’d be much better off flying to Melbourne.”


“Yeah, at least there’s some nightlife in Melbourne. We (pointing to the other gate-agents) can all fly to Tasmania for free, and none of us has ever gone.”


“Of course. Everyone knows Tasmania is full of Westies.”

“Really? What’s a Westy?”

“Oh, you know, someone who doesn’t even brush their hair.”

“You mean, like this?” Lynn holds up a strand of matted hair.

“Oh, no honey, much worse than that. And they just wear any old thing, and don’t care how they look.”

Looking down at the same clothes we have been wearing nearly every day for the past seven months, we ask, “You mean, like this?”

“Well, umm, sorta, but worse even. Okay, your flight will be boarding at Gate C4. I hope you find something to do down there. Maybe next time you can fly with us to the Gold Coast!”

Stumbling off to our gate, we look at each other, unsure of what just happened. Did the airline gate-agent just tell us we are wasting our money? Did he just say Tasmania is boring and horrible?

Well, we are here to report that Tasmania is not boring and horrible, and that we did not waste our money. In fact, Tasmania is just about the most beautiful and amazing place we have ever been.

The gate-agent did get one thing right however. Nobody goes to Tasmania. The beaches are postcard-perfect, and shockingly deserted. The mountain trails are gorgeous, and are totally empty. The most beautiful waterfall we have ever seen sits 10-minutes from a major highway, and yet no one is there. Twenty percent of the island is UNESCO protected wilderness. Major national parks have little or no road access. Tassie is pristine, wild, amazing, and uninhabited. Shunned by even the Australians themselves, Tasmania is one of the best-kept secrets in the world.

We still laugh about our misguided gate-agent. He is missing out on one of the world’s great gems right in his own backyard. He did do us a favor though. After all, its not every day you find out you are a Westy.

Enjoy the Eastern Tasmania Photo Gallery.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005


Hong Kong? Amazing and sleek. Delhi? Full of life. Bangkok? The heart of Asia. Kuala Lumpur? Surprisingly modern. Singapore? Fascinating. Sydney? Perhaps the most impressive city we have ever seen.

From the magical harbor to the myriad of perfect beaches to the signature Opera House, Sydney is a captivating blend of geography and beauty. Sydney gives its residents the ultimate lifestyle of sophisticated culture, outdoor activity, international dining, and natural beauty. If you live in Sydney, world-class surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and swimming are just down the street. If water sports aren’t your thing, running, rock climbing, cycling, hiking, golf, and even lawn bowling are right around the corner. Both the city and suburbs are completely beguiling, and the wine country of Hunter Valley is only two hours away. It would be an exquisite place to live.

If Sydney isn’t the cosmopolitan version of Shangri-la, we don’t know what is.

Enjoy the Sydney Photo Gallery.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Down Under

Australia is an upside-down, crazy, funny, wonderful kind of place. It is an island, a country, and a continent. It is the world’s sixth largest country in terms of size (similar to the U.S.), but has a population of only 19 million people (India grows by the same amount every year). It is the lowest, flattest, and warmest landmass on the globe, yet it has many popular ski resorts. It has the oldest soils, the oldest fossils, and the oldest human culture, yet it is one of the youngest westernized nations in the world. Except for Antarctica, it is the driest continent on Earth, yet it has vast tracts of pristine rainforest, carpeted with moss and ferns. It has heaps of unique and fascinating animals, yet it has more extinct species than any other country. It is home to the world’s ten most venomous snakes. Eighty percent of living things in Australia exist nowhere else in the world. Whoa.

Kangaroos, Dingoes, Wallabies, Wombats, Koalas, Platypuses, Saltwater Crocodiles, Penguins, Emus, and Tasmanian Devils. These are the animals of Australia.

Uluru (the world’s largest monolith), the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s largest living thing), and the vast Australian desert. These is the geography of Australia.

The many Aboriginal cultures of Australia date back at least 50,000 years (some estimate 100,000 years), while the European settlers (convicts from England) have been there for 217 years. This is the history of Australia.

This place is nuts. This is going to be fun.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005


We find ourselves in Singapore, the jumping off point for Australiana. As the Asia portion of our trip draws to a close, this is a prime opportunity to look back on our travels thus far, and to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned. For the past six months, we’ve attended the College of Life, and enrolled in courses such as Geography, History, Religious Studies, Art History, and Political Science. We’ve attended seminars in Social Studies, Anthropology, and the Culinary Arts. We’ve experimented in the laboratories of Botany, Zoology, and Geology. We’ve taken crash courses in Foreign Languages. Suddenly, we’ve had the luxury of time to consider and debate a wide range of questions, from the most mundane (e.g., should I buy my train ticket with or without air conditioning? should I wash my underwear now or can it wait until later? should I try the Luk Lak or stick to curry?), to the truly troubling and complicated problems of the world. Some of the issues we often discuss are:

1. Politics: What is the role of First World countries with regard to the rest of the world? Under what circumstances should the United Nations or individual western countries like the United States intervene in global conflicts? What leadership role should the First World nations have?

2. Economics: Why are certain countries more prosperous than others? Why have such diverse economic systems developed, and what system is best for any given population? How can countries improve their economic status in the world?

3. Human Rights: What are human rights, and how do we ensure such rights are protected? How do people satisfy their basic needs and maintain a standard of living? Whose responsibility is it to ensure people have access to clean air and clean water? What can we learn from past human rights violations and other governmental atrocities, and how do we prevent them in the future? What methods are in place to alleviate rampant worldwide starvation and disease? How can human suffering be reduced or alleviated?

4. Overpopulation: What factors cause overpopulation? What are the consequences of overpopulation? What tactics can be used to control population growth, and are such methods ethical? What is the appropriate population density for a given area, and what are the pros and cons of urban and rural locations?

5. Education: Why don’t children around the world have equal access to education? How can education standards be improved worldwide?

6. Environment: Is taking care of the environment a necessity or a luxury? How do environmental protection methods and ideals jive with economic goals and needs? How can someone who is on the verge of starvation worry about whether or not to recycle?

7. Religion: What is the role of religion? Why is religious conflict so widespread, and what can be done to eliminate it? Can traditional religious ideals be effective in a dynamic, evolving modern world, and if not, can or should they evolve as well?

8. Women’s Rights: What rights do (or should) women have in society? How do you change a culture’s expectations regarding women? Can the dowry system, purdah, self-immolations, and other social injustices against women be abolished? Should they? How?

9. Colonization: Why was colonization so widespread? What were the effects? Why does it continue?

10. Globalization: Should the United States and the rest of the westernized world be exploiting the affordable labor and resources of the third world? How can tribal people continue their way of life in an ever-changing modern society? What are the effects of the vast spread of American influence (products, movies, television, music) on the cultures of less developed nations?

Every one of these issues is intertwined, and all are exceptionally complicated. The more we ponder and research these questions, the more we realize that there are no easy answers. The world is not simply black and white, right or wrong, and there are a myriad of factors that influence every issue. Yet, despite our lack of answers, we feel fortunate just to have been here to face these questions. It is a learning process that more people should take the opportunity to experience. After all, as Confucius said, one day of travel is better than reading 1,000 books.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005


Singapore is Nutrasweet. Singapore is Disney. Singapore is the world’s biggest shopping mall. The beach sand is imported, the resorts are contrived, and the whole place is completely hygienic. There is no traffic, the streets are litter free, and everything is orderly and clean. This is Asia?

Singapore is famous for its rules. Littering will cost you $1,000; chewing gum a mere $500. Jaywalking and smoking are illegal, and if you want to own a car, you have to pay the government $25,000 for a ten-year ownership permit. This draconian system has produced one of the cleanest, most sterile cities in the world.

Everywhere you go, you find yourself in a climate-controlled shopping mall. Train stations, museums, office buildings, hotels, and the performing arts complex are all attached to malls. You can’t open a door, ride the subway, or go to the airport without seeing The Body Shop, Starbucks, or The Gap.

Yet, the city has life. There is a vibrant and beautiful Chinatown, and a thriving Little India. There is a flourishing arts community, including an amazing array of public sculpture, and perhaps the most spectacular performing arts complex on the globe. The public park system is second to none, and the botanical gardens, museum system, and aquarium are unbelievably good. Colonial architecture blends seamlessly with stunning modern buildings, and the whole city is linked by the best public transportation system we have ever seen.

Singapore is remarkable in every way -- its international economic success, its vast array of infrastructure, and its overwhelming artificiality. It is interesting, puzzling, entertaining, and educational. It is Pleasantville.

Enjoy the Singapore Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Singapore Botanical Gardens Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Singapore movies:
Singapore Aquarium.
Feeding Time.
Cruising Shark.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Kuala Lumpur

It is dark, pouring rain, and we are screaming through the storm at 100 mph. Trees fly past the window, their silhouettes repeatedly flashed against the black sky by lightning. Where the hell are we?

The Third World doesn’t typically excel at public transportation. Camel trains are interesting, but not particularly efficient at moving people. Tuk Tuks get the job done, but most people don’t like weaving through traffic in the smoke-belching, three-wheeled monsters. Buses are a proven method, but can we talk about lack of comfort? Trains can be romantic, yet often move at a glacial pace.

Fast forward to Kuala Lumpur, a beacon of technology smack in the center of the Malaysian Jungle. In KL, the buildings soar to the heavens, and shoppers ply huge air-conditioned shopping centers, escaping the intensity of the Malaysian jungle heat. Trendy bars and cafes line the streets, co-mingling with traditional street food vendors. Condominiums and luxury high-rises surround lush parks, and everything is connected with the latest form of modern transport.

Our introduction to KL came at the ultra-modern international airport 70 kilometers south of town. With no city in sight, we were forced to contemplate either an exorbitant taxi ride or a train to KL’s Central Station. Fortunately, we chose the latter. Five minutes after collecting our bags, we boarded the most advanced train either of us had ever seen, and within moments, we were flying silently down tracks toward the bustle of KL.

Kuala Lumpur has been around for centuries, but put itself on the map when it built the two tallest buildings in the world – the twin Petronas Towers – in 1998. It was a message to the world that KL and Malaysia were serious about their quest for foreign investment and technological success. Although there is now a taller building in Seoul, the Petronas Towers remain symbols of the confidence and success of Malaysia.

The other side of KL is more natural. Hundreds of acres of parkland carpet the city with huge swaths of green, and natural jungles sit untouched below towering office buildings. The crown jewel of this park system has to be the Lake Gardens, and its Aviary – the largest contained bird sanctuary in the world.

KL is far from perfect. It is difficult to walk in many parts of town, as superhighways have dissected traditional neighborhoods. The sky is often hazy with pollution, and the traffic can get heavy. Yet, we were pleasantly surprised. KL is clawing its way into the modern world, and is doing so with some success. Just look at the 100mph super-train from the airport, unencumbered by a nasty Asian monsoon, covering 70 kilometers in a mere 28 minutes. The future is right around the corner.

Enjoy the Kuala Lumpur Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Kuala Lumpur Aviary Photo Gallery.

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