HMS Tecumseth

Second on our tour of the Georgian Bay area was Discovery Harbour, home of (replicas of) HMS Tecumseth, HM Schooner Bee and the attendant jolly-boat, skiff and gig. Neither original ship ever saw action, though both were used to transport troops and supplies following the War of 1812. The current site includes a long stretch of the shoreline and several semi-original naval buildings, one of which (the officers’ house) is deliciously air-conditioned. We wandered around until closing time, throwing occasional Patrick O’Brian quips around and carefully avoiding the golf cart-driving press-gang.

HM Schooner BeeTecumseth and Bee

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (3)When Amy’s parents came over for a visit recently, we took the opportunity to do something relatively touristy and drove a few hours north to Midland and the historic sites of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons and the Martyr’s Shrine. Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was established in 1639 by French Jesuits, making it the first permanent European settlement in what is now Ontario. It would last about ten years before increasing warfare with the First Peoples forced its abandonment, and the retreating inhabitants burned it down rather than see it fall into enemy hands. The site was then forgotten about for a few hundred years, excavated in the mid-nineteenth- and mid-twentieth centuries, and reconstructed in the 1960s as a historical site and living museum.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons workshopSainte-Marie among the Hurons corn

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (1)

We rolled up in the late morning, having paused somewhere north of Toronto for the audaciously-named “World’s Best Butter Tarts” at a combination bakery/estate agent/souvenir store. The site was quite a lot larger than I’d pictured it, a grassy enclosure dotted with large buildings and exuding a air of general industriousness. Wandering around, we came across a settler (unsuccessfully) demonstrating how to make fire the local way with a fire bow, a smith using a wood-fired forge to make iron nails and a baker in a stupendously hot house finishing off some corn bread (wheat would have been paddled in from Québec, and hence would have been in very short supply). The whole enterprise spoke of self-sufficiency, community and hardship in what at the time would have been a near-wilderness.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons fire bowSainte-Marie among the Hurons blacksmith

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons frogSainte-Marie among the Hurons groundhog

Martyr's Shrine

The Martyr’s Shrine next door was constructed in 1926 to commemorate the Jesuits who died at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and enjoys spectacular views over Georgian Bay. The interior of the church is constructed to look like a birch-bark canoe, which, as the principal means of transport in the region, would have held immense significance to the settlers and native peoples alike. Statues of various saints, holy people and significant events in the life of Jesus are scattered around the grounds, including a representation of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American to be beatified in the Roman Catholic Church. We shared the site with hordes of tourists/pilgrims from all over the world; remarkable for a relatively small site.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (2)Georgian Bay from the Martyr's Shrine

Notre-Dame-des-NeigesOn the warm and sunny evening following our epic tour of Montréal’s natural history attractions, I hiked up the undulating slopes of Mont-Royal to take a closer look at the imposing might of Saint Joseph’s Oratory (Oratoire Saint-Joseph). On my way, I passed the famous Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery – Canada’s largest cemetery and final home of several important figures in its history (had I know that at the time, I might have lingered there to seek out some of its luminaries).

St. Joseph's Oratory (3)

The Oratory rises up out of the surrounding hills like a spacecraft, and therefore boasts excellent views of the city and surrounding countryside (which is of critical importance to all Assassin’s Creed II players). I approached the enormous main doors, passing a few pilgrims, and was immediately directed into the side door – the front doors are presumably only used for special occasions. In the dimly-lit basement, I encountered a small grotto with spring-water (every good site of religious significance needs one), and thousands of crutches and canes case aside by people who’d been healed. The healer in question, Brother (now Saint) André Bessette, refused to take any credit for his work and directed all enquiries up to Saint Joseph (hence the Oratory). On one of the upper floors is a small memorial to Brother André, including his tomb, hospital bed and preserved heart (somehow stolen in 1973, but recovered the following year) – the smell of formaldehyde was a little overpowering, and I beat a respectful retreat into the surprisingly Spartan main hall.

St. Joseph's Oratory (1)St. Joseph's Oratory (5)

St. Joseph's Oratory (2)St. Joseph's Oratory (7)

St. Joseph's Oratory (4)St. Joseph's Oratory (6)McGill blossoms

The Hockey Sweater

The following morning, we walked over to McGill University and the charming McCord Museum of Canadian History (Musée McCord), as the name suggests an enormous collection of artifacts and documents relating to the long and tumultuous history of Canada. Since I knew next to nothing about Canadian history, we opted for the self-guided tour and were lent an iPod with an excellent museum guide app. Among the ingenious First Nations clothing, indecipherable political cartoons and paintings of colonial unrest we came across something that Amy described as “le hockey sweater”. Inspired by my blank look, she collected a couple of museum wardens and had them give us a quick summary of francophone-anglophone tensions in modern Québec. The sweater in question was Maurice Richard‘s Montréal Canadiens ice hockey uniform, and the subject of a well-known book. We headed out for dinner significantly more knowledgeable.

Raw restaurantMcCord statue

Atlas beetleThe week before last, Amy and I took a very long (around 2700 km) road trip down to North Carolina (in the USA) to attend Kate’s Ph. D. graduation. We opted to drive there (taking around two fourteen-hour days) rather than fly in an effort to save the environment – even taking infrastructure into account, multi-occupancy cars are far greener than aeroplanes. The stand-out event of the trip was our GPS inexplicably taking us along single-track roads through the middle of Kingdom Come State Park and then (almost) over a bridge that wasn’t there anymore. As we turned around to find an alternative route, a dog raced out from a nearby house and tried to attack the car, stalling us for several minutes while we crept forwards to avoid running him over. We later found out that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads, which would have cost around $8 for time savings of 1-2 hours.

Poison dart frogsOur first excursion in the subtropics was to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, a renowned centre for the natural sciences a short walk away from Kate’s house. We were given some indication of what to expect there when we were woken up by twittering cardinals, saw large turtles in a stream, were warned about copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the path and stumbled across a concrete brontosaurus on our way there. We had also (coincidentally) arrived just in time to catch an insect feeding (of fruit flies to poison dart frogs and crickets to assassin bugs) and a butterfly release (of newly-hatched specimens from Ecuador).

Ecuadorean butterfly (1)Ecuadorean butterfly (2)

Orchid mantisAfter a quick tour of the rest of the insectarium (including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, and various spiders, beetles and caterpillars), we braved the sweltering heat to explore the fairly large outdoor section of the museum and quickly met Ranger Greg Dodge, who was walking around showing an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) he’d found to various visitors. As we wandered around the wetland habitat, spotting bears, red wolves (Canis lupus rufus), ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), blue and green herons (Ardea herodias and Butorides virescens respectively) and lots of insects and frogs, he would show up every now and then to tell us about what we were looking at and what we’d seen on the drive down (principally roadkill, but also lots of turkey vultures, Cathartes aura).

Eyed click beetleRing-tailed lemur

Suzhou moat bridgeA few days later than planned, I boarded an overnight train to Shanghai (上海) and once again entered China proper. As I watched the countryside whizz by, the sheet scale and pace of construction staggered me – there was not a single kilometre we passed that did not have either an apartment complex, road or train line being put together out of steel and concrete. Needless to say, the land itself was a Bosch-like chaos of litter, discoloured water, mud, factories and half-demolished buildings, and my reacquaintance with China was quite depressing.

I arrived in Shanghai just before lunchtime, met up with Dan (whom you may remember from previous exploits in Korea) and proceeded to find the Propaganda Poster Art Museum just over the road from his apartment. After a quick tour through communist history, we went in search of lunch and discovered that the two vegetarian restaurants in the area had both closed down (presumably due to lack of clientèle in meat-ubiquitous China). Our wanderings were frequently punctuated by the machine-gun-like reports of firecrackers going off – at New Year, everyone gets hold of as many fireworks as they can and sets them off in the street. For days after the main events, the roads and pavements are awash with tattered red confetti from the wrappings.

Left: The southern moat bridge in Suzhou. Below, left to right: Bao’en Temple from Beisi Pagoda in Suzhou.

Bao'en from Beisi (1)Bao'en bridge

Bao'en gazeboI had an extra day before moving on, and we decided to go to nearby Suzhou (苏州) as both of us had seen quite a bit of Shanghai already. Unfortunately, several hundred other people had the same idea and we couldn’t get a train until the afternoon (though it did give us the chance to check out M50, an art collective in an old warehouse complex not unlike The Custard Factory in Birmingham). Pointedly ignoring all the taxi touts (perhaps a mistake, as things turned out), we walked over the river to Bao-en Temple and hiked up the nine-storey Beisi Pagoda to the rather precarious viewing balcony hundreds of feet above the city. Suzhou is known as the “Venice of the East”, but the only water we could see was in the temple pond behind us. We picked our way down again and walked the few kilometres to the Master of the Nets Garden, a formal garden that turned out to be closed. As did all the others – the city more or less shuts down at dusk, and we were out of time all too soon.

Left: A gazebo in Bao’en Temple. Below, left to right: Candles in Bao’en Temple, giant incense sticks in Bao’en Temple; Views from and of Beisi Pagoda.

Bao'en candlesBao'en incense

Suzhou from Bao'enBao'en from Beisi (2)Beisi from Bao'en

Old Observatory (1)From Shanghai, I managed to get a train going north to Qingdao (青岛) despite the New Year-travelling masses still persisting (most people had Monday to Friday off, but had to work the following Saturday and Sunday as regular days) and presented myself at the brilliantly-used Old Observatory Youth Hostel for my final days in China. I spent most of my free time walking around the European-style streets and waterfront, though did not get to see the new Olympic facilities as they turned out to be sited several miles away. Such is the rate of redevelopment in China, I reasoned that there was a good chance I’d stumble across an abandoned building while exploring (and, indeed, I did find an entire neighbourhood in mid-demolition). However, the whole place is so derelict to start with that there is no sure-fire way to tell which buildings are abandoned and which are just dilapidated and still in normal use.

Left: The Old Observatory Astrodome. Below, left to right: Qingdao from Zhongshan Park, Qingdao from Gianxiangshan Park; A vine in Gianxiangshan Park, the Old Observatory Astrodome, teh French-built telescope in the Astrodome.

Qingdao from ZhongshanQingdao from Gianxiangshan

Qingdao vineOld Observatory (2)Old Observatory telescope

Weidong Ferry, the operator that runs the China-Korea passenger routes, has two near-the-middle-of-the-line ferries packed with useful facilities such as shops, saunas and eateries. Although a rough crossing would still inevitably mark me as a landsman, I was not particularly concerned about the level of comfort I would experience and prepared my ditty bag for the midshipman’s berth accordingly. I was therefore uncommon hipped when the shuttle bus pulled up outside that infernal slug, the Queen Qingdao – an ancient transport drafted in while the more opulent New Golden Bridge V was refitted. I quickly made my assessment of the new post: nothing in the convenience store except water, Tsingtao beer and Korean canned coffee; nothing in the restaurant except rice, soup and assorted Korean pickled side dishes; no entertainment facilities except a TV in the room; no bathing room; top speed several points off the wind so we would arrive at least five hours late; rust and holes in the deck commonplace; an exterior door wedged open with another door that had fallen off; broken structural supports fixed with Sellotape; all toilet paper used up before the ship was even out of the harbour (note: unfortunately, none of this has been made up or exaggerated). There were, however, three Nutmegesque consolations that made the voyage bearable: I had my own capsule-like berth and so did not have to sail sardine class; said berth had a working power point so I could at least use my laptop; the sea was extremely smooth and I barely felt any swell at all.

Gansong BuddhaTwice a year, the Gansong Art Museum (간송미술관) in northern Seoul opens its doors to the public for a couple of weeks and allows a brief peek at some of Korea’s more reclusive national treasures. Tipped off by the Hub of Sparkle and inspired by Samedi, I hopped onto the subway after training (ever-thankful for not having classes on Wednesday mornings) and arived a few minutes before opening time.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I had assumed that the entire collection would be on display and was a little put out to discover that some of the more famous works (such as the Hunminjeongeum and Portrait of a Beauty) won’t be exhibited this year. The overall theme seemed to be nature and landscape, with plenty of looming mountains and abstract bamboo, and a few animal studies. Despite the crowds (the size of the museum means that more than ten people constitutes a crowd, and I’d managed to arrive at the same time as a guided tour and school group), I got a good look at some of Korea’s older art and felt suitably enriched for it.

Samilpo (삼일포; 三日浦)Gansong statue

Bourgeois spiders (1)Due to the ongoing travel photo upgrade and disaffiliation with hosting services less good than Ipernity, I didn’t go out specifically looking for things to photograph this weekend. However, we did happen to walk by the Samsung Leeum Art Museum (삼미술관) in Itaewon en route to Namsan (which turned into a multi-hour hike – first up the hill itself, and than all around the twisting streets of Haebangcheon hunting down a veggie burger) and saw a couple of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders (part of the Maman series) menacing the visitors.

Bourgeois spiders (3)Bourgeois spiders (2)

Museum tree frogFaced with the prospect of a Sunday afternoon with little to do, Amy and I dove back into the Seoul Museum and Art Gallery Guide and decided to give the Seoul Life Science Museum a try (all of the natural history museums we’d visited so far in Korea had been interesting and entertaining, so this was a clear choice). We found it in an unassuming building in a quiet neighbourhood, and hit a stumbling block immediately when some white-coated staff told us that it was closed (along with something about the internet, which we couldn’t quite get the meaning of). I asked why the place was closed (as we could see children exploring inside), at which point we were ushered through the doors and sold “self” (unguided) tickets. Or so we thought, until a staff member interrupted us looking at some turtles and gestured for us to join the demonstration going on upstairs.

We caught up with the tour just in time to join some slightly awed elementary school students on a mat and catch the first hands-on exhibit – a very calm ferret, which the guide wrung like a cloth to demonstrate their flexibility. As he was passed around, we could see a cage full of younger ferrets scampering about and trying to escape – possibly more realistic, but certainly a recipe for chaos if released.

Museum hedgehogAfter the ferret had been returned to his brethren, the guide produced some kind of tree frog (sadly, I didn’t write down the names of any actual species so will have to do a return visit with notebook) and demonstrated his tree-climbing ability by sticking him onto a wall (made of glass, so the frog slowly started to slide down and had to be rescued) and a spiny lizard, both of which were content just to sit in someone’s hand and watch their surroundings (quite possibly for food). By this time we’d spotted several more animals around the room, including a large rabbit, and when the guide turned up with a guinea pig I began to suspect we were looking at surplus lab animals (on reflection, probably not the case). I held the guinea pig as we began a tour of animals it probably was best not to touch (large snakes, an iguana and even a coati, whose origins we asked about and were politely evaded), who made contented purrs until s/he got bored and started to nibble on me in an effort to get put back home.

Museum snake-necked turtleBy this time, the formal tour had ended and a border collie puppy was produced from the office to gambol around and chew on things (especially trouser legs and shoes). We fed the rabbit, had some limited conversation with the kids, cooed at the other animals, checked out the aquatic (fish and turtles) and genetic engineering (glow in the dark mice, we think) exhibits downstairs and spoke briefly with the director-chairman, who seemed quite interested to meet us and told us a little about the bioscience activities going on there. We left with not-entirely-unreasonable hopes of getting permission to do our own English-language tours for schoolchildren.

ChanggyeonggungOne bright and sunny afternoon, I took advantage of some of Seoul’s major palaces being free to foreigners (a tourist board promotion) and had a look round Changgyeonggung and Jongmyo. They struck me as being kind of similar, though I’m sure there are a whole raft of subtle differences I’d be able to spot if I knew more about Korean history and architecture. The light was pretty bright and overbearing, which is why there aren’t any grand-sweep-type pictures here – I plan to do a return trip at a better time of day.

Pimping what?Before too long, Chuseok (the Korean harvest festival) came around and the whole country grudgingly enjoyed a three day weekend (typically, the holiday spans five days but the dates just weren’t auspicious this year). We had our usual delicious dinner and board games at Amy’s place, and then I went back to Seoul on my own to do a short course in photography (you’ll have to judge the results for yourselves). We had Sunday to walk around, and decide to give the Seoul Chicken Art Museum a try. Contrary to our information, it wasn’t open over the holiday and we ended up looking in at a minor royal residence before walking down to the city centre, where we stumbled upon a street magician swallowing needles and shuffling stacks of coins around. After bewildering the assembled crowd for a little while, he started promoting some miracle cream that would do just about anything – clean old coins, cover chipped paint, repair scuffed headlights and so on. Amy mused that demonstrating how good you are at tricking people by illusion before trying to sell some dubious miracle product wasn’t the best marketing strategy, but he did end up selling a couple of bottles.

No chickens over ChuseokJongmyo roof statues

Rice/milk drinkA student in my Korean language class had invited all and sundry to a Nepalese food festival over at a Nepalese Buddhist temple in the north-east of the city. Being no strangers to food from that area of the world, we announced ourselves and sat with a whole host of local Nepalese expats to find out what was going on. I turned out to be some kind of address by the ambassador to Nepal, the head of the temple and a couple of other people we couldn’t identify, followed by some food and entertainment (mostly karaoke). It was fun and interesting, though not a food festival as you or I might understand the term. Our Chuseok holiday ended with some more board games, and then it was back to work – the semester is almost a quarter over already.

ACROSA few hours on a bus going south, a brief overnight stop, a few hours on a ferry and then I was back in Japan, frantically trying to separate Japanese and Korean expressions in my head. The fact that I was finally back only sunk in properly after I got stuck behind a Sumo wrestler on the bus (there’s a Sumo tournament in Fukuoka in November) and found that the toilet in the bus station played running-water noises to cover the sounds of any bodily functions. I had a few hours to spare before my bus to Tokyo, so I went on a wander and found myself in the middle of the enormous Fukukoi Asia Dance Carnival. This, from what I could gather, consisted of all the local schools (and/or dance outfits) performing an Asia-themed dance routine at one of two locations – a routine that has to contain elaborate costumes, lots of shouting, flags, fans and a compere-cum-backing singer keeping the crowd informed. There was a lot of energy.

Fukuokai Asia Dance Carnival (1)Fukuokai Asian Dance Carnival (2)

Tokyo from the ParkAs the shortest (and therefore least seasickness-inducing) ferry to Japan docked at Fukuoka, I had the privilege of taking Japan’s longest bus journey (14.5 hours) overnight to Shinjuku, and another bus from there to the airport to meet my folks as they came off the flight battling jet-lag (but not officialdom, as the new foreigner photographing and fingerprinting rules haven’t come into force yet). After collecting maps at the tourist information point, we boarded a slow train into Tokyo, transferred to the metro, walked a good long way and rolled into the hotel several tiring hours later. We were lodged in a slightly more upmarket part of town than I’m used to, and the views over Tokyo to Mt. Fuji, not to mention the bathroom consumables, rather impressed me. After orienting ourselves, we walked into Ginza for some tempura and went to bed early to sleep off the travel fatigue.

Kaneji statuesJomyoin jizo

MeguroTuesday was our first full day in Tokyo, and we went up to Ueno to tour some of Japan’s national treasures at the museums. David and I took a side-trip to a nearby temple and graveyard, and discovered another temple claiming to have 84,000 Jizō statues in its grounds (Jizō is a Buddhist deity, the guardian of children, travellers, firefighters and the dead). The National Museum covered a huge site, complete with huge buildings, for a relatively small collection – possibly it requires large spaces for the droves of visitors in the high season – but was interesting nonetheless. We discovered a flea market while walking round the lake (actually a kind of lily field as you couldn’t see the water for plants), and after sunset went down to Shinjuku (discovering in the process that metro passes aren’t valid on suburban JR lines) for the famous night view of the Tokyo from the Metropolitan Government Building.

Shinjuku by nightSumo shrines

TsukijiThe following day, Dad and I took a walk from Ochanomizu (where we’d been looking for a transport museum) all the way east to Ryogoku – him for the Tokyo-Edo Museum; me for the Sumo Museum. The exhibit turned out to be mainly wrestler profiles and old match flyers, so I headed back west to check out the Meguro Parasitological Museum – the world’s only museum dedicated to parasites and a popular date spot for local students. There were shelves upon shelves of carefully-preserved things removed from people and animals, some rather unpleasant photographs and a few couples wandering round wishing they’d gone to the cinema instead. David and I got up early to see the famous fish market at Tsukiji, which turned out to be like a giant fishmonger and not the warehouse full of enormous and exotic sea creatures I’d been expecting. We squeezed into the narrow aisles with a few hundred other tourists (thanks to the market being in all the guidebooks); everyone taking photographs and generally getting in the way of business.

Meguro Parasitological MuseumKyoto graveyard

Tokyo dawnTakayama gingko

Fuji from the trainOur first stop in the Japanese countryside was at Takayama, a small town nestled up in the hills and a welcome break from the exhaust fumes of the capital. We found the Rickshaw Inn ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) both friendly and characterful – though any accommodation provider that subscribes to National Geographic has to be worth staying at. With only a day and a half or so to spare, we did a tour of the local Folk Village (next to some height-of-tack cult temple topped by a giant snooker ball) including feeding some giant carp) and I took a wander in the autumn-coloured park before visiting most of the local temples (conveniently built in the same district).

Takayama Folk VillageShrine statues

Kiyomizudera (2)At Kanazawa, our only visit to the north coast, the weather took a turn for the wetter and we found ourselves in the middle of a huge thunderstorm whilst out and about looking for somewhere to eat. The rain held off (though the sky brooded a lot) while we looked round Kenrokuen (one of Japan’s top three gardens), but the clear skies in Kyoto were a welcome sight. Having dropped our luggage off, we immediately walked out to the temple at Kiyomizudera (passing an enormous and interesting graveyard) and fought off both the crowds of tourists at the entrance and of those of hopeful couples at the shrine to the god responsible for matchmaking. A delicious falafel dinner and some sleep later, I went and marked myself as a fan by visiting the International Manga Museum (actually more of a private library) and then took a short train ride north to see Ryoanji Temple, which I’d missed last time. The temple contains a famous Zen garden consisting of fifteen rocks placed in an auspicious pattern – from the viewing area, you can only ever see a maximum of fourteen unless you stretch out rather dangerously and already know where a certain rock is.

Ryoanji (1)Ryoanji (2)

Itsukushima (2)Our penultimate stop was Hiroshima – somewhere I’d visited before but wanted other people to see. We arrived in the afternoon, did the museum and park, and found quite by chance a superb African-decorated jazz cafe with Mexican food. I took everyone out to Miyajima the following day, so that they’d at least seen one of Japan’s top three sights, and marvelled at the 2.5 ton giant rice scoop that I’d somehow missed the previous time. There is still no food available for the tame deer, so they’ll most likely be eating ice creams and the local waffles in perpetuity.

KenrokuenRjoanji (3)

Kanazawa CastleFinally, we trundled into Osaka and our last few days in Japan. Dad and I went to take a look at the Human Rights Museum, which had a lot of material but was slightly lacking in English explanations (even on the audio guide). It was extremely interesting to see a Japanese museum talk openly and fairly about issues like indigenous people, Koreans and women – all of whom have had few or no rights in the past. That afternoon I eagerly went out to Ikeda (a satellite city just north of Osaka) to find a rumoured rabbit/marmot petting zoo set in a beautiful park. I found the park (as beautiful as advertised), but the touch section of the zoo was closed (possibly due to it being winter) and I could only watch several rabbits hop around in their pen (which was larger than those of some of the larger animals, including the emus). Australian animals were especially well-represented, as there is some kind of partnership between Ikeda and a town in Tasmania – perhaps there’s a zoo over there full of tanuki.

Miyajima deerMiyajima pagoda

As I type, my family is preparing to fly back to the UK and I take a train to Kyoto in a few hours. From there, there’s an overnight bus to Fukuoka (thankfully not as long as before) and I should be back in Yongin sometime on Saturday night. I am very glad that the PSP has a full charge.