Friday, December 20, 2013

Asian Eyes' USA Tale - LBJ Ranch weather forecaster

        While I was in LBJ Ranch on the way to Fredericksburg last year, I noticed that it still has a ranch full of cows and there were farmers still live on the land. The farmers have a way to patronizing us tourists. While driving on the country road in LBJ Ranch, I stopped to talk to a farmer. Our conversation centred on the ability of cows in a pasture to predict the weather.

      "When the cows are standing," the farmer pointing to the brown and white cows, assured me, "it means no rain for the next 24 hours. When they are lying down, it means it is going to rain."

       "What does it mean when half the herd is standing and the rest are lying down?" I asked.

      He answered gravely, "That means that half of them are wrong!"  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Asian Eyes' USA Tale - California Adventure

San Francisco's Million 
      While sight seeing in the famed San Francisco Pier 49 area, I came across a large bowl with a lone soda-can tab and a message that propped against the bowl. The message read "Please put your soda-can tabs here. My daughter's class is collecting them to see what a million of something look like". I promptly removed the tab from the Coca-Cola can I was drinking and plopped it inside the bowl. 
      When I move on, I saw another bowl next to the first with another message. The message was: "If you do not have a coda-can tab, no problem. Please put any dollar bill you can spare here. I am collecting them to see what a million of something looks like." 

Gilroy's Speed Limit      
       While passing through Gilroy town in the state of California, on the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I had to slow down from a 60 m.p.h speed zone to 35 m.p.h. speed zone as we entered the town area. My youngest son, who was eight-year-old son then, noticed the speed-limit sign and asked me what 35 m.p.h. meant. I explained that one cannot drive faster than 35 miles per hour. After a pause, he said, "What if you don't want to stay out for an hour". 

Carmel's Convenience Store              
      At the gas station after our visit to Monterey Aquarium, Big M filled up the car while I headed to the convenience store to get some refreshments. Inside the store I was second in a queue in the only checkout cash register that was opened. In front of me was a portly fellow who placed his beer, wine, cigars and a Penthouse magazine on the counter. As the items being rang up, the customer suddenly dropped a candy bar in front of the cashier. "I almost forgot," he said guiltily. He turned to me, grinned and said "My one vice."

San Luis Obispo's Motel
         I was in the process of planning out the nights stay along the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. When I called a motel in San Luis Obispo city, about a night stay and asked how much they charged for a room, the clerk told me that the rates depended on the room size and number of people.

       "Maam, do you take children?" I asked. 

       "No, sir," replied the clerk. "Only cash and credit cards."

CHiP (California Highway Patrol)
    I was driving along I-5 interstate highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles when a highway patrol trooper pulled me over for speeding. Astounded as I was the lone one get caught, I asked the officer, "Out of all those speeding cars that whizzed by as fast as me, why did you pull me over?"

    "Have you ever gone fishing, sonny?" the officer asked.

    "Yes," I replied.

    "Well, have you ever caught all the fish that swims by?"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Asian Eyes' Flight Tale - Love flight

        My family and I nearly missed our flight to Hong Kong for a year-end holiday and we were unable to get seats together. While in the plane, I found out that my seat was occupied by another passenger. After some commotion, the lead air stewardess told me that there was no mistake, and thanks to a full flight, I was bumped up to business class, courtesy as a loyal member of the airline frequent flier program. I decided to let my wife took the business class seat while I took my wife's coach seat together with my 3 kids, but we were in scattered seats. She was gleaming with joy and bounded off happily to her business class after seeing that we had settled down.

      The flight was on time and touched down safely in Hong Kong. At the exit door, my wife was waiting for us and her face was still radiant. When we reached to her, she said to me  "Thank you for the drink." I was puzzled and asked her what was with that "drink" thing. Thinking that I pulled a fast one on her, she told me that when we were airborne, she wrote to me a flirtatious note: "To the man sitting in 32F, I find you attractive. Would you care to join me for an unforgettable evening?" She asked a flight attendant to deliver it. 

      A few minutes later the flight attendant returned with a cocktail. "The man in 32F was flattered," the flight stewardess said to her, "but said that he must decline my offer since he was travelling with his family." My wife was still smiling when we landed. 

      "But I didn't send you one," I replied. Little does she know when she moved away to her business class seat, I had asked some fellow passengers to swap places so that I can sat all my family members together.

I had been sitting in 42F! OMG

Monday, September 16, 2013

Asian Eyes' Australia Tale - Sydney Adventure

Sydney Sex
        I was on business travel to Sydney recently, and had a rare weekend off Down Under. I took the Hop On Hop Off tour of Sydney and had a wonderful time. At the first stop I alighted at Market Square to view the Harbour Bridge up close and personal.

       As I walked down the street I noticed a group of 6 to 7 teenage girl tourists, holding an iPhone, snapping photographs. As I walked up to pass them, one of the girl turned to me and said, "Sir, mind if you can help us take of a photo." "Not at all" I replied. 

     They posed on a fleet of steps in front of a cathedral just below the Harbour bridge while I get the iPhone ready. When they were ready, I said "say sex" instead of "say cheese." The picture came out very good. Everyone in the picture smile widely, some giggling and some laughing out loud. 

      Taking back her camera, the girl exclaimed "I did not see it coming. You make our day. Thank you." 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Asian Eyes' UK - Kew Garden

Rubber tree originated from
 Brazil. It oozes white latex that 
are used in many products 
like car tires, condom, mattress 
and gasket. As a child I played 
with the rubber seeds in many 
different ways.
           Ever since my primary school days many years ago, I read about rubber seeds, which was prevalent during the 1960s and 1970s in Malaysia, was first brought from Brazil to England. The seeds were first planted in a Kew Garden's greenhouse before some of the seedlings were later brought to Malaya. It had been ingrained into my brain that one day if I have a chance to visit England, I would like to visit Kew Garden to see Hevea Brasiliensis. Thus, when the chance came in May this year, an ex-classmate from my secondary school (Mr. Steven Ng), who had called London home for more than a decade now, was very surprise on learning of my intention to visit Kew Garden. This trip gave me a chance to reminiscing my childhood memory and an opportunity to trace back the origin of the rubber tree before its final journey to South East Asia. What I found out about the rubber tree in Kew Garden surprised me.   

Kew Garden
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to as Kew Gardens, comprises 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in Richmond upon Thames in southwest London, England. "The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" and the brand name "Kew" are also used as umbrella terms for the institution that runs both the gardens at Kew and Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is an internationally important botanical research and education institution with 700 staff and an income of £56 million for the year ended 31 March 2008, as well as a visitor attraction receiving almost two million visits in that year. Created in 1759, the gardens celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009. The director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is responsible for the world's largest collection of living plants. The organisation employs more than 650 scientists and other staff. The living collections include more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is one of the largest in the world, has over seven million preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. The Kew site includes four Grade I listed buildings and 36 Grade II listed structures in an internationally significant landscape.

        I took the Tube from Hyde Park, paying for a full day pass at £8.90. However since it was a weekend where London Tube occasionally shutdown for maintenance work, I alighted at Boston Manor station and then took a connecting bus to before continue by Tube to Kew Garden. Tube workers with the Tube logo on their blue tunic were at every station where services were disrupted, and at the connecting bus stops, directing unwary travelers of the disruption. Pity those with huge back which end destination was Heathrow Airport as they had to heaved big bags up and down the stairs/escalators. I alighted at the Kew Garden Station and the garden proper is some 500 meters ahead towards Thames River.

Alpine House
In March 2006, the Davies Alpine House opened, the third version of an alpine house since 1887. Although only 16 meters long the apex of the roof arch extends to a height of 10 meters in order to allow the natural airflow of a building of this shape to aid in the all important ventilation required for the type of plants to be housed. The new house features a set of automatically operated blinds that prevent it overheating when the sun is too hot for the plants together with a system that blows a continuous stream of cool air over the plants. The main design aim of the house is to allow maximum light transmission. To this end the glass is of a special low iron type that allows 90% of the ultraviolet light in sunlight to pass. It is attached by high tension steel cables so that no light is obstructed by traditional glazing bars. To conserve energy the cooling air is not refrigerated but is cooled by being passed through a labyrinth of pipes buried under the house at a depth where the temperature remains suitable all year round. A design goal of the house is that the maximum temperature will not exceed 20 degrees Celsius. Kew's collection of Alpine plants (defined as those that grow above the tree-line in their locale - ground level at the poles rising to over 2000 metres in the Alps), extends to over 7000 and as the Alpine House can only house around 200 at a time the ones on show are regularly rotated.

Built for the Japan-British Exhibition (1910) and moved to Kew in 1911, the Chokushi-Mon (‘Imperial Envoy's Gateway’) is a four-fifths scale replica of the karamon (gateway) of the Nishi Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto. It lies about 140 m west of the Pagoda and is surrounded by a reconstruction of a traditional Japanese garden.

Compost heap
Kew has one of the largest compost heaps in Europe, made from green waste from the gardens and the waste from the stables of the Household Cavalry. The compost is mainly used in the gardens, but on occasion has been auctioned as part of a fund-raising event for the gardens.
The compost heap is in an area of the gardens not accessible to the general public, but a viewing platform, made of wood seized by Customs HMRC which had been illegally traded, has been erected to allow visitors to observe the heap as it goes through its cycle.

The Palace at Kew
Part of the formal gardens behind the palace
Kew Palace is the smallest of the British royal palaces. It was built by Samuel Fortrey, a Dutch merchant in around 1631. It was later purchased by George III. The construction method is known as Flemish bond and involves laying the bricks with long and short sides alternating. This and the gabled front tend to give the construction a definite Dutch appearance. To the rear of the building is the "Queen's Garden" which includes a collection of plants believed to have medicinal qualities. Only plants that were extant in England by the 17th century are grown in the garden. The building underwent significant restoration before being reopened to the public in 2006. It is administered separately from the gardens.

The Minka House
Following the Japan 2001 festival, Kew acquired a Japanese wooden house called a minka. It was originally erected in around 1900 in a suburb of Okazaki. Japanese craftsmen reassembled the framework and British builders who had worked on the Globe Theatre added the mud wall panels. Work on the house started on 7 May 2001 and when the framework was completed on 21 May, a Japanese ceremony was held to mark what was considered an auspicious occasion. Work on the building of the house was completed in November 2001 but the internal artefacts were not all in place until 2006. The Minka house is located within the bamboo collection in the West central part of the gardens.

The Marianne North Gallery of Botanic Art
The Marianne North Gallery was built in the 1880s to house the paintings of Marianne North, an MP's daughter who traveled alone to North and South America, South Africa and many parts of Asia, at a time when women rarely did so, to paint plants. The gallery has 832 of her paintings. The paintings were left to Kew by the artist and a condition of the bequest is that the layout of the paintings in the gallery may not be altered.
The gallery had suffered considerable structural degradation since its creation and during a period from 2008 to 2009 major restoration and refurbishment took place. During the time the gallery was closed the opportunity was also taken to restore the paintings to their original condition. The gallery reopened in October 2009. The gallery originally opened in 1882 and is the only permanent exhibition in Great Britain dedicated to the work of one woman.

Museum No. 1
Near the Palm House is a building known as "Museum No. 1" (even though it is the only museum on the site), which was designed by Decimus Burton and opened in 1857. Housing Kew's economic botany collections including tools, ornaments, clothing, food and medicines, its aim was to illustrate human dependence on plants. The building was refurbished in 1998. The upper two floors are now an education center and the ground floor houses the "Plants+People" exhibition which highlights the variety of plants and the ways that people use them. Admission to the galleries and museum is free after paying admission to the Gardens.

The Nash Conservatory
Originally designed for Buckingham Palace, this was moved to Kew in 1836 by King William IV. With an abundance of natural light the building is used to house displays of photographs and small, educational exhibitions.

Kew Orangery
The Orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers, and was completed in 1761. It measures 28 m x 10 m. After many changes of use, it is currently used as a restaurant.

The Pagoda
In the South East corner of Kew Gardens stands the Great Pagoda (by Sir William Chambers), erected in 1762, from a design in imitation of the Chinese Ta. The lowest of the ten octagonal storeys is 15 m in diameter. From the base to the highest point is 50 m. Each storey finishes with a projecting roof, after the Chinese manner, originally covered with ceramic tiles and adorned with large dragons; a story is still propagated that they were made of gold and were reputedly sold by George IV to settle his debts. In fact the dragons were made of wood painted gold, and simply rotted away with the ravages of time. The walls of the building are composed of brick. The staircase, 253 steps, is in the center of the building. The Pagoda was closed to the public for many years, but was reopened for the summer months of 2006, now permanently. During the Second World War holes were cut in each floor to allow for drop-testing of model bombs.

The Palm House and Parterre
The Palm House (1844–1848) was the result of cooperation between architect Decimus Burton and iron-founder Richard Turner, and continues upon the glass house design principles developed by John Claudius Loudon and Joseph Paxton. A space frame of wrought iron arches, held together by horizontal tubular structures containing long pre-stressed cables, supports glass panes which were originally tinted green with copper oxide to reduce the significant heating effect. The 19m high central nave is surrounded by a walkway at 9m height, allowing visitors a closer look upon the palm tree crowns.

Princess of Wales Conservatory
Kew's third major conservatory, the Princess of Wales Conservatory, designed by architect Gordon Wilson, was opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales in commemoration of her predecessor Augusta's associations with Kew. In 1989 the conservatory received the Europa Nostra award for conservation. The conservatory houses ten computer-controlled micro-climatic zones, with the bulk of the greenhouse volume composed of Dry Tropics and Wet Tropics plants. Significant numbers of orchids, water lilies, cacti, lithops, carnivorous plants and bromeliads are housed in the various zones. The cactus collection also extends outside the conservatory where some hardier species can be found. With an area of 4499 square meters the conservatory is designed to minimize the amount of energy taken to run it and to this end the cooler zones are grouped around the outside with the more tropical zones in the central area where heat is conserved. The glass roof extends down to the ground which gives the conservatory a distinctive appearance and helps to maximize the use of the sun's energy. During the construction of the conservatory a time capsule was buried containing the seeds of basic crops and endangered plant species and key publications on conservation.

Queen Charlotte's Cottage
Within the conservation area is a cottage that was given to Queen Charlotte as a wedding present on her marriage to George III. It has been restored by Historic Royal Palaces and is separately administered by them. It is open to the public on weekends and Bank Holidays during the summer.

The Rhizotron
A rhizotron opened at the same time as the "treetop walkway" giving visitors the opportunity to investigate what happens beneath the ground where trees grow. The rhizotron is essentially a single gallery containing a set of large bronze abstract castings which contain LCD screens that carry repeating loops of information about the life of trees.

The Sackler Crossing
The Sackler Crossing bridge made of granite and bronze opened in May 2006. Designed by Buro Happold and John Pawson, it crosses the lake and is named in honor of philanthropists Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler.
The minimalist styled bridge is designed as a sweeping double curve of black granite and the sides are formed of bronze posts that give the impression, from certain angles, of forming a solid wall whereas from others, and to those on the bridge, they are clearly individual entities that allow a view of the water beyond. It forms part of a path designed to encourage visitors to visit more of the gardens than had hitherto been popular and connect the two art galleries, via the temperate and evolution houses and the woodland glade, to the Minka House and bamboo garden. The crossing won a special award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2008.

The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanic Art
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanic Art opened in April 2008, and holds paintings from Kew's and Dr Shirley Sherwood's collections, many of which had never been displayed to the public before. It features paintings by artists such as Georg D. Ehret, the Bauer brothers, Pierre-Joseph Redouté and Walter Hood Fitch. The paintings and drawings are cycled on a six monthly basis. The gallery is linked to the Marianne North Gallery.

The Temperate House
This greenhouse has twice the floor area of the Palm House and is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It contains plants and trees from all the temperate regions of the world. It was commissioned in 1859 and designed by architect Decimus Burton and iron founder Richard Turner. Covering 4880 square meters, it rises to a height of 19 meters. Intended to accommodate Kew's expanding collection of hardy and temperate plants, it took forty years to construct, during which time costs soared. There is a viewing gallery in the central section from which visitors may look down on that part of the collection.

The "Treetop walkway"
A view of trees and the Temperate House from the treetop walkway
A new treetop walkway opened in 2008. This walkway is 18 meters high and 200 meters long and takes visitors into the tree canopy of a woodland glade. Visitors can ascend and descend by stairs and a lift is available for the disabled. The floor of the walkway is made from perforated metal and flexes as it is walked upon. The entire structure sways in the wind. The image to the left shows a section of the walkway and the steel supports that were designed to rust to a tree-like appearance to help the walkway fit in with its surroundings. There is a short film detailing the construction of the walkway available online.

Vehicular tour
Kew Explorer is a service that takes a circular route around the gardens, provided by two 72-seaters road trains that are fuel by Calor Gas to minimize pollution. A commentary is provided by the driver and there are several stops. A map of the gardens is available on the Kew Gardens website.

The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House is the hottest and most humid of the houses at Kew and contains a large pond with varieties of water lily, surrounded by a display of economically important heat-loving plants. It closes during the winter months. It was built to house the Victoria Amazonica, the largest of the Nymphaeaceae family of water lilies. This plant was originally transported to Kew in phials of clean water and arrived in February, 1849, after several prior attempts to transport seeds and roots failed. Although various other members of the Nymphaeaceae family grew well, the house did not suit the Victoria, purportedly because of a poor ventilation system, and this specimen, was moved to another, smaller, house.
The ironwork for this project was provided by Richard Turner and the initial construction was completed in 1852. The heat for the house was initially obtained by running a flue from the nearby palm house but it was later equipped with its own boiler.

Plant collections at Kew Garden.

1. The Aquatic Garden
Situated near the Jodrell laboratory, the Aquatic Garden, which celebrated its centenary in 2009, provides conditions for aquatic and marginal plants. The large central pool holds a selection of summer-flowering water lilies whilst the corner pools contain plants such as reed mace, bulrushes, phragmites and smaller floating aquatic species.

2. The Arboretum
The arboretum at Kew covers over half of the total area of the site and contains over 14,000 trees of many thousands of varieties.

3. The Bonsai Collection
The bonsai collection is housed in a dedicated greenhouse near the Jodrell laboratory.

4. The Cacti collection
This is housed in and around the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

5. The Carnivorous Plant collection
This is housed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

6. The Grass Garden
Created on its current site in the early 1980s to display ornamental and economic grasses the Grass Garden was redesigned and replanted between 1994 and 1997. It is currently undergoing a further redesign and planting. Over 580 species of grasses are displayed.

7. The Herbaceous Grounds (Order Beds)
The Order Beds were devised in the late 1860s by Sir Joseph Hooker, then director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, so that botany students could learn to recognize plants and experience at first hand the diversity of the plant kingdom. The collection is organised into family groups. Its name arose because plant families were known as natural orders in the 19th century. Over the main path is a rose pergola built in 1959 to mark the bicentennial of the Gardens. It supports climber and rambling roses selected for the length and profusion of flowering.

8. The Orchid collection
The orchid collection is housed in two climate zones within the Princess of Wales Conservatory. To maintain an interesting display the plants are changed regularly so that those on view are generally flowering.

9. The Rock Garden
Originally built of limestone in 1882, it is now constructed of Sussex sandstone from West Hoathly, Sussex. The rock garden is divided into six geographic regions: Europe, Mediterranean and Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, North America, and South America. There are currently 2,480 different 'accessions' growing in the garden.

10. The Rose Garden
The Rose Garden, based upon original designs by William Nesfield, is behind the Palm House, and was replanted between 2009 and 2010 using the original design from 1848. It is intended as an ornamental display rather than a collection of a particularly large number of varieties.

11. Other collections
Other collections and specialist areas include the rhododendron dell, the azalea garden, the bamboo garden, the juniper collection, the berberis dell, the lilac garden, the magnolia collection, and the fern collection.

Once one emerged from the Tube Underground, there is a Kew signboard showing where you are and where to go. Here tourist crowded over the signboard, all wanting to go to Kew Garden. I just followed the crowd and walked some 500 meters toward Thames River.
Adult entrance fee is £16 for a whole day from 9.30am to 6.30pm, but anyone aged 16 and below are free. Tram service are extra. Maps and brochure are free and there are live in botanist that can answer your questions, if you have any. The botanist sits in the information counter/visitor center.

Armor shield like boards adorned the wall on the building greet visitors as one entered Kew Garden. These shield actually contained names of donors to Kew Garden. In Sir David Attenborough words to encouraging donors to give more, the writing on the wall stated "Kew Breathing Planet campaign will help protect the world's plants, the basis for all life on the planet. In a time of unprecedented global change, it could not be more important". How true. 
Purple and pink Tulips blooming outside Palm House. The tulip is a perennial, bulbous plant with showy flowers in the genus Tulipa, of which about 75  wild species are currently accepted and belongs to the family Liliaceae. The genus's native range extends west to the Iberian Peninsula, through North Africa to Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, throughout the Levant (Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan) and Iran, North to the Ukraine, southern Siberia and Mongolia, and east to the Northwest of China. The tulip's center of diversity is in the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Tien Shan mountains.. It is a typical element of steppe and winter-rain Mediterranean vegetation. A number of species and many hybrid cultivars are grown in gardens, as potted plants, or to be displayed as fresh-cut flowers. 
A statue of Scooby-doo outside the Palm House captured my attention. I took a second look - Scooby-doo, the cartoon dog? This is one of several statues at the front of the Palm House in the Kew Gardens. I am pretty certain many other visitors to Kew have found a resemblance with the cartoon character. This statue’s real name is The White Greyhound of Richmond. It is a stone copy of one of the 10 Queen’s Beasts, statues commissioned for queen Elisabeth II’s coronation, representing her genealogy.
The facts sheet on this palm tree stated that this is the oldest plant in the world - the cycad. Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves. They usually have pinnate leaves. The individual plants are either all male or all female (dioecious). Cycads vary in size from having trunks from only a few centimeters to several meters tall. They typically grow very slowly and live very long, with some specimens known to be as much as 1,000 years old. Because of their superficial resemblance, they are sometimes confused with and mistaken for palms or ferns, but are only distantly related to either. Cycads are found across much of the subtropical and tropical parts of the world. They are found in South and Central America (where the greatest diversity occurs), Mexico, the Antilles, southeastern United States, Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and southern and tropical Africa, where at least 65 species occur. Cycads are gymnosperms (naked seeded), meaning their unfertilized seeds are open to the air to be directly fertilized by pollination, as contrasted with angiosperms, which have enclosed seeds with more complex fertilization arrangements. Cycads have very specialized pollinators, usually a specific species of beetle. They have been reported to fix nitrogen in association with a cyanobacterium living in the roots. These blue-green algae produce a neurotoxin called BMAA that is found in the seeds of cycads. This neurotoxin may enter a human food chain as the cycad seeds may be eaten by bats, and humans may eat the bats. It is hypothesized that this is a source of some neurological diseases in humans.
A lady taking a picture of a white flower tree. She was intrigued by the flowers and I was intrigued by her intrigue of the flower. Complicated. I was told this is a Kanwene tree from Ghana. I have never seen such tree before but they bore lots of small white flower from the trunk.
I have never known Vanilla is actually an orchid. In this picture, the star attraction is not the tree, but rather the creeper plant that wraps around the tree - the vanilla. Vanilla is a flavor derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia). The word vanilla, derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina, which mean sheath or pod, simply translates as little pod. Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs, and Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s. Three major cultivars of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. The various subspecies are Vanilla planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, and Central and South America.The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia variety, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighboring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia. Leptotes bicolor is used in the same way in South America. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.
Facts sheet on bamboo tree in The Temperate House. Bamboo Listeni is a tribe of flowering perennial evergreen plants in the grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. In bamboos, the internodal regions of the stem are hollow and the vascular bundles in the cross section are scattered throughout the stem instead of in a cylindrical arrangement. The dicotyledonous woody xylem is also absent. The absence of secondary growth wood causes the stems of monocots, even of palms and large bamboos, to be columnar rather than tapering. Bamboos are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product.
Hevea Brasiliensis, also known as Rubber tree, a tree that I have traveled half the world to see. When I consulted the in-house botanist about whether Kew Garden had a tree called Hevea Brasiliensis, he refers to a thick catalogue. After a few minutes of searching he looked up to me and smile and mentioned "yes, we do have a Hevea Brasiliensis. It is in the greenhouse". Ah ha, finally I got what I am looking for. I thanks him and went straight for the greenhouse. From a far as I approached the greenhouse I scouted the horizon to see if there is any tall majestic tree but I could not find any.  Before I came to Kew Garden, my expectation it is a gigantic tree where it need some 10 people holding hand to circle around the old tree trunk. I thought since it was brought over from Brazil in the 1800s, it must have been more than 200 years old, hence the gigantic size. Well, as you can see the above picture the rubber tree, merely a 10 inch diameter tree. Silly me! England is a temperate country. Tropical plant like rubber tree can only live in a greenhouse. In a greenhouse tree may not grow big else they would overgrown the greenhouse. All the original seedlings had been transplanted to other tropical countries. I spent some 15 minutes looking at the small rubber tree in Kew Garden until I was fully satisfied and moved on to other exhibits. I accomplished my mission even though the outcome was not what I looked for.
Big water lilies from Amazonia in The WaterLilies House. Victoria is a genus of water-lilies, in the plant family Nymphaeaceae, with very large green leaves that lie flat on the water's surface. Victoria amazonica has a leaf that is up to 3 m in diameter, on a stalk 7–8 m in length. The genus name was given in honor of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
Victoria amazonica is native to the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin, such as oxbow lakes and bayous. It is depicted in the Guyanese coat of arms. The flowers are white the first night they are open and become pink the second night. They are up to 40 cm in diameter, and are pollinated by scarab beetles. The leaf of Victoria is able to support quite a large weight due to the plant's structure, although the leaf itself is quite delicate: so much so that "a straw held 6 inches above and dropped perpendicularly upon it would readily pass through it". To counter the fragile nature of the leaf, the weight needs to be distributed across the surface through mechanical means, such as a sheet of plywood. This allows the leaf to support up to 70 pounds.
Agricultural student Chris Hudson from Dorset which I met in real person as he was busy transplanting baby vegetable plants from his nursery to his gardening bed within the compound of Kew Garden. He only came to his garden bed during the weekend. He related to me that as he grown up in the country side, he yearn to feel the joy of earth and gardening, and he relish the experience in Kew Garden.  
A lady  resting and soaking in the late spring sun in an open field inside Kew Garden. The weather was still cool. As I wandered to many public parks in London, the scene of visitors, half naked and bikini, are common throughout spring and summer.
A lady taking a picture or orchids up close in Cacti House. Orchidceae is a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants with blooms that are often colorful and often fragrant, commonly known as the orchid family. Along with the Asteraceae, they are one of the two largest families of flowering plants, with between 22,000 and 26, 000 currently accepted species, found in 880 genera. The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. The family also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). The family also includes Vanilla and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars. Orchid is also the national flower of Singapore.
The Cacti House also housed Venus flytrap (also Venus's flytrap or Venus' flytrap), Dionaea muscipula, which is a carnivorous plant native to subtropical wetlands on the East Coast of the United States. It catches its prey—chiefly insects and arachnids— with a trapping structure formed by the terminal portion of each of the plant's leaves and is triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap closes if a different hair is contacted within twenty seconds of the first strike. The requirement of redundant triggering in this mechanism serves as a safeguard against a waste of energy in trapping objects with no nutritional value.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Asian Eyes' UK - London Big Bus tour

News :
At Buckingham Palace. Well, I did not
 tease the Bobby.
           London is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom, and the largest city, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for 2 millennium its history going back to its founding by the Romans. London's ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile medieval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. The bulk of this conurbation forms the London region and the Greater London administrative area, governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
          London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is one of the world's leading financial centers and has the 5th or 6th-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world depending on measurement. London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. London had an official population of 8.2 million, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the 2nd largest in the EU, while the London metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of more than 15 million.  

         Flying in from Shannon (SNN) using Aer Lingus to London Heathrow (LHR), It was a short 1 hour flight. No immigration entry needed when one travels in from Ireland to UK. I took the Piccadily line of London Underground from Heathrow to downtown London and surfaced at Hyde Park station.

London Hyde Park Hotel by Hilton
150 Bayswater Road, London W2 4RT, United Kingdom
TEL: 44-207-2291212
FAX: 44-207-2292623
           London Hyde Park Hotel is located opposite Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and just 400 meters from either Queensway or Bayswater Underground stations offers close proximity to popular London attractions including the West End theater district and Madame Tussauds. One can enjoy fantastic shopping opportunities at nearby Oxford Street or hire a pedalo at the Serpentine boating lake in Hyde Park. One can enjoy easy access to an array of fantastic shopping, dining and entertainment venues when you stay at our London Hyde Park Hotel. Discover famous Hyde Park and the historic landscapes including the Princess Diana Memorial fountain. Hire a rowing boat on the Serpentine or walk through the park to Kensington Palace and explore the gardens. Visit Buckingham Palace or spend the day discovering London’s biggest shopping district, Oxford Street. Explore the iconic luxury department stores Selfridges and Harrods or catch a musical in the West End theater district. Immerse yourself in the vibrant social scene of Soho, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus or attend an exhibition or event at one of London’s famous arenas like the Royal Albert Hall, Olympia, Earl’s Court or the O2.
1. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world.
2. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
3. London has been described as a world cultural capital. 
4. It is the world's most-visited city as measured by international arrivals.
5. It is the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. 
6. London's 43 universities form the largest concentration of higher education in Europe. 
7. In 2012, London became the first city to host the modern Summer Olympic Games 3 times.


Big Bus Tour of London, which offers more than 50 hop-on hop-off stops with free river cruise and walking tours.
I took the tour at the 1st stop i.e. Green Park Underground stop and cost me £30 (Tips: If buy online you can get a 20% to 30% discount). It was an open top bus complete with live commentary along the designated route. It was early and rather chilly, and I had to curled up the in sheltered portion of the bus as we make our way through London streets. A map was provided free with marking of all the famous tourist attractions along the way. The attractions being: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Horse Guards, many others that I previously only see it in movies, shows or books. Here are some of the pictures I took in London.
Bye bye Ireland. I took an Aer Lingus London bound flight from Shannon International Airport, some 45 minute west of Limerick city.
One hour later, I arrived at Heathrow International Airport. After retrieving my bag, and no immigration gate, I proceed to take the tube to Central London.
I took Piccadilly Line which connects directly between Heathrow International Airport and Hyde Park, my hotel location. 
I bought a day pass for 8.90 pound, thinking I will do some sight-seeing via the Tube after I check in my hotel. Good choice indeed.
The unmistakably London's Underground red round Tube logo, with the station location across the circle.The London Underground (also known as the Underground or the Tube) is a public rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and parts of the counties of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. The system serves 270 stations and has 402 kilometers of track, 55% of which is actually above ground. The network incorporates the world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway which opened in 1863. The network has expanded to consist of 11 lines and now carries over 1 billion passengers
The ride was a breeze and no crowd at all. It was nearly an hour ride through the belly of London.
Green Park Underground station - my stop before I surface up to the above ground for the journey of London. Green Park tube station is a London Underground station located on the north side of Green Park, close to the intersection of Piccadilly and the pedestrian Queen's Walk. It is in Travelcard Zone 1. The station is served by the Piccadilly line, between Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park Corner, the Victoria line, between Victoria and Oxford Circus, and the Jubilee line, between Bond Street and Westminster.
An open top Big Bus tour awaiting me. I bought a ticket from the street and it set me back with £30. On hind sight I should have bought it online and would have same £6. Oh, well.
On top of Big Bus Tour Double Decker bus which provide a panoramic view as our bus rumble down London paved road. The front part of the iuppupper deck actually had a sheltered portion in case it rain or gets too cold in the open. Every seat had a plug on headset that one can hear the commentary from recorded message ( 5 international languages available) or live from the tour guide (English only).
Colonial buildings on the left and right. Looking back, the design look the same as in downtown Penang at Beach Street which housed HSBC building.
Hyde Park - venue of greenery much akin like New York Central Park. It also host a couple of music event. Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, United Kingdom, and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner. Hyde Park is the largest of four parks which form a chain from the entrance of Kensington Palace through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, via Hyde Park Corner and Green Park (19 hectares), past the main entrance to Buckingham Palace and then on through Saint James's Park (23 hectares) to Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. Hyde Park covers 142 hectare,s smaller than New York City's Central Park 341 hectares. To the southeast, outside the park, is Hyde Park Corner. Although, during daylight, the two parks merge seamlessly into each other, Kensington Gardens closes at dusk but Hyde Park remains open throughout the year from 5 am until midnight. 
Colonial buildings whizzed by and we pass through. I see that these are made of marbles for durability and endurance.
A war memorial outside the consulate of Australia. Did not get a chance to see up close, but it is big.
Stop by the Home of a British super spy - no, not James Bond but Sherlock Holmes. 221B Baker Street is the London address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the UK, postal addresses with a number followed by a letter may indicate a separate address within a larger, often residential building. Baker Street in Holmes' time was a high-class residential district, and Holmes' apartment was probably part of a Georgian terrace. At the time the Holmes stories were published, addresses in Baker Street did not go as high as 221. Baker Street was later extended, and in 1932 the Abbey National Building Society moved into premises at 219–229 Baker Street. For many years, Abbey National employed a full-time secretary to answer mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. In 1990, a blue plaque signifying 221B Baker Street was installed at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, situated elsewhere on the same block, and there followed a 15-year dispute between Abbey National and the Holmes Museum for the right to receive mail addressed to 221B Baker Street. Since the closure of Abbey House in 2005, ownership of the address by the Holmes Museum has not been challenged, despite its location between 237 and 241 Baker Street.
Fancy getting up close and personal to the world rich and famous? Then your answer is here at Madam Tussauds. Madame Tussauds is a wax museum. It was founded by wax sculptor Marie Tussaud and was formerly known as "Madame Tussaud's"; the apostrophe is no longer used. Madame Tussauds is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying waxworks of historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and infamous murderers. 
Piccadilly Circus connects Regents Street, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue and the Haymarket. It is a very busy thoroughfare, right in the heart of theatre land and famous for the large electronic advertising signs that overlook the ‘circus’. Originally built in 1819, the junction takes its name from the Latin word meaning ’circle’. The original junction was round, but changes to the layout have altered its shape and traffic now travels in just one direction. The center piece for Piccadilly Circus is the small statue commonly referred to as Eros but accurately known as Anteros the God of ‘requited love’ Son of Ares & Aphrodite, and brother of Eros.
My stop at Trafalgar Square where I made a brief stop. Trafalgar Square is one of my "must' itinerary to London. Finally a big check mark "done". Hurray!
The National Gallery is an art museum on Trafalgar Square in London. Founded in 1824, it had a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Its collection belongs to the public of the UK and entry to the main collection is free of charge. It is the 5th most visited art museum in the world, after the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and Tate Modern.
Trafalgar Square,,  is the most famous public space in London. It is used for political gatherings and is a center for national celebration. The Square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar. A naval battle, fought in the Atlantic in 1805, where the Royal Navy defeated the combined French & Spanish fleet. Admiral Nelson, who led the British fleet, was killed in the battle and became a national hero. In 1816 Parliament decided to erect a monument in his honor and a competition to design Trafalgar Square was commissioned. Nelson’s Column was completed in 1843. The column is 46 metres high and the statue of Nelson that stands at the top of the column is 5.5 metres tall. The height of the column is said to reflect the height of the main mast on Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. The Square also acts as a monument to other naval battles and important naval figures. Its famous 4th plinth remains unoccupied and is used for contemporary art installations. 
When I was younger, all pictures in movie, book and postcard on Trafalgar Square showed pigeons around the water fountain. However now I am here, I do not see any of them pigeons around. There are couple of men with hawks resting on their hand. Aha, now I understand the absence of the pigeons. The hawks are brought in to chase away the pigeons due to the nuisance of hygiene, sound and droppings. 
The London Eye, is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, England. It is 135 meters tall with 120 metees diameter wheel. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in UK, lifting over 4 million visitors into the London sky annually. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel". The Merlin Entertainments London Eye is the largest observation wheel in the world. It stands at 135 metres tall and has 32 pods representing the 32 London boroughs. The wheel was built in 1999 as part of London’s millennium celebrations. It was designed by British architects David Marks and Julia Barfield. The wheel itself was constructed horizontally on the river and then, over several weeks, slowly raised to a vertical position. Each capsule is capable of carrying up to 25 passengers and it takes 30 minutes to complete one revolution. A flight on The London Eye offers incredible views across London and excellent photo opportunities. It has become one of London’s iconic landmarks and a “must do” London attraction.

The Houses of Parliament, or Palace of Westminster, has been the home of the English political system since the 16th century, and the seat of British government for over 200 years. Previously the Palace was home to the English Monarch, but in 1547 the ‘common’ elected parliamentarians were permitted to use the Private Chapel of St Stephen’s as a meeting place and the ‘House of Commons’ was born. The Commons assembled in the Chapel of St Stephen's until 1834 when fire destroyed most of the palace leaving only Westminster Hall, St Stephen's crypt and the Jewel tower standing. The building we see today was designed in 1835 by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. It is built in the Neo-gothic style and building work took thirty years. When completed the new Palace of Westminster changed London’s skyline forever. The Parliament Clock tower rises 316 feet above London and is fronted by the world’s largest four-faced chiming clock. It is often referred to as ‘Big Ben’, but Big Ben is actually the name of the main bell, located deep within the tower. The tower is one of London’s most iconic landmarks and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.
Westminster Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge over the River Thames in London, linking Westminster on the north side and Lambeth on the south side. The bridge is painted predominantly green, the same colour as the leather seats in the House of Commons which is on the side of the Palace of Westminster nearest the bridge. This is in contrast to Lambeth Bridge which is red, the same colour as the seats in the House of Lords and is on the opposite side of the Houses of Parliament. In 2005-2007 it underwent a complete refurbishment, including replacing the iron fascias and repainting the whole bridge. It links the Palace of Westminster on the west side of the river with County Hall and the London Eye on the east and was the finishing point during the early years of the London Marathon.
This bridge is Tower Bridge and contrary to popular belief, the song "London Bridge Is Falling Down" has nothing to do with Tower Bridge, instead referring to the collapses of other various London Bridges. Tower Bridge opened in 1894 and is now one of the most instantly recognized landmarks in London. Tower Bridge’s medieval style leads many to presume the bridge is much older, but it was purposely designed to complement its close neighbor the Tower of London.When the bridge was first conceived, the section of the Thames between London Bridge and the location of the new bridge, was a very busy port with commodities and goods arriving from all over the world. The design for Tower Bridge had to enable large boats and barges to travel upriver to deliver goods This was achieved by enabling the two halves of the central span to lift up to allow the passage of large vessels. Tower Bridge is still raised several times each day.
The real London Bridge. London Bridge refers to several historical bridges that have spanned the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark, in central London. This crossing, opened to traffic in 1973, is a box girder bridge built from concrete and steel. It stands at the western end of the Pool of London but is positioned 30 meters upstream from previous alignments. The modern bridge is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates, an independent charity overseen by the City of London Corporation. It carries the A3 road, which is maintained by the Greater London Authority. The crossing also delineates an area along the southern bank of the River Thames, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, that has been designated as a business improvement district.
The London Bus is one of London's principal icons, the archetypal red rear-entrance Routemaster being recognized worldwide. Although the Routemaster has now been largely phased out of service, with only two heritage routes still using the vehicles, the majority of buses in London are still red and therefore the red double-decker bus remains a widely recognised symbol of the city.
Westminster Abbey is London’s oldest religious building. Its origins go back over 1,000 years to 970AD when a community of monks was established by St Dunstan. A stone monastery was built on the site in 1050 by Edward the Confessor. The Abbey became the coronation site for the Norman Kings and was then substantially developed in the Anglo-French gothic style by Henry III who chose the Abbey as his place of burial.  The Abbey has been the traditional place for the coronation and burial of English and latterly British monarchs ever since. Over the centuries, the Abbey has been developed by successive Monarchs, particularly Richard II and Henry VII. Its current appearance is an amalgamation of slightly different architectural styles, which give the building a rich and fascinating history.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!, The London Pavillion  1 Piccadilly Circus, London W1J 0DA, United Kingdom. +44 20 3238 0022
Ripley's Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. The Ripley collection includes 20,000 photographs, 30,000 artifacts and more than 100,000 cartoon panels. With 80-plus attractions, the Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment, Inc., a division of the Jim Pattison Group, is a global company with an annual attendance of more than 12 million guests. Ripley Entertainment's publishing and broadcast divisions oversee numerous projects, including the syndicated TV series, the newspaper cartoon panel, books, posters and games
Horse Guards is the official entrance to St James’ Palace. It is famous for its mounted guards. The horses and gleaming uniforms are a very popular tourist attraction.  Mounted members of the guard are posted on duty between 10.00am and 4.00pm. There is an inspection of the guard that takes place at 4pm every day. This tradition dates back to Queen Victoria, who came through the gate late one afternoon, but found no-one there due to the fact that they were drunk on ale. As a result, she ordered the Household Cavalry to parade at 4 pm every day for 100 years just to make sure it didn't happen again. It has been over 30 years since the hundred years order ended, but the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment still carries out this tradition and ceremonial role. Tourists can take photo of themselves with the guard on top of the horse, but there is a sign that reads "Beware. Horses may kick or bite you. Thank You".