Monday, April 14, 2014

Kyoto on a Weekend

Over the weekend, we went on an two day trip to Kyoto to re-live being tourists in Japan. It's been years since I last visited this place and it is always a treat, especially since the weather was good and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom!

Upon arriving at Kyoto station on Saturday noon, we took the train to Inari station towards Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, famous for it's orange Torii tunnels, made popular in the last decade or so by the movie, Memoirs of the Geisha. On a Saturday, especially during the peak cherry blossoms season, it will require a lot of skills to have pictures without other tourists in the background. The rays of light coming from the top that made me look like an apparition, was a bonus.

Torii Tunnels of Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine 

After the short hike up and down the temple grounds, we took the train again back to Kyoto Station, and changed train on the way to Arashiyama. Arashiyama is popular for the Bamboo Forest, the Togetsukyo Bridge, the Tenryu-ji Temple, Gardens, among other spots. One can easily spend the whole day here admiring the history and the beauty of this town. Trying out the many kinds of food being sold at the main street is also a pleasure.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

We went there on early April, and fortunately, the cherry blossoms were at their absolute best. The best cherry blossoms in the area is probably at the Arashiyama Park, right across the bridge from the main tourist area.

Togetsukyo Bridge, framed by the cherry blossoms

The following day, we went to Higashiyama Area, probably the most famous area of Kyoto, largely because of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It's a large wooden temple built centuries ago and amazingly, not a single nail was used in the structure. It's a sight to behold, although if there are many tourists, it may be a challenge to find enough peace and quiet to let its beauty sink in.

The streets leading towards the temple is a treat. It's a hilly town area with many old houses and many shops. It's a perfect place to buy your omiyage. Speaking of which, I would recommend the Okoicha Langue de Chat from Malebranche. It's like Hokkaido's famous "Shiroi Koibito" but with a green tea flavor. We love it.

Higashiyama Area Shops

Cherry blossoms, blue skies, and temples almost always guarantee a pretty picture. While it was cloudy for most of the day, we were lucky that on our way down, we were greeted by this amazing blue skies view with one of the old structures in the area.

On our way back from the temple

That was our last destination for the weekend. It's a short trip but is definitely a trip worth taking. We didn't mind being all touristy, and going to all the touristy places, surrounded by, well, tourists. Kyoto is a beautiful place, and what better way to enjoy it, but as a tourist. Good sights. Good food. You can never go wrong.

After that, we took the train back to Kyoto Station, where we took our train back to Tokyo, back to where we live and work.

Back to reality.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nefertiti's Elongated Head

Nefertiti is one of the more interesting figures in Egyptian history. She may be the second most popular woman in Egyptian history, second only to Cleopatra. The image people most often associate with Nefertiti is probably this bust, now housed in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Nofretete Neues Museum

What not many people know is that there is one trait of Nefertiti that is rather unusual. In many Egyptian artifacts, she is often, if not always, portrayed with an elongated head. Many times, she is wearing a headgear that could potentially cover her elongated head.

From her most famous bust, you can see the big headgear that can cover an elongated head. You can also see it in the sculpture below.

Nefertiti Standing-striding Berlin detail

In the next artwork, you can see Nefertiti (again with the elongated headgear) with her pharaoh husband, Akhenaten, who is another interesting figure in Egyptian history and is also often portrayed with an elongated head. This engraving is interesting because it also show three of their daughters, all with elongated heads as well.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and three of their daughters

You might think maybe the Egyptians would portray every body with elongated heads. There are many artworks that show ancient Egyptians with "normal" heads. There are also artworks that show both elongated heads and "normal" heads, like this one showing Nefertiti with her elongated head on the right, with a guy with a normal head on the left.

Couple royal dans un jardin (Neues Museum, Berlin) (6098971245)
Elongated head versus non-elongated head

So did Nefertiti really have an elongated head?

We currently do not know, because we still have not found her remains, nor her parents', nor her kids'. That's what makes her, and her elongated head, very mysterious. We are not even sure if there were actually beings who lived on this earth with these elongated heads.

Or are we?

Elongated heads of Peru

In a small museum in Peru (Paracas History Museum), there are around 300 skulls on display. Many of which do not exactly look similar to ours. 

Paracas elongated skulls

Brian Foerster has posted many videos on YouTube describing these skulls, and was also instrumental in having them tested. Initial DNA analysis have even proven they are not homo sapiens. It would be interesting to see what else they can find out in further tests.

Maybe one day, our species will learn to accept that there was once a humanoid species, with brains much bigger than ours, and who may have even played a part in our very own history.

One day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Alexander Desplat - The Meadows

One of the things I am most grateful to my parents is for sending me to piano school when I was little. My brother and I together went to the same piano school for a couple of years during summer breaks. Kuya, being the more musically inclined of us two, ended up being better at it, but I still appreciate that I can read notes and play a couple of songs if I really put my time and effort on it.

This song is called "The Meadows" by Alexander Desplat, and it was part of the soundtrack for New Moon, one of the several Twilight movies. A few years ago when we were on a road trip and this music was playing, my soon-to-be-in-laws recognized how beautiful the music was, and how beautiful it would be if we could play it.

Acknowledging how beautiful the music is and partly also in my wanting to impress my soon-to-be-in-laws, I searched the web for the piano piece and practiced playing it. During that same week, I was able to practice the first few parts and I was able to play it to them. I had to cut it midway though because I haven't practiced the rest yet.

After a few more months (I'm a slow learner), I was able to practice the full piece, and can now play with through memory.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tribes, Civilizations, and UFO's

This is a video about a tribe, living deep in the Amazon jungle, who allegedly has not yet made contact with what we would refer to as our "modern" civilization. The guys who took this video brought in powerful zoom lenses, to minimize disturbance, by taking the videos from kilometers  above the forest. The tribesmen could probably still see the plane, though they must have been wondering what kind of bird it is. I already saw pictures of this tribe a few years ago, but seeing them again now, gave me new insights I would like to explore in this blog.

I was thinking...

What if we are the "un-contacted tribe", and there actually is a more advanced civilization observing us, taking videos of us, while trying to minimize disturbance?

Let's look at it from their perspective.
  • We would never have known what the plane was, and what it was doing. We would try to associate it with things we know, like birds.
  • We would try to use our weapons against the plane because to us, it is a threat, or maybe just because it looks like a big bird that would feed the whole village.
  • Even if we want to make contact and learn from them, they might decide not to because they know contact will be harmful to us. We don't have the immune system that can handle their diseases. We would forever be left wondering why they are not making contact.
  • There are others like them, who are not as benevolent.
These are exactly the same things our "modern" civilization might feel if we do see a civilization, that is more advanced than us. We would not know what technology they are using because we have nothing to associate it with. We would try to fight them using our current weapons not knowing if it would actually work against them. We would try to contact them, but they would try to avoid contact.

UFO, anybody?