We’re currently in Galle, a city on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Last night I got an email from our friend Anita in Dallas. She’s an educator and a science nerd of the highest caliber.
Here’s what she said, “7.9 earthquake Sumatra. I think you are a fair distance but keep watch for tsunami if you are near coast.”
I immediately went to Google News and searched for “earthquake sumatra”.
Yikes! Of course Anita was right, and her warning was timed with the earliest of news stories about the quake. It sure is nice to have and early warning network of smart friends. Thanks Anita. This is the kind of email that could have potentially saved our lives.
As you may know, in 2004 there was a similar but larger earthquake in the same area off the coast of Sumatra. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on 26 December with the epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The shock had a moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The undersea megathrust earthquake was caused when the Indian Plate was subducted by the Burma Plate and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 metres (100 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.
It is the third-largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph and had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Its epicentre was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia.
We’re staying a family-run guesthouse in one of the highest areas of Galle, away from the sea, so I think we would be safe from all but the very largest tsunamis. In the 2004 tsunami, the water did not reach this area, and in fact in the lower area of the fort, the walls of the Galle Fort protected it from the waves. Nonetheless, I found our host and told her about the earthquake and suggested that she call and alert any family or friends that lived on the water or in areas that might be at risk. We were on high alert.
This earthquake really hit home for us as we have spent the past month or so in Sumatra and Sri Lanka, in areas that were massively affected by the 2004 tsunami. Just day-before-yesterday we were at the Tsunami Photo Museum in the beach town of Hikkaduwa/Telwatta. It is a small museum put together by one of the survivors. It sits across the road from the ocean, in the location where her home used to be, before the tsunami washed it away.
Tsunami Photo Musuem
The owner of the musuem telling us about the tsunami.
She told us harrowing tales of how the day unfolded. She said that there was no warning and that most people had no idea what was happening. There was quite suddenly a large wave that hit the town, washing over the beach and well onto land in many areas. It was a big wave, but not too devastating.
The first wave
After the wave hit, the waters retreated to well beyond the normal shore line, exposing ground that was normally underwater. What used to be water was now land and the sea was calm in the distance. People had never seen such a thing, and many came down to the water to look, to check the damage, and to assist others. Some people fled inland, looking for higher ground. There was a train stopped on the tracks and many villagers sought refuge on the train, or put their children on the train, thinking it to be a safe place.
For the next 20 or 30 minutes, the waters of the sea were eerily calm in the distance, and then suddenly, a giant, much larger wave came roaring in. This brought massive devastation and death. More than 30,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka. Thousands are still “missing.”
The second wave hits people who had walked out to to the beach to investigate
The train was not a safe refuge. As many as 1,500 people were killed when the second wave hit the train.
Here are more photos of the museum:
This is what the owners home looked like after the second wave. Everything was destroyed. The museum was built on the site where the home used to be.
This is the tent the owner lived in for 6 months after the tsunami.
Thankfully, the earthquake last night did not result in a tsunami, but it was still a powerful experience for us and a reminder as to how quickly life can change. In our recent travels, we’ve climbed a volcano where we smelled the sulfurous steam, seen hot lava flows, and felt the burning heat of the active Earth. We visited villages that sit at the base of volcanoes and that one day, will likely be destroyed in an eruption. We’ve seen first hand the devastating power of earthquakes and tsunamis. We’ve seen tragic human impact and loss as well as human strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
Have fun, but be careful out there.
POP QUIZ: How do scientists measure the strength of earthquakes?
Seismologists use equipment called seismographs to measure movements in the earth. These movements or forces are expressed in numbers using the Moment of Magnitude Scale. In the past they used the Richter Scale. For more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moment_magnitude_scale
As usual, I’m playing catch-up with the blog posts. Documenting our adventures takes a back seat to experiencing them! Before I fill you in on Chiang Mai, I thought I would try to do a quick overview of our time in Bangkok.
We did a post about the Snake Farm and we posted a couple of rambling video updates. That barely scratches the surface of what we did in Bangkok, and we barely scratched the surface of the city! It is an awesome city with so much going on and we really enjoyed it.
Let’s start with the shopping malls. Like Singapore, Bangkok now has lots of huge, modern, luxury shopping malls. for those of you in Dallas, think Northpark, but add another 6 levels, a Rolls Royce showroom, some avant-garde local boutiques, and about 50 good restaurants. No joke. These places are massive and impressive.
Outside Central World Mall
One of the malls even features life-size model apartments for a local development:
Life-size model apartment in the mall
One of the big, popular malls is Siam Paragon, and while we’re not normally drawn to malls, this place has an aquarium – Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World – in the basement and a cool mini-city built for kids – KidZania – on the top floor.
Jette loved both.
Handstand in Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok
I sat in one of the many cafes and worked while Mila and Jette visited Sea Life Ocean World, so I can’t tell you much about it, but I can share some photos…
Hands-on with a starfish
On the glass-bottom boat
“Oh, they’re adorable!”
Suffice it to say that much fun was had at the aquarium and Jette learned a little bit more about local aquatic life in Thailand. Jette likes the TV show River Monsters, and having seen a couple of episodes on Thailand, already knew a bit about the giant rays and snakheads found in Thailand’s rivers. Scary!
So the quarium was on the bottom floor, but 8 floors up is KidZania. KidZania is basically a mini-city for kids (4-14 years old) built indoors. Imagine a Disney city with shops, car dealers, beauty salons, restaurants, firemen…a place where kids can learn, where they can earn their own money and make their own financial decisions…
Cashing a check at the bank, just before Mom got kicked out. Sorry Mom, this place is for KIDS ONLY!
Adults please observe outside!
Upon entry, each kid gets a check for 50 “kidZo” (the currency). Inside the “city” they can spend their money at the local shops. They can also choose to work or study and earn money. They can even open a bank account.
For example, they can work at the Vet CLinic and earn 8 kidZos:
Or pay 10 kidZos to take a course at the local Culinary School:
Here’s the story behind KidZania:
How it began
The history of KidZania starts like all great stories start with unwavering passion, idealistic vision, and the desire to be a catalyst for change. This particular story happened across cultures, across continents, and, more importantly, it happened in the minds of kids. The kids of the world became fed up with the current state of world affairs. They wanted a world where governments operated efficiently, societies were equitable, and resources were valued. This collective state of mind led them to envision a better world full of possibilities.
A nation is born
In development of this new world, they recognized a need to document their beliefs and their wish for independence. They began by establishing 6 fundamental rights: to Be, to Know, to Care, to Play, to Create and to Share. Inalienable and timeless, these rights are more than just entitlements; they are the foundation for real world training and the achievement of happiness. The children proclaimed their beliefs by writing an official Declaration of Independence, a statement of their independence from adults and an unequivocal announcement of their new nation’s existence. Next, they made a great leap by calling themselves a nation united on ideals rather than geography or culture. The kids decided on a purposeful name: KidZania, which means ‘Land of Cool Kids.’
Cities Evolve and Continue to Grow
Since they wanted a place where KidZanians could experiment and train, they decided to create their very own city. This is because cities are places where people live, share ideas, care for those around them and contribute to a greater whole. Since they wanted to learn quickly and retain their knowledge, the kids knew that the environment needed to be fun and realistic. After much work, they settled on a design and the first KidZania came to life. It was in Santa Fe Mexico City because that city has the largest population of children in the world. Thousands of children came and the success of their first city drove the kids towards growing their vision to more and more cities around the world.
Rights are Kept
The kid founders of KidZania gave a great deal of thought to their nation’s future. They knew they would each outgrow their ability to be active members of the community they founded. To guarantee that KidZania’s belief system would continue even after the original kids departed to participate in the grown up world, they created “Rightskeepers” that would live at every KidZania and never outgrow it. These rightskeepers – Urbano,Beebop, Chika, Vita and Bache – would help carry on the traditions, serve as role models and represent the values at the core of KidZania. Urbano represents KidZania’s infrastructure and learning, Beebop symbolizes its artistic phase, Chika characterizes its trends,Vita personifies the commitment to the environment and Bache reminds everyone to have fun. Each would remain a particular age, but could evolve over time in personality and thinking to reflect the fresh ideas every new KidZanian brings. The characters would be exemplary in their thoughts and actions and would be model citizens the kids could look up to as they looked to ready themselves for, and help create a better world.
Our favorite vet
Our vet waiting in line
Yep, even a 7-11
One of the really fun activities was a climbing wall that was a building facade!
Ready to climb a building
On the way up
Getting to the top
Coming down with a smile
Our photographer on assignment
After the beauty salon
Jette had a great time at KidZania and is eager to go back!
When I think of Bangkok, I think of traffic. There is a LOT of traffic.
Of course there are tuk-tuks:
In a tuk-tuk.
Tuk-tuking (is that a verb?!)
and river taxis:
On the river taxi
And perhaps best of all, the Sky Train (or BTS). The Sky Train is an elevated train that snakes through the city above the traffic. Nice! Like Sinagpore, it is clean, cool and very orderly. Folks like up in single-file lines at the station:
Waiting in line for the sky train
But enough about traffic and transportation. We also went to the Bangkok Zoo:
This croc don’t bite
At the zoo
Shopping on Sampeng Lane
Panda ears for Halloween
We also went to Wat Po – the temple of the reclining Buddha. In addition to being a beautiful temple, Wat Po was the first institution of public education in Thailand – the first University if you will, and is still today a teaching center for traditional Thai medicine and Thai massage. We got massages while we were there 🙂
Most Thais are Buddhist, though Thai Buddhism has it’s own own unique “flavor” heavily influenced by local traditions, Chinese traditions, and Hinduism, among other things.
Bananas at Wat Po
Arm of the reclining Buddha statue
Whimsical statue in Wat Po garden
Into one of the temples
Of course, we did a lot of other things too, and ate A LOT of yummy street food!
Bangkok was fun.
Bangkok Snake Farm
Yesterday we went to the Snake Farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute. It is a Red Cross facility that breeds and houses snakes – particularly venomous snakes – indigenous to Thailand. They extract venom, conduct research, and produce anti-venom.
There is also an educational “snake farm” open to the public, which is essentially a snake zoo and learning center. They had fantastic exhibits on the evolution and anatomy of snakes, reproduction, the role of snakes in the local ecosystem, different types of venom and their effects in humans and other animals, and more. There were live snakes, preserved specimens, example dissections, scale models of snake anatomy, and multimedia presentations. It was fantastic.
Great exhibits at the Snake Farm
They also had a snake show where staff members brought out a variety of snakes – both venomous and non-venomous – for up close viewing. The snakes were neither defanged, nor recently milked of venom, so watching the handlers with them was a bit nerve-racking!
There was a set of bleachers and low wall separating the audience from a walkway. As you can see in the video below, the snakes were presented by the handlers in the walkway, sometimes held, sometimes placed on the floor. The only protective gear the handlers wore were simple rubber boots. Yikes!
The first snake they brought out was a large King Cobra. Well, since King Cobras can grow to more than 18 feet, I guess this one wasn’t too large, but it was certainly big enough!
Did you know that the venom of the King Cobra is neurotoxic? Or that the venom of the Siamese Cobra is 5 times more powerful than the venom of the King Cobra? Now you do.
If you are wondering how you pick up a deadly king cobra when you are finished teasing it, it’s really easy. Here’s how:
After the cobra, they brought out about a dozen other snakes commonly found in Thailand. Most they held in their hands or set on the floor, but they brought out the pit vipers curled around branch-like sticks.
Pit viper on a stick
Because the pit vipers have heat receptors (their “pits”) they are much more likely to strike the warm flesh of the handlers if held by hand. Fun. The snake was not just sitting still on the stick, it was constantly moving. So the handler did a sort of slow-motion juggling routine shifting the stick from hand to hand and moving his grip on the stick to avoid provoking a strike.
Here is an interesting snake found in Thailand – the Copperhead Racer.
Aggressive little fella, huh? Thankfully he is non-venomous. Copperhead Racers typically eat small rodents and other small animals, so they are beneficial in controlling the populations of rats and mice. Cobras like to eat Copperhead Racers.
At one point the M.C. of the show asked the audience what snakes are doing when they stick out their tongues. Jette raised her hand and he called on her for the answer. She knew it. That was cool!
Even cooler, at the end of the show he asked for a volunteer from the audience. Once again, Jette was the one chosen.
When we walked through the exhibit later, a couple of Thai ladies smiled at Jette and said she was a “hero”! We crowned her the “Queen of Snakes.”
Needless to say we had a fun, educational experience at the snake farm. It was a good day.
Today we took the train from Strasbourg, France to Mainz, Germany. We rode 7.75 km.
We woke up early, packed the bikes and rode a few blocks to the train station. Getting the bike to the platform was easy. We rolled right into the station and there was an elevator to the platform. We were able to leave all the bags on the bikes and simply roll them into the elevator, one-by-one. Once we were up on the platform, Mila and Jette ran back down to get breakfast and snacks for later. Fully provisioned, we made our way down the platform. The train was already there,standing empty but the doors were locked. After half an hour or so, they powered up the train and unlocked the doors. Thankfully it was one of the commuter trains where the floor of the train is level with the platform, so when the unlocked the doors, once again we simply rolled the bikes on, fully loaded. So nice!
Up the elevator
On the platform
The first train of the day
Bike on the train
Apples and Math
About twenty minutes later we rolled the bikes off in Appenweier. The plan was to go to the ticket agent there and buy tickets for Mainz for us and the bikes. The train pulled away and we were left standing on an empty platform. There was no station, no ticket agent. Just the empty platform of a suburban commuter station. Thankfully there was a ticket machine. Using the ticket machine we were able to find the trains to Mainz and purchase tickets for ourselves. The only problem was the bikes. The schedule said that reservations were required to transport bicycles on that route, but the ticket machine did not let us make reservations, nor did it tell us how we might do so. With no other options, we decided to simply do it, and ask for forgiveness not reservations!
More math while we wait for the next train
As we stood waiting on the platform, we realized that the tickets said “Platform 1” and the platform we were waiting on had a sign saying “9.” Odd. There were no other platforms in sight. This appeared to be a one platform station. Adjacent to the ticket machine Mila found a display which showed a map of the station. Cleary there were other platforms out of view. We hopped on our bikes, rode down the sidewalk, around a corner, along a street under an overpass and back up on the other side where there there two more platforms. (Still no station or ticket agents). Whew! That was a close one. Our train arrived and once again it was a regional commuter. We rolled the bikes on to a busy train and they just fit. There was some contortionist action necessary but we were on. A few stops later, off again and another train. This time it was a regional express. Almost empty. We had to unload the bikes this time, but there was plenty of room for bikes and bags, and it was pretty easy to split them across two cars. It was a comfortable ride and we looked out the window to changing scenery. Flatlands and corn fields were being replaced with rolling hills, vineyards, and large, modern windmills. The conductor announced Mainz as the next stop. A rushed dance of bikes and bags and we were standing on the Mainz platform with the train pulling away.
Comfy regional express train
Two elevators later we rolled out of the station and into traffic of the city. We made our way across town to the Gutenberg Museum. Yes, that Gutenberg. You know, the German dude with the printing press and the bible who effectively ended the Middle Ages, ushered in modernity, and utterly transformed the world? Yeah, him. OK, perhaps it wasn’t him alone, but he was a pivotal figure and his printing innovations helped to user in the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Protestant Reformation.
Waco and Jette in Mainz
Our bikes parked at the Guterberg Museum
Printing demonstration at the Gutenberg Museum
It was a very nice museum with a large vault room housing original Gutenberg Bibles and a large collection of pre-Gutenberg hand written books of incalculable value, presses of various types and four floors of exhibits to put it all in context. Photography was not allowed, except for the printing demonstration.
After the museum it was time for fuel (a.k.a. “food”). Across the plaza from the museum were a number of restaurants. Jette went straight for Taco Kidd, the first “mexican” food we had seen for some time. The folks there were super nice and fixed Jette up with a bean and cheese burrito. It wasn’t Tex-Mex but it was good.
Jette enjoying a bean and cheese burrito
Mila and I opted for one of the plaza cafes where she had beef tips (yes, you read that right, Mila ate beef tips! When in Rome…) and I had a really delicious salad. The only photo I shot of Mila has her with her eyes closed, so I’ll post this one of our smokey neighbors on the patio. It is still shocking how many people in Europe still smoke, and smoke constantly. You can’t see it in this photo, but all of these guys were smoking non-stop. D-i-s-g-u-s-t-i-n-g but typical. Despite the smokies, it was a nice dinner.
As the sun was getting low, it was starting to get chilly. In fact some of the trees think it is already Fall.
Our bikes and fall leaves
After dinner we rode across the river to our campsite. We crossed and rode along the biggest and busiest road we have seen for a long time, and then up and over a big bridge. The noise from the traffic was jarring. After the quiet country roads, canal paths and forest trails, the noise, foul air and general chaos of the city traffic was a shock to the senses.
Looking across to our campsite
Crossing the bridge
The campsite was right across the river, with a great view of the city. The location made up for a grumpy proprietor who seemed more interested in smoking and drinking on the patio than assisting guests. While we were setting up camp, we met Alan from Alaska, a super nice guy who had just arrived in Europe and was beginning a bike tour of his own. His plan was to ride up the Rhine to Rotterdam and then South West along the cost of France and possibly Spain. We spent probably an hour or more talking that evening and then again in the morning. He’s cycled the continental US East-West from coast to coat and North-South from border to border. He’s even cycled through Alpine, Texas ;-). Alan, if you read this, we wish you safe travels and tailwinds!
We haven’t had a pop quiz for a while, so here you go kiddos:
POP QUIZ! Western History is typically divided into three main periods: Antiquity, ____________, and the Modern Period.
“Middle Ages” or medieval period. More info on the Middle Ages
We spent yesterday at Rembrandt’s house.
Yes, that Rembrandt.
The Rembrandt House Museum (Museum het Rembranthuis) is the house in which Rembrandt lived and worked from 1639-1658. Many of the rooms of the house are furnished and decorated in the way that they were when he lived there more than 350 years ago. The walls are hung with his paintings and etchings and those of his teacher and students. There is a very nice audio tour that leads you through the house and provides all sorts of interesting facts and details about Rembrandt’s life and artwork. For kids, there was a “discovery trail” workbook, where they were asked to answer questions and find interesting facts, kind of like a scavenger hunt. Best of all, there were some really fantastic demonstrations and even a printmaking workshop, where we got to do our own drypoint etching and make a print, working in the same room where Rembrandt’s students studied and worked almost 400 year ago!
Paint making materials
First we saw how canvasses, boards, and even copper plates were prepared for painting. Then we saw how the oil paints were made with linseed oil and natural pigments. Paints were made in very small quantities, as needed, and extra paint was stored in pig’s bladders (ewww!).
Then it was on to the printmaking room (the actual room in Rembrandt’s house where he printed!) for a semi-private lesson on etching, dry point, and printmaking. We learned about the specific, innovative techniques Rembrandt used. His use of drypoint and etching in the same piece was unique and innovative. He was truly a master.
A hands-on lesson on drypoint, etching, and printmaking. Tools for etching and inking the printing plate are on the workbench.
The inked plate goes onto the press.
Lifting the print off the plate.
The plate that was used in the demonstration above is a reproduction of one of Rembrandt’s pieces – Zeus and Antiope (1659). This copy was hand etched by one of the best living engravers in The Netherlands (he did the engraving for Dutch currency before they switched to the Euro). He’s done a number of reproductions of Rembrandt’s work for the museum. As you might imagine, it is detailed, difficult, painstaking work. Working with a microscope, it took him as long as a year to complete a single piece!
So, standing in the very room where Rembrandt did his printing, not only did we get to learn about the process, we actually got to feel the engraving on the plate, see the plate inked and prepped, plate positioned on the press, paper placed on the plate, wetted, and run through the press.
When the print came off the press, the printmaker gave it to Jette.
How cool is that?!
Our very own print of Jupiter and Antiope.
It is not an original Rembrandt, but it’s about as close as you can get. Wow.
After the printing demonstration, it was our turn to do it ourselves. We headed upstairs to the Pupil’ Studio (the room where Rembrandt’s students worked) for a printing workshop. Each day, 8 people have the opportunity to participate in this workshop and create their own prints in the Pupil’s Studio. It was certainly our lucky day.
Guided by the museum instructor, we created our own drypoint etchings in a plastic plate, inked and prepared the plates and created our prints. It was awesome!
Beginning work on our own etchings.
Jette standing in front of the press.
Jette inking her plate.
Jette working on her plate.
Mila wiping the excess ink off her plate.
Jette working the details.
Mila and Jette on press.
Two arms and a leg get the job done.
The moment of truth nears…
Mila’s moment of truth.
Jette carefully positions her paper on the plate.
Jette’s print. It is a flower inside a heart, surrounded by roses. It is a design that just popped into her head.
Mila’s print. She was struck by the line work in Rembrandt’s etchings. This is her experiment with layers of cross hatching.
Waco’s print. This is my attempt at a copy of a single figure from a Rembrandt etching. After I inked the plate, rather than wipe all of the excess ink off, I removed it selectively, leaving some areas darker than others for compositional purposes.
What a great experience. Het Rembrandthuis is awesome!