Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pictures of Body Bags and the Tibetan Connection

Image of a corpse tied in a knot to make a bag, hanging from the side of a horse taken from the wall of a temple, lit by headlamp. Image taken in Tibet.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Nobody asked, but I am guessing somebody out there wants to ask what those body bags looked like.

Your scribe comes prepared because Monday's post relates to things that your heroine and scribe learned while researching our trip to Tibet last year.

The image at that start of Monday's post, and today's post, is a Tibetan Buddhist Bag of Diseases, one of the five weapons of Sri Devi as she fights evil and the opponents of Buddhism.  

Guess why that guy is tied in a knot... 

Guess what his (now) bag-like shape contains... 

And you thought all Buddhists were gentle...

So don't forget to put money in that bowl when you pass a saffron-robed monk or a nun in grey... 

But wait, why do the Mongols have anything to do with Tibet? Besides the fact that their territories were alongside each other.  

And besides the fact that both, and what became Modern China, would control or greatly affect each other, as relative power waxed or waned in the region.  

And besides the fact that the Dalai Lama's position and title was allegedly granted to the first Dalai Lama by a Mongolian.  

Kublai Khan had converted to Buddhism to have a universal religion to bind Tibet, Mongolia, and China.  In 1578 a descendant of Kublai Khan, Altan Khan, an aggressor against China, proclaimed a Tibetan Lama to be "Dalai" (Ocean in Mongolian, symbolizing supreme leader and the Dalai Lama has since been linked with supreme secular power in Tibet).  In return, the Tibetan Lama proclaimed Altan Khan to be the reincarnation of Kublai Khan (Ghengis Khan's grandson).

OK, so that is the connection, and that is why we found depicitions of body bags in Tibet.  

Body bags were used by Sri Devi to combat enemies of Buddhism and Buddhist concepts. While Sri Devi, as a mythological figure, used them figuratively I am guessing that earlier Tibetans, like the Mongolians, used them literally. 

If you enjoyed Monday's and today's posts, you could, as always, mention them to your friends; make them viral...

With smiles from across the water, and a raised, chocolate-covered mango margarita...

Chris, Regina, and Pommes with a paw covering his mouth

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lucubrating through the night...

Dear Gentle Reader,

Last night I lucubrated. 

That's right. I spend my nights, when your Heroine is away, lucubrating for pleasure. 

Hopefully yours.

What a lubricious word, lucubrate.

I quite like it; the word and the action.

I will leave it to you to find out what lucubrate means. (OK, I might relent in the comments section if people really cannot find it.)

Anyway, while lucubrating I was thinking of the Mongols. I imagined hordes of them heaving across Crimea to surround the unfortunates of Kaffa that were about to get the frights of their lives.

And, because I love words, I thought of those hordes...

Horde is actually one of the few Mongolian words to enter the English language. 

Horde is derived from Ordos. Ordos is the Mongolian word for a tent-palace used by ruling chieftains of the nomadic Mongolians. 

The Ordos desert, for example, is named for the sea of Mongolian tents that would be set up by it and on it--as with any cluster of Mongolian tents, there would be at least one Ordos. 

Further, for a couple of centuries, the Golden Ordos, a group of Mongols, ruled large sections of what is now Russia. 

It is from the Golden Ordos that the word horde is derived. 

I will tell you the other Mongolian word to gain common international currency tomorrow, on Wednesday.

Until then, lucubrate with a smile on your face. Maybe you ought to whistle too.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes

Monday, November 24, 2008

Germ warfare; the Mongols say hello

Image of a corpse tied in a knot to make a bag, hanging from the side of a horse taken from the wall of a temple, lit by headlamp. Image taken in Tibet.
Hello Gentle Reader,  

...Hmm....  Maybe not so gentle.

Some of you liked the post about the Black Death...

...Well, let me follow that post with a family-friendly post on germ warfare.

...First, an apparently stream-of-consciousness diversion.  

There is a human genetic anomaly called Down Syndrome. It is named after the British Doctor, Dr. John Langdon Down, who fully described the disorder in 1866. Later, in 1959, France's Dr. Jérôme Lejeune showed that people with Down Syndrome all had an extra (partial) copy of the twenty-first chromosome.

Of course Lejeune's recognition of the chromosomal nature of the disorder did not change the name of the disorder as characterized by Dr. Down. Similarly, Dr. Down's categorization of the syndrome did not create or change a well known human condition.

I suppose that line of thought could lead us to the question of what is in a name...

In English, today, we talk about people who have Down Syndrome as being mentally challenged.  

When your humble scribe was in high school the descriptive phrase for this condition was mentally disabled. When your scribe was at grade school the descriptive phrase was mentally retarded. 

Going back much further, the descriptive phrase in my grandmother's life was mongolism. Similarly, people who had mongolism were called Mongoloids. 

Finally, older medical texts that your scribe used to use also referred to Mongolism...  

...But I always thought that Mongols were people from Mongolia, like the Great Genghis Khan? Rapacious, yes, but so was Alexander the Great. So why were Mongols singled out in such a way in European history? 

This is where the apparent diversion cease to be a diversion.

In 1346 the Mongols were on one of their raids of conquest and began besieging the port city of Kaffa. Kaffa lies on the Black Sea (Kaffa is now Feodosiya (zoom out to see it better on the map) in the Ukraine's Crimea). 

(Note, by raid, your scribe means a monumental horde of pillage and loot hungry calvarymen.)

The Mongols were fast attackers, horsemen of the steppes. They were not so keen on sieges. Mongol warriors liked to end sieges as quickly as possible.

The Plague was endemic in Mongolia and the higher steppes. In combination with other diseases such as anthrax, dropsy, leprosy, cholera, or dysentery, the Plague was used as a potent weapon by the Mongols.  

The Mongols would gather the corpses of people who had died of these horrific diseases. The corpses would be opened and the innards of the corpses would be scooped out. The scooped out remains would then be mixed up and combined to make a rather pungent and nasty concoction.  

This concoction would then be poured back into the original corpses which were then individually resealed by being sewn and tied up forming individual proto-bodybags; lets call the resulting invention a bag of diseases.

These bags of diseases would either be dropped into local water sources or hurled directly into cities which the Mongols were besieging.  

These bags of diseases were used as germ warfare siege engines and they would dramatically speed up the process of siege conquest.

While besieging the city of Kaffa the Mongols had an outbreak of the plague in their own ranks. The Mongols, of course, made some body bags and hurled these bags of diseases into Kaffa. These bags, as usual, exploded and spattered on impact; the besieged became quite sick.  

Who were the besieged? Kaffites? Kaffians? How do you call citizens of Kaffa? Were there citizens of Kaffa?

Well, at the time, denizens of Kaffa were subject to Genoa.

Genoa was, then, a major trading, naval power in continuous conflict with Venice, the other major naval power in the West. 

Genoa controlled the Black Sea, amongst other areas, and Kaffa was a Genoese trading settlement/fortress.

So what did you call a denizen of Kaffa when the Mongols started lobbing bags of death into the city?

You called them dead, or soon to be dead. 

Unless they were Genoese citizens. Then you called them loudly, waving money in your hands, because they were fleeing Death--who was apparently stalking Kaffa with his scythe in hand.

Genoese citizenship did not provide immunity to the effects of the bags of disease, but it did provide a way out of the city.

Genoese merchants and militamen, in Kaffa, fled the diseases unleashed by the Mongols. 

Well, the merchants thought they had escaped Death, and the mysterious diseases of Kaffa, as they took off in trading and war galleys.  

In the Genoese merchants' flight they landed at various ports in Southern Europe to take on supplies... and, as normal, they off loaded some trading goods, and, incidentally and inevitably, they offloaded some rats (rats were a harmless enought irritant, as perceived at the time, and all ships had them).  

No one wanted rats on a ship, they ate and fouled everything, but they seemed to be endemic to ships. 

In 1346 no one had any clue how the Plague was transmitted. We are talking about a time long before the concept of germ theory, so there was no concern or awareness as to what the merchants and naval men were inadvertently offloading when rats (and rat fleas) made their way onto each deck at each port of call. 

Of course, as the Swiss-cum-French Dr. Yersin discovered in Hong Kong in 1894, rats could spread the Plague. Japan's Dr. Masanori Ogata subsequently showed that fleas had the same bacterial infection as the rats. 

Finally, in 1897, the Frenchman, Dr. Paul-Louis Simond, dispatched by the Pasteur Institute (Institut Pasteur) to India to follow-up on Dr. Yersin's research, showed that rat fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis, were the vector transmitting the Plague bacteria from rats to people.

None of this was known in 1346-1347 in Europe, but people in the port towns visited by the fleeing Genoese recognized that the stories of death told by the Genoese merchants, sailors, and military men were terrifyingly followed by similar deaths after the trading fleets left.

These vessels fleeing Kaffa, and Kaffa's diseases, infected Europe with the Black Death via their ship rats and the fleas on those rats. 

But the Genoese were not blamed for the resulting carnage, The Black Death, that decimated Europe. 

No, the Genoese were not blamed; the Mongols were blamed.

The Mongols, after all, had used abominable bags of disease as weapons of war.

As the Plague was first brought to Europe, at least in the public's consciousness, by Mongols who lobbed putrefying corpses over the walls of Kaffa, gentle Readers (and possibly throughly appalled Readers), this is why your humble scribe thinks that there has been a link between Mongols and things that we fear striking but cannot explain. Such as Mongolism.


Chris, Regina, and Pommes

PS. Again, to see the genesis of this post was, read here...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Voyeurs and Exhibitionists (my Town)

Blurry image of a photographer, the subject is blurrily reflected in the lens
Dear Gentle Reader,

I think that writing a blog is an exhibitionist phenomena.

"Look at me" we proclaim.

Here is my story! See my pictures! Link to me! Love me! Leave me a note...


Of course I also think that reading blogs is a complementary, voyeuristic counterpart to the exhibitionism of writing them.

For those that are keen on Travis' "my town Mondays" I have viewed my town in a different way.

I wish I were viewing "my town" in a William Gibson cyperpunk way, but I am only viewing "my town" in a post-modern e-way. However, for someone who writes in e-cuneiform, an e-way seems OK.

My town is the world, because anyone who can read this is connected to me, even if briefly and unwillingly, and here is a look into some of the windows in the world that I peep into.

The shots might lack focus or context. The foreground or background might be missing. But, you get to see into someone else's world and what they consider important enough to share. There is even a boudoir in the list...

A very few porthole portals follow:

An apparently ended photographic conversation between Mr. P & Mr. D

Two entries from Junosmom (the first is an excellent reason to blog and the second is about cicadas, which I read about as a kid, and loved when I lived in Japan, but I had never known about the damage they do to plants as they aim their crèches for the ground (or the damage said crèches can do to horses who are one clown short of a circus, but that was a different post)

Bea, Norway's preeminent monster-maker/tamer

Karen writes on Frida Kahlo and an exhibition

PicaMiel has a slew of fantastic blogs (she must also have a time-tuner to write them all, here are samples from only two.)

Simmers lets us peer into his visit with his nieces (and I don't know who is luckier, the nieces or their uncle)

an expository commentary on revealing character by Paul

OxyJen, geeking on some crystals she found

MTM Travis remembers his younger, athletic, mobile ankle days

Audrey, allowing us into her boudoir, also allows us to remember the joy of discovering somewhere new

Cloudia suggests we look at the joy in our now

While Tifighter relates having a tough time keeping up with the now

and Steady-as-rain stops me cold with

Heck, the response by lyzzedee found in the comments section of one of the entries of my blog is fun to read, and imagine, and I think it is a microblog in and of itself... (ps its the second comment by lyzzedee, you have to scroll down...)

I could provide far more examples, but I doubt that people will even click on a quarter of these. But that is OK, although you are missing some good stuff...


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crowded buses, as in crowded by buses

image of a row of buses queueing up to collect passengers between Mongkok and Prince Edward MTR stations, just off of Tung Choi Road
Dear Gentle Reader, 

Permit me to follow-up on Monday's post.

This is a picture of a bus queue in Hong Kong, that is, a queue of buses. 

Everything with a red top is a red-topped mini bus. Each one seats about 25-30 people, plus standing room. 

As you can see, there are a lot of mini buses.  

Hong Kong is profit-oriented city and the bus companies are private.  If this many buses were not profitable, they would not be there.

Also, you can see a taxi turning down a street and cutting off two lines of buses.  

What you cannot see is that that taxi stopped, after your Hero, Pommes the Wonder Cat, took the picture, so that the passengers in the taxi could alight. 

That taxi blocked the path of two columns of buses. Not that the buses had anywhere to go, but it illustrates the point that the cars do the same thing as the people on the moving walkways do. 

Everyone cuts everyone else off. It might be a game, but I don't know who keeps score or where to look up my opponents' statistics.

Hopefully this further illustrates the crowded nature of Hong Kong that I was talking about on Monday (50, 837 people per square kilometer or 131, 792 people per square mile)...

Chris, Regina and Pommes with a steady paw for night photography

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Secrets between strangers

Picture of Sujeet in France

Dear Gentle Reader,

There is something about secrets that binds us.

There is something about the act of sharing, both the telling and the listening, that brings people together.

When we backpack through Europe or elsewhere, we end up sharing stories and secrets with strangers, partially because they are strangers. 

Our stories are safe with them, because they will never see us again. Yet the act of sharing stories and secrets makes them close friends, despite the fact that they are strangers whom we have not known before and whom we may not meet again after a few days. 

The sharing transforms them, and our experience of the place becomes replete with amazingly close people whom we shared events and places and good times with.

I write this today because a stranger has been sharing his life with me, and with everyone else who reads his blog. It binds me to someone whom I really do not know. And despite not really knowing him, now I do. And I care.

And that is the power of stories. That is the power of secrets.


P.S. The story I am talking about is called Parenthood II and is written by Travis Erwin.
Click here to find it. Part I can be reached through the link I am sending you to, and part III has not been written yet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Traveling in Hong Kong, or, why so slow, Ho?

Image of the dashboard and driver's hands of a taxi I was in the other day. Upon the dashboard are a raft of stuffed animals
Dear Gentle Reader,

Antje was convinced that Hong Kong would be fast-paced.

Well, if fast-paced means that something is always happening and someone is always about and the streets are crowded, then yes. Hong Kong is fast-paced.

But, Antje, if by fast-paced you mean that you think people move quickly, then, sadly, no.

There are great things in Hong Kong: the Feather Boa bar; the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science; great restaurants, even vegetarian restaurants; but there are no fast walkers.

Getting anywhere quickly in Hong Kong is a bit difficult.

Taxis are ubiquitous and inexpensive, but I prefer to walk as taxis can be awfully crowded (see title picture).

And walking seems to be good for you. ish.

With the heat and humidity in the spring, summer, and fall I can lose a good two litres of water in five minutes by walking briskly. Now, let's see... one litre of water, given water's density, is one kilo of weight. Two kilos weight loss (a bit more than five pounds) in five minutes?

Sign me up! That is a weight loss rate of over one pound per minute. Almost half a kilo a minute for everyone else... ...Jenny Craig, eat your heart out!

Now five pounds weight loss in five minutes might not be healthy, but it is impressive, and much cheaper than liposuction. But, and here is the rub (besides the underwear, and Regina has warned me not to go there), I have to walk briskly in the Hong Kong warmth to achieve that weight loss.

By briskly, I mean that, at a minimum, I must walk faster than a geriatric snail slides.

Unfortunately, there are very few places in Hong Kong that I can walk briskly, and walking slower means that I will not lose all that weight.

This need for speed puts me at odds with the majority of the walking population of Hong Kong. At odds? This need for speed puts your scribe on a collision course with everyone in front of him...

Sure it is hot, and the heat slows everyone down, but people here can have a glass of hot tea with lunch in 35 degree weather (Celsius, not Kelvin--95° Fahrenheit for our American friends) and have a bowl of hot soup with that tea.

People in Hong Kong can stand the heat. They just cannot walk in it.

But slow is still better than stopped. And I seem to be stopped a lot too.

When people are on horizontal escalators (moving walkways) they frequently alight at that geriatric snail's pace only to congregate in front of me to stop at, and block, the only disembarkation point.

These expert blockers chat with each other, answer their cell phone, or go into a catatonic state and stare vacantly as the backlog behind them builds. Queue theory shows that the front of a line does not have to stop for long to cause the entire line to slow down. Queue practice in my town shows me its true.

Think of driving on the highway and then coming to a standstill because of an accident. That accident can be cleared quickly, but traffic will take ages to resume a continuous, normal speed. Of course drivers are able to use their brakes... When you are on a moving walkway (a horizontal escalator) just because someone blocks the exit doesn't mean that walkway stops moving...

The Mongols lived near China, were fine horsemen, and presumably liked to go fast. Maybe I am beginning to comprehend why the Mongols felt the need to go rampaging sometimes when they entered China and were slowed down.

But, I am not rampaging now and I am in my happy place with a chocolate-covered mango margarita.

But, am I alone?

I have a hunch that I am not.

Do only I get frustrated by the slowness of the masses?

No, many foreigners complain about the walking speeds, or lack thereof, here in Hong Kong.

Maybe the problem lies with the people, as in the number of people (although my walkway blockers are pretty effective at slowing down the masses).

Hong Kong census results have determined that almost 7 million people live in my town, Hong Kong, right now (an estimated 6.985 million people in mid-2008). But that does not really tell the whole story.

All of Hong Kong, all the islands and the mainland portion and even the water that Hong Kong controls, comprises 1092 square kilometers (421.6 square miles).

The total inhabited urban area in Hong Kong, defined as a continuously built-up urban area which includes the outlying towns and villages (from US Census Bureau definitions) is 137.4 square kilometers (53 square miles). (Sourced from

Combining these results, the average population density of Hong Kong's continuously built-up urban areas is about 50, 837 people per square kilometer or 131, 792 people per square mile.

For those successful authors out there who are used to reading numbers on their royalty cheques, that is one hundred thirty-one thousand seven hundred ninety-two people per square mile or fifty thousand eight hundred thirty-seven people per square kilometer.

Everyone knows that New York and Tokyo are both crowded. How does Hong Kong compare? Well, go take a quick look at this 2001 comparative demographic chart. (It is easy and quick to read, I promise.) Hong Kong is much more densely populated than either New York or Tokyo.

I guess that seals it. My hunch was right; I am not alone.

Maybe all this slowness walking anywhere is caused by the sheer number of people in Hong Kong, crammed onto the streets.

Finally, exacerbating the problem of too many people on the streets is the fact that Hong Kong housing prices and rental rates are rather high (remember this post about swapping kidneys for rent?).

So what? Well, with space being so incredibly expensive, most people do not have kitchens, or at least not usable kitchens, in their apartments.

That means that people are always popping underground to go to vegetarian restaurants, or into street markets to search out non-vegetarian cuisines. I think that contributes to the reality of Hong Kong being crowded and helps create the perception of Hong Kong being busy and fast-paced.

So there is no hope for me. Time to cool out and cool down.

It really is chocolate covered mango margarita time. Maybe I will hop into that taxi after all. I'll see you at the Feather Boa.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes