Last Places in Asia

On July 3, 2016 · 4 Comments

The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.

Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild

Glyptostrobus pensilis
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)

I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,

Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.

Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.

Last Place in Japan Banning Women

大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)

A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.

"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"

All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.

Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016

Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)

The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,

Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.

I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.

Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge

big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)

The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).

Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.

Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Abundant Agglomerated Archipelagos

On March 4, 2014 · 1 Comments

Rather than call this "More Thousand Islands" and confuse it with the purpose of my recent celebratory Kiloanomaly, I came up with a new name. Rest assured, by mentioning abundant agglomerated archipelagos, I actually meant places other than the Thousand Islands poking above the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United states that share a similar name. The latest twist was that none of them were in English so the 12MC audience will get to see me struggle once again with my complete inability to deal with foreign languages.

I have to give a tip of the keyboard to Wikipedia’s Thousand Islands (disambiguation) page for inspiring the notion. I also researched other sources so it wasn’t like I completely stole the idea, only partially.

Rivière des Mille Îles

Rivière des Mille Îles, Québec, Canada

Rivière des Mille Îles, or River of a Thousand Isles, had the best chance of being confused with the other Thousand Islands simply because of its proximity. The river was actually a channel of a larger river system, and one could reach the St. Lawrence from either its source or its mouth. Rivière des Mille Îles when paired with other channels formed the island that separated Laval from Montréal. The whole area teemed with islands, albeit farther downstream from the more famous Thousand Islands in Ontario. It can become rather confusing.

The area included the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which was described nicely once run through Google Translate:

The decor of the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles offers a real landscape bayous, with its calm river, shallow and safe, marshes flowers, marshy forests and lush vegetation of the islands, forming a maze of greenery. Half an hour from Montreal, nearly twenty islands that are accessible, a major tourist attraction and a unique place in Québec.


Tusenøyane, Svalbard, Norway

Thousand Islands converted into Norwegian became Tusenøyane, and indeed that’s the name of an isolated grouping found south of Edgeøya on the Svalbard archipelago. The entirety of Svalbard itself was rather obscure with barely 2,500 residents so one can imagine the remoteness of one tiny scattering of rocks along its lower flank.

Correspondingly, there wasn’t all that much additional information about Tusenøyane available. The Norwegian Polar Institute served as the naming authority, identifying Tusenøyane as "A number of small islands south of Edgeøya" with a linguistic origin tracing to "the thousand islands." The authority further noted several variant names including the Hopeless Islands.

I also found a site with several photographs. It looked barren and cold. I don’t think I’d go so far as to describe it as "hopeless" though, well unless someone got shipwrecked there or something.

Kepulauan Seribu

Understanding the theme presented so far, it should come as no surprise that Kepulauan Seribu translated to Thousand Islands, in this case from the Indonesian language. These numerous small islets formed a string due north of Jakarta. Administratively they were actually part of Jakarta, and the city government explained:

Kepulauan Seribu [Thousand Island] is located in Java Sea and Jakarta Bay, it is an area with characteristic and natural potential that is different with other parts of Jakarta Capital City, because this area is basically a cluster of formed coral islands and shaped by coral biota and other associated biota (algae, malusho, foraminifera, and others) with the help of dynamic natural process… it doesn’t mean that the total number of islands within the clusters is a thousand. There are approximately 342 islands in total, including sand islands, including vegetated and non-vegetated coral reefs.

Some Island on Kepulauan Seribu by TeYoU @ Sydney via Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Indonesia created the Kepulauan Seribu Marine National Park and it grew into a major tourist attraction. Search on Kepulauan Seribu online and one will find a nearly innumerable set of websites trying to sell luxury vacations there. This formerly unspoiled paradise may have become a little too well loved in recent decades, leading to warnings of environmental degradation.

Qiandao Lake

Qiandao Lake, Zhejiang Province, China

Qiandao Lake (which was represented by several Chinese language characters I couldn’t seem to replicate in WordPress), or Thousand Island Lake, was the only location in this series created artificially. The islands were a byproduct of the flooding of a valley after construction of a dam.

The Xin’anjiang Hydropower Station, the country’s first large-scale power plant designed and built by Chinese in the 1950s, is still the pride of the local people. It is on the Xin’an River in Jiande city of Zhejiang Province in east China. Moreover, it formed a huge reservoir (Qiandao Lake) with 1,078 islands, which is part of a golden tourist route linking Hangzhou, Provincial capital of Zhejiang, and Mount Huangshan in neighboring Anhui Province.

My favorite quote, however, was "Qiandao Lake, known for its clear, and sometimes drinkable water, is used to produce the renowned Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water."

Sometimes drinkable? Thanks, I’d prefer consistently drinkable water.

Remarkable Sundials

On January 24, 2013 · 2 Comments

I’ve had a bit of a sundial fixation since stumbling across the dueling Dodge City railroad time zone sundials during Kansas Mountain Time. I don’t think I’ll reach a point where I’m compelled to compile a list and go out of my way to visit them (as I do with lighthouses, fortifications and breweries), however I’d probably take a look if I found myself in the vicinity of a particularly remarkable specimen.

There are people infinitely more interested in sundials, and I certainly understand their passion for an esoteric topic considering my similar tendencies related to other objects. I found a couple of organizations where like-minded individuals can share their discoveries and promote their hobby, the North American Sundial Society (mentioned in the earlier article) and the British Sundial Society. There are other societies in different parts of the world although I didn’t have an opportunity to visit their sites. I also learned a new word: Gnomon. It has nothing to do with gnomes. It’s the part of a sundial that casts a shadow.

The world’s largest sundial is probably in Jaipur, India. I won’t focus much attention on it because Google Sightseeing already discussed it. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested. I’ll wait until you come back.

Sundial Bridge

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I discovered a particularly elegant example in Redding, California. A bridge shaped in the manner of a sundial spans the Sacramento River, joining the north and south campuses of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The operative word is "shaped" like a sundial since it’s not actually functional. As the North American Sundial Society explains,

When is a bridge not a bridge? When it’s almost a sundial. The 217 foot high suspension span called Sundial Bridge wants to be a sundial, and has come very close. The suspension pylon is aligned true north, but unfortunately performs as an inaccurate gnomon with an inclination of 49 deg (for bridge functionality) rather than for the 40.6 deg latitude of the site.

If we moved the bridge due-north to make it functional, changing its location to 49° latitude without changing the longitude (map) it would serve a bridge between the United States and Canada at O Avenue, a spot mentioned previously in Big Zero. I love life’s little coincidences.

Carefree Sundial

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Maybe I just like the name. Carefree Sundial sounds, well, so very carefree. The dial is found in a town of the same name outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Carefree is one of those upscale planned communities that sprouted from the desert for the benefit of snowbirds and retirees in the 1950’s. Residents live along Nonchalant Avenue, Never Mind Trail, Happy Hollow Drive, Lazy Lane, Dream Street, Ho Road, Hum Road, and Ho Hum Drive.

A shopping center within the development includes a large sundial centerpiece to accent a partial roundabout. From the North American Sundial Society, again:

A 90 ft. diameter horizontal dial with a large reflecting pool beneath the gnomon designed by John Yellott. The hour markers are 4 ft. diameter concrete circles. The dial is designed to show solar time corrected for the time zone offset. Thus the hour markers have been moved ahead of the solar time position. The hour lines are separated by alternating dark and light colored stones. The gnomon itself is 4 ft. wide, 62 ft. long and the tip is 35 ft. high. A pilot dial at a scale of 1/4 in. = 1ft. is at the South end of the large dial. It is constructed of gold-anodized aluminum with time lines at 10 minute intervals.

Actually Carefree seems a bit schizophrenic. Other roads within the community include Bloody Basin Road, Long Rifle Road and Sidewinder Road. Imagine living at the corner of Nonchalant and Bloody Basin (like this guy). It’s an odd juxtaposition.

Falcon Square Sundial

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I found this beauty listed as a Dial of the Month by the British Sundial Society. This is Falcon Square in Inverness, Scotland.

Four scaphe dials are located around the base of a 27-foot Mercat Cross in Falcon Square, Inverness. The obelisk is topped by a bronze unicorn, and decorated with four flying falcons. The dials are robustly designed by Emma Lavender, and show BST with declination lines marked by their zodiac symbols.

Got that? The small sundials are located on the base. I enjoyed the unicorn even more, though. It’s not everyday that one has an opportunity to view a unicorn high atop a column unless one lives in Scotland, where the royal unicorn is a symbol of the Scottish monarchy. We need more unicorn sundials.

Museum Puspa Iptek Bandung, Indonesia

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This single object explains why the vast preponderance of 12MC content focuses on English-speaking locations. It’s not because I don’t care about the rest of the world because I most certainly do, it’s because my comprehension of any language other than English falls terribly short of any level of usefulness. Google offered a very tantalizing option: only to lead me to a site written primarily in an Indonesian language. "The biggest sundial" seemed really specific and sounded like it was going to be English-friendly. I could recognize only a couple of words: "Sundial (Jam Matahari) adalah seperangkat alat yang digunakan sebagai petunjuk waktu semu lokal (local apparent time) dengan memanfaatkan MATAHARI yang menghasilkan bayang-bayang sebuah gnomon (batang atau lempengan yang bayang-bayangnya digunakan sebagai petunjuk waktu)."

Let me see: sundial… local apparent time… gnomon… and it went downhill from there.

Google Translate helped with basic meanings. It was still ridiculously difficult to uncover the actual location of the sundial. Eventually I found it but only because several visitors had posted on foursquare. The sundial was incorporated into the design of a building that houses the Puspa Iptek museum, a facility that focuses on science and technology.

Best Product I’ve Seen in a Long Time

I wish, I so wish I lived on the 51st latitude, north. Then I could purchase the Sundial Glass. I could combine my neurotic fixation on punctuality with my abundant appreciation of craft beers into one convenient package.

It’s an over-sized pint glass. It’s a sundial. It actually tells time! Unfortunately it was designed for Brighton, England although the website does explain that it will work anywhere along the same basic latitude. Kyle, the Basement Geographer, in British Columbia might be able to use it. Me? I’m out of luck until someone invents one for 39° north.

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An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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