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
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
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.

Ireland, Part 4 (On the Water)

On July 27, 2014 · Comments Off on Ireland, Part 4 (On the Water)

I enjoy boat rides. Ireland is surrounded by water. Is it surprising that I found myself cruising over the waves? No of course not, although I didn’t expect it to happen four times during my trip even if a couple of those were fleeting encounters.

Skellig Michael



12MC’s brief video from the Skellig Islands

Skellig Michael ranked high on my list of priorities as I planned the trip. A skellig is rock, in this instance the Rock of Michael, mirroring the Irish language Sceilig Mhichíl. Skellig Michael and its sister Little Skellig jutted sharply from the Atlantic Ocean a dozen kilometres from the Iveragh Peninsula (map). While just a stone’s throw from the famous Ring of Kerry and its tourist busloads, Skellig Michael stood a world apart in approachability and was equally difficult to conquer.

Irish authorities severely limited access to this fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only small boats could dock at Skellig Michael and only a handful of licenses were awarded each year to charter operators working primarily from Portmagee. This limited visitors to about 150 people per day give-or-take, and only in the summer months when ocean swells calmed sufficiently. Even that could be a crapshoot. We had to reschedule our original reservation after all five sailing days leading up to it were canceled due to high waves. The island caretakers wouldn’t let boats land there in perceptively dangerous conditions.

So why would anyone want to go to Skellig Michael? Lousy weather, seasickness, expense and inconvenience were all possibilities. These were all offset by the actual experience. The difficulty of the journey only enhanced the rewards.



The two Skelligs, out by themselves and surrounded by water, attracted huge colonies of birds. These included about ten thousand Atlantic Puffins on Skellig Michael, and I think many people would agree that puffins are about the cutest birds that exist. They’re like the pandas of the avian world. They also seemed to lack all fear of human visitors. We got as close to puffins on Skellig Michael as we would to pigeons in a park, and they were everywhere. Our kids loved them. I wouldn’t have ridden an hour on a cabin cruiser through an intermittent drizzle to a rocky shard simply for a few birds, though. They were a bonus.



The main attraction was the ancient monastery built high atop Skellig Michael around the 6th Century. The monks who settled here were sometimes called "white martyrs" because of their lives of suffering, deprivation and absolute devotion to their Christian faith, albeit without bloodshed. This must have felt like the most isolated place on earth 1,500 years ago.

We climbed the steep unprotected steps carved into the mountainside centuries ago, several hundred feet up to the monastery, as the horizon disappeared into clouds. It seemed otherworldly as we explored in a thick fog through beehive huts constructed by those early monks as crude shelter. I thought to myself as we walked along, that it seemed like a setting out of Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’ve since learned that this will likely be a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII. It’s a good thing we visited Skellig Michael when we did. Reservations will become a lot more difficult once the secret gets out and Star Wars fans put it on the pilgrimage list.


Kenmare Bay



The Seafari cruise out of Kenmare became our consolation prize on the day we planned to visit Skellig Michael originally and had to postpone it due to the weather. The waves were much calmer in protected Kenmare Bay (map) than the open Atlantic so we diverted to Kenmare that morning to see the Harbor Seals instead of Portmagee to see the puffins. It’s good to be flexible.

The ship’s captain explained that a gloomy day actually worked to our advantage. Sudden movements spooked seals, and sunny days created shadows they detected as motions. More seals should be sitting out on the rocks when cloudy. I wasn’t sure if that was something like rain supposedly being "good luck" on a wedding day — designed to make someone feel better — or whether there was truth behind his statement. Either way, we saw plenty of seals including a few tiny pups that resided with their parents only for a brief period each Summer before striking out on their own.


Innisfallen



We kept returning to a recurring theme during our journey: how to separate ourselves from larger crowds in popular tourist destinations. Case in point, several sites in Killarney National Park just outside of the town of Killarney all drew healthy gatherings. However, Innisfallen Island (map) in the middle of the park’s Lough Leane, did not. That required a boat and most people did not want to go through the effort.

I think large excursion boats went to Innisfallen at certain times of the day although none were there when we visited. Instead, we hired a boatsman to ferry us from the concession stand at nearby Ross Castle to the middle of the lake. There we climbed through the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, founded originally in 640 and lasting through 1594. There were only two other people on the island during our brief layover, and then we got a guided tour around the lake afterwards to boot.


Valentia Island Ferry



Our fourth journey across water involved the Valentia Island Ferry (map). I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article so I’ll just mention it for now.


Completely Unrelated

Comment spam seems to have returned to the Twelve Mile Circle. It took a nosedive a few months ago after Google started penalizing link-back schemes in its page-rank algorithms. The spammers have responded by linking back to YouTube and Yahoo Answers pages instead, and I’ve noticed a steady upswing in those tactics. Of course, I moderate every comment on 12MC and I delete spam before readers ever see it. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse games from my little corner of the world.


The Ireland articles:

Oldest Continuous Businesses

On May 2, 2013 · 3 Comments

I had fun with Wikipedia’s List of Oldest Companies after I bounced onto it randomly, and of course it included a geographic component. I decided to examine claims for various nations using the list as a starting point.

I think it’s important to stress that these are only claims. References and websites for individual companies often hedge their assertion with qualifiers such as "reputed to be" or "probably" so I wouldn’t insist that any of these are the absolute oldest even though they would certainly qualify as ancient within their particular realms.

Japan – Oldest in the World



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The oldest continuously-operated company in the world today is likely (notice the qualifier) Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel which is located at a hot spring in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Actually the first several companies on the list are all located in Japan. Japanese firms dominate the entire category. There’s something about Japanese culture that nurtures and protects these mostly modest endeavors for a millennium or more. Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan has been around since the year 705 according to Guinness World Records.

Oddly, Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan captured the longevity title only recently. Kongo Gumi, a Japanese temple builder, ruled the roost until 2006. Kongo Gumi was established and remained under the control of a single family starting in 578 before succumbing to 21st Century economic pressures. Imagine poor Masakazu Kongo, the 40th and final company leader, who failed to pass down what the previous 39 generations of his family had preserved.

Speaking of temple building, I noticed a rather startling swastika symbol south of the Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel. I clicked the tag and dropped the Japanese characters into translation software that identified it as a Buddhist temple. Some basic research confirmed that "on Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple." It’s perfectly proper in this context albeit it came as a jolt to me because of my westernized point of reference.


Continental Europe


Bürgerstube - St. Peter Stiftskeller (Photo-Credit: St. Peter Stiftskeller)
Flickr by marketing deluxe via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License

An example from continental Europe followed next after a parade of Japanese occurrences. It was the Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria, a restaurant that dated back at least to the year 803 (map). The restaurant claimed that it was "mentioned for the first time by the scholar Alcuin, a follower of Emperor Charlemagne, thus regarded as the oldest restaurant in Europe."

It also interested me because Stiftskeller St. Peter is contained within the confines of St. Peter’s Archabbey (Stiftskeller translates to Abbey Basement). I learned a new word today too: an archabbey is a principal abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict. One can dine within a Benedictine monastery like people have done since the 9th Century.


United Kingdom



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Several people from the UK subscribe to the Twelve Mile Circle so I wanted to feature something from the British Islands. The oldest company is believed to be a pub called The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire. As the pub described it, "The Bingley Arms, or The Priests Inn as it was called hundreds of years ago, has a known history that dates back as far as 953AD when Samson Ellis brewed in the central part of the building. However, evidence suggests that it might even date back to 905AD and was standing before All Hallows Church, just a few yards away, was built in 950AD."

Then it talks about the usual ghost stories and stuff which is typical of just about every website describing ancient places.


United States



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No company in the so-called "New World" will compare favorably to Asian or European business longevity. The Native Americans had completely different cultural norms so notions of family businesses passed down through multiple generations had to wait until European settlement. The oldest example was a farm along the James River in Charles City County Virginia — Shirley Plantation — established in 1613. Bear in mind that the first permanent English colony at Jamestown (my visit) didn’t happen until 1607 so Shirley Plantation followed the original landing by a mere six years. That makes the date quite remarkable within its context.

The top tier of ancient establishments in the US were all farms. The oldest non-farm was The Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine that’s been operated continuously since 1667. They say that, "9th Generation Family Innkeepers make us America’s oldest running family run business." Well, except for the farms, I guess.


Canada and Australia



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Canada’s oldest business may be the most well-known of the lot, the Hudson’s Bay company founded in 1670. I decided to show Hudson Bay rather than the company’s headquarters in some generic office tower in Toronto (street view).

Ditto for Australia. I can’t add much visual impact by showing the Brisbane headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Company, founded in 1824. Today they "operate 19 cattle stations, two feedlots and three farms across more than 7.2 million hectares of land across Queensland and the Northern Territory."

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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