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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quarterdeck review's Eleanor

Catching up with my mail after getting in from the South China Sea, I was delighted and highly complimented to find that Eleanor's Odyssey had been warmly reviewed in Quarterdeck, as one of the two Editor's Choices.

Hong Kong Maritime Museum

 Foggy, smoggy Hong Kong is going through a building boom

However, they have found time to refurbish their maritime museum, wonderfully situated on Hong Kong Island at the terminus of the Star Ferry.

The bottom floor -- D-Deck -- is reserved for the CSSC Maritime Heritage Resource Centre, with classrooms and offices, and accessible only by appointment, so ordinary visitors have to climb up to the reception desk on C-Deck.  There is an elevator, and reception is friendly and helpful.

If you are short of time, devote it all to C-Deck, which has a lot of interest, and is also kid friendly. It opens with an introduction to junks, including details on building a replica.  The system of interior bulkheads, said the text, began because long lengths of timber became hard to find.  Then it was realized that the design had lots of advantages.

You move on to what can only be described as an eclectic mixture of themes.

China and the opium trade runs along one wall, dominated by this fine painting by W. J. Huggins, of opium clippers at Lintin, 1824.

The centre is devoted to pirates, including a constantly updated electronic board of current pirate attacks -- rather unsettling for a person who is booked to sail in the South China Sea.  Interestingly, I noticed, the Somali coast has become very quiet.  When I remarked on this later, I was told by Captain Chris Wells of the Queen Mary 2 that it is largely because of sanctions, triggered by the seizure of the Maersk Alabama, featured in the film "Captain Phillips."

Rather predictably, there was a "cannon" one could try to fire at a pirate fleet.  Popular with children, it seems, because it didn't work.

And further on was a fine display devoted to the voyage of the Keyring to England.

The next floor up -- B-Deck -- is even more of a mishmash, including bits and pieces of lighthouses, a figurehead, a display devoted to underwater life, a foghorn from an America's Club yacht, and a viewing gallery with a fine view of the harbour.

Top floor has an excellent cafe, with good food and drink, well priced.  All the profits from this go to a charity for the intellectually handicapped, and it is partly staffed by these disadvantaged people, who are very attentive and anxious to please.

Well worth a visit, even if just for its junks and its wonderful location.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Ancestors in Taiwan

Maori meet the Aboriginal Formosans

Back in February, at the Taipei International Book Fair, something amazing happened.

Over the last ten or so years, geneticists have confirmed what linguists and archaeologists have been guessing for more than fifty -- that there is a clear link between modern day Polynesians, including New Zealand Maori, and the people who lived on the east coast of Taiwan five thousand years ago.

Taiwan is where the great migration that discovered and settled every island of the Pacific began.

Their aboriginal people -- the original Formosans -- are the ultimate ancestors of the people of the Pacific. As Dr Geoff Chambers, biologist at Victoria University and an expert on the great migration, says, it started 5,000 years ago, when people now known as the Austronesians set out from their homeland, spreading first into the area about Mindanao in modern Indonesia, then to the Philippines, and beyond.

After about 2,000 years of exploring, island-hopping, and settling, they moved into another major area, now known as Papua-New Guinea, where they settled and intermarried with the locals.  this genetic mix produced the ancestors of the modern Polynesians,  These were the people who ventured out in their outrigger canoes, and gradually explored the entire Pacific, from Samoa and Tonga to Tahiti and the Marquesas, and as far as Rapanui (Easter Island), Hawaii, and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

And, at the book fair, a New Zealand Maori party and indigenous Taiwanese, like the delightful girls at the Council of Indigenous People pavilion, right next-door to the New Zealand pavilion, met and interacted.

Most modern Taiwanese are of Han Chinese origin (like the youngsters with the Maori performers, at the top of this post), but about half a million Taiwan people (like the girls in their colorful dress) belong to one of the two dozen indigenous tribes.  And, when they got together with the Polynesian party, they called each other cousins.

"I feel at home here," quipped iconic Maori writer Witi Ihimaera (Whale Rider), "because someone asked me for directions in Mandarin."

The similarities were indeed striking. Not only do they look much the same as the girls, boys, men and women -- Samoan, Tahitian, Tokelauan, Cook Island and Tongan, as well as Maori -- that we encounter every day, but they share a lot of words. In New Zealand, we say, "Tahi, rua, toru, wha, rima" (one, two, three, four, five), while in Taiwan, they say, "Cecay, toso, tolo, sepal, lima."

And they have the same challenges in preserving their culture.

Two people allied by their genes and their ancient past.  No wonder this was such a deeply significant occasion.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lan Yu "canoes" -- my guest post at Old Salt Blog

Today, I had the privilege of being invited to write a guest post for OLD SALT BLOG.

It is about the Lanyu canoes I studied at museums in Taipei, and the local experts I interviewed.

Here I am with one of those experts, the charming Liao Hong-ji, a fisherman, author, conservationist and adventurer.

The whole conversation was in Chinese (except for my answers to translated questions, and my questions, also translated) -- and we were talking about the Great Migration, and Tupaia's canoes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gunboats at the Evergreen Maritime Museum

Since there has been such intense interest in Taipei's Evergreen Maritime Museum, I have decided to tell you more over two or three more posts.  This one focuses on three fascinating models of steam-powered boats that plied Chinese waters in the nineteenth century.

Ping Yuan -- cruiser.  Launched on January 29, 1888, and originally named Long Wei, this was the first steel-armored cruiser built in China, her design based on the French Acheron-class gunboat. In 1890 she was transferred to the Beiyang Fleet, and renamed Ping Yuan.  The Ping Yuan fought in the Battle of the Yalu River, damaging the Japanese flagship Matsushima (of which there is a model upstairs). Captured in the siege of Weihaiwei in 1895, she became part of the Japanese Imperial Navy.  In 1904 she met her doom, hitting a mine in Pigeon Bay, west of Port Arthur.

This lovely model is is of the Jing Qing, another cruiser.  She was a composite (wooden planking over an iron frame), and fitted with a ram bow. Built in the Foochow Naval Yard, she was launched on December 23, 1885, and joined the Nanyang Fleet, based in Shanghai. At the end of the Qing Dynasty she was transferred to the Yangtze river fleet, and in 1918 she was decommissioned and converted into a commercial vessel.

And here is the steamship Wan Nian Qing, China's first wooden-hulled, steam-driven vessel to exceed 1,000 tons. Launched on June 10, 1869, she was not a gunboat, per se, but served as a transport between Taiwan and Fujian,  She sank after a collision with a British steamboat in the East China Sea (near Shanghai) on January 20, 1887.  Since then, her name has been given to a chemicals tanker .... 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evergreen Maritime Museum

Finding an entry ticket for Taipei's maritime museum as a bookmark reminded me that I haven't written a post about this amazing, little-known maritime museum, tucked away in a city suburb well away from the sea.  There was a great deal that was marvelous about this find, and a few things that were mysterious.

First was the entrance gate.

"Evergreen" seemed such an odd name for a maritime museum, but then I forgot this for the moment, as we went into the truly amazing ground floor.

This is looking down on it from above.  Though it is dominated by an enormous model of a dhow, the vessels around it grab the attention.  First, there is a Lanya canoe (indigenous Formosan), complete with equipment

Based on a dugout keel, this carvel-built canoe was made on Orchid Island (Lan Yu), off the southeast coast of Taiwan. The natives who build in this style are Taos, an aboriginal tribe predating the Han Chinese who mostly populate Taiwan now.  This specimen consists of 27 pieces of wood, with four tiers of strakes surmounting the keel -- according to what I learned at the Aboriginal Museum (near the famous National Palace Museum), this means that it is crewed by four paddlers. Both bow and stern are raised, but appeared to me to be identical, though there were eyes painted at one end. The decorations are most impressive, representing waves, and -- I was told -- ancestral images.  No outrigger -- which I find fascinating, when it is considered that the Austronesian migration that populated the Pacific came from Taiwan, 5000 years ago.

Elsewhere in this grand foyer are the huge model of a dhow, three models of gunboats, and an exhibit dedicated to the great admiral Zheng He, who led an expedition to the Indian Ocean 1405-1433 AD.

As well as a model of his treasure ship, there are warrior-type models of Zheng He flanked by two military officers. 

Cameras were banned in the higher floors, but of course we wanted to explore.  After buying a ticket for 100 New Taiwan Dollars (about $3 US, the whole of which goes to charity), we put away our cameras and took an elevator to the fifth floor, as instructed.  This was dedicated to the History of Ships -- but to our surprise, the wonderful models were all of European ships.  

The fourth floor had another great display of models -- of ocean liners, 20th century war ships -- and modern cargo ships, where I found out why the museum is called "Evergreen."  The cargo ships were all container ships, owned by .. guess what ... the Evergreen Company, the sponsor of this wonderful maritime museum. 

As the brochure told me, the Evergreen Maritime Museum was founded by the Chairman and Founder of the Evergreen group, Dr. Y. F. Chang, who supplied most of the artifacts, and gave it a place in the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation building. So, it is understandable that there should be a generous space devoted to Evergreen container ships.  There were some great interactive displays, where I found out more about loading, sailing, and docking a huge container ship than I ever expected to learn. 

For a historian, the third floor was even more interesting, as it focused on Taiwan and the sea, covering the East India Company, the opium trade, and the story of Taiwan's prominence in modern maritime trade -- from the point of view of Evergreen, of course.

The third floor held another surprise -- an exhibit called The World of Maritime Paintings ... mostly European maritime paintings. There was even one by Geoff Hunt, who created the covers of the Patrick O'Brian series.  Interestingly, though, there were also many pierhead paintings -- ship portraits made to order for clipper ship captains -- or created in the hope that they would buy them. While the artists were not named, they were probably Chinese.

And so down to the mezzanine, overlooking the magnificent display on the ground floor.  Not many exhibits there, except a case that held, rather touchingly, models and wreaths made by crew of the various Evergreen container ships, labelled -- somewhat to my surprise -- as "Sailor Scrimshaw."

Oh well, never mind.  It was a great experience, highly recommended.  Taipei is indeed a city of surprises.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Eleanor's review from Historic Naval Fiction

From Historic Naval Fiction

At the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor’s Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.
Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it’s own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludees with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.
This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Books and so forth

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid": Jane Austen

"One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man": Elbert Hubbard

"Not all chemicals are bad.  Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer": Dave Barry

"The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that, in a democracy, you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting": Charles Bukowski

"I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate": George Burns

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience": George Bernard Shaw

Friday, March 20, 2015


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavoured mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.  

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for a  very long, sometimes indefinite period of time.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

10. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Queen Mary 2 misses Wellington

She is a magnificent ship -- or was, when new.  Actually, the Queen Mary 2 is rather well named, because she is showing her age, and badly needs her upcoming make-over.

We sailed on her from Hong Kong to Sydney.  As we live in Wellington, New Zealand, we did consider the option of sailing all the way home, but time (and money) dictated otherwise.

And now we are so pleased we left the ship in Sydney, as she has had a very strange cruise since then, courtesy of Cyclone Pam.

She did make it to the Milford Sound, but then turned up the west coast, not the east, so missed her scheduled call at historic Akaroa.  Instead, she moored in the Marlborough Sounds, and the passengers were shuttled to the busy little port of Picton.

After that, she was supposed to come to Wellington, but somehow she didn't make it.

As reported, she meandered, instead.

The 345-metre long ship was due into Wellington Harbour on Wednesday morning but, after a circuitous route across Cook Strait, the pilot aborted entry to the harbour at 5.10am because of a heavy swell and bad weather.
The Wellington leg of the cruise was cancelled and the ship is now heading up the North Island west coast to Auckland.
Ship tracking website shows the roundabout route the ship took overnight.
It left the Marlborough Sounds on Tuesday night and sailed as far north as opposite Palmerston North. It then looped back to near the Wellington Harbour entrance before again heading north to the sea off Kapiti Island and then northwards.