Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

The Gunpowder GardensThe Gunpowder Gardens by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is one of those great books which I like to categorize as ‘History of Things’. Through tracing the history of a thing, in this case, Tea, we unravel many more stories en-route. Tea is something that has always been central to my life, it never answers back and it’s always there for me in a crisis. I think this book is an essential read to anyone who consumes tea on a regular basis. It provides fun anecdotes all the way through and the author ‘Jason Goodwin’ is a great companion on the adventure of tea.



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The Travels of Ibn Battutah by Ibn Battuta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In contrast to the numerous modern travel books which seem to focus on the ‘personality’ of the writer or trivial observations, this is an epic in every sense of the word. The scale of the journey is immense in distance and time, IB stayed to work as a Qadi (judge)in several places along the way, this means that you really get a deep sense of the politics and the people in each destination. This depth is unlike some of the more superficial accounts of present books which rely on novelty and humour. Although travels is not without humour itself.

I like travelling and read travel books frequently, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed the descriptions of distant lands and strange customs, however, the biggest surprise for me was the journey into the Islamic culture and lifestyle. I think it’s the first account I have read from an Islamic perspective, and a Medieval one at that. With this in mind I think this is a perfect book to open the mind about other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. To get the most from this journey it is important to read ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ and ‘Hall of a Thousand Columns’ By Mackintosh-Smith.

I hope this reworked classic inspires other translators and archivists to unearth other works from centuries gone. On a final note I am deeply envious of anyone who understands Arabic as they can read the original.



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Ibn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far NorthIbn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North by Ahmad ibn Fadlān
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very objective account of an embassy sent from the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to instruct the (Volga)Bulgars in matters of Islam. The journey takes in some of the most noteable tribes of the 11th century north of the Caspian and Black seas. He travels well into Russia which was in its infancy. He also travels across the Tundra to visit other semi nomadic tribes.

The account is very detailed and doesn’t belittle or pour scorn upon other races – common at the time. It was fascinating to read about the Viking burial and some of their customs which seem so alien both today, and even more so back then.

The introduction is a welcome account of the traveller, although not much is known about him. There are also several accounts from the Arab world about the various peoples of Europe. I feel like these collection eventually became Geography as we know it.

I’d recommend this to those who enjoy Herodotus and the Travels of Ibn Battutah.

on Tongyeong the Napoli of KoreaDSC_0253DSC_0287DSC_0293DSC_0294DSC_0297DSC03329_Fotor_CollageDSC03408DSC03410DSC03415DSC03424DSC03425DSC03430DSC03433DSC03434DSC03435_Fotor_CollageDSC03442DSC03447_Fotor_CollageDSC03463

Once you’ve seen one Joseon dynasty tomb, you’ve seen them all. That’s something I’ve never said, at least not without being sarcastic. For those who have been in Korea for an extended period I could understand that some historical monuments start to look very similar to each other. If you are in this phase of diminishing returns when it comes to visiting ‘old stuff’, then I sincerely recommend a visit to the royal tombs of Taereung Gangneung over on the north east side of Seoul.

Map

 

The two locations are a tomb complex in Nowon-gu. Taereung Royal Tomb (태릉) houses the burial mound of Queen Munjeong who was the second queen of King Jungjong, the 11th King of the Joseon Dynasty. Nearby Gangneung (강릉) is the final resting place of  Munjeoang’s son King Myeongjong, the 13th King of Joseon Dynasty, and his wife Queen Insunwanghu.  As mentioned earlier, once you are familiar with the burial sites of the Joseon Dynasty history can start slipping into carefully cultivated UNESCO heritage sites. The orderly layouts and well designed information placard can detract from the interesting and often extremely turbulent history which lies beneath.

Taereung Shrine Entrance

Beneath the grassy knoll of Taereung lies one of the more interesting figures of Korean dynastic history and a great candidate to be patron saint of pushy mums – Queen Munjeong. Her son Myeongjong was too young to rule by himself until 1565 so Queen Munjeong ated as a regent. Despite her many depictions as a power crazy Lady Macbeth type figure, there are also accounts of her being a more than competent administrator. She even gave out land to common people that had been formerly owned by the nobility. Although this practice is rarely for altruistic reasons; it is usually more related to stripping the yangban (upper classes) of land for political reasons. An ominous sign which appears in most dynasties the world over, was the fact that she continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority. It was only after her death that her son took over power, which seems to me a black and white indication of their relationship.If, like me, you would like to know more about this narrative then you could watch the historical drama  Mandate of Heaven 2013. It’s on a list which I am working my way through – I’m about 1400 years behind at the moment! Another interesting fact about Munjeong was that she was one of the most influential supporters of Buddhism. During the early years of Joseon Neo Confucism replaced Buddhism as the de facto state ideology. The Queen lifted the official ban on Buddhist worship and instigated a resurgence of Buddhism.The next chapter of Korean history starts after Munjeong’s death. However, I have not visited the other tomb complex yet so I will reserve the research for my next visit.

The location of the tomb is in a wonderful location, owing to the practice of geomancy. Like most tombs and royal palaces in Korea the location is chosen with freshwater flowing near the front area and mountains to the rear. In the case of Taereung you can actually follow a small tributary from the Jungang Stream (itself a tributary of the Han). There is a great cycle path all the way up the Jungang Cheon and heading north you can take a right before Taerung Subway station and wind your way up the stream which follows the Bukbu Expressway. It’s a great bike ride in summer because it’s mostly in the shade. The advantage of going by bike is the fact that you miss nearly all the main traffic. I came off the stream when it splits and found myself next to the huge Military academy – the museum is opposite.

The museum is actually the main reason why I would recommend this place. It gives a very detailed description of how tombs are used and made. That sounds extraordinarily dull, but believe me, the graphics and displays kept me in the museum for much longer than I expected. I wish I had seen the museum a few years ago because it would have helped me understand exactly why the paths are laid out as they are and also the construction of the burial mound.

Taereung (3) Taereung (4) Taereung (6) Taereung (9) Taereung (10) Taereung (11)

The museum costs 1000 won for adults and is open Summer season 09:00-18:30 / Winter season 09:00-17:30

[Subway + Bus]
Seokgye station (Seoul Subway Line 1 and 6), Exit 6.
– Take bus 1155 , 1156 or 73
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 15 min ride).

Hwarangdae station (Seoul Subway Line 6), Exit 1.
–  Take bus 202 , 1155, 1156, 73 or 82.
–  Get aff at Taereung Gangneung (5 min interval / 5 min ride).

Taereung station (Seoul Subway Line 6 and 7), Exit 7.
– Take bus 202, 1155 , 1156, 73 or 82.
– Get off at Taereung Gangneung (10 min interval / 10 min ride).