Economic Growth Eliminates Caste System

It is encouraging for me to read that the recent economic boom has helped to eliminate the caste system in India. A representative from the business community in Chennai said that caste has no impact on life today. Mr. Ganesan should know well, for he, himself, comes from the lowest caste, Nadars, or Dalit. Through education and business, he has made himself into a well-known successful community member. This could not have happened in India ten or twenty years ago. The caste system, is based on social and economic division of people of the same race which is so entrenched in the Hindu culture for thousands of years. The caste with highest status is the Brahmin. Followed by Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras. The lowest caste is the group called the “untouchables” or the more acceptable name, the Dalits. Movement from one caste to the other is very difficult or nearly impossible. The caste-based discrimination is outlawed by the Indian Constitution. But he practice continues by the people especially those living in the rural areas among the Hindu conservatives. To help the Dalit, The Indian government has set up an affirmative action programs, a measure to redress past discrimination, to give access to government jobs and universities. The Dalits have also helped themselves by creating business associations and networks of their own, and bank groups to provide Dalit’s entrepreneurs with credit. The caste system disappears quicker in the South than in the North where political parties and politicians use caste as issue to gain votes in national election. In the last couple of years, South Indians enjoy prosperities because of economic boom with double digit growth. South Indian couples have less mouths to feed by practicing family planning and birth control. The Dalits benefits from the breakdown of caste hierachy which has cut-off the traditional links between caste and profession. Prosperity and access to modern communication technology by young educated Indians have given a challenge to the traditional Hindu belief that karma of previous life can determined the caste of an individual person when they are born and reborn.

Singapore Marina Bay

One of my favorite pastime is to walk and look at creative architectural design of modern buildings. Last month when I was in Singapore visiting with my cousins, I had the opportunity to do that with them to see the newly constructed buildings at the Marina Bay. Marina Bay is an artificial man-made bay formed from land taken from the sea. It is a gigantic land reclamation and development project that the government and business community build to support Singapore continuing growth as a major business and financial hub in Southeast Asia. Because of all the new build-ups, Singapore Skyline has changed for ever. Now the Marina bay area is full of strange and futuristic-looking buildings of hotels, casinos, shopping malls, offices, sports and entertainments complex. The Sky Park, built on top of the Marina Bay Sand hotel has the longest swimming pool that elevated 975 feet above the ground on boat-shape sky terrace connects three high-rise towers of the 55-stories resort casino/hotel and shopping mall which are modeled after the MGM Mirages City Center in Las Vegas. Another two tall buildings in the area are built side by side in a shape of two gigantic boat sails called the Sail@Marina Bay. Then there is the Helix Bridges. Right on the bay, is the new construction of the Youth Olympic Park. Dominating the view as seen from the Bay Front Bridge is the Esplanade Flyer, the World largest observation wheel. New tropical trees are planted all over the garden by the bay. The Esplanade Theatres looks like a giant round flower rising up from the water. And right on the bay itself, the new Art-Science Museum which is scheduled to open at the end of this year. While admiring the buildings, what I am most concern is whether the new buildings are “environment friendly”. That is, whether the architects and engineers who plan and design them are aware of the impact of an over-consumption of oil as based energy to air-condition those tall glass buildings. They are beautiful to look at though because of the different shapes and forms, especially when the Sun sets, casting shadows towering over the old traditional Post Office historic building, the Singapore Fullerton Hotel with the Merlion (mermaid and lion) statue in front shooting water out of its’ mouth. The best place to enjoy seeing the display of light and shadow of buildings on water at sunset is at the walk way near the Boat Quay at the Singapore River. In the old days, the water from this river would flow directly out to the sea, but now, in this new set up, the water flows instead into the Marina Bay. Quite a challenge in water resource system design and management to keep the environment clean and healthy.

Singapore Botanical Gardens

A visit to Singapore Botanical Gardens is best early in the morning. There are many people visiting the Garden at that time along with walkers and joggers doing their morning exercises along the winding roads through rain forest and around beautiful lakes. Under shady trees, a group of Tai Chi and Chi Gong enthusiasts display their skill in ancient Chinese martial arts, while the young ones prefer to do modern dance from recorded musics. The morning air was also fresh with soft cool breeze. I was already impressed of its beauty when I first visited the garden ten years ago. During my last month’s trip, I saw new addition such as the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage in the middle of the Palm Valley as I walked through the rain forest towards the National Orchid Garden, which really is a dream place for orchid lovers. Since I enjoy doing painting of orchids, I took the opportunity to photograph the large varieties of a thousand species of Bulbophylium, Aerides Multiflora, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum Callosum, and Vanda, for painting on my website. At the Garden, the orchids were artistically displayed between small water falls and bridges in natural settings. Crane Fountain decorated with colorful orchids, was also a new addition. I want to invite everyone to come and visit this largest orchid collection in the world. The Singapore Botanical Gardens, at its present site, was founded by the Agri-horticultural Society in 1859. It was later handed over to the Singapore Government. A lake around the Garden was completed in 1866 to be a home for the swans, imported from Amsterdam. I enjoyed seeing them floating around the water of the lake. There were other people watching them and admiring the swan graceful dance from the seats along the lake sides. There were many beautiful sculptures such as “Swans in flights” and “Girl on Swing” that scattered around the Gardens’ walkway donated by Singaporean artists. The entrance to the garden is through Tanglin Gate/Botany Centre at the junction of Holland and Napier Road. Admission is free to the public. There is a charge of five Singapore dollars for entrance to the National Orchid Garden situated adjacent to the main area of the Botanical Gardens.

Sustainable Public Transportation

To improve our environment, more and more people are using bicycle as a mean of transportation to and from home and work place. For those riders, I want to suggest that you have a look at Chiyu Chen’s designed “Hybrid2”. Chen is a student in Portland, Oregon who has invented a “Hybrake” system to allow rider to generate and store energy from braking and normal biking in an ultra-capacitor. Any rider can use the system to rent a bicycle capable of generating and storing energy to power the city hybrid electric buses. It is such an easy system that anyone can make use of just by charging the bicycle up with kinetic energy from pedal power, and then return it to a kiosk in a parking station, which then feeds energy into the city’s smart grid. The bicyclist then receive a monetary credit towards the next bus pass. The more energy you generate, the more credit you get. I think this is a good way for us to get an exercise, safe the environment by using alternative energy and reduce the amount of toxic fume on the street, at the same time, help easing the traffic jam in town and city roads. Mayor of every town and city should consider building this kind of system for its population.

Elephants On City Street

When I went to visit my mother in Bangkok, I often saw young men (mahout) taking the elephant for a walk on the main Sukhumvit road and in a small narrow lane passing by her house. I was unhappy to see the poor elephant walking on a hot cement road in the mid-day Sun along side motor cycles and cars, but I could not do anything about it. I am appall to learn that there are as many as 100 elephants roaming the street of the Thailand’s capital! Elephants are taken by their owners out of the natural habitat in the forest to walk and beg in the city for food and money. Cruelty to animal is often ignored in Thailand. Despite years of pleading and protesting by various groups of people, the previous Thai governments did nothing about it. Now, thanks to the present Bangkok Governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra and his Deputy, Theerachon Manomaipiboon, we can see some progress in solving the problem of elephant exploitation. Last week, they dispatched polices to patrol the street of Bangkok in search of wandering elephants and their mahouts. When founded, the the city inspector embedded the elephants with microchip under their skin for registration, and for the future control of elephants’ population. The City Hall also conducted a campaign “Cash for Elephant” to send the elephants back to its natural habitat in reserve forest. They urge people for help in buying these elephants from the mahouts/owners who are poor and cannot afford to send the elephant back to the forest. The cost of buying an elephant from the mahout is about $30,000. The Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation bought the elephants but pleaded with mahouts/owners not to overprice their elephants. Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra set up a hotline for the public to give information on the exploitation of elephants. He also assured people that the streets of Bangkok will be elephantfree in less than a year. Good news, indeed!

Bruce Park

A real sanctuary for swans, wild geese, ducks and sea gulls, Bruce park is a peaceful place to visit in Greenwich, Connecticut. I enjoy the afternoon sitting on a bench along side of the lake watching 3 swans floating by gently searching for under water weeds and plants to eat. Walking around in the park I saw several groups of wild geese flying in from somewhere to rest and search for food on the green grass lawn near the edge of the lake. Since the park is quite close to the sea, I was looking for sea gulls but did not find them. But I found many kinds of small birds flying around the area. The white gazebo situated in the middle of a big lawn is a gift from the Hortulus Garden Club. It gives the passerby a shelter to get away from the hot summer Sun. In front of the Gazebo, red, pink and yellow roses scattered all over the lawn. The fragrance of those roses attracts swarms of bees and small insects. There are picnic areas and winding paths up and down the hills for skate boarding and bicycling, and also a separate for jogging and walking for exercise.. About 100 acres of this park area are gifts to the town from a wealthy textile merchant, Robert M. Bruce in 1908. He designated his house located in the park for a Natural History, Historical and Art Museum. The only way to go to Bruce Park is by car. From New York City, I took 1-95 Northbound. turn out at Exit 3, then right onto Arch Street, and to Museum Drive. Turn left onto Davis Avenue to go into the park area.

The Beauty Of Saturn

I am glad that we live in a time that I can follow international scientists in the explorations of the Universe by just sitting in front of my computer. The images sent to us from various space missions are spectacular – beautiful beyond description! The most recent images from the Cassini-Huygens, a joint mission of the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency and NASA, are those of Saturn, the second largest planet in our Solar System. We can see the planet itself composed of layers of icy rings surrounded by more than 60 moons. Each of the close-up pictures shows us more than its beauty, but all the detailed elements of which Saturn are made. After five years of explorations, scientists have produced us visual evidence that Saturn rings are made of trillions of moving icy particles and that one of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has liquid water beneath its surface. When there is an ocean underneath of Saturn moon, scientists says, there is a possibility that life exists there. To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, the Saturn Exhibit is opened free to the public on 22 June at the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. It will continue until the end of August. I am thankful to Kathryn Westcott and Phil Coomes who produced an audio-slideshow: Splendour of Saturn for me to see those Saturn fantastic images without having to travel to England. A virtual exhibit can also be seen in the comfort of our own home. But for those who live in North America, the Saturn exhibit is on now at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.

Strolling The Highline

I am glad that there is a new park just opened in lower West-side of Manhattan – an usual park created by landscape artists on an elevated railroad track above the meat packing district, between the Southernmost blocks of Chelsea and 20th street. To surprise me, my son took me for a Sunday stroll in Manhattan but he did not tell me where we were going. Just sheer luck, I brought along a camera with me. It was spectacular entry when the elevator door opened. I saw Highline Park for the first time – a park in the sky full of colorful flowers planted between the tracks. This is a gigantic environment and conservation project aimed to rescue the old West-side railway from demolition. It was based on a dream of two men: Robert Hammond and Josh David. They receive funds and other support from over 1,500 people who called themselves “Friends of the High Line”. Mayor Bloomberg and New York City administration joined in this creative endeavor to make the dream come true – making the city livable in a healthy environment. Thanks to them, we have a new place to relax in the middle of the hectic life of New York city. They have succeeded in transforming a broken down railway track into a long smooth path of concrete and wooden planks, with sun deck, amphitheater, long stylized sitting benches. We walked along the path above ground admiring newly planted flowers and trees and grass, artistically grown between the railway tracks and cement planks. Wooden steps are made along the path so that people can sit, zip a drink and eat a boxed lunch while watching sunset on the bank of the Hudson River. The park is opened free to the public but not to bicycles, roller blades, dogs, or cats. It is kept clean for pedestrians only, which I very much appreciated. While strolling, I took several pictures of the plants and flowers shooting up between railway track, the total view of the garden and it’s surrounding city blocks with the street below. Sunday walk in Highline Park on a clear day in Manhattan is a memorable experience for me that I want to share with everyone. I hope that you enjoy seeing some of the pictures that I took last Sunday.

Wine-tasting

Among all the pleasurable things to do when travel is wine-tasting. Last week, I was invited by a friend to spend a couple of days at a family farmhouse in Ghent, Columbia County, Upstate New York. The train ride from Pennsylvania station in New York City to Hudson Town took about two and a half hours. Snaking along the side of the Hudson River, designated as one of the great American rivers, the train cut through the Valley giving me a rare opportunity to enjoy the views and landscapes rich in American history, the Westpoint Military Academy, the stately homes of prominent American leaders, and scattered farmlands on the rolling hills between the Catskill and the Berkshires mountain ranges. Highlight of this trip is a visit to the
Hudson-Chatham Winery,
owned by Dominique and her husband Carlo Devito. Dominique is managing this award-winning winery on a day to day basis. On the day of my visit, she organized for me and for my friends the best wine-tasting event that I have ever experienced. She prepared plates of cheeses produced from the local area, the Aged Alpine cheese, the Camembert and Rasberry cheese. She recommended to us which cheese should be serve with what wine form the winery such as: the Hudson River Red, Cabernet Franc, Reisling, Lindenwald White, Ghent Blush and Pomme Bulle. She let us sample the desert wines established under the Paperbirch lable which also won an award. The Highlands Fine Ruby desert wine was excellent. It is a port-style, made from De Chaunac and Baco Noir grapes grown in the Hudson Highlands. It was nice to have wine and cheese in her new wine-tasting room set up in a cottage on a small rolling hill with windows all around looking out on the farmland. This is true to the owners’ concept for the winery,” to showcase and produce distinctive New York State wines in an enjoyable setting”. In addition, I learned many things about wine business from Dominique and enjoyed her lively conversational and enthusiastic style when she introduced new wines to us. For those interested, you can also drive to the Hudson-Chatham winery which is opened Saturday-Sunday 12pm-5:30pm. Appointments have to be made by phone (518-392-WINE) or by emai: info@hudson-chathamwinery.com The winery address is 1900 State Route 66, Ghent, NY 12075.

Guided Tours of the Sky

A very good addition to browsing “Goggle Earth” or “Goggle Sky” is the browsing of the new Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope (WWT), the new Web 2.0 software, released on May 13. This new online tool can be downloaded on to our own computer free of charge. Microsoft researchers have dedicated this new computer program to the memory of Jim Gray, the famous American computer scientist who disappeared last year when he went sailing alone in California. He spent a large amount of time in his life to explore with astronomers on how to present map and satellite images of the world and the universe online. Thanks to Curtis Wong, head of a new media research group at Microsoft, who continues this challenging work, I can now make a virtual tour of the night sky to see the images of the universe from the best ground and space based, by just sitting in my own room. I can use my own computer to zoom in and out for a good look at different planets in the night sky. Better still, I can get close in to see the dust of the Milky Way Galaxy condenses into stars and planets in vivid 3-dimensions. The Worldwide Telescope inspires me to become an amateur explorer of the Universe without space traveling. I am sure that scientists and educators will also find this new software most useful to stimulate interest in astronomy. This is a real innovation, a contribution to public education and the scientific study of the Universe.