Friday, November 16, 2012

Foto Fridays: Oman (10 best pix)

Here are what I hope can be considered the 10 best pictures I took in Oman that are not repetitive and showcase what is unique about that amazing country.

As usual, this is not the kind of trip report you'd find in WikiTravel or Lonely Planet. I've linked to each of those travel reviews above.

Rather I just want to provide my perceptions of Oman.

While my travels in the Middle East are not extensive, I can safely say that Oman was my favorite country in the region to travel through. Of course, I want to travel to all Middle Eastern countries and feel that now is an amazing time in Muslim history. But back to Oman.

When I first went to Oman, there were less than 13,000 hotel beds in the entire country... though the Al-Bustan Palace hotel was the first 6-star hotel in the world (with the Burj Al-Arab having recently opened and the Palm Islands of Dubai years away from completion). Road construction, while not as rampant as in Dubai, was quite extensive... and at the time I learned the mistake of trusting printed maps, which showed future roads and not the present conditions... when trying to drive from Muscat to Sur. I didn't make it there, as the road disappeared into a rocky beach and I had but a sedan.

Oman was quite expensive to travel through at the time, and I'm sure it still is, and hotels were hard to find. However, I found a genuine-ness to the people there that I did not feel in more touristed spots like Dubai and Egypt. Hospitality still meant something to a stranger met on the street for a chance encounter.

I definitely want to get back to Oman, where I first climbed mountains with gypsum and crystals coming out of the desert. The monarch is very environmentally oriented as well and the version of Islam practiced there is unique to the region. Old spice markets abounded without the chaos and throngs of Egyptian population density. Everything seemed untouched, preserved, more sanitary, and generally development seemed to fit in with the region quite well.

I would certainly recommend Oman and long to get back there as well, perhaps this time to make it from the northern Musandam Peninsula and offshore islands in the Straits of Hormuz to the far south and cross over into Yemen... though next time I'd go with a truck!

See the full gallery on Flickr

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Okeanos Aquascaping: Osaka, Japan phonebooths converted to goldfish aquariums

For a number of years, I thought about how I could combine three of my favorite interests into a single profession: Japan, Coral Reefs, and Aquariums. I thought that I would have an aquaculture facility for deepwater rare tropical coral reef fish that I would fund through selling to the Japanese rare fish market (where deepwater reef fish typically sell for $1000 - $30,000 or more USD).

Working in the public aquariums sector several times over the path of my career I've never been satisfied with the idea of a typical home display aquarium. 

I've long thought about creating lap pool reef tanks or designing entire mesocosms whereby one aquarium that snakes around an entire room in a horseshoe shape goes from brackish water marshland on one end to deepwater coral reef at the other.

I thought I was alone in my visions... until I read about Okeanos Aquascaping. They are a small firm creating just such groundbreaking displays around the world... including a multi-million dollar concept they created for Robb Report that comes close to recreating a public aquarium in a person's home (article here).

But what really struck me about their group is their coverage of other unique aquariums around the world... including a group in Osaka Japan that is converting old telephone booths into sealed goldfish aquariums!

See the pictures below and the original article here! And when planning your next aquarium, think bigger than a box... and if you can't turn your own vision into a reality, hire someone qualified (like Okeanos Aquascaping) to execute your every wish.

Pictures from the blog article: Ring Ring — Fishy Phonebooth! The Beauty of Public Aquariums
Posted by Dabney B. on Monday, October 8th, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

To all my recent Japanese visitors, Thank You!!! (Arigato Gozaimasu!!!) ^_^

I am writing this small note out of order from my usual posting, just because I made the observation that one of my posts about Japan became summarized and translated by a journalist and then posted in Japan, causing a lot of links recently to my blog posts on Japan.

For my Japanese friends (and Japanese language readers), here is the journalist's original post:
The original blog post of mine that caused the attention (also pushing me to the weekly top 1000 free blogs on ClustrMaps) is here: while another little post I made about what I think are my 10 best photographs from Japan is here:
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all the new visitors and I hope that I didn't offend anyone with the small controversial note that I made (I could say many negative things about the United States or any country really)... I hope that the overall feeling of my blog is one of appreciation for Japan and a hope to go back again and again and to continue making new Japanese friends. Please visit the original blog post and leave comments (I've already replied to three people) and I hope to add more pictures for future Japanese trips sooner rather than later.

Cheers and thank you again. And now, to probably start studying the Japanese language again, because Google Translate isn't very good with Japanese. You'll see what I mean if you try to use Google Translate on the link to the journalist's article above.

-- Robert

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Japan country report

As usual for my country reviews, this is not the kind of trip report you'd find in WikiTravel or Lonely Planet. I've linked to each of those travel reviews above.

Rather I just want to provide my perceptions of Japan.

Japan is one of my favorite countries, both culturally as well as culinarily. I've thought that if I had to be exiled to another country for the rest of my life and I couldn't leave the borders of that country, I'd pick either Japan or Italy. Many would think that Japan is so foreign that a westerner could never truly fit in, and while that may be true, I've found a lot more in common with Japanese sentiments than American ones. I've even had the comment more than once that I apologize more than a Japanese person. I understand and respect the dedication of purpose as well as knowledge of responsibilities that an average Japanese citizen carries with them. Of course I don't agree with everything Japanese. They still hunt whales commercially under the guise of scientific research and have been really quiet about their revisionist history regarding the atrocities and rapes they conducted during World War II, particularly in China. Furthermore, a lot of Japanese youth seem oblivious to their own recent history or about other parts of the world. 

But these minor points aside, there is so much to love in Japan that I hesitated going for many years because I wanted to learn the language and have a long trip to better absorb the culture. I'm glad that I didn't wait, though I wish I had kept up my Japanese classes and like so many other languages, I hope to resume my studies at some point. 

Nevertheless, despite the confusing streets and fact that very few Japanese speak English, I've always enjoyed myself in Japan (though you really have to watch your expenses as certain expenses are remarkably cheap, like the amazing sushi in 7-11 convenience stores, while it is also extremely easy to find over-the-top expensive options... of course the quality you get for such expense will always be high in Japan). 

I definitely want to go back to Japan again and again and want to add it to the countries that I can live and preferably work within, and one dream I have is to conduct a coral reef survey in a triangle from the Ryukyu Islands up to Japan "proper" and then down from Tokyo through the Izu Islands and Ogasawara Islands to the Northern Marianas and Guam before heading west through Micronesia to Palau and connecting back up to Okinawa. Such are my dreams, and Japan is a great country in which to dream. And I'm sure that if Shakespeare had been aware of Japan he would have found ample similarities to many of his characters and one could easily see a Japanese version of Romeo and Juliet with hardly any stretch of dialog.

I've still a lot to explore in Japan as I've only been to Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo... and I've yet to go to Mount Fuji, Okinawa, or into the heart of the Ainu and Shintoism in Hokkaido. Then again, I could list everywhere in Japan as in need of visiting!




しかし、脇にこれらのマイナーポイント、私は言葉を学び、より良い文化を吸収するために長い旅をしたかったので、長年のために行くことを躊躇し、日本で好きにあまりあります。私は私の日本のクラスを維持し、非常に多くの他の言語が好きでよかったのに、私は待っていなかったのが嬉しいんだけど、 、私はいくつかの点で私の研究を再開したいと思っています。

私は間違いなく何度も何度も日本​​に戻って、私が住んでいると、好ましく内で動作できることを国にそれを追加したいしたい、と私が持っている一つの夢は、日本に琉球から三角形のサンゴ礁調査を実施することであるパラオにミクロネシアを通じて西見出し、沖縄へのバックアップ接続する前に、北マリアナ諸島、グアムへの伊豆諸島と小笠原諸島を通じ東京からダウンし、 "適切な"と。そのような物は私の夢であり、日本は夢に大きな国です。そして、私はシェイクスピアは日本を意識していたならば、彼が彼の文字の多くに十分な類似点を発見したであろう、1つは簡単にダイアログのほとんど任意のストレッチでロミオとジュリエットの日本語版を見ることができると確信している。


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jean-Claude Van Damme calls Hong Kong home for last 3+ years

Just learned that Jean-Claude Van Damme has been living in Hong Kong for the last 3 years or so (of course he also spends some time in Brussels, but HK is now his "home")... I'd be curious if any of my Hong Kong-based friends ever saw him on the streets, even with the chances low. I never have in >10 visits to Hong Kong, albeit most visits were very short-term stops taking advantage of long or overnight layovers.

The Expendables 2 is upcoming soon. It will be nice to see if Van Damme can return to form considering he used to be so big and now has been stuck in a direct-to-video rut.
I still rank Bloodsport and Kickboxer among the top action films I've seen, even though parts of them are campy by today's standards.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The true size of Africa in relation to other countries

I've discussed before how I think the geographic knowledge of American's in general is pretty poor... and the above graphic does a great job at showing just how large Africa is, which appears quite small on most maps, as evidenced below, due to Eurocentric map projections aimed at reducing distortion in northern latitudes (where most land mass is).

Anyway, I found the above illuminating, so I thought I'd reshare it after seeing it posted online. Based on the table in the graphic, Russia (as the largest country in the world) has about 11% of the Earth's landmass, meaning it is about the size of half of Africa (yet looks much larger in most map projections).