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 In April 2010 we travelled to the previous French territories of Cambodia and Vietnam: ‘French Indochina’, as they had been called when I started school; until 1954. Since then many things have changed.  But of course, this has been a region of change for tens of thousands of years. Our trip ‘filled in’ areas of the map between our previous trips to India and China and did not disappoint.  There is certainly a sense in which Indochina is a blend of China and India; with differences tangential to both. Both have recovered from recent conflicts of which there is still evidence everywhere, like the smell of gunpowder after fireworks.

As the Ganges dominates north-eastern India so the Mekong River dominates this region. From the Tibetan Plateau it flows through China's Yunnan province, Burma, Laos and Thailand meandering more slowly as it crosses Cambodia and on into Vietnam.  Its plain is flat and fertile and numerous societies, cultures and religions have left their marks here. 

 

Not so long ago, in geological terms, Indochina was a lot bigger.  When humans first arrived it was possible to walk all the way to Java. The Gulf of Thailand across to Borneo and Java was a low-lying plain probably intersected by substantial rivers. 

Stone Age and early Bronze Age humans lost this territory and overland routes to inundation due to sea level rise and tectonic activity (making Australia even more isolated around ten thousand years ago);  this rise continues slowly today, ever-changing the shorelines.

image002
From Wikipedia:  Early Human Migration & Sea Level change 

With the advent of metals technology and organised agriculture, civilisation began to develop across these lands spawning trade routes, great empires, great tyrants and maybe a few benign rulers.  In turn, these cultures were a great breeding ground for religion; to give meaning and succour to the disadvantaged; to justify power and the rule of law; to give the powerful hope that their power would never end; and maybe, to encourage the well off to help those less so.   As one empire fell so another took its place; from dust unto dust; ‘for all is vanity’; to borrow from another religion.

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Travel

India

October 2009

 

 

 

 

In summary

 

India was amazing. It was just as I had been told, read, seen on TV and so on but quite different to what I expected; a physical experience (noise, reactions of and interactions with people, smells and other sensations) rather than an intellectual appreciation.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Recollections of 1963

 

A Pivotal Year

It appears that the latest offering from Andrew Lloyd Webber: Stephen Ward, the Musical, has crashed and burned after four months in London.

On hearing this I was reminded of 1963,  the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big; and Beatle Mania began. 

The year had started with a mystery the Bogle-Chandler deaths in Lane Cove National Park in Sydney that confounded Australia. Then came Buddhist immolations and a CIA supported coup and regime change in South Vietnam that was the beginning of the end for the US effort. 

Suddenly the Great Train Robbery in Britain was headline news there and in Australia. One of the ringleaders, Ronnie Biggs was subsequently found in Australia but stayed one step of the authorities for many years.

The 'Space Race' was underway with the USSR holding their lead by putting the first female Cosmonaut into obit. The US was riven with inter-racial hostility and rioting.  But the first nuclear test ban treaties were signed and Vatican 2 made early progress, the reforming Pope John 23 unfortunately dying mid year.

Towards year's end, on the 22nd of November, came the Kennedy assassination, the same day the terminally ill Aldus Huxley elected to put an end to it.

But for sex and scandal that year the Profumo affair was unrivalled.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire

 

 

 

The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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