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> Hong Kong to Singapore - 2024

Voyage map

On February 16th 2024 Wendy and I set-forth on a 20 day trip, revisiting old haunts in SE Asia.

From Hong Kong we made a brief side-trip to Shenzhen in China then embarked on a Cruise, sailing down the east coast, south, to Singapore where we spent a few days, before returning home: [Hong Kong; Ha Long Bay/Hanoi; Hoi An; Ho Chi Min City (Saigon); Bangkok; Ko Samui; Singapore]

If you are contemplating a trip to any of these destinations, or an ocean-going cruise, you may find these experiences of interest.



>  Canada and the United States - Part2


Part 2 begins in August 2023 in Florida, with a nine day cruise to the western Caribbean; then a flight back up to Boston and a drive through Massachusetts; Rhode Island and Connecticut to New York City, for five days; flying to Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, California, for three days, then back home, after six-and-a-half weeks since leaving.

Part1 began in Seattle and Vancouver  and followed our movements across Canada to Montreal.




>  Canada and the United States - Part1


Part1 begins in July 2023 with three nights in Seattle, Washington; then a bus journey north to Vancouver, in Canada, followed by a drive across the Rockies through: Kamloops and Revelstoke to Banff, where we were joined by our friends Brian and Kat, to drive up to Jasper and back, then on to Calgary. 

From Calgary we flew to Toronto for a couple of days before driving to Niagara Falls, then on to Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal. Twenty days in all.

Part2 starts in Florida, then the upper east coast and across the United States to Los Angeles, then back home to Sydney, after six-and-a-half weeks.



>  Southern Africa 2023


In April 2023 Wendy and I took a second package tour, this time to South Africa with our friends Craig and Sonia.

It involved two long flights, via Singapore, staying at quite a nice hotel in Cape Town before a few nights at a resort in Stellenbosch, in lieu of the cancelled Red Train, that was supposed to be a feature of the tour (more of that later).

From there we made our way north, via Johannesburg, to several days on safari in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve; then it was off to Zambia (and Zimbabwe) and Victoria Falls, before more fights home.



Our first overseas trip of 2023, was a package tour to Sri Lanka, booked, somewhat optimistically, amidst the Covid 19 lockdowns, over a year previously.

>  Sri Lanka 2023


Beginning in the capital Colombo, on the west coast, our bus travelled anticlockwise, in a loop, initially along the coast; then up into the highlands; then north, as far as Sigiriya; before returning southwest to Colombo.



Travels Past

I recently recalled our visit to Israel a decade ago.

>  Israel


Thinking about our visit to Israel, nearly a decade ago, I've been moved to wonder how many of today's terrorists were children in 2014, during the last full scale IDF attack on Hamas, when 17,200 Garzan homes were totally destroyed; three times that number were seriously damaged and an estimated 2,000 civilians died in the destruction?
How many saw their loved ones: buried alive; blown apart; maimed for life; then dismissed, by 'Bibi' Netanyahu, as: 'collateral damage'?
And how many of the children, now stumbling in the rubble, will, in their turn, become terrorists against the hated oppressor across the barrier?
Is this present purge a good strategy for assuring future harmony?

I commend my decade old analysis to you: A Brief Modern History and Is there a solution?  where I commented: 

The actual Israeli solution seems to be to eat away at the potential Palestinian State by degrees, first by allowing and even encouraging the Settlers to annex parts of the less populous West Bank and east Jerusalem.
At the same time Israel is systematically making the more populous but agriculturally richer Gaza Strip less and less viable. It is hard not to see the Gaza Strip as a besieged ghetto within which the population is periodically and devastatingly attacked for daring to fight back. It is surrounded by a wall and in-depth defences and blockaded from the sea. Many have likened it to Berlin during the blockade of that city. But unlike West Berlin it's not a place anyone would want to escape into.

Since republishing this article, I've received several worthwhile comments and have added the related links to the introductory addendum.  I commend them to you.



Over the years we've been to many interesting places. So, in this section I've decided to reprise another one from the past - even further back.

>  Cuba


It's now a dozen years since we went to Cuba.
Our visit was recently bought back to mind by my finding Graham Greene's "Our man in Havana" among my 'travel' film collection. The remarkable thing is that much of the atmosphere captured by the movie still feels authentic, having been there in 'real life'.
The wonders of travel!

So, I've embedded a link to the movie (it's on YouTube) at the end of this, otherwise unchanged, article.  If it's been some time, or you've never seen the movie, you can now enjoy it here.
Graham Greene, who also wrote the screen play, is known for his rather droll humour. Like having a wary Alec Guinness being invited into a toilet by a very camp Noël Coward.  An 'in' joke at the time (read more...) à la Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess?




More Travel:  Click Here



Long ago, in my essay to my children: 'The Meaning of Life' I suggested that: "...if we ever make computers (or computer programs) that evolve without our aid, memes may find computers a better medium for their future survival and evolution. That would threaten our existence or make us the unwitting slaves of technology". In addition, my novella: 'The Cloud' and its prequel 'The Craft' both posit an intelligent cloud.  Now several of my friends have asked me what I know about ChatGPT. I've had to confess that I'd never tried it. So, recently, I decided to rectify this.

>  Testing ChatGPT

The Crystal Ball

As January 26th approached I decided not to repost my usual, unchanging, comments on the date and instead ask ChatGPT about the date. This is what it told me:

I have now seen Oppenheimer - the movie twice (see the review below). So I gave ChatGPT the task of explaining the background to the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb. This is what it told me:

Updating a broken link to the popular song of the period: How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've see Paree?   in my article : Love in the time of Coronavirus, I'd made the point that it was the American 'Dough Boys' who introduced the Spanish Flue to the trenches of WW1, where it became the most deadly modern pandemic, killing up to 50 million when the troops returned to their homes. By comparison: Covid19 has killed 7 million (to date) while world population has grown four-and-a-quarter times. This relative success is entirely due to effective vaccines.

So, I asked ChatGPT to tell me about the song. This was what it told me: 

But how would it go writing fiction? Well judge, or try it, for yourself Here... It takes less than half-a-minute to write a thousand words or more.  By default it writes stories in the third-person around characters and/or places and/or circumstances that you supply in your request. To that extent, it is quite predictable but it gets much more interesting when you ask for a story in the first-person. Then it has to come up with a character's motivation.

In the context of a future, self-aware, World Wide Web trying to imagine what motivates humans (or machines?), I found this quite disturbing.
This is what Chat GPT wrote, when given a description from: 'The Craft' and asked to provide Margery's story in the first-person: 

For I am Margery, a modern-day witch, and I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals. With my familiars by my side, I will carve out my place in this world, bending reality to my will and ruling over all who dare to defy me. And woe betide anyone who stands in my way, for they will feel the full force of my wrath.

But for now, I bide my time, weaving my spells and ensnaring my prey, until the day comes when I will emerge from the shadows and claim my rightful place as queen of all I survey. And on that day, the world will tremble at the sound of my name, and they will know that Margery, the modern-day witch, reigns supreme.

 See: ChatGPT and The Craft  



>  Oppenheimer


Seeing this film got me thinking about nuclear power again.

On this website, there are numerous references to the potential benefits of this discovery, that was confirmed by the first atom bomb in the year I was born, and has formed a background to my entire life, both as the gift of new knowledge and as an ever-present threat.  That new knowledge has saved and/or extended my life on at least two occasions, while at the same time, radically transforming the society in which we all live.

And if you have a spare three hours, the movie, that is now being streamed on YouTube and Foxtel, is perhaps the best of last year's offerings.




>  Napoleon - the movie


As holiday entertainment goes, one could do worse than spend two-and-a-half hours (157 minutes) with Napoleon.

Wikipedia tells us: "Napoleon is a 2023 epic historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpa. Based on the story of Napoleon Bonaparte, primarily depicting the French leader's rise to power as well as his relationship with his [first} wife, Joséphine, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirby as Joséphine.".

The many battle scenes have been praised for their accuracy. One of the most spectacular battle reenactments took place during the final stages of the Battle of Austerlitz when troops advanced towards the French positions across an icy lake. This incident is represented as if it was the entire battle. But why quibble?

My main complaint is that many of the reforms that Napoleon implemented are not mentioned. But then again, what can you show in less than three hours?



Energy and the Environment

With world media attention no longer on the Covid Pandemic, except in China, the spotlight has moved on to the war in the Ukraine, and at least in Australia and the UK, to the rocketing cost of electricity.


>  Electricity Woes


The new Federal Government, that came to power on a promise to substantially cut power bills, has had to concede, that instead, there will be substantial price increases.

During the election campaign the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy repeatedly asserted that the solution lay in increased wind and solar generated electricity, that he asserted were now cheaper than fossil-fuel generated electricity.

Meanwhile, last July (2022) Wendy and I had occasion to visit the town of Rønne on the small Danish island of Bornholm. There on the quayside were a dozen huge wind-turbine nacelles.

As I had some spare time on my hands, I looked on-line and discovered that they were Vestas V174-9.5 MW units for installation off the coast of Germany, for either the Baltic Eagle or Arcadis Ost 1 project. I compared the published project cost with other large energy projects around the world.

Suffice it to say, that wind-generated electricity is not price-competitive with modern fossil-generated electricity - it's just a lot cleaner.




>  Electric Cars again-and-again


Electric vehicles like: trams; trains; and electric: cars; vans; and busses; all assist in achieving better air quality in our cities. Yet, to the extent that the energy they consume is derived from our oldest energy source, fire: the potential toxic emissions and greenhouse gasses simply enter the atmosphere somewhere else.

So are they actually more environmentally friendly than conventional, petroleum-fuelled, vehicles?




>  Climate Change - a Myth?


Several friends and acquaintances of my generation continue to assert that the climate is beyond our control or that 'Climate Change' is a myth.
A friend who is sceptical about sea level rise, recently asserted that I was wrong when I claimed, that as a result of flooding during king tides, I had observed sea level change of six inches to a foot during a lifetime of ferry trips on Sydney Harbour. 
So I checked.
Between 1914 and 2007 sea levels at Fort Dension in Sydney Harbour rose by between 0.73 - 1.13 mm/yr. That means that during my lifetime the average sea level in Sydney Harbour has risen by 51 - 79mm (2 to 3 inches).
So my friend was both right and wrong.
He's right in that it's not possible that I have correctly remembered water levels well enough to distinguish a median rise of 65mm in a tidal range of 2.1 m.  Yet he is wrong in suggesting that there has been no sea level rise in Sydney Harbour AAP FactCheck.

Might I be mistaken in other ways?





Biology - we can't escape it


>  The Prospect of Eternal Life


When I first began to write about this subject, the idea that Hamlet’s apprehension concerning 'that undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns' was still current in today’s day and age seemed to me as bizarre as the fear of falling off the Earth should you sail too far to the west.

Yet it has become apparent to me that some intelligent, educated, people still identify the prospect of eternal life, in either heaven or hell, as an important consideration when contemplating their own life and death.



>  Gaia


During our recent trip to Central Australia, I found myself wondering if there is more or less 'life' out here than there is in the more obviously verdant countryside to the north south east or west. 

Perhaps the entirety of the Earth's biota - James Lovelock's Gaia - is optimised by 'survival of the fittest' to fully exploit the prevailing conditions, so that, at any one time, the total mass of living cells the planet can support has been maximised?

Then, maybe, given the present planetary environment, the total biological cake can't get any bigger - it can only  swap one: individual; species; order; phylum; etc; for another?

This is, of course, pure, unsubstantiated, speculation - born of my 'peripatetic musings'. What do you think?



>  The Chemistry of Life


This article - that begins with 'What everyone should know' was written back in 2013 as an appendix to The Meaning of Life, my wide-ranging essay for my children about understanding: what we can know and what we think we do know.
Since I began The Meaning of Life in 1997 my children have, to my pride and delight, each surpassed my knowledge in these areas of medicine and science. But now I have grandchildren to inform.
I recently updated the brief chapter on viruses to include an image of a cell infected with Covid-19
Some readers might find it interesting.




>  The McKie Family


This is the story of the McKie family down a path through the gardens of the past that led to where I'm standing now.  Other paths converged and merged as the McKies met and wed and bred.
Where possible I've glimpsed backwards up those paths as far as records would allow.
In six generations, I, like most people, have 126 ancestors.  Around half have become obscure to me. But I know the majority had one thing in common: they lived in or around Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.

During that time Newcastle grew from a small port town into one of the World's most important and innovative cities.  Thus, they contributed to the prosperity, fertility and skill of that blossoming town during the century and a half when the garden there was at its most fecund.

So it's also a tale of one city.



>  Luther - Father of the Modern World?


Continuing the religious theme, 2017 also marked 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his '95 theses' to a church door in Wittenberg and set in motion the Protestant Revolution.
It's caused me to recall an exhibition in Germany in 2016 - Luther and the Witches - and to wonder how much impact this superstitious man might still have on my descendants, two of whom are German.
My research and speculations made this article quite long enough. So if you're interested in the witch hunts Luther contributed to click on the linked album within and see the exhibition for yourself.




>  Alternative Facts and other Untrue Tales


Most fiction has its roots in real events.  Yet the flights of fancy (untruths) these inspire can be more fun.

Some of these tales can be read in a few minutes others like: The Cloud and The Craft, require a good bit longer.














In October 2016 we flew from southern England to Romania.

Romania is a big country by European standards and not one to see by public transport if time is limited.  So to travel beyond Bucharest we hired a car and drove northwest to Brașov and on to Sighisiora, before looping southwest to Sibiu (European capital of culture 2007) and southeast through the Transylvanian Alps to Curtea de Arges on our way back to Bucharest. 

Driving in Romania was interesting.  There are some quite good motorways once out of the suburbs of Bucharest, where traffic lights are interminable trams rumble noisily, trolley-busses stop and start and progress can be slow.  In the countryside road surfaces are variable and the roads mostly narrow. This does not slow the locals who seem to ignore speed limits making it necessary to keep up to avoid holding up traffic. 

Read more: Romania

Fiction, Recollections & News

His life in a can

A Short Story



"She’s put out a beer for me!   That’s so thoughtful!" 

He feels shamed, just when he was thinking she takes him for granted.

He’s been slaving away out here all morning in the sweltering heat, cutting-back this enormous bloody bougainvillea that she keeps nagging him about.  It’s the Council's green waste pick-up tomorrow and he’s taken the day off, from the monotony of his daily commute, to a job that he has long since mastered, to get this done.  

He’s bleeding where the thorns have torn at his shirtless torso.  His sweat makes pink runnels in the grey dust that is thick on his office-pale skin.  The scratches sting, as the salty rivulets reach them, and he’s not sure that he hasn’t had too much sun.  He knows he’ll be sore in the office tomorrow.

Read more: His life in a can

Opinions and Philosophy

Now we are vaccinated




Now that every adult in my extended family is vaccinated is my family safe from Covid-19?

The short answer is no.  No vaccine is 100% effective. Yet, we are a lot safer. 

It's a bit hard to work it out in Australia as, although we are familiar with lockdowns, we have so little experience with the actual disease.

Read more: Now we are vaccinated

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