Indonesian Batik

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Batik is a pan-Southeast Asian artform often associated with Muslim communities. It is a technique that involves wax-resist dyeing on a cloth, where the artist applies wax, following a desired pattern, through an instrument called canting. This is done prior to soaking the cloth to a dye solution in order to achieve color/s. The wax is then melted later on with hot water, revealing the difference between the dyed and the undyed portions. The appeal of this traditional art has become so influential and far-reaching that it has successfully found a place in mainstream fashion.

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A batik master artist from Mirota Batik shop in historic Jogjakarta

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A male batik artist spotted in the village inside the Jogjakarta Kraton (palace complex)

Indonesian Batik is considered to be the best, and it has been inscribed as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. It utilizes various motifs and inspirations not only from Islamic designs but also from Hindu-Buddhist, European, Chinese and even local ones, illustrating the cultural syncretism manifesting in the country.

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Various Indonesian Batik on display in one of the cloth shops along Malioboro street in Jogjakarta center.

As with other heritage textiles, the batik also plays an important role throughout the entire life cycle of an Indonesian, from life to death, making it a truly national icon. Every October 2nd, Indonesia celebrates “Batik Day”, commemorating the momentous day that the Indonesian Batik was added to the prestigious list.

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Arguing for Historic Elim, South Africa

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One of the most pleasant surprises that we experienced in South Africa was when we decided to make a stop at a historic town, declared as a national monument, on the way to the Boland region from The Republic of Swellendam.

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Elim, a Moravian mission station established by German missionaries in 1824, retains much of its original textures, scoring high both in authenticity and integrity. Backdropped by the Capefold mountains, this quaint town is one of the few remaining ones in South Africa still owned and managed by the church. Here are five things to definitely love about Elim:

ONE. Technological Advancement: The white churh’s 1757-built clock is regarded as one of the oldest working public clocks in the country. It is also ran by a long mechanism driving the two clockfaces mounted on both gables of the building, making it the only clock with an axle length of 26m there is to find.

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TWO. Town Planning and Vernacular Architecture: Its central axis leading directly to the church, which is flanked by two rows of nearly identical single-storey houses, is a delightfully neat sight. These houses differ a lot from the more ubiquitous Cape Dutch gabled houses. The carefully carried out town planning is not hard to notice.

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THREE. Memorial to a Historical Event: In front of the town’s library, which is housed at the former school building, is the only monument dedicated to freed African slaves in South Africa. It was ereceted in 1938, four years after the abolition of slavery in the Cape.

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FOUR. Engineering Feat and Water Control: Elim is home to the oldest functioning watermill in South Africa, which is also declared as a national monument on its own right in 1974.

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FIVE. Intangible Cultural Heritage: Renowned for its uniform thatched roofs, which are reminiscent to those found in Friesland in Germany, its residents are considered to be some of the best thatchers in the world. Utilitizing only restios locally found in the region, this aspect of Elim is clearly its most distinct living tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

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All these elements, together with the fact that there were no other tourists roaming around when we were there, made our three-hour stay in Elim very memorable and fulfilling. Also, while there is no German-built colonial space listed yet as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the potential of Elim to be one is quite promising and is something that South Africa should consider.

Tiong Bahru, a Thought on Heritage

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Singapore’s first public housing project surprisingly retains the textures of the then emerging international style and Art Deco movements in architecture. Tiong Bahru is a true heritage spot and an exceptional example of a planned urban space that is still glossed over by most who visit this bustling city in a garden.

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There are two reasons that I can think of for this:  the area hardly makes it to guidebooks, which sadly reflects the truth that what gets written in the pages are simply those that the writers just want others to see and know and there have been cases that they do NOT really know enough; and, more importantly, modern architectural movements still rarely appeal to many in ways colonial Straits shophouses do, as in the cases of Chinatown, Kampong Glam or Little India. It seems that the lack of “romance” and “ancientness” around the former hinder the interest of the average person towards them.

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In an advanced city now known for its modern marvels, how much attention and appreciation can really be accorded to the last remaining built-heritage around? It seems that turn of the 20th-century architecture suffers the most undervaluation and apathy, and Tiong Bahru’s case illustrates this phenomenon clearly.

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But how did I get there, to begin with? A friend took me there primarily for the food offering in Tiong Bahru market — which is amazing! The buildings were really a big surprise to me as I did not know anything about them beforehand.

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The Persian Garden

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In our trip in May 2017, we ticked off three: Fin garden in Kashan, the ancient garden in Pasargadae, and Eram garden in Shiraz. We also had a fair glimpse of Chehel Sotun garden in Esfahan from its gates. Generally, it is imperative to visit at least one Persian garden in any visit to Iran and it is not hard to find one, although only nine are inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS). However, after having seen India’s Persian gardens earlier in 2015, which were adopted by the Moghuls using no less than Persian artisans, how should we appreciate the Persian gardens from the country where the tradition originated?

 

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Kashan’s Fin garden

 

We visited Bag-e Fin on a Friday, which was not the best day to be a tourist in Iran since it is their weekend. Expecting tranquility and peace in the oldest functioning Persian garden in the world that was built in 1590, what welcomed us was a garden fully packed with locals picnicking and groups occupying every known space inside. Sadly, knowing that we enjoy taking photos, the experience did not turn out the way we expected it to be. If there was any consolation, however,  at least the waters were flowing, all the fountains were working, the pools were not empty, and the water source, the Solomon’s spring (a qanat opening that also feeds water to the T-Listed Tepe Sialk), can be publicly seen at the back. There were other attractions inside (ridiculously with separate entry fees!), but we no longer bothered giving them a try due to the long queues. Another thing that impressed me was that the garden is surrounded by thick and high mud walls typical in the desert region.

 

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Pasargadae’s ancient Persian garden

 

The 6th century BC-built ancient garden of Pasargadae is in ruins. Only the remains of the stone layout, watercourses, and fountain pools are left. One can only then re-imagine how the garden might have looked like during its heyday out of these relics — a leisurely activity that my good friend found difficult to enjoy. The garden was the realization of Cyrus the Great’s desire to recreate paradise on earth. The river that cuts through the capital used to supply the water needed for the garden via canals. We, however, did not see any tourists who paid any attention or interest in the ruins of the garden. This is despite the fact that the garden is an interesting case: while the garden is a WHS in its own right, it also happens to be located inside another WHS, Pasargadae (as a testimony to the first capital of the Persian empire). The inscription of the Pasargadae garden, ultimately, is a nod to the provenance of the Persian gardening tradition. The presence of a signage explaining this, as well as visual re-creations of the garden, might prove beneficial to visitors.

 

 

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Shiraz’s Eram garden

 

Bag-e Eram, which is now managed by a local university, is bigger than the one in Kashan, allowing more spaces for roaming around. The Qavam pavilion, which serves as the backdrop of the garden, is a pleasant work of art and architecture from the Qajar period. What we enjoyed the most there was the abundance of many local plants and trees, some were even in bloom during our visit. The only sad thing about Eram was that the water courses and fountains were dry, something that has been reported to be the case for quite some time now. A friend we traveled with from Yazd to Shiraz just had to compare it with the Bag-e Shahzadeh in Mahan, which has an abundant water supply despite being in the Lut desert region. Nevertheless, Bag-e Eram was the redemption we needed to truly experience a Persian garden eventually.

 

 

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India: Taj Mahal’s Persian Garden

 

Assessment: while there are more to appreciate in the Persian gardens in India (the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb, for example), the pleasure derived in visiting the Persian gardens in Iran lies in the fact that they represent the pure form of this gardening tradition that reflects Persian philosophy and ingenuity, mainly in their mastery in the use of water for the gardens’ survival and aesthetics. Overall, the Persian gardens are humble, modest and unpretentious gardens. I, however, cannot imagine having the need to visit more than what we have seen — 3 was more than enough to get a proper feel of what this UNESCO WHS has to offer.

The Persian Qanat (Zarch Qanat)

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This is probably the UNESCO World Heritage Site I spent the most time in trying to understand how to “properly” visit it during my recent trip in Iran. When I was just about to give up on it, a sign suddenly emerged in the streets of the historic city of Yazd referring to the “Zarch Qanat gallery”. This seems to be an improvement since the last reviewer from our WHS community went to Yazd in 2016, reporting the glaring lack of any public information about the qanats.
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A signage that gave me hope. This is one of those that have been mounted on the mud walls of the old city of Yazd to show where the qanat flows underground.

Later on, my friend and I realized that there were in fact a lot of signs all over showing some sort of a direction. Only to find out that — after intently and passionately following the signs for nearly an hour — it was not really leading us to a “gallery” (i.e., an exhibit, a museum, or a showroom)! Rather, it was just illustrating where the qanat flows underneath the city! This finding was interesting, but it was far from constituting a “proper” visit.
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The stairway of the Jame Masjid payab, an access to the Zarch qanat inside the Great Friday Mosque of Yazd

Much to my surprise later that day, however, we eventually got the proper visit that we needed no less than inside the Great Friday Mosque itself. It was a sweet accident that I will always be grateful for. At the main gate of the mosque, I already wondered why there was a banner congratulating “… the successful inscription of the Persian Qanats as a UNESCO World Heritage Site”. Sadly, it obviously and shamefully failed to indicate the more important detail, i.e., that a part of the qanat can actually be accessed within it. Inside, there is a small opening on the ground that can easily be missed which leads to a payab (underground water chamber). This payab, which has been supplying the mosque the water it needs since it was erected 700 years ago, is one of the public openings of Zarch. The properly lit stairway goes down to some 30 meters below the ground until one reaches the well.
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The well inside the water chamber 30 metres under the Great Friday Mosque of Yazd

Surprisingly, during our two hour wandering inside the complex, despite the hoards of tourists visiting the mosque and the no lack of tourist guides around, we only saw two other curious visitors who took the effort to go down the site, and they probably were not even aware of what it is at all. Even in the free walking city tour we hopped on the following day, our guide never mentioned anything about the qanats and their importance. We also learned later on that the Zarch qanat runs as well under the Emir Chaqmaq complex, but going there proved futile – there is no way to “see” the qanat.
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Courtyard of the Great Friday Mosque of Yazd and the small, unpretentious entry to the payab in the foreground. The tourists do not even find their way to go to the other end of the courtyard to realize that a qanat can be seen there.

In one of those cosy coffee shops in the city, I had a talk with its owner whom I shared my sense of achievement and pride in seeing a part of the Zarch qanat with when I least expected it. What he did next was something unexpected. He enthusiastically showed us a ground cover in front of his shop, opened it, and explained that it’s one of the shafts of Zarch. It was quite deep and one can hear the flowing water well!
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One of the vertical shafts of the Zarch qanat in front of a coffee shop in the old district of Yazd.

He also told us about the old underground watermill of Koushk-e No in the neighbhorhood which is also being repaired (or prepared) at the moment to become a tourist showroom for the qanat. Furthermore, he advised that if we go there, and if we’re lucky, we might just have a peek inside. And we eventually did.
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The actual watermill is on the second level of this qanat access. The fenced off area is the access to the lowest qanat in this intersection.

Going down through its small opening, several layers of water channels and chambers were seen. Apparently, the site lies at the crossroad of three different qanats, with the Zarch qanat specifically powering the mill. It is also interesting to know that the temperature on the ground compared to the temperature down where the waters flow can differ from 17 to 20 degrees Celsius, making it a wonderful refuge from the heat outside.
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A fresh water flowing on the Zarch qanat! Nothing has changed much in the three millenia of its existence – it is still working.

The Zarch qanat has been supplying most of the water requirements of the desert city of Yazd for more than 3,000 years already. It also happens to be the longest qanat in Iran at 120 kilometers in total length. In its entire course, from the mother well (water source) to the farmlands it irrigates, more than 2,000 shafts have been constructed. Indeed, qanats are a proof that ancient Persians were masters in hydraulic engineering.
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The forest of badgirs, or windcatchers, in the historic desert city of Yazd at dusk.

The Zarch qanat definitely plays an important role in the nomination of the Historic City of Yazd, which also has a living tradition registered in the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on its own right. This proposal will be decided upon this coming June when the committee convenes in Krakow, Poland. I sincerely wish Yazd the best of luck.
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Albeit not among the World Heritage-listed properties, other qanats we saw in the trip include the Solomon’s spring, an opening of a qanat that feeds water to the Fin Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Persian Garden, and the 7,000 years old Sialk Tepe, the remains of the oldest known ziggurat, in Kashan; and the qanat that supplies water to an ancient caravanserai, refrigerator, and ice house in historic Maybod, another desert city along the Silk Road that is also in Iran’s present Tentative List for UNESCO WHS listing.

Historic Trading Towns and Cities in Southeast Asia

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My interest in UNESCO World Heritage Sites started some 10 years ago. Ever since then, I have always patterned my trips towards seeing as many of these sites as I can. I have also been lucky enough with a few sites as I was able to pay them proper visits because of fieldwork and assignments. I consider this as my little addiction.

For my next article here, I would like to discuss more the five historic trading port towns in East and Southeast Asia. I just need to find that much sought after spare time to write down my thoughts and observations on Hoi An, Vigan, Macao, Malacca and George Town.

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Hoi An Ancient Town, the best example of a traditional trading port in Southeast Asia dating from the 15th to the 19th century (Viet Nam).

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Historic Town of Vigan, the best preserved planned Spanish colonial town in Asia that was established in the 16th century (the Philippines).

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Historic Centre of Macao, the first European enclave in the region and an outstanding representation of the interchange between Chinese and Western civilizations since the mid 16th century (China).

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Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca: Melaka, a strategic 15th century Malay port that developed further during the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century (Malaysia).

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Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca: George Town, a remarkable example of a British-built city in Southeast Asia from the end of the 18th century (Malaysia).

 

For now, may these photos continue to supply me the needed motivation, optimism, and determination to be able to finally sit down, gather my thoughts properly, and write again one of these days.

This is an article in progress.

Cape Floral Region Protected Areas

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Inscribed in 2004, followed by an extension in 2015, with the following justifications:

Criterion (ix): The property is considered of Outstanding Universal Value for representing ongoing ecological and biological processes associated with the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome; and,
Criterion (x): The Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants when compared to any similar sized area in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.  The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. (source: http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=1007)

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A large part of my personal satisfaction in being able to tick this site off last 2016 stems from the fact that not only were my friend and I able to see the three nature reserves that form the Table Mountain National Park (i.e., Table Mountain, Silvermine and Cape of Good Hope), but, more importantly, we was able to pay proper visits to seven out of the eight protected areas that make up the inscribed serial property. We only missed out Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area.

 

 

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Table Mountain National Park embracing Cape Town as seen from Bloubergstrand beach

 

 

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Different kinds of fynbos in Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden with the “Tableback” part of the Table Mountain in the background.

 

The Cape floral kingdom is a truly unique ecosystem dominated by the fynbos,  a plant vegetation (i.e., proteas, ericas, restios and some lilies) that practically only exists in this corner of the world.  Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden, which is the only botanical garden in the world located inside a UNESCO natural world heritage site, provides a bird’s eye view of the different species of fynbos that thrive across different habitats, and it would be best to start one’s travel here. We, however, started with the Baviaanskloof moved towards Table Mountain, then went up to the Cederberg, and finally made the botanical garden our last stop upon returning to Cape Town.

 

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Cape Floral Region: the smallest floral kingdom in the world, the densest, and the most threatened as well, a patrimony of the world of the highest order.

 

 

Here are some of the highlights:

(a) the beautiful mountain scenery provided by the Swartberg Pass and the Merringspoort Pass. Both connect the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo, and are great feats of mountain engineering;

 

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Ericas (a kind of heaths) growing among the rocks on top of the freezing cold Swartberg peaks.

 

 

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The world-famous Swartberg Pass and the montane fynbos that cover the landscape

 

(b) the rock formations of the Cederberg and its extensive collection of ancient Bushmen paintings (we stayed overnight in the wilderness to see the Sevilla rock art trail);

 

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The rock formations of the Cederberg mountains, the only place where the fynbos called rooibos thrive. It is cultivated to make a tea drink of the same name (or red tea in the West).

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One of the 3,000 year-old rock paintings made by ancient San people in the Cederberg near Clanwilliam.

 

(c) the coastal white sand dunes and game drives in De Hoop Nature Reserve and Protected Marine Area;

 

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Constantly reshaped white sand dunes of De Hoop show how strong the coastal trade winds are in this whale-watching area.

 

 

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Spotted a herd of Bonteboks, the rarest of African antelopes, in the grasslands. Other animals spotted were ostriches, Cape buffalos, wildebeasts, kudus, and various birds.

 

(d) views of Strand, Stellenbosch, Franchshoek, Botrivier and the rest fo the Boland area/wine region on top of the Hottentots-Holland mountains;

 

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At the highest point of Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Hottentots mountains, which caught wildfire a few days after we passed through it in getting to Cape Town.

 

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Inside one of the heritage wine estates in Stellenbosch with the Boland mountains in the background

 

(d) scenic coastal drives along the Cape of Good Hope and Kogelberg biosphere reserve — very enjoyable!;

 

 

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A tourist imperative: a photo shot with the Cape of Good Hope marker inside the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

 

 

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The mountain-to-sea view as one traverses the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve along the coastal road.

 

and (e) the imposing beauty of Table Mountain as seen in and around Cape Town – indeed a true world-class landmark! Also memorable was the walk along the penguin colony in Simon’s Town, which is part of the inscribed property as well.

 

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The top of Table Mountain beginning to be covered by the “table cloth” clouds

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Cape Town and Cape Bay as seen from the Table Mountain

 

 

Overall, the outstanding universal values of this serial property is not hard to understand and appreciate. Each protected area is different from one another, and all of it are definitely worth visiting.

 

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Another species of the endemic protea, South Africa’s national flower

 

PS. Special thanks to Wolffie for making the trip possible and wonderful!