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Friday
Jun302017

The international language

Travelling around central Asia, Hayden always had a keen eye out for a playground. Given the nod, he would run in, start climbing around, jump into games with the children. Whether it was playing leap-frog in a fancy mall in Kazakhstan or chasing each other around inside a yurt in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, all children speak an international language. The international language being, of course, Dinosaur. It typically only took a few minutes together before they were all roaring like dinosaurs and taking turns at eating or being eaten. There is probably an object lesson in there, like all kids share a common humanity, or perhaps all kids sharing a common desire to be a massive flesh-eating killing machine. Definitely one of those two.

 

Thursday
Jun292017

Alamedin gorge

We hiked up through the gorgeous Alamedin gorge in Kyrgyzstan. The mountains were simply breathtaking and the weather was perfect for a hike. Hayden happily skipped up along the mountain path, following our gentle guide who stopped to move any flowers that had fallen along the path (she loved flowers, and was sad to think of other people standing on them). Near the top it was a struggle, and the view we had been hanging out for (a waterfall) was fairly dissapointing compared to the nice views down below. Fortunately our guide just laughed and told us about a field of wildflowers and marmots just a little further on, which was simply enchanting. Our day was rounded out by skipping tea in a yurt while Hayden made new friends with the local kids. Really one of my most perfect moments.

Wednesday
Jun282017

Korgaldzhyn nature reserve

Tuesday
Jun272017

World Fair 2017

Monday
Jun262017

Astana

Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. An ultra-modern city of skyscrapers built in the central Asian desert - it brought back memories of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. But Astana felt more real, full of people, so in a lot of ways it was more like Dubai. It was a city putting on a show, for the World Fair, but it felt like a city that was always putting on a show, and certainly always welcoming to guests. If Astana is a city of the future, that future will be friendly and fun.

Astana means "capital" in Kazakh, which is widely considered to be a placeholder for "Nursultan", named after President Nazarbayev (the first and likely lifetime holder of the Presidency). The President is humbly delaying the namechange until after he dies, but parliament supports the change. President Nazarbayev is widely popular in Astana, providing good support to students and pensioners, and balancing the nationalists and the regionalists adroitly. It makes you wonder why he bothers rigging elections - he would pretty clearly win in a fully democratic vote. I was told this anecdote in Kazakhstan: 

President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan is so good at "winning" elections that during the American election, Trump asked Nazarbayev for help. Nazarbayev checked with Putin, and then gladly sent his top election men to Trump.

After the US election, the team returned to Kazakhstan and the President asked: "How did Trump do?"

"Oh", his election men said, "Trump did great, he came in second"

"What!", Nazarbayev said, "You let the Democrats win?!"

"Oh no, they came third."

"Then who won?"

"You did, Mr President"

 

Thursday
Jun082017

Ian Gooding and Moana

One of the highlights of the crusie for us was a lecture series by Ian Gooding, the production designer on Moana/Vaiana*.

He gave a series of five lectures on the making of the movie which made me love an already amazing movie more. There were many technical aspects that are cutting edge - Moana's hair was modelling at the level of single strands, all interacting with each other and the level of moisture to create the natural bounces and movements. But the really impressive part was the attention to getting things right. A six second clip of Moana dancing involved a research team investigating the cloth types, patterns and colours that were available 2000 years ago in the south Pacific, plus cultural teams working on the dance style, the cultural context, the music - everything. A real dedication to getting every last detail right, not just to make the product look good, but to make the product a homage to the people they were depicting. One example that stuck with me was the night sky you see in Moana - it could have just been random dots, and few people would have noticed. But instead they asked an observatory to run a simulation of the night sky 2000 years ago above Samoa - I doubt anyone would ever notice the difference between modern Samoan stars and 2000 years ago Samoan stars, but they wanted to get it right.

I really respect that level of attention to detail, that much passion for your job. Even if we don't pick up all of the details, the love and respect the movie was built with really shines through in the final production. Congratulations to Ian and his team!

 

* In Europe the movie name was changed to Vaiana due to "trademark restrictions" (probably actually about potential confusion with a famous porn star). 

Saturday
May272017

Alternative Copenhagen

We had an interesting day exploring the other side of Copenhagen. While most of the city is stylish Danish design, Christiania is an anarchist haven that declared independence from Denmark in 1971. The ~850 citizens of Christiania are a mix of hippies, druggies and anarchists (or a mixture of each), and the occupation of prime real-estate in the centre of Copenhagen causes controversy. Overall though, it is an interesting community to walk through, serves as a haven for those with no place in society and is surely a major improvement over the homelessness and social isolation that this population is forced into in other cities. I'm sure that Christiania actually saves the government a lot of money through crime reduction and social benefits.

A wishing tree installed by Yoko Ono. Most of the wishes were for world peace or such, but this guy just wanted a really big yacht.

A fantastic twist on street food, with an old warehouse converted to house food trucks.

Thursday
May252017

North Sea Canal

Taking the Disney Magic through the North Sea Canal was a fascinating experience. The IJ drains into the North Sea here, but the sea level is above the polders, so a lock is required to allow ships to sail through without flooding half of Holland. We entered the canal, with our ship nearly at the maximum dimensions possible, before the river-side lock was raised. The sea-side lock slowly let water in, and over the course of an hour our ship slowly rose up to sea level. After we sailed out the largest water pumps in Europe dropped the water level in the canal down to river level again before opening the river-side lock. A marvel of engineering, especially when considering it was built 100 years ago, and the engineering does not stop at the ocean - a deep trench, the IJgeul, is required to get ships out to where the ocean is deep enough.

Watertower of IJmuiden, seen from the North Sea Canal

Wednesday
May242017

The White Cliffs of Dover

Dover

Dover Castle

The White Cliffs

The view to France

Tuesday
May232017

Portland

Feeding the farm animals at Fancy's Farm. Hayden was responsible for rationing the animal feed, doling out one piece at a time to me and Lydia. His favourites were the chickens.

Rock-hopping along the Jurassic coast at Portland Bill

Locals used this winch to drop their boat into the sea, followed by a sail out to the wrecks and scuba-diving to catch lobsters by hand.