Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Africa Photo Tour Discounted Price

Thanks to shifting international exchange rates, my South-West Africa: Wilderness and Wildlife Photo Tour set to start September 18 has been discounted by $1,000!
This brings the total cost to $9,500 (twin share) for 17 adventurous days.
For more information visit Academy Travel.
Meanwhile, enjoy my short video of Honey Badgers photographed at Okonjima Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre, one of the awesome stopovers on this tour...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Buddhist Sins at Haw Par Villa, Singapore

As if Wewurukannala temple in Sri Lanka was not gruesome enough, we visited the old Haw Par Villa in Singapore this morning and saw some of the equally weird statues and tableaux that populate the state run site.

This is Pigsy (Zhu Bajie) is one of several mythological characters that populate Haw Par villa in Singapore

Being of Buddhist origin, the stories depicted at Haw Par are mostly children's stories and fairy tales from various teachings. It also has a chamber of horrors called the Ten Courts of Hell (which features a warning at the gate that children have to be accompanied by an adult) depicting the fate of anyone that commits various sins.  Like the temple in Sri Lanka, sinners' fates usually end up in some form of dismemberment, stabbing, burning or drowning (the latter in a wok of hot oil). I thought it more gruesome than Wewurukannala. Here are a few HDR and Grungtastic'd shots that I found particularly illustrative...


A village scene where a careless boy hase been knocked down on the road and his brains are oozing out of his head.
Moralistic cop is reprimanding the careless driver while the Malay father looks on in horror.
The concerned mother runs into the scene in vain.
I think this is the penalty for damaging Buddhist books or some such erroneous practice.
Seriously, I think being sawn in half is a bit steep...
Just after the warning that kiddies should not go in without an adult, you see a group of heads stuck onto the (fake) rocks in the garden.
Very crude but still quite unnerving. HDR brings out the best textures...
Two seemingly drug-addled pandas
Don't feed the bears.
Moral of the tale of two boys lost in the woods is "A real friend won;t leave you in the lurch...".
Knife in the head
Moral of this story is, I think, three Panadol are better than two.

A rat emergency
Paramedic rats take a seriously gnawed case to ratty hospital.
One of the denizens of the underworld there to deal with moral miscreants
One of the less threatening statues at Haw Par Villa
My favourite: gluttony, punished with a quick stake through the gut.
The fat Buddha is one of the most recognisable of all the Chinese figures,
at least to a Westerner, in the gardens.
Haw Par gardens is the brainchild of the Aw brothers (Boon Haw and Boon Par),
two Chinese businessmen of Burmese origin, who made their considerable fortune from
Tiger Balm. 
Being Buddhists, they practised philanthropy.
Haw Par villa was built in Singapore while in Hong Kong they built Tiger Balm Gardens

Kitsch Devils at Wewurukannala Buddhist Temple

A couple of kilometres off the main road in the southern Sri Lankan town of Dikwella stands the Buddhist temple of Wewerukannala. It's not really signposted and as it's both off the old main road (and now kilometres off the new motorway), it gets precious few visitors. That said it's one of the most interesting of all the Buddhist temples on the island because of its collection of gruesome statues and cartoon illustrations.
The main rooms contain a reclining and a sitting Buddha. Both are about 30 feet high and quite impressive in their own right, perched on shoulder high platforms and surrounded by dozens of smaller (and lesser) statues all garishly painted. But round the back and underneath the huge 30 metre high seated Buddha lies a fabulously kitsch chamber of Buddhist horrors. The large room and underground tunnel is packed full of statues and cartoons depicting the punishments you are likely to get if you sin.
All possible sins are described in the illustrations - with the relevant punishment drawn in striking clarity underneath. Some are illustrated in the form of gruesome life-size statues. Most involve some type of extreme pain: stabbing, flaying, cutting or just  burning on a fire. Though the explanations are in Sinhalese (and therefore lost on me), it's obvious that even the most simple misdemeanour requires the full force of the law. Even looking at another woman, married or not, seems to warrant losing a limb (with no anaesthetic of course) at the very least. It's enough to give kids nightmares!


Here's the devil king issuing judgements on the poor unfortunate sinners. The crimes are depicted in cartoons under which the relevant punishments are illustrated in graphic detail. There's no sign of home detention or hours of social work. Everything involves stabbing, cutting, skewering or some other form of intense pain.
As with most portrait photography, one of the best ways to approach the subject is to use a shallow depth of field.
In this case I used an EF85mm f1.8 lens which isolated the statues from the very busy backgrounds nicely.
Shooting at such an extreme wide aperture means you have to be very careful that the 'right' part of the subject is focused on (normally the eyes) otherwise the effect is lost.
Not much maintenance is done here - note the insect nests in the devil's teeth and ear!
Probably being punished for uttering non-Buddhist comments.
Hopefully this fate befalls politicians.
Seems like an apt punishment for telling porkies...
The front part of Wewurukannala temple is almost normal, with a range if brightly painted Buddhist statues and some nice murals in the background.
A reclining Buddha in the same hall with quite a beautiful mural immediately behind.
Close up of one of the lesser statuettes showing amazing detail.
Most temple interiors are poorly lit so you have to shoot at very high ISO settings (1600 - 3200). Here the light from the front door boosted the illumination allowing me to shoot at ISO 640.
On a small camera high ISO can mean quite noisy or grainy results.
Most temples here are OK with tripods, but failing that, I have found a monopod to be incredibly handy to stabilise shots while keeping the ISO low.
Another statue detail of a male character who is not Sinhalese but probably a trader.
Another demonic close-up...
This is a gruesome penalty; being sawn in half with a hand-operated bow saw - and it looks so easy!
As if 30 or so statues aren't enough to ram home the "You must behave yourself..." mantra, Wewurukannala also features around 100 illustrations like this capturing all the other things you can get into trouble for.
None of the outcomes are covered by Medicare.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Heights of Tea Production at Labookellie

Close-up of a tea bush.
Pickers harvest only the top growth of two leaves and a bud around once a week.
Mackwoods employs over 1,000 people on its 27,000 acres of plantation.
Seven hundred women work as pickers while the balance (men) work in production.
Almost every square inch of the surrounding hillsides is taken up by tea cultivation.
Panorama of the high estate tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Close up of the new growth on tea bushes
Generally the higher the tea bushes are grown, the better its taste.
These are part of Mackwoods high estate teas
Inside the Mackwoods tea factory tea is meticulously processed to bring out its unique qualities
Of course you can get a free tour of the tea factories, then you get shown into the gift shop.
Interesting thing is that once you try the tea, I think almost everyone buys it.
Quality is far superior to the stuff you normally pick up off the shelves in the local Aussie supermarkets..
Withering is the first process of tea making.
Giant fans partially dry the tea leaves before it's left to ferment for a few hours.
Processed and bagged-up tea waiting to be exported.


Labookellie tea plantation produces some of the island's finest teas.
At the factory you can get free pots of orange pekoe teas.
It's some of the best OP tea I have ever tried - we bought a kilo of the stuff.
Labookellie is owned by Mackwoods, a company founded in1841 by Captain William Mackwood.
The whole region was subsequently developed by the British who brought in cheap labour from Tamil Nadu in Southern India to work the fields (the Singhalese didn't want to work for the paltry conditions offered by the English).
Interesting use of typography in this hand made advert for Hellbodde teas, a smaller estate adjacent to Mackwoods