NOTA BENE

Notes, comment and buzz from Eugene Kaspersky – Official Blog

May 5, 2015

Four tickets to Aogashima. Part 2. Hachijo-jima.

A summary of Episode One:

7 AM. Flight from Tokyo (Haneda) to Hachijo-jima, then a tight connection – a helicopter flight to Aogashima, a day there on the run – climbing over, looking at and taking pictures of every nook and cranny. Beautiful!

The next morning, I had a vague sense of déjà-vu: waking up at the impossible hour of 7:30, but this time ‘Boy Scout style’, accompanied by a lively announcer’s voice from speakers all over the hotel: peem paam poom puum ohayo gozaimasu (that’s “good morning” in Japanese). Followed by a lot more Japanese text, of which I only picked out ‘arigato’ and ‘kudasai’. Then rise and shine, get up from the straw mattresses, a breakfast – and back to the helipad.

Just to remind you: there is only one helicopter flight a day, if the weather is good. If it’s bad, then no helicopter. The Hachijo-jima – Aogashima flight leaves at 9:15 and arrives at destination around 9:40 (based on our observations). After landing, a regular helipad bustle: unloading/loading freight from/to the ‘mainland’, boarding new passengers – Aogashima natives and stray tourists – and flying back.

Thus, the return flight dropped us off on Hachijo-jima at some 11:30 AM. Our flight to Tokyo, Haneda was at 5:20 PM, so we had some 6 hours on our hands. How were we to spend that time? Rent a car and go to the onsen hot springs, of course! This was what some of us thought. Wrong! I looked at the map, saw a track leading to the top of the local volcanic blister, and we all proceeded to climb this local Hachijo-Fuji (apparently, all sacred mountains in Japan are called ‘Fuji’) in accordance with this sudden plan.

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Read on: Not a bad sight at all!…

April 30, 2015

Four tickets to Aogashima.

One day, as I was browsing the Internet, I came across a story about a very unusual place in Japan – it is not easily accessible, beautiful and fairly interesting at the same time. That’s the island of Aogashima several hundred kilometers south of Tokyo, on the boundary between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific ocean. “That may be worth having a look,” I savvied. The savvy proved good and I spent last Saturday on this island. Quite curious, recommended!

Now, let’s see what kind of an island it is.

It is a volcanic still-life made up of an ancient caldera that collapsed inwards, and a very nice cone of a new volcano which started to grow within the caldera a few hundred years ago.

Aerial photos report the following:

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2.

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Wow… This unusual secluded place beckons, insists I should get ticket right away and just go there! So I called KL Japan to find out the details, ask who might be ready to risk travelling there with me, and make other travel arrangements, which turn out to be rather complicated.

Read on: Yes, reaching that island proved anything but easy…

April 28, 2015

Cool your boots, Japan.

Tired after a seemingly endless journey, the long-distance traveler normally resorts to some kind of body of water first in his/her attempt at winding down, chilling out a bit, and returning from zombie state to kinda normal state. Usually a shower, sometimes a bath – sometimes even a banya and its attendant cold pool!

But only in Japan can one hope to reap the mega-chillage effects of a ryokan, which mixes bathing with a fantastic culinary experience to have you back all recharged and fully energized in no time at all. Which is what happened to me recently at Izukogen Hanafubuki Ryokan on the Izu Peninsula (伊豆), not far from Mount Fuji, Japan. Cool our boots, man, we sure did.

In case anyone doesn’t know what a ryokan is, let me tell you that it is a traditional Japanese hotel, usually not too big, with straw mattresses on the floor, offering super-duper Japanese food plus sometimes hot springs to dip in.

If you’re not Japanese, however, you have to be careful. You’ll need to bone up on the Japanese culture first, as it’s easy to put the proverbial foot in it with some faux pas that will cause upset at best, an international scandal at worst :). Best of all is to visit a ryokan with Japanese friends or colleagues, then there’s no chance of unintended mix-ups/offense. Accompanied by locals, you’re safely under their wing, so can feel just like a Japanese: blissfully content to recuperate for a few days, feed the soul, and revitalize the spirit.

And it’s not just the food and waters that act as a tonic to the body and soul – there’s also all the cherry blossoms still a-blooming here, picturesque little cottages, cozy little paths and an overall abundance of fauna and flora. Most fine.

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Why are we here?

Read on: Rainy day at volcano…

April 24, 2015

Singapore through the eyes of a first-timer.

Hi all!

D.Z. – this is one of most distinguished and respected KLers, with us since last century (taking a brief creative break in the mid-2000s). D.Z. has also been my fellow traveler a d.z.illion times to… oh, practically everywhere on this planet – but surprisingly not to Singapore. He always takes with him a trusty large black (super-duper) DSLR camera with a dozen or so different lenses too – his tools to create most of the pro-level pics on this here blog and elsewhere. He’s also a great storyteller, so he helps out with all the tales I want to tell – whatever they may be about. Still, despite all these talents, plus his confirmed KL-Establishment member status, he is nevertheless the most modest guy you’d ever meet.

D.Z. et moiMr. modest… et moi (1999)

Like I say, somewhat surprisingly this was D.Z.’s first visit to Singapore. He liked the place so much he took more pics than he normally does and wrote a long write-up too. It’s true that there’s ‘nothing like the first time’. It’s also true that a fresh pair of eyes will see things in a foreign place that others who’ve been several times before already miss due to familiarity – or just plain tiredness from the non-stop globetrotting. Thus, in this post, I pass the reins over to D.Z. to let him give his ‘first-time’ account of this remarkable city – just for a different, fresher perspective.

My only comment to the story: want one book to read to get the real real deal on Singapore? Check it: Lee Kuan Yew – ‘From Third World to First

So, D.Z.’s tale:

—-8<—-

What do we know about Singapore?

It’s a long way away, hot and humid, skyscraping, totalitarian, and they beat you with sticks for dropping gum, spitting, walking barefoot, and other carnal sins. At least, those are the stereotypes impressions of I’d say the majority of non-Singaporeans from afar, for those are the bits that seem to end up in the world’s media about this city-state extraordinaire.

This was my first time in Singapore.

What I saw with my own eyes was far from what I expected – nothing like the above-described imaginings. I have habit of boning up on a country I’m planning on traveling to – to get to know the ‘real’ place and not get caught up in lazy stereotypes and maybe inadvertently insult or upset or annoy anyone. And Singapore’s real deal fairly amazed and intrigued me. The first half of the 19th century is packed with curious history I’d let pass me by, but it’s fascinating how it’s connected with all sorts of details of international relations of my time. 

Collisions of civilizations, a struggle for colonies and trade routes, the friction within and among European and Asian powers, wars, injustice, betrayal, greed and other unpleasantness… Singapore had more than its fair share of all of them. Its history is peppered with nightmare tales, but all the same, in spite of all that, today it stands as the shining example of a successful state based on humane, productive cooperation among peoples, helped by being at an important crossroads of civilization.

A natural competitive advantage of Singapore is its geographical location on a strategic sea route connecting East Asia with the rest of the world. Despite miraculous diversification of the economy in its 50 years of independence, already on the approach to Changi airport it becomes clear how this advantage still plays a hugely important role in the development of the country.

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Back in 1819 it was exclusively the geography of the island that made Britain’s Sir Stamford Raffles set up on the bank of the Singapore River a watch post. Within just several years it had become an important hub of influence of the British Empire in Asia.

Singapore was founded not on an empty greenfield site but on a longstanding fishing village in which folks of different nationalities and religious faiths had lived peacefully for a long time. The arrival of the British naturally saw the town take on a decidedly more European flavor. And, talking of flavors, incidentally the resultant Singaporean cuisine came to be a most interesting and original one – the dishes both tasty and unique.

Having founded Singapore, Raffles left it for a few years to do yet more of his bit for the Empire, handing over the reins to a Major-General William Farquhar for the duration. Upon Raffles‘ return three years later, he was met with two main developments – basically good news and bad. The good news was that the town had gotten much busier and bigger. The bad – it had gotten much busier and bigger un-systemically, resembling an eastern bazar than an exemplary model of a colony of the British Empire.

So a town council was quickly created under the supervision a Lieutenant Jackson, who soon developed a plan for the reconstruction of Singapore. In the main, it was divided up based on the ethnicity of the inhabitants; thus, European, Chinese, Indian, and Arab (Muslim) quarters emerged.

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It might seem correct at this point to label Jackson an out and out racist and accomplice in apartheid. However, it turned out that such division suited everyone just fine! Each group was happy to cook in its own juices – yet still work closely together; indeed, they’d be doing so for centuries before Raffles. Since then of course, in almost in 200 years, a lot has changed; all the same the main traits of the town-building designs of Jackson remain.

Singapore has two principal must-visits – Little India and Chinatown. Guess which ethnic nationalities make up most of their populations? Yep – Indians and Chinese, respectively, even after all these years. In fact the delineation is blurring somewhat, with many an Indian and much Indian signage to be seen in Chinatown, and vice versa. The result is a serious bit of multiculturalism: Pagodas, stupas, mandirs (Hindu temples), mosques and churches all together peacefully coexisting on small squares. Nice. All the same, the dominating cultural ‘signature’ of the districts remains.

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Read on: Chinatown vs Little India…

April 1, 2015

Internet on a jet.

Back on the road again… Rather – up in the air. So I continue one of my fave, recurring themes – flying and planes and all that.

2015 kicked off with some serious avia action for me: I’m already on my 30th flight, having been up in the skies 130+ hours. Not that I’m complaining – I like flying. It’s my version of time-out… It’s the only time I’m able to actually relax! The main reasons are that my phone’s turned off and there’s no Internet. So at last I’m able to wade through the ton of business emails that’s piled up over the previous few days, to read a book, and watch a movie (all of which I hardly ever do on the ground).

But as time passes of late, more and more airlines are pushing their inflight Internet connections. /* BUT!: ‘In the interests of safety all portable electronic devices must be switched off for the duration of the flight; however, our Internet – for a fee: no worries at all!’ I’ll refrain from commenting on these obvious contradictions… */

Anyway, despite normally turning down airlines’ Internet connectivity overtures, this time, just for a change, I thought I’d give it a try…

My experiment took place on a recent Shanghai-Moscow flight on Aeroflot. Everything was fine as usual (besides unexpected and unreasonable slow lines for registration – more than an hour!). Not so usual  – but perfectly fine – was the fact that onboard weren’t just the usual suspects – Russians and Chinese – but also plenty of folks speaking Italian and Spanish. ‘Paying ruble prices on Aeroflot via Moscow’, I thought! However, our friendly fellow passengers explained things differently: ‘Never – EVER! – fly Alitalia or Iberia! Much better Aeroflot via MOW.’ Well, well, I thought. Incidentally, more on different airlines and flights and routes, etc. – here.

Hmmm. Sidetracked.

So. We boarded the plane and off we flew. I agreed to the terms and conditions and finally I connected to plane’s Wi-Fi!

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Inet 2nd page

Read on: The quality… so-so…

March 31, 2015

A hotel on the banks of the Colorado. Woh!

There are a great many beautiful and unusual towns and cities in the world, there are volcanoes, there are valleys and canyons, and islands and lakes. There are also of course rivers: loads of them – all different. There are the grandiose, like the super-wide Amazon with its adjacent jungles, anacondas, piranhas, crocodiles and other underwater perils. There’s the Nile (haven’t seen it myself) – running through the desert, also with crocs, and with 1001 ancient human stories to tell. There’s the Mississippi and all that Tom Sawyer-ness. There’s the Danube and Rhine (and the Lorelei and attendant songs about soldiers fallen in battle). There’s the Yellow River with its unfathomable intensity (also haven’t seen yet), there’s the Lena with its endlessness and Pillars running alongside. Yes, the list is long. // Can you help me continue the list?…

There’s another river – a rather unique one – in southwestern USA (and northwestern Mexico). It’s called the Colorado River. It’s so impressive they went and named a state after it. Its uniqueness flows from how it has cut through the rocky landscapes of several US states – Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Check it.

Much of what I snapped for my recent posts from Utah was made, literally, by the Colorado River. This river also happens to supply the water for a whole five states, and one particularly parched city of note (built bang in the middle of a desert): Las Vegas. I sometimes wonder how on earth this river hasn’t dried up completely yet.

It was the Colorado that over thousands (millions?) of years dried up the internal sea-lake of the West of Northern America. It was the Colorado that etched the most incredibly beautiful wrinkles – canyons – into the face of this particularly rocky part of the North American continent. Some sections of rock however wouldn’t be worn down, no matter how hard the river tried, and these still stand today, towering up above the canyons. The landscapes here are just astonishing. They’re difficult to describe. You need to experience it first hand to believe it really. Which I recommend you all do one day!

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Read on: Just look at the views!…

March 28, 2015

Hold on tight! In an off-road vehicle – off-road in Utah.

A few words about the vehicle that transported us about in Utah. And let’s not forget the super chauffeur…

Here she is, a classic of the genre, giving the Land Rover Defender a run for its money: the Toyota Land Cruiser. Quite an old one at that. Only demonstrates the ruggedness of this remarkable 4×4:

Utah on the road again

At first I wondered why the need for such large wheels and tires…

Utah on the road again

… I quickly found out: Extreme off-roadness!

Read on: unevenness, rocks, boulders, jaggedness and steep slopes…

March 27, 2015

A quick guide to Utah arches.

Why this national park is called the Arches is a rhetorical question. But if you haven’t been following this mini-on-the-road series from Utah, then read this.

Yes, you want huge natural rock arches – you need to come here. There’s just so much awesome archness here. Wikipedia says there are as many as 2000 here, ranging from the meager to the massive, and from the weird to the wonderful. In our day here we managed to see just nine! They were: Surprise, Skull, Delicate, Tower, Skyline, (the two) Windows, Turret and Double Arch.

Let me jump in here at the deep end: the most beautiful and most famous (and that takes into account desktop wallpaper:) arch of them all is… this one here – Delicate Arch:

Arches National Park Utah

Read on: 70 spellbinding sights…

March 25, 2015

U tire of Utah’s canyons? Not possible!

The red rocks of Utah – a simply captivating sight; from the outside, that is, which is what we checked out yesterday. Today it was time we had a look at all this from the inside. So off we headed to the Arches National Park‘s Fiery Furnace rocky massif. This is what we saw…

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Read on: Woh! Surprise surprise!…

March 24, 2015

The Utah Saints: Crimson columns and massive mushrooms.

Since the previous day my brain had been variously boggling and boiling. This was eased a little by steam being emitted from said boggling and boiling brain out via my camera, but that alleviation process then went too far, leading poor brain into a state of half dehydration.

The diagnosis sounds like this:

I’ve (finally) been to the canyons of Utah!

Eyeballs fairy exploded, jaws drooped down to waist level, tongues hung out of mouths, minds… simply blown. Cameras – white hot with non-stop use! The latter in fact were the only things that didn’t completely lose the plot. The human beings and their mentioned body parts however just conked – unable to the take in unencompassable – in the red and white canyons of Utah.

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Read on: Not bad, eh? This pic was just for starters…