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Article source: http://www.supersport.com/Golf/sa-golf/news/140828/SA_Europe_and_Asia_in_trisanctioned_event

There has been no extensive restoration work of the Jam minaret since it was built 800 years ago

One of Afghanistan’s architectural marvels, the minaret of Jam, is in danger of collapse, officials warn.

Centuries of neglect and frequent floods are threatening the 800-year-old structure in remote Ghor province.

The 65m (213-foot) monument – thought to be the world’s second-tallest brick minaret – is already on the UN list of world heritage sites in danger.

But officials have told the BBC that there is not enough money to protect it and more flooding could bring it down.

The biggest threat to the Jam minaret is posed by its position in a river valley among high mountains.

Officials say that last year’s floods caused major damage to the base.

Flooding of the nearby Hari-Rud river has damaged the base of the minaret

The minaret is famous for its decorations and inscriptions, but the structure is now leaning

They say a new supporting wall has been built and other stabilisation work has been carried out, but not enough to secure the site.

The circular minaret is famous for its intricate brick work and geometric decorations and inscriptions.

But local officials told the BBC that 20-30% of the decorative brick had fallen off and that the minaret was leaning.

Few visits

Erosion of the nearby river bank and illegal excavations are considered the biggest threats to its stability.

But no extensive restoration work has ever taken place since the minaret was built in 1194, according to Unesco, the UN’s cultural organisation.

Once a famous destination for international tourists, the site is now rarely visited, because of security threats in the region.

Cultural activists in Ghor say they want the next Afghan president to visit the minaret and step up efforts to preserve it.

Decades of war have made the preservation of Afghanistan’s rich heritage a huge challenge.

The most famous examples are the Bamiyan Buddhas, blown up by the Taliban in 2001. Thirteen years on, no decision has been made about what should happen to that site.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-28969385

BANGKOK – Century-old shop houses, twisting alleyways and temples scented with incense still pulsate with the pursuit of old trades and time-honored rituals of families who lived in Bangkok’s Chinatown for generations. But probably not for much longer.

Jackhammers and cranes are closing in on one of the last historic quarters of Thailand’s capital as developers and city authorities pursue plans to build subways and high-rises – with little thought to preserving heritage.

The story is common amid the rapid economic development across much of Asia that raised living standards for millions.

But the relentless drive to build, modernize and emulate the West – combined with a mindset that equates the old with backwardness – has already consigned many traditional communities to rubble, and with them a way of life.

“There is more than just the architecture to preserve in the community. If these old buildings are demolished, the people will go. So will the lifestyle and culture. And that is irreplaceable,” said Tiamsoon Sirisrisak, a researcher on culture at Bangkok’s Mahidol University.

Authorities often say clearing old city quarters is justified because the structures are often decrepit and unsanitary. But while those who move may be pleased with more modern housing, running water, proper toilets and cleaner surroundings, they also often regret the loss of their old neighborhoods.

Rapid urbanization, weak legislation, corruption and even some religious beliefs have contributed to the trend.

Most Asian cities ignored recommendations to leave their traditional cores intact and bring modern development to outer areas, as many European cities have done.

Old Phnom Penh survived war and the Khmer Rouge terror, but more than 40 percent of some 300 French colonial buildings that gave the Cambodian capital its unique character have been destroyed over the past two decades. In 2004, Prime Minister Hun Sen tore up a zoning law that had kept the city low and green, giving the go-ahead to erect high-rises anywhere in the capital. One of his ministers said tall buildings would attract tourists.

—In neighboring Vietnam, demolition of Rue Catinat, a street in the historic heart of Ho Chi Minh City, is proceeding block by block, driven as elsewhere by skyrocketing land prices. A Vietnamese-French urban research agency found that at least 207 heritage buildings have been destroyed or defaced in the last decade. The city’s last colonial-era department store is to be replaced by a 40-story complex this year.

—Only slivers of an earlier Hong Kong remain, hemmed in by a dense cityscape. In a model that China itself has followed, Hong Kong’s transformation was propelled by the former British government selling off land to developers who rooted out both the traditional Chinese quarters and the legacies of Imperial Britain.

Experts generally agree that China, which boasts the longest continuous architectural lineage in history, ranks first when it comes to wholesale eradication of material heritage. Raging against the feudal past, the Red Guards destroyed thousands of historic sites during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s. In the economic boom that followed, the destruction continued if not intensified.

The flattening of historic cores of cities across China, from Kunming in the south to Kashgar in the far west, is Asia’s greatest “cultural atrocity,” said James Stent, an American involved in heritage preservation in China and Thailand.

The bulldozing of old Kashgar, a fabled way station along the Silk Road and one of the world’s finest examples of a traditional Islamic city, began in 2009 and is all but complete. City authorities said the clearance was necessary because earthquakes could topple the old houses.

A 2011 survey revealed that 44,000 – or a fifth – of some 225,000 important cultural sites in China have fallen victim to construction. And a broader definition of cultural heritage that includes ordinary communities is new for many Asians.

“In China, they will preserve a temple but raze everything around it,” Stent said. “You don’t want little islands of culture, you need to protect larger areas and the whole fabric within them but make them vibrant so people can make a living there.”

In Beijing, modern structures and roads have replaced some 60 percent of the city’s inner core, with its narrow alleyways and traditional courtyard residences, says Matthew Hu, a leading Chinese conservationist who heads The Prince’s Charity Foundation China.

“Modernity is really defined by modern Western culture, so when people consider modernity they want to get rid of things from the past,” said Hu.

Although the scale and speed of this destruction appears greater than in Western countries, in many respects Asians are “simply mirroring similar dynamics from the West,” that took place long ago, says Erica Avrami, director of research and education at the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

In New York, elegant homes and public buildings in midtown Manhattan were razed in the early 20th century. And in Europe, where many historic buildings were destroyed by bombs during World War II, researchers found that even more of them were leveled by bulldozers in the three decades that followed.

Asia’s younger generation in particular seems uninterested in preservation.

In tropical Thailand, only palaces and religious structures were constructed of substantial materials and deemed worth of preserving, while domestic architecture, mostly of wood, deteriorated rapidly and is rarely renovated.

“The idea that you preserve the old wooden house of your grandfather or grand-grandfather is not in the Thai psyche,” said Euayporn Kerdchouay of the Siam Society.

Scholars note that a basic Buddhist tenet views the world as a place of constant change, and thus the faithful tend to downgrade the notion of permanence. Many Buddhists believe donating to build a new pagoda or shrine will earn them greater merit than renovating old ones.

In Bangkok’s Chinatown, 40 old shop houses have been torn down to make room for a subway station intended to ease traffic. Structures up to 12 stories high will rise in their place.

Sirinee Urunanont, a third-generation Chinatown resident and community leader, says Chinese media have come to film and report on traditions and lifestyles that don’t exist in their country anymore. Her quarter, Charoen Chai, is famed for handcrafted joss paper products used in festivals and funerals. These include replicas of gold bars, limousines and other creature comforts to accompany the dead into the next world.

“The culture, traditions, you don’t see them anymore. They have been lost. So the Chinese media comes here to see them,” said Sirinee.

Some excellent examples of preservation do exist, often driven by tourism. These include the 17th century “machiya” townhouses in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, Beijing’s The Temple Hotel, an award-winning, four-year restoration effort, and the campaign to save the British colonial buildings of Yangon, Myanmar.

But even some success stories have downsides. Malaysia’s George Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for its blend of Asian and colonial architecture, and tourists flocked in and probably saved it from demolition. But longtime tenants were replaced by boutique hotels, cafes and restaurants, and the population dropped from 50,000 to less than 10,000.

“People don’t understand that the inner-city residents have kept our traditions alive,” says Khoo Salma, a leading Malaysian conservationist. “This has happened to many world heritage sites, where they have become a playground for others and no longer the people’s city. We don’t want the soul of (our) city to die.”

Article source: http://www.observer-reporter.com/article/20140827/NEWS06/140829428

Street View image of Kuta Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Bali, Indonesia, captured in July 2013.
Courtesy of Google Inc.

Navigating some of Indonesia biggest cities just got a lot easier thanks Google Street Views.

The tool allows users to virtually explore parts of Indonesia through panoramic street-level images in Google Maps, and it could help tourists better understand the ups and downs of traveling in the world’s largest archipelago, said Rudy Ramawy, Google Indonesia’s country director.

Collecting those images wasn’t simple.

Street View image of the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle. The Jakarta landmark was captured on Google Maps in April 2013.
Courtesy of Google Inc.

“We tailored our driving schedules and routes to account for a number of local factors, such as weather, traffic, other driving conditions and speed of collection,” said Mr. Ramawy. In Jakarta, for example, a city notorious for gridlock, Google drivers had to pick hours when traffic would be less heavy, he said.

The hope, now, is that Indonesians and visitors alike can use it to their advantage.

Working in partnership with Indonesia’s Ministry of tourism and Creative Economy, Google began collecting imagery here in November 2012. Tourism Minister Mari Pangestu said at the time that the tool could help promote tourism by allowing travelers to view hotels before arriving, make travel plans and arrange meeting spots.

Business owners could also embed the imagery onto their websites to provide more information about their establishment to consumers, said Mr. Ramawy.

With a population of nearly 250 million people, Indonesia is Google’s biggest market in Southeast Asia. Just days after its launch last week, Mr. Ramawy said searches for street view were “spiking.”

For underwater images, as seen here in Komodo National Park, Google teamed up with a team of scientists from Caitlin Seaview Survey, taken in May 2014.
Courtesy of Google Inc.

“Street View is a great tool to showcase Indonesia globally,” he said. “Hotels, for example, will have a new way of showing future guests what their building and surrounding neighborhood looks like,” helping locals and tourists alike become more easily familiar with Indonesia.”

Launched officially by Google in 2007, the technology  has already helped attract attention to some countries. In Japan, for example, the number of Google searches for Hashima Island jumped after it appeared in the James Bond film, Skyfall. When Street View digitized the movie set in June 2012, “it had the same impact,” said Mr. Ramawy.

In Indonesia, Google also unveiled new underwater Street View imagery of the reefs at Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the project, which allows users explore imagery of colorful coral beds, manta rays, and other marine life, the U.S.-based company teamed up with Caitlin Seaview Survey, a team of scientists mapping the world’s coral reefs.

For now, Street View has only captured images for four cities, Jakarta; Bogor, West Java; Surabaya, East Java; and Bali’s Denpasar. Mr. Ramawy said Google would love “to continue bringing more of Indonesia on to Street View,” but he did not elaborate further.

Indonesia joins 57 other countries world-wide, including Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia, in showcasing its streets — even with the crazy traffic.

__________________________________________________

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Article source: http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2014/08/27/google-street-view-could-give-a-boost-to-indonesian-tourism/

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s hyper-efficient capital doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of exotic Asian destinations. But this mega-city offers much to tempt travelers beyond a layover from the ultra-modern international airport in nearby Incheon. You can explore Korea’s rich historic heritage, visiting temples and palaces; wander around the enormous National Museum of Korea, and savor the delights of its surprisingly varied cuisine.

As in Tokyo and Hong Kong, Seoul’s transportation network puts most European and North American cities to shame. Invest in a Seoul City Pass Plus card, which can be used not only on the trains, which run both under and above ground, but also on buses and even taxis. It’s also accepted for payment at many tourist sites and convenience shops, offering discounts on some tours and museum admissions.

High on your list will be one or two of Seoul’s five palaces. Most guidebooks recommend Gyeongbok-gung, the grandest of all of them. But I headed to Changdeok-gung, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, instead. The sprawling palace grounds can only be visited on guided tours; check the schedule to make sure you catch a tour in the right language. There’s one tour of the famous gardens and another of palace buildings.

Strategically and culturally, Korea is wedged between East Asia’s superpowers, Japan and China. As you travel around Seoul, you’ll understand the intricate connections among the three countries. Many links are evident in the collection at the National Museum of Korea, a must for those seeking to go beneath Seoul’s veneer of technology and learn about the country’s history.

The museum, the largest in area in Asia and sixth-largest in the world, is suitably impressive from the outside, with a futuristic architectural design that pays tribute to Korea’s modernization. Inside, many of the more than 300,000 pieces are designated National Treasures of Korea. The building design utilizes natural light in many galleries, which makes it easy to explore for hours without that feeling you get in big museums that you’re stuck in a vault all day. Highlights include Buddhist bells on the third floor (one each from Korea, China and Japan) and, the piece-de-resistance, the Ten-Story Pagoda, a unique marble structure built in the 14th century, looming over the ground floor. It was taken to Japan before World War II (Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945), but was returned to Korea in 1960, disassembled. It’s been painstakingly restored and is an enduring symbol of an architecture style little-known outside their country.

Koreans love to shop and there’s nowhere better for it than the pedestrian shopping district of Myeong-dong, where I stayed. Streets are lined with brand name-stores (both Korean and Western) open late into the night. It also has countless restaurants and cafes. On my first night there, I ventured out to find a restaurant near my hotel and had a near-panic attack. There were so many choices, but none familiar to me, though I’d gone to many Korean restaurants in New York. I ended up in a brightly-lit place that was almost ready to close. I pointed out a few menu items and a hot barbecue top was turned on at my table, ingredients meticulously lined up to cook. I tried to stir them together but the waitress, half-amused but also stern about my culinary ineptitude, took the ladle from my hand and set it aside. “Needs to cook more,” she mumbled. Every time I tried to touch the food with my chopsticks, other diners looked on with amusement. Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing. Mercifully, the waitress ultimately came over and stirred up a delightful chicken and vegetable dish with rice. I added kimchi from the buffet.

Another essential stop is Gwangjang Market, which bustles with street food vendors and little restaurant-shacks in the evening when its shops have closed. Locals go there for Korean pancakes made from mung beans called bindaeddeok and cheap street food. I opted for one of the ubiquitous dumpling soup places, where for about $5 you get a huge bowl of steaming soup with pork dumplings, freshly made before your eyes. In winter, the stall benches are even heated. On my second visit to the market, I had sashimi and rice wine. The sashimi was near-frozen, a common way of serving it there and different from the Japanese room-temperature tradition.

For traditional Korean food beyond the market, skip Korea House — it’s touristy and expensive. Do venture into one of the tent restaurants that serve food late into the night in popular nightlife districts. And get your fix of bibimbap — a rice dish with vegetables, egg, meat and chili or soy sauce served all over the city — along with a traditional seafood stew, which is hearty and warm.

Bukchon Village, a neighborhood of traditional Korean houses with slanted roofs, is a nice place to stroll. The area is flanked by two palaces, and dotted with chic boutiques and cafes.

One striking thing you’ll notice is that Seoul’s residents are glued to their cellphones — usually Samsung or LG, brands that have played a role in Korea’s strong economy. During my visit last winter, everyone was streaming the Olympic games live on cellphones on the subway — a testament to how fast and reliable the 4G network is. Even my American phone worked faster there than in New York.

Finally, don’t leave Seoul without venturing up to the N Seoul Tower, the city’s highest tourist point, offering a view from the top at nearly 1,600 feet (480 meters) above sea level. You can hike through Namsan Park, Seoul’s Central Park, to the base of the tower, or take a cable car up. It’s busy at dusk, but a nice time to watch as the city below you transforms into a stunning and colorful display of lights.

Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/26/seoul-trains-fast-cell-_n_5714795.html