Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival 2012

The Mid-Autumn Festival, better known as the Mooncake Festival, is traditionally a harvest festival in China. With the Chinese diaspora, the celebration of this festival can be found wherever there is a Chinese community. Whilst the celebration is originally meant to mark the end of the harvest season, there are several traditional practices carried out in association with this festival.
Happy Mooncake Festival
Here's my Angry Birds' Bad Piggy lantern wishing all a Happy Mooncake Festival whilst eyeing the Kam Lun Tai mooncakes. Bad Piggy wants mooncakes instead of Angry Bird eggs...

One of them is the worship of Chang-Er, the moon goddess in hopes of being blessed with a flawless complexion like the moon whilst others pray to her for a good husband. The offerings consist of mooncakes, water caltrop (Trapa natans syn. bicornis), mini yams and pomelos (pummelos - Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis); round fruits symbolises the fullness of the moon and of family harmony.
Trapa bicornis, water caltrop, taro, mini yam
The mini yams (we call it Pinang Or - betelnut yam) and water caltrop (菱角, ling kok a.k.a. Jesuit Nut/Devil's Pod) that is usually only eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Some go to the extent of peeling pomelos and ‘mini’ yams on this full-moon night in hopes of achieving this ‘flawless’ complexion of the moon. Of course with modern science and space exploration, no women in her sound mind would want a complexion like the moon; for the surface of the moon is dry, cracked, and full of craters and blotchy markings.
water caltrop, yam, taro, mooncake
Cooked and cracked water caltrop, boiled 'mini' yams and mooncake for Mid-Autumn Festival.

The mooncake festival is also a time for family reunion. After all, you get your whole family involved in the harvest in the olden days. So what better reward after the hard work than a family gathering where one can eat, drink and be merry together.
mooncakes and box
Baker's Cottage mooncakes - had this for an office gathering. Clockwise from top left: Green tea red bean paste, Low sugar lotus paste with one yolk, Precious Black (charcoal powder) and Shanghai mooncake (flaky pastry skin).

The bearing of lanterns during this festival comes from the 14th century revolt by the Chinese against the Mongols whereby the Chinese overthrew the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in an uprising brilliantly hatched by lantern-bearing messengers who delivered mooncakes with hidden messages.
mooncake box
The usually elaborate and decorative box that you get when you buy mooncakes. Click here for last year's mooncake box from this company.

Nowadays, kids go around bearing lanterns that is made from paper or plastic, lit by candles or by LED lights, traditional or characters of popular cartoons and games e.g. Ben 10, Tweety Bird, Angry Birds, Batman etc.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival
So Happy Mooncake Festival 2012 to all. Eat and be merry.

A Blue Flower - Ithuriel's Spear

The Triteleia laxa ‘King Fabiola’ surprised me today when I turned one of the pots around to see how they are doing. These corms that I have procured from Diana (Kebun Bahagia Bersama) and planted in pots had been placed between the other planter boxes as the leaves are droopy and not at all attractive. In past month, some of the plants have already begun to lose their leaves, indicating that they are coming to the end of the season. They are known to flower either leafless or when they start to lose their leaves.
Triteleia laxa, Ithuriel's spear, King Fabiola
The triplet lily Triteleia laxa King Fabiola - the poor thing is stunted, more like a Dwarf Fabiola. The blue colour is very pretty and I wouldn't mind a garden covered with little blue flowers like this.

Thinking that the flower stalks would be long and hence would be noticeable when they do bloom, I have paid little attention to them (click here for a post when the leaves first emerged). Also, I paid little attention to them in terms of feeding, since in the wild, they are supposed to be weeds. The name grassnut tells you a lot about the plant's behaviour in the wild.

Alas, I spotted a pretty blue flower, not on an umbel at the end of a long inflorescence, but just a few centimetres above the soil level. The lilac-blue colour is indeed very pretty. A check on the other pot that had became leafless indicate that flowers could have possibly came and gone unnoticed, as I have the pot sandwiched between a pot of lavender and the kai lan.
Triteleia laxa, triplet lily, grassnut flower
The somewhat distorted/stunted inflorescence of my King Fabiola - probably due to neglect and weather conditions. They supposed to be long and bear an umbel of blue flowers.

The flower of the triplet lily, also known as Ithuriel's spear, has parts that come in threes - three sepal and three petals. Besides the pretty blue flowers, the corms are edible and supposedly taste like potatoes, though I am not willing to kill a corm and try. Perhaps I should have gotten more King Fabiola corms in the first place. Err, Diana, any more King Fabiola corms???

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pictures of Borobudur - Part 1

A short post on the Stupas and Buddhas of Borobudur in Central Java, Indonesia. Borobudur is a huge 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist stupa complex, built during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty. The temple's Gupta architecture reflects the strong Indian influence on this region at that time.
Buddha inside stupa at Borobudur
I am a Buddha in a Stupa. Unlike a genie in a bottle, I do not grant three wishes even if you rub me down to dust. So do not damage the statue by attempting to rub it or grab it.  One of the few intact Buddha statues in a rhombic perforated stupa on the upper terrace.
Candi Borobudur, Borobudur stupas, perforated stupas
Perforated stupas on the upper terrace of Borobudur overlooking the plains below.
Bhumisparsa Mudra Buddha, Borobudur
Bhumisparsa mudra (Calling the Earth to witness) Buddha statue at the Rupadhatu niches.

Remember to bring your own umbrella or hat when you are visiting Borobudur. If not, be prepared to be mobbed by the peddlers who will try to make you buy a hat or an umbrella from them, and persistence IS their middle name. If you do not want one, a firm no thank you as you walk away would have to be repeated until you've cleared the area where peddlers are permitted to ply their trade.
Buddha of Borobudur
One of the many headless Buddhas. Don't lose your head or your cool when visiting Borobudur - Remember to bring a hat or an umbrella as the place gets quite a bit of sunlight during the day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Masangin and Sepeda Berhias Alun-alun Kidul Yogyakarta

Alun-alun is Indonesian for an open space or field. A kraton, or palace (the kraton grounds is actually a city with the palace within the confines of a perimeter wall) must have two alun-alun, a north court (called Alun-alun Lor) and a usually smaller, southern alun-alun, called Alun-alun Kidul, with kidul meaning south. The Alun-alun Kidul in Yogyakarta is a place where locals go to on weekends to let a bit of their hair down and have some healthy, family fun.
The colourful, LED-lit rides that is part of the attractions at Alun-alun Kidul, Yogyakarta. Whoa, make way for the Angry Birds pimp-mobile.

Also, the Alun-alun Kidul is home to a pair of Banyan trees (pokok beringin – most likely Ficus benjamina) that local folklore has it that whosoever can navigate between the pair of trees without any mishap whilst blindfolded, then he or she has a pure heart and whatever they wished for will come true.

This ceremony is called Masangin, which means to walk between the two banyan trees in the middle of the square (masuk di antara dua beringin). Nowadays, many local youths come to the Alun-alun Kidul on Friday or Saturday nights and give this activity a try, usually girlfriend egging the boyfriend to try or vice-versa, perhaps as a test of their partners’ purity (most of them end up disappointed though).

To carry out this activity, one is advised to stand approximately 15-25 metres from the trees on the northern side (at the Gedung Sasana Hinggil side facing south – i.e. facing the Jalan Gading city gates), and be blindfolded. Some suggest that the person be turned 360 degrees and then made to face due south, straight in line between the two banyan trees. The blindfolded person now must walk towards the gap between the two trees, without any assistance or interference from his/her friends. It is good to have friends around to silently move the crowd away from the path of the blindfolded person, as the grounds do get pretty busy. Blindfolds can be rented at IDR 3000, which is approximately RM1 at the time of visit.
The base of the two Banyan trees are surrounded by an ornate perimeter. I am standing at the endpoint of my attempt to cross between the two trees. Obviously I am a little quite way off to the right of the gap between the two trees.

When I tried it, I veered to the right, just passing the perimeter of the right banyan tree. Guess my wish won’t come through then. So after you’ve tried doing Masangin, another fun thing to do is to watch people doing it and laugh at them. Some will immediately start to veer so much to the left or right that they end up going in circles and back to where they started from. During my time there, I did not see any single person who managed to get between the gap of the twin Beringin trees.

I think it is almost an impossible task to be able to walk straight whilst being blindfolded, as it has been shown in one of the episodes of Mythbusters that without visual clues; most people will tend to veer to one dominant direction.

Sepeda Berhias (Decorated bikes/rides)
Besides the Masangin, there are also brightly pimped out rides that you can rent at the Alun-alun Kidal. These LED-lighted, bicycle-converted family or couple-ride thingies have illuminated cartoon characters such as Angry Birds, Donald Duck, Hello Kitty and even Doraemon, as well as cute froggies and I Heart Yogya ones. As people ride along the square, the lights from these vehicles gives the square a carnival-like atmosphere. If you do get in one of these rides, make sure you do not ride these vehicles outside the square; they are only meant to be used within the alun-alun.
A multitude of LED-lighted vehicles transforms the road into a river of lights.
Angry Birds ride, anyone? The best rides to go crash on some bad piggies.

If you do get hungry and worn out after all the walking and cycling, do not fret, for there are plenty of peddlers selling food and drinks all along the square. You can sit on the ground and use a low table to enjoy the local food sold by these peddlers.
An, An An tottemo da-isuki Dora-e-mon. Notice the lady that is about to cross the street - she is a peddler heading back home as she has had a sold-out night.

Most of the visitors to this square are locals or domestic tourist. It is their form of a weekend entertainment. However, I feel that this place has a sort of charm that should be made known to more people.

How to get there
Tell any taxi driver or bechak (trishaw) driver that you want to go to Alun-alun Kidul and they will get you there. If you are staying at the Jalan Prawirotaman 1 area, you can even walk there. Just head westwards on Jalan Prawirotaman 1 towards the intersection of Jalan Parang Tritis-Tirtodipuran-Prawirotaman1 (the Wisma Gajah guesthouse end) and turn right into Jalan Parang Tritis. Walk until you reach the end of the road and come to a major intersection where you can see the walls of the kraton (a white wall with a bastion at the corner) on the opposite side.

Turn left into Jalan Mayor Jeneral Sutoyo. You will have the kraton wall on your right, parallel to the road. Walk down this road until you reach a crossroad and an opening appears in the kraton wall on your right. Turn right to cross the road and go through this city wall entrance – this is Jalan Gading. When you the end of Jalan Gading, you will see the open field and the pair of banyan trees of Alun-alun Kidul. For the sake of trying a bechak, J whom had graciously hosted us, paid for our trip back to his place in a bechak.
Going back home on a bechak (trishaw). That is the southern kraton entrance (or rather the exit, as I am leaving the kraton grounds).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bishop's Crown and Bird Chillies

This is a chilli pepper post as I end up harvested two kinds of chilli peppers today; the Bishop’s Crown pepper, which is a cultivar of Capsicum baccatum, and the Bird Chilli pepper, which is a Capsicum frutescens.
Bishop's Crown chilli peppers (Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum) from the balcony. Only the centre part of this chilli is hot, the wings are sweet. They are also known as Friar's Hats or Monk's Hat peppers.
Capsicum frutescens, cili padi
Bird chillies - they are of moderate heat, and can be dried easily. I prefer them pickled in vinegar, which is how these will end up.

The fruits on both of them have all turned red (well almost all for the Bishop’s Crown peppers). As the amount of peppers produced is small due to weather and severe spider mite attacks, I had left them on the plant since the ripened fruits add colour to the plants in the balcony instead of picking them off as they ripen. Now that almost all of the chillies have turned red, it is time to remove them to get them to produce the next flush of fruits (and deny passing birds a quick meal on the 13th floor).
Bishop's Crown peppers, Capsicum baccatum, Monk's Hats
From greenish yellow to orange to red - Bishop's Crown peppers under different stage of ripeness.
Capsicum baccatum Bishop's Crown
The Bishop's Crown chillies before being snipped off the plant - a bit like flying saucers hovering around the mother ship. If you want to see how the flowers look like, please click here.

The bird chillies will be pickled in vinegar, which helps to kill some of the heat of the peppers, thus making it more palatable whilst the Bishop’s Crown peppers will be seeded and dried. When dried after reaching ripeness, Bishop’s Crown peppers have a nice sweet, fruity taste.
Capsicum frutescens, cili padi
Enticing birds in the neighbourhood - red bird chillies (Capsicum frutescens) for grabs on the 13th floor.
Capsicum frutescens plant, pokok cili padi, cabe rawit
The Bird Chilli plant sans the ripe fruits. It won't be long before the next flush of flowers comes out.

The taste of dried Bishop's Crown peppers is somewhat akin to that of dried Goji berries but with the sweetness of dried tomatoes. After all, they are all members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) – Goji berry belongs to the boxthorn family of Lycium, tomatoes are now a Solanum (together with potatoes and aubergines), and chilli peppers are Capsicums.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'White'

Doritis pulcherrima, literally the beautiful Doritis, is a small dainty orchid that is easy to grow and if grown en-masse, can be quite breathtaking. In the wild, they are terrestrial or lithophytic, found along streams and by the coast where the humidity is reasonably high. They can be found growing on leaf litter and rock crevices but are equally adept as an epiphyte, as long as they get enough moisture.

The light requirements can vary from dappled sunlight to full sun if slowly acclimatised. Under stronger sunlight, the leaves grow smaller but take a more fleshy appearance and may become marked with purple spots. They also flower more freely when exposed to stronger light. For me, Doritis pulcherrima is an easy orchid that can stand a lot of neglect and abuse.What I am showing here is a Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'White' or alba.
Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'White', Doritis pulcherrima var. chumporensis 'White'
Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'White'. This white peloric form of Doritis pulcherrima has attractive yellow edged petals that somewhat resemble the lip.

This peloric form of Doritis pulcherrima is often referred to as var. champorensis. There are variations to the varietal name, some give it as champornensis or chumporensis. As with the usual Doritis, they come in both the normal pink-lilac and the white version or alba (technically not a true alba, for the yellow coloration of the lip is still present). Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis is more showy than the usual D. pulcherrima, as the other two petals becomes ‘deformed’ and takes on the colouration as well as the shape of the lip.
Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis alba
Close-up on Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'White'. The lateral petals have the yellow markings similar to that of the lip. The shape of these petals are also more spear-shaped and fleshy like the lip.

In orchids, the peloric forms can range from mild, where the petals take on some of the colouration but not the shape of the lip, to full peloricism, where you get three lip structures instead of one (no normal petals). In D. pulcherrima var. champorensis, the petals take on the colouration and some of the shape of the lip. Hence the petals appear bigger and showier than a normal D. pulcherrima.

The lip of Doritis is interesting, as there are yellow calli on the claw of the lip as well as side lobes that have yellow blotches, looking very much like the pollen mass of a flower. These pseudopollinia (false pollen mass) possibly play a role in the pollination biology of the flower.
Doritis pulcherrima var. champorensis 'alba', peloric Doritis
The green arrow points to the calli on the claw of the lip whilst the blue arrows indicate the yellow coloured tip on the lobes of the lip. These structures are supposed to look like pollen masses (pseudopollinia) that is used to entice pollinators to the flowers.

According to Jin et al. (2012), Doritis pulcherrima is a con artist, i.e. it employs deceptive pollination (generalised food-deceptive orchid). The flower is nectarless, and the pseudopollinia (pollen mass) are not collected (or rather, is not food) by visiting pollinators. They merely look like co-blooming flowers that will reward the bee with pollen/nectar, thus tricking the bees into visiting the flower.

Recent molecular reworking of Phalaenopsis have resulted in Doritis being considered as part of Phalaenopsis, thus the correct name for this orchid would be Phalaenopsis pulcherrima. However, the RHS Orchid Hybrid List still recognises Doritis as a genus for hybrid registration purposes, thus a hybrid between Doritis pulcherrima with a Phalaenopsis will still be considered as a bigeneric hybrid with the genus name of Doritaenopsis.

Jin Xiaohua, Li Dezhu, Ren Zongxin and Xiang Xiaoguo (2012). A generalized deceptive pollination system of Doritis pulcherrima (Aeridinae: Orchidaceae) with non-reconfigured pollinaria. BMC Plant Biology, 12:67