07 November 2016

Tokyo (Japan) - Splendours of Sakura at Shinjuku Gyeon

Date of Exploration : 25 Mar 2016

One of the best places in Tokyo to immerse in the floral parade of cherry blossoms is Shinjuku Gyeon, a seemingly endless park at the heart of the city's commercial cum administrative district.

Wooooooow... My t-shirt is all wide-eyed basking in the glory of explosive blossoms.
Sendagaya Gate... one of the 3 access gates to of Shinjuku Gyeon. Getting here took quite a bit of asking our way from Shinjuku Station as there weren't clear directional signs.
Sunshine during a morning of spring, it's a beautiful meets wonderful kinda day.
Looks like an avenue of overturned octopuses with their arms twisting wildly in the air.
The trees should receive Tony Awards for being so theatrical.
Feels romantic and magical. Best to visit with a special someone :)
Blossoms and bottoms... lots of photogs exhibiting their posteriors for a special shot.
Akan datang (coming soon).
A big branch of joy!
Time to monkey around and enjoy!
Enchanted forest creature spotted...?
Shinjuku Park has several species of sakuras that blooms from March to April. Actual blooming period depends on weather conditions and announcement of the predicted period is released by the Japan Meteorological Corporation (JMC).
Pale pink blossoms of the Somei Yoshino cherry. It is one of the most popular cherry trees grown all over Japan.
There are several thematic gardens (Japanese, French and English) within Shinjuku Gyeon and a greenhouse with a collection of tropical and subtropical plants. We didn't get to see them all as took too much time to photograph sakuras.
First time encountering so many different sakura species in one place.
The most dramatic has to be the Shidarezakura, a.k.a. weeping or fountain cherry due to their drooping branches filled with blooms.
A few of the weeping cherry staggered together can resemble a waterfall.
The weeping cherry tree explodes in a firework of pink.
With the distraction the cherry blossoms create, the other flowers are neglected, such the brilliant yellow dandelion bloom peeping out of a crack.
The tress fall in... hope they don't fall down.
Two of a kind.
变成花痴了。Can really OD on sakura at Shinjuku Gyeon.
Great memories have been made :)
But they can wither and fade quickly like flowers. Cherry blossoms usually last about a week.
Spent more than half a day at the park without us realising. I've read on several online sites that Shinjuke Gyeon is a good place to enjoy sakura and it truly is. In fact, compared to the few other places I've been to in Tokyo while chasing sakuras, Shinjuku Gyeon is still the best!

31 October 2016

Johor Bahru (Malaysia) - Zoo Johor

Date of Exploration : 15 Oct 2016

Taking a bite into the fringe of Johor Bahru's Taman Istana (Palace Park), Zoo Johor is that quick scratch to ease a hakuna matata itch with a collection of over 100 animal species native to Asia and as far flung as South America.

And the best part is, heeding the call of the wild at this zoo costs only RM2.00 per adult!

The new entrance facade of Zoo Johor. The zoo has undergone some renovation works in recent years and enhancements were still being carried out during the time of my visit.

Getting to Zoo Johor

The easiest way to get here is to take a cab. I took a cab here from Johor Bahru City Square shopping mall that is opposite the Johor Bahru immigration checkpoint. The cab ride took under 10 minutes (smooth traffic day) with a metered fare of RM6.00.

Con Cab...

The Indian cab driver that drove me was friendly but he tried to tell me some sob story so that I would pay him RM10.00, which according to him is the standard rate for short distance rides as taxis in JB don't use meters (that's not true as I've taken numerous cabs before and the drivers turned on their meters). The thing is, I've heard similar sob stories before... claims of being born with birth defect, having major diseases, have sick family members, etc, so that passengers would give more money to the driver out of sympathy. 

I gave more than what was on the meter a couple of times before but after hearing these stories repeatedly, I now doubt the truth in them. It seems like the cab drivers in JB are mostly sick and at the brink of death. Should they even be driving when considering the safety of passengers? Anyway, I told the driver I've heard similar stories previously and he fell into an awkward silence before asking what have I heard. So I related how one told me he had lung disease and seeking treatment while another has a very sick son and yet another had heart surgery. This driver told me he had heart surgery too and was born with defects in his left leg. What defect, he didn't specify. I think dishonesty is the disease.

Zoo Johor is located along Jalan Gertak Merah opposite the grand looking Masjib Jamek Sultan Abu Bakar mosque. Ticket is purchased at a booth behind the main gate at RM2.00 (adult) and RM1.00 (child below 12yo).

For the way back, I walked from Johor Zoo to Johor Bahru City Square and it took me about 35 minutes at a regular walking pace. So the zoo is pretty accessible and easy to get to in my opinion.

One of the Oldest Zoo in Malaysia

Zoo Johor started out as a private wildlife menagerie of the royal family when it was established in 1928 before being handed over to the Johor government. The zoo began receiving public visitors in 1962 and the once royal 'animal garden' is today the state zoo and one of the oldest in Malaysia. And the age shows. Not in a flattering way.

Rejuvenation works to Zoo Johor are evident especially for its entrance but beyond that, most of the zoo looks in need of a makeover to update its design, create more photo-worthy opportunities, and install proper information boards to enable learning and better appreciation of the animals.

This is the enclosure for the White-Handed Gibbon, which is a palace compared to disheveled enclosures some of the other animals are kept in.
For such a petite zoo, I'm surprised at the number of F&B outlets available here. So don't worry about being hungry or thirsty.

Top left photo shows a series of monkey enclosures. I think they've just been installed as they look new and closed to public during my visit. Contrast that with the ageing directional pole and that pretty much sums up the tug-of-war between the old and the new at JB Zoo.

Hippopotamus enclosure... will the wire fence hold if the two hippos in it decide to go full throttle and hurl themselves towards the gate?

I am not nitpicking, but conditions at Zoo Johor are rather abysmal. It looks more like a backyard animal shelter than a state-level zoo. Then again, entrance fee is only RM2.00 so can't ask for too much lah. At least the animals look well-fed and not begging to be put out of their misery.

Leather, Feather, Beak and Fur

Zoo Johor is not much of a looker, but the variety of animals found here is pretty commendable for its sparrow size. What I really liked is how close I can get to the animals because of the zoo's casual attitude towards safety. Most zoos have such a vast safety distance between people and animals that it is better to stay home and watch National Geographic.

That's why I heart Zoo Johor for the very rare opportunity to see the animals, some of them formidable, at close range with just a mere fence between us.

A wire fence separated me from the hippopotamus but no luck to see the river horse up close as they were content being submerged in their private pool.

White-Handed Gibbon... this fella was quite the acrobat during my visit. It hung and swung on tree branches like no tomorrow. Such a wonderful treat watching the care-free primate defy gravity. See video below...

If you know anything about this bird, the cassowary, this photo should shock you. Yes, I was THAT close to this prehistoric-looking bird! The cassowary is ranked the most dangerous bird in the world with the ability to slice and disembowel a human with its sharp, dagger-like nail on its middle toe.

Most cassowary enclosures would put a huge gap between animal and visitors but at Zoo Johor, I got face time with this magnificent bird that came right up to the fence. It has such beautiful eyes with perfect lashes that would make Maybelline cry. I was so thrilled to finally see the cassowary eye-to-eye... and survived!
Neighbours of the cassowary included an emu, a close relative in the same ratite family, and a couple of crocodiles (buaya in Malay).

Some see them as parent and child, others look upon them as wallet and handbag.
Open field zone for the watching and feeding of deers and ostriches...
... but first, a steak stake out at the gaur enclosure. This beefy bull is also known as the Indian bison.
Let's do the Macarena!
This is the ostrich and deer's version of conveyor belt "sushi" with visitors moving back and forth along the raised boardwalk to feed the animals raw kangkong (swamp spinach). A bunch of the vegetables cost RM2.00 and payment is by trust. You can drop the money into a collection box next to the basket if you took a bunch of the leafy feed.

Saw quite a few kids just grabbed the kangkong and fed the animals without paying so I dropped a couple of ringgits into the box to help keep the food coming.
Would've been more fun if the deers can be fed on ground level.
I fawn you! Now it's your turn to pah-sahng. I go hide and you come find me okay? :)

... then I realised the partner is right up against the cage. Both birds are female. Female Great Hornbills have white eyes while the eyes of the males are red. Should they wave a rainbow flag?
Spotted a Great Hornbill by itself and thought it is unusual as hornbills in captivity are usually kept in pairs because the birds are monogamous and mate for life. I thought this lonely one is either single or its partner had died...

The crowd puller at Zoo Johor is the White Ear Marmoset. Everyone wants to get a photo of it and every kid (and adult) wants to tickle them through the cage. They are fearless of humans and seem to like the colour red. A guy held a cold bottle of red 100 Plus close to the cage and the tiny monkeys stuck out their tiny tongues to lick the condensation off the bottles. Their cuteness is highly addictive!
Go nuts, no pun intended, over this Grelim-looking critter that is the White Ear Marmoset (a.k.a. Common Marmoset). Meeting this cutie made coming to Zoo Johor totally worth it.

Barking Deer (a.k.a. Indian muntjac or red muntjac)... it is considered the oldest deer species. I love its very tribal facial markings.
Is the fabled Madam White Snake really the Albino Python?
"Need a hug?" asked the Reticulated Python.
I've seen the fearsome King Cobra on documentaries but didn't realise just how big and long this nightmare is. Truly majestic.
Thanksgiving is in the air.
Camel pretending to be a giraffe.

Another opportunity for a close encounter :)

The tapir is has such a smooth and featureless face.

My Chinese zodiac! From the missing face paint, it is obvious which tiger gets lots of heavy petting.
The tiger was pacing up and down the enclosure non-stop as if it was doing yard time in a jail.

The tiger enclosure looks like a gladiator arena doesn't it?

Finally the beast took a short rest after a failed attempt to mount the missus.
Around the lower wall of the enclosure are narrow slits through the concrete where you can peep in for a close-up of the tiger. I was really lucky to get this shot of it looking through the hole into my camera!
A rather interesting feature of Zoo Johor is a roof-top zone that links up the tiger, lion, cow, chimpanzee and bear enclosures. The big cats were napping away from the tropical heat. Definitely bring an umbrella when visiting the zoo.
Moo... They look so dorky cute.

Sun bear begging for a treat. Refrain from feeding the animals and if you're going with kids, ensure that they don't throw things into the animal pens. Saw a number a kids throw tissues and carton drink boxes at the animals and littering the place they live.
This chimp has the filthy habit of poking his finger into his nostril, dig around a bit, and then sticking the same finger into his mouth... *gag*
They may not be free, but they are worry-free.
What species is this behind a cage?

Although Zoo Johor is rather compact, I spent almost 3 hours here getting face time with the residents. I didn't think much about the zoo at first because of the rundown conditions but after I looked past the lack of aesthetics and focused on the animals, I began to enjoy the opportunities for close observations and encounters.

Besides, the zoo is located not too far from the JB checkpoint and easily accessible. Plus, may I mention again, it's only RM2.00 to visit!
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