Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Secret of Ancient Village Surviving Earthquake

08/10/29 Taoping Ancient Qiang Village: The Secret of Surviving the Wenchuan Earthquake
Just like the Wenchuan Earthquake that struck southwestern China, earthquakes above a magnitude of 8 have brought destruction, pain and suffering to people in many parts of the world. Wherever they strike, they bring mass casualties and enormous loss of property.
The tragic scenes reflect the almighty and intimidating power of nature. Nature, like a powerful monster can, with a slight wave of an arm, cause high-rise buildings made of reinforced concrete to collapse like toy bricks.
So a humble village that has stood up to this monster could be considered an architectural miracle. Such a village exists. Its called Taoping ancient Qiang Village, and it is found in Li County, Sichuan Province.
Records reveal that the ancient Qiang village has faced three major earthquakes since the beginning of the 20th century; the magnitude 7.5 Diexi earthquake in 1933, the magnitude 7.2 Songpan-Pingwu earthquake in 1976, and the magnitude 8.0 Wenchuan earthquake on May the 12th, 2008. In the Wenchuan earthquake, while Taoping survived, all the other villages in the area were reduced to rubble.
Taoping ancient Qiang Village lies just 20 kilometres away from the epicenter of the Wenchuan earthquake. Yu Xingmei, a member of the Qiang ethnic group, still remembers the scene clearly.
Yet the only damage suffered by the village was to the parapet wall on top of the ancient watch tower. Its collapse was due to the architectonic phenomenon known as the whipping effect, in which the part nearest to the top of a building is most likely to be destroyed during an earthquake. However, the main body of the village, and even the 2-meter-wide lanes and the underground water network, survived intact. Not one of the Qiang houses and watch towers collapsed.
The first sight visitors get of Taoping Village is of three ancient Qiang watch towers standing abreast. Against the light, the three towers look like three pillars rising up to the sky. They, like the ancient and delicate Qiang houses that surround them, withstood the onslaught of the earthquake.
So, how exactly did the ancient village survive the great earthquake? And can the architects of today learn anything from the secrets of the ancient Qiang builders?
China is a country of many nationalities. In the great Chinese family, the Qiang people are one of the most ancient nationalities. Oracle bone inscriptions from 3,000 years ago record that the Qiang people were living mainly in Northwest China and the Central Plains. Later, a branch of the nationality was incorporated into the Tibetan ethnic group, and another into the Han Nationality. The Qiang people today are the descendants of the ancient Qiang Nationality. Theirs was a turbulent history, before they finally settled in the area of the Minjiang River and Minshan Mountain.
The earliest Taoping Qiang Village was built over 2,000 years ago, in 111 B.C.
Taoping is a typical Qiang village, in that it was built with mountains to the north and facing water to the south. The buildings are laid out according to a rigid design. Built of stone, they embody a structural hierarchy. The houses are called Zhuang Houses, or Wo Zhe in the Qiang language.
The ancient Qiang village has eight gates radiating from the watch tower. The eight gates are linked to 13 alleys, which form a comprehensive communications network. The village also has a network of groundwater, which uses covered wells. People can remove the slate covers to draw water from the wells. The alleys, groundwater network and roofs combine to form a comprehensive defence system.
After surviving the wind, rain and earthquakes for the past 2,000 years, Taoping ancient Qiang Village still stands proud. It is known as a wonder in the history of architecture. Its also known as the Mysterious Fortress of the East and the most intact Living Fossil of ancient Qiang architecture.
In surviving the earthquake, Taoping Village is indebted to its unique landform and topography.
If seismic waves move along a mountain range, which part of the mountain, the top, the valley or the mountainside, can best withstand the force?
Interestingly, in the Qiang village, some of the buildings are situated on the mountain top and some on the mountainside. But none are built in the valley. So, why did the Qiang people ignore the broad and even valley with its abundant arable land?

The first reason was, the difficulty in defending the valley. However, they gradually discovered there were other advantages associated with their choice, and the tradition developed among the ancient Qiang people of living in stone houses located beside mountains. Traditional Qiang villages were often built on a steep mountainside or at the mountains top, instead of on the flood plains beside a river. Because of this, the Qiang Nationality were popularly known as the people above the clouds.
Taoping ancient Qiang Village is located on a mountainside. The Zagunao River, the main tributary of the Minjiang, runs eastward across the village. Thanks to its location, the village is protected from the northerly wind in the winter and receives adequate sunshine. More importantly, the broad and gentle terraces mitigate the effects of the major earthquakes that strike the area once every few decades.
When seismic waves move forward along the mountain range, the valley and the mountain top receive the impact first. The valley, with its broad expanse of soft and flat land, absorbs the force of the earthquake and deadens its power, which significantly reduces the impact on the mountainside.
Even buildings made of reinforced concrete collapsed during the earthquake. So, was there something miraculous about the construction materials used in the Taoping ancient Qiang Village?
The Qiang people, like other ancient nationalities, knew how to take advantage of nature to satisfy their need to survive. The two mountains beside the village are a source of common but nevertheless priceless, construction materials.
One mountain has abundant rubble, of a kind grey, broad and thin that is highly durable. Used in construction, it is capable of altering its shape in accordance with changes in the forces it is subjected to, which serves to make the building more stable.
The other mountain is abundant in loess. The miraculous village was built of rubble mixed with loess and mud.
67-year-old Wang Jiajun is the only person in the village with a university degree. Hes a skilled architect, and also an expert on the construction theories of the Qiang village and watch tower.
Potassium nitrate is commonly referred to as niter or saltpeter. Niter varies, according to the amount of potassium nitrate it contains, but the proportion is usually less than 10%. So the loess in Taoping Qiang Village, which contains 20% potassium nitrate, is very rare. Its used in construction because of its outstanding ability to resist light, heat and corrosion.
Good nitre, if placed on burning charcoal, will sparkle.
Wang Jiajun picks up a handful of nitre from the wall and lights it with burning ash. The niter really sparkles.
The experiment shows how rich in potassium nitrate the rubble and loess here are.
Potassium nitrate is high-tensile and a powerful coagulant. Its use as a building material has been a key factor in the Taoping ancient Qiang Villages survival of 2,000 years of earthquakes.
So Qiang people use the locally-available rubble and loess as their construction materials.
Qiang people long ago became experienced in mitigating the effects of earthquakes. The techniques they developed are an intangible cultural heritage, which they incorporated into the construction of the ancient village.
Construction starts with digging the foundation, which can be square, hexagonal or octagonal, and must be three or four meters deep. The foundation must stand on bare rock. The foundation stones are large pieces of rubble.
In the wall, the pieces of rubble fit one another naturally. Evidently, there is nothing random abut this arrangement.
The builders first select good quality rubble and hammer the irregular pieces to get rid of any fragments. They then put the various pieces into place, adjusting their positions constantly so as to maximize the cohesion between rubble and loess. The adjustment can be repeated anything up to fifty times.
Experienced engineers made precise calculations concerning the bases of the walls and the walls themselves. Every piece of rubble and every handful of loess was carefully placed, the first layer lengthways and the second, sideways, so as to maximize the cohesion. Both sides of the walls had to be properly arranged, centred on large stones in the middle.

To increase the shock resistance of the walls, the Qiang craftsmen made them all slightly concave. They also formed a corner on every wall, known as the wall stud or Qianlengzi in the Qiang language. Wall studs placed at the edge of the houses would bear the full force of any earthquake, and would allow the Qiang houses to withstand both transverse and vertical shocks.
It was the practice, after each storey of a building was completed, for nothing to be built on top for at least a year. The Qiang people did this to allow the rubble and loess to settle, and bond more strongly. A wall would be deemed sufficiently stable only if it could withstand the climate changes and rainstorms of a whole year, without losing any of its loess.
So it took three years to build a three-storey Qiang building and thirteen years to build a thirteen-storey one.
The rubble and loess walls, built over 2,000 years ago, may look delicate. But they are in fact extremely solid.
To improve their resistance to earthquakes, Qiang houses were built in a pyramid structure, characterized by a wide bottom and a narrow top. The walls in the bottom layer are 60 cm wide, and those in the top layer, 20 to 30 cm wide. The entire wall leans inwards, towards the middle.
In a five-storey building, there could be a horizontal difference exceeding 20 centimetres between the top and bottom walls. The walls, being solidly built and symmetrical, are capable of withstanding a force from any direction.
Besides the solid walls, Qiang buildings incorporate other, supplementary support. Three wooden pillars form a system that supports the floors and the roof.
Qiang buildings are usually quite low. Those used for living and working tend to have just three storeys. The inner structure adopts the space cutting technique combining stone walls and beams. The layers of wall are separated every zhang by beams, 20 centimetres in diameter with rafters above them.
A smooth groove was cut in the top of the wooden pillar on the first floor, and another in the corresponding part on the bottom of the wooden pillar for the second floor. The main beam would be inserted between them. Sometimes a supplementary beam might be added, parallel with the main beam. This was in a fact a primitive form of a bucket arch, which could disperse the pressure from the junction of the wooden pillars and beams so as to strengthen the beams.
The interweaving of the beams and stone walls, combined with the joining of the beams and wooden pillars, effectively reinforced the whole structure and increased its capacity to withstand shocks.
Seen from above, the ancient Qiang village is revealed as a collection of buildings all forming a complete architectural complex.
The various houses are linked to one another in an integrated whole. The buildings and alleys, by being connected, can better withstand earthquakes.
Compared with the interconnected ancient Qiang houses, later Qiang buildings are more independent, in order to accommodate tourists. However, being independent makes the buildings more vulnerable to earthquakes.
The ancient Qiang people acquired their architectural genius by studying Nature. Having migrated from far away, they have now been living in this place for many generations. To visit Taoping ancient Qiang Village is like traveling back through the long history of the Qiang people.
It was raining on July the 15th, 2008. The Qiang people, still getting over the shock and devastation of the Wenchuan earthquake, were gathering beside the village entrance, dressed in their finest.
What were they waiting for?
I hereby launch the project to save and protect the watchtowers and villages of the Qiang Nationality! With these words from Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the Qiang started to sing and dance, celebrating the preservation of their unique heritage.
Guided by such principles, the Qiang village is promised an even better appearance in the future.
Today Taoping ancient Qiang Village is much more than a remarkable collection of buildings. In a sense, the Qiang houses and watch towers have assumed a historical mission: to keep alive a unique architectural culture. Architecture in its highest form incorporates into buildings mankinds respect for life, and lays a solid foundation for the survival of human beings in their rapidly-changing environment.

(source: CCTV upload in youtube)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rifle Range Flat, Air Itam

Rifle Range Flats(打槍埔組屋)

Rifle Range Flats or Pa Cheng Por ( 打槍埔) in Hockkien is the largest low cost housing scheme in Penang. I have asked a few locals, and many have not been there, because it is a low cost residential area. They said the place is crowdy, dirty,noisy, or for security reason....and all the negative perception. For those who know the place, it is part of living culture of Penang. The morning wet market , the events, the hawker foods, night street market, the place is an important base for any political party who want to rule Penang. The hawker foods is good and cheap, only those who know the place,and who dare to explore, will enjoy it.......

Rifle Range Flats are located in Air Itam, the road leading to it formed a loop with Jalan Air Itam. The loop start from Jalan Padang Tembak, and joining Jalan Sempadan at the center of Rifle Range Flats, and it continues to Jalan Air Itam/Jalan Kampong Melayu traffic light junction.

From Jalan Air Itam at Jalan York/Jalan Datuk Kramt junction(near Datuk Kramat Market, the road go to the traffic light junction of Green Lane/Jalan Scotland near the state mosque. The road continue until the Lorong Batu Lancang/Jalan Padang Tembak junction near the market,where the road become one way street. Do not turn left, go straight toward Chung Ling High School, but turn right back to Jalan Air Itam, and then turn left to Jalan Padang Tembak(P221) to Rifle Flat. The P221 will by pass PBA Plant on the right and turn left , which you will see a big car park, Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Tembak. At the right of road , you will see rows of cars parking on the right ,just beside the United Hockkian Cemetery. Behind the school is the Block J of Rifle Range Flats, on the right side is Block F. Behind Block F, is Block G, and then behind it is Block H. There is no block I. Jalan Padang Tembak end at the Funeral parlour at the right of the end road, the road then turn left and continue to be know as Jalan Sempadan. Crossing the road from F,G,H block, there is bus terminal on the right, going inward is the Block A, B,(inside) and C,D and E outside with the side fronting Jalan Sempadan.

From the Rifle Range Flats, immediately on the left is FRU Police Camp. The road go straight to Jalan Air Itam/Kampong Melayu traffic light junction.

View Larger Map

Rifle Range Flats was Penang first low cost project, built in 1969. It was the first time, the precast concrete elements were used to construct mass houses. There are 9 blocks, from A to J(except I). Each flat is 17 to 18 storey(6 blocks of 17 storey and 3 block of 18 storey) , with 24 units at each level,consists of 4 units of 2 rooms units at the four corners, and the remaining 20 units of one room units. But in Block A,D, F, G ,H and J,the front units of the ground floor are shop units, only back units are residence units. There are total 3735 units of residential and shop units. There are two lifts servicing each block.

Reported there are 25,024 residents in Rifle Range Flats . It is with the highest population density per square feet. The area is also the largest concentration of low cost house units in Penang.

There are one wet market complex,which has a public library and a community hall. On the right of the wet market is the longest hawker complex in Penang,and Malaysia(still rank no 1?). Rifle Range foods in the hawker complex are good and cheap. It provide opportunity for residents to earn a living as a food hawker.

There are lack of basic amenities such as halls, playground, carparking etc for the community in Rifle Range Flats. Opposite the Rifle Range Flats is the United Hokkien Cemetery of Batu Gantong. This is the place the residents used to have morning exercise, the kids used to have badminton in the hall of cremation plant,jogging, learn cycling...it is the place for recreation. Rifle Range was part of the cemetery and during WW2 it was reported to be the place Japanese armies killed their captives. Block F is facing the cemetery, the night view is special, as it consist the view of the living city and the view of dead cemetery. They must have many stories to tell....

There is one textile factory (龍鳳製衣廠), just beside the wet market, it provides work for the local residents. In the area there is an open air car park, used to be 101 units of low cost double storey terrace house(打枪埔豆干屋),but it was demolished for a multi-level car park under previous BN government. Later the project was also related to the development of Penang Global City Centre Project at Batu Gantong race course, which was faced with opposition from NGOs and Penang people. The issue was one of the factors that caused the downfall of the previous government.

There are no Chinese school in Rifle Range, despite the residents are with the high concentration of Chinese. There is one national school or Malay school,Sekolah Kebangsaan Padang Tembak. But most of the Chinese residents sent their children to Chinese schools in SJK(C)Shang Wu at Jalan Sekolah La Salle near state mosque or SJK(C) Kong Min Pusat at Jalan Air Itam, near Penang Hill.

The Rifle Range Flats may look worn down and dirty, but since 1969 there were children from the pioneer residents who have been successful in life, become doctors, engineers,lawyers,teachers, bankers...... Some families have improved in their income level after the industrialization of Penang under Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. Many of them have moved elsewhere for better housing units after having better income level, some have migrated to oversea. The pioneer families left are normally old folks. Rifle Range Flats,even a low cost units, but had provided housing for many low income level people from the city, it is the place they call home....they provide them opportunity in life, for a hope to better future, and many of their children have fulfilled their dream.... they are no longer staying in Rifle Range Flats, but the place will be forever in their memory, it is their childhood, it is their home, it is their past.....it is part of their life.

The only failure in Rifle Range Flats is the politician, who were not able to improve the living conditions of the residents in Rifle Range Flats until now. The car parking problem may have been improved, but the rubbish disposal problem is still an eye sore. The management of low cost housing and high rise buildings is the challenge of each government. The Rifle Range Flats can be improved,if the state government learn a few tips from Singapore.

It is the house of hope for many poor, and it is still their hope......

The hero of the durian orchard

Talk about the durian industry in Balik Pulau, Balik Pulau is famous for durians. But who know the people who work behind the orchard , the unknown hero. The people who transport the durians all the way from the orchard in the hills to the sellers in town. The motorcycle team with the big rattan basket.
Without them, the durians cannot reach the sellers in time, and the durian fruits will cracked open , not fresh for the ultimate consumers. The aroma of the durian will be gone.....

They are the unknown hero of the orchard.....

Balik Pulau Foods

This is the Balik Pulau famous Kim Laksa stall

The Assam Laksa prepared by Kim Laksa

Nutmeg water - fresh from young nutmeg

The white nutmeg water, it is different as it is from fresh young nutmeg.

The Char Koay Teow, having good business as he use charcoal to start fire for frying the koay teow.

The laksa noodles and its ingredients

Look at the Rasa Rasa sticker there

It is Laksa Balik Pulau...

Preparing the food

The Laksa Assam, Balik Pulau

Balik Pulau is famous for its Assam Laksa, Passembur, Char Koay Teow(fried on charcoal fire), Prawn Mee(at Kg Kuala Jalan Bharu).....of course its fresh nutmeg drink and durian, other tropical fruits..... Ya, I forgot, vegetable pau is also famous, there is another brown sugar pau(pau is Chinese steam dumpling). Laksa Janggus at Kuala Perlis......

The famous laksa stall is at the Nan Guang Coffee Shop,located at the corner shop next to former Balik Pulau Market. The address is 67, Jalan Balik Pulau or Jalan Besar(main road). When we arrived at the shop, the laksa stall has all its laksa noodles sold out, and unable to serve us. This stall is very popular. The stall open from 11.00p.m. to 4.00p.m., on weekend to avoid disappointment, need to come early. The stall is closed on Wednesday. They are branded, their brand name is Kim Laksa.....

Laksa is a rice noodles served with savoury fish based gravy, cooked with herbs and spices. The herbs and spices included shallots,cucumbers, pineapples,lettuces, mint leaves, chilies,ginger flower bud(bunga kantan). The soup is fish base with local spices,which include galangal(or lengkuas), lemon grass(serai), minced onions, chillies, polygonum leaves, and shrimp paste granules(belacan). The laksa soup is then add with salt , sugar and black shrimp paste(hae ko). The Kim Laksa was originally operated by the grandma Khoo who stayed in 100, Jalan Besar. The Khoo family is actually the supplier of noodles and laksa gravy to town. Kim Laksa served two types of Laksa, assam laksa(tamarind flavour) and laksa lemak(sweet with coconut cream base).

We tried the other Laksa stall just opposite the Nan Guang, next to Jalan Tun Sardon. Photo was taken and posted in the blog. They are equally good.

(Note: I managed to taste Kim Laksa on 27-7-2009, photo posted.)

Home stay in Balik Pulau(果园渡假屋)

Where is the place in Balik Pulau,you can escape from stress of the city, or where your children can discover the childhood of their parents? These are the place, and Balik Pulau is on the way for a home stay program in their tourism map....

Bukit Genting Durian Orchard Home Stay

Lansium domesticum or Langsat trees, fruits not ripe yet

Home Stay at Durian Orchard at Ginting(文丁)

It is difficult to obtain information on the home stay program in Balik Pulau.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pulau Betong, Balik Pulau(浮罗勿洞)

The view from the village to the road(P237)

The lane lead you to the famous fish market

The fishing jetty

The bridge over the fishing jetty

Hai Ching Coffee Shop located at the end of P237, Jalan Bahru

The view of the P237 from Balik Pulau town ,taken from Hai Ching Coffee Shop

On the way to Pulau Bentong fishing village

The Chinese primary school, SJK(C) Pulau Bentong

The view of town at the junction of the SJK(C) Pulau Betong

Pulau Bentong fishing village town

The village town was named after the island of the same name.

Coming from Paya terubong/Relau, going through hilly Jalan Tun Sardon(P14), you join the Route 6, Jalan Balik Pulau at the Balik Pulau town, continue to Genting town. At the town there is a road junction, where Jalan Balik Pulau, Jalan Pondok Upik(P16), Jalan Sungai Nipah (P16), P239 meet. Follow by P239 which is the road that will lead straight to Pulau Betong. The Kolej Kemahiran Tinggi Mara can be seen at the road side. The Jalan Balik Pulau (Route 6)now split to Bukit Genting and continue to Teluk Kumbar, do not follow this road. On the way to Pulau Bentong, passing the junction where P239 join P237(Jalan Bharu), near Masjid Pulau Betong. Continue P237, journey to the small junction where SJKC Pulau Bentong is located, there is a small town. After that the road lead to the end of the P237 where Kedai Kopi Hai Ching or Hai Ching Coffee Shop is located(actually it is a restaurant ). There is a sign board, which said further inroad is the hill path leading to Kem Bina Negara. At the right or opposite Hai Ching, there is a sundry shop selling fruits, passing this shop it lead you straight to the small bridge ,where the fishing jetty is located. Turning left, there is Chinese village, following the lane in between the village houses, it lead you to the Fish Market. The road can lead to Pasir Panjang Beach(大沙坡).

Pulau Betong fishing village was affected by 2004 Tsunami on 26-12-2004.Fortunate for the place, the mangrove swamp forest preserved acted as a natural protection for further damage.