Kowloon Walled City - Most Densely Populated Place on Earth

Kowloon Walled City was a largely ungoverned Chinese settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong, comprising of 350 interconnected high-rise buildings where 33,000 residents lived within a plot measuring just 210 meter by 120 meter. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II and reached a peak of 33,000 residents in 1987. When it was demolished in 1993-94, it was thought to be the most densely populated place on earth.

The roughly 350 buildings that stood inside the Walled City were built with poor foundations and few or no utilities. The construction was so dense that sunlight didn't filter down to the lower levels, which were lit by fluorescent lights. Because apartments were so small, space was maximized with wider upper floors, caged balconies, and rooftop additions. Roofs in the City were full of television antennas, clotheslines, water tanks, and garbage, and could be crossed using a series of ladders.

The Walled City made an appearance in Robert Ludlum’s book The Bourne Supremacy in which he describes the city:

The Walled City of Kowloon has no visible wall around it, but it is as clearly defined as if there were one made of hard, high steel. It is instantly sensed by the congested open market that runs along the street in front of the row of dark run-down flats—shacks haphazardly perched on top of one another giving the impression that at any moment the entire blighted complex will collapse under its own weight, leaving nothing but rubble where elevated rubble had stood.

The history of the Walled City can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when an outpost was set up for the military to defend the area against pirates and to manage the production of Salt before eventually coming under British rule. During the Japanese occupation on Hong Kong in the Second World War parts of it were demolished to provide building materials for the nearby airport. Once Japan surrendered from the city, the population dramatically increased with numerous squatters moving in.

After a failed attempt to drive them out in 1948, the British adopted a 'hands-off' policy in most matters concerning the Walled City. With no government enforcement from the Chinese or the British save for a few raids by the Hong Kong Police, the Walled City became a haven for crime and drugs.

By the early 1980s it was notorious for brothels, casinos, cocaine parlours and opium dens. It was also famous for food courts which would serve up dog meat and had a number of unscrupulous dentists who could escape prosecution if anything went wrong with their patients. The city eventually became the focus of a diplomatic crisis with both Britain and China refusing to take responsibility.

Despite it being a hotbed of crime many of its inhabitants went about their lives in relative peace with children playing on the rooftops and those living in the upper levels seeking refuge high above the city. The rooftops were also an important gathering place, especially for residents who lived on upper floors. Parents used them to relax, and children would play or do homework there after school.

Leung Ping Kwan wrote in his book The City of Darkness,

Here, prostitutes installed themselves on one side of the street, while a priest preached and handed out powdered milk to the poor on the other; social workers gave guidance, while drug addicts squatted under the stairs getting high; what were children's games centres by day became strip show venues by night. It was a very complex place, difficult to generalise about, a place that seemed frightening but where most people continued to lead normal lives. A place just like the rest of Hong Kong.

Over time, both the British and the Chinese governments found the City to be increasingly intolerable, despite the low reported crime rate. The quality of life and sanitary conditions were far behind the rest of Hong Kong and eventually plans were made to demolish the buildings. The government spent $2.7billion Hong Kong dollars in compensation and evacuations started in 1991. Those who refused were forcibly evicted. After four months of planning, demolition of the Walled City began on 1993 and concluded in 1994.

The area where the Walled City once stood is now Kowloon Walled City Park, a magnificent park modelled on Jiangnan gardens of the early Qing Dynasty comprising an area of 31,000 square meters. The park's paths and pavilions are named after streets and buildings in the Walled City. There are a few artifacts, such as five inscribed stones and three old wells, including a bronze model of the Walled City on display in the park.

Mir Lui was assigned to work in the city as a postman in 1976 and had no choice but to go. He was one of the few people who knew the ins and outs and wore a hat to protect him from the constant dripping

Food processors admitted they had moved into the city to benefit from the low rents and to seek refuge from the jurisdiction of government health and sanitation inspectors

A workplace during the day would turn into a living room at night when Hui Tung Choy's wife and two young daughters joined him at his noodle business. The children's play and homework space was a flour-encrusted work bench

Grocery-store owner Chan Pak, 60, in his tiny shop on Lung Chun Back Road. He had a particular passion for cats and owned seven when this picture was taken

Law Yu Yi, aged 90, lived in a small and humid third-floor flat with her son's 68-year-old wife off Lung Chun First Alley. The arrangement is typical of traditional Chinese values in which the daughter-in-law looks after her inlaws

A Kowloon Walled City resident who is dissatisfied with compensation payouts from the government sits on a pavement in protest as police start the clearance operation

Daylight barely penetrates the rubbish-strewn grille over the city's Tin Hau Temple which was built in 1951 on an alley off Lo Yan Street

Bronze model of the Kowloon Walled City inside the Park.


The Larvae of the Pink Underwing Moth

If prizes for Halloween costumes were handed out in the world of nature, this scary skull-faced creepy-crawly would surely win.

The extraordinary specimen is the larvae of the pink underwing moth, an endangered species fighting for its life in the Australian rainforest.

Luckily, botanist ecologist and photograper Lui Weber managed to snap the rare caterpillar, which is characterised by a chilling set of teeth-like markings set between spots that look like eyes with large pupils.

Caterpillar of the pink underwing moth with skull-like features, found below the altitude of 600m in undisturbed, subtropical rainforests in Australia

The extraordinary specimen is the larvae of the pink underwing moth, an endangered species only found in the Australian rainforest.

Found below the altitude of 600m in undisturbed, subtropical rainforest, the species survives on the vine Carronia multisepalea, a collapsed shrub that provides the food and habitat the moth requires in order to breed.

Lui said: 'Sadly this moth is very rare I only know of a single adult seen last year so I do not have photographs of the adult yet.

'This southern subspecies is listed as nationally endangered in Australia.'

All but one of the habitat locations of the moth are in south-eastern Queensland, distributed from Nambour to the Queensland-NSW border, but Lui says more discoveries are being made.

'I was only known to breed in a single location in upland rainforest however this year I have discovered another three locations and a colleague has located one additional site making five locations in total.'

The New South Wales government has placed the caterpillar on its endangered list.

'Potential breeding habitat is restricted to areas where the caterpillar's food plant, a native rainforest vine, Carronia multisepalea, occurs in subtropical rainforest,' it said.

'Adult Pink Underwing Moths require the darkness supplied by the vine and other rainforest vegetation in order to breed.'

The government is now investigating a breeding programme to increase numbers.

Found below the altitude of 600m in undisturbed, subtropical rainforest, the species survives on the vine Carronia multisepalea

The rare caterpillar is characterised by a chilling set of teeth-like markings set between spots that look like eyes with large pupils.

The unique caterpillar is fighting for its life and have been found in just five locations

Found below the altitude of 600m in undisturbed, subtropical rainforest, the species survives on the vine Carronia multisepalea, a collapsed shrub that provides the food and habitat the moth requires.


Mysteries Of Armenia's Stonehenge

Armenia, located in the Caucasian Mountains on the Black Sea between Russia and Turkey, contains some of the most significant cultural examples of sacred geometry, as well as other remarkable prehistoric structures, such as the "stonehenge" at Karahundj near Sissian. This stone circle, now shown to be a prehistoric observatory, long predates Stonehenge in England. Ancient inscriptions found here may mark the birthplace of the Zodiac – and of Western Civilisation itself.

They sit like soldiers on a hill, huddled in formation. The 204 stones near Sissian have been ascribed with mystical, fertility and cosmic powers, but rarely have ancient monuments caused such a sensation in astronomical circles.

These simple stones stretched out along the crest of a hill overlooking the Sissian River challenge the very dating of early astronomy and the answer to the question, "Who were the first astronomers?" If proven true, a current controversial dating of the stones at Karahundj predate England's Stonehenge, they predate the Babylonian's claim to being the first astronomers, and they confirm what some people already suspect: that Armenia is the birthplace of the zodiac, and perhaps the beginning of navigation and the concept of time.

Pretty amazing claim for a group of rough-cut stones that have been almost ignored for centuries. Not so to Elma Parsamian and Paris Herouni, both who have taken a keen interest in the complex about 5 kilometers from Sissian. Parsamian, an astral-physicist at the Byurakan Observatory and Internationally renowned lecturer on Astronomical History, and Herouni, the director of the first optical-radio telescope, have both crusaded to bring the stones at Karahundj to the attention of the astronomical world, and they are about to succeed. Astronomers from Europe and the US are showing increasing interest in the complex, and several expeditions have already taken place, confirming much of what these two conjecture.

It should be no surprise to anyone who knows something of Armenia's history that astronomy is such an important part of the national character. Sun symbols, signs of the zodiac, and ancient calendars predominated in the region while the rest of the world was just coming alive, culturally speaking. Egypt and China were still untamed wilderness areas when the first cosmic symbols began appearing on the side of the Geghama Mountain Range around 7000 BC. At Metsamor (ca 5000 BC), one of the oldest observatories in the world can be found. It sits on the southern edge of the excavated city, a promontory of red volcanic rocks that juts out like the mast of a great ship into the heavens. Between 2800 and 2500 BCE at least three observatory platforms were carved from the rocks. The Metsamor observatory is an open book of ancient astronomy and sacred geometry. For the average visitor the carvings are indecipherable messages. With Elma Parsamian, the first to unlock the secrets of the Metsamor observatory as a guide, the world of the first astronomers comes alive.

"The Metsamorians were a trade culture," Parsamian explains. "For trade, you have to have astronomy, to know how to navigate." The numerous inscriptions found at Metsamor puzzled excavators, as indecipherable as they were elaborate. Hundreds of small circular bowls were carved on the rock surfaces, connected by thin troughs or indented lines. But one stood out. It is an odd shaped design that was a mystery to the excavators of the site, until Professor Parsamian discovered it was a key component to the large observatory complex. By taking a modern compass and placing it on the carving, Parsamian found that it pointed due North, South and East. It was one of the first compasses used in Ancient times.

Another carving on the platforms shows four stars inside a trapezium. The imaginary end point of a line dissecting the trapezium matches the location of star which gave rise to Egyptian, Babylonian and ancient Armenian religious worship.

Sketch the locations of the Jupiter moons over several nights and you're repeating an experiment Galileo did in 1610. Chart a star over several years and you repeat an experiment the Metsamorians did almost 5000 years ago. By using the trapezium carving and a 5000 year stellar calendar, Parsamian discovered that the primary star which matched the coordinates of its end point was the star Sirius, the brightest star in our galaxy.

Worship of Sirius
"Sirius is most probably the star worshipped by the ancient inhabitants of Metsamor," Parsamian explains. "Between 2800-2600 BCE Sirius could have been observed from Metsamor in the rising rays of the sun. It is possible that, like the ancient Egyptians, the inhabitants of Metsamor related the first appearance of Sirius with the opening of the year."

Those wanting to plot the same event from Metsamor will have to wait a while. Sirius now appears in the winter sky, while the inhabitants of Metsamor observed it in the summer. (Because of the earth's rotation within the rotation of the Milky Way galaxy, stars change their positions over time. In another 4000 years or so Sirius will again appear as it is plotted on the Metsamor stellar map).

The Metsamorians also left behind a calendar divided into twelve months, and made allowances for the leap year. Like the Egyptian calendar which had 365 days, every four years the Metsamorians had to shift Sirius' rising from one day of the month to the next.

"There is so much I found in 1966," Parsamian adds, "and so much we do not know. We believe they worshipped the star Sirius, but how? I like to imagine there was a procession of people holding lights. These carved holes throughout the complex may have been filled with oil and lit. Just imagine what it must have looked like with all those little fires going all over the steps of the observatory. Like a little constellation down on earth."

Parsamian has a special regard for Metsamor, since it was she who uncovered many of the mysteries of the inscriptions on the observatory, answers which explained other finds uncovered at the excavation site. "When you walk over this ancient place, you can use your imagination to complete the picture. I love to visit Metsamor since I feel I am returning to the ancients."