The Fortification of the City of Xi’an

The fortification of the city of Xi’an, the ancient capital of Shaanxi province, in the center of the Guanzhong Plain, represents one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. The wall was built in the 14th century by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, under the advice of a hermit who told him to “built high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,” so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It's the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.

The original Xi’an city wall was started in 194 BCE and took 4 years to finish. Upon completion, the wall measured 25.7 km in length and 12–16 m in thickness at the base, and enclosed an area of 36 square km. The first city wall was built of earth, quick lime, and glutinous rice extract, tamped together. Later, the wall was totally enclosed with bricks.

Xi’an's city wall, after its enlargement in the Ming Dynasty, stands 12 meters high. It is 12-14 meters across the top, 15-18 meters thick at bottom, and 13.7 kilometers in length and encircles an area of roughly 14 square kilometers within the city. There is a rampart every 120 meters that extend out from the main wall and allow soldiers to see enemies trying to climb the wall. The distance between every two ramparts is just within the range of arrow shot from either side.

There are four main gates on the wall, which were the only way to go into and out of town in ancient times. Each gate is overlooked by sentries on three towers. A wide moat ran around the city. Over the moat, there used to be huge drawbridges, which would cut off the way in and out of the city, once lifted.

Today, the Ming dynasty wall is mostly intact and open to visitors. It is possible to walk the entire perimeter of the wall, however, cycling is the best way to explore the historic city wall. The wall has a road on the top perfect for walking or biking. In fact, cycling atop the city wall is one of the popular activities on Xi’an. Cycling is also a great way to see the old city.


Rai - The Giant Stone Coins of Yap

The island of Yap in the Pacific Ocean, is one of the four states that make up the independent sovereign island nation of Micronesia. Covering an area of about 100 square kilometers, these islands are home to about 12,000 people. The island of Yap has no precious material like gold or silver. Instead, they use giant disks of limestone called Rai as currency for trade.

Rai stones are large circular disks with a hole in the center, like a doughnut, and stand as high as 12 feet tall and weighs as much as five tons each. Some of these stones are so large, they aren’t physically moved at all. They are simply owned, like immovable assets, and their transaction or ownership is recorded in the oral history. The physical location of the Rai is not important, the ownership is. In one instance, a large Rai was being transported by canoe when it accidentally dropped and sank to the sea floor. Although it was never seen again, everyone agreed that the Rai must still be there, so it continued to be transacted as genuine currency. When moving a Rai is necessary, a strong pole is passed through the hole and carried by men to the required destination. Smaller Rai stones measure 7-8 centimeters in diameter and are far easier to transact.

The limestone was originally carved from quarries in the island of Palau, located about 400 kilometers away. Limestone was nonexistent in Yap and therefore very valuable to the Yapese. The perceived value of a specific stone is based on its size and craftsmanship - the larger the stone, the higher its value. The amount of time and effort it took to transport the stone affected its value. At times, the men transporting the Rai stones would die during the journey. This loss of life increased the value of the stone depending on how many men were lost and for which particular Rai stone.

The trade for Rai stones eventually fell in disuse in the beginning of the 20th century due to trade disputes between Spanish and German interests in the area. When Imperial Japanese forces took over Yap during World War II, many stones were used for construction or as anchors.

Although modern currency has replaced the stones as everyday currency, the Rai stones are still exchanged in traditional ways between the Yapese, especially in rare important social transactions such as marriage, inheritance, political deals, or sign of an alliance.


Waterfalls on Uluru

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia, and one of the most recognizable natural landmarks of the country. The 348 meters-high sandstone formation looks the most wonderful during sunrise and sunset when the fiery red sun is reflected off its surface – a sight that many tourists yearn to view, but the real spectacle occurs in summer when the region experiences heavy rains.

The region where Uluru lies – the southern part of the Northern Territory in central Australia – is a desert, where the average annual rainfall is about 300 mm, but even that is extremely variable. Although rain may fall at any time of the year in the vicinity of Uluru, occasional heavy rains occur between November and March. At such times, the famous monolith is covered with innumerable streams of water that changes the very color of Ayers Rock to a rare shade of violet.

It is estimated that only 1% of visitors to Uluru get the chance to witness waterfalls flowing from the rock.


Peacocks in Flight

You may have been lucky enough to have encountered a peacock or two in your time. If you are like me then these beautiful, iridescent birds stop will stop you in your tracks. Yet few people have seen one take to the air – and many assume that the three species are flightless. Although the sheer mass of feathers precludes any avian marathon, they can and do take flight, normally to get to their chosen spot for the evening. It may be a roof or a tree, but somewhere safe from most predators.

Peacocks with larger tails are more likely to reproduce, but have a more difficult time flying. Nevertheless when they do they look, for the short time they are in their, like a wonderful creature. Perhaps one rising upwards in the golden glow of early evening inspired the phoenix myth. Who can say? Certainly – one word that that can be said is wow (insert exclamation of your choice here).


10 Two Headed Animals

Below you will find photos and stories of two headed animals. Some of these are strange and some are really bizarre and strange. Some of this hub page on two headed animals may be disturbing to some people.

1. Two-headed Kitten

This grey and white two-headed feline was born at the Swan Veterinary Clinic in Perth, Western Australia, when its mother was brought in after suffering complications during birth. Veterinarian George Huber and nurse Louisa Burgess assisted the labor. The tiny kitten – smaller than a hand – was one of three born in the litter, although its siblings were not born with any deformities.

The kitten eats out of just one mouth because of a cleft palate, but both its mouths meow simultaneously. Only about one in a million cats are born with two heads, however the deformity is more common among other animals like snakes and turtles.

2. Two-headed Gecko

This gecko with a head on each end was found in an antique shop of Huaihua City, Central China's Hunan Province on June 3, 2008. The gecko is about 10 cm long. It crawls slowly and can move towards the opposite direction without turning its head.

3. Two-headed Pig

The birth of this two-headed pig in China was hailed as a miraculous conception by farmers since pigs are widely seen as a symbol of fertility in China. Besides, this strange animal was born in 2007, the Chinese Year Of The Pig, so this unique pork was considered to be a blessing. The two-faced pork weighted in at 1.5 kilograms, came with 2 mouths and 4 eyes, and was born in the small village of Quanzhou in East China's Fujian province.

4. Two-headed Python

This strange two-headed python was discovered by a team of veterinarians at the zoo in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Both heads operate independently and have the ability to eat. The snake is 25 inches and it uses its right head to control its movements, while the left follows it naturally. In general, a python, living in its natural ecosystem, can measure up to seven meters long and can swallow animals much larger than its own dimensions, killing by suffocation, twining with its own body.

The two-headed python is logically the attraction of the Colombo Zoo in the Tissa region. It is still unclear what the fate of the snake will be. Veterinarians are making tests on it to determine if the anomaly is not threatening its life.

5. Two-headed Turtle

This two-headed turtle was found in Florida residing at Sean Casey's Animal Rescue in Kensington, a pet store. Casey, the pet store owner, got the two-headed turtle from a man in Florida who rescued a bunch of eggs after an adult female was killed by a car. When the turtle started to deteriorate the man turned to Sean Casey's Animal Rescue (www.scarnyc .org), a nonprofit organization in Kensington specializing in exotic creatures. Casey nursed it back to health at home, and then brought the tank to his pet store. Usually, such severely deformed turtles die soon after birth, but Casey says this one could live for many years - maybe not to the average age of 75 to 100- although it takes special precautions to keep the oddity safe like feeding each head by hand, because otherwise they fight over the little pellets. Unfortunately the popular pet was ultimately stolen from the pet store.

6. Two-headed Crocodile

This unusual pair of two-headed Siamese twin crocodiles was found in 2001 by the staff of a crocodile farm in Thailand.

7. Two-headed Cow

This calf with two faces was born in Virginia, US. It has three sets of teeth, two lower jaws and two tongues, but only one mouth; two noses with separate airways, and a single eye socket, which has two eyes in it. The unusual baby animal belongs to Farmer Kirk Heldreth, of Rural Retreat in Virginia, and was named ‘Star'. The two-faced cow was a result of selective artificial insemination, designed to produce the best possible cow. Apart from having two faces, Star appears to be doing well, and the Heldreth family says she has a 'sweet' personality. The condition, known as diprosopus, is an extreme form of conjoined twinning, and occurs when an embryo partially splits – normally forming two partial faces on one body. It could be caused by a genetic abnormality, or a fault during the embryo's development.

8. Two-headed Lamb

This two-headed lamb born in Iceland shocked animal experts around the world. The freaky farm animal caused huge surprise in the Olfus region of Southern Iceland when it popped out with two faces. Local vet Pall Stefansson said that two headed lambs are very rare, although he had heard of two similar cases over the years. The lamb survived the night but sadly had to be put down after vets realized it could not raise its head.

9. Two-headed Grasshopper

This insect belongs to the Orthoptera order, including grasshoppers, crickets and katydids. The animal has two heads, and the red one is more attractive probably to distract a possible predator from the real one. The picture was taken at an old coffee plantation's farm, in Amaga, state of Antioquia, Colombia. The altitude is 1.400 m above sea level.

10. Two-headed Fish

This mutated fish was caught downstream from Alberta's oilsands region. The 2.5-kilogram goldeye caught in Lake Athabasca has two mouths, one beneath the other. Two boys pointed the deformed fish out to Stuart Macmillan, Park Canada's manager of resource conservation at Wood Buffalo National Park, who studied it before handing it over to the Mikesew First Nation.