Saturday, May 05, 2012

We interrupt this travelogue ...

... to bring you a post about bees.
Some friends ordered a package of bees for their hive this year. The swarm that took up residence last year did not survive the winter and they didn't want to gamble on getting another swarm from me. Good thing, since I haven't gotten any swarm calls this year, surprisingly.
The bees were supposed to be ready a couple of weeks ago, but delivery was pushed back to today – when my friends were out of town. So it was up to me to collect them. I should've asked how many packages the beekeeper started with; probably three times as many as you see above, as pickups were divided into three time slots and I was in the last slot.
He was also selling individual queens, which he sent home with their new owners in red plastic cups with perforated tinfoil on top.
Before the bees went out, they were given a spritz of sugar water by the beekeeper's kids. (I was impressed when the little girl came over and said, "Daddy, I have a bee in my hair." She knew not to try to get it out herself and risk getting stung!)
The day was hot, so I didn't dilly-dally. The bees rode in the back of the Subaru. A few loose ones hovered around back there, but I had the air conditioning blasting so they wouldn't be tempted to come forward.
My friends' hive was all set up. I rearranged it a little to make the space they would be in smaller. It's supposed to cool off for a couple of days and it's better if they don't feel too exposed in a big hive.
There was one sheet of foundation to give them a head start. (I hung the queen next to it.)
And feeders at both ends, with sugar syrup. Since these bees are not a natural swarm, they did not stock up on honey and will be hungry.
If you have patience, you can watch the video. I didn't get any pictures of the process since I was by myself. I didn't edit it down, sorry. If I start messing around with iMovie it'll take hours.

So. Took the feeder can out, took the queen in her cage and hung her in the hive, then shook the rest of the bees in and replaced the top bars. In a couple of days I'll go back and release the queen, by which time the workers should have accepted her as their own.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Hoan Kiem's temple and turtle

In Hanoi's Old Quarter there's a lovely peaceful lake called Hoan Kiem.
At the north end of the lake there's a little island with a temple, reached by a picturesque red bridge.
The Temple of the Jade Mountain is a Buddhist temple that draws both sightseers and worshipers. It has a dusty little gift shop where you can buy incense to burn as an offering. The temple is dedicated to a 13th century military leader who fought against the Chinese, and to a Confucian scholar who helped restore the temple in the 1800s.
Is this the scholar or the warrior? I don't know. He had plenty of offerings, though, from Chinese money to piles of cookies, rice and fruit, including Buddha's hand citron (which makes a mighty tasty infused vodka, as my friend Jen can attest!).
The island also has a pretty pavilion where chess players gather.
The temple also pays homage to a denizen of the lake – a giant turtle god that gave a magical sword to the Emperor Le Loi to vanquish his enemies. That task accomplished, the turtle took back the sword and gave the lake its name: "Hoan Kiem" means "Lake of the Returned Sword."
In fact, there does live in the lake a species of giant, soft-shelled turtle that is now near extinction. In a room off the temple there is the preserved body of one that was captured and accidentally killed in 1967. It was 6 feet long and weighed 440 pounds!
It is said to be very lucky to see a giant turtle in the lake, and many believe there is only one left. Last year, there was great concern about the health of a turtle that was spotted with some kind of lesions on its head and body. It was captured and treated with antibiotics, then returned to the lake.
As it happened, we were strolling around the lake a couple of days later when we spotted a crowd peering into the water and pointing. People were hopping off their scooters and running over to the edge with great excitement. "It must be the turtle!" I said to the Sergeant, and we ran over, too. We couldn't get very close, but sure enough, there was the turtle, peeking out of the water.
We felt very lucky indeed!
Later we told the receptionist at our hotel that we had seen the turtle, and she said the newspapers and radio have special reports when there are turtle sightings, and you can even get a text message alert when it's been spotted.

Hanoians take their turtle-watching very seriously.

But even if you don't see the turtle when you visit Hanoi, Hoan Kiem is the perfect place to to enjoy some natural beauty in the heart of the bustling city.