With news today that a London Duck Tours DUKW caught fire and sank in the River Thames, I thought I’d post a view from a DUKW that I took a couple of years back.

This is a view of what’s now called the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster. More commonly it’s referred to as Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament.

The DUKW that caught fire, judging from the imagery, wasn’t too far from where I took this photo, only we were heading downstream on the oubound leg of the tour and the one that caught fire was heading upstream and close to the end of the river section of the tour.

Of course, if this had happened to my tour, I’d have been terrified, with my parents, children and wife all on the tour. While they have life vests on board, I would not have wanted to have to jump into the Thames, and I’d have lost my camera, phone, etc. My holiday would have been a write off. So I feel for the tourists that were caught up in this event today. Thankfully everyone was rescued but I can imagine the nightmares some of those folks will have for some time to come.

London Duck Tours have suspended river operations until the cause of the fire is known and any modifications required are made. Their fleet of nine DUKWs were rebuilt between 2002 and 2012 with new hulls, engines, computerized systems and steering equipment.

A color version first with a black & white below.

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I don’t for a minute think that my photo, ‘Mummy’s Little Helper’ shows child labor in a pottery factory. I think it just shows a work environment where a mother was allowed to bring her child to work in order the keep an eye on her.

When I took this photo, at a pottery factory in Xian, in 1991, there was nothing I saw that showed the little girl had specific tasks of her own to do.

The mother is preparing handles to stick onto the clay jars on the table in front of her. The little girl is using a pair of scissors to cut strips of clay.

I was playing around with some of my Topaz plugins and have four different renderings of this photo today. The first is the original slide scan. Next comes a ‘simplified’ version. It’s actually been run through the Topaz B&W Effects product, even though it’s not a black and white. After that comes a diffused black and white and finally a regular black and white.

I posted them all because I like all of them.

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One thing I liked about the Kuoni tour I took to China was that we have time to explore. It wasn’t just hop off the bus, hop back on. Yes, I would have preferred to have been here closer to dawn or sunset but that wasn’t in my power.

It was in my power, however, to wander away from the crowds and seek an alternate view and that was how I got this shot of the ‘Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests‘ within the Temple of Heaven complex.

If you compare it with yesterday’s photo you can see I’ve just moved off to the right and found a tourist free zone.

This Temple of Heaven cleaner is watching my fellow tourists keenly – as if daring one of them to drop some litter! Her tools are functional but hardly ergonomic.

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So where do you go in Beijing on the first sunny day of your visit? You could do worse than the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven complex was built around 1420 by the same emperor responsible for the Forbidden City. Makes me wonder if these great public works were a way of providing employment to the masses – the ‘shovel ready’ projects of their day.

This is actually the ‘Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ within the temple complex that comprises several other buildings, courtyards and parkland. The dark blue tile of the roof represent heaven.

Of course, nothing is what it seems. The original burned down in a fire in 1889 and what we see today was rebuilt several years later. The structure is apparently completely wooden with no nails or other metal fasteners holding it together – quite a feat.

South of this hall is a smaller, single gabled, circular hall called the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall that can transmit sounds over long distances and is known as the ‘Echo Wall‘. This would be where I took the photo of the young lady yesterday and confirms what I thought – the shape of the wall acts as a wave guide and the young lady is probably listening to a friend some distance away from her.

I think it’s also interesting to note that back in 1991, no one was apparently bothered by not having a smart phone. I’d wager a similar scene today would capture a number of people head down in their screens, oblivious to their surroundings.

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‘If walls could talk’ was a phrase I used to hear quite often, referring to the silent witnesses to all that goes on within a space.

Well maybe this young lady is a wall whisperer – a lady who can hear what the walls have to say.

I spied her at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing in 1991. She stood at the wall for some time, listening intently. Sometimes she’d press her ear close against the wall.

I wondered if the area she was in had those acoustic characteristics like that place outside the oyster bar in Grand Central Station in New York where you can whisper into one wall and people diagonally across the space can hear you quite clearly. The shape of the ceiling acts as a wave guide and carries your voice along the ceiling to them. If you turn and talk to them directly they cannot hear you (unless you’re shouting, of course).

I was also struck by her hair. I imagine unbraided it would sweep the floor as she walked!

Update September 25, 2013
From research for my next Daily Photo, I’m sure now this photo was taken at the ‘Echo Wall’ surrounding the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’. The ‘Echo Wall’ is a smooth, circular, wall that transmits sound over long distances. It does act as a wave guide and does indeed exhibit the same phenomenon as the ceiling outside the oyster bar in Grand Central Station.

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