August 31 – Malaysia's Independence Day

Posted August 31, 2013

Happy Hari Merdeka! On this date in 1957, the Republic of Malaya became independent of Great Britain. 

By the way, in 1963 Malaysia was formed by combining the Federation of Malaya with Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore (although a few years later, Singapore was kicked out of the federation)and that event will be celebrated in a couple of weeks!

Malaysia is highlighted here in green.
Malaysia is an interesting nation. Part of it is located on a Southeast Asian peninsula (a bit of land that juts out into the ocean, so that it is surrounded by water on three sides). The other part is located on the island of Borneo—but just the northern part of the island! The rest of the island of Borneo is the country of Brunei and part of the country Indonesia.

(The island of Borneo is fairly large. It is the largest island in Asia, about the size of Texas. Still, to be divvied up into three countries, two of which have other land as well, is a bit surprising to me! And check out Brunei—it is made up of two tiny, unconnected bits of northern Borneo!)

Another reason Malaysia is interesting is that it has a parliament, which is a group of lawmakers elected by citizens, modeled to some extent on Britain's parliament. The nation also has a king and a Prime Minister—again, just like Britain—but Malaysia's king is elected to a 5-year term rather than just being born the king (or queen), and ruling for life, as almost all nations with a monarchy arrange things! As a matter of fact, only one other modern nation—Cambodia—has an elected monarch—and that king is chosen for a life term.

(The citizens as a whole do not elect the king. Instead, the nine hereditary rulers from the Malay states have a secret vote to see who will be the next king. There seems to be an informal decision to pass the title around to each of the nine in turn, originally based on seniority.)

Malaysia is multi-cultural, modern, and economically strong. It is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of number of plant and animal species. Check out this compilation of various tourism videos for great scenery and wildlife sequences as well as glimpses of posh cities and colorful culture! 

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the first tennis championship in the U.S.

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

August 30 – International Whale Shark Day

Posted August 30, 2013

What's the world's largest living fish?
What fish grows to be from 40 to 50 feet long?
What fish has a mouth about 4 to 5 feet wide but feeds on some of the teeniest creatures around?

I'm sure you've guessed that the answer to all these questions is the whale shark, a gentle, plankton-eating shark.

Whale sharks are a kind of shark. They are NOT a kind of whale, but their size is similar to the size of some whales, and their feeding habits are similar to those of baleen whales, who also eat tiny plankton. Although whale sharks have a lot of teeth (around 3,000, in fact!), their teeth are tiny and of little use. Instead of using teeth to bite food, whale sharks use gill rakers to filter food from huge mouthfuls of ocean water; this is similar to whales using baleen to filter their food.

Whale sharks swim in all tropical and warm-temperate oceans, so there are many names for them in various languages. In Latin America, they are commonly called “domino,” because of the spots on their backs, but in Madagascar and Java their names translate to “many stars” and “stars on the back.” Kenyans call the whale shark “papa shillingi,” which refers to a story of a god tossing coins called shillings onto the creatures' backs, giving them their spots.

Because whale sharks migrate every year to the shores of the Mexican state Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan peninsula, a reserve has been established there to protect these huge creatures. Several Asian countries, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and India, have banned killing whale sharks, although enforcement of these laws is difficult. 

Divers love to spot these peaceful creatures—so maybe tourism can help motivate people to protect whale sharks.

By the way...

This chart compares the size of:
a human in blue,
a great white shark in green,
a whale shark in purple,
and estimates of the size of
megalodon in red and gray.
I have said that the whale shark is the world's largest living fish. But megalodon, a prehistoric shark, was even larger—up to 59 feet (18 m) long! And megalodon wasn't a filter feeder with teeny teeth! It was a lot like a much larger version of a great white shark, with huge jaws and enormous teeth! Yi-ikes!

Take a peek at just one megalodon tooth, below. How'd you like to meet up with jaws full of these teeth?

A blue whale is not a fish (it's a mammal), but a size comparison shows that this largest of all living creatures is between 80 to 100 feet (around 30 m), with the very largest measuring 110 feet (33.5 m). Did you know that today's blue whale is the largest animal EVER to have lived, that we know of? None of the dinosaurs or dinosaur-era ocean creatures (at least, that we have fossils of) were larger.

Also on this date:

National Toasted Marshmallow Day 

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

August 29 – Slovakia's National Uprising Day

Posted August 29, 2013

On this date in 1944, an organized group of Slovaks tried to overthrow the government, which was collaborating with Nazi Germany. As you might guess, the Nazis beat back this brave attack. However, resistance forces kept up guerilla tactics against the Nazis until January of 1945, when Soviet forces finally took Slovakia back from the Nazis.

Slovakia has been part of many empires and kingdoms and nations. For example, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WWII, and part of the Communist nation of Czechoslovakia after WWII. It became independent in 1993 when Czechoslovakia peacefully broke apart into the Czech Republic and (you guessed it) Slovakia.

Slovakia is a beautiful, mountainous country. Many of the National Parks, waterfalls, lakes and scenic valleys can be found in the Tatras Mountains. 

I've been checking out caves in the U.S. recently, and I was excited to see that there are hundreds of caves and caverns in Slovakia (with 15 of them open to the public!).

I have been to caves with stalactites and
stalagmites, like the brownish-hued cave
above. I've been to lava-tube caves,
salt-mine caves, and beautiful artificial
grotto caves... But I've never been to an ice
cave, like this blue-hued cave above. I think
I would like to, someday!

(By the way, if you've noticed that some caves are “caverns,” and some are just “caves,” it turns out that the two words do mean the same thing, but the word “cavern” implies that the cave is a really large size, or that there is an entire series of underground galleries linked together. In other words, the word “cavern” tends to be used for the caves that are considered to be grand.)

Did you know...?
  • Slovakia is about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont, put together.
  • Slovakia is landlocked. That means it doesn't have access to an ocean or a sea without traveling through some other nation.
  • The most popular sport in the nation is ice hockey. Slovakians were thrilled in 2002 when their team won the Gold Medal in the World Championships.
  • The capital city (also the largest city) is Bratislava, which is practically on the border between Slovakia and Austria and between Slovakia and Hungary.

Don't get Slovakia mixed up with the independent nation Slovenia, which used to be part of Yugoslavia and which touches the Adriatic Sea. Also, don't mix Slovakia up with the Croatian region Slavonia. All of these names come from their Ancient Slavic ancestors.

Also on this date:

Nut Spas in Russia

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

August 28 – Janmashtami

Posted August 28, 2013

Today is celebrated as the birthday of the Hindu god Krishna.

It's a really big deal! According to some sources, this holiday is like Christmas and New Year's rolled into one, for more than 900 million people worldwide. Of course, with so many celebrations in so many places, there are a lot of variations of customs. 

For some, festivities begin before dawn and extend all day until midnight. There is prayer and scripture reading, singing and dancing, fasting and feasting, ceremonial washing statues of gods, and decorating temples and statues of Krishna. People often re-enact scenes from Krishna's life or perform other dramas. In some places, teams of young men form human towers so they can reach and break a pot of butter that has been hung up high. People often exchange gifts; in some places people compete for cash awards.

The story of Krishna's birth has a few similarities with the story of Jesus's birth:

An evil ruler had heard a prophecy that one of the sons of his sister and her husband would destroy him, so he imprisoned the couple. Each time the couple had a baby (always a boy), the evil ruler had his newborn nephew killed. Before their eighth son was born, the couple was already mourning his death, but the Supreme Lord Vishnu appeared and assured them that he himself was coming in the form of this baby. Vishu instructed the father to take the baby, the moment he was born, to the home of a cowherd and swap his baby boy for the cowherd's newborn daughter. Of course, the father pointed out that he was a prisoner and couldn't go anywhere at all—but Vishnu assured him that all the barriers would give way on this important night.

Krishna was born exactly at midnight, and his earthly father did as Vishnu said. Magically, his leg irons broke apart, the door lock opened, the iron bars gave way, and Krishna's father was able to get to the cowherd's house and make the swap. When Krishna's father returned to his wife, all the doors and bars and locks and leg chains snapped back into place.

When the evil ruler arrived the next morning, ready to kill the new baby, he discovered that it was a baby girl. He still tried to kill the infant, but she was transformed into a goddess who taunted the ruler with the knowledge that his nemesis was hidden somewhere else.

Also on this date:

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Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

August 27 – Happy Birthday, Alexandra Nechita!

Posted August 27, 2013

She is American. She is Romanian.

At age 8, she sold a painting at a local library exhibition for $50. By age 10, her paintings had sold for a total of more than $1 million!

She was a child prodigy who sold paintings to Oprah. And to Bill Clinton. And to rock stars and comedians and the rich and the famous. And she became rich and famous!

As a child, she was self-taught. Now she is a young adult with a degree in fine art from UCLA.

She has been called the Petite Picasso, and her artwork has been compared to Picasso, Chagall, Klee, and other masters. She is also an original.

Today Alexandra Nechita turns 28. Her father escaped from Communist Romania shortly after she was born, and she and her mom were finally allowed to join him in the U.S. two years later. She grew up in Southern California, in a town really close to where I live.

And she has long hair. I mention that because I first encountered a print of one of Nechita's paintings while on vacation, and as I stared at the piece, it started to make sense to me. I looked at the painting's title: Buckets of Detangler. Oh, yes, she was speaking my language!

Nechita and cubism...

Learn about Nechita here

Learn about cubism here

Check out Nechita's paintings here

Also on this date:

 The Duchess” Who Wasn't Day 

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

August 26 – National Dog Day

Posted August 26, 2013

This day is a celebration of all dogs—pedigreed purebred dogs as well as “mutts”—and holiday originators urge us to either purchase dogs from reputable breeders or adopt dogs from rescue organizations or pounds. In other words, no puppy mills!

How will you celebrate National Dog Day? Will you give your dog a spa treatment or a special meal? Will you outfit your dog with a t-shirt that matches your own tee? Will you stoop for a photo shoot or take an extra-long walk with your dog?

Those who don't own a dog can still donate money to humane societies or rescue shelters.

Read, or watch, or sing!

One way of celebrating dogs is to enjoy some of the art and movies, songs and books created about dogs. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Favorite dog movie: Lady and the Tramp

Favorite dog book: The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford

(Favorite book with dog as a supporting character: One Is One, by Barbara Leonie Picard. Warning: it's a super sad book! But I loved it as a child!)

Favorite dog song: I Wanna Be a Dog 

Favorite dog art: colorful dog portraits by Michel Keck and Heather Galler

Also on this date:

Women's Equality Day here...

...and here

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.