Archive for the 'Photography' Category


Oh, and one more thing….

Coincidence? I think not.

Shinjuku Station
Shinjuku Station

Took me a sec to figure out how they got this shot. It is really fascinating.

Adam Magyar, Stainless – Shinjuku from Adam Magyar on Vimeo.

Segueing from Laura’s adventure

This post doesn’t have a main theme, just adding to Laura’s trip and the following comments. Below is my account from 2008.

Laura mentioned she was afraid to climb Angels Landing, but this is the view from that vantage point. It was a grueling zigzag hike towards Angels Landing. When I arrived at the start of Angels Landing, I overheard many people say they were too scared to continue on to Angels Landing, despite how long they’ve already hiked to this point. My intention was to stay at the top until I could shoot the sunset, but I didn’t realize the cliffs were blocking the sun as it set, so I knew there wouldn’t be a visible sunset.

It started to get dark fast, so I quickly ascended back down. Unfortunately, the trail looked very different when going back, so there were a few moments where I ended up at the edge of a cliff. I started to panic, because I knew my flashlight wouldn’t help me at all trying to retrace the trail. I kept looking for the chain that threaded its way along the trail as a sign of the trail. It kept eluding me because the end of that chain was behind a rock. Once I found it, I started racing down the trail, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, because at one point, there was a lower ledge that I jumped down to. Normally, I would have cleared it with no problems, but I failed to take into account the 25 pounds of camera gear sitting on my back. So, when I landed, the extra weight on my back sent me toppling forward, while both my left and right side were the edges of a cliff. After I cleared Angels Landing, I raced the rest of the way down and managed to catch the last shuttle leaving the park.

I mentioned before, when I failed to get the permit for the Wave, I went to Devil’s Garden. This area is know for the interestingly shaped rocks left behind from erosion. The road was so rocky that I got a flat tire there.

The next morning, I replaced the flat tire, went back for the lottery and won myself a permit. However, the permit is for the next day, so I spent the rest of that day exploring some nearby rock formations. This is one example of the myriad places one can explore that is not well known to visitors. I also wanted to stay there for the sunset, but there were these tiny black bugs that kept biting me. At one point, I was at the edge of a cliff, waving my arms around to shoo away those critters. I think their intention was to get me off balance and fall of the cliff.

I’ve never hiked a trail quite like the Wave. Since the trail is not marked, you have to rely on a pamphlet that they hand out, which includes pictures and text to explain how to arrive there.

I spent most of the trip in Utah, but I made a last push to Arizona to visit the Antelope Canyons. I normally hate joining tourist groups, but in order to visit the upper canyons, you need to go with a tour group. That’s because they passed a law after some tourists drowned from a flash flood. As it turns out, it was an awesome experience.

Looking at my photo, you would think there weren’t many people there, but truth be told, it was packed. But the tour guides were amazing. Not only were they able to work around each other, but they knew exactly which spot and which time to shoot. I also appreciated the fact that the tour guides were Native Americans, so the profits went to them.

Okay, so I mentioned several times of me standing on cliffs when taking photos, and since Ben asked to see them, these are what I have at the moment.

This was the second time that my girlfriend (Yufen) and I visited this tiny island. When we first visited, she was so petrified of watching me walk down the slope of this cliff. As time passed, she started to get used to seeing me dangling from cliff edges. Now, she’ll even join me, provided that I’m ahead of her (see image below).

This one was at a tiny island on the north part of Scotland (Orkney Islands). Yufen was clever to take this photo that not only showed what I was shooting, but also where we were.

New Tool



Finally got myself a prime lens. It’s going to be a lot of fun working with this as I have mostly done photography with some type of multi-range lens. It will also be refreshing to have a really wide aperture. The 18-105mm lens that came with my Nikon was an f5.6 at 50mm!! (f3.5 at 18mm) and I can tell you that by dusk, if I didn’t crank up my ISO to 1000 or more, I would get lousy shots free hand. And forget about low lit interiors like a restaurant or bar. It was the death of a snapshotist like me. Now I am going to enjoy the simplicity of a single focal length with a wide aperture. Fun days ahead!

Oh, if you check the metadata of the photo, you’ll notice I took the photo with an iPad. These are the days in which we live.

feature

My feature is finally online here:

http://www.silverkris.com/

Not much to say here. I know a photographer who is friends with someone at the Singapore Airlines travel magazine staff. They eventually contacted me about doing a small feature on me. I have zero expectations out of this, but it’s kind of neat/weird to see my own photos in public publication (online and print).

Hopefully I’ll be able to receive copies soon.

5 Star Country

Before flying out of Taiwan back to The States, my girlfriend, Yufen, wanted to go outside of Taiwan for vacation together. Initially we thought about Sabah in Borneo, but when her work wanted to her to travel to Beijing on the first weekend of her time off for training, we decided to travel in mainland China to make use of her company paying for her flight.

Because these plans were rather last minute, I had no choice but to visit Hong Kong first to get my Chinese visa. My original plan was to first arrive in Hong Kong in the morning, have my visa processed during the day, then fly to Beijing that night and meet Yufen at the airport, where she would be flying directly from Taipei. Online, I have seen different accounts on how long a visa takes to be processed, so I took the precaution of searching for cheap guesthouses in case I had to stay overnight in Hong Kong.

March 10
It was fortunate I planned ahead, because when I arrived in Hong Kong, the travel agency at the airport kiosk said that the earliest the visa could be processed would be the next day around 6:30pm to 7:00pm. Fortunately, I had no problem changing my flight schedule to Beijing, the only additional fare was having to pay tax. However, the dilemma was that the latest flight to Beijing from Hong Kong was 8:00pm. I really did not know if I could make it, but decided to take the chance.

After handing my passport and payment to the agency, I left the airport and found a guesthouse for 150HK after some looking. My room had no wifi, but I found a hostel while walking around that did, so I hung around there and used my iPod to check my emails and to also Google map where Yufen’s hotel was located in Beijing. I then spent the night revisiting viewpoints that I’ve visited before on my previous trip to Hong Kong. Thought the skies were gray, it barely rained and the temperature was on the cooler side. Since I consider Hong Kong as just one big massive city, I really had no interest in being there, especially since I’ve already visited Hong Kong before.

March 11
I left my room in the morning and happened to pass by Kowloon Park. Shooting the various birds there was a nice distraction for me until I eventually headed back to the airport to find out the fate of my visa. Arriving at the desk at 5:30pm, they said my passport had not arrived yet and told me to come back around 7:00pm. 6:45pm rolled around and I noticed I was getting really nervous. Again I asked about my passport and the man behind the counter told me to wait by the seats next to their counter and would tell me when my passport arrives. At around 7:00pm, I saw someone come to the back of the kiosk and handed over what looked like two US passports. I waited a little while, expecting the man behind the counter to finally deliver my passport to me, but he never did. Finally, I walked over to the desk to ask him about my passport and realized he actually forgot about me.

Handing my passport with my Chinese visa to me, I dashed off to check in my flight. Elation turned to frustration when I found out my ticket was on stand by and all of their seats were already booked. They told me to wait to see if a seat becomes available. After 7:15pm, they tell me that I have a seat, but I must reach the gate before they close, which was 7:45pm. That I meant I first had to go through security, then pass immigrations, then take the elevator 3 floors down, and finally take the shuttle bus to where my gate was located.

I reached the gate 3 minutes before 7:45pm, although I noticed that the flight took off much later. I don’t know if I caused this delay, but I was happy I made the flight. But instead of arriving at 11:10pm, we arrived at Beijing at 11:30pm. With the combination of the airplane was taxing on the runway for 10 minutes, waiting forever for my luggage to arrive and not yet having Chinese currency, I missed the shuttle bus leaving the airport because their services ended at 12 midnight. Fortunately, they had night buses running, and the only two routes they took was the one I needed.

Stepping outside of the airport around 1:00am, the first thing I noticed about the air was the smell. I was trying to identify it and finally resigned to labeling it as a mixture of ash and coal. The bus sign at the airport said it would take 35 minutes to reach Dongzhimen, which was the stop closest to Yufen’s hotel. During the ride, a lady hops on and sits behind me while making regurgitating noises without hearing any vomiting noises. Finally a lady next to her hands her a plastic bag and proceeds to vomit. After 25 minutes on the bus, I felt the bus already passed by my stop, so I asked the bus driver when we would reach my stop and he said he already passed it. Getting off on the next stop, I felt I could reach back to my destination on foot, so I proceeded to walk north. After reaching Dongzhimen, I was not quite sure where her hotel was. I showed the address to several vendors and they said they didn’t know exactly where, but pointed me in a general direction. I thought I was so close, but I also thought I had been walking too long and far. I felt I had no choice but to finally hire a taxi to take me to the address. But after showing the address to two taxi drivers, they said they didn’t where that was! After a little more perseverance, I finally found the hotel on my own, which was tucked away in a small neighborhood. And by coincidence, Yufen was looking outside of the hotel window and shouted out my name. Under all of these circumstances, I can’t believe I actually made it and was looking forward to some solid sleep.

March 12
I initially wanted to visit the Great Wall the next day, but because of how late I arrived and Yufen having a meeting until 12pm, I decided to save the trip later and walked from her hotel to the Forbidden City. The sun was slightly out and the air was very cold and dry. Beijing was not quite what I expected. It’s very broad and flat, with very little tall buildings. Because the city is very grid like, it’s very easy to navigate, but Beijing is so much larger than how it looks on the map. With so many people visiting the Forbidden City, I decided not to go in. I hate crowded places, especially those packed with tourists. I later learned that if you want to see the architecture of the Forbidden City, go to Beijing, if you want to see the artifacts of the Forbidden City, go to Taipei. Because I did not realize walking to the Forbidden City would take me that long, I took the subway to meet Yufen for lunch. Later on during this trip, I’ve discovered that everytime you go through the subway station, train station, and sometimes the bus station, you must pass your bags through a security machine.

After lunch, we wandered around the older sections of Beijing which was fun until we reached BeiHai Park. The park itself is nice, but it’s so huge that we were exhausted when we reached the other side. We later hung out with two of Yufen’s coworkers after dinner, and finally returned to our new budget hotel after midnight.

March 13
I was hoping to wake up early to visit the Great Wall, but we were so fatigued from yesterday’s walk and I had a headache, so we decided to visit the Great Wall the next day. I felt pretty upset about this because it had already been 3 days since I flew out of Taiwan and I felt I haven’t even started my vacation. So, again we walked around another park, this time YuanMingYuan. Though it has claims to the history of European presence in Beijing, I was rather disappointed with this park.

While in Beijing, I observed many peculiarities of the people there. Like the rudeness of the people there. It’s not uncommon to pay for something then having your change and your item thrown at you with contempt. Or seeing kids walking around with a giant hole in their pants so they can easily urinate on the streets. Of course one cannot forget to mention the amount of spitting that goes on.

March 14
Getting up early in the morning, we headed off to Dongzhimen station to catch the bus to the Great Wall. Because the Great Wall is so long and broken up in several sections, people usually just pick one section to visit. I heard the Badaling section was the easiest and most touristy section, so I definitely wanted to avoid that. Though the Mutianyu section was also popular, I heard the views there were excellent, so that was the section I wanted to visit. However, a lady who got off of the same subway station as us recommended that we should visit Jinshanling instead. She said that it was much less touristy and the wall itself is more wild and authentic, meaning that sections like Badaling and Mutianyu has had many modern restorations. So we took the 980 bus instead of the 916 and arrived at the closest town to Jinshanling. I started to regret this change of decision because after arriving, we were the only ones visiting the wall, so we had to bargain with a local driver from 460rmb to 300rmb to take us to Jinshanling and wait for us to take us back to town.

All in all, it was still a nice trip. The hike was pretty easy, around 4.5 hours. It was definitely not crowded with people and many areas are still in ruins. Parts of the wall that have been restored can be seen by the slight cool gray colors, while the original stones are a warmer gray. The only downside was the overcast weather and brown foliage made my photos quite flat. And some of the local ladies kept harassing us to buy merchandise from them. I was already used to this approach from my experience in Vietnam, so it wasn’t a big deal for me.

March 15
We took an overnight train that left Beijing at 11:20pm and arrived in Taian in 6:45am. This was a nice way of saving time and money by sleeping while traveling. Though the cabins were quite packed, with six beds to each room and no doors, I had a good night of sleep. Taking the 3 Lu bus to Hong Men, we started our hike up Taishan at 9am and reached the peak after 4.5 hours of hiking. The hike is simple, but tedious because of the long series of steps that passes through cultural artifacts that ranged from Chinese calligraphy carved into stones to ancient buildings. There is also the lore that anyone who climbs to the peak will reach 100 years of age.

My initial plan was to stay overnight at the peak of Taishan to catch the sunrise the next day, but overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Taishan, especially when you can see the city behind the parts of the mountain range, so we decided to hike back down. Arriving back at the base of Hong Men after 7:30pm, we found out that bus services stop after 7:30pm, so we took a taxi back to the train station. What I found hilarious about the taxi was the cage that was built around the driver. I’m sure it’s for the safety of the driver from possible dangerous passengers, but it looked like a self contained prison for the driver. At the train station, we bought a train ticket to Huangshan for the next day, which leaves at 6:30pm and found a place to stay for the night.

March 17
After having a somewhat relaxing day in Taian, we slept on the train and arrived in Tunxi at 7:30am. From Tunxi, we took a bus to Tangkou, and from there, took another bus to Yungezhan. I originally wanted to go up the west side trail, but because Yufen wanted to bring all of her belongings with her, we took the very easy east side trail, which the majority of the trail can be traveled by cable car. While on the cable car, we were immediately exposed to the breathtaking scenery of Huangshan. It’s no wonder that everyone tells us that once you visit Huangshan, there’s no need to visit any other mountain. Pictures and painting cannot do justice to just how magnificent Huangshan is.

After a little bit of hiking from the end of the cable car, we reached the peak of Beihai and settled for a place to stay that was 200rmb for each person. We later befriended an American traveler, Fred, who was also staying in my room. Living in Colorado for many years, we talked about how we were conflicted about the developments in Huangshan. They were currently building a new hotel, and while it was nice to have facilities available to allow us to stay at the peak, we also felt a lot of development was unnecessary and has taken away some of the beauty of Huangshan. I fear the beauty of Huangshan will continue to erode away as the Chinese government continues to development tourism there. The stairs, buildings, and cables are just too unsightly for me. At least in Taishan, the buildings there are historical.

The area I wanted to see the most was Xihai, which was unfortunately closed until next month. But there were still plenty to see and the sun was pleasant until during sunset when the clouds eventually engulfed the entire sky. The air was very cold and some ice still persisted from the winter snow.

March 18
I got up around 5:00am and walked out into pitch blackness. There was no sunrise to catch due to the heavy cloud development and even snowed for a brief moment. During the day, there was so much cloud coverage on the west side that you could barely see anything. One remarkable moment was when we were at a viewpoint where the cold winds were heavy and you could see nothing but white. Suddenly, the view cleared and you can see the majestic mountains before once again enveloped by the mist and clouds. We decided to stay one more day on the chance I could catch a sunrise the next day. Fred, who we bumped into every once in a while also decided to stay one more night.

March 19
Things only got worse in Huangshan on this Saturday. Not only was it raining, there was just too many people for my comfort. After some consideration about how to get back down to Tangkou, we decided to hike all the way down the west side trail. I knew the first part of the trail would be the most strenuous because we had to hike up Guangmingding. The rest of the trail would head down, but we had to be careful due to the rain and the amount of belongings we were carrying. We started from Beihai at 8:30am, passed Guangmingding at 10:00am, arrived at Pingshan Temple at 1:12pm and finally reached the bottom at 2:22pm. Along the way, Fred catched up to us, who started later than us, and quickly outpaced us.

At the bottom of Ciguange, we took the bus back to Tangkou, and then waited a miserable hour in our bus to leave for Tunxi. I was cold and wet and could see the moisture off of my clothes evaporating. While in the bus, we overheard two Japanese guys, Ryosuke and Masanori, mentioning about the hostel they were staying at in Tunxi, which was the same one we wanted to stay in, so we asked if we can follow them back to their hostel. The hostel is situated on an old traditional street of Tunxi called LaoJie. It’s a really cool street that has traditional Chinese buildings, complete with traditional Chinese doors. The vendors sells things that range from calligraphy brushes, stone sculptures, paintings, tea, and clothes. The area reminds me a lot of JiuFen in Taiwan, but I think better because LaoJie is more open and feels more authentic. The street is an interesting contrast to the modern shopping areas around LaoJie.

It was a happy accident that we passed by the hostel because we ran into Fred again! It was a nice little reunion, and after checking into our hostel, the five of us had dinner together. It was a great time of relaxing from our hike and stuffing ourselves silly. Fred was very generous when he paid for our dinner and headed out to catch his flight to Shanghai that night. The chances of bumping into people you recently met seemed to be contagious because even the Japanese guys ran into a Chinese guy they met while taking the cable car in Huangshan. It was really nice to see them friendly with each other, considering that I’ve heard the majority of the Chinese still despise the Japanese. It was disheartening to overhear some of the Chinese say that the Japanese who died from the recent earthquake deserved it.

Walking through LaoJie, I saw many people carrying their DSL’s and tripods, no doubt taking advantage of the lights reflecting off of the wet ground from the rain. I decided to come back out later when the stores closed to take my photos. After 10:30pm, I went out to take my photos which was now almost completely devoid not only of pedestrians but even other photographers. In this case, luck, calculation, and patience paid off for me.

March 20
After arranging our night train for Shanghai, we spent the rest of the day walking through LaoJie and found one of the best wonton places we have every tried. I was a little put off when I saw the name of the restaurant having the word “Legendary” in front of it, but man, is it truly deserving. It was so good that we went twice that day.

March 21
We arrived in Shanghai at 7:30am, which was raining and surprisingly very cold. This was the only part of the trip that I made absolutely no plans for because it just didn’t look interesting to me at all. The only reason we were there was to visit Yufen’s classmate, Yusi, who went to the same school in Amsterdam. The coldness and wetness did not really make our walk around town that enjoyable, so we tried to find various places of warmth that we could relax in. In many ways, Shanghai reminds me of Taipei, more constricted, tall buildings, department stores, and the presence of many international faces and companies.

One place we found in the Bund had an interesting exhibition on Shanghai’s history. In learning about how the Western’s presence in Shanghai introduced electricity, water lines, and telephones to China, and wondered what it must have been like for the Chinese to just suddenly have massive developments in their culture? In some ways, I wonder if it’s like my own lifetime where I grew up with record players and dial phones, and now having digital music players and smart cell phones.

The only other highlight of wandering through Shanghai was passing by one particular music shop. It was not uncommon to pass by several blocks of stores that had the same exact business. This music shop was no exception, except the people running that particular store were playing their traditional Chinese instruments. I really enjoyed watching them play because you can tell they knew and enjoyed playing the instruments they were selling. Most of the time when you’re buying something, it’s rare to find the seller having the skill to properly use their merchandise.

We met with Yusi later that night, who showed her fiancée’s, Ken, new photography studio. It was unfortunate he had to be in Beijing on that day, so there was not chance to see him on this trip. We crashed at their place that night and prepared to finally leave China the next day.

Closing thoughts
This trip has obviously been a great exposure for me of the people of China, but more than that, it has really given me context about the different nature of the Taiwanese and the Mainlanders. I’ve often heard of the people of Taiwan lamenting that the majority of the world does not recognize Taiwan as its own country, but now I realize it’s not just a difference of government, but the people themselves. One distinguishing feature is that despite the Chinese almost absolute hate for the Japanese, Taiwan has been very welcoming to the Japanese. Ryosuke and Masanori themselves mentioned that they enjoyed visiting Taiwan, but were treading very carefully in China. I can see how maybe the Japanese societal nature of politeness has rubbed off on the Taiwanese, but not to the extremity of the Japanese. I’ve always felt that the Taiwanese were quite international, which is ironic considering that the majority of the countries does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country because of China’s presence in the world. But I now also feel the Taiwanese are more advanced than their relatives in China. The people of Taiwan are warm and friendly, smoking is not allowed in doors, and you hardly see people spitting on the streets.

Yes, China is rapidly growing, but in the wrong directions I’m afraid. It already started when the Chinese government abandoned the use of traditional Chinese characters for simplified ones, followed by their strict form of censorship. Their sense of development is for the sake of revenue and treating resources without respect or consciousness, which I feel Huangshan is already going through.

Make no mistake, I feel Taiwan still has many faults, just as much as America has, but I feel I understand and appreciate Taiwan so much more now.

My experience in the UK

Warning, the following is a very long read of a four month experience. Going into the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) program, I initially did not plan to write anything in regards to my experience, but with each farm being unique in its own way, I could not help but to reflect back on to those experiences. Each farm involved organic produce and the hosts provided accommodation and food. Apart from that, each farm presented their own individual background.

The first farm was in Cirencester, England. Far and away from the busy cities, this farm sits in the area of Cotswold, known for its beautiful country side.

The host family, Hillary and Will, own a large section of land that was inherited by Will’s relatives. Part of the land is dedicated to their organic farming and store, where they sell their produce, and also served food in their café. This was the most organized farm that we’ve visited. Hillary and Will do not do the farming themselves, but hire the head farmer named Keith. Keith’s teenager son Sam recently started helping his father with the farm, but the majority of the work force is under a group of young apprentices learning under the guidance of Keith. Everyone was pleasant and Keith himself, though very particular in details, is a very gentle and nice gentleman. Since the farming works in accordance with the store, our hours of work coincided with the apprentices, which was Monday to Friday, between 10am to 4pm. Work ranged from raking, weeding, laying out compost/manure, planting, and harvesting. Lunch was provided to us by way of their soup and bread served in their café. The rest of our meals was provided with an allowance of 25 pounds for each person, each week.

The hosts arranged for us to stay in a caravan. The caravan did not have a working bathroom, and the insulation was almost nonexistent, so it got extremely cold during nights. However, the caravan was spacious (separate bedroom, kitchen, and living room), and had electricity and gas. Plus, one of the apprentices, Kate, lent us her electric blanket, which made sleeping so much more comfortable. We had to walk a few meters to the shed that had two showers and one toilet. Initially, we had to go to the café to use their wifi for internet. Later, another one of the apprentices, Mike, lent his dongle to us. This allowed us to have internet in our caravan, although the connection was dodgy half of the time.

The second farm was in Frome, Somerset. Unlike the first host, we lived with the family of Chris and Cordelia, and their four kids, ranging from 3 to 15 years old. I already missed living in a caravan, due to their house only having one toilet, their showers having unreliable hot water due to their solar battery, and our bedroom being extremely cold during nights. However, we received cooked meals for dinner, and we had instant internet connection in the house. Chris was another considerate gentleman, although he can be quite scatterbrain, which can be seen at his farm. He bought his plot of land about 20 minutes of walking away from his house. His farm was nowhere as orderly as the first farm, so I think our experiences from our first farm really helped us sort Chris out. The primary purpose of his farm was to sell produce in veggie boxes and deliver them to customers. Our duties were mostly raking, planting, and weeding. Chris and Cordelia are wonderful people, so it was a little sad to see Chris feeling depressed about the future of his farm, due to being only him working on his farm.

The third farm was in Llanegrin, Wales. Even before we arrived, we were quite excited that this farm was located within Snowdonia, a National Park in North Wales. The hosts, Phil, Katie, and their two young sons have their farm directly behind their house. The caravan that we stayed in was also right next to the farm, so no traveling was required when we went to work. This caravan was much smaller than our previous one, so we had to be at their house to use the internet, bathroom, and to have lunch and dinner.

Phil used to sell produce from his farm, but it was too much work for him, so he decided to only grow produce for his family so that he can enjoy his time with his family. This way of thinking was also encouraged to us, meaning, if for example the weather was nice, we were more than welcome to go out to enjoy it. This was one of the reasons why this was my favorite host.

Besides being in the middle of beautiful scenery, Phil and Katie were more than generous to us, to the point that we felt like family, and it was a great feeling. The only inconvenience was the lack of proper public transportation and my allergies were going haywire.

The fourth farm was in Glenties, Ireland. This trip was probably the most bizarre by far. First of all, our hosts are not Irish at all. Thomas, Lucia, Benny, and Meika are all Germans, so there are times where I feel like I’m living in Germany. As with Phil and Katie, Thomas and Lucia expects us to work like them. However, probably due to them being Germans, they work an insane number of hours, so we were doing the same. We stayed in a small shack built between their house and the farm. There was no hot water, so everyday, I had to start a fire in the Irish firestove to heat up the water. Because everyone was so busy and on their own time schedule, we often had to fend for food ourselves. The biggest issue I had were the tiny midges that bite you. Both of my arms were full of bites, including my neck and head. I can’t believe I’ve encountered something that I might consider worse than mosquitoes.

The oddity continued during our trip to see Slieve League. Arriving there wasn’t a problem, and the weather was perfect, but there were no public transportation back by the time we were finished, so we decided to try our luck in hitching. We tried to no avail for one hour, until a police officer offered to give us a ride to Killybegs, half way back to our place. Along the way, he took us on a coastal tour to see some of the sights, mentioned other places of interest in Donegal, and even wrote a sign, “Glenties”, for us to hold when hitching for the next ride. He dropped us off on the main road back to Glenties, and we hitched for maybe 15 minutes, until an older gentleman offered us a ride up until Ardara, which is the village before Glenties. Not many cars were coming by, so we decided to try to start walking back to Glenties. Fortunately, another gentleman gave us a lift. He lived about halfway between Ardara and Glenties, but was gracious enough to take us all the way to Glenties. He asked where we were staying, and we mentioned we were staying with a host family to help them with their organic farming. Unbelievably, he actually knew that family, and even knew how to get to their place.

It was the policeman who rectified me that I could drive in Ireland with my American driver license, so we decided to rent a car to visit Horn Head and Malin Head. I was quite nervous driving, since I had to shift with my left hand, drive on the left side of the road, and I hadn’t driven manual in over 10 years. Fortunately, since I’ve already been in the UK for over two months, I was already somewhat familiar with how traffic works in the UK. It was obviously more expensive that taking public transportation, but the ability to catch the sunsets and sunrises was well worth it.

Our two weeks was over in Glenties, and we were more than happy to leave and start our way through Northern Ireland. We had an odd, but pleasant start.

First, Thomas dropped us off at Letterkenny, where we planned to take the bus to Derry to rent a car. Arriving at Letterkenny, we had to wait two hours for the first bus to arrive. While waiting, we saw a bus already arriving that indicated it was heading to Derry. We asked the driver if he was heading to Derry. He mentioned he had to drive to Derry to start his work, so he offered a free ride for us. On the way, we had a pleasant conversation about him moving to Ireland with his wife from England (the driver was also a police officer, and mentioned how he stayed in touch with foreigners by giving his “business” card after getting his picture taken near Buckingham Palace). After arriving at Derry, we realized that the bus to the airport, where we had to rent a car, wasn’t running until 6 hours later, so we decided to take taxi, which we thought was worth it, considering we already had two free rides earlier. After acquiring our car, we started our journey along the north coastal route of Northern Ireland.

I felt the first two days were the best of this particular trip because of the weather and sights. However, the weather eventually turned to rain and remained unpleasant until we arrived in Belfast. Belfast failed to hold our interest, so we quickly hopped on the ferry to make our way to Scotland.

After arriving at our port, we took the train to Glasgow. Glasgow was interesting city. My first impression was that it felt “heavy”. It may be due to the massive, grey buildings and the unsophisticated look of the locals. This description was especially reflected in the owner of the hostel that we stayed in. The room was quite cheap, which is why we took it, but the condition of our environment was questionable, which only grew as time passed. First of all, there were no other guests. We saw other people milling about the hostel, but I later found that they were foreigners helping out the owner. When we first were introduced to the owner, I thought he said his name was Colin. We asked if there was WiFi available, and he said yes and gave us the password. When looking for the server, I thought it was the one called “Colin is a pedophile”, which I thought was a joke. The password didn’t work, so we asked him again. I asked if the server was correct, and he first said that his name was Michael, and couldn’t tell us what the name of the server was. Interestingly, the next morning, that server was no longer available. The next morning was the highlight to this whole oddity. We stepped out in the morning to find a car to rent. After finally finding one, we returned to the hostel to check out, only to be seeing a group of men in uniform standing in the front entrance. They happened to be firemen, and were investigating about the fire hazard that the hostel posed. One of the officers asked if the owner explained to me about any fire precautions. I said no, and I realized the severity of this situation because this hostel is almost like a maze, and can be almost impossible to get out. The officers than warned me that they were about to set off the fire alarm to test it, but even the fire alarm failed to go off. The officers finally succeeded to setting it off, and that was when we made a final dash to our car and made our way to Loch Lomond.

Due to our constant traveling and poor weather, we probably didn’t enjoy Loch Lomond as much as we would have liked, but having a car with us made a big difference, especially one that was better made. Our previous cars were a Corsa and Leon. Though I don’t really have high regards for Ford, our Ford was model was much better designed than the other ones. We decided to cut our trip one day short and headed to our next farm.

Phantassie would be our last farm, located east of Edinburgh.

My immediate thought was that this farm was very much like our first farm, making me feel that I’ve come to a full circle. The farm was quite huge, requiring a staff of people to help out, including their store in Edinburgh. Ralph and Patricia runs the operation, although Ralph focuses on his wood works while Patricia tends to the farm. Perhaps due to Ralphs’ untamed facial hair and gentle demeanor, he reminded me of Keith from the first farm. We also stayed in a caravan, but it had no running water, so we had to go outside to use the toilet and shower. It was more inconvenient than our first farm, so I had less desire to take showers. There are, of course, differences between the first and last farm, one being the nature of the people working here. Among the people who worked in the staff were Lizz, Fiona, Mike, Tracy, Rory, Cameron, Douglas, and Tony. They were such a strange ensemble of characters. Strange, but enjoyable people, except maybe for a couple of characters.

One being Tony, who is supposed to look after the Wwoofers. When I first saw him, the first thing I noticed was the wild white hair that was competing with his hat for attention. He appeared to be nice person, but as time went on, we felt he was bothersome because he tried to mandate rules on us that we felt were unnecessary, and felt insulting to me. We found out he’s more freakish than we thought. One being that he seems to have no control about buying things that are dirt cheap. We would find inorganic foods in the kitchen just because it was too cheap for Tony to pass up. His oddity was further reflected when Fiona mentioned that she saw a picture of Tony completely naked on the public computer. This, plus Mike’s story about how Tony bought a pair of bikinis and asked Fiona what she thought of it only made him more of a perv. His absurdity eventually led to frustration with him. It seemed that he seemed to not take a proactive role in helping the Wwoofers out, which we realized when Rose finally came back from her holidays. Unlike Tony, Rose always asked if we needed help from her, and the fact that she worked with us made us feel she wasn’t self absorbed like Tony was.

But his oddity is only surpassed by Douglas. At first, Douglas appeared to be a mentally off balance man. Already 69 years old, he mentions how he’s immortal and how he can’t wait for time machines to be available. We initially found him funny to laugh at, but he later became a nuisance. The highlight was one rainy night. Hanging out in the kitchen, I was about to go to bed when Douglas came by and pleaded to help him out. One of the new Wwoofers happened to walk by and was haplessly thrown into our group. Not fully explaining the situation, Douglas brought me and Fabian out to the chicken field and had to move about 300 chickens back to their home. It was after midnight, raining, and dark as we loaded the chickens into a wheelbarrow. Because there were so many chickens, we had to make several trips. On our second load, Fabian and I already knew that there were too many chickens in the wheelbarrow, but Douglas was insistent in loading all of the chickens in one take. When we finally started to carry them out back to their home, we found several chickens dead at the bottom. We mentioned this to Douglas, who said they might be okay the next morning, but we knew for sure that there were several that were dead. In fact, the next morning we found out that nine of them had died. Normally, I wouldn’t mind helping someone in that situation, but Douglas did not fully explain the situation, did not appear to be sympathetic for me and Fabian helping him, and was responsible for the chickens to be outside in the first place. The staff had harsh words with him the next day and on that night, Douglas wanted to come to our caravan to talk to me. Yufen kept telling him that I was already in bed, but Douglas was screaming that he had to talk to me. I finally confronted him and he proceeded to mention that he caught two chickens and that he didn’t like Mike scolding him earlier. He shook hands with me to indicate that he wanted no trouble with me and walked off in the rain. We were getting a clearer picture of the kind of person Douglas was. He almost always appear in a dark blue jumper and works day and night. The fact that we see him often at night like this makes him like Jason from Friday the 13th. Also, when he’s talking to him, he seems to see past you. He also seems to have low regards for women, since he doesn’t listen to women and only asked men for help.

I thought only the Wwoofers were the most normal people, until Fabian came along. This well spirited 23 year old Frenchman left us in amazement about how he goes dumpster diving for food. He mentioned that one of his principals is that he doesn’t like to see food being wasted, which I can also agree. But what made him so hilarious was he really reflected this thinking. Like how he would scrap off the white residue on cheese because someone wasn’t sure of it, and ate the scraps. Even when he was finding eggs in the field while we were collecting chickens in the middle of a rainy night, we mentioned that his dumpster diving skills helped him in finding those eggs. His eccentricity could only be exaggerated by his English level. Probably the most hilarious time was when he was talking about the movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. Since he didn’t know the English name for it, he called it, “Seven Little Men and a White Woman”, which sounds like a completely different movie.

During these times, I couldn’t help but think that this farm would make for a great tv show, and the name Phantassie just seemed so appropriate. Even the various people who comes by the farm to help out seem like background characters to the main characters, helping to flesh out Phantassie’s own unique world. Indeed, I found it so hard to leave in just two weeks, so I decided to stay one week more. I really think we were lucky to have such great comraderie between everyone, especially the Wwoofers. We found it funny that Tony tried to impose rules on us so that we could have a civilized living condition at Phantassie, but we always accommodated for each other without question. Whether it was using the internet, cooking, cleaning, or anything else, we really had a great time with each other. Even the staff members mentioned this has been one of the best group of Wwoofers they ever had.

I concluded my stay in the UK by driving Yufen and I all throughout the Northern Highlands of Scotland within six days. Our first day started horribly. First, I went to the wrong car rental agency in Edinburgh. Eventually arriving at the correct one, we waited for over an hour to get our car. This delay would have not been an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that I already reserved a ferry to take us from Scrabster to the Orkney Islands at 7pm. Our timing was very critical because I already promised Fabien that I would give him a lift to Inverness, which was along the way. Fortunately, everything worked out and we arrived at the harbor at 6:30pm. After the Orkney Islands, we continued along the northern coast of Scotland down the west coast until arriving at The Isle of Skye. We even gave a lift to a French couple that was hitchhiking. After our previous experience of trying to hitchhike in Ireland, we vowed that we would offer a ride if we saw someone also hitchhiking. By the end of our trip, I had driven around 1400 miles.

I must have really adjusted to driving within the UK, because when I returned to the States, I was initially confused about driving again. Not only driving on the other side, but also driving automatic.

Finally leaving UK, I’m amazed by all of the experiences there, and also how I’ve changed and grown. They range from the small things, like no longer taking sugar in coffee to bigger things like not being so meat dependent. It’s also reinforced my notion of making do with what you have available. But it’s more than that, which I have difficulty describing, although my mother has also noticed that I’ve changed. Perhaps it’s having patience with people. I’ve noticed that I usually more polite towards people outside of family and I tend to lash out when I’m frustrated with my loved ones. Spending four my months with my girlfriend when things sometimes went afoul really helped me to learn to temper my mood.

I’m also grateful for my cooking experience at Phantassie. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I never cooked for a large number of people. Towards the end of my stay, I was relegated to cook lunch for twelve people in one and half hours. I would have never succeeded had I not had the experience of watching how Sam, another Phantassie character, prepared his dishes. I’ve always had the habit of preparing all of my ingredients first before cooking, but Sam would do his preparation while already cooking. Plus, he was not so strict about having proper ingredients and was always willing to do something different. This and his compliments on my cooking were really encouraging to me. Enough so that I now feel comfortable to cook for my family, which I’ve always been nervous about because my mother is already an amazing cook.

Of course one cannot go through all of the experiences on organic farms without reflecting back on previous notions on gardening and farming. One of the biggest things for me was my attitude towards weeding. The first farm was very meticulous about weeding their crops. The second and third farm wasn’t too concerned about completely removing weeds by the roots. But the fourth farm had weeds that were absolutely out of control, and yet their crops looked amazing. We mentioned this observation to Thomas, and he replied that in German, there is no word for “weed”. What they have is “un khrud”, which means “unwanted plants”, however, organic farmers call them “bei khrud”, which means “alongside plants”. Reflecting back on my experiences with my battles with the weeds in my yard, I suppose one can’t reasonably be fanatical about removing them, but maybe we can work with them.

My book

Check it out, guys and gal:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1230405

Per Ben’s suggestion, I finally put together a book of photos from my travels. I don’t really have any expectations out of this, but for once, it’s nice to be able to leaf through my photos rather than seeing them on my screen.
img_4858
img_4859
img_4861

Malaysia

Day 1-Arriving at Kuala Lumpur, I immediately set out to find a place to stay for the night. I finally settled at the Reggae Bar for 24rm/night. I asked around about transportation to Taman Negara, one of Malaysia’s many jungles. Because getting there required 3 vehicle changes, I was told to visit a travel agency at the Mandarin Orient Hotel. There, I paid 75rm for a one way trip for Taman Negara the next morning at 8:00.

Day 2-The Indian food I had the previous night did not agree with my system. I was practically peeing out of my ass, and on top of that, I wanted to throw up so bad. I was so afraid I would throw up on the bus, so I forced myself to sleep during the first part of the bus ride. When we stopped for a lunch, I felt so much better, so I went ahead and ordered lunch. We continued the second part of the bus ride to the ferry. From there, it was a 3 hour ride on the boat to base camp. The town that they dropped us off had plenty of accommodations and I chose a place for 12rm/night.
img_7829

Day 3-My morning shower was horrible. Not only was the water cold, but I could piss more than the amount that was coming out of the shower head. It didn’t help there were all these ants crawling on the walls. To start the hike, you need to pay 1rm for a boat to take you to the other side of the river. It was while hiking in Taman Negara that I discovered I was ill prepared. Not only was I wearing worn out sneakers that was slipping all over the terrain, but most of all, I am woefully out of shape. Simply put, I had no stamina and no strength. My situation did not improve as I pressed on into the jungle. As I ventured further and further into areas less traveled by others, my right ankle had an itching sensation. Curious, I raised my pant leg up, and discovered a leech trying to burrow through my sock. As I attempted to remove him, I was really freaking out, because his body kept trying to avoid my fingers, like it was sentient. After removing him, I found 2 smaller leeches on my shoe inching their way to my ankle. I quickly flicked them off, and thought I should check my other ankle. Upon raising that pant leg, I discovered to my horror that a leech was already latched onto my skin. Not having the proper means to remove him, I ripped him off of my skin, which caused my ankle to bleed for the rest of the day. This whole ordeal made up my mind to leave the jungle the next day. When I arrived back at base camp, I inquired with one of the staff about my leech situation. He said there’s no problem, just that it will take longer to heel because they left their teeth on my wound. A few moments later, I had that same itching sensation, and I found another leech on the same wound! Knowing that staff member smoked, I asked to borrow his lighter. This proved easier to remove, however, that leech must have left some weird substance, because now my blood was coming out very viscous. By now, my sock looked like a bloody maxi pad. I made my plans to leave the jungle the next morning by purchasing a ticket to Cameron Highlands for 90rm. I ended the day by joining a night trek (20rm) to see some nocturnal bugs and insects.
malaysiacentipede

Day 4-Leaving Taman Negara in the morning, I arrive in the town of Tanah Rata in Cameron Highlands in the afternoon. Cameron Highlands is a mountain area where they have several tea plantations. I was surprised to find out it was raining there, and without a jacket and umbrella, I was extremely cold. As a result, I did my best to quickly find a place to stay without being too expensive, and finally chose a room for 25rm. Because of the rain, I decided to walk around town for the rest of the day. There was one area that had a lot of street food vendors and I also found another inn that had rooms for 12rm.
img_8183

Day 5-First thing in the morning was to check in into the 12rm inn. The room was tiny and the ceiling angled down from the doorway, so you couldn’t stand straight up. But I had no problem with the place, aside from the walls not being sound proof. I took the local bus (2.5rm) to Sungai, one of the most visited tea plantations located northwest of Tanah Rata. The bus doesn’t take you to the plantation directly. You have to walk 3km from where the bus drops you off. The plantation has an observation deck built into their tea shop. Everybody was content to only taking pictures from that spot, but I went ahead and ventured into the plantation field itself. Though it wasn’t raining, it still wasn’t the ideal weather situation, because the sun barely came out. About 5pm, I started to dash back to where the bus dropped me off. I knew their bus terminal closes at 6:30pm, so I was hoping I can still catch the bus back to Tanah Rata. I waited for over half an hour, and I started to worry how I would get back. Just when I started thinking about hitchhiking, the bus finally arrived.
malaysiatea

Day 6-The next morning, it was overcast again. I made a hike to one of the waterfalls, which was a major disappointment. Not only was it small, but it was also littered. After lunch, I walked 2km to Brahat, another tea plantation. Not only were their fields awesome to look at, but the sun also started to make an appearance. I was really considering to stay until 5pm for better lighting conditions, but there was no guarantee that the sun will stay out, so I made my walk back to town. I was so fortunate to make this decision, because after 5pm, it started to rain hard. I was getting tired of the rain and coldness, so I purchased my bus ticket to return to Kuala Lumpur the next day.

Day 7-Arriving back in Kuala Lumpur, the sky had some awesome cloud formations, so I decided to go to the Petronas Towers to take some sunset pictures. While walking through Kuala Lumpur, I was trying to find a vantage point for a good cityscape shot, but couldn’t find any, so I opted to simply go straight to the towers. That night was definitely full of good fortunes. Not only was the sunset great, but I also met a really cool Malaysian dude. After taking my sunset pictures, I started to make my way back to where I was staying. While waiting for the traffic light to change, I saw a guy with a massive tripod with an equally massive bracket for his DSLR camera. He saw my gear and asked if I got any decent shots. From there, we started talking camera shop, and come to find out he’s Malaysian professional photographer. Calvin had started his interest in photography when he was 12, then studied under Japanese photography masters in Japan for 10 years and came back to Malaysia to marry and have 2 kids. I then asked him where would be a good vantage spot for cityscape shots. He mentioned there were two, then proceeded to say he can take me to one of those spots. I couldn’t believe my luck and after he drove me to one of the vantage spots, I offered to treat him to dinner. He seemed surprised that I hadn’t eaten yet, and mentioned there was a nearby place we can go to eat. I don’t how he did it, but he managed to treat me instead! It was really humbling to not only meet a professional photographer but also a genuine decent human being.
malaysiakualalumpur

Day 8-The next morning I took bus 11 to Batu Caves, which was a disappointment to me, especially in contrast to the caves I saw in Vietnam. Afterwards, I went to visit the Lake Gardens, which was also disappointing. It also started to rain, which didn’t make my day any better, except when I randomly came across Little India. The vendors there were selling so much food that I wanted to try everything. I sampled a few, and they were awesome. I told myself I’d have to revisit at least one more time during the week.
img_8438

Day 9-I originally intended to visit their zoo, but decided to catch a cultural dance performance, since I haven’t really taken any photos of people since my stay in Malaysia. By the end of the day, it was raining again, and by this time, I was getting tired of Kuala Lumpur. I wanted to visit the city of Putrajaya, which is between Kuala Lumpur and the airport, so I decided to visit that city the next day and eventually arrive at the airport by night.
malaysiafan

Day 10-In front of the MayBank Tower, I took bus 68 to Putrajaya. My original plan was to arrive at the final destination of that bus, Putrajaya Sentral, inquire about transportation from that city to the airport, take the local bus to Putra Mosque, take pictures there until sunset, take the local bus back to Putrajaya Sentral, then finally take the train to the airport (to sleep at the airport and fly out the next morning). However, after riding on the bus for 1 hour, a traffic coordinator indicated to the bus driver that he had to pull over and wait. Since we were already at Putra Mosque, I decided to just get off here, walk around the city, and worry about getting to the airport later. I later realized the reason why the bus had to pull over was because there was a large flux of people arriving at the Putra Mosque for Ramadan. The city is quite modern and one can tell a lot of effort went into their urban planning. What was strange however, was, aside from the people attending the Putra Mosque, there were hardly any people out. It was almost like a ghost town. After the sun had set, I immediately rushed out to Putrajaya Sentral because I didn’t know when the last train would be to the airport. I finally hailed down a bus heading to Putrajay Sentral. The ride was 50sen, but because I had no change, the driver told me to forget about it. After purchasing my train ticket, I realized the total fare I paid from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya to the airport (3.5rm + 6.2rm) was cheaper than a direct bus from Kuala Lumpur to the airport (12.5rm).
img_8569

Some closing thoughts: It’s amazing that this country can have such a mix of ethnicity (Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian) that can coexist peacefully. And unlike America, they seem to be able to retain their cultural identity, rather than being homogenized. It’s also ironic that of all the Southeast countries I’ve visited, Malaysia not only seems to be the most developed, but also the nicest (and least pushy). Calvin had mentioned an interesting thing about the current state of Malaysia. With the economy being as it is now, there have been less tourists coming through, but on the contrary, the Middle Easterners have been making more of a presence in Malaysia. So much so that restaurants and other facilities have been popping up to accommodate them. As a result, more of Malaysia’s economy is coming from the Middle Easterners and may eventually have more influence upon the Muslim viewpoint to become more conservative.

My Tokyo

Wish I had shot this, but…. Excellent edit of stills and video, probably shot with the same camera. Great use of lenses as well.

My references for use

As requested, the following are thumbnails of my photos from my travels. This post only includes my trip in Asia. Obviously, I didn’t include ALL of my photos, because I take so many different takes of the same photo, so I only displayed photos that may be of use to you guys.

Bear in mind that many of the thumbnails are unprocessed, especially the photos I took before I started using Lightroom. If there’s any photo you guys need for reference, I can email you the high rez version.

Let me know if these are useful for you guys. If so, I’ll go ahead and make thumbnails from Europe, the US, and animals.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Thailand

Thailand

Taiwan 2007

Taiwan 2007

Taiwan 2008

Taiwan 2008

Vietnam

Vietnam

Indonesia

Indonesia

Malaysia

Malaysia

Japan

Japan

End of line.

Japan
Japan

Day 1-Arriving in Narita airport last night, Ben and Rumiko generously hosted me during my stay in Tokyo. For lunch, I headed to Shinjuku to meet my girlfriend’s sister, Yuwen, and Yuwen’s college friend. Our conversation was quite interesting: they both speak Japanese, but I can’t; I can speak Chinese with Yuwen, but her friend is Korean; so I spoke English with her friend. I surprisingly had a great time with Yuwen. All the times I’ve seen Yuwen while she visited Taiwan, she seemed very unsociable. This could be her reaction around her family, but she was a lot more engaging this time around.

Yuwen and her friend

Yuwen and her friend


Afterwards, I had sushi with Ben and Rumiko, which they then dropped me off at Musashi Sakai Station to take the JR line to Tokyo, then the Hamamoto line to the monorail, and finally arriving at Haneda airport. Since my flight to Hokkaido was early morning, I thought I could just sleep at the airport the night before like I’ve done at many airports before. However, they wouldn’t allow me to sleep in most of the areas, so I wandered around until they directed me to a specific place where I can stay overnight. Unfortunately, it was already past 2am, so I only slept for 2 hours.

Day 2-Flying out of Tokyo, it was raining really hard because of a typhoon passing by. After landing in Asahikawa, I took bus 77 to Asahikawa station (¥570), then JR line Asahikawa (11:19) to Abashiri (15:09), then transfer from Abashiri to Shiretoko Shari (16:15), and finally a bus from Shiretoko Shari to Utoro (17:15). The bus unfortunately no longer went to the hostel that I intended to stay, so I had to figure out how to eventually get there. Along the way to the Utoro bus terminal, the sun was starting to set over the sea, and I wanted to scream at the bus driver to stop so I can take some photos. When we arrived at the terminal at 18:05, the sunset was getting even more brilliant, so I ran from the bus terminal to a spot near the coast. I was running out of time fast, and since my tripod was disassembled, I laid my camera on the ground while lying on bird shit. But it was so worth it because I don’t remember seeing the sunset as brilliant as that. Finished, I used the public phone at a 7-11 to call the hostel. Luckily public phones in Japan take coins, unlike most countries I’ve visited prior (they all use phone cards). The staff was friendly and sent someone to pick me up.
img_8692

Day 3-Damn, what a miserable day! It was raining all day from the typhoon, so I postponed my hike to Rausu-dake, and instead went to see Shiretoko Goko and Kamuiwakka falls. Staying at the hostel, I noticed that I was the only foreigner, everyone else was Japanese. For a while, it looked like nobody had any interest to interact with me, until a married couple invited me over. The wife, Junko, spoke decent English, although her husband, Tetsuya, couldn’t speak any. Regardless we had a great time getting to know one another, and even attracted other to join in on our conversations.
img_8705

Day 4-With no rain, the hostel shuttled me to Iwaobetsu onsen, which is the start of the hike to Rausu-dake, the highest mountain in Shiretoko National Park. I started my hike at 8am and arrived at the peak around 2pm. I really wanted to stay for the sunset, but the end part of the trail was way too dangerous to come back down in the dark (loose gravel and slippery ice), so I started my descent at 4pm. Considering how long it took me to get to Rausu-dake, I was literally running and flying over rocks to beat the sun. Because much of the terrain is hazardous, I was paying so much attention to my feet, that at one point my head smacked into a thick overhead branch, which knocked me off my ass. By 5:30pm, I can see the sun start to set, so I made my usual irrational decision to stop and take photos. Finished, I continued my trek down at 6:00pm. By 6:30pm I had to use my flashlight because the trees were blocking out any residual ambient light. I finally reach Iwaobetsu onsen at 7:00pm, but because there was no shuttle to take me back to the hostel, I had to walk an additional 40 minutes. By now, my legs were like jelly, and the last meal I had was breakfast, so I can feel my body devouring itself. It really sucked that I missed dinner, so I only had instant noodles at the hostel.
japanrausudake

Day 5-You know the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, which I’ve always lived by when traveling. So in the morning, I had my bath Japanese style and for the first time tried an onsen. Considering how wrecked my body was, it felt really good. Again, the staff at the hostel was nice enough to drive me back to the Utoro bus terminal. From there, I took the 7:10am bus to Shiretoko Shari Station, then the JR line all the way to Asahikawa station, and finally take bus 66 at 3:30pm to Shirakaba-so hostel to visit Daisetsuzan National Park.
img_8607
It really sucked that with the weather being so nice as it is, I’m wasting it by traveling to my next destination. Shirakaba-so hostel is definitely the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, but it’s fucking expensive (¥7500)! At the hostel, I was surprised to run into Junko and Tetsuya. They had already taken the same path that I was planning to hike, so they gave me an idea what it was like. They also mentioned that the next day it will start to get overcast later in the day with a chance of shower (great…).

Day 6-I took a 5am shower, and as much as I wanted to soak in their onsen forever, I had to get going to catch the 6am gondola, called “Ropeway”, that takes you to the start of the hike to reach Asahidake, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido. I reached the peak around 8:30am. It was frustrating taking pictures with the constant overcast, so by 10:20am, I started my descent down. Instead of retreading my previous trail, I decided to go on the opposite side of Asahidake and take a different trail that will lead me back to the Ropeway. Ascending and descending Asahidake was quite tricky because of all of the loose gravel. Descending down, there were a few times I slipped and fell. According to Lonely Planet and Tetsuya, this alternate trail should only take 2 hours. I walk for what feels like forever and I started to get worried that I was on the wrong path. At 12:20pm, I eventually reach a junction point that I was confident will lead me back to the Ropeway. You definitely need to do a little preplanning when taking this route. Not only did their signs have no English, but many of them were so weathered that you couldn’t read it in the first place. The end part of this trail was not enjoyable because of the fog and mist that soon enveloped the area (just as Tetsuya told me). Passing through their natural hot spring, I finally arrive back at the Ropeway at 3:20pm.
japanasahidake

Day 7-It was raining the previous night, but while having breakfast, it was starting to look nice outside, so I went on a short walk to see Komadome falls. At the falls, it started to drizzle, so I decided to head back to my hostel, and just in time too, because it really started to pour. While waiting for the 11:10am bus, several others from the hostel were also heading back to Asahikawa station. Unlike the previous hostel, the majority of them were not Japanese. They ranged from Hong Kong, Singapore, English, French, Spain, and Finland. After arriving back at Asahikawa station, I had so much free time before my flight back to Tokyo, so I decided to walk around the city of Asahikawa. Unfortunately, it started to rain hard, so I couldn’t see much and ended up spending some time in one of their local museums. By the time I had to catch the 4pm bus for the airport, the weather started to clear up. All throughout my trip in Hokkaido, I felt like nature was teasing me, “you want to take pictures? here, here’s some overcast and rain; oh, you’re not taking pictures? I’ll give you some awesome weather”. My plane took off at 5:30pm and arrived back in Tokyo at 7:15pm.

Day 8-After being served breakfast, Ben, Rumiko and I went to Jindaiji. This was a cool little place near their place that had a temple, plenty of greenery and shops lined up selling snacks and soba noodles. With the weather being so nice, it was a great opportunity for Ben and I to do some photography. It would be cool to compare how we’ve processed our photos from that excursion.
img_9479

Day 9-The original plan was to have an early lunch with Ben, then head to the Exposition Building, then to the Government Metropolitan Building to catch the sunset and some night city shots. We ended up having a late lunch because I gave Ben a look at my Chinese calligraphy and Ben showed me his photos. So by 3pm, I rushed out to catch everything before 7pm, because that was the time Ben, Rumiko, and I were supposed to get together for dinner. The nice thing about the Government Metropolitan Building is that their observation floor is free to the public and it’s close to several tall buildings. But because it doesn’t open out to the outside, I really struggled with dealing with the reflections off of the glass. Because they wouldn’t allow me to use my tripod, I had to improvise. Because my shots had long exposures, I had to stabilize my camera somehow, so I attached the tripod head to my camera (to get the angle I want), then I set the tripod head on top of my telephoto lens (for maximum height), while the telephoto lens was sitting on their window sill (for stability), and I spread my black umbrella on the bottom (to reduce as much reflections as possible). When taking my shots, I also cupped my hand around the gap between the camera lens and the window to reduce any other reflections still visible. I must have looked ridiculous to the others walking around the floor.
img_9585_6_7

Closing thoughts:
It’s been an interesting experience revisiting Japan after visiting a number of other Asian countries. One of the things that I noticed was that the Japanese seem to have the worst English out of all of the other Asian countries I’ve visited (besides Vietnam). I wondered why a country that’s so developed would have horrible English. Now I think I know why. It’s because when writing English words, most countries would write them out in English, but in Japan, they write them out in Japanese (katakana). So the Japanese are pronouncing English improperly because there are several English sounds that don’t exist in Japanese. Ironically, because the Japanese have adopted many English words into their vocabulary, it’s probably easier for foreigners visiting Japan. Just say the English words, just with a heavy Japanese accent.

Continuing with the topic of languages, I feel so grateful that I studied Japanese previously. Granted, my Japanese is horrible now, but while in Japan, I was remembering more and more of what I had studied. And because many of the Japanese that I encountered could not speak English, I knew enough that I actually had some enjoyable conversations with some of the locals.

I always try to speak some of the local languages when visiting those countries (except Vietnamese, which I found way harder than Chinese). Even saying little things like, “Thank you” in their language can make their expression soften up and make them more open and friendly.

My two visits to Japan has served as significant bookmarks in my life for me to reflect upon. There’s too much to put them all into writing, but it’s interesting to see the journey of The Cadre since we’ve last gathered for Ben’s wedding. Of course, we all go through changes as time passes, but I think it’s awesome that no only do we have the means, but also the desire to keep in touch. Let The Cadre Blog be a testimony to that.

Indonesia

Day1
I arrive at the Bali Densapar airport at 3am, where I immediately start looking for any public buses. Realizing there were none, I took a taxi to the bus terminal. Unfortunately, when I exchanged my money back at the airport, they didn’t give me any small bills, so the taxi fee went from 25 to 30. I waited at the bus terminal until 5am and took a bus to Ketapang Station, which is the port where I will take a ferry to Java. While on the ferry, I met an Indonesian (Donny), who was leaving Bali with one of his bandmates from a recording session. He was willing to go to Gunung Bromo with me and help with my accommodations. Arriving in Java, we took the train to Probolinggo, from there we hired a driver to drive us the rest of the way to Bromo. I don’t know if this made my trip better, especially in terms of saving time and money. Were were able to make it to Bromo to catch the sunset, even though it wasn’t spectacular.

Day2
I woke up at 3am to start my way to catch the sunrise at Mt Bromo. The beginning of the hike was easy, but the paved road turned to dirt, and there was no illumination whatsoever. Without a flashlight, it’s completely pitch black. I was starting to get worried that I took the wrong direction, because of the massive overgrowth I found along the trail. It gave me the impression that not many people go through here. Sometimes the path would veer off, which just makes it much more confusing. After 1 hour, I was relieved to find the viewpoint. While hiking, there was something flashing far off in the distance. At first I thought it was a beacon of some sort. It wasn’t until I arrived at the viewpoint that it was thunder way out in the distance. It was unearthly experience, being alone watching the clouds and mist swirl around the mountains. While waiting for the sunrise, only four other travelers stopped by this area. Satisfied with my photos, I make my way back to the hotel to embark on another hike, this time through the sea of sand to the smoking volcano. This trail also took 1 hour. Not sure if it was worth it, but at least I experienced it. Me and Donni finally leave this area to Surabaya to stay over one night. I wanted to visit the island of Lombok the next day to climb Mt Rinjani, so Donny helped arrange a flight ticket there.
img_6543_4_5_6

Day3
I arrive at the airport at 8:30am only to find out my airticket was not available because I did not pick it up the previous day. FUCK!! Not only did I waste $100, I also wasted time! There was no way I was going to spend more time in Surabaya, so I purchased a flight back to Bali that morning.
Arriving in Denpasar, I looked into finding public transport to Ubud. Info center told me several options, but I couldn’t find the damn bus, so I wound up taking a taxi all the way to Ubud ($25). There was definitely no shortages of places to stay, since Ubud is infested with travelers. During my stay in Ubud, most of the foreigners that I encountered were either German, French or Japanese. I found a place to stay for $8 per night. Not great, but within my budget. Since I booked 2 nights, I walked around central Ubud to get an idea what my schedule would be like. I looked at a few travel agencies to see if there was anything interesting to me. Along the way, I stopped by Perama bus. Not only do they have transport to the airport, it’s way cheaper ($5)!. I also asked them what’s interesting to see in Ubud. They introduced a person to me who said he can give me a tour to the mountains/rice fields/temple for $25. I was initially opposed to it, but considering that I would be the only tourist, he’s willing to take me to see the sunrise at the mountains, and allow me to take my time with my photos, I finally agreed and arranged to meet at the Perama bus stop the next day at 5:30am. I immediately set off to see a cultural performance (7pm/$7.50). What I found interesting was not just the visuals, but their chants. I’ve never heard it before and it sounded so alien.
img_7167

Day4
Wayan and I meet and first set off to see the volcanoes at sunrise. I was beginning to regret this tour because as we pressed on for on hour on his motorcycle, I was freezing and there was mist everywhere. Then he turned around a corner, and Bam! The view was magnificent, no mist, you can see 3 volcanoes, and the sun was about to pop out in half an hour. A big part of me wanted us to go further to see if there was a better vantage point. I decided to stay put and was glad I did, because after I was done taking my photos, the view didn’t get better as we continued down the road. The last thing we saw during the tour were the rice terraces. Along the way, I fought the urge to stop him to take pictures. I’m glad I did because he took me to a spot that was just sublime. Great scenery with no trees blocking my view. Not only did I appreciate his services, but I also had great respect for him as a person. We talked about the importance of preserving our environment and karma. Out conversation started when we saw some plastic refuge on the side of a mountain, and he lamented how his people were foresaking nature and embracing modernization. I think it made a huge difference having a tour guide like him. Our common view points made my trip more comforting and relaxing, and his love for nature took me to remote tucked away spots that I think the general tourist agencies wouldn’t go to. During the day, I went to see Monkey Forest, which was not very impressive, and for some unknown reason, I was itching everywhere, so I headed back to my place to shower, which was much better. At night, I attended another Balinese performance. I initially wasn’t so sure about see this performance, because they said it would be performed by children, but the setting was great, had live music, and the dancers were precise and synchronized.
img_6861_2_3

Day 5
The next morning I left for Candi Dasa. Since I’ve already seen volcanoes, temples, and performances, I felt it would be a shame to not stop by a beach, especially to look for some seashells. We started with a full bus, and by the time I reached Candi Dasa, there was only three people, me included! An old fellow at the bus station accompanied me to find a cheap place to stay. The person at the first hotel showed me a room with only cold running water and a ceiling fan for $13 a night. I was on a tight budget, so I passed. Then the old man took me to his own place, which was a complete wreck, but for $5.50, I decided to stay for two nights. I then walked on the main road towards Bugbug beach, which took about 2 hours. By now, my feet felt so raw, that I could feel each tiny rock/pebble that I stepped on. Approaching the coastline, a family on a motorcycle drove up to my side. The driver turned out to be the guy who showed me the room from the first hotel. It turns out that he lives at that beach and gave me an introduction to his place. On the other side of the mountain is white beach, but where he lives is called black beach because of the lava from a previous volcano eruption. Out in the distance, some of his people collect the sand to be sold for construction. He mentioned that it’s illegal, but for them, they have no other way to earn money. We also negotiated on him taking me to some rice fields at 9am the next day for $12. He also told me that if I walk along the sandy coastline instead of back on the main road, I will arrive back in Candi Dasa much quicker. I took his suggestion and was glad I did because I finally found some seashells, but I was slowly starting to regret it because it started to get dark, and I had to scuttle over some slippery volcanic rocks. Fortunately I made it back safely and in shorter time.
Going to bed, I sprayed myself with mosquito repellent because I saw a few mosquitoes around. As it turns out, they were the least of my problems. While sleeping, I had an itching sensation on my back. I thought that was bizarre, because I was sleeping on my back with my shirt on. I sat up to find numerous welts all across my back and I was convinced that my bed was infested with bed bugs. That’s when I said, “screw this place!”, and decided to not stay for the next night.

Day 6
The next morning got more bizarre. When I stepped outside to see the beach, some old man walks inside to use my toilet, and even left a poo dropping on my floor! Then, when I walked out to meet my tour guide, I saw a girl walking past me with a bleeding nose.
Me and my tour guide set off to see the rice fields. I had a nice casual walk through the fields, and we arranged to meet on the other side of my path. Along the way I saw several kids playing and bathing. Some of the kids were curious about me and were actually following me for a while.
img_7324
After the tour, I arranged with Perama bus to Kuta/airport, and I was getting conflicting answers. Before, they said they can take me directly to the airport, then later they said I’d have to take the taxi from the Kuta stop to the airport. Regardless of how I was going to get to the airport, there was one last thing that I wanted to take a photo of. When I previously left the airport, I saw a really cool statue. So my plan was to sleep overnight at the airport, then walk to the statue before sunrise to take pictures. After taking my pictures, walk back to the airport and take my flight back to Taipei.
Fortunately, not only did the Perama bus go directly to the airport, but along the way, I also saw that the statue was closer to the airport than I thought. I took a four hour nap at the airport, then made my way to the statue within half an hour. It was completely deserted at first, but as sunrise began to approach, a few old folks emerged to exercise around the statue. Satisfied with my photos, I walked back to the airport, freshened up in the restroom, had my last meal, and waited for my flight.
While waiting, I suppose one cannot avoid people watching. It seems almost every Japanese or Korean I saw were part of large tourist groups. I also recalled the numerous times the locals asked where I came from. I actually found this difficult to answer. Do I say Taiwan, since that’s where I directly came from and also where I have currently lived for a year. I would normally answer American, but that usually doesn’t satisfy them because of my appearance. Would it be clearer if I said I was Korean, even though I never lived there, nor can I speak the language. I guess in this case it really doesn’t matter because just about everyone thinks I’m Japanese and automatically spew a few Japanese phrases at me. This situation actually doesn’t make me concerned, in fact I’m quite happy about not fitting in a category.
img_7485

Vietnam

I actually wrote this post a while ago, but it took me a while to finally publish it. I apologize for this huge post, you can skip towards the last paragraph to get my impression of Vietnam.

So, during last Chinese New Year, my school had one week off. After much deliberation, I decided to visit Vietnam. I felt one week was too short to cover Vietnam from north to south, so I stayed around the north section since I felt it had more to offer.

Taking the public bus to Taipei airport, this was the beginning of how nothing worked out smoothly. I left home with plenty of time before my departure, but upon arriving the airport, I got off of the wrong terminal. I thought, no problem, I’ll just take the free shuttle bus to the correct terminal. Unfortunately, when I rode the shuttle bus, it took all kinds of detours through some cargo areas before finally arriving at my terminal. Once there, I found the line to my counter overly crowded. As time went on, I was running out of time. A lady was going around, asking if anyone was heading to Hanoi. Since I didn’t know how Hanoi was pronounced in Chinese, I hailed the lady and asked her if she was inquiring about anyone heading to Hanoi. She confirmed this, and took me to an available counter. After checking in, I, of course, had to wait in another line to clear immigration. By the time I passed immigration, it was already boarding time for my plane, and I still haven’t exchanged my money for Vietnamese currency. I said, “Fuck it” and went ahead to get my money exchanged. Afterwards, I sprinted to my gate, which, not surprisingly, was the last gate in the hall. Through all of this mess, I didn’t realize they upgraded me from economy to business. I seem to be making lemonade from lemons all throughout this trip.

After arriving in Hanoi airport around 12pm, right off the bat, all of these Vietnamese dudes kept asking me if I needed a ride. I ignored them and headed to where the mini vans were located. This was my first foray into how the Vietnamese conduct their business. These mini vans have no schedule. Instead, they leave the airport once their mini vans are bursting at the seams with people. Fortunately, I had time to spare, for I had a train leaving at 9pm to Sapa. The hotel that I booked in Sapa arranged someone to deliver the train ticket to me. Once I had the ticket, I headed to the train station with plenty of time to spare. I discovered that the gate number on my ticket was nowhere to be found at the station. I approached a Vietnamese guy behind a podium and showed him my ticket. He told me that when my departure time arrives, he’ll come and fetch me. Once my time neared he asked for my ticket and told me he’ll be back. Time passed, and I’m wondering, “Where the fuck is he? Did he scalp my ticket?” He finally returned and took me outside, passing by a number of train tracks. We finally arrived at one of the stations, except there were no lights on. He took me inside the cabin, and I’m thinking, “Is this right? Why is nothing on, and where’s everyone else?” I noticed he was still standing by the door in the dark, and I finally realized that he was expecting a tip. After tipping him, I’m sitting in the dark, waiting to see if this is right. I finally hear other people boarding, and the fact they were foreigners, gave much relief to me. My cabin had four beds, but I ended up sharing the cabin with only one other person. He was Vietnamese and turned out to be one of the friendliest Vietnamese that I met during my trip. The Vietnamese also give much importance to Chinese New Year (they call it Thet) and many of them were returning home, as was the case with him. His English and Chinese wasn’t bad, so we conversed in both of those languages.
img_0910
We arrived in Lao Cai around 5am. It took another hour by bus to reach Sapa. Sapa is a mountainous region north west of Hanoi that is home to several ethnic minorities. Despite being in Vietnamese territory, they are considered to be more closely related to Thai and Lao. In fact, not only was I surprised that a large number of them can’t speak Vietnamese, but a lot of them were quite fluent in English, especially the younger girls, who most of them work as tour guides. Before I continue, let me say that not only was it extremely foggy and wet, but fuckin’ cold! The weather conditions was absolutely not conducive to my photography, however, I learned quite a lot about photography from an American I met while in Sapa. We started talking when he noticed my Canon 5D Mark II since he had the earlier model. He didn’t exactly “teach” me, but we were hanging out while photographing outside and I observed how he approached his photography. The biggest thing that I gleamed from him was to pay more attention to the background of my portraiture. They should complement the subject and not distract the eye. I realized how I approached portraiture was exactly how I approached drawing. I would normally draw people and not even render the background.

Isreali guy with Sapa girl

Isreali guy with Sapa girl


Once again, I took the train again, back to Hanoi. From there I took the bus and boat to Catba Island, the biggest island in Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a UNESCO site, home to numerous islands and caves. Again, this is where things did not work out the way I originally planned. After arriving Catba Island, I looked around to see if I could arrange boatman to take me to the nearby islands and caves. I couldn’t find anything, just services providing group tours, which I despise. I also didn’t book a hotel, but this wasn’t a problem. After some searching, I chose the cheapest one, and asked the person behind the counter how I could see the islands and caves. Most hotels in Vietnam also provide some types of tour packages, so she mentioned that the next day, a group of people from her hotel are going to visit the islands and caves and eventually return to Hanoi on that same day. That sounded really ideal to me, except I already purchased a round trip ticket from Hanoi, to Catba Island, back to Hanoi. I finally decided to accept it as a loss and went ahead and paid for the tour. With nothing else to do on that day, I walked around a section of Catba Island, again dealing with the overcast sky. As the day drew to an end, the sky surprisingly cleared for a moment and I actually caught the sunset.

The next day, we left the hotel in the morning and hopped on to the boat. I was still pretty steamed about wasting my money on that return trip, but it probably turned out for the better because while riding the boat, I met a Korean dude and a Japanese dude. None of us knew each other, but we had some great conversations. Since they were not included in the tour package, they continued on to Hanoi while I got onto a different boat to see the islands and caves. It was a shame about the overcast because I’m sure the scenery would look much more majestic with blue skies and a spattering of clouds. On the boat, I really felt like a fish out of water, because no one else spoke English (except for the tour guide). There were two old French couples, two Korean families, and one Chinese family. While in Vietnam, I would often encounter people from mainland China. Though I can communicate with them, I found their Chinese particularly hard to follow because their accent is quite different and they spoke fast! The caves were interesting, but after a while, they just started to look the same. Plus, since I was with a tour group, I didn’t have time to find some interesting spots. Coming back to Hanoi, I no plans for my last two days in Vietnam, so I started walking around and asking various travel agencies what they had to offer. I even ran into the Japanese guy and his wife! This was a common occurrence where I would bump into people I met previously in Vietnam. I eventually decided to pay for a package to visit Tam Coc for the next day. The guy told me to arrive in front of his office at 7:30am, then I headed off to find one of the only hostels in Hanoi. It was already pretty late in night, and the hostel folks told me they had no more room, just a fold out bed and asked if I wanted it. A bed is a bed, plus it was cheaper, so of course I took it.
img_1954
The next morning, I went to the travel agency, only to have the guy tell me that they had to cancel it for some reason. I was really not looking forward to spending my time in Hanoi, and as I headed back to my hostel, I passed by a few other travel agencies. I stopped by one just for the hell of it and asked if they had a one day package for Tam Coc. They said yes, but for tomorrow. I said okay, and decided to walk around Hanoi and see if there was anything interesting to photo. This was another blessing in disguise. While walking away from the center of Hanoi, I encountered a sidewalk lined with open vendors featuring Chinese calligraphy artists. Many Vietnamese were getting pieces done for them, I think because of Thet. It was amazing to see them work. Not only were their calligraphy beautiful, but even the motion of their hands had confidence and fluidity. I also loved the range of the appearance of these artists. There was an old guy puffing away on a cigarette, another old guy who looked like he could be some Kung Fu sensei, and another guy who looked like Lo Pan. As I moved on, I started hearing some loud noises from the distance. I walked on over to find a parade going on. Again, something that I wasn’t expecting and a great photo exercise. That day was also my first time eating on the streets. Their food was decent, but quite different from the Vietnamese food I had back in the States.

Lo Pan writing

Lo Pan writing

So, the next morning, I arrive at the travel agency and waited forever for the tour bus to show up. As it turns out, the tour bus was hopping from one hotel to another, picking up tourists. Just another example of stuffing as much people into a vehicle before taking off. Our group of people was quite eclectic. There was an older French woman, one Swiss couple, two French couples, two old US sisters, one very old US couple, and one old Japanese guy. Tam Coc is located in Ninh Binh and is known for their countryside and their main river. Talk about timing, it was overcast during my stay in Vietnam and on this day, it was nice and sunny. The tour included a visit to two temples, a bicycle ride through the countryside, and a boat ride through the river. It wasn’t a bad experience, but man, it was so disorganized that we even lost two people by the time we were ready to head back to Hanoi. Okay, so I can’t have my last night in Vietnam without something bizarre happening to me. I was walking Hanoi, taking some night shots, when a motorist motioned me to come over. I ignored him, as I do all other motorists asking if I need a ride. He rode his motorcycle over to me and asked me in English, if I was Korean. I was wondering how the hell he knew I was Korean, and wondered if he was Korean also, so I said yes. This friendly looking guy said his name was Lam, a Vietnamese and wanted make friends with me. Right there, alarms were going off in my head. Ironically, the night before at my hostel, I was reading the Lonely Planet and there was an excerpt on how some Vietnamese will approach foreigners and try to befriend them in order to scam some money off of them. The more he talked, the more I was sure he wasn’t legit. He asked if I was traveling alone, how long I was staying. and if I wanted to go have beer with him on that night. I found this situation so hilarious. I really wanted to say something to the effect of, “I’m so defenseless here in Hanoi.” So I started playing around with him. I told him I was already heading back home, but asked if he had time tomorrow night (without telling him I will already be back in Taipei). We arranged a time and place to meet, and that was the last of him.

Last morning, I get onto the minivan for the airport, where, of course, I wait until the minivan is overflowing with people. Many people have asked me what did I think of Vietnam. A good question, especially since I’ve read a lot of other people’s impressions while planning my trip to Vietnam. One thing I discovered while researching Vietnam online was the amount of tour packages being offered and how little information there was for one to travel by themselves. I now realize how difficult it is to get around Vietnam on your own. I don’t think it’s so much on the language barrier, but on their infrastructure and organization. It appears that they have no regulations. I thought walking through traffic in Taipei was an adventure, Vietnam has them beat, hands down. Just ignore the signal that indicates when you can cross the street, just walk through the flow of traffic. The key here is to not stop or run on the street, just walk in a continuous motion as the traffic magically flows around you. I’ve also read about how the Vietnamese will do as much as they can to swindle money off of you. This is not untrue. They usually overcharge foreigners and give you the wrong change. I quickly discovered it’s best to have small bills so that you can give them the exact amount. Also, the frequency of motorists asking if you need a ride was getting really irritating. Some people say they shouldn’t be criticized because that’s their “culture”, others say that they can barely make much money in the beginning, so that have to resort to these behaviors. Regardless, this only adds to the negative impression of Vietnamese people. This also reminds me of these three Vietnamese students who were in my first semester Chinese study here in Taipei. They were absolutely the worst students I’ve ever encountered. They never did their homework, talked while the teacher was teaching, and cheated during tests. Everytime the teacher reprimanded them, they just look at her with indifference. I wonder if these kind of attitudes, coupled with the struggle over control of Vietnam by the French, China, Russia, and US has stunted their development out of a third world nation? One older American that I met said to me, “It’s the perfect chaos.” I would rather put it, “Ordered chaos.” It’s absolute chaos there, but it works for them.
img_1743

composition?

Okay, so I need your guys input on what you think is a more suitable composition. The image directly below is the uncropped version:

img_1051.jpg

What I love about this picture (besides catching this photo right before the kid peered away) was the number of possible stories I can convey just by how I compose this image. Below are a series of what I thought were possible.

img_1051-4.jpg

img_1051-3.jpg

img_1051-6.jpg

img_1051-7.jpg

img_1051-2.jpg

So, anyone of these stronger than the others?

Sweet Video

Cinematography, CG, compositing, editing…all top notch. And I personally think the song is fairly groovy. But it’s the execution of the concept that makes this fun to watch. Enjoy!

Happy Up Here from Röyksopp on Vimeo.

Wanted your guys opinions

I’ve recently started using Adobe Lightroom to process my RAW files. It’s quite a powerful program, and I’m starting to develop my photos differently, but I don’t know which is approach produces better results. I’ve laid out the differences of some photos I’ve just worked on. Looking at the vertical photos, the first column is the original untouched photo. The second column uses curves to adjust the value, which is how I’ve always been adjusting my photos in Photoshop. The third column uses a new technique I’m starting to employ in Lightroom that simulates the look of an HDR photo without the need for multiple exposures. The fourth column also uses Lightroom, but uses a preset I found online that produces a “vintage” look. I rarely use this, but it’s sometimes a life saver for a photo that wasn’t great to begin off with. As for the horizontal photos, the upper left is the original, the lower left has the vintage preset, the upper right uses PS curves, and the lower right uses Lightroom. Any comments are appreciated (and sorry for the photo being so damn huge).

untitled-1.jpg

SYDSED 2

Not to be outdone by some lowly Stormtrooper….

darth-vader_ariel-atom.jpg

SYDSED 1

Something You Don’t See Every Day

0aa6a903dcad87ae2542113eb7de5b91388af99d_m.jpg

My First HDR Image (Updated)

So, I got myself a copy of Photomatrix Pro (unofficially that is) and created my first HDR image with photos I took on my recent hot springs trip. Here is the result:

hdr_ben.jpg

I played around with the two ways to process the HDR image-Detail Enhancer and Tone Compression-and found I liked the results of Tone Compression more. It’s less artificial looking than Detail Enhancer which produces very painterly images, but to my eye, looks a bit unnatural (unless that’s what I am going for). Anyway, I noticed a problem I can’t seem to fix:

darkspots.jpg

Those dark spots in the water highlights. I tried adjusting the original +2 overexposed RAW file almost to the point where I was nearing only being +1 overexposed and looking too similar to the normal exposed shot and they’re still coming up. I made slight adjustments to the underexposed and the normal exposed shot as well and while the dark spots reduced in size and number, they’re still there. I was wondering, Steve, is there a way to get rid of these prior to creating the HDR image? Once all three shots go through that process, they’re there for good. Maybe it’s the way I am generating the HDR image? Any tips you can give would be greatly appreciated. It’s pretty fun playing around with this, but there’s a lot to pay attention to before and after the fact.

By the way, I was happy to find that Nikon has an imaging suite for working with RAW files that is pretty damn powerful. Downloaded that and it’s working out very well. I’ll probably stick to that rather than going into PS since it’s completely non-destructive.

UPDATE

So, here’s the image reworked as Steve suggested. I also tried out his sharpening technique. You weren’t kidding about the noise, Steve. That takes some serious managing. Anyway, the black spots are gone and everything is a little sharper for it to boot. This is definitely stuff that needs to be thought about at the time one takes the photo. I’m not doing too much landscapes these days, but it’s nice to know I have a method for capturing landscapes in traditionally difficult lighting situations. I have a bunch of photos to process and put up on Flickr so I’ll work on that in my spare time (works already starting to come in). Thanks again, Steve.

hdr2c_masked.jpg

Next Page »