Asia Photo Show - August 7

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Wat Arun

Asia is a land of beauty and contrasts; ancient temples stand side by side with modern skyscrapers while motorbikes zip past bicyclists wearing conical straw hats. Join me at Earth Mart on August 7 for a look at southeast Asia through stunning images from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam!

Earth Mart features environmentally-friendly, energy-saving, recycled, sustainable, and fair trade products. Earth Mart is located in historic Phoenixville, Pennsylvania at 235 Bridge Street.

The show will open August 7 at 7pm and be on display through September 3, with a variety of framed and matted prints available for purchase. Hope to see you there!

coverUpdate: For a copy of all the photos featured in the show plus extended selections from the trip, you can purchase this 8.5 x 11″ full-color, hardcover photo book for just $49.99 (USD)!

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Asia Photo Notes

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Wat ArunThree weeks in southeast Asia exploring new places with camera in hand made for some great photos. In this post, I’ll elaborate on the gear, shooting, and processing of travel photos from halfway around the world.

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One Day in Seoul

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

When I booked my flights for Asia, I decided to treat the 12-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea on the way back as an opprotunity. After all, how many times do you connect through a city you’d love to explore, let alone one halfway around the world?

The little bit of research I did revealed that there was a tourist information desk at the airport that was a good resource. My overnight flight from Vietnam arrived before they opened, so I had a chance to grab breakfast and brush my teeth before the very helpful (and English-speaking!) woman gave me some pointers.

Her suggestion: take the bus downtown, and ride and hop-on hop-off tourist bus circuit to over 2 dozen sites. It worked quite well; the downtown bus was a full coach with incredible legroom for the 1.5 hour trip from Incheon airport into downtown Seoul. The tourist bus was right there, and stops at several palaces, markets, and museums. And they even take care of you if you lose your ticket because your brain is only running at half power :)

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Vietnamese Cooking

Monday, April 27th, 2009

After a very entertaining Thai Cooking class, I was eager to compare it with Vietnamese cooking in Hoi An. Our guide Huy set up our group with a dinnertime class, which was nice it that it took care of dinner and left the day free for the beach and clothes shopping.

This class was “family style” at Gioan, where all of us sat around the table chopping ingredients and then cooked one batch together. Our teacher Vinam was very sweet and energetic; she gave us all vegetable names (I was “Lemongrass”) and jokingly threatened to put us in the corner if we didn’t pay attention. (I was too tired and sunburnt that night to go crazy with my camera, so I stayed in her good graces.)

The ingredients were similar to the Thai dishes, though with less intensive preparation. The one exception were some ingredients that had to be wrung out or juiced by the “big strong men”: Barn “Green Papaya”, Matt “Aubergine”, Chris “Cucumber”, and myself.

We learned how to roll and fry the spring rolls we’d been enjoying all week, as well as make a surprising green papaya salad, and fish wrapped in banana leaves. Vinam was flexible with all the recipes, making vegetarian substitutions for Jenn (”Baby Onion”), and suggesting less exotic ingredients we might be able to find at home.

With 5 dishes, several rounds of drinks, and an impromptu fashion show of some of our new clothes , it was a long but enjoyable night learning some new recipes.

Custom Clothes in Hoi An

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Besides being a picturesque former trading town near the beach, Hoi An in Vietnam is known for its many tailors. You can’t go 50 feet without hitting a clothing shop, all of which can make just about anything you can dream up.

Many of us had been planning to get clothes made, and decided to make dinner quick our first night to get to the tailors. We didn’t even have to finish dinner; the small restaurant across from our hotel was next to a clothing shop, whose owner came over with her toddler to say hi and invite us in for a look. It might’ve been clever marketing, but their samples and fabrics looked good, and Matt & Anna reported similar findings at another nearby shop, so we had found our store!

That turned out to be the easy part, as their table was stacked with thick catalogs of styles, and the walls piled high with enough fabrics and silk to satisfy my mom and grandma! We had a fun scramble through catalog pages and fabric bolts, which was certainly more fun as a group. Jenn and Chris provided a good sounding board for my choices, and the final tally was astonishingly low for so many custom pieces.

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The Overnight Train

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

One feature of this trip was an overnight train ride from Hue to Hanoi, which sounded a bit charming. Even if being bunked 4 to a cabin wasn’t Orient Express level luxury, I figured it would be on par with the 2 star hotels w’ve stayed in - simple but clean.

Instead, we got more worn, drab-green cabins whose only real charm was getting a good “roughing it” experience. After a beer or two to ease the jolt (a Gorillapod can be twisted into¬†a cupholder, by the way), the stewards brought around schedule cards with pictures of much nicer cabins. Chris and Matt set out to find these mythical cabins, with clean, already made beds and walls paneled with fake wood instead of real grime. Having honed their negotiating skills after two weeks of beating down local hawkers, they came back with an offer to upgrade all 3 cabins for our group for half price, or about $8 a person. With 12 hours to go, we all jumped in and moved on up.

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In The Viet Cong Tunnels

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Outside of Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi region, whose people fiercely defended their homeland during the Vietnam War (or American invasion as it’s often referred to here). As the old, black and white propaganda film explains, they responded to the “American demon’s” bombs and tanks by digging a complex network of tunnels to live, work, and fight from.

The region is dense jungle, crawling with centipedes and snails and quite loud once the other biomass starts talking. It’s tough to imagine finding or fighting anyone here, even without the tunnels. With tunnels, traps, and bombs everywhere, victory seems impossibile.

A tunnel entrance, invisible under a covering of leaves, is a tiny 18 x 10 inches - just enough to admit a skinny person’s torso with their arms held up. A few of us dropped in with headlamps and began a doubled-over duck walk through tunnels no more than 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. After the first bend, all outside light and air disappears and the heat and claustrophobia hit me quickly. Then it feels like a urgent scramble to get out, and looking at the surface distance our crawl through the tunnel seems much longer.

The remainder of the tour shows - above ground - how the villagers prepared weapons and nasty spiked traps, made sandals from tires (which lasted for 5 years), and fed themselves with rice paper and rice wine. Craters from the many B-52 delivered bombs dot the landscape, and it one a formidable bundle of bamboo has grown dead center. The most striking part of the experience was crawling through the tunnels, though - it took some very tough people to live and fight in them for weeks at a time.

Rick Steves Washes his Underwear in the Sink

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

TV travel guru Rick Steves is a big fan of traveling light - pack one bag and wash your spare underwear in the sink each night. Three weeks on the go was a good excuse to try it out, and so far, so good.

Bringing about five days worth of clothes spreads out the washing, which only takes 15-20 minutes. Soap, a stopper, and a clothesline are really the only supplies, though a microfiber towel for rolling wet clothes speeds the drying. My REI poster boy collection of synthetics dries pretty quickly anyway. The benefits have been nice: less to lug, nothing to check ok the plane, and more room for souvenirs and camera gear.

Cambodia’s Dark History

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

If Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s brightest jewel, the history of the Khmer Rouge is its darkest stain. They came to power under Pol Pot in 1975, and shut down the country’s banks, schools, and cities, sending everyone into the fields to farm. This agricultural communism turned into genocide, killing millions of Cambodians before Vietnam chased out the regime in 1979. Intellectuals and the opposition were tortured in prisons like Toul Sleng before being executed in the mass graves of The Killing Fields and hundreds of other sites.

As a former complex of school buildings with palm trees in its sunny courtyard, the transformation of Toul Sleng in the capital Phnom Penh seems particularly sinister. Drawing close to the buildings, you see the barbed wire strung across to keep prisoners from jumping to their deaths and the cramped, crude holding cells. Amidst the leg irons and torture devices, black and white mug shots of the prisoners and guards stare back like ghosts.

The Killing Fields are almost tranquil by comparison. Just outside of the city, a beautiful stupa (tower) reaches into the sky, holding the skulls of the many victims found here. Behind it, the excavated graves slowly return to nature under shady trees as butterflies dodge in and out. Signs and piles of victim’s clothing provide a link to past events. Though Cambodians grieve that none of the victims were given a properm religious burial, one hopes that they’ve finally found their peace as the country moves forward with an impressive optimism.

On the road in Cambodia

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Driving between Siem Reap and Phenom Penh in Cambodia is quite the visual feast. The road is almost completely paved, allowing buses, motorbikes, and trucks to overtake one another without too much drama. Except for the cows, or course, which like to wander in the road and even though you can count their ribs, are big enough to be trouble.

The open rice fields are dotted with palm trees, and occasionally interrupted by strings of houses and basic wood shacks with big stacks of hay. Each cluster also sports at least one political sign for the People’s Party; given the damage done by the Khmer Rouge, you can bet they take their politics seriously here.

The motorbikes carry a bit of everything: sticks, hay, food, 3-4 people, and about 3 dead pigs! The trucks carry a bit more; often with goods and people piled high on the roof.

Pulling off the road raises the stakes. At a silk farm, the resident cat (small and skinny like all of them here), joins us for lunch with her own catch: a still wrigling gecko. She meowed in protest at being told she couldn’t bring it into the kitchen :)

Our group finds their own snacks: boiled silk worms! I content myself with taking some pictures of the silk process, from worms to weaving. Our afternoon rest stop is for fried spiders. Decent size ones, too - no little poppers. A few braver souls do get them down and our local tour guide gets back on the bus with a bag full for his own munching.