Right Out of the Gate.

Tired muscles, unclear head and slightly weary body, we leave the poshness of our comfy hotel for an early AM flight far out west to the “major” city of Ulgii. A quick westward flight just over an hour, we land on a small airstrip to unload bodies and luggage before it continued onward. We are met by our smiling guide ‘Sunshine’. Brief welcoming pleasantries as our Land Cruiser is loaded up. We hop in, back out of the parking lot only to take an immediate right turn. 


What a right turn it was. The road was a straight single track that lead itself into the vast open prairie. Our heads were barely cleared from the early morning flight and here we sit trailing off on smooth straights, bumpy heavily rutted tire-laid ‘roads’ – it was something out of a Mad Max movie. Surrounded by stark mountains, we’re bumping and grinding out new trails as we make our way to the Eagle Festival nearby.

As this region belongs to Kazakh’s (Kazakhstan is not far to the west), the traditional trance-like minimalist Kazakhstanian music blares unselfishly throughout our Land Cruiser’s speakers. The rthymic beat, Sitar-like twang beating our heads with every bump in the road, one couldn’t help but have an out-of-body experience in its repetitive downbeat. Many road fork diversions later, we reach an opening where a sharp right turn was taken up towards and through a little valley. Maybe it was the discussion b/n driver and guide and pointing fingers, but it felt lost. After about 40 mins, not stopping for pause, we continue up on a slight upward pitch close to a small hill to our right. As we round it, we can see a small gathering way up near the top of the next hill range. We have arrived. 

Сайн уу Mongolia!

Or, welcome to Mongolia!

For those familiar with making the journey across the Pacific pond know that the 10+hr flight from the west coast of USA is either nothing or an absolute painful ride. Having jumped on a great deal on United Airline from LAX-SFO-PEK, then a 6hr layover in PEK (not counting the 1hr delay in LAX due to SFO runway construction) before taking a quick 2hr. hopper to ULN, finally reaching Ulaanbaatar some 19+hrs later to bed down in a hotel in the capital city.

Less than 6 hrs sleep, we make our way back to a semi-familiar ULN airport to journey westward to the land of Kazakh’s of Ulgii. Let the sojourn begin!

Entertainer by …

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… any other name, but much more than that. Last year whilst roaming the streets of Gion, Kyoto it was raining pretty hard, thwarting any chance of seeing the famed female entertainers scurrying about throughout the evening. Today started out no different as it again started off with several threatening sprinkles of rain – even late into the day. Feeling bummed, I gave up on any chance of being ‘rained out’ again. But, as luck would have it, Continue reading

A is not for Apple

Some think it morbid to want to go to such places as these. Some rather spend their holidays lying on the beach or spending time in some swank place … me? Wherever I can, I try to make time to visit off the beaten path places, places of cultural or world significance. Finally making it to this site (and city), has been a longtime Bucket List … check.

The enduring city of Hiroshima hosts (unfortunately) the Peace Memorial Museum which displays a memorial around the ill-fated August 6, 1945 event that would forever change the world as we see it today. Especially in light of today’s warring rhetoric b/n two chest-beating people in high positions to (yet again) change the world … or destroy it altogether.

Right now, the museum is undergoing a major renovation, so the main building isn’t accessible, but they did a good job at displaying things in their temporary home quite well. From a photographic sense, it didn’t feel right to make images of the havoc and devastation the A-Bomb had on personal human life, so documenting objects and the land around them was powerful enough to convey the loss. Will we, as humans, ever learn that disputes over (anything) are just small slivers of the larger more important things in life? This writing can easily take a political turn – it’s hard not to go there. But, the bottomline in all of this is living peaceably amongst ourselves. I know this is too rosy of an outlook on the many things we as humans fight about, so I would go there.

Imagery is powerful. Imagery teaches. Can imagery help to change some of our evils ways? In one of my images above, I couldn’t help but to simulate the ghostly blast on that ill-fated day …

How fitting to have gone to a peace event on August 6th in a nearby city be The Bay:  https://intrepidsojourns.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/peace/

 

The Grand Gates

It was not long ago, perhaps 8 or 9 years ago that I saw images of a place that appeared to be different. Not quite unworldly, but even through this set of images being shown somehow spoke to me in a strange way – difficult to put into words. It spoke of peace. It told me that the simplest things are often the most rewarding, void of too much going on in our often chaotic scenes we see in everyday life and this was had by just a few photographs!

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Entrance

The scene is simple. Simple structures with just 2 colors – orange and black set amongst a sea of green. Was this a carefully planned use of the ancient primary/complementary color  scheme or just a random selection? I tend to guess the latter as zen-like properties likely played an influential role when constructed some time in the mid-900’s … yes, that was 900, not 1900. Now, I’m sure its gone through several iterations over the centuries, but the basic idea was there … in fact, it is said that the earliest structures started showing up around the early 700’s! Location? Inariyama Hill in present day Kyoto, Japan.

Today, Fushimi Inari-taisha plays host to thousands upon thousands of Torii Gates. Torii Gates you ask? That’s what I asked those years back when I first saw them. Typically found at the entrance of Shinto-shrines that signify the same (as opposed to a Buddhist shrine). It’s origins are unknown, but thought to be Japanese versions of like gate entrances found all throughout Asia (China, SE Asia, India, etc.). Here at Fushimi Inari, special homage is paid to the Fox. Seen as messengers to the Gods of Rice. Rice is believed to bring prosperity. Today, these grand Torii gates are donated by local Japanese businesses to bring good fortune and prosperity to their respective businesses. Each gate is inscribed (in both Kanji and some roman lettering) by their benefactor. Kanji, which is largely derived from Chinese characters look authentic – even if you can’t read what it says (when in reality it’s just stating the company name and such), but amongst this sea of characters, you see a recognizable grouping of letters like the The Toyota Group – it kinda’ ruins it for me!

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Even blurred, it gives a sense of peaceful calm.

On the day I visited, it was after spending most of the day out west in peaceful Arishiyama. Wanting to experience Fushimi Inari before the heavy rains (forecasted for the next day), I decided to get a jump on the weather. Upon alighting the train station by the same name, it puts you right across the street from the entrance for easy access. Arriving around 3:30pm upward into the shrine area it was. As expected, it was crowded. Testing both patience and creative angles to obtain shots sans people was a constant challenge, but it was all a part of the experience as I’ll soon, and unexpectedly, understand … climbing, pausing, waiting for opportune moments of distance between others, it became apparent that nightfall was fast descending. As such, the crowds began to dissipate as well giving me more unobstructed photo ops of the gates. As my unplanned (now) evening visit gave rise to another challenge. Lighting – or lack thereof, that is … and no tripod on hand to help steady the camera. That’s like trying to paddle upstream in a boat without a paddle – it’s virtually impossible without using what you’ve got with you.

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Dream-like

So, as the sun began to set quickly, the sparse trail lighting helping a bit, up goes the ISO in the camera. Then, finding what’s available to lean up against while settling for the best camera setting combinations to allow a chance at getting sharp images. Even controlled breathing techniques were employed. With every section ascent, a map was given to us telling your position on the mountain. When it seemed that you’ve made good distance progress, the map showed differently – barely any. Upwards and onwards … as near complete darkness set in, it was apparent completing the loop wasn’t going to happen on this visit. Finally resolved to turning back, completely void of people at this point, scaling down the hill soon turned into questioning familiar surroundings. Even in the darkness, things didn’t look familiar … and they weren’t. Onward. Nothing recognizable. Pause. Then thinking … oh crap what now? The only reference was peering over a set of low trees to see the city below. Heading towards the city is a good bet, where it’ll end up is certainly better than going the other way – which way that was? I didn’t know.

Soon caught up with another wayward solo visitor who apparently did the same. I thought … go it alone (aka backtrack my unsure steps) or stay together? I (we) did the latter figuring getting lost in greater numbers was probably better than smaller ones. Torii gates no more as we entered into a residential area until about 10 minutes time hitting the main street near the train station. Phew.

Cool part: less people, evening presence

Not so cool part: not knowing where the #$ll you were. No tripod.

Lemonade out of lemons.

Kwik Korean Kontingency

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Yogyesa Temple readying itself for the upcoming Buddha’s Birthday in a couple of weeks.

Planning a trip anywhere is never without much thought, planning and decisions to be made like how, when and where to go, see and do with your short amount of time. This was a quick trip (only 9 days) that was primarily geared for a traditional tourist type of itinerary for a group of 8 casual travelers with varied interests yet willingness to stay together for the most part. What to do?

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Old and new … from Bukchon Hanok Village, the N Seoul Tower can be seen.

Stay in the city, get in as much local culture and food as possible. That was the name of the game in Seoul. Staying true to this type of itinerary and getting any kind of shots (photos) of interest was not an easy task as wandering around is typically done during the non-opportune time for the best photography. This set has the look and feel of the typical tourist captures as it was a hectic “on the move” program.

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Changing of the guard at the Gyeongbokbung Palace

In Seoul, there are many things little nooks and crannies in the various areas – all virtually the same, but different with their own vibe. Markets upon markets as well as cultural venues dating back hundreds of years. Making our way a bit out of the city to the northern border is the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. The DMZ is roughly located along the 38th Parallel of the world and is famously known as the most militarily sensitive zone in the world. Whether it was all true or just total hype, adherence to the Guide’s strict commands rung through very clear. No pictures whatsoever in most of the areas of the DMZ or the Joint Security Area (JSA) – one of which I really didn’t see the sensitivity. They did, however, paint a pretty serious attitude during the tour. My take on it is … if the area were THAT serious in nature, why construct tours and tell us we can’t take pictures in the first place? Seemed to be hyped a bit IMO, but without really knowing, you just have to take it at face value and play along.

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The aggressive stance of the S. Korean Soliders on watch at the JSA across a fenceless border b/n the two territories – building in background is in N. Korea.

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Courtyard of the Rakkojae traditional Hanok in Bukchon.

One of the highlights in the city was the Noryangjin Fish Market, unlike the famous one in Tokyo, as you wandered around the market, upon buying your seafood, they quickly shuttle you off to a restaurant area out back where it would be prepared for you anyway you liked – we chose sashimi and BBQ’d. A bit of a tourist trap, but the experience was worth the price of admission and the seafood was pretty darn tasty!

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Noryangjin Fish Market is a seafood lovers delight.

Getting out of the city and heading south to the island of Jeju for a couple of days proved to be the right choice as the concrete jungle of Seoul was looking the same after a while. Jeju island, sometimes known as the Hawaii of S. Korea. The nature beauty of Jeju was apparent, but also were the many cheesy tourist attractions/traps that had little or nothing to do with the local culture. If you can get passed all of that, the island had a special relaxed vibe and was a nice break for the city.

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Lights of Seoul from my hotel room of the N Seoul Tower

Before going over, I committed to learning a few basic words in Korean (like hello, goodbye, thank you, please, restroom, how much, too expensive, and a few numbers for bargaining). What I didn’t expect was how much my limited (and very bad BTW) Mandarin would come in handy.

Below are some of the places visited on Jeju Island …

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The Dol Hareubang guardian keeps watch.

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Seongeuop Folk Village

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Yakcheon Temple – lanterns for Buddha’s Birthday

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The naturally carved out Manjang Caves bored by raging lava.

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Low tide below the ominous Seongsan Ilchulbang Crater – a place where woman divers can be found.

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Jeongbang falls

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Jusangjeoli Cliffs formed by volcanic lava and the raging sea.

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Jeongbang falls spilling into the ocean

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Cheongjeyeon Falls

Walking my Glass Off

Waking before the crack of dawn without any breakfast and after a fun-filled (not) early morning in the Gimpo Airport and being escorted straight to start touring the southern island of Jeju-do, it made for another tiresome day …

… but, I am jumping ahead of myself.

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Southern shore of Jeju-do. This is a Dol Hareubang, the island’s great protector.

Gimpo airport arrival. It’s crazy crowded with most everyone going to Jeju-do, the same place we’re heading off to. Having been dropped curbside, I expected to be greeted by someone to help us with our flight arrangement – I was told that this was to occur. No one. Waited an hour … nada. Knowing that we were to land at 9:30am and it being an hour flight, 8:30am was a good estimate to depart. With still no one to give us our flight information – you know –  the usual airline name, flight number etc. (we had nothing)

What to do? Go to every single flight carrier, give them your Passport/name to see if they’ve got you in their system. One down, no. Two, no. three … 5th one and one I’ve never heard of  called T-way … Bingo! Getting through check-in and a long security line, we made it with 10mins to space.

Met with a smiling face in the Arrivals area, off we go to several places for the day. The unusual place was a glass garden where all of the featured items where made of glass. What to do? Not make images or what? With a seemingly mundane (albeit a very skilled craft in and of itself), subject matter to try and record, what to do, what to do … and how? it was play time. Experimentation time. Angles, zooms, alternative techniques was in order. Here is what fun you can have with the so called mundane. Everything is strait out of camera (mostly) – except for the usual exposure, contrast and shadow bumps.

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Dragon Face

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String of glass balls hanging from wires.

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Moving ‘shroom … I think I took too many

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Flowers in Rembrandt

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All heart

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Beetlejuice

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Glass balloon hanging in a tree.

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Frosty in surprise

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Flower in full bloom