November 30, 2011

D is for Dove

Last month when my honey and I strolled in Hong Kong, I spied this pretty Chinese Spotted Dove having fun bathing in rain water.

 Hong Kong, 2011

The Spilopelia chinensis also called the Spotted Turtle Dove, Lace-Necked Dove or the Mountain Dove. This species is usually found in open woodland, farmlands and other natural habitats where it can find the seeds and grains it needs for nourishment. Makes me wonder why they are now appearing in urban centers; does anyone know?

Watching it play and noticing it was alone (as opposed to in a big flock one typically sees pigeons) got me asking what is the difference between doves and pigeons. I learned: not much! They are both species of the bird family Columbidae. The larger of the species are generally called pigeons, the smaller are called doves, yet there is no taxonomic difference. 

So I ask the pigeon-haters, those who consider these rats with wings, how can you not adore this sweet looking critter?

Check out other fun and creative D posts at Jenny's Alphabe-Thursday. I'm also linking to Camera Critters, where people around the world share their animal shots and stories.

November 28, 2011

T is for Telephone

These days you rarely walk the length of a town block without seeing a person walking with a cell phone plastered to his or her ear.  Everyone in China – from CEO to driver – is busy.  On the phone.  

Bride & groom, Guangdong, 2006

Face-to-face meetings are blithely interrupted when a cell phone rings, with not the slightest trace of apology.  Your life is in your driver’s hands; all the while his hands are glued to his phone instead of the wheel.  

Even drifting down the little Yulong River on a bamboo raft, our boatman’s burly voice on his phone blasted away our peace and quiet.

Boatman, Guangxi, 2007

It wasn’t always like this.

One morning about 25 years ago, in my early trade consultancy days, my partner and I took the earliest train from Shanghai to Hangzhou to visit a dial caliper factory on behalf of our British client. It was customary in those days for the translator of the factory to greet us at the train station (or airport, as the case would be), but this particular morning, scanning the hustling crowd of bodies in blue Mao suits and black heads all cropped short, we found no familiar face.

There must have been puzzled or searching looks on our faces, because it wasn’t long before a pretty young woman I’d guess to be in her early 20s dressed in the same Mao suit, the same bluntly cut hair as the rest, approached us and asked in hesitant English, “Can I help you?”

We briefly explained the situation and then said, “Perhaps you can help us find a telephone and call the factory?”

“Of course, I will do my best.”

Luck had it that there was a public phone not too far from the station, just across the street. Don’t imagine anything like a telephone booth. In those days this meant an old-style black telephone placed on a tiny wood table outside some commercial establishment, in this case a small filthy private eatery, the kind even I think twice to eat in.

She dialed, found the right person to talk to, spoke a few lines, hung up and turned to us to say, “The factory is only a few minutes from here.  Someone is coming to pick you up.  Please just wait a while.”

We thanked her, with our big western smiles, and then were stunned by her reply. 

“Please don’t thank me.  Today is a very special day for me.  You see, today is the first time I ever use a telephone.  So I must thank you.”


Another time, another reality.  But just twenty five years ago.

Every now and then I still wonder what she is doing today.  But whatever it is, I’d bet my last yuan she is carrying a cell phone.


This story joins Our World Tuesday and ABC Wednesday.

November 27, 2011

Decorated Door

 Kathmandu, 2010

I found the old wood-carved door on its own already beautiful. Decorated with bright flowers it created a warm welcome.

This was the entrance to a trade hall for Nepalese hand crafted products intended for export. Unfortunately, not many international buyers came to this distant source.

Joining the photo blogging communities at Today's Flowers, The Creative Exchange and Monday Doorways.

November 25, 2011

Heart of Vienna Reflected

 Vienna, 2011

Reflections of the heart of Vienna, Der Graben, including its most famous landmark Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral) in store hours sign and store windows. [Better seen enlarged.]

Below is a longer view of the pedestrian street with the once exclusive apparel and fine linens store E Braun & Co established in this building (with the tower) in 1893, now the Swedish mid-range fashion chain store H&M.

Linking with reflections seekers at Weekend Reflections.

November 22, 2011

S is for Surprise

4:30 am

“It’s going to be a good day,” Baagii says, grinning broadly as she enters our ger (nomadic tent) at the crack of dawn to rouse us. “I have many surprises for you!”

Baagii, our spirited guide in Mongolia, is the star of our fifth day’s adventure in Hovd. It’s a long, entirely true story, necessarily made short(er) for this post. (Words in bold gray are links to directly related posts.)

The first surprise of the day – which Baagii did not plan – is that Magsar, our driver, fails to appear at camp at the appointed time. An inauspicious sign? Yet some hours later arrive he does, hurtling towards us in the dependable old Russian van that’s been delivering us to diverse corners of this remarkable aimag (province), leaving a cloud of dust behind him.

Hovd, 2007

12:00 pm

After some hours on the road taking us southeast from the capital, quite in the middle of nowhere, Magsar stops at the base of an unremarkable rocky mound and Baagii summons us to climb it.

Baagii and Sergelen

Turns out this hill is chockfull of ancient pictographs of animals dating back to 3500 BC.  Cool!

Our next stop is to say hello to a family of goat herders. Baagii sits down with the women to milk the goats with complete ease and surprising dexterity.

2:30 pm

A few hours down the road when we break to answer nature’s call in the most charming outhouse, our local guide Sergelen shows us more rock art and takes photos for scientific record. 

Onwards. We have not seen much vegetation or water this day, so this little stream with a few trees delights us. 

As the van crosses the stream, intrepid travel mate Pam squeals, “I love driving through water!” My immediate retort with a laugh, “Better wait till we get out of it” is in vain; the van smoothly glides over to the other side.

That is where we soon find another of Baagii’s surprises: the Khoit Tsenkher Cave… or perhaps I should say first: the climb up to this cave! The parked van is bottom right of this image; the cave top right.

We are enticed by tales that the cave is rich with Stone Age pictorials, pointing to cultured settlements here in prehistoric times. Our party of middle-agers huff and puff to the top. Magsar and Sergelen are the first to reach the entrance, with me and my camera not far behind.

Baagii bravely scours the cave for evidence of the promised 15,000-year-old paintings…

…but in the end all we find is graffiti left by idiots visitors who preceded us.

I learn later that almost all the rock art in this important cave – which made the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites – has been defaced or covered in dust. So the only timeless treasure we see is this magnificent view.

We descend only slightly disappointed. And return to the side of the stream to savor a late picnic lunch and rest.

We continue onwards, not knowing our final destination for the day, open to being surprised. 

6:20 pm

As it happens, we never make it. We reach another stream, but this time we don’t get to the other side. When the van stops dead, our hearts skip a beat. This is my view out the left window.

One by one we climb out of the van and gingerly walk back through the rocky stream, thigh-deep in water, whence we came. Once all our feet are safely back on terra firma, I look at the van and see this.

Well, so now what? Can’t exactly call a taxi. Can’t call anyone; there’s no cellular network out here.

The boys look frazzled and offer no solution. Baagii looks calm and tells us, “Please just wait. I will go get help.” And off she goes, across the river. The rest of us… wait. Several go for a long walk, hoping to meet a herder, anyone, along the way. Others read, or meditate, or perhaps pray.

I watch Baagii in the distance. She vanishes around the mountain.  Exactly one hour after leaving us, I behold her in admiration as she appears on a horse and gallops away to disappear again around another bend.

In the meantime, I see Magsar and Sergelen across the stream when a vehicle approaches them. It stops; there is a discussion, and what? – the jeep drives off without them! Later I hear they were not willing to help, but I’d like to think – being in this ├╝ber-hospitable land – that I just missed something in the translation.

Never mind, Baagii to the rescue! Again it is an hour later, exactly two hours since the van stopped midstream, when I spot her with the rescue team.

8:45 pm

It is this ragtag team of boys and men with Baagii and yours truly (in red) who manage in about 20 minutes to jiggle and grunt and 1-2-3 push… or make that rock and roll! this baby backwards to shore.

[Photo taken by my dear friend Ruth Lor Malloy]

As Baagii and I stand by the van still in the water, I assure her no one is upset. She is visibly relieved, beams me her dazzling smile and exclaims, “This was my surprise!” We both break out in a roar of laughter.

Back on shore, they decide to give the van time to dry out. We express our appreciation to the rescue team with small gifts we had brought to give along the way.

After dinner is prepared and eaten, the next question is whether this clunker can be made to start. While we hold our breath, Magsar gets behind the wheel, turns the key… and sputter, spurt - water squirts from the exhaust pipe - cough, cough… and vrooooom! Amazing!

The crowd claps with shrieks of glee. I turn to Baaggii and say, “Now no more surprises.”

We leave the stream at 9:40 pm and arrive safely back to camp three hours later.

This watery adventure full of surprises is linked with Our World Tuesday, ABC Wednesday (where the letter is S), Watery Wednesday and Outdoor Wednesday.

November 19, 2011

Boys, Bicycles and a Footbridge of Misfortune

 Kaiping, 2011

These boys taking a rest with their bicycles gave me some nice reflections and shadows for Weekend Reflections and Shadow Shot Sunday.

They were whizzing around on this large open space in a city park. Across the river, the white building, is Kaiping People's Hall, the seat of the municipal government.

Local friends told us that ever since the footbridge was built in the 1990s, all leading officials - mayors and party secretaries - have ended up being charged with malfeasance. The reason they are caught, the story goes, is that the footbridge is shaped like handcuffs and contravenes basic principles of feng shui (wind-water; loosely meaning geomancy).

[Enlarge for panoramic view.]

The footbridge joins Sunday Bridges.

November 15, 2011

R is for Road

Road is my ravishing R word for ABC Wednesday, and to that I will add a raving recommendation. I'm also linked to Outdoor Wednesday.

A standard dictionary defines a road as a long, narrow stretch with a smoothed or paved surface, made for traveling by motor vehicle, carriage, etc, between two or more points.

Not all roads are created equal. Take for instance the roads we traversed in Hovd, in the far west of Mongolia. Occasionally it was smooth driving on solid pavement, as here approaching the capital of the aimag (province).

Hovd, 2007

More often, the road was rather tenuous. [Enlarge for panoramic views.]

And a few times we rode on no road at all.

Yet the journey in these rough parts did not fail to exhilarate.

A bit like life itself, don’t you agree?

Which brings me to the more abstract definition of road: a way or course, as in the road to peace. Today I write a little about my road to learning photography.

As I’ve shared on my So where exactly IS home? page, I’ve literally been on the road since the beginning of my existence. That much is clear.

But my history with the camera is a bit of a blur. When did I first use one? When did it become important to me? Not really sure.

Now I can feel in my bones that I’ve come to a proverbial fork in my road.

No, not to fret, this is not the profound Soul Purpose kind of question, but nonetheless one I increasingly want to put my mind to.

Not long ago I made a remark about my “recent hobby” when my adult nephew retorted, “But I’ve never seen you without a camera!” And he is right, to a large extent.

For at least the past two decades I’ve traveled the planet I've carried and used one, as well as on many major trips years before that. I have two dozen thick photo albums on my shelves and numerous private digital albums online to serve as souvenirs of the many splendid corners of the world I have visited. And – shamelessly blowing my own horn – perhaps fortunate for me and others who view my photos, I have a pretty decent eye. It doesn’t hurt that many of these places are exceedingly photogenic.

Then there came a point in time not so long ago when I got the urge to go beyond recording my been there, done thats. I credit the internet in general and blogging specifically for inspiring me to look at the camera as a tool for more artistic expression, to look at what is in front of me from new angles, and to capture scenes in more creative ways. I’m at the very (very!) beginning of that road, with many more mountains to climb.

Among the key lessons I must learn is to master the tool. For me the first step is to get beyond the auto modes of my camera. Since using a DSLR I generally shoot in aperture priority, and I do adjust ISO for night or day, but I’ve not yet had the nerve – or the knowledge – to go into complete manual.

Frankly, to date I’ve been both lazy and a bit intimidated by the technical side of photography. My head refused to bend around the F-stops, shutter speeds, ISOs, and never mind how they all worked together to get the effect I wanted. Dang, most of the time I didn’t even stop to think about an effect at all! My SOP has been to catch sight, compose and click!

So I repeat, I’ve been inspired, and I want to step up my game.

I was therefore most pleased to stumble on this e-book at (a cool travel blog!) that lays out the basic principles of manual photography in an easy, clear and non-technical way:  Getting Out of Auto written by Bethany Salvon, a seasoned professional photographer.

I’ve just finished reading it and can’t wait to start playing and experimenting. 

Where this road will take me is still a mystery to me. However, I do suspect that photography will remain a parallel road for me, not my main one.

But I’m on my way; I’ve taken the first steps. I'm moving along on some kind of road.

A number of friendly visitors to this blog of mine over the past months have commented in ways to tell me that they too have an interest to take their point-and-shooting to a higher level. So in the spirit of sharing, if anything in this post sounds like you, I recommend you take a look at this informative review of the e-book*.

If photography intrigues you, too, where is your road to learning leading?

* NB. Yes, I get an affiliate cut for the e-book; and no, I do not intend to place advertising for random product on this blog. I am still considering the option of reviewing and linking to selected stuff I care about and believe may be useful to my blog’s visitors.

November 13, 2011

Red Powder Puff

By now my regular visitors know that I don't know the first thing about flowers or plants. Except that they sure are pretty. And I like to get my camera close to them.

Manila, 2011

It would be safe just to call these red powder puffs. No one would take me seriously. But I'm going to stick my neck out... again... and identify these as Calliandra, a genus of flowering plants in the pea family. Maybe of the species Calliandra emarginata.

[Enlarge for better view.]
"Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things; to the every day things nearest to us rather than to the things that are remote and uncommon." 
~ Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856–1915), American author

"I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all."
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) American writer

This bush stands right at the front gate to our house. The powder puffs bloom right after it rains; then the puffs go away until after the next downpour. I'd never really taken notice before. Here you can see that it's a rather ordinary looking bush... until you look closely.

November 11, 2011

Lights Overkill

It looks like some people think that just because LED lighting is cheaper and more energy efficient it should be used... everywhere!

Kaiping, 2011

This nameless bridge in Kaiping crosses an artery of the Tanjiang River.  
[Better viewed enlarged.]

I'm linking with Weekend Reflections and Sunday Bridges.

November 10, 2011

B is for Bicycle

On an otherwise barren country road in the beautiful province of Palawan, I spotted this human being on an amusing bicycle.

Palawan, 2010

I've been biding my time for a befitting occasion to post this bicyclist, and now seems as good as any, when B is the letter at Alphabe-Thursday. I can bare that the bike I rode back a few weeks ago through villages of Kaiping looked nothing like this one!

What came to mind was a silly 1971 pop song by Melanie [click name to hear it] called: Brand New Key. Do you remember it? The stanza that got burned onto my brain cells all those many years ago goes like this:

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don't drive no car
Don't go too fast, but I go pretty far
For somebody who don't drive
I been all around the world
Some people say, I done all right for a girl 

The bother with a ditty like this is that once it bubbles into my mind, it takes hours to brush it out! I bet I'm not the only one...

And while we babble about bicycles, watch this boy Danny MacAskill [click to view] bike from Edinburgh to Skye. It will bowl you over! Simply brilliant!

November 8, 2011

Solid Playmates

 You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long?  Never in his life will he be so busy again.
~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Genevan philosopher, 1712-1778
 We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve years telling them to sit down and shut up.
~ Phyllis Diller, American comedian, 1917-
Kaiping, 2011
Children's games are hardly games. Children are never more serious than when they play. 
~ Michel de Montaigne, French writer, 1533-1592
I captured these children at play in a park in Kaiping a few weeks ago. Linking with Our World Tuesday.