Buddhist Image from Cambodia

Buddhist Image from Cambodia
Smile you are alive!

On the Mekong RIver

On the Mekong RIver
Another day on the road of life

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So after hiking up to the pinnacle of the the Tiger Mountain section of the Great Wall in China just teetering on the edge between China and North Korea I am curious to walk down to the narrow, two step water crossing between the countries. . . I see a pagoda structure up the metal walkway path hugging the lower edge of the mountain we'd just climbed. I want to go there. . . and off I go wanting to take a closer look across the small stream separating the two countries. Off I go, camera in hand and Ben not long behind. Several hundred meters away in the distance is what we've guessed is a N. Korean military guard post and there is someone approaching with what looks like it could be lunch. I walk along the metal catwalk to the pagoda and stand there for some time. One of the military men comes out of the guard post with another close behind. They are heading in our direction. I am taking photos and wondering if the waving is a “stop photographing” message. It definitely seems to be. I continue to photograph as they are quite a ways off. As they near I set my camera on the metal railing and continue to shoot occasionally during the situation which ensues. A conversation. . . they are appealing for money. . . Chinese money. Ben converses with the the guard who requests tobacco, money, Chinese money. . . This is surreal! He is asking us to come around the corner to where we can meet at a fence. Face to face. Small factor being the armed guard on the Chinese side we left behind us near the sign posting “no conversing or exchanging of objects!” We convey to the men as best we can in Korean that we are truly sorry but it is just too dangerous for us to do so and we don't have any tobacco. This situation was so unexpected! We really didn't expect that the N. Korean soldiers would speak with US (had they any clue that we were AMERICANS??? Obviously they really didn't care!). Luckily knowing even rudimentary Korean did make this interaction possible. It was sad to not be able to oblige their requests but really imprisonment or being shot was just not on the list for this trip! As the one soldier walked along the edge of the frozen waterway I felt more concerned for his safety than he seemed to be. So distracted by the opportunity at hand all consciousness of the true possibility of falling into the freezing waters just below and inches away from his feet seemed not to even register in his mind. It only leaves me to wonder more what the true situation for the people in North Korea is. I may never know. Imagine what it would be like to never know freedom of speech, travel, expression or desire! I hope a change is awaiting the people of this highly secretive and unknown land.

-Dalian, China

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's amazing what a difference 600 miles southward can make. I always feel frozen at 20*F but after facing -20F to -27F my body is rejoicing. The sun is out and has burned off the early morning haze in Dandong. I haven't figured out what part is pollution and what part is simply frozen crystals of moisture in the air. We walked across the bridge to “nowhere” watching little to no activity on the N. Korean bank of the Yalu River. Next to us was the currently functioning bridge that carries trucks mostly it seems, between China and North Korea. We saw more coming over the bridge to China than going to N. Korea. The bank of the Yalu on the NK side is caked with ice and looks very underutilized. In comparison the Dandong side has a promenade and park along the river with a few statues and a “touristic” area. Here there are people out on the streets walking, riding bicycles, electric bicycles, mopeds, transporting/delivering all kinds of things on bicycle carts. There is an unending stream of taxis and private cars including BMW's and Mercedes here. . . on the NK side we saw 2 people walking along what appeared to be a dirt road. The two figures seemed more like a patrol than citizens out for a stroll. Standing at the end of the bridge to nowhere you are only about 400M it seems to the NK bank. . . a desolate looking land with old relics of buildings and a frozen ferriswheel. What must the NK people think if they are allowed to get close enough to look across the river at the 10 floor hotels and traffic along the river? Who would think of China as a place to be “free?” Perhaps the NK people do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


We've arrived in Dalian by Dain Ferry which curiously enough is flying under a Panamanian flag. The ferry room we slept in was one of the options for economy class. We had a box basically that had a comfortable mattress, firm and the room was warm, maybe almost too warm. It was nice that there was a privacy curtain for each bunk box since there were about 16 of us in there in our cubicles. In the middle of the night the boat was really rocking and reeling. . . it made for interesting dream/nightmares but really was all good. I guess it's like hitting a bad bought of turbulence on an airplane. It was the middle of the night (2 am or so) and thus absolutely pitch black out. If not I would have gone out to the deck to see what kinds of high waves we were in. There were no stars out as it was quite overcast so there would have been nothing to see. . .otherwise you all know me. . . I would have wanted to check it out. I hung out in my cubicle just saying prayers that we wouldn't hit anything unexpectedly or keel over. As there was a ton of cargo boxes/containers in the cargo hold the likelihood of our tipping over was really quite slim but when the the boat was swaying heavily in the night my imagination did really wander. We actually entered through the cargo hold as some of the semi/trucks were "dumping off" and unhitching. There was a TV room on one of the upper decks where we lounged on some reclining chairs, read and ate our picnic dinner during the evening.

In the morning there was a blazing sunrise directly behind us over the South China Sea. It was very windy up on deck due to the combination of the boat's speed and the weather conditions but no lurching about in high waves. It was a rather uneventful docking.

An accommodating local bus driver looked at my book, as I pointed to the train station, and he waved us aboard. We had a good look at part of the northern part of the peninsular city as we wound through old and new areas of Dalian. Our friendly driver waved us off near the train station and we found our way there easily. . . the toughest part was figuring out that we just had to dodge traffic with the locals to cross and no it's not like Vietnam where you just cross at a steady pace. . . here you better have your eyes on you or squish. We bought tickets for our overnight train to Harbin for tomorrow and searched in circles for a hotel which had no name posted. When we finally found it there were no spots so we ended up happily at a cushy Super 8 and are enjoying the comfort this evening sandwiched between 2 nights of travel.

Though cold we did enjoy some comfort from our new investments, cold weather clothes. . . as you can see. Dalian has great contrasts from local tent-style markets to luxurious high-end shopping malls and everything in between. We enjoyed a little of it all ducking in to drink or food shops along the way to warm up or fill our bellies. Ahhh lucky to travel. Life is good!

Please don't fret about errors, I won't be proofing this entry^^

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Off Again

Well it's a new year 2011 and once again I am inspired to try to breathe life into this attempt at keeping those I care about up-to-date with my wanderings. It may or not be what I imagine but this time traveling with a net book will hopefully help my endeavor come to fruition.

It is off to the Incheon Western docks to catch a ferry boat to Dalian. The boat to Dandong is "broken" so we were unable to leave earlier as planned. China here we come!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Many New Faces

Yesterday I jumped in a van to go on a tour for a day, not something I typically do but am so glad I did. Immediately upon hopping into the van the man I'd be sitting next to introduced himself, Mindia (from Georgia, not the state!). He's a photographer who takes about 2 months to travel each year to work on images for a show that he then puts together for an exhibit either back home or elsewhere. We began to talk about travel and photography and since the point of my taking this particular tour was to PHOTOGRAPH it was really fun to have someone along with whom I could talk about photography. We ended up laughing quite a bit and really were fortunate to have such a easygoing group of people in our small tour. There was a French brother and sister? who at first spoke no English but seemed to ease into it as the day went on, a woman from Austria, a girl from Chile and one from Canada who seemed to be friends and basically talked to eachoter and a couple in love (Thai and Falang) who didn't even seem to be on our tour except when we were in the van. Or guide was an energetic young Thai woman named Ei. She has the best sense of humor! It was funny as those of us laughing at her jokes seemed to ease the worried expressions of those who thought she was being "serious" about the things she said like how we were going to have monkey for lunch and how the men's correctional facility was a good free hotel etc. She really was so good natured and as the day went on and she slipped me a few words in Thai we began to banter back and forth in gest in 2 languages. She was a great source of information and when she didn't know she's ask a local in whatever common language they could use to try to get more information for us. She noticed that I really was interested in details about culture and family structures as well as migration history and really took off with this accompanying me as I took pictures and telling me intersting facts and details about the people and region we were visiting. Thankful that it was a wonderful day full of laughter, interesting information, a new photograper aquaintance and lots of photos. . .what could have been tour hell turned out to be a perfect day!

We began our journey at a butterfly and orchid farm (lots of pictures) which presented some interesting challenges due to the bright yet overcast sky. I found my small point and shoot digital to be better suited to the macro shots and tricky lighting than my newly acquired used digital slr setup. I guess I still have a lot to learn about lighting and using an SLR. It was a wonderful lush hour that felt like longer as I meandered among the orchids and assorited tropical plants. I always seem to be able to loose myself in time in that kind of environment. I'm not sure that others felt the same but I loved it! I actually got a few butterfly shots though they weren't as varied in species as when I walked along the river bank in Um Prang in the noon day sun. . . there there were vibrant irridescent colored butterflies displaying bright turquoise and purple.

Next stop were the Karen Long neck and Karen Long Ears tribal people. I don't believe there are any of these people left living a fully "traditional" lifestyle in Thailand. The few who remain are making a business of "tourism" and selling their weavings. There are I believe groups who still live a more authentic or traditional existance in Myanmar. The girls of this tribe do not go to school, the boys do. At 5 the mother decides if the child (girl) will wear the neck extending rings or not, I'm not sure about the ear stretching. They were originally two separeate groups but here are living together and intermarrying. The neck extender rings are made of brass and applied in one long continual piece that is skillfully bent around the female's neck. I am not sure how it is added to over time as with the lengthening of the spinal column at the upper vertebre of the neck occurs the ability to hold one's head (support) without the rings may well become extremely difficult and dangerous. The wearing of the rings once begun must be continued forever. I've taken photos to show what I mean. I found these women really beautiful and as you all know I'm fond of physical adornment but no worries, I bought a bracelet from them but will not be wearing neck rings anytime soon. I think the photos will speak more than I can say in mere words. You'll just have to wait.

Next was on to the Chaing Dao Cave and Temple. . . What a huge series of caves! there are 4 separete caverns and they go quite deep into the mountain. It was a perfect middle of the day activity to escape into the cool of a cave from the noon day sun. There were many incredible stalagtite and stalagmiet fromations. Very difficult to photograph due to light conditions DARK with some artificial florescent light to guide my way. There were some Buddhas and other religious images strategically placed in the walls of the caves, sometimes quite high up. Most intersting for me was to see the Burmese style Buddhas which have rounder shorter heads than Thai style Buddhas. At the end of cavern that I went to was a Burmese Sleeping Buddha, literally sleeping, not an image you see in Thai Theravatta Buddhism which does have a reclining Buddha on his side (the Tuesday Buddha).

Lunch was plentiful and most liked the pinaple, papaya and banana dessert!

In the afternoon we drove to some villages where some Akha, Lisu and White Karen live. I had a lot of fun with the Akha women who were trying to sell me things. We had about 5 words in common among 3 different languages. There best use phrases were "HELLO" to get your attention, literally used about every 30 seconds and "10 bhat" repeated as if it would become more inticing the more it was said. One lady really wanted me to buy her hat and actually put it on me. Mindia got a shot of this I think and I can't wait to see it!!! I got a fun shot of him with two of the ladies and he's going to put it on his website. It's amazing when you can joke around and laugh with people who you have practically no language in common with but he and I did. It was a really nice experience. You'll have to wait to see the pictures of these women, what characters they are! It was intersting to see the obvious difference in facial features/ characteristics between the Akha and the Lisu (originally from China Yunan province perhaps). The Karen and Akha women look much older than I expected and the Lisu elders aged remarkably well. I have a photo of a White Karen woman who I was very taken by. She and I talked for a while with the help of my tour guide. We mostly discussed the different jewelery eachother were wearing. You'll see a pic of her. I thought she was probably in her 70's but she is only 63! A Karen woman (the mother of the family where I stayed in Um Prang) who looked to be 90 was only in her early 70's. A Lisu weaver who looked only to be in her 60's was 80.Genetics do have a factor!

Many many photos, a lot of good laughs, a few new words in Thai, a new photographer aquaintance and some good memories. A good day!

A new friend

Well, it is unlike me to stay in one spot for too long but this must be my mid journey pause. . . and besides there's a great Sunday night market I want to see and a friend to hang out with on Monday.. . It's nice to travel to where you have friends and really something when you make frineds along the way. . .So I was in Mae Sot (not far from the border of Myanmar (Burnma) eating at this AMAZING hole in the wall labled only "tea shop" located across from a Mosque. I've discovered one of my new favorite things in life it is called a Rootee. . . basically a thick crep but what makes this my favorite is that this one was filled with chicken curry!!!!! Oh what a delight. So it was about a week and a half ago or so and I'm sitting watching the night sky darken over the mosque and the people coming and going when a woman pulls up on her bicycle, jumps off of it smiles and says something along the lines of goodevening to me as she springs up the steps of the open fronted shop and and and orders. She is about to sit down behind me when I turn around and say, are you eating alone? You're welcome to join me. She flashes her wonderful smile again and joins me. We connect! We talk about everything, food, Thailand, chewing beetlenut (which she shows me how to do correctly since I'd bougth some from a young muslim girl from her little crate box stand earlier in the evening when I was wandering around a residental neighbornood inhabitated mostly by "Burmese" immigrants both muslim and nonmuslim). . . we talk about travel, living abroad, careers and suddenly we realize that we've eaten all our food and I've finished my second cup of masala tea and well, we really should get going so they can close the shop. . . Siripan suggest that we go to the night market and walk around. We have a wonderful time exploring the inner part of the city's night food market. First off we find the insect ladies and I decide the crickets look doable. . .I've already eaten silk worm pupa as this is quite the thing in Korea. . . I've eaten plenty of worms in my days, the locusts look a bit big to begin with so the crickets get the vote. Siripan makes sure the women make them nice and tastey for me with chili and soy and well I get a skewer of 3 hoppers. My new friend did me the favor of documenting this cullinary adventure for all of you to witness when I get back and load my photos on the blog. hahahah... They were actually surprisingly delicious, yes I know, I'm crazy but this one is true.

We continued along the market stalls and I was given an expanded education on some of the local cullinary traditions by my new friend. There is nothing better than having a local guide! S bought her favorite sweet for later and we worked our way along the streets of town heading slowly toward my guest house. We found a Burmese food stand with wonderful sweets of coconut, peanut, fennel sugared syrup and red onion wrapped in banana leaves that I would later go back to try on my journey back through Mae Sot. We visited a Burmese style temple, well the grounds of the Watt only and thus began a discussion about Buddhism which we kept returning to for the rest of the night. We found a newly opened Boutique Hotel and checked the place out, it was gorgeous!!! and finally landed at an outdoor cafe to have a few drinks. We closed that place too. . . It was like being with someone I'd know for years and it was the first time we'd met. . . It's an amazing thing that happens sometimes when traveling but the unsusual twist about this story is that she is Thai and lives in Chiang Mai so here I am now and we will have a chance to do it all again in her "home" city. . . I am so pleased and warmed to have a Thai friend with whom I share such a genuine connection. . . the world becomes a very small place very easily when you travel. Life is GOOD!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Big Bugs

Ha Ha Ha OK, apparently I've gotten soft living in Korea's colder climate. While walking home along the curving roads of the old city carrying a two- gallon juge of drinking water in one hand and my camera in another I am carefully stepping so as to neither stub my toe on the uneven cement pavers slabs that fill the drain access holes and are about 20 meters apart along the sidewalk or to twist my ankle on the spill run that dips a few inches down and runs along the sidewalk as well when I step next to what looked like a lollypop some child had accidently lost along the way. When with the rapidity of a tightly wound racing car it launched toward my foot you should have seen the speed and height of my left leg lift/kick. I guess my injured leg is getting better...that was a damn quick reflex. Any how, the lollypop was no sucker it was the largest bettle looking cockroach I've seen in years and it gave me quite the start! I laughed at myself and was glad to see that I hadn't flashed any innocents by my wild midstroll leg lift as I was wearing a skirt. Ha.. . home safely to my couch for the night with lots of water to rehydrate from the day.