January 31, 2008

Slideshow of Jan08 photos


Sirigiya maidens frescoes, Sri Lanka

Location: The Mirror Wall, Sirigiya, Sri Lanka (7° 57′ 0″ N, 80° 45′ 0″ E)
Date: 26 February 1997; 10.45am
Camera: (analogue) Minolta compact with negatives and scanned

The Sirigiya complex was built in the 5th century. It was the site of an ancient capital. Its name is derived from "Sinha-giri" or "Lion Mountain". It consists of a volcanic rock rising starkly from the surrounding plains. The Sirigiya site has the remains of a palace on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes a Lion Gate and a mirror wall with its frescoes of maidens (above picture), a lower palace that clings to the slopes below the rock, and walls and gardens that extend hundreds of metres from the base of the rock.
A major attraction of the site is the remainder of the frescoes of maidens. There are only four left of the supposedly 500 original frescoes. The origins and nature of the paintings is still subject of much controversial debate with different theories. For a good concise read of the site,
see here.

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January 29, 2008

Clever statue of Olympic Rings at Lausanne's Olympic Museum

Location: Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland (46°33′N 06°38′E)
Date: 14 March 2006; 11.30am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens
Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Council as well as the home of the one-and-only Olympic Museum. The museum has many interesting Olympic-related displays and paraphernalia. One of the cleverest is this statue of three cyclists where their five (only five) wheels are aligned to produce the Olympic Rings.


January 27, 2008

Ice Sharks near Goro II Campsite, Concordia, Pakistan

Location: near Goro II Base camp, Pakistan (35°44'48.00"N 76°24'28.00"E)
Date: 12 July 2007; 10.45am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

The effects of wind and sun on glaciers over the centuries create natural wonders such as these icy outcrops protruding from the rock-strewn glacier. The Ice Sharks (they look like the fins of sharks) can be as high as 50m. Such Ice Sharks are distributed over a section of the Baltoro Glacier on the Concordia trek to K2 Base Camp. All trekkers have to navigate their way between such Ice Sharks on the way to Concordia.

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January 26, 2008

Birds riding on an endangered species- Black Rhinoceros

Location: Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe, Africa (20°30′S 28°30′E)
Date: 29 April 2001; 4.20pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with slides and scanned

Matobo National Park is more well-known for its dramatic landscape of smooth whale-back garnite hills and ancient rock paintings. However also within its boundaries live some of the less than 2,500 black rhinoceros that is believed to be still alive today. Black rhinoceros is a highly endangered species (in fact one of its subspecies is believed to be extinct) often being poached for its horns. The name is actually a misnomer as the animal is more white-grey than black. For some reasons, birds like to hitch a ride on rhinos' backs.


Photoshop Trick- Enhance Contrast

Quite often there is a need to enhance the contrast in a digital photo to make it "pop out" so to speak. The more common technique to achieve that has been either to use the Level Adjustment to push both ends of the curve closer or to apply an S-curve to the image. Both techniques provide quite good results by improving the mid-tones but lacking details in the shadows and highlights. With the new Photoshop Camera Raw 4.3, the Clarity slider also provides pretty good result.
Personally I use the Unsharp Mask to enhance contrast in images with good results. I learnt of this technique from a forum discussion a couple of years ago. It is simple and effective. Simply select Filter\Sharpen\Unsharp Mask and use the following settings as a start:

Amount -20%
Radius - 50
Threshold -0

If it is not satisfactory, just play with the Amount and Radius to achieve the result that you want.


January 25, 2008

Moses and lichen forests- Milford Track, New Zealand

Location: Milford Track, South Island, New Zealand (44° 40' 60 S, 167° 54' 0 E)
Date: 23 December 1996; 3.20pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon EOS 500N on negatives and scanned
Perhaps the most well-known trekking destination in NZ, Milford Track is a 4 day track that can only be walked from one direction, from Glade Wharf to Milford Sound between late October and late April. At any one time there are a maximum of only 160 trekkers (or trampers as they are called in NZ and Australia) on the track- a maximum of 40 independent trekkers is allowed to start the trek every day. This means that at any time over the duration of the trek, a trekker will only meet the same 39 other trekkers who started on the same day as him/her.
Milford Track deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful independent tracks in NZ. One can see beautiful lush valleys of beech, flowers, Moses, lichens as well as alpine lakes and tussocks, snow peaks, beautiful waterfalls over the 4 days of relatively easy walking. The scenery is even more spectacular after rain as waterfalls just tumble down the walls of the whole valley. However there are a couple of myths about Milford Track.
Myth number 1: one need to book 6 months to a year ahead to get on the track. Milford Track is popular but it is still possible to get on the track if one have a few flexible dates especially if one is trekking alone or with just another person. There are normally some vacancies on most days- just contact the Department of Conservation to check or check and book online here.
Myth number 2: it is impossible to take a bad photo of Milford Sound (of which Milford Track is located). Whilst the Track is amazingly beautiful in every way, one still needs the cooperation of Nature. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on Earth and so one's photo opportunity is quite often wrecked by the trustworthy showers. Even at the Mackinnon Memorial snow peaks are often shrouded in mist.


January 24, 2008

Ancient giants- Prambanan at sunset

Location: Prambanan, Solo, Central Java, Indonesia (7°45′8″S, 110°29′30″E)
Date: 25 December 1995; 7.20pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon EOS 500N on negatives and scanned
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia built in the 10th century during the reign of the vast Hindu empire of Srivijaya. It is a complex of eight major candis surrounded by about 250 smaller individual ones. The main candis are the three in the centre known as Trisakti, dedicated to the three Hindu gods of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. These 3 temples are decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana. The temple complex is a peaceful place situated between the two major cultural cities of Yogyakarta and Solo (closer to the later).
The temple complex was damaged during the earthquake of 2006. It seems that the damage is quite significant with large debris such as original stones and carvings scattered over the area. I have read that the complex is now reopened again but unsure of the damage and conditions. One can only hope that major portions of it remain intact as it is rather amazing to see so many Hindu (this is just one of many. Others include those in Dieng Plateau and so on) as well as Buddhist shrines (the majestic Borobodur is about 60km away) in the most populous Muslim country in the world.


January 23, 2008

Bottled water is fine at some airports

If you travel frequently on budget airlines, you will definitely bemoan the restriction placed on carrying liquid-water on board as this means that you will have to buy your drinking water from the airline at an inflated price. Well, I found out that the restrictions on bringing water on board is only partially being enforced in most airports.

If one travels on AirAsia from their KLIA-LCC terminal, one will be checked at the security and so no water will be allowed through. But water can be purchased from the book shop within the security area and in theory the bottles must be put in a specific sealed bag (not just any sealed bag) which can be purchased from the same shop at a couple of Ringgit extra. However there are actually no more security checks as one board the plane- so it is redundant to pay and use the seal bag- just buy your bottled drinks and carry with you.

The same goes for most airports in China, such as Guangzhou and Macao. Just make sure you do not carry any water with you when you pass the security and then buy your bottled drinks from within the security zone.


January 22, 2008

Colourful Canyons

Location: near South Kaibab Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon, USA (36.05335° N, 112.08344° W)
Date: 6 September 2006; 4.15pm
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with kit lens

It was a cloudy day when I took this picture. However there is still good light which shows off the multi-colour hues of the Canyon quite nicely. Grand Canyon was my first experience of a National Park in USA. Unlike parks in NZ where I was often awaken by chirping of birds in the morning, I was awoken by sounds of traffic at the Grand Canyon. I camped in one of the designated (paid) campsite which is not far from one of the major roads within the park. Grand Canyon is quite nice but I guessed it would be nicer down in the canyon rather than around the rim where I spent most of my time. Perhaps next time, with better preparations.
I took public transport to the Canyon from Vegas. I had to pre-book everything, from bus transport, connections and campsite accommodation. On one hand this is useful as I am sure or certain of getting there and back and having a place to camp. However it is also rather restrictive as it means that I cannot change my plan/dates easily without foregoing my bookings or fees paid.


January 21, 2008

Laotian Cemetery

Location: Vang Vieng, Laos (18° 55' 60 N, 102° 27' 0 E)
Date: 4 November 2004; 10.20am
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with kit lens
I always enjoy visiting cemeteries in all the countries that I visited. Not that I am a horror movie fan or anything like that, but cemeteries are an important cultural statement. Cemeteries of different races, religions, ethnic groups and nationalities are all different and they are a statement of a group's identity. Muslim Malays' tend to be very small simple tombstones while Christians may have angelic sculptures. Cemeteries also embody a particular group's belief in the power of death and its relationship to the living. Hence the richer Chinese erect huge elaborate tombs in locations chosen by their fengshui masters to bestow fortune and everything else that is good to their descendants. Cemeteries are also an expression of the art and architecture heritage of a group as is illustrated by these Laotian tombs.


January 18, 2008

Check out this site!

I have been browsing Harry Kikstra's incredible photos at ExposedPlanet.com over the last few days. His photos are really incredibly well-taken with magnificent angle and lighting. Make me feel like doing another trip back to the Himalayas and Tibet. Maybe I should do that (again) this year.


January 17, 2008

Straight to the sky

Location: Petronas Tower, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (3° 9'28.24"N, 101°42'41.43"E)
3 February 2003; 8.25pm
Canon G1
Petronas Towers used to be the tallest building in the world. It is no longer so and I am not sure which building currently holds the honour because I read another new tallest building is either being build or built every now and then. Whatever it is, Petronas Towers may not be the tallest any more, it is definitely one of the most iconic one. It is also one of the brightest objects in the night sky of Kuala Lumpur.


January 15, 2008

Buddha head, Bayon, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Location:Bayon Temple, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia (13° 26′ 31″ N, 103° 51′ 35″E)
Date: 13 November 2002; 8.40am
Camera: Canon G1

Bayon is one of the most popular temple in the Angkor Wat complex. It is well-known for its series of serene, peaceful Buddha faces that most travellers associate Angkor Wat with. When I visited Angkor Wat back in 2002, there were not many airlines that fly direct to Siem Reap; the ones that flew were charging fairly high fares. So we took the overland route from Bangkok to the border at Poipet, followed by a bone-shaking, bumpy 4 hours ride on a bare-earth road to Siem Reap. Despite its fame and popularity I found Angkor Wat to be very enjoyable and very photogenic.


January 12, 2008

Puppet Concert- Hungry Ghost Festival, Singapore

Location: Serangoon Central, Singapore (1 22 N, 103 48 E)
: 10 August 2006; 8.30pm
Camera used
: Canon 400D with EF 50mm/f1.8
Hungry Ghost Festival falls on the 7th month of the lunar New Year and is celebrated mainly in China and other countries such as Singapore & Malaysia. It is believed that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to free the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth. Chinese celebrate this festival chiefly to remember their deceased family members and pay tribute to them. They also feel that offering food to the deceased appeases them and wards off bad luck.
Chinese also believe that the dead return to visit their living relatives during the 7th month and so they prepare a sumptuous meal for the ‘hungry ghosts’, just as they would for normal Chinese gatherings at festivals. They also offer prayers to the deceased relatives and burn joss sticks.
In Malaysia and Singapore, there are also concerts (getai or wayang) performed on outdoor stages in some neighborhoods at night. These concerts used to be traditional Chinese (different dialects) operas and (Teochews and Hokkien) puppet shows; however nowadays such traditional performances are very rare- they are replaced by pop music. There is a belief that this entertainment would please those wandering ghosts.

This photo is a rare Hokkien puppet show.


January 11, 2008

Mount Everest -Tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary

I am sad to read today that Sir Edmund Hillary had passed away. I have not met him before in all those years I spent in NZ but have high regards and respect for him with his work and commitment towards the Sherpas in Nepal. I saw many structures in the Khumbu area whose existence are the results of his Himalayan Trust's work. I also heard the respects and reverence of the Sherpa people towards him. This is the passing of not only one of the most celebrated adventurer the world ever seen but also one of the most conscientious and charitable adventurer, who not only take his fame and fortune from his adventures but also return the same.
The Everest photos are a tribute to the man.

Location : Rhongbuk Monastery (5,100m), Tibet, China (28.194N, 86.829E)
Date : 27 April 2003; 10.25am
Camera : Canon G1
Rhongbuk is the highest monastery in the world at 5,100m. It is about 15km from the Base Camp (EBC) to Mount Everest, better known as Qomolongma here at the China side of the mountain. The monastery has accommodation if travellers deci
de to stay here instead of camping at the Base Camp. The EBC here is getting popular as a base to climb the mountain as it is easier from this side. The northeast face of the mountain appears more rounded compared to that seen from the south in Nepal.
This photo may never be the same anymore now that a paved road is being constructed to the EBC. The road should be cutting through this very spot.

Location :Tengboche, Nepal (27° 50' 12.2" N, 86° 45' 39.32" E)
Date :11 May 2000; about 7am
Camera :analogue Canon EOS 500N with Fuji slide (scanned)
This photo was taken from Tengboche with Mt Everest in the centre and Ana Dablam on the right. Tengboche is about 3,850m high and has a very important monastery in the Khumbu area. It is on the trek to EBC from the Nepal side. The EBC here used to be THE EBC. Personally I feel that a trip to EBC at the Nepal side is more rewarding and challenging. Unlike the China side, one have to trek all the way, either form Lukla or further from Jiri. It normally take anything from 10 days to complete the return trek to EBC from Lukla- it is a reasonably challenging trek. However the mountain scenery from Namche Bazaar onwards will keep your mind off the trekking. If one is reasonably fit, no guides or porter is needed for this trek.

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January 10, 2008

Pretty Flower H'mong girl at Bac Ha market, Vietnam

Location : Bac Ha Sunday Market, Vietnam (22° 33' 0 N 104° 16' 0 E)
Date : 5 June 2005; 9.12am
Camera : Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

I went to Vietnam from China, crossing over at Hekou. It was surprisingly smooth and straightforward at the border crossing- nothing of the notorious hanky-panky by Vietnamese immigration/customs officials at all. From there it was an easy and quick bike ride to LaoCai town to catch a bus (an hour) to Sapa.

Bac Ha is about 100km and 2+ hours from Sapa. It is best to go on a Sunday as the market is swarm by various ethnic minorities from the surrounding areas on that day- Flower Hmong, Phu La, Dao Tuyen etc. Most of them are rather shy for photography. It is advisable to ask permission before taking their close-up portraits- it is fine to take from a distance. I saw (here as in elsewhere in Asia) many zealous would-be photographers who just walk right up and stick their camera or lens in the face of these gentle people and snapping away without even a smile or word. I strongly advise against doing so- it is discourteous, disrespectful and condescending.


January 8, 2008

U.S. Department of Transportation revises Lithium battery rules press release

The US Department of Transportation in a new press release (below) had clarified that passenegers can actually carry any number of lithium batteries in carry-on/accompanied baggage as long as they are prevented from short-circuiting. This means people like me who carry many devices (couple of cameras, external storage etc) that uses lithium batteries are not likely to be adversely affected (breath easy).


Press Release

US DOT Hazmat Safety Rule to Place Limits on Lithium Batteries Carried by Passengers Aboard Aircraft Effective January 1, 2008

Passengers will no longer be able to pack loose lithium batteries in checked luggage beginning January 1, 2008, once new federal safety rules take effect. The new regulation, designed to reduce the risk of lithium battery fires, will continue to allow lithium batteries in checked baggage if they are installed in electronic devices, or in carry-on baggage if properly protected from short circuiting in their original packaging or by placing them in individual plastic bags or a protective travel case.

Common consumer electronics such as digital cameras, cell phones, and most notebook computers are still allowed in carry-on and checked luggage. Moreover, any number of spare batteries for these devices will be allowed in carry-on baggage if they are properly protected from short circuiting and do not exceed 8 grams (~100 watt hours) of equivalent lithium content. All lithium-ion cell phone and standard notebook computer batteries are below 8 grams (~100 watt hours) of equivalent lithium content. Batteries not installed in electronic devices are not permitted in checked baggage.

The rule limits passengers to not more than two large spare rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in carry-on baggage. This applies to batteries that exceed 8 grams (~100 watt hours) of equivalent lithium content and less than 25 grams (~300 watt hours) [see attached illustration]. Batteries with more than 25 grams (~300 watt hours) are not allowed in either checked or carry-on baggage.any

“Doing something as simple as keeping a spare battery in its original retail packaging or a plastic zip-lock bag will prevent unintentional short-circuiting and fires,” said Krista Edwards, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Lithium batteries are considered hazardous materials because they can overheat and ignite under certain conditions. Safety testing conducted by the FAA found that current aircraft cargo fire suppression system would not be capable of suppressing a fire if a shipment of non-rechargeable lithium batteries were ignited in flight. This rule aims to reduce the risk of fires involving lithium batteries in the cabin of passenger aircraft.

“This rule protects the passenger,” said Lynne Osmus, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assistant administrator for security and hazardous materials. “It’s one more step for safety. It’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

In addition to the new rule, PHMSA is working with the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the battery, consumer electronics and airline industries, airline employee organizations, testing laboratories, and the emergency response communities to increase public awareness about battery-related risks and developments. These useful safety tips are highlighted at the public website: http://safetravel.dot.gov.


Sikh Golden Temple of Amritsar, India

Location: Golden Temple at Amritsar, India (31° 36' 0 N, 74° 52' 0 E)
Date: 24 June 2007: 6.50am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70mm/f2.8-4.5

The Golden Temple is the most sacred shrine in Sikhism. Its official name is Harmandir Sahib. There are a lot of literarture on the net on the shrine such as this site.
I went to visit the temple in the summer. There are two pilgrim hostels that provide free accommodation right beside the temple complex. It was packed during my two days' visit, so much so that many of the pilgrims brought their own mat and sleep in the huge open courtyard in the middle of the hostels. Like other foreigners, I was lucky as there are separate dormitories reserved only for foreigners.
Visitors to the temple are not allowed to wear shoes or socks. These items can be kept at the cloakroom, in front of the temple, free of charge. Before entering the temple they have to keep their heads covered as well, both men and women. As a result, there are few visitors within the complex during the afternoon- the floor surrounding the pool is made of marble and is VERY hot in the afternoon without any shoes or socks.
There is a community kitchen which serve free vegetarian meals to thousands of people everyday. Here, anyone from any religion can have food together inside the two strorey dinning hall. The chappati, dhal and other dishes are prepared and served by volunteers. There is always loud clanking noise near the kitchen at meal times as the stainless steel trays and cutleries are being washed by the army of volunteers.
The sky brighthened very early in the morning. I am not sure if there are restrictions on industries around the temple, but the sky was fabulously clear with gorgeous clouds during the two days that I was there. The temple complex never closes and so even around 7am, there are plenty of pilgrims already inside the complex. Even though there is singing of the Sikh hymns (all day) and many visitors, the temple has a certain sense of peacefulness and serenity.


January 7, 2008

Roving-light blog

Coincidentally, a friend of mine (just call him wanderer) had also just started a travelblog of his own last month. Go check it out.

He have a lot of great photos from many destinations and some good articles including a beautiful free 2008 calendar.


January 6, 2008

Boats on Venice canal

Location: Venice, Italy (45°26′N 12°19′E)
5 March 2006 9.25am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Venice is packed with tourists the whole year round, even in the winter. It is a good destination for photography- if one can find a quiet corner. It has many old and beautifully restored buildings. The residential buildings with interesting windows are also quite photogenic. The colourful boats are my favourites especially when the canal’s water is calmer in the morning with good reflections.


January 5, 2008

Budget airlines list

If you are like me, always looking out for cheaper flights, you should check out this site. It lists flight connections between and within countries by budget airlines all over the world. The list is quite updated.
To me, the advent of budget airlines really revolutionise independent travelling. Apart from being much cheaper (especially if one planned and booked ahead), budget airlines allow me to avoid backtracking as I can buy one way tickets and so have an open-jaw connection cheaply.


January 3, 2008

My inaugural photo: Sunrise over Tingri Plains

Location: Tingri Town (定日), Tibet, China (N 28º 34.991 E 086º 36.269)

Date taken: 28 April 2003, 7.35am
Camera: Canon G1

Tingri town (Tibetan: Tingri Shekar) is a small town of only about 600 people at approximately 4,335m in Tingri County, Shigatse. It is less than 60km from both Mount Quomolongma and Cho Oyu (which is visible from the town). It has a heavy military presence, presumably due to the proximity of the border. (Everest) and Nepali border. The town is often used as a base by climbers of Quomolongma and Cho Oyu.
When I went there in 2003, it was really a very small garrison town. However I will not be surprise if it has developed into something bigger and more modern with more Han Chinese, like everywhere else in Tibet. Not surprise because it has great tourism potential, with its proximity to the mountains, trekking potential and on the road to/fro Nepal and Everest Base Camp (EBC). Furthermore roads in Tibet had improved tremendously, therefore getting there is so much easier now. Moreover the Chinese government is currently building a paved road all the way to EBC to facilitate the Olympic torch relay.

This photo was taken from the toilet of the only guesthouse in town then- the Muslim Guesthouse! In 2003 it was still customary for residents to bolt the doors to their compound. The guesthouse owner locked the main door leading to their parking compound (and has two huge dogs guarding them). We just got up and waiting for breakfast when I noticed that the sky was brightening up. The only vantage point I have towards the direction of the rising sun from inside the compound was from the window of the (primitive) toilet. And this is what I saw.