After our amazingly fun rafting trip on the Deschutes River last year, Andrew (15) and I decided to go rafting with some friends again this year. Even better, Michael (12) decided to join us this time.
Our friend and trip planner Don chose the Grande Ronde River for this year's trip. This river is in the north-eastern part of Oregon. Like the previous trips, we used the awesome Oregon Whitewater Adventures guys. We drove down to La Grande the day before and enjoyed the comforts of the Rodeway Inn motel there (a little different from the resorts we normally frequent.) The next morning, we drove to Minam and set out on our three day, two night adventure.
The Grande Ronde River was a nice change from the Deschutes. It was a little less exciting from a rafting perspective; it had fewer big rapids (it's rated 2-3 vs. the Deschutes at 3-4) and dropped more consistently (vs. the pool-and-drop Deschutes). However, the scenery and camping were more picturesque -- more green than the high desert Deschutes valley. The additional moisture meant we could have fires in the evening too - a big advantage! Plus, there were no trains to interrupt our sleep and fewer other people on the river. We went around 50 miles over the three days -- pretty easy.
Like last year, we had two boats with our friends plus two gear boats. The staff did all of the work; we only had to set up our tents. We had great water fights and nice rafting, although we swam less since the water was more shallow this late in the season. On the Grande Ronde, there were no Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, so we camped in more primitive sites; in particular, there were no outhouses, so the staff set up a tent and porta-potty (really a seat on top of a big ammo can). Our guides were excellent again, with Colby and Jeff returning from last year and the crazy and wonderful Pamela plus the owner Dave joining us this year.
We all enjoyed the trip greatly and are already looking forward to next year.
The boys and I on the river.
The kids playing cards (BS) in camp. It got pretty hardcore!
Our camp site the second night.
One day at lunch, we hiked up the nearby hill for a better view. It was quite steep, actually, but well worth it.
Michael enjoying a swim.
Michael enjoying some quiet time in camp, reading by the river. One of the best parts of the trip was having no electronics and no cellular signal.
As part of our trip to the Museum of Flight today, the boys and I attended a talk by astronaut Barbara Morgan. She's quite a remarkable person. After she graduated from Stanford, Barbara taught in a variety of elementary schools from an Indian reservation to Ecuador. She was selected as the backup to Christa McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space, picked from over 11000 applicants. After the Challenger disaster and McAuliffe's death, Barbara took on the role of Teacher in Space. She later was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and became a full-time astronaut, NASA's first "Educator Astronaut". After years of delays due to the Challenger and Columbia accidents, she flew on STS-118 on the Endeavor in 2007, bringing parts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). She's now on the board for the Challenger Center and teaches at Boise State University.
She took the Stanford Alumni Association audience through her flight, from launch to docking with ISS to landing. It was fun to hear her stories about what it was like, especially the little things like how they put strips of duct tape in convenient positions ahead of time so they could use them quickly to keep things from drifting around the zero-g cabin.
It was especially neat to have her give the talk in front of the real Full Fuselage Trainer - a full sized mockup of the Space Shuttle that the astronauts like Barbara trained on. She kept gesturing at different parts of the FFT as she talked. We're fortunate to have gotten it in Seattle (although a real shuttle would have been nice too...)
It was a real treat to meet a true American hero. I hope America returns to manned space exploration again soon -- on American launch vehicles.
Goofy boys in front of the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight
I took the boys to the Museum of Flight here in Seattle today for a Stanford Alumni event (more on that later). It was the first time we've been there in a while. As I mentioned on a previous visit, I really love planes. This was a fun visit because Andrew (15) and I got to try one of the motion flight simulators; Michael (12) wasn't interested. On previous visits, the boys weren't old enough or I couldn't leave one alone while I flew with the other one. It was fun rolling upside-down. (We shot down two Zeroes too...)
I managed to get a few photos I liked while we were there too.
Salmon are such an iconic part of life in the Pacific Northwest. I went to the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery this morning to see the mature salmon returning to spawn.
Issaquah Creek was packed with salmon going upstream.
The gates to the hatchery were closed, apparently because the dissolved oxygen level in the pools above were too low to admit more fish. That didn't stop the salmon from continuing to try to jump upstream. You can see the other fish waiting below.
It was pretty amazing to see the fish continually beating themselves to get upstream despite the gates. Their need to keep moving must be incredibly powerful. The red Coho salmon were especially beautiful and jumped a lot. Apparently, this is just the beginning of their run, so there will be even more coming through the end of November. I learned the best run days are right after it rains; the water is cooler which make the salmon happy. I really love living in the Pacific Northwest with these amazing fish.
We were in Kauai for the first time a few weeks ago. I slipped away from the pool for a few minutes to take pictures of surfers at the beach by our hotel. (It was a heck of a lot warmer shooting these guys than it was shooting the kiteboarders at Whidbey Island a few months ago...)
I'd love to learn to surf sometime, but taking photos of them was pretty cool. There was a guy in the water with them shooting with a GoPro. That looks like fun too.
I took my first photography class in recent memory this weekend. It was the "Composing Effective Images - Field Edition" by the renown Seattle photographer Art Wolfe. He hosted a reception Friday night for the fifty-or-so students at his incredible home in West Seattle -- stunning rock and water landscaping, insane west-facing view of Puget Sound, and an art-filled interior. It was a nice way to get ready for the weekend.
We were at the Washington Arboretum Saturday and Sunday for lecture and shooting. Art started by talking about his sources of inspiration. As a trained painter, his influences were famous painters. He talked about bringing elements of line, motion, and gesture into our photos, to tell a story or lead the viewer through the photo. Art kept emphasizing that we should be intentional making photos. It's definitely true that I usually am a little careless in my photography, at best having only a notional idea of what I really want.
After lunch, we went into the Arboretum to shoot. Art and his assistants were on hand to give us advice and help us out. I was a bit stymied at first. Art rescued me and helped me find something good to shoot. There were a few key lessons I got from the brief 1:1. He was scanning rapidly for a few things -- interesting subject, interesting light, with a suitable background. He found some backlit plants and then got me down on the ground with my tripod (which I rarely shoot with, but Art seems to rarely shoot without) and close to the subject. Since I was shooting into the sun, he also helped block the light (which I never think of since I never have an assistant). It was a good reminder that the best vantage to shoot things isn't usually eye level and that you need to have a lot of interesting elements right to make an interesting shot. I followed Art and the group clustered with him for a while, picking up the tips I could and then went off again on my own to shoot a while. I admit, I didn't think I had much in the way of interesting shots and was a little bummed by the end of shooting.
That night, I picked and edited three images for critique the next day. Using some of the ideas Art introduced in class, I managed to come up with three images I really liked that I thought were more graphic and abstract than my usual photos.
This is a tree trunk with a sawn off end. It's the only shot of the three where I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted when I shot the picture. I really liked the thick white line and the contrasting textures and colors on either side of it.
I saw these backlit leaves and liked the glow. I didn't have a macro lens or extension tubes with me, so I shot a much broader scene with a lot more leaves. I cropped it down to these two, mostly the get the shape against the lovely background. Besides cropping the image, I only messed with the levels to do this.
Art turned me onto this kind of pointy, backlit leaf. The leaves themselves were green with brown spots, which I thought was distracting. I loved how the edges and veins glowed, so I decided to focus on those and minimize the color distractions by going black and white. I haven't decided yet whether I like this image better this way or vertically.
The second day started with a great lecture on the different lenses he uses and more importantly, how he uses them. Interestingly, he seems to use only a small number of lenses on a regular basis, bringing in others as needed. The 16-35 and 70-200 are his primary lenses. He uses others such as the fish-eye and 500mm+ in special cases. He also uses a 24-105 as a walking-around lens as well as for some aerial shots. I was a bit surprised to hear that he uses the Canon 70-200 f4 instead of the 2.8; the quality is still very good and it weighs less. Since he's shooting on a tripod most of the time and since digital cameras have usably go to higher ISOs, the weight is a good tradeoff against the extra speed. He also doesn't seem to shoot much with normal lenses (50mm range). Since they produce photos like we normally see them, his contention is they make for uninteresting shots.
We also had a talk from his assistant on how to use Adobe Lightroom. Although I've been using Lightroom for a while, I picked up some good tips even from this section.
Finally, we went through everyone's photos. Art and his assistant critiqued the photos, making quick edits in Lightroom to try to make the images more interesting. It was great to see how they looked at each image and what kinds of things they did with them. There were some really powerful images in the group (and some not so good ones). The feedback on my images was good. Art cropped and rotated them a bit to try some different things, but he had nice things to say. I also got a little "ooh" from the other students when the first image came up, which was nice. I only wish I had named the folder "Anthony C" instead of "Tony C"; as it was, I was one of the last students to be critiqued.
Throughout the three days, we saw a lot of stunning images Art had made. He's a good lecturer - clear, entertaining, and informative. The class wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it. It was especially fun since my friends Chris and Imran were there too. Art hosts photo expeditions all over the world. I think I'd love to take one of these some day. As it is, I'm re-energized to start doing more than taking snapshots again.
When we first arrived, there were only a few kiteboarders out, but there were a lot of guys setting up. The kites have inflatable leading edge and slats, so they were pumping up their kites and dealing with their lines.
We were out there for about 45 minutes until we were too cold to keep shooting (even with gloves on). Although the kiteboarders were in dry suits and working hard, I have to believe they were pretty cold too. Still, it was awesome.
Like many of us, I think, it's hard to believe it's been ten years since the attacks of 9/11. We got a frantic wake-up call from our friend Steph to go turn on our TV and watch the news because some "crazy shit was going on". We saw the first tower billowing smoke and then watched in horror to see the second plane crash into the other tower. It's still stunning to think about.
I went into the office to make sure all of my team was accounted for (we had people travelling to the East Coast at the time). It was really scary since no one knew if there were other attacks coming, and Microsoft was a relatively high profile US target. Michelle didn't want me to go, and in introspect, I probably should have stayed home with my family. Fortunately, of course, we were OK, and all of the Microsoft employees were safe.
Security on campus changed after 9/11. We've always had cardkeys, but after 9/11 it was mandatory that we wear them visibly, and we stopped being able to receive personal packages at work. These have relaxed a little in the intervening years. However, we still have the required parking permits on our cars that started after 9/11.
Pretty quickly after 9/11, flags went up everywhere, including at our Redmond West campus. Hopefully, we never have occasion to fly the flag like this again.
Despite having grown up in Seattle, our kids had never been to Mount Rainier; even Michelle and I hadn't been since before we were dating. It was such a nice day today that I dragged everyone on the long drive to Paradise to check out the mountain. (I had planned to go to Sunrise, but that was an even longer drive.)
Not surprisingly, the mountain was stunning. The wildflowers were in bloom and the sky was clear. Also not surprisingly, it was pretty crowded with a long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot. Note to self: go earlier in the day vs. waiting until afternoon.
The drive was a bit long for a day trip, but I'd love to check out some of the other areas of the park as well as the lovely lakes nearby.
Wildflowers dotted the hillside on the cloudless day:
Michael (11) checking out the summit from the visitor center:
The big crowds were the only downer.
Michelle, Michael, and Andrew (14) in Paradise.
Michelle and I took the boys to Tankfest at the Flying Heritage Collection museum in Everett today. The FHC is a collection of World War II aircraft collected by Paul Allen (who has way more fun with his money than BillG does, IMHO). I love these old warbirds, and the fact that many of them are flyable is even more exciting.
Anyway, to celebrate Memorial Day, they were hosting Tankfest where local collectors brought their armor and other weapons in. They had three tanks - A Russian T-34/85, a German Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer, and a more modern British FV101 Scorpion - plus big artillery (including a few German 88s) and jeeps, half-tracks, and other cool WWII era stuff. They were driving the vehicles around and did a little shooting (blanks, of course) as well.
The Jagdpanzer and T-34
.30 cal machine gun on a half-track
Taking aim on a 20mm anti-aircraft gun
Andrew (13) manhandling a bazooka
WWII era radio set in the back of a Jeep
As I mentioned I love old warbirds, so it was exciting to see the planes too.
P-40 Tomahawk in Flying Tigers livery
Warning by the cockpit of a Hawker Hurricane
I'm looking forward to going back on their flight days to see some of the planes in the air. They have "Mustang Day" coming on up June 4 and especially exciting is the debut of their FW-190 on June 18. This is the only flying FW-190 with the original engine left in the world. You can find their Free Fly Days schedule here.
This week I’m back in Beijing for the first time since we moved back to the US. It just so happens that I walked past the Apple Store in the posh Sanlitun Village shopping mall last night, the night of the iPad2 availability in China. There was a huge line at least 100+ people deep sitting outside the store. Inside, there were big curtains up so people couldn’t see into the store. Here’s the end of the line. The big white circle of light at the top is actually the Apple logo. The line extends under that sign and around the corner to the left.
It's been a little over two years since the epic 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Of course, after the Games, there's the question of what to do with everything that they built for the Olympics. Some things have been repurposed; for instance the Water Cube (where Michael Phelps broke all those swimming records) reopened this year as a water park. They're still figuring out what to do with the stunning Birds Nest Stadium since there aren't any professional sports teams in Beijing that could fill the place.
And, then some things, people have just discarded. This Olympic sign was hanging on an overpass near our apartment complex. The management just tossed it to the side by an old truck now that it's not useful anymore. Kind of sad.
After my trip to India, I met up with Michelle and the boys in Thailand for a vacation during the National Holiday in China. We went with our friends John and Ann out to Amphawa to see the floating market there. This is a quiet town around 90 minutes from Bangkok where city folks come for a good seafood meal. Most of the tourists there seemed to be Thai.
The streets were pretty crowded with vendors; since it had been raining pretty hard, they were hiding under big umbrellas.
The main "drag" was a river with shops along both banks.
In some parts of the river, restaurateurs in boats cooked and served up meals in little boats, with their patrons sitting on the docks eating.
Grilled seafood was a popular dish.
Phad Thai was also very popular, including this beautiful variant with squid ink noodles.
Since our party was pretty big, we ate in a restaurant and feasted on local delights. I'm still full just thinking about it.
Long-tail boats cruise the waterways. These are long, slender boats with huge engines mounted out of the water and the driveshaft and propeller extending directly from the engine into the water. To steer, the skipper pivots the entire engine. Here's the lovely bow of one boat.
Here's the pretty purposeful looking working end of the boat.
In the evening, we took a long-tail boat ride around the river to see the fireflies. There were zillions (I counted) of fireflies in the trees around the river. There were so many fireflies that at some points the trees looked like they had Christmas lights in them. The fireflies even blink in some rhythm, further emphasizing their Christmas-light-osity. It was pretty amazing and lovely.
During my brief visit to Hyderabad, India, in addition to my visit to Golkonda Fort, I spun around town a bit, seeing both the new and old parts of Hyderabad.
The Charminar - a famous mosque in the center of the old part of Hyderabad.
Hyderabad has a large Muslim population including the most women I've seen in full burqas.
The streets were as chaotic as any I've seen anywhere, with motorcycles, scooters, and the ubiquitous yellow "auto rickshaws" darting in and out of traffic. Somewhat surprising to me, there were almost no automobile taxis to be seen. Auto rickshaws dominate the trade. You need to call a taxi to get one apparently.
Of course, Hyderabad is an exciting tech hub with a vibrant new economy as well. Google is hiring aggressively here.
Here's the very nice Microsoft campus in Hyderabad. It's much bigger and nicer than our facility in Beijing.
Perhaps this is a very telling view of modern India. This is a fancy shopping mall in Hyderabad, easily as nice as most any mall anywhere in the world. It was covered in netting, however, to keep people from throwing rocks at it. I'm not sure if the netting is always there or was put up especially because the ruling to the controversial Muslim-Hindu Ayodha debate occurred during my visit. All of India was on alert for unrest as the ruling approached; A few examples included Microsoft sending their employees home early, officials closed schools, and police blocked off the old (mostly Muslim) part of Hyderabad from the rest of town with barbed wire. Fortunately, there was very little trouble after the split ruling.
India, like China, is a complex place with a diverse and huge population, a long and rich history, and a fast-growing future. The mix of these things will continue to stretch the capacity, imagination, and patience of their leadership and population. Hopefully, they'll manage it well.
After many years of really wanting to visit India, I finally made it last week for a very short business trip to Hyderabad. Fortunately, I had one day to explore the city before heading out. Even more fortunately, Saurabh, one of my colleagues from our team in Hyderabad, graciously agreed to show me around his city.
Apparently, the key site everyone sees in Hyderabad is Golkonda Fort. This was really a fortified city built starting in the 13th century by a Muslim kingdom. The kingdom was apparently wealthy, with diamond mines in the area; the Hope Diamond came from mines in this region.
The site is pretty impressive still with a keep/palace on the top of the hill and a large village below. The outer wall encompasses a large area where some 40,000 people lived. The engineering was impressive as well. Hand claps at the gates can be heard at the keep on the top of the hill almost a kilometer away, facilitating communication. Water was pumped up throughout the complex, and there were several large covered cisterns to provide water during a siege. They also managed the airflow to keep cool breezes moving throughout the fort. Even in its current degraded condition, the fort is pretty amazing and worth checking out.
The keep from the village below.
The village as seen from the keep:
The ornate carvings at the front gate:
The barracks area:
Beautiful alcoves in the village:
I went with my friends Imran and Misha today to a Canon expo at the 798 Art District. This was a free event put on by Canon to showcase some of their new products like the EOS 60D and 300mm f2/8L IS II lens.
The event was in an old water or oil tank. The space was actually pretty cool.
Inside, they had a almost their whole line-up of gear to lust over.
One of the nice freebies they offered was sensor and lens cleaning. Through this process, I learned my beloved (but battered) 70-200 2.8L lens has some moisture residue inside and the barrel is loose. Time for a repair.
Around the edges they had set up mini-studios with their gear to shoot plus models in different environments to shoot in. In the middle they were printing peoples' photos on the various Canon printers. They also had a stage for presentations and a little theater to show movies shot with the Canon DSLRs.
Unfortunately, I think the models were a bit bored and let it show.
Still, the event was fun and worth every penny. :) I really appreciate Canon putting these kinds of events on to let the community try stuff out.
Last week, the senior leaders on my team at work and I went offsite for two days to discuss our future plans. After staying for an evening at the lovely Commune by the Great Wall (super cool resort -- worth checking out their site), we went to Longqing Xia for some "hiking" (really a ton of stair-climbing). This lovely gorge is about fifty miles north of Beijing, past the Great Wall at Badaling. The mountains rise up almost straight up from a beautiful (and clean!) lake formed by a big dam.
For some reason I still don't understand, instead of taking the gondolas halfway up the mountain before starting our climb to the top, we elected to hike up from the bottom. You can see how far the gondolas go up here.
We just kept climbing up and up the stairs. I was dying most of the time. Not only was I really out of shape, but I was also carrying a big camera bag full of gear including my big 70-200 2.8L lens. Still the view at the top was worth it.
Here's are me and my colleagues at the top.
As you may be able to tell from the photos, we had a beautiful day for our outing. It was a little warm but not bad for Beijing, and the air quality was good since we were outside of the city. My only regret was not getting a chance to take a boat ride down the lake. I hope to go back soon to do that with my family.
We have these lovely blossoms growing in front of my team's building in Beijing (it's called the Sigma Building). Nice that nature found a way to brighten up normally dreary Beijing.
Chinese people in China (vs. overseas Chinese) seem to have a love affair with wearing pajamas in public, despite government pressure to stop. Someone once explained to me that only richer people can afford pajamas, so they're kind of a sign of affluence. Anyway, I saw this guy today playing badminton in a hutong (old alley neighborhoods) in his pajamas. Maybe his neighbors think he's cool, but I think he looks silly.
I've regularly seen covers like this protecting wheels on parked cars in Beijing, but I've never known what they were for.
Today, my friend Stacy pointed out to me that they're to keep dogs from peeing on the wheels! Sure enough, a high percentage of uncovered wheels looked like this on the street we were on today. Who lets their dog pee on cars? Gross.
Saw this restaurant sign today in a hutong (traditional alley/neighborhood) in Beijing. I don't think they really serve dog (as a meal), but the sign is a bit confusing. The Chinese words don't shed any additional clues (it just says "Small Love").
One of these things is not like the others...
I haven't shot flowers for a long time, especially with an extension tube (which allows you to focus must closer, resulting in a better close-up). The morning we spent at the Singapore Botanical Garden gave me a great opportunity to play with my gear and get some OK flower shots.
Singapore is at the crossroads of many cultures. Aside from it's recent history as a British colony, S'pore is between Malaysia and Indonesia; they've also had huge populations of Chinese and Indians. In addition to the national cultures, I think most of the major world religions are represented in force. In many ways, Singapore is proof to me that people can actually get along. Anyway, here some random snaps I took around the island that illustrate the richness of the culture.A sign with all four official languages of Singapore: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil.
Older building around Arab Street.
Shop sign in Arab Street
Dressmaker services near Arab Street
Outdoor, seaside dining at East Shore.
Store sign in Little India
Frieze on Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India
Menu board showing Indian fish head curry, a local favorite.
A few weeks ago my family and another family went down to Singapore and Indonesia for Spring Break. Michelle and I went to Singapore for our honeymoon many, many years ago. Singapore is one of the best places I've ever eaten in the world thanks to their diverse culture and high standards. Everyone I've ever met from Singapore was a foodie. That said, among the embarrassment of riches in Singapore, since our honeymoon we've both dreamed about the quintessential Singaporean local dining experience: hawker stalls.
These are food centers, like a food court but standalone instead of in a shopping mall (althought there are awesome food courts in Singapore too like Food Republic.) There are dozens of stalls cooking a range of food that mirrors Singapore's diversity: chili crab, pepper crab, satays, grilled seafood, curries, roti, shaved ice, ramen, Chinese vegetables, and more. Other stalls have beers, awesome limeade drinks, and other drinks. Each table has a number on it. You choose a table and then go from shop to shop ordering and leaving your table number. They'll deliver the food, which is when you pay.
Newton Circus is probably the best known and most popular among tourists; it's convenient and very good (and nice on pleasant evenings since they have outdoor seating). However, we really preferred the more local Chomp Chomp. Aside from the obviously awesome name, the food was better and the scene less touristy/pushy. Many, many thanks to our friend Meng who recommended Chomp Chomp and other fantastic places to eat.
The entrance to Chomp Chomp.
The scene at Chomp Chomp:
A master at work grilling chicken wings over a wood coal fire; he's using the fan to help control the heat.
Grilled (huge) prawns
The most awesome pork and beef satays as they're meant to be: hot, bite-sized, and in quantity.
This was perhaps the consensus favorite: grilled skate wing covered in sambal sauce (kind of a chili sauce). The bowl of heavenly goodness to the left is peanut sauce for dredging satays though. My mouth is watering as I write this.
The other thing we really all loved was chili crab, with a side of fried rolls for sopping up every drop of the mind-blowing sauce. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold myself back long enough to take a photo before diving into the messy, spicy treat. Chinese vegetables stir-fried with sambal sauce were also ridiculously good.
Hawker stalls are local food at its best -- inexpensive, a reflection of the society and land, and just plain awesome.
Here's a sign near our apartment in Beijing. Apparently, the construction project behind this sign isn't really the best.
I saw this ad near our apartment in Beijing. Not quite sure what they're really advertising, but it looks like the robot had a tough night of drinking and is not talking on the porcelain telephone to God. ("Oh God, <cough cough> oh God...")
I saw this ANA 747 on the tarmac at Haneda Airport in Tokyo yesterday. Pretty cute! Too bad the kids weren't with me to see this.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post on Chinese New Year fireworks in Beijing, the action is fast and furious and often very close to buildings. Last night, The Place, a shopping mall across the street from our apartment put on an hour-long show in the bike lane directly in front of their buildings. We watched from our apartment for a while, then Andrew (12) and I went down to the street to get a front-row view.
It was absolutely nutty as you can see from the photos. The flaming bits regularly hit the buildings with some parts flying up over the buildings on nearby rooftops. I suppose it's not a real danger, but it did give me pause. I don't think you'd ever see this in the US; maybe we're just too wimpy...
View from our apartment:
At street level you can see how close these are to the buildings.
This is a 1/90th second shot (pretty short for fireworks shots). You can see how bright it got. Lots of boom.
Andrew really enjoyed watching the fireworks up close.
Happy Tiger New Year! (Oh, and Happy Valentines Day too!) We spent New Year's Eve in our apartment in Beijing this year. The fireworks were absolutely crazy. They started around 6:00pm and kept going until well past 2:00am, non-stop.
There are no "official" fireworks shows like you'd think of them in the US. These are just random people who buy fireworks at the million fireworks tents that pop-up around Beijing near CNY. They drag their load onto random street corners and then light them off. As you can see from the photos and video below, these are often pretty serious shows, very close to buildings. You can buy a "show-in-a-box" for around $75-150 USD or maybe even higher; light one fuse and the step back.
I imagine the scene was repeated on virtually every block in Beijing (if not more, since we live in an area with lots of expats and hotels.) Spring Festival lasts two weeks, so we have a lot more fireworks to go...
This was probably the coolest set of the night, next to our apartment.
We were pretty much right underneath this one.
Here's Michael (9) playing with a sparkler.
Here's video I shot from our apartment at midnight. You can hear a roar in the background; that's from fireworks going off all around us. The big dark spot in the scene is a construction pit, so we have an even better view of the mayhem near by. The light colored building in the middle of the scene is the Shangri-La Kerry Centre Hotel.
I'm a big fan of the Bird's Nest Stadium (even though they're not quite sure what to do with it now.) I think it's a lovely piece of architecture, especially from inside the shell. Here are a few shots I took earlier.
Last year, I wrote about the icy fun Beijingers enjoy on the frozen lakes here. This year, we decided to try it out ourselves. We had a rare combination of a warm (for a Beijing winter anyway) sunny day with clear skies (read: little pollution) -- perfect for day of riding ice chairs at Houhai (a lake near the Forbidden City). It's a picturesque area surrounded by old Chinese buildings including the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower (see in the pix below.)
Our driver gave us a great tip -- avoid the first two skating areas (first one is too small/crowded, the second is primarily for ice skaters) -- so we headed straight for the third and last skating area. We bought three tickets for 10RMB (about USD$1.50) to get on the ice and another 40RMB for unlimited use of two ice chairs (plus a deposit of 80RMB each to make sure we returned the chairs.)
As you can see from the photos below, the chairs are pretty rudimentary -- just a welded steel frame with two seats covered with a little scrap of carpet.
After you pick out your chair, you choose the poles you'll use to propel yourself on the ice. These are literally just screwdrivers welded to sharpened steel shafts. It's something of a miracle that none of us came back with new holes in our body.
As it turns out, you can really get going on the ice on one of these chairs. Obviously, this is super fun. Our driver explained that they all used to do this because they didn't have money to buy skates before.
Andrew (12) quickly figured out how to do spins on his chair and started doing 720s. Invariably, Michael (9) decided that ramming Andrew was more fun.
There was really quite a scene on the ice. There were vendors right out on ice selling drinks, cotton candy, kebabs (chua'r), and such plus midway-style games even including the electronic free throw basketball games.
Trains of ice chair riders were pretty popular. Somehow, it seemed pretty nuts to have so many with sharp sticks in such close proximity.
There were other ways of getting around on the ice. Ice bikes were a popular rental. These looked pretty fun and got moving pretty fast too, although sometimes the wheel would just spin.
There was also a guy with a sleigh pulled by some animal (alpaca?). I didn't see anyone riding the sleigh.
You could even rent an electric powered cart. These were clearly repurposed bumper cars. I only saw fat, smug boys riding these.
I have to say, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. There were families, couples, old folks, young folks, and piles of friends all having a great time. People were all smiling, pretty polite (even apologizing if they crashed into you), and clearly having fun. Even the vendors were nice (the cotton candy guy even offered me a cigarette). This was pretty different from our usual experience in Beijing and was evidence that at it's best, Beijing is an awesome place. We'll undoubtedly go back to Houhai for more ice play again.
I saw this sign at the entrance of a neighborhood near our place in Beijing. Not sure what they're banning. Car bombs? Burning cars? Couples arguing in the car? Whatever it is, I don't want it in my neighborhood either. Seems like an important sign...
Here are a few shots from my office window in Beijing of yesterday's eclipse. I've never seen an eclipse like this before. Amazing.
At first, I thought it was a Chinese Death Star coming to blow Google China off the map, but it was just an eclipse.
I liked this shot of Michael (9) playing with his new Legos on Christmas morning.
Andrew (12) humored me yesterday by standing very still for this photo at Shibuya Crossing, the crazy, uber-busy pedestrian intersection by the Shibuya subway station in Tokyo. It's a "scramble" crossing where all auto traffic stops so pedestrians can go in every direction. (This was also the debut of my zippy new lightweight, carbon fiber tripod. I love gear!)
Canon 40D, 28-105 3.5-4.5 at f22, 1.5 seconds.
Here's something you don't see the US too often, but it seems relatively common here in China -- sheep grazing by the side of the road. I snapped this photo near our (now old) house in Shunyi, a suburb of Beijing.
When I first encountered the amazing art photos of Liu Bolin (刘勃麟) hanging at a resort outside of Beijing, I did a double-take, not sure what I was seeing. I spent quite a bit of time studying the pictures and marveling at the attention Mr. Liu paid to getting the details right. (I especially like the first photo below.)
See more of his amazing art on his site: http://www.liubolinart.com/
Here's a video of how he makes these cool shots.
We had about six inches of fluffy snow last night in Beijing. Unlike Seattle, Beijing didn't shut down, although the commute was definitely slower this morning. Beijing definitely looks nicer under a cover of white.
This weekend, we were out for a walk through some of Beijing's older neighborhoods. I spotted this lovely older woman sitting in the sun and noticed her feet; they're very small, leading me to believe they were bound. Foot binding was a terrible practice in China of breaking and tying girls' feet so they would be very small and shaped in a particular way. It ended in the early part of the 20th century, apparently not soon enough for this woman.
While we were in Hua Hin, Thailand, we went elephant riding with our friends Kellie and Barbi. After all, we figured it was definitely a unique travel experience. So, with the help of the hotel concierge, we went to the Hutsadin Elephant Hospital for our adventure.
When we first started out, Michael (9) wasn't so sure about the whole thing. He was clinging to Michelle pretty tightly.
Andrew (12), by contrast, was much more comfortable with the whole thing and even rode bareback in the driver's seat. I think he looks like Mowgli from The Jungle Book here. (For the record, I also did the "sit bareback on the elephant" thing.)
Our drivers (mahouts) took us for a thirty minute loop around their property, which included some hilly terrain and nice views of the beach.
Our tour took us past the mahouts' homes.
Michael warmed up to the whole elephant thing and by the end was "chillaxing" (his words).
After the ride, the boys gave the elephants a treat (for a small fee, of course).
The elephants returned the favor with a little hat trick.
The whole experience was actually pretty cool, even if it was a bit manufactured. The elephants are really big; this seems obvious, but it's different when you're sitting on top. (It was definitely a great reminder than being on top doesn't mean you're in charge.) Their gait has a weird lurching, rolling feel, but they seem very sure footed even going down or side-hill. It was also pretty amazing to see how dexterous they were with their trunks. They were able to even find little bits of pineapple on the floor or accept a one hundred baht note...
The experience was a bit commercial with a push to buy elephant tooth jewelry while you're on the elephant (the boys each now have a necklace...), a photo (which wasn't bad actually), and fruit to feed the elephants (which was fun). The money is ostensibly used to take care of these elephants who they're rescuing from bad situations. It was a lot of fun in any case and ultimately not a lot of money, so we were very happy with the whole thing overall. It was definitely a highlight of the trip and one we're still talking about.
Our Bangkok friends John and Ann took us to see the the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, affectionately known as the J.J. Market. You can buy everything from food to pets (not at the same stalls) to clothes to souvenirs to furniture and more. Here are a few snaps I took from this amazing, huge place.
Here's a set of stickers in the window of my cab in Bangkok this evening. I guess there's a lot of things they don't want you to do. I'm sad to report I did none of these (although I'm not sure what the bull skull one is.)
One of the most unique and enjoyable features in Bing is the custom homepage image we have each day. The photos are usually beautiful and have hotspots that link to interesting web info. (You can check out some of the previous images on the Bing Image Archive.)
Recently, my team in Beijing and Tokyo started doing images and hotspots specific to the Chinese and Japanese markets. I'm especially proud of image we posted today. The school in this photo is in Sichuan province (home of spicy food); it was destroyed in the horrible earthquake last year and rebuilt with the help of MSN China's Rainbow Action effort. Over the next few days we'll use the Bing home page and a series of new photos to drive more attention the survivors of the Sichuan earthquake and encourage people to help them recover. (On a technical note, this is the first time we've commissioned a photo for the Bing homepage; we normally use stock photos.)
Anyway, I encourage you to check it out at cn.bing.com and to donate to this effort on the Rainbow Action site (available in English and donations can be made through PayPal.) I'm often proud of the work we do technically, but it makes me even more happy when I can be proud of what Microsoft does for the community.
[Update: 2009-09-01 Apparently the MSN/PayPal collections for this phase are closed for now. It's still worth donating via other means.]
[Update: 2009-09-06 Shrunk the image down to fit on more screens.]
Hm, I didn't think even the Chinese gov't would want kids playing with nuclear beach balls. (Seen at the Beijing airport.)
I saw this awesome poster up at a cool bar/restaurant near our house. One of the cool things in China is that many restaurants have a kids' playroom. This one is just cooler than most. Everyone wins: parents, kids, and restaurant. Seems like a good idea for an XBox marketing campaign...
(taken with crappy camera phone)
I saw this poster up around the shops near our house in Beijing and felt it really spoke to me. I too "am crazy for drink tonight" and of course, who doesn't want "continuous excitements" and "non-stop gifts"?
During our recent trip to Xian we mostly focused on seeing the Terracotta Warriors. However, we did get to see a little of the city. It has a very different vibe from Beijing. In many ways it's more of what I expected from China. Xian has some obvious historical artifacts still standing, most notably the city wall encircling the inner city. The streets are really full of people (Beijing is sprawling and hardly ever feels as packed as Tokyo or Hong Kong.) Perhaps scarier, the driving is even more chaotic than Beijing. It's definitely a little more raw than the more staid Beijing.
A few brief facts about Xian: It was the capital of China several times including during the Qin Dynasty that unified China (and produced the Terracotta Warriors). It was the end of the Silk Road, and for a few hundred years from about the 7th to 10th centuries, it was the largest city in the world. While Han Chinese represent most of the population, there is a sizable Muslim population and a famous mosque, The Great Mosque of Xian. The night market between the Drum Tower and the Great Mosque was absolutely packed with people enjoying a warm Saturday night.
The Bell Tower in the middle of the city
The Drum Tower near the Bell Tower
The busy night market near the Great Mosque and Drum Tower. (I wish I had better photos, but I had to hold onto the kids to make sure we didn't lose them in the massive crowd.)
We were in Ritan Park this weekend and saw this ripped dude doing a hardcore high bar routine. He had strapped his hands to the bar, probably both to protect himself from the friction and to keep from flying off the bar onto the concrete and hard dirt below. He then started doing full-on giant swings. And, like I observed in Ditan Park, he wasn't wearing any particular workout clothing. He had taken his shirt off, but he was wearing grey wool-looking dress slacks and sneakers. I love seeing all the cool stuff people do in the parks. Apparently Michelle and our friend Stacy didn't mind watching him either; they seemed to linger over our buff friend for a bit...
(Unfortunately, I only had my camera phone with me, so the shots are crappy.)
Behind my office building in Beijing, I saw the sign for this company AdSage. They're a search engine marketing company who apparently doesn't want to offend Google, MSN, or Yahoo so they incorporated bits of all our logos into theirs. Or, like many things in China, they just lifted bits of IP from different places. Anyway, I thought it was funny.
The family and I plus my colleagues Steve and John took the 1.5 hour flight to Xian this weekend to see the sights. On the top of the list, of course, was the famous Terracotta Army, so we headed out on a muggy, hot day to check it out.
After fending off the numerous offers in the parking lot for a tour guide, we walked through a long shopping plaza to get to the entrance. (Tip: it’s probably worth the 5 RMB to take the electric tram to the entrance. Bonus tip: hang on to your tickets – you’ll have show them to various guards several times.)
It might have been worth getting a tour guide for 100 RMB (about USD$15). As they warned me in English and Chinese, the site is not well marked. We figured out where pit #1 was and headed over to the building to see Qin Shi Huang’s army.
The building housing pit #1:
Inside this building was the largest of the excavated pits. It was really breathtaking. It’s huge. If you look in this photo, you can see the tourists gathered around the edges of the pit. The soldiers were arranged in “rooms” divided by rammed earth walls that are apparently as hard as concrete. The rooms were covered with logs, grass mats, and dirt, forming a roof.
Note the original entrance used to populate the rooms; the doors were later sealed.
There’s still a lot of work to be done at the sites. Here is a platoon in various states of re-assembly.
In fact, there are many parts of the site that archaeologists have yet to unearth. They’re going slowly, apparently to limit the environmental damage from pollution, moisture (including that from the breath and sweat of the all the tourists), and mold that are beginning to take a toll on the ones already exposed.
The detail of each of the soldiers was really amazing. While the faces are all unique, the soldiers were apparently mass produced. The faces came from a set of base patterns and then were “personalized” to add expressions and different features. The different body parts were fired separately and then assembled. The pieces were all originally painted, but the color has faded over the years. This was a bit of a surprise to me since I’ve always seen the in the familiar brown color. They all originally had bronze weapons, but these were looted. However, the ones they recovered were still sharp due to the advanced chrome plating process used – thousands of years ahead of similar plating technology in the west.
In addition to the terracotta figures, they had two bronze chariots on display. These were smaller than real life (I think half sized), but still amazingly detailed and beautiful.
There was one weird thing. Ahead of the Olympics last year, they (not sure who “they” really is) built a huge terracotta solider marionette that held hands and danced with a Western-doll marionette. The two were just creepy.
Overall, the artifacts were really amazing as was the scale of the display. I just had no idea it was so huge (also, only about 1000 of the estimated 8000 soldiers has been excavated so far). Perhaps even more tantalizing are the reports of huge, 22 square mile (56 sq. km) necropolis nearby with a map of all of China. The old records say the ceiling is studded with pearls, simulating the night sky, and mercury was pumped to simulate river flows. To unearth the entire site, twelve villages and several factories would have to be moved. Almost none of the site has been uncovered and the entrance to the tomb has not been found yet. However, the soil apparently has high concentrations of mercury. It’s staggering to think of this level of accomplishment in 210 BC.
The only real downsides were the mobs of pushy tourists and the heat. It was difficult to really look at the statues and take in everything with so many people around (often thoughtlessly shoving, talking loudly, and bumping into us); in particular, it took some effort to stay connected with the kids. We were also just hot the whole time, even though the buildings were somewhat air conditioned. Michelle also wound up with a bottle of faux Perrier at a coffee shop outside the complex (this kind of real-looking packaging with fake contents is unfortunately too common in China.)
Still, the site was incredible to see, and we’re glad we went. Definitely worth a visit.
As I've noted several times before, I'm no golfer, despite owning golf clubs and having played for years. I do enjoy it, but boy, am I bad. So, it should be no surprise that I didn't play super well yesterday when I teed it up at Newcastle Golf Club with my friends Chris and Kevin. Fortunately, it was yet another perfect Seattle summer day and the company was fun. Actually, despite the fact I was playing with Chris' old clubs for the first time (mine are in China), I hadn't really played in two years, and it's been a long time since I've played the Coal Creek course (excuse, excuse, excuse), I played surprisingly well (for me) -- at least I didn't hit myself or anyone else.
Like many golfers, I decided I would enjoy the game a lot more with a few drinks; the cute and very chatty cart girl was more than happy to mix some killer Bloody Marys up to ease my golf suffering. An Old Fashioned in the club house afterwards topped it off. Then, our families joined us for a birthday brunch for Kevin. Very, very nice...
Me with the stunning views of Lake Washington and downtown Seattle in the distance.
Mommy and Bambi loping across the course. I managed to avoid hitting them.
Kevin with his birthday treat.
Our friend Barbi took the whole family and our mutual friend Kellie out crabbing this weekend on her little speed boat. We put the boat in at Camano Island State Park and motored up the west side of the island on a lovely afternoon. We picked (somewhat arbitrarily) a spot to test our luck. We assembled the two traps, baited them with chicken legs, and then tossed them into the water, hoping to lure a few of the yummy Dungeness crabs in.
After an hour or so of waiting (which we filled with a great picnic lunch Michelle prepared, some fishing, and some lazy conversation), we went back to our buoys and pulled up the traps.
We had a pretty lucky day -- crabs in each trap! We pulled out the keepers (at least 6.25 inches across and male) and reset the traps. We did this a few times (with the intervals between checking going down over time...) We wound up taking nine crabs and a bucket of seawater back to the beach with us.
Here's Andrew helping tie down the traps on the foredeck.
We pulled the boat out, cleaned the crabs on the beach, and then cooked them right there at the park in the seawater. Seven minutes later, they came out of the water perfectly done.
We scarfed down crab after crab, pausing only long enough to wash them down with cold beer. It was gluttonous and luxurious is a way that no five-star meal could ever be. I've never tasted a sweeter, more delicious crab (or three) in my entire life. Here's Barbi happily slurping her crab down as she chucks the shells into the tall grass.
The boys ate a little crab too, but they were happiest building driftwood shelters on the beach and enjoying their ice cream bars. Something for everyone I guess.
It was really one of the most memorable meals of my life (and I've had a lot of fantastic meals as you probably know...) I love Washington and our generous friends!
Last Friday, I took Andrew (12) and Michael (9) to see the Mariners play the Indians at Safeco Field. We were there with our friends the Shirouzus, who are huge baseball fans. Even though the M's were blown out 0-9, I really enjoyed the evening. I forgot how much I like going to see baseball games live.
It was a very lovely evening -- not cold at all. You can see the Seattle skyline behind the stadium, bathed in the beautiful sunset colors.
Their son (and Andrew's classmate in Beijing) made a sign that they waved around between innings; alas, they were never picked up by the scoreboard cameras.
Of course, my kids were more excited about the free application Nintendo (part owners of the Mariners) made for the Gameboy DS; you can install it from stations all around the stadium. It's a pretty cool wireless app that allows you to see replays, watch where the pitches go, order food at your seat, see the stats from other games, view player stats, and play sports related games against other people in the stadium.
All in all, it was a great evening.
While we were at our friends' cabin near Bremerton, we watched a trio digging for geoducks. For the uninitiated, a geoduck is a huge clam-like animal with a gargantuan siphon which can grow up to a meter long. Although they are ugly, they are very tasty. (If you like sushi, you may know them by their Japanese name - mirugai.) As a result, people are willing to work pretty hard to get them.
They bury themselves pretty deep in the sand with their siphon sticking out the ground a little to breathe. Once in a while, they squirt water out like this:
Once you spot this, you dig like crazy into the mucky sand. Once you get a few feet deep, you need to keep the sand from collapsing into the hole, so you use a big pipe (really a sheet of plastic or thin metal rolled into a tube. Then, you reach into the tube and keep digging (these guys were using a little bowl for the last bit of digging.)
Finally, you can pull the geoduck out of the dirt and claim your prize. This is apparently a pretty small geoduck.
Last week, the Shirouzus, friends of ours from Beijing who grew up in Seattle, invited us out to their family cabin near Bremerton, Washington (west of Seattle, on the other side of Puget Sound). We enjoyed a perfect Seattle summer day -- warm, sunny, and lazy.
When we arrived it was low tide, so the boys went and harassed some geoducks (more on that later). We quickly settled into a pattern of eat, drink, nap, play, repeat. Very nice. The Shirouzus have a huge extended family in the area, all of whom seemed to come by at various times. It was really great to get to spend the day with such a fun, close, huge family.
Houses along the shore at low tide.
The same view six hours later at high tide. (Note Mount Rainier in the distance.)
During my visit last Saturday to Ditan Park, one of the coolest martial arts I saw was shuai jiao. This is a type of Chinese wrestling. Based on my observations, a wrestler scores by making his opponent fall; no need to pin.
There was a wrestling ring raked into the dirt. On one side of the arena there was a table set up with the guys who were clearly the elders of the Ditan Park shuai jiao scene.
They kept laughing, yelling advice, and shaking their heads during the matches. This guy in particular was clearly the head dude. After many of the falls, he would jump into the ring and show one of the wrestlers how to fix some mistake he had just made.
There were a few rounds, starting with the beginners. By the mid round the wrestlers had a little more swagger and were clearly better, moving faster and having better technique.
The highlight, though, came when the local champ (in red below) arrived. (The whole match seemed to be waiting for him to show up.) His opponent was no slouch, having been Beijing's representative in the national shuai jiao competition.
Of course, this being China, the champ interrupted the match to receive a cellphone call.
After his call, he put down his phone and proceed to kick the other dude's butt. He launched himself at the smaller guy and just flattened him.
It was a very friendly atmosphere with lots of smiling and laughing between the contestants and coaches. They clearly were having fun and respected one another. There didn't seem to be any of the real hostility than can come with fighting sports. The large crowd seemed to enjoy it too. I did.
During my visit to Ditan Park last Saturday morning, my friend Kevin and I saw Beijingers practicing a wide range of martial arts styles. It was especially great to have Kevin explaining things to me; he's studied taiji (tai chi) for over ten years and was well versed in a lot of the different styles.
Some people were in the park practicing on their own. I couldn't stop watching this woman. Even though she is clearly older, she was absolutely fantastic. She had deep poses and had rock solid balance. I only wish I had been standing two feet to the right when I took this shot so the tree wasn't in the way.
There were people practicing with weapons too, like these spear and sword guys.
Others practiced with schools. During the week the schools practice in buildings, but during the weekends they come out to the parks. They apparently have their territory staked out. They indicate their school with banners they hang out.
You can really see the difference in some of the forms. This is a northern style that emphasizes straight line attacks. They even practice along straight paths.
By contrast this guy is practicing on a ring of bricks. He stepped brick to brick as he practiced his forms.
There was a guy practicing bagua over and over again, forming a circle in the dirt. I'm only sorry I didn't get a photo of the dude too.
There were some beginners too. This is a well-known taiqi master working with a set of beginners.
Unlike martial arts classes in the US, there were no fancy uniforms or belts. People were practicing in leather shoes, sneakers, jeans, shorts, whatever. It was really cool to see this all in one place. I'll have to find a class and come out.
On weekends, Beijingers flood into local parks to hang out and partake in all manner of activities -- martial arts, dancing, chess, opera, you name it. Last Saturday, my friend and colleague Kevin took me to a big park in the middle of Beijing, Ditan Park, to see the action.
Ditan is especially known for their martial arts, but there's lot more going on. Here are a few of of the non-martial arts activities. I'll post some martial arts photos next.
There were a bunch of people practicing Chinese calligraphy with 2.5 foot long brushes dipped in water. They'd use these write on the ground. There's something a little sad about the beautiful calligraphy fading into nothingness as the water dries.
There were a lot of dancers -- from lines of women doing traditional Chinese dances to ballroom dancers like the folks below learning tango. (The couple in the middle were the instructors.)
There were folks playing different sports like badminton (which is hardcore in China). These guys were playing menqiu or gateball, a simplified version of croquet.
Not everything was old or classically Chinese. There were kids inventing the new China too.
[2009-07-18 Added missing photo and alt tags.]
I take a lot of photos and try to help pose my subjects once in a while. Here's a good article and video with simple tips on how to look better in photos.
As you probably know, there are no fortune cookies after meals in restaurants in China; those are definitely an American innovation. However, there are lots of enigmatic expressions posted everywhere. Here are a few on big billboards near our house, advertising our villa district (neighborhood).
Note, they're no better in Chinese.
Based on these, I'm feeling pretty successful...
I saw these slabs of marble at a local market and got very hungry.
Last weekend, we took advantage of the boys' short spring break (two days off school -- shorter than normal this year because of the late start due after the Olympics) to take a quick jaunt down to Sanya, a city on the south coast of Hainan Island. Hainan is on the south coast of China in the South China Sea near Vietnam; it's often referred to as the "Hawaii of China." It's a popular resort destination for Chinese and expats, plus it's apparently a big draw for visitors from Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. More interestingly, it's a huge favorite for Russian tourists. On our drive from the airport, we saw a lot of signs with Russian on them.
Contrary to my normal vacation mode where I want to see a lot things at our destination, this time we just wanted to sit around, soak up the warmth, and relax. To that end, we chose to stay at the Banyan Tree Resort in Sanya. The resort is away from the bustle of the more popular hotel areas, in a quiet section on Luhuitou Bay. We spent a lot of our time in and around the private pool in our two bedroom villa, going to the beach to play in the sand and warm water in the mornings when it was a bit cooler. The boys thought the midnight swims were especially cool.
(This is a Photosynth view of our villa. It's a composite image of a few hundred photos. You may need to install Photosynth first. BTW, Photosynth is a super cool technology by the big brain guys at Microsoft Live Labs. Worth checking out.)
I managed to sneak out to Luhuitou Golf Club for my first round in eighteen months. It turns out that not playing for a while doesn't help your game. Fortunately, I was playing alone save for my caddie, who was polite enough not to laugh, and the course was impeccably maintained with perfect greens (not that I could make a putt to save my life.)
The facilities were undeniably lovely and the service was very good (particularly by Chinese standards). The only real downer (and probably the thing that would encourage us to to try someplace else next time) was the food. It was very inconsistent, ranging from great to fair, and the menu was pretty limited. By the end of our fourth day, we were pretty bored with the selection. (Although I did have a pretty good Hainan Chicken Rice - always good to try a dish in the place of its origin.)
Still, it was great to get away from the dusty grey and brown air and ground of Beijing for warm, humid, clean air and lush tropical environs of Sanya. We all had a very enjoyable and relaxing time.
This is a picture of the gas station next to my office. Michelle pointed out the "fire equipment" at the station: three shovels and two buckets. I'm not sure how useful those shovels and buckets will be if that tanker truck goes up.
It's March 1 and spring is in the air (or is that just coal smoke?). One of the surprises for me about Beijing was how cold it really gets, especially since Beijing and San Francisco are roughly at the same latitude. Unlike in SF (or even Seattle), in Beijing, the lakes and rivers freeze over, and Beijingers head out onto the ice.
One popular place to play is Houhai, the lakes behind the Forbidden City. In addition to ice skating, the locals have other ways to enjoy the ice. One popular older form is to sit on ice chairs and propel themselves with sharp poles. According to our driver, they did this originally because many people couldn't afford skates.
A newer toy is the ice bike. I think the back wheel must have studs on it.
Nearby, vendors sold animals (usually ones from the Chinese zodiac) blown from blobs of sugary dough. (The art is called nie1 mian4 捏面 in Chinese, meaning "knead or pinch dough".) These were super cool, but they kind of sagged and melted when brought into the warm house. I've seen some people eat these, but I don't think that's advisable since the dude worked the dough with his hands and then blew into it the blob.
It was definitely a popular place and, like all fun things in Beijing, crowded. (The big tower in behind the lake is the Gulou or Drum Tower.)
We weren't dressed to play that day at Houhai, so I took the boys skating at a rink near our house. Well, Andrew (11) skated and Michael (8) ran around on the ice.
Eventually, Andrew dropped his skates and started ice bowling (with himself as the ball).
I can't remember the last time I skated or even walked on a frozen lake. It's definitely been 25-30 years (crap, I hate the way that sounds). Skating on the bumpy, grooved ice is definitely a different experience than smooth arena ice (go, Zamboni!) but we all had a great time.
While I'm looking forward to spring, I'm sad we didn't enjoy the ice more while we had it. We'll have to play more next winter.
I snapped this picture from our hotel room the other morning. It's not a great shot technically or even artistically, but I love it. There are so many little stories here: the happy couple and their friends, the old guys at the back chatting amongst themselves, the woman in the geisha just out of the top of the frame getting her photo taken, the ladies at the back of the crowd laughing.
I snapped this shot last week near Houhai (the old Beijing lakes area behind the Forbidden City.)
Last week, we went back to Beijing to finalize stuff for our move there. We also spent two days at the very lovely Commune by the Great Wall resort (more on that later). This resort is just downhill from an unrestored section of the Great Wall (the section is called Shuiguan). Andrew (10) and I made the quarter mile hike up to the wall and then walked along the quarter mile section that was open (a fence at the end prevented hikers from getting to the really dangerous collapsed sections.
The unrestored sections of the Wall are very different from the restored parts. These "wild" parts have trees and grass growing on top, the walls and towers are partially crumbled, and the walking surface is broken up. There are only a few places where they've installed safety measures like a hand rail on very steep sections. I actually quite like these parts of the Wall better.
Although the sky was hazy, it was still very picturesque given the mountainous terrain and the fall foliage. Andrew and I really enjoyed it.
Here are a few photos for your enjoyment.
Beautiful fall foliage and the Great Wall.
Trees, grass, and shrubs growing on top of the Great Wall.
Andrew on top of a guard tower with a collapsed roof.
Andrew about to climb a very steep section of the Great Wall.
Barbi, Kellie, and I decided to take advantage of our jet lag and go to the Tsukiji Fish Market early (5:30am) this morning (this isn't a great place for kids, so Michelle and the boys stayed at the hotel). This is the largest fish market in the world and an amazing scene of commerce and food. I had been to Tsukuji many years ago, but I was excited to come back.
In the intervening years, they have apparently had an influx of tourists getting in the way of operations. As a result, in the tuna auction area, they now have an area blocked off for tourists and rules about flash photography. I've read that they may be closing the whole thing off to tourists; while this makes perfect sense, it would be too bad.
Anyway, the big thing here is the tuna auction where they sell off huge frozen and fresh tuna. The buyers walk around inspecting the fish and then the auctioneer starts the sing-song bidding. In a few seconds, a huge tuna is sold. Click here for an idea of the prices. Beyond the auction area, the place is a maze of shops selling everything seafood related that you can imagine; the shops also cut down the big tuna they just bought for further sale. The auction area and shops are in a huge warehouse known as the inner market.
The outer market is a series of streets and alleys selling more food like pickles, spices, and such as well as cooking supplies like the big knives the guys in the inner market use. There are also crazy good food stalls and restaurants serving the freshest fish from the market. After our tour, we had a bowl of maguro donburi (fresh tuna slices on a bowl of sushi rice) at Kanno, a stall four booths from the corner of Shin Hashi Dori and Harumi Dori (the main intersection near the market). It was super good, with the super fresh tuna and lovely sushi rice. Click here for a good New York Times article on restaurants in the area.
We decided to check out the Omotesando and Harajuku area, starting with the lovely Meiji Shrine area. As explored this huge park, we discovered an extra bonus - the irises were blooming in the garden. While this was lovely, it did mean that the park was flooded with tour buses full of people checking out the flowers.
We then strolled around Takeshita Street (where the cool kids shop), Omotesando Street (where the rich people shop), had a great lunch at Jangara Ramen, took a long exploration of Kiddy Land - a huge toy store - where the boys loaded up on Bakugan, then walked through Aoyoma to get to Shibuya where we saw the big crush at Shibuya crossing, and then went back to the hotel. Whew.
The whole area was pretty cool, even on a Wednesday. The contrasts between the Meiji Shrine, Takeshita, and Omotesando were really striking as we went from serene iris gardens to hip Tokyo youth culture to the elegant "Champs-Elysees" of Tokyo in a few blocks.
I've been shooting my venerable Canon 10D for 4.5 years now; it's been a great camera and honestly, it's still better than I am. In most ways, my photography is not limited by the camera. However, I'm a gear junkie as much as a photographer; it's been hard to resist all the exciting new cameras that have come out these past few years, so I finally gave in and bought the new 40D.
I haven't had a chance to really put it through its paces yet, but so far, I love it. One of the limitations I did run into with the 10D was the frame rate; when I'm shooting the kids or an event like a sailboat race, I often missed the "decisive moment" because the 10D was a just a little slow at 3.3 frames-per-second. The 40D's 6.5 fps feels like a machine gun by comparison. Perhaps more frustrating on the 10D was the relatively small buffer size. I'd be blazing away and all-of-a-sudden the camera would stop taking photos once the internal buffer filled up; I'd be sitting there fuming and waiting to get another shot just as the naked supermodels appeared with an honest politician, Bigfoot, and Osama Bin Laden dancing with them. By the time I was ready to shoot again, they'd all be gone. The 40D has a much bigger buffer, so with any luck, I'll be able to get a snap of the elusive Bin Laden...
I'm looking forward to really messing with it some more. Watch for more photos soon...
I flew down to San Francisco this morning, picked up my red Mustang convertible (may as well enjoy the sunshine), and drove up to my hotel in Santa Rosa before Foo Camp.
On the way up, I stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin (northern) end. I have been to the bridge zillions of times, but not too often on the north end and certainly not recently. I really like the view from this side since you can see the bridge and the city behind it. Chooky and I once were on the top of a hill here on the 4th of July and saw a great show, with the fireworks over the bridge and the city behind.
I also checked out some of the old gun batteries; the area is littered with gun emplacements and an old Nike missle battery that were here to protect the bay. I've never really spent much time in this park and want to come back. I got a little lost on the way out of the park and wound up in the cute town of Sausalito. After driving through, I headed up to Santa Rosa, baking in the sun (oh well). I'm in my hotel room now finishing up a few things and then will head over to the O'Reilly campus.
Anyway, I got a few decent shots even though it was mid-day; I changed up the set of lenses I normally carry to force myself to try to shoot differently and to reduce the weight of my gear. I have my Lensbaby, a 24/1.8, and a 70-200/2.8L (yeah, still not light).
Last weekend, I shot the Opening Day of boating season. This is an century+ old tradition, put on by the Seattle Yacht Club (my club). It consists of an opening Commissioning Ceremony on the club grounds, the Windermere Cup crew races, and a big boat parade. There are also a bunch of activities and parties leading up to Opening Day and afterwards. It's an altogether big deal.
Despite having been a member for eight or nine years, I've never been to Opening Day. (I did hang out on a speed boat at the exit of the boat parade one year.) In something of a coincidence, Michelle and I were married on Opening Day a long time ago. It was nice to finally hang out at the club for Opening Day; being the "official" photographer gave me a little something extra to do while I was there.
I took over 1000 photos; a few even turned out OK. Unfortunately, I had smudged my camera's sensor the night before as I was cleaning it and didn't have the right tools to really fix it. It didn't affect most of my shots, but you can see the flecks in a few. Drat.
Easily my favorite boat in the parade was the Elvis boat from the Bremerton Yacht Club. The huge Elvis head looked great; the lips and eyebrows even moved with the music. The crew on board also looked like they were having a blast.
Anyway, I had fun. You can check out more photos here.
Last Friday evening, I got to shoot the Seattle Yacht Club/Anthony's Homeport sailboat race here in Kirkland, like I did two years ago. This time, I didn't have any committee boat responsibilies; I just had to shoot. Along with my colleage Cyra, who is another avid shooter, we got to run around the course in a chase boat taking photos and video of the boats. Sunava, another friend from work, helped on the committee boat. Hard to beat that.
After the race, we watched a little drama unfold at the dock as a huge Argosy tour boat tried to dock at the shallow end of the public dock. I guess they finally got it in, but it wasn't at all obvious that they were going to make it (check out the photo after the link.)
Once all that was done, the committee boat and chase boat folks enjoyed a nice dinner at Anthony's. I have to admit, I kind of poo poo them since they're a chain restaurant, but the food was pretty darn good. I should give them a chance more often.
It was another lovely evening on the water. Click here to see some of the better shots.
I had a chance today to do a time-lapse photo shoot of the load-in of the STOMP set at the Paramount Theater here in Seattle. The set is cool and goes together very quickly -- even faster through the magic of time-lapse photography.
In the video, you'll see them hang and focus the lights, assemble and put up their main set piece, and then install and paint the dance floor.
Some technical tidbits: I shot a frame every sixty seconds over a five hour period using my Canon 10D on a tripod connected to a laptop running Canon RemoteCapture. I imported all 301 photos into Windows MovieMaker, with each photo representing one second of video. I tossed in a fade transition between each photo (thanks, to Chris Hugill on the MovieMaker team for showing me how to do this automatically) and spit out the video.
This was not a good year for photography for me. While I have a lot of photos, they're mostly snapshots. The few somewhat artsy photos I took were virtually all on business trips I took. I didn't make time in 2005 to go and shoot, and it shows. I'll have to do better in 2006.
Anyway, here are my favorite photos of 2005 (that I shot).
(Note, as you may have noticed, I don't post photos of the kids here. Too many weirdos out there. Let me know if you want access to the family photos.)
I finally took my Lensbaby Christmas present out for a spin yesterday. (Briefly, the Lensbaby has a flexible body that allows you to push/pull/twist it to selectively focus the image.) The boys and I went to The Museum of Flight here in Seattle. While Michael (5) dreamed of blowing stuff up in a fighter plane and Andrew (8) snapped photos with his new digital camera, I messed around with the Lensbaby.
It's a bit tough getting anything to be in sharp focus and to really get the effects you're visualizing, but it was fun and a neat way to see the world. In addition to the weird focusing of the Lensbaby, it's fixed focal length. I normally shoot zoom lenses, so it was interesting to have to compose a different shot because I didn't have the flexibility to zoom in or out (sometimes I could move, but in a museum full of people, it's not always possible to get the right location). All of this meant I had to think a lot more than normal, which is good. I find it very helpful to force myself out of my normal shooting patterns to really start seeing images again. Good reminder for 2006.
Anyway, I got a few good shots. I like how the defocused areas create a sense of motion or of elapsed time -- both good for a museum with a lot of old planes. You can check out a few of my favorites here.
As an aside, the Museum of Flight is fantastic. They've added a new wing since I was there last. This new "Personal Courage" wing is dedicated to the warbirds and stories from WWI and WWII. I love World War II warbirds in particular (especially the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair, of which they have two -- actually the Goodyear FG-1 variant, but whatever). They also have a Concorde, Air Force One (the 707 version), and 747 and 737 prototypes outside for viewing and touring. It's a great time if you like history or planes; if you're in Seattle, I recommend it.
Two of my friends Chris Wilson and Charlotte Lowrie) have picked up the Lensbaby, and I have to admit, I'm really tempted. The Lensbaby is this funny lens with a plastic accordian-like body. You push, pull, and skew the body to focus the lens, but because the lens can move out parallel to the film/sensor plane, you can selectively focus on parts of the image, throwing the rest into a beautifully artistic blur.
It's a super fun way to shoot and forces you to really think about the composition. What's more, it's pretty cheap ($150). You can add macro lenses for another $30 or so.
It's on my Christmas list; who knows, I might even get one. If not, I'll probably pick one up for myself.
The IE Program Management team took a little break Friday and went to Kaspar's for a little cooking class. Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen!
Anyway, I think everyone had a good time, and no one was hurt so I consider the event a success.
I took a ton of photos this year, mostly snaps of the kids. I did manage to produce a few shots that don't show Michael hitting Andrew with a stick though. Here are my favorite shots of 2004 (some have appeared here before.)
Photo by Darren Dean
This site shows off the winners of the 59th College Photographer of the Year contest. There are tons of really amazing photos. The contest seems to emphasize photojournalism and documentary, so many of the shots and portfolios were very impactful and told great stories. It's worth spending some time here.
I finally got around to posting a few photos from my recent recruiting trip to Puerto Rico. This is a bit of a mismash of the shots I liked plus a few illustrating my interviewing office at the University of Puerto Rico.
Some of my esteemed colleagues and I stepped out Thursday night for Rockaraoke at the Fenix Underground. This is the karaoke that you know and love, but in front of a live band instead of the cheesy videos.
There were definitely some people who sang who were really outstanding and clearly went very often (they knew the band, the band knew them). There were also some singers with more courage than talent. We mostly fell in-between those two ends.
I've sung with live accompaniment before, but never in a nightclub/rock stage like this. It was pretty fun. I think I'd do it again. For the record, I sang Garth Brooks' Friends in Low Places. Garth's job is secure, but I'm happy to report not everyone in the bar left to go to the bathroom during my song.
Anyway, check out the photos.
Well, once again my connection with MSN Photos comes through. I had a chance to pose for some photos for a stock photo shoot; my friend Charlotte (editor of MSN Photos) wrote a story about the shoot and included some photos of me in the article. She did a great job (especially with the other guys); it was fun being on the other side of the camera for a change.
Who knows? If her client picks up my photo for their ad campaign, you may even see me in ads all around Washington. Yeah, probably not...
Go for the Drama, by Charlotte Lowrie
I was out with the boys on the Seattle waterfront today and saw some cool shadowy stairs. I just had my little Canon S230 Elph with me, but the shots turned out pretty well.
I've finally written something that got published (besides on my own website)! OK, it was on a Microsoft site (MSN Photos). OK, I used to manage the team and the editor is a dear friend. Still, I got published! And, I got my somewhat suggestive title through with a somewhat phallic photo as the lead picture.
Anyway, a dozens of millions people just got exposed to pictures of my kids and my random musings.
Size Matters by Tony Chor
I had the good fortune of working on the Seattle Yacht Club committee boat last Friday for the Anthony's Homeport/SYC sail race. (For those of you who don't race boats, the "committee boat" is the boat where the judges are. The committee sets up the course, handles the start, records the finish, etc.)
In addition to helping with the starting gun and taking down the finish times, I managed to get a few photos. The evening was absolutely stunning with a lovely sunset. The boats were simply beautiful in the evening light. I've posted the best ones here on my site. A larger number are available on my store on Event Pictures.
We recently went to the Arboretum here in Seattle with some good friends. The flowers are starting to bloom and the weather was really lovely. Of course, I got no good flower photos, but I did get a good shot of the boys. (It's hard to get one where Michael isn't whacking Andrew, about to whack Andrew, or just finishing whacking Andrew.)
I messed with the photo a bunch (obviously). I like it. Thoughts?
Last weekend was the Microsoft Windows Holiday Party. Lots of drunken merriment was had by all. Incriminating photos can be found on my friend Vinny's website -- Pasceri.com.
More details to come.