A Small Chunk of Portugal


Historically, Salvador ("Savior" in Portuguese) was the first capital of Brazil, back in the colonial days; 1500s to 1800s. As lots of places chose to name themselves Salvador, this Salvador distinguished itself with the name Salvador of Bahia, Bahia being the Brazilian State along the mid-east coast of the country. One can see why the Portuguese decided to stick around here. The coast line consists of 30+ miles of beach intermingled with rocky shore, astounding views of the Atlantic all around. This historic center, Pelourinho, is a recently renovated World Heritage Site. With balconied windows, cobblestone streets, facades and lamp posts, it's like a little chunk of Europe was deposited on this hilltop.

It felt a bit Disneylandish; the opposite of old European cities that feel truly lived in, with local bakeries and grocers and residents - and a sense of pride for dwelling in beautiful historic houses. Perhaps it's because Salvador's population now consists mostly of those of Afro-Brazilian heritage; ie, those whose ancestors were brought along via the Portuguese slave trade. Maybe they have a different attitude towards remnants of Portuguese colonialism, than say if those with European ancestry still lived in this city? Just guessing here.

Pelourinho felt completely set up for tourists - the ground floor of all buildings were shops or cafes geared towards tourists - so in an odd way, it lacked character. I like to visit places and see people getting on with their own lives, instead of catering everything to my wallet. However, I'd been hankering to see some colonial architecture, so I was happy to finally have some buildings to photograph.

There are historic colonial towns all over the coast of Brazil, and perhaps others are less commercialized. Pelourinho overlooks the modern city that has grown up around it at the foot of the hills. It's not pretty. I commented that in many other cities in the world, such scenic coastline would be lined by nice looking buildings, hotels and expensive homes etc. It was pointed out to me that Brazil has endless scenic coastline, and thus it wasn't a big deal to be near a white sand, azure watered beach.

Home Base Sao Paulo

Outside of Korea, the most Korean food I'd ever eaten was in Sao Paulo. Surprised? Well, there are some 50,000 Koreans or should I say, Korean Brazilians in Brazil, most of whom live in Sao Paulo. Much of the immigration happened in the 1950s, when Koreans wanted to escape the instability of their own country. Brazil at the time, was apparently encouraging foreigners to come on over, perhaps to stimulate population and economy. Can you imagine just picking up your family of 7 kids who'd never been out of Korea in their lives - in the 1950s PRE-internet when one couldn't google Sao Paulo and get a sense of what one was in for - and plopping everyone down in Sao Paulo? That's exactly what my husband's grandparents did.

Those Koreans that great up in SP say they feel much more Brazilian than Korean, and I could empathize, feeling much more American than Chinese. They speak Portuguese and Korean. Many of them work in the cloth/ clothing industry - design, manufacture, wholesale. The streets in the garment district are lined by fashion shop windows, all creatively decorated with lanky mannequins draped over ladders, lavish chandeliers, pink vintage wall papers, showers of origami cranes, bright splashes of fluorescent stripes. Style-wise, Think: hundreds of mini Forever-21s (that ubiquitous teenybopper mall shop which I admittedly frequent, well, frequently). Sao Paulo lacks tourists, and so I felt self conscious about taking of the camera around here, which would be the equivalent of a giant jewel-encrusted sandwich board sign announcing TOURIST!! Thus, no storefront photos.

Mixed in the maze of shops are Korean restaurants - lots of them. If all you've heard of is Korean BBQ, learn now that there is much more to Korean food. There are lots of soupy and rich dishes that come in oven-sizzling bowls. Above, a delicious mandu (ie wonton) soup. The gazillion little side dishes (kimchi, seasoned dried mini-fish, fried egg, gelatinous chunks of ?) help you to season your dish to your liking, or for you to snack on between bites of main course. But all is not business; within the family there are also connections to a Korean ceramics studio - in which we found a moment of tranquility in an otherwise gigantic buzzing city, plagued with endless traffic and confusing streets.

Cruising along on a multi-lane Sao Paulo freeway, we came to a Y-shaped division of lanes, with the right arm leading off onto a different freeway. We took the right arm instead of the left. About 30 yards into the wrong arm, the driver stopped - full on STOPPED in the fast lane (no blinkers or anything),  and other cars casually drove around us. Then he BACKED UP - in the fast lane on the freeway - until we sat in the island between the two arms. Finding a space in the left arm traffic, we rejoined the rush. No-one honked, the whole time. In fact, considering the crazy driving, disregard for lanes, cutting off, red light running - there was not much honking at all. It is as if there is a mutual agreement that driving is a challenge of obstacles and everyone just gets through it without complaint; none of this high-maintenance smooth driving American expectation.

Toucan Time

Aren't toucans wonderful? We met lots of them at the Bird Park in Iguacu, not far from the Falls. Free to interact with humans in aviaries, most toucans weren't scared and were quite alright with having their close up taken, and accepted gentle pets. A useful trivia tidbit: the toucan is Brazil's National Bird. The most commonly known toucan is the Toco Toucan, in all but the third pic. Not sure who the third toucan is, but you can see that his/her beak and body are smaller, and colorings are different. There are actually about 40 toucan species, including toucanettes, which are like mini-toucans.

What's with the huge beak? Toucans mostly eat fruit, and apparently the massive beak lets them sit in one place while chowing down on all fruit within beak radius - apparently beak mass outweighs the energy expenditure of having to move the body around. Of course it may have to do with intimidating other birds, or mating behavior.

In the afternoon sun, some toucans took on this posture of turning their head and resting the beak against whatever they were standing on. This is nap time posture - guess the beak is too heavy to hold up, and too large to tuck under a wing.

Go Here. Just Do It.

How does one even begin to try and photograph the Grand Canyon of Waterfalls? There's no photo that can do it justice. Iguacu (or Iguassu) Falls way in the south of Brazil in Parana state, on the border of Argentina and Paraguay, is probably the Widest falls on earth, consisting of 275 falls (how they count them? Hmmm). The valley is a huge, long, tongue-shaped and tiered, the end of which is sort of pictured here. The Falls extend much further to the right of the photo. For sense of scale, see the little boardwalk/ viewing platform to the bottom right, with the tiny tiny people. We went down there too - photos from that viewpoint later.

The tiers were formed by huge lava floes that rolled along way back when, and then cooled and solidified to form massive steps. The Iguacu river flows over these steps (the Amazon is not the only mighty river in these parts!). All this is part of a Brazilian National Park, which I must say, was impressively designed and organized - or rather it reminded me of American NPs that have shuttles to reduce human impact, well defined trails and excellently placed viewpoints, recycling and composting options for your trash, good maps - user friendly over all. Also similar: ridiculously priced food, and small local animals watching longingly while you eat - except here they are coatis instead of squirrels.

One can also experience Iguacu from the Argentina side. We looked into this option, as the extensive boardwalks looked fun from the Brazil side - but it turned out to be more complicated than just hopping over the border. Customs, bus changes, more fees. Paraguay is situated at the top of the falls, before the river becomes a waterfall. They must feel gypped out of getting a chunk of major tourist attraction. Brazil and Argentina otherwise claim one half or the other, the river defining the country borders.

This photo is comprised of 2 photos. Here especially, I was fervently wishing I had my wide angle lens with me. Can I just say, this photo perhaps conveys a smidgen of the falls experience. Best thing to do is to go there yourself, should you ever find yourself in South America. Far more breathtaking than most anything I've ever seen in my life. Niagara is puny in comparison. Poor Niagara - once you experience Iguacu, no other falls will do.

Of Smoke, Paper and Wood.

Happy New Year, and New Decade! These photos are from the inside of a Chinese temple along the Lung Yeuk Tai Heritage Trail in Fanling, and then an Ancestral Hall on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail in Tai Po, Hong Kong.

The coils are incense, burning slowly. Incense is also available in the more familiar stick form, placed in incense holders by worshipers. I'm still trying to figure out the purpose of incense, and so far I've gathered that the way to connect between the earthly life and the other life (of ghosts, ancestors, gods, deities) is through burning. I think the sticks are offerings, along with fruit and three cups of tea.
Ancestral worship is probably one of the more foreign (to us western reared people) aspects of Chinese religion. Ancestors are held in great reverence, and should your clan be a wealthy one, you can build a large Ancestral Hall. In it are two large courtyards, one in front of the other. At the very back of the ancestral hall, there is a wall featuring multitudes of these rectangular plaques, topped with folded gold paper triangles. Each of the plaques, I think, represents one ancestor whose generation number is inscribed on the wood. There's obviously still plenty that I don't know about what's going on here.

Displays Next To Which Hong Kong People Like To Stand And Have Their Photo Taken

There are certain things that Hong Kong people do. One thing is To Queue Up. Hong Kong people are exceptionally good at getting in an orderly line. When McDonalds has a new toy accompanying a meal, everyone - kids, business men and women, grandfolk, will line up efficiently for their collectible rubber statuette of say, Mickey in a traditional Chinese emperor outfit. When a new stamp is issued, people will line up. Manga convention. Members only designer boutique sale. Public bathrooms. If you see anyone cutting in line, or pushing and shoving, most likely they are from non-Hong Kong China. Is that terribly un-PC to say so? It's usually true. The rest of China was not exposed to the British culture of queuing up.

Another activity of which HK people find irresistible is to have one's photo taken next to displays. EVERY mall in HK (or so it seems) puts up seasonal displays. I'm not sure which came first - the displays (which are very photo friendly), or the snap-happy habits. It is probably safe to say that they Co-Evolved. The displays at large malls can be very elaborate, a multi-sensory immersion into a mini theme park. Characters may be made up, such as these deer, or well known such as Snoopy (pronounced See-Noo-Pee) and Shaun the Sheep. Here, my friends demonstrate how to pose with a display. If one is feeling particularly HongKongy, one will of course do the victory sign.

I'm pretty sure Bjork did not expect her Swan dress to be immortalized in fiberglass, placed under one of the largest Christmas trees in Hong Kong.

A New Friend, and More Things Chinese

This little guy has since been scrubbed clean. His rubber piglet skin was perhaps once pink (under the armpits, he is a little pink) but now is olive green. I found him in an abandoned lot in front of a cluster of old houses. The houses, probably a few hundred years old, were crumbling, flooded with polluted water and were supported by metal beams, yet the walls and roofs still showed the original artwork and caligraphy that must've at one point been someone's pride and joy. The area was claimed by weeds and littered with long forgotten work boots, flip flops (why so many shoes?) plastic water bottles, gloves. No really Gross trash, otherwise I wouldn't have been picking around there. I came across this rubber piglet, and moved it to a patch of flowering weeds for a photo. But it was too cute to leave behind.

In case you are ever on Jeopardy and a category named National Flowers comes up, and when you "Make It A True Daily Double, Alex" and the clue reads "HONG KONG", you can answer confidently: What is Bauhinia and be the runaway winner. A stylized version is featured on the Hong Kong flag, and the $5 coin. Perhaps other coins too, but they're smaller in diameter so I've not paid as much attention.
Weeds and TV antennae; both rooftop dwellers. One of my funner compositions today. I do like making artistic images out of things of little importance; stuff most often not given a second glance, or even a first glance. I like to give recognition to the mundane.

You can click on the photo to see the ceramic figures in a larger picture. Here we have a selection of worshiped beings placed on a red table in front of a temple. The combination of beings depends on the needs of the village (though most villages will want for things such as wealth and long life).
The distinctive long-bearded, massive-foreheaded fellow brandishing a peach is the Longevity guy. Not a deity or god, I'm told, but worshiped nevertheless as a revered legendary character (there are some repeat statues; you'll note 2 peach toting guys). Next over, with the beard and robes, is the God of Fortune and Money. In the middle, a very benevolent Goddess for General Purpose Good Things, like health. And over on the far right, deitified Han dynasty war generals, the more famous one being Kwan Wan Cheong, known for Integrity, Fierce Loyalty and Trust. Apparently, these generals are frequently found in Hong Kong police stations.
By now you're wondering, as I am wondering, What Religion is going on here? Fortunately I have a Chinese Anthropologist in the family. Chinese religion is different from organized world religions. It has folk roots. There is no scripture or book or anything to be studied, such as the Koran or Bible. There aren't any specific rules to be followed (though, Chinese people are generally influenced by ideas in Buddhism and Confuscianism; the latter of which is not a religion but does have writings, read by no-one but scholars.) Asking X God or Deity for something is rather a habit, integrated into life. It's not taught; there are no preachy leaders. If someone you know is sick, just head over to the temple, light some incense, place fruit on a plate and silently ask Benevolent Goddess for some help. This is not to say that the religion is simple; it has a large share of annual, elaborate celebrations, customs and traditions. I am only skimming the surface at this point.

A short lesson on some things Chinese

Instead of the usual highrise buildings, urban architechture, holiday lights, bustling traffic, throngs of people and trendy store fronts that I've photographed so often, I sought out a different side of Hong Kong. There are some parts that are not glass and concrete, but one has to go a bit out of the way to get to these remanents of old Hong Kong. They are mostly in the New Territories, the chunk of northern HK land that is attached to China.

Kat Hing Wai (also known as Kam Tin Walled Village) is a residential area that encompasses some old village remains from 300 years ago. Not THAT old, compared to, say, ruins in Italy, But still a refreshing change in photographic subject. I like old buildings, with peeling paint, rusting hinges, dilapidated roofs. These old buildings were intermingled with modern homes, 2-3 storey houses, so it takes some exploration through narrow alleys to find the old houses. In some cases, people still live in them; others were boarded up, windows painted over.
The people who live here are Hakka, which is a disctinct group of Chinese people, with their own language (apparently other Chinese can't understand it at all), food and customs. An interesting tradition: women do the manual labor and the men stay at home to take care of domestic matters, such as child rearing (this no longer applies to modern families). I'd first heard of Hakka when as a kid, I observed women working the few rice paddies in HK back in the 80s. They wore distinctive hats - wide brimmed straw hats with a curtain of gauzey black fabric encircling the brim edge (you can make it out on the top photo; the traditional hat with jeans and wind breaker). "Those are Hakka women" someone would offhandly mention. Of course, the modern Hakka woman looks like any other Hong Kong career woman, with jobs in commerce instead of the rice paddy.
The peeling paper on the red door are old prints of Chinese door guardians. In temples, they might be actual larger than life size statues, 2 burly armored Chinese dudes with weapons and Angry Eyes. They're also known as "Kum Kong", as in "Gold Sturdiness". Sound familiar? Westerners borrowed the words to name a certain Large Ape.
And this is a T-shaped key-hole. I really enjoy travel photography, not just for the new subject matter, but because the experience of travel is so quick and there is so much new information, I don't have time to investigate things further at the time. Photos allow further reflection and research at a later date, a delayed enhancement of the experience.

Kadoorie Farm Fun

I'd not been to Kadoorie Farm since I was a wee child, at which point I was too thrilled to be on a field trip to really pay attention to what KF was all about.

KF was established in 1951 by the wealthy Kadoorie brothers, British blokes, I gather. Post WWII, Hong Kong was overwhelmed with refugees, and the Kadoories hoped to give agricultural aid in the form of farm education and provision of livestock/ fertiliser/ tools etc to start new farms so that HK could be self sufficient. HK these days is way past farming for itself and imports food, so KF goals have since been changed to be a conservation and education center. Large areas of terraced slopes are dedicated to organic farming, and there are wildlife rehab centers as well as all sorts of gardens. Along the meandering tree shaded trails, it's easy to forget you're in Hong Kong. At the farm store, I purchased some organic dried KF grown chrysanthemum flowers for tea-making. They had home grown eggs and veggies for sale too.

The Barking Deer and Wild Boar are some of the lucky rescued wildlife that live at KF.

I contributed a small patch to this community tapestry. Anyone who comes along is welcome (after a brief tutorial) to add a rew rows. Incorporated are branches, dried grasses and scraps of fabric.

If you are inspired to visit KF, Fly to Hong Kong, take the train (previously KCR, now MTR) to Tai Po Market or Tai Wo in the New Territories, and hop on Double Decker Bus 64K towards Yuen Long. Ride about 20 minutes; the KF bus stop is at the crest of a steep hill.

Things Around Home

I made a conscious decision not to bring my camera along on my first day foray into the city on this visit to Hong Kong. It is very distracting having a camera - I decided that I would take everything in without documenting it. Next week I will make specific phototrips, and I will give myself little projects, e.g. storefronts, holiday decor, signage, produce. While on one hand having a camera is distracting, on the other, I've photographed Hong Kong so much that nothing is very novel and thus themes will help me focus my photo attention.

I photographed Things Around my Hong Kong home today. My Mom's orchids came to mind first; a great opportunity to demonstrate "bokeh", or the fuzzing out of background (or foreground) by having limited focal range. The thing with Bokeh is that what one chooses to be in focus is an important element of the composition. If I'd chosen the bottom left flower to be in focus, the photo would be strangely weighted. Even though many of the flowers are just blobs of color, they're still incorporated into the composition.
Photographing things around home makes me feel like a student photographer. The typical things to photograph as a student photographer are things that are easy to access and control, because it's scary to go into the unpredictable outside world to photograph (or draw, or paint, etc). If you see a portfolio with too many obviously Home Taken shots, tell that photographer to Get Out More.

The lower picture is one of a frequently photographed scene; the Hong Kong Island skyline in the evening. During the winter months, many of the office building fronts facing the harbor are decked out with decorative lights, spelling pleasantries such as "Seasons Greetings", or forming images of reindeer, Santa, holly, etc. The lights are then switched around in celebration of Chinese New Year.

The upper photo was not taken by me, alas. My husband intentionally unfocusedly photographed the same scene (though with more zoom, it appears) for an interesting effect.

Bird Garden in Mong Kok is full of photo opportunities. This man saw me wandering with my camera. He struck up camera conversation in Cantonese, and then shared his parrot photos, taken with a little Canon point and shoot. I was pleasantly surprised, as I often assume Hong Kong people want to keep to themselves; it's rare to converse with strangers.

Then he picked up his parrot, Coco, who had been sitting on a branch. Coco quickly attracted a crowd with her/his tricks, which included hanging upside down on command. Parrot man asked me to email him my photos of himself and Coco. Certainly! Bird keeping is a hobby, with mainly male human enthusiasts. Bird owners will take their birds out for walks (the bird sits in the cage, the man walks carying the cage), to socialize, and if well trained, some off leash, uh, or rather, out of cage climbing time.

Bird Garden has come a long way from Bird Street. Less than 10 years ago (approximately), it was a tear-jerking nightmare of illegally imported birds, packed into tiny unhygienic crates, with no moving room. The birds in the middle often didn't have food or water access. Mangy and obviously miserable. Bird vendors cleaned up their stores thousand-fold, as a part of an urban renewal project. Birds now have clean spacious cages. Not necessarily free from the illegal bird trade, but a vast improvement nevertheless.

Kung Tak Lam Shanghainese Vegetarian Restaurant, at 1 Peking Road in TST, Hong Kong. I've not been to many Chinese veggie restaurants, but this one has an impressively extensive menu, and very tasty food.

The bowl of noodles looks standard, but dishes like the above imitation ham wrapped in seaweed with young chinese veggies are opportunities for the cooks to really show off.

I was a bridesmaid for a traditional Chinese/ modern Western combo wedding yesterday. Far more comfortable wielding a camera than a bouquet, I enjoyed the insider benefits of photographing preparations in the bridal suite and such, to which the hired male photographers didn't have access. Yet, without the pressure of having to properly cover an event. As I lack photo editing programs here in Hong Kong, I'll save people photos for a later post.
The western ceremony was aboard a Chinese junk - a boat with large red sails, often featured in tourist advertising for Hong Kong. The truth is, these boats are only ridden by tourists and hired for special events. The view of both sides of the harbour were excellent, and I kicked myself for not bringing a wide angle lens with me (when traveling, there's only so much I want to carry). Above: the view from the top deck of the junk. There's a ferry crossing our path. I became very conscious of passing boats, as our boat bobbed in their wake - try standing on heels on a sloping, bobbing surface in the wind while holding a bouquet or camera & champagne glass. Anyways, If I had photoshop, I'd bring brighten and warm the pic, bring out the reds. And straighten the horizon.

It was my first experience witnessing a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony. Ideally, the bride wears close toed non-strappy gold shoes, but the wedding planner and bride compromised on red shoes. When perusing a western female wedding photographer's portfolio, there will inevitably be photos of the wedding accessories. I learned why: it's fun! And shoes, dresses and jewelry are such easy subjects; they don't move, I can pose them, I don't have to talk to them. OK, all that and they're pretty and important to most brides.

Here is another Paris shot. I'm in the square in front of Notre Dame, which would be to the left of the photo. Paris makes for good night shots, as buildings and streets are well lit, but not lit by neon. But what actually makes this photo work is the woman in the white jacket. The lamp posts in the distance to the left lead the eye up to the nearest lamp post which with is brightest light, is domineering. There we would be stuck and unbalanced, in an uninteresting part of the photo, if it wasn't for that woman's white jacket. The eye is pulled down, and suddenly the viewer notices people in the image, and lamp posts in the distance, which lead the viewer back to the left of the page. This composition forms a continuous triangle. There you go, a quick tutorial in composition.

I went to Paris and some cities in Provence (hence my prolonged absence, apologies to my regulars for the lack of posts). Of course I took many photos, around 600-700, which is less than I expected I'd take. I have two 2 gig memory cards, and have yet to fill one up in a trip. I do use the smallest file size, as I don't expect to be blowing any images to poster size. And I've yet to shoot RAW; I'm a little intimidated. Also, my computer is slow enough without having to process large files.

Anyways, the photo above is one of my favorites. Sitting on the edge of a waterless fountain sipping an Orangina at Place de Vosges (how to pronounce??) on a Sunday afternoon was an excellent Parisian people watching opportunity. The fountain was a magnet for kid activity; soccer ball kicking within the low fountain walls prevented the ball from going far; speeding tricycles veered around me, and the fountain spouts and piping were stepping stones and balance beams respectively.

I spent the last 2 weeks eating pasta and taking photographs in Italy. Here's one of my favorite photos, taken while we ambled through the side streets of Siena. Maybe it's the frame-full of old, red brick that is so characteristic of Siena, maybe it's the simple pleasure of pigeon feeding that American tourists and local Italians alike enjoy.

This one was taken in Venice, also as we wandered off the tourist beaten path into the residential neighborhoods. The scattering of abandoned children's play vehicles was a great set up for a photo - the contrast of modern toys with historic buildings, the eerie lack of children...