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Monthly Archives: April 2010
We were supposed to go to Uzbekistan as part of our Silk Road adventure, but there’s a State Department travel warning (or was) so we flew into Kazakhstan instead.
Yes, Kazakhstan: the country made infamous by Sacha Baron Cohen, aka, Borat.
So everybody kind of modified their expectations and our first view of Almaty, the main city, didn’t do anything to lift them. But then we started touring around, and Kazakhstan turned out to be a sleeper hit on the last leg of this long jet journey.
We visited a falconer (where I shot the above sea eagle, D90, 70-300mm VR, Vivid jpeg, ISO 400, Aperture Priority wide open) and got great looks at a variety of raptors, attended an Orthodox service in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the main park, heard a variety of unique folk instruments playing haunting melodies at the music museum.
We hit a big open market where all the vendors were friendly and open to being photographed, and ate some great food. Authentic and as yet unspoiled by mass tourism, K’stan is on my bucket list to come back and explore in depth. For a look at some of the situations that convinced me that Sacha Baron Cohen was all wet, hit the jump.
We’re in Kazakhstan, which is proving to be a great destination (Borat blew it, I’m tellin’ ya). While I’m working on that post, I had a few leftover thoughts on China.
And, since thinking isn’t my strong suit, I thought I’d air them out so I can go on with my Buddhistic pursuit of a totally empty mind!
So, just to prove that it’s not all lectures and picture taking on these charter jet trips, some of our group took the opportunity to do some sand sledding while we were in Mingsha Dunes in Dunhuang a couple of stops ago. I shot some still sequences and pasted together the timelapse above.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Chinese juggernaut; cities popping up overnight, real estate bubbles, tons of money being invested in infrastructure, well-trained hotel staffs who smile and try to help you….all this while holding trillions of dollars of our IOUs. It bowls you over.
But everything’s not that peachy. The air quality is horrible and pollution rampant. They censor every Time and Newsweek that gets in there (one of our passengers has a souvenir Time where the censors redacted a sentence in a story about the possible successors to the current president. Pretty mild stuff, but clearly unacceptable reading for the masses!). And they are censoring the internet too.
Every one of the blogs I regularly read that is hosted by Blogspot and WordPress were blocked. And we’re talking photo blogs, not political ones. If you want your blog to reach into the Chinese market, consider hosting it yourself on your own site. None of those were blocked.
Curiously, though, Google worked. But you got kicked right over to Google Hong Kong. I wonder how they’re managing that?
Who knows how it’ll all shake out, but in the meantime, if I ever have grandkids, I’m going to encourage them to study Mandarin as their second language….
What a difference latitude can make. And not just in your attitude.
We’re in the same desert as Dunhuang, but we’re further north, in Mongolia now, one of my all time favorite places. We spent a day in Ulan Bataar, where we caught a big service at Gandan Monastery (cool to shoot outside, but not of the monks chanting inside). Then we flew back out to the Gobi desert, to the Three Camel Lodge.
Last time I was here, it was early October of 07 or 08 (I forget) and we had a freak blizzard. Now, I’m here in late April, and guess what? Temps in the single digits and snow! Can you say “Weather Jonah”? I’m beginning to think my weather karma has really run out.
Time for an office job? Maybe become a Photoshop guru? Grow my beard really long and talk about 64 bit processing and stuff like that????? Nah, I’d rather be shooting in the Gobi, even in the snow!
Fortunately, our gers were heated with wood burning stoves, the Flaming Cliffs were beautiful (and we got to hike them with one of my fellow speakers on the jet trip, Mark Norell. Mark is chief paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History and a real 21st century Indiana Jones. Going fossil hunting with him is like taking batting practice with Derek Jeter….it just doesn’t get any better.)
For a look at more from Ulan Bataar and the Gobi, and an insight into the type of motivation it takes to leave a toasty ger in the predawn twilight to shoot friggin’ icicle pictures, hit the jump. Continue reading
Marco Polo and other Silk Road travelers may have used camels in the past, but this is the new China. Now, visitors to the Mingsha Dunes in Dunhuang can get around on camel, dune buggies, or even an ultra-light aircraft (seen in the above picture. D90, 70-300mm VR, Vivid, Daylight WB).
Yes, this far west outpost in the Gobi Desert, home to the famous Mogao Caves of Buddhist art and carvings (no photos allowed inside, thank you very much!), is another place, like Lijiang, that is catering to the surging domestic tourist business.
It’s also the first place where we’ve seen sun and blue skies since….well, since I don’t know when. What is that yellow orb in the sky? It appears to emit heat and light….strange.
Our hotel is really nice and the staff is super attentive and well trained. This is not the China I knew. But there’s still some polishing to be done. When I checked into my room, there was a charming handwritten note in English from the maid, welcoming me and ending with this: “I look forward to severing you in the next few days.”
I’m sure she meant “serving you.” (But just in case she didn’t, remind me to use the deadbolt in my door while I’m here).
And hit the jump for some more pix…. Continue reading
We arrived in Xian in fog, haze, and rain….so what else is new?
Fortunately, the main site here, the famous Terra Cotta Warriors are all indoors, so we snapped away while it poured outside.
I’ve never been here, so it’s all new to me, but this is one place where things have actually gotten easier for photographers instead of harder. They never used to allow any photography of the Warriors, and now they do.
You just can’t use flash or a tripod. Not so bad. The light is terrible, mixed from about three sources—daylight, fluorescent, and an assortment of vapor lights. I used a small table top tripod as a brace against my chest, and kept my ISO at 1600 and played around with White Balances….nothing looked particularly good or bad…pick a hue and run with it!
A security guard kept eyeing my little stability rig, but decided in the end to let me shoot unmolested.
The warriors are a must see, but it’s kind of a tough shoot, and very difficult to get anything new. I had more fun later that day out on the street, where I encountered a giant butterfly, and then shot something and ate it.
For a look, hit the jump.