Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

Architecture

Auschwitz: Never Forgotten


Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 11 • 1/125 sec

Some have said that these train tracks mark the site where more families were torn apart than anywhere else in history. These are the tracks leading into Auschwitz, one of the largest Nazi concentration camps in Poland. I took this shot from the top of the guard tower, where I could observe most of the camp. Here, the trains would enter the camp and the passengers would be stripped of their luggage and “sorted” into two areas of the camp: those who went one direction went to hard labor, the others went to the gas chambers. Many people got their last glimpses of their mothers, sisters, and children here.

Our tour had lasted for two hours, and most of us were emotionally exhausted by the time we’d reached the end. The stories were endless. People that had been living normal lives, suddenly uprooted and sent to a camp where death followed them at every turn. It was a side of humanity that many would love to forget existed, yet only our remembrance of it can keep it from happening again. We asked our tour guide how she could keep doing this day in and day out (she had been there for six years). She replied that her job had great meaning – in educating the next generation, she could take part in never letting the world forget what hate and racism could do.

This is just one photo of hundreds I took at the site, and over the weeks and months ahead, I’d like to occasionally post one and tell another story from the camp. It’s a tough subject, but one that I feel needs to be discussed.

What is your opinion on concentration camps to begin with? Is it a good idea to keep them in the public eye?


Giant Games & Weird Art


Location: Austria
Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/210 sec

Are you up for a game of chess? What about if the pieces are as big as you? I was intrigued by this giant chessboard during a walking tour of Salzburg. There was already a game in progress, but how fun would it have been to join in!

Salzburg’s giant chess board is in the heart of the Kapitelplatz, near the Dom Cathedral. The Kapitelplatz is the part of Salzburg’s Old Town, and is a square featuring art displays, music and cultural activities. While giant chess boards are not unique (there is even a site pinpointing them all around the world), the other two main attractions in the site are creative.

One is a fountain/pond with a statue of Neptune on it. Back in the 1700’s, it used to be the Kapitelschwemme, or horse bath. On the other side, right next to the chessboard, is a 30-foot statue of a man on top of a golden orb. This piece of art, known as Sphaera, was made by artist Stephan Balkenhol in 2007. Since the artist’s other works around Europe feature the same man on top of various objects, the locals nicknamed this statue “Mann auf Mozartkugel” (Man on Mozartkugel). Mozartkugeln are the best chocolate candy balls in the city, just as an FYI. 😉

You can find all sorts of fun things in town squares!

Have you ever seen (or played) a giant board game of any kind?


The Hidden Gates

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 3.5 • 1/250 sec

The city gate. Go back in time, and this was the one way to get past the fortress-like walls. It was the way to avoid the deep moat that protected the city. It was the gate where visitors and merchants and dignitaries alike first set foot in Warsaw. But after WWII, it was underground.

During the Warsaw Polish Uprising in 1944, the Nazis razed most of the city. After the War, the people slowly began to rebuild Warsaw on top of the ruins. The new city began to grow and thrive again, though they did not forget their history. Rebuilding was a long process, and many ruins remained for decades. Finally, in the 1980’s, some ruins were cleared out to reveal these gates, hidden next to the old Ghetto wall beside the city’s moat.

The are obviously no longer used as the city gates, considering they are at a level well below where the current city is built. But they are preserved here as a reminder of the city’s rich history, and all the people of Warsaw endured.

What’s your favorite historical discovery in the past few decades? Why?


Welcome to Poland!

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200  f 2.8  1/1600 sec
(Note: This panoramic was created by digitally stitching 9 photos together)

Hey folks! I’m back from my last great adventure with more tales of shock & awe and of course, more photos! My travels took me to Poland to do a series of concerts in several cities, so we got to see a lot of the country. This week’s photo was taken in Warsaw, the capital city.

The Republic of Poland is the sixth largest country in Europe (about the size of New Mexico in the US), and has a population of about 38 million. It is a country rich in history, but the Polish people themselves are more known for their practical jokes (and yes, we had a few played on us!). It is a highly-educated place, with 90% of residents having at least completed a secondary education, and 17 have won Nobel Prizes. Yet, Poland has the highest unemployment level in the EU (12.6% in 2006).

Most Poles are Catholic (around 90%), and I enjoyed getting to see cathedrals everywhere and statues of saints and Pope John Paul II (the only Polish pope). The culture also seemed very focused on the arts. I guess this is why our group could start singing in the town square and we would fit right in. 🙂 We enjoyed their food, mostly based around pork, chicken, and vegetables. They also had great roads compared to most countries I’ve been in outside the West. Now the drivers, that’s another story. 😉

Do you enjoy short country overviews like this? I can cover some of the other countries on this blog as well. Let me know in the comments!


Big Ben: London’s Big Deal

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2500 sec

If you look at the skyline of London, probably one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture is Big Ben. The name actually refers to the bell only (the rest is officially called the Clock Tower), but more people know it by its nickname than anything else. There are two main theories on how it got it’s name: The bell has the name “Ben” inscribed on it after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation. Also, the English Boxing Heavyweight Champion at the time was Benjamin Caunt, and anything that was the largest or strongest in its class was referred to as “Big Ben.”

The tower is quite a sight in person, rising 316 feet (96.3 m; ~ 16 stories) on top of a concrete raft. The four clock faces themselves are 23 feet (7 m) in diameter and hold 312 pieces of glass each (though some are removed for servicing the dials). Yet it gets its name from the bell, a 16-ton monstrosity that was cast in 1856. This is actually the second version of the bell. The first one cracked in transport, and was melted down and re-cast. The current bell also cracked after being in use for two months, but it was repaired, rotated a bit, and given a smaller hammer. Even today it has a funny-sounding ring caused by the crack.

Tours are available to go inside the Tower, but only if you are a UK citizen. Even then, you have to book it with your Member of Parliament way ahead of time. The rest of us just get to watch from the outside. That’s still cool, though. The light on the top of the tower indicates when Parliament is is session, the chimes play “The Cambridge Chimes”, the tower leans enough to be seen by the naked eye, and sometimes we can see some dudes risking their lives trying to clean the clock face (there’s even a game for that!). There are lots of other fun details about the clock I could talk about, but why don’t you see for yourself?

This is my second clock feature in two months. So tell me, which would you prefer to see? Is there another clock somewhere you think is even cooler?


A Shot in the Dark: Night Photography

Location: Austria
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/60 sec

Night photography is one of the more difficult techniques to learn. This picture of Vienna’s town hall (the Rathaus) came after several blurry or underexposed attempts I threw out. Mostly that is because you need light to take photographs, and at night, it can be hard to come by! Here are some simple tricks to help get you started, so you don’t have to be afraid of the dark.

  • Know the weather forecast, sun and moon rise & set times, and any other factors (such as light pollution from cities) that can affect your photos and plan accordingly.
  • Know this: flash is evil and it won’t help you in this setting. Turn it off.
  • The key to night photos is long exposures, so learn how to adjust your shutter speed down or use a bulb (some pictures take 1/2 sec up to an hour or two). You will also need a higher aperture (11+) to keep your depth of field sharp as well as a higher ISO setting to let more light in (here’s an explanation of some of these settings). When in doubt, bracket your photos (most DSLRs will take 3 photos with different exposures in a range, so you can pick your favorite or combine them later). And yes, I know I broke these rules in this week’s photo. But hey, sometimes you just get lucky!
  • Next, DON’T MOVE! Or at least, don’t allow your camera to move. Use a tripod, and don’t press the shutter button to take pictures. Instead, use the camera’s self-timer, a remote control, or a cable release. Also, if using a DSLR camera, set the mirror lock-up function to further prevent internal camera shake.
  • Don’t forget battery backup, warm clothes, and a flashlight! It will make your life a lot easier.
  • Manual focus is helpful here, since autofocus typically won’t work at night. Set it to infinity for buildings and landscapes. The same goes for your automatic white balance settings. Manually set it to “Daylight” to get the correct colors.
  • There is a lot of discussion on timing. Some photographers advocate shooting right after sunset to maintain colors and avoid streetlights, while others prefer the night sky around 2 am. Figure out what works best for you and try it!
  • Finally, if you want to get REALLY technical, try light painting.

What, besides fireworks, looks so cool at night that you really would like a picture of it?


Playing With Time

Location: Germany
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/120 sec

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important da — hold on, what’s that?” Our tour group stopped in the middle of Munich’s Marienplatz (open square) to gawk at the loud clock with dancing figures on the side of the New Town Hall. For about 15 minutes, we watched various characters dance and perform jousting contests, until a little yellow bird at the top announced the end of the show.

This clock, a part of Munich’s history since 1908, is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel (not the type of glockenspiel that’s a relative of the xylophone). It goes off every day at 11am and 12pm (as well as 5pm in the summer and a mini-show at 9pm). It contains 42 bells that play different tunes, as well as 32 life-sized figures.

Later, I found out that the characters in the show were acting out important times in Munich’s history. The top section depicts the 1568 wedding of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine. Part of the 2-week party included a jousting tournament, depicted on the clock by a battle between a French & Bavarian knight (of course, the Bavarian always wins). You can watch a bit of this here.

The lower level is a group of the city’s coopers (barrel makers) doing the Schäfflertanz, a ritualistic jig popularly thought to have begun during the plague in 1517. Duke Wilhelm V ordered the dance be re-enacted every seven years to remember the deadly disease (the next live performance will be in February of 2019).

What’s the coolest clock you’ve ever seen?


Fly Sky High in the Eye

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/4000 (all images)
(Note: This panoramic was created by digitally stitching three photos together)

The London Eye, now the third largest Ferris wheel in the world, offers a great view of the city from 443 feet (135 m). On a clear day, you can see Windsor Castle, up to 25 miles (40 km) away. It’s especially popular at night when all the city lights are twinkling. On my visit to London, I was limited on time and cash, but if you have 30 minutes to ride the loop, it will only cost you around $25-$30. Reporter Steve Rose wrote, “It essentially has to fulfil only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started. That is all it needs to do, and thankfully, that is all it does.”

The Eye has a fascinating history. It was originally supposed to be a temporary structure, designed for a millennium landmark competition. It took seven years and help from five countries to build. The parts were floated down the Thames River, and then the wheel was built on its side. It was lifted by degrees and took over a week to reach its final standing position. Today, it is used by 3.5 million customers a year. It has 32 “pods” (one for each of London’s boroughs) which hold up to 25 people each (or, you can book an entire private pod for $600-$1500). The pods are mounted on the outside of the wheel, allowing for 360° views without support structures getting in the way. It also moves about 0.6 mph (0.9 kph), allowing passengers to get on and off without stopping the wheel.

I noticed when I took this picture that the wheel was missing a pod (top right). In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games, the pods are being refurbished, one at a time. They are being swapped out at night, one by one, in order to keep the wheel going the rest of the day. I’d be excited to go see it once these are completed! In the meantime, there’s always the live webcam (when it works, anyway).

If you could ride a giant Ferris wheel anywhere in the world, what would you want to see?


Setting Up the Perfect Scene: Composition 1

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/340 sec

For all the other aspiring photographers out there, here’s one you don’t want to miss! Previously, I talked about the use of aperture and timing. This week’s photo lesson covers a few points of composition, something you can practice with anything from a DSLR to a cell phone camera. There are lots of rules to composition, yet rules were made to be broken! My suggestion is to learn the rules and practice them until you know when you can break them. Since there are so many, I’ll give a few here and plan to add more in future posts.

The most well-known composition rule is the “Rule of Thirds.” Take any scene, and divide it up into three pieces, both horozontally and vertically. Now place your subject at any point where those lines meet (which normally seems just off-center). Here is an example (this can also be applied vertically). One time to break this rule: when your scene is symmetrical.

The second rule: framing. My photo above is the example for this one. Putting elements on the edges of the picture can help draw the viewer’s eye to your subject of the photo. In this case, I took this photo of a dock in Indonesia from inside the outhouse next door (and yes, it’s kinda freaky that the holes in the boards were that big!). Trees also make good frames.

So start practicing with these two rules and there will be more to come!

What is your favorite photo? Share a link and we can discuss how it was composed.


Traveling Lion Dogs!

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/125 sec

The incidences of cultural drift have long fascinated me. I think I get to the point of understanding a phenomenon particular to one culture, and then discover the same thing traveling somewhere else! This little statue was no exception.

Years earlier, I was traveling in Okinawa & Japan, and I saw lots and lots of Shishi (also Shisa or “lion dog”), small statues that were placed on either side of building entrances, gates, homes, etc. Traditionally, the left one would have an open mouth, and the right would be closed. There are several theories as to why they are designed that way, the most prevalent being to let good spirits in and keep bad spirits out. They are mainly found in Buddhist or Confucian areas.

The Shishi were introduced to Japan through Korea from China back in the 14th century, and the Chinese likely got it from somewhere else, since lions are not native to that area. Each country has some mythological stories as to how the creatures arrived in their area, and each designs them a little bit differently. For example, in China, they look like lions. In Japan, more like a cross between a lion and a dog. This pair (only one pictured) I found at a retreat center in Thailand, and to me it looks more dog-like.

 No matter what the design, they seem to be easily recognizable whenever I travel around Asia. I just don’t think they’re as cute as the Japanese money cat. 🙂

What cultural icon are you familiar with that did not originate in your own country?


Stucco Skillz


Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 200 • f 5.6 • 1/640 sec

Do you have any hidden talents? What about a skill you never thought would be useful? I discovered one of those on a building trip to Mexico. I had started my journey thinking I would spend most of my time taking pictures, and helping with painting & nailing boards (the easy stuff), or roofing & electrical (things I had done before). Sure, I did all those things, but one of our team leaders had another idea.

“Hey, you two girls are probably the lightest,” our leader remarked. He pulled a couple of us from our work nailing boards and led us over to the freshly-poured cement still in the frame. “We need people to smooth this out before it dries, which will be really fast in this heat.” So that’s what we did. They had us balance on our hands and knees on flat metal pieces (to spread out our weight over a larger area), and we ran trowels over the cement to take out all the rocks and bubbles.

I know I’m a bit of a perfectionist, as well as an artist, but I never thought that would apply to making cement look pretty! 🙂 They apparently thought I did a really good job at it, because later they put me in charge of smoothing the stucco on the walls as well. I guess there is something to be said for using your skills and talents to the best of your ability, no matter what!

What random skill do you have that you never thought could be useful? Have you done anything with it?


The Massive Fortress of Golkonda

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 14.0 • 1/200 sec
(Note: Ok, so I took this pic when I was first learning. I don’t recommend these settings for outdoor shoots)

“Welcome to Golkonda!” the tour guide thundered. I didn’t pay a ton of attention to him, since I was glancing nervously at the security guard in full military getup guarding a canon. Armed guards were a common occurance. Still, everyone here was friendly. Our tour group was led around the fort and shown many of the sights. Not bad for Rs 100 (about $2.30 at the time), even if the locals got in for Rs 5-20. It’s common in India to get the “skin tax” added on to prices if you’re a foreigner. 😛

Golkonda fort (aka Golla Konda, or “Shepherd’s Hill”) was built in the 13th century under the Kakatiya dynasty. Legend states that a wandering shepherd boy found an idol on the hill, so the Hindu king built a mud fort on the location. In the 15th century, construction began in granite, and the fort continued to be added on to until it’s ruin in 1687. Today, Golkonda is a collection of four forts behind an outer wall, covering 11 km² (4.2 mi²) in all (see here for more architectural details). One cool fun fact is that the mines surrounding Golkonda are where the Kohinoor and Hope diamonds were supposedly discovered.

On our tour, we got to visit the bat cave (and yes, the residents were there) and climb to the top to see a panoramic view of the twin cities Hyderabad & Secunderabad. At the base of the fort, our guide showed us where we could stand to clap or yell so that we could be heard at the uppermost citadel nearly 1 km (0.6 mi) away. Great acoustic system! They also had a running water system at the top – amazing technology for the time it was built! Finally, our group decided to shell out another Rs 40 (less than a dollar. Ooo!) to see the hour-long sound and light show that told the history of the fort. Sweet!

What’s your favorite historical place to visit?


Crazy & Crooked Buildings!

Location: London
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2500 sec

It’s a double photo week! While I was touring London, I was amazed at the interesting architecture, including the Gherkin (above) and the City Hall (below). The Gherkin, officially known as 30 St Mary Axe is an office building constructed out of 34,000 m² (approx. 366,000 ft²) of glass panes arranged to look somewhat like a Fabergé egg. City Hall, which houses the Greater London Authority (Mayor & the Assembly), is build like a lopsided dome and includes an open-air amphitheater in the back.

Location: London
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2000 sec

So that got me thinking, what other cool weirdshaped buildings are there in the world? Here’s just a sampling of what I found. Follow the links to see more pictures & articles:

Ok, there’s a sampling of some cool things to see on your next trip to… wherever. But what have you already seen?

What is the strangest piece of real estate you’ve come across?


Dilly-Dally in Piccadilly

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/2000 sec

As our double-decker tour bus looped the London streets, the tour guide announced, “This is the statue of Eros (Cupid), on one of the most visited streets in Europe. It is said that if someone waits here for at least 30 minutes, they will run into someone they know.” I didn’t have time to test his theory, but that would certainly be interesting!

This fountain in the middle of Piccadilly Circus (a large and busy intersection) was originally erected in 1893 as the Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain. It was meant to commemorate the 7th Earl of Schaftesbury for his work for the poor, and is also named The Angel of Christian Charity. The figure on top, made of aluminum, was meant to be the Greek god Anteros (the god of selfless love), but most Londoners call it by the name of his twin brother Eros/Cupid (the god of sensual love). Don’t try to correct them, though. It’s like telling an American that the “Statue of Liberty” is actually named “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

The statue is the site of several rumors like the one the tour guide told me. Another is that a proposal under the statue at the stroke of midnight will bring good luck and happiness to a marriage. There are several stories about where the archer’s arrow might be pointing. Then there’s the “what were they thinking?” stories, like how some locals planned to climb the statue on New Year’s Eve. One drunken man succeeded in 1994, damaging the statue. It has since been repaired.

What’s your favorite piece of art? Are there any fun stories you remember about it?


Mexico’s Random Rock Art

Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 200 • f 5.6 • 1/320 sec

Driving around Juárez, Mexico, I kept seeing these odd drawings all over the mountains.  Were these some part of the culture or did some person just have too much time on their hands? Were they just random or did they have a meaning?

Historically, rock art is categorized as either pictographs (paintings on rock) or petroglyphs (designs carved into the rock). The images in Juárez are from the first category, since they were made of thousands of gallons of whitewash. That’s enough to make Tom Sawyer proud! I never was able to figure out what the drawing in today’s photo was supposed to be (if you figure it out, let me know!). However, three other drawings were easier to determine.

Passing through the area at night, I saw what looked like a giant string of Christmas lights illuminating a huge portrait on the side of one mountain. This was the Mexican President Benito Juárez. The painting was commissioned in 1996 to celebrate his bicentennial birthday. The architect who made the painting, Héctor García Acosta, claimed, “It’s the work of a plastic surgeon. If you change the ridge of the nose just slightly, it changes the whole expression. The first time we did it, the nose was too big and he looked like (the late movie actor) Jimmy Durante. Then we changed and he looked like a boxer. The third time, we got it right.” Good! I bet it would be creepy to constantly be stared at by a man that looked like a boxer. ‘~’

Another of Acosta’s more well-known works is a giant white horse on the side of another mountain. This painting was a copy of the Uffington White Horse in England, now grown to over a half mile in length and taking three years to complete. There is a lot of debate on the meaning of the horse and why it was carved in England, but artists all over the world have been making copies for years. Finally, the third drawing is a lizard on a mountain right by the horse. Lizards are just cool like that.

Have you ever seen mountain art when traveling? What about in caves or on rocks?


A Journey of Faith

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7.0 • 1/220 sec

This week’s picture reminded me of the journey we are all on. Life can take us through both good times and hard times, and both are needed to grow. Several months ago, I wrote a post about the goodness of God in natural disasters. What about when the struggles are personal? Is He there for us then as well?

This past week included some of the hardest moments I’ve had in years. I spent hours begging God for answers, getting upset at His silence, or waiting quietly in expectation. Finally, despite my frustration, I took time to worship. I’m a music freak, so for me that means cranking up the volume to 11 and dancing. I barely made it through the first song before I was at His feet, crying. I saw that in my time of struggle, I had simply forgotten who He was.

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”
(Psalm 146:7-9 & 147:3-4 NIV)

God does all these things, but not always on our schedule. Sometimes His healing takes time, and sometimes His justice comes to the world when we are not there to see it. Other times, He just holds us close and lets the pain help build character in our lives. IMHO, brokenness sucks. Yet sometimes I need to remember that Jesus went through the same things – willingly! – in order to be there for me when I’m hurting. Not only that, but He promises to use it for something good… someday.

What pain are you going through right now? Can you see God working through it?


More Than Salt in Salzburg

Location: Austria
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/550 sec

Time for some more tourist tips! The city of Salzburg (lit. “Salt City”) was one of my favorite visits, because there was just so much to do! I posted earlier about The Sound of Music tours, but the city sports many other things to do. Some people come to hear all about the birthplace of Mozart, and another travel reviewer described the Salzburg as “a Disneyfied city with scrumptious cakes, sugar-coated mountains and one helluva fortress.”

I took this photo from the top of Festung Hohensalzburg, which roughly translates to “Fortress High (Above) Salzburg.” Appropriate, I guess. It was a good view of the city, and they had a great classical music concert. That was after a day of exploring the salt mines on the Austria/Germany border. If you’ve never ridden a speed slide into a cave, you have to try it! For those on a budget, even walking around the old town to see the baroque architecture and trying out the variety of food is a good way to spend the day. Salzburg was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. A quick search online will reveal a long list of things to do, or not do, when visiting Salzburg. No matter what type of activities interest you, I would definitely recommend taking a trip here next time you’re in Europe!

Sound off if you’ve ever visited this city! What was your favorite thing to do or see?


The Home on Stilts

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/450 sec

As the wind and waves battered the house from all sides, I wondered if this seemingly feeble structure could withstand the storm. We were a good ten feet or so off the surface of the water, yet the waves reached the slats in the bottom of the floor. My roommates and myself were glad when the storm ended, and even more amazed at how this small house on stilts could take such a beating without being torn down. Maybe there was more to this style of architecture than I first imagined.

The kelong, or stilt house, was a common sight around the islands we visited in Indonesia. Most of the locals were fishermen, and these structures fit their lifestyle well. They could fish right off the front porch! Not only that, the islands were tiny, so dry land was limited. Solution: build the village out into the water! All the houses were connected by long strips of wooden slats that formed a boardwalk. In my western mindset, it appeared very rickety, but they didn’t seem to mind hopping over the large holes between the boards.

It is a long and involved process to build a stilt house, but the more I learned, the more it seemed to work. The posts, or piles, holding up the house were thick tree trunks driven as far as 6 meters into the ground and supported by cement. In the ocean, they would last about six months before rotting, so most structures had multiple support posts that could be changed out at different times. A layer of planks and water-resistant rattan ties held everything together. Finally, the house was built on top of this structure. This design protected the village against flooding, various animals, and even malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Today, even some hurricane-prone areas in industrialized nations are starting to use this design for their buildings. Now that’s a good idea!

Have you ever seen or visited a stilt house? What was it like?


Indiana State Fair – Tales of Happenstance

Location: Indiana, USA
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 5.6 • 1/40 sec
(Note: This photo is from a previous concert at the fair)

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of people who avoided tragedy by not being where they should have been. For example, the man who was late to work at the World Trade Center because he stopped to get a band-aid to cover the blister caused by his new shoes. After the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair this past weekend, I am already hearing similar stories of “happenstance” – circumstances that happened to keep people away from those front rows at the stage. One of them was my boyfriend’s.

The stage at the Indiana State Fair

I was planning on going to the Fair with my parents, as was our family tradition. However, a week ago, my dad was in a car accident. No one was hurt, but the car was totaled. He also threw out his back the next day for a separate reason. Because of this, I had to change my plans and ask my boyfriend Andy to take me to the fair last Saturday. We were on a ride at the midway when the storm hit, so we ran and hid safely in a building until everything was over. Only later did I find out that he had planned to go to the concert that night, but had chosen to spend time with me instead. His ticket would have put him in the front row.

Another story comes from the band itself. Right before the stage collapse, the organizers made an announcement that they were considering evacuating (the storm was not supposed to hit for another 15 min). The Sugarland duo wanted to go onstage to look at the weather themselves, but their manager stopped them for a last-minute prayer circle.

In the crowd, a lady and her friend were in one of the front rows, but didn’t like the look of the approaching storm. Following the announcement, they made an on-the-spot decision to walk back to the grandstands for more shelter. They were only a few rows away when the stage started to fall. They were unhurt, but the chairs they had been sitting in were under the stage. They went back to help others who were injured.

When has an annoying delay or change of plans become a blessing in disguise?


A Beautiful Park for Terrible Memories

Location: Japan
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/640 sec

Hidden away in a remote corner of the small island of Okinawa, Japan, there is a beautiful park. However, it represents something very ugly in history – the Battle of Okinawa. The 1945 WWII battle lasted 90 days and claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, half of which were civilians. It was this battle that prompted US President Truman to drop the atomic bomb to end the war and avoid another land invasion. The park was built to mourn those lost in the battle, share the historic lessons learned with the world, and in doing so, attempt to establish peace.

Okinawa Peace Memorial Park is a collection of several monuments, so I tried to get as many as I could in this week’s picture. The tower on the far left is Okinawa Peace Hall, which included prayers and paintings to honor those killed. In front is the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, with exhibits detailing the battle and effects on the people. In this picture, I would have been standing in front of Peace Hill, which features a large memorial arch. Not shown is the Cornerstone of Peace, Himeyuri Monument, and the Former Navy Underground Headquarters. The Cornerstone of Peace is one of the highlights of the park. The set of 116 black granite slabs includes over 240,000 names of people who died in the Pacific wars from March-Sept 1945. Now, a cooperation of several universities and computer graphics companies are developing an interactive program to better visualize the impact of the war.

The museum guide states, “The ‘Okinawan Heart’ is a human response that respects personal dignity above all else, rejects any acts related to war, and truly cherishes culture, which is a supreme expression of humanity.” This philosophy was developed from the war experience, and is a key to understanding Okinawan culture.

Do you like to visit any war memorial at times? What meaning does it hold for you?


London’s Biggest Tourist Destination

Location: England
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens EF 7-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/800 sec

No, it’s not Big Ben. The Tower of London is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country,  for several reasons. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, it was first a symbol of oppression and a new regime. But over the years, a number of additions, notable events, and special prisoners have made the Tower the interest it is today. For example, did you know the story behind why at least six ravens are kept as permanent residents in the tower? What about the ghost stories that arose after the murders of Queen Anne Boleyn and the Princes in the Tower?

I arrived at the Tower via the Traitor’s Gate, the entrance that faces London’s River Thames. This was one of several entrances to the compound, which was actually many towers and buildings put together. On the grassy area where the moat used to be, medieval actors practiced their fencing skills and showed off ancient catapults. Merchants hawked their wares and the Yeoman Warders (appointed Tower guards) led others on tours that included the Crown Jewels, the museum, royal menagerie, and the royal armor. Many wanted to see the dungeons and old torture chambers as well, but those areas of the compound were cleaned out many years ago. A replica of a torture rack is one of the only things available to the public. The last person executed at the Tower, Josef Jakobs, was sentenced to death in 1941, and the firing range was demolished in 1969. There were tons of other areas of the Tower up for exploration, however! The White Tower is the main structure, but the Tower Green (where most executions occurred) and West Wall Walk are also popular. Maybe next time I’m in London, I’ll have to make the time to check all these out, too!

If you were to take a tour of the Tower, what would you most want to see?


A Story of Orphans, Part 2

Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 200 • f 5.6 • 1/125o sec

What would you do to keep a child out of jail? As described in my last post, my group in Mexico was faced with the situation of an orphanage running out of money and space. What would it take to keep them in business? Enter Casas por Cristo! The Texas-based housing ministry specializes in building homes in Mexico families that can’t afford them. Each home is built in one week by a team of volunteers from various places around the USA. Up until this time, they had never built an orphanage, but they were up for the challenge. So were three teams of workers from Mount Pleasant Christian Church. It’s Extreme Home Makeover, Mexico style!

During one blisteringly hot week in early July, the teams started construction on three houses that would form the orphanage – two bunk houses with a kitchen, and one large empty building for recreation and meetings. The buildings were simple – unfinished drywall inside and stucco outside, but they provided shelter and room for all the kids to live and play. Other people who heard of the project donated materials to build eight furnished bunk-beds, as well as curtains, toys, stuffed animals, kitchen appliances, and a large tank of clean drinking water. The kids were amazed, as many had not been able to sleep in a bed by themselves since they arrived at the orphanage. In fact, at the dedication party, one little girl (I would guess her about 6-7 years old) told us that she had been praying for God to help them, and our work teams were the answer. 🙂

The three buildings and all the workers

The orphanage moved into those buildings in 2008. By now, they have outgrown them, so a new team is forming to go to Mexico this summer and add on some extra houses. They will allow the host family to have their own place (they had been sharing with the kids until now) and provide more room for additional kids. Yay!

There now, wasn’t that a nice ending to this story? 😉


I Can’t Do WHAT?

Location: Singapore
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/2 sec

“Singapore is a fine city,” the T-shirts say. No kidding! There are fines for practically everything there. I enjoyed walking around town and finding all the NO signs in various places. If you plan on traveling to Singapore, there are some things you may want to know.

Really important laws you don’t want to break:

  • Littering (besides a fine, they may also make you wear a bright yellow jacket and clean up the rest of the street too!)
  • Carrying drugs (WARNING: this can carry a death penalty, including foreigners!)
  • Carrying explosives, firearms, pirated CDs/DVDs or obscene materials (includes just passing through the airport)
  • Overstaying your 90-day visa, vandalism or trying to bribe a public official (punishable by caning and/or jail time)

Other things that are commonly banned, and that sort of make sense:

  • Jaywalking
  • Smoking indoors
  • Eating on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)
  • Riding a bike on the RiverWalk (It’s very crowded)
  • Durians (a very stinky fruit)
  • Feeding pigeons or monkeys
  • Chewing gum (the city is very clean)
  • Overhead wires
  • Satellite dishes
  • Freestanding billboards
  • Malaysian newspapers or material from Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unification Churches
  • Homosexual activity (not enforced as much as other laws)

And then, the things that make me go HUH?? I’m sure they have their reasons… somewhere. 😯

  • Breeding mosquitoes
  • Walking around your own house naked
  • Driving out of Singapore on less than 3/4 tank
  • Not flushing the toilet
  • Urinating in elevators (Why did this need to be a law???)
  • Dancing without a license
  • Handcuffs, even if pink and fuzzy

Can you think of an explanation for any of these? What’s your favorite crazy law?