Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

Posts tagged “people

Flying Soon? Don’t be THAT GUY!

Hello my fabulous readers! Today I wanted to share with you a bit about people I’ve traveled alongside. Or more accurately, people I hope I’m never stuck sharing a plane with! Instead of a photo-and-blog format this week, however, I thought a little interpretation was necessary. *evil grin* So here you go, folks – my take on airline madness!

Have you ever run into THAT GUY on a flight? What’s your story?

Escape From the Camp


Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 4 • 1/100 sec

I’m going all serious on you again.

Earlier this week, I watched part of a documentary on how a North Korean man escaped from the concentration camp he had grown up in. He had watched his own mother and brother executed there for trying to escape, but eventually the desire to be free got to him as well. He and another man worked together to get out, and the other man was killed in the process. This type of stuff is still happening in North Korea.

I can assume that North Korea’s camps are very similar to Auschwitz, the Nazi camp we visited in Poland. Security there was extremely tight. In my photo, you can see a sign reading “Stop!” on a standard electric fence. Behind that, there is another barbed-wire fence with the top curved inward. It was also electrified. A third fence, the same design as the second, is next. Finally, there is a brick wall. Just by looking at it, I would guess it around eight feet high. If you look down the fence to the end, there is a small building with four windows. That is one of guard shacks, which were spaced along the perimeter of the camp. Guards would wait there for potential escapees, and try to shoot them before they reached the fence. In fact, our guide told us, prisoners would sometimes use the fence as a form of suicide, since the electricity was such a high voltage it would kill them. The guards tried to shoot the prisoners first, however, since they “did not like to clean up the mess” of someone being electrified.

Looking at all this, I did wonder how some people managed to successfully escape, as it seemed nearly impossible. According to our guide, some 802 attempted, but only 144 made it out alive (not counting all those liberated at the end of the war). I heard some found favor with dissenters who worked in the “hospital” and were snuck out. Some also escaped during work outings, but at high cost: for each successful escapee, ten others from their work team would be shot as a deterrent. Others were freed by SS guards who changed their minds about the Nazi agenda. As we walked around, I kept wondering to myself: If I was put in their place, what would I do? Would I try to escape or stay to protect those around me? If I did make an attempt, what would I try to do?

Put yourself in the prisoner’s shoes for a moment. How do you think you would handle this situation? Remember to pray for those still in camps today.

The Exposure Triangle: Bringing it All Together

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 20 • 1/125 sec

Hey my fellow shutter-bugs! It’s been a while since I had a lesson, so I owe you one – and it’s just in time for you to take all those crazy family pictures during Christmas! Previously, I talked about Aperture and Shutter Speed. Today’s lesson is on ISO, as well as answering the question: so what’s the point of all of this?

ISO (International Standards Organization), or as old-school photographers would say, Film Speed, is simply a measurement of how quickly the media in your camera can pick up light. For example, think about the last time you moved. If you had to pack a truck, how long would it take to fill if only you were working? How long would it take if you had a whole team of movers? These scenarios would represent low and high ISO settings, respectively. Higher ISOs “pack in” light faster than low ones, allowing you to shoot better pictures in low light. They also introduce film grain (pixellation) at higher levels depending on your camera.

So now you have all three pieces of the Exposure Triangle, every photographer’s rule to taking properly exposed pictures. The main point is to keep the triangle balanced. When you adjust shutter speed down, you may need to open your aperture or use a higher ISO. When you set a high ISO to shoot at night, you will need a longer shutter speed or wide aperture, etc. You will know these three are balanced when your camera’s light meter is centered.

Now comes the fun part: with this knowlege, you can shoot any camera in manual mode and actually know what you’re doing! 😀 You can try several combinations of the three elements, just remember how else they affect your photos (aperture affects depth of focus, shutter speed affects blur, and ISO affects noise). Also, you can use the Tv, Av, P, and any other settings appropriately. Just know that Tv lets you choose your shutter speed & ISO, and it will pick the aperture for you. Likewise, Av does the same with letting you control aperture. P is fully automatic except for the focus & flash.

Ok, your turn! Try taking some pictures and let us know your experience in the comments. Did you get the image you were going for? Do you know why/why not?

Are GMO’s Really That Evil?

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 11 • 1/30 sec

A cursory Google search will return pages upon pages of arguments for organic produce and fears against GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Why is that? Most debates in the public sector have had equal representation of both sides of the argument, but in this one, only one side is well heard. For the sake of discourse, I thought I would write this blog from the other side.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against organics or the people who encourage others to grow them. One of the great things about living in the USA is our freedom of choice, including being able to choose what we eat. This blog, however, is about other places around the world.

GMO’s were originally developed with the world’s good in mind. Scientists saw problems such as famine in Africa, malnutrition in Asia, and children dying of preventable causes in many areas, and they wanted to do something about it. Using what they knew best, they began to develop agricultural solutions to these problems. For example, the poor in Asia eat rice as their staple diet, but often do not have access to other essential nutrients needed for healthy development. To improve their overall health, scientists spent years working on “golden rice” – a crop with additional vitamin A. Meanwhile, in Africa, strong weeds or a drought could cost a family their entire crop for the year. So they dealt with both a lack of food and a lack of income. Some even had to sell off children they couldn’t feed. As a result, several crops were developed to be more resistant to weeds, insects, and drought. There are many more examples.

Much of the concern has been over the health risks of GMO’s. Does playing with the genetic code cause cancers or other health issues? Thousands of other scientists have worked to answer these questions, and many regulations have been put in place. While there are occasional mistakes that aren’t foreseen, most testing will find any problems long before a product makes it to the market.

Regulations also limit the amount of work that can go into this research in the first place. For example, those who work with the genetic code of plants are limited to only changing certain amino acids in a strand of DNA. In nature, entire sections of DNA can be moved, cut out, or duplicated, causing major changes. It’s like the difference between people of different nationalities. Naturally, they have different hair and skin colors, different bone structures, and even different susceptibility to health issues. Using this comparison, a GMO would be like changing people’s eye colors.

Some companies have become known for shady business practices, but not all operate that way. Some people are allergic to certain food additives, but that doesn’t mean they are bad for everyone. The excuse “I won’t eat anything I can’t pronounce” often forgets the fact that any substance on earth can have a long complicated scientific name, and that certain natural ingredients are extremely toxic. The point is: proper balance is needed. We need to evaluate things one at a time based on their own merit, not paint the entire thing with a broad brush.

Are you particular about where your food comes from? What are your eating habits?

Eating Mexican Food in Poland

Location: Poland
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 8 • 1/100 sec

Yum, doesn’t this picture make you hungry? Or are you just admiring the culinary artwork?

Our group was lucky (or brave) enough to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant when we were in Poland. We were sitting at a long table outside so we could enjoy the weather. It was quite the experience! Along with the decorated food, we had a few good laughs as well. Two of our guys ordered fajitas. Apparently, these are not very common in Poland, because they were served along with written instructions on how to prepare them! That wasn’t all. They also came with bibs! Our server, who knew a little English, explained this by telling us “Fajitas are dirty.” 🙂

Earlier in the trip, we started a running gag at every restaurant we went to. We picked one member of our group, Kelli, and told every restaurant, every day, that it was her birthday. We just wanted to see what would happen! 😉 At this restaurant, most of the servers were dressed in skimpy outfits resembling Spanish dancers from the “Wild Wild West” era. All of a sudden, we heard what sounded like gun shots. A man came running out of the building dressed in all black, with a face mask and cape, and firing a cap gun into the air. Scaring the waitresses, he ran over to Kelli and dropped a cake slice with a candle at her place. Then he took off running again, back into the restaurant. Once we overcame our shock, we laughed pretty hard at that one!

I guess this is what the Polish think Mexico (and likely Texas as well) is really like! LOL

How do your international friends see other cultures, even ours?

Speaking Without Words

Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 400 • f 13 • 1/400 sec

If a picture is worth 1000 words, I probably don’t have to explain what’s going on here. But just in case… I was at an orphanage in Mexico, playing with the kids. I had been given power to control the bubble solution stock (big yellow bottle). The kids had their own small bubble wands, and when they needed refills, they came to me. There was limited stock and I was trying to help them be conservative. This little boy was doing his best to convince me that he needed more anyway. However, I didn’t know any Spanish and he didn’t know any English, so we had no clue what each other was saying. Yet we still communicated all this without language.

Have you ever run into a situation like this, where someone you try to talk to doesn’t speak your language? Yep, it even occurs right here in the USA. So what do we do? Our basic tendency when we don’t feel understood is to speak louder or slower, hoping that if we enunciate better, people will understand us. But when someone doesn’t know your language at all, it just makes you look silly.

In my travels, I’ve learned that one old speaker’s addage still holds true internationally. “Communication is 20% what you say, and 80% how you say it.” People pay more attention to tone and body language than they do actual words, so learning to capitalize on that has allowed me to communicate with many people worldwide who don’t share a common language!

How about trying some clear body language? When I tried to ask an Indonesion kid the word for “rain”, I pointed to the ocean nearby (water), then to the sky (clouds), and made a motion like raindrops with my fingertips. He knew exactly what I wanted then, and gladly taught me that word as well as several others. Children in India often beg by putting their hands to their mouths, imitating eating, then put their hand out to you, hoping you will fill it. Facial expressions also are clear indicators, as long as you emphasize your feelings well. Smiles are known worldwide!

How could you indicate a question or statement using only body language and facial expressions? I’d love to hear your creative ideas!

When Life’s Journey Leaves Us Disappointed

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 4 • 1/100 sec

Don’t we look like FUN?!? 😀 The group of teenagers I traveled with one year took part in a street drama called “The Journey.” It told the story of a man searching for meaning in his life, and the different people he meets along the way.

This group of girls were the partiers. We drank a lot (ok, only pretended to), danced around with ribbon dancers, and generally made a lot of noise. It was fun… for a while. But eventually the partying took it’s toll. Those who had been drinking a lot got sick. Others got dizzy and tripped up our conga line. A fight broke out over the bottle of “booze.” Our party became a mess.

So the man moved on.

Even though we were just acting, I could relate to these girls. There have been many times I thought something looked like fun that turned out to be greatly disappointing. While I wasn’t much of a “party hard” type when I was younger, I chased after academic success, relationships, fame (part of me still wishes I could sing), financial stability, and other things that weren’t inherantly bad, but didn’t completely satisfy me, either.

I won’t give away the ending of the drama, you’ll have to watch it for yourself. But I eventually came to the same place as the man in his journey, and I found something worth putting all my effort into pursuing. And no, it wasn’t my degree in chemistry. 😉

What have you found that satisfies you and doesn’t leave regrets or disappointment?

The Path to the Olympics

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

Ahhh summer. The time to go for camping trips and baseball games, canoe down a lazy river, or just plant yourself in front of the TV and watch the Olympics. London 2012, baby!!! 😀 For a travel nut like myself, I’ve always been curious about the journeys people take. Then what could be more fascinating than the journeys some Olympians took to get to the games?

For instance, what about Khatuna Lorig (USA, Archery)? Her Olympic career has covered shooting for multiple countries! Originally born in the Republic of Georgia, she shot for the Unified Team (Soviet Union, under the Olympic Flag) in 1992. Georgia was her next flag in 1996 and 2000. She wasn’t a naturalized citizen yet in 2004, but by 2008, she was competing for the USA. However, during that match, her hometown in Tiblisi was being invaded by the Russians. Imagine trying to compete under that pressure! She returned under the US team again this year and got 4th place.

Next, what about the “Blade Runner,” Oscar Pistorius (South Africa, Sprint)? Born without fibulas, he had both legs amputated at the knee when he was one. In college, he played several sports, until a rugby injury & subsequent rehab got him into running. After a successful time in the Paralympics, he set his sights on attending the Games with able-bodied runners. A hotly-disputed scientific study initially banned him from the Olympics due to a percieved advantage he had from his carbon fibre “legs.” It was overturned in 2008, but he failed to qualify for that years Games. This year, he not only qualified, but made it to the 400m semi-finals, becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. In a moving display, he and the winner, Kirani James, traded bibs at the end of the race.

I’m out of space for more stories today, but let’s hear more from you! What’s your favorite story about an Olympic athlete?

The Scandal of Service

Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 4.0 • 1/250 sec

Service. When you hear the word, what images come to mind? A group of teens dishing up soup at a food pantry? A big corporation donating to a charity foundation? An elderly man holding a door open for his wife? For this week’s pick I chose something simple – just a girl cleaning a table. It may have seemed insignificant, but that table was where our whole team sat to each each day after working hard. So we all really appreciated it being clean. 🙂

I think it’s easier to go out and serve someone than to be served. There’s something about helping others in need that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a win-win from that perspective. But what about when others try to serve you? I usually get a little embarrassed or try too hard to help them back. But I know it takes humility to accept someone else’s service (something I’m trying to develop in myself), so I try not to get in the way if I can help it. This weekend, I’m having a bunch of people come over to help me move. Others volunteered to help clean the new place in preparation. Some of those people I’ve helped previously, others are stepping up to serve me first. My challenge is to swallow my pride and allow it.

So you’ve heard my take on it. What’s yours? Is it easier for you to serve or be served? Why?

Top Tourist Mistakes

Location: Japan
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/500 sec

You have to wonder how often locals let the tourists get away with things just for a laugh. Take my friend here. We’re in Japan, and he’s wearing a man’s robe (not meant for outdoors) and a Chinese hat. Yet the locals encouraged it (and sold them to us!). They also encouraged us to use chopsticks most of the time, and then laughed at us when we tried to use them on soup (they DID give us spoons eventually). Yeah, I think it’s a local conspiracy. 😉

No matter what country you travel to, you’re going to make mistakes and get laughed at, so it’s good to have a sense of humor. It’s also a good idea to do some research ahead of time and not make the same mistakes as everyone else. Here’s just a few examples of common tourist mistakes in Australia, Cambodia (Phnom Penh), Czech Republic, France (Paris), the NetherlandsIreland, IranItaly, Japan, Portugal, Thailand, and Turkey. As if that isn’t enough, here’s a few more! So yeah, the list is pretty much endless. Good luck!

Sometimes, making mistakes can endear you to the people. For example, this forum writer uses his lack of language skills to his advantage: “Whenever I’ve travelled to a country where English is not the official language, I’ve made it a point to carry an English/<other> phrase book, and I’d always make it a point to painfully mangle the other language. Invariably, no matter where I was, someone would come up to me, gently take away the phrase book, and say ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to just do this in English?’ Usually, a bunch of the locals would come over to practice their English skills, brag about their country and ask about mine. And, all too often, some other American would burst in and bellow ‘Hey! Anyone in this dump speak ‘Murrican?’ 🙄 And, amazingly, everyone in the place would immediately forget every word of English they’d ever known. Including me.” :mrgreen:

What’s the most embarrasing tourist mistake you’ve ever made? What have you seen someone else do?

India’s Division of Labor

Location: India
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/400

Is there still division of labor by gender in your country? Well, there sure is in tribal areas of India, and these workers are good at what they do!

The women in this week’s picture are weaving cotten blankets to sell in the market. The white, black, and red threads are embroidered to make intricate patterns, sometimes taking months to complete. They sell for what we tourists would consider a small amount (one even offered hers for $40 US), but it’s enough to sustain their families. Women in the area we visited always made the same cotton blankets in the black, white, and red pattern, but other tribes in the state specialize in other products. Silk sarees with gold edges and the famous “Madras Checks” pattern are also from Tamil Nadu tribes.

In the meantime, the men kept busy farming, raising sheep and other livestock, and carrying out religious roles such as priests or pastors. They were known mostly for their strength. In fact, one of the local men told our group that in order for a boy to be considered a man (and thus be allowed to marry), he had to lift a large rock and throw it over his head. The rock was selected by the girl’s father, of course, and its size would depend on how much he liked the guy. 😉 Many of the men in our group tried to throw a “medium” size rock the Indian man had pointed out, but few were able to even lift it! I guess they wouldn’t do so well living in Indian tribal country. 😀

Have you seen much division of labor where you live? What roles do men or women play exclusively?

A Moment in Time

Location: USA
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350 D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 5.0 • 1/60 sec

In another installment of “what you may not know from a photo,” I wanted to feature something very close to home. This is my aunt Sally and her husband Gary. What you may not know about this photo is that it was taken less than 24 hours before she died.

Sally fought a five-year battle with breast cancer, but finally was told there were no more treatments available. She quickly made plans to spend some time with her family and get some important things done. One of her last wishes was to have some current family photos. She left behind her mother, husband, three boys, extended family and about 5-600 people who attended her funeral (more than the funeral home was prepared for!).

We went back and forth about taking the photos the day we did. We talked about doing them the next day if she was feeling better. She was exhausted and on oxygen, and it took nearly six hours to get her ready and over to the studio. Between each photo we had to let her take more oxygen while we set up the other people in the picture. It was a long day, but we’re so glad we went ahead and took the photos when we did. It just goes to show that you never know how important one action can be until the moment is gone.


Is there a kindness you can do for someone you care about? What is it? Now, go do it!

What Did You Expect?

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 400 • f 6.3 • 1/100 sec

What impression of this woman do you get from the picture? Is she tired? Lonely? Deep in thought? Does she have friends or family nearby she’s waiting on? Now go a little deeper… what’s her name? What’s her home life like? Does she believe in God? What does she do for a living? What are her dreams?

This leaves a lot up to the imagination, doesn’t it? If you assume she is homeless or a beggar, it’s easy to believe her family could be dysfunctional. What if you assumed she was just tired, worn out from a long day at the market with her friends and needing to rest her feet? Her life would seem joyful and exciting. What if you believed she was praying? Would you see her as a woman of faith? Any of these could be true.

Now think about the people you meet every day. What assumptions do you make about them? We often get partial information about people – we know their names, jobs, or families – but how often do we dig deeper? Do we really see what motivates those around us? Or do we make our conclusions based on what we’ve seen, coupled with the reasons we make up?

Ninety-nine percent of conflicts are the result of mismatched expectations. Often, we expect people to react to life based on the unconscious assumptions we make about them, whether they are close to the truth or far from it. So it’s wise to continually re-evaluate our opinions of others. Let them tell their story. Let them share their dreams & passions. Maybe you’ll see them from a different perspective.

When was the last time you made an assumption about someone and were proved wrong?

The Thing No One Wants to Talk About

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/240 sec

I don’t know how I got here. I can’t remember much of the past few hours at all. This afternoon, I went to the market with my friends, and one of the merchants offered us free samples of his latest dish. Not long after trying it, I felt really tired, so I sat down on a bench while my friends continued shopping nearby. That’s the last I remember. Now I’m in a dimly lit room with no windows, and a door locked from the outside. I’ve tried calling for help several times, but no one answers.

Soon, an older man and woman enter the room. I try to get them to help me, but they just look at me coldly. The woman accuses me of stealing food at the market, and tells me I must work to pay her back. I refuse and try to run past her, but the man grabs me and hits me until I stop fighting. He drops me to the floor, where I sit there crying, unable to move because of the pain.

That first night in the brothel still haunts my dreams. I had three “customers” visit me, and each one was meaner than the one before. They didn’t care that I was only a child, or that I was trapped in a tiny room while my family searched for me in vain. All they wanted was what I could give them, no matter how unwillingly.

(This fictional story was adapted from the testimony of a young woman in India, who was rescued after being enslaved since she was 12 years old).

It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so I wanted to focus on that tough topic this week. As most of America gears up for the Super Bowl on Feb 5th, traffickers are also preparing for one of their busiest weeks of the year. Children and young girls are brought into the city from Asia, Europe, and the Americas to give visitors more “entertainment” during their stay. Local law enforcement and many ministries are working to prevent these things from happening and rescue these modern-day slaves, but it’s everyday people who can raise awareness and protect their children and others’ the best. Turning a blind eye to the problem will only allow it to continue unhindered.

So what is your part in ending modern-day slavery?

Inspire Me

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/350 sec

Inspiration comes in many forms. We can be stirred up by a piece of music or the beauty of nature. It can come from stories of others. A picture like the one above could be found on one of those black motivational posters with a clever caption like “FLIGHT: If you’re crazy enough to attempt it, don’t forget your parachute.” Ok, maybe not. :/ But some of my best inspirations have come from other people.

First, there are stories of overcoming. My aunt Sally is one. She has had cancer four times in the past five years, yet still keeps a positive attitude. Each treatment she faces, she claims will make her cancer cells “scream and run for cover.” 🙂 There’s also stories like “Chase No Face,” a cat who lost her entire face in an accident, but still lives a normal, happy life and has thousands of Facebook fans (Warning to squeamish people: photos on her page are graphic).

There are stories of persistance & accomplishment. My boyfriend Andy was one of the first two people to complete three races in one 24-hour period at the Air Force Marathon 2011, and a friend of his won a race blind. My uncle Doug and aunt Sue were another example. They dated in high school, then were apart for 35 years. Doug never gave up looking for her, and they met again and got married in their 50’s.

Some of my favorites are stories of love and friendship. This past weekend, our pastor, Chris, found out he had cancer in this throat. He asked for prayer from everyone in the church, and I got to see the entire choir surround him for a spontaneous prayer session, and many online friends change their Facebook profile picture for him. Then of course, there’s Jesus. His love for people motivated him to sacrifice his own life to save them, and it wasn’t an pretty death, either! (read more here)

Inspiration can come in many forms, but the stories are what make it personal.

Who inspires you? Why?

Dirt, Band-Aids, Paint & Prayer

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

The cliche says “A picture is worth 1000 words,” but sometimes a few extra are helpful. 🙂 This was one of my favorite pictures from the Mexico building trip, because I think it summed everything up perfectly. (If you missed the earlier story, I wrote about it here and here.) In the picture are four things that remind me of the trip: dirt, band-aids, paint, and prayer.

The dirt is probably self-explanatory. We were in Mexico, and it was everywhere!!! When the team first arrived, some had a difficult time adjusting to the mess after leaving the comfort of America. All that was forgotten, however, when we caught one of the local kids trying to drink out of one of the construction wash barrels because that was the cleanest water they had. Ick. A large tank of clean water was quickly added to the project.

My friend had a very good reason why her fingers were covered in band-aids. She had been working on stucco all day. The mixture we used included sand, cement, water, and lime. The last ingredient is hard on skin, so we usually wore cloves to work with it. However, my friend noticed there were gaps in the stucco near the roof, where the angle was too small for gloves to fit. After several failed attempts with a trowel, she gave up and took off the gloves to fix it with her fingertips. We didn’t want gaps that would let in breezes in the winter. The mixture chewed up her fingers quite a bit after several hours of work, but she was happy that the kids would stay warm and dry.

Paint was the finishing touch on the houses, along with a numbered plaque. It was our pay of personalizing each building and making it look more cozy. The inside walls were unfinished, but outside, we went crazy! My team’s building had blue window and door frames. The large building used wood and chicken wire under the stucco to create an embossed cross on the outside wall.

Finally, but most importantly, we prayed for the kids, the families, and the other work teams. It was the faith of the host family that led them to care for all the homeless children, and it was faith that led the three work teams to help build the orphanage. God brought us all together at one time to make a miracle for those kids, and we needed to take time and thank Him.

Do you have a picture that tells a story you love to share? Let us know… and don’t forget to include a link!

Random Acts of Kindness

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/500 sec

I love flowers. They’re beautiful and can brighten my day – especially when I get one by surprise! One day, after a long day at work, I went out to my car and discovered a rose hiding on my car. 😀 This wasn’t the only time I was the “victim” of a random act of kindness. I was once part of a large group at a restaurant, and some stranger paid for our entire table. Then, one time I had a flat tire. A few people were helping me change it, and one lady noticed my tires were old and needed replacement. I had been saving up to do that, but was still $100 short of what I needed. To my surprise, the woman handed me a check and told me to get new tires.

It’s fun to pass on the kindness. My family likes to pick a single person in a restaurant or get a car behind us in a drive-thru and anonymously pay their bill. A friend of mine got the idea to take flowers to forgotten service people, like gas station attendants. She also joined me in putting flowers on cars at our hospital’s emergency room parking lot. Another friend likes to go downtown to visit the homeless, armed with a pair of toenail clippers.

In a day where most of the news is filled with people hurting others, the strong taking advantage of the weak, and all kinds of disasters and greed, it’s nice to hear stories of kindness from time to time. Personally, I think it’s even more fun to be part of those stories.

What about you? Have you committed an act of random kindness or had one done to you? What happened?

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?

The King’s Magical Water Pot

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100  f 2.8  1/300 sec

No matter what country or culture you’re from, people love to spook each other with ghost stories. There must be some common part of humanity that gets a thrill out of being scared, especially when you know something really can’t hurt you.

Things were no different in Indonesia. Our tour group spent one evening with the village elders, listening to them tell tales of their island’s history and legends. One in particular we found fascinating. Apparently, the islands used to be part of a small kingdom, and the king’s family once lived on another island very close to ours. Their graveyard was still there, guarded by a distant relative of the king. In the graveyard was a clay pot. The elders told us that the pot had magical powers, likely because of the location. It was said to always contain some water, even in times of drought, and would never overflow, even during the rainy season. They also claimed that photographs taken of the pot would not turn out. Hmmm… challenge accepted.

Later during our trip, we were able to visit that island. It was just as they said – a decorated graveyard on the property of a single farmer. The graves were covered with yellow plastic (the royal color in that area), and a full canopy covered the king’s plot. The man knew we were coming to visit, so he showed us around.  The only thing that bothered us was his goat, which decided to casually walk up and headbutt every single one of us. :/ We found the legendary pot easily – it was big enough for one of the kids to hide in! Yes, it did have a few inches of water in it. Of course, I made an attempt to take a picture. Ok, so not all of the stories were accurate. However, it was still interesting to see the site of the island legends.

Have you ever visited the site of an urban legend or a supposed haunted house? What happened?

India’s Temple Children

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/140 sec

As our tour group neared a Hindu temple in southern India, we were met by this little boy dressed as one of the Hindu gods. He was more than willing to strike a pose and let us take pictures – for a small fee. After all, entertaining the visitors was his full-time job.

The life of a temple child is very difficult. Most of these children are dedicated to the temple deity as infants, in order to bring their families good luck. Never seeing their parents again, they are raised in the temple to serve the local gods, which includes a variety of jobs. The boys, like this one, often serve as bahurupis (“the many-faced“), street entertainers who dress up as the gods and perform for locals and tourists alike. It’s a difficult job, because a convincing actor will go all day without shoes, eating or using the restroom. Many are not allowed to talk, even as passers-by treat them harshly.

Girls often face even more difficult circumstances. In the past, their roles were also entertainers. Indian missionary Amy Carmichael once wrote,

“The duties of the temple girls were to carry the kumbarti (the sacred light); to fan the idol with chamaras (fans); to dance and sing before the god. They were the only women who could read and write, play an instrument, and sing and dance. Their presence was believed to bring good luck to a wedding, and they had power to avert the ‘evil eye.'”

Today, Many infant girls dedicated to the temples are “married” to the temple deity and are considered devadasi (basically a “divine prostitute“). Their job is to provide sexual favors for the priests and male worshipers who frequent the temple. When they get older (around 5-7 yrs old), they are auctioned off to become a child concubine. Many girls are re-sold after they pass puberty, and more than half end up in brothels for the remainder of their lives. This practice was outlawed decades ago, but perpetrators are rarely punished, so it continues today, especially in rural areas. Tradition and poverty are strong motivators in this society.

Poverty can bring people to do all sorts of things they would never consider otherwise. What have the poor in your area done to cope?

Trying to Feed the World

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 400 • f 3.5 • 1/1600 sec

Cruising the streets in Thailand, I kept seeing these flooded fields everywhere. I thought it was just the after-effects of monsoon season, but soon I learned the flooding was intentional. These Thai people we saw were rice farmers.

Rice is an interesting and essential crop, second only to corn (maize) in production worldwide. It is so important to some Asian cultures, that they even have annual celebrations or gods devoted to rice. Growing rice is such a labor-intensive process, it is most common in countries where workers are cheap and easy to come by. Many Asian communities still harvest rice by hand, though machinery is become more commonplace.

What makes rice-growing unique is the need for lots of water. Rice plants thrive in wet and hot environments, so part of the growth process involves keeping the seedlings under water for most of their early life. This also minimizes the amount of weeds and pests that can attack the young plants. Most of the rice paddies I saw did not need a complicated irrigation system to pull this off. They just built dirt walls around sections of the field, and let them fill up with water during the heavy rains. I got the chance to walk out on one of these walls, and was amazed at how strong it was, even though it was only about a foot thick.

Ok, fess up! What’s your favorite flavor of rice?

Mexican Pool Party

Location: Mexico
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 5.0 • 1/3200 sec
(Note: I don’t recommend ISO 800 for outdoors – I had just come from indoors and didn’t switch ISO’s before taking this picture)

More stories from the Mexico orphanage! While the work teams were building, some people took turns visiting the kids and running a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program back at the home. My turn came in the middle of the week, and I went with three other teens to help the organizers plan the day. We included the usual songs, games, and fun skits, as well as toys and playtime. While we were having lunch/snack time, the parent family managed to set up a small swimming pool and fill it with water. This was fairly unusual for the area, because clean water was expensive. But they wanted the group to enjoy the time here.

The kids weren’t really sure what to do with it at first. Finally, one of the older children had an idea that she whispered to her friends. Before the rest of us knew what was happening, they surrounded two of our teenage volunteers, Gabi and Sam. With a combined effort, they picked up both girls and threw them into the pool, clothes and all! Both came up laughing, so the kids decided it was fun. They jumped in as well – all 30 or so of them! Of course, with that many kids in the pool, they lost half the water. Nobody seemed to care, as they all splashed and screamed and laughed. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the most fun.

What’s the most fun you’ve had with simple things?

Kids and Their Favorite Toys

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 14 • 1/100 sec

Until I went to India, I never imagined how fascinating a ballpoint pen could be. Yet these schoolkids would literally fight each other over one if they had the chance. No worries – I brought a bag full. I enjoy bringing little gifts for kids when I travel, and these kids were no exception. For them, having something more “high-tech” than a pencil was exciting.

Cameras were exciting too. They knew that with digital photography, they could see the pictures instantly on a camera’s screen. So I was inundated with requests by kids to take their pictures, then turn the camera around to show them. This always elicited excited shrieks when they recognized themselves. Every once in a while, I would get a group of kids so big that they started grabbing at the camera. I was worried about it getting lost or damaged, so I started taking their pictures with a point-and-shoot. While they were busy admiring themselves on that one, I would pull out my DSLR and get a good pic for myself as well. 🙂

Knowing how much these little things meant to the kids, I was amazed by a street girl named Minyana. Someone had given her a sheet of stickers, and she chose to be generous herself. She went to each of us in the group, and affixed a sticker to each of our shirts. Even in poverty, she knew what generosity was all about.

Have you ever seen a small gift mean a lot to someone? What about something that someone gave you?

Burma: The Next Rwanda?

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 400 • f 2.8 • 1/320 sec

A friend forwarded me a note yesterday:

“Dear Friends,
There are battles in Kachin State and in Shan State in Myanmar. Thousands of civilians are fleeing to the nearest shelters. Many of them are without food and medicine. Some are trapped on the China border. Let’s ask the Lord to keep them safe.”

The country of Myanmar/Burma has been in political turmoil for some time, and refugees are constantly fleeing for their lives. This lady in the picture had escaped to Thailand some time ago. Her large earrings indicate that she may be part of a subgroup of the Karen tribe. Shan is the largest eastern state bordering China and Thailand, and is home to a variety of ethnic tribes, including the Shan, Pa-O, Chin, Karen, and several others.

The Burmese government has been working toward democracy for some time, but still remains riddled with suspicion. Some believe the military regime rigged the elections, and skirmishes are still common in many areas. Myanmar remains on several world watch lists for human rights violations, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and child soldiers. From Wikipedia: “The Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or ‘Burmisation’. This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda.” Let’s keep spreading the word, friends!

I’ll give you an action step today: Pass this info along and then comment and let us know how you did it!