Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

Posts tagged “scenery

New Year, New Blogs

Location: Indonesia
Camera Info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/250 sec

I’m back! Or more specifically, I’m trying again. Life got very overwhelming last year, and I had to make some cutbacks, so unfortunately this blog had to take a backseat as well. This year looks like it will be pretty busy as well (I’m looking forward to my wedding, as well as up to three potential international trips), but I will make a strong attempt to keep this going, even if I have to cut back to once or twice a month instead of every week. You wonderful people deserve it! So sorry to keep you waiting this past year.

This week’s picture makes me think of reflections. As I looked out those windows in Indonesia, I thought about where I had been and what lies ahead, and now I am doing the same. This last year has seen Andy and I losing employment, gaining it, losing it, etc. Currently he has found a job and I am still looking (yet another reason why I actually have time to write again!). We are planning our wedding for this spring (finally!) and hope to be heading overseas again shortly afterward.

Together, we’ve had quite the year! Both of us have been very involved in our Toastmasters clubs, with me becoming an officer and taking part in a humorous speech contest, and Andy becoming the very first non-inmate to join a prison club! Andy has kept busy ministering in the prison in various ways, as well as leading tours and working on archive preservation at the historic Harrison House. Of course I can’t mention Andy without his favorite sports, running and archery. This year, he has been teaching me to shoot with him, and he completed his 10th full marathon and 20th half-marathon, earning himself a place in the Marathon Maniacs club (Think: hotel discounts for life!). We’ve also added to our respective families. I took in a stray black cat, Ninja, and adopted a second kitten to keep her company (Leo). And yes, that means there will be occasional cat pictures for you as well! *giggle*

For 2014, we don’t know what it may hold, but we do know God is faithful to lead us. We’re excited for the new adventures that await us… and hopefully they will come with plenty new photos to show you! Thanks everyone for sticking with me. Here’s to a great 2014!

What’s your biggest hope for the new year?

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?

Thailand’s “Other” Capital City

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 200 • f 3.5 • 1/1000 sec (both photos)
(Note: This panoramic was created by digitally stitching two photos together)

Everyone needs time to relax, and this globe-hopper is no exception! I took this photo at the Suan Bua Resort in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during a week of rest (and more exploration). While scenic pathways, Thai massage, and colorful butterflies & flowers are a good way to relax, Chiang Mai offers many more options for the more adventurous traveler.

Chiang Mai is the unofficial captial of northern Thailand, and a haven for Western tourists and retirees who want to visit somewhere with a temperate climate, good exchange rates, and lots of people who speak English. I had a tour guide who obviously loved her job, and she showed me some of the usual tourist destinations like the Tiger Kingdom, Maesa Elephant Camp, jungle zipline tours, a hill tribe trek, and a butterfly & orchid farm.

“The locals say you’ve not experienced Chiang Mai until you’ve seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of kao soi, and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang,” claims one tourist site. When I was there, the locals talked about visiting the ruins of the old city wall and moat, shopping at the night bazaar, getting an authentic Thai massage, and checking out their most famous Buddhist temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. All of it sounds good to me! 😀

What is the most unique tourist site you’ve seen while traveling?

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.

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

Chillin’ With the Lilies

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 4.0 • 1/1000 sec

I feel like resting today. Maybe because I haven’t been able to all week, or maybe it’s because this pic is just so… peaceful. I think that was the point. The resort I visited in Thailand displayed beautiful plants and simple architecture that gave the whole area an atmosphere of peace and refreshment. Not to mention they had Thai massage! 😀 I’m sure you are just as busy as I am, so I wanted to throw out some quick tips today on relaxation. After all, as journalist Sidney J. Harris wrote, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

When most people think relaxation techniques, they think meditation, hypnosis, visualization, or other similar exercises. Sure, that works great for some people, but I’m just not New Age-y like that. What can I do, then? Part of a conference I attended included brainstorming other ideas to help ourselves relax. There are four main areas in our lives that we need to deal with: spiritual, physical, interpersonal, and emotional. Different forms of relaxation affect each area. Here’s some we came up with:

  • Spiritual: Quiet times, prayer, Sabbath rest, thanksgiving/worship, Scripture readings, meditating on God & his character, knowing your purpose and keeping focused
  • Physical: Exercise, sports, spa time, sleep, punching bags, dancing and other favorite activities
  • Interpersonal: Cultivating significant relationships, friends, fun contests or games, sex (if you’re married), entertaining (if you’re an extrovert), pets, kids
  • Emotional: Counseling, tear-jerker movies, listening to music, humor/laughter
  • Other/multiple categories: Cooking, ditching unnecessary responsibilities, TV, chocolate, wine, nature, reading, beach/vacay, drawing, knitting, photography, other hobbies

Ok, now it’s your turn! What would you add to the list? What’s your favorite way to relax?

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?

3,2,1 Start Your… Sailboats?

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

Even on a semi-deserted island in the middle of nowhere, you can’t get away from sports! On a trip to Indonesia, I visited one island that only took ten minutes to walk from one shore to the other. There was a village on the island, and the people were excited to have tourists visit them and learn about their culture. They showed us everything they could think of, including one of their favorite pastimes – sailboat racing!

The rules were pretty simple: sail out to a certain island a good distance away, make a loop around it, and come back before anyone else. Oh yeah, and don’t dump yourself and the boat into the ocean in the meantime! Easier said than done. Several of the men from our tour group hopped in the boats with the locals to give it a try. At least we gave the islanders a laugh! They lined up to watch our guys attempt to maneuver those big sails (or, in some cases, just bail water as fast as they could while the “experts” steered). Either way, whether from shore or on the ocean, we all had a good time.

Sailboat racing is actually a very popular sport around South Asia. There are championships and boating clubs & associations in some countries. Others, like our islander friends, just have informal competitions to connect with their communities. No matter what the community or sport, it seems that competition is part of human nature. Just try and beat that!

What is your community’s favorite sport? Does taking part make you more connected with them?

The Hills Are Alive… With Starstruck Tourists!

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

Most of you probably recognized this one already. If not, just sing with me.
Do, a deer, a female deer
Re, a drop of golden sun…

Now before you shoot me for getting that song stuck in your head, won’t you admit you’re just a little bit curious about why I brought it up? This week’s picture is from Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg. This was the backdrop used during filming of certain scenes in The Sound of Music. In fact, while I was in Austria, I got to see several places that were used in the movie. Some tourist companies even offer tours*, though I just explored on my own (knowing German was a plus!).

Along with the gardens, I also visited the Residenzplatz, shown in the beginning of the movie as Maria was leaving her abbey. Next was Hellbrunn Castle, which is where the gazebo is located (used in several scenes). However, I didn’t realize that at the time, and missed it while walking around the castle grounds! 😦 Oops! I didn’t have time to visit all of the sites, but it was fun to walk up to something I recognized instantly from a movie.

Have you ever been on a movie set or seen something that came from one? What was your experience like?

*Here are a few: Tour 1 Tour 2 Tour 3 Tour 4

Disaster in Japan

Location: Japan
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/680 sec

“PrayforJapan” is currently the #1 trending topic on Twitter. Last night, the island was hit with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. The resulting tsunami has hit several other nations as well. I spent a while this morning talking with a friend whose Japanese family members weren’t responding (they have been found safe now – praise God!), as well as with another friend who has been up since 3am working with those providing aid. There were also many on Skype this morning praying over this. Like my friend in the photo is doing, right now we all should be praying over Japan.

The situation is difficult, but at least the early warning signals got a majority of people out of the way in time. The US Geological Survey has rated this quake as the largest in Japan, and the fifth strongest on record. Right now, the death toll is at several hundred, which is fairly low for the size of the disaster. A 1923 quake in Tokyo killed 140,000 people by comparison. Still, for the families affected, the cost is already as high as it could get. On the mainland, canceled flights, floods, power failures, and fires are making travel and communication difficult. Google recently released a live feed of news stories and practical help for those affected, including a person finder app for those still missing family members. The AP has released several photos of the conditions in Tokyo, for those who haven’t seen them all over the news already. Finally, Reuters has posted an evaluation of how the disaster will affect various business arenas in the USA.

In times like this I am reminded of how little control we really have over our lives. We never know when disasters like this can change everything we know in a moment. It gives me perspective on how I spend my time – is what I’m doing right now really making a difference? Life is short, so I should be using my life to make the world a better place.

Have you or your family and friends been affected by the earthquake or tsunami in any way? Share your stories, updates and prayers in the comments.

The Great Zipline Adventure

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 8 • 1/2000 sec

On a trip to Thailand, I tried as many of the local experiences as I could. One was a two-hour Jungle Flight zipline tour that led us throughout the jungle at heights up to five stories. I was nervous before going on the first line, not knowing what to expect. How many ways could I mess things up? Sure enough, I got myself tangled up backwards and ended up kicking the guide while trying to land on the platform. Luckily, he just responded with “Look! Thai boxing!”

I did a bit better on the next line. I didn’t go backwards, and that was quite an accomplishment! Once I learned what I was doing, the rest of the tour was pretty fun. The lines were very stable (except when the guides shook them on purpose), and the platforms were large and easy to land on. I just enjoyed the scenery and tried to push myself to take the lines backwards or no-handed. Our guides were just plain crazy, going across upside down, on each other’s backs, or dropping between platforms at near-freefall speeds. At the end, one dropped nearly four stories and stopped himself about a foot above the ground. We spent the rest of our hike back calling him a monkey.

There’s one more thing to cross off my bucket list — and I didn’t even run into a tree!

What is one tourist experience or extreme sport you would like to try in your lifetime?

Surprising Hidden Crosses Around the World

Location: Japan
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 / Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 7 • 1/1000 sec

In celebration of all the ice and snow outside my house, I’m thinking warm thoughts this week. A sunny beach in Japan is just the ticket! Yet, I was surprised to find this simple cross so prominently displayed in a nation that’s primarily Shinto, Buddhist, and secular. It’s not the only time I’ve heard of crosses in strange places, however. Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • A cross hidden in a Buddhist statue, also from Japan. Usually this country is not known for persecuting Christians, but there have been times in its history when this occurred. Hidden symbols such as this one are more common in other nations, where religious freedom has not been realized.
  • In the USA, the crosses are not so hidden. If you have traveled down I-70 through Illinois, you may have passed a nearly 200-foot giant white cross in Effingham. Another builder has made similar (though smaller) crosses throughout Tennessee next to adult bookstores, likely to deter potential customers. Finally, a former Marine and Methodist minister, Bernard Coffendaffer, built a series of three crosses along highways in 29 states. After his death, they were adopted by local people and churches for regular maintenance.
  • Two of my favorite stories are conspiracy theories. One involves the Burj al Arab (Tower of the Arabs) hotel, the largest building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The British architects were accused of intentionally making it the shape of a cross, though it was supposed to look like a sailboat. Several rumors have circled around this controversy. Since you can only see the cross by looking at the building from the water, I heard photos from that angle were not allowed (though there are plenty available online). Also, some claimed that license plates featuring a drawing of the hotel were banned. This rumor was never verified. So is this really the world’s largest Christian cross, as some claim? Or is it just another theory designed to stir people up? I would love to hear your thoughts!
  • The last “hidden cross” I found is a tourist attraction in Berlin, Germany. The Fernsehturm (TV Tower) was built in 1965-1969 as the tallest structure in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).  The socialist authorities that build the tower wanted it to be a symbol of the GDR’s strength during the Cold War. However, the atheistic leaders were surprised to discover that every day as the sun hit the tower’s pinnacle, a sparkling cross would appear. Even when the dome was treated with special paints and chemicals, they could not get it to go away. West Berliners nicknamed it Rache des Papstes (the Pope’s Revenge).

Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you ever discovered a hidden symbol that gave you hope? What about laughter? Did you see Jesus in a potato chip? Share your story in the comments.

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?