Monday, November 28, 2011

Culture Corner: Vietnam Part II

This is Part II of my photos from Vietnam.  (For Part I, click here.)

From the ocean I headed inland to Vietnam's mountains, the Tonkinese Alps, of which the tallest at 3143m (10,300 ft. for the metric impaired), Fansipan, is pictured above.
Amongst the hills and mountains live numerous ethnic minorities, many of which congregate daily in a little hilltop town called Bac Ha for market.  Here are some of the local women relaxing in their very colorful dress.
After sharing a smoke, these men insisted I take a photo of them at work.
Haircuts are all part of the daily market.
In order to get around this beautiful area and to the village markets, I rented one of their little motorbikes (when in Rome…) and was treated to some wonderful experiences, including the most delicious dog meat I've ever eaten.  (I guarantee you also would have thought so.)  Above is yours truly with his trusty turquoise steed.
After exploring the mountainous northwest, I headed south along the coast, visiting cities like Hue, pictured above.  Yes, those are house boats on a canal to the right. (If you're interested in the Vietnam War, there is a wonderful book called The Cat From Hue that I recommend.)
After Hue, I visited Hoi An, which is home to many colonial style buildings, a relaxed atmosphere, and this temple decked out for Tet Festival.
For those of you who read my last culture corner about my visit to my father's old army base, Chu Lai, pictured above is a portion of its remains, not to mention a handsome young lad who asked me to take his photo.
And this is the wonderfully secluded beach I found there – secluded from tourists, that is.  Behind me are some village huts and children playing, idyllic down to the warm water and ripples in the sand.  Sorry, I don't have any photos of the beautiful young girl who was offered to me here, her beachside cafe, nor her bastard of a father.  Photos just triggers, that is an experience I keep in my memory.  If you want something like this, go make your own adventure.

The End

Culture Corner: Vietnam Part I

Considering I've just returned from a month's holiday in Xinjiang/East Turkestan (my first in an occupied country, I might add), I should probably pass along some photos from this past winter's holiday in Vietnam before I get too far behind.
I arrived in Vietnam just as they were preparing for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.  Above is the capital, Hanoi, and as you see, the streets are constantly abuzz with motorbikes.  Even as you read and I write, I'm sure the city grid is zipping crazily with motorists and pedestrians.  Though never able to live there, this created a sense of life Western cities, with their wide streets and multitude of cars, can never realize.
This is the Red River flowing through the middle of Hanoi, its sweat rising over the city.
These are some of the street vendors selling flowers for Tet.  (Useless caption...)
This is just one corner of a much larger fruit and vegetable market in the city.
  Again, the chaos known as street life in Hanoi.  Trying to cross the street sets something alive inside you.
 Riding shotgun!!
  And one last photo from Hanoi's streets.
  This is a place very close to Hanoi called Halong Bay.  (I apologize for the defects in the photo.  It is the result of the Chinese definition of 'quality'.) I spent two beautiful days boating amongst these islands, exploring caves and kayaking.  Along the side of the island to the right you see a small floating village - complete with dogs (as pets you crazy people, they don't eat everything that moves.)  
Another photo of Halong Bay, an absolutely beautiful place.
Next, Part II here

Culture Corner: Jiangsu & Zhejiang

Ok, so here are a few photos taken around my university and some of the other places I visited the past year.  The first few were taken on the same morning, so bear with the recurring theme...
This is the view out my kitchen window of the campus's north gate, students straggling in after an all-nighter at the internet cafe.
These are only some of the basketball courts on campus.  Yes, they fade into the distance.  Altogether there are three areas with hoops, of which this is just a part.  As such, it's safe to say basketball is popular.  This photo was taken early in the morning on my walk to class, otherwise each hoop would have a group of boys imitating NBA players, ignoring the idea of teamwork, as best their height challenged frames can.  (No, it's not pollution, well, maybe a little, but mostly it's fog.  It's very humid in Wuxi year round.)
The same foggy morning, bicycle traffic running about 27%.
I live in Jiangsu Province, which is located in the lowlands near the ocean, and is therefore swimming with canals, lakes, rivers, filth ridden water, and the like.  I'm sure for millennia people have been using these ways for business, and the canals and channels running through my campus remain no different, hence the wooden boat above puttering along.  The building where I teach is on the left.
Not an example of modern art, this is one way in which the Chinese transplant trees.  They take a fully grown tree, lop off its limbs, chop its roots, wrap it in hemp and move it.  The trees somehow survive the trauma, and despite looking mutated, will often grow new leaves and branches.  But not without first looking like a green pom-pom Dr. Suess creation.  My campus's hospital is in the background.
This is a fairly typical Chinese street, electrical wires, fruit stands, crud, air conditioners, dusty awnings, dusty gray streets…  Though this is the city I live in, Wuxi, it could be just about any city in China.
I'm standing atop a small pagoda in the market area of Wuxi looking down upon the Bird and Flower Market.  Guess what's sold there?
  This is another random street in Wuxi.  What's most interesting about this photo is that, were you to show this to any Chinese person, unless they lived on this street, they wouldn't be able to tell you where it is.  The average Chinese street is completely anonymous in the context of China.
This is East Lake in the city of Shaoxing, a place I visited last Labor Holiday.  A further moment's glance and you notice that the canal on the right – the canal used by commercial boats – is not the same color as the lake.
For some reason I really like this photo.  I think it displays how relaxed China is.  This is an early morning street in the small city of Shaoxing.  People chatting, selling fruits and vegetables, and all is quiet and peaceful.  Not one SUV, traffic light, or neon advertisement admonishes me to consult my doctor about some pill that will treat my restless leg syndrome but give me side effects that are worse than the initial ailment.  I'm happy with my restless l-l-l-l-leg, thank you.  (The sign you see above is a community bulletin board.)
During the holiday I also visited an island called Putuoshan, which is home to one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in China and is protected by the deity Guanyin, whose giant bronze statue you can see facing the sea.  (In China, nature is not nature unless man has stamped it accordingly.)
This is atop the mountain at Putuoshan (it isn't very high, it's location to the compass point east being more religiously important than its height), looking down upon the many small monasteries, temples, beaches, and of course the ocean – a relatively clean ocean as it is outside the ripples of pollution emanating from Shanghai.  I had a most relaxing time here, sleeping on the beach and walking the small trails between the monasteries and temples. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Culture Corner: Norway

Here are some photos of the time I spent in Norway.  A very expensive but beautiful country, hopefully the imagery will shed more detail on the latter.

This is the Bakklandet section of Trondheim, the city where I spent a large portion of my time while in Norway.  Though these are certainly not residences, almost all Norwegian homes are of similar colors and simple architecture.  As Trondheim is a port city, these buildings are former goods storage,which have now been converted into a more alternative area of the city.
What was the demise of the Vikings - a culture none could prevent from razing villages, destroying and pilfering what they pleased?  Religion, of course!  (What was the demise of the US, a culture none could…Ha!) This is the Nidarsdomen in Trondheim, Norway's biggest and baddest cathedral, and while the outside is quite ornate, it doesn't compare to the interior - but they didn't allow photos.  You'll have to go see for yourself.
This is Trondheim as a whole.  A city of roughly 150,000, the cathedral steeple is just left of middle, the fjord/harbor to the upper right, and the surrounding hills on the left.  Sorry, I didn't have color film in my camera at the time, so you'll have to take my word that it is green, relaxing city.
After a week or so in Trondheim, myself, my host, and another friend took a road trip to the mountains of Rondane. This is us arriving at the national park and getting ready for what we intended to be several days away from civilization in the rather unique tree-less countryside beyond.  
But after starting our hike, the wind and rain increased to the point we could no longer bear.  This is where we were standing at the time, so we decided it would be a good place to pitch the tent.  I took this photo the following morning when the world was merely threatening to blow and spit.  (If you highlight the photo, it looks like we're camping on the moon, our tent a shuttle.)
 We attempted to go higher that day, but it began raining, again, so we headed towards a nice, warm cabin on the lake shore below.  As luck would have it, the rain was only temporary, and that afternoon we had relatively clear skies.  So, for what remained of the day, we hiked around the lake.  (Though you can't see it, the cabin is just out of the picture to the lower right.  The valley we had camped in the previous photo is in the upper right.)
 The following day the weather cleared enough to climb a mountain.  For the briefest of moments during our ascent, the fog cleared to give us this view of the peak.  All we saw from up there was fog, clouds, clouds of fog, and some foggy clouds.
 Our hike down.
For all those culturally insensitive Americans out there who don't know what a terrorist looks like, here is a partial glimpse one piloting a car towards the Norwegian fjords.  If you see him, be sure to alert the proper authorities.  (And while you're at it, could you please try get back my sewing needle, push-pin, and fingernail file that were confiscated by the US government before I boarded the plane in Helsinki?  I know it was foolish of me to think I could get away with bringing a thumb tack aboard an airplane, nevertheless, it has strong sentimental value...)
The gratuitous Norwegian stave church.
This is Geiranger Fjord, THE postcard place in Norway.  To give you an idea of scale, the boat in this photo is not of the ordinary rowing variety; it's a full size cruise ship.  Sadly, the haze above the fjord is not the spirit of effervescence tourists effuse.  No, it's diesel blue exhaust -  a new Crayola color - trapped by the colder air currents above.
This is the more environmentally friendly version of Geiranger fjord, that is, 90 degrees to the right…  See the waterfall?  Oooh!  Aah!  We later went for a swim in this water.  C-c-c-cold!

Sadly, after the days of touring the fjords by ferry and camping in various nice locations, I had to say goodbye to my friends.  But before leaving Norway, I spent two days in Oslo.  What to say about the city?  Well, it's both quaint and, as you see above, a bit strange.  I found this scene walking the backstreets.  Yes, along with the UFO in the middle, that is a giant stuffed witch hanging by the neck on the right.  Who says art is dead?  (Booo!! Bad joke, I know...)

Culture Corner: Prague and the Czech Republic

The following are some images from the month I spent living in Prague studying at a language school.  The school comes highly recommended, the city and country even more.
This is Prague.  It doesn’t get any simpler than that. :) Charles Bridge is on the right, Old Town Square is among the hazy black spires left of center on the other side of the river, the ugly tv tower is on the horizon, and red roof tiles fill the space between.  Prague is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
This is what the real Charles Bridge looks like.  I say 'real' because ordinarily all you see are all colors of the rainbow, moving in all directions over the span - the tourists doing their thing, as I was by taking this photo.  :)  The only reason it’s mostly empty this day is because it was 7:30 in the morning and it was raining.  The joys of being waterproof!
This is a portion of one of the many statues on the Charles Bridge.  It puts you in a positive mood, no?  Nothing like the wailing and gnashing of teeth to brighten your day!  I believe these are supposed to be penitent sinners, but I won't be able to confirm this until I go to hell. 
This is a peep at the Czech countryside near the village of Karlstein.  I believe the few houses on the river bank would be considered the suburbs of the tiny-tiny village.  So why did I come here? 
I came because of Karlstein Castle, merely a weekend getaway for a king.  Having a valuable collection of lawn ornaments he didn’t want anyone stealing, he built these ramparts.  Just kidding; it was too keep the starving villagers out...  No really, I think ramparts are just a requisite castle thing.
I included this photo because I thought it was a very typical Prague street, the pub,graffiti, and exposed history - I mean, brick - being the best indicators of this.
This is Tyn Church at Old Town Square and I think was my favorite building in Prague.  One random moment looking for a bathroom, myself and a couple others stumbled upon a choir practicing inside.  (Its entrance is somewhat hidden.)   I don’t think I would have existed after one of their concerts, some sort of personal rapture occurring...
This is a portion of the Vlatva River flowing through Prague and some random apartment buildings.  A good slice of the city.
Old Town Square as viewed from above.
Prague at night.  Powder Tower may or may not be the spire in the background.
Another photo of Tyn Church.
 The people of Prague love their dogs and their beer, and here is a well trained dog waiting for his owner outside a pub.
An hour’s train ride outside of Prague is the town of Kutna Hora.  It's here that a church gave a priest the right to make art of a bunch of bones they had to exhume because they ran out of space in their cemetery.  So, inside the ossuary he built a bunch of things, this being one of his creations.  (Along with four large pyramids of skulls, he also made an incredibly large chandelier, proudly using every bone from the human body.)  Besides this creepy/cool stuff, Kutna Hora was a very nice little town.  It seemed well adjusted.
The End