Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Opportunities Everywhere

I am no professional photographer and neither do I have the best gear in the world but GOD has given me this deep passion to capture what I see or what HE has to show me through my camera and my lens.

With them, I have learnt to appreciate HIS creation more, the places where I go, the food I have tasted and the people that I have met. More importantly, this passion have also helped to open my eyes to see beyond what I would normally see when I go travelling, to be more sensitive and alert for amazing scenes and happenings around me.

Such is the case when I was in Shanxi recently. I was visiting the Yungang Grottoes, where there are over 51,000 Buddha statues and 252 grottoes, some as little as several centimeters with the largest standing over 17 meters tall, carved out from solid rock and into caves, dating back 1500 years ago.

I took plenty of pictures of these (which I will post in a separate post) and most of these pictures would probably be similar somewhat to what other travelers or visitors have taken (some could probably be much better).

But there is one picture which I believe would be my most UNIQUE picture of this place.

As I was crossing the bridge, walking towards to the rocky formation where the statues and grottoes are, I turned back to see if there are any interesting sights behind me. The skies immediately caught my attention. It has been raining prior to our arrival and the skies were slowly clearing up as the sun was setting. What caught my attention was the formation of the clouds right there before my eyes. It was majestic, mesmerizing and in the context of the place of which I was visiting and the foreground of the magnificent temple simply MAGICAL and MIND BLOWING.

Needless to say, my hands were busy clicking away from every angle I could find and think of. 

There she was, the awesome and magical dragon flying across the skies with the sun rays behind her. I stood there for several minutes more before her form `disappeared'. 

I walked away, satisfied, knowing that I have been blessed with one of a lifetime opportunity to capture something that is unique to me at that point in time.

Yes, photo opportunities are everywhere. We just got to be sensitive to our surroundings and allow our heart to feel them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shansi Hanging Temple - Definitely not a place for the Acrophobic

When I first arrived at the site, I was simply overwhelmed by the grandeur of Mount Hengshan where the Hanging Temple (悬空寺) was constructed. Looking at the mountain, I took me awhile to locate the site of which we were there in the first place, the Hanging Temple. The picture above was exactly what I saw when I was on the ground far off. The first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful majestic rocky Hengshan, I was dwarfed by her as we approached. As my eyes slowly picked through the cliffs, there she was, the Hanging Temple, dangling and floating as if she was in mid air by the cliffs.
Hanging Temple is located at the foot of Mount Hengshan,Hunyuan County, Datong City in the Shansi Province. She is approximately 64km from Datong, the second largest city in Shansi, after Taiyuan, the capital of the Shansi province.
Datong is approximately 3.5 hours drive from Beijing. The journey was pleasant and smooth travelling on the expressway. Shansi (山西) or simply translated as 'mountain's west', probably due to her location west of Taihang Mountains. Besides being famous for this magnificent structure, Shansi is also well known for her noodles (which is really out of this world) and also for her black vinegar, something that one must taste to truly  appreciate. Shansi is also the home province of a famous warrior, Guan Gong or Guan Yu (关羽) or Guan Yunchang, made popular by his loyalty and his fearless exploits in the battlefield as depicted in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義).
The Hanging Temple is reportedly built approximately 1500 years ago, by a lone monk named Liao Ran (了然).  This temple is built 75 meters or 246 feet from the ground, along the contours of the cliff, making use of natural hollows and outcrops, where timber poles were driven deep inside the cliff, used as the core supporting beam for the entire structure.

So well built is she that she could withstand the catastrophic earthquake at Shannxi, (华县大地震) a nearby province in the morning of 23rd January 1556 which reportedly killed 830,000 and measuring 7.9 based on our current modern measurement.

Besides the simply incredible manner of which she was constructed, the Hanging Temple is also one of the rare temples or locations where the three main beliefs or religion in China can be seen together, namely Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
Covering an area of 152 square meters with over 40 halls and multiple narrow and steep walkways and passage ways, this is definitely not one for those with an acute fear of heights (acrophobia). Falling overboard the narrow passageway would mean a straight drop of over 246 feet to the cliff below, and the thought is certainly scary, all the more with the ever pushing Chinese tourists, all eager to pose and to get the best spot for their pictures.
The picture above just illustrates how narrow the passage way and I had to lean a little over the railing to capture this angle, just to depict how high this structure is. To be honest, my legs were trembling as I lean over for this shot as I for one, is not exactly fond of heights.
The staircase within is steep and narrow. Here, as you can see, I had to bend my legs to ensure that I have a good footing coming down from one floor to another and at one stage, I was literally stuck because of the camera bag and tripod that I was carrying on my bag. It is that narrow and dark too.
But the view from the top is simply magnificent and breath taking. Standing there, looking beyond the Golden Dragon Gorge below, one could only imagine the things, people, battles and history this structure has bear witness to.
 As I leave, I take with the memory of stepping, climbing and walking along the passageways of one of the oldest and simple incredible architecture in the world and the experience is simply amazing. The Hanging Temple is definitely another MUST VISIT place in China, among other interesting sites such as the Great Wall to name one.

The only problem with China is that all her interesting attractions are so scattered all over the country that it is so difficult to visit them all within a short span of time. When I was first relocated to Beijing for 2 years, I thought I have all the time in the world to see what China has to offer. 9 months on, I come to a realisation that I will never be able to see and experience everything that this great diversify land has to offer because it would take more than a lifetime.

Stay tune for the next post on Yunggang Grotoes, statues carved into caves 1500 years ago, so huge and narrow that even my super wide angle lens has difficulties capturing them all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Illusive Bill Gates

I did a lot of travelling last year. Besides the trip to Club Med Maldives, we made two separate trips to US. One was to Atlanta followed by San Francisco and another was to Seattle followed by Los Angeles and San Diego.

I have always wanted to visit Seattle, especially after I read about the Pikes Street Fish Market in the management book aptly named "The Fish". The movie "Sleepless in Seattle" by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan comes into mind too.

It was a long and tiring flight from Kuala Lumpur to Seattle after transiting in Los Angeles. By the time, we got to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency at Bellevue, Seattle, it was already rather late. As the taxi pulled into the hotel lobby, we literally drag our luggage down from the taxi and just as we were about to entire the lobby, lo and behold, standing outside the hotel a short distance away, was Mr. Bill Gates waiting for his car. This is probably as close as one could get to Bill Gates and beyond my wildest imagination. I was stunned and rooted to the ground. Before I could react, this illusive and reclusive gentleman got into his two door luxurious sport car and roared off into the night, with the only chance of my lifetime to meet and probably shake the hands of this great man of our century.
Bellevue is a very nice suburb in Seattle, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Seattle. Up market with enough malls, shops, F&B outlets and pubs to cater for the many companies that have made this suburb their office. The community that stays here looks like a tightly knitted community. The following morning, as I took a walk in the park nearby, I met a very nice old couple who told me as we chatted that they have been faithfully going for their morning walks in that same park for the last 40 years and I can see why judging from the serenity and beauty of this place.

This is truly a place that I could make my home, if I am ever coming to stay in US but unfortunately, this place is also highly expensive. 

Next post, the Pikes Fish Market, the place that I have read so much about and eager to see with my very own eyes.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Get that shot

Being behind China great big firewall that blocks off any access to blogspot, wordpress and Facebook can be rather frustrating. Although I have signed up and paid for a proxy to access these websites, I was having difficulties updating a new post for quite a while recently, which is partly the reason why this blog has not been updated for a while. But I have not stop travelling especially around China and neither have my Nikon taken a rest. In fact, I am spending more time taking pictures and the opportunity to learn more post-processing and editing with my newly installed Lightroom 4.3.

Now that I am back blogging, I promise that I would play catch up and write about some of the interesting and amazing places I have been in China besides sharing some other interesting pictures I have managed to captured from time to time.

Although I am passionate about photography, there were many times when I have missed good opportunities for a good shot simply because I was too lazy to either get down to grab that shot or to take out my gear and set it up for that one shot which at first glance to me, presents a rather interesting picture. Time and time again, I would tell myself that that opportunity would come again and so far, the same opportunity have never come twice.

Now that I have more time in China, I am more impulsive when it comes to photography and I have learnt not to miss those opportunities when I see them. Such was the case recently, when opportunities presented themselves and because I did not hesitate to grab my gear and patiently take and retake the same scene or object over and over again, I was rewarded with several interesting shots that I am happy about. They might not be the best pictures that I have taken but I was satisfied that I have at least tried and not let the opportunity passed me by.
First example was last night. It was one in the morning and as I walked to the kitchen to wash my cup, I noticed cooking oil floating on the water in the plate that I have left in the kitchen sink. The reflection from the kitchen ceiling lights on the oil swirling and their patterns looked particularly interesting. I drop the cup, grab my gear, change my lens to my trusty Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 Macro HSM, steadied myself and clicked away, trying different angles and settings. The above shot is by far, one of my most satisfying capture.
Second example was several nights ago. A thunderstorm was brewing in Beijing after days of terrible haze. Flashes of lightning brightened up the skies. I had always wanted to try capturing lightning strikes because I have seen beautiful postcard pictures of such amazing wonders of nature. Without hesitation, I set up my gear at the balcony of my  apartment and stood there for an entire hour, just shooting at 30 seconds interval. I was rewarded with the picture above, a stroke of bold lightning in the distance against the foreground of our apartments. Not the best composition but I was delighted, knowing that my efforts have been rewarded to some extend and spurs me further to look forward to the next thunderstorm.
The third occasion was as I was walking out from my kitchen one evening. My eyes caught the sight of the orange and amber glow of the setting sun and the skies being reflected on the glass windows and doors of the apartments at the opposite block. I literally drop everything, ran and grab my Nikon and change to my Nikkor 18-105mm lens and captured the above reflection.

The above few instances taught me one thing. Photo opportunities are everywhere. I just need to open my eyes to see them and my heart to feel them. And when I do, GET THAT SHOT!

One last parting picture ..... an inspiration as I sipped my red wine in the middle of the night ...