Lost in Vegas

Las Vegas was not, is not, and won’t be my destination. It is, however, my convenient transit point to Utah national parks. Wrongly booked my return date, I ended up having to spend one more day here. I thought I would be overwhelmed by boredom, but not at all. You will see why.

I also dreamed of a jackpot, but I don’t even know how to use a modern slot machine. Besides I was overwhelmed by all sorts of the designs in my surroundings that I did not even consider to come close to the gambling table.

Looking around, I found my favorite flower vase,

Looking up, there are endless ceiling intererst:

Those glamourous casino hotels have characteristics of their own. My interest in architecture is my drive to visit them. However, the content of such hotels is too much for me. If not for a few eye-opening architectural designs, I would not want to stay indoors a bit longer.

Two white door frames welcome you into the restaurant; One hotel concierge is located at the bottom of a wood structure with a bar in the mid-level. I don’t even know how to describe the design.

In Vegas, the walk paths either lead you to a casino or a gift shop. I stayed away from the casino, but I love window browsing and enjoying the creative pieces of work. Chocolate dripping from the ceiling and down right in front of you. Simple fluorescent lights to showcase a fashion red and the whimsical bar stools…

Having hometown gourmet in a foreign place is like having fresh water in the desert. I was tired of expensive restaurants and buffets, so happy to enjoy a simple bowl of shrimp wonton noodle soup. 

Have steaming hot food in an outdoor cafe in Vegas, under 110 degree? Nop. These are cold water mist…

Too much to go on, I don’t want to get you lost either. Las Vegas is not my travel destination, but it is definitely a great place for street photography.

New York, New York (3) – Architecture

Three days are barely enough to photograph in New York City. Wherever you go, there is a multitude of people and there is beautiful architecture, interior, and exterior. Unexpected, I was so drawn to the architecture, I lost my attention on the candid shots that I originally planned for the trip.

One World Trade Center was my target, but I ended being obsessed with the architecture of the transit station. The large flow of the people come out of the arrival train prompted me to photograph people, at the same time, I could not lift my eyes on the overall architecture of the interior.

Grand Central Station is another classic treasure that I love.  It is one of the most monumental and magnificent buildings built in the 18th century and it’s well-maintained up to this day. The entire place is meticulously crafted with arts and details. To my surprise, the magic extends to the basement where the food court is.

On the third day of my trip, I finally experienced some sunshine. The reciprocal reflection among the buildings is quite a unique scene. It would take some time to separate these buildings from the reflection on the window facade. The streets are full of construction sites. I could not photograph the new World Trade building up close without cranes in the way, just to shot one from distance as a record. This last image shows a residential building (I believe) in Soho area. The distinctive appearance echoes the outlook of the area, aesthetic and stylish.

So much to see and so many different subjects interest me. I had a hard time deciding what to post and what not.  Now I have written three blogs for it. I think it’s time for something else.

New York, New York (2) – Central Park, Skyscapers

New York is one of the ultimate destination for the tourists and photographers. I have been here numerous times, but the visit to Central Park is my first. Central Park occupies 842.60 acres, more than 5 times of Washington Park in Oregon. I entered the south entrance on 59th street and later discovered that I had to go out of the park and re-entered from 105th street entrance to access the north section of the park which ends on 110th street.

Thought to photograph some fall colors at Central Park, but prime time was over, and I don’t think the tree varieties here generate stunning colors as we have here in Northwest. For one thing, mountains are more superior than buildings as background. There are plenty of space and greens, but wherever you go, you are in the vicinity of the high-rise structures.  I guess it is not so bad to enjoy building/ vegetation mixed reflection which has a character of its own.

Wheather you jog along the reservoir or ice skate at Wollman Rink, you are looking into NYC ‘mountains’.  The shape and structure of the Bow Bridge are appealing. What I like the most is the walking steps wrapped under and hidden inside of the facade. In other words, you cannot see the steps from each side of the bridge.  Bethesda fountain angel statue is common, but it becomes interesting when I witnessed the flock of pigeons landing and forming that familiar sculpture…

You may have seen the giant bubbles at an amusement park or on a busy beach. I was amazed how the bubbles were formed and checked online. There are ‘recipes’ to make large bubbles, really. It is only in Central Park where I expected to see several groups of photographers filming broadcasting subjects.

Architecture in NYC is what interests me the most among the abundant resource of everything, vintage and contemporary. In Europe, we see classics, and here we get to appreciate both. The skyscrapers erect high in the sky and split the blue sky into chunks and strips. They are like a herd of horses sticking their heads up and racing to take up the sky. I meant to take more people pictures, but I could not resist the grandeur above.

Not only during the day, the night sky is also as charming as the day. When I looked into the night sky at home, I was aiming at stars. However, at this moment of time in New York City, I forgot about stars… I only saw the smogged cloud on the dark canvas and the mystical peace of the night.

Before this trip, I purposely avoided viewing other people’s pictures. Many excellent works of iconic landmarks are existing and very accessible online. I feel that I don’t need to jam in thinking that I can do better with these iconic shots. I cannot, particularly in a short stay roaming around town without a tripod.

At a Wedding – story telling

I photographed another wedding over the weekend. Hard work, I am still recuperating a week after.  A load of fun, the photographer is the orchestrator, and you tell them where to stand and what to do. I am glad that I am not the professionals who charge big bucks and work under tremendous pressure.  A wedding is (normally) a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we all try to capture the most precious moment at our best in spite of the variables.

Perfect posed portraits are the tradition although the trends go to lifestyle and illustrate modern living and environment. This wedding was on a private ranch. Other than acres of fields, barns, haystacks, horses, beer barrels and farmhouses are the backdrops.

The bride is in a pure white wedding gown adorned with a red-laced draping on the back which ties in with her red shoes. No tux’s for the groom and his boys, they are all in cowboy hats, Levi’s and western belts. The guests wear casual dresses, trousers, and jeans. Casual, Natural and Free-spirited.

For privacy concerns, I intend not to post any people pictures on this blog though I have lots of favorites. Just grab a couple of fun shots here.

The moment when I spotted this cake decoration, I could not let go of it. On this day of the union of two hearts, the guests are invited inside the tent to celebrate and give their best regards to the newly-wed. With this thought in mind, I took this picture.

The tent structure and chairs offer a bit of architecture background. The table flowers are my main subject while the man and the beer help me to tell the story. Men & Beer vs. Women & Dog was what came to my mind…

I love the shape and the sculptured lines of this piece. Used it to play a little more. While multi-colors are often more striking, I like the black and white version of this one. It’s the purity and subtlety that I like black and white images.

I wanted to shoot the cute little heart-shaped tea lights on the table, and I also liked the sunset light shadow in distance. Besides, it is an event and people need to be in it.  ‘Heart’ is not clearly shown here, but I seem to like the negative space of the image. People and the row of chairs do tell the story…

Almost a Paradise

Back home here in Taiwan, I just visited an amazing place, ‘The One’. If there is really a place like paradise, this place can be one.
A retired newspaper tycoon built his ideal paradise to enjoy his retirement life.  This place has 69 secluded acres land surrounded by dense and thriving greens in a valley setting.  The construction is a Jiangnan (meaning south of Yanz River) garden style and an ancient Chinese structure without using nails. A talented architect has been given full authority to build the place. It is definitely one distinguished architecture with sophisticated display of Chinese culture and heritage.

The owner lived here for 25 years before his decease in 1996 and the place was re-opened and brought to the public as ‘The One’ in 2008 as a resort.  Resort sounds too commercial to describe this unique and exquisite place. It is not too much if we simply call it a paradise.

Looking out from the balcony of the highest building, you would feel like standing in heavenly realm, it is surreal. Blue sky afar and green trees around enhance the terra cotta color buildings and that weaves a beautiful landscape all together.

All the buildings are designed with meaningful themes and functions. Key buildings are named after the owner, his wife and their children. They are connected with ponds, small bridges, gazebos, pavilions, rocks, and refined landscaping. View is stunning and beauty is well balanced with its subtlety.   
From the exterior, you can see how peaceful and tranquil the setting is. Ponds are full of koi and black swans are showing off whenever people are coming close. 

Noticed the design of the door frame and window case. The ‘flower vase’ is inviting you to go in and view the ‘flowers’ inside. I believe peaches are on the left side of the entrance. Peach is a symbol of longevity for Chinese.

Urns are popular in Asian, but I am not sure how many people actually thought about using them to decorate the window.  
Window case is like an open book.  It opens to another chapter, the roof of an adjacent lower building.
How about a small peek of bamboo bush and pond through the flower entry?  I just love to peek through window cases to see the garden. Regardless what angle of view you are, there is a different set of scene in front of you. If you have more time, peek through the small bamboo tubes, and image…
See what I got from this door? I can stay here for hours and make you images after images. Can you imagine how much architecture treasure you can find in this place?
My memory cards are full so is my mind. I just grabbed a few to sample. I have been away from my original culture too long and I am glad that I am here to catch up.

Sweden – travel journal (4)

After visiting two largest cities, the impression I have on Sweden is royal, majestic, and picturesque. Like Norway, Sweden is part of original Hanseatic League and they are historical big traders on Baltic Sea. Norway obtains its wealth from oil and Sweden has brought in enormous immigrants who has generated powerful working force for the benefit of their economy. A beautiful city with a river run through it, and is adored with breath-taking architecture throughout.

storybook-like houses along the shore

As you may know, I cannot get enough of the colorful houses in Norway and here in Sweden, my obsession only grows more.  Generally speaking, residential houses in Norway have more straight lines while Swedish houses seem to have more characters. It is not easy to find two houses exactly look the same standing next to each other.

Window placement of big buildings in the city seems all very geometrical and appears the same at first look, but the intricate sculptured trims are different from one floor to the other. Roof top is intentionally designed for snow load and long winter here which can go from Oct to April depending on the region.

I was wondering, as old as the styles look, how come the buildings all look so orderly and well maintained.  I was told that they have strict ordinance for the buildings and houses which have cultural marks. Special construction license is required for remodeling. Check out these houses by lakefront. How do you like to have your boat right outside of your house?

Sweden is the 4th largest country in Europe, 9 million population. In capital Stockholm alone, there are 5 million people and 3 millions of them are immigrants. It is an international city. Stockholm is named ‘Venice of North’ with one difference, no smell, as the locals put it.  It has its natural waterway and is composed of 30 islands, between Baltic Sea and Lake Malaren. Water water everywhere, that was my first impression when we landed here. It is the city with sophisticated architecture and beautiful landscape.

a private residence with boat launch

When our cruise ship was approaching the shore, I was so attracted by the landscape that I ran to the upper deck and grabbed a spot without noticing that I was standing in front of a man who was there before me. I did not realize how rude I was till he switched his place and stood before me. I got the hint. I was going to say sorry but then I was so caught up with the scene so was the man. I don’t think he would hear me if I attempted to say something. We were ‘on the same boat’ loving what we saw and wanted to capture it all.

Goteborg is the second largest city in Sweden, the largest harbor in Scandinavia. The moment when we stopped here, I felt like I was in New York City. McDonald first came to sight and almost all American fast food chains are here. Plus, diversity of people and the busy traffic. Long blond hair girls are everywhere so are the Muslin ladies with hijibs. We were so happy to see Starbucks because the coffee in the cruise tastes like tar, but the locals highly recommended their own brand, Express House. It costs $5.70 a cup, but it tastes good and worth the experience. We munched a bit of Swedish chocolate and it is supreme.

Goteborg
Though car manufacturing is declining, Volvo was established here since 1927 and still the major automobile maker. The renowned IKEA was originally created by a 17-year old Swedish Ingvar Kamprad (the company was registered in Netherlands). IKEA takes the name after his first and last name, E=Elmtyard, the farm where he grew up and A=Agunaryd, his hometown in South Sweden. The great invention of IKEA concept has definitely benefited young families to enjoy style and value.
H&M is also from Sweden, Hennes & Mauritz Company. Hennes means hers in Swedish and that’s H originally came from. After Mauritz merger, they started to sell Hers and Mens clothing line. In my opinion, the concept of H&M and IKEA basically are the same. They target younger customers and with updated styles and attractive value. 
We drove by Abba’s Museum. Surprised to hear that Abba is not as popular in Sweden.  We tend not to cherish what we have local and readily available, don’t we?

In addition to the city, we of course visited Royal Palace and the famous Vasa Museum. Among all the royal palaces, I happened to be in favor of this one, a late baroque-style building with Rococo (asymmetrical style) interior decoration and the exterior, Italian Renaissance style. However, photography is not permitted inside the palace and front facade is under construction. We did walk through the room inside the palace where Swedish King hosted Nobel banquet for Nobel Prize Laureates. Alfred Nobel is a Swedish philanthropist who founded Nobel foundation in 1895 and the prizes were awarded since 1901.

the praying boy

I think this praying little boy was just as popular as the glamorous presentation inside the palace.

Vasa Museum has the original warship Vasa displayed. Vasa is supposed to be the most extensive and richly ornamented naval vessel built in Sweden at the time (1628). When she sailed forth on her maiden voyage on Stockholm shore, Vasa capsized and sank inside Stockholm harbor, just 45 minutes after her launch mostly due to the weight of the overly-furnished ship. It was top-heavy and did not have enough ballasts for the stability of the bottom.

Vasa warship
When the ship was discovered more than 333 years later, it still remained intact under the sea.
Baltic sea has brackish water (mix of salt and clear water) which prevented the growth of wood loving worms and saved the ship. 15 skeletons were found inside the ship, and part of them are shown in the museum. After being salvaged, she was able to float unaided. It was a somewhat emotional journey to go around the ship, look in and around and feel the despair from the captain and the sailors when a victorious entry suddenly turned into a deadlock. 
The display area was very dark. I did not have an external flash with me. Even I bumped up my ISO to the max 6400, I still could not get any decent shots. When I was frantically looking for ways to shoot,  I somehow was able to switch my ISO to a Hi setting that I have never discovered before. Here it is, I finally had a clear shot.

Bike rental 
It is not just in Denmark, bicycle is also popular in Sweden. There are self-serve bicycle rentals in the city. You can make your deposit, grab a bike and tour around town as you please.
All the major stores have their hours marked next to their store signs in large letters. I really like this customer-friendly arrangement.  At home, we often have to drive close to a store front to see the hours and sometimes the prints are so fine that we have to get out of of the car.  
store hours

The classical glamour of Sweden is in the city and the rural landscape is not less beautiful than what I so loved in Norway. Taking history out of equation, Norway scenery is similar to Oregon and prettier.  Sweden has the addition of an unspeakable richness and lushness. When I looked out of the window and into the green fields, my eyes seemed to wander a long ways before I saw the end, and from there blue water immediately opens another depth of field….

Most of my pictures taken on this trip are tour bus shots. I was not only in movement with the bus, window glass was also in the way. Photo quality can be better, but….

Countryside
Royal Palace
Stockholm inside the city
old town, Main Square in Stockholm
apartment building at a glance

I started my blog to sound my inner voice. As the journey evolves, I have explored and discovered so many things that I either have never known or I have to refresh my memory to catch up. The joy I got out of the process is immensely meaningful and enlightening to me. For this, I have to thank Steve, my mentor, the leader of our photography group, who has inspired me to make this daring attempt: to write in English and to share in public.
(Steve’s blog site http://www.creativemonkeystudios.com/)

Notes:

1. I have changed my title to Journey of Exploration and Discoveries. I also decided to only post one blog a week. This will give myself more time to prepare my content with more details and hopefully more depth as well in the coming future.

2. Finland and Russia trip journals will come later along with other posts if I may choose to post other articles first.