Almost a Paradise

Back home here in Taiwan, I just visited an amazing place, ‘The One’. If there is really a place like a 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 of 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 a 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.  The 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 the 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. The view is stunning and the 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 the Chinese.

Urns are popular in Asian, but I am not sure how many people actually thought about using them to decorate the window.
The window case is like an open book.  It opens to another chapter, the roof of an adjacent lower building.
How about a small peek at the 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.

What next? after dream come true….

Being the last child of the family, I am certainly not the spoiled nor the dependent. The oldest child in the family, my sister, is old enough to be my mother, and most of the time, I lived under the jurisdiction of the older siblings who liked to tell me what to do. Generally speaking, I was obedient but it only meant that my rebellious cell had yet matured and I was brought up to show respect to the older.
I have always wanted to be a journalist, but I did not dare to enter that as my first choice for college. I did what would please my parents, became an English major.  It was glamorous in my days (in my hometown) to be an English secretary fresh out of school or a flight stewardess who proudly spoke English in the air.  How things have changed, and my dreams have been crushed many times.
Up to this point, I am barely close to doing what I want to do in my life, but gradually I got to do a few things that were just my dreams, big or small. I wonder what’s next when one dream becomes true, dream the next dream? When my life spam is going downhill and I still keep building my dreams uphill? I think the answer is YES! Dreams are timeless.
Among all pets, I only like birds. On my usual walk path, I heard this beautiful and crisp sound many times, but I could not figure out the owner of the voice. How can I miss this bird? I thought I am fully aware of the birds dwelling in our neighborhood. Maybe it is one of the birds I’ve known but I never heard their voice. Who are you, bird (it sounded like from one single bird)? I have heard you for months, show up and introduce yourself. Otherwise, I am going crazy.
A flock of sparrows flew for lives when one day I suddenly decided to walk a different path and they were apparently shocked by my unusual presence. Just sparrows, sparrows have been around since I was a child, no big deal. But, this bird landed on the brush by me, just 2 feet away and IT started to sing. OMG, can you believe it? Listen to its voice. This is exactly what I have been hearing for months. A little dream of mine just came true.  It is the golden-crowned sparrow.
Scandinavia was only a geography term to me for more than six decades. It is not a common tourist destination, but I wanted to be there and this desire was getting stronger. My sister Grace has traveled around the world in the last 6-7 years and Scandinavia is one of the very few places she has not been. So, we made the trip and made my dream come true.
I love Norway. Though I could not take quality shots from our tour bus, I have since gone over the images tirelessly. I wish Norway is not so expensive and Oregon has fjords to enhance its beautiful nature.
In the past, I have often dragged about the thought of getting on a cruise. I thought I would rust my brain staring at the water and feel bound and restricted in a confined area. Endless food supply and dress-up formal nights are no temptation for me. But I was obsessed with this image I took.
This is exactly what’s missing a major part of my life. I always have a full schedule and I am always looking to do something. Confined in the ship, I was forced to nap and dream a few daydreams.
So many photographers shoot Space Needle. I am gaining interest to do night shots, but Seattle is not an easy destination for me, and I had no clue where to find the right spot for the shot.  Thanks to my husband who maintained his ultimate patience while trying to find me this spot in Seattle. Getting around in Seattle and Los Angeles is surely a task. The bottom line is, that I got my first night shot of Space Needle. It is nothing spectacular, but I did it. It is the thrill of a dream come true that makes me excited like a little child.
By the time when you read this article, I am on my way to another journey, a trip that has been overdue and I wanted to do since a long time ago. I expect lots of photography opportunities if time permits, and I will surely share some with you.
I captured this airplane in the night sky on the way back from Seattle.  I only had my 200mm in hand.  The jet showed up so suddenly, that I was caught unprepared. Not a good shot, but it happens to well describe my current status: I am taking a long-distance night flight crossing the Pacific Ocean. I publish this post from my phone before I board the plane.
I am aiming for more journeys and therefore more discoveries, dream more dream and make dreams come true.

Fall, Fog, Frost – thoughts in the walk

Sunshine is still beautiful but the temperature is way down. The fall chill is definitely here.  There have been many foggy mornings.  The fog was so dense that I could only see one car ahead of me, not further.  This reminds me of my days living in Sacramento in wintertime.  The density of the fog is so intense that I had no clue what was in front of me driving on the freeway.  I wanted to get off the freeway, but I could not find the exit. Traffic signs and exit entrances were completely fogged. Other than that, I love fog, particularly in colorful fall days.
I have tried to catch the right moment to go out and take some foggy shots. Being a computer addict, it is so easy for me to forget time. One moment I think the fog is too dense to shoot anything and the other moment I am too late. Finally I just took off early in the morning and I am so glad that I did.
The smoked and fogged woods bring me to think of traditional Chinese painting, the understated style. Maple leaves are more of a burgundy color, but they look orange under the morning sun. Maple tree is the focal point, the attraction. If not for the fainted background, the orange won’t look so distinctive.
I read a book titled Quiet. It does a thorough analysis of introverted people and how our society functions with both introverts and extroverts. Introvert tends to think more and more resistant to act while extrovert is inclined to talk more and more daring to adventure. So there are thinkers and there are adventurers. We need the introvert to plan and we also need the extrovert to act. I think it is our Creator’s work of art to piece two together.
Asian immigrants are often categorized as introverts, with a quiet background. Native speakers are generally the extrovert, the centerpiece. I think it has definitely something to do with the comfort level of being an ESL (English as second language).
It is hard for me not to brag about Oregon. But if you can look at what I got in a simple and short morning walk in the park, you will be with me.  Everything is supposed to turn yellow, dry, faded and scattered, but I am seeing colors, life and vitality in a subtle way.
I walked by the river path. Steaming fog on the river created a milky background. If it is just a regular sunny day, these trees would never catch my eyes.
Ducks are everywhere here in Eugene. I stopped taking their pictures last year. But when the fog layered fallen leaves on the pond, I saw this ducky sitting on an embroidered fabric. He was of course lifting his head and wondered why he suddenly became my interest.  He is free and lucky to be here.  If he lives in a China country town, he may sit motionlessly on a gourmet dining table now.
Speaking of embroidery, how that tiny spider weaves this intricate thing is beyond me. The frosted webs look like a superfine crystal necklace. I have learned, again and again, not to ignore a small existence around us. There is a reason why they are co-existing with us. Either they are teaching us a lesson to be persistent and industrious or simply provide me a chance for a shot.
If not for the fog and the frost, I would not frame this shot for my simple pleasure. It is the variety of the elements makes the image interesting. The vitality and energy of our society come from the combination of our differences and our co-existence. I am no longer thinking that I want to get out of the background. It is just fine to be wherever I am, there is always a purpose for whatever turns out to be.
I have set myself a goal to dive in Photoshop and be able to share what I learn in my blog. But not until I am there, I don’t want to make any promise. I am the Quiet and I would rather speak when I am ready.

Mushroom – Surviving through football season

It is November in the Northwest and it has been sunny every day since last week. I feel guilty if I don’t take my gear out and shoot a few.
Fall colors are so attractive here because of the massive forest and big varieties of trees. Spring and summer are of course brightly beautiful.  With her stunning outlook, fall is romantic in the sunshine and mysterious on foggy and frosty days.  How would nature weave layers of colors without yarns and needles? And, the color palette of this organic tapestry is constantly changing. You can shoot the same spot at different times and days and come home with varying images each time.
Colors, colors everywhere, but I am singing blues because it is now college football season. If you are a football fan and you enjoy watching every game with your husband, good luck, you are doing well. This post may not be for you. If you are suffering from football phobia syndrome because of its home invasion, like me, then read on.
First of all, I want to say that I have occasionally watched football games at home and also made it to the stadium. I even hosted a gathering for fans to watch games in our house sometimes. Because I feel I should try to participate and be nice about it. However, when your house starts to become the second football field and your large TV screen is constantly showing running players and helmets, I found that very annoying.
Sports is such a big business in this country. If you live in a big city where diversified resources are offered, you have many other things to engage in and sports is only one of them, great, life is interesting and balanced. If  you are in a small town, there is not much choice for leisure and sports event becomes the single significant event. I think that’s why football teams from less-populated states (and rich schools that provide large scholarships to recruit ‘the’ players) perform better because they have only one focus and they have die-hard hometown supporters.Deep breath with my flower before I go on….

I live in Oregon and Ducks have been outstanding. As a matter of fact, I even have my emotion attached to the team and the players.  There are many nice kids and they work so hard. And, I love to take pictures for my family when they are all ducked out, fully dressed in Duck outfit. But,….

Football season begins in September and ends in November, then, there are playoffs. By the time when you think you are getting a break and you can finally use that large screen to watch a movie. There are still Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and BCS National Championship. And, there are endless reruns. It is endless, forever. Scheduled tournaments and their affiliated bowls have taken up too much space in my home and my life. I am football phobia.
If you research online, you will find all kinds of Survival tips for women during football season. This tells you how many women are suffering and sacrificing while their guys can only hear touch-downs. Grab your credit card and out for a shopping spree? Watch games with your husband and become a tailgate buddy? Shut your eyes and doors? Turn on the other TV in the house and have a volume contest? Be an old-fashioned obedient wife, swallow it, and shed tears behind the door? None of the options sound tempting to me.
I came across an article. One lady was upset at her man that she stopped cooking his favorite dishes. Sound like an unharmful idea, but I think I should bring it to the next level, i.e. cooking something he does not like. My husband does not like mushrooms. Period. Every once in a while, if I sneaked in a few tiny sliced pieces into his plate, he would find them and pick them out without fail.  If I make a Chinese multi mushrooms veg plate with lots of chili sauce, I think I will certainly get his attention. He does not eat mushrooms or spicy food.  I laughed and laughed like a devil, and thought it is a great idea.
I walked out of the house to get some fresh air and remembered that I have been wanting to sweep the leaves in the yard. There is a whole truckload of fallen oak leaves, where do I begin? I cruised the yard trying to figure out my workload and strategy. Having been working on my trip photo book and going through thousands of photos, I cannot remember when I was the last working in the yard. Mushrooms are literally everywhere and quite a few varieties, too.  I have not seen so many mushrooms in our small yard. I decided to take some pictures.
These wild mushrooms are growing down the ground, on gravels.  They are so low that I can not hang my camera low enough for the angle I wanted and the gravels are so rough that I was not willing to crawl down to break my skin. I tried to shoot them from above, but they all just look like a mini umbrella, with no distinction. There is no tree stump or other interesting backdrop to make the mushrooms pop.  I would not use these untested and uncertified mushrooms to make dinner, but I wanted to shoot them before I get rid of them.
I pulled them out of ground and turned them upside down for my shots. The strong odor of raw wood and dirt was overwhelming when I flipped them. The fine texture under the umbrella looks interesting for photos, but the bottom packed with sand and gravel grossed me out. I cannot explain why these mushrooms suddenly looked like rotten wood or fungus to me. I cannot believe that this is the stuff that I have loved so much. I could not wait to get rid of them.I racked them into a big pile and dumped them in garbage can. I did not touch them with my hands, I wore my garden gloves.  And, you know, there won’t be any spicy mushroom dinner anymore, I was mushroom out.  I was like a devil and now an idiot.

Can you tell even that creature is questioning my wisdom?  He came to munch my flowers and I would usually chase him away in a heartbeat.  But today I looked at him seeking his approval.
I learned a lesson from the mushrooms. The thing I loved turns into something I despise just in that split second. Love or hate, it is all in your mind. I think change is my mood, not mushroom. Mushroom, the stuff my husband hates, came to rescue him from eating a nasty dinner and future torment because I have the feeling that I won’t buy fresh mushrooms for a long time.Can you believe this?

Sun is smiling at me sarcastically. It is the most gorgeous fall that I have ever experienced since I moved to Oregon. It is worth the celebration. Below is the sun-bathed maple tree. I love the color contrast.
So, what’s the conclusion about football addiction and football phobia?  I am going to chase sunshine for more images before I come back to answer this question……
A side note:  Spicy mushroom dinner is fictional, for your entertainment only.
All he needs to do is not to eat. It is not a good idea, but the devil thinks he is smart. LOL.

Thoughts from the Garden

My first post for this blog was Simplicity. It was the beginning of the year, and I was minding my new year resolution to simplify everything. Now it is less than three months going into another year, and I am still fighting to reduce my clutter. I am still carrying a big to-do list.
There were days that I went over my photo library and simply could not find anything to put into use.  On other days, I have taken much and ended up with many favorites that I could not let go of; consequently, I am swimming in my photo pools.  I have tried to establish my editorial calendar and plan ahead, but I have not been able to catch up.  Too much going on and not enough time to do it all.  Photography is meant for pleasure but I am catching pressure.  However, whenever I am onsite to shoot, I am relaxed and easily wandered away.
On a photography project to shoot some outdoor home spaces for the representation of Oregon outdoor living, I aimed at two friends’ houses with the intention to capture some outdoor shots.  I purposely did not choose new and large houses, for I like the established houses with a down-to-earth kind of ambiance.  I meant to shoot outdoor space, but I found myself kept being side-tracked by garden decors. So I launched my treasure hunt….
These garden decors become so interesting to me because they represent the found mind behind, my lady friends in the houses.  Meanwhile, I discovered an interesting contrast between vegetation and metal.  Tender and fragile vegetation (nature) actually gets along well with metals (artificial), the solid, and the unbendable. I realized that harmony does not have to result from the same cord, when the extreme notes collide, they are neutralized and harmony takes place.

As the garden grows, so grows the gardeners‘, it is so true. I love it. Below this gardener’s sign, there is an S which is the initial of my friend’s family name. Instead of a factory-made letter, I believe that she made it with some small rocks. This small handwork has the signature of the gardener’s heart who takes pride in her work in the garden.
As long as the door handles of the greenhouse are being used often, the garden remains thriving. These are the coolest door handles I have ever seen. What a creative and fitful door handle for a greenhouse!  I have been in this house so many times and this is the first time that I actually noticed this.  If not for my camera, I would not see it either this time.
Fall is here. The ever-changing fall leaves have brought us colors after colors. We are so fortunate to live here in Willamette Valley. The greens stay with us almost all year round till it frosts or even snows. Frost and snow barely stay more than 2-3 days. By the time frost is lifted and snow melts, the green acre shows up again.
If it is not the maple leaves, you may think this image (below) was taken in spring or summer. The tin flower hanging vase is attached to the tree in fine strings. The pointed shape goes so well with maple pointed leaves and the star gives a nice touch-down (thinking football? no) to the ground while bell fuchsia is dancing around it.
This is what I am talking about, a slight touch, a bit of artistic flair, and loads of colors. Spring and summer are gone, and we still embrace fall regardless of falling leaves and inactive growth in the garden. Nature provides in all seasons: I took flower close-up shots when flowers are blooming, I chased fall colors in the wind and I love to photo frosty leaves and twigs on snowy days.
It is quite unusual that I was manufacturing solid brass home decorative hardware for my previous business. Metals were what I touched every day and my office was often filled with raw casting pieces, semi-finished products, and finished new products. I did not choose metal products for my business, they landed on me when initial business opportunities surfaced. I enjoyed the work because I built the entire product line and the creative process kept me interested. But I am certainly glad that I don’t have to get my hands rough and dirty again.
How would I ever imagine that I am now enjoying these metal decors?  I can tell you exactly how these products are made and if I know the cost of the materials now, I can give you the price to manufacture in the offshore factory, too.  But what a luxury that I can now just kick back and relax in the environment where I am living.  Oregon living is simple and yet stimulating because we are constantly nurtured by nature and our mind is being purified at all times.
The other garden has a large collection of metal decors. There are metal flowers, leaves, bugs, pots… all the bells and whistles.   The pieces are all so dramatic that I felt challenged to take them all in and be able to create some artistic shots.
It took me a while to figure out how to shoot this large windmill with the lens I have. I have tried different angles, but it did not work till I finally decided to break the rule – shoot two’s instead of three’s. And, instead of the rule of thirds, I chose the diagonal balance.

At 6 years old, I have never been in a country and seen an owl. I was shocked by their large eyes on a dark night when I was first brought to the countryside. That shock still remains in me to this day and I am glad that they are now just metal castings, immobile and I can stare at them to my content. I have broken the rule of 3, why not more? But I focused on the little ‘one’ and blurred the other just to take ‘two’ out of your mind:-)

It was close to the end of my shooting, I was metal out and looking for something where I can get some fresh air and call it a day.

The wood gazebo structure is always nice. Hanging flower baskets with coconut fabric has always been my favorite because they look natural. Though there is wrought iron framework, I seemed not to mind because I was led to the skylight, the nice wood structure, and the blue sky beyond.

What can it be better to have a warm sunny day while fall leaves are falling and sunbathing? The metal flower is guarding the fence, keeping the deer out.  (The last image was shot AS IS. I was surprised to see how beautiful the fall colors are.)

My First Night Shot

Weeks of scattered showers and occasional rains have turned into pouring rains in this last week. People were experiencing minutes of power shortage, constant rain streams, rushing creeks, and even flooded streets. I was working on my photos and writing by the window. Rain was just dropping no stop, not even one minute. A few of my yellow roses have their second bloom, but they are beaten up by heavy rain and tender petals are forced open and dragged down.  Rose is gorgeous in its perfect condition and is often the center of attention, but I had the urge to photograph the status of this imperfection. Except when I finally got the shot, I decided to let my evergreen plant drop a few tears and bury it, in my mind.
As a matter of fact, I love stormy weather and heavy rains if those who live in the unprotected area won’t suffer the consequence. I love the sound of the raging thunder and the beat of heavy rain.  They are nature sound that transmits energy and power, and in the end, the excitement. I also don’t mind listening to the raindrops falling on the roof resulting in a sleepless night.
 
When I was a child, my family lived in a bit less than the moderate neighborhood. I loved typhoons (the Pacific version of hurricanes) even though we children had to wade in water occasionally. Aside from the dramatic sound, I got to listen to my older sibling’s ghost stories. I knew then that they made up some of them, but what the heck, it was fascinating to listen in the dark when power was out and the storm roared and shook the window violently. This is the moment that I won’t ever wipe out of my memory.
With my photography partner, we planned to go to Bandon for a weekend shoot. As you can imagine, we could not help not to pull out our cameras numerous times along the way. By the time when we arrived at the lighthouse area, it was after dusk. We missed the golden hours.  It was not that late, but it was dark and cold, and it was getting darker quickly. Having a hard time letting go and just resting for the day, we put on our heavy coats and pull out our gears. Wanting to be a photographer? shoot under all circumstances, I said to myself.
I don’t have class A gears and I am certainly not technically savvy, not yet.  One thing I do have is my desire to frame and record what I witnessed. No regular blue sky, ocean green, white wave, and red/white lighthouse. Instead, at that moment, there was an absolutely tranquil set of scenes with multiple colors: charcoal gray, regent blue, pinkish-orange, and antique white colors. How would we ever finish counting Nature’s endless color spectrum?
I am surely not an adventurer at this stage of my life.  I was daring to travel alone around the world with a case full of product samples at an early age. But now that ‘blind’ guts vanished and I don’t even dare to drive to the coast by myself not to mention to go out and shoot in the night.   This is my first opportunity to shoot a few on this lovely and peaceful night. (Did you notice that there was a fishing boat down the right side of the horizon? the tiny white spot.)
It’s colder and we could use some food, so we went to one of the few distinguished restaurants, but the food is blended, which does not justify the value. Besides, I think we were both anxious to head out in the night with our cameras and we did immediately when the waitress gave us thanks.
A couple walked by me, and the man said, ‘can you guys really take pictures in the dark like this?’  ‘Yes, we can.’ I meant to take photos in the dark without flash, and only relied on street lights and whatever light source was available in the vicinity. The truth is, it is nothing new and many photographers have done it and produced amazing photos, but I have not really tried it myself. I may do it once before and only one shot. 
Here we go, we headed to the boat ramp where we could see some lights. Had the tripod set up in the dark and let the fun begin. 

Before I explored DSLRs with manual or semi-manual settings, I used a point and shoot and set Auto on everything.  When it is automatic, mathematics takes charge, and depending on how precise our mathematicians are, we have limited freedom to get what we want. Now with manual adjustments, the whole wild world can be explored at your own pace and at your fingertips.  I have a long way to go before I can just ‘play with my fingers, but I am learning whenever I launch myself a new challenge and I love the challenge.

I am a novice for night shots. My fingers are still quite ‘stiff’. Walking by the boat dock, I saw a few post lights around and a bit more light shining through restaurant windows. My first shot was fired and it seemed that the area outside the restaurant was on fire. There were lights and reflections bursting everywhere in the scene, it was completely overexposed. For a second, I did not know what to do. Then, I was gradually getting it.

 
Overwhelmed at first, but when I took a second look. I liked it. The image brought to my mind, a cold night, at a local bar and grill, with a cluster of laughter and cheers celebrating New Year’s Eve. The joy and high emotion lit up the building bright orange/gold and the beams pierced through windows and created stunning reflections. 

During the holiday season, we often cheered out Peace and Joy, and this is exactly that. The silence of the boats (peace) contrasts the ‘noise’ from the inside (joy). At this point, I could not feel the ‘noise’ and was not completely calm, the two have neutralized each other, and what’s left is, Harmony.

On the second day, when we woke up at dawn, the day was just breaking, the sun was up but it was fading and blending into the cloudy background. Backlight condition is not always ideal, but for me, try it anyway. If my shot is not good enough, I blame my camera first and next time, I will quietly use different settings for further experiments. I did not start this in my 20s or 30s, so pick up what I have and do what I can. 

There is no shortage of seagulls at the coast, but it is not easy to get good action shots if you don’t have a big bag of food with you to attract them. The faithful lighthouse is always there and it glows distinctively at different times of the day, why not capture their glamour instead.

If you take a look at the last picture, you would know how crazy photographers are sometimes. Freezing in the dark and still not letting go of the camera. When passion prevails, nothing can stop it.  

I am so happy that I finally had my first night out to enjoy nature in the dark and also peek at the night environment from a very different perspective. 


 
 

Helsinki, Finland – Travel Journal (5)

Helsinki 赫爾新基 was first made known to me in high school geography class. I am not sure if I ever thought about it again until I traveled there this August. The place is surely not what I originally envisioned.  I thought Helsinki is full of fishing boats but as I discovered, Norwegians are the ones who operate the major fishing industry, not Finns. Finland is famed as the Land of a Thousand Lake. It has about 5.4 million population and 590,000 of them live in Helsinki. Among the natural and wild regions, there are 200,000 plus moose and elks individually. I saw elks home in the northwest from time to time, but I have not seen a moose till it ran across the street right in front of our tour bus.
inside the city of Helsinki
Finland was first ruled by Sweden in the 12th century and later by Russia in the 19thcentury. Helsinki was chosen to be the capital when Swedish King Gustavus Vasa wanted a capital facing the Baltic and was capable of competing with other important ports in Sweden and modern-day Tallinn, Estonia.  And, Russia wanted the capital of Finland to be close to St. Petersburg. Helsinki was built from its wild and rugged stage to this day, the capital and the most important port in Finland.Traveling in Scandinavia has educated me a great deal about the history of Nordic countries. How they were formed and reformed through the centuries of changes. Royal monarchies seem to play major roles in ruling the countries till the parliaments were formed, but their fairy tale stories continue. Finland is the only republic established in 1955 and it is the only Nordic country to join the EU and uses euro for the trade. It is more convenient to shop here since no effort is needed to identify three different Krones used in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. We had to put money in separate envelopes and even so, we often messed up with the exchange rate and handed out the wrong money.

We did not visit other places beyond Helsinki, and right here alone, I did not see anything dramatic or distinguished from what I have seen since my trip started. My curiosity was about the influence of its earlier occupiers in the aspect of architecture (and culture) and I seemed to experience more Russian than Swedish influence here. I wish I had the chance to know more about their culture, but I could not.

Lutheran Church
The beautiful Lutheran Catholic Church was built in the 18th century. Architecture is the neoclassical style  The body of the church is primarily white with pastel teal color dome tops. The contrast is striking and yet not overwhelming. The interior decoration is elegant, exquisite, and not overly elaborate.

A typical Russian Lutheran church is like gold and this one is like jade. I have seen enough glitzy glamour along the way and towards the end of the trip, this church is like a fresh spring that delivers soothing and refreshing soul water. I so enjoyed the peace in a sacred ground without the bondage of chocking wood carvings and paintings.

It was almost the end of our trip, and the sun finally broke out of the cloud and poured it on us generously. People are sitting on church steps having their eyes closed and breathing in the warm air as I did.
Sunny day at Senator Square

Looking down from the church, there is Senator’s Square. The crowd starts from the church front all the way down to the street. I don’t know the name of the street, but I would call it the Street of Excursions. There is a long line of tour buses. It was not even a weekend day. I bet local people also swarmed out to embrace the sun. If you only get 4-5 months of decent weather, you know what sun means to them.

Mostly contemporary architecture is shown around town among a few classic buildings. I think it has something to do with the late development of Helsinki to be the capital city. Locals are complaining that their brand new opera house does not have character because it is all straight-lined and geometrically structured.

In Tooloo quarter, the Rock Church rooftop is built of a spiral formed by threads of copper wire which delivers a natural source of light for the structure. The interior is carved out of rock and the granite walls provide good echo sound that makes this an ideal concert location.

Rock Church

Inside the church, there is this magnificent classic pipe organ erected on rock wall. The royal blue and purple pews and their diagonal placement add a soft touch to it and make a supreme and sacred sanctuary for the believers. I would love to come to a church like this one every Sunday to worship His Majesty and adore this architectural excellence. No columns, no carvings, no ceiling paintings, I feel so free and uplifting. What a relaxing place to enjoy a concert, too! Finns claim that they have good designers and this church is soundproof.

Generally, I like contemporary styles. However, visiting old towns of the cities which preserved the unique culture of their own is still fascinating.  Classic cathedrals and castles have their extreme glamour from architecture and interior decoration point of view, but the pipe organ is my real favorite.  The craftsmanship stands its own. It is precisely designed and engineered, but not as elaborate as other decorations inside the church. I can usually do well without visiting palaces and cathedrals because the cliched and ornate decorations make them look all the same. I believe many decor pieces were mindfully designed and crafted. But without knowing the history behind it, it is just another piece of the add-on.
Old town Porvoo is outside of Helsinki, almost one hour away. The town is fairly small. It takes one hour to walk through the whole place. There is an old church, un-distinguished from the exterior.
The moment when I stepped into the entrance, I noticed this pipe organ and started to examine its beauty. Then I heard a singing and organ music gradually echoed and surrounded the church. I followed the singing and discovered the lady (on the lower right) playing the organ and soloing the hymns. The music came just like a breeze, a fresh breath. It is beautiful, sacred, and glorious.
Porvoo, old town

Countryside Helsinki is very similar to small towns in Oregon. Lakes, rolling hills, barns, and simple farmhouses. It is the same ever-lasting natural and peaceful environment in the country that inspires me to pick up my camera and go for it tirelessly.

The picture on the right was taken in the old town and features the ordinary residential houses by the lake. The houses are not as colorful and picturesque as what we saw in Norway, but the reflection of the houses and white clouds is quite amazing.

At the mini-town square, there was the city hall and the booths with local artists’ art and craft displays. They have lots of furs, leather, and porcelain. Porcelain designs are really one of the kind and all hand-made. I certainly appreciate a place like this selling real stuff, not tons of souvenirs made in China. It reminds me of the Saturday Market in Eugene.

I heard Finns say Hey as hello and later I found out Hey-Hey means goodbye. Simple and practical. I like it.

Sauna is popular here, Finns have a winter sport that they are really up to it. They would steam themselves in a sauna till they sweat up and jump into a freezing cold lake to cool it off. Then, back to the heat and out for the chill. I guess they believe the extreme temperature changes in the body will strengthen the body somehow. Just like how a silversmith wrought the iron, isn’t it? For this reason, they have boats called ice-breakers (see below). This boat has built-in attachments to break the ice and open the frozen water for the ‘extreme’ swimmers…

No drama to speak of, but it resembles where I am and the extended countryside. Beauty is in nature and its subtlety.   As I close up my writing, I am still thinking of fishing….

pipe organ inside the Lutheran church
Quaint and Tidy
Retro and colorful
Rustic (cast iron, wood stove)
restaurant (left) and gift shop (right)
Ice-Breaker

It’s Dance Time – afar and at home

If you talk to me about dance, you are ‘playing the piano to a cow’ (對牛彈琴) . In my college years, I skipped all dance parties simply because I was not good at it and I was too chicken to even try it. Besides, there have not been too many guys taller than me then and most of the guys do not have the guts to invite tall girls. I cannot dance, but it does not mean that I dislike it. I actually enjoy watching people on the dance floor. I think dance is a physical form of art that is orchestrated by music and body rhymes. It takes lots of skills and significant body coordination.
Why I am suddenly inspired to speak dance? What have I discovered this time?
On my recent Nordic trip, we took Flam Railway for a mountain train ride into Norway‘s high glacier region which is not less glamorous than the Canadian version. Absolutely beautiful green pastures are adorned with picturesque houses and waterfalls are shouting down the canyon. Kjosfossen waterfall is one of the Flam railway falls. It is only accessible by train. Its winding route and roaring water make it a distinctive tourist attraction.
Kjosfossen fall
Everyone got off the train and stood by the lowest section of the fall. Powerful gushing water was playing nature music while splashy mist entertained the spectators. Suddenly I heard music gradually rising from the background. It was not the sound of the fall, it is real music from a playing instrument. I saw people were moving around and more people gathered by the fence looking at the fall.
I followed their sight and discovered a blond hair girl dressed in orange-red dancing in the midst of a waterfall on a rock platform. Her choreography is graceful and somewhat seducing. Her appearance reminds me of a mouse or a fairy. Later I learned from our tour guide that ‘she’ is legendary in Scandinavia folklore. The dancing girls are from a local ballet school. I was impressed by the creativity of this tourist attraction. The image looks surreal. I wish I could come a bit closer and have my tripod with me….
Prior to my trip, I thought we would have a chance to see some Scandinavian folk dance on one of our tours, but that was not the case. I only saw Scandinavian dolls at the shops. I really did not get enough exposure to authentic Scandinavia culture which has always been very appealing to me.
Interestingly enough, I’d planned to go back to Oktoberfest at Mount Angels this year for photography and I did it last week. For reason, I kept thinking about Scandinavia folk dance. I have seen it at Oktoberfest a few years ago, but I did not take any pictures. This year’s dance event seems to come on a larger scale. Dance couples include little girls and boys, teenage guys and dolls, and even moms and daughters. Their costumes including dresses and hair wreaths are just colorful and beautiful. I can see the fine design mind and tremendous efforts behind the dramatic presentation.
These grade school kids are just so cute that I could not stop snapping. Unfortunately, there was a big crowd surrounding the dance area and I had no way to shoot anything without getting a very messy background. It is time-consuming trying to clean up the background and the work may not add much to the artistic effect. So I did a brief cutout and add some texture to the background to make them a bit more presentable.
These photos are not that much about photography, it is about my discovery at home (Mt Angels, Oregon) of whatever I was longing to see during my recent trip to Scandinavia, afar.
I have always said that I want to work till the last moment when I find myself unfit. But God has His plan and He grants me peace to pursue my love for photography and provides me time to spend with my family. When would I ever pay such close attention to these children’s facial expressions and their absolutely unpretentious performance if not for photography?

A few more photos with background:

A Foggy, Froggy weekend – lost and found

I was here two months ago. There were abundant water and lively vegetation along the beach. The sky had that screaming blue and white cloud had its dramatic display. The colorful water plants were tanning under the sun while crystal clear lake water was soaking our feet. The pleasing landscape has been always in my mind.  So I came back with my photography friends for a re-visit.
then (June)
We parked the car in exactly the same parking lot and I walked directly towards my dream spot. There was the same widespread of the beach area, but instead of abundant water and vegetation, there was dry sand and cracked ground. Vegetation was mostly gone and the remaining looks brown and dry. No occasional yellow or red jet-skis or motor boats coming through to churn the peace and compete with the colors from water plants. I was stunned. The season has drained the livelihood of this place.
now (Sep)
Well, photographers shoot everything and we should be able to find something to shoot even though there was really not much of everything… Is it really nothing? I saw two friends were looking at something in a small stream, a frog, they said. It is easy to hear a frog croak, but not easy to actually see it not mentioned to take a shot.  This creature reacted quickly. I love to listen to their croak on deep summer nights.  Thanks to my friend, this little guy was found clinging to the rock edge, hiding there quietly.  Its camouflage skin texture resonates with the rock so well. If not for her sharp eyes, I would not spot it myself.  With slight effort, I was able to lure this little critter away from the rock and take two shots before it sneaked out on me. I was thrilled to see a frog so close and even took a picture. If not for the dry ground, I would never have had this luck.
frog – my new friend
When there is water everywhere, there were plenty of reflection opportunities, but what now when the water was way down? Sky and Butt are still there, but there was no moving cloud and no variation of colors in layers like it used to be earlier in the summer.As an alternative, I focused more on the foreground and picked up a more condensed area for reflections. Butt turned into a secondary backdrop while the small islands and reflections take on key roles. It is interesting and inspiring to perceive the change and difference.

June trip was the first time that I got up early to capture some morning shots. Surely did not want to miss the golden moment, we got up early and had a cup of coffee to warm up. The moment when we looked out and spotted the heavy fog surrounding Odell Butt, we all dropped our coffee and ran out of the door with our camera gears. This was surely my OMG moment. I have never seen Odell Butt wrapped in such dramatic color spectrums, in layers and gold-filled.
Across the lake, these trees have been standing there year after year and season after season.  They are mostly pines and firs, about the same height and same color, as boring as it gets. Guess what I saw this time: shimmering fog is filling up the space among the layers, the gray sky, pastel orange sun rays, and lines of gray water ripples. Is this the earth that I am standing on? Yes, and on solid ground.

A fishing boat suddenly showed up on the scene. Two fishermen were ready to cast out their lines. I was so excited, but I held my breath and patiently waited for them to come closer, to be right on the spot that I wanted and they did just that. I bombarded them with my shots. I certainly thank them for their appearance.

Morning drama was over in an hour window. I was back to my reality, the water level is low and everything is dry. I have seen so much driftwood along the beach, and they are no inspiration to me anymore. But, there was no snow on Diamond Peak, no twist for a shot of Diamond Peak. It is bare, bland, and blah.  I am clumsy and I almost stumbled on this big stump while trying to cross over. The moment when I tried to stand up on my feet, I had a quick glance at the peak through the stump.  And, I jumped up and aimed from this angle. I think the stump echoes Diamond Peak and they rhyme.
I smiled with contentment and thought it is time to head back for some breakfast. My mind was on the food, driven by the yelling from my stomach.  I just wanted some fresh granola and more coffee to celebrate my find….
A small flock of birds flew into the bushes as I was walking by. I know what they are, the ordinaries that I have seen hundred times. For now, I only want my breakfast. Suddenly I heard a chirp that I have not heard before and my curiosity arose. I spotted something yellow moving among the bushes. It moved so fast and away from me, that I only had the chance to fire four shots, and thanks to God, two of them are clear. I cannot wait to share it with you, it is a warbler.  It is not a precious endanger spice or a dramatic-looking thing like Bird in Paradise, but this is the first time when I capture a picture of a warbler. To me, it is monumental and worth a yap.
It started as an ordinary weekend. Things I expected were not there, but I discovered something else that was completely unexpected.  The fog and the frog have transformed my dismay and disappointment into a state of honey and spice.And, there was the music, the chit-chat, and laughter from my partners in crime, my precious photography friends. Together we shoot everything from the sky to rock to sand, from waterfall to wildflower to dragonfly, from the bridge to stump to nuts and bolts, whatever you can name, we can shoot.

Sweden – travel journal (4)

After visiting the two largest cities, the impression I have of 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 have generated a powerful working force for the benefit of their economy. A beautiful city with a river running through it, and is adorned 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 that exactly look the same standing next to each other.

The window placement of big buildings in the city seems all very geometrical and appears the same at first look, but the intricately sculptured trims are different from one floor to the other. The rooftop 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 ordinances for buildings and houses which have cultural marks. A special construction license is required for remodeling. Check out these houses by the 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 the capital Stockholm alone, there are 5 million people and 3 million 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 the Baltic Sea and Lake Malaren. Water water everywhere, that was my first impression when we landed here. It is a city with sophisticated architecture and a 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 and the largest harbor in Scandinavia. The moment when we stopped here, I felt like I was in New York City. McDonald’s first came into 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 Muslim ladies with hijabs. We were so happy to see Starbucks because the coffee on 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 is worth the experience. We munched a bit of Swedish chocolate and it is supreme.
Goteborg
Though car manufacturing is declining, Volvo was established here in 1927 and is still the major automobile maker. The renowned IKEA was originally created by a 17-year-old Swedish Ingvar Kamprad (the company was registered in the 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 the 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 the Mauritz merger, they started to sell Hers and Men’s clothing lines. In my opinion, the concept of H&M and IKEA basically are the same. They target younger customers 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 the front facade is under construction. We did walk through the room inside the palace where Swedish King hosted the Nobel banquet for Nobel Prize Laureates. Alfred Nobel is a Swedish philanthropist who founded the Nobel foundation in 1895 and the prizes were awarded in 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 ballast 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.
The Baltic sea has brackish water (a 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 of 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 storefront to see the hours and sometimes the prints are so fine that we have to get out 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 the equation, Norway’s 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 way 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
the 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, and 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 me 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.

%d bloggers like this: