Norway – travel journal (1)

There was a reason that I put Scandinavia in my bucket list, I was not quite sure why till I am visually here.  I wish the weather is better and I am not shooting through tour bus window all the time. Completely unknown about this country, it has been an eye-opening experience getting to know this beautiful and sophisticated country.  

Norway has only 5 million people inhabited in this long and skinny land full of absolutely gorgeous fjords (a waterway), endless green field and meadows, story- book like houses, and mirror-like bluish green waters. Most of the farm houses are painted red with white trim. From distance, the dramatic color contrast among green, red, white, blue and other colors creates a picturesque landscape.
typical waterfront houses
In the cities, residential houses are mostly sitting on the hillside. Almost all houses have contrast coloration and barely two identical houses next to each other. The architecture of the regular houses and commercial buildings are both impressive. Old house and buildings are packed with fine details and characters. Newer buildings have also maintained their classic flare. From it’s architecture, we know there is significant history behind.

Upon our arrival, the first two meals are served inside the hotel. We had no idea about the food prices till we stepped outside the comfort zone and was shocked at the food prices. I would say, The prices paid for hole in the wall places can sit us in a upscale restaurant at home comfortably, with wine, appetizers and dessert.  One cup of coffee no refill is between $5-7/cup, hamburger is $17-22, with French Fries $27-30, bottle water $5-7, Danish $5 just to give some examples.

City buildings are manicured in Oslo
Northwest fresh salmon is great. I don’t want to say Norway has better fish, but the cooking method and spice used makes the same fish very tasty. I have to guess that they might use all organic vegetables because the taste is just like what I remembered in my childhood (when pesticide was not used).  It is not the stir fry that I am familiar, but it is so fresh and crunchy. I thought Chinese is the only one knows how to make vegetable crunchily tasty.
Breakfast place seems to all come with a mini bakery and at least half dozen varieties of bread are served in loaves. You cut your own, big or small, no waste. A big array of cheese selection is impressive and fish is served in all breakfast.  Coffee is good, but when we asked for decaffeinated coffee, we were handled over a jar of Nescafe. Also only regular tea is served, no herbal teas. Coffee cup is smaller, 8 oz is their regular size.  I have seen the mugs in the stores. They are all 8 oz.  This explains it why we have seen mostly tall blonds with slender figures.  Today is our 6th day of the trip and I have not seen any overweight people, men or women.
Many women have long blond hair and fair skin, very little make-up.  And, almost all the teenage girls have nothing on their faces, pure and naturally beautiful. No nose rings or tattoos either. Clean, Orderly and Organized are what I witnessed around the cities.
Wood crafts, knitwear, furs and leather products are Norway’s signature products. Sales tax VAT is 25%.  One regular sweater with pattern costs about $500. Simple wood souvenir items start with $20-30 each if it is made in Norway.  From what I know, Income tax is average 30-35% and the higher bracket 40-60%. Everything is so expensive, how people make their living and are elected ‘the happiest people’ in the world?
Original Trading Houes 
We all know Norway has acquired tremendous wealth from their natural resources such as oil and they have one of the best social welfare system. Norwegians are hard-working people. Traditionally they are frugal and have very good saving habit.
Their minimum wage is about $35-40 per hour using waitress as an example. Teacher’s starting salary is about $90,000…. For such earning, high tax rate does not drain them down.  In fact, they only have 3.7% unemployment rate. Average income is $50,000, 80% of the people are house owners. 
Crime rate is low. It has something to do with their gun control law.  Nobody can own a gun without officially applying a license and going through regulated training.  Due to long winter and shortage of sunshine, people tend to become depressed. Drinking is therefore becoming a problem. Fine for drunk driving is one month salary plus three weeks of traffic school. I like their straight and no bull shit rules.
If I want to jump into a conclusion with my short period of observation, I think they have conservative and practical lifestyle, at the same time, they have advanced and utilized all modern technology to create an efficient and self-sufficient society for themselves.

beautiful roofline (Bergen)
Internet has not been going on steadily and our busy tour schedule does not give me enough time to download and go through the pictures taken each day. I hope to catch up soon and I want to share this trip the best I can upon my return.
Just like home (Oregon) except
more dramatic and picturesque

Everything to Thank for

One week before our vacation, my younger daughter and grand kids come down to visit. I have not seen grandchildren for almost two months. It is so wonderful that we get to spend some time with them.
We want to take grandson to pick blueberries. He is still small and too short to really pick anything, but it will be an experience for him.  It was a cloudy day and we thought it perfect to spend couple hours there. Almost no car in the parking lot when we arrived at the farm, and we thought, we were early enough to get a good start.  As we approached to the entrance, we saw a sign “Closed for the Season”. How can it be possible? They were just opened for the season a few weeks back. Organic blueberries and half of the market price. No surprise. People know where to go. Glad that I was there one week ago.
My car accident turned out to be a miraculous ending. We went to Crater Lake last month, while running to get set up and ready to capture sunrise, I stumbled at a rock and fell (with my camera on the tripod). I am always in the hurry and my body parts do not always coordinate. Some scratches and slight bleeding that I did not give much attention. I could only think of my sunrise shots.  My camera was miraculously working except that the lens was acting a bit funny (thanks God, it was not cracked or even scratched!). I had to send it to Canon to have it re-aligned however. So I could not use my regular lens for couple of weeks. The lens came back just on time for me to take pictures of grandkids. I am so grateful. I thought I have to buy a new lens for my trip…  I love Focal Point (Dallas, Oregon). They give such amazing customer service.
I like to come home from a vacation and walk into a clean house. I have been trying to trim my bushes and finish the yard work for this summer. While I was moving my pots around, I saw something that I completely did not anticipate, blueberries hanging on one of my plants! I swear that I have never bought any blueberry bushes, how come I have blueberries growing in my yard that I don’t even know? I seriously cannot find an answer. If there is one, I think God knows my heart and He loves grandson, and so here they are. Believe or not.
I walked by this beautiful garden in our neighborhood. There are at least 50-60 different kinds of flowers blooming in there and most of them are exotic varieties. I may have greeted the owner couple of times coming through. This garden is so tempting to me that one day I knocked the door. Trust me, I felt so intrusive and stupid, but my passion for photography prevails and conquers. She opened the door and invited me to go in, and she was actually excited that I want to shoot her flowers. I feel so welcomed and thrilled. Can you imagine how much close-up photography opportunities are there in this garden when comes spring time?
Pistachio Hydrangea
It was overwhelming for me to decide where to start with my photographs. I did notice one thing, there is no single rose in this garden. Roses are many people’s love, but to me, they are just another flower. I would rather photograph rare and uncommon flowers.
Knock and the door will be opened. Here it is.
Black Susan is very common. They are usually the popular habitats for bees, for that reason, I usually stay away from it. But through the extension tube, I was able to capture the details of the ‘black eye’. 
It is a new discovery for me that there are fine yellow flowers surrounding the ‘eye’ and that transforms the boring eye into a crown looking thing. I know I won’t look at this common flower randomly any more. Next time when I come by one of them, I would definitely take a close look.
I am learning here not to overlook simple or common something.  Everything is created for reason and has something special of their own.
About this time when you read this article, I am on my journey to explore the other part of the world. I want to peek through each of the tubes and see what’s out there that I have not seen. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to do so and one item can be checked from my bucket list in the end.

Amazing Race – American spirit

Earlier this spring, I attended a photography shooting event at UH’mazing Race which is sponsored by PCL (Partnership in Community Living) and Home Depot. It was a much low-key Amazing Race than what you saw on TV, but it is quite impressive considering it is just a local event.
I took lots of pictures and have been looking at them repeatedly and still found them interesting, so I decided to share.The event demonstrates a true American adventurous, free-spirited and creative spirit.  No fear, no hesitation, go for it. The contestants are serious about what they do, and as far as I can tell, they also get lots of fun out of it. The team effort they displayed is simply outstanding. I admire these cultural traits and I believe that have made this country prosperous and distinctive in many aspects.
Creative & Detailed: The contestants come dressed as a team.  Either they are Flamingo dancers, Judo black belts, airline pilots or athletes, they did fairly good job to design their costumes and put together creatively.  The dancers look very eye-catching, but all they do is to place a few colorful polyester net on top of their jeans, tassels on hem and matching shoe laces. One wears flower on right side and the other left. Bold appearance with fine mind.
The ‘goggles’ worn by the pilot couple are just neoprene eye mask with holes cut out. Simple but looking realistic. 
Men and women are equally competent performing: Both men and women use drills and equally capable to be precise and technical to make wood boxes. I don’t use a drill, I use hand screw driver because I cannot control the vibration of the electric drill and instead of doing it faster and better, I would screw it up and make it worse.  But in this society, women do not show any sign of being weaker, they are participating almost everything men can get their hands on.
Any cost just for fun: Would you let someone spray colored water straight into your mouth and make a mess out of you? I won’t. She was all furnished with water-proof goggle and jumpsuit. Her partner handled the water gun well, but they laughed so bad that the spray was moving from one spot to the other. They had so much fun and so did I.
When there is a goal, there is no fear: She was standing at the start line for at least 15-20 minutes. She was afraid and debating hard if she should do it. I hoped she would give up because I was really worried for her studying her facial expression. My heart was frozen when she launched her first step, very very slowly, the second slowly and the third. She halted a few times. I could sense her struggles, but she kept moving forward. And, about half hour later, she burst into smiles at the finish line.
She had it in her hand, a worm. Scared at first, but she swallowed it as required by the race. I know some Africans eat worms because they are rich in protein, but here is America. Would  you eat worms for protein intake? It made me quiver just by watching that soft and slimy thing go down her throat.
Those who came to the rope lines are all younger folks. My husband suddenly decided that he liked to give it a shot. I did not believe what I heard, but I saw him approaching the start line. I could hear my heart beat… We all have a few longest hour in life and this is definitely one of them for me. To my surprise, he finished it and faster than several other young guys.

I admire American spirit. It is definitely something that I am looking up to.   If I ever get psyched up enough to make that daring move, I too will be able to demonstrate the American Spirit!

I am an ESL

Are you familiar with this term, ESL?  If you are not an immigrant in modern days, this might not be common to you. English as a Second Language is what that stand for.   
English language capability is everything for an immigrant to be able to survive here in America. You can be loaded with higher education and intelligence, but without fluent plus and perfect English speaking capability, the opportunity is deemed to be limited.
For centuries people come here to seek better opportunities and improved lives. Some dream comes true and some broken. Some adapted well into the society and some have never found a fit and were left struggling, or had to adjust themselves to settle in alternatives that they have never imagined. Things may have changed because the younger immigrants seem to speak better English, but that only reduce the challenges, the road may not as bumpy but nothing smooth along the way.
As far as I know, there are great numbers of immigrated graduate students who become science researchers and professors. One does not require too much speaking and the other uses a set of curriculum and speaks same thing every term. Otherwise, they are engineers in high teach companies, the silent and hard working force. There are rare opportunities for non-native English speakers to be in corporate environment.  I have been in twice and middle management is as far as I can go.  This is a talking society. Unless you can talk, you cannot walk, upwards on the ladder. I used to work for someone who did not type and did not even know how to use a computer, but he was one of the few top executives. I did all the work for his credit and he had fun BSing his way around.
My friend Rocky is the most brilliant young man (at his late 30’s) that I ever knew. With a computer science degree, he came to US and obtained three master degrees in computer science, finance and accounting. He speaks very fluent English and is literally loaded with education, real world know-how’s and entrepreneurship.  He started out as a manger and ended a director. Company owners love to talk to him personally because he is extremely analytical and he has very unique approach to solving problems.   However, he was never invited to company’s summit meetings.
Gina was an internal medicine doctor in China before she moved here with her husband. Everyone from her family is doctor including her parents. Her husband is a professor in the university teaching math. It is a long road if she continues her practice here, so instead, she went to a community college and got her accounting degree. Now my doctor friend becomes an accountant. Her wholesome skills and knowledge have stored in their vault forever.
Max was originally from Vietnam. He came here with his wife aiming for better opportunities and standard of living. He got his master degree in engineering here and had a good job working for a high tech company in California. When recession hit, he lost his job and they moved to Oregon considering less expensive housing and living cost. His wife went to vocational school and got her nail technician license. She opened a salon. Max could not immediately find a job and so he also became a nail technician. You will be surprised that the person polishing your fingernails can be a doctor or an engineer. They don’t speak perfect English and therefore they tend to be quieter, but you never know how intelligent they can be.
Where I was
Being an ESL, it is bound to have some difficulty in social life among native speakers. At home, my accent and occasional mis-pronounced words can be mocked among the family.  It did not occur out of ill attempt or I was reminded to be simply ‘too sensitive’. That feeling and hurt internally cannot be comprehended unless you wear the same shoes. I was at least the undergraduate from the most prestigious university in Taiwan, so is my sister. She compared our school to Harvard, but I sometimes felt like an illiterate or secondary citizen in front of my own family (who speak perfect English) and sometimes a group of very chatty native speakers. Even though I have lived here for almost three decades, my first language and my Asian culture have rooted in me and I simply cannot just be one complete and perfect English speaker. I believe even my own family cannot grasp the complexity of my internal state. Try to imagine as if you are not deaf, but you cannot speak…
Maybe, not really
I am speaking ESL, but it applies to all the immigrants in their adopted countries. It can be GSL if you live in German, RSL if you live in Russia or FSL if you live in France. As much as we want to be able to do what the Romans do, learn their culture and mingle into the society, there will always be challenges. Is it worth my remaining lifetime to become a perfect English speaker? My answer is No. I like to be an ESL.
I am an ESL, deemed and sealed. I can speak two languages, one perfect and the other pretty fluent. I get to know and adopt the merits from two complete contrasted cultures and I found my interests were dramatically amplified and my circle bigger and multi cultural. I gave up my thought trying to correct my accent. It is my signature, why I am trying to remove it? I got out to mingle with English speakers and not to stay in and wait for people to knock my door. I am still intimidated speaking in public, but I have been trying to give my best shot. Once your heart is pounded a few times, it gets stronger. I don’t seem to hear people’s laugh behind me any more, and I can just ignore the blush on my daughter’s face because my inappropriate (wrong words or grammar were used) speech has embarrassed her.   
where I fit
It is a privilege to be an ESL. English is common and popular, I don’t feel anything special that I can speak the language, but I give credit to those who can speak Arabic, German, Russian or African. It is truly a major accomplishment if you speak such languages.
Beauty is where East meets West and possesses the best of both.
Whenever I thought of this, I thought about Shanghai. Shanghai is one magic city that I found unique in this respect. She preserves traditional Chinese culture and also adopt much of western influence. This mixed flare can be seen in their architecture and decorations.

French Concession, Shanghai
(from old archive)

Battle with squirrels – for laughter only

Friday should be the beginning of an easy and relaxing day. I intend not to approach serious subject, but we are under attack by squirrels and I have to vent it out.  I know this may upset some people who love squirrels, just you know that squirrel is still the winner up to this point.
When my kids were small and we lived in California, they liked squirrels and so did I.  They came crawling around and they left.  Here in Oregon, we are surrounded by nature and we literally live in the small forest. Our house is surrounded by pine, fir and cedar trees. The walking paths in the yard are often covered with needles and pine cones and acorns. Such environment invites squirrels. They are regular visitors. Early on when I heard neighbors complaining about squirrels, I still had my doubt. Now I am in it and I begin to understand why.
It must begin when we started to put out bird feeders. I understand that bird seeds are temptation for squirrels, but they are ‘bird’ seeds, not ‘squirrel’ seeds, in theory, squirrels should stick with their own food, which is the nuts from pine cones. Chinese call squirrels 松鼠, that means ‘pine rats’, there is reason behind that.
A squirrel chewed and tore the tough netting of our brand new expensive patio chairs when it could not reach a bird feeder, that was my first shocking experience with squirrel. Originally we thought it is Ok for them to also enjoy some bird seeds, but we had discovered an immediate problem because they would completely take over the feeder, consume all seeds before they let go. Otherwise, they dump all the seeds from the feeder on the ground so that they can wolf all down quickly. Sometimes they literally kicked the feeder off the hanger and let the whole feeder drop on the ground. Seeds gone, feeders gone, but squirrels are still around.
We decided sometime that we should feed them. If they are fed, they won’t bother bird’s food. But they eat the corns we set up for them, and they come after bird’s seeds anyway. Taking a friend’s advice, I spiced the seeds with Cayenne pepper. They are not used to Si-Chien spicy flavor, so they quit coming to the feeder.  But they did not just leave the birds alone, they pulled the feeder out of the tree limb and leaves the seeds all over the grass. If I cannot get it, you bet no chance either.
Give up? Not yet. We invested more to get Squirrel-free feeders and the fortified feeders do say No to squirrels.  We enjoyed a period of zero squirrels on feeders. We saw them working hard on pine cones.  We liked what we saw. This is the way suppose to be. Unfortunately, we did not have a peace treaty with them, and suddenly they launched guerrilla wars against us this spring when all flowers were smiling at the sun.
If you have been following my blog, you know they ate my favorite ‘Amethyst in Snow’ and Tulips. They devoured all the tulips my daughter gave to me and they were munching down my favorite flower, right in front of me, more than once and posed victoriously.  In addition, they pulled coconut fillers from my flower boxes!  It was spring time, coconut fabric may provide their new babies good shelter, so I put out a large pile of coconut fabric which has been torn loose and easier to grab. But squirrels were aiming at my new coconut fillers and they appeared, intentionally, to pull the ones that I could see through the windows. They had no fear to be caught red-handed. I have to conclude that they know what they are doing. They purposely stole my stuff while I was watching it, these daring bandits.
Something has to be done, I raised the crisis to my husband. Steve loves to create small devices and he took a whole weekend to make a Squirrel Launcher. We want to scare squirrels but we don’t want to hurt them. We put bird seeds inside a deep planter which was tied to thick rubber bands, when squirrels come for the seeds, the weight will trigger the launcher and bounce squirrels to the tree limbs behind us, as simple as that. Squirrels would have a fun trampoline ride and we have fun watching the show.  We even videoed the launch, but my husband deleted it accidentally

when trying to trim the clips down. Squirrel Launcher gave squirrels free fun rides and they kept coming back!

Launcher failed. I sprayed them with high pressure water when they were pulling coconut fabric from my flower boxes and that only stopped them temporarily. They are aggressive, persistent and smart creatures.
Just this last weekend, when my husband was resting on his lounge chair on our deck.  A few pieces of acorns landed on his chair. They were coming down from a 50 feet oak above us, some already cracked open and some not. Steve looked up and saw a squirrel. He thought the smart guy was pushing down some acorns to enjoy later. More acorns came down, quite a few. So I gathered them and put them on our patio table for the squirrel. But IT has not come back since last Saturday.  We have to make the conclusion that squirrel was launching its bullets on my husband. Apparently, they did not enjoy the Launcher.
Squirrel war is not over and I don’t think it will be over anytime soon. Before an ultimate solution (not sure if there will be one) is in place, I have to let go my steam and find something way to cool myself down.  It will go up to 90+ degree again today, and I refuse to be stirred up by squirrels. I picked up the tiny acorns (penny size) and my camera. I used a 36mm extension tube and F2.8 shallow depth of field. The acorns are placed on the glass tabletop. Sunset light has created a soft shadow and glass, ripples. I thought about Iceland for some reason, and I am cooling down….
I have a beautiful yellow rose bush growing in the garden. It has thick and extremely spiky thorns, but produces fragrant and gorgeous flowers. I pulled apart the pedals after the flowers dried out and used them as potpourris. The natural light scent is very pleasant and soothing while I tried to calm myself down from my squirrel rage.

NOTEI will  be traveling in August, I hope to keep up with my regular blog posting. But I also expect that my postings may not be as regular as on Wednesdays and Fridays. It depends on the availability of WI-FI and our travel schedule. But I am excited that I will be able to photograph something different in foreign countries for change.


Make Cabin a Haven – Get out of the Norm

My husband’s family owns a cabin in the woods and by the lake.  In the past three decades, there have been many family gathering events held there.  Occasionally we also invited our friends to go there for weekends.  It is surely a nice get-away place. I don’t get tired of looking at the clear blue water and the surrounding mountains and I particularly love to gaze the starry sky in the night. At full moon nights, moon reflection on the lake is stunning. It is high in 5000 ft elevation, peaceful and secluded. Friends and family love it but I have not been too crazy about it.
The cabin is small, but it is fully furnished with essential amenities.  It is convenient but more in the rustic side. When we invited our friends, we like to inform our quests, just be prepared like you are going camping, but kitchen and shower are provided, and you have beds and sheets to sleep in.
I always like nature, but not necessarily camping. Since I became an Oregonian, I have learned to like camping, but I would only go to the campsite where there are fresh running tap water, shower and electricity. I grew up in the city and for a long time I was very spoiled with five-star hotels while I was traveling for work. Lodging condition is one thing that I tend to fuss about. For this reason, I seemed barely to have good night sleep here.
As I got more serious about photography more than a year ago, I began to explore photo opportunities around the house, wherever I go elsewhere and whenever I find time. Coming to the cabin is aimed for some kick-back time. Doing nothing is what we usually do. But it gets boring after many repetitions. My mind is always full of thoughts and ideas, and my brain is constantly stuffed. I am not a good conversation partner to chat about husbands and kids forever. And, I cannot just meditate all day long.
I have been here hundred times and everything looks the same, nothing is exciting any more. 
This was just three weekends ago.  I woke up bright early and for the first time I walked down to the beach by myself. Water level is pretty high and fallen trees are everywhere. I have not gone beyond the first large down tree for years, but I made my way to climb up the tree, and cross over to the other side of the beach on this day, and I found myself immediately clicked my shutter away. There were logs, twigs, snags, reflections, rocks and I have not felt that Diamond Peak looks so accessible until this moment.
And shame on me, this was the first time when I noticed that almost every cabin has a launching dock for their boats. Why didn’t I notice that in the last two decades when I have been coming here?
In the past, I would stand outside the cabin facing the lake, took one shoot with fleet of trees, walk down 30 feet and took another shot of beach water line, and the third shot with Odell Butte and ponderosa pine. That was all. There are so many photo opportunities around the cabin and same shot can be taken during different time of the day and generate varying results.
On the way back from my walk, I saw morning sunlight reflecting on water that I have not paid attention before. Instead of taking my same old shot, I picked a different ponderosa and aimed my subject from a different angle. I did  not notice the churning cloud in the sky till I have the image right in front of me.
Owners of the three adjacent cabins built this dock which was a great spot to rest once we were out in water canoeing or swimming. However, we don’t come to the cabin often enough and the dock is loaded with debris brought in by the seagulls, sea seals and such.
I don’t swim and don’t like to get wet, that is not what city girls do.  Believe or not, I have not even been on that dock once since it was built 7-8 years ago.  I feel bored because I have not attempted to do much. I created the boredom myself that I am not even aware of.  Now my passion for photography has secretly opened my eyes. I am thankful that the dock is there. Without the dock, this image won’t be as interesting. 
Towards the end of this weekend, I have at least taken 150 shots around the cabin, along the beach and the nearby campgrounds. Comparing to what I did in the past, I feel that I have suddenly discovered my Acadia.
I have completely underestimated what this cabin can do for me and what it has contributed to my recent discovery, rejuvenated my spirit and triggered my inspirations.
My conclusion is, it is up to myself to get out of the norm and comfort zone.  The opportunities and inspirations can be fetched by walking out of the box and sneaking into the exploration zone. 
Make cabin a haven.

A Traveler’s Journal

In three weeks, I will be leaving for a trip to tour Scandinavian countries, Baltic Sea and Russia.  Friends often wondered why I choose these less common destinations. My answer is simple, “because I have never been there”.  For a photography enthusiast like me, all places have unique aspects of their own and I will always find them interesting.
I’ve travelled intensively at my 30’s, but they are all business trips and digital camera was not readily available as it is now. I wish I have kept a journal but I did not. Though I have experienced a great deal while I was rolling my suitcase from one country to the other, my fading memory does not allow me to recite a lot of details.  But I always remember my embarrassing moments and the moment that my emotion has taken place.
One time I had to take a train from London to Manchester to visit a customer. There was barely people on the platform.  An old lady (that’s me now) came to me and looked at me sympathetically, “Are you lost?” she said. “No. I am going to Manchester to see a company.”  She then asked me, “how old are you?”  “29”, I said. She thought I looked awfully young and could not be in business. She insisted that I was lost and she needed to call a police. I could not convince her that I was completely OK and I saw her walking towards an officer. Gladly train arrived at that time and I hopped in the train….
Off the train, I still had to take a cab to the company address. I finally made it and had a great first meeting with this company in Manchester  The owner was happy and he offered to take me back to train station. I was of course thrilled. I started to dream about a good size order and I walked really fast towards his car. Right side of the door was open and I threw myself down the seat. I heard an ouch, and was immediately brought back to reality. I jumped out. OMG. I have forgotten I was in England, driver is on the right side, and I actually sat on his lap!
In Oct, 2007, my friend Maria and I went to Hong Kong on business at the same time, but we did not know till we ran into each other at hotel lobby.  We were both thrilled and we decided to go to Guilin, Guangxi province for a weekend adventure.  I was not prepared and only had company’s camera that I took product images with me.  Maria just bought a digital point and shoot camera, good enough, we thought. 

Early in the morning, I stepped out of hotel for a walk along the river.  I was surprised (actually I should not, knowing how diligent Chinese are) to see many people have already filled up the sidewalk and doing their Tai-Chi exercise. I was used to Hong Kong busy and crowded streets where people walk shoulder against shoulder, but I did not expect it was also so crowded here.  I could barely walk through the crowd.  Not all easy, but I finally found a slot where I could look at the river and enjoy remaining morning sun. Immediately when I looked down the river, I was drawn to this fisherman.
I watched him to cast his fishing net again and again, but I have not seen any single finish trapped in the net, no sign at all. Instead of using his oar, he used the long pole to steer the raft to free his hands for fish net. I looked at his bamboo raft, there were two small jars of fishing baits, one rectangular container appeared to be used as finishing basket, and on the other end, something looks like a pouch but it is flat, maybe it is just a fishing tally. Sun was scorching hot and humidity seemed high. I bet he was steaming hot. I could find neither water bottle nor lunchbox.
He worked so hard and so persistently, but he just did not engage any connection with the fishes. I found my feet glued to the ground for a good hour, but I did not see any fish. I left. I could not observe the scene any longer. This low resolution image has always been in my mind and it still grabs my heart in retrospect. As weak as a bamboo raft and his simple fishing gears, the image transmits endurance, power and perseverance.

This minority woman used a pair of scissors to slice red pepper, the small and super spicy red pepper, piece by piece. We walked by her and went in a restaurant for lunch. Then, we hired a guide to take us up the top of rice terrace to enjoy the stunning view. By the time when we came back here, it was at least three hours later. She sat exactly where she was, still had the pair of scissors in her hand cutting red peppers and she did not even lift her head when we passed through the second time.  More sliced red peppers were in her rattan shifter. Nothing else was changed. Colorful as it seemed to be as shown on her outfit, I can imagine how boring and tough her life is.
I like the  texture on these brick houses. I believe that they had their glorious days when they were brand new. Had strong desire to go in and check them out, but of course I was not daring enough to knock the door. I looked at the picture over and over and wondered what is the living condition inside.  
This woman walked into the scene so fast that I could not respond quick enough to focus on her instead. Her sudden presence had just added one more hard working soul to this giant community, China.
The tourists were gathered inside the cave and invested their hope on these turtles which were claimed as thousand years old. The magic power will be transferred into your body if you put your hands on the turtles. Good fortune and luck will follow when you gamble your dollars ???

NOTE: While I am traveling in August, I hope to keep up with my regular blog posting. But I also expect that my postings may not be as regular as on Wednesdays and Fridays. It depends on the availability of WI-FI and our travel schedule. But I am excited that I will be able to photograph something different in foreign countries for change.

Presumed Water Color – B.J. was Back!

My old brother did water color and Chinese brush painting when he was young. He got his first award in a regional art contest when he was only 15, but he only painted till he graduated from college.  And he has not picked up his paint brush since. I wanted to paint, but I don’t have the talent.

My memory goes back to the drawing class in middle school. I could not draw and I was always dragging myself to the class. My old brother, on the contrary, he loved to paint and once time he even ‘edited’ my drawing homework. I got an A for that drawing project, but I was not happy due to the thought of cheating.  I was an Asian obedient and disciplined kid. My parents have super high ethical standard. I have never cheated in the tests while going to school nor had I done anything bad to grief my parents, this one time out-of-character act becomes a forever memory.
I cannot paint, so I take pictures.Thinking of my brother’s nice paintings, I had urge to make my photos to look more like paintings. Photoshop can literally transform a photo to a painting or other artistic form that we may be interested. It is great fun to play with Photoshop and come up various artsy effect for our pleasure.  Best case scenario, we take good pictures and we are also good at post processing.

Dandelion
I am just using the tools I know to make a few painting like images for fun.  We usually don’t give much attention to dandelions, but with morning sunlight shining from behind, I found these few tiny buds and flowers attractive. Verbena flowers are fairly small, smaller than the purple flowers below. I used extension tube for the shoot for a bit more dramatic look. The red color is very pretty but overpowering for my taste, so I decided to fade it for a paint look.


A little girl and her grandma was walking down the trail. She saw me crawling down the ground to take close-up shots, and suggested that I should take the picture of these colorful flowers, so I did and saw a big smile on her face. This flower is about the size of a penny but colors are bright. I applied Orton effect to tone it down.  So, these are my version of water color ‘paintings’ 🙂

Verbena

Orton Effect
My new goal in photography is to get better with my photoshop skills. I will not be interested in the dramatic make-over of original photos, but it is so fun to play with various effects.  Of course, it is still more important to take good pictures first.

Three nights ago, we were enjoying our dinner outside on the deck. A Stella Jay showed up quietly and perched on a tree limb where many birds like to stop. The limb is about our height as we stand up, and about 10-12 feet away from where we sat.   This bird was on a limb for quite a while. A sudden instinct came to our mind. My husband and I were both wondering, can this be B.J.? Its behavior is certainly very different from other Jays. It did not approach the feeder and did not make any single noise. But we said to ourselves. No. impossible, it has been too long since we last saw him… It was still standing there, out of curiosity, I came into the house and grabbed my camera. Then I stood up closer and took half dozen shots. He was not afraid, he just stared at me. I came even closer, then he eventually flew away.

I ran into the house and downloaded the pictures. OMG, we were both screaming, “It is B.J.!!!” He is three years old now and he looks like he has travelled long distance (or is it just my imagination?).

Did he read my blog? Why he suddenly showed up?  We were all stirred up again. My husband murmured, “I wish I have chance to save another bird.” I hope he will come back again, otherwise, I will really miss him.

Surely B.J. (not presumed)
July 14, 2011

Note: If it is other Jay, it would first come to the feeder, squeak harsh sound and surely it would immediately run for its life when we showed up, not mentioning that I had actually moved closer and closer to capture my shots.  Besides, we were very familiar with his departure style. He would usually fly lower first (kind of saying farewell) before he completely took off. The tree where B.J. was sheltered after his birth fell in last snow storm, and the tree he perched last is just next to it.

Humanity in Birds – B.J. story

Weather has been so gorgeous. Flowers are blooming and birds are around.  Every time when I step out of the door, I saw dozen birds taking off instantly. We were born with fear, so are the creatures. Even we care for them and buy good seeds to feed them, they are still afraid of us. 

Among all the wild birds come to our yard, Hummingbirds and Nuthatches (see pics from ‘Love for Birds’ post) are my favorite and they are also the two who are difficult to photograph.  Hummingbirds are constantly on the move and Nuthatches do not stand still for more than two seconds. Up to this point, I have not yet captured shots that I am completely thrilled about. But I have enough fun just watching them. 
As small as Hummingbirds, they are very aggressive and very territorial. If one  spots another one nearby, it will definitely try to chase it away or fight it off.  Even if he (I am using he for easy reference) has taken possession of the feeder, he is still hostile to other buddies. They for sure want to claim their no-fly zone with a Me Only scenario. Does this remind you of your childhood when your youngest sibling was obsessed with complete domination in the family? I think the insecurity of being small does that 🙂
I like Nuthatch because of their distinctive look and also their gracious manner. I have never seen them fighting over the feeder. They come, get a small bit and leave. They don’t dwell on the feeder like some of other birds do.  I also watched how they feed and protect their babies. I had a shot of mother feeding her baby, but not clear enough. I hope to capture that moment again.
House Finch is slightly larger than Nuthatch. There are two cool things about them, one is their beautiful voice and the other, the intimate companionship that they demonstrated. The male and female always travel together. Sometimes the male would come and check out the environment before he brings his woman over. They are surely love birds.
house finch (an old photo)
Grosbeck is a larger bird with hook-like beak. Male has black and orange color body with white spots. Female has strips on her head that does not enhance the look but to complicate it. They also often travel together, but they usually don’t enjoy their meals together on the feeder. I am not sure if husband eats first or the wife, but they seem eating alone. Every once a while, I would see an abusive husband wanting his woman to get off the feeder.

Some time last year one male came to our suet feeder and got stuck inside. He may be too hungry and had his big head going in too deep and he could not get out.  

Grosbeck, male

I was afraid to touch him, so I called my husband to come home lunch time. He knew exactly what to do, but it still took him a good 20-30 to rescue the poor bird. While I was waiting, I saw his woman waiting patiently for hours on a limb not too far away from us.  They are large and shy birds. On regular days, she would not stay as close. She managed to overcome her fever for sake of love.  For this reason, I start to see the beauty in her and like her more.
We have so many Stella Jays in our neighborhood. They are handsome looking birds, but they are very aggressive and noisy but they are outstanding when comes to team effort and spirit.  When they discover food, they would make calls to notify their buddies. If they spot people coming into their domain, they would also send out urgent calls to their family or friends. From what I read, Stella Jay makes 100 different 
Grosbeck, female
calls to send out different messages.  We have so far heard at least 10-12 different calls.

Three years ago, one baby Jay fell out of the nest. We heard loud and distressed sounding calls from at least half dozen Jays.  My husband went out and found a baby bird on the ground. He picked it up and brought it inside our house.  We fed the baby with over-cooked oatmeal and little suet to keep it warm, and we lodged it overnight in our house. Mom and Dad came to look for the baby next morning. They made desperate calls and flew around the box where we placed the baby on our deck. We helped the baby to jump to a tree behind our house where parents eventually hid the baby there for about a week till it learned to fly. We also filled up our feeders to assure that baby had enough food.
Hungry and scared when it was found (July 2, 2010)
To our pleasant surprise, the baby showed up the next morning by jumping up the stairs of our deck and hanging out on our deck for a while before it went back to its parents.  In that whole week, we heard so many different calls and almost learned to identify the calls. We came to know when the mother was training the baby to fly; We knew the mother was looking for the baby fanatically; We knew the baby was out somewhere nearby for its own adventure while parents were calling each other to look for it. 

About the end of the week, we both witnessed the baby flying from one tree to the other, and again and again.  We were so thrilled as you can imagine…..
This is how he was fed.
He came back to see us the next morning.
The baby could fly and it was gone. We felt the loss and sadness. We hoped that it would come back sometimes and B.J. did not disappoint us. We started to call him B.J. because he came back many times to visit us and he had become our baby.
Both my husband and I can tell which one is B. J. (baby jay) because he behaved very differently from other birds. He would come, look into the window and stick around for a while if he saw us. He was obviously not afraid of us. When he was around, he was always quiet and good-mannered and we could tell that he did not come for the seeds in the feeder. He came to see us.  One time I saw him standing on the railing outside the window. There was a chair on the deck blocking half of him from me, so I shifted a little bit to the left in order that I could see him better. Guess what? B.J. also shifted to his right so he could see me better. I won’t never forget that moment.

He is a handsome bird.

I have taken some shots throughout the year and the following picture was taken on July 10, 2011. That was when we last saw him.  He may have moved to other states and started his own family 🙂 He was once our baby and we will remember him forever.
B.J.’s last visit

Deadly Moment – a miracle

I was in a car accident three months ago, a deadly and miraculous accident caused by myself. I am grateful that I am still alive and able to continue my blog. 
For the first two months, I was still feeling shaken from what happened. I kept asking myself if it was just a dream or was I really involved in the accident? How can I not get badly injured and perhaps on a wheel chair right now? Is it really me that was stuck inside the car? 
On April 10, I was on I-5 driving south late in the evening.  It was dark, but the road was as dry and clean as it could be… I have driven through the same section of the freeway numerous times and have been through the worst freeway condition – pouring rain, fleet of continuous freight truck traffic, and almost white-out condition in snowy days.  One night I had a record of passing 23 trucks which large wheels churned heavy rain and generated large water blinds that almost blocked my sight, and I broke my way through.
rock fiesta
Piece of cake to drive tonight, I thought.  Driving as usual, I thought about the meeting tonight, the beautiful rocks that we used for photography subject and the favorite group of people that I really enjoy to hang out with. Then I fell into a train of thought till I noticed that my left wheel was on double yellow lines. Oh, No. I said to myself. 
In panic, I instantly tried to steer the car to the right. Too much to the right, I wanted to set it back to left a little bit… but my car seemed suddenly to act like a wild horse which ignored my command.  It ran fast forward left and right one more time and swung out of the freeway, down to the grass patch outside the shoulder, all seemed in a split second. I still had my hands hanging on to the steering wheel tight, and the immediate next thing I knew was, my car rolled over and landed on its side. I was at the bottom of the car and passenger side was up in the air.
solitude
I had an instant space phobia because my car was locked and I felt trapped just like what I saw in the movies. I felt like floating inside the space shuttle and could not hang on anything to station myself. “Is it really me who is trapped in a car?”  “Am I still alive?” “Is this heaven or earth?” Those thoughts were bombarding me like rain showers. And I realized that I was still intact, my hands and legs were still connected to my body. I turned my head couple times and it was still attached to my neck. I could feel pain, soreness and stiffness, but my mind was crystal clear. I finally came to a conclusion: I was in a car accident but I survived.
My first thought is to get out of the car through the window, but the window was locked. I then realized that I had to re-start the engine in order to open the window, but I was shaking so bad that I could not turn my key which was still in the ignition. I thought to call my husband, but I found out that my purse had got thrown to the back and down on the floor, too far to reach and so was my smartphone.  I kept telling myself not to panic and only think about the next step….
A nice young couple Roger and Christina were on the way to Bay area from Portland. They were behind me and witnessed the accident when I lost the control of my car. They were able to change lanes immediately and kept safe. Instead of keeping on their journey, they stopped their car and came back to check on me. Christina was signaling me from outside the car to open the window and get out of the car. I tried it again to start the ignition and finally got it started. I was able to open the window and get out of the car. Just before I was completely out of the car, I thought about an extra cell phone that I stored in my glove box as a backup. Thanks God, the phone was working. I called my husband, and started my words as “I am in a car accident but I am not injured….”
I was not injured in any severe way, but I had minor bruises on my face, I hurt my left shoulder moderately and I have sprung my back to some degree. Nothing serious and I was able to stand up and talk with Roger and Christina.  She said she was so scared when she came close to my car. She was prepared to either see a dead body, a bleeding face or a crippled someone, so she was happy to see me alive and not seriously wounded. Christina and Roger have stayed with me the whole time while I was waiting for highway patrol to show up. I should have asked for their contact information, but I was too shaky and not thinking.
This is America. Every single life is precious and valued. Fire truck and Ambulance both came to the scene almost immediately. I was handed over a blanket and many came to check on me. Even though I repeatedly told the workers that I was fine, they still wanted to reassure that I was not hurt and I don’t need any care. State police and towing company could not show up immediately due to traffic. About the same time, my husband also arrived from his one hour drive. How lucky I was that there was barely any traffic when the accident occurred?  
As of today, we only informed our family and a few close friends about my accident. My meditation period is over and I have decided to open it to the public. I have learned my lesson and I hope others can also be benefited from this lesson. 
1.     Undivided Attention
I was not talking on the phone or texting, but my mind wandered for a few seconds. Most of the freeway accidents occurred in few seconds. Second time can cause a disaster and is too short for us to react properly. I-5 is long and straight. I have been driving for a long time straight forward, suddenly the rhyme is being altered, and I was not in full alert state of mind to respond.
2.     Think to Brake
I may have my cruise control on and while I was panicking, I did not remember to hit the brake. I just did not think about brake at that critical moment!!! If I did, I may not be talking about it now. 
3.     Thank God
The spot where I had my car rolled over is a grass field outside the paved freeway. Further down, there is a nursery. Grass ground is soft and the impact is not as big. It is also not slippery. So as soon as my car hit the grass, rolled over and it stopped.  If the car continues to roll, I may get bruises and broken bones, or worse, lifeless. If I had run off the freeway just 1-2 minutes earlier, I would crash into the row of concrete barriers, and fatal damage to both my car and myself are not unimaginable.
It was late and not a lot of cars on the freeway, and fortunately, no second car was involved in the accident.  It seems to me that all other cars were sucked up to the air by a supreme power and I was prepared a soft spot to land my car, just to give me a warning. I feel so blessed.
4.     Don’t Panic
Particularly if you are a believer, you know that we were created and brought to the earth for a purpose and for a length of time. If we are not pre-ordained to depart yet, we won’t. If we are, we just have to leave.
We have always been educated or trained these to do’s and not to do’s under unusual circumstances, but are we able to respond exactly how we are trained to do? Common sense doesn’t always control our instinct and our reaction does not always follow our instinct. In my case, the word ‘brake’ was simply blocked and I was attempting a useless solution.  It is all because I was in panic and could not think through.  Emboss No Panic in heart and mind and make it come natural when disaster suddenly invades.
So, peace comes to me in the wake of my accident. Life is so fragile, so precious and wonderful.
Peace 

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