I took this shot under the Purple People Bridge (I think) while in Cincinnati this summer.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Today, I took the kids and three friends to Dreamworld. With Yaow in tow, we were only outnumbered three to one.
The kids had fun as usual. The weather was mild and the crowd was sparse, so they got to ride a lot of rides instead of stewing in sweltering lines. Lunch at KFC is a must of course.
The real "interesting" part of the day was the way to Dreamworld. I was pulled over by Thailand's finest. There was another car pulled over receiving a ticket, and another car pulling away after having received one.
I was given a ticket for an illegal lane change. It was absolutely nonsense. In truth, I was ticketed because I pulled up at the exact moment he was done with the previous driver.
Yaow tried to help interpret. I assumed that the officer was seeking "tea money". When I put some under my license, he indicated that he only wanted the license. I called Tim and had her talk to him, but to no avail.
The biggest pain is that they take your license, and you have to go to the station and pay the fine to get your license back. Fortunately, I think there is someone who is going to be able to help me out.
I was pretty annoyed as I was driving largely because I really didn't know why I was pulled over. If he had been seeking tea money, I would have understood. As I continued driving, I saw a lot of police on this road. They pulled over a car driving in front of me who appeared to be doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Then it hit me. They were out in force to just issue tickets. As soon as the officer was done writing one ticket, pull over the next car that went by. I don't think it's like in the states where you might successfully challenge a ticket. Perhaps, it is an end of the month quota issue, or just an aggressive campaign, I don't know.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I was up early on the second day of my trip. After breakfast, I saw Charly sitting on the patio talking to Brenda, the motel owner and his girlfriend.
Charly is a tall, thin, heavily tattooed man in his fifties who speaks with a German accent. I'll blog more about Charly at another time, but let's say I took an instant liking to him. I had scheduled him to take me to Canyon X, a sandstone slot canyon on the Navajo reservation near Page, Arizona. Frommer's Guide to Arizona had recommended Canyon X over the more famous Antelope Canyon for professional and serious amateur photographers. The book explained that Antelope can be very crowded, while only Charly's Overland Canyon Tours is licensed to provide tours to Canyon X. Competing with twenty other tripods and fifty other people milling about in my photos didn't sound like fun.
The Canyon X tour would only take four or five hours, so Charly and I discussed options for later in the day. I already had reservations for that night to stay at Jacob's Lake Inn (near the Grand Canyon), so we settled on a tour of Antelope Canyon after Canyon X. So long as I was okay with missing a beam of light, Charly explained, he could probably get me into Antelope Canyon when the crowds were much thinner.
Charly and I set out in his four-wheel drive truck to Canyon X. The four wheel drive was not for show, as we went off road on what I believe was some challenging terrain. Charly took his time, demonstrating his familiarity with the terrain and equipment, and we made it to our destination without incident. After parking the truck, we walked down a ravine to get to the canyon entrance.
What a difference those first few steps into Canyon X make. You go from the hot and sunny desert to a much cooler and darker canyon. The sandstone walls ranged in color from a bright orange to purple where the light was dimmest.
I spent three hours photographing Canyon X. It was great being the only person there photographing the Canyon that day. Well, Charly took a few shots with his new telephoto zoom lens. While I could see well in the canyon, it was dark enough that I had to use long exposures. Some of the exposures were thirty seconds long.
As I was photographing the lower part of the Canyon, Charly went and scouted the upper part. Unfortunately, he reported, it was still flooded. While a little disappointed, I managed to use the time to take additional shots of the lower part.
At one point in the morning, a sun beam came down into the canyon. Charly threw some sand into the air, and I took some photos of the beam of light. I've posted one on flickr, but more will come.
At 11:16 am, I took my last picture and we headed back to town. Charly ran some errands while I checked out and grabbed a snack. Then we headed out to Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon is much more accessible than Canyon X. The drive to Antelope is much shorter, and the entrance is adjacent to the parking lot. You don't have to walk down a ravine, you just walk right in. There were only three or four trucks in the parking lot when we arrived. Charly told me that this was good, as he'd been there before when there were thirty plus trucks. He'd seen photographers yelling at each other when it gets really crowded.
While I didn't have this canyon to myself like I did earlier in the day, I was able to be in parts of it by myself for extended periods of time. I went to the back first, and after a tour group went through, I had twenty minutes to shoot with no-one around. It basically followed that pattern for the two plus hours that I was there.
After we were done, Charly and I headed back to his shop to settle up. Normally he has a minimum of two people on his tours, but he made an exception for me. I expected that he might have charged me a premium for this, but Charly treated me more than fairly. At some point I want to go back and have him show me some of the places that he and I had discussed in the morning, places like South Coyote Buttes and the Wave.
I'd say that Antelope is probably more beautiful than Canyon X, but they are both impressive in their own ways. Having Canyon X to myself, and knowing I was the only one shooting it that day made it kind of special. Antelope has one large open area that is probably more impressive than anything in Canyon X. Still, I really enjoyed both.
Next I hopped in the Mustang and headed to Jacob's Lake Inn, which is located about an hour from the Grand Canyon North Rim. When I arrived and checked in, I realized that the $120 that I paid per night didn't buy me much in the way of luxury. I was paying for location. The room did have air conditioning, but did not have a TV or internet. The bathroom was tiny, and the hot water heater sat right next to the toilette. When I was sitting at one point, I brushed against it and recoiled from the heat.
I found out later that they had rooms for an additional twenty dollars per night which were more modern and nicer. Still, I wasn't there to watch TV and surf the net, so it wasn't a big deal.
There aren't a lot of restaurants around, so I ate at the lunch counter at the hotel. They also had a sit down restaurant, but I really didn't want to spend a lot on dinner. The hamburger that I ate there was probably the best I had while in the states.
I turned in early that night, as I was going to get up early the next morning. The next day would be eventful, just not quite in the way I anticipated.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Its not always easy to get a reflection shot off of water in Monument Valley, so when my photo tour guide approached a giant puddle in the road, I screamed "stop". I ran out and took some photos without my tripod, as I was already late for something.
So the picture isn't really that beautiful, but I remember it better than almost any other that day.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
My plan was to fly to Las Vegas, and then drive to various parts of Arizona and Utah to see and photograph some of the natural wonders found there. At the end I would return to Las Vegas for a few days to meet my old friend Jeff Long, whom I had not seen in around ten years.
The flight to Las Vegas left Cincinnati at ten o'clock am, and arrived in Las Vegas at eleven am local time. Traveling west is much nicer than traveling east when it comes to the time. As we were taxing into our gate, I could see the casinos out my window. It was strange, but they looked much smaller than I expected.
After collecting the luggage I went to pick up my rental car. I reserved a Jeep Wrangler from Fox Rent a Car. The reason for my choice was that I thought that I might be pulling off the road to take photos, and a jeep would give me more clearance and traction, and hopefully prevent me from getting stuck.
The airport runs a bus to the rental car center located on the airport property. Unfortunately, I found out that Fox is not located at that center, so I had to take yet another bus. I missed one bus by a few seconds, and the "kind" driver refused to open the door. Anyone around may have heard me mumble a few comments questioning the legitimacy of his parents’ marriage, but they would probably have needed to be pretty close.
When I finally made it to the rental car counter, I was not completely shocked to find out that they were out of the Jeeps. The entire reason that I had chose Fox in the first place was the good price on Jeeps. I guess you can give great deals if you don't actually have them to rent out. In any case the clerk offers me a major upgrade in the form of a Mustang convertible. Not exactly the kind of vehicle that you want to drive on gravel and dirt roads, but I grudgingly accepted. A failed hard sell for the optional insurance and twenty minutes later and I was on my way.
My first destination was Page, Arizona, about four hours from Las Vegas. I won’t bore you with which road I took to get where on the trip unless it happens to be important for the story. I don’t think it ever is important for the story though. I drove with the top down and it was pretty hot. The heat and the fatigue from my jet lag did detract a little bit from the drive.
I arrived in Page Arizona in the late afternoon. The reason for my trip to Page was to see a couple of slot sandstone canyons: Canyon X and Antelope Canyons. My reservation was at the Page Boy Hotel. The reason for this is that my tour guide for the canyons recommended it because it was owned by his girlfriend.
When I arrived at the motel and identified myself, the clerk smiled and said that she had to call my guide Charly. Charly is definitely one of the characters that I met along the way. In any case, the Page Boy Motel had clean rooms, TV (you’ll understand the reason for me mentioning this in a later blog entry), air conditioning, wireless internet and a small swimming pool. The price was low, and overall it was one of the best deals that I found during my entire trip.
I was pretty tired, but I decided to drive around a bit and take some photos before eating a late dinner. I went to the Glen Canyon Dam and took some photos there. There was a shot or two that turned out okay.
Dinner was at the Glen Canyon Steakhouse. The food was adequate, but hardly inspiring.
My tour started at 7:30 am the next morning, so I turned in a bit early. This was largely a travel day, so I wasn’t disappointed that I hadn’t taken a lot of photos yet, as I was confident that this would soon change.
I stayed at mom and dad's for three days before I flew out west. I debated whether I wanted to stay there or at my empty house in Anderson Township. Its not that I didn't want to stay with mom and dad, but I didn't want to disturb them, as I knew my routine would be anything but routine at times. I'm really glad that I stayed at my parents though. It was nice spending time with them, and if I had stayed at my house, I would have seen them a lot less. It also let me see more of Laura, Eric, Tom, Heather, my nieces and my nephews.
During my first few days in Cincinnati I spent a fair bit of time and money shopping. I was able to cut through a pretty big part of my list of things to bring back. My largest purchase was a new laptop, which I rationalized that I needed to download my photos. Additionally, I had a few packages waiting for me when I arrived. I had ordered a battery pack, some lens filters, and a wireless remote for my camera.
I even managed to exercise a bit despite the jet lag from my trip. I ran two miles a couple of days, although my choice to do so in the afternoon heat did not make the effort any easier. Still, I was determined not to gain weight when I returned. Yaow had teased me that I would gain ten pounds when I returned home, and I was determined to prove her wrong. I also didn't want to lose weight, because then she might think that I missed her cooking so much that I wouldn't eat. My weight when I returned to Thailand was within a pound or two of my weight when I left. Not too bad.
My recent trip to the Western United States was a fantastic experience. Not only did I see parts of our great country that I'd never seen before, but I had the opportunity to indulge my passion for photography.
In addition to chronicling my "adventures" in images, I also wanted to write about my experiences. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, there are a lot of moments where the camera was not out or did not tell the entire picture.
Part of the focus of these blog entries will be the places that I visited. Where I went and what I saw, however, only reveals part of the picture. The other part is the people that I met along the way. My plan is to blog separate entries for some of the people, many of whom I crossed path with for only a short time.
One of the problems that I have with writing about my vacation experiences is that I lose motivation and do not finish them. I thought about writing them all before I published this blog entry. Instead I've decided to blog them as I write them in hopes that this will commit me to finishing.
I hope you enjoy.
I went out today to take some photos of the flowers around Nichada. When I started to set up the tripod, one of the guards came over me and said "mai dai" (can't). I was pretty unhappy, as some of the guards don't hassle me.
I called Kuhn Sumning, who is going to call the head of the guards and straighten things out. Hopefully that works.
I rode over to the Nichada Club pool and took some pictures of the orange flowers there. I brought my trusty spray bottle to add a little extra effect. A few of them turned out okay, and this was my favorite.
My eyes followed the motorcyclist as he walked between cars and stopped at a taxi a few cars behind me. He reached into the taxi, grabbed the driver by the shirt and started screaming at him. The motorcyclist was not tall by western standards, but he was certainly hefty by Thai standards. I couldn't really see the taxi driver very well, as he was in the cab and was trying to lean away from his window and his assailant. This went on for at least a minute until the light changed. As I started moving again, I saw that the motorcyclist had let the taxi driver go and headed back to his bike.
Apparently this isn't such an uncommon thing. I talked to Yaow (nanny) about it, and apparently taxi drivers and motorcyclist get into it sometimes. That's the thing about Thais. Most of the time they keep their cool and don't display any anger. When they do, however, it is often what we in the West would consider out of proportion. Instead of just yelling at the guy, for example, he grabbed him.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
We considered moving our trip back five days and shortening it by one. That would bring us back to Thailand a day before the kids had to go back to school. The other option was to go in October during the week long school holiday. The kids would miss a couple of days of school under this plan. We decided to go ahead and move the trip back to October. The weather is usually better then, and late July and early August can be more crowded as Japanese students are on holiday.
Changing the trip was not without cost. There was a cancellation fee for the airline tickets, but I was able to cancel the hotel reservations without cost. In the long run, the trip might actually save us some money. I used miles to buy the tickets, which was refunded when I canceled. I did some calculations, and it turns out that we would be better off actually buying the tickets to Japan, and saving the miles for trips to the U.S.
I still feel like a bit of an idiot. I'm not quite sure how it slipped between the cracks, but it did.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The ACS, as its name suggests, provides services to U.S. citizens living abroad. The two main services probably involve passports and providing documentation required by the Thai government for certain official business. When I wanted to get a Thai driver's license, for example, I had to go to the U.S. Embassy and get a notarized form confirming my address in Thailand. Of course, the only thing that the U.S. Embassy knows about my address in Thailand is what I tell them, but none the less it makes the Thai officials happy so I am required to comply.
I have generally found dealing with the ACS a very frustrating experience. The ACS employees are a mix of Thai and Americans. I think all the key roles are held by Americans, but the front line people are usually Thai. There hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. and then from 1:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m.
We arrived at about 10:15 a.m. to renew Aleena's passport. Within ten minutes we had filled out the paperwork and were waiting for an interview. A few minutes before 11:00, the clerk tells me that the pictures that I submitted did not leave enough space above Aleena's head. This was extremely frustrating, since the clerk had looked at these pictures when we first submitted the paperwork but had not mentioned any issues. By the time we went out and had the pictures redone, the ACS was closed for its two hour break. Tim managed to actually talk our way back in past the guards, but the woman who conducted the interview had already gone to lunch. Actually, they told me that she had left for an emergency, and told Tim in Thai that she had gone to lunch.
I was beside myself as we had to wait for nearly two hours for the office to reopen. Tim took the girls to lunch, while I sat and fumed. Yes, I had made a mistake with the picture, but how difficult would it have been for the clerk to point it out earlier in the process?
When they reopened, they conducted the interview and approved the renewal. The passports are actually generated in the U.S., so it takes a few weeks to receive them. While I was back in the States, I received a confirmation email that Aleena's passport was ready.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was sitting at my computer at 8:45 a.m. when I remembered that we had to pick up the passport. We leave on our trip on Monday, so it was the last day to pick it up. I checked the confirmation email for any instructions, grabbed my passport, hopped in a cab and was on my way. I arrived at the ACS at about 9:40 and was please to see that there was no line and my number was called in fewer than five minutes.
As so often is the case with the ACS, what appears to be a promising experience quickly transforms into an experience teeth-grinding proportions. The clerk asked for Aleena's old passport. I hadn't brought it. The email didn't mention bringing the old passport, and honestly, I couldn't even remember that they had given us the passport back. The clerk said that they could not give me the new passport without the old one.
I looked at the clock and swore softly. It was unlikely that I could get home and back in an hour. I really didn't want to come back for the 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. session. I wanted to be done with it.
I jumped in a cab and showed him my home address in my little green book. This is a small notebook that has addresses (and sometimes maps) written in Thail. I use this primarily when dealing with cab drivers. The driver says he didn't know and asked me if I could give directions. I'm out of that cab in a second, as that is a recipe to raise my blood pressure another ten points. I had more luck with the second cab driver, who said Nichada and shook his head yes.
Even though Bangkok traffic made a quick return Trip unlikely, I decided to give it a try. If I didn't make it back by 11:00 a.m., I'd just have lunch and wait until 1:00. I explained to the driver in broken Thai that I wanted to go home and come back. I wanted to call the house so they could find the passport and have it ready for me, but my phone battery was dead. We arrived at the house at 10:25, and I had the passport in my hand two minutes later. I had Yaow ask the driver if he could get me there in under thirty minutes, and he said yes.
I was watching the clock the entire ride back, as we were really cutting it close. The driver passed the normal exit for the Embassy. When i questioned him, he said "rote tit" (traffic jam). At 10:57 a.m. we were thirty yards from the Embassy which was on the other side of the street. I handed him six hundred baht (the fare was 250 baht), told him ten minutes, jumped out and sprinted to the office. The guard looked at me, and said two minutes. I smiled and said that I only need one.
When I made my way back to the ACS, I was at first dismayed that they had locked the box where you take a number. If you don't have the number by 11:00 a.m., they won't service you until the afternoon. I saw the clerk from earlier in the day and got his attention. Fortunately, he decided not to be a complete jerk and waited on me right then. Ten minutes later, I was back outside with Aleena's new passport in hand. The taxi driver was waiting for ten meters up the road.
I definitely understand that the ACS has rules that they need to follow. What frustrated me so much this time is that the confirmation email didn't say anything about bringing the old passport. Maybe they told us three weeks ago when we applied, but adding the one line in an email would cost nothing and would make the experience so much less painful for the people they are supposed to serve.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The flight from Detroit to Tokyo started off normally. I selected the middle seat in the exit row, calculating that the extra leg room and ability to get up easily would more than make up for having strangers on each side of me. Fortunately, the gentleman sitting in the window seat was very slight, so I was not crowded at all from that side.
I was listening to my head phones about an hour into the flight when I heard something over the intercom about landing. I looked over, and there in the exit row on the other side of the plane was a teenage girl on the floor, surrounded by people with an IV in her arm. Before you call me obtuse for not noticing it early, I was staring at the scene for about ten minutes before the guy sitting next to me noticed.
The girl was a diabetic, and apparently started having seizures in her seat. Fortunately, there was a doctor on board, as well as at least one nurse. They started treating the girl and the decision was made to divert the plane to a nearby city so that she could get additional medical equipment. Originally they were going to stop in Duluth, but bad weather prevented this, so we ended up in Minneapolis.
By the time the plane landed, the girl was sitting upright. When the paramedics arrived, I believe she walked off the plane herself.
One you land, its not a simple matter to just take off again. We had to wait for one hour for the brakes to cool down. Additionally, the pilot needed to obtain new navigation plans, and we had to wait for our turn to leave. By the time we finally took off again, we were three hours behind.
Apparently some of the passengers were much more concerned about their itineraries than the passengers health and safety. I heard one passenger comment about how in Japan, if you do something like this (he assumed the girl didn't monitor her blood sugar, which may in fact be true, I don't know), you pay for it. Others complained to flight attendants about missed connections. The flight attendants were pretty put off by it. I was too. Certainly I was concerned about my connection, but there is a time and place to voice that, and as the girl is exiting the plane does not qualify as the time nor place.
The entire incident had to be very expensive for Northwest. In order to land in Minneapolis, they had to dump or burn 30,000 pounds of fuel. Additionally, almost everyone who had connections missed them, requiring Northwest to put two hundred to three hundred people in hotel rooms. They also rebooked many of us on different airlines the next day. I flew on an 11:00 a.m. (Tokyo time) Thai Airway flight. There are undoubtedly many more costs involved.
When we arrived in Tokyo (Narita actually) at about 8:30 p.m., cleared immigration and customs, and a bus took us to a hotel. They provided us with a voucher for dinner and breakfast. There was a bus to take us back to the airport in the morning. I walked around for a few minutes and took a few photos, but nothing really striking.
Although it was very inconvenient to be stuck overnight, I have to compliment Northwest on how they handled the situation. They put the safety of the passenger first, and really did a nice job of trying to make the transition for those impacted passengers seamless.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
We were taking pictures from where I was standing, and I thought this shot would look nice. I used my wireless trigger to take the shot. My guide didn't realize that I had it, and commented on how my timing was perfect.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Here is the only shot I think I have of myself in Las Vegas. I didn't break the camera out for the first two days that I was here.
I'm standing in front of the Bellagio Casino. Caeser's Palace is in the background. I was taking pictures of the fountain show, and decided to try this one.
I was standing at an overlook near the Visitor Center in Monument Valley. A lot of people get shots here, so I decided to try to reflect part of the valley off my sun glasses. Not great, but fun. I do love my wireless remote trigger.
We got on the elevator and they pressed the button for floor ten. Jeff and I were staying on the fourteenth floor, so I said "sip see, kab". "Sip see" is fourteen in Thai, and males add "kab" to the end of a sentence as part of Thai manners. They all turned around and graced me with an astonished look. I said "pom pood pasad Thai die nit noi, kab". This translates as "I speak a little Thai." They started laughing, and one of them said that by saying that, I could speak more than a little Thai. They said that they were surprised to hear Thai, as I did not have a Thai face. Thai's not exactly like English in that you can expect to hear spoken by at least some local wherever you go.
They were laughing and talking when they left the elevator. I thought that it was pretty funny, and I was reminded what a small world it is sometimes.
Here is a fun shot in front of the mountains near the Navajo Bridge. I love the wireless remote that lets me get into the shots.
They may not be artsy, but the are sometimes the most fun. I took over four thousand shots on this trip. Only three of the photos that I'm in were not taken by me. Two of those will eventually get posted, and the other is too blury.