Sunday, April 29, 2012

So Hot

It has been ridiculously hot and humid here in Thailand in the last week. It's hit over 100 degrees several days, and coupled with the high humidity, its been pretty miserable.

On vacation I did not exercise, and the heat and humidity back here has made it tough to get back to running.  I've tried waiting until 8:00 p.m., after the sun has been down for an hour and a half, but it is still so unpleasant and strength sapping, that I end up walking large portions of my run.

More Photos from

Some more photos from the Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science.







National Museum of Nature and Science

It was raining on our first full day in Tokyo, so we decided to visit the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno park.  Before we got on the JR line, we stopped and got donuts at the Krispy Kreme shop across the street from the hotel.  Eating donuts became much too common of a theme during the first few days of the trip.

When we arrived at the museum, we ran into Tim's brother Top and his family.  We knew that we had overlapping trips, and had talked about doing something together, but this was unplanned.   Aside from a few photos, however, we didn't spend a lot of time together.

We actually split up for part of the museum; the girls with me, and Jacob with Tim.  This actually works out well, because while Aleena and Nalin have their trying moments together, they generally get along pretty well.  When we eventually reunited, I remember getting pretty annoyed with Jacob's behavior, although at this point I can't quite remember entirely why.

I really liked the museum.  It had exhibits on a lot of areas, including geology, space, chemistry, anthropology, animals and more.  There was a rocket engine and an airplane on display.  The biggest hit with the kids was a a section for hands on science.  It may have been better if we had went to that area first and spent more time there.

Before we left for our trip, I read a negative review of the museum from a tourist who was unhappy because many of the exhibits did not have signs in English, rather only in Japanese.  While it is true that someone who can read Japanese could learn more from the exhibits, I found that there was more than enough there to make the visit worthwhile.  

We had planned on visiting the TMG tower to see the city, but because of the rain and the fact that we were tired, we ended up having dinner and calling it a day.






People of Japan

Here are some of the people that we saw during our trip to Japan.

Panther Paws Track and Field

The Panther Paws Track & Field series for the ISB elementary school students started on Friday, and continues for the next four weeks.  The event is really a lot of fun, with the students participating in a variety of track and field-type events.





Smiling in the Rain

It probably rained on at least half the days of our trip to Japan. Often it didn't rain the entire day, but at least for several hours. My wife and kids really liked the clear plastic umbrellas that they saw. We picked up three or four around our hotel. We forgot to bring them to Nikko, so we ended up picking up a few more there as well.


Japan - Some Observations

I want to give a day-by-day account of our trip to Thailand.  Before I do, however, I want to give an overall impression of our vacation and Japan in general.  There are some things that just span the whole trip, or do not fit neatly into the day-by-day narrative. 

Overall, I had a fantastic time on our trip.  Unlike some places that I have visited, I eagerly look forward to visiting Japan again, perhaps multiple times.  There were a lot of really great things about Japan.

Getting around in Japan without a tour guide was very easy.  They have a superb public transportation system that includes trains, buses and subways (of course air travel as well).  Most signs were in both English and Japanese, so it was never too difficult to find out how to get where we wanted to go.  In those times where we did have difficulties, people were more than willing to help us (more on that below). 
We bought a seven day JR Rail pass, which gives unlimited use of the JR rail lines.  Our trip was for ten days, so we didn’t activate the pass immediately.  We used the pass for JR lines within Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as traveling between Tokyo, Osaka, Nikko and Kyoto.

I would highly recommend getting the pass for extensive travel between cities in Japan.  At nearly five-hundred dollars per adult and half that per kids, it is not cheap, so if you are staying in one city the entire time, it is probably not worth it.   But a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto on the bullet train (Shinkansen) practically costs as much as the rail pass. 

The JR rail pass does not cover the local subway lines, but the JR lines do cover access to large areas of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and probably other cities. 


I was really pleasantly surprised by the Japanese people.   With few exceptions, I found them to be nice, polite, helpful and orderly.  On many occasions we would stop and ask someone for help with directions, and with one exception everyone went out of their way to be helpful.  Sometimes you could tell the person was struggling to help us in English, but they almost universally tried.  When I ask for help, I was never (except once) made to feel like I was inconveniencing the other person; they were really great.

After spending quite a bit of time in Thailand, and making a few trips to China, my experience with queues has generally been rather negative.  Many Thai people have very little concept of waiting in line, instead cutting their way to the front.  At least my experience in Thailand is not as it was in China, where it was not uncommon to have someone shove anyone in their way in order to get somewhere a few seconds faster.

My experience in Japan could not have been more different.  Even though it was often very crowded, it didn’t feel like it.  People were very respectful of other people’s space.  On the few occasions that I was bumped into, the person who say “excuse me” in Japanese.  Well, I think that’s what they said, maybe they said “get out of my way idiot”, but I think they were being polite.

The people of Japan have queue skills that rival anywhere in the world.  They would line up single file to wait for the escalator.  The right side of the escalator was for standing, while the left side for walking, and I almost never saw anyone standing on the left side.  There was no pushing or shoving to get on a bus or train, everyone just waited their turn. 

Waiting in line, even a longer one, when you know that everyone is waiting their turn is a lot more pleasant than having to aggressively work to maintain your position.  It so much easier to travel with the kids when you aren’t constantly worried about them getting trampled or separated from us by the crowd. 

There is so much to see and do in Japan, and I felt that we really just scratched the surface.   My wife and I really enjoyed seeing the historic sites; the temples, shrines, and castles.  We only saw a handful, and could probably spend weeks there doing just that.  The grounds are so meticulously maintained, and the ones we saw were just beautiful.


It’s not just the ancient that Japan has to offer.  There is so much to do in Tokyo, and we only did a tiny bit of it.  The family could easily spend another week just doing things the kids would enjoy, not to mention visiting places like the fish market. 

Japan is so clean.  It’s funny because it is sometimes hard to find a garbage can around.  Sometimes we are looking for a while before we come across one.   Still, I didn’t see any liter. 

Maybe the fact that it is consider rude to eat while walking cuts back on some of the trash output in public.    Most of the things that I need to dispose of when I am walking around are probably food or drink related. 

Things I Didn’t Like
The things that I didn’t like about Japan and our trip were actually pretty minor.  My kids were not interested in seeing the historic sites, and Jacob and Nalin bickered and fought quite a bit.  Jacob was actually pretty difficult sometimes, taking offense to any perceived slight.  Of course, my kids behavior is not Japan’s fault.

There unspecified rules that it is easy to run afoul of.  I’m not talking about getting arrested, rather having someone come up and tell you that you shouldn’t do what you are doing.  Once I was sitting down on the ground taking photos of Tim and the girls in front of a park, and a guard came up and told me that I shouldn’t sit down like that.  I was not blocking pedestrian traffic, so I’m not sure of the problem, but of course I complied. 

Once we bought ice cream as we were leaving a museum, initially forgetting about the prohibition against eating while walking.  We stopped right outside the building so that the kids could finish, and after ten minutes someone came over and told us that there was no eating there. 


Finally, I was admonished against taking photos in a certain part of a shrine.  I was absolutely fine with that, as it is really not that unusual for more “sacred” parts to be off limits for photography.  Usually places post notices informing people of this rule.

The thing that probably frustrated me the most was our last night in Kyoto when we stopped in the Gion area to get dinner.  I was really looking forward to a nice dinner, but we had trouble finding a place that we wanted to eat that accepted credit cards.  As we were near the end of our trip, we were low on yen, which severely limited our options. 

Even though the last dinner was a bit of a sour note, the trip was still an overall success.  As you’ll see in my future posts, we saw some really interesting things, and I took quite a few photos.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Narita Express

We took the Narita Express from the airport to Tokyo. There was about a forty-five minute wait at the station, so I got out my camera. I didn't have a tripod with me, so for the shots with me in them, I ended up placing the camera on my suitcase.





Japan, Here We Come

The family has just recently returned from our trip to Japan.  This trip has been a long time coming; we cancelled four trips to Japan over the last few years; reasons ranging from visa issues to last minute business obligations.  Our trip last year was scuttled by hell and high water cause by the tsunami and nuclear issues.

For some reason, I was just not that excited about going on this trip.  Perhaps planning it several times and having things fall through had left me a bit jaded.  I booked the flight and hotels, did some of the research, but let Tim do a lot of the detailed planning.

Our plan was to spend five nights in Tokyo, and then head south to the ancient capital of Kyoto.  We planned to take some day trips from each city.

We flew into Tokyo on JAL arriving in the late afternoon.  By the time that we arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Century Southern Tower in the Shinjuku district, it was already getting late.  The hotel  location was less than a five minute walk from the Shinjuku train, bus and subway station, making it very convenient for getting around Tokyo.  The Krispy Kreme Donuts shop across the pedestrian walkway made eating many dozens of donuts very convenient.

Interestingly, the hotel lobby was on the 20th floor.  We took one set of elevators to get to the lobby, and another set to get to our room.

After getting checked in, we went to get something to eat.  Our first meal in Tokyo was at Yoshinoya, a restaurant that sells curry and meat dishes.  The place was small, with a counter upstairs and one downstairs .  There were no booths or tables.  I had a curry dish with pork that was really quite tasty.  The kids loved the place, and we ended up eating there on at least one other occasion. 

Everyone was pretty tired by the time we ended up getting to bed. 




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Morning

On Sunday, the kids cousins Noodee and Pad came over for an Easter egg hunt.  Before they left, I took some photos.






Saturday, April 7, 2012

Playing in the Light

I've been playing around with some photo techniques lately that have been a lot of fun.  The first is the use of multiple flashes on a single image.

The idea behind multiple flashes is to take advantage of the a longer exposure (1 second or more) in dim light or darkness.  During the single exposure, you fire a flash multiple times.  Since the lighting is too dim to capture anything with ambient light, the only thing visible on the photos occurs when the flash fires.  In effect, this let's someone appear multiple times in the same photo.

For example, I could set up an image with a shutter speed of 3 seconds, and set my flash to go off one time per second for three seconds.  By moving between flashes, I can appear three times on the same image.  No need for Photoshop, it comes straight out of the camera that way.  Here are some examples:





You see where there was a gap in the black background behind my feet in the "middle" Brian in the above image.

I was firing the flash 2 or 3 times per second in the above shot, and you can see multiple heads on the last body of Aleena.

I did not Photoshop these, the multiple images were each captured by the camera. I did make some adjustments in Lightroom to make parts of the image look brighter or darker. For example, I darkened the background so that it looks completely black in order to make the people stand out.

Originally, I was doing these photos outside, which presented some challenges.  There would always be a light or something very lightly colored in the background.  The ambient light from the background object would be strong enough to be exposed in the photo, so I could end up with a light in the middle of the model's body.

Now I am taking the photos inside and use a black background.  By closing the curtains, I can actually take the photos during the day.  I am having someone mount some brackets so that I can have a longer background for the photos.  I would have done it myself, but like so many things here, I don't want to buy the tools because I'm only going to be here for a little while.

It seems like the kids really like to pose for these photos, as do some adults.  I should have the background set up by the time we get back from Japan, so I'll definitely have more shots after that.

Happy Easter

I want to wish everyone a happy Easter.  This morning we had an Easter egg hunt with the kids and their cousins Noodee and Pad.

In addition to searching for the traditional plastic Easter eggs, I had the kids use a QR scanner and discover some virtual eggs as well.  When they scan the QR code, it displayed some facts about Easter.  When they collected all five facts, they received a prize.  Did you know that there are over ninety million chocolate bunnies made for Easter each year?  That is a lot of candy.

This afternoon we are going over to Jack and Douan's house for an Easter egg hunt and a cookout.  In the meantime, Tim and Tham are discussing the upcoming trip to Japan.