This album contain images that strongly features: fire, action, light/shadow, textures and/or infra-red light.
Although I appreciate good wine, I’m quite useless at selecting ‘a good bottle’. As such, when ordering wine at a restaurant, I try to play it safe and select something that I know — i.e. from a region or from an estate that I’m familiar with. While this formula is mostly successful, it is not foolproof and as such, I can’t help but be disappointed when wine from ‘a good region’ is lackluster, dull, or just unpleasant. In particular, Bruce and I have had more bad bottles than good ones from the famed region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape than we care to admit! So, to remedy this problem, we decided to include visits to a few of the top CN-du-P estates during one driving holiday around France. The goal was to visit the wineries and do a tasting so that we can separate the good from the bad.
Based on recommendations from a friend, we selected the ‘top 5’ CN-du-P wine estates to try: Rayas, Beaucastle, Vieux Telegraphe, La Nerthe, and Fortia. We had no problems visiting the top 4 estates and they all made us feel welcomed. But the top estate (Rayas) was a bit of a mystery as it was not on any tasting map. Intrigued, we went to a local wine shop to inquire more information about Rayas. The owner of the wine shop gave a friendly chuckle when we stated that we wanted to visit the estate. ‘Not possible!’ he said as the old man who runs it is largely regarded as ‘slightly mad’. The owner chuckled again when we asked if we could buy a bottle of Rayas from him. Apparently, it is far easier to buy a bottle of Rayas in London or in Tokyo than it is to buy it in France as almost all is exported abroad. We are now really intrigued!
Determined to find the Rayas winery, we asked the locals for directions. It was clear from the beginning that this would not be easy. We had to find another wine estate, then turn into a dirt road which then turned into a mud road which then turned into a country track. We drove and bounced along the back alleys of several estates until we reached the end of the road the locals told us to take. At first, we thought that we were lost as the only estate that we could see was signposted as Chauteau something-something and there were no signs for Chateau Rayas! We almost turned our car around and head back to the village when Bruce spotted a _tiny_ sign hidden in the bushes that had an arrow and the wonderful words “Chateau Rayas”.
Buoyed with relief (and joy), we turned into another dirt road and drove. But, after a few minutes, we became concerned as there were no telltale signs of a chateau tower or manicured garden (like Chateau Beacastle and Chauteau La Nerthe). All we saw were rows and rows of grape vines in the fields. Finally, we past an old shabby building on our left (and I’d remarked to Bruce that we must be close by because this must be where the Rayas migrant field workers lived) and continued to drive on until we came across a chain that ran across the dirt path. Dead end. And, no chateau.
As we made such an effort to find this place, we decided to go back to the only building we saw and ask for help/direction.
I would be kind to describe this place as shabby. It was more akin to a moonshine shack somewhere in the backwaters of the Mississippi. Needless to say, it looked very unwelcoming. Bruce wanted to hop back into the car and head back to the village. But, I’m pig-headed stubborn. So, when we arrived at the ‘front door’, we noticed that the door bell was pulled out. Furthermore, the windows were blacken out and plastics bags and rubbish were jammed into every nook along the window for privacy. Despite the inhospitable look of the place, we knocked on the door. Silence. We knocked again. Silence. In the end, we got the message and got into the car and drove back to the village. But, as we pulled out, Bruce noticed shadows moving in the shed adjacent to the house. There are obviously people about but they just didn’t want to be disturbed.
At the end of our driving holiday in France, I recounted this story to my sister (she is also a foodie). Intrigued by our story, she did some investigation. A few days later, she emailed me an article that she found on the internet about Chateau Rayas. Apparently, the “moonshine shack” where I thought the migrant farm workers might be living was actually Chateau Rayas ! ! ! OMG! The writer of this article did exactly the same thing we did and had the same issues we had. Except, on the day the writer knocked on the door, Mr. Rayas Senior was in the mood for visitors and answered the door.
Lucky bugger . . . .
Months later and at Christmas, my sister presented us her surprise gift: two bottles of Rayas!!! And, with all honesty here, it was ASTOUNDING! It was simply the best bottle of red I have ever had. I could go into the details about the taste and notes, etc. but that would be pretentious. The simple truth is that a Rayas makes all other red wine taste like water. It is that good!
FYI: since our visit, the allegedly ‘slightly mad’ owner has died and his son has taken over the running of the estate. The wine we tasted was from a vintage when the elder Mr. Rayas was in charge.
- Paris, Milan, Lake Cuomo and Venice
- September: Madrid
- December: New York
- Jan/Feb: USA – Boston and Maine
- March: Spain – Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba
- Feb: London
- June/July: London, Yorkshire and Scotland
- April: Tokyo and Kyoto
- June: Indonesia
- October: Mongolia
- December: London, Yorkshire and Scotland
- April: Istanbul
- August: Guizhou Province, China
- Dec: New York City and Washington, DC
- January: Burma
- April: Sri Lanka
- August: Sri Lanka
- August: Kashgar, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
- December: Australia
- March: Beijing, China
- May: South Vietnam
- November: Northern India
- April: Thailand
- October: Bhutan
- November: Cambodia
Prior travels include: Europe and North America. Bruce has been to Africa, but sadly not Tram. Neither has not been to South America (yet!).
Bucket List includes: Skeleton Coast, Namibia; Patagonia; horse riding thru the Andes and Tajikistan; the ice hotel to see the Northern Lights; New Orleans for Mardi Gras; and Kashmir.
Bruce photographs with a Nikon D700.
Tram photographs with:
- Primary: Nikon D700 (converted as an infra-red camera) & a most beloved iPhone (especially with Hipstamatic)!
- Secondary: Nikon D300s
- Tertiary: Nikon D70s (converted as an infra-red camera)
To be completely truthful, we are agnostic about cameras. The reason why we use Nikon is because my uncle also uses Nikon. I highly respect him — so, if it is good enough for him, then it is good enough for us! Hence, we bought the D70s and it’s been Nikon ever since . . . . (Tram)
Sadly during one of our relocations, a chunk of the collection was lost !!! So, to preserve what remained, I’m posting what is left of my collection online. . . . and then continued to do so!
The Seagull: must confess — I thought the bare & ‘artisanal’ staging was simply terrible — what a shame!
Singapore calls — therefore, the Jerusalem tx was gifted to I.K….
Managed to see The Smile TWICE! On Sunday and again on Monday!!! (Sunday show with C & S.)
Straight Line Crazy: skiing with friends — therefore, gifted this to I.K.
With my bad luck of GameOfThrones start being replaced by an understudy, I cautiously booked into 2 performances (in Feb and in April)! Thankfully, Kit starred in both.
With S.T. ….
Singapore calls …. Therefore, gifted these txs to C&S.
Could not attend! Therefore, gifted these txs to A.R.
Due to COVID-19, these shows were cancelled!
Attempt #1: friends from Oz in town so we gave the txs to our neighbours. Attempt #2: a nasty cough meant that we gave our txs to N&W — will there be an attempt #3 ? …
Jonny Greenwood at The Royal Albert Hall – BBC prom.
The last leg of their North American tour …..
Harvest, The Royal Court Theatre (London)
MISSING: My Name is Rachel Corrie, The Royal Court Theatre (London)
The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (with Gillian Anderson), The Royal Court, London
Missing: The Permanent Way (by David Hare), National Theatre, London
Missing: Stuff Happens (by David Hare), National Theatre, London
Journey’s End, Comedy Theatre, London. (According to Bruce, I sat next to the actor who played Dr. Who in the 70s!)
Missing: My Brilliant Divorce (with Dawn French), Apollo Theathre, London
Missing: The Price (by Arthur Miller), Apollo Theatre, London
Missing: Auntie and Me, Wyndhams Theatre, London
Sunset Blvd (with Glenn Close), Broadway
Les Miserables, Broadway
Phantom of the Opera, Broadway and London
Miss Saigon (with Jonathan Pryce), Broadway
For when we are old, grey and forgetful . . .
“Don’t worry — if we crash, then we will crash slowly” – Siem Reap taxi driver when he sees us concerned that the back seats are missing seat belts (Cambodia, 2007)
“Good brakes, good horns, lots of patience … and lots of good luck!” . . . our driver’s motto (India, 2009)
Bryan Adams, mushroom soup, killing spiders by throwing shoes at the wall, news of the US Congress not passing TARP and the resulting financial meltdown, little kids in the internet cafe writing to their Western ‘pen pals’ on Facebook (Bhutan, 2008)
Having dinner in Istanbul and then suddenly realising that our flight to Hong Kong was that evening (in 3 hours time!) rather than the next evening! (Istanbul, 2012)
Seriously 1970s peroxided-blondes as air stewardess in the Air Uzbekistan business class lounge (Tashkent airport, 2010)
Black pepper crabs and crab curry on the beach at Same, Same But Different Restaurant (Thailand, 2008)
Bovine disrespect — Bruce getting pushed around while photographing streetlife and the pushers were the cows roaming the streets!
Clockwork cicadas by our beach resort — they were so loud that at first we thought they were alarms from nearby villas. (Thailand, 2008)
Non-stop nightly canine operas and sleeping dogs in the middle of the street in the middle of the day (Bhutan, 2008)
Saigon taxi driver trying (but failed) to scam us — airport toll was only 10,000 dongs but he tried to pass it off as 100,000! When I questioned the amount, he gave me a receipt but the receipt had the wrong date on it. Furthermore, driver refused to pull up to the hotel drive (thus the hotel staff could not intervene and assist in settling the dispute).
The Amanusa beach all to ourselves with bar service and WiFi (Indonesia, 2013)
Crooked museum staff tried to get Westerners to pay (in cash) a dollar each for picture-taking-fee in the museum courtyard (Cambodia, 2007)
Monklets with toy machine guns at the festivals (Bhutan, 2008)
The BEST massage ever at the Oberoi Hotel (Agra, Indi, 2009)
The AMAN cocktail – 42 Below Manuka Honey Vodka, guava & peach juice and fresh mint – the best cocktail ever! (Beijing, 2009)
A Chin shaman from a nearby village insistent on selling a necklace that has been in his family for 10 generations in order to buy rice for the village after their entire rice harvest was destroyed by a plague of rats. (Burma, 2011)
Tracking our route with a GPS device and old Soviet maps. (Mongolia, 2013)
Eating our way thru Washington, DC with MyHanh and Chris (Dec 2012) and New York City with Roz and Steve (Dec 2012)
The below are Tram’s selection of Bruce’s best portrait photographs.
My absolute favourite portrait taken by Bruce is from the Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka. The evening street festival was exceedingly difficult to photograph — it was dark and crowded and we were immobile. Furthermore, the light condition changed rapidly as the festival was lit by fire (with the torch bearers moving along with the parade route). And from the mass of movement, heat, smoke and human bodies, Bruce managed to capture a lone dancer partially lit by a nearby flame. The result suggested a moment of calm, tranquility and intimacy; the reality was it was a noisy, energetic and dynamic in a sea of music and dances.
Bruce’s other top portraits are:
This post actually started out as a simple (and private) exercise to pick out my absolute favourites and then to try to understand what it is exactly that I liked about them. The ultimate goal is to understand what makes a great photo and more importantly, what can I learn from my past images. I fully admit that many of the images I’ve selected have myriad technical flaws — but, this is a personal compilation and is therefore completely subjective. As this project has grown, I’ve added technical details (where needed) as well as the backstory to enliven the images. In addition to this, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite images that Bruce has taken … whether he’ll do his own TOP 20 list is depends on how much time he has …
Tram’s pick of her TOP 20 images:
Nowadays I almost always photograph with either my converted infrared cameras or with my iPhones (predominately using the Hipstamatic app). My unconverted (or, normal) camera is usually left inside my camera bag and I tend to use this as a backup camera (if I remember to pack it). As such, it is therefore deeply ironic that my all-time favourite image was taken with a “normal” SLR camera.
This is a special image that still resonates because it was this image that gave me the confidence to photograph more. I owe a debt of gratitude: to my uncle Chris for inspiring me to pick up this hobby; to Bruce because we are sooooooo competitive and thus I’m always trying to take better photographs than him; to photographer Nevada Wier for convincing me that I should be shooting in RAW format instead of JPEGS (thankfully this was captured in RAW!!!!); and, to this mystery lady who really got me thinking that I could take decent images!
(2) I went to Cheung Chau island to photograph the annual Bun Festival. Unbeknownst to me, the municipality sponsored an opera to coincide with the festival. As I had hours to kill before the start of the festival, I used all of my American charm to curry favour backstage access. The performers and stage hands were wonderful! Although I was most definitely in the way (the backstage area was TINY!), they indulged me with their generosity and I was there for about an hour.
This image is particularly special as I was using my new D700 camera for the first time since it’s conversion to infra-red. Because the camera’s sensor still thinks it is capturing normal light (and infra is a different wave length), autofocus did NOT work. As such, I had to use LiveView to manually focus and LV is infinitely slower and very cumbersome. Furthermore, the lightening backstage was poor and came from harsh fluorescent bulbs. Needless to say, I was cursing at myself for ‘vandalising’ my new D700. But something just clicked and inexplicably I managed to get this amazing image. I simply love the way infrared captured this performer’s hands and how the light gives the makeup a mask-like appearance!
(3) A lucky shot! What more can I saw other than I was at the right place and at the right time. (And thank goodness the light in the arena was good — otherwise, the infrared camera would have it’s focus in a real twist!) This image encapsulates serendipity! And sometimes, that is what a photographer needs in his/her camera bag.
(4) I love, love, love this monklet! I was on a photography tour with Nevada Wier and we gatecrashed into a study hall at a monastery in Yangoon. The senior monk permitted us to photograph the monklets practicing their chants. They were all wonderfully photogenic (and patient with us!). But this monklet was a standout for me. I love the fact that he has an ink tattoo on his legs and that the red robe did not rob him of his boyish antics. This was an unstaged photo opportunity which meant that I had to work in a ‘real’ environment. The room was actually too dark for my normal day lens and I didn’t want to use flash as it would completely ruin the atmosphere (as well as piss off the other photographers). Thankfully, prior to this trip, Bruce convinced me to buy a 50mm lens which made a world of difference! I was able to crack open the aperture and take advantage of the late afternoon light coming in from a tiny window. (Thank you Brucey!!!)
(5) When I photographed the Haghia Sophia from afar, I didn’t realised how well the infrared camera would bring out the landscape in the background or how well it would render the Bosphorus. As such, the infrared light gave it a distinctive and other-worldly effect (almost something from ‘Game of Thrones’). In effect, it gave an much beloved (and much photographed) iconic building a unique twist.
(6) Backstage at the opera at the Cheung Chau Bun Festival (again). After the success of the previous year, I returned in 2013 as I wanted to photograph the performers again — but this time with my iPhone (Hipstamatic – lens: Tinto 1884; fils: C-Type Plate; no flash). I’d focused on the face and the Hipstamatic application did the rest. I just loved the way Hipstamatic blurred everything other than the focal point. As a result, this gave the performer an immediate virtual spotlight!
(7) This was an once-in-a-lifetime image for me …. and I almost missed the opportunity. I was due to meet up with Bruce and a friend at a bar for evening cocktails and I almost didn’t take my camera along. Although a D70s isn’t huge, it is rather clunky to carry for an evening event. But something told me to take the camera with me. So, in addition to having a healthy dosage of serendipity in my camera bag, I also have to thank the photography gods for giving me good intuition!
(8) I just love the way infra-red captured the texture of the fur coat as well as the horse mane. This gives the image a depth and a uniqueness. But this image has a special story attached to it. As a digital photographer, it is easy to become numb during the image-processing phase (especially when there are hundreds of images to scope). As such, it is very easy to overlook an image. This particular image was one that was bypassed. Many months after the initial processing, I’d reviewed some other images and noticed this one. As I developed the image, it occurred to me how special and beautiful it us. As such, this image serves as a cautionary tale.
(9) “Will he? Won’t he?” . . . I love the way this image tells a story at a precise moment in time. Of the thousand of images I’d taken that day, this is still my clear favourite because in one image, I see: hope, fear, aggression, and possible salvation.
(10) This image is a standout for me for two reasons. First, I love the texture of the elephants’ skins and the way the light bounces off the wet patches on the skin. Second, I love the composition — especially in the way the two adult elephants are in profile, adjacent to each other and perfectly aligned to form a visual trickery. Specifically, the two elephants appear to merge together and as a result, a frontal view of a “face” appears.
(11) I just love the way my infrared camera captures light — especially when the subject is backlit. In addition, I love the various textures captured in this image. As a result, this becomes a richly layered image for me.
(12) This image (uncertain if it is better in portrait or landscape mode) is a ‘love-it-or-hate-it image’ because there are many technical flaws. Personally, I love it. Perhaps it is because I know that this was a technically challenging event to photograph and as such, to get an image like this one is personally rewarding.
The Esala Perahera festival in Sri Lanka was an evening festival. Moreover, it was a crowded event and as spectators, Bruce and I were confined to our seats (five rows back from the street and with people all around us). As such, we had to photograph where we were planted — we could not move, shoot high or shoot low. An extra challenge I had was that I was photographing with my D70s and it was recently converted to infrared. In insufficient light, an infrared camera would clonk out as it could not focus properly. In addition, my D70s was a starter camera and as such I could not crank up the ISO without getting a lot of background noises. Thankfully, we were there for three days and had three opportunities to photograph the festival.
I love the way the infrared camera captured the heat haze. In addition, I love the way the mahout is enveloped in heat, fire and light. The setting is almost demonic and hellish. It is surreal. It is eye-catching. Love it or hate it, it’s the kind of image that if you saw it in a magazine, you would stop to ponder it for a few seconds — this is a hallmark of the kind of photograph that I want to take!
(13) I know it’s cheating to count a set of three images as one image, but these three images form the basis of my ‘Sri Lankan Victorian Ghosts’ portfolio and now serve as the foundation for my experimental infrared images. They are on my list of top images because they are hugely important and very influential in my development as a photographer. The absolute truth is that these were mistakes — and I actually came _very_ close to deleting them. But, once again I owe a debt of gratitude to Nevada Wier who gave me very sage advice: don’t delete an image straight from your camera; always view the image on a proper screen first before deciding that the image is truly unsalvageable. (Thank you x100 Nevada!) The morning after the Esala Perahera festival, I’d reviewed my images and I was quite struck by the elderly lady sitting on the street (middle photo in the set). There was an etherial and ghostly beauty and I was captivated.
As previously mentioned, the above images were ‘mistakes’ in that the effects were unintentional. Due to the poor lighting of the street festival, I had to crank up the ISO, reduce the shutter speed and play around with the aperture. In addition, I could not use a tripod and therefore my images were subjected to camera shake. Nonetheless, I love the outcome. Nowadays, after I have taken my ‘insurance shot’ (another great tip from Nevada), I now try to play around and replicate what I’d accidentally did in Sri Lanka . . .
(14) While I love this image because it is beautiful (the image speaks for itself), this image is on the list because it played a huge role my development. First, it gave me confidence that I could translate what I see into something photogenic. Second, it seriously broke my heart.
When this photograph was taken, I was very much a novice with my camera’s functions. As a result, I relied heavily on it’s preset modes (i.e. auto, landscape, portraits, night images, etc.). At the time, I told myself that (unlike geeky Bruce) I really didn’t need to master shutter speed, depth of field, etc. because I had a smart camera (Nikon D70s) and thus as long as I had the correct setting, I would be all right. WRONG! I think I was photographing this in either landscape or portrait mode. Regardless, the shutter speed was 1/60 second and as such, the woman’s face was too soft. (Image has since been sharpened in Photoshop.) I’d cursed myself repeatedly for being so foolish and as a direct result of this image, I forced myself to learn how to use my camera and more about photography.
(15) In this image, the model was getting quite bored. For the past 10 minutes, she was “working the cameras” for the roomful of photographers. At first, she was thrilled to be the center of attention. But, as the click-click-click became monotonous, she started to become disinterested and lost her focus. And from this came an unguarded moment which resulted in this beautiful portrait.
(16) I am particularly fond of this image because it is unstaged and spontaneous. Bruce and I were hosted by Manaa and his family for seven nights in western Mongolia. Our host was a champion Eagle Hunter and therefore was very comfortable (and proud) to be photographed. After a meal, he gazed out of the window. I had my iPhone next to me and I immediately took a few snaps using Hipstamatic (lens: Tinto 1884; fils: C-Type Plate; no flash) to capture the moment. Of the many, many, many images that I’ve taken on Manaa over the week, this is my clear favourite because it showed him in his true light — dignified and serene!
(17) ‘Go Girl! Go!’ My heart still skips a beat when I see this image as it is very simple and yet very empowering!
(18) I love my iPhone because it is perfect for a quick snap. In particular, I love the way Hipstamatic (Tinto 1884 lens and D-Type film) gave this image a vintage feel. As such, Hipstamatic transformed a interesting picture (with the odd juxtaposition of old and new) into something more cohesive. In other words, the vintage effect reinforces the narrative and thus reinforces the odd juxtaposition.
(19) This image would never quality as ‘postcard pretty’ — and this is why I love this photograph. It is unconventional and it is a realistic capture of everyday life in the markets somewhere (anywhere) in China. I particularly like the flow in the image — ie the eyes are taken from right to left — and that the image is richly layered.
(20) I love the intimacy and sense of serenity captured in this moment with the Eagle Hunter. The extra zing in this image comes when one contrasts the hunter’s softness with the sharpness, strength and power coming from the eagle.
. . . and other favourite images that didn’t quite make it onto the Top 20 list, but are still special (to me) nonetheless . . .
(21) Although there are many technically stronger images of this horse wrestling match in the Kyrgyzstan album and although this image is compositionally weak, I prefer this image above the others because for some inexplicable reasons, I connect with this image more. Perhaps it is the expression on the face … Or, it is because there is a fluidity in his movement (ie the rider leans back and away from the ‘horse head punch’) that appeals. Regardless, this image challenges me because I can’t quite explain why I like it so much.
Bruce has often said that he’d envied my American “unembarrassability” as this enabled me to ask complete strangers for their permission to photograph them and/or, to get really up-close to the subject (rather than rely on zoom lenses). As such, he said that this characteristic makes me a stronger portrait photographer. While I appreciate his compliments, his portraits aren’t too bad either :>) … In fact, some of his are actually amazing – to see Bruce’s best portraits, please click here.
This image didn’t make onto the Top20 list because it was instinctively captured as a Mongolian horseman flew past me. The backstory behind this image was that I have just taken my “insurance shots” of the Mongolian riders playing their horse games. As such, I decided to be artsy-fartsy instead and experimented with shutter speeds. In addition, I tried to do a few panning shots as the horsemen raced by. During a lull, I was speaking to Bruce and in the distance I saw a horseman racing towards my direction. Without thought, I immediately grabbed my camera and started to take shots. Sadly, the shutter speed was 1/30 second so of the four images I managed to snap, all but one were streaks of blurred blah. But in a sea of blah, this stunning image emerged.
This isn’t a complex image; in fact, it is nothing more than a bowl with what was left from THE BEST RAMEN NOODLES I’ve ever had (street vendor on the main street adjacent to the Tokyo Fish Market). Nonetheless, I love the simplicity, symmetry, colours and patterns in this image (iPhone-Hipstamatic: Tinto 1994 lens and Blanko film).
(( kindly note that this list is currently “work in progress” ))
Bruce’s TOP 20 images as selected by Tram (because Bruce is just tooooooo busy) . . . .
Please note that this based on personal taste and is therefore completely subjective.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Bruce and I have different taste. So, if Bruce was to compile his own TOP 20 images, I know that he would have these on the top of his list . . . .
My sister’s work colleague (Toro) has a saying about Japanese temples: if there are no school kids around, then it’s not a real temple. Well, what is true in Japan is also true in Indonesia.
Kids: We are working on a school project and have a few questions for you. May we have few minutes of your time?
Bruce: Of course.
Kids: Where are you from? … How long are you staying in Indonesia? Do you like Indonesia? Do you like the food? What do you think of the people? How is our English? And, can we take a picture with you?
If you’re Asian like I am, then the above only happened several times. However, if you are tall, blonde and have blue eyes (like Bruce) then imagine the above multipled by 50. Welcome to the world of ‘tourist hunters’. Thankfully, instead of pickpockets and thieves, the hunters were the flocks of school kids on assignment to practice their English with foreigners. And, _everyone_ wanted to practice their English with Bruce! And given that we were such an ‘odd couple’, we really stood out amongst the crowd and immediately drew the attention of the school kids like bears to honey.
It was interesting to watch the school kids operate around the temple grounds. They mostly traveled in packs and the most audacious in the group would shout out ‘hello’. If you hello back, then you’re automatically hooked. And, usually only one or two in the group would do the talking (which defeated the purpose of getting all the kids to practice their English). So, my strategy was to ask each kid for their name and age and once the rapport was established, the conversation became more dynamic. As enjoyable as it was to interact with the school kids, we started to attract a crowd. So, it soon became a never-ending queue of school kids wanting to practice English with us. Hence, we spent more time being interviewed then actually visiting the temples! In the end, we spotted another group of Westerns and started to tail them. This served to load-balance the interview queue and ultimately, we managed to engineer a few brief moments to ourselves while on the temple grounds.
And temples we did visit! Temples to culture. Temples to religion. And temples to the beaches. We’d organised our holiday into three phases: first, five days in Ubud to absorb the Balinese culture; then, four days in central Java to visit Borobudur — the largest Buddhist temple in the world; and finally, two days in Bali to soak up the beach. Because each phase was so different from each other, we felt that we had three distinctive vacations back-to-back. It was such a wonderful way to explore and enjoy Indonesia!
According to the locals, Ubud during peak season is insane with the tiny town inundated with tourists. Fortunately, we arrived just a few weeks shy from the start of the peak season so we had the best temperature but without the traffic madness. And, it meant that we had no difficulties getting dinner reservations at the recommended restaurants. There were two Balinese dishes that we were absolutely determined to try — bebek betutu (slow roasted, leaf-wrapped duck) at The Dirty Duck and babi guling (suckling pig on a spit) at Ibu Oka. The former required 24-hours advance notice because the duck is slow-cooked. The latter does not, but, it required getting to the restaurant early because the babi guling often sell out quickly.
As tourists, we were spoiled for choice in terms of evening performance — every night around the Ubud palace, there were traditional Balinese dances at various venues. The performances in front of the ‘lotus pond temple’ was one of the better ones. At night, the area was lit up with candles and the temple served as the backdrop. In the vicinity were restaurants with views of the stage and thus it was possible (usually with advance reservation) to have dinner whilst watching the performances. (No surprises — the food was distinctively mediocre as the restaurants relied solely on passing tourist trade.)
But the most memorable performance we found was actually well off the tourist path. We came upon Kecak – the Monkey Chant Dance — quite by chance as it was not on the hotel’s radar of cultural things to do/see. Instead, we found this performance as a result of checking the local papers. (Travel tip: always read the local papers and ask the locals. Don’t depend solely on the hotel staff.) We had no idea what to expect as we went to the performance on a hunch. And, it was well worth the effort — it was stunning, captivating and engaging.
Kecak is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana and is told as a dance. It is not accompanied by any musical instruments. Instead, a chorus of approximately seventy men imitate the sounds of musical instruments, tell the story, and provide sound effects.
Another fond memory from Ubud was the fantastic Bird and Reptile Park. We typically don’t visit zoos when we travel, but, we had a spare afternoon. Perhaps we enjoyed it because we had low(ish) expectations. Regardless, the park was well designed (with a walk-thru aviary) and it had wide variety of healthy birds (plus one Komodo dragon). One in particular caught me attention and it was very patient with me as I’d clicked-clicked-clicked away with my Nikon.
Although Ubud is famous for it’s art galleries, we avoided hitting the galleries and shops as we were more interested in going off-the-beaten track. As such, we hired a car and driver and drove around the vicinity checking out the local temples. En route to a temple, we saw a group of women harvesting rice and we immediately pulled over. They were so amused and perplexed that we wanted to photograph them working. In fact, the ladies giggled solidly throughout the entire impromptu photo session.
On paper, getting to Borobudur from Bali is a simple one-hour flight away. In reality, it took almost a full day in transit (mostly due to the crazy road traffic). Thankfully, we allowed ourselves extra time and thus didn’t stress out when we crawled along the main road connecting Yogyakarta to Borobudur. It was particularly entertaining to see the local Javanese turn a two-lane street into a four-lane road. At one point, an ambulance with sirens on came blazing by and made space thru the traffic jam. And although we were not surprised to see a few cars ‘cheat’ and follow the ambulance, we were not expecting to see an entire (new) lane follow the ambulance. In the end, the new ‘ambulance chase’ lane stretched for about 1/2 mile long until the traffic on the opposite lane finally forced the ambulance chasers back onto their own lane. Our driver was completely non-plussed as this was everyday normal for him!
Although Borobudur is mana for temple fans and could rival the likes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobudur has less development. As far as we could see, the amenities in the area was very limited and thus we had to rely on our hotel for all meals and for travel logistics. Luckily, our hotel looked after us exceptionally well and we managed to explore Borobudur several times — at sunrise, at midday, and at dusk. In addition, we hired a car and driver to take us to the Prambanan temple complex and to the smaller (and less crowded) temples in the vicinity.
Even though neither Bruce nor I are sun worshippers and beach goers, we organized a two night stay in Bali to ease ourselves to the end of our holiday in Indonesia. Not content to just sit on the beach (although we definitely had to do it once and it was great — the hotel had a private beach and the beach huts had WiFi !!!!), we organized outings as well as a souffle cooking course with the Executive Chef. It was a fabulous way to unwind and to prepare ourselves to say goodbye to Indonesia!
This is a collection of stunning window displays and artwork from ‘the motherships’ (i.e. my favourite stores).
A selection of my favourite images are below. (To see the larger collection, please click on this link.)
Gentle reminder: neither Bruce nor I are professional videographers and therefore we can honestly attest that our travel videos are most definitely “on the rubbish side“. Nonetheless, we’ve decided to post these online if only to enrich the backstories to our travel.
(Recommended) Spain‘s Santa Semana festival:
(Recommended) Sri Lanka‘s Esala Perahera festival:
Tajikistan: the ancient sites of Penjikent
Uzbekistan: Samarkand at sunrise … and without the hordes of tourists!
Gentle reminder: neither Bruce nor I are professional videographers and therefore we can honestly attest that our travel videos are most definitely “on the rubbish side“. Nonetheless, we’ve decided to post these online if only to enrich the backstories to our travel.
(Recommended) Indonesia: Kecak – the Monkey Chant Dance
Indonesia: Borobudur — Indonesia’s majestic equivalent to Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
Indonesia: Some of temples at Prambnan were damaged by an earthquake. As such, it was mandatory that all visitors wear safety helmets.
Istanbul: Early morning calls to prayer at the Blue Mosque.
(Recommended) Japan: Sumo Wrestling in the middle of a busy crosswalk in Tokyo!
Kashgar: Night Markets
Kyrgyzstan: Roadtrip – bouncing along in a zill (an ex-Soviet truck)