Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chinese New Year 2013

The west tracks time using the Gregorian calendar while the East (China specifically) tracks time using a lunar calendar. The West celebrated the turn of the year on January 1st but the East celebrates on February 10th.   So 2013 arrived in the West earlier than the East. Strange but true.

The start of the new year in China is known as Chunjie (spring festival). It lasts almost three weeks. Last night was the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. The most remarkable aspect of this crazy celebration is the fireworks. Fireworks shoot into the dark sky from every corner of the city blocks. Fireworks are set up next to residential buildings, so close that you have to close your windows to prevent the sparks from flying inside your apartment.

With this background knowledge you might wonder why a photographer would risk his life atop a 13 story building during this crazy four hour long event. Ah, glad you asked. It's all just to capture a photo of course. What I didn't realize is, the fireworks explode right at my eye level. I had to stand behind a brick wall holding my cable release to capture these pictures. I was afraid that the sparks would damage my wide angle lens. One fireworks display surprised me so, the sparks hit me and I jumped back behind a door and dropped my cable release.

The celebrations last way past twelve midnight. They go until two or three in the morning and beyond. Even now (it's the next day at two o'clock in the afternoon) there are large explosions throughout the city.

These displays are not controlled by trained experts of large corporations nor are there requirements for the purchase or release of these canon-like works. No, rather common families spend $500-$1000 on fireworks to shoot off the night of the 9th. These are not firecrackers or even cherry bombs and sparklers. Little kids pass by 4'x 4' planter-box sized crevasses full of explosives. The loud canons blast colors into the sky 20 or more stories high and shoot sparks in a 200 foot radius. These are full on fireworks displays handled by uncle and grandpa after over drinking at the Chunjie meal. This is serious stuff I'm talking about. And everyone has them. Each family tries to outdo the next.

Next time (if there is a next time) I'll wear full body gear before venturing out into the crazy world of a Chinese New Year celebration, especially atop a building where the apex of the explosions occur.

One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching. -Anon

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Construction Everywhere

Nothing stays the same. Our city is in constant flux.

Construction is everywhere. I believe China has decided to move into the 21st century within ten years.  Streets, buildings, avenues, signs, stores, are all changing, all under construction.

Some entire buildings are being destroyed. Others are being gutted and resurfaced and new windows and doors added. New sewage and water mains are placed into trenches in the streets to feed the upward growth. Even subways are added in the gaping holes. The goal of which is to move the people that will later inhabit these huge structures.

The building you see in the distance was started only two months ago. Now it's a 20 story framework of steel, ready for glass walls.

Fast Construction

After the construction of the roads are finished I suppose it'll all be better, but now it's a nightmare. Instead of tackling one avenue at a time our city decided to do them all at the same time. Go figure.

Knotted traffic of twists and detours are now expected by the car and moped drivers. Even though they are used to it, it doesn't get any easier to navigate. If fact, it's harder. What was once a main road becomes blocked the next day. The entire city traffic must be routed around it to get through.

Three-point Turns

In our city people can do three-point turns anywhere, even in construction zones, even between blocks, regardless of where they are, anytime they want. Even busses do three-point turns in the middle of the block. Motorists, mopeds, bicyclists, people on foot, and vendors with push carts simply stream around them, in front and behind, as the bus inches back and forth. It's insanity.

When will it all end? Not too sure. I've heard that there is another two years to go. Yikes.

Some days it's just to much for me to navigate. Today I came home early. I just couldn't take another detour.

Some days it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps. -Anon

Sunday, December 23, 2012


I love to go up to the lake and enjoy the sunshine. Even though it's winter here, the warm sun makes it feel like springtime. People are out everywhere walking, talking, playing, sketching, and . . . taking pictures.

Everywhere I look I see guys (mostly guys) with big Nikons or Canons around their necks. Some have lenses that cost $5,000. They are hunting birds.

Streams of birds come down to our city (southern China) from Russia to hang out here and avoid the harsh winters. They have been coming for years. They settle down into the small lakes and eat the bread tossed by the little children.

There are few railings along the water's edge to protect the children from falling in, although I've never seen it happen. I am surprised that I don't see more accidents.

But the kids romp and play along the edge swinging their arms out over the water to send a little bread morsel to the waiting birds.

The picture you see here is simply a water mirror turned upside down.

My house is child proof but somehow they still get in. -Anon

Friday, December 14, 2012

Productivity Tip

Productivity blogs are overwhelming in of themselves.

Do I really need to “Shave one minute off of my email reading?” or find “5 ways to save 5 minutes a day”?

I think not.

Come on people. If you "shave" a minute off your day what will you do with all that extra time, read another productivity tip? Think of the time you'd save if you stopped reading productivity tips altogether.

This is not to say I don't try to save time myself.

For example, sometimes I forget to check my clothes before I put them on, but then discover the wrinkles. It takes too much time to take them off, iron them, and put then back on. I'm a busy guy.  So I just iron them in place.

Now there's a real productivity tip for you. I bet you'll never hear THAT on LifeHacker.

Actually, I have quite a few "life shortcuts" I'd be willing to share.

(To save you time reading this tip, I simply took a picture. See! Look at the time you've saved!)

LifeHacker should hire me.

I am not lazy. I'm just reducing my carbon footprint.  - Dave Terry

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Mob

Our trip to Korea was a success. Eric got married and Moah's new extended family is a wonderful addition to ours.

Moah's dad, Terry (yeah, it's true, Terry is his real English name, go figure) took us everywhere in Korea, eating places, shopping places, and touring places. He provided door-to-door service to and from our hotel. He was fantastic, the family was fantastic, and the food was fantastic.

The photographer

The shot above was taken by Eric's buddy, Westin. He's a very talented photographer. I wish I had his skill when I was his age, I'd be so much better than I am now. He's got great and very creative ideas.

This shot has sort of a magazine feel. We were all to pose with serious faces. The red chairs were already there in the restaurant garden and provided excellent contrast to the green grass. In the end, the photo made us look like a TV ad for "The Sopranos" which was the effect that Weston was going for. On this trip he brought over fifty pounds of photo gear, no easy task when traveling between America, Korea and China.

In fact, when reentering China we had so much photo gear (both my gear and Weston's) that the security guard asked what I did for a living. When I told him I'm an English teacher in China, he then asked: "Then why all these cameras?" I had to explain that my son just got married and we were taking pictures for the wedding in Korea. I was afraid that he was going to force us to pay customs for all the extra gear. Eric thought he was afraid that we were from some news agency and might be shooting sensitive China events. In any case, we got through without any problem. I guess the security guard believed my story.

My friends are the stars I don't see but are always there. - Anonymous

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sketch Whatever's in Front of You

This last Sunday Ruth worked on her new painting. (We're trying to get some images and pictures on the walls before the parents come next month.) We've lived here now for about a year and a half and still have no pictures on the walls. It looks a bit bleak. Like an empty cave.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon so while she painted and we talked I started drawing what was on the coffee table. What's great about sketching is that once you start, time evaporates. As we talked and she painted I finished the bottle and cup and then started on my camera. Drawing complex stuff is easier when you just take one line at a time and don't think too much.

After about an hour of drawing I decided to fetch the watercolors and add some washes. A rough sketch always looks better with a little color.

When I was done I realized how much I missed my daily sketching. There just seems to be so many other things to do. But sketching helps maintain my sanity.

Yesterday at Starbucks I was about to pull out my pen and sketchbook when one of the employees asked me and a friend if we'd like to sample coffee and cheesecake.

Should I draw or drink coffee and eat cheesecake?

I bailed on the sketch and enjoyed visiting with her and her two associates over coffee and desert.

I can always sketch tomorrow.

"Tomorrow is another day." - Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With The Wind

Monday, September 03, 2012

Fake Friends and Fallacious Facts

An open letter to writers everywhere.

I'd guess I'm living in a very insecure society. I keep reading about you writers who manufacture quotes, interviews, and content. Are you so insecure in your craft that you have to create fiction in your non-fiction works?

Or how about you writers of fiction? You're no better. After your fictitious characters have been created and wrapped inside the covers of your books, you keep on creating fictitious people who write reviews of your books. (No wonder the five star book I downloaded was so bad that I had to delete it from my Kindle.)

Where is your conscience?

What is wrong with you people? Do you have no conscience? What happened to honest writing, honest reviews, and well, honest people?

What's worse is that, in addition to pumping up your own fictitious reviews with five star ratings, you've gone out and trashed your contemporary's books.

People! Get a grip. Get a hug from a friend and get over your insecurity. Put the book out there and let the readers decide. Stop five star inflation.

And another thing, after you're finished with the fictitious characters in your book, don't create fictitious reviewers for your book. Do I have to tell you people this is dishonest? Is your moral compass so demagnetized that you can't find true north? If you must continue to write fiction, start another book. I promise you that if your first book is good, we'll buy your second book, regardless of what the reviewers on Amazon say.

The trouble with the fictitious reviews and reviewers you've created is that we don't know they're "pretend" and that you're still writing fiction. Of course, if your book is terrible even though your fake friends gave it five stars, word will get around. If you're no good, it doesn't matter what you say, people will know.

The Challenge

I challenge you to use all your energy and time to write the best book you can. If it's good, we'll buy it. Just make sure that your fiction stays between its covers. If it isn't any good, who knows, maybe you're not ready for prime time. Keep writing, you'll get better. Eventually you'll publish.

If you are writing non-fiction, then keep it that way. The reason why the libraries and book stores separate fiction from non-fiction is that, well, we like to know what's real and what's not. It's sort of a reader's preference. You might not understand this but believe me when I tell you, if you get these things mixed up, readers will stop reading your books and articles, regardless of your association with a big magazine or publishing house.

To the writers who have not yet been caught, I say: Stop it. Come clean. Write good copy. Make it interesting, absorbing, and factual. If you're good, there will be no need to manufacture interviews, facts, or reviews. You can be secure in knowing that people will read you because you write well.

Why can't I want what I already have? -anon