Sakura Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo Japan means Spring has arrived

Inokashira Park with sakura cherry blossoms in full bloom - Olympus 5060 digital cameraIt is the first day of spring, which in Florida does not have as much meaning as there is never really any winter so it's not a date to look forward to like it is in most parts of the world.  This is expecially true in Tokyo, where the end of March brought my favorite (and millions of others' favorite) time of year, cherry blossom season.  Sakura (the Japanese word, also a popular name for girls) bloom for about two weeks.  If things time out right, that means getting two weekends to enjoy the pinkish white blossoms.  Above is Inokashera Park, a place to see sakura in a more natural setting from land or water.  Many couples go out on small boats, but the legend of the pond is that any couple that does is then doomed to breakup!

The old & new of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo Japan with a river lined with cherry blossoms.This photo is from my neighborhood in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and highlights the contrast of the ultra-modern, the traditional and the natural world all in one, which is why of all places I lived abroad, Shinjuku was the only one I felt a real connection with.  On this weekday, I had the cement river walkway all to myself.

Overlooking a pond in Shinjuku Gyoen during cherry blossom season

The pond and overlook temple above are in Shinjuku Gyoen, perhaps the most esteemed place to go to see sakura.  This park was within walking distance from my apartment and my favorite place to escape the city while still being in the heart of the city.  

Hong Kong Street Photography May 2002

Hong Kong street photography - made with my first digital camera Olympus 2040ZI visited Hong Kong in May of 2002, but it was not exactly on purpose.  By that I mean I did not think to myself where do I want to go for a three-day trip?  Hmm, Hong Kong sounds good.  I went to Hong Kong, it could be said, just to see a movie.  Of course it was not just any movie, but rather EPISODE II.  I was living in South Korea at the time and the movie was not opening there for months later, which was unacceptable.  The movie opened on a Wednesday if I recall, and I did have a job teaching in South Korea then.  I just told them I needed a few days off, no reason given, and certainly not that I was leaving the country!

I do not remember how, but I made a contact with someone in Hong Kong, a fellow Star Wars fan.  Tickets would of course sell out so I could not just stroll up to the ticket counter on opening night, so he said he would buy one for me when he bought his ahead of time.  Now I was a total stranger just reaching out to another fan, and he totally came through for me.  I guess we just agreed to meet at the theater as I had no cell phone with me to use in Hong Kong or anything like that.  The power of fandom!

It felt like the buildings were leaning over you in Hong KongI saw the movie three times in those three days in Hong Kong!  I did manage to get out and explore a bit too though.  Hong Kong felt very intimate to me, like everything was packed together and happening out on the streets.  The buildings themselves felt like they were leaning over you, closing in even more.  

Sign overload in the shopping districts of Hong KongAll these photos were taken with my very first digital camera, a 2.1 megapixel Olympus 2040Z.  

You have to weave your way through pedestrian traffic in Hong KongIt was a great three days in Hong Kong.  I stayed in touch with the guy who got me the tickets for awhile afterwards.  I also made friends with the guys in the PC cafe near my hotel that I visited often to read about reaction to the movie, etc.  Somehow I bought a white Mountain Hardwear t-shirt at a shop there that I still wear to the beach this day.  In the airport I bought a portable alarm clock that I have been using since then too.  All in all, it was a very memorable trip.  I watched the sun set from the airplane window as my time ended and I flew back across the Sea.


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    Vietnam Hill Tribe Children Photo Story

    Laughing at my numbers jokes on a lunch break in Vietnam 2002 - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraWhen you travel with your camera, fun things happen.  The photographs you make with your camera help you remember that fun years down the line.  In July of 2002 I spent a few weeks traveling in the northen areas of Vietnam and met a lot of people and especially kids.  My style of traveling is very slow paced, spending days just hanging out in random places.  I am a shy person by nature, but whenever I have travled in SE Asia, if I just sit somewhere, inevitably people will come up to me and start talking.

    In the above photo I was on a small guided tour doing homestays with hill tribe peoples in the Sapa Valley (perhaps the most pure place I have ever been).  We did not stay with this family, only having lunch there.  It was a restaurant really and rather busy.  My backpack developed a rip in it and I asked this woman if she could sew it.  While she did that I had my lunch with her and all those kids.  While in Vietnam, I learned how to say numbers in Vietnamese, which allowed me to make a series of jokes about buying some of their farm animals, etc.  It was a fun time with them and thanks to my trusty Olympus 2040Z, one of the first digital cameras, only capable of a 2MP image max (1600x1200), I have this photo to help me remember that time.  

    "Hello, candy?" was my greeting from these girls - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraI was hiking down into the Sapa Valley on my own, as the pace of the guide with the three much older members of the group were taking involved way too many breaks.  I was feeling the thrill of exploring an enchanted place and could not stop.  Along the way I met these two girls who greeted me with, "Hello, candy?"  This made me laugh.  I told them sorry I did not have any candy with me.  I think we shared some raisins together though.

    Jason with two Black Hmong children in Sapa, Vietnam - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraTo make this group shot with yours truly in it I set the camera on my bag with the self timer on.  These kids belonged to the Black Hmong hill tribe and were tending to a water buffalo, who did not want to be petted, unfortunately.  I still regularly wear the shirt and pants you see me in above, although in my increasing width, the shirt is seemingly shrinking.  The G-Shock watch I am wearing, along with the Olympus camera that made this photo, were both, sadly, stolen when in Miami in 2003.  

    Plastic bottles were in high demand in northern Vietnam - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraAnother very surprising thing was the high interest in collecting plastic water bottles (empty).  Whenever our transport vehicle would stop, kids would ask for any empty water bottles we had.  You could also buy food and full water bottles from right inside the vehicle.  As soon as you stop, boom, arms are through the windows and snacks are literally right under your nose for purchase!  Very convenient!

    She spoke near fluent English, self taught in Sapa, Vietnam - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraThis photo story is revealing a significant secret of mine, which is my feelings about the Sapa Valley in northern Vietnam.  It is an absolutely incredible place.  It is just so pure.  The Earth seems younger there.

    I spent about two hours just chatting with the girl above while I waited for my train to leave Sapa.  Her English was amazingly good.  She said she just learned by talking to tourists.  I was impressed as none of my students back in Korea could speak English like her!  She was talkative and I enjoyed listening to her tell me how she makes the crafts she does and just about her life in Sapa in general.  I cannot remember what I bought from her.  Perhaps a bracelet?  I am very glad to have this photograph to remember her by.

    Heading to the post office on a rope bridge in Vietnam - Olympus 2040Z 2 MP digital cameraThese boys were on their way to the post office proud to have the responsibility of delivering a postcard.  I had to keep retaking this photo as more boys wanted to get in the shot.  They went on to the post office and I continued on into the Sapa Valley. 

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  • Photography Tip -- travel (or live) abroad

    Scenes from my 2-week trip in Cambodia July-August 2001, the greatest time of my life; Clockwise from upper left - Me with some children who live on a lake, sunrise over Angkor Wat, a Ta Prohm silk cotton tree before it was made famous by the Tomb Raider movie, yours truly surveying the jungle from Angkor WatI cannot state strongly enough how important I think it is to travel abroad, even better, to live abroad.  In July of 2001 I crossed the western Cambodia border from Thailand in the bed of a small truck.  This was my first time to visit Southeast Asia and the first time to really use my new digital camera, an Olympus 2040 EZ (2.1 megapixels).  This was still the very beginning of digital cameras, very, very few people had one.  I cite this event as my true birth into photography.  

    Therefore, my photography tip is a simple one:  travel abroad for as long as possible

    By long, I mean at least one month (four weeks).  If you have not yet gotten into photography as much as you would like, there is nothing like traveling abroad to be the catalyst to do it.  If you are already a frequent photographer, having a whole new world of subject matter will boost your creative output like nothing else can.

    You might just end up having the greatest experience of your life, and having the photographs to remember it years later.  

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    --I have never yet written extensively about my time in Cambodia, but creating a long photo story from my archives and journals is always on my mind.