Monday, December 31, 2012

2012, Day 365 - The journey ahead

I feel so fortunate as I reflect on the past year.  It was filled with friends, family, travel, adventure, puppies, and photography.  I have been lucky to have such great people around me and a successful business that has afforded me the pleasure of an epic adventure to Cambodia with great friends.  I also had a wonderful family vacation of theater, reading, board games, and laughter.  If fortune smiles on me the coming year will be just was amazing.

I wish you all a year of family, friends, and financial success!

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
50mm, f2.8, 1/50 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012, Day 364 - Salt sauna

This is one of the work crew we met when we went out to the salt fields in Kampot.  Near the roads adjacent to large open fields are rough wooden sheds.  Each is filled to the rafters with salt and when orders are placed a crew is sent to start bagging.  There were about a dozen men working when we arrived to fill what we were told was a small order; one thousand fifty kilogram bags.  That is over one hundred thousand pounds and the bagging was supposed to be finished in a single day.

As if that wasn't bad enough the sun was beating down on the corrugated steel roof making the shed like a sauna.  It was nice to see I wasn't the only one sweating but everyone else was working a lot harder than me.  All I could think as I watched the men work was that the salt must be sucking the moisture out of them and if they aren't careful they are all going to end up empty husks.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f2.8, 1/160 sec @ 250 ISO

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012, Day 363 - Velvet

This is another photograph from one of the many walks I took yesterday.  Looking at life through a macro lens really alters your perspective.  The ordinary becomes exciting and little details make all the difference.  There was a bit of shift in the colors so I applied a little black and white toning to bring it down and allow the focus to be on the texture and the interplay of light and shadow.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 60mm/f2.8 Macro
60mm, f5.6, 1/200 sec @ 200 ISO

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012, Day 362 - Pearls

The holidays are over.  Yes, I know, there is still New Year's but today marked the end of my celebration and my return to the gym.  Too much indulgence has eaten away at the progress made towards my fitness goals.  So instead of driving today I walked everywhere and when you add that to my walks with the dogs it totaled almost twelve miles.  Not a bad day and with my camera in hand I took the opportunity to explore the details of the world.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 60/f2.8 Macro
60mm, f5.6, 1/200 sec @ 200 ISO

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012, Day 361 - Breakfast

In much of Asia rice porridge is a popular breakfast item.  Generally I've never been much of a fan because it is often rather bland and I don't care what time of day it is I want my food to have flavor.  That said, I did have some good congee in Cambodia with finely chopped vegetables seasoned with onion and garlic and finished with finely ground salt and pepper.

Below a woman eats breakfast after finishing the morning's butchering.  Eating in Cambodia is usually a social activity so while she may look alone her friends in the neighboring stalls were eating, chatting, and laughing together.

Canon 1D X, Canon 100/f2.8L IS
100mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 250 ISO

2012, Day 360 - Winter's touch

The year is coming to an end, winter's grip is tight and the nights are frigid.  White plumes declare each exhalation and grass crackles underfoot.  It is beautiful but loveless, the peace if refreshing...

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50/f1.2L
50mm, f1.2, 1/6 sec @ 800 ISO

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012, Day 359 - Merry X-Mas

Now we play with all of our new toys and try to remember that, while playing, there are people out there who have nothing.  With the year coming to an end maybe now is the time to think about what we can do in the coming year to make life a little better for those less fortunate.  I will continue to volunteer at a shelter providing meals to the residents.  Maybe I will find another way to give back, it would take commitment but these kinds of tasks are very rewarding.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that your holidays are filled with friends, family, and love!

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24/f1.4L Mark II
24mm, f1.4, 1/160 sec @ 400 ISO

2012, Day 358 - Onion

Today, seeing as it is the holidays, I thought I would share a picture of my nephew Onion. Well his name is really Orion but to me he will always be Onion thanks to a fortuitous auto correct incident on the day he was born.

Right now he is, as many children are, obsessed with trains. Thank you very much Thomas. Fortunately he can entertain himself quietly for hours reenacting episodes that he has religiously watched. Here he was flipping through a Thomas the Train book while Grandpa loomed on and he patiently explained the plot of the book. Sometimes I think he is more lucid than his grandfather.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50/f1.2L
50mm, f1.4, 1/320 sec @ 400 ISO

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012, Day 357 - Severed

Tonight we go back in time to revisit the nuclear power plant at Satsop.  It was so much fun exploring and this room was fascinating.  To me it looked like someone excised a vital organ severing all the arteries and leaving in its place an empty shell and the suggestion of what once was.  It is a little sad but also endlessly fascinating; at the time I think we were all so overwhelmed by the sheer size of the plant that many of the questions the spring to mind now were just drowned out was the sense of awe.

Oh well, maybe we can arrange a return visit in the spring...

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, 1/40 sec @ 320 ISO

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012, Day 356 - Bursting

This was one of the final scenes from our epic day of adventuring in the Kampot area.  First we went to the salt fields, then to the pepper plantations, next he had a delicious seafood lunch in Kep, then we ascended Bokor to see the old hotel casino under renovation, then we stopped off at a little mountain temple where we were greeted by this vista.  Many people would have preferred a clear day but I love that you can see rays of light penetrating the clouds and reflecting off the Gulf of Thailand.  It was stunning and an incredible way to finish a wonderful and productive day of exploring.  I think luck followed us throughout our trip in Cambodia :)

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
35mm, f8, 1/2000 sec @ 200 ISO

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012, Day 355 - Mincing

How could anyone fail to admire a woman who could reduce your face to a fine paste with a cleaver in each hand?  This photograph was taken at the Boeng Keng Kang Market in Phnom Pehn.  I wandered off while Araceli and Francene were trying their luck at a traditional Khmer breakfast of rice porridge and ended up walking down a narrow walkway with pieces of meat dangling from hook all around me.  Although I have been vegetarian for a decade now I don't find it disturbing and would rather see people consume fresh farm-to-table meats than the factory farmed stuff you get on styrofoam wrapped in plastic.

Canon 1D X, Canon 50/f1.2L
50mm, f2, 1/125 sec @ 500 ISO

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012, Day 354 - Heavenly figure

That person at the top of the stairs is my friend Julie, she and I had a photo adventure last week after a lovely dinner.  It was windy and cold but we braved the elements and came away with some nice shots.  Sometimes a little discomfort makes for a great photograph.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24/f3.5L TSE Mark II
24mm, f4, 2 sec @ 400 ISO

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012, Day 353 - Winter paradise

I am rather in love with being home again after my tropical adventures in Cambodia.  This is another photograph from Mount Talbert, I love the richness of the greens and yellows.  It is so lush and vibrant and ever so slightly primeval.  You can smell the rich earth with that slight tinge of sweet decay from the littered maple leaves and hear small bird flit in and out of the shrubs while the wind sighs through the trees.  It is beautiful and serene.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24/f3.5L TSE
24mm, f5.6, 1/20 sec @ 200 ISO

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012, Day 352 - Stumped

With this morning's snowfall I felt that today I would depart from my large collection of unprocessed photos from Cambodia to bring you an image of Oregon.  I took this photo last week with my friend Jeff at Mount Talbert.  There is something about that small park, it doesn't get a lot of use but I find it to be stunningly beautiful.  We hiked through the misty rain along the soft path made springy with old leaves through the trees.  That these are temperate rain forests is made evident by the amount of moss clinging to every surface.  Through the leaves mushrooms strain to push clear and I suspect there are many gnomes building new homes.

While Cambodia was beautiful and I had a great time it is nice to be home even if it is near freezing and wet...

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24/f3.5L TSE
24mm, f5.6, 1/25 sec @ 200 ISO

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012, Day 351 - Stained red

This is where we ended up on our day of travel misadventure near Cambodia's east coast.  We started out from Kampot, drove to Kep, went in search of the famous Kampot pepper plantations and ended up a stone's throw from the border with Vietnam.  Paved roads gave way to red clay and we sat in the car while I driver asked for directions.  Every time a truck passed massive clouds of fine red dust were thrown into the air and visibility was reduces to a few feet.  All the while this gentleman stood at the mouth of a side street selling his snacks.  I can only imagine they were a bit earthy and I don't recall anyone stopping but I am sure he stood out there all day or until his pot was emptied.  In retrospect I would have liked to have gone exploring but we were on a mission that, sadly, we ultimately aborted but which we achieved the following day...

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
135mm, f4, 1/250 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012, Day 350 - Ruined

Beng Mealea was probably the most exciting temple that we visited in Cambodia.  The architecture is quite similar to Angkor Wat but the temple layout, a series of galleries on a single level, is vastly different.  Beng Mealea is probably the most significantly damaged of the jungle temples but the authorities are quite permissive in allowing exploration.  Tumbled stones create somewhat precarious steps to the top of walls along which visitors are free to walk.  It truly feels like exploration but I expect that in the relatively near future access is going to become more limited.  The stress of people climbing through the ruins is threatening the integrity of the site which leaves me with mixed emotions.  I am glad that I got to experience this magnificent temple the way that I did but there is a lingering guilt that I have contributed to the degradation of their amazing place.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
35mm, f8, merged layers of 1/13, 1/6, and 1/3 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012, Day 349 - Icons

There is no image of Cambodia more iconic than Angkor Wat at sunrise.  It is the shot that everyone with even the most remote interest in photography wants to remember their trip.  Although we have all seen many when it is you behind the camera it feels special.  On any given morning there may be a hundred people or more lining the edge of the reflecting pond in the hope of a good sunrise and the morning this was take was no different.  The bank of the pond was crowded with people trying to find enough space to take a picture.  Many had flashes going off lighting nothing at all and others were using their smartphones.  I had a tripod, multiple lenses, and a pouch full of filters.

We arrived a little later than I would have liked and our initial position along the pond wasn't great but as the sun crested the horizon people began to leave.  Soon there was space in the prime positions so I grabbed my Lee Big Stopper to push sunrise back a little bit and kept taking pictures.  Those people who left missed out, the colors got better as the sun rose.  I even had a Japanese gentleman standing by side looking at my images on the back of my camera as I shot.  He was impressed with the results and how I was achieving the look of sunrise when there was already so much light in the sky.  I kept taking pictures and explained what I was doing and he thanked me when I started packing up.  It's great to share tip and tricks; hopefully he was able to utilize them to get the pictures that he was hoping for because I know I got mine.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
53mm, f8, 1/80 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012, Day 348 - Open and shut

Preah Khan was the temple we visited without Brian and Nicole.  They were feeling run down and Nicole had a book, now published, to review so Araceli and I were on our own for the morning adventure with Mr. Mony.  True to form we left early so we arrived before the crowds and had the temple to ourselves which made it ideal for photography.

Preah Khan does not have multiple levels like some of the other temples at Angkor, it is a series of successive galleries with a Buddhist temple at the center.  Because of the the transfer back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism there are also small Hindu temples within the compound as well.  You cans see in this image where one tree was cut down because it was dangerously unstable and was a threat to the integrity of the temple and to the life and limb of those visiting.  Otherwise Preah Khan is largely unrestored and trees have, with only some success, tried to reclaim the site as part of the larger jungle.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, merged layers of 1/200, 1/50, and 1/25 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012, Day 347 - Golden sunburst

This sunburst of a building is Phnom Penh's Psah Thom Thmey, known commonly as the Central Market.  Built in 1937 the central dome has four massive hallways lined with stalls that radiate from the center.  When it opened the Central Market was thought to be the largest market in all of Asia.  It took two years to complete the construction and that doesn't include the time it took to fill in the lake that once stood where the market is now.  The Central Market was and is an Art Deco masterpiece, it is a gleaming gold and ivory monument to the French colonists and stands today as proof of Cambodia's colonial past.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 800 ISO

2012, Day 346 - Angling

On our return from Koh Dach where we watched weavers spinning delicate iridescent fibers into thread that would be later woven there were a number of men fishing along the banks of the Mekong River.  With a little lens juggling help from Brian I was able to get a number of pictures but this one is my favorite.  In color it looked nice but I wanted to emphasize the composition so a little Silver Efex magic and this is the result.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS
200mm, f4, 1/1000 sec @ 100 ISO

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012, Day 345 - Breakfast

Phnom Penh's Russian Market, despite being popular with foreign visitors, is geared towards local residents. In addition to the normal tourist kitsch there are people selling food, clothes, shoes, bedding, paint, hardware, tools, auto parts, tailors, hair dressers, and more.  You could buy almost everything you could possibly need at the Russian Market and for the locals there is an entire section that serves Khmer food.  Many people have breakfast at the markets before the do their daily shopping and, regardless of the time of day, there are rarely any empty seats.

The smell of onions, garlic, fish, chicken, rice, and noodles permeates the air and conversations are punctuated by the hiss of food hitting a hot pan.  There is a slight smokiness to the air as food is cooked.  The air is humid and warmer thanks to all the fires lit in this section of the market.  For those of us unaccustomed to the heat it is almost stifling but my fascination overcame my discomfort and I had to see what people were eating.  Honestly, almost all of it looked delicious!

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 3200 ISO

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012, Day 344 - Butcher

I took this photo on our first day in Phnom Penh.  Brian, Nicole, Araceli, and I were running off of about four hours of sleep, all of us were unable to get too much rest and met over breakfast.  Little did we know at the time that we probably should have skipped the most important meal of the day.

With our scheduled arrival in Cambodia being later Saturday night it was decided that the best time to take a cooking class was the very first day.  Our hotel helped us direct our tuk tuk driver to the meeting point for the Linna Culinary School.  Before instruction began our hostess, the illustrious Linna herself, took us on a tour of one of the small local markets.  It was essentially a long crowded alley lined on either side with meat and produce.  This particular woman caught my eye as she relaxed behind her cutting board and hanging meats.  The wall behind had such great texture and her shirt provided such a nice contrast.

I love markets, I think it is one of the best ways to people watch.  Everyone goes to the market and only the wealthy manage to avoid it.  There is such a great bustle of life, people chatting, haggling, and laughing.  Little breakfast places interrupt the vendors and the crowds get thicker.  Some of the smells are tantalizing and others put you off the idea of eating.  Colors are bright and the sights and sounds are almost overwhelming but the excitement of the place is infectious.  I never tire of markets and would happily go every day.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f2.8, 1/400 sec @ 640 ISO

2012, Day 343 - Victorious

Preah Khan was not just a temple, it was also an institution of learning as well as the center of a city.  Historians believe that there may have been as many as one hundred thousand people who lived and worked to support the temple complex.  It is one of the many temples known for the aggressive advance of the jungle.  Trees have torn many walls apart leaving rubble behind.  The aptly named strangler figs have such a tenacious grip that it would cause more damage to remove them than to manage future growth.

Although named for the holy sword of King Jayavarman VII and his conquests it is clear the victory is fleeting.  The accomplishments of man, though impressive, are yielding to the power of nature.  It is an incredible fight to witness and the result is breathtaking.  We were fortunate to arrive early enough that when you stood still all you could hear was the call of birds, the hum of cicadas, and the slight rustling of the trees signalling their advance...

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, merged layers of 1/40 and 1/10 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2012, Day 342 - Glory restored

One of the many amazing things that I did on my recent trip to Cambodia was visit Preah Monivong National Park where the old site of Bokor Hill Station is located.  Built as a resort town beginning in 1921 by the French to escape the heat and humidity the centerpiece was the Bokor Palace Hotel.  More recently the Khmer Rouge used the hotel as a stronghold when fighting the Vietnamese and because of the prolonged conflict, occupation, and subsequent abandonment the building has fallen into disrepair.

More recently the site of the old Bokor Hill Station has been under development.  A new hotel and casino are being built with a planned opening in the spring of 2013.  Sadly it looks like a monstrosity, it lacks style and elegance.  The Bokor Palace is not being ignored.  We were able to wander the site and while it is under construction it is still early days.  Bullet holes and broken sections of the exterior wall have been repaired and some work has been carried out on the interior but there is much left to do.  In another year I suspect it won't be open to the wanderings of curious tourists.  Although it is a skeleton now its current state speaks to its history and I find it hard to believe that the restoration will truly do justice to the original majesty of the hotel when the French reigned in Cambodia.  It is history before our eyes and soon it will be whitewashed and the importance of the Bokor will be harder to appreciate.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f8, HDR of 1/20, 1/10, 1/5, 0.4, and 0.8 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, December 7, 2012

2012, Day 341 - Time for a sacrifice

I couple weeks ago I posted an image from atop Pre Rup and tonight we revisit the site.  Built in the 10th century from brick and red stone, Pre Rup was used primarily for cremations.  Normally the late afternoon light only serves to heighten the rusty color of this temple but as the sun dipped towards the horizon the colors began to soften.  It wasn't long before we were living buffets for mosquitoes but the clouds and sky kept getting better and better.  With the help of OnOne's Perfect Effects I was able to drain almost all of the warmth from this picture and create the somber and funereal effect I sought.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f11, merged layers of 1/250 and 1/30 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2012, Day 340 - Sky temple

This is the view of the third tier of Angkor Wat from the terrace on the second tier.  The name Angkor Wat actually refers to a city temple where the two are one in the same but the beautiful morning clouds make it look like some celestial palace.  The size is really awe inspiring and the stairs to the top are even more steep than they look.  A second set of wooden stairs has been built atop the existing stone on one side to allow for a safer ascent.  It is still steep and though the climb only takes a minute it can be brutal once the sun hits the stairs.  The purpose of the steep stairs is to remind those climbing that they are rising closer to the divine and that is certainly the impression one gets visiting these amazing temples.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, Merged layers of 1/3200 and 1/800 @ 100 ISO

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012, Day 339 - Still waters

Kep is a small coastal town on the Gulf of Thailand.  Originally a French resort town, Kep lost ground to Sihanoukville in the 60s and then was largely abandoned when the Khmer Rouge came to power.  Today the waterfront is home to some large hotels and picnic sites but many of the houses are ruined shells.  Once abandoned they are now owned predominantly by property speculators waiting for the market to peak in order to get top dollar.

We arrived after a morning of playing with salt and pepper to walk along the waterfront.  The clouds were remarkable and the ocean was a startling blue; a nice contrast to the muddy rivers from all the recent rainfall. There was a refreshing breeze and took a little edge off the sun's heat and we happened upon the ruins of a pier.  I took a few pictures but continued on with Araceli and Francene but I couldn't get the image out of my mind.  When we stopped for lunch I grabbed my tripod and headed back to take a few long exposures with the help of my handy neutral density filter.  It allowed me to extend the exposure and give the water that smooth look.  I love the beautiful calm of Kep, it won't be a sleepy fishing town forever but this is how I will remember it.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f16, 10 sec @ 100 ISO

2012, Day 338 - Religious solitude

These are some of the ruins at Wat Ek Phnom just outside of Battambang.  It is an interesting temple complex is part because there is a new temple that is built directly in front of the old crumbling one.  Built in the 11th century Wat Ek Phnom is not a very popular temple with tourists but it is frequently used by locals who come and picnic along the ancient baray, a large man-made body of water, filled with lilies.

When we visited there were a few other foreigners exploring the site but it was mostly unused.  The altar in the ruins is partially intact and the stubs of incense indicate that many people still climb the tumbled stones to pray.  It is a place suitable for quiet contemplation as it is off the beaten track so there is little to intrude on your meditations.  Wat Ek Phnom was the first of many temple ruins we visited and although it was not the most impressive it is a much more peaceful site than many we explored.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, HDR of 1/200, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, and 1/13 sec @ 100 ISO

Monday, December 3, 2012

2012, Day 337 - Modern farming

Cambodia is still a largely agricultural country.  When the Khmer Rouge took power part of their plan for independence was to force people out of the cities and make them into farmers.  Sadly, the the decimation of half the population through execution of the seditious or by forced labor, left the country still unable to feed itself.  People were starving and the leaders were too preoccupied with quashing opposition to do anything about it.

Now, decades later, many Cambodians are subsistence farmers and the average annual wage is about $1,500 when measured against the US dollar.  The economy is getting ready to explode but I think one of the big worries is to keep the growth responsible and sustainable.  Despite the opportunities for economic development I doubt we are going to see water buffalo disappear from the agricultural landscape any time soon.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4, 1/400 sec @ 100 ISO

2012, Day 336 - The monk and the dancers

Angkor Wat is not just a place that foreign tourists visit, monks from all over Cambodia come too to absorb the majesty.  This monk and his companions traveled down from near the Thai border to see the temples at Angkor.  He was accompanied by a younger monk with greater seniority on his trip.  It sounded like he came to the monastery late in life; it may be that he is a widower who has looked to a retirement of a religious nature.

I took a series of candid shots but he and his companion later posed for us.  It was very kind of them to indulge us but they were so wooden and unnatural looking that I much prefer these.  The carvings on the walls depict Apsara, celestial dancers who inhabit clouds and water.  When clustered together the Apsara become divine guardians and here they serve to protect the mountain temple that is Angkor Wat.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
200mm, f4, 1/250 sec @ 100 ISO

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2012, Day 335 - Benevolence

This is Bayon, the temple at the center of King Jayavarman VII's capital.  Built in the 12th century, Bayon is known for the serene smiling faces that adorn the towers.  Some scholars believe that the faces may be those of Jayavarman himself as it would not have been unusual for the king to be given a divine status; other scholars have suggested that the faces represent the Bodhisattva of compassion.  It was the last temple to be built in Angkor and was, when constructed, almost entirely Buddhist although it has since been modified by later Hindu and Buddhist monarchs.

This was the first temple we visited at the Angkor complex.  Araceli and I arrived in Siem Reap at about noon while Brian and Nicole had arrived the day prior.  Mr. Mony did not allow us to waste and he picked us up in the afternoon, took us to buy our temple passes, and then we went straight to Angkor Thom and this magnificent temple.  This is taken from one of the courtyards outside the temple proper and here you can see the entrance and the lichen covered faces looking benevolently out in the four cardinal directions.  Near the stairs to the main entrance you can see a member of the temple security staff walking away which may help to give you a sense of scale.  While Bayon is not a large temple it is still a huge structure composed of thousands of carefully laid stone blocks that have endured for almost nine centuries.

The smiling faces that adorn the towers really do give Bayon a warm inviting feeling.  It suggests that all are welcome and it was an amazing way to be initiated into the majesty of Angkor.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
24mm, f5.6, merged layers of 1/100, 1/25, and 1/13 sec @ 100 ISO

2012, Day 334 - Just a facade

Tonight we return to Beng Mealea.  I can't get enough of this temple and the more I look at the images the more enchanted I become.  This is a small courtyard outside one of the large antechambers.  Tumbled stones are littered across the ground and trees have a death grip on the buildings but I still marvel that a structure built in the 12th century is still so intact.  Beng Mealea was abandoned to the jungle for hundreds of years and except where the trees have demolished sections the walls still stand straight and true.  There is no discernible settling even though it stands on silty soil and is surrounded by a lotus pond.  The architects and builders of these temples possessed a skill equal to our own the the kings that commissioned these holy sites possessed the patience required to ensure that they would last for centuries.

When I look at this photograph I can feel the humid around me, smell the damp earth that gives the trees and moss so much sustenance and the mellow scent of decaying wood, and hear the steady drone of the cicadas punctuated by the calls of birds.  If you have the opportunity to visit these temples I urge you to go, once you've been there the experience will be emblazoned on your mind forever.  These are living places with their own heart beat and if you listed carefully you can hear it but only if you allow yourself to be lost in the moment, to truly experience the place and not just see it.  To only see Beng Mealea or any of the temples is like that door, it is artificial, there is so much more than what you see, you need to allow yourself to take  in the whole experience otherwise it is just a facade.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, HDR of 1/50, 1/25, 1/13, 1/6, and 0.3 sec @ 100 ISO

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012, Day 333 - Light at the end

Tonight I share an image from our tomb raiding at Beng Mealea.  At seventy seven kilometers from Siem Reap it may be one of the temples furthest from the heart of the Angkor complex but it is now well visited.  It is only second in size to Angkor Wat and combines Hindu and Buddhist iconography in the carvings.  The construction of this temple is a bit different from many of the others, the overbuilding that was so common is lacking here as was observed by Araceli, an engineer and one of my traveling companions.  The result is that the jungle's attack of this structure has been more devastating than at the other jungle temples.

Below you can see one of the few intact hallways.  We had to slither down through rubble and squeeze past an obstructed but intact doorway to get to this section.  A tree's roots have broken through at the corner of the hall but it hasn't yet demolished the structure.  In time it would no doubt reduce this area to match the rest of the grounds but with careful tending it will be allowed to thrive in harmony with what is left of the temple.

If you were able to look through the window on the left you would find a small courtyard.  Inside there are a couple of trees and surrounding those trees are large sandstone blocks that have been ripped from adjacent rooms and hallways.  A thin carpet of lush green moss covers the stones and small flowering plants have taken root in the meager accumulated soil.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f5.6, HDR layers of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, and 4 sec @ 400 ISO

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012, Day 332 - Adieu Cambodia

Today was, sadly, our last day in Cambodia.  We arrived over three weeks ago and managed to make our way though a good part of the country.  The people have been amazing, kind and generous despite their turbulent past.  I am in awe of this country and while there are some issues remaining in the arena of human rights to be address they have made so much progress in a relatively short amount of time.

But more about today.  We awoke with no real plan and the only thing that I had on my list that we had not managed to check off was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Tuol Sleng was a high school but under the Khmer Rouge it was turned into a prison.  Barbed wire was strung along the walkways to keep the inmates from committing suicide and classrooms became cells housing dozens of people at a time.  Almost twenty thousand people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng where they were tortured into making absurd confessions after which they were sent to Choeung Ek, the "killing fields," for extermination.

In the beginning Tuol Sleng was used to house those defeated by the Khmer Rouge during the civil war but soon they were arresting academics, teachers, students, doctors, monks, and intellectuals of all kinds.  Anyone capable of free thinking was a threat and had to be eliminated.  I suppose it is only fitting that they used a school to eradicate the educated from around the country.  Eventually the paranoia of the Khmer Rouge leadership reached new heights and they began to imprison, interrogate, and execute their own members.

Of course the confessions elicited were almost always fabrications but that didn't matter to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, it suited their purposes and fueled their paranoia so they felt they were justified.  In the meantime the forced people out of the cities and into an agricultural existence. Many of them died in the fields and laboring on public works projects.  Despite this movement of the population from the cities to the county and the new focus of agriculture many Cambodians were starving and in the end the Khmer Rouge's legacy was the death of millions of Cambodians.

Only seven people are believed to have survived Tuol Sleng.  They were spared because they were believed to possess skills deemed valuable.  It was here that the phrase, the "banality of evil" as employed by Hannah Arendt when talking about the actions of the Holocaust, came to mind.  I was amazed that the irony of using a school as a prison didn't occur to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge.  Surprised that the Pol Pot, an educated man, learned nothing from the Nazis and instead employed the same kind of perverse and detailed record-keeping in what were essentially death camps separated only by time and geography.  It was systematic, almost like an assembly line of death.  Nothing was learned from the prisoners and, ultimately, the Khmer Rouge accomplished none of their goals.  Their grand ideas were so flawed that the only succeeded in killing the people best qualified to help them realized their vision for Cambodia.  It was sad, such a glaring waste of human life, energy, and potential.  Still, it reinforced my admiration for the Cambodian people, they have come so far and have managed to keep such beautiful souls despite their appalling history.

When we finished touring Tuol Sleng we returned to the apartment.  Francene ate some leftovers and labored over some work related issues.  Araceli, and I to a lesser extent, made some dressing for a green mango salad and for our own leftovers.  When we had eaten we decided to have a massage in preparation for our marathon travel days to come.  It was a Khmer massage which while invigorating was not especially good for working out the aches and pains accumulated in almost a month of travel.

When we finished our pampering Araceli and I sprang into action.  Francene had a call from Tim informing us he would be leaving work soon and we hoped to get most of our packing done before he got home.  Unfortunately we are such disasters that it didn't happen, we were only about half packed when Tim walked through the door and I think he was a little bummed to see us getting ready to leave.  We've all had a great time and really enjoyed each other's company.  It was still a while before we finished packing and by then we had worked up a real appetite.

Knowing we wouldn't be getting any decent food for a couple days I chose the type and Tim chose the restaurant.  Both Khmer and Indian food has been consistently good but I was ready for more of the latter before our trip, I didn't want any more fish for the time being.  Tim chose Shiva Shakti, a really great Indian eatery not far from the apartment.  I think my favorite part of the meal was the appetizer; chopped and spiced cashews sandwiched between paneer and fried.  It was amazing and the dipping sauces made it even better.

As dinner drew to a close I think we were all getting a little melancholy.  It is just hard to accept that such a great trip with wonderful people has to end.  The first blow came when Brian and Nicole went home and now the rest of the team is about to split up.  Oh well, real life beckons.  So we returned to the apartment to shower and to finalize all our packing.  Tim sneaked out to try to find the crackers we like so well but had no luck.  It would have been nice if he found them but the effort alone was so incredibly sweet.

Soon our drive arrived and we were packing our stuff into the back of the car.  With a final check of our preparations from Papa Tim and a hug from our third musketeer, Ms. Francene, we set out for the airport.  I type this now sitting at the terminal waiting for boarding to begin.  I am sure there will be a minor disruption to the regularity of my posting in the next couple of days but I should be able to get caught up quickly.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f2.8, 1/500 sec @ 100 ISO

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012, Day 331 - Rendezvous

Today was a slightly unusual day.  We started the day with a walk to the Boeng Keng Kang Market to look for an extra bag for all of our Cambodian treasures.  Although it was still early the day was quickly getting warm so we rushed straight without any hesitation.  We hadn't had a lot of time to explore the market and didn't really know what is sold there other than food.  I found clothes, shoes, bedding, and fashion accessories in addition to all the normal food items.  Araceli and Francene were feeling adventurous and wanted to try a Khmer breakfast.  I know that it isn't vegetarian safe so I kept wandering through the stalls and bought some mangosteens and jack fruit.  When I checked back in they were picking at their breakfast but I don't think it was what they envisioned.  Instead of a well seasoned bowl of rice porridge they got plain rice porridge with an assortment of unidentifiable things to be added.  Unfortunately, because they didn't know what was what in the unlabeled containers, they picked politely and we left.

Once we got out of the market we found people selling bags so I went from stall to stall looking for something relatively well made but kept coming up empty handed.  When I found something decent the price was absurd and often the bag was ugly.  Well, I did gravitate toward ugly bags because they would be easily identifiable.  At this point we were hungry and the prospect for success on the bag hunt were bleak so we decided it was time to wander aimlessly until we found somewhere to eat.

In the end we stumbled into a local breakfast place.  There were no foreigners there but lots of Cambodians, mostly men, enjoying their breakfast.  I knew I would be eating some kind of meat, it was inevitable, and because the menus weren't in English and the staff spoke little English as well we ordered by pointing.  They served us a chicken soup with vermicelli noodles; the obvious chunks of chicken I split between Araceli and Francene but I ate the broth anyway.  It was pretty good, especially with some hot chili paste added, then it had a nice bite.

With the heat beating us down we walked back towards the apartment.  On the way we stopped at the same curio shop that we went to yesterday.  Something caught my eye and I don't like to travel with regrets. In the end all of us did some shopping and we left with our bank balances significantly lightened.  Success!

Finally we went back to the apartment to relax and clean up a little bit for lunch.  We had a date with Tim and the Director of Budget for the Kingdom of Cambodia.  He wanted to talk about real estate and since Francene is a lender and and I am a real estate broker.  So we met at an unusual but tasty German restaurant in the government district and had a really nice conversation about how real estate transaction work in the United State, or rather, in the State of Oregon.  I think he found it informative and I found his interests intriguing insofar as what it would take to professionalize the real estate system in the country.  It sounds like there are going to be some interesting business opportunities in Cambodia as it works to join its neighbor on the international markets.

With lunch over we resumed the search for a decent checked bag.  Our new playground was the Central Market.  There we found a few people selling decent looking bags, not the sort of thing that I would be tempted to use much in the future but sturdy enough to get home without falling apart at the seams.  Plus we got a good price on it so that made me happy.  Araceli then decided to resume her weeks long search for baby clothes.  There was some and I think she finally found what she was looking for, baby Taco is going to have some styling new threads!

Flush with success we returned to the apartment to prepare a surprise.  On the flight out I told my travel companions how I had a long, non-work related, conversation with a support agent who works for my mobile carrier.  We got to talking about the holidays and I told her about my favorite cookies.  She was intrigued and asked for the recipe so I pointed her to the website where my sister originally found it.  As I told the story on the plane another passenger asked for the recipe so I gave her the web address as well.  With so much interest we decided to make Tim (and ourselves) salted oatmeal cookies.  We gathered all the ingredients and made only a small mess in the kitchen but by the time Tim got home from work the apartment smelled like cookies!

That meant we needed to leave almost immediately if we weren't going to ruin our appetites by gorging on cookies.  A quick meeting and we opted to go to a Thai place nearby.  The food was delivered quickly and it was tasty.  Unfortunately we got chewed on by mosquitoes so when the meal was done we beat a hasty retreat.  When we arrived back at the apartment we ate cookies and are now ready for bed under the heavenly effect of a cookie-induced sugar coma.

Canon 1D X, Canon 50/f1.2L
50mm, f2, 1/125 sec @ 250 ISO

Monday, November 26, 2012

2012, Day 330 - Deco Phnom Penh

Today we we decided to try something different so Francene booked us on a tour of architecturally significant homes of the 1960s in Phnom Penh.  We met at the old post office near the waterfront at eight thirty and set out in a van.  It was an eclectic group of people from Australia, France, and the United States as well as some Khmer students of architecture.  From what our guide told us it sounds like there is only one notable modern Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann.  Recently there has been a push to preserve his works although there is very little in the way of resources, especially those financial in nature, to accomplish such a task.  Instead many of Vann Molyvann's works are used as residences by people who do not understand his importance and as such have fallen into disrepair.

The first stop on our tour was at the "One hundred houses" project; a project undertaken by Vann Molyvann for the National Bank of Cambodia in the mid-60s to provide low cost housing to their employees.  This is a series of traditionally styled Khmer homes built with more modern materials intended to increase efficiency and durability while lowering the costs.  A traditional Khmer home is has one large living room, a small bedroom, and a kitchen that is built of stilts and is only a single finished level.  These homes enjoyed the addition of an attached bathroom and had a concrete structure with louvered shutters as opposed to a wooden structure with solid shutters.  These modifications allowed for increased air circulation while requiring less maintenance.  In the 70s house 54 was used as the Khmer Rouge headquarters and since by the Vietnamese army and later by the Cambodian Air Force.  Today many of the homes are either derelict or so drastically changed as to be unrecognizable and construction throughout the neighborhood seems to be on the rise.  What's more, development in neighboring areas has required a great deal of fill to turn swamps or lakes into buildable lots and the result is that many of the lots of the homes that still exist as built are permanently flooded.

Our next stop was at the former residence of Dr. Rath Kut.  Now a small medical facility it was built and scaled for film production but it seems that the doctor's dreams and reality didn't quite intersect.  It is an incredibly modern three story home with rooftop terrace designed by Vann Molyvann but the construction took place without his supervision.  Multiple wings branch off each level, on the main for the kitchen, on the second for the bedroom, and the third looks like it may have been for offices or staff quarters.  Grand cantilevers stairs take you gracefully to the top and the orientation of the windows, doors, and balconies allow for a really nice cross breeze.  Like the "one hundred houses" project the house has fallen into disrepair since being converted to a clinic.  Signs of moisture cover the ceilings on the upper floors, the paint is peeling, and the tile is faded by dirt that has been ground into it over the past forty years.  Even the grounds are now overgrown so while you might be able to imagine the former grandeur it is not at all apparent at first blush.

Finally we visited a house of unknown provenance.  It is a modern deco revival built in the late 60s or early 70s.  Unlike the previous two sites it is still almost completely original and while the owner doesn't live in the house it is rented to someone who obviously has great affection for the house and the era.  Entry to the house is through the formal living and dining room which flows nicely into the family room and informal dining area.  Two staircases lead to the second floor which is bedrooms and bathroom and the spiral staircase continues upward onto the rooftop terrace.  Beautiful tile is used throughout and there are massive windows on almost every wall.  Covered balconies and porches are available on the front and sides of the house while absent in the back due to proximity to the neighbors.  Almost every window has a decorative ironwork screen that continues the nouveau deco theme and the yard is heavily planted with fruit trees and infilled with ornamental plants.  The whole house is both beautiful and comfortable, it is just a shame that the architect was not more prolific as the design and execute is wonderful and even forty years on it still would meet the needs of any family.

Thus our tour ended and we learned a lot about the arts and architecture of the sixties and, looking around today, can see the enormously detrimental effect of the Khmer Rouge.  Their prosecution of artists and intellectuals has lead to a sort of design stagnation in Cambodia that is still evident today.  Fortunately there seems to be great interest in developing a new Cambodian aesthetic but I suspect that it will be some time in coming and in fifty years this will be considered the dark days of the arts in this country.

We were returned to the old post office and called Tim to see if he wanted to join us for lunch.  Plans weren't made then, we met with him back at the apartment and from there walked to a tasty Indian restaurant a few blocks away.  After lunch Tim suggested we go furniture shopping.  Well, as much as I would like to buy furniture at bargain prices in Cambodia the idea of having something shipped back just seems like too much work and expense.  Nevertheless I am always game so we stopped by one place that had really nice contemporary furniture made from sustainable tropical hardwoods.  Tim and Francene zeroed in on a nice long low entertainment cabinet that would make a nice replacement for the generic embassy-provided furniture in Tim's apartment.  But Tim is a cautious person by nature so he wanted to measure the cabinet before making a commitment; I might have taken the leap anyway, the price was great!

After the first furniture store we stopped by a gallery that happens to be right behind the apartment.  It is a three story house crammed with traditional Khmer arts from ceramic to textiles.  The prices here can be a little steep compared to what you might find that the markets but the quality is, for the most part, higher and their selection is really amazing.  In Cambodia it is illegal to take antiques out of the country unless it comes with paperwork showing a proper chain of custody.  The reality is that little leaves the country anymore but there are many skilled craftsmen who now have an incentive to hone their skills.  Apparently many experts have difficulty telling the difference between vintage pieces and modern reproductions, a scientific approach is almost always required.

Our last stop was at another furniture store where they sell either antique Indonesian furniture or contemporary furniture made from reclaimed tropical hardwoods from Indonesia.  It was an interesting place, the pieces I gravitated towards, for the most part, were new from salvaged woods.  Some of the carvings from around doorways were incredible but again, not practical.  I don't think Tim found anything worth measuring there but it was fun to explore.

Our window shopping done we returned to the refrigerator that is the apartment.  Tonight I had arranged to meet Yi for dinner.  I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his playing the part of our guide for a day when the Brian and Nicole were still around during the first part of the trip.  Plus I thought it wouldn't hurt for Tim to meet him as well because Yi seems like a great guy, he just graduated from college, and Tim is a well-connected person.  If nothing comes of it then it's no big deal but I thought Tim would like Yi and vice versa. It seems like they got along well although I will freely admit that I probably was a bit distracted by my food.

After saying goodbye to Yi when the table was picked clean we started walking back to the apartment.  Not unlike last night, we walked about a block and it started to rain.  Within two more blocks it was getting heavier and by the time we reached the apartment we were all a little wet.  So we tried off in the cool sanctuary and shortly thereafter we finished off our ice cream cake and I sat down to work on this blog.  Tomorrow we have lunch with the Cambodian Director of Finance so I better get my beauty sleep.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, merged layers of 1/1250, 1/640, 1/320, and 1/160 sec @ 100 ISO

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012, Day 329 - Temptation

A few days ago, while sitting in a restaurant in Kep, we decided that when returned to Phnom Penh that we would take a second cooking class.  The first one was great, the instructor was excellent, and the food was incredible so, while waiting for our lunch, I called to see if we could attend the class today.  Francene missed the first one so it was definitely going to be the three of us and we thought maybe we could convince Tim to come with us.  While we were able to book the class Tim ended up with some last minute unexpected work obligations and felt that there wouldn't be enough time in the weekend to do everything and relax.  Sometimes I forget that we're not all here on vacation.

So when we finally got ourselves together the group of us stumbled out of the apartment and jumped in the tuk tuk with Sok at the helm.  First we dropped off Tim at work and then we were off to cooking class.  Our meeting point was the same as before, across the street from Phsar Som Nang Dap Pi.  That corner that we struggled to find before was blindingly obvious when you're looking for it and we found Linna waiting with a big smile.  The class took place much as before; we started with a tour of the market and plenty of tasting of local snacks, returned to the kitchen where Linna reviewed the recipes for the day, and instead of demonstrating and because there were only three of us, we jumped right into cooking under her supervision. I suspect that Francene got a little more attention from Linna than she wanted but because Linna recognize Araceli and me from a previous class she concentrated her efforts on the newcomer.  Plus she didn't have Brian to help along this time so she needed someone upon which to lavish her attention :)

Just like before we ended up with way too much food but unlike our previous class we brought storage containers to take our leftovers home.  So we plated our meals and put the rest into our not-so-little boxes and packed them away.  It was quite pleasant eating and chatting on the rooftop terrace of the cooking school.  There was a light breeze and Linna brought us cool scented towels to refresh ourselves with before eating.  When we finished eating we discovered that without the demonstration prior to instruction we were finished earlier than we thought so we called Sok for a pickup and when he arrived headed back to the apartment.

The next phase of our plan for the day was to do a little more shopping at the Russian Market, known locally as Psah Toul Tom Poung.  We all knew from experience how hot it can get inside with all the narrow walkways and low ceilings under the blazing sun so we all made our lists of what we were looking for before we arrived.  It was to be something of a planned market blitz, in and out quickly and efficiently, or as efficiently as one can be when you have to haggle.  First we did a little shopping in the stores that surrounded the market to give us time to acclimate to the heat and when we finished it was time to enter the belly of the beast.

The Russian Market has everything and I really mean that, everything!  Need a motorcycle tire?  No problem.  Paint or grout?  Got that too.  Farm fresh produce?  Easy.  A new outfit?  You can choose between casual or formal.  Hell, you can even get your hair and nails done while you wait for someone to alter the clothes you just bought.  When we entered we all agreed that we would meet outside in half an hour.  Araceli and I had a plan and when Tim and Francene got ahead of us we ducked down another row and were were off.  Our mission was to find a gift for Tim to thank him for his generosity.  In Siem Reap at one of the wood carving places we found a great crab that we wanted but the shop owner wouldn't bargain at all.  Not one little bit.  So we left it and now hoped to find it again in Phnom Penh.

Araceli and I made our way through the maze of shops.  We knew from previous experience where we could find the wood carvings and soon found a shop packed to the rafter, literally.  If you show any interest an overly attentive person will start asking you if you are looking for something in particular.  We were and inquired after large crabs.  Our luck was in, she had one in the shop was it was a bit old and abused but she assured us she had another at home that was in good condition and if we could agree on a price her sister would bring it over.  It was what we wanted so we started to haggle.  Araceli and I had agreed to a price previously so we already knew what we were willing to pay.  It took a few minutes and some stubborn determination, but in the end our goal price was met and her sister was on her way.

The two of us were prepared to renew our haggling if it wasn't as promised but in the end it proved unnecessary.  We had our crab!  Afterwards Araceli and I split up as well to do a little separate shopping as time was ticking away quickly.  I bought a few more odds and ends and as I was finishing up Araceli found me so we left together to find Tim and Francene.  As luck would have it they sent us a text message and we found them enjoying a cool drink on the shaded patio of a nearby restaurant.  It was there we planned the next phase of our market adventure.

Tim told us that the Boeung Keng Kang Market, right by the apartment, has a good reputation but he admitted that in his three years in Phnom Penh he has never been, only heard about it from his colleagues.  One of them used to shop for Cambodian made clothes from well-known designers that were not export quality at this market.  We weren't really looking for clothes though, we forgot to buy fresh fruit at the Russian Market and that was what we were really after.  So we wandered through and found a lively group of shops, wide walkways, nice produce, and good light.  I think a return trip is in order but we bought our mangosteens and walked the short distance back to Tim's apartment triumphant.

For dinner we decided to eat at a new restaurant a couple blocks from the apartment called Deco.  Not surprisingly it is in a converted Art Deco home and decorated in a new Art Deco style.  It was very nice and I was a bit worried that I didn't have anything appropriate to wear but fortunately there were other people already seated that were just as much a mess as I was and am.  Dinner was delicious; snapper fillet, grilled eggplant, mashed potatoes, spinach, and couscous salads.  It wasn't cheap for Cambodia but it was a bargain compared to what we would have paid in the United States.  None of us went hungry and we walked slowly back to the apartment afterwards.  We probably should have walked a little more to aid our digestion but I think our day of running around had taken its toll so we retreated to the air-conditioned haven that is Tim's apartment.

I suppose I should take a shower and head to bed but I am fighting the impending food coma to write about the day.  Now that it is done I suppose it is safe to submit :)

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f4, 1/160 sec @ 8000 ISO

2012, Day 328 - Divine fortune

This morning we got up, skipped breakfast, and went with Tim into work.  After we dropped him off in what can only be described as the diplomatic district we went on to visit Wat Phnom.  Even though we've seen a lot of temples already this is an icon of Phnom Penh and it seemed worth a visit.  When we arrived I was surprised to see how small it is, I expect something a little more grand but from the outside it looked no more impressive than many of the temples we had already visited.  However the grandeur of this temple is found within.  Beautiful paintings cover the walls, gold leaf abounds, and the statute of the Buddha at the far end is massive.  It was nice that we arrived early enough that there were almost no tourists, just locals coming to pray.

We took the long way down from the temple's hilltop location and walked a circuit around the grounds.  On one side we found the bat tree which is, as the name suggests, home to colony of bats.  Further on we found a large naga made of rattan woven around a welded metal frame.  Araceli felt compelled to investigate it more closely, I suspect it is the engineer in her whose curiosity cannot be suppressed; so she poked and prodded while we took pictures.

Having skipped breakfast we found Sok and asked for a recommendation.  Unfortunately his first choice of dining establishment was closed so we decided to redirect him to a place we passed earlier.  It was one of those places along the waterfront that had a number of people seated so we took that as a good night.  As it turned out they had a pretty decent breakfast buffet for $2.75 so we ate our fill and the coffee drinkers quickly became sufficiently caffeinated.

Our rumbling stomachs left at the river we then moved on to the Royal Palace.  Sadly none of the palace could be viewed given the recent death of the king father so we were limited to the Silver Pagoda.  It is so named for the large solid silver tiles that covered the floor.  Each, we were told, weighs one kilogram and there are thousands in this temple.  Also housed within are icons of the Buddha wrought in precious metals and studded with gems.  There is one gold statue that weighs ninety kilograms and has almost one hundred carats of diamonds in three massive stones.  The temple is still used on holy days by the royal family and is of course closed to the public on such occasions.

The rest of the grounds were pretty with large animal-shaped topiary littering the courtyards and large pots filled with water lilies in bloom surrounding the many stupas.  The whole courtyard is surrounded by a massive walled gallery that is currently undergoing renovations to restore the painted murals to the original condition.  We also saw displays on the king's elephant stables and while the royal family no longer keeps elephants they have converted the building to a museum with all of the equipment and information about the capture and keeping of those magnificent animals.  After all their informational displays we wandered back onto the temple grounds but it wasn't long before they were shooing us out so that they could close for their extended lunch.  Oh well, we had seen pretty much everything we could so it wasn't a big loss.

I am sure we could have managed without the help if we had really tried but it was getting warm so we called Sok to pick us up and deliver us to the National Museum.  It is a beautiful building, based on traditional temple architecture but greatly enlarged, that opened in 1920 as Musee Albert Sarraut after the Governor-General of Indochina.  The museum features primarily stone sculptures and is divided into three parts; pre-Angkorian, Angkorian, and post-Angkorian.  Many of the pieces are the best examples of sculpture and art taken from the most significant temples throughout Cambodia.  We had a very sweet guide who answered many burning questions we had accumulated over our travels; the things we forgot to ask Mr. Mony when we had the chance.  It was fascinating to see the melding of Hindu and Buddhist themes in the statues and the evolution of art in Cambodia from over the last millennium.

After we finished at the National Museum Francene took us by the Royal University of Fine Art.  The students have something of a sculpture garden that includes traditional and contemporary sculptures in metal and ceramics.  It was interesting to see where art may be headed in Cambodia and the campus seemed pretty lively which I can only assume is a good thing.  It was getting hot so we decided to find Sok again and swing by the grocery store before going back to the apartment.

Pencil Supermarket was an interesting experience.  It is almost like a western supermarket but there are some odd difference.  First, if you want any fresh produce you have to take it to an attendant so they can price it out for the cashier.  Second, nothing is organized in any kind of logical order.  Toothpaste is in the same aisle as laundry detergent and cleaning supplies share an aisle with other personal care items.  Third, they had high end cosmetic counters each staffed by bored looking women with old faded boxes of products that have probably been sitting in the locked cases for years given the absurd prices.  But we bought snack foods, a case of water, and some other odds and ends to fill Tim's pantry.

The afternoon was one of relaxation in Tim's apartment where we could laze around and play on the internet.  I can't say that much of anything was accomplished but it seemed like in no time we were getting ready for dinner.  Tim suggested Fish, one of his favorite dinner places.  Francene and I shares a mixed Asian seafood platter and fish and chips because neither of us could resist such temptation.  Fortunately we were in good company because Tim and Araceli also ordered the fish and chips.  It was a large piece of flaky pacific dory covered in a nice batter served on a plate of spiced french fries.  The mixed Asian seafood platter included some nice seared tuna, a couple other types of fish that I didn't recognize but still enjoyed, calamari, and shrimp.  I still am not fond of water bugs despite enjoying the Kampot crab of a couple days ago so I left the shrimp for Fracene but everything else was really tasty.

When dinner was over I asked if we might go to the night market on the waterfront which was only half a block away.  Everyone graciously indulged me and we walked over but as soon as we stepped off the sidewalk it started to rain.  Well, we are mostly from Oregon and are highly optimistic about rain so we continued on to the market.  I think we barely made it through the gate and it started to rain in earnest.  Soon it was a deluge so we ran for cover at the information tent and waited there for about ten minutes until the rain lightened just long enough for us to seek shelter in Sok's tuk tuk.

Defeated by the weather we headed back to the apartment.  Fortunately we had purchased a surprise dessert earlier in the day.  We got it into our heads that a blizzard cake from Dairy Queen would be a funny surprise for Tim.  Our funny surprise turned into a tasty treat that I think everyone enjoyed.  I am coming down from my sugar high now so I will leave it there, until tomorrow!

A word about the photo below.  This was taken at Wat Phnom and I believe this man is a fortune teller.  You take the book and hold it atop your head and blindly select a page with a little bone bookmark attached.  He then reads you your fortune and in exchange for a small donation you will receive a blessing.  Often if you receive a bad fortune they will let you try up to three more times and if they are all bad, well, you better watch out...

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f4, 1/60 sec @ 1250 ISO

Saturday, November 24, 2012

2012, Day 327 - Sneak attack

Happy Thanksgiving!  Well, it is Thanksgiving in Cambodia and it should be Thanksgiving in the United States when this gets posted.  I am sorry my posts are coming at such random intervals, I have been writing them almost daily but internet access has been terrible out in the Kampot countryside.  Today we headed back to Phnom Penh for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or as close as you can get in Cambodia, with Tim.  That meant getting up at our regular early hour and trying to get some basic packing done before ordering our breakfast.  We had been eating in the normal dining area but thought today we would eat in our family room because every time we set foot in the communal area we walk away with at least a dozen mosquito bites.  With breakfast ordered we tackled the last of our packing and by the time we had all of our belongings cleared out of the upper tower and brought down to our little family room.

When breakfast came we soon discovered a guest.  A lovely dog came trotting into the room and just lay down behind one of the chairs.  She napped while we ate and it was nice, reminiscent of home and it made me miss my boys again.  Our food was, as usual, excellent and after eating we paid our final bill and loaded our stuff into the SUV with Mr. Tech's assistance.  In no time we were bounding down the rough country road towards the highway and then we were blazing towards Phnom Penh.

As we entered the city our rapid progress came to a screeching halt.  With November being the height of wedding season there were all kinds of pavilions set up partially in the street obstructing traffic.  Then, to make matters worse, the Buddhist temples in Cambodia are hosting major events that will bring in the bulk of their donations for the year.  It is time for the elite to show off their vast financial resources by giving lavishly. All this added up to a lot of vehicles on the road coupled with a number of obstacles in our way so it probably added almost forty-five minutes to our trip.

Still, we arrived just before noon in Phnom Penh and unloaded our burdens.  After a few day without it was nice to experience air-conditioning again; the dehumidifying effect was quite refreshing.  With internet access restored we caught up with the world and whiled away the time until Tim got back from work.  Our Thanksgiving dinner was rapidly approaching so it was time to get cleaned up so that we were presentable.

Squeaky clean and feeling human again we went downstairs to find Sok waiting to take us to the Himawari, one of Phnom Penh's nicest hotels located right on the riverfront.  They weren't quite ready to seat us so we enjoyed the river view out back for about twenty minutes.  The clouds reflected pink as the sun set over the Mekong and a few boats went up and down the river as we sat watching.  Soon they were ready and we were invited to make the most of the buffet.  There were a few things the hotel did very well and some of the others were rather unexciting; basically it was typical hotel fare, safe, nourishing, but perhaps not totally exciting.  That lack of excitement didn't stop us from doing as all good Americans should on Thanksgiving, we ate until the idea of food made us sick.

Groaning around our table from eating too much we reached a consensus, we should go back to the apartment and get some sleep.  So here I sit, with everyone else having gone to bed, finishing the last installment of today's events.

Before I leave you I wanted to say a word about the photograph below.  This was taken outside our family room in Kampot this morning.  The butterflies in Cambodia are numerous and they always seem to be dancing through the air.  Having caught my eye, I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures.  It wasn't until this afternoon when I was reviewing them that I noticed a little white crab spider reaching out from under the flower to attack the butterfly.  Had I noticed I would have kept watching to see the outcome but this stealthy attack is typical of how these little ambush predators work.

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
20m, f2.8, 1/125 sec @ 100 ISO

Friday, November 23, 2012

2012, Day 326 - Vindication

If yesterday was a day that was fraught with failure today was a day of success!  We got up and ate a really tasty breakfast at our hotel, they use real cheese in the omelettes instead of the processed crap we have getting.  Then we grabbed our gear for the day and collected Mr. Tech to head into town.  We met our guide for the day, Sarat, in downtown Kampot and after introductions we told him about the failures of yesterday and what we were hoping to see.  Sarat was happy to show us where we went wrong and we set off.

Our first stop was at the salt fields.  These were much closer to town than the ones we went to yesterday.  As we walked through the fields and Sarat was explaining the process he espied a line of motorbikes outside one of the storage barns.  He dashed off and we followed him; inside there was a crew shoveling, bagging, weighing, sealing, and stacking bags of salt.  The foreman explained that today they had to fill one thousand bags of fifty kilograms each.  Off to the side there was a large stack of finished bags and we watched as three guys stood on the top of the salt shoveling it down to the bagging crew.  They in turn fill and weigh the bags, then the bags are passed to the guy wielding the hand-held sewing machine, finally two guys pick up these massive heavy bags and load them onto the smallest guy in the crew who stacks it against the wall.  Imagine doing that a thousand time in a single day in the heat of a small salty building.  I was sweating just watching them and all I was doing was taking pictures of the process.  Then Sarat asked if we wanted salt and of course we said we did and handed him a gallon sized plastic bag which he filled completely with the best quality salt from the top of the pile.

It would have been nice to see how the salt fields are worked but we were told that it would be a couple of months before that really starts.  With the rice harvest just beginning the farmers are otherwise occupied.  When the rice paddies are empty they will start preparing the fields by draining them of any residual mud from the wet season, packing down the earth so it is like concrete, and then allowing them to be flooded using a system of pumps and ditches with sea water.  Once filled the rising temperatures will quickly evaporate away the water leaving the salt behind.  The farmers turned salt workers will then move it into storage shed where it will continue to dry until packaged as we have already seen.  Eventually the salt will be shipped all over Asia where it still be on dinner tables and restaurants everywhere.

Salted and hot we were ready to move on to our next destination.  Sarat wanted us to see some of the caves, one he said was really nice but the roads are too muddy for cars and we decided that we didn't want to see it enough to wade through mud and slime so instead he took us to another temple cave at Wat Phnom Sorsie.  The monks and nuns were busy cleaning and preparing the temple for their annual fundraising festival where there will be music, food, and decorations while the local people vie to outdo each other with conspicuous displays of generosity.  We, on the other hand, were lead through the temple where the monks and nuns greeted us, and made our way up the hillside through the jungle and to a large cave.  Even before we arrived at the cave you could smell the bat, the guano and urine have a very distinctive aroma.

We steeled ourselves against the smell and descended into the darkness.  Inside the cave the temperature dropped and we could hear high-pitched screeching at the bats squabbled for the best spots.  A flashlight aimed upwards would incite a flurry of motion and caused the bats to rain down more liquid deterrent.  The longer we stayed the more upset the bats became and their activity intensified.  After being peed on in a small way I think we had enough of the company of our winged rodent friends so the three of us started back out of the darkness towards the sliver of light at the top.

Past the mouth of the cave we climbed to a spectacular viewpoint over the rice paddies below.  The patchwork of fields went on for miles in every direction broken only by homes and a small range of mountains.  Still green from all the recent rains, soon they will start to turn yellow and, when the rice is harvested, brown.  Our timing could not have been better to see Cambodia in her lush green regalia, it is just too bad that mosquitoes accompany the breathtaking landscape.

Next on our list was to visiting a pepper plantation to see where the famous Kampot pepper is grown.  We climbed into the mountains along a narrow paved road and turned into a driveway where we exited the car.  Sarat walked us through the pepper plantation showing us where delicate new plants were being started under a network of old palm fronds supported by the posts that would train the nascent plants upwards as they become established.  It will be years before these babies would be allowed to produce any peppercorns and over a decade before they would produce in any volume.

The pepper plantations flourished under the colonial rule of the French who quickly became the largest consumer of Kampot pepper.  Their demand was so great the even the prices of local pepper became too high for the locals who were and are still buying a cheaper imported pepper for their dinner tables.  Under the rule of the Khmer Rouge the plantations were abandoned and many of the plants died.  It has only been in the last couple decades that the pepper plants were salvaged and the plantations were reestablished.  The farm we visited was, perhaps not surprisingly, certified organic.  So after our tour and history lesson we all bought a little of this fabled spice and were ready to continue our adventure.

So we returned to Kep for a third and final time.  Having seen it briefly from the car when it was light we wanted to be dropped off on the beach from which we would walk back to the crab market where we gorged last night.  With all the recent rains it was nice to see that the ocean was a clear blue rather than churned up muddy waters of the rivers that we have visited so far.  There were fluffy clouds high in the sky and fishermen were working the waters.

There are countless small homes that dot the waterfront, most of which have been abandoned for decades.  Years ago, as the country stabilized and property prices were low, real estate speculators bought up many of these derelict homes.  Today they sit as ruins waiting for someone to reinvest in this really pretty waterfront town.  Kampot may be a bigger city but Kep has some very pretty if rather small beaches and remarkable views of the Gulf of Thailand.  Against Araceli's better judgment, Francene and I were determined to explore at least one of these houses.  As we wandered through with warnings of impending collapse ringing in our ears we found the structure to be remarkably sound with a nice, if rather cramped, floor plan.

When we finished exploring the ruins the three of us continued along the waterfront.  The scattered trees provided some relief from the scorching sun as we walked and with time we made it back to the crab market.  This time we ate at a restaurant that Sarat recommended and while the menu was less extensive that that of last night the food was still good.  Araceli was the only one who wanted more crab; Francene and I ordered tom yum soup with prawns and a fish curry.  The soup was more prawn than anything else so I left the bulk of it to Francene while I worked on the fish curry.  A few more vegetables would have been nice in the curry but it is hard to fault the flavor.

After lunch we wanted to run out to Bokor.  There seemed to be some confusion as to whether or not our guide could take us because of a misunderstanding with his boss but we got that ironed out pretty quickly.  So we got back in the car and drove through and then beyond Kampot to the mountain atop which Bokor Hill Station is perched.  Built in the 1920s by colonial French settlers as a cool mountain retreat from the blazing Cambodian heat, over nine hundred people died during the construction and before the road was replaced recently it was a three hour drive from the foot of the mountain to the peak.

In the 1940s Bokor was abandoned by the French and was eventually served as one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge during the 1990s.  During the invasion by the Vietnamese the Khmer Rouge took refuge in the Bokor Palace Hotel while the invaders dug in at the old Catholic church.  The old hotel was heavily damaged during the Khmer Rouge occupation and until recently it sat as it was left, windows broken, roof leaving, and riddled with bullet holes.  Today the hotel is undergoing a complete renovation, the exterior has been patched and repaired and work on the interior is well underway.  According to a worker that Sarat spoke with the hotel is slated to become some kind of a museum but in its current state they apparently don't care about keeping people out.  Araceli, Francene, and I were able to run freely through the building to marvel at the amazing art deco architecture and the large guest rooms.  The rooftop terraces were totally accessible but the cloud cover spoiled most of the view and we retreated inside when the rain started.  Even empty the hotel is a bit of a maze and we played a sort of modified game of Marco Polo trying to find each other when we got separated.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to see the hotel in its current state.  In a few months they will be much further along in the restoration process and we would not have been able to run freely throughout.  Once completed much of the recent history of the site will be concealed and, hopefully, it will be a beautiful example of early 20th century architecture again.  But now it is probably the last time it will be seen as the shell it became during the occupation by the Khmer Rouge.

After leaving the Bokor Palace we stopped off at a small temple and monastery, Wat Sampao Pram.  The temple had an odd orange look and upon closer inspection the color was found to come from a kind of moss that was enveloping the old stone.  Behind there was another amazing view down to the ocean through clouds broken by spears of sunlight.  We stayed at the viewpoint for a little while enjoying the relative cool before walking down the hill to find Mr. Tech.  Fortunately he parked next to a pond surrounded by a low stone wall where a couple of macaques were lounging.

Who can resist monkeys?  We watched them rest, forage, and eventually wreak havoc on a pickup and then a motorbike as a small crowd gathered.  A monk tried to tempt them with part of a baguette but they were more interested in the roasted pumpkin seeds that Sarat was offering them.  Monks and tourists had them almost completely surrounded but rather than feel trapped the monkeys appeared nonplussed by the attention.  After a while they decided it was time to lounge again on their favorite wall so we took that as our queue to leave.

We dropped Sarat off back in town and then went in search of dinner.  I don't think we were too hungry or particularly picky so we ate a quick meal and headed back to the tower.  Tomorrow we're returning to Phnom Penh for Thanksgiving with Tim so we are going to need to get some sleep if we're going to pack and hit the road early.  I suspect we're going to have a really mellow day once we arrive in Phnom Penh and that can't be anything but a good idea.

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
50mm, f5.6, 1/640 sec @ 100 ISO