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Rotorua – Thermal Everything

I realized that a post from last month didn’t publish properly. So here’s a break between Thailand and Malaysia: a short flashback to New Zealand! On June 15th I woke up refreshed (and a bit cold) at the Cosy Cottage Holiday Park, in the thermal-spring town of Rotorua.

For those not familiar with such places, a holiday park is a combination of campgrounds, camper parking, and cabins / backpacker rooms. Like many places I’ve stayed in New Zealand, the heating in my backpacker room was not very good, so it pays to have a good sleeping bag if you travel in the winter. I didn’t, so I froze my arse off for two nights.

Cold room aside, his holiday park is pretty awesome. It has access to a beach on Lake Rotorua where you can dig a hole that fills with hot thermal water. Or you can soak in the thermal springs-fed hot tubs. For dinner you can cook food in a thermal-vent powered steam oven (more on that below).

Rotorua is all about bubbling, steaming hot thermal features – beaches, hot water, and boiling mud.

Boiling mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

By the way, try taking a picture of something that’s boiling. It’s not so easy! Boiling is all about motion, seeing bubbles rise and burst. A still frame of anything boiling is about one tenth as interesting as you might think.

Besides Rotorua town, I checked out two attractions: the Skyline area with a gondola, a tires-on-cement luge, and several other adventure activities; and Rainbow Park, a forest conservation area that helps raise kiwi birds and release them into the wild (among other things). Here’s a green tree gecko, a native of New Zealand:

A green tree gecko in Rainbow Park, Rotorua

To be honest, Skyline was a disappointment (seeing as I live near the Alps). The view was nothing spectacular. And I didn’t realize I could have hiked to the top of the gondola in about 15 minutes, rather than pay >$20 to ride in the (painfully slow) cabin. The luge was pretty cool – I would have done it a second time to try the “advanced” course if my gloveless hands hadn’t been nearly frostbitten from the cold.

I went back to Rainbow Park at night to get pictures of the kiwi birds. Unfortunately, just one was out and about, and he stuck to the darkest area in the whole enclosure. Since using the flash on nocturnal animals is strictly out, and I’d forgotten my tripod, here’s the best I could do. It’s a crop of a hand-held 2s exposure of a frenetic pecking bird. But it is a photo of the elusive kiwi!

A kiwi bird at Rainbow Park in Rotorua

It strikes me that “kiwi” can refer to a fruit or a bird, and is a friendly nickname for New Zealanders. So if you say “I had a kiwi last night,” it’s not certain if you ate fruit for dessert, broke a conservation law by eating endangered animals, or got lucky with a local hottie. Hmm…

Now, on to steam ovens! Here’s the rack of lamb before cooking:

Pre-cooking rack of lamb with rosemary

The lovely steam oven itself:

Volcanic steam oven at Cosy Cottage Holiday Park in Rotorua

And finally, the lamb after four hours of steaming in a volcanically-powered oven:

Rack of lamb cooked in a thermal steam oven

It’s very tender and moist, with a texture just like pulled pork barbecue! In fact, I’d recommend to use a lower grade of meat than prime rack of lamb, because I suspect this oven would make even the toughest pork or beef flake apart in moist tidbits. By the way, the cost of this hunk o’ lamb in New Zealand: $5 USD! I love this country.

Tomorrow, (a.k.a. 4 weeks ago) I’ll relate my visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. It definitely lives up to its name!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:47 pm.

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Penang – Culinary Paradise

On the morning of July 10th, we took in this great view of Penang from the lighthouse at Fort Cornwallis (an old British fort).

View from the lighthouse at Fort Cornwallis

Here’s a taste of the local cuisine. Laksa is a noodle dish mixed with some greens and fish paste, with a dose of chilis on top. This small outdoor restaurant is renowned as the best place in Penang to eat this regional specialty! Man, was it good. If you’re a chilihead, ask for it extra spicy.

Delicious Laksa soup in Penang

After lunch we headed to Kek Lok Si – the Temple of Supreme Bliss! This is crowned by the majestic Ban Po Thar, or Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower.

Ban Po Thar - Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower

There’s a great view of the temple complex (and the city of Penang) from the top of the tower, if you don’t mind six or seven flights of winding stairs.

View from the Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower

Definitely a lot of Buddhas (and their related statuary) in this place!

Lots of statues here!

For dinner, we went to a nice seafood market restaurant in Penang. My hosts chose some interesting dishes. The barbecued stingray was really tasty:

I eat Steve Irwin's assassin: the stingray!

And the female horseshoe crab, well, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. Definitely worth trying once, for those with a sense of culinary adventure!

Grilled horseshoe crab - filled with shellfish-egg goodness

What’s the strangest seafood you’ve ever eaten? Leave a comment and share your crazy food stories!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:01 pm.

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More Bangkok Streets

On July 9th, all I did was travel, starting at 7am in Bangkok and ending at 12 midnight in Penang, Malaysia. It was one of those wearying days, so I didn’t take any photos. That means a bit of flair from yesterday’s street shots!

Juice and drinks are everywhere. This high-class shop had bottles instead of the ubiquitous bags-o-juice with a straw.

Fresh juice in Bangkok

There’s a lot of emphasis on uniforms, whether for workers or schoolchildren. Actually, I’m not sure if these are school or work uniforms!

Everyone wears a uniform in Bangkok

Traffic is a way of life. You’ll see jams at any time of day, and hear taxis / tuk-tuks complaining about it constantly.

Crazy Bangkok traffic at all times of day

I think this was one of the food stalls where you choose your ingredients and they cook for you. Although after closer inspection, I’m not sure. Might just be a fresh fruit or juice stand. Either way, there’s a plethora of good, fresh produce in Thailand! Oh yes, El Guapo, I would say you have a plethora.

Roadside food hawker in Bangkok

Thailand was a lot of fun and a lot of sweat, but somehow I’m happy to be leaving for less tourism-based areas. Up tomorrow, my first trip to Malaysia for sightseeing instead of business!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:26 pm.

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An American in Bangkok

Jim Thompson: perhaps the most famous foreigner in all Thailand? He emigrated to the country after falling in love with it when stationed there just after WWII. Apparently he had a keen business sense, because he took Thai silk production from a cottage industry to a booming worldwide business.

In 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a vacation to Malaysia. Even now, it’s unknown what happened to him – foul play, animal attack, or something else. Fortunately, his legacy lives on, as his home in Bangkok is open for visitors to see the beautiful Thai houses and Asian art collection that he assembled. I made my visit there on July 8th.

Traditional Thai houses are built on stilts to avoid damage from floods, and the ground floor around the stilts is mostly open.

Jim Thompson's House on stilts

Inside Jim Thompson’s house, no photos are allowed. But the excellent guided tour does explain a lot about this famous expat and his very original home (built from several old houses that he reassembled here). I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Bangkok!

Main entrance to Jim Thompson's House

Now for a street photo: this one was just too good for me to resist posting.

Fans and toys for sale!

The road where I stayed (Nana Soi 4) had lots of bars, where perplexingly hot and young women would talk to just about anyone. I wonder why?

Seedy bar in Bangkok

I was a little bothered by the obvious sex industry. But what can one do, other than avoid those bars. It’s frustrating that the low income society has driven women to this in order to support their families and children. So, visit Cabbages and Condoms and hope for a better future.

That’s all for today’s Bangkok adventures. Tomorrow, a day of travel – so I’ll show some more street shots!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:07 pm.

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Street Buys and Santa Condom

Some of the people I met in Thailand were very nice, and the Thais I know in Germany are fantastic people. But if you’re a tourist in Bangkok, be very careful whom you trust. This basically means no one who drives a taxi, tuk-tuk, or motorcycle; and absolutely NO ONE that approaches you on the street with “helpful information.”

  • The attraction you want to see probably IS open, right now.
  • Unless it’s the palace, they probably WILL let you in with shorts/sandals on.
  • There is no “diamond buddha” at a special temple that’s only open one day a year (TODAY!).
  • The traffic always sucks; it won’t get better in an hour if you stop somewhere for shopping.

On July 7th I determined that almost no taxi wants an “honest” fare. One guy complained constantly about traffic after I refused his offers to stop for shopping, and tried to guilt me into leaving the cab. I persevered, and it took a whopping 15 minutes to reach my destination (not 1-2h as promised).

A second taxi was actually nice: took me right where I wanted to go with no complaints, for the metered fare, and actually HAD correct change. The third just wanted the flag drop (35 Baht, or about $1), then persuaded me to take the Skytrain to my destination. I took the Skytrain after it was clear he had no idea how to get to my destination, a small hotel in Nana.

Aside from taxicab craziness, here’s a selection of what I saw today. First, the Golden Mount (where the first cabbie didn’t want to take me). Great views of the city from the top of all these stairs.

Golden Mount in Bangkok

Second, here’s a lovely image from Wat Suthat Temple:

Photo inside Wat Suthat temple grounds

Now a street photo from my walk around the center of town. The small 3-wheeled vehicles are tuk-tuks, named for their annoying 2-cycle-engine noise.

Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing

After being hassled by several dudes on the street (“Don’t go to that temple! It’s closed today!”), I went to the farmers’ market. Mostly veg (for cooking) and flowers (for shrines), with a smattering of other stuff as well. Great local color!

Bangkok chilies at a farmers' market

Here’s where I ate lunch. Finally found something moderately spicy, although from what I found so far, the average Thai food (or what they serve Caucasians) is not nearly as hot as what I expected.

Lunch in a farmers' market in Bangkok

For dinner, I tried out a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. It promotes the use of birth control, in order to bring the skyrocketing population into check. Apparently seven children per family in a developing country is too much. The prices are much higher than restaurants the locals frequent, but the service and food are fantastic. Since the profits go to a very good cause, I was happy to splurge and spend $13 on my meal.

Plus you get to see lamps made of condoms, and great statuary at the entranceway:

Condom mannequins at Cabbages and Condoms

Yes, Santa Condom. I think I have a new theme party idea for Skydive Orange! What do the jumpers think?

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:10 pm.

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Bangkok’s Steamy Underbelly

By steamy, I mean several things. Yeah, there are Bangkok’s red-light districts. But then you have the humid summer heat – and the clouds of actual steam rising from every street vendor stall. How the Thais eat skewers and plates of hot, roasted meat and veg in this heat, I don’t know.

Eating street food in Bangkok

On July 6 I attempted to find out, by walking the streets and taking candid photos of the locals. Okay, I got shots of a few tourists here and there as well – they are the lifeblood of this city, after all! I mean that literally – they are a transfusion of cash into Bangkok’s arm. There wouldn’t be so many tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis without us tourists. “Where you going?”

Motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok

The “Zen” mall in CentralWorld was burned down during riots in this summer’s red shirt protests. Now it’s surrounded by walls, prepared for rebuilding. To help promote goodwill there is a thoughtful poem from the president of Zen, and lots of heart-shaped posterboards where some people have scrawled messages of hope for the future of their beloved mall.

To others it’s a good spot to sit and smoke:

We Love CentralWorld!

I’m going to use a cropped version of this photo so you can see what’s so great about this scene. All eyes are on this beautiful woman:

Lots of cellphone users on the streets, but less than Japan

The contrasts don’t stop in Bangkok. This woman looks like she’s meditating as the epitome of wealth in Asia drives by: the BMW.

Quite good

The pink slippers are classic.

Awesome!

Only half a meter of sidewalk separates these two, yet they live worlds apart.

Excellent!

For my last street photo I’ll throw in this food vendor snacking on her own wares. It’s a good sign if they’ll eat what they have cooked, right?

Excellent!

Now for the night photos, taken from the upper deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. This was tricky, because the platform rotates. There is a screen with wide spacing (big enough to fit a D-SLR through), then a concrete outer ledge about a foot wide. The screen moves, but the ledge doesn’t.

I set my camera & mini-tripod on the outer ledge and clicked the shutter release. With a 5s timer, the camera stabilized as I pulled my hands back through the screen. Then I walked along the (rather fast) rotating platform to stay with the camera. Not much leeway here! Fortunately the camera is heavy enough, and the tripod small enough, that the high winds weren’t likely to blow it off the ledge.

DSC_6403

There’s a lot of traffic in Bangkok. Even at night the streets and highways are crowded. During the day, the cabbies complain constantly about the traffic. “Don’t you wanna go some shopping on the way?” No, because the traffic will NOT be better after you drag me to some scam gem shop.

DSC_6409

These wide shots were the best I could do, because there was no way to look in the viewfinder while placing the camera (through the mesh screen, and while walking slowly along the moving platform). If anyone finds a non-rotating vantage point in Bangkok with such good views, please let me know for the next time I’m there!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:08 pm.

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Mannequin Nip-Slip

Bangkok has a LOT of medium-tall skyscrapers, which you can look down on from the Baiyoke Sky Hotel’s 84th floor. I got this shot after breakfast on July 5th.

Bangkok view from the Baiyoke Sky Hotel

Here’s a good photo for the engineers, showing what the infrastructure of Bangkok is like. I suspect it’s a good metaphor for the city’s hodgepodge of rich/poor, fancy hotels/slums, etc.

Messy electrical wires in Bangkok

They are just as excited about football (ahem, soccer, for my American friends) as the rest of the world:

A football ad for... Pepsi?

Somehow, I can make a series out of the mannequins smuggling raisins from Lima. But, as you’d expect from Bangkok – a city known for sex tourism – the mannequins are a bit more risqué.

Yowza, a mannequin with no pants!

Personally I prefer the more subtle nip-slip; this might just be a Janet Jackson-style “wardrobe malfunction” instead of gratuitous nudity.

Bangkok mannequin nip-slip

Tomorrow I’ll share street photos & night photos. Nothing R-rated – hehe.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:47 pm.

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50-Lemon Can

My last day in Japan was American Independence Day. Sadly I didn’t spend July 4th with any Americans, or see any fireworks. Most of the day I was on a train or plane. But I did see a few cool sights along the way.

As I got very little sleep the days before departing, I tried out this little treat on the express train to Narita. According to a friend, it’s what hung-over Japanese salarymen drink on the way to work. This can has 50 lemons’ worth of vitamin C! “Eeeexcellent, Smithers.” <tents fingers diabolically>

IMG_5085

After a long day of flying, I arrived in Bangkok and caught a shuttle bus into town. It started pouring just as I stepped off the bus, so I splurged for a taxi… it was 40 Baht (about $1.25) from the bus dropoff to the Baiyoke Sky Hotel.

I was only on floor 25 of this very cool 84-floor building, the tallest in Thailand at over 300 meters! Here’s the view from my room:

DSC_6195

It was not a bad deal considering the nice buffet breakfast, and adding in that I could go to the top of the building at floor 84 for free, night or day. I wouldn’t stay a whole week here (a bit pricey), but for a couple days, it was great relaxation and an even better view.

DSC_6192

That’s it for now. I’ll have night pictures from the tippy-top at floor 84 coming up. That was tricky due to the super-annoying revolving platform which would make any long-exposure tripod photos useless. I found a way around it, though – mu-hahaha!

What’s the tallest building you’ve ever been in / up? Currently I’m on Taipei 101, over 500m. When I visited Dubai, the Burj Khalifa (a.k.a. Burj Dubai) wasn’t done yet.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:19 pm.

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Karaoke, Japanese Style

For my final day in Japan, I got up quite late after a night of clubbing. A word to the wise: clubbing in Tokyo is serious business. The subways stop a bit after midnight, and taxis are paid in gold bars or firstborn children. So once you decide to go out, you’re in until dawn!

Anyway, on July 3rd I headed to the seaside district of Odaiba. There’s a lot to do and see: shopping, Tokyo’s huge Ferris wheel, the Future Museum (officially the emerging sciences and technologies), waterside stuff, and cool Toyota showrooms.

I took a ferry to Odaiba from Asakusa, where I saw this building known to locals as “the golden turd.” Well, it’s supposed to be a flame representing the heart of Asahi beer, but judge for yourself:

Asahi Super Dry Hall, a.k.a. Golden Turd

Unfortunately due to my late wake-up (and I do mean late), I missed the Future Museum with its Honda walking robot. But Toyota rocked!

Yes, that’s right. A car showroom rocked my day.

First there was the museum of old cars in the Mega Web shopping complex (free):

Cars in the Toyota Museum in Mega Web

Then, a showroom of new cars with lots of concept vehicles and a few rides (like a self-driving car!). Also, free (well, not the rides). I got a laugh out of this decorated city car:

A cute car in the Toyota Mega Web showroom

After this adventure I met friends for KARAOKE! If you go to Japan, you have to do karaoke with some Japanese. Not only is it a great way to chill with the natives, but they are good singers! I bet due to the culture’s love of karaoke, they have the highest singing skill of any nation.

One of these people is not Japanese. Hint: super tall!

Did I mention that karaoke is all in private rooms? You don’t have to embarrass yourself in front of fifty strangers in a bar… just your closest friends, and perhaps some people you met in a hostel, or out clubbing the night before (haha).

Waaahoooo! Now THAT is some awesome singing.

So here’s my shout out to all my new Japanese friends (who shall remain anonymous). We’ll have to meet again next time I’m in Japan! DAVE LOVES KARAOKE!

Rock on Karaoke singers!

After all that singing I feel an Elwood moment (or perhaps Ellwood if you go by the street name where I used to live). I feel like saying… “We’re getting the band back together.” Long live Electric Bacon! That is all.

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:52 pm.

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Learning the Streets of Tokyo

Street Photography.

This discipline is not about perfect focus, optimal exposure, or straight-vertical buildings.

It’s about taking the pulse of a living city, by showing its inhabitants going about their daily lives on the streets. Of course, if the subjects know they’re being photographed, it ruins the scene. Anonymity and unawareness bring these fleeting moments to life, in a way no funny pose can.

Old woman crossing the street near Asakusa

Alfie Goodrich offers photography courses on various topics in Tokyo. I highly recommend to try out one of his offerings via Japanorama, or ask for a private class, as I did on July 2nd. You can’t imagine how much I learned in just a couple of hours!

Japanese woman in a decorated street near Asakusa

One note: this kind of photography probably isn’t possible everywhere. In a lot of western countries, someone might punch you if they realize you’re taking their photo without asking first. And you’d better not take any photos of kids in the west, either. But after exploring street photography, I have a lot more respect for the results.

Sky Tree with Umbrella

Done right, street photography is not meant to expose anyone’s flaws or look up their skirt. It is a means of bringing a city to life. I’d be honored if a random photograph of me in Munich helped to color the city for lovers of photography who might come across it on Flickr. So, if you see me partying at Oktoberfest or wandering on Neuhauser Strasse, snap away!

Tourists near Shinjuku

Thanks again to Alfie for the amazing lesson. I look forward to another session the next time I visit Tokyo! I’ll end with a few photos that really show what Tokyo is about.

I’d seen these “levitating chopsticks” a few times, and apparently this girl was as mesmerized by them as I was!

Levitating chopsticks and admirer

Style. Fashion. And, everyone is constantly playing with their mobile phone, mp3’s, or both.

MP3s on the mobile near Shinjuku

Finally: this older woman has it all. Sun-umbrella, matching outfit, and (of course) a germ mask.

Woman crossing the street near Shinjuku

More than any of my other photos so far, I feel that the ones I’ve shown today capture Tokyo in a nutshell. Is there any particular photo that you really like? If so, why?

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 3:42 pm.

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