Lisbon, Portugal

This is my first time to Lisbon. It was part of a business trip, so as can be expected, it is mainly airport, hotel, meetings and then back to the airport. However, I planned to have an evening out in town on the last evening before flying out. Travelled light as I was not sure about security in the city (it felt safe, but take standard precautions). Packed a Leica M2, Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE as I wanted maximum sharpness at f1.4 and brought along 2 rolls of 400TX film which I will push to 800 ISO to get acceptable exposure. Walked around down town and here are the results. Another thing to add is how cheap it felt to be in Lisbon – after being used to the cost of cities like Paris. A taxi from the airport to town cost less than 10 Euros, and cocktails in bars are 3 Euros each. Makes for a case for a return visit in the future.

 Marques de Pombal Metro Station Marques de Pombal Metro Station  Baixa-Chiado Station Baixa-Chiado Station  Chiado at night Chiado at night  Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos

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Seoul – Dongdaemun on Sunday

Out of the markets in Seoul, the one I like the most is Dongdaemun. You can find anything you want there. I’m not talking about consumer stuff, of course you can find anything you want there if the market is big enough, but parts of this market has industrial stuff as well, and that makes for great photo opportunities. With black & white film, some parts of this market can have that classic vintage look to the photos.

 The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map

So what happens on Sundays. First of all, in that area that is marked in English as “Sallim-dong” on the map above, most of the shops are closed. There are some workshops that are still open on Sunday – but it looks like the only reason is to catch up on the backlogged work. You can safely say that it is generally closed on Sunday. So there are all these alleyways that are devoid of human beings, but you can still get a sense of the spirit of the market. So over a few Sundays I made my way there, walked around, got lost a few times, and once I do, I just walk straight and eventually I’ll hit a metro station and I’ll find my bearings again.

Here is are some of the photos taken during the survey. They’re all taken with Leica Ms and I believe a majority of them were with 24mm, which I prefer in tight places and it retains a rectilinear look unlike something wider. Enjoy and leave comments if you wish.

 These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet.  These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet.   Walking into the small alleys, here's the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.   Walking into the small alleys, here’s the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.  One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.  One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.

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An Afternoon in Yeouido 여의도, Seoul

 Along Yeouidaero main street
Along Yeouidaero main street

This small urban island is the home of many company headquarters, the seat of the Korean parliament and just about very major TV stations in Korea. Not to forget the occasional mega churches. Situated in a piece of land on the Han river, it is an island because a small stream cuts it off the mainland. So the southern part is just a stones throw to the mainland while the northern section requires a larger medieval catapult to get to land. 

 Plenty of parks by the riverfront, the running and cycling path here goes all the way close to Incheon
Plenty of parks by the riverfront, the running and cycling path here goes all the way close to Incheon
 Pile of trash behind the National Assembly building
Pile of trash behind the National Assembly building
 Food... mmmmm
Food… mmmmm

The western part of Yeouido has tight security, and there is where the National Assembly building is, where the politicians hang out. I don’t even bother to take out my camera as I’m sure security guards don’t like any pictures taken. There’s not really much to take here, mainly drab government building, that box with a dome on it and perhaps KBS station. 

 I'm sure you will not miss the mega church here
I’m sure you will not miss the mega church here
 ... I don't believe they're a group of backup singers
… I don’t believe they’re a group of backup singers
 ... you know, like a mountain... where you pray.
… you know, like a mountain… where you pray.

In the middle of the island is a large park and avenue, and it makes for a nice stroll when the weather is good. Which is the case. There are sculptures in the park and there are areas where you have to look out for cyclists and small kids learning to ride. 

 IFC Towers
IFC Towers
 It is not an impressive set of buildings without the sculpture. @IFC
It is not an impressive set of buildings without the sculpture. @IFC

At the time of my walk, the IFC towers and shopping mall was just opening. As every IFC franchise in this part of the world requires multiple buildings, it’s worth going around looking for the best juxtaposition of sky scrapers for that fine art photo or two. In fact I don’t ever believe I knew that this place was being built at all. There were barriers the last time I was there, but every building looks the same in the 21st century. This one is no exception, except for the photographer looking for shapes to capture and opposing figures and interplay of highlight and shadows. I probably spent most of my frames here walking around the building. 

Just me, walking around with Leica M2 and Nikon S2 rangefinders and two lenses (24mm and 50mm).

Leica camera CLA in Seoul

 IMG_0479
IMG_0479

I have a couple of Leica Ms and of all of them, my favorite has to be the M2. However that M2 is also the only mechanical camera in my possession that is in need of overhauling. Clean, lubricate & adjust as they say it, or simply CLA. Doesn’t take long to do a search on the Internet before I stumble across a supposedly nondescript shop in Chungmuro (충무로) that came recommended. GPS coordinate is approximately at 37.562063, 126.990041

To get there, take line 3 orange line to 충무로 station and get out at exit 5. Continue straight towards Myeongdong and one you pass a big tower called Kukdong Building, turn right and immediately turn left on the next small junction. About ten meters later on your right will be a small camera shop called Yeongsang 영상 Camera. Go up to the second floor and there is a black and white photo developing shop. In a small corner of the shop, the old man there will CLA your mechanical camera.

 IMG_0458
IMG_0458

Mine took only 2 hours. About the time it takes to develop a roll of film and cost a reasonable 100,000₩. The finder all clear now an all mechanical parts humming along, it’s cheap and at the same time fast. I was initially expecting a week before pickup. Who knew I could browse the camera shops around the area and pick it up on the same day.

 IMG_0454
IMG_0454

Highly recommended shop. Thanks to rangefinderforum.com for the initial directions. Shop opens 10am to 7pm. However the owner is sometimes downstairs in a used camera shop.

Henan Province, China: Zhengzhou, Zhoukou and Kaifeng

Street Performer in Kaifeng
Night Market in Kaifeng

Hanging around in Kaifeng

No phone while driving? Nice one...

National day in China is special. For the party member, this is the 60th such celebration and from what I’ve heard, there will be more fireworks burnt tonight than during the Beijing Olympics and the giant footsteps will make its way to Shanghai, if what I heard is correct. To me it’s quite obvious they will use more fireworks for the 1 Oct celebrations, especially when you consider it will be celebrated country-wide.

Debate aside, along with the midautumn festival, I get to have 6 days off. All of it public holidays.

Now I’ve been fixated on Henan province since early this year when I read about it. Early golden dynastic years of the Chinese empire happened here. Out of the 8 ancient capitals of China, 4 are located here. That would be Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, Luoyang and Anyang. After the first emperor set up camp in Xian, the capital quickly moved to Henan (I believe it was Luoyang, but wikipedia will tell you what it was). Of course Longmen grottoes/caves are here. So is the very commercialised Shaolin temple at Song Shan. Better still, my chinese surname, Chen, the top 5 most common chinese surname, originated here in Henan. The article I read indicated it was in Puyang. My search on the web says another town to the east of Henan which I doubt I will visit due to time constraints. More googling says that it began when Chen state was established, and so on, and the town inside Chen State is today Zhoukou, not too far from Zhengzhou and Kaifeng.

Retro province requires retro equipment. Leica M6 and M2 doing the duties for Henan Province along with 15 rolls of film.

So, the masterplan is to fly into Zhengzhou and cover all 4 ancient capitals and their most important sights and cover two thirds of the cities which are the possible origin of my surname. All these in 6 days.

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Turkey: Prologue

28 August 2009:
Typing this on the flight from Singapore to Istanbul.

Trips with a historical slant can be stale for those who prefer to ignore the significance of places beyond its heyday. I have a feeling that most parts of my upcoming 2 week trip will be of interest to only a small minority. I have spent almost 3 months reading Edward Gibbon’s excellent “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, referencing wikipedia and making notes on google maps, charting the locations as I go along. Luckily for me, most of the action towards the end of the Roman Empire centers around present-day Turkey.

The focal point of course is on Constantinople, also known today as Istanbul, where Emperor Constantine decided to establish the first Christian kingdom, arguably because he decided to side with the growing popularity of a new religion. Sacked a few times by passing crusaders and finally falling to the giant cannon of Sultan Mehmet II of the Muslim Ottomans less than a thousand years later. In Istanbul I would expect the signs of history to be more obvious, but it would be a challenge to find the remains of the wall where the muslims breached the city wall.

Planning to stay 3 days in Istanbul. As for the rest of the trip, the rough planning is as follows:

After Istanbul, and using it as a hub, I will do two day trips. First of it will be to Hadrianople – present day Edirne – next to the Greek border. This is where the Ottomans set up their capital and headquarters before heading out to conquer Constantinople. I expect the city to be bland,with history hidden behind a modern facade, tourists passing through, oblivious to the role this city played in the founding of present day Turkey about 700 years ago. A day trip out of Istanbul should be sufficient.

Then there’s Nicaea – present day Iznik – where a bunch of church elders held a meeting a bit more than a thousand years ago and decided on the Nicene Creed, a story setting the relationship between the key figures of today’s Christian church doctrine. All other conflicting views were banished, and purged. Iznik is famous for the tiles that graced many Ottoman monuments in Turkey. Again, I’m expecting a ruin or two but nothing more than the pleasure of getting GPS coordinates in a city steeped in historical significance. If time permits, perhaps Iskander Kebab in Bursa not too far from Iznik before returning to Istanbul.

To save time, I plan to then take a flight down to Nevsehir, in Cappadocia. A bus from the capital would take too long, losing up to a whole day to get to the heart of Turkey. At Urgup, I have made advanced booking on a rental car which will be with me the whole trip in Cappadocia while I try to cover the whole area in 3 days. It is probably ambitious to do so with public transportation, so we shall see. Distances seem quite short so I shouldn’t have to use up tanks of petrol everyday.

Planning to spend 3-4 days there depending on my mood. Cappadocia would be the landscaping part of the trip, and my DSLR and a couple choice lenses and tripod will come with me for this purpose.

The next few day post-Cappadocia is unclear at this moment. Will probably make it up as I go along. One possibility is to go to Kayseri, hanging around the most muslim city of my trip, and taking the overnight train down to Adana to have a kebap, and finally down to Antakya (ancient name: Antioch). The second plan is to skip Kayseri, but since I’m not in the mood to apply for a Syrian visa, not sure what I will do in the 3-4 days down south in Antakya. Will worry later. All I know is that I have to be in Adana at a certain time the day before the flight back so that I can catch a domestic flight from Adana back to Istanbul, where I will spend another night before leaving Turkey.

Total duration: two weeks. This will be during Ramadan season, so I’m prepared to fast if I have to, eating breakfast and dinner only.

Equipment wise, I have the standard blogging machine, my Nokia E71 that will double as an alarm clock as it has the most irritating ring of all, and tripling as a GPS backup since it has google maps allowing me to have an eye up in the sky if required. Primary GPS is my trusty 10 year old Garmin eTrex Vista loaded with world map for this part of the planet. For the first time, I will bring a PCM sound recorder to get ambient sounds into my archives, honours going to the Sony PCM D50 recorder. A trip is not a trip without cameras, of course . I will have the usual 3 cameras. People shots will be made with a Leica M6 Classic and just one lens, a 35mm Summicron ASPH which should be versatile enough for close up action. Bringing 20 rolls of film, Kodak Tri-X, Chinese-made ERA100 and Fuji Neopan1600. Not forgetting a single roll of Kodachrome, just in case. DSLR for landscapes with a rugged-ish Nikon D300. Lenses that will come along: 12-24mm f4 AFS, 10.5mm f2.8, 28-70mm f2.8 AFS and my favourite all-round lens: Micro-Nikkor 105mm f4 AI. All Nikkors. Point and shoot honours will go to a Ricoh GR Digital in a belt holster for quick grab shots. A light Gitzo 1531T travel tripod and RRS BH25 tripod head comes along. All these goes into a Kinesis  Journeyman bag configured for half gears and half clothes. A Kinesis M550 multipurpose bag serves as a day and accessory pack when I need to move fast.

Enough on the equipment. This setup allows me to move fast and to jump on buses and planes without any big bulk. It’s heavy for sure, but nothing big plate of kebab at the day cannot soothe. And so it begins…

Keelung, Taiwan: Returning to the coast

Another view of the Hollywood-esque sign in downtown Keelung
27 June 2009

This is my second trip to Keelung. The first trip is here. So no long introductory pleasantries in this post. Tapping this out on my E71 as I go along, and with my fat fingers, the less I type the better it would be. Now that I’ve made my apologies, I’ll let my laziness take it from here. Will make the pictures do all the talking.

This weekend the port is devoid of any large ships, unlike the first time I was here

And before I start a post about Taiwan, why not start with a photo of the bikes!

By train from Taipei central train station. 43NTD by TRA train. The tickets can be bought at any of the TRA counters, but may be a lot quicker to go to the basement next to the entrance gate to the trains and buy the ticker at the vending machine there. First mistake of the day for me. First train starts just before 6 am. I took the 9:34am train. Quite obviously I woke up later than planned.

The weather forecast is wrong today. Was expecting thunderstorms but got greeted with a years supply of sunlight in a day. Its hot as hell and I have a large umbrella from the hotel with me. Not a day I feel like spending wholy outdoors out of the shade! Taking bus 301 to the Dutch City (Taibaizhuang). Fare seems to be 15NTD. The bus is a small mini bus with blaring local radio in Taiwanese. Loud advertising, and loud old 80s style songs.

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Shanghai, China: Nanjing Rd at night

Late night shoppers hanging around Nanjing Rd way after all shops have closed.
The standard tourist to Shanghai makes a pilgrimage to the perennially packed Nanjing Road. The picture of thousands of shoppers compressed through the use of telephoto lens is all over brochures of Shanghai. I could copy those, and maybe I would in the future for my project, but I was more interested in what Nanjing Rd looked like late at night, when most of the shops have already closed.

In every major city there is always that one place where you will find more out-of-towners than locals, and this is where touts, conmen, and the general unlicensed street traders hang around. So naturally, I had my iPod on with sound isolating Shure headphones so I can ignore most of them coming up to me. I’m sure I will have to spend some time waiting so I packed a book with me so I can find a bench and read it until the crowd thins down.

In my small bag, 2 cameras. A Leica M6 fitted with a Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH, my favourite lens for night time shooting, and a second Leica M2 with Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH with Tom Abrahamsson’s Rapidwinder IXMOO. Both cameras are loaded with Fujifilm’s Neopan 1600. There are no meter on the Leica M2 so I was expecting quite a number of rejected shots.

And here are the results…

The standard shot of Nanjing Road, but this one close to 11pm. There are noticeably quite a number of people still wandering around, along with touts selling underwater goods.

This is a large tidbit shop. With the shutter closed, it is still possible to see the workers cleaning up and getting ready to return home.

This private proprietor is clearly a late night worker.
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Shanghai, China: Wusong Pier And Hengsha Island

Flower fields blossom at Wusong Park, yes strange way to start a post, but thought starting with a little colour might be appropriate here...
Summer is finally here. While I’d like to think that I have compiled a list of places to go in China, I rarely adhere to such lists anyway, and most destinations are off the seat of my pants. Last winter was reserved mainly for discovering new interesting back streets in Shanghai. Because of the cold, and the fact that most of my trip requires hours outdoors, it is a lot more comfortable to be close to home.

The first one the list, which has been on my want-to-do-list for some time, is a survey trip to Hengsha island. It desn’t really have to be Hengsha, Changxing is fine as well. The former is one of the larger islands on the Yangzi river mouth, where the Yangzi and the smaller Huangpu rivers meet. I’m not a geologist, but it does seem to form part of the Yangzi river delta, the famous Yangzi River Delta! Trip there requires a public bus to one of the ports where the two rivers meet, as I wrote this, I had no idea which port the boats leave, but Google maps does suggest that I start with Wusong pier and so it shall. Taking a taxi there would be the easiest, but since when has adventure about taking the easiest path? Buses are not really that dodgy in Shanghai, but just for the fun of it, why not the bus? There are many places to board buses that goes to Wusong pier, and I settled on the closest one so that I can avoid taxis.

The Yangzi river from Wusong battery park

Port of Shanghai at Pudong

Over the course of weeks I made a few trips to Wusong port and it took till the third trip before I made it to Hengsha Island, but none of the trips were a waste at all.

30 May 2009

Unlike most other trips I have made, I woke up a little late at 10 am this morning. Has to be the latest waking up time for me on a Saturday! After lunch and a little gear tinkering and packing, and just utter time wasting on twitter, I started leaving my apartment at 1 pm, knowing full well I might have missed the last boat to be able to return on the same day. Let’s face it, staying the night on some island I’ve never been to before in China is not exactly part of the plan today.

So what is in the bag today? Plenty of water since it is a hot day today. Took with me a innocent looking tote bag bought in Tokyo, filled with a Nikon D300, 12-24mm DX, 10.5mm DX and of course a 105mm f4 Macro AI in case the opportunity of insects, details and flowers present itself. Since there will be people to shoot as well, packed in my Leica M3 as well, along with a new 5cm Summitar collapsible lens. I just got this one back from a little repair work by John van Stelten from Focal Point in Colorado about a month ago, and it is time to see if this lens is any good for the price you pay (one of the cheapest Leica lens you can buy!). Film is of course, ERA100, and like I always say – chinese film for chinese people. Packed a Garmin GPS as well, and I can already feel that this unit is getting a little creaky old!

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Tochigi, Japan: Return to Senjogahara Plateau

Chuzenji-no-taki: Chuzenji waterfall
You could say Tochigi is my playground. I just love the place. Take a long slow train over to Tobu-Nikko station and there are many options. Most tourists would spend the whole day at the temple complex, Toshogu, Rinnoji and of course, snap photos of the stable with 3 monkeys. But the hidden gem of Nikko is the many hiking opportunities like Chuzenji to the northwest and Kirifuri area to the northeast.I’ve been to Senjogahara and Kirifuri before, and the links are embedded in the two names in this sentence.

Senjogahara Plateau

Senjogahara is in the northwest just further up from Chuzenji. Chuzenji is, of course, synonymous with a waterfall, not just a normal waterfall, but one that drops hundreds of meters. The lake that feeds the waterfall, Chuzenji lake, is relatively large, and on a plateau in the highlands. On a summer day, there are anglers spaced evenly along its banks. I don’t have proof, but it does look like you need to have permit to fish there and you are probably assigned slots. They do look spaced out a little too evenly to be random!

Fly Fisherman on Yukawa River

... And more fly fishing...

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