Posted on March 6, 2014
The wisdom of Jerry Garcia resonates with me as the wrathful fingers of winter turn into the chilly, wet hands of spring. I search for my path. A place to watch and dream from afar; to quietly witness the darkness of winter transform into the dawn of spring.
Standing against an ancient wall, spread across the plains of Bagan is my first Myanmar sunrise. With the break of dawn, my slate is washed clean and ready to be filled up again with dreams that come my way.
There is a saying, “Dreams die at dawn…” which I never cared for, as I believe dreams begin at dawn. Then I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”
Perfect. Dawn, a dialectical point in time where dreams may wither and die yet at the same time be realized; the dreamer is there to witness both the inspiration and sadness. For me, this is the definition of dawn.
As a kid, I never gave much thought about the beauty of early morning. I stayed in bed as long as possible…even though many of my dreams originated in books and folklore that romanticized this part of the day.
Mornings were written beautifully, where cowboys, explorers, Native American heroes and adventurers always touched upon the magic of dawn and daybreak.
Daybreak would be accompanied by the glow of an early morning fire, whether to bring warmth to the beginning of the day or to brew a cup of coffee.
While reading, I would dream of sitting alongside the men and women as they drank their coffee…quietly pondering the day of uncertainty that lay ahead. To this day, I believe this is one reason I savor my morning cup of coffee.
Watching the early morning sky, I think of dreams drifting aimlessly like a balloon, its path relying on the wind. The land below contradictorily familiar, yet exotic.
The pre-dawn moment where dreams either move forward to live another day, or silently drift into death…
I once wrote: She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of our dreams we had during the night are out there for us to see…and it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside.”
Dawn allows us a moment to see and grasp at these dreams before they disappear.
It is funny how vivid the mind can become in the quietness of dawn. We can sense ourselves doing something extraordinary, just as we did when we were kids. It seems when we were younger, dreams were more intense and crazy, and as an adult they become more serene, perhaps even mystical.
I suppose there is no comparison. On one hand we have the younger mind of a rabid idealist versus an older mind of cynic: a cynic who realizes how much unclaimed potential we all leave out there.
It is this strange contradictory nature of dawn and maturity that makes life interesting. In our youth, we revel in the late night/early morning hours. Intrigued by the peace of a post-midnight sky and the eerily quietness of the streets and the wilderness.
Breathtaking to feel so alive with energy in the dead of night, as if this moment was created for the young: the world waiting to be explored. All the action and chaos of the previous day and night comes to a crescendo and slowly unwinds in the peaceful stillness of darkness.
Come adulthood, for me this youthful fervor of post-midnight revelry has been replaced by an aching love for the early morning.
Being in a place like Myanmar, I feel the same wonderful spirit of daybreak that I have whether looking over wheat fields of Pendleton, pink rays breaking over Mt. Rainier in Seattle or the incredible Hong Kong harbor coming to life bathed in gold from the morning sun.
Dawn creates this state of bliss, a start of every beautiful day.
James Douglas wrote: “it is a good idea to be alone at dawn, so that all its shy presence may haunt you, possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.”
There is much truth to this saying, which is why I enjoy this time of peace and solitude alone. However, it can be special sharing such moments with others; to occasionally open up this time to share dreams and thoughts…
The two weeks I spent traveling in Myanmar had endless moments of amazement, and I was so happy to be able to share it all with my sister, Sandi. While we enjoyed our photography, the endless talks and creating adventures is what made the trip so eventful.
What good is the happiness of early morning dawn, the moment to wander among dreams, if you can never share it with others?
Best wishes to Ajaytao 2010, for bringing inspiration to many…
Posted on February 14, 2014
“She sang as if she knew me in all my dark despair, and then she looked right through me as if I wasn’t there…”
The eyes, resting on you and only you…and as much as you try to convince yourself you are dreaming, slowly you are drawn into the spectacle taking place before you.
To be drawn into a spectacle…into a dream, that is the incredible beauty of watching a live performance. The music, dancing and theatre are all devices that can whisk us away from the humdrum days of the week and place us where we deserve to be: in the front row seat of our dreams.
What we could be, should be and what we are.
Whether it is spinning around on a stage in dance and song, fingers flying over piano keys or the rhythm of a ball bouncing on the court, sailing in the air then caught in stride… All places where dreams originate, for both young and old, should be treasured.
Watching those with such gifts and talent, the inspiration is mesmerizing.
These shots from a Chinese New Year celebration contain everything an escape from reality should hold for the audience:
- A showcase of beauty for the human spirit and body
- A celebration of culture, inviting the audience into a dream
- Flowing music and movements to fuel the soul long after the show ends
Perhaps the best part of any performance is watching the audience, especially those who are grateful for being able to revisit dreams of their past as they relish the present, and the youth of the present able to experience a bit of the past.
Music plays such a rich role in defining moments in life. To celebrate the sensations of a live show, music creates a path where the young and old are able to connect and share.
A live performance connects us to true talent that nothing on a screen can come close to matching, expanding our idea of what may be possible when it comes our turn to take the stage.
The movement and sounds…the sense that everything around you is a blur except for what your eyes want to see and your ears want to hear.
It is an escape into potential. The potential of anything your mind can dream. This is the magic of a live performance.
Potential. There will come a time, whether on a stage, on a field or in an office when opportunity strikes and your inspiration and talent will take all this potential and create a dream which you then turn into reality.
We are the lucky ones. Do not waste a moment of what we’ve been given.
When the lights fade and the echo of the final applause dissipates, alone sits the dreamer; motionless once again. Looking out into the night full of imagination and desire.
So much hope in the air, the mind can hardly remain clear with all the excitement at what tomorrow may bring…
♫♪♬ “And she just kept on singing… Singing clear and strong…” ♫♪♬
NOTE: thanks to Roberta Flack and her incredible song “Killing Me Softly with His Song” for the inspiration of the opening & closing quote.
Posted on January 17, 2014
There are those who wake up each morning bathed in a glorious sunrise…steam rising off the hot springs outside their door as they gaze across the sky, admiring a rising sun and the beauty of nature. A beauty whose only rival is the one they have laying across their chest as they rest in bed.
If this is you, then this post will likely not be of interest…
Instead, as the holiday season winds down and the bleak side of winter seeps in, this post is for those who feel the dark, deep cold of the season beginning to weigh on their spirit.
This post is for the person jogging down a mountain in twilight, hoping to make it to the car before the sky really opens up with snow and freezing rain…
While luck is on their side, as they make it to the car right before the sky opens, it is a short-lived moment of elation as they find out that once again “someone” left the dome light on in the car prior to the hike… and the only thing colder than the car battery is their sinking heart looking forward to a cold night before help arrives.
These are the moments that tend to define the depths of winter. Early winter has the excitement of a change of seasons: the feeling of the first crisp chill in the air, the beauty of the first snowfall and perhaps a dark-haired girl in a sweater with eyes twinkling as she takes a sip of her coffee.
But then through the rush of the holiday season, reality begins to set in: the first snowfall is accompanied with closed roads and slush. The crisp chill in the air is soon accompanied by a weekend cold, and the girl with the twinkling eyes…well, she keeps things fresh enough to make the winter blues worthwhile.
To most, the dead of winter is defined by crappy weather and long periods of time stuck indoors. And while we remain trapped inside our hellish cells of purgatory, just outside our doors the Whooper Swans are living it up. Frolicking and almost taunting us as they swim, soar and romance as we lay tucked up inside our homes.
Winter brings a strange mix.
While the winter landscape is incredible, the weather does not make it easy to jump out of bed and run around outside and enjoy the great scenes of sunshine and smiles. Instead, we are faced with the joyless scene of the grey & blues of winter.
However, when inspiration strikes and we brave the wind and cold, we can shed the blues and get a spark of summer in the dead of winter.
This spark of summer in the dead of winter is what we need to search for as February looms ahead. As after the initial thrill of a new winter season wears off, we are tested. The abundance of patience in which we start the season with vanishes quickly during the holiday season, leaving us with a sense of dread.
As we slowly drive each other crazy with our pacing and longing for warm, sunny days…ahead is the worst month of the year.
We can either hide our heads and suffer, succumbing to the cold and curse it in our misery, or simply shake off the chills and celebrate winter. A cup of Irish coffee, compatible friends and a great view from a frosted window looking out into the bleak, frozen glory of wintertime is a good start.
Somewhere there will be an opportunity to get out and enjoy what winter can offer. With Chinese New Year just ahead and signaling a close to the holiday season, I look forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.
Cheers to all!
NOTE: These photos were taken in Hokkaido, Japan between Lake Mashuko and Rausu. As luck would have it, we had every type of weather making for a great shooting environment. One of the best days was getting out to shoot in blizzard conditions as we were stranded with road closures (below photo is of John Shaw, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers).
Posted on December 19, 2013
At some time or another, I think everyone has wondered what it would be like to fly…to soar above our world and look down upon the chaos below with detachment. Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed as we glide on the breeze, stretching out for our destination horizon.
The pure pursuit of freedom on the winds.
Perhaps an experience a bit like Jonathan Livingston Seagull…and as with Jonathan and the world in general, there would be avian politics to deal with, pressures of life perhaps no different from what we experience daily and hardships that create the challenges of life.
But just to be able to soar, to get a taste of that purity…I like the thought.
Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed…a bit like a good dose of the spirit of the holiday season. Take away the commercialism, rush of shopping and mass of people, and what is left are people in a great state of happiness and joy.
People feel better about life, about others. There are sincere displays of gratitude and perhaps most importantly, compassion. The holiday season, whether Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa or another, each contain the key component that makes a holiday special: compassion.
Compassion can touch another soul like nothing else, it can be the greatest gift of all. Malcolm Greenhill wrote a poignant post on his blog (Malcolm’s Corner)about this the other day, how a small gesture of compassion from one person can impact another greatly.
A simple and powerful gift is compassion. Easier to give this time of year because of our spirit, yet to make it a habit and show compassion throughout the year and it becomes easy to imagine that we will all be flying as high as these eagles.
I wish to be more compassionate moving forward. I have been touch by others, likely without their knowing the impact of their kindness. How wonderful it would be for me to do the same for others, consistently, throughout the year.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Note: these photos were taken in a small coastal fishing town (pop. 6,200) of Rausu, the most northeasterly town in Japan, and gateway to the Shiretoko Peninsula. During the winter season, pack ice, which drifts down from the Sea of Okhotsk becomes the home to Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles who hunt for fish and put on a show.
Some of the best Japanese food I have ever tasted, fresh and crisp and where every night ends with a little sake and settling into one of the many natural hot springs in the area. Hokkaido is definitely a winter-wonderland.
Posted on November 28, 2013
For me, it is the memory of crawling out of bed for the pre-dawn hunt, returning home to the aroma of love via my mom’s baking and preparation of a meal that could last a lifetime… All together it makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday of the year.
Strange thing is, I have not had such experiences in almost two decades as work and logistics never quite synchronized, thus keeping me in Asia.
Yet, sitting here in my Hong Kong flat once again reminiscing about the Thanksgiving holiday, I could not feel any better.
The beginning of the holiday season is always accompanied with a feeling of wonder, reminding me we all have a lot to be thankful for: memories of the past, moments of the present and thoughts of the future.
While enjoying this holiday in Hong Kong, it is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder and the memories made, more sweet. While the spirit of the holiday season will always rest in the ‘Pendleton dreams’ I have, there have been enough Thanksgivings out here in HK to have their own place in my memory.
Looking around Hong Kong, I see how my years here have accumulated…and what this city means to me.
The first impressions of glistening skyscrapers, hustle and bustle of designer suits and beauty of the Hong Kong life is what initially captured my imagination. It was invigorating and I vowed to “own part of this city”; to have it become part of me.
The city did become a part of me, but not in the way I initially imagined. The outlying islands, the peaceful nature of the water and the wonderful people I have met made it home, and make me thankful.
Watching pieces of Hong Kong history mingle with the modern society that engulfs life here in the Fragrant Harbor (香港) continues to fascinate me.
The other day, I went down to the southern end of Hong Kong Island, to the Aberdeen district, a vibrant fishing village that in the 19th century was one of the pillars of the Hong Kong economy. Today Aberdeen still holds around 600 junks and boats, many still acting as homes for families who have lived there for generations.
The life of a fisherman has always been romanticized for me, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to my adventures as a kid. This makes the walk along the boardwalk and through the Aberdeen fish market a bit surreal…
While Aberdeen is more commercial than it has been in the past, there is no denying the strong spirit of this place: a holder of secrets of fishing life & lore of the city.
While walking around, I met Mr. Lam who agreed to take me on his skiff out past the mouth of the Aberdeen Harbor so I could photograph the sunset. During the ride out, he told me how his father & grandfather spent their lives fishing and living on their boat in Aberdeen Harbor. He loves the place, and while he spent some time in this industry, he seldom goes out any more.
“In the past, my Grandparents would begin their day much earlier than we do…as we are spoiled by use of electricity and motorized boats. They had it simple back then…but I guess simple also means more difficult if you think about it in today’s terms.”
His discussion stretched over generations, and he was clearly proud of his parents and grandparents who created this iconic part of Hong Kong folklore. Reflecting on his life during the drive out, he proudly spoke of his daughter, how she attends an international school and describing her as a bridge between the old of Hong Kong and the generation of her grandparents versus the new Hong Kong and limitless opportunities waiting ahead for her.
“She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where we came from, and she will be proud.” He smiled.
As we headed back to Aberdeen, we talked about how quickly Hong Kong changes, a perpetual cycle of adapting to the new and modern. He added something that I think personifies the culture in large Chinese cities:
“It is a little strange, but my first real dream was to own a ‘beeper’ in the early 90′s…I figured that would mean I had made it.” He laughed loudly at that thought, and added “of course by the time I had a beeper, everyone had a mobile phone…I guess I should have dreamed bigger, huh?”
That is when I realized no matter where or who we are, people are always chasing a dream…and it isn’t the actual dream that matters, but the path taken from the moment the dream is dreamt until it is realized.
Through his words, it was clear that Mr. Lam was thankful of how his life has worked out:
- Able to reflect a bit on the past, and be thankful.
- Focus on the present, make due, and be thankful.
- Then offer a bit of a dream for the future so those who follow will have greater opportunities than the generation before.
While the modern skyscrapers and seductive beat of the city gives Hong Kong the aura it is famous for, it is only a slice of Hong Kong. The food stalls, life on the water, the hills and sea are the pieces of the city that hold the true spirit and culture of the locals. It has become a home. A place where many answers lie…and for that I am thankful.
Hong Kong reminds me of Pendleton, which when considering my hometown’s population is only 16,000 (on a good day), it seems silly. But in my mind it does.
I think back to the words of the fisherman about his daughter: “She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where she came from, and she will be proud.”
For me, those simple words sum up Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what we have, and for what is possible and to all those who have helped along the way.
- Hong Kong dreams (laratheescapeartist.wordpress.com)
- Sample The Unmistakable Skyline Of Hong Kong (news.freedomasia.co.uk)
- Hong Kong – Quarry Bay, China (travelpod.com)
- Destination: Hong Kong (kaseythegilmanscholar.wordpress.com)
- Lapse of Time HK (amazing HK Time-Lapse: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCTGAn5DNQU)
Posted on November 6, 2013
Sitting in my comfortable chair with a nice cup of coffee in my hand, I can’t help but wonder “what lies around the corner?”
Curiosity cannot help but push us towards this unknown. It may be a quick look or it may be the beginning of a long, new adventure… The one thing I am sure of, we cannot help but take a look. Humans by nature are curious creatures and the desire to learn and obtain wisdom in life lies deep within everyone’s heart.
This desire to learn is a gift children have in abundance. Differences (be it culture, language, food, religion, etc…) can be eerie for the young; frightening if not so compelling. There are times when children cannot help but to stare at someone, often with mouth agape, as they try to register what it is they are now experiencing.
Often a turn towards their parents to understand how they should proceed follows.
In my experiences, parents let children explore differences with “the mind of a child”, open and questioning. When that something strange is someone, all it takes is a glint in the eye, break of a smile, warm laughter or something similarly simple to cross all boundaries and all cultures. We are one.
The ability of children to focus on the newness that triggers questions is what fascinates. A child’s mind pursues answers to understand how “differences” fits into their world, and they grow.
Not a bad lesson to learn from little ones: never cease expanding the mind for if we do not grow with all the changes the world brings every day, we’ll be lost.
It is crazy to think of all the opportunities that lie around in today’s world. Places to explore right around the corner: a neighbor, friends or a new restaurant with an exotic menu that opens an opportunity to jump into a new world.
What is most beautiful to see are parents who push their children forward with curiosity instead of pulling them back with fear.
“Pushing forward with curiosity instead of pulling back with fear”
It was this last sentence that caught my attention while staying in a small home on top of the Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan province, China. Huddled around a small stove with a couple in their mid-30s from Beijing, they told me they grew up restricted by fear, in part due to the chaos of China in the 60s and 70s that lingered in the minds of the people through the 80s.
The couple contrasted those fears of the past with what has replaced it in today’s society: healthy curiosity. Civilizations thrive when the people are pushing forward with confidence instead of pulling back in fear. Chasing after the answer, pursuing curiosity, can lead to places that never before have been envisioned.
How we found ourselves together in this small cabin was a result of curiosity. As the family whose house we were staying were members of the Tu-Jia minority (土家族), the couple from Beijing enjoyed Tujia food very much, and wanted to experience it on the mountain, while I came for the photography…a perfect match.
As our conversation ended, the lady from Beijing asked me to join her along with the old couple, to go out back to their smokehouse. There I witnessed a 30-minute discussion over what piece of smoked meat would be used for our meal.
It was amid questions, stories, more questions interspersed with laughter that “the best piece of meat” was found and preparation of a traditional Tu-Jia meal was confirmed. We would have 土家腊肉 (Tujia Bacon with Wild Vegetables).
Wild vegetables, tofu, rice and A LOT of Hunan spices made for a great meal. Standard for all such meals is a glass of their homemade ‘moonshine’ which after a long day of hiking went down smoothly.
The experience of Hunan and Hallelujah Mountain was unforgettable. The photography ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as the weather did not cooperate on top of the mountain… after one clear night, the cold rolled in along with a light rain, which meant a bland, grey fog blanketing the area.
I had hoped for heavy rain, followed by small weather breaks, which would have given perfect conditions to record the rare “peaks above a sea of clouds” scene, but instead Lady Fate gave me a another great reason to return here again and search for that elusive shot.
Getting the urge to explore, to let the curiosity get the best of us is a good thing. Whether it is taking a small trip, or listening to a story from someone next door that contains wisdom that people would normally have to travel around the globe to collect.
Some of the best memories I have, are of growing up and learning about things: wheat, cattle, sports and nature from people around my home town. Yet, I also learned about China, the Middle East and the world from those very same people…as I was curious and they were eager to tell me a story and share with me the mystery.
As an American, it excites me to see such diversity around the world and in our communities. Opportunities right next door just waiting to be tapped for the wealth of experience and wisdom to be shared.
It impresses me to no end how easy it can be to invite yourself into a new culture, a new life just by following your curiosity and allowing yourself to be swept away into mystery.
Posted on October 21, 2013
The year was 1397AD, and Gao Rui-fu was walking through the streets of Xi’an, China. Having just returned the day before from a long trek along the fabled Silk Road, he was in search of something in his hometown, yet unsure what this “something” was.
He passed his favorite bookstore, pausing by the new titles, thinking perhaps it was opening the page of some long-lost novel he had read in the past that was leaving this emptiness in his soul…or perhaps a new book that would take him to unchartered lands.
But walking through the dusty shelves, he walked out empty…
What could it be?
He walked pass the lively market where Sun Ling, his childhood sweetheart, worked thinking perhaps seeing his girl again would charge his spirit and bring him out of this funk. But having seen her last night, he walked past knowing something still was just not quite right.
He ran along the mighty Xi’an Wall, in the hopes that perhaps it was the absence of seeing his city, his streets and the people who would fill this missing space.
This city wall, a thousand years old with a new section just finished…his father the head foreman. An impenetrable structure, 55 feet thick at the base, Rui-fu felt pride running his hands over the large stones that made up the wall. Still after an hour of climbing and running, no reply to the ache he felt inside.
What was he missing?
As he wandered along, thinking about his parents, siblings and friends he has visited since his return…the parks, streets and favorite hangouts, he still could not understand what was causing this strange void inside.
He had hoped settling into the ambiance & comfort of his favorite tea shop this morning would have resolved this question, sipping the fragrance of freshly picked tea leaves, yet all that did was make him go to the bathroom more often than he wished…
With his mind distracted, he soon found himself outside of the city center, and nearing the slum area of town…and while most people would never dream of heading down to this area, Rui-fu savored such visits.
A nod of his head to old Mr. Li and his wife, who operated a tiny restaurant in this area, perfecting the art of the Chinese dumpling (饺子 pronounced ‘jiao-zi’) and as his smile broke, happiness ran through Rui-fu.
Something so simple, but so perfect: comfort food. The taste of home the body craves, especially after a long absence. Outside this simple stall, Rui-fu smelled the simple flavors and tastes of the Chinese dumpling… He was home.
There are many great dishes from around the world, on every street corner, and over 600 years ago, after a long trek, Rui-fu refueled his spirit with a simple meal of dumplings.
With me, it is the same.
With my home being the USA, there are days in China when I miss a great number of things. From bread I can buy from the local bakery to the meals I take for granted. It is at these times in China, I go off to find the one comfort food I have: the Chinese dumpling. 饺子.
Almost without fail, my first meal is at this little shop around the corner called North-East Dumplings. The restaurant consists of two small tables. Every time I walk in, Mr. or Mrs. Qiu are at a small table filling & folding jiao-zi with their beautiful little daughter Xiao Qiu smiling and reaching for my i-Pad so she can play her games while I wait for my meal.
One day, when I asked if I could photograph them making dumplings, they warmly agreed. Xiao Qiu was excited to take me to the open market to buy ingredients for the next morning, a perfect way to start the day.
The ingredients of the dumplings we made varied greatly, from pork and chives to mushroom and vegetables. The key to great dumplings is first to make them by hand, with the art of filling & folding:
The art of producing a perfectly made dumpling is a gift not easily mastered…and with Xiao Qiu stating matter-of-factly: “Randy doesn’t really know how to make dumplings does he?!?” Laughter filled the room, and I decided that it was perhaps best to focus on photography instead of dumplings.
Perhaps the greatest reason I enjoy my dumplings, is that it is the closest things I have to comfort food in China. Something simple, yet solid and brings a sense of peace as I sit down for a meal.
$1.75 for a plate of 15 dumplings (they usually give me a few more…), and a dish of vinegar and red peppers for additional flavor brings me back to the time in Xi’an when I first enjoyed Chinese dumplings more than 20 years ago.
In 1991, sitting in the small dumpling shop in Xi’an, missing home tremendously but for the first time starting to feel comfortable in my new surroundings that began with the discovery of my new favorite food.
Seeing all this work that goes into producing the fill, preparation of the dough and then folding & handling all these dumplings…only to be gobbled up in seconds once prepared.
There are more to dumplings than just great flavor.
As with anything in life, if you put your heart into something (work and play), it is impossible not to walk away without creating something special. Homemade dumplings are made special because of the hands & hearts of those who make them so.
In many ways, cooking is similar to life. As Julia Child once put it “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Pretty good advice for life as well…