Posts Tagged ‘dim sum’

SOTM World Tour – Ten Top Travel Photos

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

1660320_10153786052195241_1554794481_n“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa once said.

Unfortunately for the poor bugger, he got too close to a landmine one day. Still, this is one of my favourite ever quotes.

While he was clearly talking about getting close to your subjects – he was on one of the barges which landed on the Normandy beaches for D-Day – I also like to think that to get closer to the world is also to improve your photography.

And that’s what the SOTM World Tour did for me. It took me out into places I’d never heard of, to busy, neon-stained alleyways, across African plains with skies that last forever and fighting arenas stacked with sweating, shrieking, betting-slip brandishing crowds.

These are ten of my favourite images from my year-long trip around the world, from the many thousands that I took with my Nikon D5100, my iPhone 4S and then, toward the end, my Nikon D7100 after my 5100 fell apart. It was only a few months old but I guess world travel was just too much for it.

I’ve only ever self-taught myself how to take pictures, and being out in the world was the best lesson of all.

The top image shows pupils from Sekolah Rendah Batu Marang school, in Jalan Batu Marang water village, Brunei. The charming Kathy Wharton is their English teacher and she kindly took us around, showing us her school and the water village, perched on top of perilous-looking stilts, where her charges come from.

After I posted some of these images on Facebook my friend Helen, with whom I stayed, told me I’d “captured the real Brunei”. Which pleased me greatly.

999168_10153125055170241_2082429276_nThe throbbing Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of Tokyo, has many smaller roads and alleyways running away from its busyness.

The gentleman above was the waiter in a noodle place, cheap and very tasty, in one of these veins. I fully intended to return, so good was the food, but was distracted by Tokyo’s many other shiny attractions and never made it back.

So it’s fortunate that I did ask him for a photo upon my only visit. He didn’t speak English but when I smiled and pointed at my camera, posed with great confidence and grace. And I liked his white wellies.

1379715_10153361940225241_114641734_nWhen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I was taken to the remarkable Shamwari Game Reserve by my friend Kimberley. There I went on three safari rides and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.

One time we spotted a serval hiding in the bushes. I saw it twitch through my viewfinder and instinctively pressed the shutter. When I looked at the screen afterwards, this shot is what I saw. It’s my best action photo, I think.

1025647_10152945200410241_220286925_oThere isn’t that much to do in Geneva. It’s pretty enough and very clean, but a bit too sanitised for my liking.

But at least Lake Geneva has public pianos for people to tinkle. I saw this young woman sat at one while delving into her bag. My camera was completely the wrong exposure levels so I was rapidly adjusting dials, willing her to hold her position for a few seconds longer – when she looked up.

I knew my exposure was wrong, but took the shot as I liked what I saw in my viewfinder. The moment then passed.

I looked at the image I’d taken and it was virtually black, totally underexposed. But as I was shooting in RAW I had hope. When I got it onto my computer, I was able to change the exposure – and was thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you’re not shooting in RAW, you should consider doing so. There may come a time when it will save you.

1377245_10153328471465241_1474946143_nI have always wanted to visit Uluru, fairly in the centre of Australia’s outback. When I was a boy it was more commonly known as Ayers Rock.

But even though I was enthusiastic about it, I was still hugely surprised about just how hypnotic it is. Enormous, red, hugely different to the landscape around it, a monstrous pimple squeezed up from the earth, back when the planet was still being formed.

Looking at the rock during sunrise and sunset is to experience kaleidoscopic colours and shapeshifting shadows. You might think staring at a large rock can’t be that exciting, but somehow, it is. You’ll never feel old again when you consider how what stands before you came into being more than 600 million years ago.

Also, about 2.5km of Uluru is buried below the desert soil. Mind. Boggled.

I chose the shot above because I got Kata Tjuta in the background, once known as the Olgas. They’re a collection of 36 domes and in many ways are even more remarkable than their neighbour.

She’s the flashy one, who puts out with her russet looks, getting most of the attention, hogs all the postcards, while Kata Tjuta is visited as something of an afterthought, an added extra for tourists who’ve come to see the hot girl in the neighbourhood. But I loved them both.

1497771_10153699331050241_17606286_nThe Lumpinee stadium is beautiful because it’s fragile. It’s about to be knocked down and relocated, which makes the sweating, kicking, yelling all that more intense.

Like the last time you make love to someone you’re soon to part from, you savour everything because you know it won’t happen again. Their imperfections become adorable because it’s about to be all over.

Built in Bangkok in 1956, the stadium looks like it might not last too much longer. Look away from the shiny ring, where respectful Muay Thai fighter knee and punch and kick one another.

The apparently leaky ceiling is made of corrugated sheets, with many long-stemmed fans shivering like leaves on a trembling pond. The cheap seats aren’t even seats, they’re benches and people just stand anyway.

And the VIP seats are just part-plastic chairs, although they do afford an excellent view of the action. Despite this, I really wanted to move into better positions but was restricted to shooting where I was perched.

As a result, my 18-200mm Sigma lens came in handy, and of all the shots I got that night, this was my favourite. I turned it grayscale to add a bit more mood to the young man’s determined glare.

1656396_10153863531660241_1299583810_nI was on a food tour in Hong Kong and was taken to a dim sum place for breakfast by the smashing Laura, who runs Hello Hong Kong Tours. 

It was a local place for local people, and I loved it immediately. It’s one of the places in Hong Kong that still has people pushing food carts round, which supply you with your choice of dishes.

While there I spotted this chap walking around with a big metal kettle, topping up the ubiquitous Chinese tea that sloshes around in eateries all over the city. I was desperate to photograph him, he looked fantastic.

I grabbed some half decent shots of him at the next table, and then suddenly, out of nowhere he shimmered and appeared at our table, directly opposite me. I managed to take this photo, and then another.

I preferred the second image, but it’s not pin sharp because the focal point was over his shoulder. So after suffering that slight disappointment, I decided to have my camera on autofocus sometimes, especially in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that focus isn’t an issue at least.

After my shutter had flickered a couple of times, he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “You have to pay me now, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.”

We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously, you have to pay me.” But he was joking, and when we left I shook his hand. It was like a lobster with a grudge.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nThere’s nothing so good for the soul as seeing a happy elephant.

There are plenty of these at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These remarkable, beautiful creatures have been abused at some point, often by some of those in Thailand’s logging industry. The guilty ones must have black souls.

Eye-gouging, beatings, pelvises broken by forced matings, the stories run a chill though your blood. And if you ever want to ride an elephant, do bear in mind that they are beaten and broken as babies, treated horribly, in order to get them to allow humans to ride them – so don’t.

At least they are happy here in this sanctuary. This chap was having a damn good scratch of his nads on this concrete pole. Or it might be a female. I was too polite to ask.

photoWe were out of Kampot, at the very bottom of Cambodia, when a tremendous storm shattered overhead.

After making it back via a slightly traumatic tuk tuk journey, we found the town flooded. This is a common occurrence in these parts, and the population were clicking into gear, chucking out buckets of floodwater from shops and restaurants, using squeegees to push back the tides in a well-practiced fashion.

The local children seemed to delight in all the fuss. These two characters were going up and down the flooded road, so I got several shots of them with my camera. But this one was the first that I got, grabbed with my iPhone as they rode past and run through an Instagram filter.

It’s not totally sharp but captures their spirit best of all the ones that I took.

993629_10153064585165241_104983892_nThis lady lives in a shack in Missionvale township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

She lives alone and says she is lonely. Someone told me later that her husband had died in a fire after they lit a stove indoors, which also destroyed all her possessions. She is also HIV positive and washes clothes for her neighbours, in exchange for food so she can go on living.

She has had her room tidied up by Missionvale Care Centre, a charity which does incredible work in the community. The floor is mud, so they’ve put mats down, but when it rains the ground is still soggy beneath her feet. The roof leaks also.

The light was perfect as she sat near the doorway, so I took her photo with her permission. I’m very fond of it, and yet it upsets me whenever I look at it.

The world is both a beautiful canvas to work with and a terrible sight to see. Thank you for looking at my pictures.

SOTM World Tour – Hong Kong and Macau

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Whenever I’ve heard of a particular faraway place, teeming with lives spent on top of one another and fused with Eastern traditions yet chock full of familiar features, I’ve wanted to go there.

Hong Kong is that place for me.

I’ve heard many good things about this city of high rises with its hugely crowded population, a fusion of British values and the best of Chinese enterprise. Technically Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, but it seems apt to call it a city, also.

I recall watching the United Kingdom hand over this territory live on TV in 1997, another moment when the crumbs from the British Empire, once mighty but long past its sell-by-date, were brushed from its table.

Then-governor Chris Patten clearly held back tears as he sailed out of Victoria Harbour, seen today in the picture above. He’s now Lord Patten and chairman of the BBC Trust, so will be one of my top bosses when I return to the BBC.

The architecture of Hong Kong is remarkable. Although I was fascinated by it, and loved wondering its streets which are a photographer’s playground, I couldn’t help but think of chicken coops, so packed in were some of the flats and living spaces.

1780629_10153863561005241_688454580_nWherever you walk in Hong Kong, it’s vital that you often look up. Please don’t trip over anything, though, as I’m not insured to be giving you that advice.

1656204_10153863561685241_213855116_nI bought a puffer body warmer on this street for about £15. Makes me look like a trainee rapper, but it’s pretty toasty.

aapicPeople would joke to me about how small their rooms where, and at a comedy night a couple of the acts used gags about the tiny stage being the same size as their flats.

I saw lots of washing outside of windows, so clearly there’s no room for a dryer in these apartments.

While the signs in Hong Kong serve a functional purpose for Chinese speakers, for everyone else they’re a beautiful enigma, a code that we’ll never crack but won’t stop being hypnotised by.

The transport in HK includes these trams, some of which are new and others restored from decades ago. They’re a lot of fun to hop on and off.

If you’ve read my posts on Japan you’ll know that I had a thing for the yellow taxis in Toyko. Here they have similar cars that are all red, and I think I liked them even more.

Although they’re beasts of burden they had an elegance about them, like a cleaner who goes home, puts on a sparkly dress and dances her heart out at a late-night salsa club.

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Here’s the view from inside a taxi, which I grabbed as we drove from the airport to our lodging. The driver was a little, beaming lady of a certain age.

1508998_10153814937330241_2115206492_nNow then, this is my clever and beautiful friend, Laura. I had met her only once before, photographing her for SOTM back in 2009.

She runs a tour company in HK which also specialises in food tours, one of which we went on. It was very chucklesome time and we ate superb local grub while learning about the history of the city’s cuisine, so it was a few hours very well spent in her charming company.

Laura runs Hello Hong Kong Tours and I strongly suggest you contact her for something fun to do if you’re ever in her town.

To begin our tour we went to a dim sum place, a real old school joint with trolleys being wheeled around from which you chose your dish of choice.

We were the only foreigners in there at the time, and it was a terrific way to start the day.

Here’s one of the trolley ladies in action.

While in there I was desperate to photograph this chap, who calmly walked around with a giant silver pot, replenishing people’s teapots. Happily, he came to our table, spotted me clicking away, and paused for one of my favourite ever photographs.

Afterwards he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “Now you have to pay me, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.” We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously you have to pay me.”

But he was joking. I shook his hand and he had a grip like an affronted lobster.

Then Laura took us to a place where apparently the service is grumpy but the noodles are tasty. Didn’t experience the former, but the bowl we were served contained amazing brisket and noodles.

1743730_10153863547465241_190397671_nThis eaterie was once commended by Anthony Bourdain, no less. I won’t name any of the places Laura took us so you’ll have to contact her to uncover them yourselves.

1688302_10153863547925241_1220730327_nWhile we walked through a part of the city where much food is sold in bulk quantities, Laura pointed out such delicacies as dried seahorse…

…dried gecko, which you re-inflate with water to eat…

…and that old classic, starfish. You name it, the Chinese will eat it, or at least it seemed that way in this fascinating district.

We also ate in another place where the chefs tried to hide behind big chunks of swinging meat. That’s not a euphemism.

1947787_10153863554360241_541859882_nI liked this shot because I took it blind, firing off from chest height, over to my left as soon as I saw that chap stretch his arms out. I often use 800 ISO even in bright daylight while on the streets, as it means I can use a fast shutter speed.

Finally Laura took us for scrumptious egg tarts. Apparently these were a favourite of Chris Patten’s, so if I bump into him in the lifts at New Broadcasting House I’ll ask him about them.

Near to our lodging was an area nicknamed Goldfish Street, for reasons obvious to anyone walking down it. I spotted this little chap just waiting for a new home.

And although these fellas were labelled as sharks, they’re actually catfish.

One day I came across this small red book in an antique shop. It’s an English edition of quotations by Chairman Mao. It’s quite readable and plenty of what he wrote makes sense. However, as ever, there’s a big gap between theory and implementation.

And speaking of memorable literature – I spotted this sign with its stern warning.

1654122_10153863541590241_1753963287_nAnd while in Victoria Harbour I saw the statue of Bruce Lee standing guard – iPhone photo at night, so not the best quality – and later we visited the Heritage Museum where an exhibition on this remarkable man is being held until 2018. It’s well worth a visit.

aaaaapicAfter a quite successful SOTM World Tour meet up one particular Saturday, some of us went to a comedy club. It was good and compered by a big, tall man, an American called Peter, who teaches English outside of Hong Kong but does comedy in his spare time.

He was funny, held the show of 10 comedians together well and was in control of the evening the whole time.

When the show ended some of the comedians and some of the crowd, including us, went to a nearby bar. I got talking to Peter there – he approached me as he saw me dancing in my chair to Y.M.C.A before the show started, and told me he was going to single me out in his warm-up, but didn’t get around to it.

I told him about Someone Once Told Me, and he said he’d take part, but wanted to think about it. I approached him a while later, having photographed two other comedians and a Russian woman who’d also been in the audience, and asked Peter if he was ready.

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s not a happy one, though.”

So he wrote down: “You Need To Get Home… Mom’s Not Doing Well.”

I took his photo outside the bar and then it came to him explaining the story behind his phrase, which I captured on my phone, as usual. He said how these were words he never wanted to hear, especially from his sister, “when you’re half a world away”.

He carried on, his voice breaking, and I then saw tears run down his face, catching on his nose. He just about managed to finish talking and wiped them away.

I ended the recording and then gave a hug to this bear of a man, who I didn’t know, and who only a short time before had been making me and a room full of people laugh. I hugged him as he wept for his dead mother.

It’s one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve ever had, and one of, if not the most, powerful SOTM moment for me.

Afterwards he dried his tears, we made happier small talk and we said goodbye. But I’ll never forget Peter or his story.

Here’s a shot of me taking Peter’s photograph.

1622706_10153840644670241_184937307_nHere’s some of the other SOTMs I got while in Hong Kong. Click on any image to see them on the SOTM website.

This is the smashing Bernice Chan, a journalist from the South China Morning Post who wrote an article on me and the SOTM World Tour.

And here’s our brilliant Hong Kong host – Richard Lai, who’s senior editor for Engadget.

I met him a few years ago at his leaving do in London, a result of us having a mutual friend. He handed me his card, told me to look him up if ever I came to HK during the SOTM World Tour – which was firmly at the would-love-to-do-this-some-day stage – and that was it. Whole meeting was about eight minutes.

Years later I wrote to him, told him we were coming at long last and he kindly invited us to stay at his family home. I could just about remember what he looked like.

What lay in store for us was nothing short of sensational. Richard’s whole family, and his parents in particular, welcomed us warmly, fed us well and his dad also took us out for food a few times. Kate and I were stunned at how kind and hospitable the whole Lai family were. Richard himself couldn’t do enough for us and took us round to some great spots, and to some superb places to eat.

Here we all are at a dinner in their lovely home.

1655948_10100128315623485_1649446407_nAnd here’s Richard’s SOTM. A gregarious and fun chap, he nevertheless chose a thoughtful and moving story about his uncle.

And here’s a quick selfie that we took as we were heading out the door to the airport – a lovely memento of an incredible time in an unforgettable city.

I’ll just give a brief mention to our day trip to nearby Macau, another Special Administrative Region accessed by a comfortable ferry ride and which was a charming spot to see.

It contains a really unusual blend of the glass/steel buildings expected from modern-day China, and the beautiful architecture that betrays Macau’s brush with Portuguese rule, which began in the 16th Century and didn’t fully loosen its grip until the end of 1999.

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1959363_10153870601770241_1569522372_nDid I mention the casinos? You simply can’t miss them and are largely what Macau is known for. When awaiting the ferry in Hong Kong, a stern voice recording was warning the passengers about how “gambling can mean you losing EVERYthing”.

Don’t be so hasty as to describe Macau as a Chinese Vegas, for it’s known as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient”. A far classier title (even though I love Vegas).

Macau actually overtook Vegas in gaming revenues in 2007, so it’s a major player on the world gambling stage.

1964829_10153870635475241_488400291_n So after our unforgettable time in Asia it was back to the good old US of A and San Francisco to begin with, where I was determined to make it on to Alcatraz, and just as determined to make it off again the same day. More of that next time.