Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

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 – Japan

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

DSC_0279Our arrival in the land of the rising sun was delayed a little after the China Eastern Airways plane we were on broke down in Kunming.

This left us stranded for 24 hours in China, but the airline put us up overnight and a day later than planned, we were in Tokyo, baby.

Japan quickly became one of my favourite countries, and Tokyo one of my favourite cities. There, I’ve said it. The landscape is everything you expect it to be – Bladerunner without the pollution or missing simulants.

DSC_0039The environment is spotless – while you frequently struggle to find a bin, you’ll find it harder to spot discarded rubbish in the street. Just doesn’t happen. I recall being in Seoul and seeing a young guy there toss his cigarette packet wrapper into the road, and thinking how that would never happen in Japan.

Also, people there bow. A lot. I mean, really often. If you buy something from a convenience store, the chap might well bow to you. There were department stores we popped into and there would be a fellow by the door, greeting us in Japanese and bowing. Seemed to be the main part of his job.

The society is as painstakingly polite as you expect it to be. And it’s also not massively tall – hence I banged my noggin every day I was there. On doors, buses, trains, roofs. Once I drew blood and saw stars, I cracked it that hard on a door-closing mechanism. No wonder I don’t have any hair.

One of the highlights of the city is the fascinating Shibuya crossing, a series of giant zebra-coloured paths in the beating heart of Tokyo, mimicked by the recently revamped crossing at Oxford Circus in London.

DSC_0248If you want to people watch as they scurry from one side of the thundering traffic to the other, then this is the place to be.

DSC_0057Just around the corner we had incredibly tasty noodles in soup, and the chap serving us agreed to pose for me. I really like this image, not least because I was keen to capture his wellies and feel like I got something of his personality in the shot as well.

DSC_0319Kate and I were both quickly taken with the amount of vending machines dotted about the place – while we disappointingly didn’t see any knickers on sale, which I’m told is true but never managed to verify for myself, there were drinks available everywhere.

In the record heat that Japan was experiencing during our stay, those easily available beverages came as both a relief and necessity.

DSC_0004After a few days we popped over to Kyoto on a train which cost more than many of the flights we’ve taken so far on this trip. Eye-watering.

Having said that, it afforded more leg room than any transportation I’ve ever been on and departed/arrived at the exact minutes it was supposed to, despite those times being some hours apart.

Kyoto is a splendid city, and while the amount of temple-hopping we did in Japan made me introduce a three-temple maximum in any city, the ones we saw will linger long in my memory.

I’ll also never forget the 100 degree heat in which we sweltered. Apparently it even reached 103 in Japan when we were in Tokyo, a record for the country’s recorded temperature history. Bet those vending machines were doing a roaring trade.

The Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji, is a delight. On a brutally hot day, it appeared before us even brighter than the sun.

DSC_0187You can pay your respects by leaving incense at one of the temples at the Golden Pavilion’s complex.

DSC_0217But my favourite temple was the leafy Daitokuji complex of temples.

One of them in particular was silent, its thick foliage fought bravely against the invading waves of heat, and it was everything I wanted a temple to be – small, intimate, thoughtful.

DSC_0347It was such a relief to be in a cool garden that day, with the temperatures again close to triple figures.

DSC_0468This large water bowl was brought over from Korea.

DSC_0360And if you look round temples in Japan, you’ll frequently find spruce cemeteries which are very reverential to those who have passed away.

DSC_0375These chaps look old but are still clearly used in rituals by relatives of the dead.

DSC_0380While in Kyoto I was put in touch with the charming Fumi, a very sweet lady who made very excited noises when I told her I worked for the BBC, doing no harm to my ego at all.

It was, as she explained in her SOTM story, her dream to live in Kyoto, even if her friends queried her decision.

While we were in Kyoto, Kate and I made friends with a charming couple, the lovely Miu and dashing Micheál. They helped out with a couple of Japanese SOTMs that I picked up in a bar they took us to, and they also posed for their own. Micheál chose a very thoughtful story, and this is Miu’s photo.

05092013As always with any SOTM photo on this blog, click on it to see the original post and see the story behind those words (and the translation).

Kyoto is a charming city, quite like a dream.

DSC_0392Now for one of the highlights of our trip, a rather fishy experience.

Miu and Mike took us to a seafood restaurant which had all manner of creatures slithering around in tubs and buckets. I felt like I was Sebastian Crustacean at one point.

Then, it turns out we had ringside seats for a mahoosive tuna that was due to be carved up by a chap who apparently is a bit of a celebrity chef.

Here he is – and check out the guy’s face bottom left. Maybe he thought tuna slices are born in a can.

DSC_0511The chef really made a show of cutting up that fishy beast, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

tuna2The monster from the deep was hoisted onto the table by these two chaps. Apparently it was worth about 1 million yen (£6,300, $10,000).

tuna1Expose a giant tuna to a chef’s cleaver…

tuna4…and this is what happens.

tuna3But this wasn’t the only thing I ate that night. Oh no. We all got given what’s known out there as Japanese turban shells, also called the horned turban, a species of sea snail. I ate mine, despite it not looking exactly like all the others served to our table, raising both my suspicions and alarm.

Mine was longer, greener, and looked even more alien than the other examples of how this unusual creature usually appears. In eating it, I felt quite like I was doing something to an extra terrestrial’s nether regions which I’d certainly regret in the morning. But down the hatch it went.

I can only describe its taste as “of the sea”. This photo further explains what I thought of the whole experience.

foodDuring all the evening’s palaver, especially when the chef was wielding his expert cleaver, there was a table of young women who were as impeccably dressed as you’d expect – Japanese women begin the most fashion conscious, and attractive, in the whole world. Seriously.

These ladies loved having their picture taken and posed every time I took a shot. The chef also played up to them and gave them slivers of fresh tuna, which he also did us (as the only token foreigners in the joint).

Finally I got in on the action myself. They all squealed when I sat down and posed with them, and I definitely think I was in there (Kate nodded sympathetically when I told her this).

girlsAfter that we popped off to Kobe, as Kate was insistent that we try the Kobe beef. There didn’t seem to be much else going on in this town, at least in the short time we were there, but we queued for a place which served beef that has since hit top spot on the list of “Best Things I’ve Ever Put In My Mouth”.

beefAside from drooling over this delicious dish, I discovered something interesting about Kobe beef. I’d been told by a number of people that one of the main reasons it is so good is that the cows are fed alcohol, are massaged and are played soothing music.

Aside from hearing it on occasion myself, I recently heard this from two travel bloggers, one of which was informed by a Japanese man who was “a serious foodie”, lending it some credibility.

But frankly I doubted this theory – if that’s all there was to it, why weren’t farmers in East Anglia employing the same methods? So I looked it up.

After about four minutes of searching I found the official Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association, which oversees the export of Kobe beef around the world.

It has a Q&A dispelling all those techniques as pretty much a myth, very rarely executed and certainly insignificant to the quality of their cows’  meat. The real reason for the meat’s legendary quality is actually down to years of careful cross-breeding.

Chalk that one up under “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

We also went to Osaka, which is incredibly futuristic in its appearance and fascinating to stroll through.

DSC_0718Its streets are a maze that you’ll really want to get lost in.

DSC_0745When the sun sets, the neon signs come out to play.

DSC_0771This woman’s expression captures the essence of Osaka. I don’t know what caused her to raise her hand to her mouth, but it might be the light-bulging splendour of the city’s fluorescence. It really does look like a post-apocalyptic metropolis designed by Psy.

DSC_0782Speaking of which, I think I found his brother.

signAfterwards we headed back to Tokyo one more time, until our departure. It was during this time that we found my favourite part of Japan – a tiny splodge of narrow streets called Golden Gai, which is home to around 250 tiny bars. And I mean three-to-six seat tiny.

DSC_0874The doorways are like a lucky dip – you really don’t know what you’re going to find out behind each one.

There’s a bit of a steep cover charge for most of the places, and some are local joints for local people, but it’s definitely foreigner friendly. We ended up in an American-themed bar run by Captain Ken, who loved Americana.

With Kate suddenly the celebrity guest, we toasted America and Shinji Kagawa, the Japanese footballer who plays for Manchester United and is a big star in his home country.

I loved Golden Gai. It’s clean but shabby, chic, cramped, like a work of art that sells booze. So much is crammed into this small labyrinthine spot that you could return again and again and still find something, or someone, new each time.

DSC_0954After Japan we went to South Korea, where I had an encounter with some schoolgirls. I don’t mean that in an Operation Yewtree kind of way.

Find out more next time.