Stuck in 4WD Low — Death Valley

We got up before dawn and headed over to Zabriskie Point to catch our first sunrise in Death Valley.  It is a popular point for sunrise, and we got our first indication of how many people are traveling this week.  Christmas Eve morning, and the point had roughly 50 people watching (and photographing) the sunrise.  The shots we got there were OK, but nothing that will make it into competition…

After getting some breakfast, we headed on a day trip around the valley.  First stop was the Devil’s Golf Course, which is a dry lakebed with interesting crystalline growths that make for some nice landscape and macro images.

The road to and from the golf course was extremely rough and icy, so I switched my trusty Ford Explorer into 4WD Low.  When we left the area, I tried to switch out of low gear, only to discover I was stuck in low, no matter what I tried.  I put it in reverse to shock it out. Nope. I revved the engine. Nope.

Finally we drove to the local gas station, where we were told there was “sometimes a mechanic.”  People were pumping gas, but there was no attendant to be round.  Didn’t even realize that was legal…? 

Next we tried the local Jeep rental place, and talked to Richard, the owner.  He called his mechanic, who said he would drive in and take a look.  While passing the time with Richard, it came out that I have never put my car into 4WD Low in the 16 years I have owned it.  I use 4WD a lot, but not 4WD Low.  He asked for the keys, went to the car and about 60 seconds later, asked me to try it out…?!  I drove up the road a bit and found it was now working fine. 

Turns out that moving the Explorer from 4WD Low requires a completely different maneuver than going from 4WD to 2WD.  I might have been told that when I bought the car, but sure didn’t remember it now.  The trick was simply that the car could not be moving when I made the change – whereas it must be moving to go from 4WD to 2WD.  About that time Mike, the mechanic, arrived.  Mike refused any money I offered for his time to come down, and Richard refused any money for helping out a bonehead who didn’t know how to drive his own car.  Santa had arrived and Christmas Eve was saved… 🙂

With my pride tucked away safely out of sight, we headed back to Mesquite Flats Dunes for a sunset shot.  We looked at the dune we wanted to shoot, and headed out over the sand.  It was just behind the first dune we saw…  or was it?  Crossed that dune and found our target was behind another dune we hadn’t seen before.  OK… heading further… only to discover it was really behind that dune.  Nope.  The next dune!  Nope again!  On the 4th dune where our target was still in the distance, we gave up and set up tripods on the same.  I had brought my wide angle lens from the car, and now wished I had brought the longest lens I owned.  The resulting shot was OK again, but once more no competition quality images.

After a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner, Mark (our nephew) offered to come with me to shoot some nighttime light painting images I had been waiting for a dark enough place to hoot.  We headed back to Zabriskie Point, where we had shot the sunrise, and set up in the large parking lot.

We first experimented with some strings of battery powered Christmas lights, but those didn’t really work very well.  Switching to colored flashlights, we got some better results.  These are mostly just test shots to see what works – in the future I need to repeat these where I can include some interesting landscape around them, such as tumbleweeds, cactus or similar.

Next were experiments with burning steel wool.  That was why I had come to a large parking lot.  I needed someplace with nothing that could catch fire.  We switched positions, with Mark on the camera as we tossing the fire, since his jacket was nylon and not something to be around fire.  I rather liked the result, though I see things I will change next time we do this.

 

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The only way to keep a friend is to be one.

Wet Burrito and Really Good Jerky – Enroute to Death Valley

We started our drive today, to start a week+ long car trip with Evelyn’s sisters’ family.  First stop: Death Valley. Since we plan on getting some (hopefully) nice photographs along the way, we wanted to start out with arriving in the desert in time for a sunset shot.  Sunset in Death Valley is awfully early this time of year, with the Ephemerus telling us it will come at 4:48PM.  Hmmm…  A 9 hour drive means we need to start at 6AM, and go the ‘fast’ route down Highway 5, instead of the more scenic route over Lake Tahoe and down the Eastern side of the Sierras.

6AM?  Who am I kidding…?  After oversleeping and not getting on the road until 6:45, we thought we still had some time to spare, but would have to go straight to the lookout point we had identified in pre-trip research.

Have you ever driven Highway 5 between San Jose and Los Angeles?  If so, you know that it was built for speed and efficiency.  It looks like a Soviet era architect built it, with no concern for aesthetics, or anything not moving you forward as fast as possible.  This is good and bad – we did want to get there quickly, but at the cost of extreme boredom…

A little North of Bakersfield, we stopped at a sign that promised gas and food, hopefully not together.  Fueled up the car, and then went looking for a place to fuel up ourselves.  Passed by the Denny’s and Burger King’s of the strip, until we hit the end of the business section.  Last choices were a pizza join or a “fast food Mexican” place.  After mentally flipping a coin, we decided on the Mexican. 

Excellent choice it turned out.  We saw “wet burrito” on the menu.  Since we had never had that, we decided to try it.  Best Burrito In Town should have been on the restaurant masthead.  We loved it.  Of course, we were about an hour out of town before thinking we should maybe note down the name so we could stop there later if we come this way.  Seems our minds had been numbed by the drive too much to think.  All we remember was that it was on Olive Drive, off Highway 99, just North of Highway 50.  Some day we may stumble on it again…

 

Soon we found ourselves driving over the Tehachapi pass, with the wind farms.  Mostly the small, older turbines, but one monster turbine was on the hill, easily 10 times as large as any of the others.  This was probably the type we recently read about that will be replacing the older style.  More efficient, turn more slowly, needs fewer of them, so fewer birds killed.  We reminisced about flying over the pass in the 80’s in any of our four airplanes, when we would look down at the ants on the path, and realized we were now one of those ants as a plane flew overhead.

Turning north after the pass, we went through Red Rock Canyon.  It looked like it would probably be spectacular at sunrise, but the light was far too harsh now to make a good photograph, so we continued in our race to the desert.

30 miles out, we started seeing billboards for Gus’ “Really Good Jerky.”  Billboards continued for the duration, until we just had to stop and buy some.  Point 1: advertising apparently works.  Point 2:  It really was “really good jerky.” 🙂

As we entered the Death Valley park, we saw two things – there was an obnoxious cloud just over the mountain that the sun was going to set behind, and it was setting way too fast.  Turns out the 4:48PM assumed a flat horizon, but there are mountains surrounding the desert, so the sun really went down around 4:15, which means it lopped another half hour off our time.  As we arrived at Mesquite Flat Dunes, we saw that the cloud meant there was no real sunset illumination anyway, and sunset was a total bust.  Coulda slept in a bit more before leaving home…

Arrived at the hotel and checked in, only to discover that Internet connection would cost an additional $25 for a very slow connection.  Decided we could do without, and will instead post when we next find a decent connection.  Cell phone coverage is very spotty too, with only Edge connection on AT&T and 1-2 bars, so using the cell phone as a backup isn’t going to work. [Note: We are finally posting this on Dec 29 when in Sedona)

Met up with Pauline (Evelyn’s sister) and family, had dinner and hit the hay early after a very long day with nothing to show for it other than arriving at our first destination.  G’night all!

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If you get a good idea, it won’t work unless you work at it.

[BRAG] Tonight’s Winners at BCC

Tonight was another competition night at the Berkeley Camera Club.  This competition allowed us to enter one image in Travel category and two in Journalism.  I was rather surprised a couple months ago to find that I had been promoted to the Masters category for Travel (the highest of 4 levels of competition), though I am still at the Intermediate level for Journalism (the second of 4 levels) — I have never done all that well in the Journalism category.

It seems the club has promoted too many people to the Masters level of Travel, since there were as many images there as combined in all three other levels.  The competition was tough, as always at the Masters level, but I am proud (and a bit surprised) to say that I was awarded First Place tonight for a photo I took in South Vietnam in October of two women in a local fish market:

As I said, Journalism has never been my strong suit, but both of my images placed tonight in that category too (in Intermediate — second of 4 levels).  Both of these were shot in Cambodia on the same trip as the above Vietnam photo.

Second place was a bike stuck in the mud with a load of piglets.  The commentator noted that the bike rider seemed to be smiling, and she thought he should have been cursing.  That really was the case throughout Cambodia though.  These people were dirt poor, and were suffering the worse flooding in 60 years, yet we constantly saw people smiling and couples laughing as they wound through the flooded streets and muddy roads.  It helped put in perspective the grousing in America by people with more wealth than these people will ever see in their lifetimes…

I also received 4th place for another photo shot the very next day at a local lake village.  The commentator loved the composition and colors, but said she would have thought it was just a lake village and not realized it was a flood other than the title.  She obviously didn’t notice the rooftops behind the boat, which are at the lake water level.  Normally those are normal 10 foot roofs above their floors, which are in turn normally several feet above the lake on stilts.  The lake was 15 feet above the normal high water mark. The home floors were designed to be raised, but were now so high that the occupants had to crawl under the roof to have any cover from the weather at all.  We had planned for a lunch in a floating restaurant, but the kitchen was fully flooded and we had to go elsewhere:

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Life is too darned short to sit around being bored. (Dorothy Galyean)

[Computer] How and Why to Backup Your Computers

Please believe me — this is one message you want to pay attention to.  It may very well save your sanity. 🙂

First off, why worry about backups at all?

1) Your computer disk WILL fail at some point.  If you have not had a computer disk failure before now, you are very lucky, but luck only takes you so far.  Every disk will fail, and you don’t know if that is going to be 5 years from now, next year, or tomorrow.

2) Burglaries are always a possibility, no matter where you live.  We have only been burglarized once, and my computer was not taken.  I was lucky, since that was in 1984, and backups were pretty crude back then (800K floppy disks!).  If someone robs you, what are the chances he will take your computer?  Pretty good, since computers are easily resold.  When he does, he will probably sweep up everything in the area, which means your backup disks too.

3) Fires are also always a possibility.  We have been nearly burned out of our house twice (the Lexington Fire in Los Gatos 1985 and the Oakland Firestorm in Berkeley in 1989).  Had our home gone up, my computers and all my backups would have gone with it, since they were in the same house at the time.

4) The Oops factor.  Have you ever accidentally deleted data that you wanted?  I have, and I know some of you have.  A backup may be the only way to recover it.

OK, hopefully you are convinced that you need a backup strategy.  If not, you can stop reading now, as the rest won’t matter.

How to make backups?  I have some people say they plan on using DVDs.  Bad Idea…  Why?

1) DVD-R disks will fail.  Period.  Fact of life.  I have several from 5+ years ago that can no longer be read.  That was how I backed up before better ways became available, but those DVD-R disks simply are not reliable after a few years.

2) DVD-R disks are simply too small.  I use a 32GB card in my camera, and there have been a couple days when I have actually filled it in a day’s shooting.  At 4.4GB per disk, that would take 8 DVDs just to back up the one card.  My photoshop edits often come in at 200-300MB each, so I could only get 10-15 of them on a DVD.  Double density DVDs only cut those numbers in half, and are much more likely to fail — what good is a backup disk you can’t read? (see #1 again too)

3) DVD requires you to specifically sit down and decide to do the backup.  You won’t.  I’ll make bet on it.  You will put it off “until next week.”  However, the longer you put it off, the more needs to be backed up, and bigger the task, and the more you will put it off.  Inevitably, you will have decided to do it “really and truly” the day after your disk dies.  Been there. Done that…

4) The DVD will be in the same house as the computer.  Fire or burglary will therefore wipe out the backup at the same time as the photos.  All that time backing up was wasted because you won’t have them when you need them.

I have read some online experts say to buy an external disk and back up to that.  Better than DVD, but still Not Enough.  Why?  Disks are cheap, and you can copy to it fast, so it should be a good solution, right?  Think about the fire and burglary losses.  The disk is there with the house, so it is lost with the computer.  This type of backup takes care of the disk failure and maybe even the Oops, if discovered fast enough (before you copy your data over the backup and thus lose it again).

So, is it hopeless?  Not at all.  The solution is actually very easy and even FREE (other than the purchase of a couple external hard disks).

First, you do want to use an external hard disk locally on your computer and set up an automated backup to it.  If you are a Mac user, set up Time Machine.  It is brain-dead simple to set up, and not much harder to recover from.  It will let you recover your data from an hour ago, a week ago, a year ago.  It remembers the state of your data for as far back as the size of your disk allows (I use a 6TB disk for my Time Machine, so I can go back years).

If you have a PC, there is software that can do automated backups there too.  Though I know they exist, I don’t know the names or details though. Perhaps someone else can chime in and provide details here.

Cost so far?  Whatever you paid for your external disk that Time Machine is pointing to.

Now, and here is a major key.  You REALLY NEED an offsite backup.  Forget taking your DVDs or external disk to a bank vault.  I did that for years, and my clockwork monthly became quarterly became annual became ‘OMG, I have’t done it in two years!”  Just ain’t gonna happen regularly.

So, how to do off-site? Lots of companies out there want to charge you to put your data on them.  Trouble is, they are $$$$$ if you are backing up any reasonable quantity of data (digital photographs add up fast), and you don’t know how reliable they are.  They also throttle your upload speeds, and it may take literally months to get your initial backup sent there.  It is then entirely possible to shoot new images faster than your throttled upload will support, meaning you will never be sure you have a full backup of your data.

I have personal experience with several of these companies, and consider them all junk…  One of them even lost all my data 3 times in a year, forcing me to restart a backup process from scratch that took 11 weeks to complete each time…

The bright spot is a company you have probably never heard of — CrashPlan.

      http://www.crashplan.com

Benefits:

1) It is FREE  (you can pay $59 if you want tech support, but it really isn’t needed)

2) You can make your initial backup with a hard disk sitting right on your local system.  My backup started at 1.3TB (that is 1300 GB) and took about 2 days to create the initial backup.  That is more data than was taking 11 weeks to backup using a cloud service.

3) You then take your disk to a friend’s house, tell the software to connect that disk to your system, and it will then make daily backups automagically from then forward.

4) If you ever need to recover from that disk, no need to spend weeks downloading. Just pick up the disk from the remote site, bring it to your site, and recover locally.  I did one such test run and my 1300 GB recovered in a little less than a day (to a different machine that I used to test the process).

I have been using CrashPlan for about two years now and am absolutely thrilled.  At one point I had some problems with the interface, when it was fairly new on a Mac.  Their tech team dug right in and spent weeks with me working out the kinks.  They then made a general release giving everyone the improvements we had worked out together.  It is rare to get that kind of tech support (I did pay $59 to get the support, but it was worth it by a mile).

So, let me describe my setup to give a little more solid feeling on how to use this.

1) I have 3 Macs in my home office.  Each Mac has its own Time Machine disk for local backups.  My Mac and my wife’s Mac both have Drobos attached (another layer of security is to have important data on Drobos — http://drobo.com/ ) and all our digital images are stored on those, along with other important files.  My Drobo has 6 TB space, and my wife’s has 4 TB. Our 3rd Mac is only used in the photo studio for reviewing images in tethered shooting.  

2) I placed a 6 TB Drobo at my sister-in-law’s house that accepts CrashPlan feeds from all 3 of our computers.  It was initially loaded in our house, then moved there afte
r the seed was complete.  I currently have 1.9 TB of my computer backed up that way, my wife has 600 GB, and the studio laptop has about 70 GB.

3) I placed a 2 TB drive (non-Drobo) in my house.  It accepts CrashPlan feeds from all 3 of my sister-in-law’s computers (hers plus one each for two kids) and from my mother.  

So, currently I back up to my sister-in-law and both my mother and sister-in-law back up to me.  A perfect arrangement all the way around, and all it cost me was the disk drives I put on my system and theirs.

Find yourself a friend (photo or family) and agree to cross-backup to each other.  Your cost will then just be one drive each.  No other costs involved, and perfect peace of mind once it is all set up and working. 🙂

And yeah, if anyone is wondering, I work with computers for a living, and had my first “home computer” in 1975. It was a Data General Eclipse that cost me $21,000 — that is $82,806 in 2011 dollars, according to

       http://www.westegg.com/inflation/

I have had dozens of disk failures over the decades, and it has taken me a long time to come up with a solution I can heartily recommend.

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Nobody is ever too old to learn, but most people keep putting it off.

Moving Adobe Lightroom Images Between Two Computers

Several people have asked me to explain how to move photos from one computer to another when using Lightroom.  The process is really quite simple, but there are a few caveats that do need to be understood.  First though, why would you want to do this?

Well, let me explain my personal travel workflow.  When we go on vacation, or are traveling overnight anywhere with photography in mind, we always take along a laptop computer.  We use a Mac laptop, but the same workflow will apply to a PC, for those of you not yet enlightened souls in the group… 🙂

I always take along two USB disk drives in addition to the laptop.  My current units are 1.5TB each (ie, 1500 GB), so I have plenty of room for whatever I could possibly shoot on a month’s trip.  Every night, back in the hotel room, I move the camera card to a dedicated USB reader (they cost about $30 and are barely more than 1″ square.  They save wear and tear on the camera, save the battery, and import much faster than the camera — well worth the investment).  Using that reader, I import the photos into my Lightroom catalog on the laptop.

Note that the laptop Lightroom catalog always starts off empty when we start the trip.  I do not bring along existing photos from home, unless there is some reason to show them to someone along the way.  The laptop is acting as a travel computer only, not as a repository of my existing library.  (When at home, that same laptop is my studio computer, allowing me to shoot tethered — but that is a different post).

Once the photos have been imported to Lightroom, I plug in each of the USB drives and copy the entire photo folder structure, catalog and images, onto each drive.  I then put each drive in a separate suitcase, which is in turn separate from the laptop.  This way I have 3 copies of the photos, in three different locations.  If any one (or even two) suitcases is stolen, I have a third.  If one copy goes bad (it does happen…), I have two backups to refer to.  This way, unless everything I own is stolen, I will not lose the photos from the trip.

If I have time, I then do an initial edit of the photos from that day.  First I enter tag info about the city, and the subjects.  If I do it now, it is fresh in my mind, and I don’t find myself at home at the end of the trip with 10,000 photos all to do at once — a sure recipe to assure it never gets done.  I will start ranking the photos at this stage too, giving star ratings to those I particularly like and will want to come back and spend more time on when I get home.  From the starred images of that day, I will select a few to put into my travel blog.

Note that I do this AFTER I have made the copies to the disks.  Why?  Because I have learned from experience that if I do the edits first, I will work right up to the time I need to go to sleep, and won’t leave time for the copying.  That copying is more important than the edits, since it assures I have the raw photos backed up.  The edits from tonight will be captured in tomorrow’s update of the USB drive copies, so I am only risking loss of a couple hours edit time this way, vs risking losing photos that I can never go back and reshoot if I put that off to the end and had the laptop stolen or damaged.

OK, we have done this for 3 weeks (our typical vacation duration) and am back home.  All my photos, along with their edits, star rating, pick-marking, etc all on the laptop.  I want that on my home computer, integrated with my full home library though.  How do I do that?

Well, we finally get down to the title of this post.  Moving the photos from one computer (your laptop) to another (your home computer).

Remember that I have been harping on the benefits of converting to DNG upon import to Lightroom?  Well, here is one more payoff reason — it turns the move into a simple drag-and-drop operation.

Literally, I just do the following steps:

– Plug one of the USB drives into my home computer
– Drag-and-drop the topmost folder from the USB drive to the location I want that trip to reside on my home drive
– Tell Lightroom to “Synchronize Folders”

Done. Nothing more to do.  Ain’t that cool? 🙂  Your home Lightroom will now show all your photos, along with all your edits, all your color-coding, all your star-ratings.  The only thing that does not move over is your “pick” choices.  Personally I only use ‘pick marks’ for temporary aids to editing anyway, so losing that is not a big deal to me.

Now, if you are stubborn and have not converted to DNG on import, or if you feel that keeping the ‘pick’ indicators is important, you have a slightly more complex process, but not much.  In that case:

– Fire up Lightroom on your laptop (the travel computer)
– Select the photos you want to move over
– Choose “File -> Export as Catalog” menu
– Follow instructions on the dialog and save the contents to your USB drive
– Connect the USB to the home computer
– fire up Lightroom on the home computer
– Choose “File -> Import as Catalog” menu
– Follow instructions on the dialog, telling it to move the photos to wherever you want them on the new computer

Done.  As you can see, more steps and it takes quite a bit longer, but the end result is the same, plus this also keeps any ‘pick’ flag indicators.

As always, I hope this is clear.  Feel free to ask if anything confuses you, or if you spot any factual error.  I have written this mostly from memory (after doing a quick test to verify my earlier understanding), but I think it is all correct.

[Brag] Won 1st Place in Masters Creative at BCC Tonight

I just got moved up to Masters level in the Creative category for Berkeley Camera Club this month, and was worried if I would be able to compete with the spectacular images that often appear at that level.  I submitted two images, and worried and waited… and won 1st Place!  OK, it was a three-way tie for first place, but I’ll take it as an indication that maybe I really can keep up with the Best Kids On The Block!  My second image didn’t place, but I must admit that I wasn’t all that happy with the image either.  It would have been OK at lower levels, but I need to up my game if I am going to be in the running in Masters, and it really didn’t cut it.

So… here is the image that shared 1st place tonight with BCC in Masters Creative category.  The shot was really pretty simple and was about an hour from concept to submission.  Mentally rotate the image 90 degrees to the right, and you will see that I slammed my fist into an aquarium, and just shot the result.  One flash below the acquarium for main light that shines on the fist, and a second over my shoulder for fill over the arm.  A quick trip into Color EFX Pro for pumping up the contrast and colors, and submit.  Nice to know I can win with a quickie like this… 🙂

 

 

For the record, my second image that did not place was a comical play on my new mustashe.  This was a photo taken by Evelyn in the hills of North Vietnam, which I then manipulated to put my head in the place of the mustache.  I wasn’t all that happy with the result, but I ran out of time for doing something different, and was happy enough with the fist above that I decided to let it go…

Title was “Hamming it up with new mustache.”  The BCC judge commented that he thought a better title would be “The power of lemon ice tea.”  I agree with him. 🙂

 

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While traveling along the road of life, enjoy the going and stop thinking so much about getting there.

[Brag] Photos win Best of Year Awards at BCC

Last week, the Berkeley Camera Club had its annual banquet (which I was forced to skip due to other commitments). I had been bumped from Basic (lowest level) in most categories up to Advanced (third level) for 2011, so I didn’t expect to win nearly as many awards this year.  To my surprise, four of my photos won annual awards though.

The Creative category has always been my favorite, and also one that I do best in during the monthly competitions.  This year I snagged 1st Place, 2nd Place, and Best of Show (meaning they liked it better than any other Creative at any level).  As a result, I have now been moved up to Masters level (the top level of 4), where the competition is downright scary for 2012!

My image that won 1st Place (Advanced Creative) / Best of Show was titled “Peering Into the Future”.  This was a straight-forward shot of a lit cigarette (it took a week for the smell to leave the studio!) and some photoshoping of a couple of my earlier incense smoke images to form the skull.

The next image was titled “Preparing Breakfast” and received 2nd Place in the Advanced Creative category. This was a composite of two images.  The banana and plate were shot first, then the hand with knife separately.  The banana slices are actually on a skewer, held by a clamp off-stage left.  The banana is held by a clamp on the right.  The skewer and clamp were then removed in Photoshop:

I also did fairly well in the Travel category this year, and have also been moved to Masters level in this category for 2012.  This image won 1st place in the annual Travel Advanced group.  It is an HDR image (composite of 3 exposures of the same scene) from Toledo, Spain, taken during our vacation in Spain in 2008.

Finally, the next photo won Honorable Mention in the Travel Advanced category.  It was titled “Even the cheap seats get a good view of whale pods during whale watching in Jeneau, Alaska.” This was shot during our multi-family vacation to Alaska in 2010 while with a whale watching cruise on a boat outfitted for photographers by having opening windows right at water level.

 

 

 

 

Cambodia & Vietnam Photos Posted

Our photo website has now been updated with the images from our October trip to Cambodia and Vietnam.  We came back with over 10,000 photos (and that was after deleting the clear duds!), and have whittled that down to 30 images each for Cambodia, South Vietnam and North Vietnam.

You can reach the photo website at any time by pressing the ‘Photo Gallery’ link at the top of this page, or you can go directly to our travel page by clicking:

        http://www.mindstormphoto.com/80-travel/

Vietnam – Back Home Again

Saturday, Oct 29

We took a predawn flight from Danang to Saigon (now called Hoi Chi Mihn City, but I still find Saigon rolls off the tongue better), then a quick tour of the Chinese wholesale market.  We have been to local markets around the world, and seen wholesale food and flower markets before, but this dry goods market was unique to our experience.  

Rows and rows of hats in one stall, motorcycle helmets in another, and shoes in another.  We saw Doc Martin shoes there.  Or rather knock-offs of Doc Martin.  While the real thing might cost $100 per pair, here they could be had for as little as $10 per dozen…!

Our earlier Saigon hotel now provided a day room for us to shower and rest for a bit before our flight.  This was very welcome, as we were about to change from the tropics to San Francisco and needed to shift our luggage and attire accordingly.

The flight home started near midnight, and took 24 hours, including a 9 hour layover in Seoul, Korea.  The leg from Saigon to Seoul was crowded, cramped, and had no entertainment system to speak of.  5 hours of reading and waiting…

While in Seoul, we paid for the use of an airline lounge, which made it a lot more comfortable.  Buffet meals, along with beer, wine, ice cream, and just about anything else you would want were included in the lounge.  We also had internet access, so I was able to catch up on some of these blog postings during that interlude.

A British couple sat near us, and we started talking.  Turns out his wife is from Borneo, and they had just come back from a semi-annual trip there for a month.  After talking to him, we had all but decided that Borneo may be our next major trip destination.  We still need to do a bit more research before finalizing those plans, but you may see us writing from Borneo in 2012.

On the 13 hour flight from Seoul to San Francisco, we sat next to a Vietnam War vet who was returning from two weeks in Vietnam.  He told us he was traveling with a friend that had been shot down during the war, and had reconnected with the North Vietnamese pilot that had shot him down, and they had written a book together.  Made for some interesting conversation.

When we asked him about Danang, and Dog Patch plus CAP, he also said they were long gone and well forgotten.  No trace of them remained, and no Vietnamese wanted to remember those places.

The Asiana inflight entertainment included a screen on the seat in front of us, with a list of a dozen on-demand movies.  By the end of the flight, I had knocked 5 movies off my Netflix DVD list and had very sore red eyes.

We finally made it home, unpacked, caught up on the mountain of mail (most of it junk that got tossed without opening), and generally settled back in.  The next day I went shopping at the local grocery store, and almost went into shock!

After three weeks of walking around where everyone was thin, and round bodies were nearly unheard of, I was suddenly back in the land of Super Size Me.  I had to do a double-take to realize this was real. Nearly everyone around me was at least double the size of anyone I had seen in the past three weeks.

Oh well, America is a big country, after all…

Now I have to get down to editing those 10,107 photographs sitting in my Adobe Lightroom catalog from this trip.  That will take awhile yet.

Vietnam – 15 cent Beers!

Posted Oct 28, 2011

Etienne picked us for before dawn for another photo tour this morning.  We started by taking a local ferry across the river.  The ferry was an experience in itself, filled to overflowing with scooters and people, it recalled images seen in news images of overladen boats capsizing in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia.

We survived the trip and wandered through some tiny villages we would never have found on our own. Everywhere, Etienne knew people and would get them to pose.  In a couple of cases, his pictures were on the walls of the homes we entered, as the occupants allowed us to photograph them.  Etienne told us his secret is to come by many times, take photographs while alone, then later return with prints of the best images to give the locals as gifts.  The result is they then are more receptive to him bringing in his small tours for more photographs.

Unfortunately, we had decided to get some custom clothing while in Vietnam, and Hoi An is famous for its tailors.  We went, we fitted, and we were severely disappointed…

Well, Evelyn was happy enough with her new suit.  My two shirts and slacks were a disaster though.  The tailor clearly had absolutely no idea how to tailor clothes for someone not of the Asian slim build.  I am 30 pounds overweight, and they tried to tailor clothes for me as though I were underweight.  They hung so badly it was not even a joke.  They were nowhere as good as I can get off the rack anywhere in the States, even though they cost more.

They said they would fix the problems and to come back later. We did, and the result was no better.  After much shouting and threats, they finally refunded my money. Had it not been for Lan (our guide), they would have stiffed me completely, claiming it was my fault the clothes did not fit.  I would not have even bothered putting that junk in our suitcase to take home for Goodwill.  It just plain looked terrible. No other way to begin to describe it.

This was a very unfortunate way to end our trip, as it put a final sour taste in my mouth.  If you ever venture this way, and have a few extra pounds on your frame, avoid Thang Loi tailors like a plague.

Warren took us out to dinner for our last night in Vietnam, again to a small local restaurant where he was friends with the owners.  One of the highlights of the menu was the “Fresh Beer.”  It is a local blend that has not been fermented very long (I forget just how long they said), which tastes quite good — and costs 3,000 Dong per mug.  In case you forgot the conversion, that means 15 cents per mug…  The excellent dinner with 2 mugs of beer per person cost $12 for the three of us.

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