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Monday, 3 December 2012

Financial Cheer

Every time I go to the ATM I get a little cheer.  It brightens my day.  Then I remember that it must be spelled this way because my capital Ms are so badly written that they look like Hs.  But I still smile and silently pronounce my name the way most Indians do when they see it written  ... Annie Hurray.  It has a ring to it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Karjat - the photo failures

Getting out of the city can be a bit of a pain in the nethers but it's worth it to put the smog and smells behind you for a bit.

I went on my annual trip to Karjat to help build houses for a Habitat for Humanity project - I can call it annual because it's the second year I've done it. Here's the proof from last year. To be absolutely honest the students did the building and I did the wandering around with the camera capturing them mixing concrete and slapping on paint.

I broke off from the arduous task of taking pictures of students to take a few pictures of other things.  I've recently been reading various "how to be an awesome photographer" articles and sites and thought it would be a good chance to put some of the lessons into practice.

"Look for colour contrasts and textural interest to create stunning abstracts"
I interpreted this as "watch paint dry". This didn't really work but the paint dried very quickly so I wandered off to see other things.

  Every "guide to great photography" will tell you that you should always try to frame your subjects.

 A good piece of advice but also try to keep them in focus, above and below look ok in this small format but if  you saw the originals in full size  - not so good.  Really not so good at all! 

The "guide to being a kickass photographer"  tells you to look for textural interest and repeating patterns to create interesting images.
    So long as you think a sack with a hole in it covering a window counts as an "interesting image".

Always crop off the head of the bullock to create an interesting shot and don't forget to include a great big white arrow pointing at the bullock in case anyone missed it. Or as "how to click better clicks" says. Pay attention to the background!

Despite the bodged photographs it was a good day and I learned a lot about picture taking, mostly that I have to do a lot more of it.  


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Diwali Break

I'm a big fan of cultural tourism.  At least I used to be, these days it's getting more and more obvious that I am just a big fan of sitting on my bum reading.

I packed the camera, an extra lens, a laptop a pile of books and a overly ambitious list of things to do on the Diwali break and settled myself into a beach hut with a pretty little sit-out area.  The camera got one half hearted outing.  The laptop remained in the case and the books got devoured.

I spent quite a lot of time watching a shell on a string sway in the gentle breeze and the most energetic thing I did was walk the beach early in the morning choosing somewhere for lunch later in the day.

It was bloody brilliant.

Brand Banditry

  I delight in the misappropriation of brand names and really like pedicures.  I got to indulge in both in one go recently.  I was tickled from the tips of my toes all the way up to my business teacher head. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ganesh Immersion the aftermath

Each year thousands of idols are immersed in bodies of water all over the city.  I had read about the pollution caused by this but this year I went with a group of students on a beach cleanup to Aksa beach.

 Ganesh, Aksa beach, Mumbai

 Reading about the aftermath is absolutely no substitute for seeing it for real.  The idols look amazing on their way to the immersion, the workmanship and artistry that go into them is stunning but it's really  tragic to see them the next morning.

Frightening collection of immersed Ganesh idols
 Ganesh hand

At least we now have a group of committed students who are going to campaign for more eco friendly idols to be used in their celebrations next year.

Ganesh Idol

R City Mall

I am not a huge fan of Malls although I do appreciate the air conditioning and convenience of them but they do tend to bring out the worst in some people.  It looks like the developers of this one in Ghatkopar, Mumbai have recognised this and named it accordingly.


It's been pretty quiet on the blog front of late, I took on new responsibilities at work and things have been hectic.  I'm taking advantage of a lull to do a few serial posts.

Two colleagues took part in a competition held at one of their son's schools.  A nail painting competition.  Who knew such things existed?  It helps of course that she's an art teacher and that her model had been growing her fingernails especially for the competion.

Seema's nails
A Snow White and the Seven Dwarves theme including the Evil Stepmother and the Handsome Prince to bring the characters up to one per fingernail.

Fingerbob nail art

Snow White and her Handsome Prince looking strangely like Trinny and Suzanne

They won third prize.  Apparently competition was FIERCE! 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Desperation Juice

Now if I opened a booze shop I'd probably call it City's Liquors, or Good Libations or Hit and Rum or any terrible punning name I could come up with. However I would not call it St. Jude. Especially if I lived in Goa where a large portion of the population being Christian would get the reference.

St Jude Booze Shop

St Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Mind you, I'm not adverse to a drop of the desperation juice myself and they did have a good selection.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The party's over; bring on the rains

"That'll be the holidays done then" as we Scots say. I start back to work next week and will be in India until at least Christmas. There's no hardship in that except that this year most of the national holidays fall midweek and there's only one long weekend between now and Diwali so travel will have to take a back seat. There's still plenty to do and see though, I live in Mumbai after all and I've barely started to scrape the surface.

Back in India the monsoon is well underway and it feels and looks good:

Monsoon Rains
No moaning about grey skies this year, mind you, I say that every wet season.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Moving portraits

Standing at the side of the road pointing a camera at people on motorbikes results in some interesting reactions. It's something I'm definitely going to do again now that I'm back in India until Christmas. Meanwhile here are some Vietnamese moving portraits:

Moving Portrait 1
Not best pleased

Moving portrait 3 Vespa
I'm ignoring you

Moving Portrait 2 Family
Front seat passenger

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Vietnamese Wedding Photographer

In Vietnam wedding pictures are taken before the wedding. It's a fairly lengthy process usually requiring at least three costume and related hairstyle and make-up changes. What adds to the overall hard work of the day is that the pictures are taken on location, usually several locations.

There are some tried and tested favourites,the central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral irrespective of what your religious persuasion is, on the steps of the Opera House are all popular. More prosaic choices might be on a busy traffic bridge or posing inside giant rusting pipes or buying fruit at a market in full bridal regalia. There are props to handle too, violins, basketballs, teddy bears, and stepladders, I've seen them all employed to various effects.

The average wedding photographer has a team of helpers to variously wrangle the cameras, the props, the costumes and the makeup touch ups but ultimately it's down to him to snap the pictures. It's his, and the photoshop editor's job, to capture the glamour and it's not always easy.

Wedding Photographer

If you fancy giving it a go, here is some advice from a Vietnamese wedding photographer "Wear Crocs; easy off, happy in water, solid floor, no smell"

Monday, 9 July 2012

Violet times in Ho Chi Minh City

I lived in Vietnam for four years before moving to India so it was great to go back to somewhere I was so familiar with and where I still have a lot of friends.

Sometimes, especially when I'm taking pictures somewhere I know well, I'll choose a colour and seek out things to snap that match it. The process is to have a quick scan about and the first photo worthy thing you see, that's the colour. In HCMC it turned out to be purple. Vietnam loves purple in all it's shades and flavours.

When you think of Vietnam or Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) it's likely that rice fields and conical hats come to mind and there are lots and lots of these:

Fruit seller, Hoi An

Right there, keeping her Non La or conical hat on - purple. Now you will find lots of ladies in traditional dress but HCMC is a fast developing city. It's a great mix of new and old, foreign and local influences and like most cities it has a fancy shopping street. The start of this area is marked by the Louis Vuitton store on Le Loi Street. Here we have the Four Legged Lady of Le Loi and a purple dominated LV window:

The four legged lady of Le Loi
Part of the tradition in Vietnam in general is the preponderance of public information propaganda posters, another is that everyone rides motorbikes:

Purple Propaganda Poster

If everyone rides motorbikes then you want yours to stand out from the crowd, if only to find it easier in the parking lots and in HCMC you can do that with style. Anything and everything can be personalised and here are two reconditioned Vespas demonstrating that:

Vintage Vespa and Lambretta scooters in fab shades

Even the airport has purple seats, some people dress to match...

Purple poser

and some to blend in.
Purple Passenger

As I sit here I've just noticed my toes, I got a pedicure in Saigon, trust me the best pedicures in the world are done in Vietnam. It's purple of course, I don't even like purple!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

New International Airport, Danang

I left Vietnam and moved to India a year ago, it was time to go back and see the old place while I could still get in and out on my multiple entry visa. First stop off was Hoi An. There's been a long standing programme to upgrade airports in Vietnam and Danang which serves Hoi An has also been built anew. Before it was what can be best described as a shed, quite a large shed but a shed nonetheless. The picture below is actually Vientien airport in Laos which was a good bit nicer than Danang but you get the picture.

Vientiane Airport, Domestic Departures, Laos
It's actually a very nice airport now, comfortable seating a surprisingly good public address system which is pretty unusual in any airport, places to eat and drink and clean toilets. People management and security are quick and efficient. There's not a lot more you can ask for in an airport.

There are some surprises though, it has a bar. An actual beer selling bar! If you haven't travelled through Vietnamese provincial airports you won't understand how surprising that was to me. I didn't have a drink but if I'd wanted to ...

New airport Danang - drinking

You can eat too, Big Bowl Noodle do a nice range of noodles in big bowls, surprisingly good airport fodder. Red Star coffee make a mean cafe sua da or any other coffee that takes your fancy, there's plenty of fresh fruit available. It's my firm belief that Vietnamese people are incapable of travelling anywhere without a big bag of fruit. A shock to my system after a year away though was this ...
New airport Danang - eating

I knew they were already in Saigon International airport but to see Burger King happily sitting in the middle of Danang domestics was a bit of a shock. Vietnam is still holding out against McDonald's and Starbucks but it can only be a matter of time.

It was good to see that not everything had changed.

New airport Danang - shopping

This knock-me-down-and-I'll-stand-up-again doll has been on sale at the airport for at least five years. I know it's the same one because of the smudge of dirt on its face. At 1,100,000 Vietnamese Dong (over 50 usd) it's likely to stay unsold. I'd be quite sad to see it go after all this time.

What I did on my summer holidays

First stop on the summer holidays was in Malacca, Malaysia. It's a pretty town, lots of shop houses and a lovely river walk. there are hotels and guest houses to suit all tastes and pockets.

It has a big Chinese and Indian community so good food is pretty much guaranteed and these two cuisines fight manfully with the more local Nonya cookery. Nonya food is delicious. It seems to be a mixture between Javanese and Indian cookery with the techniques of Java and the spices of India but I'm sure an expert could set me right on that.

There is a lot of history in Malacca and plenty to do and see but I've been before so didn't do much with the camera except take picturess of shops and things in shops on an afternoon stroll. So here, for your delectation are pictures of shops and things found in shops - exciting eh?

Signage Motor Oil
Shop sign, they sell motor oil and have been doing for some time by the look of things

Ikan Bilis
Ikan Bilis, salty, dried anchovies, you can smell them before you see them but they are delicious in a salty, fishy, smelly sort of a way and an important part of many dishes.

Racy red paper underwear
In the Chinese area of town you can find shops which specialise in paper goods. These are made to be burned so the ancestors can have a comfortable afterlife. I've seen all sorts, the new iPad and DSLR cameras are popular as are fancy cars and designer clothing but I've never seen racy red underwear before, I wonder what kind of ancestor would appreciate these.

Google shoes
Fake goods are all over the place, these shoes are for surfing.

Another nice shop sign, a place where you can trade all your Fatt Tatt.

Tall man with umbrella
And here's someone whose been shopping.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Shop sign, Malacca

I went to Malaysia and saw this:
Shop Sign Malacca
I don't know what they sell but it's bound to be Fok Sing Long.


People came today to do an overhaul of the fans and a/c units in the flat. They did a great job, the ACs hum beautifully the ceiling fans no longer wobble alarmingly and they brought all the equipment with them that they could possibly need - with one exception...

...that's a dressing table stool, a wobbly dressing table stool, with a drum stool on top of it.

Monday, 11 June 2012

It rained

After days, weeks of waiting the wind picked up the skies grew dark and our little bit of Mumbai got truly drenched. Down it came, soaking the ground and shining up the leaves and giving everyone a little taste of what's to come. It was bloody lovely!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Wagah Border Ceremony

The daily ceremony at the India Pakistan border is well worth a visit. Magnificently theatrical and incredibly good natured it's got to be a high point of a visit to Punjab. Both sides of the border are thronged with visitors all keen to demonstrate their patriotism or just have a damn fine cheering and hollering session.

Visitors are marshalled by fantastically dressed soldiers who must spend hours practicing their stern looks. (If you carry a foreign passport you get put into a separate holding area, I'm not sure why but I wasn't going to argue).
Wagah Fancy Hat

Patriotism gets an early airing at the start of the ceremony when women and girls run waving flags while the crowd cheer and whoop. It's followed by high energy dancing by the same people and even more cheering and whooping.
Wagah Border Indian Flags

Then it's show time, high kicking, fast marching, competitive shouting and fancy footwork. Brilliantly choreographed on both sides. The Pakistan side is just as boisterous and jolly and the precision bristling and grimacing from both sides is a pure joy to see.

Wagah  high kicks

Wagah Marching
It's infectious, I cheered,clapped, whooped and hollered along with the best of them and did it all with a massive grin on my face. Wagah border crossing, all borders should be like this!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Golden Temple of Amritsar, Early Morning and musings on random photo requests

Amritsar Morning Bathing
Bathing at sunrise

Amritsar Morning
Warming early morning light

Golden Temple Amritsar
Golden dawn

As mentioned in a previous post, early morning is the best time to visit. I spent time here at various points in the day but the light in the morning was magical.

I wasn't sure how a foreigner taking pictures would go down but after being asked to pose with three different families I reckoned no-one would mind. I have a personal rule about "pictures with random white people" and only pose with family groups. I'm far happier on the other side of the camera in any case but thankfully I don't get invited into photographs too often. I more often get approached by children who shake my hand and speak to me while proud parents gaze on. Friends I travelled with got approached far, far more often, not only are they white, they're glow-in-the-dark white and the female half has blue eyes and light hair. Extra points on the "pictures with random white people" scale?

Back to early mornings, the glow-in-the-dark white guy of the group managed to get to the temple at 3:30, I tried, I truly did but could not raise myself from my bed, instead I met him for tea at the nearest stall around 5am and heard all about it while berating myself for being such a lazy sod and missing out on the experience.

I met a lot of lovely and welcoming people and had some great conversations. A fantastic place to visit with a truly magical atmosphere, I'd return in a heartbeat and this time rouse myself at 3:30am.

Cleaning at the Golden Temple of Amritsar

Amritsar Golden Temple, Cleaning

Early morning is a great time to observe the amazing social management at the Golden Temple. Volunteers and permanent workers quietly go about the task of making it the cleanest and best organised place I've visted for a very long time. Here the pool is being skimmed of leaves and other small debris that falls in. I was surprised that there were fish here, giant koi or carp, I didn't see them being fed but there's undoubtely a well managed system for that too

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Street Snacks

A fifth Postcard from Amritsar
Samosa Station

A trayfull of samosas ready for the big fry. I first ate real Indian food as a very young ex-pat kid in Kuwait. Our next door neighbour, Aunty Padma, would sometimes call me in on the way back from school saying, to my ears, "I've just made some osas, would you like one?". Osas they remained for an embarrasingly long time.