New Photos from the Philippines, 2nd album


Okay, so here is the second album of recently edited photos.  This is the rough draft editing stage of the photos.  The final drafts will be edited all together in a batch process and then uploaded to the commercial website.  So you’re getting the sneak preview before the photography page gets updated.

In this album, the elderly people taken in HDR are from the hill tribes living in the mountains.  The beautiful lady trying to hide her face from the camera was so shy that her friends made her take the photograph.  She very reluctantly and uncomfortably sat as I snapped these shots of her.  I gave her a warm thanks and a fist full of cash afterward.  And they wounldn’t let me leave without getting a shot of the tattoos that she acquired in her time in the hills.  The tribes people decorated themselves back then and are strangely embarrassed of it now.  The older gentleman sat proudly and let me take this shot even though the youngsters around him were laughing and pointing.  He seemed not to mind.

Be sure to click the images and make them larger.  The detail that comes out in HDR when you’re looking at the larger image reveals much more detail than a thumbnail.  Tremendous range is exposed in this technique of photography — which is responsible for giving the photos that “dreamy” feel to them.  The mountain shots have so much old-worldy feel to them in these shots.  There are many more that will make it to the commercial site, but these will have to do to start.

Take a look and be sure to leave me comments on what you think!

Journal 39: Day 14: Home from Korea


Well, I am home and finally settled from the two weeks in Korea.  It was an amazing experience.  Overall, Korea is a place of hidden gems.  There is a sense of “manufactured” environment in many of the parks and reserves.  But in all that, it’s still something to be experienced.  It has a sense of human manipulation that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  It’s like they had a picture of what the environment was supposed to look like.  And instead of simply leaving nature to its course, they “made” it look permanently to their scale of how it should stay.

And it’s things like that which make Korea unique.  Of course there are beautiful places that have been left to the elements and have weathered into wonderful view-scapes of hillside and country.  And there are plenty of peaks to climb and villages to see.  But I think if you’ve ever been in a place where you look at something and your eyes don’t immediately register the information in your brain and you eventually figure out that it’s just an obscure scene; that’s what Korea is.  The customs and traditional life that takes place here, even with pop culture and fashion trickling in from all sides, are the stranger of the two things that your brain thinks your eyes are creating an images of.   You just know that what you’re seeing in Korea could quite possibly be normal.  But upon further investigation, they’re simply not.  They are the refined items that Korea has created over the years.  And there they sit; seemingly normal but profoundly off-centered.

As my time passed traveling throughout the Korean Peninsula, I was reminded of the joys of traveling to these new and fascinating places.  I was gifted with the insights of a new way of thinking.  I achieved experiential knowledge and the lessons it uses at imparting that knowledge.  And I had a peak into a new world with new rules.  It was truly something that I won’t forget.
Soon, I will be headed for Hong Kong; a city straddling the Bay of Victoria and bursting with lights and sounds of a busy metropolis.  I hope to come back with great photos of architecture, nightlife and of course, the people who make it all run.  It will be my forth time passing through, but this time I plan on putting in some time and visiting as much of it as I can.

Until then, I hope that you have all enjoyed this latest entry into my blog of travel and research from around the globe.  And I hope to have you back with me soon.

Be sure to go to my website, cyleodonnell.com, for the best and newest photography from these and other travels and for my latest books available through the site.  I hope to have at least two more published in the next six months.  So keep an eye out!

Journal 38: Day 13: A dodgy, little love motel on my last day in the Korean Peninsula


So it’s my last night here in Korea.  I decided to leave Jeju and come to Incheon where, I once thought, the city’s Chinatown held new opportunities for some great market photographs or architecture.  I was, I guess, hoping for some Chinese temples where I could snap a few shots of the animals cresting their eves or a dragon greeting me at the entrance.  Maybe I was expecting lots of commotion as bustling streets flowed with people moving goods and foodstuffs around with a sense of navigation that westerners can only stand back and gawk at.  Or perhaps I was hoping for some food that swelled with the heat that comes off it, food that you don’t have to crack open or cook yourself.

Alas, there was nothing.  Or perhaps I should say, there was nothing worth taking photos of.  Drab and somber, the entire area looked more like it was the outskirts of something much more interesting.  Its grimy streets and heavy overcast gave it a feel of old timey poverty just before a dustbowl was set to come in and put to rest any fleeting images of holding on to the last few drumbeats of an economic heartbeat.  It seemed like this was the place that was bashed with North Korean gunfire back in 2010.  But even that place was not far from here.  Only about 30 kilometers or so.

At any rate, I followed what I thought were Lonely Planet’s directions for a motel near the subway that I would take in the morning to get to the airport.  But after walking way too far with all my gear, I finally just used my visual knowledge of reading Korean signage and found a motel across the street from a pizza joint and down the block from a subway entrance and called it a night.  These two landmarks represented what my will had been ground down to; food and the quickest way to exit this country.  I’m certainly not regretting my time here.  It just seems like, now that the end is right around the corner, I may as well get it over with.

Anyway, apparently in my learning of Korean advertisements, I could read enough to know that the sign said “motel.”  But clearly I hadn’t learned what the text for “love” was.  When I checked in, I thought that it was odd that they owners didn’t give me a key to my room.  They also kept asking me in Korean if it was going to be just me in the room.  I kept saying that I, alone, was going to be sleeping and needed a key to protect my valuables.  But they were simply not happy with my response.

Before I go on, I think it would be better if I explained just what a “love motel” and its purpose is.  Now, normally one would simply think, ‘Oh, well it’s obviously a cathouse and there’s nothing more to think about it.’  But, like most other things here in Asia, it has a deeper meaning and purpose.  And, make no mistake, its meaning and purpose follow lines to a source that hold no bearing on whether or not the western world would approve or even understand that logic.

A love motel can be rented by the night or by the hour.  A man can get a room alone, wake up with a woman and never feel shame from the owners as he’s checking out.  The owners of these establishments generally offer a woman to single men checking in and can suggest a man for the single ladies.  A love motel is a place most often occupied by actual couples.  But it can also be used as a discrete meeting place for strangers.

In America, it undoubtedly seems a little strange that a couple would check into a hotel for one night – or even a few hours.  It might also come off as odd that the owners might have some say in the eventuality in the population of each room’s occupancy.  It may also come as a huge shock that these motels have resident “lovers” who, from birth, have lived there to pay off their parent’s debt as sex slaves.  But then again, there are many things that Americans will never understand about what goes on in this strange corner of the world.

As the tradition goes in most parts of Asia, it is expected that the children, once married, move into the house of the husband’s parents.  It’s also expected that the wife becomes, for lack of a more polite description, a slave to the parents – fulfilling chores, errands and other demands.  Keeping in good with a family that demands strict adherence to a very conservative lifestyle, then, becomes an everyday challenge.  Sex, therefore, is a bit of an uncomfortable item which brings a lot of stress to the already difficult nature of a new marriage.

Love motels sprang up out of the resulting need for privacy in these new relationships in the turning of the world’s traditional ways.  These motels were first used as places for dating couples to spend anything from a few days of relaxation to just a quick visit between their busy lives.  From there, of course, the Asian culture of why-can’t-we-have-everything-we-want came into play and they started to gain popularity for other types of visits.  And as for the lifetime resident lovers; well, that was a tradition long preceding the invention of the love motel.

For thousands of years the ideals of Buddhism played into the perpetual cycle of reincarnation and parents thought once their daughters were born when they were expecting a boy, it was their karma giving them the requirement of payment for their ills in previous lives.  So giving up their daughters as payment for this karma was the right thing to do.  Their daughters, in turn, were taught their life of sexual servitude was them paying off their karma as well – otherwise, why would they have been born as the payment of their parent’s karma?

It makes a lot more sense once you have been living in Asia for a while and can understand the mentality of all the intricacies of what goes along with the absolute and unquestioning belief in rebirth.

So there I was, being probed by the owners of this motel and the lady starts moving her hands through her hair.  I had no idea what this meant until some time later.  But once she was satisfied – though not very pleased – knowing that I would be staying one night, alone and not be in need of anything “else” from them, she came up with her price and charged me for the room.

Once checked in, I dug out some cash and went across the street to the pizza place for edible, non-seafood that I didn’t have to break the shells off of or barbecue myself.  On the way, though, I kept wondering what the lady meant when she was combing her hands through her hair.  And it eventually came to me.  She was asking me if I wanted a woman for the night.  Then all the other mannerisms came into understanding as well.

The couple were upset that I didn’t want a woman because they could charge me more for the room.  They were displeased that I would only make them money on the room when, ultimately, this was not the kind of place where they only charge for the room.  This also explained the delay in coming up with a price for the room – essentially an overcharge.  And they didn’t give me a key because they wanted me to ask them for the key every time I wanted to enter the room because they didn’t want me hiring a woman from the street or from the little paper advertisements I would see taped up to the underside of steps throughout the alleyways all over the city.  That was the competition.  And for these elderly, Asian pimps, that’s just not the kind of place they run.

Since having been back in Taiwan, I have done more research into this and have talked to natives who indicate the benefit of short-term motels is much greater than having to put up with the prying eyes and ears of older, more traditional parents who would just as soon have their daughter-in-laws doing back-breaking work than to spend their nights corrupting their respectable son’s sensibilities.  They also confirmed that the majority of the love motel’s use was limited to these situations rather than for the sex-shops they’d more easily become reputed as being.

Nevertheless, my last night in Korea did little more to put me at ease but ultimately summed up all my experiences in that amazing country.  No matter where you go in Korea, you’re sure to find yourself in one inextricably unique situation after another as you navigate the intricate web of peculiarities of everything from traditional Hanok Villages kept in the old ways complete with dances to entice the soil’s richness, to parks dedicated to phallic splendor.

Stay tuned for my last blog on my Korea trip and a toast for things to come.

Journal 34: Day 10: Southbound on the Korean Peninsula


Traveling in Korea, even the slower patches along the eastern seaboard, eventually makes everything a blur.  Not keeping up with even one day of journaling makes for a very confusing backlog of information.  There’s just too much to see and do.  I had to start going through my receipts to try and decipher where I was and when I was there purchasing this thing or that food.

All confusion aside, it’s very enjoyable to romp around the country and enjoy what hits you at every turn.  This evening, for instance, there was an impromptu market that sprang up that wasn’t there before.  It was my second and last day in Samcheok and I was just hungry enough to take myself away from journals and photo editing to go and grab a quick bite when I strolled down an alley that was filled with all kinds of excitement.

I love Asian markets.  They are always filled with amazing sounds, sights and smells.  And there’s never a shortage of characters emboldening the feeling of walking through these dirty streets narrowed even more by the tarps, tables and tubs.   It’s never disappointing.  There’s always a bin with something wiggling around in it or a box full of dehydrated animals of the marine variety.  You never know what you’re gonna see; you just always know that it’s going to be amazing.

Here’s a gallery of the incredible things that were hiding in the Samcheok Market.

Southeast Asia Journal 18: April 16, 2010


Journal April 16, 2010

I haven’t written any of my thoughts down in a few days.  I have only been recording my thoughts into a voice recorder and am trying out a new technique.  I am hoping that it will save me some of the time that I have been spending on these journals lately.  It’s quite cumbersome to not only journal everyday.  But to add configuring a website, editing photos, proofreading, and all the rest – it’s a lot to do.

As promised, I have studied the barrage of honking and I think I have come up with a small semblance of the communication that the horns ring out.  Firstly, there is a “shave-and-a-haircut” jingle that drivers use as they are approaching an intersection so as to let others know that they are coming.  The ones who are approaching the intersection and are not intending to stop at all simply lay into the horn full blast from about 10 meters before the crossroad to about five meters after.  There are several short blasts for bikers that are approaching pedestrians who are walking slightly in the road.  The best I can figure, this evolved out of an idea that the more beeps on hears from behind, the more likely they will be able to position the moving object by it’s blasts — sort of a sonar that you can readily create imagery for in your head.  There are many “SOS” type blasts (more like toots, really) that are in short and long succession which can generally be tied to drivers delivering packages and who are more likely to be swerving in and out of shops looking for their package’s destination.  And finally, I have noticed that larger vehicles such as buses and cars really just love to massage their horns whenever possible.  There could literally be no one around and they will just honk to ensure that it’s still working.  I suppose there’s nothing wrong with adding to the noise pollution even when on deserted streets just so that the people sleeping in the apartments above don’t get too used to silence for too long.

At any rate, I am in Hanoi at the moment.  I have mostly been spending my time traveling a short distance on buses and then running around into the communities by day.  I did get to see the war museums and memorials.  It was really staggering to find out what we Americans did to these people.  But I wasn’t there, so I have no context as to why we might have been so terribly violent.  I am sure it was a different time and we understood much less about the way things work in different parts of the world.  I, myself, am living through a tumultuous time that my children (if I ever have any) and their generation may well have a hard time understanding just how blind we were back at the turn of the century when America started off the next hundred years with a horrible president and an even worse war – a war without an understandable cause or a foreseeable end.  But these are just a few of the emotions that overcome me when I see things that I am seeing here in remembrance of the way we were.  But, then again, that’s what I came here to see.  So I suppose I am getting what I asked for.

The main difference between Hanoi and Saigon, as far as I can tell, is that the percentage of people selling all manner of things — including themselves — is buffered a little bit by an overall effort of respect.  “No” actually means no here, where in Ho Chi Minh “no” meant maybe, or, perhaps, I might be swayed.

Moving around on buses makes a lot of sense for a country that is thin and long.  Perhaps if Chile ever becomes anything more than a desert with mountains, they might employ the same tactic at attracting tourists to that region of the world.

Hanoi is my favorite place in Vietnam so far.  You are still hassled a little bit on the streets to buy things from people, but at least you’re not chased down the road by prostitutes trying to haggle you down on the price of some “yum-yum.”

The streets are narrow and dirty.  The scents range from a whacking of the fecund to a wafting of the delectable.  And the people are either buzzing through or sitting, selling and smoking.  Even though the personal bubble gets smaller and smaller the farther north you go in Vietnam, there always seems to be just enough room for you to squeeze by without completely affronting the other person.  They are most genius when it comes to space management.  It seems that when you have lived in a culture of narrow walls and high population, you start to see things in terms of how much stuff you can put in them.

I also like the idea that there is really no class system here.  There are rich people, yes.  But everyone else pretty much does the same thing and therefore falls under the same umbrella of monetary dispersal.  They are all vendors or managers or students or drivers or laborers or a small variety of other things.  This sort of makes for a generally open population of person-to-person communication.  People are not afraid of what others will think here, as they do in other places like Thailand, because everyone lives in the same place, with the same lifestyle, eating the same food and buying all their necessities from the same places.

Really, I can only think of three classes: the uber-rich, the uber-poor and everyone else.  Those that can afford to give to beggars, normally do.  Those who are not able to do so make that known in a way that is comfortable per the community — they shout at the person and wave their hands wildly for invading their time and space.  And since big hand gestures and over-exaggerated expression of emotion is something that has been looked down upon in most Asian cultures, it is clear when someone is upset here.

I have appreciated the economic situation personally because things are much more reasonably priced here.  There is still a lot of underhanded swindling that goes on with westerners — mostly because they believe that we simply don’t know any better than to pay their inflated prices.  But it is still a different kind of swindling that goes on in Cambodia.  I spent a lot of money seeing the sights in Cambodia.  And so far I have spent more money in travel with one big, added benefit: I can book overnight buses and sleep on the way to my destination.  This not only saves me money in hotel stays, it also averages in to be what the transport alone would cost me in just getting around.  Therefore, food is my only contingency.

But to cover the issue of swindling and underhanded business here; There seems to just be this (at least publicly) unspoken agreement that exists between merchants, hotels and the shady tourist companies that tote around their guests and clients.  It’s really a bad situation.  It’s also very short-sighted, as one fellow traveler pointed out to me.  They really just dig in for the big scam not minding that they are found out about halfway through the ordeal — they really don’t consider the idea that these travelers are part of a greater circuit of travelers who attend to blogs and travel forums where these scams will be listed and bitched about, thereby likely prompting less tourism in the long run.  But I hate to jest in this way, it is quite a shame that there is such a culture of backstabbing and money-grubbing of westerners.  I would imagine that it gets a little old for the local shop, restaurant and hotel owners who are being screamed at by legitimately pissed off tourists after having realized that their overpriced and over-promised “luxury” or “VIP” ticket to whatever they expected to enjoy, turned out rather to be a hustle of shark-like intensity from their first step on the bus.

But on to the food: Now that’s the good part about being in Vietnam.  Not only are there many different national favorites and flavors to choose from, but they are almost always very bold and well-cooked.  Unlike Cambodia, Vietnamese food is a little less adventurous.  Because of their longevity as an impoverished nation, they have resorted to inputting a lot of odd additions to their meals.   From insects to amphibious life, the Cambodian menu is something to be careful and picky about.  Vietnam’s sharp contrast in digestible delicacies include variations of noodle soups, chicken and pork dishes and a plethora of seafood selections.

From here, I hope to be traveling to Sapa tonight via overnight train into the mountains. This will be my most coveted photo-opportunity in Vietnam.  I hope to get into the hill tribe villages and come away with a glimpse into the lives of the people of this area.  They have an amazing history.

There are several tribes.  Many of them are small, but some of them span all the way into the provinces in Myanmar, Laos and even south into the northern parts of Thailand.  The Dzao are one of these tribes with numbers estimated around 480,000 people.  Most of these cultures are women-centered and have a very different viewpoint on how life should happen.  For instance, the women are expected to propose to the men; the women are the ones who inherit the wealth when the family or husband passes; and the men normally take on the woman’s family name after moving into the woman’s house following marriage.

The Ede tribe is a polytheistic, communal society who live on long boat-shaped houses set on stilts.  Entire families will live in these constructions and there is normally an area sectioned off for newly weds.

The H’Mong tribe, who I am hoping to see most of all, has several sects divided by the colors of dress that the women weave.  Almost all of the sects wear beads and 70’s-style sequins buttons.  There are black, white, red green and flower sects and all named accordingly.  The Black H’Mong wear a distinguishing cylindrical hat decorated with weavings of various colors of beads.

It will be a pleasure simply to be around these people, but hopefully I can also take away and share a perspective of their seemingly undying lifestyle.

The train station at Sapa is about five minutes from the Chinese border.  The next stop on this famous train is Kunming in the southern mountains of China.   Kunming happens to be the place of residence of a fellow adventurer in whose work in philanthropic and historic adventures I have found a recent interest in studying and following.  Jin Fe Bao, a Chinese renaissance man, has recently finished trekking the length of the Vietnamese railroad.  His story and photos can be found here:  http://www.jinfeibao8844.com/Railroad%20Trek.htm and another of his exploits includes having trekked 80 days across the arid trade lanes of the Sahara Desert in Africa.  Information on that journey can be found here: http://jinfeibao8844.com/Africa_Adventure.htm.

From sapa, I will return to Hanoi and, barring any delays in attaining my visa for Laos, I will be headed on another overnight sleeper bus to Vientienne — the Lao capitol.  From there, I will… well, you will just have to read the next journal to find out.

I will go back into these last few and likely the following journal and update them with photos after I have had a chance to sift through of the mountain of shots I took recently and edit them down into good pieces for these articles.  But I figured I would at least publish this one tonight after having worked on it.  So enjoy and I will let you know when they are loaded up!

Till then, all my best.