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 37: Day 13: Soegwipo-Si and the motorbike ride to broken bones and freedom


If it’s not the broken foot that made this trip great, it was certainly the motorbike that broke it.  This trip was just what I needed after a night of gloom and a hangover that threatened to chew its way right out of my abdomen like some alien movie.  But all things considered, that would have probably been an experience all in itself.  And therefore, I’d probably embrace it as I have the rest of the oddities along this long, winding road carved into the limestone bedrock of the Korean Peninsula.

The day started off great.  I was up at 6am to hop a bus to the south of the island where I would take part in one or more of several key items listed on Lonely Planet’s inventory of must-see’s abound.  They ranged in definition from slightly dangerous to downright taboo.   And I was navigating my morning in the wake of a fresh detox.  So what I saw was a recipe for fun and ordered up a heaping helping of misadventure with a side order of senselessness.

Unfortunately, one hour into my ride I found out that I was not on the right bus.  But that was only a minor setback because I had plotted points all over the map that I wanted to see and there were a couple in that direction as well.

Once off the bus, I snapped a couple pictures of the volcanic tuffs in the horizon.  Then I went on what turned out to be an early morning 5k walk and found out the hard way that this stretched out town along the sea was no place for a sweaty westerner with an expectation for seeing all there was to see in just one day.  It just wasn’t going to happen in the time I had if I had to walk it all the way.

 

I eventually came across this little shop run by an older couple.  The husband had a cap that I hired as the mule that would save me from walking another 10 kilometers into town.  But whether I was walking or in a whatever I employed to speed up my sweaty trek, the Korean oddities just kept coming.  All along the roadway there were things that just looked normal being in Korea, but so abnormal had they been in any other place.

On the other hand, the people that have added so much flavor to the preceding moments of this trip were out in full flavor as well.  I snapped a shot of this shipbuilder grinding down the last of his nicks and burrs off the anchor he’d been repairing.  And the closer that I came to the capital city of the south of the island, Seogwipo, the more interesting the buildings looked and the more flavorful the people.  

Once in town, I headed straight for the oceanfront.  It was very quiet all around, but I made my way to the pier and could tell that it was going to be a nice, bright day with lots of opportunities for great shots.

Looking directly across the inlet, I could see what looked like a huge park with inlets hidden by the large, vertical pillars building up the volcanic rock wall.  I’d find out later that there were plenty of great little hikes, waterfalls and seaside resting areas to check out along the way.

What I expected to find was these amazing geological oddities.  But along with finding them, I also found some other amazing things in the area.

Columnar basalt rock comes from areas of high submarine volcanic eruptions.  Once the magma opens up on the sea floor, it quickly hardens, creating conditions where jointed columns of volcanic flows can be forced up over the seabed and given a longer time to cool and, under pressure, make large, polygonal pilasters.   The areas where millions of these pillars (and other basalt formations) have been pushed up through the ocean floor to the surface are called “tuffs.”  They are also known as pyroclastic rock formations.  But whatever they were called, I was on my way to see the most awesome tuff I of all.  Well, besides the fact that it was a famous one, it was technically going to be the only one I have ever seen.  But I was no less excited to do so.

But before getting there, I knew I had to rent a motorbike to see all that this spread out expanse of land had to offer.  So, on the way, I found a a place to grab a bite and sat on the steps inside to fuel up before I kept on.  While I was sitting there, though, I noticed and interesting sign.

Now, I have seen a lot of strange translations on signs throughout Asia.  And most of the time, I wonder how this translation got all the way through the design phase, through production, printing, constructing and finally even being posted without someone actually reading it and wondering if there might be a better translation out there somewhere.  In fact, I often wonder if anyone actually even asked a white person how this phrase was supposed to be worded before putting up a ridiculous sign that means something much more comical than the author had intended.  But this one definitely perplexed me.  It was a sign on a trash bin.  And, well I will just let you see if you can try and figure out what the hell they were trying to tell you what to put in there other than your dog.

Walking along the coast was great.  I really liked the gardens and the way they were kept.  It was cool to see so much use of the volcanic rock that was so readily available.  And the things they crafted with it include everything from fences and sculptures to stepping stones and even curbs and sidewalks.

Moving onward, I could see that I was nearing a large waterfall that I had known would be around there somewhere.  It was cool.  Just a quick hike down and I was at its base.  It was very tall — 20 meters or so.  And I could see that during seasons of high rainfall, this could really be a very active one.

After that I made my way back up the hill and into town where I rented a motorbike and set off westward to circle the eastern roadways and head back to eventually make it back to the hotel on the other side of the island.  It was a long, comfortable ride punctuated with wonderful seascapes and vistas of people, animals and object of a very diverse nature in their own world.  It was something I won’t soon forget.

But another thing I won’t soon forget is the crash that snapped my left foot completely backward and left me limping for days as my blue-black ankle swelled to near bursting before the trip even started.  I wish that I could say that I wrecked to save some poor child who’d run into the road after is bouncy play thing had found him careening into my path and it was either him or me.  I wish I could say that the bike malfunctioned and the brakes went out, sending me barreling into the curb at an uncontrollable speed and I dove from the bike having known what to do in an instant’s notice and rolled to safety.  Hell, I wish I could say anything but the truth.  Which is that I turned to look at some random noise that happened behind me and when I turned back around, I was half-a-second away from plowing into the curb.  But I must admit the truth.  And when I hit the curb for lack of operable ability to manipulate the handlebars with cat-like calculation, I was sent over the handle bars and then the bike came over top of me.

It was completely embarrassing.  But what’s worse is that I scuffed up my favorite pair of shoes.  They remind me of Indiana Jones.  They’ve been with me for the last seven years of travel.  They’re so comfortable.  And they’ve even been resoled to keep me from having to try fruitlessly to find a size-12 in Asia to replace them.  They’re great.  And the best part is that I bought them for $10 at a thrift shop in Mercer Island, outside Seattle, Washington.  I will be oiling the hell out of them to try and save them.  But I am not holding out too much hope.  Time will tell.

 

Making my way to the tuff it was so awesome when I finally breached the last turn before seeing it tower high above the mainland below.  I had no idea that it was that big or amazing.  It was really something impressive.  Hiking up its western side, there’s only one way that you can view it.  But it was enough to be impressed.  The surrounding area from the top is really interesting, too.  It’s sea-chiseled bluffs and land jetties were quite random and beautiful from way up there.  Here are a few photos of the climb and the surrounding area.

You can click on them to enlarge the photo just like in the galleries.

Well, this could be a very long journal if I detail every single experience that I had while pulling over to all the awesome places that I saw along the way back around the coast.  But I think I will just add in a gallery and hope that the photos will fill in the blanks.  It was an awesome trip and I was so happy that I got to do it — injuries and all.

Remember, click to enlarge!

Okay, there’s one more blog on the way and I will be home from Korea.

 

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.