Christmas Greeting from Down Under

I have just realised we have about three shopping days until Christmas and I haven’t made up my mind what to buy myself.

Apart from that, and in spite of my many notes to write a Christmas greeting, I’ve allowed my life to be taken over by too many coffees and cakes with friends, thus time retreated at warp speed.

Sometimes it was necessary to refuel with a glass of wine in the company of a friend or three, especially on a Sunday with Ted.  Ted, now retired, is using his drawing skills on a new project. He, like me, observes people and he enjoys making sketches of them. His new project is to observe and sketch people in wine bars and he has so far compiled a list of 70 bars in Perth and Fremantle. I haven’t seen many sketches but he’s gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine.

It’s been a year of travel and broken resolutions. Why change the habits of a lifetime?

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I also had to renew my old passport which I’d grown rather fond of. It had about 100 little inked rubber stamped imprints in it (some countries are very mean) also a lot of those visas which look like badly forged bank notes and take up a full page. I like those, they make me feel I’ve actually been somewhere.

I found that I’d been away for over five of the past 12 months. A sort of record. My iPhone also tells me that I actually walked a total of 1679km on those travels. That is a record. I also made a lot of notes, took a lot of pictures and did very little with any of them. Time wasn’t entirely wasted though. I caught up with many friends I hadn’t seen for years as well as making the effort to meet friends from Facebook and various other bits of social media. Those adventures took me though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. These are countries I tend to enjoy as they encourage me to re-read the old works of Graham Green, Orwell, Maugham and others who collectively help me feel as though I’m living in an exotic time warp. That’s if you call ten buck hotels with cold, mouldy, showers and beds which seem bigger than the rooms, so much so it’s impossible to walk around them, exotic. There’s also the added luxury of bath towels which are so thin they could be used as net curtains.
I remember my well travelled colleague Mac saying “You really know you’re travelling when you’re washing your socks and jocks in a bucket of water on a hotel balcony”. He’s right.

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Sunset over the Mekong at Luang Prabang

It’s been a year of highlights though I’m not sure  the offering of a  fried rat for lunch in the north of Laos was one of them. It did look tasty though, especially if you happen to be a cat.

A long trip down the northern section of the Mekong has made me plan an even slower trip next year.  Maybe it’s something about Lao hospitality but I was offered some deep fried insects by a lovely old lady en route.

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Lunch menu on the Mekong slow boat

I spent a couple of separate months in my favourite spot in Bali where an old mate, Chris, from our respective first marriage days took the trouble to fly from The Old Dart. Coincidently my photo buddy Mac came in from France. Say no more – we had one of the best weeks I can remember. Plenty of food, drink, many lies and much laughter. As long as we each manage to cling to our ageing bodily wreckage I hope we’ll be able to do it again. I may have to work a bit harder too!

I’ve been back in Fremantle for the past couple of months promising myself I’d write a lot more. I’ve got unfinished stories totalling over 30. That’s taking procrastination to extremes.

A couple of days ago I was exploring the town and was stopped by an elegant Chinese gentleman who questioned me about the abstract yellow paint on the walls in the High Street of the Fremantle’s West End.  I told him it was a little difficult to explain, though I did know preciselyy what it was about.

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I directed him to the bottom of the High Street, pointing out the steps to the old Round House prison and telling him to walk up the steps, turn around and look back. “All will be revealed” I said.

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This is a very clever piece of art work installed by  Swiss artist Felice Varini, who has produced geometric optical illusions around the world.

And so 2017 sped past and ’18 is on the doorstep. With that in mind I wish you all the healthiest and happiest New Year possible and I do hope that at least some of us can catch up somewhere other than on Facebook.

Take care, stay well, watch this space.

The Black Madonna

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Each year the fishing community of Fremantle has two ceremonies to ensure the fishermen and their boats are safe and the catches are good throughout the season.

The smaller of the two festivals, held in honour of The Black Madonna, is on the second Sunday of September and celebrated by the small Portugese community who live in the city. The larger Blessing of the Fleet is held in late October and conducted by the entire fishing community, mostly from Mediterranean communities, principally Italian.

Several Masses are held in St Patrick’s Basilica and a procession leaves there to parade the Black Madonna around the city’s street during the afternoon. It is a time for the younger members of the community to play a part in their industry. Many of these kids would be descended from migrants who established the fishing industry in the 1920s and will mostly become fishers themselves.

 

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The parade consists of a hierarchy of young people. These boys are in uniforms of the  gendarmery who will protect the parade

 

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It is one of the communities great honours to be able to carry one of several banners paraded through the streets

 

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Portuguese national costume is worn by many of the children

 

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Three elders of the Portuguese community stop at the half way point of the parade for a  fireworks display

 

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Banners paraded through the local city’s local shopping streets

 

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Children in national costume carry a set of ornamental fishing floats attached to a Crucifix

 

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The Black Madonna

 

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The fireworks, mainly firecrackers, put on a very noisy show. The kids tend to block their ears, some don’t like them at all and some are stoic.
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The Black Madonna, the Portuguese fishing communities treasured icon, passes through Fremantle’s West End, an enclave of heritage architecture from the gold rush days of the late 1800s

At the Top End of The Dragon

Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. The WordPress App is a real bugger to operate and I had to trash the last post as the pictures were too small. Naturally it transpired it was my fault. At some moment in time I’d changed the picture size, then couldn’t find out how to change it back.
Anyway, I think I’d said that this trip has been a photographic smorgasbord, a real feast, and rather than write a lot of guff off said I’d post a few pictures taken thus far. They are not necessarily my favourite shots but are among those I really enjoy.
I did however find it relatively easy to put captions into place and also admitted that I had used what I call the ‘dynamite’ button on the Snapseed App on a few of them. Probably all of them if I think about it.

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this was another picture taken from what transpired to be a series of musicians in a Saigon park

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Markets are always a happy hunting ground for pictures. This was taken in Hoi An, famous for it’s cloth market but in this case I was more interested in the garlic and the knife which had been used by the stall holder for the best part of her life.

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I was walking around the back streets of Quy Nhon one night when I looked though the door of what I assumed was an abattoir and saw this cow, I assume it was a cow, who was beyond help. I asked a guy, who happened to be holding a large knife, if he’d mind me taking a picture. I hated to think of the consequence of upsetting him.

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This was the smiling face of sting ray in the fish market on a bank of The Pearl River in Hue

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And this is The Pearl River

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This woman was making fish cutlets while talking with a few customers. One of them was smoking and the smoke drifted into the picture, adding a little extra. Sometimes I like smokers.

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I couldn’t resist this shot. An old fellow was resting beside his market stall and had propped his feet on his scales. After I’d taken the picture I asked if he minded. He was delighted and happily posed for a portrait but it didn’t match this shot.

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While speaking of smokers, which I was, this was an offering at a small temple.

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Eat your heart out … this is the view from my hotel window in Sapa.
all pictures copyright Roger Garwood 2013

Saigon and Heading North: 1

The Curse of Technology

I’m cursing myself. I suppose I’m allowed a few moments of stupidity but sometimes I really wonder if I should spend my time simply being content with a good book and a bottle of wine and never being let out alone.

A few months ago I decided that the iPad, good though it is as a travelling companion, it really doesn’t have enough grunt for serious work as in editing pictures, writing text and, in particular, blogging.

Thus I bought myself a MacBook Air and immediately fell in lust with it. It’s fast, has an excellent keyboard and all the whistles and bells. I’ve got LightRoom and Silver Efex Pro loaded as well as a few other goodies which form a perfect combination.

So what did I do when I left on this trip? I decided to leave the Air and take the iPad, purely on the basis of saving a bit of weight. It quickly proved to be an error, though not a life-threatening one. I found it almost impossible to work WorkPress properly on the iPad so am at this moment trying a small experiment. That’s to say I’m writing this blog in Pages, an excellent little word processing programme in App form. Hopefully I can drop a few pictures in. We’ll see. It seems to be very ‘clunky’ so the plan will be to post little and often.

The following shot was pretty much the first cab off the rank. I have a peripheral project which is to photograph people reading newspapers. Sadly they are a diminishing breed.

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Back to the Streets

Trawling the Files

I spent a few days nursing one of those damned head colds which cause victims to reach out for a bit of loving care and attention and, when they don’t get it, to reach for the ‘medicinal uses only’ whisky bottle. This was a half bottle cold.

Being one of those characters who always seems to find his bread falling buttered side up I had a friend bring around some beautiful home made soup and another who arrived with a bottle of whisky. Both of them made me wish I could have more colds to use as bait and attract these people more often.

The upside of colds is that they offer an excuse to meander through the files and dredge for forgotten pictures.

Here’s a few to keep the ball rolling. I like pictures to be a little whimsical, something which may put a smile on peoples’ faces. At the very least I like pictures to have an obvious reason for being taken.

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There’s something funny about photographers. They always take up a sort of crouch when shooting.Sometimes I’ve seen them stand on a chair, then they crouch a little which takes them down to their normal head height.

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I was out shooting with my photo buddy Lidia D’Opera on what we termed a ‘pooch mooch’. Lidia was working on a book about dogs and I became a sort of deputy dog spotter. We both got this shot, how could you resist it? Check Lidia out at  http://www.lidiadopera.com.au and look for her books. 

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An artist working at Fremantle Markets. He’s there every weekend come hell or high water. The picture at the top left is a self portrait I think

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This was taken in Saigon. Somewhere under the plastic is a man selling newspapers. He’s sheltering from the rain.

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And this is a nice closing shot for now. I get the impression they were good friends.

Bali – The Bonus

The Bonus of a ‘Business’ Trip

I may have mentioned before that the idea of going to Bali was to catch up on some writing and maybe take a few pictures. I booked the trip while remarkably low fares were available and arrived in a bucketing tropical rain storm. I did actually do some work, mostly while sitting on a beach with a cold beer on standby. I really don’t like offices.

When I booked the trip I’d forgotten that the Balinese New Year was to happen right in the middle of my time on the island. This is when, after a few celebrations which involves building giant monsters – the famed Ogah Ogah (read ogre) –  representing the evil spirits said to roam the island. The object of New Year is to frighten these spirits and force them to leave the island. It’s a story which has been told a few times to say the least but I’d never witnessed it and in any event it seems to happen mostly at night-time which makes photography a little arduous.

Ogah Ogah ready for the New Year parade © Roger Garwood 2013
Ogah Ogah ready for the New Year parade
© Roger Garwood 2013

As luck would have it I was staying in Padang Bai and the performance which is designed to frighten the local ogahs into a hasty retreat takes place in daylight. This was bonus for me.

In the morning I strolled around town, finding these colourful creatures having finishing touches put to their hideous bodies and watched them being hoisted onto frames, making it easy for them to be hauled through streets.

Padang Bai is small enough to walk around in ten minutes and it is not a tourist centre as such. It is a small port where ferries leave for a variety of islands such as Lombok. It’s also a popular dive centre. As the time came close for the procession of about a dozen ogahs to be paraded and ultimately destroyed the atmosphere became quite electric. I could feel good pictures in my bones.

Small groups of bands formed up. Kids, dressed in their brightest and best took up vantage points in the streets and I armed myself with my only travelling companion – the little Leica D Lux 5. “Bring ’em on” I thought. And they did.

The beginning of the parade in Padang Bai. most of these horrific effigies of evil spirits are made by school children. © Roger Garwood 2013
The beginning of the parade in Padang Bai. most of these horrific effigies of evil spirits are made by school children.
© Roger Garwood 2013
Evil spirits had little chance of distracting these two youngsters from their iPhone © Roger Garwood 2013
Evil spirits had little chance of distracting these two youngsters from their smart phone 
© Roger Garwood 2013
The more noise the better. Everything about the parade is designed to frighten off the bad spirits. © Roger Garwood 2013
The more noise the better. Everything about the parade is designed to frighten off the bad spirits.
© Roger Garwood 2013
Colour alone would frighten most people. Most of these creatures are made from carved polystyrene. Traditionally they were constructed from bamboo frames and paper.   © Roger Garwood 2013
Colour alone would frighten most people. Most of these creatures are made from carved polystyrene. Traditionally they were constructed from bamboo frames and paper.
© Roger Garwood 2013
This character really put me off my dinner. I didn't order sausages that evening. © Roger Garwood 2013
This character really put me off my dinner. I didn’t order sausages that evening.
© Roger Garwood 2013

All of the pictures were taken on the Leica D Lux 5, a perfect camera for travelling with. The 24-90mm (equivalent) lens offers a useful range from wide-angle to a short telephoto.

The weather in Bali can be hot and humid. At the end of the parade a few people would hose down the members in the parade to help keep them cool. © Roger Garwood 2013
The weather in Bali can be hot and humid. At the end of the parade a few people would hose down the members in the parade to help keep them cool.
© Roger Garwood 2013

I keep the camera on auto everything. I have three basic programs. The first handles colour with an ISO setting of 80. The other two are B&W set to 80 and 400 ISO. I find this combination is pretty much perfect for everyday shooting in reasonable light. The D-Lux 5 has now been superseded  by the D Lux 6.

Ultimately the spirits are taken to the beach and enthusiastically dismembered by school kids.  The ultimate prize is a head. © Roger Garwood 2013
Ultimately the spirits are taken to the beach and enthusiastically dismembered by school kids. The ultimate prize is a head.
© Roger Garwood 2013
To ensure they don't come back the ogahs' remains are burnt to a cinder on the beach. © Roger Garwood 2013
To ensure they don’t come back the ogahs’ remains are burnt to a cinder on the beach.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Apart from a few holiday snaps I did the bulk of my shooting in one day. From about 350 pictures I edited 35-40 which formed an excellent back up to a short story about the New Year celebrations.

As a matter of interest these days I specialise in travelling light and producing stories and pictures which I syndicate. I am running a workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival. If anybody is interested check out the details at <http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/&gt; This will lead you to the home page. Look for “Participate”, scroll to “Workshops”.

I may meet some of you there. It’s going to be great festival.

BALI: Travelling Light in the Tropical Zone

Commuting to work takes on a whole new meaning

Should I offer an apology? May be I should but I haven’t. In any event I doubt that too many people will be losing much sleep over it.

The truth is I said I would post Part II of the Mekong Delta story: Travelling with Dragons. In the event I ran out of time to complete that and decided to take a backlog of work to Bali, find a cheap hotel and catch up with ‘stuff’ – basically unfinished stories. For readers who don’t know Fremantle, where I live, you may consider that it’s rather extravagant to hop on a plane to Bali. In fact it is quicker (that’s stretching a point a little) and a lot cheaper  (that’s not stretching a point)  for me to go to Bali than to go to next nearest place of note. . It’s a three hour drive to our nearest resort region and it’s very expensive territory.

Thus I find it easy to slip into Bali, not quite a commute but it’s getting like that.

Marco Inn: Not five star but cheap and clean

Thus, decision made, I fronted up in the small coastal town of Padang Bai in the middle of a tropical downpour which delighted me as I hadn’t experienced real rain for about a year. It was well after sunset and, as I like travelling with no prior hotel bookings, I lobbed into the first place I found. Marco Inn is tiny, about eight rooms, and right on the waterfront of Padang Bai. Like may of these small hotels it is situated down a narrow alley which is wedged between a shop on one side, which sells many wooden carvings, and a warung which sells icy beer, fresh fruit juices and snacks.

This is the main drag, over the road from the beach in Padang Bai. If you look carefully you'll see the Marco Inn sign. The hotel is down a small alleyway which leads into a jasmin scented courtyard.  © Roger Garwood 2013
This is the main drag, over the road from the beach, in Padang Bai. If you look carefully you’ll see the Marco Inn sign. The hotel is down a small alleyway leading into a jasmin scented courtyard.
© Roger Garwood 2013

A room was available on the first floor and  had all I wished for – it was clean, there was a shower, toilet, fan, a small desk and a cupboard. It was not five star, more like a monk’s cell. Even in the damp climate of the wet season it smelt fresh and when the sun rose, summoned by roosters crowing, dogs barking and the  booming horns of ferries I was able to look out over rooftops to the harbour. Perfect. Even better it was nine dollars a night which included breakfast.

No pressures

Like many visitors to the island I am totally addicted to banana pancakes for breakfast. That and a heart starter of Balinese style coffee – somewhere between Greek and Vietnamese – sets me up for the morning.

Breakfast was taken in a small frangipani scented courtyard with blooming pink Bougainvillea. And to round it off my banana pancake was served by an attractive and chatty Balinese woman named Jasmin. In the middle of the courtyard yard is a small structure, call it a family temple, and the day’s offerings to the Balinese gods and spirits were already sitting beside small statues. Sandalwood incense sticks were slowly burning and tiny columns of blue smoke mingled with the frangipani’s aroma.

You may have guessed that these days I don’t like to work under pressure.

Opposite the hotel is the main beach where local fishermen make an early catch and deliver fish straight to restaurants along the waterfronts. © Roger Gawood 2013
Opposite the hotel is the main beach where local fishermen make an early catch and deliver fish straight to restaurants along the waterfronts.
© Roger Gawood 2013
Freshly caught fish are cooked in restaurants less than a minutes walk away. © Roger Garwood 2013
Freshly caught fish are cooked in restaurants less than a minutes walk away.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Travelling Light

I specialise in travelling light. So much so I even lecture in the practice. My total baggage weighed a little over 8kilos – about 17-18 pounds. I travel with an iPad, a keyboard, a Leica D Lux 5, a few cards for the camera, notebook, pens and pencils, about five T-shirts, three pairs of shorts and bits – shaving gear etc. I carry this onboard as hand baggage. (TIP: Jetstar allow 10kg of hand baggage). I book a seat up front in the plane and am invariably in the first half-dozen passengers through immigration.

But this trip was going to be full of surprises so tune in tomorrow …. or the day after, I’ll see how I go. And I will finish the Dragon’s Tale soon as possible.