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Category:Friday Photos

Buddha’s Giant Feet at Wat Pho

Every visit to Bangkok feels like I’m here for the first time.
-Andrew Zimmern, Bizarre Foods

Sometimes you encounter a sight–it may even be considered a tourist trap to some–that leaves you in awe. In some cases, you’re prepared for the beauty of a destination as you’ve perused the guidebooks and checked out photos online. Other times you’re simply struck by the sight because you didn’t know what to expect. And other times, the sight exceeds the expectations set by those who introduced it to you.Wat Pho

My stop at Wat Pho in Bangkok was the latter of those experiences. I had read a bit about it and heard from friends who had been there before me. But I wasn’t prepared for the sight of the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok.

Wat Pho is one of the more important temples in Bangkok, and therefore in Thailand. It’s also a major tourist attraction, which means that it is surrounded by hawkers and scammers (“The temple is closed today because [insert excuse]”). Ignoring the people along the route to see the three major sights of Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun, I stopped first at Wat Pho–coming from the area around Khao San Road makes this the easiest first stop. Wat Pho Buddha

While one of Bangkok’s oldest temples is a sight to behold for its grandeur–it is a royal temple afterall–it’s the Buddha that attracts so many visitors. The reclining Buddha and the temple that surrounds it were built by Rama III in 1832, although the original parts of the temple complex were supposedly built during the reign of King Phetracha in 1688–1703.Reclining Buddha

There was nothing more inspiring than looking at the enormous feet of the reclining Buddha, inlaid with Buddha images in mother of pearl. It’s almost impossible to even take a photo of the entire Buddha (I wish I had had a panoramic camera at the time). Of all the temples I visited in Thailand, I took the fewest photos of Wat Pho. That doesn’t mean, however, that I found the temple less interesting than others–sometimes you have to step away from the lens to appreciate what you see. Much like the Giant Buddha of Leshan, it’s difficult to fully portray the experience of being there.Buddha feet

The reclining Buddha is 15 meters high and 46 meters long. The feet are 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long–not quite the size of the feet of the Giant Buddha of Leshan, but still impressive.

Have you visited Wat Pho? Did it meet or exceed your expectations?

Calm Lake at Banteay Srei, Cambodia

It was a beautiful walk through Banteay Srei, a 10th century temple north of Angkor Wat, on my second day in Siem Reap–I had decided a tour would allow me greater opportunity to meet people, possibly find some people with whom to celebrate the New Year the next day. Instead, I met a Dutch expat living in China who agreed to take a 40-mile bike ride along the dirt roads around Angkor Wat. I also had my picture taken by a monk with a cell phone.Banteay Srei lake

On our way back to the tour bus, we exited the back of the temple and wandered along quieter paths devoid of other tourists. Along the way we paused by the lake for photos and to enjoy the quiet before heading back to the crowds around Angkor Wat and Siem Reap during the high season.Banteay Srei boat

It was a moment of calm in the rising heat of the day. Had I not been on a tour with a set itinerary, I may have sat staring out at the lake for longer before heading to the next destination. This spot offered a great frame for the photo and an opportunity to play with some of my camera settings–not all the settings worked out well and I’ve had to delete a few photos.

Where have you found calm while on a tour of a major destination?

Dusk on the Canals of Venice

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Venice is a beautiful city–the canals, architecture, and art create a dreamlike scene. Had there been quiet places to sit in the summer, I would’ve sat and watched the canals for hours. But that’s not really an easy thing to do when surrounded by tourists (and there are plenty of signs about to push people along so they don’t loiter and possibly *gasp* eat their take-out food in a public space).Venice dusk

Nonetheless, Venice makes wanderers stop and take notice at all times of day. The majestic sights change with the light of each hour.canal Venice dusk

While the details of the the city were most vivid during the day, I enjoyed watching the sun set over the canals and the lights flicker on. Dusk was when the streets were still illuminated by the fading daylight with the added glow of streetlamps and lighted terraces.

What Do Androids in Taipei Dream of?

“The electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

On the final day of the Chinese New Year holiday, I headed to the main shopping area–ATT 4 Fun, which is the large mall that attracts locals and tourists with its shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. They had plenty of displays set up for the Year of the Sheep. This one had me contemplating the Philip K. Dick classic that was turned into Bladerunner with Harrison Ford.electric-sheep

Seriously, what does this sign really mean? Are these electric sheep? Will I be electrocuted if I pet them? And do Taipei’s androids dream of electric sheep during Chinese New Year?

Staring at the Lion’s Feet in Shanghai

“Sometimes we don’t even realize what we really care about, because we get so distracted by the symbols.”
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Back in 2006, just before my first Spring Festival celebration in China, I wandered the streets of Shanghai. My travel companion was busy most days with her friend, so I was usually pointed in a direction to sightsee and attempt to not get too lost (with my limited Mandarin ability at the time, I probably would not have found my way to the usual meeting point). Most of the days’ activities were centered on the Jing’An area of Shanghai–the temple that has since been remodeled to the point of being unrecognizable and the enormous mall at which I had my morning coffee while waiting for my travel companion who couldn’t contact me because I had no mobile phone.lion's feet at Jing'an Temple in Shanghai, China 2006

I set about wandering the nearby area as I waited each day and took photos of what was interesting, or at least the angles I found interesting. I was lost in my camera viewfinder as I gazed at buildings and life that moved past, ignoring the noise of the shoppers going in and out of the posh shops of Nanjing Road. I took this photo from the foot of the lion guarding Jing’An Temple.

Overlooking San Marco Square

“There is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world, that you leave at once all accustomed habits and everyday sights to enter an enchanted garden.”
-Mary Shelley

I wasn’t certain I wanted to pay to get in. Sure, the view should be pleasant, but is it really worth 8 euros? Everything else in Venice is overpriced and I didn’t want to go to the ATM again.campanile-di-san-marco

Compared to the prices of everything else around Venice, it’s reasonable. Taking the elevator to the top of the Campanile of St. Mark’s Church provided the best views of the city. The problem is arriving at the appropriate time to catch the best weather, the smallest crowd, and the right angle of light. One of my hostel roommates took the journey the day after I did, but he had a view of the sunset–something I should’ve seen instead of morning. piazza-di-san-marco

Morning isn’t all bad. The weather is clear enough and the crowd is thin as most tourists wander the streets just after breakfast. It would’ve been better if I had a sunnier day like I had in Reykjavik.venice-from-san-marco

I was still able to see the surrounding islands and architecture, like that of Santa Maria della Salute.

The 323-ft tall Campanile di San Marco is just across from Basilica di San Marco in the corner of the square. On a clear day you can see all of Venice and the surrounding islands from the bell tower. Of course, scaffolding ruined the view of the top of the church, but I was more interested in looking out over the lagoon and square. san-marco-church

The campanile that stands today is not the original, as the original that was built centuries ago collapsed in 1902. The reconstructed campanile reopened in 1912. The rebuilt bell tower explains why there’s an elevator instead of narrow staircase up to the top. I was kind of looking forward to climbing the stairs to the highest point in Venice, but the elevator wasn’t so bad.overlook-doge-palace-san-ma

Usually I prefer the free views of the cities, which is why I enjoy hiking so much. I skipped the bell tower in Florence, which I heard is quite a view, so I decided to take in the view from Venice’s highest point as long as the line wasn’t prohibitively long.

How often are you willing to pay for such views of cities?

Lessons from Utility Workers in Vietnam

I know that things are getting tougher
When you can’t get the top off from the bottom of the barrel.
Operation Ivy, Knowledge

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out where to go and what to do. I’ve been struggling with where to take my career–the dearth of quality jobs available in places I’d feel comfortable certainly doesn’t make life easier. But then life isn’t supposed to be all that easy. I know it could be more complicated.saigon-utility-work

Searching for jobs while living abroad isn’t as exciting as most people think. Job postings can be hit and miss (more often miss). The choices I have and the process that I have to endure reminds me of the utility workers I saw around Vietnam. I still don’t know how they can figure out which wire goes where in that mess–I wouldn’t be surprised if they made mistakes often (might explain the power outages). I saw utility workers fiddling about with larger messes than what’s in this picture, but this was the only clear shot I could get.

How do you simplify your choices? Or is it better to just try everything and hope it works?

Beer in the Park

“While we were sober, three shared the fun;
Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the sky.”
-Li Bai, Drinking Alone by Moonlight

This week marks the 61st anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The National Day holiday is the second-longest holiday of the year after Spring Festival. When I moved to China in 2005, I arrived three weeks after the holiday. It wasn’t until the following year that I took a short break from Shenzhen for the national holiday. After seeing all the main sights the previous year, I decided to not go too far and ended up on a bus to Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province–it was almost another hour past Guangzhou.PBRpark

One of the more unusual sights to behold in Zhaoqing was the park in the center of the city around Star Lake. There was a dried up fountain that had an oversized can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the same beer that is so popular with hipsters and was recently purchased by a Russian company. When I returned to Shenzhen, I discovered the reason for that giant PBR can; the beer is brewed in Zhaoqing for the Chinese market, which is a large market for the company.

After I departed China, PBR came out with a limited-edition brew for the Chinese market–a $44 dollar bottle of oak aged pissy beer. No matter what they did to “improve” upon the traditional PBR, I was certain that it would still cause a hangover before the bottle was empty.

Lessons from My Korean Temple Stay

Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.
-Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I’ve been trying to remain calm and patient while waiting for responses from employers and publishers with whom I’ve pitched stories lately. I’ve come to realize there isn’t much in Tokyo that I still want to see since the last time I was here (or maybe it’s that I’d rather save my money to get out of Tokyo to visit Kyoto next week).

I find myself looking down at my wrist and the prayer beads I strung together at my temple stay at Woljeongsa in Korea. At the time I just needed a break from the city, and staying at a Buddhist temple in a national park sounded like the most relaxing weekend I could have outside Seoul. One of the first lessons the temple taught the guests was to not rush to the destination and spend more time listening than speaking. Now I see these prayer beads as a reminder to remain patient when I get frustrated.

How could I be unhappy with this?

How could I be unhappy with this?

I’m also reminded of the beautiful sunrise and sunset I witnessed during my stay. I can’t be angry when I think about the experiences I’ve had over the last ten months–I’ve seen more of the world than most people, and I should consider myself fortunate.

Ringing the bell at Woljeongsa

Ringing the bell at Woljeongsa

While I await decisions about my future, wherever that may take me, I have to enjoy what I see for the moment. Usually I have more time to plan my moves, but now I have to enter the chaos that is life–sometimes I forget that this is normal.

I should also mention I have entered a photo in one of National Geographic’s Your Shot assignments. You can check it out here.

Sunrise over Perugia

“to scant the truth
of the light itself
as it was reflected from”
-William Carlos Williams, “Cézanne”

perugia sunrise

Early morning sun shining on St. Domenico Basilica

There is an advantage to working Hong Kong hours while living in Italy, which makes me feel better about missing out on life while here.italy sunrise

When I take my lunch break, it’s 6 AM here in Perugia. The streets are quiet–the only people out are the sanitation workers cleaning up the evening’s empty booze bottles and cigarette butts.

perugia sunrise

First peek at the sunrise

Just a short walk away from my apartment is a scenic overlook facing east. It’s a great location to watch the sunrise over the hills below Perugia. After a week of overcast mornings, I found clear skies this Friday. There was an added perk of fog rolling through the fields in the distance.

Out of Seoul

Long conversations 
beside blooming irises – 
joys of life on the road 


As the sun sets on Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul

As the sun sets on Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul

Today I depart Seoul after two months of living in a tiny apartment near Toppoki Street (and I’m not really a fan of eating toppoki; it’s not bad, but I just don’t like gluttonous rice cakes much). I’m heading to Italy for a while–I get to see my parents and relatives for the first time since I left the US last October. It’s exciting to continue the journey, but bittersweet to leave what has become somewhat familiar.

Night at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park

Night at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park

I’ve had a great time here, despite a rough start to my stay. I’ve made friends and seen some interesting sights. I’ve enjoyed Korea more than I expected, and I still haven’t visited the popular destinations of Busan and Jeju. There’s enough remaining here to remind me to return.

The food in Korea has been great–I’ve had the best fried chicken here (although I know I shouldn’t eat that). And I’ve even discovered some blossoming microbreweries to counteract all the cheap light beer that is so prevalent throughout Asia. And, of course, there’s always the beautiful mountains to keep me entertained.

What would make you return to a travel destination?

Touring Banteay Srei

I’ve been contemplating Cambodia lately–I’ve been in contact with a non-profit there and will start to help out online, but I’m considering moving there to help out more in my spare time after work. There still isn’t much of a plan as I’m still looking into my options for the next few months or so. Nonetheless, there are great memories from my all-to-brief trip through Cambodia.

baneay Srei

Once the people get out of the way, every angle of Banteay Srei is beautiful for a picture

On my second day in Siem Reap, I took a group tour to Banteay Srei and a few other temples. I was fortunate to meet a Dutch expat living in China on the tour who agreed to take a rather long bike ride through the countryside around Angkor Wat the following day. banteay srei

Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva that was constructed in the 10th century, is much further from the main temples of the Angkor Wat complex–it was a long way past the Landmine Museum, which was about 20 miles from Siem Reap. This was the temple at which a monk used a cell phone to take a picture of me–and I still think is one of the funniest moments I’ve had while traveling.banteay srei

More importantly, this temple is remarkably well preserved–the sandstone artwork is better defined than at other temples in the area. Of course, much of it has also been reconstructed.

Where Do You Want to Live?

Twitter user @PekingMike reminded me of an interesting sign I saw back in 2007 in Tianjin, China. Back in 2011, he co-wrote an article for Bloomberg about a ridiculous real estate project in the city that was to be a replica of Manhattan. Like many real estate developments in China today, it’s mostly an empty shell–plenty of investors buy multiple apartments that sit empty for years (I met a landlord in Shenzhen who bragged about owning at least a dozen apartments in the city).

You don't need to live on the mountain to get high in Tianjin

You don’t need to live on the mountain to get high in Tianjin

I’m not sure if this is the same project, but the Chinese does translate to New York Center. I really don’t understand what point they were trying to make with the English slogan.

Farewell, Taipei

Today is my final full day in Taiwan, which is unfortunately filled with a long workday. I don’t have much to pack, but I decided to get a head start for once (I’m convinced I’ve forgotten and/or lost something because my suitcase has extra space). Tomorrow afternoon I will say 再见 (zàijiàn) to my home since the end of February and 안녕하세요 (annyeonghaseyo) to my home for the next two months.

I bought a postcard with the same view of Taipei 101, traffic and all

I bought a postcard with the same view of Taipei 101, traffic and all

I will definitely miss living in Taipei and the people I’ve met. I hope I can return to see them all again. But now I need to focus on what to do in and around Seoul. I’m excited to finally meet my coworker who lives there after almost two years of working together (plus, I’ll have someone to show me around).

I’ll assume that the apartment I reserved through Airbnb isn’t in the high-end prostitution district like my Taipei apartment (some things just aren’t mentioned in descriptions).

Overlooking Hong Kong

After more than a month in Taipei, I’ve had time to reflect on past travels and destinations. I’ve started looking into weekend trips out of the city (I’m heading to Hualien shortly), including possible trips to places I’ve already been just to visit friends. HK-from-victoria-peak

After my hike up Xiangshan to get a better view of Taipei, I thought about my two trips up Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. The major difference there is that I got to take a tram instead of hiking, but the view was equally amazing (and a little more crowded). The air was clearer on my second trip to the peak, which made for much better photos.

Victoria Peak is one of my favorite urban mountain views, but I never took in the view at night. What are some of the best urban views you’ve encountered?