Friday, April 9, 2010

20100409 Chicago & Skyline Project

Date: April 9-11, 2010
Travel: Flight, L
Lodging: Hilton Garden Inn
Photos: 20100409 Chicago Skyline Project

After buying a better more portable MODO tripod for my trip in DC, I decided I would put it to more work when I was back in Chicago. The best time to play with it would be at night of course. The results were fantastic, and I just like how much more portable it was then my last tripod. I had a new project in mind, one that was inspired from a book photography book I received for my Birthday. I called it the Transitional Chicago Skyline project, which essentially was capturing the Chicago skyline project through out certain times during the day and then creating an image that displayed this time transition. It was a mild sunday in the Spring, making it bearable to be outdoors into the night, but the breeze by the Lake would make it cold enough so there wasn't going to be a crowd of people. This project would utilize all the techniques that I pretty much knew of and applied it. One of the better skyline vantage points is by the Adler Planetarium, which sticks out into Lake Michigan, and had a coastal view of the Chicago skyline. I had my Powershot with me to create a sunset timelapse while I was just in the area anyway. The essentials of this project was to make sure I find a spot where I could return later and capture the image at the same perspective. So I found a crack near a light post that I would place my tripod and camera on. Then at different times of the day I would capture multiple images of the skyline so that I would be able to stitch it again later. I also captured multiple exposures so that I was able to capture a higher dynamic range (HDR) and post process later. So around noon I had 1 capture, another one at sunset, then twilight and then finally at night. I created the multiple panoramas, and then blended the layers together to create some transitional images. For 1 transition, I had the the images of the day blended with sunset. Another I had sunset, day, and then night. And then another one I created one with just the sunset into the evening, which created a very dramatic sky.

Skyline during the day
Skyline at sunset

Skyline at night
Skyline with day and sunset transition
Skyline with day, sunset and night transition

Skyline with transition from sunset, twilight, and night

Sunday, April 4, 2010

DC In Bloom

Date: Saturday & Sunday, April 3-4, 2010
Travel: Flight, Metro
Lodging: Hilton Washington
: 20100403 DC In Bloom

In between weekends at nearby clients, I was able to spend some of my Hilton points and spend a weekend in Washington DC. This weekend was a little more special in the nations capital, as this was during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. This would also be the first weekend after the Peak Bloom date, which was March 31 for 2010. I flew into Reagan National airport, and was fortunate to get a window seat. We were able to fly by the National Mall which was a spectacular view from the air. It was also going to be a weekend of long awaited sunshine, a weekend which was going to symbolize the entry of spring, one of which was following the snowiest winter recorded to date. All in all, this makes a formula for a CROWD. I was prepared to get around by public transit and by foot, as I have heard the roads were going to be clogged.

It was a little chilly at first, but the sun came out and really warmed things up. I knew I needed to avoid the Smithsonian metro station first, although I couldn't avoid it eventually, as it is extremely crowded. After a short walk from the station, I was able to witness the beauty that the country of Japan has given to the city. The surrounding Tidal Basin was surrounded by Cherry blossoms. Blossoms were all around, but so were the people, as the density in DC Land was similar to that of Disney Land. The sidewalks around the basin were not really designed for such heavy traffic. It was one of those days that would be great time to just whip out a towel, and just sit down, relax and have a little picnic.

The better parts of the basin was on the western side, where the FDR memorial resides, as it requires a longer walk, has fewer restrooms, and thus there were fewer people. That doesn't mean that it wasn't crowded though, filled with the Asian tourists (including myself) taking pictures. It was much less than the north part of the basin near the National Mall, which was pretty much elbow to elbow. After walking pretty much everywhere, I found a nice little spot, which there were only a few people around, with an excellent view of the Jefferson Memorial. The only bad part was that there is no food or restrooms to be found. It was a good reason to pack light, and by not eating or drinking much, I held my natural urges for the entire day. Being in such a peaceful spot, this was an opportune time to also give my new MODO tripod a try. I love the thing, and so I also gave it a shot at night.

The following day, I visited a couple of the Smithsonian Museums, one of which was the National Portrait Gallery which was near "Chinatown." One of the amusing things are that there are clearly American establishments, such as Chipotle, McDonalds, and a Texas BBQ joint, but their signs had Chinese characters on them. I suppose that makes it more Chinese and worthy to be a Chinatown. I recall someone telling me that in Chicago, there is a greek town, and a CVS or Walgreens Pharmacy store in that area had to create a sign that said "Apothecary" in the Greek style letters to help make it feel like its part of Greek town.

After visiting a farmer markets and street markets, I stopped again by the capitol building for one of my timelapse projects. I was not able to stay out too long, as I had to make late night drive to the Philly area. Aside from the crowd, the National Cherry Blossom Festival was worth to see, with the mix of a little bit of nature mixed in with the settings of the national monuments. I suppose the next step is to see the blossoms in Japan.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Return to St. Paddy's Day in Chicago

Date: Saturday, March 13, 2010
Travel: The L & CTA
Lodging: Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago
: 20100313 Dyeing The Chicago River & More Chicago

Chicago is like my 2nd home to me, just like (Philadelphia, NYC, Kalamazoo, and the many other cities I continue travelling to for business). Chicago is a major hub for American Airlines, and also has direct flights from Tucson via Southwest, so if you count the number of times I land in Chicago, I've really been there over 30 times. What's kind of scary is that at O'Hare Airport, there is a smoothie shop which has a customer appreciation program, where for every 12 smoothies you buy, you get one free, and I have already gone through a few already. Anyways, it was only 3 years ago which I had made my first true visit to the city, as I was made a road trip from Milwaukee, and it was also St. Patrick's day. I did not do my research and just decided to wing it and drive through. What a mistake, the traffic was insane, there was no where to park, and I had no idea where I was going. I just figured....look for the Sears Tower (Now renamed Willis Tower). Anyways, I knew from watching the movie "The Fugitive," that Chicago dyes the river green, and I really wanted to see that, yet I had no idea where it was. As I finally found the Chicago river that day, it was truly green.

Advance the clock 3 years later, I know my way around the city a lot more, and I know how to do my research more. This time around, I would not miss the actual dyeing of the river. Walking from my nearby hotel on Grand & State, The best viewing areas is along the river/Wacker between Michigan Ave. & Columbus. Anyways, it was a very cold and foggy, yet there were a lot of folks that had made it to see the spectacle. So a few minutes before the scheduled start time, you get to see the initial dyeing boat leaving a green streak down the river towards Michigan Ave. Shortly following the dyeing boat is another boat swirling back and forth in an S curve stirring up the dye in the river. It was a neat scene, as if it was like a scene from Batman, with the green ooze down the water and fog covering the towering sky scrapers. It is quite different than to just see the river green.

I also decided to stick around a bit for the parade, with the marching bagpipes and the green dogs. It was really too cold for my arizona ass, and I'm not Irish enough to just watch the whole parade ( however, enough to drink the green beer at a pub...just half of course ).

A few days later I decided to come back to Navy Pier, where almost a year prior, I had lost my Canon pocket camera. It was a blessing in disguise though, because now I had no more excuses to not get a DSLR. If it wasn't for that misfortune, I would not have the ability to take a million new pictures. I suppose this picture and this picture would offer the best comparison.

Anyways, I expect to be out in Chicago in the next month, and I have a few projects in my mind that I want to complete.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Visit to the King

Date: Friday, February 12, 2010
Travel: Rental Car
Lodging: Hampton Inn Southaven
Photos: 20100212 Elvis' Graceland

After full week at a client in Memphis, I made some time before my flight home to visit the king, Elvis, in Graceland. The area surrounding the site seems to be a bit shabby and old. The site itself was a definite tourist trap, with overpriced souvenir shops, glitz, and long lines. It was really cold outside with snow on the ground, yet there was still a pretty long line to get on the shuttle. I never really grew up as a fan of Elvis, so I suppose it was difficult for me to actually understand or appreciate the place. Maybe it was the admission ($35!!!!!) and parking price ($10!!!) I could not understand. I think it is definitely a generational thing, because 90% of the visitors seem to be seniors. Then again, many folks my age should have been at work. Nevertheless, it was still something to see. You get to see the lavish lifestyle that Elvis lived, at least it was lavish during his time, and you can see all the achievements that he had. I think my favorite room was the game room with the pool table, where the whole room was decorated and draped in fabric. Along with a tour of the mansion, you can tour his personal jets, and his automobile collection. After all of that, my favorite part of the day was to enjoy some Memphis BBQ. I went to a place featured on Food Network, Corky's BBQ. They are most noted for their dry rub seasoning on their ribs. I had the full rack with half wet, half dry, and it was all tasty, and all devoured. My server was surprised that I could finish all of that and my sides, but I can surely build a big appetite.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last days in Saigon

Date: Monday-Tuesday, January 18-21, 2010
Travel: Rental Van
Party: Linda, Vu & Family
Lodging: Hai Long 1
Photos: 20100118 Saigon Bien Hoa Family Pictures, 20100120 Saigon Cafes More

Except for my parents, we had moved all of our bags from our hotel in Bien Hoa, to one in HCMC, since Stella and I had some other plans going on. Stella would go and meet up with some of her family members living in Vietnam. I would be meeting up with my girlfriend Linda, later that night. This would be her 2nd visit in so many weeks. In the morning we would go around the city, and make visits to other extended family members. In the evening, we visited one of my cousins house, who was doing very well for himself, creating faux furnishings using aluminum. He has a new SUV, which vehicles in Vietnam gets taxed 100% if it is an automobile, and another 100% if it is imported. An imported Mercedes for example, would cost 3 times the price of retail. It is a status symbol, and although wages are not the high on average, there is a major discrepancy between the extremely wealthy, and the extremely poor (which is the majority) and not much in between. The same goes in my family, we have some that are very well off, and some that are not. Phones and electronics cost a lot more there than back at home, but everybody wants to have the latest and greatest gadgets, even if their salaries are a magnitude lower. It's all relative. More people there are willing to spend 3 months salary on a nice phone, where as at home, people might hesitate for a phone purchase of 1 weeks salary. I suppose there's just so many other factors that we have to worry about such as higher cost of living in general and healthcare, and people don't need to have a nice shiny gadget to be judged upon.

Later that evening, my cousin takes us out to a nice seafood restaurant, and even after the hospital episode with my brother, they trusted this place more, and chowed down. I had to bail a little sooner, to pick up Linda from the airport. We met up back with the family at a mall in the city, where my wealthier cousin suggested to go and buy clothes. My mom also made a promise to my niece Tiffany that she could go out to the market and point out anything that she wants. However, this mall, called Diamond, was ritzy, and everything was so expensive. Toys were even twice the price that we could find in the US. I guess my cousin is much more higher class than us, we didn't want to spend a dime there. My mom ended up fulfilling her promise at a supermarket in Bien Hoa, where she was able to load up on Hello Kitty stuff at fraction of the prices (like 1/10). Inside of Diamond,there was a Pizza Hut inside (which is special here), and pepperoni pizza had never tasted so good. I am not sure whether the quality was higher than a local Pizza Hut, or was it that we had too much Vietnamese food lately.

The next couple of days, it would rain, so there is not much we did but sit at cafes, eat and shopped. We went to Chinatown for a delicious lunch, and then at night, I took Linda out to Van Thanh where we enjoyed a romantic dinner on a gazebo over the lake. The crazy part of the dinner was the price shock. We had a full meal, with appetizers, entree, and desert, while being alone under a wooden hut like gazebo, for only about 10 dollars. Then on top of that, there was a 90 minute massage and facial session provided at the hotel for only 6 dollars. Stella mentioned that it was one of the best massages of her life. All for almost the tenth of what we would normally pay. We had to take advantage of that.

We spent some more time shopping, this time at Ben Thanh market, and there were a lot of trinkets and crafts that we were able to get for great deals. We had already built a solid baseline from days before, and this time we were going to take advantage of that knowledge and put it to work. Unfortunately we can only take so much back, and we had initially squeezed our whole family and bags into a minivan, which we had parked in LA and planned to drive it back to Tucson. It looked like we would need an alternate plan than to drive 7 people home. So it was decided that my brother and his family fly back from LA to Tucson, while my parents and I take the van back with the luggage.
Linda had to fly back Wednesday night, the day before I would return back to the states, so we drove down to Bien Hoa, where she could meet my maternal family and Ba Ngoai (maternal grandmother). Then in the afternoon, we would go pick up an aunt of mine from Hue at the airport, who had some great snacks for us. And again in the late evening, when we drove back to the airport for Linda's departure, we met 2 more aunts coming from Hue and Da Nang. I think I have seen that airport 5 times ( it was starting to feel like business trips ).

On the final days, we just spend more quality time with the whole family, and try to squeeze as much gifts and souvenirs in the bags as possible. I almost passed out at the airport, just minutes before our own departure, but I was able to gather myself with some of my aunts herbal treatment (which was like back scratching). I think I have had enough. I got a little better, but driving home from California was brutal, and we did not get home until 4 am on a Saturday morning. In'n'Out tasted great, and I needed a week to recover.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Family Night at Van Thanh

Date: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Travel: Rental Bus
Party: Vu & Family
Lodging: Hotel in Bien Hoa
Photos: 20100117 Van Thanh Resort

After spending a long morning recovering from the previous day's drive, we visit my grandfather's burial site. We invite the entire family (a very large group) out to dinner in the city. We had to rent out a large bus for this trip. Being a sunday, the driver of the bus was speeding down the road at probably 50 mph (NOT kmh)! I actually felt scared for some of the mopeds on the road. I guess he just wanted to do something he won't be able to do on a weekday. We end up going to the Van Thanh resort offered a large park like area filled with many restaurants, but notably for the weekend, there was a buffet dinner. It was really pretty, and there were wedding at every corner. The buffet dinner looked nice, but I think my family in particular was not feeling well, and the appetites were simply no longer there after weeks of over eating on Vietnamese food. I think we would argue that the food was not mediocre overall, and of course nothing could taste as good as home food, but I think it was the fact that it was eating so much every day. If I recall back to specific moments, there were plenty of times where my tongue felt satisfied.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stopover in Dalat

Date: Saturday, January 16, 2010
Travel: Rental Bus
Party: Vu & Family
Lodging: Hotel in Bien Hoa
Photos: 20100116 Dalat

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Failing to find airplane tickets to HCMC (Saigon), we have to find a private bus to take us and all of our luggage. We decided that we might as well stop by Dalat, which there is some history from Stella's family there. Dalat is a mountainous town, and it was preparing for its annual flower festival. I think Dalat is a destination for the locals because of the higher elevation offers a cooler environment from all the tropical heat. After 4 hours of driving hell, especially on the dirt roads, we make it to Dalat for lunch. After that we search around for Stella's mother's childhood home. We ended up finding it, and there was no one living in it. We spend only another half an hour at the local market before we end up driving again. This time we would spend another 7 hours on hellish roads. It was windy, bumpy, slow. It's a good thing we were able to get a bus where you can just lay down across the seats. Never again... We make it into Bien Hoa by late night, where Ba Ngoai (maternal grandmother) lives, and spend time with the family there.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nha Trang & Vinpearl Land

Date: Friday, January 15, 2010
Travel: Taxis
Party: Vu & Family
Lodging: Nha Trang Lodge Hotel
Photos: 20100115 Nha Trang Tour, 20100115 Vinpearl Land

My brother finally got to take in the beautiful beach of Nha Trang early in the morning. He was well rested, and was ready to go. In the morning, we decided to do a little tour of the city, starting with Hon Chong, followed by a visit to Po Nagar, and then the villas of Bao Dai. Some people were just feeling tired and wanted to rest up during the afternoon. Later that evening, the family takes the cable car over to Vinpearl Land, which for the longest time I thought people were saying "Vin Bun Lan." It's essentially a resort island, with an amusement park built on it. Getting off the cable car, we were dumped into an amusement area designed for children with slightly dated fair rides. However, there is a resort if we walk further (which we didn't), but we did go down to the aquarium, which is new, modern, and not half bad. There is a ritzy shopping area, and a stage used for water and light shows. It looks the area could be really nice with a lot of restaurants and cafes, but it all seemed very empty. It seems to be geared towards tourist, but it was not busy at all. Perhaps it cost too much, or its just not the high season. At least we as a family were able to taste a little bit of Nha Trang, even though we technically based out of there for 5 days.