Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Taipei National Theater

During our trip to New Mexico, we photographed many adobe colored building against beautiful blue sky.  I have been wondering where can I have such amazing color to photograph again in Taiwan.  On Thursday, December 18, I was on my way to lunch on the bus.  On impulse, I jumped of the bus at the Freedom Square near the Presidential Palace.  It is the location of Chang Kai-Check Memorial.  It was renamed to "Freedom Square" during the last presidential election due to local politics.  I have photographed the location before when I just had the D300 with the 70-300 VR lens.  At that time, the National Theater which is at the same location was under renovation.  Thus I only photographed the Memorial Hall which has glazed blue tile roof.

The National Theater has glazed gold/brown tile roof.  It is the largest structure in the world with this type of the roof.  When Photograph against the winter blue sky of Taipei, I got very similar colorful scene as in new Mexico.  Here are more photographs.

This time I used D700 with the 70-300 VR lens.  The lens was easier to use on the FX format D700 than on the DX format D300.  The field-of-view is much more natural without the 1.5x factor.  I did not have to keep on stepping back.  The lens was good, but I still need to do a lot of distortion adjustment by Capture NX or Photoshop.  Shooting against the blue sky also made the vignette very evident.  They were so strong that could not be corrected easily using Capture NX, the Photoshop corrected it without a hitch.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Taipei Zoo

Today is Saturday, December 13th.  Grace was out for her company's clinical PI meeting.  I took my D300 with 70-300 VR lens to Taipei Zoo.  It is not too far away from our condo.  But the metro was out of order.  Though, the connecting bus was free.  I was out to the zoo for photography two times before.  They were with my old D70 and the old 70-300 lens.  That lens was not really a very good lens and without VR.  It was quite difficult to use hand-held.  This time, I just wanted to see how good are the new camera and new lens.  They can be really good.  Click on the photo and you can see the photos in larger size.

I photographed him once before.  The photos were quite sharp already.  He looked even better this time with the bright sunshine and the water in background.

It is amazing how the camera and the lens bring out all the detail of his fur.  I think I also caught a better expression of him this time.

North Shore

It was Saturday, December 6, almost one month after we came back from New Mexico.  I had spent most of my spare time on the computer to develop the images from that trip and had not touch my camera.  I suppose after the intense 5-day photographic session, I was a bit shell-shock and gun-shy about photographing again.  On this Saturday, Grace had an outing with all her lady-friends from the Biolady Club at Danshuei Village.  The village is reachable by metro from Taipei city and is a very active tourist town.  I also bike over there often.  Danshuei river is the major river of Taipei.  The village is where the river flows into Taiwan strait.  Because of its location, it has many historical buildings from the 18th and early 19th century.  I took her to Danshuei by car then continued northward alone the ocean for a little tour of myself.  It was a very scenic drive started from Danshuei and ended at Keelung.  The highway then continues southward alone the northeast shore, where I have photographed several times before.  I took only my D300 and the 105 VR micro lens.

The first place I encountered was this nice litter park by the sea.  It was made of various concrete structures.  Guess what, it is a special park constructed by the county government for wedding photography.  As shown at the LeDeux Street in Taos, New Mexico, the 105 lens was just perfect for the location.  I got many photographs in perfect geometry.

The next place I stopped by was a small harbor called Dragon Hole (龍洞).  It does have a natural stone gate (a big hole) about two-story high over looking the ocean by the harbor.  There was a squid boat in the harbor.  Squid boat differs from the normal fishing boat by the lines of enormous lanterns on the boat.  It uses them to light up the ocean surface at night to attract squid.  Just as at Elizabeth Town at New Mexico, where I took a series of photos of an old truck.  I took a lot of colorful photographs of this old squid boat.

Then I saw this incredible image by the sea.  An ocean-going vessel tied to the beach.  I did not think it was beached by accident, but was tied up for repair.  There were some kind of operation on the beach.  Here are more photos around the area.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Mexico VIII: Photographic Equipment and Post Processing Work Flow

Grace took her new Nikon D90 and the 18-200 VR lens.  Mine was much heavier set up.  I had the Nikon D300 with vertical grip and the 12-24, 16-85 VR and 70-300 VR lenses.  I also had the Nikon 50/1.4, and 105 VR micro lenses with me.  

Contrary to conventional wisdom, we often used the wide angle lens for closer scene.  For the wide open space, actually we used more often the long telephoto lens.  I did not have a chance to really use the micro lens capability in the New Mexico trip.  However, I used the 105 VR micro lens, just for fun, for all the shots at LaDoux street after the morning snow.  The lens was amazing when used to photograph buildings, every line was straight, perfect vertical or horizontal, almost no prospective distortion.

Each one of us had two batteries.  I kept one in the camera and one in the vertical grip.  We brought with us also two 8 GB memory cards each.  Each one of us took over 400 pictures per day.  We rarely used out one fully charged battery each day.  We took all the pictures in RAW.  8 GB memory card can store over 500 loss-less compressed NEF RAW file.  Thus in reality the extra battery and memory card were just for emergency.  

I had a 160 GB storage device that we transfered all the pictures of that day to it every night.  Grace had her portable computer with her and we transfered another backup copy to her computer.  We then erased all the pictures from the memory card and ready for next day.

Shooting NEF and using Capture NX2 allowed us to mend many mistakes that happened during our photographic process, especially for Picture Control.  Photoshop's ARC (Adobe RAW Conversion) does not always convert the in-camera Picture Control reliably.  It takes quite an exercise in Photoshop to reproduce the Picture Control effects.  Thus my work flow is to review the pictures in Nikon ViewNX, open the selected photos in Capture NX2, adjust exposure, picture control etc., save as JPEG then do further adjustment in Photoshop. For people portraits shot in "neutral" of Picture Control, I will then open directly in Photoshop ARC, which gives me better control on skin tone.  Photoshop ARC will not read any adjustment done by Capture NX to the RAW file.

The unselected RAW pictures eventually get deleted.  I keep both adjusted JPEG and its RAW.  Unless the JPEG compression artifact is obvious, I do not save pictures in TIF.  I also do not save Capture NX2 adjustment in RAW file unless necessary, it increases 50% of the file size to 15 MB each.  This way, I keep a middle ground between keeping the pictures either all in RAW or all in JPEG.

New Mexico VII: Ojo Caliente and Round Barn

Ojo Caliente is a hot spring resort, we passed by on Monday, November 10th when we were on our way to Abiquiu.  Much to Grace' dismay, we did not stop for the famous New Mexico hot spring spa, but to photograph a round barn!!!

This is a scene from the Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort taken by Grace.  I often have to straighten Grace' photo in Photoshop and do some prospective adjustments due to her height and the wide angle lens that she used.  However, if I do any of these things to this photo, it will lose its charm and make it to become so ordinary.

The round barn has been totally renovated (unfortunately).  I had a look at it and did not know what to do with this huge brand new structure.  Grace got a reasonably good shot.  

Dave was even better, showed us his picture of the round barn on his computer converted to sepia monochrome, which made the new barn aged 50 years and filled with character.  Here is my attempt.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Mexico VI: O'Keeffe Museum, Canyon Drive and Bosque del Apache

Wednesday, November 12th, it was the last day of our New Mexico trip.  We came into Santa Fe last night and stayed at a very nice hotel just by the Santa Fe old Town Center, Inns of the Governors.  In the morning, we visited Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.  It had a special exhibition of the photos that contemporary photographers took for her and her life in New Mexico with selected paintings by her.  We then walked alone the Canyon Drive, a street lined with famous art galleries.  Here are some photos of the morning tour.  We then drove back to Albuquerque to send Grace to airport to continue her around the world trip.  The rest of the group then rushed to the famous bird sanctuary Bosque del Apache.

We arrived just about sunset when the birds were coming back from a day of feeding in the surrounding grounds.  There were thousands on the lake and hundreds continuously fly in.

The scenery pushed us to the limit of our skill and photographic equipments.  Here are some more of my photos.

Bosque de Apache not only is a bird sanctuary, it is also teamed with other animals.  Here was a lucky shot of a deer family.

All through the trip, we have been chasing the moon rise, over the adobe church, over Hernandez, etc.  We finally got the perfect moonrise at Bosque del Apache.  

It was matched by an even more amazing sunset New Mexico style.  Here are more photos.

Finally, the dark fall and it was time to go back to Alburquerque, packed the luggage and ready to head home.

New Mexico V: Mountain and desert landscape, mural paintings and Santuario at Chimayo

Today, Tuesday, November 11th, we said farewell to the Adobe Wall Motel, which our group holed up for three days at Taos.

We had breakfast at LeDoux street and took our final photos at Taos' old town plaza.  The sky was again brilliant blue.  We took the High Road (Highway 76) back to Santa Fe.

There are so many artists around Taos (7000?).  We could often see them unleash their talent on mural paintings.  This mural painting of eagle was taken yesterday on the way to Abiquiu.  It was painted between two walls.  I took three pictures and stitched them together in Photoshop.  Today we saw other amazing mural paintings on the wall of the Sugar Nymphs Bistro at Peñasco.  Here are some of the photos.

In the morning, the road we took first lead us through the mountain range.  We could see snow covered mountain top in distance.  We passed by many interesting farming valley and small towns.  

In the afternoon, on the way to Chimayo, we then surrounded by the typical New Mexico desert landscape.  Here are a few more photos.  

Chimayo was settled by Spanish settlers not long after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680-1692.  El Santuario de Chimayó is a church filled with legend.  The location was where a crucifix was found around 1810.  It was brought to St. Cruz three times and mysteriously returned by itself.  The church was built at 1816.  The crucifix is still located in the chapel alter.  However, the real magic power is from the "sacred sand pit".  All kind of diseases have been claimed to be cured by it.  Grace had a shot of Dave lay on ground to take the photo through the doorway, then Ken lay on the ground.  Finally it was me, just follow the masters to get the best shot.  Here are our photos of El Santuario de Chimayó.

New Mexico IV: Snow over Taos and Abiquiu, Home of Georgia O'keeffe

On Monday, November 10th, a light snow covered Taos just before down.  We went out to photograph very early in the morning.  The historic LeDoux street is just by the old town square.  It was established by the frenchman LeDoux many centuries ago, originally as a walled compound, now is lined with art galleries.  We took many pictures, the light snow covered adobe wall and art decor were very photogenic.  

We then drove around on Highway 64 in and around Taos Pubelo to photograph the snow scenery.  There were many farms with horses and cows and with the mountain as backdrop all covered with a layer of white light snow.  They were very beautiful and so different from the scenery of previous days.  Here are a couple of the photos.

After breakfast, we drove toward Abiquiu, home of Georgia O'Keeffe.  On the way we visited an Earthship exhibit.  It is a community of ecological friendly buildings in the middle of the barren desert.  The buildings were half underground, and virtually self-sustainable.  They used solar and wind energy and recycled water from natural vegetation inside the house.  All the houses were built with reclaimed materials.  We than visited the interesting art collection by Ken Nelson at Pink School Gallery.  It was again in the middle of desert.  The collection was so diverse and so colorful.  Here are some photos of them.  

The sky was very different from the previous several days.  It was a stormy sky covered with clouds.  It made the desert landscape very dramatic.  We arrived at Abiquiu, but O"Keeffe's house was closed for the season.  A local, Napoleon Garica gave us a first-hand account of her life at Abiquiu.  The challenge of photographing the Abiquiu pueblo church was how to avoid the modern out buildings and electricity wires, but include the red cliff and mesa in the background.  We then drove around the back road of the town and came across the three crosses, which may gave her the idea for her "Black Cross" painting.  I was the last person to get back into the van, and got the amazing light at far away mesa behind the crosses.  Here are some more photos.

Our final task of the day was to look for the location that Ansel Adams photographed his famous photograph of "Moonrises over Hernandez" at 1941.  Here it is, the church and the grave yard, minus the moon.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My first impression of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I, Grace visited our clinical investigators in Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (part of the former Yugoslavia) on Nov. 21, 2008.  Three clinical associates from Croatia and Bosnia accompanied me for a very short one-day tour.  Sarajevo is famous for the winter Olympics held in 1984, and sadly the country was besieged between 1992 to 1996 during the Bosnian war. I was impressed by its religious diversity of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism, which is why Sarajevo is nicknames Jerusalem of Europe.  

Mostar, about two and half hours by car from Sarajevo, is located in the Herzegovina part of the country.  It is named after its old bridge, built in 1566.  Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian war.  It was reconstructed and completed in 2004.  It was very difficult to walk with dress shoe heels on the white limestone.  I had to hold on to Mirna to cross the bridge with 29 meters in length and 20 meters in height.  The night scenes of the bridge was unreal. Here are a few photos of both sides of the bridge.  

The next morning I woke up to a beautiful early snow.  I looked out from the hotel window, the picturesque views look like those in the postcards.  In the fore ground, there are mosques and church towers; and in the far ground, there are many houses on the nearby hills.  I stayed at Hotel Europa Garni right in the old town.  The hotel was bombed during the war.  It has a Moroccan restaurant in the basement which serves good Couscous!  I only had one hour to photograph that morning before leaving for the airport.  Here are some photographs of the old town and the restaurant.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Mexico III: Taos Pueblo, Elizabethtown, Eagle Lake and Angel Fire

On Sunday, November 9th, we rised early to photograph the Saint Francis of Assisi Church at Rancho de Taos again.  This time from the front when it was bathed in the morning light.  it was cold and our van was stucked in the car park with all the other cars of church goer.  We end up walk over to a nice restaurant, Ranchos Plaza Grill for breakfast.  It had some amazing mural painting.  Here are the photos.

After breakfast, we drove to visit the famous Taos Pueblo.  The adobe walled buildings are over 1000 years old.  The material is made up of clay and grass, thus it disintegrates in the rain and has to be repaired continuously.  The buildings are actively live in with no modern electricity, water and plumbing.  The local indians received their own language and culture education in addition to normal American education.  The color of the wall and the smoke from cooking fooled the camera's computer.  The pictures have to be extensively reworked by computer software to bring out their true color.  Here are the photos.

We then drove through the Enchanted Circle route around Wheeler Peak (13,000 ft), stopped by the Red River to photograph the mountain stream, frozen lake and beaver dam.  We end up in an abandoned mining town, Elizabethtown.  There were many old barn, horses, farm equipments to  photograph.  We also meet up with the gospel music group of "Cowboys for  Christ" in the local church.  They sang for us with their amazing voice and served us their moose chilli. Here are the photos.

The most interesting subject in the Elizabethtown to photograph was this old truck.  It was very colorful and the photographs came out perfect.  Unlike the photos from the Taos Pueblo, it needs no additional work up on the computer.  Here are more of them.

After the "Cowboys of Christ" sang the "Amazing Grace" for us, we were ready to leave.  Then we saw this amazing light, a real alpenglow, across the field, "The Load is shinning light on us".  It is followed by a beautiful sunset.  We chased the beautiful color all the way to the Eagle Lake, in time to photograph the moon rise.  We finished the trip by photographing the Vietnam Memorial at Angel Fire in the dark.  Here are the photos.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Mexico II: Arroyo Seco, Rio Grande, Ted Egri and Taos

The second day, Saturday, November 8th, we started our trip to Arroyo Seco and had breakfast at Abe's.  The Holy Trinity Church at Arroyo Seco was the only church that we were allowed to photograph the interior during our entire trip.  We then drove to Rio Grande Bridge to really have a taste of the open country of New Mexico.  We came back to Taos old town plaza to hang around various art galleries and had lunch.  The high light of the afternoon was the visit to 96 year-old artist,Ted Egri.  His wife Janet gave us a good tour of his studio and sculpture park, and an overview of his life.  It was really interesting and impressive.  We end the day photographing moon rise at Saint Francis of Assisi church at Rancho de Taos.  Here you can see our photographs of the day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Mexico I: Albuquerque, Turquoise Trail & Santa Fe

Grace and I joined a photographic tour organized by Dave Wyman of Image Quest and co-led by Ken Rockwell of   We arrived at Albuquerque airport at 7 pm Thursday, November 6.  The whole group of eight photographers, gathered from all corners of the US, came to meet us at the airport and drove us to Albuquerque old town to have dinner.  They gave us the warmest welcome and let us felt at home right away.  After all, we are all photographers.

The trip started the next morning of a visit to the Albuquerque's old town plaza and the San Felipe de Neri Church.  The day was just beautiful.  We could have photographed the adobe wall against the turquoise colored sky all day.  We left Albuquerque to Santa Fe by way of Turquoise Trail, and passing by many old mining towns.  We arrived at Santa Fe in the afternoon and finished the day by walking alone and photographing the Santa Fe Old Town Plaza.  After sunset, we drove further north to Tao and settled in Adobe Wall Motel to get us ready for venturing into the Tao Pueblo country for the next few days.  Here are a few of our photographs of the day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nikon D90 video of 5-Peak Flag Waterfall (五峰旗瀑布)

Grace's new Nikon D90 is the first DSLR camera that provides video capability.  Of course, it was followed immediately by Canon 5D Mark II.  However, 5D Mark II costs three times more and is a camera in a totally different category.  Anyway, it will not be available to consumer till next month.  It was quite fun to use it.  The regular video folks may not think of it as anything new.  But for photographers, it represents a major trend of merger between still photography and video.  It is already happening in the professional photography market.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

In search of Great Auntie (大嬸婆) and Third Brother (阿三哥)

Neiwan (內灣) is the home of comic strip "Great Auntie & Third Brother" (大嬸婆和阿三哥). Everyone of our age from Taiwan read this comic strip when we were young. We learned from TV that it will be the Wild Ginger Festival at Neiwan on October 18th. we thought we would visit the village on October 12th to avoid the crowd. We did not succeed in avoiding the crowd (it is always crowded) and we also did not see much wild ginger flower either. The village was quite interesting. From the wooden sign and store front, we could see the county government's effort of making it old and elegant . On the other hand, the merchants have completely taken it over with much more colorful signs and stands. It became a very crowded and very active market. The people is Hakkas. They are famous for hard working. From historical prospective, they are often considered as real Han people. They have migrated from the central part of China to the South due to the war many hundreds of years ago. They speak distinct dialect and have its own special cuisine and culture.

The village has a market street, a working train station, an old theater and a hanging bridge. We had the feeling of seeing Great Aunti and Third Brother everywhere on the market street. The people were very kind and we took a lot of pictures of people going about their business (市井小民). The lady in the photograph with Grace, sells preserved vegetable, which she has a mountain of it. She recommended us to go to an Hakka restaurant and told us to ask for special home cooking and leave it to the chef. We had a great meal for NT500 (US$15).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dan-Tsu-Mien (擔仔麵), Rou-tzau-fan (肉燥飯) and Twin River (雙溪)

Due to the double-10 national holiday of last Friday, last weekend was a long weekend in Taiwan.  Grace and I were too busy to plan for any long trip.  Grace had to visit her office on Saturday morning for the IND submission to FDA.  I picked her up for lunch.  We went to"好記擔仔麵".  Dan-Tsu-Mien (擔仔麵) is as Taiwanese dish as the Lu-rou-fan (魯肉飯).  It is a simple noodle dish served in a very small bowl.  It has a shrimp, a piece of pork, bean sprouts and chives served in a clear broth.  As the beef noodle, every restaurant has slightly different way of preparing it and slightly different taste.  好記 uses clear soup cooked with shrimp skin as the broth for the noodle.  Dan-Tsu Mien is supposed to originate from Tainan (台南), a very old city in the Southern part of Taiwan.  It used to be served by roadside stands with very low and small chairs and tables.  Now it is moved into formal restaurants, many of them still set up this type of stands inside the restaurants in order to retain its authenticity.  The "Tainan Dan-Tsu Mien" (台南擔仔麵) is a restaurant started in 1958 in the red-light district of Taipei.  It went upscale sometime ago and made a big splash of using English bone china to serve Dan-Tsu-Mien.  The other famous one is 台南度小月擔仔麵.  It is originated from Tainan and opened a branch in Taipei. Not long ago, it opened a new branch at YongKang Street (永康街).  I went with my sister during her last visit.  Of course, all these restaurants also serve Lu-rou-fan (魯肉販).  My sister and I also had soy sauce cooked pig feet.  They used the same sauce from the pig feet for the Lu-rou-fan.  It was good and tasted exactly like what I had many years ago in Tainan when I was in the military service.  For the pig feet, 富霸王 at 四平街 is even better, or the one cooked by my Philippines maid is the best.  This way of using the sauce from pig feet for the Lu-rou-fan also makes it less distinctive as compared to the Lu-rou-fan from 金峰 outside of the South Gate Market (南門市場) or 好記.  好記 even insisted on their Lu-rou-fan be called Rou-tzau-fan (肉燥飯).  

After lunch, we went to Twin River (雙溪).  It is not the same Twin-River village on Route 2c.  It is a small stream on the side of Yangmingshan (陽明山).  A road of the same name running along the stream up to its origin.  It passes the famous National Palace Museum, which houses the world best collection of Chinese antiques.  They were originally from the Palace in Beijing. It also passes the Wellesley Girl High School, where Grace went for her junior high.  It is a prestigeous private school.  They said the girls from this school are more elegant than those from the public schools.  It is certainly true for Grace.  She tried her new Nikon D90 this time. We also used a ND filter to slow down the shutter speed in order to get the effect for the stream.  However, we only had a monopod with us, even with the VR lens, we should really use a tripod.  Here are some of our photographs.

Taipei Cityscape

In the morning of Saturday, October 4th, Grace had a facial appointment. After droping her off, I took the camera and had a walk on DunHua South Road (敦化南路). Together with RenAi Road (仁愛路), they are considered to be the two most beautiful boulevards in Taipei. When I look at the photographs, I even wonder whether they were taken in Taipei. DunHa South Road is a six-lane boulevard lined with high-rise buildings on both sides  and with two central islands filled with trees. The central islands are almost park-like. It was flowering season for the trees. I was curious of what kind of the trees they were. They are Flamegold tree (台灣欒樹). The scientific name is Koelreuteria elegans formosana (Hyata). It is a native species of Taiwan. In Taiwan, the often used scientific name is Koelreuteria henryi Dummer. The Englishman, A. Henry collected the specimen then Dummer named the tree in 1912. Koelreuteria formosana Hyata was named by Japanese in 1913, thus the Dummer's name should take precedent. It is also called four-color tree in Taiwan; because it has green leaves in the summer, the flowers in October are yellow, the fruits are red and the seeds are brown.

The Flamegold tree forms a small ecosystem of itself. The flower and the fruit attract Red Cotton Bug (赤星椿象, Dysdercus cingulatus). You can actually see the bugs flying around the flowers at the tree top in one of my pictures. The bugs then attract the Striated Swallows (赤腰燕, Hirundo striolata), that eat them.

Route 2c (台二丙)

Route 2c is originally designed as a bypass road from Taipei to Ilan (宜蘭). The Snow Mountain Tunnel connecting Taipei to Ilan was very difficult to build. The rock was so hard that the first tunneling machine broke down at the first day of use. The tunneling than hit an underground water stream causing several deaths of workers. No insurance company would cover the construction after the accident. The tunnel was considered not constructable at the time. It eventually took over 10 more years to finish. In the meantime, the only way to Ilan at the east of Taipei is through the coastal road and through a very winding road over the mountain. Route 2c started from ShihFeng (十分) down to the Northeast coast. It can be used as an alternative road to Ilan. The road to ShihFeng from Taipei is a well paved scenic road. ShihFeng and all the other villages along the road were coal mining villages from the Japanese occupation era. They were connected by a narrow-track railroad, which is still running today. ShihFeng has the largest waterfall of Taiwan. We have taken many pictures of it in the Spring.

However, the construction of Route 2c was half-hearted and took a long time. Now even the Snow Mountain Tunnel is completed, what happen to Route 2c? I was surprised to be told by two sources that the road is passable now. On Sunday, October 5th, Grace and I packed our gear and made the trip. To my great surprise that the road is almost completely finished and it is one of the most beautiful road with bike pass on the side of highway. It gently slopes down from ShihFeng to the coast. We can stop now and then to soak our feet in the mountain stream. We passed a very nice village call ShuangXi (雙溪) or Twin-river village. Like ShihFeng, it can be reached by railroad. At GongHe village (共和村) or Republic Village, there is a brand new beautiful red bridge called GongHeDaQiao (共和大橋) "Republic Big Bridge" , with a bicycle sign painted on the road surface indicating that it is bicycle friendly. I had the image of Iraqi Republican Guard rushing out from the bridge on bicycles!! It was a good place to practice how to use wide-angle lens. Apparently the road is also used by heavy motorcyclists, who can not use the Snow Mountain Tunnel. We passed by a service station for the heavy motorcycle. A rarity in Taiwan. The day was a beautiful fall day.

Route 2c connects to Route 120 and ends at Fulong (福隆). Fulong has a beautiful sand beach. Because it is reachable by railroad, our family used to sea bathing here when we were young. It is also famous for the lunch box, which vendors sell directly to the passengers on the train. We did not have the Fulong lunch box but had a lobster lunch in a restaurant not far from the 4th nuclear power station, which is still under construction. I assumed that the lobster was non-radioactive. On the way back we again took a lot of photographs of the coast. There are pictures of Grace photographing me, and of me photographing rocks at the same time. The last two pictures are the ruins of Taiwan's one and only gold mine.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cape No. 7, Typhoon, Beef Noodle and Sunset

We went to watch Cape No.7 (海角七號) on Friday night, just before the Typhoon Jangmi hit Taiwan on Saturday (2008/9/27). It is really a well made movie and very Tai (台). I watched the same movie the week before with my sister when she came to Taipei to see our father in the Hospital. The weekend when she just arrived (2008/9/13), Taipei was hit by a Typhoon also, which hung around Taiwan for three days. Grace left for the US in the afternoon of 12th and my sister arrived the same day at night. Both just missed the Typhoon in the airport.

I took Grace out to have beef noodle the day she was leaving at 史記牛肉麵. This restaurant has the beef noodle in a white broth, which is very different from other traditional beef noodles. It also has the best marinated cucumber. I also went with my sister to the Taipei Train Station to have another kind of beef noodle at 蘭州拉麵. The special of this restaurant is that the chef really pulls the fresh noodle by hand in front of you. We can often have this type of noodle in China, but it is harder to find an authentic one in Taipei. These two restaurants are what I consider as restaurants serving new type of beef noodles. Beef noodle is such an essential Taiwan experience and deep engrained in everyday life. When I was young, I only knew two beef noodles: Taoyuan Street Beef Noodle (桃園街牛肉麵) and Old Chang Beef Noodle (老張牛肉麵). Taoyuan Street is behind the Presidential Palace, where my father's office was. Both my sister and I could each have a large bowl of noodle and scallion pancake when we were ten. She was still enquiring about did they still serve the noodle in large bowl this time? No, only in normal size now. Old Cheng is the Father of all Sichuan beef noodle in Taiwan. He had a food stand at RenAi Rd (仁愛路) and Hang Chow South Road (杭州南路). My mother's best friend used to live there and she took us to eat at this stand. I must be less than 10. The real original name was called Old Chang Dan Dan Noodle (老張担担麵). The restaurant of the same name still exists in an alley way close to that road junction. But for the better and closer taste to the original, go to Old Chang Beef Noodle at Yongkang Street (永康街) region. For me the most important reason that this restaurant is the real offspring of the original one was, about 10 years ago, when I visited the restaurant on my occasional trip back to Taipei, an old waiter from the old restaurant was still serving in this restaurant. I was fortunate to find the recipe of Old Chang Beef Noodle in an old recipe book written 20 years ago. Even at that time, the old owner was no longer there.

The colorful sunset at the beginning of this blog was taken by Grace from her office before she left for the US when the Typhoon was coming. After my sister left on the 18th, and before Grace came back, I went to Danshui (淡水) for some errands. On the way back, I stopped by Dataocheng Warf (大稻埕). It used to be a major harbor, when Taipei was still a seafaring city in the 19th century. It is a frequent stop for me on my bike ride. I was met by a school of photographers (not fish), completed with instructors and over 20 fully equipped students.

Dataocheng is a famous spot for sunset. The sky was very clear without much cloud that day. Being a good sport, of cause, I also took out my camera and joined the crowd. The best time to photograph sunset is 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after the sunset. As in life, do not forget to turn around to look behind. The better image may not just in front of you. Here are my images.

Sailee in Paris

We had a Typhoon in Taipei this weekend.  It was a big one.  Its strength was equivalent to a  category 5 hurricane.  We got Monday (2008/09/29) off and decided to take our granddaughter, Sailee, to Paris.  After all both of us and our daughter have French citizenship, thus same for her.  She brought her little horse with her and we had a marvelous time at Jardin de Luxembourg.  The weather was beautiful quite a contrast to Taipei.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Lust, Caution" (色戒), Dabangan (大板根) and Emerald Lake (翡翠水庫)

Ang Lee's most recent movie "Lust, Caution" was based on the novel of Chang Eileen (張愛玲) of the same name.  The very mention of her name brings us back to the era of Shanghai at 1930s.  Her own life during that time was as colorful as her stories.  During the WWII, in France, there were the Vinchy goverment, French resistance, German occupation force and communists.  In China, we also had the Wong Jingwei (汪精衛) goverment, KMT, Japanese occupation force and communists.  Ms. Chang's lover and husband of seven years was Wong goverment's propaganda chief, Hu Lancheng (胡蘭成).  Both of them are considered as important figures of Chinese literature for the 20th century.  But their role during the Japanese occupation also colored their reputation all their life.  Mr. Hu was considered as a traitor, and Ms. Chang who was helplessly in love with him while the whole China was embroiled in the Japanese occupation, was considered the very symbol of decadent of the era.  Behind "Lust, Caution" is a true espionage story, which Ms. Chang might learn from Mr. Hu at the time.  Ms. Chang then mingled the true story with her feeling to Mr. Hu and took 25 years to finish the novel.

The heroin, Ms. Zheng (鄭蘋如) of the true story could not be more opposite to Ms. Chang.  Her father studied in Japan and married a Japanese girl.  He was closely associated with Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China, when Dr. Sun was in Japan organizing the revolution.  Ms. Zheng had two sisters and two brothers.  She was a socialite in the Shanghai upper society at young age, and was on a magazine cover when she was only 19.  She joined resistance underground very early and used her Japanese background to mingled with the officials of Japanese occupation force and Wong's government.  She was given the task of luring Wong's government secret police chief for assassination.  When the plot failed, she was arrested and shot.  She was only 23 at the time.  

To bring the whole story closer to home, when Grace was visiting Hong Kong, she was shown a documentary of the history of Ms. Zheng.  She also learned that one of Ms. Zheng's sister is actually Grace brother's godmother, who now still lives in LA.  She must be in her 80s by now.

The weekend (2008/9/7) after Grace came back from Hong Kong, we decided to visit the Dabangan park.  It is a 17 acre Tropical forest only about an hour by car from Taipei.  It also is a recently developed hot spring resort.  We took one hour walk through the park and the trail was quite a climb for us.  At our age, it was not easy to keep our camera steady with all the heavy breathing.  The heavily wooded forest also was not easy to photograph, but we were still able to get a few interesting photos.

After visiting the park, we then drove all the way to the other side of Taipei to try to catch the sunset at Emerald Lake.  The lake is a damed reservoir that supply the drinking water for Taipei city.  Thus the surrounding area are protected and hard to get to.  The place that we took the photos is a tea plantation.  We arrived just in time for the sunset.  The water level was quite low in the lake.  We could see the red clay at the bank.  The sky was very clear.  The cloud seen in the pictures was actually jet streams from airplanes.  I have to do a lot of work in the Photoshop to achieve the look for the images.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blue Mountain Trail (青山路) & Bailaka Road (巴拉卡路)

After watching "Ma Ma Mia" on Saturday night, which made us feel so old, we ventured out on a photographic tour to Blue Mountain Trail on Sunday, August 17, 2008.   Taipei basin is surrounded by mountains.  On its western side, between the Taiwan Strait and Taipei, is Yangminshan (陽明山).  Blue Mountain Trail is half way up the western slop, facing Taiwan Strait, of Datun Mountain (大屯山).  It is part of the Yangminshan Mountain systen.  It crosses three mountain streams that suppose to be nice photographic spots.

We started our trip with a Cantonese brunch at top floor of Hotel RegaLees (福格大飯店) outside of TamKang University (淡江大學).  It over looking Danshui river (淡水河), where it flows into Taiwan Strait.  It was an alright restaurant not expansive that let us escaped the hot August sun.  We even got free drinks at hotel lobby.  

Blue mountain Trail for people unfamiliar with the region is very difficult to find.  On the other hand, it is a well paved and maintained road, which the Shanzhi Township (三芝鄉) planted Taiwan mountain cherry trees all alone the road.  It should be very pretty in the Spring.  All three streams were very nice spot for water bathing.  However, even with the fantastic "Picture Control" of our Nikon D40 and D300, the pictures came out very flat.  It was only by reprocessing in Photoshop CS3 that I finally be able to brought out the color.  The selected photographs from this trip is here.

Crossing one of the stream is a very old stone bridge (over 300 years old).  It was formed by 3 pieces of stone slabs.  It is thus call Sanban bridge (三板橋).  When the wet air from Taiwan Straight moves up the Datung Mountain, it often forms very amazing clouds, we saw them at Sanban bridge and later on at Bailaka (巴拉卡路) road.  

Bailaka road is famous bike road for the young and energetic cyclists.  It goes up from Danshui River through Datun Mountain to Yangminshan, a close to 1000m climb.  At one of the scenic spots we can over looking Xiaoyoukeng (小油坑) and Zhuzi Lake (竹子湖).  Yangminshan has a very active geological structure, we could see the steam coming out from underground at Xiaoyoukeng.  Zhuzi Lake is the valley under Xiaoyoukeng.  It used to be experimental rice farm that Japanese developed the most important Taiwan Rice (蓬萊米) here.  It is now mainly flower fields and restaurants.  It is famous for picking Calla flowers (海芋) in spring.  

The image at top of this blog is a composite of four RAW pictures from 70-300mm zone.  Its original size is over 25 mega pixels.  I was too lazy to change lens, thus took four pictures to cover the scene.  Grace has another picture of the same scene of only 5 mega pixels using her 18-200mm zone.  The two pictures looks the same on the web.  On the other hand, I should be able to print my picture to 20 in x 25 in.  Will I ever?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lugang (鹿港), Taichung (台中) Motel and Feng Chia Night Market (逢甲夜市)

Grace' sister, Ingrid, and her family came to the central part of Taiwan from Hong Kong for a short trip with a tour group. Grace and I went down to meet with them in Taichung. We first drove down to Lugang (鹿港) for a photographic tour ourselves. It is in the morning of Saturday, August 16, 2008. The drive to Lugang took about 2 and 1/2 hours from Taipei. The direct translation of Lugang is "Deer Harbor". Although the Plum Flower Deer "梅花鹿", a native species of Taiwan, can only be seen in captivity now, they used to be herds of them running wide in Taiwan. There was a very active export trade in Taiwan of deer skin in the 18 and 19 century. Lugang is a very old town for Taiwan concern. It has over 300 years of history. Its name first appeared in Chinese history in 1695. It used to be a good harbor and its position at the part that is closest from Taiwan to mainland China made it a very prospers town. Today, Lugang still maintains an active old Taiwanese culture and architectures. The ancient houses, alley ways and temples are all mixed with modern buildings and life. Our infamous ex-president's daughter-in-law, now deep in money scandal, came from Lugang. It also has the earliest and one of the most important temple for Matzu (媽祖), 天后宮. Matzu is a goddess worshiped only at China's southeast coast and Taiwan. She protects fishermen and traders traveling over the ocean. Merchants worship her for her ability to bring fortune to them. I went with my friend to the San Francisco branch of Matzu Temple once. It was closed for praying. We arrived at the Matzu Temple at 10:30 and I got to do my praying this time. Grace got a very good sign. Afterwards, we took a tricycle ride through the city and saw all the tourist spots. When we saw the first picture from our digital camera, we know we were in trouble. The bright sunshine of Southern Taiwan made the sky completely over exposed and the dim light inside the temple was completely black. It took a lot of exposure blending and manipulation in Capture NX and Photoshop CS3 to bring them out.

Our plan was to take a rest in a motel then met with Ingrid at Feng Chia Night market. Taichung (台中) has a very famous/infamous unique motel culture. The motels claim to be more luxurious than 5-star hotel. They often have rooms with an indoor or outdoor private pool and the size of bath tub the same size as the pool. However, we got a phone call when we arrived at the motel that my father was not well and was on his way to emergency room. However, the maid and the private nurse seems had the whole situation in control. We continued with our meeting with Ingrid's family for snacks at Feng Chia Night Market before driving back to the hospital in Taipei.

Outside every University and every major Temple, there are usually a night market. The night market outside Feng Chia University in Taichung is particular famous. I volunteered to stand in line to buy the famous "big sausage wraps small sausage" (大腸包小腸). It is a delicacy of grilled pork sausage wrapped in a grilled sticky rice sausage. It took me 1 hour.

Spring in Paris, 2008

You all will still have to wait for Grace to add information to her trip to Paris in April, 2008.  Here are some notes on the technical side of these amazing photographs.

Grace took her D40 and 18-200 VR lens for the trip.  The combination proved again that it was a marvelous traveling pack.  Look at picture DSC_1666 and DSC_1667 where Grace show-off the zone range.  The photos shot inside of the Church demonstrated the power of VR.  Picture DSC_1558 was shot using ASA800 at 42 mm for 1/10 second hand held. 

The day was just before a storm coming in.  The sky gave very extraordinary light.  I only have to darken the sky a little in some of the photographs to dramatize the effects.  She took 400 pictures in 3 hours.  It has taken me a while to put up this blog.  I was waiting for the purchasing of Photoshop CS3.  Now I have it and I can correct the prospective of some of the architecture photos (making all the column standing straight).  


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