Chiang Mai

Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai offered a more relaxed atmosphere than Bangkok, but it was still lively and full of attractions. 

Though much smaller than Bangkok, the streets of Chiang Mai were still full of cars, tuk-tuks, and tons of motorbikes speeding through other traffic.

People offer incense at Wat Phra Singh, a temple within the oldest part of Chiang Mai. The original city center was contained by walls and a moat that remain to this day.

Joe Ryan walks through Wat Phan Tao, another temple within the city walls of Chiang Mai.

I took a cooking class at a farm on the outskirts of Chang Mai. Here our instructor watches a student use a mortar and pestle to grind garlic, beans and chilies to use in a papaya salad.

An Indian elephant native to Northern Thailand stares at me at an elephant camp in Chiang Mai. I got to feed the elephant bananas and sugar cane.

A driver leads his elephant into water to let the animal have a drink. If it's not clear, I'm riding on the back of the elephant. It was pretty great. Also I call the guy a driver because he used to drive tuk-tuks. I guess driving an elephant is an improvement.

Exploring Bangkok

I explored the Thai capital of Bangkok for much of my ten-day trip. Here are some selected photos.

A monk walks along a pathway in the Wat Arun temple in Bangkok.

Matt Cartas writes a message on a roof tile at Wat Pho, a temple in Bangkok. Visitors could donate money to help refurbish the roof of a major building in the temple complex. Those who donated could write a note on the back of a tile.

A series of towers, or prang, dot a courtyard at Wat Pho. The temple complex also contains more than 1,000 statues and images of Buddha.

A monk reads a book in the courtyard of Wat Pho.

A girl investigates fruit in the Taling Chan floating market in Bangkok. Vendors ride boats filled with fresh food, and shoppers can buy the wares from a dock. I bought some delicious pork that was cooked on a boat.

A tourist and a beer promotor stage a fake boxing match on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. Khaosan Road is a tourist area filled with massage shops, restaurants, hostels, street vendors and fun. Yes, it's very, very touristy. Oh well.

Another beer promotor on Khaosan Road wears some rather provocative boots while plugging her wares.

The bustle of Khaosan Road at night as seen from the balcony of a bar. Every good bar seemed to have an equally good cover band that played Western music from the 90s. The authentic Thai experience it was not.

Temple of the Dawn

In the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan, I decided to leave the country for a time so I could feel a bit safer and evaluate the situation. Over the course of about 24 hours, I decided to leave, booked a ticket and was on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand. 
Bangkok has many beautiful sites, and some of the most amazing temples I've ever seen. One is the Temple of the Dawn, or Wat Arun.

A group of tourists lounges in front of the central tower of the Temple of the Dawn. The tower, started in 1809, is covered in sea shells and porcelain.

Josh Buck climbs the side of the main tower to reach a pair of terraces near the top. The tallest point on the tower is about 250 feet tall.

From the top terrace you can see another tower in the temple as well as the Chao Phraya River that runs through Bangkok.

Matt Cartas carefully descends the steep stairs that lead down from the top terrace. It was a little frightening, but as long as you didn't look down, it wasn't too bad.

With Friends

After a lot of thought and the pleading of my parents, I decided to take a short break from Tokyo to see how the current nuclear crisis would play out. I now feel as though everything will be fine in Tokyo, and I will be happy to return to my life in Japan. But when I left the country, many of us living in Tokyo were genuinely frightened. Just before leaving, I met with a group of friends in Shinjuku to relax and think about what our plans would be. 

Masae Kotorii relaxes with friends in an izakaya in Shinjuku.

Jon Palmer passes a drink down the table.

Please ignore the darkness. There are other people around Tegan McKenzie.

Some of us left the country, others when to different parts of Japan, and some stayed around Tokyo. Regardless of our current locations, I think we'll all get together again in Tokyo soon. 

Sidelines

I shot some pictures at a charity soccer match this week, but because I don't have a lens any longer than 55mm at the moment, I couldn't get any great sports action shots. So I shot the sidelines instead!
We'll call this "Taking a Break." The game was between English teachers in my company (including Australians) and Japanese staff and students we work with. The Japanese team won 2-0. 

I love lines. That's all.

From Lee

After visiting the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, I got inspired by artist Lee Ufan's series of paintings called "From Point." You can look at some of his work here. And here are a couple of small pieces I made in response. 
 

I know this is a photography blog, and these are paintings, but technically these are pictures of paintings. So it still counts.

Red on White

So I decided to do a little painting on my day off today. This might be the first time I've painted anything (other than a room) since grade school. It's been a while. Also I use the term "painting" loosely. Basically I was dipping wood blocks into paint and using them as stamps. And I only used red paint. Baby steps. Anyway, here's the aftermath of my experiments. 

I was frantically stamping on printer paper for practice, and that's what you see here. This is the product of a large cup of coffee and the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. After I was satisfied with a couple of the practice designs, I stamped on actual canvases. I'll post pictures of those once they dry.

Snowboarding

During a national holiday yesterday, I went snowboarding with some friends on Mount Naeba in Niigata Prefecture. It was my first time snowboarding, and I can't say I was very good at it, but I did have a good time. You can't tell from the picture, but the place was super crowded. 
Here my friends carry their snowboards toward a lift that will carry us up the mountain for the first time. Out of the five of us, only two had ever snowboarded before. There was much falling. As a side note, this picture was taken with my iPhone – a first for this blog. Wave of the future I guess. 

Tokyo at Twilight

Trees and a statue outside of the Crafts Gallery at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

Buildings reflect into the moat surrounding the Imperial Gardens in central Tokyo. 

Keeping Watch

A guard at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine in Kamakura watches over the crowds of people gathered to visit the sacred place. It's traditional to visit a shrine in the beginning of a new year so the crowds can be quite large. This guard was helping to regulate the flow of visitors into the building.

Daibutsu - The Great Buddha


This huge bronze statue of Buddha was first sculpted in the year 1252 in Kamakura, Japan. It's unknown whether the 44-foot tall statue is the original or if it has been rebuilt. The statue was repaired in the 1960s to protect it against earthquakes.

Speed of Light

Travelers rush through Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, the busiest train station in the world. Panels of fluorescent lights normally used to display advertisements glow behind the travelers. The lights' flicker and a slow shutter-speed distort the shapes of those passing by. 

Nikko

Over the winter holiday I visited Nikko, a city in the mountains north of Tokyo. Nikko is famous for its shrines and hot springs. 

The Sacred Bridge crosses the Daiya River in Nikko. The bridge is part of a nearby temple.

A woman cleanses her hands with spring water in Futarasan Shrine.

Moss finds a home on lanterns in Tōshō-gū Shrine. Originally lanterns like these served as an offering to Buddha, but later they appeared in Shinto shrines as well.

Actors portray an oiran-dochu in Edo Wonderland, a theme park that replicates an Edo-era Tokyo village. The oiran-dochu is a parade of a courtesan, her attendents, and the guest the courtesan is entertaining. 

The underside of the courtesan's colorful umbrella.

A replica of a traditional Japanese home in Edo Wonderland. The doors are translucent rice paper and the floor is tatami, or straw mats.

Tokyo Bay

Occasionally I need to remind myself that I live on an island. I'm forgetful. To help cement this idea in my head, I visited Tokyo Bay, which forms part of the southern border of the city. Now I'm pretty convinced Japan really is an island. I saw seagulls. You'll have to trust me about the water though. There aren't any pictures of it here.

There are a number of islands in Tokyo bay. Only one of them is natural. This bridge connects two parts of an artificial island called Odaiba. The island was made in the 1800s and was originally used as a defense fortress. Now the island is home to entertainment districts, businesses and residences.

What fake island would be complete without an indoor mall that looks like a fake European street? A tiny casino inhabits part of the upscale shopping center, and the "sky" throughout the building periodically changes from day to night. Also featured on the fake island: a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Seriously.

Next to the mall is a 377 foot-tall Ferris wheel. At least this isn't fake. I'll also take this time the mention that I think it's silly that we still capitalize the word "Ferris" in Ferris wheel. With all due respect to the inventor Mr. Ferris who died in 1896,  I think it's time we start using lower case letters.

One of the perks of being near the bay was fresh sashimi. This wasn't the best fish I've ever eaten, but it was still very good, and the presentation was nice. I like it when I can look my food in the eye.

From the Top of Tokyo

Buildings and bright lights sprawl towards the horizon in downtown Tokyo at night. The 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building lends this view from the Shinjuku area.

Touching the Thunder Gate

A boy touches the underside of a giant lantern hanging from the Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, in Tokyo's Asakusa district. The gate serves as an entrance to the nearby Sensō-ji Buddhist temple.

Stone and Wood

I arrived early on my first day of teaching in Nippori in Tokyo, so I had time to explore the surrounding area. I wandered up a hill near a train station and found all this:

A torii, or gate, welcomes visitors to a Shinto shrine near Nippori in Tokyo.

A visitor to the shrine prepares to bow and clap after throwing a small donation into a box as part of a Shinto ritual.

Clothed statues watch over another shrine down the street.

Nearly every person in Japan is cremated when they die according to Buddhist tradition, and their remains are interred in cemeteries like this.

The names of those buried in graves are written on the gravestones as well as on pieces of wood called sotoba

Meiji Shrine

Tokyo's Meiji Shrine, built in the early 1900s, is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji presided over Japan's modernization during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The dense forest that encompasses the complex of Shinto shrines offers respite from the bustle of surrounding Tokyo. 

Visiters walk over a stone bridge in the forest surrounding Meiji Shrine.

Empty sake bottles donated by brewers throughout Japan are bound and stacked near the shrine. Sake is used in certain Shinto rites, and shrines often use the empty bottles as decoration.

A bride and groom walk through Meiji Shrine during a traditional Shinto wedding. During the ceremony, the bride and groom and the wedding party drink sake to signify the union. 
Visitors to the shrine walk through a huge torii, or gate, at the shrine's entrance. The gate symbolizes the beginning of a sacred space. 

Sushi City

I love sushi, and I can get the good stuff here pretty cheaply. 

A sushi chef prepares makizushi, or a sushi roll. The plates in the foreground of the picture are on a conveyor belt that carts the fish and rice treats around the restaurant. If you want one, you grab it. Different colored plates indicate different prices.

If you don't like what's on the conveyor belt, you can order other items from the chef. This is a delicious tuna roll I requested.

A fellow diner receives nigiri he ordered from the chef. Instead of fish rolled in rice, nigiri is made by forming a clump of rice and pressing the fish on top.

Higashi Omiya by Night

So I just moved to Japan. Now that that's over with, let's get to some pictures. 

The city I'm living in is called Higashi Omiya. It's in the Saitama Prefecture, which is basically a suburb of Tokyo. The area around the Higashi Omiya train station has a fair amount of restaurants and shops and lots of lights to brighten up the night.
I saw this sign for a yakitori restaurant when I was trying to find a local ramen shop. Yakitori is chicken grilled on a skewer and ramen soup is that noodle you ate in college. The ramen I ate on this excursion was much better than the college variety and had a raw egg cracked over it. This should be considered normal. It tasted fine.
 
A woman on a bicycle stops to check out the wares from a shop near my apartment. Bikes are everywhere around here, and sometimes you have to watch out for cyclists riding behind you on sidewalks.
While looking for the ramen shop, I found a 14 story apartment building that appeared to have a good view. So I got into the elevator, which spoke to me (no kidding), and headed to the top where I got this view of the broader area. (The elevator asked what floor I wanted, but I had to push a regular button. No voice commands.)
And this is the building that I went up into. The whole building kind of creeped me out for some reason. There was an outdoor staircase that went all the way to the 14th floor. That and the weird blue lights made me uncomfortable. Glad I don't live here.