Favorite Five Friday: Places

Thanks for making last Friday’s Favorite Five so much fun. Here’s this week’s topic:

Favorite Five Friday Places

Where are your favorite five places? It could be in far off lands, the chaise lounge in your backyard or simply somewhere in your imagination. Drop me a comment. I’d love to know what places inspire you most! Oh yeah, and please don’t strain your brain (it’s Friday, after all). Take five minutes or less and see what comes to mind first.

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The Answer…

To Yesterday’s “Where in the World Are You?” Photo Contest is:

MICRONESIA

This was a tough one! Thanks to all of you who participated in the contest. I loved all your guesses, and I especially loved having so many first-time commenters (is that a word?) leave their two cents.

Unlike Bali, Tahiti or Thailand, Micronesia is not a common travel destination, so I can see why nobody got the correct answer.

The official name for Micronesia is The Federated States of Micronesia. It consists of four island states: Yap, Chuuk (Truk), Pohnpei (Ponape), and Kosrae–all in the Caroline Islands (I know, islands within islands are a bit confusing). Take a peek at the map below to get your bearings, and just know that Micronesia is located about 3,200 miles west-southwest of Hawaii, above the equator in the Pacific Ocean.

Map of Micronesia

Jeffrey was photographing a travel story here many years ago for Continental Airlines and captured the fisherman in yesterday’s photograph as he cast his net at sunrise on the island of Kosrae.

When I reviewed Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss last November, I asked Jeffrey to rank some the happiest places he’s worked in the world, He described Micronesia as being the 4th Happiest Place. If you’d like to know why and see a few more photographs, you can click on my previous post: The Geography of Bliss (once you click on it, scroll half way down to get to Micronesia).

 Fisherman in Kosrae, Micronsia
Photo of Truk Micronesia

The most significant change to Micronesia since Jeffrey worked there in the late 80s is the impact global warming has had on the island chain. Micronesia, as well as many others in the South Pacific, are alarmed by the rise in ocean levels, which threaten low-lying islands with flooding and, eventually, submergence.

Now that has a way of putting our environmental issues into perspective!

Hope for Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi on the Road to Democracy

For the first time in more than two decades, Burmese people have something to celebrate, and because of that, so do we.

According to an article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, has unofficially won a seat in Burma’s Parliament (click on the link above to read the entire article).

The utter joy and disbelief expressed by the people in this photograph below says everything.

Screen capture NYT Aung San Suu Kyi

Even though she will be joining a government that is still overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party, it is a powerful symbolic step in the right direction.

Time Magazine with photo of Aung San Suu Kyi

Many of you may remember that Jeffrey photographed Aung San Suu Kyi in 1989 when she was first placed under house arrest during a brutal military crackdown.

If you missed my posts describing those heart-racing moments, you can click on the two links below to read about it and see what life is life in Burma (now called Myanmar).

Beyond Rangoon Part I

Beyond Rangoon Part II

During the past twenty-three years Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the majority of her life under house arrest, and when she pulled off a stunning political victory in 1990 (even though she was was under detention and forbidden to campaign), the elections were promptly overturned by Burmese generals.

After so much time and so much suffering, it’s exciting to think that things may finally be moving in a positive direction for the Burmese people and Aung San Suu Kyi, who has sacrificed everything for her country. Let’s hope this first step is one of many to come, which will lead Burma in a brave new direction.

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”–Thucydides

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: China

Photo of a man doing tai chi in Rutan Park in Beijing, China

Behind the Scenes: The year is 1995 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for The New York Times Travel Section in Beijing, China. He’s there to do a story about Ritan (Temple of the Sun) Park.

This expansive park is one of the oldest sites in Beijing and is like an oasis in the midst of a teeming metropolis. Commissioned by Ming Dynasty emperor JiaJing in 1530, it is filled not only with massive trees, gardens, pavilions, and small lakes, but many places for people to gather and recreate. Tai chi and ballroom dancing are common forms of exercise found here.

When Jeffrey comes upon this elderly gentleman wearing a traditional Mao jacket, fully immersed in the solitude of his early morning ritual, he knows he has captured the essence of Ritan Park and also created a wonderful symbol of ancient China–still alive and well in modern day Beijing.

At its core, tai chi is a martial art (also referred to as shadow boxing), but it is now commonly practiced to strengthen and promote mind/body health. Jeffrey loved how the man was entranced in the shadow of his own dance, and how the traditional Chinese red wall and green tiles melded with the shadow and gesture, creating pure harmony.

This image was created with a Nikon F4, a Nikkor 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia film.

Postscript: A week after it was published as the cover of The New York Times Travel Section, Broadway’s legendary song and dance man, Tommy Tune, wrote a letter to the editor extolling the artistic merits of Jeffrey’s photograph and how he captured the magic of the moment.

“It was quite an honor coming from Tommy Tune, whom I admire for his artistry and accomplishments in the field of dance,” said Jeffrey. “The fact that he would take the time to write a letter to the editor…there really is no higher compliment.”

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Cambodia

Photograph of a boy in Cambodia with an AK-47 gunBehind the Scenes: It’s 1989 and the Khmer Rouge are still fighting in Cambodia. Pol Pot’s official reign of genocidal terror has ended, but the aftermath of the “Killing Fields,” as it was coined in the grizzly 1984 film, still lingers.

Jeffrey is in Cambodia with Harry Rolnick, a foreign correspondent for the Bangkok Post. They are there to tell the story of the restoration quietly taking place at Angkor Wat Temple Complex. A handful of scientists from the Archaeological Survey of India have begun work on Cambodia’s most important archaeological site.

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple complex moon riseAngkor Wat, an ancient city built by King Survyavarman II in the 12th century, has taken a beating from years of neglect and non-stop fighting. Khmer Rouge guerrillas have looted temples, decapitated sculptures, and sold the spoils on the black market to raise cash for the war. The site’s exquisite Khmer architecture, which is often compared to that of ancient Greece and Rome in importance, has also been strangled by the encroaching jungle. Vines and roots have damaged structures, causing many of its sandstone temples, reliefs, and statues to crumble.

The restoration of Cambodia’s most important site (and symbol) is a tiny glimmer of hope for a country that has not dared to hope since the Khmer Rouge murdered approximately two million of its people (one quarter of the population).

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex SoldiersBecause the U.S. still has not established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s reign of terror, Jeffrey and Harry must first fly from Bankgok, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to obtain a visa to enter the country. A few days later they will backtrack to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, then they will catch a puddle-jumper plane to Siem Reap, the province in which Angkor Wat is located.

After a hard and fast landing (to avoid gunfire, they are told), they head to the Grand Hotel, the only hotel operating in the area at the time. Tourism has been at a standstill for more than a decade. When the bellman of this dilapidated establishment leads Jeffrey and Harry to their rooms, Jeffrey notices that his bed is pushed awkwardly into a far corner. When he asks about it, the bellman explains, “That is for your safety—in case there is gunfire. Bullets will not be able to hit you over here if they come through your window.”

Photo of Stone statues at Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaThe next day an interpreter and several Cambodian soldiers meet Harry and Jeffrey on the outskirts of Angkor Wat. The complex is over five hundred acres, and they must walk through the jungle to the temples where the archaeologists are working. The men are told under no uncertain terms may they leave the single narrow path they plying. Live mines litter the landscape everywhere else. Nearby gunfire reminds them that this is no idle warning.

Jeffrey and Harry walk cautiously and stick closely to the Cambodian soldiers who know every inch of the area. The emptiness of Angkor Wat and the heavy air blanketing the jungle creates an eeriness that makes the back of Jeffrey’s neck prickle. Harry continually looks over his shoulder. Even the slightest snap of a twig from a jungle creature or birds taking flight makes them pause. Jeffrey can’t help wonder, How do we know the Khmer Rouge haven’t laid another mine on the path last night and how do we know we won’t be ambushed now?

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaEventually they arrive where the archaeologists are working. The interpreter introduces the men and points out many of the sites wonders, including giant Hindu sandstone faces, exquisite bas-reliefs, and temples covered in roots more massive than each of them. It doesn’t take long before Jeffrey is able to create a powerful visual story about what is taking place here.

After spending the entire day at Angkor Wat, they make their way back out to the other side where a car is expected to be waiting for them. As they reach the outskirts of the site and walk along a road near a small village, they come upon a young boy carrying an AK-47 rifle. This barefoot youngster, who is wearing nothing more than threadbare shorts, is protecting his village against the Khmer Rouge. As he walks under the weight of his gun, his onyx eyes reveal a life that has already witnessed far too much.

Jeffrey can’t help but think back to his own carefree childhood, and tries to swallow the sadness rising in his throat as he gets down on his knees to create this boy’s portrait. He can only hope that peace will come soon to Cambodia, and with it, a return to childhood for this young “man.”

This photograph was created with a Nikon F4, a Nikor 24mm lens and Fuji Velvia film.

Postscript: Jeffrey has returned to Angkor Wat on assignment two more times since his first trip in 1989, and each time he has witnessed it coming back to life more and more. Restoration is now nearly complete and Angkor Wat has been listed as a World Heritage Site, along with Cambodia’s largest tourist attraction. The best part is that Jeffrey has never come across another child carrying an AK-47 rifle in Cambodia.

If you want to learn more about Angkor Wat, click HERE.

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaPhoto of Angkor Bayon at Angkor Wat in CambodiaPhoto of Angkor Wat Temple Complex restored reliefPhoto of a young monk at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Why Airlines are Struggling

A little while ago the doorbell rang. When I opened the door to see who it was, Mr. Fedex stood there in his neat purplish-blue uniform, smiling his friendly Mr. Fedex smile. Then he handed me a thin blue box addressed to Jeffrey. “Million Miler” was printed on top.

The package was from United Airlines.

Photo of a box for Million Mile Flyers from United AirlinesJeffrey has flown well over a million miles gallivanting around the world on United so every once in a while they mail him a “Thank you loyal customer” letter.

This time they decided to Fedex it.

What could it be? I wondered as I handed Jeffrey the box and joked about all the possibilities. Round-the-world tickets? First-class upgrades? Yeah, right.

Clearly it had to be something of substance though since it was shipped via Fedex 2-Day service (ca-chiiing) instead of 3-Day, Ground, UPS or snail mail.

Photo of a luggage tag for Million Mile Flyers from United AirlinesThis is what United Airlines felt compelled to spend its precious resources Fedexing to Jeffrey: a leather luggage tag with his name printed on the insert. The packaging alone probably cost five bucks, not to mention the shipping. And don’t even get me started on the packaging waste.

Sorry mom, I know you always taught me to be grateful when I received a gift. “It’s the thought that counts,” you’d always say.

Technically this is not my gift though, since Jeffrey is the million-mile flyer and his name is printed on the luggage tag, so I don’t feel bad sharing the absurdity of this with you.

Here’s a crazy idea, United Airlines: perhaps instead of Fedex’ing tchotchkes to your best customers, spend your moolah figuring out innovative ways not to go bankrupt, or spend it on providing more than a bag of pretzels to everyone when they fly all the way across the country. Or spend it on lowering your fares so more people can afford to travel.

Just a thought.

PS: Jeffrey, ever more gracious than me, sends his thanks for the luggage tag. He’s still trying to figure out how his bags managed to make it all the way around the world multiple times without it.


Gong Xi Fa Cai — Happy Chinese New Year!

Photo of a dragon tile in Beijing's Forbidden City

Today kicks off the year 4710 in China, and it’s cause for much celebration and optimism. It’s the Year of the Dragon, after all, the most auspicious and powerful of the twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac.

Where did the “Year of a particular animal” idea originate? I wondered that myself. Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality.

In Eastern philosophy, the dragon is regarded as a divine beast – the opposite of the malicious monster that Westerners have felt necessary to find and slay. It is said to be a deliverer of good fortune and a master of authority.

Those born in dragon years are innovative, brave, and driven. They’re unafraid of challenges, willing to take risks and passionate about all they do. They are free spirits. Think of John Lennon, Joan of Arc, Mae West, and Salvador Dali.

Photo of girls during Chinese New Year in Beijing, ChinaA baby boom is expected in China this year as many couples believe it is lucky to have a child born during The Year of the Dragon.

Economic forecasts are also strong as new ventures are expected to benefit from the outstanding luck of the dragon.

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Chinese traditions are so rich that I thought it would be fun to share a few more tidbits I’ve learned about this holiday–both from Jeffrey who has been to China well over sixty times, and from research.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festival in Chinese culture, lasting fifteen days. It’s celebrated on the new moon of the first month according to the lunar calendar, and is a time for family reunions and massive feasts.

It is also a time when every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes of making way for good incoming luck.

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear new red clothes, decorate with red paper, and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck.

Photo of red envelopesThe money given in the red envelopes must be in new bills, and the total amount must be an even number. Certain numbers are bad luck, so the total amount should not be one of these unlucky numbers. Four, for example, is a homonym for “death,” so a red envelope should never contain $4, $40, or $400. Children put their red envelopes under their pillows at night so they can have sweet dreams and become richer in the next year.

Photo of Chinese New Year Fireworks in Beijing, ChinaThe fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits. Now at midnight on New Year’s Eve, fireworks and firecrackers light up the sky and greet the coming of the new year, driving away evil spirits.

The lantern festival, held on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year celebration, is considered the highlight by many. People hang lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

Photo of a Dragon ParadeIn many areas the centerpiece of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets.

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I’m always optimistic at the start of each new year. 2012 is no exception–especially now that I know the Dragon is leading the way.

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy New Year!

Graphic of Happy Chinese New Year i

sources: infoplease.com, about.com, chinesezodiac.com, chiff.com, wikipedia.com

Photos of America from Another Perspective

I don’t need to tell you smart readers what globalization looks like, but clearly it can be amusing at times to see what parts of American culture get transplanted into other countries around the world (at least when it isn’t sad).

Here is a peek at a few images Jeffrey has created over the years showing what happens when American taste lands in other parts of the world.

Photo of the Hard Yak Cafe in Lhasa, Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet (selling yak burgers on the roof of the world).

Photo of McDonald's in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of Denny's in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Superman in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of a knock-off Chicago Bulls sweatshirt in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

M & M Billboard in Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Photo of a Visa sign in Vietnam

Saigon, Vietnam

Photo of a Marlboro billboard in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

If you had one wish, what aspect of American culture would you want to share most around the world (if any)? My guess is that it wouldn’t be the Marlboro Man.

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: North Korea

Photo of Kim Jong Il Banner in Pyongyang, North Korea

Behind the Scenes: It’s 1991 and Jeffrey is working on assignment for Time Magazine in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Excerpt from my upcoming book, The Art of an Improbable Life

The stadium is brimming with over 100,000 people, all here to celebrate his birthday. It’s not exactly Jeffrey’s style, being the low-key-birthday-kind-of-guy that he is, but he indulges on this particular April day. First comes music, followed by a parade of synchronized dancers and gymnasts, then flags swirl and paper cards flash into vibrant scenes as they’re turned over by participants. Jeffrey is stunned by the scale of it all.

It’s the most surreal birthday of his thirty-six years.

As luck would have it, not only is it Jeffrey’s birthday, but it’s also Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, which means it’s North Korea’s most important national holiday. The preparations for this grand event have been under way for months and its participants are worked up into a frenzy as they celebrate the birth of their “Great Leader.”

Photo of North Korean Kids during Kim Il Sung birthday celebrationAs Jeffrey stands at the top of the stadium stairs, looking out at the sea of North Korean humanity and trying to absorb the magnitude of this patriotic extravaganza, he obediently asks his guide, Mr. Kim, if he can take a picture of the children. He has been told that he must ask permission to take any photograph while in North Korea. When Mr. Kim nods at his request, Jeffrey lifts his camera to his eye and begins capturing the exuberance of Young Pioneers as they shake bright pink pom-pom flowers in rhythm to the booming music.

Photo of North Korea, Kim Il Sung birthday celebration in PyongyangThen he asks if he can photograph the dancers twirling flags and the workers marching with Communist banners. As he does, a thunderous applause suddenly erupts and Jeffrey turns to see what’s happening. Two 1940’s Russian convertible cars emerge onto the stadium track carrying a larger-than-life banner of Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. Jeffrey instinctively lifts his camera and starts shooting again.

The next thing Jeffrey knows, two powerful hands grip his shoulders and launch him down the concrete steps of the stadium. He sees and feels a cascading swirl of music, pom-poms, faces, sky, and cement. His knee hits first, then his elbow and shoulder, followed by his head, as he tries to cradle his camera to protect it from the fall.

Pain engulfs him. As he looks up, dazed, all he sees are two shiny black shoes standing next to his face like sentinels. After shaking off his confusion, fury rips through him, especially when he realizes his 80-200mm zoom lens is damaged. Knowing he must keep his composure in this Orwellian-like country though, he asks Mr. Kim without an ounce of expression, “Why did you just do that?”

Two black marble eyes blaze through Jeffrey. “You didn’t ask permission.”

__________

…After wrapping up one of the strangest and most stressful projects of his life, Jeffrey boards a rickety train heading back to Beijing. His guide, Mr. Kim, looks at him with a cardboard smile and says, “Mr. Jeffrey, I hope to warmly welcome you back to Korea.” Then without blinking, he says, “If the pictures you took are ever used for negative propaganda, you will regret this for the rest of your life. Have a safe journey, my friend.”

Photo of children saluting Kim Il Sung Statue in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a Kim Jong Il billboard in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a North Korean maternity ward in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a typical North Korean home with portraits of Kim il Sung and Kim Jong IlPhoto of a North Korean highway with a propaganda billboard

The cult surrounding North Korea’s leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, is like other place in the world. Every person wears a Kim pin over his or her chest, and every family has portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader in their home. Statues, billboards and paintings are everywhere–from the airport to stores, factories, metros, schools, kareoke clubs and amusement parks. And every child is born under the watchful eye of the Kims, as seen in the photo above of a North Korean maternity ward.

Jeffrey is one of only a handful of American photojournalists to have gained access into North Korea. Not only did he go for Time, but several years later, he manged to get back in for Vanity Fair, a story I will share another time. It only gets more bizarre!

Photo of a North Korean amusement Park in Pyongyang, North KoreaPhoto of a North Korean beauty salon in Pyongyang