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!

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.

_____________________________________

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.

_____________________________

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

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Indonesia

Photo of a Hindu ceremony in Bali, Indonesia

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Newsweek in Bali, Indonesia. The king’s wife has died, and an auspicious day has finally arrived for her funeral ceremony.

For Hindus, the days between death and ceremony are spent in intense preparation as they organize the myriad details involved in rituals leading up to the cremation. It’s believed the soul of the dead can only leave the body once the body’s five elements of air, earth, fire, water and space have been returned to the cosmos. Once this happens then the soul can depart and find its new life through reincarnation. Mishandling of any small detail can prevent the soul from reincarnating.

Photo of a Hindu funeral floatThe Balinese have spared no detail in this elaborate three-day event, which is taking place in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.

Jeffrey has been working in Asia non-stop for over a month, and can feel the weight of the pace he’s been keeping—photographing everything from a story on rice in Japan to a feature on the Yangtze River in China to yet another on Beijing’s lively outdoor markets—but he’s also energized by this visually compelling and culturally important event.

As Jeffrey stands photographing next to his friend, Robin Moyer, who is working on assignment for Time Magazine, the two men can’t help but laugh at themselves. Every person in attendance is required to wear traditional dress during this formal ceremony. Photographers are no exception. Not only are both men sporting batik sarongs over their Levis but also Indonesian udengs (wraps) on their heads. While Indonesian men look handsome, the two of them look absurd.

Photo of a Balinese dancer in IndonesiaIt is over 100 degrees with humidity equally as brutal, but Jeffrey pays little attention to the heat. Everywhere he looks he sees a blaze of color. High priestesses carry out blessings and holy water ceremonies, musicians and dancers perform traditional movements, women adorned in vibrant dresses carry offerings atop their heads, and others lead a procession which eventually arrives at the funeral pyre.

When the elaborate pyre is finally lit, it quickly catches on fire and bursts into hot flames. It is this moment the Rajah’s wife’s soul is released into the cosmos to seek its karma and reincarnation.

What Jeffrey witnesses is an awe-inspiring celebration of Balinese culture. Gratitude brews beneath his sweat-drenched udeng as he knows once again that his camera has opened a door to a place and time that he otherwise never would have experienced. 

Photo of Balinese MusiciansThis image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, Nikon 80-200mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more images from this ceremony in Bali, click here or on the photo of the musicians to the left.

What cultural ceremony or event has stirred your soul? I’d love to hear your most memorable moments!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week PHOTO CAPTION CONTEST

Photo of monks watching television

Take part in our first ever Improbable Caption Contest and win a $20 Amazon gift card.

First of all, please be assured there are no strings attached whatsoever. This is just my way of having fun and celebrating creativity.

Now, take a close look at who these viewers are watching on TV, and submit your best caption by simply drop it into the comment box.

Next Thursday, October 13th, I will select the winning caption and announce it here on the blog. The person with the most creative caption will be emailed a $20 gift card from Amazon.

Good luck! I can’t wait to hear your creative ideas!

Oh, and also, of course, I’ll be sharing the story behind this much-published photograph.

The Art of an Improbable Life Blavatar

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Japan

Photo of a woman in Tokyo, Japan wearing a Kimono at Shinjuku train stationBehind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is working on assignment for Travel Holiday, doing an editorial feature on rice in Japan. He’s photographing everything from sake factories and rice farmers to the cultural and religious significance of rice.

Because taxis in Tokyo are exorbitant, he decides to do his client a favor and take the subway to a Shinto shrine where he’ll be photographing a ceremony involving rice.

Inside Shinjuku Station, as he stands in line waiting for the train, he notices a woman near the front wearing a traditional kimono–something seldom seen in modern Tokyo anymore.

Jeffrey knows this is a perfect opportunity to create a photograph showing the contrast between old and new. Quickly he pulls out his camera, steps out of line and tries to frame the image. Within minutes the train arrives. He has just enough time to shoot off two frames, capturing this fleeting moment, before jumping aboard the train with the rest of the passengers.

This picture, which was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 85mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film, has been honored with a PATA Gold Award and has also been published on the cover of several magazines.

Earlier this year Jeffrey also donated this photograph to Life Support Japan to help Japan’s tsunami and earthquake victims. The fundraising relief effort was organized by Crista Dix of Wall Space with the help of Aline Smithson of Lenscratch, and raised over $50,000 for Direct Relief International and Habitat for Humanity in a matter of days.

If you’d like to know more about this project you can click on this link: Life Support Japan.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Jeffrey’s photographs from Japan, you can click on this link: rice in Japan.

Look for my next regular THEN and NOW post on Tuesday! And as always, I’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments or questions and I’ll be sure to reply.

Thanks for being a loyal follower!

The Art of an Improbable Life Blavatar