MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Good News Day

This is actually from my journal of May 31, so it’s a bit old.

It was a pretty good day. First, I went to my doctor to renew my high blood pressure meds, and he told me that they had a new test that checks for the presence of blood clots, so I took it. They took a blood sample, ran the test and reported that the results were good-no clots. Hurray! That’s something I worry about because I have a bad case of varicose veins, but he said they shouldn’t be a problem because of the anti-coagulant I’m taking for the blood pressure protects against blood clots.

As a side note on visiting the doctor’s office, the attendant always weighs me. I’m down to about 163 pounds (74 kg), down 5 pounds from a couple of months ago. Awesome!

I’ve had it in mind to look at buying a smartphone, my very first one. I took a survey from Vientiane College (where I work) that wanted some information about conducting online classes if we get shutdown in the future because of a lockdown due to covid concerns. We’re closed right now until June 21st (hopefully, it doesn’t get extended). Some of the questions concerned phone apps, like What’s App. I don’t really have a good phone; I’ve got my old Lenovo tablet, which is basically good only for reading on the Kindle app. It’s pretty lousy for anything else, so after seeing the doc, I thought I’d go to one of the big Samsung stores and look at the phone I had in mind, a mid-priced Galaxy A52, which seemed to check all the boxes as far as what I was looking for in a phone. So, I was just going to look, right? Well, I don’t have to look anymore-I bought it. $412. I’ve never had a REAL smartphone before, so I’ll be having fun with this for a while.

This, from today’s events, June 8th. The number of cases of covid in Vientiane has been dropping steadily, down to just a few or only one for the last couple of days. Today there were only two found in the city and none found throughout the rest of Laos. That’s great news, of course, and hopefully we’ll be able to open school on the 21st, as planned. More later.

Digital Art–Taekwando Nightmare Dream

Vientiane lockdown has been extended for another few weeks, up to June 4th. At the rate people are still showing up with the covid virus, this lockdown will never end, it seems. The school is scheduled to open on June 10th, and I certainly hope that happens. The administration was kind enough to pay everyone for the month of May, though we didn’t do any work, but if the same lack of work extends far into June and beyond, I’m fearful that there won’t be any income for a while. Got my fingers crossed.

So, what to do with all this time off? Create some more digital art, of course. Here’s one I’m calling “Taekwando Nightmare Dream.” I was originally just going to practice creating displacement effects in Photoshop, but my Muse had other ideas. All the photos are mine, except for the fellow delivering the flying kick on the right side, which I got from Pixabay; they were taken when I worked in Andong, South Korea way back in 2005, and they’re photos from a phys. ed. student demonstration, except for the photo at the upper left. That’s one I took of my former taekwando master showing off. I added some textures and a few other bits and pieces. Enjoy.

digital art

Vientiane Still in Lockdown

Yes, we’re still on lockdown until at least May 20th, but the way things are going it’s going to last longer than that. Though Vientiane had only one case yesterday, we jumped to 14 today; way too many for the city to end the lockdown any time soon. So, if it goes on, there will be no school re-opening any time soon, so no pay, either. Gotta watch my expenditures!

Haven’t been doing a lot with artwork lately, though I have been keeping up with tutorials. I’d also like to learn how to draw, so I found a couple of free websites that look very interesting–Draw a Box and Ctrl+Paint. I’ll have to give one or both of them a try.

I messed around a bit with painting ideas in Photoshop and Topaz Labs this morning and came up with this, made from a photo taken in my favorite place on earth, Glacier National Park in Montana. Enjoy. More later.

glacier national park

Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

Digital Art–Ghost Patrol at the Ancient Gateway

Here’s my latest piece of digital art entitled “Ghost Patrol at the Ancient Gateway.” It uses some black and white conversion techniques, a few filters, Gaussian blurs, and I ran it through a few Topaz filters and a Topaz look. The photos are mine except for the Roman soldiers, which I got from Pixabay. The background hills are from a Morocco photo, as is the ancient gate from the Roman ruins at Volubilis. The lightning storm is from a photo I took in the Dominican Republic.

digital art

Vientiane in Lockdown

The Laos government has been doing a great job of keeping the covid virus out of the country, with only a few dozen total cases and none, really, for the past several months. That all changed a few days ago when a couple of fools decided to cross into Thailand illegally and cross back into Laos, again illegally. One lady went into Thailand just for cosmetic surgery, according to accounts. Another lady crossed the border to visit some friends and then brought them back into Laos with her. Unfortunately, those people all had the virus and were in contact with many other people here in Laos. The second lady was also, again unfortunately, a student at Vientiane College. After crossing the border, she came into the final class of the term on April 9th and was there for about an hour. Luckily, the other students and the teacher in that class tested negative for the virus, but the school spent a lot of time and money having the entire complex disinfected. Classes were supposed to resume on May 5th, but that date has been pushed back until at least May 10th. If the situation worsens, we could be under lockdown for much longer than that.

Due to the actions of these people, Vientiane and much of Laos is under lockdown until at least May 5th. After months of no one getting infected with the virus, there have been over the last three days 28, 65 and, yesterday, 88 people testing positive for the virus. People are supposed to stay at their homes, not go out except to buy food, and work from home, if possible. There are other restrictions and there is a large police presence on all the major roads to ensure that the rules are enforced. I think they are mainly out to check temperatures to find any one who might have the virus. I was thinking about trying to go to a market in the city, but I might wait a few days. I went out jogging this morning, and there were some Army guys setting up a roadblock in the small village that I jog through (I wear a mask), something that wasn’t done in last year’s lockdown. Of course, all restaurants (except for take out or delivery), karaokes, bars, etc., are shut down.

(By the way, I’m not the only one out jogging early in the morning. There are a few other runners and quite a few bicyclists, and I think, in my opinion, this isn’t a problem. We stay away from other people and wear our masks. I see very few people out and about while I’m jogging, and those folks aren’t anywhere near me. Also, I don’t look at jogging as recreation, but as a necessary part of keeping up my health. Since I have high blood pressure, exercise is very important, even though I’m taking medication to keep my BP near normal.)

There’s much more to this and events are unfolding quickly, but if you’re interested the Laotian Times is a good source for news. The numbers seem quite minuscule compared to the US or India, but it’s relative. For Laos, these are very bad numbers. Hopefully, as more people are tested and vaccinated, those numbers will go down. Until then, well, patience is a virtue.

P.S. I was vaccinated back on April 3rd with the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m due for my second shot on June 28th.

Pi Mai Lao

Happy Lao New Year! That’s what Laos celebrated last week on the 14th, 15th and 16th. The holiday is also celebrated in Thailand as Songkran, and it’s based on the traditional Laos New Year, which occurs in April, the hottest time of the year here. The dates have been standardized, so the holiday is always at the same time. I’ve posted about it before, so just go to the search box and type in pi mai–you’ll find plenty of posts about the holiday.

Of course, with the pandemic still screwing things up, the celebration was somewhat subdued. I went out to The Farm, where I used to live, on Thursday to join in the festivities, but there really wasn’t much going on. Compared to past years, it was quite calm with only a few other people visiting Nai’s sister’s house. His sister Nui and her husband Noi were present, a few nieces and nephews also visited with some of their children, and a few of the neighbors also came over to drink the ever-present Beer Lao and eat a bit of Lao food. So, I didn’t take that many photos, but here are some of them.

friends

Pahng, Nai’s niece, and Vee, his brother’s wife, get ready to dig into some grilled fish, one of my favorite Lao foods. Gotta have some Beer Lao, too.

Friends

A few neighbors also visited, including Noy, on the right, and an unknown man from Luang Prabang, down for the holiday.

Leo

This is Leo, one of Nai’s niece’s boys. I’ve got other photos of him from previous years. Just do a search for Leo.

Go, Ohm, Savan and Leo

Nai’s niece, Go, with her three boys. From the left are Go, Ohm, Savan and Leo.

Ohm, Savan and Leo

Here the three boys are lying down for a short nap. From the left are Ohm, Savan and Leo.

Digital Art–Abandoned

Here’s my newest piece of digital art, entitled “Abandoned.” Lots of texture layers were incorporated, LUTs and other effects, and I ran the finished version through Topaz Labs and ON1 Effects.

I find that I just really don’t have enough time to devote a lot of attention to my art due mainly to the fact that I’m working full-time at the college, but we have a few extra days off coming next week, so I’ll take advantage of that. Also, starting around April 10th, we’ve got about a month off for our break between terms, so I’m giddily looking forward to that. I’m still stuck in Laos, unable to travel outside of the country without having to go through a big hassle, but I’ve got Art to keep me company!

Digital Art–Castletown Ghost Town

Here’s my latest digital art composition, from photos taken with a film camera in the Castle Mountains in Montana back in 1993 or ’94. The building photos were taken in old Castletown, a site which may no longer be standing. I went back there in ’97, but the area had been fenced off with signs saying to keep out because it was private property, so it’s possible the site has been razed. I’d like to get back there some day to have a look. I really enjoyed hiking in the Castles back in the day, and there’s a great little fishing stream not too far away.

The photos are mine except for the starry sky and the wolves, which both came from Pixabay. The moon is an old photo of mine that I enlarged for this piece. The buildings and mountains were shot in the daytime, so I converted them to night images in Photoshop. Lots of layers, many of them adjustment layers, a few texture layers and quite a few masks used also. Had fun making this, which, for me, is the whole point of doing digital art. Enjoy.

Castletown ghost town

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope you have a great, wonderful day with your families and loved ones. In Laos, of course, Christmas is not a big deal, but next week’s New Year’s Eve and Day are celebrated by more people.

For today, I might ride my motorbike to visit Nai’s family, only about 5 miles away, but much of the journey is over a very bad, dirty, pothole-filled road. If I go, I’ll take some photos and try to get some of them posted in the very near future.

The school’s on break between terms until January 10th, so I’ve got plenty of time to work on my digital art. Here’s a recent composition I’ve been working on for what seems like forever. It’s entitled “Moonlit Desert City.” I’ve been adding and subtracting objects from it, fiddling with blend modes, shading and tones, and generally playing around with it. I’m still not satisfied with the results, so I’ll probably keep working on it. Anyway, here’s the most recent iteration. (P.S. That’s me on the far left with my eyes peeking out from the mask.)

moonlit desert city

Moonlit Desert City

Digital Art–In the Hall of Masks Revised

I got to thinking about how I could improve my compositions. I came to the understanding that many of them didn’t have a focal point, something that would grab the viewer’s attention when the piece was first viewed. I think this is particularly true of “In the Hall of Masks.” (See previous post.) It’s a nice enough piece, but there’s really nothing for a viewer to latch onto. So I redid it by moving the right foreground character closer to the viewer and adding some glowing eyes. I think this strengthens the image. I also lowered the red saturation, which I felt was overdoing it, and I changed the text a bit. Here’s a look at the new image. I think it’s an overall improvement. What do you think?

digital art Hall of Masks revised

revision

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