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Photo Art – Buddha Statue

Here’s my newest photo art composition. It’s a photo I took in Luang Prabang, Laos, back in 2006. Here’s the original.

img_4620web

The remake, so to speak, includes a background image of part of the Pleiades star cluster. I downloaded this image from Pixabay, a stock photo website that offers free downloads of royalty-free images. Great site. Here’s the photo art. I think the title should be “Buddha in the Cosmos.” What do you think?

buddha_in_the_cosmos2

Of course, I’m still learning about all of this and I have a long way to go. But, it’s a life-time course, available at any time. I hope to have several more art photos, at least, in the next few weeks. Let me know what you think. More later.

Photo Art–Mamounia Hotel

This is my second try at creating photo art from learning sessions at Photoshop Artistry, which I wrote about in my previous post. This is the famous Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech, Morocco, a shot that I took back in 2005. The first photo below is the original, which is kind of bland. The second is the “artistic version.” The clouds were added from a Laos photo I took earlier this year. I added some background texture from the PA course, and I did a little tweaking in Photoshop. I’m still such a beginner at this stuff; I’ve got a lot to learn. The beauty of the course is that I have all the time I need–it’s a lifetime membership. We’ve got a 5-week break from school coming up beginning next week, so I’m really going to be spending a lot of time with this. I’ll have some more art to post later.

Mamounia_1

mamounia_4web

Photo Art

I recently joined an art photography online training course, “Photoshop Artistry.” (PA) So far, this course has been exceptional. I’ve been learning so much about how to use Photoshop to enhance photos and to bring them to the next artistic level, a level that goes way beyond what I might have been capable of doing. At a basic level, it’s about manipulating photos, but it’s so much more than that. At an advanced level, it’s about creating art.

I’m just scratching the surface of this unique, interesting, FUN course. It cost me a few bucks for the basic course, but there’s an even more advanced offshoot, Awake, which only opens up a few times a year for membership, and it costs even more than PA. I was fortunate enough to get into that course as well. It’s completely worth it.

So, I hope to post some (or all) of my efforts here for your perusal. There’s also a magazine associated with this group. It’s called “Living the Photo Artistic Life.” Check it out and see what you think. I hope to have at least one of my creations accepted into the magazine. But, I’ve got a long way to go before that’s going to happen.

Here’s my first, rudimentary try. It’s a self-portrait I took in Korea several years ago. I’ve added a few features to turn it into something different. I’m still trying to think of a good title for it. The first photo is the original.

Myself in red

Red Ron

Seeking Salvation

My first attempt at Photo Artistry. What do you think? Long ways to go before I’m even slightly proficient at this. Came up with a title for it.
“Seeking Salvation”

[EDIT: I might keep making some adjustments to it until it suits me.]

Rainy Season Arrives in Force

The days and weeks of rain are definitely here. We had a couple inches of rain last Sunday, and there are about four inches in the forecast for today and tomorrow. It’s been raining steadily since last night, and everything is quite wet, of course.

It’s cozy and dry inside the new house, but outside it’s a different story. The house is built up from the ground by a couple of feet, so parking our motorbikes in the large kitchen area out of the rain (and away from potential thieves) is a bit of a chore. The owner first built a wooden ramp that we used to get the bikes inside, but it was too narrow. The first time I tried to ride up it, I fell off and my bike fell on top of me. Fortunately, no damage was done to either the bike or me. Nai tried to ride up it, but he had a heck of a time getting in the door.

So, we asked the owner to come up with an alternative, if he could. He piled up a truckload of dirt that is much easier to get up and get into the house. (See the picture I took in a prior post. Look to the left side of the house, in the back.) Unfortunately, when it rains the dirt turns into a quagmire of gumbo. When I came back from work last night, I parked the bike outside and went in the house through the front door. First, though, I took off my wet shoes (I forgot to take my sandals with me) that got soaked from riding to the house through the sometimes-heavy rain. Luckily, I had my poncho with me, so I didn’t get too wet, except for the shoes. I went to the back area and put on my sandals, unlocked the back door, went back out the front door, grabbed the bike and pushed it through the gumbo, giving it some gas in second gear to help it along, and up the dirt into the house.

Unfortunately, my sandals got caked with at least two inches of mud on the bottom, so I felt like I was walking in high heels. The motorbike tires were in equal straits. I cleaned the sandals this morning, but the tires will only get clean as I ride to work today.

Nai’s going to ask the owner to try to come up with another solution. The wooden ramp would work fine if only he’d make it wider. The owner, Kay, is a great guy, so I’m sure he’ll come up with something. Until then, we’ll just have to hope for some sun later in the week.

Muddy path

This doesn’t look too bad, but it’s very soft. It’s not like quicksand–it’s more like “quickmud.”

Muddy tire

This will be rough riding until the mud sloughs off on the paved road. Until then, though, going out and down the back ramp is going to increase the mud build-up. Hope I don’t get stuck!

My First UFO

It’s been very hot this week with high temperatures around 100F (38C) and the humidity has been high. Some mornings I wake up and I’m already sweating. Until last night there had been no sign of thunderstorms and rain, which would cool things off a bit, for a while. But, we had a very violent storm come through from the north yesterday evening around 7 o’clock. There was little rain, but lots of high wind and lightning. I thought the roof of the house was going to get torn off, and, though there were no nearby strikes, the lightning was flickering all around us, enough so that I probably could have read a book by the light.

I sat on the front porch, which faces south and was somewhat sheltered, enjoying the relative coolness that the storm brought. As I watched the clouds zipping along, I noticed a pale, silver wedge, shaped like a boomerang and somewhat blurred, going in the opposite direction, toward the north, against the strong wind. It couldn’t have been at a great altitude because it reflected the lighting from the street lamps. It raced past almost directly overhead and became obscured by the house. I thought about running to the back of the house to see if I could catch a glimpse of it, but I remembered the back door was locked and it would have taken some time to get my keys and unlock the door, by which time the object would have been long gone.

What was it? It came out of the south from the general direction of Thailand. Is the Thai or Lao military testing a flying wing? Just kidding, as neither of them has the resources, the technology or the know-how to even begin to think about doing something like that. I don’t have a clue about what the object was, so I’m going to chalk it up as my very first glimpse of a UFO.

Calling it a UFO doesn’t mean it was some kind of extra-terrestrial space craft; it just means that it was something flying that I couldn’t identify. A flock of birds, maybe? A rogue cloud? Some kind of weird lightning? I give it a shoulder shrug. UFO.

Drawing

This is something I drew in Photoshop earlier. It kind of resembles the object that I saw. Same brightness,
blurry look.

New House, New Location

The school has been closed since April 8th, but we go back to work this week, with a teachers’ workshop on Thursday and regular classes on Friday and Saturday. I’ll be quite happy to be starting up again. The break has seemed interminable with several “disasters” punctuating the time off.

First, my computer crashed and I had to get Windows reinstalled. Unfortunately, I lost some data and applications that I hadn’t backed up, but, thankfully, most of the important data (photos, documents, etc.) were saved. Then I had trouble with my debit card at the ATM and had to straighten that out. A few nights ago, Nai had an altercation with a couple of guys who tried to rob him and he got knocked around pretty badly, but seems to be OK. He told me he gave as good as he got. The cops arrested the thugs. A few other nuisance situations also occurred to make this a less than enjoyable break.

On a more positive note, though, I’ve moved into a, literally, new house in a new location. I’m the first one to live here and the owner is still upgrading the surrounding “yard.” (Not so much a yard as a weed patch; he hauled in a bunch of dirt to cover a lot of it, and I hope he plans to add some real grass.)

Here’s why I made the move. The old place, which I used to think was paradisaical, had gradually been degraded over the last year. The owner took out the entirety of the banana grove that had surrounded the house, erected fences that encompass the land, and started raising goats. Goats, goats and more goats. There were 13 of them on the tract that the house is on, and they had free run of the place, meaning that they crapped and urinated everywhere when I couldn’t chase them off–on the front porch and the concrete walkway surrounding the house and anywhere else they could find. The smell was atrocious and the noise they made destroyed the tranquility of the place. Not to mention that the neighbors had some parties at which they used huge concert-appropriate speakers and amps and cranked up the music until it was pulsing through your body; you couldn’t escape the noise and it was impossible to sleep or to even carry on a conversation. It was like a torture chamber. A few times I just gave up and rented a guesthouse room in Vientiane for the night. Then the owner said he wanted me out by May 1st because he wanted to move back into the house. Absolutely. No. Problem.

So, Nai found this new place and it’s much nicer than what the other place had become. It’s 30 minutes closer to town and I don’t have to ride my motorbike over that completely sh**ty dirt road leading to the village. For that reason alone, I am grateful to have made the move. The house is located about 100 yards off the main road that runs between Vientiane and the border crossing between Laos and Thailand. It’s a bit noisy at times, being located near a couple of karaoke restaurants, but it’s not that bad. It’s a heavily traveled road, so the traffic noise can be disturbing. However, the karaokes are good neighbors and close when they’re legally supposed to close (11:30 pm), which not all similar places do, and the traffic settles down at night.

I was disappointed, though, when I found that the device I was using in the countryside to connect to the internet rarely works at all here. I thought I would have better reception, being closer to town, but most days I can’t connect at all. Lo and behold, there’s an internet cafe which has extremely good, fast internet right in front of the house on the main road. Not only that, since I’m near the main road, one of the local internet providers is going to run a fiber optic line to the house in a couple of weeks, so I’ll have my own connection, always on. Hooray! It costs about $37 a month and I hope it’s worth it.

Of course, since the house was unfurnished, I’ve been spending money hand over fist buying furniture and what-not for it. (Another good reason to be getting back to work, earning money again.) We hired a pick-up truck to haul our other stuff (refrigerator, stove, bed, personal items) here. There are still a few more items I have to purchase, so more money will be leaving the coffers before all is said and done. Oh, yes, the old place cost $50 a month; this one is $200. But, I guess that’s the price to pay for leaving “paradise.”

The beneficial things about living here are that it’s much closer to Vientiane, it’s on a paved road and I’ll have a nice internet connection. Being closer to the city, I’ll probably be much more inclined to go to the movie theater or to take in some cultural events on the weekends.

Not beneficial–the cost and the noise (at times). Mostly, however, the noise won’t be a problem since I’ll be at work during the day and into the early part of the night. So far, it’s not been a big problem.

We’ll see how this new place works out. I signed a six-month lease, so I’ll have lots of time to either get to like it or to hate it. More later.

House

This is a view of the front of the house. In the back there’s a very large field (see previous post), and behind me and to the right of the house there are some other houses-not too close, but not much to see. To the left of this photo are some fish ponds. See the next photo.

Pond

Here’s one view of the fish pond. There’s another larger one beyond it. Yes, it is stocked with fish, which the vendor in front of us grills and sells. I might end up stuffing my self too often.

Pond

Here’s another view of the pond.

Health Benefits of Traveling

It’s an agreeable morning in Laos. The last few days have been quite hot and humid, but there’s a gentle rain falling and a cool breeze is blowing through the open windows and front door. In the kitchen of my new house that I’m renting (more on that in a later post), I can look out at a small herd of cows grazing on chaff from the newly-harvested rice field that stretches into the distance. Very relaxing. Quite agreeable.

Rice Harvesting

A modern harvester works on a field of stick rice (glutinous rice). Many farms in Laos still use the old method of harvesting by hand with machetes or scythes.

Cows Grazing

After the harvest, the chaff is left for a few cows to enjoy.

You never know what you’ll run into while you’re traveling or after you’ve settled in somewhere. Vientiane can be hectic sometimes, but not far from the city you can find some bucolic scenes like these. It’s a bit like Frodo talking about his Uncle Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring.

“Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ ”

So, traveling can lead to some interesting, exotic, adventurous locales. Traveling’s good for you. There are a lot of advantages to be had in traveling. What are they? Head over to Positive Health Wellness to read “8 Reasons Why Traveling is Good For Your Health.” It’s an interesting and informative article, and maybe it’ll set off your wanderlust. Do some traveling and exploring, if you can. Steer a canoe down a scenic river, enjoy the grandeur of majestic mountains, or just watch the cows. The benefits are many.

Pi Mai Lao 2017 Photos

The Lao New Year celebration (Pi Mai Lao) finished last week. It was a five-day observance this year due to the weekend, so that gave people more chances to party, and most Lao folks DO party! Compared to celebrations in Vientiane, where water gets thrown with abandon and parties are raucous, the countryside festivities are a bit more subdued. Here are a few photos of some of the goings-on.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Just up the road a bit at one of the small markets, children are having some light-hearted fun dousing passing motorbikes. Most of the riders didn’t seem to mind getting wet, and, unlike in some places, the water wasn’t ice-cold. I didn’t ride my ‘bike, so I was able to stay dry, if I wanted to. But, after setting my camera aside, I submitted to the water-tossing ritual.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Here water is being tossed at a couple of youngsters. Notice the red hair of the driver. The style is . . . how do I describe it? . . . mutton, I think, with the sides cut very short, but the top left alone and dyed. This is the current most popular style among Lao boys. I don’t know what the more conservative older folks think about it, but mom and dad apparently don’t care. Did the water get to these guys? See below.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Yeah, they got pretty soaked.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

The kids seemed to have tossed their water a little early at these two blondies (orangies?). Oh, well, hit a few, miss a few.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

These are two things that shouldn’t go together–beer and motorbikes. Most people who drink (and get drunk) aren’t too concerned about the danger of riding their motorbikes or driving their cars while intoxicated. It’s the number one cause of traffic accidents and deaths on the roads, most of which involve motorbikes. As an aside, I was in Vientiane this past Saturday, the 22nd, and I saw the results of four accidents, FOUR, in the span of about 30 minutes, all of them in, more or less, the same area of town, and all of them involving motorbikes. Just amazing.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

At the Pi Mai party at Nai’s sister’s house, Go, Nai’s niece, pours a bit of water down the back of Guay, one of Nai’s brothers. She got me wet (wetter, really) also, and the water WAS ice-cold. Quite a shock if you’re not expecting it!

Pi Mai Lao 2017

A few of the neighbor ladies, cousins, enjoying the party.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

And a few more celebrants. That’s Guay’s wife, Vee, on the far right. There were three different parties going on at the same time, all withing walking distance of each other, so people would go from party to party. Most of the people in this area are related–cousins, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Noy and Nui enjoy each other’s company. Nui is Nai’s sister and Noy is her husband.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Noy holds Namo, the young daughter of Lot, one of Nai’s sisters. Noy always gets along very well with the children in the area and they enjoy teasing and playing with him.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

This is Meow, Guay and Vee’s daughter. She’s quite the sweetheart and she seems to always have a nice smile ready for the camera. In this shot, I couldn’t get her to give me an open-mouth smile. Why?

Pi Mai Lao 2017

I finally got her to laugh, and, aha, her shyness is caused by the loss of a couple of baby teeth. Very cute.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

OK, so we’ve got people and beer, but what’s a party without lots of delicious food? Guay is working on that. Here, he’s stir-frying a panful of . . . what? Beetles, of course. What a treat! Uh, no thanks; I’m feeling kind of full.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Here’s the finished dish. Just dig in . . . use your hands . . . dip them in chili sauce.

Pi Mai Lao

Notice that the grilled fish is just below where I’m sitting. Guess who’s been chowing down on that.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Surely, there has to be something else to eat. How about some soup? Is there any soup? Of course there is. How about some awesome frog soup? Here’s some. Dig in. Looks like one of the little critters is trying to climb out of the bowl.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

No thanks on the frog soup. Anything else? Sure. Still hungry? Try some of this snake meat soup. Uh, I’ll pass on that, too. Thanks anyway. I’ll just finish this fish and have some rice. No problem.

Pi Mai Lao 2017

Well, that finishes this year’s Pi Mai Lao celebration. One more photo to show. Here are a few friends posing for the camera. Nai’s on the left and a friend, name unknown, is on the right, but who’s the old fart in the middle? Got his face and clothes powdered, I see. He looks fairly full from eating all that fish and rice. Guess he had a good time. See ya next year, sport.

It’s Time For Pi Mai Lao 2017

The end of the first term of 2017 is near–this coming Saturday, in fact. So, I’m free from April 9th to May 5th, the start of the next term. What to do, what to do? Next week is easy–it’s Pi Mai Lao or Lao New Year, the biggest Lao holiday of all. It’s a five-day affair this year because of the weekend, so the official date of the holiday is April 13th through the 17th. I’ve posted about it before here, and here, with some videos on this post. In Thailand it’s called Songkran, the Water Festival.

In both countries, devout Buddhists visit the temples, clean their houses and honor their elders. That’s the traditional part. Then there’s the water-throwing aspect. Most of the young people and many older people toss water on their friends and on strangers, along with flour, and smear faces with soot from smoke-stained pots, all in good fun. But, it can get out of hand, with people using super-soaker squirt guns or small buckets to soak friends and passers-by alike. It’s not too bad out in the countryside, where the population seems a bit more conservative than in the larger cities. In Vientiane and Bangkok and in other metro areas, it’s like a small war. The danger is in throwing water at motorbike riders and causing them to have an accident. There’s also the usual carnage on the roads caused by drunk driving, but it’s multiplied at this time of year because of all the parties. (As if Lao people needed a reason to have a party.) Below are a few photos from a couple of years back.

Khoon and powdered face

Khoon, Seo’s husband, has been out running around the village, meeting friends, drinking beer, and getting his face coated with baby powder, another Pi Mai Lao tradition.

Nai powder face

Nai after his face has been powdered, one of the rituals of Pi Mai. Sometimes lipstick and soot from the bottom of pans is also applied.

Suwon and friend

Suwon and friend, the lady who grilled most of the food. Suwon’s quite a camera hound, so she’s in lots of the photos.

Suwon and Noh

Suwon and Noh enjoy a real soaking.

Thankfully, I won’t be riding my motorbike back and forth to work because of our time off, but I still have to be more than extra careful because the partying starts well in advance of the official holiday. But, I have only a few more days of riding until I’ll put the bike away, mostly, until after the holidays. I’ll visit some friends on a few of the days and celebrate the New Year with them. They’re within walking distance!

So, that’s next week’s plan. After that, I’m moving into a different house. It seems that the guy we’re renting from has given us until the first of May to move out because he wants to move back in. He’s going to refund May and June’s rent money to me. Fair enough. I’ve already put a down payment of 50% for six months’ rent on another place, one that’s in a much more favorable location. Nai and I are going to start moving in around April 20th or so. We’re both sick and tired of our current house, so we think the fellow is actually doing us a favor by moving back in. When the time comes, I’ll have a longer post about why my current residence, which I used to think was wonderful, is less than optimal and about why the new house is much more to my liking. More later.

Phuket Photos

At last, a few photos of my trip to Phuket, Thailand back in December. We stayed at Patong Beach at a couple of different hotels, the Thara Patong Beach Resort (our usual favorite) and at the Ramada Phuket Deevana Hotel. They’re both nice places to stay and have swimming pools (though the Deevana’s is rather small and fills up early), good service and decent food. If you by chance decide to visit Patong and stay at one or both of them, I recommend reserving a room at the Ramada with the free breakfast buffet option. The buffet is awesome, with a few dozen or more choices of food and plenty of hot and cold drinks. The buffet at the Thara Patong is OK, but can’t compare with the one at the Ramada. Either hotel is a good choice, though.

The weather during the first several days of our stay was a bit unsettled at times with cool temperatures and occasional rain, but near the end of our holiday, the sun and warmer weather dominated. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did a bit of shopping and bought a Lenovo Tab Essential, mainly to use as an ebook reader. It was a great buy at $75, and I use it every day. I’m getting in a lot of reading in my spare time, having recently read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” native-Montanan Ivan Doig’s “This House of Sky,” and George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo,” among others. Next up is “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing, followed by Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” and the first book in a trilogy by Ivan Doig titled “English Creek.” I better get reading.

Here are a few of the photos that I took. More later.

Thara Patong swimming pool

One of the swimming pools at Thara Patong Resort. This is the smaller one, just a little splash pool compared to the much larger one at the main building a little ways behind it. This one has a bar right beside it, featuring a “Happy Hour” (limited selection) every day, so be careful if you swim and imbibe here.

Swimming Pool, Patong Beach.

This is the view from our eighth floor room at the Ramada. The swimming pool is on the property of a hotel next to ours. It looks inviting, but there appeared to be little shade available.

Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

This was high season, so there were many vacationers at the beach and in the town. The hotels were booked full and some of the choice spots at the beach were taken. Nai and I always stayed at one particular spot, where we made friends with the ladies who gave massages and sold beer and food under a shaded pavilion, of sorts. This is the scene near that pavilion.

Nai drinks a Heineken beer.

Nai really likes Heineken Beer, even more than Beer Lao, I suspect. Here he enjoys a cold one under the umbrellas at “our” spot on the beach.

Nai gets a massage at Patong Beach

Nai gets a massage from the “boss lady” of this little place on the beach, where, along with the massage, you can get food and drink. This gal, whose name is Ma, I think, was a dear. She addressed everyone as “Dahling”, a la Zsa Zsa Gabor. A very friendly spot.

Paragliding at Patong Beach

Late afternoon paragliders enjoying a flight over the beach. It’s a pretty expensive proposition, costing about $30 for a 3-minute experience (I timed it). Still, a lot of people shell out the dough for it.

Patong cruise ship

Quite a few large cruise ships pulled into the bay off Patong Beach. They didn’t stay long, mainly for a day or overnight. Lots of smaller boats anchored in the deeper water away from the beach.

Patong beach at night

Patong Beach at night. As the evening progresses the beach goers head back to wherever they’re staying. This is a pleasant time to take a casual stroll on the sand.