HAULING

I wonder how many Terracotta warriors and dirt this old cart has hauled over the years?

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Looks like new tires.

TERRACOTTA ARMY, XI’AN

The Terracotta Army went on my personal bucket list many years go while living in England, at the O2 for one reason – seeing 30 warriors at the British Museum did not cut it.

The army is estimated to have taken 36 years to complete and 700,000 workers. At the time I did not know where Xi’an was in China,  I certainly did not think that we would be living in Tokyo (although Singapore was always heavily under family consideration), but I knew it had to happen.

It was worth the wait and the effort. Broken into a series of “pits”, with several still being excavated, the scale of the place is staggering.

Thousands of warriors, each different standing in rows, their weapon disintegrated but their bodies remaining. Amazing.

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On many you can still see the paint remnants.

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Rows, and rows and rows.

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The chariots.

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Oddly enough, this is the only warrior I saw that looked out of proportion. A charioteer.

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700,000 people and 36 years. It boggles the mind.

PIT 1

The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China.

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PROTECTING YOUR PARKING SPOT, BEIJING

At first I thought that the owner of this bike was simply having a tough time letting go, the way that it is locked to the office chair.

Our guide explained that the bike owner was using the two items to protect their parking spot. Cones simply don’t do it.

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Colored balloons marking the local health care center.

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My final posted shot on Beijing, at the market.

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A great place to explore (just make sure you bring a polarizing filter to cut through the haze).

BLUE DOORS, RED DOOR

As seen on the side streets of Beijing, China.

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The grey is the wall color of choice for the city.

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HUTONG MARKETS, BEIJING CHINA

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If you have followed this blog at some point you know that one of my favorite places to visit while traveling is a market. Beijing was no different. The markets are the best places to enjoy the “life” of a city.

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When you stand outside a street vendor like this, it makes our North American dining experience seem so .. pedestrian.

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A few black and whites.

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It also seems like their food is fresher. Farmer to market …. perhaps it is different in January.

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HUTONGS, BEIJING, CHINA

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Our last tour in Beijing was the traditional residences of China, which are slowly but surely disappearing under the crush of concrete.

Hutongs (simplified Chinese: 胡同; traditional Chinese: 衚衕; pinyin: hútòng; Wade–Giles: hu2-t’ung4) are a type of narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, most prominently Beijing.

In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences.[1] Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining onesiheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history.

A few of my favorite shots from around the Hutongs.

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Everything is painted grey … I was told in large part due to the previous Olympics, although now it is the standard. Black and white shots seem to be the best, as it was rather hazy.

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Very old mailboxes.

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Progress. Slowly, but surely, the old buildings disappear.

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Many of the cars have pieces of carpet or wood against the wheels – to stop the dogs and cats from marking the tires.

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Mixed in behind the side streets are a few remaining temples and buildings – buried deep.

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This many hundreds of years old plaque (if I remember correctly) is a list of the local elders.

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History disappearing.

REFLECTING ON JAPAN

Our time in Japan has come to an end.

We could have stayed longer, but factors played out that a different choice was the right one for our family. Leaving a country is always a bittersweet experience, there are things you are looking forward to in your next destination while you know there are things that you will miss from the previous country. You also get into a groove in a new country after 2 years …. that groove is over.

In no particular order are the things I will miss about Tokyo:

Safety and cleanliness:  A society that is homogeneous with very little immigration means that they have 3,000 years of shared tradition and values which drive their society. The downside is that it leads to rigidity, hierarchy and significant innovation constraints. On the plus side, it makes Japan truly unique. There is no garbage because people care about their society and are too proud of Japan to litter. You can walk a back street at 2:30am and be completely safe, while a 4 year old child can walk to school with zero issues. That is truly unique.

The people: Our western society is so fast paced and all about the push. I will admit to being too abrupt, irritable or not polite enough. In Japan, as a whole, that is not the case. Sure the subways get crowded but over the last two years I have come to respect the little things like the politeness of a bow. We as westerners have not lost all of that and not everyone is rude (insert Canadians saying “excuse me” joke here), but in Japan it is the way that they all live. I heard a story the other day where a fellow was in Japan teaching English and he happened to mention to a few of the women he was teaching that he found Tokyo cold. The next day they showed up with extra blankets and a warm jacket for him. The sense of community, sharing and “team” is alive and well in Japan.

The food and drink:  If you like food, you need to go to Japan. Good food on every corner, with more drink choices than you can imagine. There is no where like it. Odd to think that Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any country in the world and Canada, sadly barren.

January and February:  Why? Because if you want snow you can jump on a train and be at the ski hill in 90 minutes. Otherwise, my heavy winter jacket did not come out once in over 2 years. Now that is the type of winter that I love – tennis in January.

Amazon.jp and Japan Post:  I know, miss a postal system? Japan Post is amazing. Order something on Amazon on Saturday morning at 8am (and you can order EVERYTHING on Amazon) and see it arrive that same evening. A post man working on a Saturday night? Now that is customer service.

The 5pm song:  Every evening in Tokyo at 5pm huge loudspeakers play a song. I have been told it is so that children know it is dinner time. How quaint.

Vertical parking:  Why? I don’t know. But I always found it interesting and Roppongi Towers has to have the most advanced parking system in the world.

The wonderful, oddity of Japan:  As I have said before, living in Japan is like living on Mars. You could never feel more different (As a side note, I have heard Japanese say the same thing about when they are in North America). They do so many things differently than us and it is always interesting to stumble upon new things. A simple example; they have these sinks in the washrooms in our office and I could never figure out what they are for.

Sink

Turns out they are for brushing your teeth and the button on the left (blue swirl) is a special flushing button that swishes water all around the bowl in a circular motion to clean the sink. And of course, don’t get me started on Japan’s greatest invention – the Toto. I had 3 installed into my house in Canada instantly – and yes there is a Toto Canada, and yes they sell their products on Amazon.

Japanese English:  I love to read interpretations. I snapped this one recently because of the gargling insert. I also like the detailed instructions – it feels like mom wrote it – “don’t forget to wash under your fingernails” (smile)

Infectious disease

 

Facemasks:  This might seem like an odd one, but I like facemasks. To understand the Japanese facemask culture, you need to understand how they think.

To the Japanese, facemasks are about being polite. If you have a cold, you wear one so that you will not get anyone else sick. If you have a baby, you will wear one so that you don’t bring home any germs. To see someone wearing a facemask in western society is an oddity, in Japan it is incredibly common – people wear them everywhere. On a few occasions I have worn them when ill in the office, I have worn them at home to try not to spread a cold when I get off a plane and I love wearing them when on a plane (for hydration reasons – a great way to reduce your chance of getting a cold or sore throat).

A reflection on their community focused culture.

Last but certainly not least, Japanese customer service:  Customer service in Japan is THE BAR. There is nothing that compares and it is consistent, people take pride in their work and bend over backwards to service the customer. The primary driver for this is that the Japanese people expect excellent service and are therefore willing to pay higher prices – something “Lowest price every day” mentality in North America has destroyed – it is our consumer choice.

Good-bye Japan. You are very, very unique in this world.

THE GREAT WALL, A FEW MORE SHOTS

An amazing hike.

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Mind the gap.

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An excellent perspective on the elevation changes – as the wall winds up and down the hills/mountains.

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A rather “overly steep” part of the wall that we did not climb.

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And one that we did.

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A truly impressive remnant of days long past.

THE WALK AHEAD, GREAT WALL CHINA

Lunch came to an end. It was time to re-start our hike.

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Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

LIFE ON THE GREAT WALL?

Resting at the top of a tower after the arduous climb up the mountain/hill left time for reflection and two predominant thoughts.

First, we simply hiked the 800m up to get to the top. Imagining the quantity of human labor needed to move rocks/bricks to the top and build the walls seemed very “pyramid-like” in effort.

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My second thought was what would it be like living up here as a soldier? Kilometers of empty wall to patrol as you watched for the hordes from the north. Looking out across the mountain from our tower you can see the wall snake it’s way along a ridge. In this area, a strategic pass between the mountains, the Chinese had built walls along different ridges.

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A 300mm shot. You can see the wall making it’s way up some very steep terrain. According to our guide, that area of the wall is like mountain climbing and quite treacherous, for some deadly.

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Imagine sitting on that tower 700 years ago, watching for an invasion in January.

TOWER

Along the Great Wall of China. It was a beautiful sky. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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It also gives you an idea of the elevation changes as the wall snakes up and down the mountains.

ARRIVING

At the top of the hill and the starting point of our hike on the Great Wall of China. The un-trod path.

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THE GREAT WALL

There are two ways to do the great wall. Hitting the tourist areas which are cleared out, easy access and involves a cable ride up and taking a ride down to the bottom via a toboggan  OR hitting an abandoned area with a guide.

We chose the abandoned hike route.

The hike was 7-8km long and not the easiest. A fit family, but when it is 35C (+humidity), not a cloud in the sky and the first 1.5km involves an elevation change of 800 meters, your fitness is tested (Actually, the other 3 did fine, the only one tested was me). Fortunately, our guide provided the right amount of instruction on quantity of water and ensured that we brought enough food.

China hike

I will say that about half way up with a backpack full of bottled water, my Canon 5D Mark III, the 28-300mm f/2.8 lens and a 50mm lens stored in my pack (Why a 50mm? No idea), I was wondering if I should have packed a bit lighter.

Our starting point was at what use to be a resort hotel of some type – no longer.

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The chicken coop at the start of the hike.

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The trail up is a mix of steps (In a few of the steepest places) and rough hiking trails – at a 45 degree or steeper angle. The math makes sense, 1.5km, 800m elevation. Clearly not over-used. In our 7-8 hour hike, we saw 2 other people who were on a hike with their dogs.

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As we stopped, we took the time to look back over the valley. Beautiful views and a clear day. A stark contrast to the polluted Beijing sky.

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It is a long way up but very satisfying when we came around a corner and the wall came into sight.

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Our destination where we will break out lunch.

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A good start.

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WELL SAID

The Japan Times has an interesting feature called “Well Said” which is all about helping the gaijin integrate into the local society. In their words, it is all about “sounding natural in Japanese”.

While having breakfast at the hotel last week I enjoyed the topic of this Well Said! It is particularly Japanese.

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I cannot imagine the Washington Post or Globe & Mail using ‘Lets go drinking after work’ as an acceptable scenario to help learn English and integrate into the business culture (smile).

Now, to truly understand this Japanese scenario, you have to read between the lines. The reason why Mr. Sere actually has only Y1,000 in his wallet (roughly $10) is because he has almost spent the allowance that his wife has given him for the week or month. He is simply using the credit card as an excuse for spending too much this week/month or to hide that fact that his wife only gives him a small allowance.

All true. Read more here.

TOKYO STATION

Japanese commercial music – you hear their synthetic version of elevator music everywhere. I did not expect to see it on the floor cleaner.

Tokyo Station musical floor cleaner

I hope he has earplugs. Can you imagine listening to that all day long?

TOURISTS

I thought these people were dressing up as part of the Forbidden City – as an attraction. Turns out that you can rent traditional garb to wear during your visit.

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This is a common thing in Japan also – where men and women will rent kimonos for the day and tour around the city. I tried to think what a Canadian equivalent would be – his and her Mountie uniforms?

THE DRAGONS, BEIJING, CHINA

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Across from Tiananmen square, our next stop:

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. It is located in the center of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 ha (180 acres).[1] The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,[2] and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,[2] and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Filled with buildings that once housed royalty, it is worth a wander.

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Our guide mentioned that this is a single piece of stone, climbing up the steps. If I recollect the story correctly, it took thousands of people a very long time to move it here as one piece and then hundreds to carve it – with dragons.

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Dragons are everywhere.

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According to Wikipedia, the Chinese dragon remains important in today’s Chinese culture:

Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. With this, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.[1]

In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, while incapable people with no achievements are compared with other, disesteemed creatures, such as a worm. A number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to a dragon, for example: "Hoping one’s son will become a dragon" (望子成龍, i.e. be as a dragon).

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The number of dragons is very important – on the roofs, always an odd number. But not all lucky numbers are odd (to my surprise).

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One things is consistent through the shots, the grey sky.

MEDICINE MARKET, Xi’an, China

As I have mentioned before on this blog, when traveling we love to visit markets; seeing what the locals eat and how they live their lives.

I would say that the Chinese medicine market was a new level of different for our travels. As we pulled up our guide explained that these markets are in decline, replaced by Chinese pharmacies that carry every type of herbal medicine imaginable.

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Perhaps the decline is a display issue. A few of these sellers were bagging their wares to sell to other shops.

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A few of my favorite shots.

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That is a bag of snakes.

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I cannot remember, but these were some type of fish. There was a common theme through the market, almost everything would cure one condition … and contribute to fertility or virility.

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Odd to see Sea Horses.

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The shells of turtles, for some reason that bothered me.

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As did seeing these deer horns.

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Last shots. Of course, there has to be lots, and lots of beetles.

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Really interesting to see.

LIGHT

At the Chinese medicine market in Xi’an, China.

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That calculator looks like it has a lot of miles on it.

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TEMPLE of HEAVEN, BEIJING, CHINA

This is the Temple of Heaven, on a warm day with the smog backdrop. We were not there on a clear blue-sky day.

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The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven (simplified Chinese: 天坛; traditional Chinese: 天壇; pinyin: Tiāntán; Manchu: Abkai mukdehun) is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as aTaoist temple,[1] although Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.

To me the more interesting view is the walkway to the temple. Filled with retired people and families, enjoying each other – playing cards and different board games. There is a lot going on, and I am sure there is some money changing hands in some of those games.

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Shirts optional. The Chinese men had an interesting cultural norm of pulling their t-shirts up from the bottom and tucking them through the neck, exposing their mid-sections. It was hot, but for me, not hot enough to resort to that (smile).

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I think I would call this shot “friends”.

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GARBAGE, CHINA

Traveling around Asia you become accustom to different levels of garbage. In the emerging countries where people are trying to make a living you see garbage everywhere for logical reasons; when you are trying to feed your family, ensuring that every plastic bag is picked up doesn’t really make the priority list.

In Tokyo, which went through a terrible pollution stage post World War II, the emergence of wealth has led to incredible cleanliness. Garbage in Japan is about as common as immigrants – not often seen; truly the cleanest city in the world.

Which left me wondering, what would it be like outside of the business areas that I was accustomed to in China? We have all read about the terrible pollution, so would that also mean that the same disregard for the environment is prevalent along back streets?

The answer was a a surprise – it is quite clean. As we traveled around Beijing and Xian, you did not see piles of roadside or back alley garbage. Instead, I saw a lot of people collecting garbage.

My favorite garbage collectors were those at Tiananmen Square and like many people in China, they were on electric scooters.

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BEIJING, CHINA

Our tour of China started with Tiananmen square. It is interesting to tour the square knowing the history. I don’t know what I was expecting to see? Obviously not demonstrators or anything of that ilk.

In the end it is a big square, with a few monuments to those deemed worth. My shots; Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM. A note on the shots: China was very frustrating. I did not bring the right filters and the haze/pollution played havoc with the shots.

One of the buildings surrounding the square.

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The big communist party building beside the square, The Great Hall of the People. When you read through the history you will find that occasionally it is used for artistic performances. I found it funny that the first western performer was a country western singer. I will refrain from explaining why I found that point so humorous.

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This is the Tiananmen.

The Tiananmen (simplified Chinese: 天安门; traditional Chinese: 天安門; pinyin: Tiān’ānmén), or Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is widely used as a national symbol. First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City. However, the Meridian Gate (午门) is the first entrance to the Forbidden City proper, while Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located.

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The monument to the People’s Heroes, manned by young communist party members and commemorating wars such as the Opium war, the war against Japan and the different revolutions. When you read through China’s history and how imperialist forces abused this country, it is no wonder that self defense is so important to them.

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The square is filled with uniformed and plain clothes security. Many standing at attention.

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An interesting stroll through the square.

MONKS DRIVE BMWs

Wasn’t that a book? No, it is the Monk who sold his Ferrari.

Well, it would appear that the monks of Japan are not so interested in selling. I am amazed by the number of BMWs you see at shrines around Tokyo. When I asked a colleague, he explained that many of the shrines are handed from family to family, and are exempt from taxes.

Interested if anyone has a link – my searches on the topic proved futile.

A few shrine shots around Minato-ku, Tokyo.

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And of course, a BMW

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Last shot.

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A WALK IN THE PARK, TOKYO

I think that Yoyogi Park is one of my favorite parks. I love walking it. In Tokyo, people gather in the parks on the weekends. Families, friends, joggers, ninjas, cosplayers, dancers … everyone.

That is why it is such a great park, if you stop and look around.

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There are many joggers holding a piece of rope between them. When I asked, it was explained that these people are jogging with a blind companion.

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The bridge, that takes you to where the festivals are – on this day it was Cinco de Mayo day.

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A few shots from Cinco de Mayo which was all about the food and .. of course, some dancing. It was amazing watching this woman balance the bottles. I wonder what made her want to learn this dance? She went to 8 bottles.

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In Japan you will never be disappointed by the unique English translations.

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You will never be disappointed by the food either.

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CHINA

I have travelled to China a number of times, but always on business. Business travel involves plane > cab > hotel > client/office > hotel > plane. Maybe a restaurant in between. I never make time for personal travel while on the road.

But China was on the bucket list and we finally got there. Posts to follow … But I had to put this picture up from when we hiked an abandoned part of the Great Wall.  It captures the moment well. Just us, our guide and the wilderness.

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Beautiful.

YOU BE THE JUDGE

On the weekend you will see these huge trucks driving around Tokyo blaring music – advertising bands. These bands are always pop bands – and J-POP is a very unique brand of music.

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You be the judge: when you read the name of this album – GUTS! – and interpret the name of the band (‘Arashi’ means ‘Storm’) what do you envision? Myself, I envisioned a tough-guy band.

Now view the band. (smile)

WAVES IN HDR, PHUKET

We took our March break in Phuket this year. The Le Meridien is a great stop; outside of the hustle and bustle of Phuket but still accessible with a great private beach.

The waves would kick up some mornings, making for some great shots. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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A contrast to a calm sunset.

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MYSTERY Wi-Fi, PHUKET

It was early and I was enjoying a coffee on the balcony. I turned on my iPad’s wi-fi and noticed a new signal ‘Samax’. Odd. I looked out over the beach and saw this.

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Turns out it is easy to find a ship, thanks to websites like this.

You can read a fascinating account of how this yacht survived the 2005 tsunami here.

This was the rest of my view that morning.

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COLOURS, BANGKOK

It is a colorful city. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Sitting in one of the canal locks (there are many).

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You also see some interesting wildlife on the canals. To answer your question, yes – it really is that big. This is not the zoom making it look bigger.

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HOUSES, BANGKOK

On the canals of Bangkok. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Collecting water.

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As we rode down the river, lots of people were playing music. Some with some very big speakers.

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These homes exist in the shadow of some of the world’s most modern buildings.

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Reminds me of Hong Kong.

DOWN THE STREET, HIROO, TOKYO, JAPAN

Actually, down the street from where we live – a spring view. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Many restaurants look like this, with the welcome cloth over the door.

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This fellow was arriving, ready for his next food delivery.

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Last shot, in black and white.

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JAPANESE SCOOTER

I kept meaning to take a picture of these uniquely Japanese scooters. These retro, cruisers are everywhere.

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A FEW SHRINE SALE HDRs, TOKYO

My last shots.

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I had never seen porcelain prayer requests before.

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I also do not know what these are. Perhaps prayer requests for a nice garden this summer?

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As with most shrines, 1,000 cranes offered.

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Last shot – a caged dragon.

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SHRINE FOOD, TOKYO

As previously mentioned, a few weeks ago we headed to a shrine sale/market on a Saturday morning. In one area they were serving food. I love Japanese food. I love that Japanese “fast food” means that someone is cooking it quickly, from scratch, instead of mcCooking it.

A few shots. This fellow was quite artfully keeping his ashes out of my food (smile).

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These folks were cooking a very popular dish that you see at the baseball fields – octopus balls with a nice squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on-top.

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I went for the noodles.

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I am afraid that I am becoming a Japanese food bigot and will not be able to step into Canada’s version of a restaurant .. Moxie’s, Jack Astors .. without a sense of despair. I will definitely have to seek out those Canadian ‘chef owned’ restaurants actively.

Reflecting on the difference, it seems to come down to economics. More and more, Canadian restaurants are owned by business people – not chefs. It is bought as a business, not as a extension of a passion and everything from building layout to food delivery is controlled by HQ.

Very different from Japan where those holes in the wall are still family owned with the husband busy cooking while the wife runs the business. Sure, there are fast food chains, but they are a small fraction of the ecosystem.

Guess that is why Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world – by a huge margin. If you come to Tokyo, explore the food. You will not be disappointed.

SHRINE SALE, TOKYO

A fun way to spend a Saturday morning.

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This fellow was super content.

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Stop!

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In the end we didn’t buy anything. I don’t need a $100 hand crafted wood comb. But really enjoyed wandering around.

UNHEALTHY

I was in North America for a few hours recently and I grabbed a quick bite in a food court – avoiding the fast food chains (which is really hard) and getting a scratch made sandwich. I walked down the drink aisle and found it depressing. Pop, a few vitamin waters, high sugar energy drinks – a wasteland of unhealthy drinks and obesity in a bottle.

Just so different to Japan where it is pretty clear that the vending machines are one of those secrets to long life and a low BMI.

Compare.

A North American drink shelf.

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Now Japan. In the country with a vending machine for every 13 people, the diversity is amazing. Coffees, green teas, hot – cold, jasmine tea, sparking water (in many flavors), flavored waters sweetened and unsweetened, this grape drink with aloe cubes and everything in between.

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Sure, you can buy a pop (I still love a cold Coke) or a different fizzy drink, but it makes up a very small percentage of the vending machine real estate.

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Lattes, vitamin C, milk tea, fiber drinks …

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This is a pretty common sight, 4 or 5 vending machines in a row. They are everywhere.

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Here is my current favorite drink, the “Green Shower”. It is humulus lupulus sparkling water – and has an herbal taste to it.

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For those of you who do not know what Humulus Lupulus is (I certainly did not):

Humulus lupulus (common hop or hop) is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia and North America. It is a dioecious, perennial, herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to a cold-hardy rhizome in autumn. Strictly speaking it is a bine rather than a vine, using its own shoots to act as supports for new growth.

Who are the companies that make all of those healthy, amazing Japanese drinks? Ironically, the same ones that delivery very little choice in North America. Or perhaps, they are delivering what the market wants – which is too bad.

AN ALLEY, TOKYO

The homes and apartments may be small, but they burst with plants.

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Notice the complete lack of any litter.

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The Japanese make the most of their space.

COLORFUL INDIA

After all of my posts on India, I am left with a sense of awe. We went not knowing what to expect, a little worried and questioning if it was the right trip for us.

India is a full-on, visual assault. People, activity, honking, smells, traffic, chaos, laughter, despair – all these words describe it. But in the end, I think I would trend toward words like ‘vibrant’ and ‘colorful’ as the ones that truly capture India.

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Yes, I think the right word is “colorful”.

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It is not for everyone. It is definitely not for the first time or unseasoned traveler.

Personally, I cannot wait to go back.

THE FINAL LEG, INDIA

With Jaipur complete we faced the arduous trip from Jaipur to Delhi. How long would it take? The answer was 5 – 8 hours. Who knows? That is the joy of traveling in India. A couple hundred kilometers is a trip into chaos where anything can happen.

The good thing about that? Lots to see. A few shots from the drive.

Those are bags filled with cotton candy. Some children will be happy,

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While we were in India I read all about multinational business failure in India’s food market. It seems like the country is not ready for wide-scale, super market led food distribution. Read the article on the Journey of an Indian Onion from the Economist, fascinating.

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One of the many, many markets that we passed as we drove to Delhi.

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One of the local distribution engines in action. If you tried loading your truck up like this in Canada, you wouldn’t make it 2km before the police had you stopped.

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Of course, the police would have to find you and get to you first. It might be hard to conduct a police chase on an Indian highway .. with all of the tractors, cattle, camels and everything else in between.

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These guys didn’t seem to mind the traffic.

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One last shot of a potter, by the side of the road; who needs some help organizing.

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It took us 7 hours. Time seemed to fly by.

HOW MUCH FOR THE DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW?

If you live in Japan, you know that the Japanese are dog crazy. With a plummeting birth rate, the dogs are clearly filling a gap.

This little fellow is in the pet store down the street. Take a guess at the price.

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You are probably wrong.

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That translates to roughly $20K CDN. Premium, for sure. If you are going to have a dog that expensive, you better buy a dog stroller.

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You better buy a carrier too.

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Of course, if you are having a tea party, everyone needs to be dressed up – bow in the hair and all.

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Japanese love their dogs. Check out this site from some amazing Japan dog photos.

INSIDE THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR

Once inside the fort, it felt different than others we had visited. More opulent.

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You can read more of the forts history here. In a nutshell:

The aesthetic ambiance of the palace is seen within its walls on a four level layout plan (each with a courtyard) in a well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace.[4] The palace was lived in by the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is also a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult which was given to Raja Man Singh when he had defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604. (Jessore is now in Bangladesh).[3][8][9]

There are really two key areas. The central court yard and the third courtyard. It is beautiful.

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Looking down from the walls you see the ruler’s herb garden. Cooled by the lake, it allowed the ruling family to grow foods that would not otherwise do well in this climate.

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But the highlight of the fort is third courtyard which is breathtaking.

The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely beautified with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would glitter bright under candle nights at the time it was in use. Also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), the mirror mosaics and coloured glasses were "glittering jewel box in flickering candle light".[4] However, most of this work was allowed to deteriorate during the period 1970–80 but has since then been subjected to a process of restoration and renovation. Carved marble relief panels are placed on walls around the hall. The hall provides enchanting vistas of the Maota Lake.[14]

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A shot where wall and roof meet.

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We wandered deeper into the fort.

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An ancient ventilation shaft. Love the way the light comes through in the shot.

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A beautiful fort, well worth the rather painful trip to get to the top.

THE ELEPHANTS OF THE AMBER FORT

There are 3 ways to the top of the Amber Fort, walk (it is long), a jeep up the side streets (our method) or an elephant ride that wanders up the hill.

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I jumped in front of this one as it made its way back down the hill.

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The road up and down the hill is packed with jeeps.  Elephants randomly walking into the middle of the street do not speed things up.

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Neither do the random cattle. Wandering free and completely unafraid.

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I had a chuckle at this sign. Not an issue.

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This fellow was moving much, much faster than we were.

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It was very hard not to jump out of our parked vehicle for some authentic popcorn. But the rule was clear, no street food, no matter how seemly innocent – not even popcorn.

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Never a dull moment.

THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR, INDIA

Our last fort and our last site, as we finished our tour of the Golden Triangle. The Amber Fort is quite opulent, and flows across the hilltops with a great view of the town below.

A few of my favorite shots from the walls. Mostly in HDR with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM).

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Great views.

BLANKETS, JAIPUR

According to our guide, Jaipur is famous for their blankets – people come from around India to buy their Jaipur blankets. Very colorful.

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A blanket market .. I think.

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Unfortunately, we did not need a blanket.

THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR

Our last tourist stop.

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ELEPHANTS, JAIPUR

While in Jaipur we made a trek to Elefantastic. From all of the reviews, it seemed the most humane, animal centric group who would give us a chance to see elephants up close. It is hard to see them in captivity, but with less and less space, their reality has now become one where they cannot roam free.

We have been to places like this before in Asia and Elefantastic lived up to their reputation. Families living with the elephants, making a living while treating them as – one of the family, in this huge communal area.

When I have the opportunity to be close to elephants, what always strikes me is the eyes. You look into them and you know, there is a deep intelligence looking back.

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Part of the tour is seeing how they live. This is an elephant home, shared with the handlers family, with a big yellow door.

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Satellite and all.

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The handlers guide the elephants with their bare feet.

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For me, the highlight was not the ride. It was simply spending time with them – feeding the elephants and being around such huge, majestic animals. Part of the tour is the opportunity to paint the elephants before they go for their dip in the lake.

What else would I paint?

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COMMON, INDIA

Shot through the window of our van as we drove through a street.

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GOATS, JAIPUR

The goats of India are like the dogs of Tokyo, dressed!

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A WANDER, JAIPUR

One of the benefits of having a private guide is itinerary control. When we arrived in Jaipur the family was ready for a quiet break from touring. I had to run an errand and Anu accompanied me – through the side streets of Jaipur.

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Once the errand was complete we stepped out and decided to take a one block loop around the shop. What fascinated me was the fact that the one block walk was a city, inside a city with a wide range of shops so diverse that the area could almost operate as a self contained unit. Food, mechanical shops, butchers, a pharmacy, clothing and apartments in a block.

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Rickshaws are like scooters in other countries, everywhere.

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Fossil fuels, specifically wood, is still used to cook and in homes around the city. This wood “store” was manned by a man and his goat.

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A micro-city, within the city, which also included a wide range of food – fruits, street vendors and of course, the local butcher.

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Last street shot. The hustle and bustle, in this case two guys trying to sell carpets. According to our guide, the women are tough negotiators.

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Highly recommend stepping into the side streets if you can.

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