Archiving


Over the past couple of weeks I have been busy going through old photographs from travels long since finished and uploading the to my flickr page.

Derrynane, Co. Kerry, Ireland, July 2013

Derrynane, Co. Kerry, Ireland, July 2013

It started accidentally, with me uploading a huge number of images from my summer in Ireland, mostly from Kerry on the south west coast. After this, I realised that I still had at least a memory card or two worth of photographs from our most recent visit to Thailand, in February of 2012, and Malaysia in July of the same year. While I’d uploaded some of my photos from Malaysia, I think the Internet still deserved a few more.

Further inspiration for uploading more photographs came when a package with around 250 photographs from our Honeymoon to Turkey in 2008 arrived on the doorstep. I had finally taken the initiative to put together a photo album from that time, and it only took something like five and a half years.

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Hierapolis, Turkey, July 2008

Now this really was an amazing collection of photographs, not just of the memories myself and Herself shared, but also of a very spectacular and scenic country, one which we’d both like to return to again in the future. I think I was quite selective in the photographs I chose to develop in that they reflected our experience together and the memories we’d like to look back in in the future. That being said, that I left out so many due to this is a perfectly good reason to trawl through the folders again and share some of these images here.

It’s interesting to watch how my style and quality of photograph has developed. With travel photography, there’s always the necessity to capture as much of the scene or the action as possible, and to present a sense of how it actually feels to be there. I think that as I’ve taken more and more photos, both every-day and travelling shots, I’ve become more capable of doing this. Of course most of my early shots are simple point and shoot efforts, regardless of the quality of the camera (back then mostly a Sony DSC-H5, which I still have back in Ireland), I still had to do my best to take as good a shot as possible, a skill which I kind of had to learn myself.  With time I spent more and more effort composing the photo, taking time to frame it, and to snap at the right time. With my DSLR now I am starting to see how this is even more important than ever, considering I know so little about light, shutter speed, aperture, and eveythign else bar pushing that little shiny button on the top.

Before I begin to share photographs here on mass, I should add that I’ve just uploaded a small set of photographs from a brief stopover in Hong Kong we made on the way to Seoul from Dublin in the same year. I am also beginning to dig into other folders saved on my hard drive and on CDs of visits to places like China, Japan, more Thailand and Malaysia, France, the UK where myself and Herself lived for a year after getting married, Ireland, and of course Korea. It’s is an exciting project ahead for myself.

Hong Kong and the Star Ferry, May 2008

Hong Kong and the Star Ferry, May 2008

When I think back over the countries I’ve visited I don’t think I’m that well travelled (I base this assumption on the amount of countries I still want to visit), but when I look back at the many different experiences and locations I’ve been to I can be proud of myself in this regard. I still know that I have many journeys ahead of me, and along this way I plan to have my camera, Herself, and for the foreseeable future, +1.

To view the sets on my flickr page, including recent uploads from Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, please click on this link.
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I Own My Phone


Haaark!

I own my phone. Congratulate me. Thank you.

For two years I paid my phone bill like a diligent citizen. Included on this was a monthly instalment that paid for the actual device. I couldn’t remember how much it was because when I bought it the salesman spoke very quickly, circled pieces of writing, and showed me a lot of pieces of paper, and all the time I just wanted him to give me the blasted thing so that I could go and touch it constantly. But today I checked my bill and low and behold the bill was a whopping 50,000 won less than normal. Of course this is splendid news for my pocket as I can now divert this sizeable sum to some other bill I struggle to pay every month.

Of course it’s my phone is only a glorified paperweight that I could arguably say I don’t need. In fact I’m very sure I don’t need it. But I do have it. So there. Anyway. It’s all mine now.

One thing though which has made my *ahem* life more interesting/better/exciting/or however you choose to describe it, has been the camera on my phone. For all the other things (with the exception of the twitter for those long lonely toilet breaks) there is nothing I value my phone more for. Anyone who follows me on the internet elsewhere (instagramtwittertumblr (which is basically my instagram feed), flickr) will know that I’m a little obsessive about photographs – but I’m lazy about it.

To celebrate my now 100% of my phone and my love of photographs, allow me to share with you a collection of some photographs which I’ve taken over the past two years with this simple (looking) device. Photographs span across six countries (Korea, Ireland, England, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia) – I’ll do my best not to include too many sunsets!

(Hat tip to Craig Branch for getting me thinking about this post!)

 

(for some reason all my photographs won’t upload…maybe too many…but you get the idea!)

Malaysia Photographs


As regular readers will know, I was in Malaysia for a short holiday not so long ago. As usual, I took my camera and took plenty of photographs.

#With the exception of the amazing collection of sunset shots I took from Langkawi where myself and Herself spent about six days, my two other favourite spots to photograph were the BOH Tea Plantaion in the Cameron Highlands, and Kuala Lumpur and the busy streets around Bukit Bintang – being a tourist with limited time and a pregnant wife I wasn’t fortunate enough to get to see more obscure corners of the city, but I think I did a good enough job.

Click on the photographs below to take you directly to two sets of photographs I have just uploaded to flickr

Click this photo to view more photographs of the BOH Tea Plantation!

Please take a few minutes to read my short travel essay on this site about driving through The Cameron Highlands, where we visited the tea plantation.

I also have a shorter essay about my arrival and first few hours in Kuala Lumpur here.

Driving Through the Cameron Highlands


The road was dusty and the road was hot. Inside the air-conditioned car much of this didn’t matter as much. From Ipoh, the highway curved steadily between limestone bastions that seemed to have risen from the earth like mushrooms. Eventually the road climbed and these individual giant outcrops melded into larger formations, and before long we were winding through these formations that were now the beginning of a larger mountain range.

The more the road climbed, the further it went from what would commonly be referred to as civilisation. With that, the jungle seemed to take over as the trees rose higher and the variety, from what I could see from the back seat, seemed to be changing every time we went another hundred metres above sea-level.

The road was typically mountainous but well paved, fortunately, so this allowed for plenty of progress as the engine constantly gunned up and around another inclined bend. For several hours the road continued like this, rising and rising, and then it seemed to drop downwards again following the contour of the valley. This rise and fall and rise again pattern carrried on kilometre after kilometre. Always the road was ascending until it led to the crest of the hill with oversized white capital letters that proclaimed we had finally arrived in what are known as the Cameron Highlands.

The highlands, as far as living memory and the memories of those who lived before are concerned, have always been there. The area was discovered, in the colonial sense, when a surveyor by the name of William Cameron returned from an expedition there and reported on the contents. Prospectors initially carved a roadway through the jungle hoping to develop the region as one both for health reasons, but also as an agricultural area. Then nothing happened for another thirty or so years.

The plateau itself is around 700 square kilometres in size and on arrival there, two things are automatically quite noticable; the cooler and less humid climate, and the intense levels of market gardening.

As I mentioned, as you enter the Cameron Highlands from the Ipoh direction you are welcomed by huge white capitalised lettering informing you that you have entered the Cameron Highlands. Almost instantly pick-your-own-strawberries farms pop up on either side of the highway. We pulled in, opened the doors and stepped out, stretched, and breathed in the balmy summer mountain air which felt more look it belonged in the best Irish summer, rather than the tropical rainforest we had just finished driving through.

We took a short rest, while making it our priority to stock up on strawberries. As we wandered around we made our way to where the strawberries were kept, reaching through the fence every so often to pick a few slyly when the workers’ backs were turned. We weren’t sure if they cared or not, as most of them looked like Malays or Indian, while the business itself appeared to be run by Chinese Malays, although I might have been wrong. But, at the same time we didn’t want to find out the hard way.

Back on the road again, the highway seemed to narrow and slope downward as it crossed a few shallower and less steep valleys that dissected the plateau. On either side of us, four wheeled drives plastered with red mud lined the sides of the road around the entrances to the many farms which seemed to be increasing in density. These farms where mostly made up of greenhouses that provided vegetables, fruit, and herbs which didn’t naturally grow in Malaysia. I imagined that most of this produce got sold on to the big hotels and supermarkets in Kuala Lumpur, but it was also quite likely that there was a high demand from Singapore, and even Bangkok and tourist hotspots in Thailand to a lesser extent.

The road got busier and soon it looked like we were passing through an area that was a few steps short of being industrial. The road was filthy with mud, and the streets were as packed with traffic as any Asian street I’ve ever travelled on. This was the town of Kampung Raja. Behind the various restaurants and hardware supplies businesses that lined the muddy streets, tall apartments that lost their decadent appearance the closer we got to them rose, and around them low lying wooden huts appeared to stacked on top of each other. In the middle of all this was a new building still under construction belonging to the Malaysian immigration authorities.

Malaysia would be one of the wealthier countries in South East Asia, and even in Asia I suppose, and the fact that migrant workers are employed in agriculture should be of no surprise. Of course sometimes we are slow to catch on to these things. When we visit places as tourists we only see things at face value. We see a person who looks similar to other people and the language that is spoken is, to the unpractised ear, indistinguishable from another similar sounding tongue.

When I visited Thailand in February, there was a large amount of Cambodian workers employed in many of the resorts, and when I was in Ko Pha Ngan a few years before I recall there being a fair amount of Burmese people there to. Seeing the work that these people have to do and comparing it with my own life and work here in Korea, it’s hard for me to ever make any comparison between me and them. I doubt that they see any fair comparison between us either.

It didn’t take long for us to pass through this town and we were soon back winding away through touristy tea shops and strawberry fields. I had dozed off after the long journey, but I suddenly felt the car stop, reverse, and then pull back onto the road in the direction we had come. I tried to open my eyes to make sense of it, and when I had eventually cleared myself of sleep I could see that we had pulled down a narrow, twisty road which was surrounded by trees and bushes on both sides. Closing my eyes again, I was woken briskly by the exclamations of my fellow travellers: stretched out to our right, sloping down, and up the sides of a small valley and marking the rise and fall of the land in between like the rings on mountain map, was a tea plantation.

I had always wondered how a tea plantation would look. As I am Irish I’m an avid tea drinker, and as I’d grown up seeing where things came from – usually fields for cattle and potatoes – it was something I had not considered I would see unless I went to India. I had an impression of how it might look, but any ideas were clearly influenced by pictures and television.

But here I was in Malaysia, around 1,500 metres above sea level, driving slowly through acres of tea. At irregular intervals there were workers busy in the warm midday heat tending to the almost uniformly level tea plants which literally did stretch as far as I could see.

We drove further into the plantation, past some old British Tudor homes, past more tea and more workers, and finally through a small village of wood huts, that included a mosque, a hindu and a Taoist temple, a government school, and plenty of recreation facilities. There was obviously still a large manual requirement for maintaining the plantation, which I suppose is the case for most agricultural products which we consume, and especially those which come from less developed parts of the world. The huts looked quite basic, but the area was clean and definitely not cramped, and at face value the conditions looked much better than they were in Kampung Raja.

When we stepped out the car we walked up the tea shop which was a far cry from the rustic wooden huts below. This modern facility was an impressive sight. A long platform projected out from the crop of a small hill, with windows opening a view along each side. At the end of this there was a covered balcony. The tea shop was busy and lively, mostly with visitors who came to enjoy the view and to try some of the tea which was growing around them. After we had done this, we had a look around and then went back to the car.

This tea plantation was actually the first in the Cameron highlands and the very reason that the area was developed in the 1920s as a hill station by the British colonial government. Hill stations were popular phenomena for the British who undoubtedly struggled under the constant suffocating heat of a tropical country. I’d read about them a fair bit in novels which touched on the British colonial experience, but my knowledge of them was, and still is, very limited.

There was more of this hill station to see along the road. As we drove around the Cameron Highlands we made a number of stops, but most notable was a spot called The Smokehouse, which had been a former club house for the colonial elites. I was told that this spot now is a good spot to get some beef Wellington, a dish I don’t think I have ever eaten. The house itself though was beautiful, and the gardens were manicured to the highest standard. It was essentially a British Tudor style house surrounded by tall pine trees that didn’t fit into the environment at all, standing out as a sanctuary for homely comforts.

It was a bit surreal to be honest, standing there looking up at this house and feeling more comfortable within the surroundings than I had with my own surroundings that I had had for the past few years. It wasn’t just because the house was nice, it was because it reminded me of something which was distantly connected to my own culture, even though I’m not British. I suppose I could compare this kind of building and environment with places like Itaewon where people have tried to open their own bars which cater for people looking for a particular atmosphere reminiscent of that which they had left in the their own home.

This feeling didn’t last long however, and a quick marvel at the exterior was enough for me. We jumped back in the car and continued our journey.

After passing through the busy town of Brinchang, which had a lively bustle as the evening was coming, we drove directly to Tanah Rata where we stopped to eat. As we didn’t stop in Brinchang, a comparison is difficult but it was clearly more of a tourist orientated town with restaurants, a starbucks coffee, tacky tourist everything-under-one-roof supermarkets, and all in all, not a lot of evidence that a lot of people lived around the place, unlike Brinchang and Kampung Raja with their apartments and locals going about their daily business. In Tanah Rata there were some more old British colonial buildings, including a church. We looked around briefly, ate, and then hopped back in the car for the long winding road back to the main E1 expressway which would take us back to Ipoh where we were staying.

We left Tanah Rata and returned to the main highway which again hugged the side of the hills as it descended in looping twists and turns. At first there wasn’t much to see as we were quite high up, with the exception of some magnificent fern trees. We have ferns in Ireland, and in Korea they cultivate them as they are used as a key component in the popular dish, bibimbap. However, these trees were enormous. Many were several metres high, and many looked like they were from the Cretaceous or Jurassic periods, or at least that is what I thought based on the illustrations from dinosaur books when I was younger.

The road descended further and soon it crossed a small bridge and we passed another tudor outpost in the growing jungle. This one was called The Lakehouse. We didn’t have time to stop as it would be getting dark soon, but as the car drove by I took a look at the lake, just for posterity’s sake, and it must be said that I don’t think I’ve seen a muddier lake in my life.

Driving onward, the jungle started to grow up as the road began to snake down through more bendy roads and switchbacks passing along the curving mountainside which the road was built on. The further we moved through the jungle, the greater it became. There was hardly any sunlight shining on the road as it was completely obscured by the foliage. I looked into it as we passed and it seemed completely impassable. To imagine what it lay inside that natural maze would only sell the diversity of its contents short.

Since I have returned from Malaysia I have scanned over this area a few times with Google Earth and I all that I can see here is dark, unpenetrable green forest. There are no patches of brown or light green caused by farming or forestry, just apparent preservation of this amazing ecosystem.

This is probably one of the reasons I will return to Malaysia. It’s has been classified as a megadiverse country, along with places like Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar, making it one the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It is home to the oldest rainforest in the world, and many endangered species. The Cameron Highlands was only one small example of this. But there are still concerns serious concerns.

The mountains in areas such as the Cameron Highlands protect the jungle from deforestation and agricultural development. On lower and flater ground, palm oil plantations are the new tea and they do not require high altitudes to grow, and slowly these crops are taking over many parts of country, which was clear to see when we drove from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur the next day.

I wish that I could say more on this, but I just don’t know enough, but I think that if we make ourselves aware of these things when we travel we can become better travellers, and more aware of the world we consume when we go to the supermarket.

The drive through the Cameron Highlands was a day trip. We saw some truly breathtaking scenery on our drive, and I got an impression of how and where a place like Malaysia now fits within the world. Although a small country, it has much to offer and by one drive over six or seven hours I could feel that I had seen not only scenery, but also history, both human and of course natural history. This history had given the experience and knowledge to new generations to utilise for their own good. While the word has negative connotations, exploitation is not always a negative thing.

Mistakes will always be made, especially when humans are involved, but I hope that we are gradually realising these mistakes and taking steps to make a change to the way we interact with the rest of the planet.

In Kuala Lumpur


We arrived in Kuala Lumpur this morning after staying in a small airport hotel last night. Taking the airport express train, we were carried from countryside through to suburbs and then briefly through the city until we alighted at KL Sentral, the main train station of the city.

After booking train tickets on to Ipoh for tomorrow, we found a taxi which took us in the central shopping and business area of the city, Bukit Bintang. It is also where we have reserved a room in a quaint guesthouse within sight of a large hotel we had been considering before our friend recommended otherwise. As we had arrived too early to check in, we left our bags with reception and set out to take a short wander around the locale.

It wasn’t hot outside, nor was it humid. The city held itself in a cool after-rain balm which had yet to be pestered by the afternoon sun. As it was early enough in the day, the streets seemed lazy and trafficless, but we knew better as the taxi we took on the way spent some time negotiating almost perpetually red-lighted crossroads. We made our way into a large shopping mall and wandered downstairs to explore the restaurants.

It may seem like a peculiar decision to do something like this, but after living in Asia for some time I find that food halls in shopping malls actually serve a function other than feeding the working and shopping masses. As a traveller, before you dive into the street food and corner restaurants pack with locals, a food court gives a base from which to approach other eateries. Invariably mediocre but never overpriced, food courts give you an idea of the variety of food on offer and also an idea of how much you should actually be paying for a meal. I always take a moment to explore all the small restaurants and consult their picture menus, then if I’m lucky I can come to a decision and pick up the courage to order something. Once I’ve eaten, I’ve had my fill of food courts and can feel more confident approaching local cuisine from local restaurants.

After eating, we wandered around a little more but slowly we made our way towards the guesthouse where we were to stay. On return, we checked in quickly and made our way to our room where we lay in the cool of the air conditioner for a while. I stepped out and made my way down to one of the communal lounges. As I sat there reading up on Kuala Lumpur it started to rain. A prompt and straight rain that the drummed heavily and incessantly on everything, while in the background thunder sounded like heavy goods vehicles hurtling down a country road. A stiff breeze blew in the wide open windows and cooled the room where I sat, and it is still the case now.

Since then the rain has lessened and some construction workers on the streets outside have returned loudly to their tasks. There is an occasional hiss of a car passing through puddles near by, and the the tap-tap-tap of rain here and there. We will go out soon, rain or no, and finish our first day exploring the capital city of Malaysia.