Photography 101: Swarm

Many of us had moments when we were in a crowded place and the sheer volume of people was just too much to handle. But I challenge that most of us don’t really know what “too much” truly is until we travel to a developing country where safety codes are meager if they even exist.

Admit it. When we read the news about horrific tragedies such as a stampeded killed more people than the cause of the stampede itself, some of us wonder how that’s even possible. Filing out of a door in an orderly manner is something we’ve been doing all our lives, right?

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Traveling and living in developing countries gave me perspective and understanding how those events happen. As mentioned, in many of these places crowd control is not a known discipline. Not in terms of movement and flow. More often, any policing would be focused on thugs, crime, and disorderly behavior. The idea of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands depending on the event, needing to move fluidly is not necessarily a priority.

One event where I and my traveling companions got seriously concerned about our safety sole because of the crowd was during the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown of Bangkok, Thailand. One end of the street where the festivities took place was completely taken up by the stage, with a narrow sidewalk on one side for exit and entering if you were to approach that end. The sides of the streets were completely taken up by vendor stalls. We were wrapping up our evening, trying to get out as the crowd ballooned in size from the after-work and Friday evening crowd.

Another thing about these cultures is there is no sense of queuing. A lot of the mentality if focused on grabbing your space because no one was going to offer it if you just stood by. There is no giving half of the space for traffic going the opposite direction. Crowds do not have a sense of courtesy or unspoken traffic flow rules. Free space is space to be claimed. So people started pushing forward in a narrow sidewalk. A building wall on one side, a chain link fence on the other.

We were pushing, body to body for space. Even if we didn’t want to move, we were being pushed from behind. It took almost half an hour to get through ten feet of distance. When we finally broke free, we admitted to each other that we each were eyeing the chain link fence in case we needed to hang on in an event of a stampede.

After that, almost any crowd in the Western countries pales in comparison.

 

My Favourite Things: Coffee

I am an American coffee drinker, through and through. I love my drip coffees strong and black. I can’t stand Starbucks for their burnt flavor. I refuse to order Americanos.

Travel has made my keenly aware what my coffee taste is. I had taken it for granted, until I learned the hard way that everyone drinks their coffee differently.

Chains

– Dunkin Donuts. Hands down the best ever. I grew up on DD and I acquired my taste for coffee through DD. Any New Englander knows that you just walk right into any DD shop and order a “regular” coffee. Which is hot, with cream and sugar. But you don’t need to specify all that because they already perfected the blend. None of the yuppified Starbucks “extra shot, soy milk, caramel sauce, three packs of sweet n low,  blah blah blah.” While I was living in Asia, I stocked up by the crate on DD beans whenever I was back in the States. Sadly, the franchises overseas have not replicated the perfect coffee. What a crying shame to the name.

Caribou. I am shocked, in a pleasant way, to see one in Istanbul, Turkey. First encountered in Colorado, I always associate this chain with fresh coffee beans of the hearty West. It is one of the places that don’t drown out the coffee flavor in their espresso mixes

Beans: Oddly, the most memorable beans I’ve had come from the most unexpected. And least accessible for many of us.

Saffron. We bought a couple bags while we were resting in the shade of one of their cafes on a really hot humid day of sightseeing. I am a fan of going to the local coffee shops instead of the chains, but coffee isn’t even that common in Laos. And it was such a fragrant fresh batch I had.

Yemen. Yemenis drink tea these days. But the history of coffee as a drink we know today originated in Yemen. First records of the drink was in the Sufi monasteries in Yemen. Mocha is the name of a major trading port in Yemen. So doing the math, Yemen traders played a vital part in spreading the popularity. I had a friend who was working in Sana’a for a few months and he picked up a kilo of beans for me. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said it was cheaper than the beer I would buy him. Sadly, Yemen is not a destination of choice these days, but it was such a potent pungent bag of beans that I was sad to finish.

Vietnam. Vietnam is a major bean grower in the world’s production of coffee. However, they are not known for their bean quality, often been used in blends as fillers. Their flavor tends to fall flat, and lack in that bitterness I like to jolt me awake. Then my father bought a bag off the street vendor.. and it smelt like rich dark chocolate. The secret? The beans were roasted in butter. Really, how can you beat butter?

Those Neighbourhood Gems: Every place has one of them.. a locally run, independent cafe, that might roast their own or feature a specific coffee source. As a traveler, I just wanted a good cuppa sometimes.. and I always am ecstatic when I finally do, especially if plain black coffee is hard to find.

– San Francisco. How is it possible to pick one out of a city of independent neighborhood businesses? At the end, it all comes down to where you are and what is convenient.

Kitchen & Pantry, London, UK. No matter how I try to time, pace, schedule.. I am always exhausted and thirsty when I walk around Portobello Market in London. There are many local shops to pick from, but I find myself gravitating towads K&P every single time. It’s hard to beat the selection, and the leather couches remind me of home.

Kuppa, Bangkok, Thailand. Sometimes I just want a hiatus from the chaos of a bustling changing modernizing Asian city around me. Walking into Kuppa is like an escape from the concrete high rises, into a contemporary zen, accented with old fashioned burlap sacks used for beans. Ordering plain coffee rewards you with a generous French Press to drink at your leisure.

– Chez Moi. Finally, well, I did out myself as a coffee snob. So what better place to drink it the way I like it than a home? I don’t even have fancy makers.. I have an assortment of them, but I always go back to my reliable drip machine. I tend to buy my beans whole, purchased from all over the world as I try to make a trip to the supermarket wherever I am, and ground a bag at a time.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

Lately I’ve been thinking of Thailand a lot.. I have such a lovely time.. and ended on such a high note. And finding an old SD card with photos I never got around to transferring has triggered a lot of memories.

My last weekend there was spent at La Bhu Salah Artist Resort, Chiang Mai. I can’t claim to be an artist in any way, but I was the only guest there in their off season, and I was treated so well, greeted with large smiles, all the great things people remember Thailand for.

Their entire resort was available to me, with their many pavilions of workspaces and thick solid teak wood patio furniture that put all our Western options to shame. I made use of every single pavilion available. How can I not, when they are this charming?

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Yes, I was blogging!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Regret

My submission:

Caption Contest: What would you write?

How would you interpret? (my comments to follow in a later post)

Here are a few to get you started:

I regret not taking the lens cap off.
Dark regrets
I regret sleeping through the event.
I regret missing it.

Weekly A-Z Archive: C for Camel

Though what on earth a camel of all animals is doing in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is beyond me.

A bit closer to their natural home.. I can’t help wondering if this pair eventually made themselves famous in the Cairo uprisings.

Nikon D80, f11, 1/500s

Finally, this photo makes me chuckle. A friend and I got the obligatory tourist’s camel ride across Giza for a view of the pyramids. The friend has a wariness for camels. I was beginning to doubt we would go for the ride at all, which I am not terribly attached to myself. The camel handlers try to convince us it is perfectly safe and that the camels will not bite. Nothing, though, prepared us for the sight of who our guide would be and the expression on my travel companion’s face when she saw.

Nikon D80, f13, 1/640s

Other participants in this challenge,

Led by frizztext:
http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/a-z-archive-c-challenge/
http://nolagirlatheart.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/a-z-archive-c-challenge/
http://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/a-z-archive-c-challenge/
http://creativityaroused.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/c-challenge-cat-empress/
http://abcnellibell49.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/c-is-for-completed/