Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Over a bottle of tequila at a dinner table in Pittsburgh one enchanted evening, John McClellan and I have a nice, long discussion about "novel ideas," you know, ideas that are just too good to pass up.

I receive this sometime much later:

john1amerpie: we had a tramp board
john1amerpie: but no tramp
john1amerpie: but some time on our hands
john1amerpie: so i had what i believed was a novel idea
john1amerpie: ...almost toasted my sprinkler system


(sitting quietly at a table in an overly incandescent frame, interview style, hands folded)

john1amerpie: pap always said "better to be a smartass than a dumbass"

Not being present for the above photo has made me reconsider my life goals. So, like yeah, slope shredding is totally on the agenda. duh.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A girl walks into an audio store in Mongkok to buy headphones after sufficient hours of research and a thought-provoking cab ride from a fantastic dinner. Sifting through six different currencies in her make-shift ziplock wallet, she hears the digital bleeps of the cash register and the oh-so-satisfying sound of the receipt paper spouting from the machine. In all of her eagerness, she politely motions to the Asian sales clerk that she really needs this bulky package open... and now, please.

And at last, the audio world is hers. After months of shit, she's pretty damn close to perfection. With the crisp sounds of the treble, the energy of the vocal midrange and the low, smooth flow of the bass, nothing else matters in the entire world. She would know, because she isn't exactly close to home.

Where to go from here? Doesn't matter. She cruises around Mongkok on foot, with no other objective in mind than to listen. She could only share the next few hours with some of her oldest friends, christening the ear pieces with arguably the masters of rock'n'roll: Pete, Keith, Roger and John. Perhaps it's a tribute to her dad that this motley crew beat out the likes of Jimmy, Robert and John^2, or perhaps she just wants to hear the re-mastered studio tracks as close as they were meant to be heard without the concert amps of the early 1970s.

If you don't know the album, shame on you. If you don't know the boys, you don't know the girl.

Any questions?

P.S. From Mozart's Concerto #6 in B Flat to "Flamenco Sketches" to the echoes on "Talk Show Host" to Gotan to uh, anything by Mariah Carey, these babies are, as Mr. Curda would say, "swingin'."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What a cool place. For a girl who loves stories just as much as her tea, she came to the right place. Opening in the early 1930s, Luk Yu Teahouse is not only rich in Chinese history and culture, but has somewhat of a darker side as well.

In November of 2002, a Chinese assassin casually walked into Luk Yu, had his breakfast, paid his bill, walked over to his target, shot him in the head and walked out. Totally B-movie, Hong-Kong-gangster style. If it wasn't unfortunately true, you would think the story had been scripted. Even the setting, the old ceiling fans to the aged wooden molding to the mirrored booths, is right off of the silver screen.

Its infamy aside, Luk Yu is most famous for its tea, dim sum (served from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and "indifferent" service, though I somehow missed the last part.

In fact, my waiter was great. Making friends rather quickly over discussions about such things as the perfect tea pot and Chinese dining etiquette, Sham ended up being my partner in crime in smuggling one of the tea pots out of the restaurant. Mind you, I had asked how much it would cost, but he simply shook his head, went back to the kitchen and came back with one of the pots wrapped in brown paper.

Shoving it in my vacant camera bag with his encouraging words of "quick, quick!" and slightly paranoid glances, I casually resumed my meal, quite happy with our stealth. About seven minutes later, Sham reappeared with five brown bags of Bo Lai (tea mentioned in previous entry), and again his, "quick, quick!"

So dessert rolled around and by Sham's recommendation, I ordered the almond cream, pictured above. I've had it before, but not like this. The egg whites were so smooth and each flavor of the soup, from the almonds to the thick cream, was so individually identifiable, but still created a wonderfully elegant combination of tastes. Gastronomic perfection in a bowl.

Slurping the soup and enjoying the last of my tea, Sham came back over with one of the tea cups and its matching saucer.

"Quick, quick!"

At this rate, I thought I was going to acquire the whole darn dining set and was beginning to worry about how much more I was going to be able to fit into my camera bag without looking like Robin Hood and Little John robbing the prince's caravan.

Needless to say, I left Sham a very nice tip for all of his "services" and decided it was about time to go buy some sweet headphones.

And not only did I find my headphones, but thirteen Hitchcock movies for six bucks.

This is what I call a great day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rat with wings or dinner...

Flying solo to Yung Kee in Central Hong Kong, I've grown quite accustomed to these dinners by myself. It's very difficult to coordinate eating schedules on this ship as everyone keeps very strange working hours, and consequently, very strange living hours. But hey, when culinary expeditions call my name, there's absolutely no refusing. I've certainly noticed the inquisitive glances from other tables, but I think that's because I frequently take pictures of my food. I mean, my chopstick skill level is at about an 8.75 now, so you can just go ahead and rule the "clumsy Caucasian with chopsticks" reason out... thank you very much.

Finding the award-winning menu to be quite enticing, I sat down to an overwhelming selection of Cantonese cuisine. Fresh out of snake soup (just like those appendage-less little creatures...the nerve), I went with a delightful shrimp won-ton soup and Bo Lai (a fermented black tea, most popular in Hong Kong) to accompany this little bird. To end the meal, I ordered a standard Chinese dessert called tong shui, which is (in this case) a sweet red bean soup used to moderate body temperature and regulate the digestive system, or so they say.

For my money (178 HK, about 22 US), I was very satisfied. Pigeon is a bit on the livery side, but believe it or not, it's pretty far down on the list of strange things I've digested since I left the U.S.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hong Kong Fashion Week didn't go exactly as I had planned, but I suppose that is all right. Still in the process of arranging tickets for the last of the 50some models that have been working here since December, let's just say that my usual jobs have been put on hold. The only good thing, I think, that can come out of this is that I now know how to handle international visas for Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and Estonia - so if I ever decide to pursue a career as a port agent, I'll have a super head start.

Needless to say, because I needed to make sure the girls cleared immigration, I was unfortunately only able to shoot 2 of the 14 shows that ran through the past 4 days. I have a feeling there will be many more in my career, so I'm not so bummed.

NYC's Fall '08 Fashion Week, the epitome of fashion insanity, is coming up February 1-8 I think. I will miss it by a week or two, but I know my good friend, Lucas Buck, will deal without me if I promise to buy him falafel. Right, Luke?

Cecilia Yau accepting flowers following the debut of her Fall/Winter Collection '08 during Hong Kong's fashion week.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First of all, I'd like to mention that this picture was supposed to immediately follow the picture below. Same night, both pictures shot with my little tiny Canon camera.

Today's story begins yesterday at about 7:00 p.m. with some massive frustration aboard this little ship. Busier than busy can get, doing my job and 10 others (when the photographer is booking tickets for the entire ship, you've got a problem) and having slept about 10 hours over the past three days, I was not so enamored when the IT guy (unfortunately for him) walked in after a crowd with 50 demands involving the internet had just walked out.

Me: "What's the problem?"
IT Guy: "Well, as ze ship,(makes tilting motion with his hand), mast block signal, so not much internet."
Me: "How much is not much?"
IT Guy: (shrugs his shoulders) "Eh, here and there."

Poor guy.

With more curse words in more languages than have ever been uttered at a computer in one moment, I slammed my laptop shut, grabbed my backpack and made my way to the tender to take me ashore in a vain attempt to get some work done. Being that I had no internet to research wifi spots, I got into a cab and asked to be taken to Hong Kong's public library, hoping that it was close, but if it wasn't, I really didn't care.

Well, the fact that it ended up being close was too good to be true, because when I got there and tried to connect, I quickly found out that the library had blocked all sites not to be used for intellectual gain. No email + no FTP server = no good.

I stared at my screen for a bit, realized that that wasn't going to help, threw my backpack on and started walking. I found two of three wifi spots I had looked up at the library by foot, but of course, one was closed and the other was having server issues.

This is when I said, to hell with it, I'm going to buy shampoo.

Walking around Hong Kong alone, particularly at night, is always an interesting experience for me, particularly this time. The American with jeans, flip-flops, backpack, hoodie and half-brushed hair sticks out just a little in the massive crowd of impeccably well-dressed, stylish, perfectly groomed Asians in Hong Kong.

I don't kid when I say that everyone looks like they stepped out of a fashion magazine. To quote my boss, "it's like everyone has their own salon in their basement." From their boots to their hair, I think these people are just born with undeniable fashion sense.

But enough of that... by the time midnight rolled around, I headed back to the pier to catch the tender, completely ignoring the fact that the tenders only come back to shore on every hour. As I pulled up to Pier 9, I watched the tender pull away.


I did realize that I had my little consumer camera though, so I decided to kill the time by exploring all of the sky-walks (open walk-ways over the street) by the pier... which is where I found this lovely little sign. There are two things I consistently love about each place I go to in Asia: 1) the brooms and 2) the English signs. For some reason all the signs I find usual accompany a good story, so maybe that's why I like them.

Anyway, I never really thought about how one would spell the word "hawking," but I suppose that's it. It would have been a better picture if I caught someone disobeying, but life isn't always perfect. I like how the quadrants of this picture go from light to dark - the sign in the upper left, the city through the open window, bottom right.

Ok, so, 12:40 I went back to the pier, no one around. The wind was blowing and holy cow was it cold. I watched a couple stroll down to the end of the pier and embrace. My thought was somewhere in between: are you guys nuts? and that's really sweet.

I put my backpack on the bench and lay back, just thinking, thinking about how crazy it is to be in a different place and entirely on your own. About how little effort it took to make this all happen. I suppose some of the best things can only come that way.

10 to 1, some of the Vietnamese waitresses showed up. I like these girls because, despite the wide language gap, there's this cool, yet distant understanding between us. Maybe it's because, irritatingly enough, I'm the only person on the ship who will never let them take my dishes back to the kitchen, but who knows.

To conclude this epic entry, the wind continued to blow, and I progressively got visibly colder. Yes, shaking. Unexpectedly, the smallest of the girls came over to me and wrapped her tiny arms around me. I can't say that it helped much, but it was the kindest thing I had experienced since the old fisherwoman in Bantayan in the Philippines. Of the four Vietnamese girls there, she was the only one whom I didn't know.

There's a lot of shit that comes with this job, but when you have awesome moments, let me tell you, they. are. priceless.

I'm ashamed to say this, but I have no idea what this giant corn-on-the-cob was doing in the middle of Hong Kong.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The first evening back in Hong Kong, Dwight and Cholo, plus the Romanian light guys and I headed out to find dinner. We made the brash decision to leave the ship at about 11:30 with no maps or ideas of where to eat, in hopes of making our experience, well, more of an experience.

And I can say that we were quite successful. Our late night walk around Hong Kong turned into "Inappropriate Phrases In Other Languages: 101". That's actually one of the best parts of being away from home and in working environments such as this. I often forget that aside from the British captain, I am the only native English speaker on board. It's very weird to think that way, but it makes my contributions to such conversations less fun. And as a side note, guy talk in other languages is funny. Maybe better than in English.

Furthermore, I've confirmed that many of the Balkan States don't have curse words in their native tongues, but do indeed borrow them from the Serbians. I read about that awhile ago, but just thought that I would publish that confirmation for those that I told this to.

P.S. - That is one lengthy noodle.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Buddha says:

Better than a mule
Or the fine horses of Sindh
Or mighty elephants of war
Is the man who has mastered himself.

Dr. Seuss says:

I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's word is one hundred percent.

Groucho Marx says:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know. (Animal Crackers, 1930)

Who would have guessed it, the American wasn't allowed off of the ship in Sanya. A big boooo to that. Apparently, there is a list of 7 or so countries that are not even allowed to apply for a visa when docked in Sanya's port. It's nice to know that the US is in the company of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and I forget the last one, but I think you get the point.

SO, since I've been on the ship for the past 6 days and shot nothing but events and sunrises, I decided to flash back to Koh Chang for a bit. I loved Koh Chang. Beautiful beaches, great food and of course.... elephants. Just f.y.i, koh in Thai means island and chang means elephant.

I consider this shot a "mission accomplished" piece, because before I even made my move to the Philippines, a photographer friend, specializing in war coverage for Getty, asked me to send him a picture of me with an elephant. Being that I had no idea I would be going all over SE Asia this fast, I was kind of perplexed as to where I would find this elephant in the Philippines, but that really wasn't going to stop me from trying.

Since I consider this whole ship shindig a "world preview" anyway, it doesn't really matter that I didn't get to explore as much as I would have liked to, because a return trip will most certainly happen.

Friday, January 04, 2008

I think I need to say, despite my doubt, that this ship really did New Year's Eve well. The party and fashion show, held in Saigon, were quite beautiful with over 1,500 people in attendance.

The story of my NYE is not so much entertaining as a severe reality check for me, one that has been such a long time coming. I was already in a less-than-chipper mood, which could have possibly been the less direct cause of some minor disagreements with the head of production, but the result of that argument was what I ended up enjoying the most.

Because I lost the battle, I was sent outside the ship to take photos of arriving guests on the red carpet. I was being snobby and didn't want to play snap-shooter, until I realized that there was a beautiful string quintet playing just outside the ship.

As I waited for guests, I made friends with the musicians, as I seem to have a knack for doing, and had a grand old time... for about an hour I had my own live set - anything I wanted to hear. This was great because it reminded me of my music life back at home, which was just what I needed as I had been going through Damnwell, Clark and Jon Check withdrawal. I miss the boys. I miss hitting the road with whoever asks me, whenever they ask me.

So in true New Year fashion and realizing that I've exceeded everything I said I was going to do up until this point, I've decided that if I can't unpack my very little, but ever present, nonsensical, retroactive baggage, it's getting tossed overboard. Pardon my Visayan, but fuck it. Life looks too good, too fresh from where I am standing... which at the moment, is Sanya, China.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

So really, the reason the candy canes never saw the oven of this ship is not because I wasn't feeling spunky, but it's because I ended up here Christmas morning...

(Koh Rang, Thailand)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Let me tell you, shopping for and baking 2000 cookies on your own isn't exactly easy. Especially provided that you are in Thailand and need to find 20 packs of round rainbow sprinkles, amongst a variety of other non-Asian ingredients, all of which are packaged according to the metric system. (Mental picture: me in a Thai grocery store trying to do the conversions and then the multiplications of the 2-dozen-yield recipes in my head)

As my Christmas present for everyone on board (regardless of the overwhelming presence of Israelis), I had planned to bake 2 different kinds of cookies by the 25th (and a 3rd pain-in-the-butt-candy-cane cookie if I was feeling spunky) and if you've talked to me in the past week or so, you know that time-wise, this was close to impossible, as we have been crazy busy with preparation for our biggest event of the year. So while the Christmas party on the 24th was raging, I planted myself in the kitchen and went to work.

The coolest part about this, well there are 3 cool things, was that 1) much to my surprise, chocolate chip cookies are not as international as this little naive American had thought (most people had never had them before), 2) Oksy, our restaurant manager, hugged me for about 20 minutes because my baking reminded her of her grandmother's and 3) all of the Vietnamese cooks stayed with me for a majority of the night because they wanted to learn the recipe. As the cookies baked, we had a few kitchen-rock-out sessions with my ipod, which is something I will never forget. I will also never forget the huge fight I had with the head chef at 5 a.m. when I insisted I was going to clean all of the pans and utensils because if I didn't, "my mother would feel it in her bones all the way back in the U.S.," so for my mom's sake, he let me do it. Quite the Christmas Eve, I must say.

And yes, ladies and gentlemen, cookies make people happy. Going around the whole ship from the gangway, to the engine-room, to the bridge, to the pool-deck, to the you-name-it-I-was-there, I couldn't have had a warmer Christmas.

Of the cookie pictures, I like this one the best because of the lower-right-hand corner. Notice there are significantly less in this tray than all of the others... damage done by the cooks, wait-staff annnd yours truly one Christmas Eve in Koh Chang, Thailand.