Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Cherry Blossom is in Full Bloom- Stunning photos of Japanese Sakura

Each year the sakura (cherry blossom) is celebrated in Japan, a tradition dating back thousands of years, signaling the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. Their short lived bloom, representative of the fleeting beauty of life.

cherry blossom in full bloom
Groups of people gather round the budding trees to eat, drink, and socialize with another, an occasion known as "hanami." In a culture where interaction is generally stilted, especially amongst those unfamiliar, the sakura acts as a bridge of engagement.
Yes, and when they are they are stunning

To stand in the midst of sakura; one's mind disappears into the gaps of thought as focus shifts to the delicate beauty around you. 
An electric feeling of awe might infuse your heart and spirit from this meditative experience. 
cherry trees in Kyoto with temples in the background
If you seek a moment's inspiration, might I suggest visiting Japan in early April- the season of the Sakura.
it's early spring, and other trees are barren- which makes the bright pink stand out
cherry blossoms at night lit up in Kyoto
Philosopher's path in Kyoto
colors which help counter the grey skies on Kyoto streets
the beauty of cherry blossoms up close
cherry trees on the river bank at the base of the mountains surrounding Kyoto

Video: cherry blossoms in Nara Park
beautiful girl under weeping cherry blossoms
The sakura has special significance for me as it is amidst them, the branches from the tree inches above our boat, that I asked this beautiful girl to marry me. The answer was yes. It's easy to get inspired.
Most canals in Kyoto have blooming cherry trees at the start of April
a cherry tree weeps over Japanese graves
a stellar tree in a Kyoto park
my pretty girl whom I love so much
brilliant colors of Japan in the early spring

a weeping cherry tree in full bloom over a rock garden
pink cotton candy under a blooming cherry

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Are Japanese the Most Polite People on Earth? Omotenashi is the Answer

Chidorigafuchi park/ Moat- cherry blossom season Tokyo
Unrequested help at the Store
We've read you can purchase tickets to the Nippon Professional Baseball League at 7-11. The clerk doesn't understand a word we utter, but a younger Japanese woman behind us responds affirmatively with one word of broken English, "Yes," then leads us by the hand upstairs to the automated kiosk. But does she stop there? Noooooooooo, this is Japan, thus she navigates us through the hieroglyphics, translating as she punches the buttons for us, insuring we get our exact desires. About seven minutes later, we have tickets for tomorrow's Tokyo Giants game.
(Editor's note: "Noooooooooo" is almost always sarcastically negative, not this time)

Based on her blushful, embarrassed reaction to my thanks, I'm concerned If I tried to tip her she might suffer a heart attack. Not wanting to be arrested for murder, I decide to save some money.
The likelihood of a complete stranger overhearing you, and volunteering to spend 7 minutes of their lives performing the identical task in the city of Los Angeles- approaches zero (mathematically speaking.)

The Taxi
uniformed white gloved Japanese taxi driver
The taxi door automatically swings open, the immaculately dressed driver's pressed uniform includes white gloves. Deferential and accommodating, he respectfully bows his head and thanks you after receiving his exact fare. While Japanese find tipping confusing/uncomfortable, failure to tip an American cabbie will often result in him spitting swear words into your face.

Make it Seen
At a Kyoto Temple, I drop my wife's sweater to free my hands to take a photo. After several shooting angles we walk away, leaving it on the ground; ten minutes later she feels a chill. I race back up the trail, scanning the ground, huffing and puffing, doubting I'll find it. To my surprise it's in the most visible place imaginable, nearly eye level on the gate!
Someone picked it up, and intentionally put it in a location the poor sap who lost it would be most likely to see it. Talk about thoughtful. Time and time again, similar occurrences play out.

Sparkling Streets
The streets of Tokyo are as clean as Singapore's, but unlike the harsh penalties used by the SE Asian island nation to discourage litter, Japanese are taught early and often to pick-up after themselves; littering laws are unnecessary.

Deeply embedded into Japanese culture is "omotenashi-" exquisite politeness with a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.
The needs of an individual are subservient to those of the group/ society at large. No one will push you out the way or cut in front of you. Japanese never brag, especially about themselves. You'll rarely, if ever, witness a public disagreement. No one will rev their Harleys in the middle of the night (please commit hari-kari if you do;) as such behavior is simply at odds with the culture.
While other cultures are of the world are quickly becoming homogenized, Japan remains an island of propriety and self-sacrifice in an ever rising sea of selfish deuchebaggery. When it comes to politeness and hospitality, the land of the rising sun wins the gold, and it's not even close. Take a bow, Japan. 
Video: My omotenashi- honoring Japanese deer ancestors

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Maekhamin Waterfall + National Park- the Hidden Jewel of Thailand

welcome to Maekhamin Waterfall

A couple hours away from Erawan Falls, lies Maekhamin Waterfalls. Again, for nature lovers, this is a must visit, but has the advantage of being far less crowded than Erawan. Rent a car and get there, it's stunning and gorgeous, and dip off in the pools. 
There is little to any English spoken in the area, and there are no ATM's so make sure you bring enough cash. That said, the area is cheap and inexpensive, and is a great experience. 
Watch the video below and sift through the photos to get an idea of the area's beauty. Enjoy! :)

Maekhamin Waterfall- all levels of the falls: National of park Thailand

small waterfalls at the upper levels of Maekhamin
a gentle flow down
  the thick jungle around the Maekhamin Falls
the thick jungle around the Maekhamin Falls
large funnel web spiders wait for you if you misstep in the SE Asian jungle
large funnel web spiders wait for you if you misstep in the SE Asian jungle
Ellie sits on a branch cooling her feet in the water below
Maekhamin Falls
Maekhamin Falls
so beautiful here
light blue water of the Thai Jungle
the water looks like a mirage- such gorgeous colors
mesmerizing and gorgeous
mesmerizing and gorgeous
a great swimming hole :)
a great swimming hole :)
if the mosquitoes attack, dive into the water
if the mosquitoes attack, dive into the water
under the jungle canopy
under the jungle canopy
gorgeous ey?
Love this place
The sun sets over a large lake nearby

The Gorgeous Waterfall of Thailand- Erawan National Park

Gorgeous Erawan Falls
one of 7 levels of Erawan Falls

There is a vast dichotomy between the loud, sprawling, and often ugly cities of Asia and the quiet, beautiful nature which still surrounds them. Only a few hours away from Thailand's sprawling capital lies Erawan National Park, home to a 7 level waterfall. 
It's a meditative experience watching the light blue water cascading down the mountains, cleverly changing its course as the jungle's obstacles present. 

the fish doctors will nibble at your feet

Dip your feet into the pools and have the "doctor" fish nibbling upon them within seconds. Instinctually you pull your feet away, squeamish like a child. Moments later you place them back in a water on a dare, and see how long you last with the jungle "sharks" having at your feet.
Walk up the mountain to the various levels of the falls, cooling off in the pools forming below them, showering under their flowing heavy deluge if you dare. 
Video: Highlights of Gorgeous Erawan Waterfall all 7 Levels - national park Thailand
Gorgeous Erawan Falls
Large pool on level 1 of the falls
Gorgeous Erawan Falls
standing behind the falling water
it's a rainforest, but the surrounding area was not super wet when we were there
seated upon a jungle vine
so beautiful
the Erawan Jungle
the Erawan Jungle surrounding a level of the falls
the Erawan Jungle, Thailand
it's so beautiful
the Erawan Jungle
the light blue of the jungle
Ellie does yoga on a log above the water
the Erawan Jungle
all the Tarzan vines you can swing on around the falls
Erawan National Park- just gorgeous

Thai wooden elephant near the park entrance waves us goodbye

Seriously, if you're a nature love, Erawan Falls + National Park is a Must See.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fun Things to Do + See the Island Of Bali

the black sand beach of Bali

I had seen the volcano and it’s the massive lake, the Bali Zoo, the black-sand beach, Monkey Forest, and been to Jimbarran for the sunset and fresh sea food. Looking for something new, I listed my adventures to a local. “Wow! You’ve seen everything!” he exclaimed.
Booking ten days in Bali alone is a little excessive, four should suffice, as nice as it is, and as friendly as the people are.
volcano and surrounding lake

Apparently, I fell under the Bali haze, felt incredibly lazy, and didn’t pursue my eco-trips of visiting the Komodo dragon or flying to Borneo to visit the forest of the orangutans. I actually regret not doing so … on the other hand, I did get a lot more sleep than normal.

Night Life

Only in Kuta, the rest of Bali is incredibly sleepy. It’s rare to see Balinese girls in the clubs. They are very modest, pure, and believe in sex only when married (in general.) The Indonesian girls you’ll see on the club scene are nearly 100% from the nearby, and much larger island of Java.
The Balinese are not at all fond of Javans. Any crime on Bali- Javans. Prostitutes- Javans. Hatred- Javans.
Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia, Javans are all Muslim. Balinese want to date a Javan girl, they have to convert. “Javans are fanatics, all they do is create trouble” stated my driver.
Russians were voted “worst tourist sub-species by far” according to anyone I met. The only people the Balinese like less than the Russians are the Javans; they must be pretty bad.

I stop at the memorial built on the spot of the discotheque that was bombed in 2002 by the Russians … no wait, it was the Muslim Javans!
I see the names of the 252 people who perished in the blast. Some people are taking pictures of the monument. I am not. For some reason I feel emotional. I see the monument as a tribute to the egoic nature of mankind, and the separation and hatred that exists. I take it in for several minutes.

There are a lot of clubs, and especially on Saturday night, a ton of people circling the streets. I’m still thinking about the monument.

Friendly Meetings

The Balinese, if they speak decent English, are exceedingly friendly and easy to talk to.
Their dream-- to be able to go to America and earn what for us is minimum wage. If you earn $120 a month in Bali you’re doing better than average. To have the sum of $10,000 is Unthinkable. “You could buy a hectare of land, build a house, and pass it on it on to your kids.”
A cab driver I meet claims to have known Barrack Obama as a child. “I look one day on TV, and I see Barrack!” He exclaims joyfully. “I knew him as a child!” I note that Barrack is at least fifteen years older than my cabbie. It’s a good story though, so I let him have it. All over the world Barrack is a loved man.
Without tourism there would nothing in Bali besides seafood and fruit. That’s why the Balinese were hit so hard in the 2002 Bali bombing; the flow of tourists dried up.

I meet a pretty 20 year old Dutch girl named Joleen who’s travelling with her Mom. They too, have been all over the world, though her impression of Egyptian men is not the highest.
“Where ever I went, they would just grab me. It was very uncomfortable. They were very rude.”
Prophet Mohammed: “Guys, guys, will you please stop grabbing women’s asses like they are baboons in heat.”
(blank looks from the crowd of men)
Mohammed: “I order you to behave like civilized human beings … I am after all, your prophet!”
(more blank looks)
Mohammed: “Screw it. It's easier to just impose a subordinate dress code on women.”

baboon in heat. That is actually her rear end. One of nature's more subtle signs of sexual receptivity

The baskets pile atop one another. I think there might be more baskets than worshippers.
Balinese women balance baskets of fruit on their head, taking it to a Hindu ceremony

Motorbikes line the streets. Unless you’re a cabbie or very wealthy, you’re driving a moped.
A policeman pulls over a tourist on a motorcycle, and extracts a bribe out of him for not having a license, a favorite tactic of a corrupt police force. Get caught driving drunk in the states you got to jail, on Bali you’d better have $20 cash on you.
Being a policeman is so lucrative on the island, they actually charge people for the position. $1,200 gets you a uniform. You’re sure to make it up pretty quickly if you follow proper police protocol.

ATV Riding + Jetskiing

Never had gone ATVing. Really the dumbest thing I did on Bali. Go down a steep slope at zero miles an hour, my hand on the brake the entire time. Climb over slimy rocks, increase my carbon footprint, waste $65. If I had one do-over in Bali this would be it.
I also nearly killed myself jetskiing. Going less than mach 6 is simply unacceptable, and when you hit a wave wrong, you'd better have a damn good grip on the handle bars. Still, this is always a lot of fun.

White Water Rafting

The river had many waterfalls, some a lot higher than you’d think would be safe to go over in the slender inflatable canoe for which I was responsible, second in command. Jagged rocks stuck their fearsome heads out the shallow water, warning us of the inherent danger of our mission. This was the dry season, making traversing these level three rapids that much more risky. Adding to the peril, there was no shore. The far too narrow river ran down a high gulley, a slick, steep wall of rock flanking the river on either side, making escape impossible.
Several times we had been close to capsizing, but somehow, due to the maritime skill of the crew, managed to stay afloat. Now we had come to the last leg of our journey, a double waterfall, one fall, with another following not more than three feet later.
This is the type of thing that I would only have needed to look at as a child and my Mother would materialize out of nowhere and yell, “No Richard! Absolutely not!” and she’d forcefully drag me away, and then ground me for a week. “Mom,” I’d complain, “I was only looking!” But she knew better.
But with Mom on an entirely different continent, and thus the threat of being grounded greatly reduced, unless I were to be so stupid as to report my activities, our boat surged towards the falls at breakneck speed.
The thrill of gravity’s acceleration as we plummetted down the first fall. Clear. Hitting the water/bedrock several feet below, we bounced up, and immediately plummeted down waterfall of doom, flinging our boat sideways in the air, and throwing the crew from relative safety and into the rocky water.
Ouch! There are more pleasurable feelings than landing on rocks covered with a layer of one foot water. I'm tending to my wounds.
“What’s that? … Come on! Not fair! Pleeeaaassseee.

Sorry guys, can’t talk now. Gotta go. I’m grounded.