Japan: A visual essay in black and white

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It’s probably because I miss Japan. And also because I’m very much behind in blogging. I was looking through some pictures taken last year on a visit to Japan with my mother and my sister. With so many trips to Japan since 2007, this was the first time I took so many pictures in black and white. I’ve said before that for some weird reason I’ve always viewed Japan edged with a sense of melancholy. Despite having seen her soaked in vivid colour – in the reds of autumn, the pinks of spring, greens of summer and winter’s pristine whites, photographing her in black and white presents a slightly different tone. I’m no pro photographer but I hope you enjoy these snapshots and maybe see Japan a little differently.  Continue reading

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Hoi An: Beauty in the details

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Coming from a country just one degree north of the Equator, you would think I would be used to the sweaty stickiness of tropical heat. But Hoi An upped the ante and took humidity and heat to a whole new level. Everyday, barely half an hour after leaving the cool sanctuary of our hotel, we would already be dripping with sweat. It is a heat that saps the energy and the enthusiasm for sightseeing. And so, it was in this 38 or 39 degree heat, that we would half-heartedly wander Hoi An’s lanes, small museums, temples and shops, our explorations interspersed with frequent cafe breaks. But in the bright whiteness of Hoi An’s light against a backdrop of cloudless blue skies, we found small delightful details of the old town and therein lies its charm.  Continue reading

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Hoi An by candlelight

P1030583When the moon is full, the candles are lit, the fluorescent tubes take a rest and the lanterns glow. Twice a month, the World Heritage Site of the old Vietnamese trading port of Hoi An reclaims its romantic charm. Well at least that’s the politically correct version you read about in all the brochures. But actually, it was hot, sticky and extremely crowded (come nightfall everyone in the resort-laden strip of Danang suddenly descends upon the town). Despite the kitsch and the heat, it was hard to be unmoved by the colourful lanterns that hang above our heads or the pushy spunky charms of a child selling us our lantern offerings for the river. If you look hard enough, beyond the sweaty crowd, and venture a little beyond the main drags, there are vignettes, lit by candlelight and solitary street-lamps that hint of the romance of Hoi An offers.  Continue reading

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Wangkou Village

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It had been a long day. We’d already visited three previous villages and all had been crowded, touristy, cleaned up and some partially rebuilt. I was not hopeful that the last village – Wangkou – would be any different. But the minute I saw it, from the scenic overlook across the river, I sensed it would be different. And yes while I liked the village for its state of authentic decay – looking exactly like a 1000-year-old village would – crumbly algaed walls and all, it also left me reflective about my search for ‘authenticity’ in travel.  Continue reading

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The white villages of Wuyuan

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From afar, nestled in fields of bright yellow canola flowers, against a deep blue sky, the white villages stood out. At least, that was the scene I envisioned and read about, and longed to see. Instead I found myself one month out of canola season and right smack in the middle of an erratically rainy spring. Seen through a veil of drizzle, the white villages were no longer that white but rather a muted grey and the fields a feathery dull jade. But the beauty of Wuyuan county’s famed villages did not lie in pastoral scenes seen from afar but rather up close in the rain-slicked blue stone walkways, the iridescent green algae-laced walls and the narrow alleys hemmed in by Qing and Ming mansions.

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The beauty of Hui architecture

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The land around Huangshan is the heart of Hui architecture. From as far back as the Song dynasty, Hui architecture has flourished – characterised by its tall white walls, gracefully sweeping roofs in dark grey tile, impressive wood carvings and a central airwell. The wealthy Hui merchants eventually took this style further east to Yangzhou, Suzhou etc. But while I loved the big courtyard mansions and gorgeous landscaped gardens of Suzhou and Tongli, these white houses and villages were not similar at all to those. I can’t claim to be an architecture scholar so the observations I made in this post are just that – my layman observations. But I thought that if we were going to visit these villages and talk about them, it would help if readers could also have some insight into these details and features of these houses.

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10 days in a Chinese ink painting

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Our 10-day trip to China was mostly rained out. But for once, boy were we glad it rained. Grey skies almost 80% of the time, with rain and mist and fog, this would have been a dampener on any holiday except this one. The gloomy weather in fact, brought out the best of the stunning mountain scenery of Huangshan, brought into stark relief the tall white walls of the Hui villages we visited and added an ethereal beauty to the fields, the rivers and hills of the Chinese countryside. Through a veil of constant drizzle, in an almost monochromatic palette of diffused smoky greys and smudgy ash, blacks and whites, we found ourselves often in the midst of lyrically beautiful Chinese ink paintings.

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