Friday, May 15, 2015

Cherry Blossoms

(Originally posted on on April 13, 2015)

Cherry blossoms, duh!
I had hoped to write an entry about cherry blossoms about a week and a half ago, and that deadline went by without my writing so much as a single word. I then hoped to write this about a week ago, and that deadline went by without my writing so much as a single word. Then I wanted to finish writing this by this past weekend – April 11th and 12th – and that deadline went by without my writing so much as a single word. Well, today's the day. The cherry blossoms might all be gone for the year, but the annual blooming of cherry blossoms is a pretty big deal in portions of east Asia, and for the second year in a row, I had the privilege of living on the South Korean island of Jeju at this incredible time of year.

The cherry blossoms first began to bloom on Jeju on something like the 25th of March. The next weekend, March 28th and 29th, held Jeju's annual Cherry Blossom Festival. I went to this festival, but didn't bother to bring any camera gear, because in my experience, festivals in Korea are much more about buying trinkets, drinking soju (a clear, Korean rice-wine), and eating street food in tents than about whatever the title of the festival in question happens to be. The Cherry Blossom Festival. The Fire Festival. The Barley Festival. The Flower Festival. Any one of them could easily be renamed "The Drinking Soju and Eating Street Food in Tents Festival." This is by no means meant to be an insult. I love the Drinking Soju and Eating Street Food in Tents Festival! From this point forward, I'll shorten the name down to the D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival.

Several of my friends went to the D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival on Saturday, March 28th, in the early afternoon. I wasn't able to join them until a few hours later, at something like 5 P.M., which gave my friends a bit of a head start on me in regards to liver destruction. I took the bus into town and walked up the hill to the stadium complex around which the Festival was taking place. I was in no way surprised to find my comrades a few minutes later, in, where? You guessed it! A festival-style tent, drinking Korean liquor and eating street food. I promptly joined them and set off towards my goal of having an absolutely miserable Sunday.

After about an hour of playing catch-up, we paid for our food and drinks, and began our trek around the stadium. The stadium in question isn't particularly large, but it is a full-size soccer stadium, and it would probably take 10 minutes to circumnavigate at normal walking speed. Normal walking speed, however, is not something that would have been possible to achieve, even if it were desired, due to the huge number of people – certainly in the thousands – milling about.

I was looking for a new pair of sunglasses, because the only pairs I have are Elvis-style sunglasses, complete with glued-on fake sideburns. The D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival, and in fact all Korean D.S.E.S.F.T. Festivals, are great places to waste money on stupid gimmicky things one certainly doesn't need, and by the time we'd made one full lap of the stadium, I found myself in possession of one pair of admittedly pretty-sweet sunglasses, and four baller-ass pimp rings. Some friends I was with ended up with a toy sword that lights up and makes annoying noises and a matching balloon. Basically, we were super-mature.

Jokey Festival Pictures

This was the state of things when I arrived at the D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival. Throughout this entry, I talk a lot about drinking soju, and while it is THE drink Korea is famous for, and the primary thing I drink when it comes to alcohol, we actually mostly drank maekgolli at the festival. That's the delicious, extremely reasonably-priced, brownish liquid in our little dog-food bowls.

Interestingly, these dudes lived in Geoje, a neighboring city to Tongyeong, the first city I lived in in South Korea, back in 2010-2011. We actually hung out a few times back in those days, too. Now, we both live on Jeju.

Someone's happy.

These dudes don't look all that happy, but they are.

Balla! The total cost of all the rings in this photo was 24,000 Korean Won, or about $20.

My totally awesome, new sunglasses.
 We spent maybe half an hour watching some live music and dance performances on a fairly large stage before wandering back to the tent in which I'd originally found my friends. Another couple hours there, and a night in town left me sunglassesless, and with only three rings. That's pretty much why I didn't take my camera out.

But back to Cherry Blossoms. On the weekend of the D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival, the cherry blossoms weren't quite at their peak bloom, yet. It took another couple days for them to come out, completely. And then, in typical fashion, a typhoon moved in and tore all the petals off the trees less than a week after they first bloomed. But not before I went back to the stadium and adjacent stream upon which the D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival was held, and took a few pictures. Check 'em out.

Good Pictures

A close-up of some cherry blossoms.

A closer close-up of a single cherry blossom. At the time I took this shot, all the cherry blossoms weren't quite done blooming. Notice the pink, unopened flowers on the right.

More cherry blossoms.

A wide-angle (17mm) shot of some cherry blossom trees and the night sky. The lights from the city caused the sky to have a disitnctly purple color.

One of the many roads in Jeju that is lined with cherry blossom trees.

I've lived on Jeju for about two and a half years, now, and until the night I took this picture, I didn't know this street, unofficially called "Cherry Blossom Street," even existed.

A brown-eyed bulbul. I took all the bird photos in this album at the schools at which I teach English.

I like that I finally got a little direct sunlight in this shot.

Full bloom.

A chestnut-flanked white eye. I was able to take the next few pictures from the second story of my school, which conveniently looked out, at eye-level, with these cute, little birds.

Also, on the first through third of April, I brought my camera and telephoto lens to the schools I work at, because both of my schools have several cherry blossom trees in their courtyards. I don't know if it would fly in America for anyone to walk around an elementary school with a fairly paparazzi-looking telephoto lens, but here, not an issue. I actually managed to get some great shots of a brown-eared bulbul, and a chestnut-flanked white eye.

The cherry blossoms are now gone from Jeju, now, and I will be, too, in the terrifyingly close future. And it's very possible that I've now attended my final D.S.E.S.F.T. Festival. That sucks. Oh well. New adventures and new festivals await!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adventures in Macroland

(Originally posted on on March 31, 2015)

NOTE: If you hate reading, just scroll to the bottom and check out the slideshow.

In less than a month, I'll have left the South Korean island of Jeju, my home for the last two and a half years. I've been working hard to save money during my time here, and for the most part, I've succeeded in putting away something of a nest egg that I'll probably burn through much more quickly than I presently care to admit. But because I haven't really acquired much in the way of physical goods since arriving on Jeju, I felt like I could splurge on one particular item that I've had some interest in for a while. A macro lens. After doing some research, I decided to go with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM and the Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite. Although it was meant to be a Christmas present to myself, it didn't actually arrive on Jeju until March, but whatever. Now is the time of year that it's actually usable, now that the local flowers are finally blooming. Here's how that whole setup looks on my Canon 60D.

My macro setup: Canon EOS 60D (camera body) with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM (lens) and Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Light (ring flash)

I'm admittedly quite clueless about macro photography – this is obviously something I'll need to remedy in the near future – but here's the jist of it. Macro photography is basically the taking of pictures of things from very close range. If you've ever seen a picture of a flower in which you can identify individual specks of pollen, it's probably a macro shot. Same thing if you've ever seen a picture of an insect in which you could clearly make out the compound eyes.

Since I got the lens, I've gone out on several occasions to play around with it. Here are some of the better shots I've gotten:

The Sons and Daughters of Mild Disorder and Confusion (SaDoMDaC) went on a ride on March 15th, a couple days after I got my macro lens.  We visited Geungnaksa Temple, a peaceful location about 15 minutes west of Jeju City, and found all sorts of weird plants.  I noticed that the cabbage growing there looked interesting when viewed up close.  So I came back the next day and snapped this shot.

There were also white cabbages growing there.

Can you guess what it is?  It's a cactus.  A golden barrel cactus, specifically.  I shot this at Hallim Park, a walking garden / park / greenhouse / zoo on Jeju Island's west coast.

Hallim Park also had a tulip garden that was just starting to bloom when I visited in the middle of March.  Here's one whose petals had opened up a fair bit.

I'm not sure what type of flower this is, which is unfortunate because there was a path through Hallim Park that had one side defined by some bushes that were blooming with these flowers.  I spent an hour or more walking back and forth by these bushes, experimenting with my new lens, and trying, specifically, to get shots of bees or flies on the flowers.  The Koreans there probably thought I was crazy.

The tough thing, I've come to discover, about taking pictures of bees, is that what you really want to be visible, and in perfect focus, is their eyes.  But this is tough because when they land on a flower, they tend to immediately bury their faces in pollen.  If  were a bee, I'd at least have the decency to pose for the dude with the fancy camera who has been chasing me around, from flower to flower, for an hour.

Finally, a good shot of an insect!  Check out the bits of pollen on the fly's back.

I think we can all admit that flies kind of suck.  No one wants them in their house, or office.  If there's a single one in your bedroom, it can keep you awake for hours as it buzzes around.  And if you happen to go somewhere that there are millions of them around, such as I did in 2010 in central Australia, you'll be fully aware that it is one of the most annoying things to have to deal with imaginable.  Now, with all this said, I have to admit that they're kind of beautiful.  The iridescent coloring is pretty spectacular. 

This is the macro shot I'm most proud to have taken, to date.  Look closely, and notice the detail visible in the compound eyes.

It's quite strange: flowers, and other tiny bits of nature tend to look like things from other planets when viewed up close.  This is the stamen of some kind of flowering tree.  But to me, it looks like it belongs on Planet Xybog-9.

My macro lens is my only prime (non-zoomable) lens.  And damn is it sharp.  A perfect lens for approachable animals, such as this apparently sleepy blue-and-yellow macaw, which appears to be exhausted from a long day of dealing with tourists walking up to him and shouting "annyeong haseyo!"  That's Korean for "Hello!"

A bizarre species of cactus I spotted at the Yeomiji Botanic Gardens, in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, South Korea.  The botanic gardens claim it's a cactus.  To me, it looks like a miniature Sarlacc - the alien that eats Boba Fett in "Return of the Jedi."

A couple lotuses.  These were a bit tough to shoot, as I was constantly worried that I'd tip over and end up in the pond from which they were growing.

Another lotus.

And yet another lotus.  Notice the tiny dragonfly in the upper left corner.  I think this picture could have been absolutely incredible if the dragonfly were larger.  In reality, he was probably only two centimeters (about one inch) long.

A bee approaching a cherry blossom flower.  I haven't yet figured out how to shoot with my macro lens at speeds faster than 1/250 of a second.  So the wings of the bee are very blurry, and even his body isn't as sharp as I'd hoped.  Other than that, I think this picture is great!

Not quite the shot I was hoping for, but this is the best shot of a bee on a flower I've gotten yet.  I like that his eyes are visible, and everrything is in perfect focus.  I guess I'm still looking for a better pose.

One hell of an elaborate flower.  Or, again, something from an alien world.

Shocking, Glenn!  Another flower!  #sarcasm

As I'm writing this, the cherry blossoms on Jeju are in full-bloom. So I'm going to try and give myself a couple opportunities to shoot them in the next week or so. They don't typically last more than a week, and with all the rain that's predicted in the near future, they might only last another couple days. Maybe I'll have some kind of follow-up to this in a future post.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

I Joined A Motorcycle Gang

(Originally posted to March 27, 2015)

Fine, if we're being honest here, I didn't really “join” a biker gang. I co-founded a biker gang. Originally called “The Sons of Mild Disorder and Confusion,” I think we're in the process of renaming ourselves the more politically correct (and accurate, given our new members) “The Sons and Daughters of Mild Disorder and Confusion.”

Just read it...

Originally consisting of the three founding members, myself – Glenn “MFGB” Lewis, Jordan “Yup” Yip, and Luke “Kingslayer” Armstrong, our mission has been to ride our badass hogs around our island home of Jeju, South Korea, turn some heads, and raise hell.

Jordan "Yup" Yip

Glenn "MFGB" Lewis

Luke Kingsley "Kingslayer" Armstrong

Wait, that isn't true. Our actual mission statement is: “We ride together. We die together. Bad Boys for Life.” But it might look more gangster if it's written: “We ryde together. We dye together. Bad Boyz 4 Lyfe.” It's “gangster” to spell things incorrectly, isn't it? Specifically, 'i' should be replaced with 'y' whenever possible, in order to show just how gangster we really are. Of course, changing 'die' to 'dye' might cause some confusion, and fools who don't know no better might read this motto and think we're some kind of group for the advancement of illiterate fans of the dying of clothes. I don't know where we'll ultimately land on that one.

Wait, that isn't true, either. Our actual actual mission has to do with the objective of riding around and exploring Jeju when the weather is agreeable, exploring weird and / or abandoned places, and taking funny pictures of ourselves in and around these places.

This being primarily a photography website, here are some photos of a few places we've been:

There's a huge hotel just up the highway from where I live, and it seems that the construction stopped abruptly some years ago.  Today, it is huge, empty, and at times, scary.

Had this place ever been completed, I think this would have been a sauna / pool area.
The basement.  Probably scary at night.  A bit scary during the day.


Tammy.  A true Daughter of Mild Disorder and Confusion.

The Sons and Daughters of Mild Disorder and Confusion doing what they do best.  Taking weird pictures together.

Long exposure fun.

Still in the basement.

Still in the basement.

Plants are starting to grow inside.  I don't think much has happened here in years.
If we were going to release an album, this would be the cover.

Or maybe this would.

This gives some kind of scale to the site.
Another shot to give some kind of scale.

I think this would have been the front of the hotel, if it had been completed.

A couple of the rooms were even furnished.  I have a hypothesis: Perhaps a few rooms were furnished in order to show to potential investors.  Could have been a nice place.
No idea what to say about this.  A child's bed with a chandelier on it.  A child's chair.  A child's easel.  Behind me as I took this picture, there was a full-size desk and chair.  There was a Korean Bible (this IS Korea, after all) and a pen on the desk.

Anyone for a swim?

Our next adventure took us to "Jeogi Art Village" and the "Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art."  We found it completely by accident, as is the M.O. of the Sons and Daughters of Mild Disorder and Confusion.
Jordan enjoying some of the contemporary art.

Luke enjoying some of the contemporary art.

This is the first time I've ever ridden a flower-headed cheetah.

"Help!  I'm being eaten by a dinoshark!" is not a sentence most people get to say in their lives.

...nor is "I'm going for a ride on that dinoshark."
"Look, a monkeysheep!" is one more example of things people don't often get to say.

"To victory, on the back of tricorilla!"





And one more SaDoMDaC (It's pronounced "Saddam Dack") photo classic, again from the Jeoji Artist Village.  This shot is actually a nearly 360-degree panorama.