A business trip on 747

My company’s headquarters are located in Southern France, so occasionally, I can be asked to head to Europe for business. This happened last December. It was the occasion of both sampling the business class of Lufthansa (and its Boeing 747), and, at the same time, of admiring once again, the beautiful city of Nice during this business trip to France.

A 747-800 for the flight

The 4-reactor jumbo jet is much less in favor nowadays, as airways do prefer more economical bi-reactors, such as the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A350. I flew extensively on the B777, and sampled the A350 thanks to Finnair.

upper deck stairway
upper deck stairway on 747-8

The B747-8 of Lufthansa, although it has the pretension of being one of the latest models, still suffers a lot of its age. Indeed, on the upper deck (admittedly, the most private setting for the business class), window side seats are established with a two-row setting. This means that if you are sitting near the window, then you have to jump over your neighbor to go to the restroom. In my case, pretty delicate as there is no place to hold yourself when the seat is reclined and this bed is fully flat.

Business class Lufthanasa
Business class seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8.

Entertainment

The 747-8 has one of the latest screens, but managing to connect the noise-cancelling headphones can be difficult. I even had to ask the assistance of the cabin crew to find the connecting port. Beyond that, the movies choice is pretty updated, but of course, when you download, you are necessarily a bit frustrated by the offer.

Business class screens
Business class screens on 747-8 of Lufthansa

One of the more quirky sides of Lufthansa, is that they provide you a mattrass to be deployed on your seat when you want to sleep. Funny and not necessarily very convenient.

Food: uninspiring

Most people like business class for the food. I have to confess I have a low interest for food, except that I can tell choices are uninspiring.

Dinner on Lufthansa
Dinner on Lufthansa

You might call my choice very “German”, as it comes complete with the potatoes!

At any rate, it was sufficient to nurrish me and keep me satiated until arrival.

One hour before arrival, we were served breakfast. Although the beds are lie-flat beds, I am afraid my back does not allow me to sleep comfortably in the rather Spartan airline seats. Breakfast was a welcome awakening.

Breakfast on Lufthansa
Breakfast on Lufthansa

Once again, it looks VERY German, complete with saussages and eggs.

Arriving in Frankfurt

Of course, when flying from Asia to Europe, you are always bound to arrive at dawn. It was not yet 6 AM, and hence quite dark outside as we landed in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight. I managed to take a few shots of the cabin and the Christmas decorations on the upper deck, before deplaning.

Christmas decorations on 747
Christmas decorations on 747-8

You really get a measure of the majestic plane once outside. In the night, the 747 has still a majestic and royal presence which fills the whole berth.

B747-8 in Frankfurt
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its bay in Frankfurt

Layover in Frankfurt

Unfortunately, being a hub for Lufthansa, Frankfurt’s business lounge gets quite crowded in the morning. And, of course, there is a quite a queue to use the lounge’s showers. After shower, it was the time to catch my connecting flight to Nice.

By that time, it had started raining and we took off in an Airbus A320 “neo”. Short plane, with winglets at the end of the wings, the A320 neo is the short range Airbus solution (something of a competitor to the B737 of Boeing).

A320 neo
A view of the A320 neo at its gate. Notice the winglets at the end, fuel-saving feature.

We took off in the rain, but not before seeing a streak of sunrise coming through the clouds.

Sunrise on the airport
Sunrise while waiting to take off to Nice on the A320 neo.

Short haul business class

Obviously, the short haul business class on Lufthansa, just as on Finnair is pretty spartan. Breakfast comes through as a typically German breakfast (again!). Cheese and cold cuts and bread…

Business class breakfast
Business class breakfast on Frankfurt-Nice

The flight was quiet and uneventful, but as the plane flies over the Italian alps in its approach to Nice, the views from the window were quite spectacular. A reminder of how beautiful it is to fly during day time.

View on Italian alps
The view on Italian Alps from the plane

Nice: a classical city

Obviously, I am not going to talk about my work here, nor what I did in Southern France in relation to business.

No, I instead wanted to talk a bit about the city of Nice: although slightly fresh, it was not yet the real cold and dreary days of December down south. I enjoyed a beautiful sun during my stay and, contrary to Asia, the skies were a magnificent blue.

My hotel being located next to the Notre Dame Basilica, I managed to visit this beautiful neo-Gothic church – deserted as about every church in these days and times.

Notre Dame de Nice
The beautiful Notre Dame de Nice Cathedral at night.

The Basilica itself, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture… brought down to scale! In fact, ths basilica was built around 1864, after the city of Nice was returned to France from the Kingdom of Sardinia. So, quite new as a church, but still it maintains a certain intemporal beauty.

Inside the Basilica
Inside the Notre Dame of Nice Basilica

The whole area of the center of Nice is a bustling area of promenade and of animation of the Southern city. Cars are excluded from circulating, so the main transportation is the tram and bicycle.

Biking in Nice
A lady bikes on the tram rails in Nice

A missed sunrise

Sadly for a photographer, I was unable to stop and shoot a picture of the beautiful sunrise on the mediterranean coast near Nice. I did manage to grab a snapshot from my car’s window, though.

A famous social media symbol
A famous social media symbol for Nice.

Later, on the same road, I managed to see a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise in Nice
Sunrise in Nice

Return flight

The return flight to Hong Kong was as uneventful as the going. I flew again on a 747-8, but this time, I took the precaution of getting an aisle seat to avoid having to hike above my neighbors…

And when I arrived in Hong Kong, it was time to say goodbye to the 747 after two flights with Lufthansa.

Boeing 747-8
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its gate in Hong Kong after the night flight from Europe.

In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

Street Food in Busan

One evening, on returning from my excursion up a mountain, back in December 2017, I decided to do something differently, and have my dinner outdoors at one of the roadside stalls of the place. It was my first experience of street food in Busan.

Roadside stalls with hygiene

Contrary to what you would expect in Thailand, for example, the Koreans do take hygiene at heart. So, vendors do use plastic gloves when handling food and all of their dishes are single-use.

Busan street food
Busan street food

Rice cannelloni

Most of the dishes were simply some form of rice cannelloni as can be seen on the pictures. The sauce was pretty good and in the cold evening of Busan, it did provide a refreshing change from habitual food (although I must say I tried also some delicious kimchi).

Most people just eat standing.

Atmosphere

Indeed, one of the lovely things about street food in Busan is also the atmosphere around. The night lights, the stands and the street’s setting combine to give it a homely atmosphere. Eating out should be done more for sharing in the atmosphere of locals. One local student helped to translate for me my order and was quite curious to know from where I was. Koreans have always been welcoming and helpful everywhere I went, and Busan was no exception to the rule.

Atmosphere in Busan
Atmosphere in a street where roadside vendors have set their stands

Finally, if you prefer eating in a restaurant, there are many places where you can eat kimchi or a full set meal for a very reasonable price.

For once, I truly enjoyed “going local”. But then, Korea is a place where even foreigners are gladly welcomed to share the local life. Probably one of my best experiences traveling around Asia. Busan, itself, has a more “rough” feeling to it, but locals are quite friendly and nice.

Farewell to Karaoke street

Sunday night was the last occasion on which Sai Yeung Choi South street was open to pedestrians. At 22hrs, the police invited performers and crowds to leave. On this last hooray, a huge crowd had come to bid farewell to karaoke street.

Neighbor and business complaints

The end of “karaoke street” is not totally unexpected as performers had kept on increasing their professional-level sound systems to drown competition under the decibels, leading to regular complaints by local businesses.For some performers, it was the occasion of making some nice money.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.

Despite these inconveniences, the whole street exuded a formidable vibe that best embodied the spirit of Mongkok, and its grittiness. Hong Kong may have become more orderly today, but it certainly lost a part of its soul.

Some performers, when faced with some technical issues already left on Saturday: “I do this because I like it, not for money”, said a man with a big portable sound system. “Clapping is enough for me”.

At the same time, many other performers were much less generous with their time, receiving a lot of envelops ladden with cash on their last days. Despite the greed (which was ultimately the downfall), Karaoke street also provided entertainment for older HongKongese lacking places of commonality in the city.

Dancing ladies in Mongkok
Two ladies dance on Sai Yeung Choi street on the music of a karaoke singer

Dance and music

Some of the performances could often derive in full blown dances by dozens of people. This video I took last time is a perfect illustration.

It must be said that Mongkok is not an easy place to police and keep happy, as they were the theater of the”fishball riots” in 2015, in the aftermath of the umbrella movement.

It is possible that political and policing afterthoughts were not very far from the mind of the district council which asked for the removal of Karaoke street.

Karaoke street
A man performs on karaoke street

Most performers took it in stride, vowing to find another place to perform. However, Hong Kong will soon realize it lost a part of its soul, killing an entertainment that was famous with tourists worldwide. Where the farewell to karaoke street may have been bittersweet, another piece of vibrant culture has disappeared.

Street Photography in Helsinki

Helsinki is a marvelous city, especially in spring or at the beginning of summer. The daily life scenes are also interesting and surprising when walking through the Finnish capital. That’s why, doing street photography in Helsinki is a perfect experience. On the negative part, people are much more aware of cameras and photographers (as around Europe). Nevertheless, I never had any bad experience in Finland.

Panning shots in Helsinki

Helsinki, despite being the capital of a European country also loves to take things on the slow side. As such, many scenes are perfect for panning shots. Many Finns love bicycle riding, and these make perfect subjects for panning shots. In this case, the lady was carrying shopping bags of Marimekko, which made it the perfect symbol of Finland.

Finnish lady on bicycle in Helsinki
A Finnish lady is riding a bicycle in Helsinki center

You can also try your hand at people walking, but in this case, people should be walking parallel to the plane of your camera.

Finnish fashionista in Helsinki
FInnish fashionista in Helsinki

This allows to make street photography a bit more interesting by introducing a dynamic element in your pictures.

On very rare occasions, you can come across the perfect scene, if you take the time to change your settings quickly. Like this old car which was roaring near to Tuomiokirkko square. I just had the time to switch to Tv (time priority mode) which was set up on 1/30s and catch the shot. As luck would have it, a piece of Tuomiokirkko showed up in the picture, hence providing the context.

Old car near Tuomiokirkko
An old car rushing through Tuomiokirkko

Street scenes

Another way of shooting street photography is of capturing street scenes. Sometimes, you can happen across some unexpected scenes, such as these two Thai girls near the Helsinki harbour.

Two Thai girls in Helsinki
Two Thai girls captured in Helsinki

Looking around you, and having an eye for structure and leading lines can also give some interesting results. Like in this result, where two girls were taking their pic on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko.

Two girls on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko.
Two girls on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko

These shots are pretty easy to get, they just involve your paying attention to your surroundings. Then, if you have models around, you could also try some interesting shots. Like this pic, where Mitchy and Maria-Sophia were posing while a seagull took flight above their heads.

Before the Tuomiokirkko
Arriving in Helsinki: before the Tuomiokirkko

On the street, you can also try to contrast fixed subjects and moving objects such as trams. Here a shot also near Tuomiokirkko.

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia in a side street near Tuomiokirkko

This technique allows to distinguish your subjects from the background, suggesting movement and also, at the same time, isolating the fixed subjects. If you want to try this technique in a crowd, which would work also nicely, you must try using a tripod to guarantee the lack of movement. Ideally, I would also deactivate the vibration reduction system on the lenses if any when using a tripod, otherwise, you will have micro-movement on your lens.

In short, Helsinki is rife with street photography opportunities. Just go out and shoot!

Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki harbour
Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki Harbour

 

Bangkok, a cosmopolitan city?

Bangkok is at the crossroads of Asia and the Western world. As such, you would think that Bangkok would be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Pictures such as those of local Japanese residents shopping in kimono and walking besides Thai locals would understandably make someone believe so.

A country very dependent on tourism and foreigners

An inconvenient truth for many Thais, is that their country has become quite dependent on foreigners, either foreign companies and foreign tourists. For  a country always proud of boasting they were never colonized , this can be an insufferable truth.

Tourists at Chiang Mai Bazar
Tourists at the Chiang Mai bazaar

Because Thailand’s economy is mainly based on production for export and because the population has a pretty low skills level, a foreign presence in Thailand is very visible. Admittedly, with time, the situation is slowly changing, but the Thai education system is not helping. With the exposure to travels and to foreign marketing, even foreign culture can impregnate the country (although mostly from fellow Asian nations). A sizable foreign population come in for teaching and to support business of foreign companies, in leadership roles. A less fortunate population of neighboring countries (mainly Burma and Cambodia) is more often called to work in menial or manual labor (and their condition is truly not enviable).

Nevertheless, the cosmopolitan impression of Bangkok is soon lost. Foreign residents, just like tourists, are always seen as an external body to the country, who are never bound to stay. The whole legal framework and practice around foreigners is so created as to discourage foreigners from staying or from ever being part of the population.

Foreigners are just temporary visitors

The visibility of this foreign presence often irks the more nationalist Thais.  Thais take some pride in thinking they are independent from foreign influence and don’t need foreigners. Police and immigration also considers roughly all foreigners as would-be criminals.

This practice translates in the Thai laws, which have installed some pretty irksome processes such as the obligation for foreign residents of Thailand to present their passports every 90 days at the immigration if they don’t exit the country in the meantime. The whole process makes no sense for people with dependent or business visas except as a vexatory reminder that they are just there on a provisional basis. Never mind if they have a business visa.

Nationalism will not stop at the administration. Some Thais can be so convinced of knowing better on local matters, that they will (at least in my experience) always try to do things their way (and often the wrong way!) just to prove they can take care of Thai affairs by themselves. Logic and common sense often lacks and explains why a foreign presence is required. Often, this is justified by saying that foreigners cannot understand “thainess”.

What is Thainess?

A central question is that of “Thainess”. Put shortly, “thainess” is an excuse Thais use to justify any behavior or practice they cannot rationally justify even to themselves. Thainess among other myths, also builds on the idea of a global centralized idea of a nation, which is only very recent in historical terms. Many ethnic minorities and tribes are being force-fed into the Thai mold and obliged to abandon their identity.

Interestingly, the case of the 13 youth rescued from a cave shows that the society might be slowly evolving as many of the kids are stateless.

Dependence on Chinese tourism has increased tenfold the last few years, but to some degree, this is not so alien for Thais, as a sizeable part of the elites are Thai-chinese.

Foreign cooperation is however vital for Thailand. It was never more acutely shown than in the case of the rescue of the 13 kids of Tham Luang caves. In that case, basically the whole country rooted for the kids, regardless of their origin or nationality. Somehow, even the army and Thai medias conscripted them as “Thais”. The big question now is whether the kids will ever get a Thai passport and once the media attention is gone, the focus on their ordeal will probably be also gone.

At any rate, despite its initial focus on nationalism, the Thai Junta has pursued a policy which is more of appeasing tensions and addressing real issues. There have even been some small attempt at making the country more welcoming to foreigners.

 

The Thai smile

So, is Bangkok a cosmopolitan city? Somehow, and despite the desire of the Thais, themselves, it is a huge hotch-potch of different cultures and populations with different cultures.

While it is often talked about “tolerance” of Thais for the weird behavior of some foreign tourists, such a tolerance is only skin deep. Deep below, there is a huge feeling of misunderstanding between Thais and foreigners. Just like the reputed “Thai smile”, “tolerance” is only in appearance and only as long as it is linked to a source of money for the Thais.

Bangkok may look cosmopolitan because of the various populations that cross themselves in the city, but it is not a place where cultures intermingle and enrich each other. Thais stay in their own “Thainess”, foreigners stay among themselves, and both populations live aside, but never really assimilate or influence each other.

 

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan: between art and local life

On my visit to Busan, one of my targets was the Gamcheon Culture village. While being the first place I visited after the Gwangandaegyo bridge, I have waited a while to write about it. In fact, the place is very famous in Busan and the beauty of the setting is so lovely, that it requires some effort to give it justice.

The history of Gamcheon

Originally, Gamcheon did not really have an artistic legacy at all, but was placed in a very interesting spot, against a mountain, with the associated curves and complex turns. Interestingly, most of the inhabitants are refugees from the Korean war and followers of the Tageukdo religion. The Tageukdo is the symbol which is part of Korea’s flag (also known as the yin and the yang).

Taegeuk in Naju Hyanggyo
The Tageukdo symbol (origin: wikicommons)
 Nowadays, the followers of this religion are few in Gamcheon. Since 2009, the city of Busan attempted to redevelop this area by focusing on making about 300 empty houses the center of street art. This gave a new  impulse and made of Gamcheon one of the symbols of Busan.

Art in the street

The beauty of Gamcheon is that the redeveloped art project is closely mixed to the city life of the inhabitants. You can walk along the main street which circles all around the little village. Or you can delve into the city and try some shopping, like for these cute little bears (3,000 KRW each).

Cute Korean bears
Some cute bear dolls in Gamcheon Culture village

 

You can find some murals such as the “wall of love”.

The Wall of Love in Gamcheon
The Wall of love in Gamcheon Culture village

There is also a lot of subjects for detail shots in the village. Such as an old and worn out roof.

Worn-out roof
A worn-out roof in Gamcheon culture village

When looking at details, the tightly packed houses make also for interesting photographic subjects.

Houses in Gamcheon culture village
A detail of the tightly interspersed houses in Gamcheon Culture village

Gamcheon Culture village
Gamcheon Culture village from the photo viewpoint

Selfie in Gamcheon
A selfie in Gamcheon (as you can see, it was quite cold, despite the sun!)

You can also check my periscope account to find a live video I made walking through the village.

How to get there?

Gamcheon is not a lost place, but I elected to walk up there instead of taking transportation, and it was a quite strenuous climb.

Climbing to Gamcheon Culture village
Climbing to Gamcheon Culture Village

You must first take the metro to Toseong station and take exit 6. From there, either you catch a minibus, or you can climb all the way to the top. It was frisky on that day, so a good day for a walk! Taking the minibus down sets you back about 1,000 KRW, but the driving is quite vertiginous in those steep streets!

 

The death of “Karaoke Street”?

It was announced and it finally came: it seems all but certain now that the Sai Yeung Choi south street in Mongkok will be closed to entertainers. In fact, in a previous post, we mentioned that the decibels were causing a lot of complaints. In a recent vote, the District Council of Yau Tsim Tong passed a motion to close the pedestrian area of the famous Mongkok “Karaoke Street”.

Performer on Sai Yeung Choi south street
A singer performs for her mainly mature audience at Sai Yeung Choi South street on Saturday 2 June

A predictable outcome

In fact, complaints about the noise and disturbance in “Karaoke street” are not new. Local businesses have been complaining about the impossibility of carrying out business with increasingly louder karaoke installations.

The complaints reached a new threshold as the performers kept bringing out louder speakers and more professional material, such as TV’s, generators and mixing tables.

The “professionalization” of the peforrmers and their competition meant that you had people placed at just ten meters of each other, competing to be heard by passersbys witih increasingly louder volumes of sound.

Despite this, the vibe of “Karaoke street” was absolutely contagious, as can be reflected in this video and several periscopes I made at the same place over the years.

 

 

Political consequences

Sai Yeung Choi South street in Mongkok, is known as a hotbed of local popular culture, but also the last refuge of localists. In fact, among the performers, the last remnants of the “Umbrella Movement” found a refuge on that street. The famous Mongkok riots of 2015 also took place in that area. As of today, the area has become one of the last places to observe the typical Hong Kong culture and mostly older residents who enjoy their free time on week-ends.

Suppressing this area might thus trigger other political consequences. That is probably the reason why the HK government was not in a great hurry to offer a timetable for the eviction of the pedestrian zone.

In fact, the district council has no power to edict legislation, and it can only offer recommendations to the HK government. The said government promised it would act “as soon as possible” on the recommendations.

Nevertheless, the conflict of interests and the complaints of local businesses have given rise to an interesting situation in Hong Kong. How to reconcile the desire for entertainment and the needs of local businesses?

Karaoke street performer
A performer pushes up the decibels to get the attention of passerbys

A middle way solution?

As always, the solution might be in the middle. Why not enforce a tougher regulation of sound levels among performers? Why not continue allowing this lovely entertainment area and participate in giving this extra vibe to Hong Kong?

Performers must be reined in, but it is certain that if Sai Yeung Choi South is closed as a pedestrian area, a lot less people will be circulating there. Some editorials have tried suggesting such a compromise, but given how high tensions can rise in that area, it is not sure what approach the HK government will retain, but more than ever, Mongkok promises to be a tricky area to administer. So, as long as they are still there,  I will keep documenting the performers of Sai Yeung Choi South… Hoping to see them still for a long time.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.

 

Second trip to Kaohsiung: back to the island of smiles!

There has been a little bit of a hiatus in this blog, but that is merely because I was traveling quite a bit. In April, I returned to the city of Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This time, as I had a drone with me, I managed to capture a drone view of Kaohsiung. This time, I was traveling with my wife and daughter. We had just one day for visiting all of Kaohsiung, so we tried our best to fit the most into our day. Incidentally, the proximity to Hong Kong and the low cost of the place makes it an ideal place for a week-end trip. For me, it was the occasion of being back to the island of smiles!

Kaohsiung an ideal place for vacations
Kaohsiung, an ideal place for vacations

Cathay Dragon

Previously, I had flown on China Airlines, which was an ok airline, but affected by several delays.

With Cathay Dragon, an affiliate of Cathay Pacific, the trip was smoother, but it still had hiccups. The gate was thus changed at the last minute, and we had to run to the new gate. The plane was ok, and the flight attendants quite nice too. Despite flying economy, the kindness and smile of the flight attendants was the main asset of the airline. On return, some plastic fittings were disarranged, giving the aircraft quite an old and used feel.

In Kaohsiung airport instead, it seems they had a single bus to transload passengers from plane to terminal. After all, it is just a small provincial airport (but very homely).

Despite these little hiccups, we did not have any issues in arriving in Taiwan.

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The Lees hotel

As I was with my family, I booked a more luxurious hotel, the “Lees hotel“. Located quite centrally, near to the Formosa Boulevard station, this hotel provides an excellent and lovely place and a very lovely position.

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The interesting part of that hotel is its position next to a rainbow-colored water castle with a motive “I love Kaohsiung”.

Water castle near Lees hotel
The Water Castle near the Lees Hotel

Everything is bigger in Kaohsiung: from roads to smiles

I mentioned earlier, that the Taiwanese and the people of Kaohsiung in particular are very friendly. My impression was confirmed on this second trip. People were warm and kind everywhere we went. What prevailed was a general impression of happiness among the population, which was very refreshing. When compared to HK, everything is bigger, from the roads to the smiles.

Art2Pier: “art” as a place for living

I mentioned in an earlier article about the Eslite library as a place for living. Art2Pier, the open air modern art exhibition has the same flavour.

Art2Pier container installation by drone
Art2Pier container installation seen by drone in Kaohsiung

A view by drone allows to see a bit more of the expanse of the art2pier installation.

Our daughter loved seeing the art and posing in front of the murals.

MS at art2pier in Kaohsiung
Maria-Sophia at the Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

We also visited the famous stationery shop located at Art2Pier. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures to be taken inside, but it is quite a lovely place if you are into Japanese cute stuff.

Grocery and stationery shop at Art2Pier
Mitch and Maria-Sophia before the grocery and stationery shop in Kaohsiung

We managed to have a dronie taken despite the very hot sun…

Family at art2pier
Our family by drone at Art2Pier

The scale of the metallic Optimus prime at the Art2Pier installation can only be appreciated from above:

Art2pier by drone
Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

Hamsan Railway museum

At a walking distance of Art2Pier, you can find another interesting place, namely the Hamsan Railway museum. “Museum” is a big name for a trainyard with a few old locomotives, but there again, the open space and views make it lovely to be seen by drone.

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As it is the city center, the flight height is limited to 60 ms, but that is plenty to take some nice pics (above 60 meters, land features become unrecognizable).

Cijin Island: the island of smiles

I did a periscope on my first trip where I shared my love of Cijin island. This time, not being in winter, heat was much stronger, but Cijin is truly the “island of smiles”. A lot of locals or tourists go to the island and rent “family bikes”, sort of 4-wheeled bikes allowing you to ride together through the (very flat) island. Our family only encountered smiles on the way, and this was truly a heart-warming experience.

Renting an electric “family bike” for two hours costs about 300 NT$ + 150 NT$ for every additional hour. The enjoyment and fun was truly worth the price.

The Kaohsiung lighthouse

Due to my time limitations on my previous trip, I had not gone to the Kaohsiung lighthouse. I realized it was a mistake, this time around, as the view up there is simply gorgeous, especially when shot by drone (in this case, my Mavic Pro).

it requires a short but steep hike up a cemented road (which I did barefoot, of course). The heat of the pavement was at the limits, though.

Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone
The Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone

I managed to capture the lighthouse, with a boat heading out at sea, which provided a nice composition element for the picture.

The view on the island from up there is also interesting (some comparison with Cheung Chau island in Hong Kong, might be warranted).

View of Cijin island by drone
Cijin island seen by drone from Kaohsiung’s lighthouse

 

But the lighthouse is not only a place for scenic pictures. It is also an ideal location for capturing pictures of ships passing by, like this empty tanker.

 

Ship entering Kaohsiung Harbour
A ship enters Kaohsiung harbour

The rainbow chapel

Another must-visit location and a preferred location for selfies is the “rainbow chapel”, located near Cijin Island’s shell museum.

The museum, in itself, is magnificent when seen by drone, as you can appreciate its architectural form, vaguely reminiscent of a shellfish.

The shell museum of Cijin Island seen by drone.
The shell museum of Cijin island seen by drone

The rainbow chapel, itself, provides its best effect when seen from above.

Rainbow Chapel
The Rainbow Chapel in Cijin island (Kaohsiung)

We then pushed with our bike to the windmill farm, but by then, our daughter was already exhausted from running around in the sun. After a quick photo pause at the windmill farm, we headed back to return to the city.

Of course, being in Taiwan, we had to try their famous bubble tea. Taiwan being the place that invented this delicious drink, it was only logical that the milk bubble tea we drank was probably the best ever!

taiwanese milk bubble tea
Taiwanese milk bubble tea

How to get there?

There are regular flights on both China Airlines and Cathay Pacific, at least twice daily. China airlines costs roughly around 864 HKD, while Cathay Pacific is slightly more expensive at 1080 HKD. The difference in price might be worth it for more convenient departure times.

Uber is functional in Kaohsiung, but taxis are also quite cheap. Otherwise, using bicycles might also be a good way of traveling around.

A dawn exploration of Busan: Jagalchi fish market

I was in Busan for a couple of days already, and it was my goal to try and see the fish auctions of the Jagalchi fish market. Descriptions and indications are pretty sketchy on how to get to see these auctions given the early hour at which they take place.

Nevertheless, as there was no public transportation at that time, I grabbed a taxi to get to Jagalchi fish market, and arrived there around 4.45 AM.

 

A profusion of fish

The first thing you notice when you arrive at Jagalchi, is the profusion of fish available everywhere.

Jagalchi fish market
Frozen fish stocked for sale at the jagalchi fish market

The Jagalchi fish market is one of the most well-furnished markets in terms of fresh seafood, and this general reputation was confirmed seeing the market at 5 AM.

I found out one of the main halls where wholesalers present their produce. While it looks astonishingly clean, the floor was drenched in water and there was quite a “fishy” smell in the air.

 

Jagalchi fish market hall
Halls of Jagalchi fish market

 

It seems unfortunately that I was quite a bit late there, since I did not manage to find the actual auctions of fish. All I did manage to find was an auction for clams. On the whole, Jagalchi fish market has the reputation of having vendors who are quite hostile to pictures being taken, but my experience was quite the contrary. It is maybe because I look European, or maybe also because I did smile and engage my subjects when taking photos.

Auction at Jagalchi fish market
An auction for clams just ended at Jagalchi fish market

 

Life around the market

The interesting thing about a market is the life that gravitates around that market. In fact, vendors need also to feed themselves and need also to rest or have their needs tended to. So, you have plenty of small businesses thriving around, like a sweet potato vendor using an old coal furnace.

Sweet potato vendor
A sweet potato vendor

The feeling was extraordinarily atmospheric, being out at 5 AM in the cold and seeing first the market, then the scenes such as this small merchant. The world belongs to the early risers, and this is especially true for photographers.

On the technical side, of course, shooting at night is a challenge, but I equipped my Nikon 20mm F.1.8, and this helped me to handle the difficult lighting condition. You could obtain the same results with a (cheaper) 50 mm F 1.8, but then, the inconvenience is that you must stay further from your subject. And nothing engages as much as close range photography for your viewer.

 

Jagalchi fish market
An incredible wealth of fish and seafood available at Jagalchi fish market

A local breakfast

My original plan was to enjoy a local breakfast at the hotel. However, on the way, my attention got caught by a local shop grilling fresh fish in front of the shop and serving local breakfasts. I think the owner of the shop got scared seeing a foreigner, as she attempted to tell me her shop is closed, before eventually relenting when a local patron invited me to sit down in front of him.

The breakfast was every bit hearty and delicious as expected, with several pickles, a fish soup, and of course, the grilled fish. It was a perfect restoring meal before heading to Haeundae beach, my following stop.

 

Local Korean breakfast
Local Korean breakfast