The moment a travel turns to magic

As you may have surmised from my instagram, I am in Korea right now. However, on the way, in the Asiana plane, there was a moment the travel turns to magic…

It was the moment sunset shined over the winglet of the A330, while the moon rose in the background. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I had to use my IPhone, but the picture is surely in itself magical.

And another one showcasing the delicate reddish tones of sunset…

I guess travelers live for these moments, where everything aligns for a lovely moment and a lasting memory.

Loy Krathong: from spiritual festival to a Thai Valentine

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This week-end, Loy Krathong took place in Thailand amidst a slew of restrictions by the Thai Junta. In recent years, Loy Krathong evolved from a spiritual festival to a Thai Valentine day.

Origins of Loy Krathong

As many things in Thai history, the origins of Loy Krathong are murky at best. It is a festival related to the importance of water in the Thai traditional society. It is thought to have originated in the ancient capital of Sukhothai in the XIIth or XIVth century with Brahmin influence. Another Thai interpretation is the belief that it pays hommage to the water goddess, Mae Khongkha.

When does it take place?

As with many Thai festivals, it follows the lunar month rather than the calendar month. As such it should take place on the full moon of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. In modern-day equivalent, that places it generally at the beginning of November.

The evolution of Loy Krathong

From family event to commercial event

Foreigners have probably the most retained the family dimension of Loy Krathong, young Japanese children in traditional Thai garb often going to float the Krathongs on local ponds or rivers as in Benjasiri park. Conversely, real Thai kids, are more likely to try and snatch the coins or banknotes on the krathongs beign floated.

Japanese girl krathong
A little Japanese girl floats her krathong with a lit candle in Benjasiri park’s pond.

From a tradition-based family event based on passing time together and preparing artisanally the “Krathongs” (baskets, made of bread or more sadly of polystyrene nowadays), the feast has become a commercial event. As such, sellers are quite crowded around the places where Krathong floating is common, such as Benjasiri Park.

Krathong sellers
Sellers of Krathong drive a hard bargain trying to sell their products on the evening of Loy Krathong

The commercial element is so present that on the Loy Krathong evenings, the entrance of Benjasiri park is generally packed full with vendors.

Vendors of Loy Krathong
The entrance to Benjasiri park packed with vendors on Loy Krathong.

A spiritual occurrence become a romantic symbol

Each year, Loy Krathong is the occasion to read panicked messages of the Government asking teenagers to be careful about… sex! Yes, Loy Krathong has become the equivalent of Valentine’s day for the Thais, mainly because a tradition says that if a couple float a Krathong together, they will be bound for life. In Thai modern society, affections and love bonds (especially among teenagers) are far more fleeting. Nevertheless, Loy Krathong remains thus a romantic occasion with the sexual consequences thereof.

Many young single Thai ladies also float their Krathongs in the hope of finding a partner or happiness in life.

Lady taking a picture of Krathong
A lonely lady pushes her Krathong with her hopes for companionship… but does not fail to take a picture.

 

Today: a social media opportunity

As with many Thai events, there is an element of searching for “good luck” as it is believed that putting hair or nail clippings on the Krathong takes away your bad luck on the river. Today, like many things, though, Loy Krathong has mainly become an occasion of taking selfies.

Lady taking selfie with Krathong
Of course, this would not be Thailand without the compulsory selfie (here with a Krathong).

The same happens for girls who come out together and pose for pictures in order to have the perfect memory of their Krathong.

Picture girls with krathong
Girls pose for a pic while pushing their krathong in the water

For travelers and tourists, it is an occasion of taking some cute photos. It is also an occasion to regret the waste and the pollution this tradition creates with its mass usage of non recyclable tools. In the end, like many other things in Thailand, the original spiritual justification just lost its meaning and became a mass commercial event… One more.

Enregistrer

Mid-Autumn Festival in Shatin Park

As yesterday was a full moon day, it was also the occasion of heading to the New Territories to see the mid-autumn festival activities.

In this case, I headed to see the mid-autumn festival in Shatin Park.

Shatin being a relatively new development on the outskirts of Hong Kong has a quite young population. At the same time, there are long-standing traditions in the local population which make it an interesting place to visit out of the city.

The moon

Obviously, it would not be a mid-autumn festival without the moon. As the sky was clear I managed to see a full-moon and even to take a picture of it.

Full moon
The full moon as seen from Shatin Park on 5th October

Somehow, we were lucky, as this moon was not visible in some areas of the new territories.

Attractions

The animations at Shatin Park were of two natures for this mid-autumn festival. Firstly, there was a number of stands with traditional activities, ranging from calligraphy on fans to hakka embroidery. For those who don’t know, the Hakka are a major component of Chinese immigration abroad, a population originally from the areas near the Yellow river.

But the most attractive stands were probably those where you could have a calligraphist writing your name in Chinese on a fan.

Calligraphist
A calligraphist writes a name on a fan while a long queue of people awaits for their turn.
Details of calligraphy
Details of the calligraphy

Other similar activities were the art of painting on snuff bottles.

Snuff bottles
Snuff bottles painter

Traditional Chinese Shows

Another component of the mid-autumn festival in Shatin Park was the showcasing of traditional mandarin shows. This brought up some question by hongkongese as the performers were exclusively from mainland… A way by the government probably of fostering an increased cultural integration of Hong Kong with the mainland?

Singer
Traditional mandarin singer

Acrobatics took another part in the show, pretty much typical of mainland China for the degree of mastery which the performers showed.

Acrobatics
An acrobatic performer performs in Shatin

But however, the most appreciated show was probably the umbrella dancers who were extremely graceful and artistically irreproachable.

Umbrella dancers in Shatin Park
Umbrella dancers in Shatin

 

Finally, I also filmed a periscope of the whole show which you can watch here:

 

Where was this?

In the little city of Shatin. You must take the MTR East Line to get there.

Full moon on Kowloon Peak

 

I posted a few weeks ago a picture of a moon crescent over Kowloon Peak. Yesterday night, the stars were aligned again, this time with the full moon.

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What is different this time?

For starters, it is a full moon, versus a crescent. I also experimented some more this time. Took shots with faster shutter speed, higher isos…

The clouds gave both a mysterious tone to the mountain, and at the same time, as they covered completely the mountain at times, spoiled several of my shots.

 

 

The red moon of Hong Kong

Tonight, there was a red moon on Hong Kong. As the moon crescent was well formed and the skies were somehow clearer, the moon could be clearly visible as it went down over the horizon. Sadly, as always where there is nice weather on Hong Kong, the sky still had some haze.

Why a red moon?

Well, it is important to mention that earlier during the evening, the moon was not red. It was white. It got that reddish tone, simply because as it got lower, the atmospheric pollution caused the bluish components of the light to be lost.

You can find an interesting explanation on the causes of that phenomenon on USCB Science Line.

Technical aspects

On the technical side, the picture was shot at 200 mm, and I raised the iso slightly to 400, in order to keep a faster shutter speed (exposure is still 15 seconds here!), to try to keep the moon clear enough to be distinguishable.

The earth turns!

When you are doing astrophotography, an important part to bear in mind, and this is particularly true for the moon: the earth rotates!

It may not seem as much, but the rotation of the earth is sufficient to cause a blur during the 15 seconds exposure on this picture.

Astronomists generally use a gear that rotates slightly the camera to account for the earth’s rotation, but obviously, that’s not my specialty right now.

How to get the moon clearer?

You can opt to try shorter exposure times by opening the diaphragm and increasing the shutter speed to keep exposure as short as possible. Obviously, it gets tricky with you include darker elements such as a cityscape. In the end, as always, it ends up being a question of choices and compromise. I made the choice to keep the picture with as little grain as possible while reducing exposure time to try and minimize the effect of earth’s rotation.

 

The moon over Kowloon Peak

On 15 August, the moon passed just above Kowloon Peak in Hong Kong. Passing clouds gave a special pastel effect to the sky. Kowloon peak is also the location of the famous “suicide cliff”.

Last Sunday, there was an exceptional alignment of the moon with Kowloon peak in Hong Kong. On that occasion, the moon passed just above the Kowloon peak. It was a slightly cloudy night, so, the combination of the moon and the clouds gave the sky a delicate pastel or watercolor tone.

Obviously, such pics are possible because I live just in front of the Kowloon peak, but they are also a factor of chance. It was upon seeing the moon from my window that I jumped to set my tripod and my camera.

A slight observation about technical aspects here: with the rotation of the earth, you cannot always keep very long poses when the moon is present in the frame. Anything above 30 seconds and it will have moved within the frame. Here, my focus was more on the sky, as clouds were passing by anyway, and I must say, not too unsatisfied of the end result.

Some technical elements to end:

Camera: Nikon D750; Lens: Nikkon, 80-200mm, f.2.8, 25 seconds exposure, f.8.0 aperture. Exposure was corrected for tungsten light (the lamps on the tower on the right), hence the nice color of the sky.