Scenes from the Ghost Festival

We were in Penang, Malaysia, during the Ghost Festival. The Ghost Festival is a Chinese holiday during which, it is believed, the gates of Heaven and Hell open and the dead return to earth in search of food and entertainment. Clans erect tents and set out enormous banquets for the dead, families offer food to their deceased ancestors, and they also burn piles of “hell bank notes,” money which has value in the afterlife. A few more shots: In addition to family offerings, community groups stage performances in the street for the week. Some of the shows are flashy and…

Critters

Australia has its share of unique animals. Kangaroos, obviously, but also the quokka (shown in the lower left photo), a raccoon-sized marsupial that is found only a few islands off the Western coast: primarily Rottnest Island, which is a recreational destination, and some smaller nearby islands. We found the kangaroos at the Caversham Wildlife Park, on the mainland, where they are completely domesticated to the point of eating kangaroo snacks out of tourists’ hand.  Domesticated kangaroos are lazy, unlike the quokkas, who are constantly hustling for food. The quokka in the lower right corner didn’t get that sandwich by being…

On the rocks

If you drive about three hours north of Perth, you’ll come to the Pinnacles, a desert area dotted with thousands of limestone formations. (Weirdly, the Indian Ocean is just a half-hour drive away, and you can see it from the high point of the park.) (Different filters on each of the lenses produce different colors.)  

Under the sea

We visited Western Australia for Thanksgiving. Apart from enjoying wine in the Margaret River Valley, there isn’t a lot to do south of Perth. This is Busselton Jetty, the longest wooden jetty (at 1841 meters) in the Southern Hemisphere. It has an underwater observatory. I started experimenting with film again, which is more fun to shoot than pixels (and I’m happier with not having several hundred of just slightly different views of whatever it is I’m standing in front of at the time), but the colors aren’t nearly as intense, nor are the photos as sharp, as the photo to…

The Buddha Park

About 25 km outside of Vientiane is the Buddha Park. The Buddha Park was started—for devotional reasons, probably—in 1958 by a shaman, Bunleua Sulilat, who fused Hinduism and Buddhism into his own syncretic cult. The statues, which look like they were collected from ancient temples across Laos, are actually modern creations of reinforced concrete. The site made me think of a 1970s lawn ornament store, complete with a sales pitch: Come on down to Buddy’s Buddha Barn! We got Buddhas that are small—Buddhas that are tall— Buddhas lying down—Buddhas on the ground! A three-headed Buddha? A six-armed Buddha? You know…

Vientiane

Recently, I joined Abby on her trip to Laos, starting in Vientiane. This is a city I have long wanted to visit: just the name itself has always conjured up for me an air of romance and mystery. And having now seen it, I honestly can say that of all the world capitols I have visited, Vientiane is definitely one of them. It’s not that the place is without merit. The temples—similar to Thai temples, but a little more ornate—are lovely. The colonial-era architecture, where it still exists, is crumbly and charming. Everything else, though, is unremarkable. Take, for example,…

Banteay Kdei

The last temple is Banteay Kdei (“The Citadel of Cells”), also built by Jayavarman VII. Reportedly, it was built with an inferior grade of sandstone, which may account for its utter dilapidation today. One website notes, interestingly, that “Though Jayavarman VII was credited with building many temples, he was also accused of squandering money on extravagant temple building projects at the expense of society and other duties.”