Last night I booted up Skype and gave my younger sister a ring for the first time in too long - she lives in Bosnia, which is not the easiest time zone to coordinate with from here in Portland.
Turns out lil sis had been perusing the present blog, and had come away wondering where the pictures are. Now, before you start to blame her for being uncharitable in her judgment - indignantly impugning her for not appreciating the artistry of my concrete church steps and the sublime shape of the Hershey's Kiss - you should know that for her "the" pictures are a specific set.
Before arriving in Portland I took two months to wend around the world and visit friends and drop in on sites I have always dreamed of seeing. This languid progress took me through Thailand, Cambodia, the UK, Egypt, Jordan & Israel - with Kristin, the aformentioned lil sis - joining me in Cairo to bring to a close four years in which we had not seen hide nor hair of each other.
If only there had been someone to photograph that meeting in front of the Egyptian museum!
Now the pictures are not going to appear here - there being 1500 or so - but a small sampling could possibly be brought to light. So without further ado (ado being what I seem most proficient at), let's take a whirlwind tour around the world:
Korea: Well, everything in my life still seems to start and end with Korea, and this particular trip most definitely did. The vast majority of my photos from Korea are either analog format or on a harddrive that I do not have access at the moment. Nonetheless, I did manage to dig up a shot of "The Old Tea Shop" in the Insa-dong area of Seoul, an idyllic spot that I visited in my first few weeks in Seoul back in 1997. It's traditional teas sooth the senses with an amazing array of flavors and aromas, and the decor is stunning, with birds flying freely around the cozy space.
To juxtapose that peaceful image, I dug out a shot of a subway rush hour - not an uncommon scene - and it actually can look as blurry in real life as this photo! I know it looks intense and unbearable, and I can only agree - but as I was discussing with a friend the other day over lunch, the crowds and noises of Seoul really became my element, as the city became more and more "home"
Thailand: Thailand was not the point of this trip. I love the country and the food, but I have been there many times, and was looking for new stomping grounds. However, I have always avoided Bangkok like the plague, heading to an island or a mountain the moment I arrive, so this time I took a couple of days to see the capital. I am glad I saw it, but really, what I love about Thailand is on the aforementioned islands and mountains - the hot, muggy, polluted and crowded city has its treasures I am sure, and the Royal Palace pictured is beautiful, but I have always traveled to get OUT of cities and away from crowds!
Cambodia: Now Cambodia was the point of this trip. I had been dreaming of visiting Ankor Wat for years and years, and had had countless opportunities that I never took for one reason or the other. I have seen many amazing things in my travels and life, but I can honestly say that no manmade structure has ever come close to the impact that Ankor Wat had on me. This is ancient history spread over acres of lush forest and accessible in a very intimate way - you can touch the monuments or climb on them - you can camp out astride an ancient Naga head for a cool soda or watch the sun set from the pinnacle of a temple that has hosted supplicants since time immemorial. Needless to say the photo at the right is only the tip of the iceberg, and for sure not the best - but this is a taste afterall, not a full course meal.
God I could go on about Cambodia, as I haven't fallen in love with a country in quite this way in a long time - but it would be hard to encompass in a fair manner. This is true in terms of the places and the people, but is especially true of the darker side of Cambodia's history - encompassing Toul Sleng (S21, the Khmer torture prison in Phnom Penh) and the more well-known killing fields. I will not post pictures of this part of my trip, because I cannot put the images in their appropriate context.
Instead I add a photo of a youngster that was paddling a large clay pot in the lake district of Phnom Penh. My traveling companions and I were fairly certain that this little guy was skirting the verandah in hopes of catching a backpack too close to the edge - and while thwarting these (alleged) intentions, made sure that he had a full plate of food to paddle away with.
London: Believe it or not, I had never been in London before! It was long overdue, especially since two of my dearest friends in the world - Paul and Nicola - have been living there for years. I spent 7 days in their company, soaking in the warmth of their hospitality and absorbing the sights of the city. I didn't poke around more than a few of the great tourist attractions of London, but did walk by many as I wandered the downtown streets in the footprints of Charles Dickens, Dr. Johnson and their ilk!
I met (not for the first time in some cases) the intelligent, attractive and generally engaging circle of people that surround the Presler-Jones household, and joined this lively crew to see Jane Siberry and Goldfrapp in concert (the latter at Royal Albert Hall!), and was privileged to see Embers, starring the Mr. Jeremy Irons, and a chilling political play called My Name is Rachel Corrie.
Egypt: Touristed for longer than many current civilizations have existed: The land of the Nile. Pharoahs. The sphinx. Horus and the Scarab Beetle. Antiquity defined - its essence. But this all pales in comparison to seeing Kristin walk onto the grounds of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo from my perch at a window on the second floor. Rushing out without paying the bill - and having to rush back to pay before I could run out to end four years of estrangement. To the right is the ever cool Krazza looking as enigmatic as a hieroglyph in the temple of Luxor, and below is perhaps the most iconic structure that I have ever photographed - can you imagine the millions of minutely different pictures taken of the pyramids at Giza in any given day, week, month or year?
I won't go on at length, except to say that I have always wanted to see Egypt and am very glad that I have done so - our travels took us through Cairo and the Pyramids, down to Aswan and the Temple at Philae, and on to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. While a billion other great sites remain unseen, I do not need to go back! For all of its glory, it is just plain exhausting: hot, dirty, sandy, loud and a veritable gaggle of hawkers and would-be "guides" trying to get money out of you in anyway possible!
Hey, it can't all be wine and roses, right?
Jordan: Continuing our little tour of some of the world's oldest civilizations and the wonders left in their passage, Kristin and I passed through Sinai, narrowly avoiding a bombing in Dahab, and moved into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to walk in the footsteps of Dr. Indiana Jones (oh, and an amazing lost civilization that remains largely a mystery to us to this day - did I forget to mention that?). But yes, after a night gazing at the full moon in the midst of the desert dunes of Wadi Rum, and capturing yet another stunning shot of lil sis (left), we finally reached another of my dreams - Petra.
I don't think I have words for Petra, as it defies the imagination even as you climb through the sandstone caves that make up an ancient city carved into huge chasms left behind by tectonic shifts. Many of these structures are of indeterminate age and were crafted by a people that are virtually lost to us outside of the marvelous city they left behind. We spent 2 full days hiking solid for 8-10 hours, stopping only for picnic lunches atop rock outcroppings overlooking the expansive city of the past, moments of exasperation trying to chart the desert paths on the tourist map (in German), and for the time needed to catch one's breathe after having it knocked out of you by the beauty of yet another monument hewn at great effort from the sandblasted stone.
Our time in Jordan took us from south to north, stopping along the way in Wadi Rum, Petra, Karak, the Dead Sea, Madaba, the capital Amman and Jerash, an ancient Roman market town said to be the best preserved ruin of its kind in the world. Pictured at left is a large group of Jordanian schoolgirls that followed our progress through Jerash VERY enthusiastically!
Well. Three weeks and an odd day or two passes quickly, and the time had come for Kristin to return to her Balkan home and for me to strike out on my own yet again. I spent a relaxing last few days in Jordan scuba diving in Aquaba, before moving into the Promised Land to visit Stine, a young Danish woman that we had befriended in Dahab, Sinai - Thank you Stine!.
Israel: I spent 2 days in Jerusalem, visiting the old city, the dome of the rock (pic at right) and the church of the sepulcher.
It was interesting and perplexing - these sites are the foundation of the Judeo-Christian culture that I am a product of, and yet seemed so distant.
One reason could be that, far from being an intimate encounter with the foundations of western spirituality, I found myself in the midst of the throngs gathered for the orthodox Easter, and was thus crushed in a throng of zealous reverence that was disturbing.
At right is a pilgrim placing a memento on the stone slab Christ is said to have been laid on when dressing his body for burial - holy water seeps through the rock by some mechanism unknown to me, and is said to bless anything that touches it. I understand the significance of this experience for these people, I believe, but am still left stunned by the woman that pushes through the crowd to lay her child on this stone tablet.
Isn't this the same fervour that fuels wars the world over?
All roads must come to an end: And back to Seoul - via Larnaca, Athens, Bangkok, Taipei - and then on to Portland, Oregon - via Vancouver - to start a new life from scratch.
This trip was amazing - no better adjective has been invented - especially as I never imagined that I would have a chance to take two months at this age and indulge in the stuff that dreams are made of. The present sampling of experiences from the road is far from complete: it doesn't even touch on the amazing people that I met - Troy, Michelle, Raven, Pricilla, Juliet (safe travels Juliet), Mila, Adam, Stine, Brad - and the dozen or so that I feel horrible for omitting. Also, it is pretty solidly slanted towards the positive aspects of a long trip that had difficult and even unpleasant moments - c'est la vie, n'est pas?
And the photos! Please don't judge me for omitting beautiful sweeping vistas in favor of posed-Yuri and posed-Kristin in front of another monument (right Pud?). I chose these pictures with the perhaps vain thought that those visiting might be doing so more out of interest in my life than in National Geographic shots. Patience my friends - I will get some stunning shots (if I may say so myself) up on the web eventually!
Hopefully the path I tread at present will be as interesting and rewarding: I love you to death Kristin, thank you for treading the twisted paths of the globe with me. I value my friends and family above all else in the world. I have hurt some and pushed some beyond reclaim - to my loss - but I hope I learn from this and become a better and stronger person. I love you all.
One more posed pic from the road, and I am outta here!