Category Archives: travel

towering mirrors

This is a photo I took almost 10 years ago to the day, from a trip to New York City for a conference in April of 2004.

It’s funny to think that 10 years ago, I was just really getting comfortable using my first digital camera.

Evening mahjong games in Beijing (friday foto finder: game)

This week’s friday foto finder theme is game While I enjoy playing games, and we have loads of games around the house, I couldn’t remember any particular photos of games. I played with the idea of taking a new photo, but that seemed like too much work. Happily, I remembered this photo I’d taken in Beijing during my brief visit there in 2012. My cousin and I had gone to see the Great Wall in the morning, and returned to the city in the early afternoon. After a bit of rest and recovery, we went for a late afternoon walk, exploring some older neighborhoods of the city.

At one point, we walked along a street that ran parallel to a canal. The street and sidewalk where we were walking were several feet higher than the canal level. Looking down towards the canal, I saw walkway that ran alongside it where there were bunches of people standing and sitting around tables, playing and watching games of mahjong. I paused to take a photo, but one of the onlookers looked up at me and glared, so I kept going after taking only one photo. (I always feel a bit strange taking photos of people I don’t know, and yet I find that the presence of people often make photos much more interesting.)

Even though I only managed one photo, it was fairly sharp, and when I zoom in, I can make out the mahjong tiles.

These are a couple of crops of that one photo shown at the top.

I actually know next-to-nothing about mahjong, and looking at this photo makes me sad about that. I’m sort of wishing I’d thought to buy a mahjong set while I was in China, as it seems like it would have been a meaningful souvenir for a game-lover like me.

To see what other games have been captured in photos, pay a visit to the fff blog. Want to play along? Sharing photos on a theme is a fun game in and of itself!
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The 8-legged butterflies of Nara, Japan

10 years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Japan for a conference. The conference itself was held in Nara, a very old city whose historical monuments are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There I visited Todai-Ji, a temple housing the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. The large wooden temple also housed a number of other statues and decorations, including these giant butterflies perched on enormous vases. (I don’t remember exactly how big they were, and my photos are unhelpful in terms of offering things for scale, but you can sort of make out some people heads in the lower left corner of the first photo.)

I was particularly intrigued to notice that the butterflies all had 8 legs, rather than the usual 6.

I found that I was quite charmed by them.

I’m just rather sorry that my point-and-shoot camera didn’t do as well with the trick low-light conditions as my current camera does. I will just have to go back to get new photos some day.

This week’s friday foto finder theme was “butterfly.” I have posted on butterflies many times before (including a ThThTh list as well as some of my own photos), but somehow had not yet managed to post these curiosities. To see what other butterflies have been collected, pay a visit to the fff blog.

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I left my scarf in San Francisco

Last week was the kids’ school vacation, and we headed out to California to visit my mother, my sister, and my sister’s family. It was a really great, if exhausting, trip.

We really lucked out with the weather, on both ends of the trip. It’s been a rough winter here in Massachusetts, with many a snow storm interfering with travel plans. We know a family whose Florida vacation fell through due to a blizzard the day of their scheduled departure. Another snowstorm the day before we left caused many cancellations and delays and complications (ask me about John’s car getting stuck in our driveway). Remarkably, however, our own flight was only slightly delayed.

Travelling with 2 young children is never uncomplicated, though, and the airline threw us a bit of an adventure by not giving us seats together. (They actually had Theo, the 5 year-old, sitting off on his own.) But after much runaround and wasted time on the phone and at the airport with airline employees who claimed to be unable to help, the gate agent gave me a free upgrade to a better seat at the front of the plane, in a section with more legroom, thus giving me better leverage to ask to exchange seats with one of the passengers assigned seats next to Theo. (There was that moment when John and I looked at this sweet seat, and thought that Theo might just be fine on his own…) In any case, the man seated next to Theo jumped at the chance to change seats, practically leaping out of his seat before we even had a chance to finish making the offer. (Oddly, he apparently didn’t want to spend the 6-hour flight sitting next to an unattended 5-year-old.)

In all, the trip out went very smoothly. Our luggage all arrived, we rented a car, we drove out to my sister’s house. We were, however, totally exhausted. The flight was scheduled for 8 a.m., and (living an hour from the airport) we had arranged for a car to collect us at 5. John and I were up so late getting things in order for the trip that ultimately, we didn’t end up going to bed. (There comes that moment when you can decide to go bed for a 2-hour rest to get up feeling like death, or just keep barreling through to get more stuff done.) Given the exhaustion, and the complications of getting there, it shouldn’t surprise me too much that I managed to lose something along the way: my favorite scarf.

Before having realized that I lost it, I might not have identified that particular scarf as my favorite. It was a scarf that I bought on my trip to London with John in 2005, our delayed sort-of honeymoon. I found it in a sale bin at Harrod’s while on a quest to find black and charcoal gray striped scarf. This particular scarf was not quite what I was looking for, being plaid with black and varying shades of gray. However, I quite liked it, and over the years, I found that it became my go-to winter scarf. It went with so many of my various black and gray clothing choices. It was also a very soft cashmere. I contacted a range of lost-and-found departments (airline, airport and car rental), but had no luck finding it.

In the end, the loss felt a bit like I had made a sacrifice to the travel gods for an otherwise safe and successful trip.

So, enough about the scarf, and more about the trip, which was mostly unaffected by my not having a winter scarf with me. Because the weather was perfectly gorgeous¹. It was mostly sunny and clear, with high temps ranging from the low to high 60s. (This after coming out of a New England winter with many days when the high didn’t get up past 20.) We had lots of fun excursions, big and small. We had quality family time, with lots of cousin playing and bonding time. We got to see my aunt and uncle who were passing through town, visiting my mother. We had lots of birthday celebrations (for my sister, my 2 nephews, and for Phoebe). The week rushed by in a blur of kid-wrangling and meal-planning and catching up with my family. I had actually hoped to be able to see some friends who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years, but never managed to make any arrangements. (So I did bring back some guilt for having missed those opportunities. However, it is always a very different thing to be travelling with my family than when I travel alone.)

Now we have been back almost a full week in the land of ice and snow, and our hectic over-scheduled schedule. I miss the relaxed mornings of vacation. I miss my family and the warm sunshine. And I also miss my scarf.

¹ This gorgeous weather, unfortunately, is not what California needs right now, as there is an ongoing record-breaking drought. Happily they did get a bit of rain after we left.

Hong Kong trip recap, Day 5 (part 2): The Harbour Cruise of Torment

In August 2011, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong for a conference. I started to post recaps of my adventures there long ago, but got sidetracked by life. Sparked on by a request from YTSL, I will now begin to dive back in.

Where last I left off, I was part way through day 5 of my adventures. The first days of my trip were jam-packed with rather manic attempts to see as many sights as possible (day 1 and day 2) followed by much mellower days of conference attending (days 3 & 4). I had eaten lots of good and interesting fresh food, met with friends, and was thoroughly enjoying being in Hong Kong.

The early part of day 5 was marked by a conference-arranged bus tour, which was somewhat painfully entertaining in ways that were probably not intended. In spite of my suffering, I did see interesting places and took many photos. Now we return to the end of that day, when the bus delivered me, my advisor and a bus load of other phoneticians to the Harbour for our much anticipated dinner cruise.

In addition to dinner, for which I had high expectations given the wonderful food I’d eaten in Hong Kong so far, we were going to have prime views of the much vaunted Harbour light show, the Symphony of Lights:

Named as the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records, coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights perform in an unforgettable all-round spectacle synchronised to music and narration that celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong.

As we walked up the gangway, I commented on the tackiness of the pink ferry we passed. This, naturally, turned out to be our boat.

Having envisioned that a harbour cruise would prominently feature looking at the harbour, I was rather dismayed to find ourselves funneled into the interior of the boat, which was set up with round tables, and not with seats designed for looking out at the views.

Happily, there was a top deck that we could access. I rushed up to get some photos before the light faded. I was surprised by how few of the other people were up there. After the long confinement of the bus ride, I was happy to get some fresh (albeit hot & humid) air, but others seemed lulled by the air conditioning.

The boat had so, so much pink.

The rosy sunset briefly tried to compete with the aggressively rosy pink of the ferry boat before retreating behind the hills.

When I headed back down to main deck, the “fun” had really started. The dinner buffet was open, and there was live entertainment. I don’t have any photos of the food, but just try to imagine yesterday’s cafeteria food presented as ostentatiously as possible. The copious offerings included bad day-old overchilled sushi, bad reheated Indian food, as well as a host of other mediocre-looking probably-leftover international delights. For those wanting lighter fare, there was a variety of salads featuring freshly-opened canned vegetables.

For entertainment, we were treated to earnestly sung lounge music versions of pop tunes, from Wham to Lady Gaga. (The singers were so very earnest.) The spacious dance floor offered plenty of room for people to awkwardly skirt around while trying to reach the exit stairs.

At some point in the evening, there was a buzz of excitement, apparently in reaction to an announcement (unheard by me over the noise) that it was time for the “unforgettable spectacle” of the light show to begin.

Everybody rushed up the stairs, crowding onto the deck. The night skyline looked colorful and spectacular, but not actually particularly more colorful and spectacular that it had before the start of the show. Ah, yes, there were some search lights here, a flashing building there. There was this odd sense that nobody really knew when the show had actually started, or what we were really all up there to see.

We couldn’t hear any of the music to which the spectacle was allegedly synchronized. In general, there were lots of colorful and some flashing lights on the buildings along the waterfront. For a short time, there was a marginal increase in the flashing and the colorfulness. It was as hard to tell when the show had stopped as it had been to tell when it had begun. Gradually, the crowd thinned.

This colorful scene was not part of the light show:

It was fun to see the other boats and ships in the harbour, including one of Hong Kong’s iconic red-sailed junks (though I learned that it is merely a replica.)

I’m not sure why only a small portion of the top deck was open for passengers. When everyone was up to see the light show, it was quite crowded, and this space shown here was inaccessible. You may notice that there was a total lack of visible lifeboats. I can only assume that this was to prevent guests from attempting to escape from the bad food and music.

After staying around up on deck to take more photos of the colorful skyline and reflections, I eventually wandered back down and made some attempts to mingle and network. (Since that was, in part, what prompted me to sign up for the conference-arranged outing.)

Sitting around the tables was just as enjoyable as sitting with people you don’t know at the wedding dinner of some cousin you’ve barely met. But without the champagne and wedding cake. I made attempts to chat with the person sitting next to me. First, we established that there was no overlap in our research interests. Next we established that there was no overlap in our philosophy about travel. She was happy to relax by a hotel poolside when not shopping for bargains on counterfeit designer fashions, whereas I like to wander the streets and absorb as much local culture as possible. Our awkward conversation floundered.

As soon as I could come up with an excuse to the leave the table, I headed back to the upper deck, where I waited out the rest of the cruise. I’d had enough mingling, bad food and earnest lounge music. The cruise couldn’t have been more than 3 hours long, but it felt an eternity. The streets of Hong Kong, with their interesting things to do and delicious foods to eat, remained tantalizingly out of reach. I was trapped in a pink, flashy, noisy wedding cake of a prison.

I am told that my face lit up with a giant smile when the ferry boat finally docked.

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silver fish, gold fish (a pair of almost completely unrelated photos)

I present to you one giant silver fish, and one smaller gold fish.¹

At the Boston Common on New Year’s Eve, while wandering around looking at ice sculptures, we came across this big silver-colored fish car. It was possibly related to the First Night events going on there, but in a way that was not clear to me. What was clear to me was that I needed to take a picture of it.

When I went to China in 2012, my hotel in Shanghai had rather unusual furniture. Most of the larger pieces (the armoire, dressers, settee, and even the beds) were adorned with fairly large and extremely shiny gold fish. I only wish I had better photos to show off their extreme shininess.

For another still grainy view of one of the gold fish (possibly even the same one, you can click here. I have even been inspired to upload a short video taken while walking through this very…special…room³. Sadly, the movie is also quite grainy, but you can still make out the shiny fishy shapes on the beds and other places.

So, tell me about you: If you were going to build a giant fish onto a car, what color fish would it be? And what sort of car? (A Toyota with a trout? A Mini with minnow?) And if you were going to design furniture featuring large shiny gold animals, which animals would you choose? These are the important questions that I pose to you.

¹ This post is in response to Ally Bean‘s prompt to of “gold or silver [photos of?]“. Naturally, I could not choose either just silver or just gold. Much like I couldn’t settle on either just a haiku or an acrostic
² If you, regular reader or hapless passerby, would like to also suggest a prompt or ask a question to elicit a post from me, feel free to do so in my post of last week. I would be tickled if you did.
³ If you feel the need to stay in such a room, it was a suite in the Salvo Hotel in Shanghai. I cannot guarantee that all of their suites are equally well-appointed with fish.

an eclectic row of hedges (friday foto finder: hedge)

This week’s friday foto finder challenge was to share photos on the theme of hedge. Around here, there is plenty of shrubbery and such in the landscaping, but it’s not so common for the bushes to be arranged in hedges. Of course, the term hedging my bets came to mind, but that didn’t generate any photos either. I found myself checking out the definition of hedge for inspiration:

From Dictionary.com¹

hedge [hej] Show IPA noun, verb, hedged, hedg·ing.
1. a row of bushes or small trees planted close together, especially when forming a fence or boundary; hedgerow: small fields separated by hedges.
2. any barrier or boundary: a hedge of stones.
3. an act or means of preventing complete loss of a bet, an argument, an investment, or the like, witha partially counterbalancing or qualifying one.

I didn’t particularly remember taking any photos of hedges, but I thought surely I must have, especially during my travels. I did find quite a few samples, which I’ve lined up here in a row for your perusal. (Though really, this is more of a column of hedge photos than a row of them.) (I also wonder if some of the towering French examples still count as hedges. I suppose that I am hedging my bets by showing so many varied examples.)

2007: Le Jardin des Plantes (“The garden of plants”), Paris, France. A range of hedge sizes can be seen, including some that are rows of not-so-small trees.

2007: The gardens of the Palace of Versailles, France. Off in the distance, you can see what look like rows of box hedges. But I think the tiny specks in front of them are people, so there’s no way they are “small trees.” They are gigantic. The mother-of-all-box-hedges gigantic.

2007: Saarbrücken, Germany. I liked this leafy gate, which enticingly showed glimpses of a hedge maze behind it. (Attempts to photograph said hedge maze in the fading light with the little point-and-shoot I used at the time were blurrily unsuccessful. Here they are, tiny so as to hide the blur:

2009: Parc Güell, Barcelona. Swarms of tourists swarm over a stairway in front of a pretty unremarkable hedge.

2009: Alcázar, in Sevilla, Spain. Judging from my photos, Alcázar is chock full of hedges, some of them quite striking. Funny how they didn’t stick in my memory.

2009: Again in Alcázar, in Sevilla, Spain. These hedges were a bit more unruly.

2012: at MIT, Cabridge, MA. Finally, here’s a hedge that’s closer to home. I’m pretty sure I was looking more at the willow trees, whose dangling strands looked remarkably even at the bottom, reminding me of freshly-trimmed bangs.

To see what hedges others have lined up, and share your own, pay a visit to the fff blog.
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¹ This citation of made me think of this article: “If everyone still wrote like they did in college.”²
² Of course, when I was an undergrad, there was no We had to cite a freakin’ dictionary. Like, a book.³
³ I feel like such an old fart. Imagine me saying, in my best crotchety old man voice, “Back in my day, we didn’t have the internets or wikipedia or this dot com nonsense. We had to dig our references out of the fields by hand, with nothing but spade and card catalog.”

access denied

I’m feeling rather obstructed in my progress these days. Here are 4 photos of gates and doors that I couldn’t get through.

September, 2009. Sevilla, Spain.

August, 2011. Macau.

March, 2012. New York, NY.

August, 2012. Massachusetts.

Clearly, I am able to attach significance to these bits of metal (unlike those of 2 days ago). Also, I do seem to get around, even when I’m not getting through…

golden cranes in the Forbidden City

This was a photo from my May, 2012 trip to mainland China. I was in Beijing ever-so-briefly, and made a mad dash through the Forbidden City on a morning before catching the train to Shanghai for my conference. This was inside one of the many museums within the walls of the Forbidden City housing antiquities and other national treasures. I spied these two golden cranes in a display case, which fit nicely into my running crane theme¹ inspired by Friday’s foto finder theme of crane. (Of course, the cranes, while beautiful, are not what I found most interesting about the photo. I like the confusing layers of of light and reflections. Not to mention the expressions on the faces of the two other tourists behind the cranes’ display case.)

Once again, I am reminded of how little I have shared from that trip on this blog. I took hundreds of photos, and have many story I want to tell.

¹ The theme is doing the running, not the cranes. To my knowledge, I have no photos of running cranes. I’m not even sure whether they do run.