August 2012 Archives
July 22. Yesterday was the great Beijing deluge: the heaviest rainfall in 60 years. All the moisture in the air that occluded the sun in yesterday's lead photo came down, along with much more of the same. We started the day going to the Temple of Heaven, but when the downpour started in late morning we spent the rest of the day trying to avoid the rain, getting wet nonetheless (a big umbrella was remarkably little help), drying out, and staying close to our hotel.
Today was different: sunny, bright, comfortable. We went to a modern art district - 798 Art Zone - and had a wonderful time. First, some photos in the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), the major museum in 798, showing a tiny sample of the huge variety of modern art being created in China. A great thing was that photography was totally unimpeded - a much different policy than in many museums.
An environmental installation.
A cello concert.
A long wall of shiny pots and pans.
A moody installation of barrels.
Mural of the Ullens in the museum store, with a couple of toy dinosaurs in the foreground.
July 20. A steamy day in Beijing. We went to the Forbidden City, but it was so crowded that I ended up taking pictures of the other tourists (almost all Chinese) rather than the grand space and buildings.
Click the photos to enlarge them.
This is the sun in the Beijing sky at 10 AM. The obscuring gray layer appeared to be mainly water vapor, not pollution.
The sidewalk is for living your life, not just going somewhere.
Crowds stretching far into the distance.
Pushing and shoving to get a glimpse into an imperial building, which appears to be blocked off behind the latticework.
Childhood obesity is not just a US problem. Neither is over-attention to video games.
By aiming the camera upward, one could avoid the people and get some photos of the ornate and beautiful architectural decorations.
In the Imperial Garden.
July 19. In Beijing after our flight from Ulaan Baatar. We were last in Beijing in 1987, and the changes in 25 years are incredible: it's largely a hypermodern city now. But some old neighborhoods have been preserved, and we were fortunate to be staying in one. We stayed in the Courtyard 7, an elegant hutong hotel ("hutong" essentially means "alley".) It's in a popular tourist neighborhood, but just turn the corner and you see Chinese people living as they did decades ago. Here are some photos from our first evening's stroll around the neighborhood, around dinnertime.
Young men eating supper in the alleyway.
A tailor in his tiny shop.
Diversity of street life in the hutong district.
Young woman cooking dinner for herself and her husband. We talked for a while, and it turned out she is studying English at a local university.
Elegantly weathered calligraphy.
Teenage boy amusing the girls.
Entryway to a small complex of living units.
For the tourists. 22 Y is approximately $3.45.
Mother with child, happy to be photographed.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
On July 14, the evening before flying to the Gobi, we enjoyed a modern take on traditional Mongolian music with our dinner.
This group plays the traditional instruments and sings the traditional songs - throat singing and all - but with a light show and electronic effects. Good entertainment.
July 18: Back in Ulaan Baatar from the Gobi, our last day before we leave Mongolia. After an afternoon of shopping and an early dinner, we are bused to the theater where Tumen Ekh, the Mongolian State Folk song and dance ensemble, performs. The costumes and decor are vivid, the performances polished to a T, the effect not at all folk-like. But the performers are skilled, and it's a fun end to our Mongolian experience.
Folk songs in operatic style and costume.
Mongolian fiddle and throat singing.
Folk dancing. There was also some lively ensemble dancing to end the evening, but the light level was too low to stop action adequately with the pocket camera I had brought to the show.
This is the end of my Mongolia photo series. It was a great trip!
July 17. Our last day in the Gobi Desert.
In the morning we visited another nomad family, who gave us a cordial welcome,
then led our camels on a ride into the nearby saxaul wooklands.
Waiting for some more of our group to take their turn.
The saxaul grows in an unpromising environment, part of a distinctive ecological community in the Gobi Desert.
Back in camp: the laundry drying in the wind and bright sunshine.
In the afternoon we drove to the Moltsog (Camel Hump) sand dunes. These dunes are actively moving under the force of prevailing westerly winds. We were quickly joined by two cute little girls from a neighboring family, who scampered up and down tall dunes.
Their mother had made some toys for sale. The girls having fun nearby made inadvertently good saleswomen. Then off to home on the motorcycle.
From the top of the dune I saw a herd of camels being rounded up, this time by a rider on a camel. I counted about three dozen camels in this herd.
Another Dramatic Tone experiment.
Back at camp after dinner. Cell phones work in the middle of nowhere.
July 16. At Gobi Tour Camp in the Gobi Desert.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Birding enthusiasts out for a before-breakfast walk. Looks to me like unpromising territory for birds.
The Gobi is rich in subtle colors, textures, and modulations.
On our outing after breakfast, we passed this large herd of camels at a watering hole. They were being herded by a man on horseback.
We drove to the mountain gorge of Yolyn Am, cut into ancient rock at the crest of the Beautiful Sister mountain range.
The Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is named after the desert and the adjoining mountain range, where we spent most of the day. There is a small but interesting interpretive center and museum for the park, where this lively little girl showed me some of her favorite exhibits.
Nearby, local families have put up gers where they offer handicrafts, textiles, small mineral specimens, and fossilized wood. This grotesquely gnarled burl was enhanced by an even more grotesque carved head.
Wrestling in Mongolia seems to be as common a pickup sport as soccer or basketball in the US. These guys will have to put on some weight to compete in Ulaan Baatar.
Grazing horses that will be bridled and saddled if tourists want to ride back to their cars after their hike.
Young Mongolians seem as devoted to their animals as to their modish clothes and shoes.
This area gets enough moisture that wildflowers bloom in profusion and shrubbery is green.
The little pika, a relative of the rabbit, lives in abundance on the rocky hillsides.
On our way back to camp, we stopped at the site of an abandoned ger camp that apparently had used this rather mysterious sculptural installation as an advertisement.
Two more experiments with the Dramatic Tone setting. The first is a service building at the abandoned ger camp; the second is a lively sky with some rain falling in the distance. When the effect works, it is indeed dramatic.
July 15. We got up very early and drove to the Ulaan Baatar airport for our flight to Dalanzadgad, a small town but one of the largest in the Gobi Desert. We then drove in a small bus for a couple of hours to the Gobi Tour Camp where we would spend the next three days.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
Two demoiselle cranes fly across the desert. This is what most of the Gobi looks like: pebbly ground with sparse clumps of grass and scrub bushes. Dry and flat, not many sand dunes except in a few places.
This passes for a major road in the Gobi. Once you get out of Dalanzadgad, it's all cross-country driving.
The welcoming entry to our ger camp.
A toad-headed lizard, one of the links in the chain of life in this desert.
Camels grazing on the scrub grass near our camp.
The Flaming Cliffs, where Roy Chapman Andrews made a spectacular dinosaur fossil find, including the first dinosaur eggs ever discovered.
I played around a lot in this landscape with the Dramatic Tone art setting on my Olympus OM-D E-M5. It tends to overdo things, but does particularly interesting things to the dramatic skies. More examples later.
July 14. After the ger disassembly/assembly demo, we drove to the Terelj National Park and Scenic Area, which is part of the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Natural Area. This was an important spiritual place to Genghis Khan. It features very different scenery than that we've seen so far on this trip.
Lush green forests - mainly larch and some birch - on steep hillsides.
Dramatic rock formations.
Colorful wildflowers in the meadows at this time of year.
As the area is only a couple of hours drive from Ulaan Baatar, it has become a popular tourist destination, with the inevitable "attractions".
The Tuul River runs through the national park, and continues on to Ulaan Baatar, where it furnishes much of the capital's water supply. It then joins the Orkhon River, flowing north into Russia and Lake Baikal. Little of the Tuul's eventful destiny is evident in this peaceful scene.
July 13. At Steppe Nomads Camp in the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. A restful, not too ambitious day.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.
The clouds reflected in the still water gave a classic composition, with lucky horizontal as well as vertical symmetry.
Seen edge-on at a distance, the grass looks continuous, like a golf course. Up close, one sees that it's clumps distributed in the dirt. The small wildflowers gave a pretty tint.
Occasionally one comes across skulls, more often of horses than of other species.
We visited a nomad family, and were treated to their fabled hospitality. The wife is pouring salt tea for the guests.
The grandfather of the small children. He lived part of the time with this family, other times in another ger.
Drying mutton jerky.
Fermenting yogurt, while the youngest boy - a real character - looks on.
Drying yogurt on the roof of the ger.
Corralling yaks to cut some hair for one of the visitors.
The yaks have a variety of hair colors and patterns.
Driving the yaks back out into the grassland.
A lazy river ran near the camp. Some of our group rafted or kayaked; we napped.
Trying our hand at archery made us appreciate the skill of the archers we saw at the Naadam Festival.
Skull and horns of an Argali, the largest species of wild sheep, in front of one of the camp buildings. I could barely lift the skull, giving an indication of how strong the sheep's neck muscles must have been.
Traditional Mongolian dinner of boiled goat, potatoes, and carrots. The meat is boiled by putting water and hot rocks into the goatskin.
Click the photos to enlarge them.
Along the way is this massive equestrian monument to Genghis (Chinggis) Khan - claimed to be the largest free-standing sculpture in the world.
You can climb an interior spiral staircase (or take an elevator partway) to the horse's head, where you come eye-to-eye with the great conquerer.
The gateway to the monument is an imposing structure in its own right.
Five of the ladies on our tour paid a small sum to dress up in period costumes, which were reported to be quite heavy.
Continuing our drive, we passed this unusual ovoo, crowned with horsehair spirit banners.
Nearby was another ovoo, this one strewn with discarded crutches and casts.
Further on, a dramatically situated pile of rocks (probably an ovoo) crowned with a horse skull and a stick whose banner has slipped.
Yet another photo of the endless grasslands of Mongolia, this time in a fairly mountainous region.
After sundown at our Steppe Nomads ger camp, with the waning light shining off the tile-paved path.
July 11. The spectators and non-contestant participants at the Naadam Festival made for lots of good pictures.
A young girl at the early morning ceremonies in Sukhbaatar Square.
Umbrellas in the stadium when the drizzle intensified briefly.
The Mongolian Olympic team.
Good-looking young people in historical costumes.
The crew that cleaned up after the horses got enthusiastic applause.
In the area around the stadium, vendors sold the usual kinds of food, drink, and trinkets. We took the opportunity to sample some fermented mare's milk: a little bit of barnyard taste, but not bad.
Water bumper cars looked like fun on a hot day.
A family relaxing.
Some women took the opportunity to show off their fancy suits and high heels.
Back near Sukhbaatar Square.
July 11. The National Naadam Festival in Ulaan Baatar. The big three sports at the festival are horse racing (held outside the stadium, west of the city), wrestling, and archery.
Hundreds of wrestlers compete, with half a dozen or so matches going on at once. In the early rounds, favorites (big and heavy) are paired against underdogs (small and light).
Men and women compete in separate archery contests, the men at slightly longer distances. In addition to familiar target shooting, they try to hit a small target on the ground, mimicking the use of bow and arrow to hunt for small animals.
July 11. We arrived back in Ulaan Baatar last night to see the national Naadam Festival. It began at Sukhbaatar Square, then moved to the National Stadium.
A policeman helping to control the crowd at Sukhbaatar Square on a gray, drizzly day.
A TV personality preparing to report, dressed in an outfit that is unlikely to have kept her warm on this chilly morning.
The ceremonies begin at the impressive Parliament Building on Sukhbaatar Square
where army troops in traditional uniform on horseback assemble, dismount,
climb the Parliament steps,
They ride with the banners to the National Stadium where the competitions are held,
are greeted by dignitaries and celebrities,
parade the banners around the track,
and finally mount them on a platform in the middle of the stadium.
"Through the centuries on the rolling, grassy steppes of inner Asia, a warrior-herder carried a Spirit Banner, called a sulde, constructed by tying strands of hair from his best stallions to the shaft of a spear, just below its blade. Whenever he erected his camp, the warrior planted the Spirit Banner outside the entrance to proclaim his identity and to stand as his perpetual guardian. The Spirit Banner always remained in the open air beneath the Eternal Blue Sky that the Mongols worshiped. As the strands of hair blew and tossed in the nearly constant breeze of the steppe, they captured the power of the wind, the sky, and the sun, and the banner channeled this power from nature to the warrior. The wind in the horsehair inspired the warrior's dreams and encouraged him to pursue his own destiny. The streaming and twisting of the horsehair in the wind beckoned the owner ever onward, luring him away from this spot to seek another, to find better pasture, to explore new opportunities and adventures, to create his own fate in his life in this world. The union between the man and his Spirit Banner grew so intertwined that when he died, the warrior's spirit was said to reside forever in those tufts of horsehair. While the warrior lived, the horsehair banner carried his destiny; in death, it became his soul. The physical body was quickly abandoned to nature, but the soul lived on forever in those tufts of horsehair to inspire future generations."