Wednesday, June 24, 2015

China, The Lost Photos: Part 2 (Tibet)

Welcome to part two of the Lost Photo Series, which, thus far, has only touched upon my experiences in Beijing. The simple premise of these posts is the re-discovery of a selection of photos that I thought I had lost altogether. All the photos are from a trip to China in 2009 taken by a naive and not particularly well traveled teenager, also known as myself. 

It's been an interesting experience going through these old photos. For one, I'm a much different photographer now who focuses on different things (with a much better camera!). At this time, I think I merely wanted to capture that I was there, and now I look to capture why I'm there. Luckily, I was able to sift through the electronic stack of photos, and find a few that I think are worth sharing. 

This isn't chronological, but this is the part two that I want. The photos below capture the road trip we took from Langzhou, southwest towards and into Tibet. Again, I was with two of my close compadres, Lawrence and Mike. The green, jutted mountains were like none I had ever seen. 

At this point in my life, it was all new for me, and there's something rather special about that now that I think about it.

Once into Tibet, we headed for a Tibetan monastery, which was several hours past the border (one that is rather disputed.) The monastery was still very much active, which is why I hesitated to go too trigger happy on the camera, especially in areas where prayers and the like were ongoing.

There was an ornate room near the back of the monastery with gorgeous sculptures. However, what was different about these sculptures was that they were made of cheese. That's right. They were made this way to represent the impermanence and mortality of man. Every year, they tear them down and rebuild them as a meditative exercise. If for some reason I didn't believe it was cheese, the smell was convincing enough, though, admittedly, it wasn't altogether unpleasant.

Driving across the countryside of Tibet was something I won't soon forget, especially the variance in landscape. The road was rocky, in utter disrepair, but the views on either side of that road captured my full attention. There were stray cats fighting in small towns, green and yellow checkered fields, young boys running in front of old buildings, and nomadic peoples roaming at the foot of towering mountains. And this, of course, is an incomplete picture - It's only what I saw with my own eyes during that time period. There is so much more that I can only hope to see another time.

We had the opportunity during our time in Tibet to visit a monastery well off the beaten path. It was a monastery headed up by a Tibetan monk who was in some way connected to Lawrence's family, something we were very fortunate for. He was a kind-hearted man who readily welcomed us into the fold. I remember recalling that he seemed so at peace with himself and his surroundings. He took the time to bless us, and invited us to take part in some Tibetan Buddhist rituals. I became much more engaged and interested in Buddhism when I was living in Korea (2011-2012), and I thought back to this moment as the start of something. At the time, I'm sure I didn't know that, but maybe I felt it. 

These photos were indeed lost for a period of time, but the memories never were. However, In finding them, I also rekindled the memories, which has been a lovely experience. 

Stay tuned for more parts of the Lost Photos Series on the horizon. When? I'm not sure, as I'll be on the road come Monday, but in due time. In the meantime, I'll aim to keep creating more memories. 

Until next time, friends. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

China, The Lost Photos: Part 1 (Beijing)

I was young, a relatively inexperienced traveller, had little to no money, still wore baggy clothes, was combatting the plagues of acne, didn't even have a camera, was in the midst of university, and was 18 years old. So, naturally, I bought a camera and went to China.

I had travelled, yes, but nothing like China. A conversation over a beer with my friend Lawrence in Kingston, Ontario turned into a more or less spontaneous plane ride to Beijing, and was it ever a good choice. Even better, one of my best friends at the time, Mike, decided to hop on board.

This was 2009, long before the time of religious posting of photos and the surge of Instagram. As such, I never did really got around to really sharing them. To be honest, I forgot about them entirely, and, I figure, six years late is better than never.

I'm calling this series, The Lost Photos, because I've only just found them. You can expect a few more parts on the horizon. Alas, there's not all that many, but this is how I experienced Beijing.

I can't get over how young I look. It's a wonder I survived.

Touched down, and I took out the "new" camera. I tried to take about a million photos while in China.

It looked important so I took a photo. It turned out to be the Opera House.

I didn't know what to expect - this, though, I expected.

Young, naive, and sweaty outside the Forbidden City

Mao himself

Enjoying those semi-permanent grey Beijing skies.  
Mocking ancient turtle, a sign of my maturity at the time. Actually, I might still do that.

When Yao was still relevant. 

The Olympics weren't that far gone at the time. 

Bonding abroad with Mike and Lawrence. 

Ming Tombs

Seemed about right. 

Not sure why I took a photo of this. It's a restaurant?

Staying at the Star River condos thanks to Lawrence. He had some lovely connections.

Star River condos

Shockingly, domestic Chinese planes don't have much legroom. 
The next stop was Langzhou, then there were more stops along the horizon. You'll find them in the upcoming posts, so stay tuned. China was a good place to start my passion for travel, and, luckily, I've got the pictures to prove it.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Coolest Bookstore on Earth - Atlantis Books (Santorini, Greece)

I've been to a lot of bookstores. I mean a lot. I actively search out bookstores in every city that I'm in because, as everyone is well aware, they're a dying breed. You can find an enormous big box sort of bookstore with little to no character, but the small, independent bookstores are going the way of the dinosaurs. Sad, isn't it?

Perhaps that's what made coming across Atlantis Books such a magical experience. I'm not holding back, this is the coolest bookstore on earth. Feel free to refute me, but this is my tightly held opinion on the subject thus far. Let's talk about where all this passion for this bookstore comes from.

On the island of Santorini in the town of Oia, that's where it is, in all its majesty. Like all bookstores, it has a story. An appropriately long, eloquent story.

It seems that the story all came to life about ten years ago when the founders felt the emptiness one feels when a town or city doesn't have a bookstore. They decided to fill the void, and, if you've watched the video just above, you'll note that it wasn't easy. Though, you'll probably also note that this store was destined to be opened (and, hopefully,  it will stay open.) It's not a large bookstore (thank god), but it packs more into a little space than I've ever seen before. It's full of randomness - of quirky, bizarre, delightful brilliance. Being in the basement of a Greek cave house also doesn't hurt.

I ended up leaving the store with Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, though you could argue that I left with a whole lot more. The very idea that such a place exists was enough for me. Where things get interesting is when you walk into the back room, which features a "philosophy tower" for starters. Perhaps the greatest part is the large, circular hole in the ceiling, which you can climb up to via a ladder and exit from. In the States, it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen, but put it in Santorini and we call label it creative ingenuity. I actually exited the bookstore via that route and I recall thinking to myself that this bookstore was like no other.

The idea that a group of friends could just decide to open up a bookstore and dare to dream in that fashion is nothing short of inspirational. As one of the founders, Oliver, mentions in his Ted Talk, they essentially make enough to get by and keep the dream alive. In a day and age where what we should and shouldn't be are well defined, this form of pleasant rebellion is worth noting. I'm taken by it, truly. Though taking 15 minutes to watch a video is something of an eternity these days, I would recommend watching the aforementioned Ted Talk - to listen to their story about selling and telling stories.

If and when the last bookstore on earth closes its doors, I don't want to be there. But bookstores like Atlantis Books are doing their part to ensure that my worries won't become reality. And, on top of that, they happen to be the coolest bookstore on the planet.

If you're in Oia, don't forget to drop in and experience it for yourself.


Oia, Santorini
T.K. 84702
+30 22860 72346