Climbing a Mountain (Figuratively)

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I think it’s the 79th anniversary of Golden Gate Bridge. Happy birthday, dude.  You rock.  Keep on going.

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This used to be my view every. Single. Day.

I miss it.

It probably still could be my view, if I didn’t mind paying an arm, a leg, and my firstborn (and possibly my second) in order to afford rent in San Francisco.  I have come to the conclusion that those kids living n San Francisco (they’re all kids, no matter their age) must fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Independently wealthy (from the parents or perhaps because they sold their start up for at least $500 billion)
  2. Work at one of the few places that pay enough salary to accommodate for housing prices in San Francisco
  3. Under the age of 35, childless, and relatively new to San Francisco

I do miss it.

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I am flying to Hong Kong tomorrow.  It’s the eve before I fly, and I haven’t even finished packing.

Oops.  I should get started on that.

But before I do, some background about these images.  These are all photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from different vantage points. These were taken over the course of the past few months.  Look at the hills: they’re still green, which means we were still enjoying a Northern California spring at the time I took these photos.

Nowadays, those hills are yellow in hue.  We’re not called the “Golden State” for nothing.  Those hills are pure gold.

So these photos were all taken after work one day.  Some days, when I drive in to the City after work, I take a break from the traffic to seek out the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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How is this not absolutely breathtaking?

When I took this photo, I had to shove a middle school kid aside and out of my way.  (Punks!)  It looked like a school field trip to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Dozens upon dozens of students getting into my shot.  So I was lucky to get a few.

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It’s been a long week.  Maybe it’s time to go pack.

See you in Hong Kong.

//35mm film photos of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge taken from the Marin side.  If you look carefully, you can see Sutro Tower in the background.

Roses in Napa

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Somewhere along the way, I was lost.  But then I found myself.  Or, at least, pieces of myself.  Step by step, like Hansel and Gretel picking up the crumbs they left behind, I am following the crumbs of who I am.

I’ve gone through many iterations of “me-ness.”  My haecceity.  (That’s a new word I learned this past weekend from reading a young adult book.  Makes me wonder about the level of my vocabulary– or it’s saying something about the authors when I can still learn new words to add to my lexicon.  Anyway, this is a very verbose way of say– look it up.)

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Many of my friends are still figuring out who they are– what makes them tick and keeps them going.  Is there a midlife crisis before you’re in your midlife?  Because that’s what’s going on.  Many of my friends are changing their careers, leaving lucrative, high powered jobs, departing the known to pursue the unknown.  Others have hopped around, seeking the right fit.

How do we find the right fit?

I have friends who left and are now writers, calligraphers, artists.  That wasn’t the plan when we started out.

But then again, who were we, to presume to know our futures?

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I changed direction, too.  I’m a million times happier now than I was two years ago, but it didn’t happen overnight.  I write a lot when I am stressed, and maybe one day I’ll do a photo shoot of the notebooks I write in.  Page after page, I dug into my soul with ink.  It was a stream of consciousness, rambling much like I am now.  Stormy ideas and thoughts, tumbling rough and unpolished, onto paper.

It helped a lot.

I’m not at the final stage of discovering who I am– and I may never really find that out.  I sometimes wonder why I’m not doing something different.  For now, though, I’m still following that little stream of clues of haeccity through life.

I’ll figure it out as I go.

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{{Oh yes, these are 35 mm film photos of roses taken outside of the Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California from a couple weekends back.  Aren’t these petals dreamy?  The grain of the film (Portra 400) makes me so happy, too.  I fall in love with film every time. }}

Taipei Cafe Dreaming

 

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Every now and then I have an out-of-body experience.  This isn’t to say that I actually leave my body and experience the supernatural.  Rather, I am suddenly thrust into the realization that the life I live is truly what I’m experiencing.  It isn’t someone else’s story that I’m reading or watching pass by.

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No.

This is my life.

And a pretty spectacular one, I might add.

I may not be a millionaire or billionaire like Trump, and I may not be famous or supermodel status (definitely nowhere close, if I can be frank with myself).  But I can have no complaints.

For example, I’ve been traveling abroad since I was an infant. (I say this quite literally; Mom managed to take 4-month-old me + two suitcases + all other baby materials to Taiwan by herself and back. She’s superwoman.)  I’m highly (some would say overly) educated, and I live in one of the most expensive areas in the United States.  I have a lot of first world problems.

But I digress.

What I’m trying to say sometimes is that I do find myself somewhat bewildered that my life is what it is.  Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?  I’m ever thankful for the life I’ve been given.

Each new experience is savored, like the droplets of an ’86 Bordeaux . . .

Oddly enough, though, I seem forget many of the details of what I experience immediately after I experience them.

Bam.

Good-bye, moment.

Maybe that’s why I love photography so much.  The hoarder in my mind is grasping at every and any opportunity to retrieve some of those thoughts and experiences and relive them.  And each snapshot is one more desperate window into my past.

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Reviewing old photos, I relive those moments, relishing the wonderment I experienced as if I were there all over again.

My hope is that I never lose that wonderment.

I think photography helps with that, as well.  I’m pushed to think and see from different perspectives, so that the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

I’m never bored, that’s for sure.

//Top photo, 35mm film photo taken at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan, in January 2016.  It’s a totally “Me” kind of place.  Edgy, artsy, and a little bit all over the place in a controlled confusion.

//Bottom two photos were taken from inside at the same cafe/shop with my iPhone.

 

Someone Else’s Childhood (in Taiwan)

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There’s something unsettling about nostalgia that doesn’t belong to you.  The bittersweet melancholy of realizing you’re witnessing someone else’s memories is poignant.  Stories others have told have painted hazy images in my mind’s eye, and I can recognize snapshots from their memories as I go about my adult life, but it’s just not the same.

My mother grew up in a town in Taiwan where everyone knew everyone else.  Her father was the principal of their local elementary school, as was his father before him.  Schools were a hub, and my mother’s family lived in tiny Japanese-style homes that were specifically built to house teachers on the school campus.

Why were these teacher-homes Japanese-style?  Because Taiwan was under Japanese occupation from 1894-1945.  My grandparents grew up speaking Japanese in school, and all other languages were banned.  (Fun fact: My grandfather’s earlier books were written in Japanese, and it wasn’t until he taught himself how to write Chinese in his mid-20s that he translated those books into Chinese.)  Later, when the losing government from China took up residence in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese was mandated, and other languages banned.  My parents, therefore, grew up speaking Mandarin.  What was spoken at home?

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So what’s it like to witness someone else’s childhood?  This is what it’s like.

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These are the semi-abandoned remainders of the teacher housing from fifty years ago.  My mother’s home is this one:

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My mother’s childhood home in Longtan, Taiwan.  Somewhat renovated, this house appears somewhat like it did when my grandfather and his family were still living here when was still a teacher, fifty years ago.  The calligraphy engraved on the wood panel was written by my grandfather.  [Digital photo because I wasn’t able to capture it with my Canon AE-1]

How strange.  How weird.  How funny!

But it’s not just my mother’s childhood that I’m surreptitiously reliving.  It’s also my father’s.  It’s also my fiance’s. My parents grew up in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s, and my fiance grew up in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s.  And yet, their childhoods are very similar.

This is what an elementary school looks like.

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So different from the elementary schools of my childhood in the U.S.

To them, the outdoor sinks directly outside the classroom, the mops hanging on the wall, the shape, size, and color of the buildings itself . . . These are their childhood memories.  These memories are not mine.  They will never be mine.  I can experience their childhood through trinkets and remaining edifices now, as an adult.  And that is where the bittersweetness floods in.

For good measure, because it was the Taiwan elections when I was in Taiwan in January, I’m including a photo from the Taiwanese elections.  I had to capture the historic, historic day!  The day a female president was elected! Tsai Ing-wen, now the most powerful elected female in the Chinese speaking world.

(So much passion lie behind Taiwanese politics.  I will address it some other day.  Today, I celebrate something that the U.S. hasn’t been able to achieve– the election of a powerful, opinionated woman to the helm of a country with a complicated, convoluted, and confusion past.)

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It wasn’t as crazy or exciting as the TV showed Taipei was, but Longtan’s elections, held at the local elementary school (my mother’s), was fantastic in its own right.  Quietly, people (the majority of the people of Taiwan) voted.

Yet another memory that isn’t quite mine.  I merely bore witness.

// 35mm film photos taken in Longtan, Taiwan, mid-January 2016 by a Canon AE-1.

Taiwan in the Winter

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In those rare opportunities when I get to experience something from a different perspective, I am always pleasantly surprised.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Taiwan during the winter.

A January Taiwan is a very different experience than a July or an August Taiwan.

Some background on Taiwan

Taiwan is my parents’ home.  Neither of my parents grew up in Taipei, and my childhood trips to Taiwan were always to the towns in which they grew up.  I’m a country girl, my mom would say.  She spent her young years playing hide and seek in the rice fields, and Taipei was a big city that warranted an  occasional visit but never was “home.”

Instead, my mother’s home is a town about an hour’s drive from Taipei.  Her home is where I go every time I’m in Taiwan to visit my remaining grandparent.  Her home is where I meet up once every few years with my Taiwanese cousins to eat and drink and catch up on family news.

[That top photo is the Longtan Lake, a few blocks from my grandfather’s house.]

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Winter in Taiwan

For once, I realized, I wasn’t sweating every waking (and sleeping) moment of the day.  The usual oppressive heat and sit-on-your-chest humidity had given way to a brisk coolness that wasn’t quite cold, and it wasn’t quite damp, either.

This was, for me, a new Taiwan.

So I wandered.

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Muted greys dominated, only to be broken by brightly colored temples.

Walls of Taiwan

I want to do a series of photos about the walls of Taiwan.  Taiwan’s tropical air forces walls and other edifices to age prematurely, weeping from the moisture.  Cleaning the walls is almost futile.  Why try, when moss and dirt return immediately like iron filings to a magnet?

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// 35mm film photos taken in Longtan, Taiwan (龍潭) in January 2016 during an afternoon wander near my grandfather’s house.  If, by some odd chance, you find yourself in Longtan, look for the Lupin Flower shop– that’s my aunt’s semi-defunct quilting shop.  That’s where I spend my Taiwan trips with my grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousins.

Biosphere 2

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Last month, Chris and I went flew in to Tucson, Arizona to shoot my cousin’s family portraits.  Landing early Friday afternoon before my cousin and his wife had gotten off work, we tried to go to Kartchner Caverns to explore and see cool caves.  Unfortunately, I forgot to make advance reservations for tickets, and they were sold out.  Not surprisingly, I might add, because it was the same weekend as the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil showcase.

Who knew that caves filled with minerals would be of interest on the VERY weekend a Mineral showcase is going on.

So instead, we dropped our stuff into the small car we had rented, and set off on an adventure to Biosphere 2.

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This is Biosphere 2.  (A regular Star Wars droid, eh?)  A massive ecological experiment, it originally housed highly publicized experiments with dreams of creating a sealed, self-sustaining environment that could be used in outer space.  Although the experiments ultimately were deemed “failures,” they provided invaluable information.  Today, Biosphere 2 is owned and operated by the University of Arizona, who gives regular tours of the facilities.

And that’s where we started.

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We made it there just in time for the last tour of the day.

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(We made it!  We thought we wouldn’t.)

Beautiful grounds and sculptures dotted the landscape.

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We explored for a bit before the tour began.

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Succulents are everywhere!

The tour began at 4:15 PM, and there were five other people on the tour with us, one of whom was a 9 -month-old baby.

It was pretty awesome inside.  There was a rainforest, a desert, an ocean . . . All surrounded by glass:

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We had a grand old time!  Learned a lot, explored a lot!

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We played with the various plant-life that fell on us.  Like this pollen ball here.  This was the first photo, as well.

We had so much fun that our tour guide took us from a tour that was projected to end at 5:30 PM to a tour that ended near 7:00 PM.  Egads.  I love these kinds of places, but we were starting to wonder if we weren’t going to be shut up in there, as well!

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When we finally got out, the sun was setting.

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Correction: The sun had set.

And as the last people on site, it was time to capture a couple more shots:

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It had been an exhilarating day.  We were pooped.  Until next time, Biosphere 2!

// All photos above were taken on 35mm film (Portra 400) with my Canon AE-1 in Arizona on February 12, 2016.

 

 

Ending a Roll

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Shooting film means shooting in sets of 16, 24, or 36 frames.  What ends up happening sometimes is that I don’t quite finish a roll, and then I’m left with a few extra frames to shoot before I can bring the roll in to be developed (I hate waste!).

Last time this happened, I grabbed C and told him that we were going to run around San Francisco for a little bit and finish the last few shots before dropping off the film.

A good sport, he agreed.

Drove in and found a cute little spot in the Mission in San Francisco.  Park. Run. Ooh, chilly. Pose. Snap. Pose more. Snap. Snap.

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Run back to car.

It took a total of five minutes.  Probably less.  It was really cold.  And windy.

There may or may not have been some people in the car next to ours staring at our 5 minute shenanigans.

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(Weirdos. Cool weirdos.  I think he was giving the people staring at us a weird look back.)

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Hi there, male model!

Did I mention that it was the perfect lighting? Golden hour, in the shade– A natural light box of filtered sunlight.  Approximately 3 minutes after these photos were taken, after we had loaded ourselves back into the car and I was winding my film back into its canister, the light was gone.

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Thinking about beautiful light gives me chills.  It really does.  It makes me happier than I can even explain.  Lights and shadows are among my favorite things in this world.  This photo right here, for example.  The sun is waving adieu to the sky, and the leaves trail shadows of varied light across textured surfaces.

I really should write a post dedicated to light and how it works in my photography.  Maybe that will be an upcoming post.  Stay tuned!

And because I rarely ever have photos of myself, here’s one of me:

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And it’s a wrap!