Chinese New Year in Singapore

•February 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Chinese New Year In Singapore


Having just completed a traditional Christmas and New Years celebration in California, I returned to Singapore just in time for the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese traditional calendar, Chinese New Year falls on February 3rd and since it is considered the beginning of spring, it is also called the Spring Festival.

It is a time when families and friends get together to say goodbye to the old and bring in the new.  Each year is given the name of an animal and 2011 is the year of the Rabbit.

The festivities start on the eve of February 2nd and ends on the full moon 15 days later with the Lantern festival.  Families, however, start preparations a month in advance.  I arrived in Singapore just in time for all the sales and throngs of people shopping in the already crowded stores.

On New Year’s Eve, families celebrate with the “reunion” meal known as “tuan yuan fan”.   It is traditionally, a time for Chinese families to gather for a feast and reunite with their immediate family members as a symbol of unity and to renew and reaffirm family ties.  There are many other traditions that are followed during Chinese New Year; homes are decorated with flowers and red and gold paper decorations wishing happiness, prosperity, and good luck for the coming year.  Gifts are exchanged and small red packets with money inside are given to children to buy holiday treats and symbolize good fortune.   (I was also told that it was the one time that children were allowed to gamble on mah jong or card games that were being played by their elders after the large meal)


I had the honor to be invited by dear friends for their New Years Eve dinner and although not a traditional Chinese meal; it was lovely to be part of their family celebration.


Happy Lunar New Year






•January 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea . A mega-city with a population of over 10 million, it is one of the largest cities of the world.  The topography of Seoul is impressive.  Due to its high density, there are thousands of buildings that are only 20 or 30 stories high, of similar size and color, and huge skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline.

In the center of this bustling metropolis, I decided to visit a Korean spa or “Mud Sauna”.   I heard that this could be daunting for the uninitiated but I wanted to experience this aspect of traditional Korean life.

After undressing and showering,  I embarked on this journey by entering their famous kiln sauna known as the han jeung mak.  It is a dark cave-like structure with a small low opening maybe 4’high by 3’wide.  I left my dignity at the door while I crawled naked through the hole listening to the giggles behind me.  I was given a small jute blanket to sit on and also to protect me from the heat that can be as high as 200C (nearly 400F).

The han jeung mak reportedly increases your metabolism as well as helping to relieve shoulder, head and neck pain. It also improves skin quality and loosens stiff muscles. You perspire profusely and hope that the toxins are leaving through your pores…otherwise, why are you putting yourself through this torture??  (I almost fainted after five minutes)

This was followed by a number of other saunas and baths:  the charcoal sauna, jade sauna, full body and face mud paint, geranium and red ginseng baths; all of which aim to achieve more or less the same result as the Mak…removing the toxins from your body.

This eventually led to the “piece de resistance” which was the full body scrub.  I felt and probably looked like a slab of meat on a plastic table while an “ajuma” dressed in black bra and underpants took a brillo-type glove and scrubbed my body from head to toe, all the while laughing and showing me how many layers of skin she had removed.  Having a natural tan, I was afraid that she was working on making me whiter.

Nevertheless, by the time she finished… I was definitely a few shades lighter.

All in all, it was a terrific experience that I highly recommend.  After four hours, you leave feeling refreshed, healthier and squeaky clean!

Leica or Lumix???

•January 10, 2011 • 1 Comment

Leica or Lumix???

As I was packing for yet another trip, trying to figure out what to wear in the next three countries with temperatures varying from -10 to 90 degrees, my main dilemma was not the clothing but what camera equipment should I bring. A few years back, my husband offered me an M8 Leica digital camera.  Most camera buffs have heard about the reputation of Leica cameras and lenses; however, if you are not familiar with the M series, you might not know that they are rangefinder cameras.

“They are called “rangefinders” because they focus using a dual-image rangefinding device.  You turn a ring, and when two superimposed images line up, you are in perfect focus.” ( i.e. no autofocus here, you have to find those lines!)

I have a number of cameras that are used for different projects.  For my portraits in “Barely Exposed”, I used the Canon 5D SLR with a number of zoom lenses.  I love that camera because I can quickly zoom in or out and have less risk of focus errors with a moving subject or capturing a fleeting expression.  Auto focus was a wonderful invention, especially when ones eyes start failing. (Like mine)  The problem I have traveling with the Canon and its lenses are the heavy weight.  I carry two computers,  two phones, iPod, galaxy pad, adapters, wires, etc. etc. and so unless I am working on a specific project that necessitates all that equipment… I leave it home.

The Leica M8 was to take the place of my “ point and shoot” since it was one of the smallest (at the time) cameras with interchangeable lenses.  So I decided to make the effort this time to carry the extra weight and packed it along with my 3 lenses: a 35mm wide angle, 50mm normal, and 300mm portrait lens.

While flying over the Kamchatka Peninsula, an immense mountain with sharp, vertical ridges came into view with a smoking volcano in the background.  I quickly grabbed the Leica and squeezed off a few shots while a friend did the same with his Panasonic Lumix. I tried to find similar photographs showing the same view.  (See examples)

So, my question is this:  Is it worth it to travel with a camera like the Leica to take snapshots?   When you consider all the inconveniences that it entails like weight, speed (impossible to change the lens fast enough), manual focus, etc. etc. in comparison to a lightweight and simple “point and shoot” like the Lumix???   Take a look at the examples and you be the judge!


Time Passed

•January 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

It is New Years Day and I am listening to Frank Sinatra singing “September of My Years”, and for once, I am hearing the lyrics.  It is 2011, and for my umpteenth resolution, I have decided to take the time to observe life.

As a photographer, I thought that just being a visual person was enough.  Seize those moments that others don’t see and record them.  But if you study the really great photographs, those moments captured are not mistakes.  Those images are taken at the “Decisive Moment.”

According to Henri-Cartier Bresson, (considered to be the master of candid photography)…  he told the Washington Post in 1957:

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

I have hoped that in my career as a photographer, I have had the good fortune to create one or two of those perfect images. Certainly, there have been plenty to discard, but if we keep in mind, what defines that “Decisive Moment”…  well then; we can only produce better imagery.

So how does that pertain to my resolution, Frank Sinatra and the lyrics?

Another year has passed.   I am sure, like myself, you are wondering how time was able to slip so nimbly out of your hands and disappear.

My New Year’s resolution is to take hold of those precious moments that comprise a life and that, so often, are taken for granted.  Make them all “Decisive Moments”!  Greedily grasp on to them and to our loved ones and not wait until the… “September of our Years”.

“One day you turn around and it’s summer

Next day you turn around and it’s fall

And the springs and the winters of a lifetime

Whatever happened to them all?”


Slow Boat from Phukthar

•December 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I arrived home late one evening, exhausted after a long trip, to find a stack of mail waiting to be opened.

Amongst the Christmas cards and various throw aways were two battered envelopes, one yellow and one white.

I knew immediately that they were from Geshe and the Monastery and that they contained photographs and invoices of what was bought this year.  The surprise was the contents of the manila envelope that was practically in pieces.  I was brought to tears when three orange cloth bags spilled out with the embroidered words:

“Phukthar Gonpa Cultural Welfare Society… sponsored by Latana”.

The photographs showed each of the monks receiving this cloth bag along with the desks, shoes, herbs and medicines that Geshe brought to them this year.

One should not expect accolades or wait for something in return when giving.  However, one would like to feel that somehow they are making a difference.

Have you heard the “starfish” story?  It goes like this:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.  Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”  The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. 
The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”   “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? 
You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said…”
I made a difference for that one.”

~ Original Story by: Loren Eislen

In 2011, be that little boy…make a difference.

“A picture is worth a thousand words…”

•December 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment


The name conjures up images of tropical islands, blue skies, warm water and secluded beaches.  However, the real beauty of Tahiti are the Tahitians.

I have had the privilege of returning numerous times through the years and can happily say that not much has changed.  The women still wear pareos and flowers in their hair walking to the market.   In the early morning, a man and woman will be fishing from their outrigger while their child plays in the lagoon.  Everywhere you turn is reminiscent of a Gauguin painting.

A photographer’s dream.

Transition from Older Teen to Adult

•December 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As a mother of a child that was soon approaching the passage from adolescence to adulthood, I wanted to capture that moment in his life with all the questions and fears that the future would entail for him and also for me, as a parent. It prompted a project that went from asking his friends “How they saw their world?” into a much larger body of work that included youth from different parts of the world. The choices of the participants were random. They were from different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. I realized that this germ of on an idea had turned into a vehicle for these young people to express themselves or “to name and locate him – or herself in the world,” and a way for us adults to better comprehend that passage. That vehicle was my book, “Barely Exposed.”

The age group I dealt with was from 17 to 21, older teens to young adults. What are some of the problems that can arise for parents when dealing with this age group as they are transitioning?

We must realize that even though at 18 the law views each young person as an adult… the rate of development is quite different in each individual. As a parent, we must be aware of our child’s capabilities and deal with them accordingly.

Once they leave home, either working or in university, many are still struggling with feeling confident and ready to take on adult roles.

Liv responds to my question in “How do you see your world?”

“If on one hand, the idea of becoming independent and responsible is exciting…The fact that I will soon be alone in an enormous, unknown world is scary.”

It is helpful to know they have a safety net at home where they are not judged but loved and supported. They may not need as much managing as they need communication and suggestions for their choices in transitioning to independence.

We should as parents:

  1. Listen to our children so that we can help them become confident adults.
  2. Support and advise them when they question their choices but also make them understand just how difficult those choices can be.
  3. It is also important to set boundaries so that they can progress and feel reassured in his or her decisions.
  4. Be a role model, by being a responsible, concerned and generous adult both with affection and time.

And most of all, tell them just how much you believe and love them.

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