Archive for December, 2012

#FriFotos: “Sparkle” and Buddha Bling Edition: Sunrise at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda

Earlier this month I traveled to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Rangoon, Burma), where I spent two great mornings photographing Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded stupa that is the most sacred site for Burmese Buddhists. In a country whose per capita income is probably about $379 US, you might be surprised at the amount of bling and sparkle on display at this holy site. Legend states that this pagoda has existed for some 2,600 years, making it possibly the oldest historical stupa in the world.

It’s always such a contrast seeing monks in simple ochre robes and nuns wrapped in pink cloth praying to glitzy, sparkly Buddha statues. Visiting at sunrise gives you an opportunity to see a wide cross section of Burmese society doing their morning prayers and offerings, as well as visiting pilgrims from other countries. My favorite surprise was seeing monks on “dome shining” duty, walking barefoot up on the 344 foot high dome, buffing the gold to make it sparkle.


These domes reminded me of those I saw earlier this year at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine.

The top spire of Shwedagon is 638 feet high

A hall of blinged out Buddhas


Before sunrise at Shwedagon Pagoda

Morning offerings and monks on dome shining duty making sure Shwedagon sparkles

A man burns joss sticks as part of his morning ritual.

at 5:30 am, Shwedagon is open and filled with the faithful, with the golden domes sparkling in the morning light.

This man washed a Buddha statue as part of his morning prayers.

Golden Buddhas and gilded roofs contrast with the barefoot worshippers

Monks shining the dome of Shwedagon

Portrait of three young Buddhist nuns who posed for me in front of sparkly lights



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Hipstamatic Photo Essay of the Singapore River Cruise

My recent trip to Singapore was notable for several reasons, including the terrible, rainy weather. At it’s best, Singapore sits on the equator and could be described on a good day as “sticky.” But my trip in December featured torrential downpours that seemed like something out of Blade Runner. Since the light wasn’t particularly pretty, I wasn’t feeling inspired and I found my energy sapped a bit by the tropical humidity.

The weather reminded me of previous trips I had taken a decade earlier, when I was shooting a lot of film. Flat light was the main reason I used to pull out my changing bag and shoot infrared film to make the scene more interesting. When the light was bad, I would either shoot infrared or cross-process film as a way to add interest to a scene.

I decided to do a mobile technology riff on that by re-visiting the hipstamatic app. No, it’s not a virtual infrared app, but It’s certainly less cumbersome than carrying around the changing bag that was required when you needed total darkness to change rolls of infrared film.

I had had luck recently in French Polynesia using  Hipstamatic app and use some film & lens combos that might make the colors pop a bit, despite the bad light. When I find myself in shooting conditions that are less than ideal, I do best when I create a challenge for myself  to push myself in another way.

Here is a little mobile photography Hipstamatic Photo Essay of Singapore, featuring my ride from the Fullerton Bay Hotel to the Marina Bay Sands on the Sinagpore River Cruise, a cool Chinese Junk boat turned water taxi, which runs a ferry service between the two hotels approximately every 30 minutes or so. It is a fun way to get a slightly different angle of the city, and well run and organized as one would expect in the banking city-state of Singapore.

I got this capture using the Hipstmatic Jimmy lens + DC film, which is a favorite combination of mine.

While I am not a fan of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel the building itself is rather beautiful. It’s said to be inspired by joss sticks. It really doesn’t have a bad angle.

Waiting for the Singapore River Cruise.

The famous Singapore Merlion.

I found myself really enjoying the ride, and getting some good captures along the way. All these images were shot in Hipstamatic and maybe tweaked a touch in Snapseed. I’ve found it’s good to have a streamlined workflow when using hipstamatic. If you haven’t yet tried it out, the Hipstamatic app allows you to save favorite settings by tapping the star on the back of the camera case, and then tapping the + sign in the upper right corner to set a new favorite.

Mobile Photography Tip: set a few film/lens and flash combos in hipstamatic as your go-to settings for certain situations you find yourself in often, and save them in different colored cases so you can easily identify what they are.  It is particularly helpful to have a few go-tos set for when I’m on the road with non-photographers. I love the DC film & Loftus lens for restaurants and food, and Jimmy lens + DC film for outdoors and landscapes, and the new Tinto Lens + D type plate film combo for portraits. The app is much more approachable if you save the settings you like.

Views of the gorgeous Marina Bay Sands ArtScience Museum— which really doesn’t have a bad angle. It’s a lovely architectural lotus blossom

Looking back at the Singapore CBD from the Singapore River Cruise.


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Guest Post: A Tale of Frequent Flier Fraud

Mileage Plus Premier Flair

Mileage Plus Frequent Flier Flair

[Editor’s Note: Blog reader Erik Ochsner and I were both the “new kid in class” in fourth grade. As adults, we both have lives that involve a lot of travel, and send each other Facebook messages when we’re excited about crazy flight routes we’ve managed to book. Erik is globe trotting orchestra conductor has waved his baton in front of symphonies from Iceland to Indianapolis. He is also very much a gentleman– on a recent coast-to-coast flight he was “encouraged” by airline staff to give up his seat so that Paris Hilton could sit next to her boyfriend.  When Erik recently told me about his tale about being an almost-vicitim of Frequent Flier Fraud, I asked him to write this guest post – Jen]

Erik Ochsner 2012

Erik Ochsner, Conductor and near victim of Frequent Flier Mileage balance theft

I was simply making my morning checks on e-mail, Facebook, and happened to check my bank account and decided to check on my United MileagePlus Frequent Flier account, too.

Much to my shock, I noticed that my account showed a VAST difference in what I thought I had and what I currently had.  I quickly logged onto my account on my laptop to a grim discovery: 367,550 miles had been deducted!

FOR WHAT? I did not make any deductions.  With a little more research, I found that they were used to book a hotel.  No other information.

I quickly picked up the phone, called the 1K desk at United (UAL has a dedicated number for Premier fliers who log more 100,000 Premier qualifying miles or 120 Premier qualifying segments annually) and explained the situation. The agent said they are seeing more and more of this happen and instructed me to hang up and call a separate number for MileagePlus hotels. I did this immediately.

The next agent walked me through a sequence of steps to find the itinerary, and what we discovered was a reservation for 2 adults in a Dubai hotel for 20 nights, starting in 2 days!  She said this was a good thing since the stay had not started, simply click on CANCEL and the miles will be immediately returned to my account.

The hotels agent walked me the steps to double check my account settings, and sure enough someone had hacked my account and changed the e-mail address associated with the account. The culprit had simply changed 1 letter in the e-mail address (the 6th letter changed from an S to a C.)  Also all automatic notifications had been turned off, so for example I would not have received any SMS messages on my mobile phone.  We updated the e-mail address, changed the PIN number, and signed off.


It seems that it’s all set now, and someone will show up in Dubai WITHOUT a hotel room – THEIVES!!!

 Erik Ochsner Conducting LOTR

Erik conducting the Lord of the Rings Symphony along with a live projection

[Editor’s Note: My favorite part of Erik’s story is that he had a happy resolution via the United Mileage Plus Program agents. Have any of you had similar Frequent Flyer Mile theft or near theft? Please let us know in the comments section. And if you’re in the NYC area and like chamber music, check SONOS Chamber Orchestra where Erik is the musical director.]

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My Street Photography from Alexandria, Egypt featured in EyeEm’s Weekly Mission Post

Smoked Chicken

I’m incredibly honored to have my mobile photography image, Smoked Chicken , featured in EyeEm’s Weekly Mission Recap: Going To Market selected by the team at COLORS Magazine.

The day I shot this picture in Alexandria, Egypt was a big turning point for me as a photographer. I was touring Alexandria, Egypt with some fellow travel bloggers and fellow photographer, Ralph Velasco, requested we take some time out to go street shooting. I got some fantastic images that day, and I really embraced how much I enjoy street photography. Markets are always fascinating places to visit and an interesting slice of everyday life. I also found that I drew less attention shooting with my iPhone than I did with my larger cameras. Here are some of my favorite mobile photography images from that day, in a photo essay called Shop Like an Egyptian.

Shop Like an Egyptian

Real Housewives Of Egypt

Welcome To Egypt

Cool for Cats, Alexandria

Stay tuned for future photo street photography photo essays, including  posts of the Chinatown Market in Yangon, Myanmar.

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FriFotos: Suites and Sweets in Singapore

A glass of just sweet enough bubbly Perrier Jouet with my friend & #FriFotos host,Charles Yap

I just got back from a trip to Asia and on my way there, I got a chance to fly  in one of Singapore Airlines First Class Suites from San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN) to Singapore (SIN). While I’ve got a ton of photo editing to do (look for  more in-depth posts about my trip in the future),  in honor of #FriFotos “Sweets” them this week,  here  are a few photographic highlights of the sweetest things in Singapore.

If you’d like to take part in the #Frifotos photo chat on twitter you can find the details here.

Chocolate Donuts on the amazing Fullerton Bay Hotel‘s Breakfast buffet

Left: Sweet & Savory high Tea Delights Fullerton Bay. Right: Fresh tropical fruit amenity at the Intercontinental Singapore

Fruit Juice selection at the  Fullerton Bay breakfast buffet. They also had strawberry milk. Sweet and delicious

Bubbly and a Singapore Sling at the Club Intercontinental Lounge. Singapore Slings photography nicely but are too sweet for my taste.

Dom Perignon and Krug both served in-flight in the sweet Singapore Suites

The Suite Life:  Singapore Airlines First Class

Check out the EVA Air Hello Kitty Plane I saw at the Incheon International Airport in Korea. That is one sweet plane!

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