The Far East – a Photographer’s Dream Bargain!

A few years ago I was requested to accompany a small group of travellers on their vacation through the Far East. My job was to act as the group’s photographer: whatever portraits wherever they were, I would capture. Whenever they posed together as a group, I would get it. Whatever photo they would want of a fantastic scene, I would record it.

I would be paid a salary and all hotels and food costs were borne by the group; how could I possibly refuse?

It was a month-long vacation through Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and London, then home to Madrid (we were located in southern Spain but it could’ve been any other location in the world.

As a photographer, I couldn’t have asked for more. A chance to shoot many photos on a great getaway for others! My cameras were ready and I was more than ready! Though I had the ability to shoot digital, they preferred film, which I agreed to; they were paying for the film also so I had no complaints.

I have been to the Far East in my navy days and knew the area well for its high temperatures and even higher humidity! I ensured a full new bottle of talcum powder was in my suitcase to soak up the sweat, and I also purchased a camelback water knapsack for the assignment. This very useful accessory allows you to carry water on your back and drink through a drinking tube. My camera knapsack is a Lowepro Mini-Trekker which I had won several months previous in an online photo contest (I’m just so lucky!).

The Mini-Trekker is a great camera bag at a very low price, and very comfortable on your back in both cold and hot weather. Southern Spain is very hot but it’s nothing compared to the high humidity I expected during the trip. It even sports a waist belt to give you better support though I personally never use it. Using velcro, I made two small thin pieces which I used to strap the camelback to one side of the Mini-Trekker. This made it easier to carry two bags at once and still have a water supply. The Mini-Trekker is also very adjustable, with the inside padded compartment dividers being small and moveable. When actually travelling, I make more space for my cameras and accessories PLUS clothing pieces, and when I am shooting, I rearrange the interior to store all the cameras and accessories only. I like it most because of its adaptability to any situation. It comes with a two divided storage compartments on the zippered flap, and on other trips I have used that flap-space to carry my Sony Vaio, laptop of course protected in a padded sleeve.

I picked up some good walking shoes also for the trip: the Merrell Vibram model was great for the journey. These shoes felt great when I tested them in the shoe shop and again when worn and used on any surface. They are very durable and though they carry a high price, I think the price was well worth it as they are so comfortable. These shoes are the closest thing to having a glove fitted to your feet!

Those preparations done, I ensured that I had the items I required to provide the photographic coverage the group needed. My needs were tailored to the areas where we were going, and I wanted to be fully prepared to cover any aspect of the trip, being their group photographer. I also wear glasses and carried an extra pair with me in the case I needed them (knock on wood). Inside my camera bag, I carried a trusty Swiss Army knife for those situations that always seem to pop up when one least expects them.

I was ready!

We departed Sevilla, Spain enroute the first flight departure point: Madrid. All travel arrangements, as I stated earlier, were completed for each travel individual, including myself. We boarded the flight in Madrid enroute London, where we spent the night in a rented apartment to catch an early-morning flight the next day.

Aboard the jumbo jet the next morning, we settled down for the nine hour flight toward Hong Kong, our first stop. We would be there for three days and I wondered if it would rain during our stay� actually, it was Hong Kong, where I had visited decades ago as a young sailor, and on this trip I discovered that when the air humidity reaches 85%, it will rain!

A habit I used and had to adjust to during this trip was for keeping my camera lens optics from fogging up constantly due to staying in an air-conditioned hotel room which freezes the glass, then as I enter that humid steamhouse they call Hong Kong, the glass would fog up. This would even fog the mirror within the camera if kept in the air-conditioning for many hours. I solved that problem for the trip by keeping my thermostat down to a comfortable level close to the outside temperture. Therefore, my lens optics stayed warm and warm but unfogged they remained on the streets.

It rained for 95% of the time we were on the streets. The only good thing that happened on this portion was I was able to do some shopping. I knew many years before HK has been and remains one of the Far East’s best locations for bargain shopping, and this trip was no exception. I found a good Canon lens for my EOS-series camera at a very good price! I did bargain and talked them down 30% lower than the price they were orginally asking. The Far East is great for bartering!

We next went to Vietnam where we spent almost two weeks, traveling from south to north on trains during nights. I wondered about my cameras inside the bags but as long as nobody saw me take out or put in the cameras, I didn’t have any serious fears. Again the humidity was a big problem though my lenses weren’t affected too much as I stayed with my hotel routine of lowering the air temperature. Film was very cheap, even cheaper than in Spain or the states. I wondered about the heat damaging the film purchased as I had no idea how long the film was sitting on the shelves, but at the end when all film was developed, the results were very good! In many stores where I asked for the film, if they didn’t have the film requested, they would ask for me to wait then send a store worker on a bicycle to another store, returning with a big smile and my film.

Vietnam is a beautiful country that hasn’t seen any major development due to a dormat but growing tourism trade. In some ways this is good because you are seeing the lush country as it really is. I found the people to be very sincere and the prices everywhere were so low, I took pictures just of the signs as evidence of those low prices. The pollution from the cars was terrible though, as it is throughout the Far East and often one sees the surgical masks worn to not inhale the fumes. One fascinating scene I enjoyed seeing were the hundreds of bicycles on the streets surrounding a lone car or truck. The vehicle can only go so “fast” not having any way to get past these bicycles, like hundreds of ants upon an ant hill. The bikes were everywhere and going in every direction regardless of the road markings and signs. We were told by our state-approved tour guide who spoke english and spanish that accidents were rare, though I did saw three within a 20-minute period in one city.

These scenes of the simple life and lush countryside make for incredibly beautiful and poetic images. I vowed to someday return on my own to create my own images and memories.

Traveling during the nights, we rode train cars that we later discovered were purchased from India; these the same type of cars that you see on CNN when there is an Indian train accident! There was NO air-conditioning so the windows were keep wide open as possible; and this caused us to wake the next morning covered with bug bites, as the passing wind threw within each train car thousands of bugs! Bring antibug creams with you!!

Singapore was a good stop that I have seen before�. I was surprised to see not much had changed since I was last there decades ago! The harbor area looked as it did when I last saw it� few photos were taken here at the request of my hosts.

Our next destination was a rest-stop in popular Phuket, Thailand where I’ve never traveled to but have heard much about. It is a growing popular spot for Europeans. It was here I went to the downtown area by the beach to develop the films exposed thus far. This was a total of 29 rolls of film of which I was to ask for 12 sets of prints later of the best and most pleasing (flattering) pictures of the group members. Again, I haggled over the price and got a great deal!! At that time, I was to pay only $250 for ALL the film developing and the selected 12 sets of prints totalling over 500 photos to be printed within two days. That’s a great price!!! These were later made into a little travel book and given to each member of the journey.

In Bangkok, we stayed three days which I used to see as much on my own as possible. Here the car exhaust fumes was so bad it seemed everyone worn the face masks! But the thing I noticed was that here they drove more motorbikes than bicycles as in Vietnam, and everyone, simply everyone in the Far East riding a bicycle or a motorbike had the straightest back posture while riding!! I took some photos but my biggest concern was visiting one of those fast Bangkok clothing tailor shops and getting some tailor-made clothes! I found one close to the hotel where I stayed, and made five sets of clothes made: short-sleeved shirt and pants; two sets dark, two sets lighter and one set white. All were to be of wash and wear material so I could easily care for it wherever I was. The advantage of it being made for me was I was able to specify the size of the pockets of the shirts and pants, plus even have the option of a “secret pocket” sewn into the inside waist hem of the trousers; I liked that a lot and when I do wear these now (mostly weddings) my personal identification goes into those pockets! The other neat option was a thin rubber string sewn into the inside of the pants waist hem; this served well to keep the shirt from pulling out. In the years since I had these made for me, I have noticed this option in higher-priced clothingâÂ?¦. At weddings as a photographer, I am the only one who maintains his shirts neatly and professionally tucked into his pants!

From Bangkok we returned to London where again a minimum of images were craeted, then back to Madrid where we parted ways to our homes.

If you travel to these areas mentioned, prepare yourself asnd your cameras! Be sure to prepare for the temperatures and the humidity, the two items that can most affect your images and camera. The sights are out of this world and you’ll return home with many breath-taking scenes not possible anywhere else in the world. Armed with these hints and tips, you can also have a great trip to the Far East and get those fantastic images you would normally dream about!

Other than that, have a great time!!

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