Reflecting on a paper lantern

This is our entry in The Daily Post Photo Challenge: Reflecting.

This photo was taken in Hoi An, Vietnam.  The reflections in the river of the dragon and hanging lanterns help illuminate a boat seating three people. The woman in the middle seat is reflecting on a paper lantern which she will float in the river for luck.

Reflecting on a paper lantern

This photo was taken on February 18, 2016. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 1600, f/4.9, 1/15 sec, 18 mm

Apprentice Farmers

This is our entry in The Daily Post Daily Prompt: Apprentice.

In February, 2016, we visited the Tra Que Vegetables Village near Hoi An, Vietnam. We observed many different types of vegetables grown by traditional techniques of organic farming. Following instructions from farmers there, we each dug furrows in the rich soil and inserted some type of small seedlings before watering them. We told our guide that he could harvest “our” plants if he returned three weeks later.

Farmer with Apprentice

This photo was taken on February 16, 2016. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, 4.5 mm

Smoke Photography with a Vietnamese Dragon

Our travels often take us to countries with developing tourist infrastructures. There are few days when our guide fails to give us a tour in “a very special shop.” We generally see things we don’t need and really don’t want to carry for the next few weeks but we try to buy interesting things as long as they are small, light, and difficult to break.

One place we actually wanted to shop is Hội An in Vietnam. Even if you haven’t heard of it, if you are in Vietnam and have a couple extra days, you want to go there. You can have bespoke shoes, clothing, and purses of high quality made overnight and delivered to your hotel.

One of the shops our guide took us to made incense and burners. We found the little carved dragon incense burner there (we checked the bottom to make sure it wasn’t simply imported from China) and  small boxes of agarwood incense cones we saw being made on site.

Vietnamese Dragon Incense Burner

Once we got home, the dragon sat on a table along with similar items from other trips. We thought we’d never use it until we decided to try smoke photography as an experiment for a photo class we have been taking.

We placed the dragon in front of a sheet of black velvet we use as a small backdrop and ignited the incense. A speedlight was placed parallel to the backdrop and a tube (i.e., a snoot) was used to send the flash through the smoke without spilling onto the backdrop. The smoke rose in a smooth column for about six inches and then began to twist and turn in wild patterns as the column cooled and reacted to small air currents in the room. The photos below show the results. The color was created by setting the camera’s color correction to tungsten.

Hội An Dragon Smoke
Hội An Dragon Smoke


Hội An Dragon Smoke


Hội An Dragon Smoke


On our recent trip to Southeast Asia, we observed many types of connections. Here are four examples.

Bridge in Luang Say Lodge, Luang Say, Laos

The first example is a bridge (physical connection) between the main reception area and our cabin at the Luang Say Lodge beside the Mekong River in Laos.

Wedding on the Thu Bon River near the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An, Vietnam

During our stay in Hoi An, Vietnam, we observed this wedding ceremony (human  connection) on a boat on the Thu Bon river just below the Japanese Covered Bridge in the Ancient Town.

Fisherman casting his net, Thu Bon River, Hoi An, Vietnam

Also on the Thu Bon River in Hoi An, Vietnam, we saw a fisherman casting his net for fish (a food connection).

Incense coils in the Chinese Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam, connecting wishes to heaven

Finally, in the Chinese Assembly Hall in Hoi An, Vietnam, we saw giant coils of incense that send wishes to heaven (a spiritual connection).



Day 20: Hoi An – Da Nang – Nha Trang

This morning BeeBee was awakened by the loa phuong, the government’s public address system used at strategic times during the day to provide information to the citizens. (The rooster, totally confused, had sounded off at 1:45 am.) Farmers and townspeople use the loa phuong as an alarm clock in the morning and a dinner bell in the evening. Music was played, also.

Finally arising at 5:30 am as usual, Pati and BeeBee prepared for the day’s travel by reorganizing their luggage contents to accommodate all of their new souvenirs. Since Hoi An was their designated souvenir-buying town, they are hoping that their current luggage will be sufficient for the rest of their trip. So far, their luggage weighs less than the 20 kg (44 lbs) per person that is allowed on Vietnam Airlines domestic flights.

They were ready for their guide and driver before 10 am, the agreed pickup time. They first went into Hoi An to pick up items that they had ordered, and then headed for the airport in Da Nang for their flight to Nha Trang. Their guide went into the terminal with them and, since they were too early to check their luggage, he took them to the cafe, bought them coffee, and sat talking with them until it was check-in time. Once they were checked in, he asked an airport person to take their picture together.  Then he took them to security, which was as far as he could go, and waved goodbye. (Thank you, Mr. Ha. You will be missed.).

The flight to Nha Trang was uneventful. They were met by their new guide and driver as they walked out of the terminal. The drive to their hotel seemed long, but the guide was very informative during the drive. Their hotel is across the road (divided road, two lanes each direction, crosswalks but no traffic lights) from a lovely beach.

The hotel check-in was chaotic, but finally they were in their room, which has a balcony and very good view of the beach and Cam Ranh Bay.

Venturing out again, they had a tasty Vietnamese meal at a restaurant (recommended by the guide) about 1 km from their hotel, located on the beach with a good view of the bay.

The major group of tourists in this area are Russians, and signs for shops are given in Russian as well as Vietnamese. This is the first time that they have seen Russian in Vietnam.  Previously on this trip, they have seen groups of Australians, Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean tourists, but they have only seen English signs along with the Vietnamese ones.


Day 19: Hoi An – Ancient Town

Pati and BeeBee were up this morning at 5:30 am after a relaxing 8 hours of sleep. They had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and spent time internetting. They were scheduled for a short touring day, including lunch and visits to old structures in the Ancient Quarter, and so could afford a later start.

At 10:30, they met their guide for a walking tour through the narrow winding streets of the Ancient Quarter visiting Chua Ong Pagoda, Assembly Hall, 200-year-old Tam Ky House and the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge constructed in 1593.

The Fujianese Assembly Hall is dedicated to the sea goddess Thien Hau, who saved the passengers on the ship bringing them from China. (The model ship in the temple is 1/20 actual size.)

The sea goddess had two helpers, the God of Seeing that could see any danger within 1000 miles and the God of Hearing that could hear any danger within 1000 miles. They would inform the goddess of any dangers and she would come to save the ship.

Also in this temple are three shrines for the gods of prosperity (money), ancestors (parents), and fertility (childbirth). A young couple was praying to the god of fertility.


When they got to the Japanese Covered Bridge, the guide took them for a side view of it, and gave them a crisp 20,000 Vietnamese dong bill (worth just under $1 USD, but still significant for him) to keep. On one side of the bill is a lithograph of the bridge. He wanted them to have the bill as a souvenir of Hoi An. (BeeBee has saved it safely in their travel binder.)

After this, the guide took them to a river-side restaurant for a delicious, filling lunch.

Even though they were stuffed from lunch, their guide wanted them to experience the best banh mi sandwich in Vietnam, which coincidentally is made in Hoi An. He bought them each a banh mi sandwich from the best sandwich stand in Hoi An, which they decided to save for dinner. (You can see this sandwich described by Anthony Bourdain at  This is the same shop that they visited.) After this, their touring day was officially over, but their guide stayed with them to navigate the streets for more efficient shopping. Then the guide and driver took them back to their hotel.

After cooling off, they asked the hotel staff for help in getting Pati a haircut and beard trim. The young concierge walked with Pati to a nearby local barber shop and stayed with him to be sure the barber understood what he wanted. This haircut and trim cost 50,000 dong, around $2.25 USD.

They then took a taxi back into town and to do some souvenir shopping. They also bought an extra duffle bag/suitcase for 350,000 dong (around $16 USD) since their accumulated souvenirs now exceed their luggage space.


As they were walking up a street in the market, a man called out to them, asking where they were from. This happens a lot when someone wants to sell something, but this man had nothing to sell. He told them that he had lived in Hoi An all his life. He is taking lessons in English and his teacher has assigned him homework to write on a topic he could select from a list of topics. He chose to write about Hoi An. He asked them to read his homework and give him feedback. He led them into his house, which was just behind them, and gave them seats while they read his assignment. It was written on just over one page in a notebook like those a school child would have, with a cute animal on the cover. The essay was excellent. His handwriting was uniform and clear; his grammar and spelling were perfect; and his topic was well developed. Pati and BeeBee praised his work. He was eager to talk, to practice his spoken English, and they discussed several subjects. Finally, Pati and BeeBee excused themselves and left. What a rewarding experience!



They took advantage of their last night in Hoi An to walk through the streets just looking at everything.


Near one of the bridges, they watched a young couple standing in a boat; it seemed to be a wedding ceremony. A nearby boat was full of candles in small paper boats for floating down the river.

After this, they walked back to their hotel. They ate their banh mi sandwiches, and then had dessert and Vietnamese coffee in the hotel restaurant. A musician was in the restaurant, playing music from the 60s on a guitar (e.g., Tom Jones’ Delilah). His arrangements were simple and original, and Pati and BeeBee had fun identifying the tunes.One other couple in the restaurant seemed to recognize the tunes also, but the hotel staff did not.

And now it is time for bed. The packing can wait until tomorrow!


Day 18: Hoi An – Tra Que Village

The first new business of the day was to reorder a luggage tag from Amazon. For some reason, one of the big beautiful blue luggage tags was missing from one of their checked bags when it came out on the luggage carousel. Since BeeBee always puts two tags on each bag, there was still one tag on it. However, every bag they carry has the same blue tag for easy identification. The replacement tag should be waiting for them when they get home.

At 9 am, Pati and BeeBee met their guide in the hotel lobby.  They each picked a bicycle from the row in front of the hotel, donned helmets, and set off through Hoi An to the Tra Que Vegetables village. Here, they wandered around observing many different types of vegetables which are used daily in meals. They learned the traditional techniques of farming organic vegetables. After enjoying a drink made from basil seeds, they each dug furrows in the rich soil and inserted some type of small seedlings before watering the newly-planted seeds. If they return in three weeks, they will be able to harvest the plants.

The guide told them that this family had lost three family members in the Vietnam war, and showed them the certificate for each one. He explained that, during the war, the Vietcong controlled the countryside and the government controlled the towns. The area immediately aroung the town was a buffer zone (neutral area). The Vietcong came to the people at night asking for rice and support. The government came to the people in the daytime asking them to move to the town. However, there were no jobs in town, so they did not want to move. The government then accused them of being Vietcong supporters.  Life was very difficult for them during the war.


They then continued biking along the narrow path through the rice paddies to Cam Thanh village. They stopped at a farmer’s house for a cool drink before  boarding  a round bamboo basket boat (thung chai) with the guide and a local fisherman, who rowed the boat through the water coconut canals. The guide explained the the Vietcong had their headquarters in this “swamp” of plants. Once free of the coconut plants, they watched a fisherman on his small boat cast a rounded net to catch fish. While this net throwing seemed to be mainly for the entertainment of tourists, he and his wife showed them the dozen or so small small mullets they had caught.


(While in the boat, the local fisherman made rings for Pati and BeeBee out of water coconut leaves. They joked that he was now engaged to both of them.)

As the fisherman rowed them back to the starting point, he made several stops to fish for crabs with a small bamboo pole. Unfortunately, the crabs were too smart and he only lost the bait.

Returning to the farmers’s home, they had a delicious lunch prepared by the husband and wife. The meal included rice pancakes, pork prepared in a claypot, grilled fish with green chili and onions, clams, rice, and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.


After this, they resumed riding their bicycles along the path between ponds for cultivating fish and shrimp. Along the way, they came upon a farmer selling rides on his water buffalo. Of course, Pati and BeeBee each took a short ride. They resumed their ride along the grass and dirt path, and BeeBee fell off her bicycle only once, about 100 meters before the paved road.

Continuing on, they stopped at a pier on the Hoian River and boarded a small boat, taking their bicycles with them. Motoring up (or down?) the river toward Hoi An, they saw many huge fishing nets in the river. These nets are lowered to the river bed at night and lights are shown above them, to lure fish into the nets. Each net is owned by a family of fishermen.

They disembarked with their bicycles in the Old Town of Hoi An, and the guide walked them through several streets, pointing out good shops. They walked because the pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle traffic was too heavy for BeeBee to navigate. Riding farther once they left the busy area, they then stopped at a silk “factory” to observe the silk-making process (and, of course, to shop). Leaving the shop, they found that the guide had called for the car to take them back to the hotel, since traffic was now too heavy for them to bicycle back. He said that the hotel would come for the bicycles.

Back at the hotel, Pati and BeeBee stopped only long enough to leave their backpack, and then hopped in a taxi to go back to town. Once there, they visited shops they had studied on the internet. They had already decided that Hoi An was their town for souvenir shopping. They decided to take a taxi back to the hotel, but once they were out of the pedestrian area and found a taxi, the driver said it was only a kilometer to their hotel (meaning that he would not take them), and so, for the second night, they walked back to their hotel.

They were back at their hotel well before 7 pm. Too full from the heavy lunch to even think about dinner, they instead enjoyed quality internet time before bedtime.