CN reflectionOne advantage to living in the largest city in Canada (with a population of about 2.5 million, Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America, but doesn’t even make the top 100 worldwide) is that most bands coming to the country will stop here. Amy and I took advantage of this recently when we got to see They Might Be Giants at the Luminato Festival, a multi-disciplinary celebration of the arts. TMBG have been releasing music aimed at kids over the past few years, and they described this concert as an experiment in family-accessible shows (with a mixture of songs and the set list in alphabetical order). I was too busy enjoying things to concentrate on getting spectacular shots, but there is a comprehensive list on tmbw.net.

TMBG at Luminato (1)TMBG at Luminato (2)

Eden ProjectSadly, very little film from my third year at Birmingham survived the scanning process (one reason not to use Max Spielmann again) and the only photographs I have are from other places. On the left is the slightly-under-construction Eden Project, a series of gigantic geodesic domes near St Austell that house plants from various biomes around the world. Below is Leeds 2001, possibly the first music festival I attended and also the first riot I was caught up in. The stage shot gives you an idea of how difficult it is to get anywhere near a performer (in this case, Iggy Pop) and the night shot shows the aftermath of the riot, when festival-goers decided to burn down the portable toilets.

Leeds crowdBurning toilets

While in South Korea, Amy and I attended no small number of local agricultural festivals (most notably the Goesan Clean Pepper Festival and the Yongin Mallard Festival). We decided to hit up the Manitoba equivalent – the Morden Corn and Apple Festival – to get valuable inter-cultural data and perhaps some free corn. The weather was largely uncooperative, but we did see some extremely dangerous-looking carnival rides, no end of food vendors and a highly advanced automatic corn de-husker. Also, free corn.

Schuck-o-matic 3000Waiting for hot water

Traction engineHusk heaving

Folklorama beerEvery year, the city of Winnipeg puts on Folklorama – a two-week showcase of all the cultures in the city that can find enough people representing those cultures to put on a show. Amy and I headed out to the Mexican Pavilion last week, and found them offering a tour of Mexico’s regions through the medium of interpretive dance. Unfortunately, we couldn’t understand anything that was said over the PA system and so had to enjoy the dance moves and specially-brewed beer without any background information.

Folklorama Mexico (3)Folklorama Mexico (4)

Folklorama Mexico (1)Folklorama Mexico (2)

Push ItMuch like Edinburgh, Winnipeg hosts a Fringe Festival every year to celebrate and disseminate less-traditional theatre and performance acts. Amy and I made it a point to get out to some of the shows, and at the same time discovered delicious $1 bite-sized “cakettes” from Cake-ology, the city’s premier cake bakery. We took a little bit of a risk by going on the opening night, as nothing had been reviewed yet and some shows inevitably turn out to be terrible. However, Dale Beaner and the Turtle Boy (a part-improv comedy about dysfunctional father-son relationships) turned out to be excellent.

Left: A brass band performs Push It on a street corner.

Rob Firenix (2)On our second trip, having consulted various reviews, we took in Sparks – a romantic comedy that turned out to be entertaining but not completely enjoyable due to the lead character being a gigantic jerk. And speaking of gigantic jerks, we caught part of a Rob Firenix performance while walking back to the centre of activities. While his show had some interesting elements (the fire whip being the most notable), it wasn’t particularly original and consisted of 5-10 minutes of talking for each minute of actually doing something. He also had the gall to demand the full 60-minute show price ($10) after incessantly mocking and belittling the audience, perhaps forgetting that he was performing on the free stage.

Left: Rob Firenix pretends to burn himself for $$$.

The Secondhandpants (1)On the last day of the Fringe, we went to pay a visit to the much-anticipated Secondhandpants‘s Science Folktion Musical Adventure. The musicians generally play in a phone booth-sized jukebox which kids can put coins into to hear a live song, but the stage show includes sci-fi story elements (such as time travel and cryptozoology) and extra characters (such as Prof. Malomar Garfield and Rocket John). I spent a good portion of one of the scenes trying to identify the components of the Sellout 2000 machine, and absolutely loved the retro feel of the story and props.

Left: The Secondhandpants. Below, left to right: The Sellout 2000 in action, Space Robot performs; Lif-Tor and the Time Travel Guitar, Rocket John takes the Secondhandpants to the future; The Man From Space meets the Birdman, the Secondhandpants meet Sass Quatch; The Secondhandpants, Rob Firenix, Sass Quatch.

Selling OutSpace Robot

Lif-TorRocket John

BirdmanSass and the Pants

The Secondhandpants (2)Rob Firenix (1)Sass Quatch

Hong Kong Island

The evening after the parade, the city government treated its citizens and visitors to a giant New Year fireworks show in Victoria Harbour, just between the main areas of Hong Kong Island (香港島) and Kowloon (九龍). Throughout the day, large explosive-laden barges anchored themselves just off the pier, fire-fighting boats chugged round them to douse any mishaps and police speedboats skipped to and fro making sure that everything was aimed up. The best vantage point was reckoned to be the Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, which looked out across the water and had the city skyline as a gorgeous backdrop. I, like several thousand other people, arrived well over two hours early and quickly found that the best spots along the waterfront had been taken by people who’d arrived even earlier. With memories of trying to set up a tripod at the Busan Fireworks Festival still relatively fresh in my mind, I resolved to get a spot as quickly as possible and resist all efforts to move me from it. The roof of the nearby Intercontinental Hotel was out, so I found a really short local photographer (already the the front) and surreptitiously set up my tripod behind him so it could peek over his head.

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (13)As things turned out, the gods smiled on my efforts to get a clear shot and a young couple just next to the short photographer left to get some dinner, offering me their place against the safety railings. I quickly set up so that my tripod could still see into the action if they decided to return, but they either found a better spot or couldn’t get through the crowds later on. To top things off, the light rain that had been falling all evening stopped just before the fireworks were due to start, drying everyone out and removing all fears about equipment getting wet. Thankfully, this time my lens stayed factory-fresh throughout a spectacular display, and you can see the results here.

Above: Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. Left and Below: Hong Kong New Year Fireworks.

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (1)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (2)

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (3)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (4)

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (5)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (6)

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (7)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (8)

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (9)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (10)

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (11)Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (12)

New Year BalloonThe Year of the Tiger dawned with little perceptible fanfare in the city, the major civic events being unapologetically scheduled for the next couple of days. The first one was the heavily-sponsored New Year Parade, a collection of floats, balloons and various local and international dance/performance groups taking a short walk around the Kowloon (九龍) area. Thousands of people braved the light rain to come and cheer everyone on, though there was noticeable confusion over the inclusion of recycled Halloween- and Christmas-themed entrants such as the American Express Giant Carved Pumpkin Balloon.

Left: A New Year mascot balloon (which looks a bit Korean to me). Below, left to right: A traditional multi-person dragon costume; an anachronistic entrant, a steward keeping the right distance between acts by telling them to speed up, one of the flag-carriers.

New Year Dragon (2)New Year Dragon (1)

Anachronistic mascotFloat directionsArezzo Flag Wavers (1)

Hong Kong Police Band (4)While everyone was waiting for the events proper to start, a few warm-up acts were released to provide some entertainment to distract from the enormous delay (though the arrest of a few nearby pickpockets proved entertaining enough). The most notable of these was the local police bagpipe/marching band, the story behind which I have no idea. They stopped just a few yards down from where I was standing, played Highland Cathedral (which is the HK Police Force’s unofficial anthem) and then walked past to cheers and sniffles from the crowd.

Left: The bagpipe/marching band.

Hong Kong Police Band (2)The strobe light-like effect of hundreds of peoples’ camera flashes announced the arrival of the first floats long before we could actually see them, one of which was the stately Cathay Pacific “here are some flight attendants” effort – I mention it due to the heart-warming sight of two old guys chugging it along at 2 mph paying scrupulous attention to in-flight safety by wearing seatbelts.

Left: The bagpipe/marching band. Below, left to right: A Swiss tiger-themed band; the bagpipe/marching band, the Belgian stilt-walkers; a flag-carrier throws and catches his flag.

Swiss tiger band (1)Swiss tiger band (2)

Hong Kong Police Band (1)Hong Kong Police Band (3)Royal Stiltwalkers of Merchtem

Arezzo Flag Wavers (2)Arezzo Flag Wavers (3)Arezzo Flag Wavers (4)

Notting Hill (1)There were plenty of dragons and tigers in attendance of course, and for some reason more local ballet/dance schools than I could count. Of the international acts, the Italian Arezzo Flag-Wavers did a great job wowing the crow, as did the Belgian Royal Stiltwalkers of Merchtem. The UK sent a rather overwhelmed-looking marching band in full military regalia, and some rather more audacious Notting Hill Carnival acts. However, especially after some slightly staid floats promoting tourism in China and Thailand, the contingent from South Korea really stole the show. It was as though Seoul’s government got one of the up-and-coming-and-eager-to-impress local performance groups and said to them, “We have our own thing going on here with Seollal (Korean New Year), and we don’t really care about promoting ourselves to Hong Kong. Forget anything tiger-, China- or Korea-related, be creative and do whatever you like. Here’s 100 million won; try and make it fun.” Whoever got that commission simply took it and ran with it – from all the way down the street, we could hear a giant musical racket and could just about glimpse gigantic Alien-esque figures running about. As they came closer, they revealed themselves to be very lightweight wearable puppets that could move and dance at astonishing speed (one expects large float mascots to move ponderously), accompanied by bicycle-powered aquatic animals pumping out the tunes. They jigged past us in a flurry of unrehearsed dance moves, and everything after them felt a little flat.

Left: Notting Hill’s swan costume. Below, left to right:Seoul’s aqua-themed floats; two of Seoul’s dancing alien puppet mascots, a dragon from the Notting Hill Carnival crew.

Seoul aquatic costumes (1)Seoul aquatic costumes (2)

Seoul alien (2)Seoul alien (1)Notting Hill (2)

Busan Fireworks Festival (3)The Seoul International Fireworks Festival would have taken place last month, had it not been cancelled due to swine flu. Amy and I therefore braved the tedious journey down to Busan (부산) for the fifth annual Busan Fireworks Festival, which is not “international” and therefore not a flu transmission risk. I was quite eager to have a go at photographing fireworks, and it was with no small sense of acquisitiveness that I raided my local Canon store for a tripod and remote control (Amy and her family had very kindly sponsored my shopping trip as a birthday present), essential equipment to take longer exposures and avoid blur.

We arrived in good time, a fresh breeze blowing off the land out into the bay at Gwangalli (광안리), and checked in to our hotel (the price of which reflected a 225 % markup on normal rates). When making reservations, we had tried to get the price reduced to something more reasonable and were rebuffed with a curt, “We’ve been waiting for this weekend all year” – we were also told that check-in was 7 pm, and had to fight to be allowed in at 3. As we went in and out over the course of the evening, we noted that the room prices were being increased by W10,000 every hour.

Busan Fireworks Festival (2)As the fireworks began, I was still frantically searching for a place to put my tripod (there were supposedly 1.5 million people crowding the beach) – people would trip over and walk into it for the next hour, despite a clear path on the road in front of us. I located a patch of sky and started taking photographs, only to realise after a few minutes that the manual focus wasn’t set correctly. Once this had been (mostly) remedied, my camera decided to shut down with the non-specific error 99. With some rapid testing, I was able to determine that I could “reboot” the camera by switching it off, changing to an automatic mode, removing the lens, replacing the lens and switching it back on, and that the error occurred when I tried to take a photograph in manual mode when the exposure meter was off-chart below -2 stops. I’m really hoping that this kind of behaviour doesn’t repeat itself, but was able to take a few shots of the end of the display.

Busan Fireworks Festival (1)Busan Fireworks Festival (4)

Sand BuddhaLast weekend, a bunch of us took the bus down to Busan to enjoy the almost-summer temperatures and check out the annual sand festival. Quite a few professional sculptors were reported to be there, though we only saw one actually making something, and the range of distractions on the beach itself were quickly exhausted. We then found out that there was a separate sand sculpture competition open to the public, and immediately set to with shovel and hose to pack the loose sand down into a mound that we could carve something out of. There had been some heated discussion earlier as to what we’d make, but we settled on a dragon given that we’d come from Yongin (the Yong, 용/龍, means “dragon”) – it acquired a soju bottle, clouds and a mugunghwa (무궁화; Hibiscus syriacus) somewhere in the construction process. As we toiled away, a steady stream of well-wishers came and admired our handiwork (including a few event photographers) – but we didn’t end up winning any of the prizes.

Drinking dragon (1)Drinking dragon (2)

Drinking dragon (3)Drinking dragon (4)

Drinking dragon (5)Sand turtles

Sand RohPeace man

Sand O-TotoroSand ape

Haeundae kitesWith no events on Sunday (unless we felt like building another sculpture), we ventured underground to the Busan Aquarium – home to countless sea creatures and host to countless scampering kids. It turned out to be extremely difficult to take reasonable photographs due to a combination of low light, moving fish, dirty glass, curved tanks and harsh reflections, but I managed a few. We were mesmerised by the mudskippers for quite a while, watching them hop about their beach and defend their territories against wanderers, and distressed by the tiny enclosures for the seals and Pacific giant octopus. We had to cut our time in the shark/ray area a little short due to transport timetabling, but left pretty much as enriched as one can be having just visited a bunch of animals.

Haeundae jellyfishAquarium fine art

Haeundae anacondaHaeundae otters

Haeundae depressed fishHaeundae lobster

Haeundae coloured jellyfishHaeundae eel

Haeundae grouperHaeundae sharks

Cheonggyecheon by nightEven though Christmas is a national holiday and Christians outnumber Buddhists here, everyone knows that the really big fanfare happens in the spring, to celebrate the birth of the Buddha. The entire country is decked out in lanterns for a couple of weeks, and temples all over the peninsula open their doors to worshippers and revellers (often with free tea!). Exploring Seoul by lantern-light and watching the temple parades are generally reckoned to be one of the highlights of a stay in Korea.

JogyesaWe arrived at the Jongno area (right on the parade route) just in time to hear the drums and yells of the approaching marchers. Each temple had sent a contingent of followers equipped with lanterns and floats, and for the next few hours we shouted and waved at their efforts and tried to guess at the mythological figures depicted (once we had finished scurrying around the roads trying to puzzle out the constantly-changing route, that is). The photographs below (culled from a much larger set) should give you some idea of what we were shown – if you find yourself in Korea during May, I recommend you experience it too.

Buddhist lantern (1)Buddhist lantern (2)

Buddhist lantern (3)Buddhist lantern (4)

Dragon float (4)Dragon float (3)

Dragon float (1)Dragon float (2)

Peacock float (1)Peacock float (2)

Phoenix float (1)Phoenix float (2)

Dragon lantern (1)Dragon lantern (2)

Tiger lanternSnake hood Buddhist

Buddha plus bodyguardsReclining float

All-encompassing BuddhaBuddhist crew (3)

Buddhist crew (1)Buddhist crew (2)

Elephant floatDragon riding float

Eco-floatFish float

Baseball floatAccessibility float

Jongno TowerClimbing monk

Lotus-elephant-lotus-BuddhaBuddhist triffid-lotus

Zhang Gu (Crayon Shin-chan)Mascot lantern

Buddhist road tripTank engine float

Pimped-up Buddhist monster truckBuddhacopter

Pig lantern (1)Pig lantern (2)

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