Deus ex machina

“A spiritual journey is good for the photographic soul” was the title from one of our previous road trips. The working title I had in my mind for this one was “Riding with Buddha”, however, looking through the images from the trip, it was changed to “Deus ex machina” or “God from the machine”. Still on the spiritual path of thoughts as “Riding with Buddha” is more a tale to tell than images to view.

We started the Saturday with a rendevouz at the zoo. Another project I am undertaking at the moment involves capturing the beauty of Vietnamese women for a charity book project. Using existing light (ambient) and no harsh shadows (i.e. direct sunlight) and photograph the women as they are. A separate blog post will follow on that.

However, once the two sessions were done, Jamie and I were ready to hit the road, except Jamie’s road atlas had been sent to Malaysia by mistake. Who needs a map when we can follow the signs we thought and off we went. Our plan was to travel to Ben Tre, in the Mekong Delta area. Plan A never happened as Plan B kicked in when we realized we had taken the wrong turn and saw Tay Ninh on the sign in front of us. Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple could do for the day.

Quick stop at the petrol station, can never be too careful, we always dread the thought of running out of petrol and verified our directions. “Turn back to the junction and take the highway or go straight and prepare to zig-zag on small roads.” Straight we went in search of photographic adventure and treasure we found. Little did I realize that what we captured here would be the blog post of today as what happened next gave birth to “Riding with Buddha”.

After our treasure hunt we continued and went looking for a restaurant. Lunch time is lunch time. No good to keep going on empty. “Stop, let’s head back, I need a shot of that one!”, Jamie exclaimed. A bicycle vendor with various Buddha statues for sale had taken a stand by the crossroad. Spur of a moment decision, I bought one, thus “Riding with Buddha”.

Found lunch, saddled up again and found the main road and was reassured by the ones we asked that we were indeed on the correct way, great. My turn to initiate a stop, saw an interesting road sign. Riding with Buddha proved a bit cumbersome, and while readjusting the plastic bags, Jamie gasps. The wheel of fortune broke at Buddha’s back!

Worried for a second if it is bad luck or not, we conclude that Buddhism is about forgiveness and set off again only to have a flat tire!

Luckily, being on the main road means that 800 meters down, there’s a repairman. The inner tube has bursted and is beyond repair. Only a new will do. We wait. It’s rather quick, and we settle the payment and are about to head off, when the bike refuses to start! What’s going on? A Buddha curse? While the repairman is taking the bike literally apart to find the problem, we are on the phone, asking our experts if it is indeed bad luck to break a Buddha. “Yes, it is” is the immediate response, “No, we shouldn’t worry” is the conclusion offered. Didn’t make us any wiser, but the mechanic solved the issue, replaced a faulty part and we set off.

At this stage, we realized that our next trip we will need to have a road atlas and that asking for direction is the same as tossing a coin and that road signs on Vietnamese roads are far in between. We had been sent in the wrong direction. There would be no temple and tunnels on us today and rain clouds soon catching up. We’ve been circling around the city’s outskirts.

A disappointment, well yes and no. Yes, we did not get where we intended, however, we got something else, the “God from the machine”, enjoy the view below:

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina

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“No expectations” is an expectation

We don’t know what to expect on our recent trips, however, we do expect to get something. The drive to perform better, to improve since last capture, is there. Expectations were set high, the bike underwent oil change the day before and the tank was filled. All set, except I had some dodgy sausages the day before. The local supermarket had a promotion and in a spur of the moment I decided to purchase a can of sausages to make hot dogs. I regretted it the whole weekend.

James and I had initially planned to do the Mekong. Getting up early and have a long day out to match our successful trip to Vung Tau. Instead at getting up at 4am, we got ready around 4pm to hit the road. Heavy rain showers had passed and a light drizzle remained. We got on the road to the Mekong without any expectations as the light was completely flat and fading steadily.

First stop was a typical view from the countryside.

View from the road side, outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Not really knowing what we could get in such a short time, we had to start looking closely at what we had in front of us in a different way.

Detail from the riverside.

Our little trip took us to an intersection where we found the truck weighing station.

Road sign by the truck weighing station.

After that, the light had gone, but we simply had to stop to capture the plastic can with a light bulb inside, signaling a petrol stop. A few frames were all we managed to get as they cut the power.

Illuminated plastic can signaling a road side petrol service.

Thinking that would be it, we headed back to Saigon, however, we figured out we could use the road side markers as a tripod and do some light trails.

Light trails captured from the road side.

Not only that, we could also do some more road side photography of houses with our newfound “tripods”.

House at night.

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A spiritual journey is good for the photographic soul

After our first road trip in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, Jamie and I decided to do another. This time we remembered the sunblock and headed out for the road, to Vung Tau and back. All in a day, that was the plan. 200 km on the bike. Doesn’t sound to bad, but then the Vietnamese roads are nothing like the German Autobahn.

Plenty of CF cards, extra batteries, cameras ready and off we went in search of something to capture. It is not the destination that is of importance, but the journey itself and it was indeed true. 14 GB of capture and several image stories to choose between were more than we could have wished for. First story up, a rather spiritual take, as we somehow got drawn to monasteries and road shrines as we travelled along.

Road shrine outside Ho Chi Minh City.

After getting off the Hanoi highway, or xa lo Ha Noi, we were taking what is to be the upgraded road to Vung Tau. In its current state it is more or less 50 km with road works and dust. Full open surgery of the landscape. Despite the changed appearance, Jamie’s local knowledge from one of the hash runs lead us to the “hidden” monastery down a side road.

Statue in front of a monastery, on the way to Vung Tau.

Same statue as above, different angle.

Our next spiritual discovery came when we made a stop to refresh ourselves. The place was under renovation and next to a knocked down bar with a broken pool table there was an outdoor church.

Outdoor church in Long Thanh district.

Opposite to the church was another statue that caught our attention. This is Long Thanh district after all, with LothaMilk.

Broken statue being supported by wooden planks.

Hitting the road again, we picked up pace as the clouds started to gather behind us. Our little outrun did wonders as we encountered the golden light hour with clear blue sky and beautiful sunlight. All we needed was something to photograph and there it was, right by the roadside, a graveyard.

Angel statue at the graveyard.

Onwards we pressed, to make as much of the beautiful light as we could, finally reaching the outskirts of Vung Tau. Plan A was to have a quick bite and then capture a bit more, Plan B happened on a side street as we passed yet another pagoda. Food for the photographic soul instead.

Buddha statue in Vung Tau.

Buddha statue in Vung Tau.

Thus ended the spiritual ride of the day.

Jamie, ready for capture.

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