Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heidelberg Man's Old Stomping Grounds


This alley in the old town of Heidelberg, Germany, looks like a quiet, unassuming place where nothing much going on. OK, maybe that's true now. But between 400,000 and 500,000 years ago, a Neanderthal called Homo heidelbergensis, also known as "Heidelberg Man", roamed this region.

Heidelberg Man came to light in October 1907, when a worker digging a hole found a piece of fossilized jawbone in the dirt, which was later confirmed to be that of Homo heidelbergensis. That remained his name for several years, until one night, the ghost of Homo heidelbergensis visited a professor at Heidelberg University and begged him to petition for a name change.

These days, Heidelberg Man keeps a low profile. You might see him darting furtively between buildings at night, but he's had his time in the spotlight, and prefers to avoid it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Three More Trips To Go"


Anil and the boys had been hauling away dirt all afternoon in the 100 degree heat of a Calcutta summer, and by his estimates, they had about three more cartloads to go before the job would be finished.

It was dirty work (obviously), and after three months, Anil was getting sick of it. But with all the construction going on, piles of excavated dirt were appearing all over the city, and companies kept calling Anil and asking him to move it. At least the money wasn't bad... wait, actually, it was bad -- a paltry few rupees a day.

Anil was bored with the work, but he had a plan to save up and one day buy an air conditioned cart to haul away the loose dirt. "Yes, that would make the work a bit more bearable," Anil thought to himself. "Maybe I could even get these guys to push the cart, and I could read while they worked."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Car Stereos Are Way Too Loud Today


Well, there goes another one of those damn noisy cars again, with the vibrating bass that you can hear from 5 blocks away. Who needs to listen to their music that loud? I can't imagine that these kids are going to have any eardrums left by the time they're 30.

Why does everything these days seem to be trending toward louder, more obnoxious, and more annoying to us old folks? Are kids just trying to annoy the hell out of us? If so, it's working really well.

I'll tell you, if I ever get my hands on one of those young kids, I'll... well, I don't know what I'll do, but it'll be pretty bad.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I Am So Not Giving You A Ride


Oh, look, it's a tourist! Wow, you came all the way up here in the mountains -- must have been a bumpy trip. I hear those Land Rover seats are a real pain in the ass, no pun intended.

Wait, what's that? You've always wanted to ride a camel? Well, forget about it pal. Too bad.

First of all, I'm on break. Second, I don't give rides to tourists -- it's in my contract. Just ask my handler. He's the guy selling bags of pine cones, which happen to be my favorite food.

I'm not in the mood to go traipsing around the dunes with some brain dead idiot on my back taking photos, so he can show all his friends back home how cool Jammu & Kashmir was, and how he rode a camel.

Go ahead and buy me a bag of pine cones though -- I'll eat 'em right up. However, just be aware that your gesture will in no way help convince me to give you a ride. I might spit on you though -- hey, that'd be something to tell the guys about, wouldn't it?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Godfather Of All Hangovers


Godfather is one of the few beers available in Jammu & Kashmir, the northern most state of India. And even if you don't like beer, it's so "super strong" and "high powered" that you won't notice what it tastes like after just a few sips.

Note that the label says this bottle was brewed in July 2004 and is 'good' until January 2005. Pretty short shelf life, huh -- wonder why that is?

It's unclear who the guy on the label is meant to be, but it looks like he's having a pretty good time, so I guess that's reassuring. However, after drinking a few bottles myself, I'd have to say that this guy might not be smiling the morning after.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"This Traffic Is Getting On My Nerves"


"This is ridiculous. I'm pretty used to being stuck in traffic jams in the Pahar Ganj district of Delhi, India, but today, it seems even busier than usual. What's really annoying is that no one has hired me in more than an hour!

Why is that, I wonder? Is there something wrong with my rickshaw? It's got a nice new seat, I just replaced it a couple of months ago. So what gives?

In any event, I've about had it with these people wandering aimlessly into the street right in front of me. I'm going to ring my bicycle bell so loudly at the next person who does that! Damn, I really need to find a new line of work.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Off The Wall


Hi, I'm an alleyway in Amsterdam, and I just got spray painted -- again -- by some young punks who stumbled out of a nearby coffee shop and decided to let loose with some mindless scribblings. And this cartoon face reflects my own feelings about the situation.

Now, I'm no crotchety old alley -- I actually like graffiti, provided it's tastefully executed and serves a purpose. But lately, all these kids can do is just write their names, or spray paint cartoon 'thought bubbles' with nothing meaningful inside them. And to me, that's just a reflection of the dumbing down of the global society that's all too apparent these days.

I remember back in the day, when I first came into being as an alleyway. Kids back then would spray paint their graffiti thoughtfully and carefully, and it always had a message. Never would you see some moron spray painting his name -- the other artists wouldn't allow it.

I remember one time many years ago, Vinny Van Gogh himself came down and painted an early rendition of 'The Starry Night' on one of my walls. That was cool. I wish the kids these days could bring that kind of passion to their work.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ice Cream Related Tantrum


Zihao had been having a pretty good day for an 18 month old. He'd been on his best behavior, only throwing one tantrum earlier that day, which his mother admitted was way less intense than usual.

But around 2 p.m., as Zihao and his mom were strolling along The Bund in Shanghai, Zihao spotted an approaching ice cream vendor and demanded -- in a shrieking high pitched tone -- that his hunger for sweets be satisfied.

The problem was, he hadn't eaten lunch yet. His mom had fed Zihao a late breakfast, and they'd gone out immediately after his nap. So when the ice cream man came, Zihao's mom refused to buy him the frozen treasure he'd requested. Unsurprisingly, this led to an epic tantrum.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Watching The Procession Of Life


This golden Buddha isn't the biggest Buddha at the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Actually, he's not even close. Last time I checked, he was 437th.

But no matter, because this golden Buddha has one of the best vantage points at the Sule Pagoda, which is situated right in the busy center of the city and gets a constant stream of foot traffic. From this position, the golden Buddha likes to sit and watch the people walking round the circular path of the temple, stopping sometimes to shower him with praise and devotion. Not bad work, if you can get it.

Dueing much of the year, at about 4 p.m. each afternoon, dark clouds gather above the city and the skies explode with torrential rain, lightning, and soul-gripping thunderclaps. But the golden Buddha is never phased by any of this. He likes to sit there and watch the chaos and take it all in, because it's all part of the deal.

And after some time, the rains stop, and the people come back, and the cycle begins again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Labor Of Love


Baozhai, a 34 year old boat taxi driver, was one of the few women plying the waters of Zhou Zhuang, a small water village on the outskirts of Suzhou, China. That's because the local boat taxi ranks were, like many things in China, dominated by men, and that had been the case for hundreds of years.

As a child, Baozhai developed a borderline pathological interest in boats, and by age 16, had begun hanging out by the docks of the town looking for chances to work as a boat taxi driver. But the drivers laughed at her, and refused to give her a shot, even as they taught the tricks of the trade to local boys her age.

So Baizhai resolved to take matters into her own hands. One day, when a fisherman was on lunch break, she snuck onto his parked boat, cut the lines, and headed off to pick up some passengers. She figured she'd borrow the fisherman's boat, make a few passenger runs, and be back before he realized it was missing.

In the end, Baozhai ended up being faster than any of the other boat drivers, and she made a tidy sum in the 30 min the boat's owner was away. When he came back, Baozhai confessed to her misdeed and showed him the money. A huge smile crossed his face. It turned out that he was sick of the boat taxi trade and was looking to get out.

And that's how Baozhai became a taxi boat driver, doing what she loves best.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dog Days Of Summer


Think summer is hot where you live? Try hanging out in Thailand in April, which is the hottest time of the year in the capital, Bangkok. Of course, the term 'summer' is a relative one in Thailand, where even in the cool season, temperatures are often in the low 90s F.

Chalermchai, a 38 year old factory worker who lives on the outskirts of Bangkok, seems to be enjoying the April heat (he's the guy passed out with his mouth open).

Not long after this photo was taken, some of Chalermchai's friends played a really nasty trick on him and spooned a bunch of Nescafe instant coffee into his mouth while he was still asleep. It took about 10 seconds for him to wake up, and for the next several minutes he spat and cursed and vowed to exact revenge.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time To Go Home


At 18 months, Asha's patience was less than fully developed, you might say. So although she'd enjoyed riding on her father's shoulders the past few hours, taking in the sights of the street festival, Asha was starting to get a bit tired.

And when you're 18 months old, getting tired isn't a gradual process: It comes on like an approaching 747, only the effects can sometimes manifest themselves in louder fashion.

Fortunately, Asha's dad could sense the signs and knew it was time to start heading home for dinner, and then bedtime.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Incomparable Starkness Of Trees


Why is it that everyone likes taking photos of trees? Part of it probably has to do with how the branches look like tentacles reaching out into the sky, reaching blindly into the unknown. Some people probably draw parallels between tree branches and the seemingly random twists and turns of life itself.

Or, maybe part of trees' allure to photographers is the way branches look like roads, and represent, in a symbolic way, all the infinite number of possibilities there are in everyday life. That could be it, too.

Generally speaking, dead trees, and trees that have shed their leaves for the winter, are way more photogenic and picturesque than live ones. That's another strange paradox related to trees.

You'd think that at their leafiest, trees would be perfect symbols of health and robustness, and they are, because without them, life would never have evolved beyond slimy lizards crawling out of the primordial oceans.

But somehow, the naked tree, framed against the sky, is far more of a poignant symbol.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Calling All Polar Bears


There's something about waking up and looking down from a position 40,000 feet above the west coast of Greenland, with a clear view of the entire landscape, that makes you realize how being in an airplane is very similar to space travel.

OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, since 747s can only fly between 8 and 9 miles above the Earth's surface, and the atmosphere extends to about 100 miles high. But this could just as easily be a view of Saturn's moon Titan, or Jupiter's moon Europa, both of which have been compared to Earth in terms of being rocky, icebound worlds that may have one day harbored life forms of some sort.


This is a photo taken about 20 minutes later, where we'd reached the end of Greenland's land mass and entered Baffin Bay, at about 62 degrees north latitude. That's not steam, it's where the warmer water is welling up beneath the ice and apparently creating breaks in the ice. The water here is probably around 30 degrees or so, and the cold air mass coming off Greenland, the world's largest island, is probably in the -30 to -40 range, which explains why this looks like a large hot tub.

I wonder if any members of any Polar Bear Clubs around the world have ever taken a dip in these waters?