Thursday, February 4, 2010

One that Lasts

Child Horse Racer
My Steady Cam operator looked like a door gunner bearing down at the horde racing in full gallop under the midday sky. It was bright blue and cloudless above as our  4x4 mini van bounced over the grassy steppe terrain in parallel. People see the flat grasslands here in Mongolia from afar and mistaken it for soft flat earth. It’s something like that and then some. The soil is a near powdery sand and it’s full of sharp rocks, holes, and ditches that are not realized until you are in them. Our makeshift filming platform was a used space ship looking Mitsubishi Delica with its cargo door duct taped open. The two of us stooped inside managing to hang on as our driver named “Baatsukh” (Mongol for Sturdy Ax) rallied his machine through the gears. We could barely hear each other for the atmosphere was bombarded with the sound of wind, pelting rocks, tires biting for traction, the drum like pounding of horse hooves, clanking of bridles, and our senses bouncing about .  Baatsukh drove with one eye looking forward and the other navigating along side the riders. They were a large group of children doing practice runs for the Naadam horse race which were less than a week away. Each day small groups would assemble for intense runs. The race itself covers about 30km of overland riding. This is about the same distance used between the horse changing stations in the old Mongolian Pony Express employed during days of Chinghis Khan. These kids were very young ranging from 6 years old to 12 and already adept. In the confusion I focused on taking in everything I saw with the intent of capturing something from this experience that would last. Well, the lead pack seemed to be separating from the main. We zoomed and pulled up alongside. Neither the horses nor riders gazed at us in distraction. My cameraman kept his aim and I decided lean out with my still camera. One hand grabbing onto the door frame and my legs balancing and cushioning each impact. You get so involved and disoriented when you find just the right composition. I framed, I reached, took the shot, I felt weightless. The shutter clicked and I had a millisecond to be gratified. With the camera pulling away from my view point, I realized that the ground was rushing under my feet and it was unusually windy.  That’s when I discovered inertia. I was floating in near fetal position just outside the bay door. Passing dirt, grass, horses, van, wind, and my boots flashed before my eyes. Then like a slap, reality gets the best out of you. I frantically grabbed for any part of the van and pulled blindly. Miraculously I found myself back inside and I froze. Out of sheer luck, the van ascended, banked, and descended in my favor. It was foolish, it was reckless , and I could have, should have fallen out of the moving van and likely found myself trampled. I regret being careless and learned from it. But I’m never going to regret this shot, it’s one that lasts.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The "Yum Yum Spider" Incident

I thought it was something like a "Blooming Onion." It wasn't. I found out the hard way at a Cambodian rest stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere. All day long the rickety bus roared down the dusty roads. We passed beautiful farmland, small hamlets, and the occasional town. The driver drove like Mad Max. I'm on holiday in Cambodia. We've been traveling overland from Vietnam and had crossed the border and made a brief stop in Phnom Phenh earlier in the day. Now I'm on my way to Siem Riep and I want to see the ruins of Angkor. I'll write more about this road trip in another excerpt, but today It's my "Yum Yum Spider Incident." Back to the bus. The screech jolted us to a full halt which then followed by the driver muttering indecipherable words, fingers to indicate numbers, and then a gesture to his watch. 15 to 20 minutes sounded like enough time to venture out of this death trap and off the endangered species list for just a little while longer. I looked out the bus window and a tray of food walked passed me. It was atop the head of a small lady and it appeared to be good to eat. Wow, "Blooming Onions." Perhaps it was thinking too much about Mad Max in the Outback that lured me to the thought of "Blooming Onions." Mostly likely because they serve this type of looking dish at the wannabee Australian "Outback Steak Houses" that are found everywhere but Australia. Well, proceeding onwards I found the lady near some market stalls. The dish was now placed on a small 5 gallon bucket and I moved in to inspect closer. It was much like fried onions or some assorted vegetable. The dark crispy bits enamored with roasted garlic. All of it sat atop a seasoned oily base. Something looked good about it, but something else caught my glace. Eyes were looking back at me and what shouldn't have been legs were. 8 legs each as spiders should. "Holy Crap" I peered closer. Blurring in and out of focus a figure moved nearer to me. It was the lady. Standing in her red hat and shirt she smiled with big bright teeth, smacked her lips, and uttered "Yum Yum Spider." Then it all came to me, this was a dish of friend spiders. "No way" I said. She tilted her head and confirmed "Yes" it's "Yum Yum Spider." Then without asking she lifted the tray and beneath it was a bucket full of big black spiders. Big ones, really big fuzzy ones. Again without asking, she picked one up and tossed it onto my shirt. I was in disbelief. The moment had the same type of feeling you get when you dive into cold water. Shocking and overwhelming at first, then you deal and get used to it. When it moved you could feel its strength. I turned around and a traveler from Vietnam who was on the bus saw me and screamed. I then felt braver for some reason. I put it on my hand and took some photos. People laughed, people were scared, and it was amusing for a time being. The lady insisted that I buy something and began aggressively trying to charge me for pictures and she even tried to bag some of the fried ones for sale. I took out a dollar, gestured at the arachnid in my hand and gave it to her. She politely snatched the money and after the exchange I realized I had no idea what I was going to do with this guy. As I walked closer to the bus the other occupants and travelers looked horrified. I felt braver again and gave devious smile, but common sense lead me across the street to a large patch of shrubs near a wall. I placed him on some branches and told him he was free. Hoping for good karma for the ride ahead perhaps or just me trying to do the right thing. Snapping a few last shots and glances I walked backed to the honking bus. I felt brave, heroic, and almost fearless. Yes very brave but not enough to eat any of these "Yum Yum Spiders."
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