“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

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Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

IMG_9465 Palace complex built into rock

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

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We writers are expected to wear two hats, that of an introvert who retreats to her writing cave and excels in words, phrases, and commas; and that of an extrovert, a flamboyant artist who tells tales and binds an audience under her spell. And sometimes, we’re expected to wear both hats at the same time.

This summer and fall, I couldn’t wear both hats and meet my publication deadline for the final book in the trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Something had to go, and that something turned out to be this blog. My sincere apologies to my followers.

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My lowly gardening and pool hat and my expressive roaring twenties hat. I failed to wear both at the same time.

Last Monday, The Long Way Back went on the press in Anaheim, and since then, I’ve donned my extrovert hat. I’ll be launching the book after it’s printed.

Meanwhile, here are photos from the press check:

 

 

 

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My book designer, Alfred Williams of Multimedia Arts, and the owners and staff of LightSource Printing have been wonderful! I can’t wait to unveil the gripping conclusion to my nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” Coming soon to Amazon and www.LoisJoyHofmann.com.

Now that I’ve cleared the deck and installed a new computer with dual monitors (Yay!), I’ve been writing about Southeast Asia during the past couple of weeks for that section of my forthcoming book, The Long Way Back. One of the pleasures during my 8-year sailing circumnavigation was to get off the boat for a few days. While Pacific Bliss was berthed in Langkawi Island, my husband and I rewarded ourselves with a trip to the mainland of Malaysia. Our first stop was Georgetown, Penang where we stayed for three days in the Blue Mansion, the winner of the 2000 UNESCO Most Excellent Heritage award.  It is still possible to stay in this heritage hotel; in fact, it won a Best of Malaysia Travel award in 2008, so you might want to include this on your personal Bucket List. For those tourists who do not stay there, the hotel provides daily tours of the non-resident areas.

The Blue Mansion

The Blue Mansion

I became quite interested in the Chinese history of this Malay Peninsula, which experienced a thriving trade between India and China in centuries past. This famous indigo mansion was built by Cheong Fatt Tze, an influential trader, businessman, and philanthropist. Constructed over a seven-year period between 1896 and 1904 by a team of master craftsmen from China, the mansion consists of 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows. Servant quarters built in front of the mansion have been converted into restaurants and a bar. It was built according to Feng Shui, Chinese geometric principles and decorated with intricate carvings, stained glass, rare mosaics and Chinese latticework.

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By staying in the mansion-museum, I got a feeling how the Chinese traders lived. Cheong eventually had eight wives. The wife in favor slept in the main chamber, while the wives out of favor slept across the courtyard or in the other wing, or if really out of favor, in the servant’s quarters across the street. Imagine running into another wife when crossing the courtyard! Gunter joked about how, living in a catamaran, he could have a wife in each hull. Of course, I said “No way!”

The distinctive blue color of the mansion is obtained by mixing lime with natural blue dye made from the indigo plant. This lime-wash is very effective in tropical weather because it absorbs moisture and cools the house while protecting wall integrity. The courtyard is open to the rain, which falls directly to the pool below. The rain onto the roofs is collected through a network of pipes that begins on the eaves, is channeled through the ceilings and down the walls to cool the structure. Of course, that process, while great for the courtyard greenery, makes the courtyard quite tropical. The rented rooms do have window air conditioners. The house has been the setting for numerous films and features, including The Red Kebaya.

Lois finishes breakfast in the courtyard.

Lois finishes breakfast in the courtyard.

Gunter with hostess of Blue Mansion

Gunter with hostess of Blue Mansion

This story will be in my forthcoming book, THE LONG WAY BACK.

            By now, I thought that we could understand much of the slang down under, but why Sydneysiders call their famous bridge “the old coat hanger” is beyond me. Considered ugly by some, it has always been a popular icon connecting the northern and southern shores. Construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge started in 1923, by building two halves of the arch, supported by cranes, out from each shore. After nine years of work, the mating of the two arches  was about to take place: the ends of the arches were only centimeters apart and ready to be bolted together. Unfortunately, a gale blew up and 100 km/hr. (62 mph) winds set them swaying. Dismayed but not defeated, the workers eventually managed to join the two parts. The bridge is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and it is the tallest steel arch bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge entrance from a print I purchased at the Bridge Climb.

Sydney Harbour Bridge entrance from a print I purchased at the Bridge Climb.

Peter, my travel agent, had proposed the bridge climb as the ideal urban adventure. “The Climb gets booked up fast,” he warned me, so he included tickets for two in our package.

Now I have to persuade Gunter to go with me! “Why not?” I cajole. “You rock-climbed in the Alps as a kid.”

“That was different.  I just don’t like the thought of climbing up to a pedestrian path that sways above the traffic lane.”

“Peter told me they train you first and provide safety harnesses; they must have a good safety record or they wouldn’t be allowed to do it.”

“If I don’t go, would you cancel?”

“Nope. I’d go by myself.”

“Okay, I’ll go with you then. But you owe me.”

We know where to go to begin the climb: down by the Rocks. We saw  the entrance marked Bridge Climb yesterday. While we wait in line at Admissions, I read the sign out loud: “The climb up and down is 1439 steps. Three hours total.”  What the sign doesn’t tell us is that the entire first hour is spent preparing for the ascent:  We sign safety disclaimers; we take a breath test to ensure that our blood-alcohol levels are beneath the legal limit; we change into grey bridge-suits and remove watches, hair clips, loose jewelry, and anything else that might fall onto the traffic, cycling and pedestrian lanes below; and finally, we don safety harnesses. Our group assembles in a training room where attendants provide us with pouches containing disposable rain jackets, scrunchies for ponytails, cords for glasses, and even handkerchiefs with elastic loops sewn in so that they can’t blow away. I’m impressed; they thought of everything! Finally, an attendant hands out radios and earpieces, and introduces our leader. We practice on a stairway. “Any questions?” our leader asks. Total silence. My fellow climbers look like astronauts preparing for a flight from which they may never return. The faces of some look white and peaked.

The start of the climb is the worst. I glance behind me to catch Gunter gritting his teeth, his eyes steely behind his glasses.

What must he be thinking about me right now? I try a tentative smile. He doesn’t return it. I focus on the climber in front of me. So far, so good. I glance down. Uff da! (as my mother would say). Only a metal grille prevents us from plunging to the bridge or the sea below! But I guess that’s what these harnesses are for. Problem is, every time we reach an abutment, we must unfasten the harness clip and afterwards, refasten it again. Like walking the deck of our sailboat. I glance at the white sails of ships luffing below, wishing I were down there instead. Well, at least the wind is light and fickle today—better for us than for them.

We reach the arch, 134 meters (440 feet) above sea level. The bridge levels off and I exhale. Wow! I realize that during the climb, I was alternately panting and holding my breath. Gunter taps me on the shoulder. “Come closer,” he whispers. I notice that the climbers in front of me have stopped.

“Better now?” I ask.

“Perfect. Kiss me.” He pulls me close and plants a long, deep kiss. “Look around. We are on top of the world with a 360-degree view.”

Sydney Harbour sprawls below in all its glory, a dazzling panoply of coves, harbors and peninsulas. Ahead of us, skyscrapers reach toward the clouds. Behind, the familiar Rocks are back dropped by the Kings Cross intersection. I can see the Sydney Opera House now from an entirely different perspective. Glistening in the sun, the concrete roof structures remind me of rows of translucent sea shells skillfully positioned by a master artist so that they brush against each other, yet barely touch.

Being here on top of Sydney is the highest high one can imagine. Awesome. Incredible. Magnificent. Stunning. Breathtaking… I run out of superlatives. If you go to Sydney, you must do the Bridge Climb!

Bridge at night. Photo courtesy of Google images.

Bridge at night. Photo courtesy of Google images.

Going down is anti-climactic but it does give me the opportunity to take a closer look at the bridge structure. I would call this bridge majestic rather than beautiful. The stone blocks in the four towers, the strong latticework of girders and metal plates, and the six million hand-driven rivets all say, “Don’t mess with me; I’m here to stay.”

Back on the pedestrian walk, we pick up our I CLIMBED IT certificates and photos and head directly for the nearest pub. “Time to get that blood-alcohol level up.” Gunter lifts his left eyebrow, a feat which never fails to make me laugh. There’ll be a good time on the old town tonight!