Parts Unknown by Phu Qui Nguyen

Been thinking about Uncle Tony all day. Even if I didn't know him personally, many of us would spend 45 minutes with him once or twice a week to catch up on his latest adventures. Even though I haven't sat down with him lately, he's still like family you see every so often and somehow he imparts knowledge that you can be sure is rough all the way around, dimpled in the flaky crust over a very humble tender slice of pie.

I had no idea what traveling through life was, what experiencing the people around a hemisphere and filling a lifetime with experiences and relationships. Who knew. He kept it real for us at home in a not a world not generally accepted for reality. Uncle Tony experienced worse things growing up during rougher times, only one could imagine and be thankful that someone went through this in order to give us some insight at the end.

People are saddened by some loss due his physical well being fading into the airy existence. I like to think of him as that Uncle that is out adventuring, finding the next best thing. Don't say boo hoo, he owes anyone anything -- he paid his lifetime of dues as a father and creator. Just glad he's still enjoying the hunt elsewhere. Thanks for all those good trips around the world all these years, Uncle Tony. May your family find some peace in this all. Cheers.  1956-2018

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Doing things a little bit different by Phu Qui Nguyen

Happy New Year!  I regret the lack of updates and posts.  I am more active on IG at the moment but only because I like sharing pictures with you.  Sometimes I want to do it all and get sidetracked.  Life gets real, real quickly and you know how the story goes.. 

I just wanted to touch on a thought today.  I recently thought why are we always reading someone's review and taking notes on the next best thing to emerge from that location.  Whether it's a location to shoot or best place for your favorite food, we tend to read reviews which results in a deliberate plan of action.  Unfortunately, it doesn't allow us to think out of the box.  

Recently I thought about all the travel blogs and reviews I read about, make some plans around that, and give it a go.  Well I consider that a little bit bad for any of us that are trying to find some originality.  Like a wise man once said, "There's nothing new in this world. There's only a different arrangement of things." (1)  As I pondered what I was going to do, I decided to scrap my plans which would have me doing exactly as someone else, gathering the same points of view.  On this day, I ended up hitch hiking around the city to get to my destinations.  Something some may not recommend.  They might urge you to take a taxi.  In my case, I have had more bad run-ins with taxis than I did locals.  

I'm thankful for these lucky choices.  I would be missing out on some very beautiful memories, otherwise lost to convenience and someone else's ideas.  The thoughts I was preoccupied with, trying to be somewhere, I decided I'd make it work around me. 

Hiking around the city to get to Amapura to see the sunset over U-bein Bridge.  I missed catching the boat to see sunset along the bridge horizon but came upon beauties I would have missed otherwise.

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(1) Henri Cartier Bresson on The Decisive Moment

Travel photography? by Phu Qui Nguyen

Pictures are different for everyone.  Please take this post with a grain of salt if anything.  My personal photo journey has led me to a not-so-simple, but dedicated set up.  You might not feel the same and that's okay.  It takes a few travels to find what you like for yourself.  As long as you're able to capture what you want for your use, that makes me happy! 

Current gear
Canon 5D Mark 3
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 VC
Canon 50mm f/1.2
Canon 85mm f/1.2

I decided to nix the zoom lenses unless I'm in studio or on a job.  Unfortunately they are too much to carry daily.  Don't get me wrong.  A 135 or 70-200 might really capture a great portrait, but try carrying that, along with my backpack.  It's not happening, but I commend anyone that is willing to go through the trouble.  Also shooting for night time conditions is an absolute must.  Even going indoors, an extra stop of light can really help with your exposure or even keep you from missing a great shot. Something my phone camera can't always capture.  It's just impossible due to sensor size capability. 

My holy trinity of primes: 35/50/85.  
35mm is one of the best wide angle primes to consider having in the arsenal as it makes every scene look perfect in a cinematic way.  Any wider, may grab a whole scene, but tends to look overly distorted.  It's just the nature of the lens design. 35mm happens to be the perfect length for myself.
50mm keeps everything in perspective.  It's nearly similar to what the eye can see. Thus it makes one of the best lenses to convey what the photographer is feeling.  The $100 nifty 50mm 1.8 was and still is one of the best buys that anyone can have in their gear arsenal.
85mm is a medium telephoto.  Without going any longer and having such a long lens to carry, The 85mm can do double duty by nailing a portrait or taking a step back to take a landscape. Although these days I carry around the f/1.2 which is heavier, but I can shoot in near darkness.

What I would do differently:  Sometimes finding that sweet spot for a lightweight set up.  I don't want to preach on why to shoot prime lenses.  I'm sure there's enough of that on the internet.  I think the practicality of not having to search all over between a wide range.  You're bound to miss a shot here and there.  Partly why I find it hard to watch when others trying to find the perfect focal length while the scene is unfolding, firing off 20 shots in a prayer that one of the focal lengths just matches.  I know that's a real pain and I know that you can just choose the "perfect" shot later.  But try this, simplify.  Look at the various shots you chose and at what focal length.  You'll often see patterns of what works best.  Eventually I'll change to fixed camera, similar to a phone camera (because digital zoom *cough* don't do it).  Since traveling and shooting is necessary to my end goals, it's something I've considered thoroughly. Well, you don't have to take my word for it...


Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity

Pack Light by Phu Qui Nguyen

So many people prescribe, whatever fits in the suit case, we'll take with us.  Or we have to make space for it because we use this at home..  but is it really all that necessary?  I'm going to go over my packing and how much it actually weighed.  Pros/cons.  Hopefully more pros for myself and you reading.

Traveling or Vacationing?  This makes a difference as well.  So many times, I'm packing like a vacationing.  Nobody told me the difference and as such, I've always brought more than needed. Even on a vacation, why would you want to bring a ton of things?  You're trying to get away from your everyday routine life!  Always remember that you can purchase what you need abroad. In some cases, it may be harder to purchase, but if it's important, choose wisely and make space.  My mistake in forgetting some small items like dental floss which are much harder to locate while traveling in a rural area, far from city locale. 

My items:
Lowepro 45L Whistler backpack
1 Neck pillow
1 Pair of Jeans
2 Pairs of Shorts
4 Pairs of Underwear
4 Pairs of Socks (maybe make one of those pairs dress socks?)
3 T-shirts
3 Tank Tops
1 Long-sleeve Athletic Shirt (for layers)
1 Outdoor Vest
1 Dress shirt (I didn't know if I was going anywhere nice so just some consideration)
Camera Equipment: 3 lenses, 1 body, flash unit, remote, batteries, battery charger, tripod
Misc: Universal adapter, Sunglasses, Phone, travel book, medicine, toiletries, belt, trekking pole

Total Weight:  28.2lbs!


For myself: I was backpacking 2+ weeks around NY and Myanmar, I had to stay light and mobile. Ever see the lucky people drop their bags at the check in and wait at the conveyor belts to receive their luggage like cattle at the troughs for feeding time.  It's an arduous and slow process.  I packed enough clothes for several days, about a week and was able to hand wash or pay for hotel laundry daily when I felt I was going to need something.  Easy peasy.  My undergarments are usually a quick dry, polyester or sport dry material.  This will help as cotton tends to hold water well and take a long time to dry.  
I'm not a rich man, but the value or having fresh laundry, possibly saving on check-in fees, etc, overshadowed carrying too much luggage.  While in Myanmar, average washing was 300kt (kyat) per item.  For 20 or so items of washing, it came out to less than $5 US.  21 items came out to $4.80 exactly.

What I would do differently next time:  As much as I've been trying to compromise on my bag, I realize it's a bit too much and too heavy for travel.  It's meant as an adventure backpack that's used for cross country skiers and the like.  The weight and suspension system isn't designed as well as other backpacking systems.  Also, definitely, bring extra under garment items.  I washed some clothes one evening but was in such a rush, I left it drying next to a fan when I went to run after a morning bus.  Being short on underwear is no joke!  

So now that I considered, tried, and tested my two week pack, I decided it was plenty for me.  I could probably consider less if I wasn't going through different climates.  In NY, I saw 4-12*C/40-53*F.  On my stops to China, I saw even colder.  At my destination, it was about 25-35*C/77-95*F.  I'm glad I brought a little bit less than needed.  I always had space to bring back more throughout my trip, so next time consider lightening the load.  


P.S. Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to all my family and friends!!! (even if you're not in the US, I'm still thinking of you and thankful for your presence in my life)

Photo cred to fellow traveler.

Photo cred to fellow traveler.

Is something better than nothing? by Phu Qui Nguyen

I just got in yesterday from NYC after a 2 day hiatus from Myanmar.  It's amazing how effective jet lag is in keeping awake and asleep at all the wrong hours. 

I didn't have my laptop with me during this trip, so logging in with my smartphone was incredibly worse than a slow dying death (I assume).  Internet is really a new introduction to Myanmar.  6 years ago, it would be difficult to find cellular connection or internet booking.  Imagine the 90's and "free AOL" and what it would be like to unlock Pandora's box to the wealth of information.  In the past few years, Myanmar has leveled up in the internet ages and they've thrown out those old Encyclopedia Brittannica for Wikipedia!  These days, all hotels are connected and you can purchase a sim card to do so at the airport, but don't do that... at the airport, they'll scam you just as bad as the scammers outside.

I have lots of subjects to touch on.  Packing for such a trip, how to pack (for myself).  Being a travel photographer, what gear did I bring?  Watching out for certain scams, what happened to me and what did I learn?  How much money did I really spend on this trip?  All will be revealed.  Stay tuned!

Next time your friend tells you he lives in the Valley, make sure he means what he says...

Coming up... Myanmar 2016 by Phu Qui Nguyen

Things are getting real as my take off time rapidly approaches.  I haven't even booked my hotels yet!  But good thing, there's sweet trusty internet.  It seems like rooms are abundant, but November is busy season... so I guess we'll find out who's lying!  

I'll post my travel set up this time.  I'm going in hot.  With only one carry-on backpack, my trusty 45L adventure/camera backpack, no check-ins, and fewer items.  I don't know why, but traveling lightly seems like a better direction.  If I have space, I'll pack luxury items, but I mean that I can buy everything over there right?  This might be a hit or miss! Stay tuned to see if I made the right decision or not. 

Doing the Golden Circle of Myanmar, Yangon -> Bagan -> Mandalay -> Kalaw -> Inlay -> Yangon. I'm keeping this update short.  Pictures to come shortly of what I'm working with. 

Lastly, check out my IG for my latest work!  If I can't write about it here, it's going up on IG.  We just had an amazing session over at Black Velvet Pole Studios where we were able to one-on-one with Aerial Ginger  Ginger and all the ladies there are extremely dedicated to their art.  The focus and strength required was absolutely inspiring. Thank you for sharing your passion Ginger!

What food tells us about ourselves by Phu Qui Nguyen

There's something to be said about the food that we eat.  Many times cultures rich and deep rooted with culinary pasts rise to the surface with such reverence.  The provisions to such a spectrum rivals that of tropical wild skittles.  It's all over the place, the goods ones at least, and for many delicious reasons.  To think of it, I have not been to a country where their culinary tastes, hopes and dreams are not also representative of their nation's pride and history!

One's love for food, is also love for the fellow man.  Just like we're all the same color underneath our epidermis, culinary delight binds us, prep to line cook to chef to patron.   Maybe that is why mother's cooking is always best?  It's the love that goes into each slice, sprinkle, and dash.   

This is why when you happen to get food artisans mucking up (more often than not) a truly blessed offering from the food gods, purists or just lovers of food will be angry.  Don't reinvent the wheel.  Be innovative but err on the safe side that someone probably did it better than you and still does it better than you.  Food is always a great equalizer.  Even when it's only tasted with a teaspoon, a master can be humbled in a second.   

Thus I present to you some favorite droolers.  Evolved over time but yet to be ruined by over thought and creative mess.  I'm not sure what is worse, my writing or my pictures.  Please excuse my pictures, not a food blogger by any means.

Crispy duck with bao bun (Jiao bun )

Crispy duck with bao bun (Jiao bun )

Chicken Gizzard skewers & satay

Chicken Gizzard skewers & satay

Mi Quan (Siamen Noodle)

Mi Quan (Siamen Noodle)

Lau Lau Pork 

Lau Lau Pork 

Turron (plantain wrapped in rice paper with drizzled honey)

Turron (plantain wrapped in rice paper with drizzled honey)