Saffron Coffee Shoot

From Mountain to Cup – The Journey of Saffron Coffee from Matt Brandon on Vimeo.

This last week I traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos. There’s a small but very significant social enterprise based there called, Saffron Coffee, that benefits both Laotian and tourist alike. Saffron Coffee is Lao-owned, Western managed and Lao staffed. The team that runs Saffron Coffee is a mix of Lao, American and Australian (I don’t think I left anyone out.)

Flying my borrowed DJI Inspire drone to shoot the footage for the video above.

Flying my borrowed DJI Inspire drone to shoot the footage for the video above.

Saffron Coffee contacted me a couple of months back and asked me to bid on a photo job. The company needed some new photos for an upcoming promotional campaign. I made a passing comment how I think that I might have a drone by the time they wanted to shoot in November. Apparently, the thought of drone footage sealed the deal; I got the job. The only problem was I didn’t have a drone yet. I wanted a small drone that was easy to fly and had a good camera. DJI just announced their new Mavic Pro and compact portable drone just days before. As it’s only the size of a water bottle, it fits perfectly in a backpack! Two weeks before I was to arrive in Laos, I received an email informing me the drone I ordered was back ordered for 6 to 8 weeks! What was I going to do? Penang is not like the U.S.; we don’t have places to rent drones or even camera gear. Luckily, Max, the guy I ordered the drone from was reluctantly (I don’t blame him) willing to rent me his personal DJI Inspire. The Inspire is massive and costly! He requested I not check it in the hold of the aircraft, so I schlepped this beast all the way from Penang to Luang Prabang as an unauthorized second-hand carry.

Here I am shooting video of a long black. I was very pleased with the focus of the 35 mm f/1,4 lens.

Here I am shooting video of a long black. I was very pleased with the focus of the 35 mm f/1,4 lens.

I was also shooting the new Fuji X-T2 as both a still camera and a video camera. Frankly, I was just as scared of using the X-T2 as a video camera as I was this borrowed drone. I knew the X-T2 would perform flawlessly as a still camera. I had just used it in Europe, and it was incredible. In the past, Fuji x-series cameras have never had a good reputation for their video, but everyone was telling me how the X-T2 can now shoot 4K video and was far more intuitive.

Well, they were right. The video function of the Fujifilm X-T2 was very impressive. It handled low light and high ISO like a champ. The manual focusing was easy and swift. Everything about it was close to perfect. I do need to clarify; I am NOT a videographer. So I can not speak to this as a pro, but as a newbie videographer it was easy to use, and I was very pleased with the results.

One of the many hill tribes farmers partnering with Saffron Coffee.

One of the many hill tribes farmers partnering with Saffron Coffee.

The coffee cherry is high in sugars and thus becomes quite sticky and will often cause the picker's hands to become covered in whatever it touches.

The coffee cherry is high in sugars and thus becomes quite sticky and will often cause the picker’s hands to become covered in whatever it touches.

The camera performed unbelievable as a still camera, though I never had any doubts about this. The focusing is faster than the X-T1, and the high ISO is very usable. My only issue was remembering that there is now a “un”-lock on the ISO and shutter speed dials. I would keep forgetting to relock it after changing the ISO or shutter speed, and the dial moves quite easily when not locked. So I found myself shooting at 800 ISO when I needed to be shooting more like 200 or 400. But since the X-T2 handles high ISO so well, it wasn’t really a problem. But I have yet developed that muscle memory to remember to relock the dials after I unlock them.

Som Phet inspecting the freshly pluped coffee beans.

Saffron Coffee employee Som Phet, inspecting the freshly pulped coffee beans.

 

Thongsai, shoveling the cherry husk. This will be dried and sold to make cascara tea.

Thongsai, shoveling the cherry husk. These husks will be dried and sold to make cascara tea.

 

I love my job. I get to work with amazing people from all around the world. The staff at Saffron Coffee are an amazing work for and with the Lao hill tribe farmers. A few years back the cash crop of Laos was poppies for opium. The Lao government shut down all the poppy farms and the farmers were left without any income. Illegal logging filled the income void for some farmers. The farmers can cut down trees and make some good money. They also grow rice as a cash crop, but that is seasonal. In the southern part of Laos people have been growing robusta and sub-standard Arabica coffee for years. The folks at Saffron Coffee saw all this as both an opportunity to help the farmers.

Som Phet, is a master roaster for Saffron Coffee.

Som Phet, is a master roaster for Saffron Coffee.

They knew that shade grown highland Arabica coffee could provide a constant income for Northern Lao hill tribes. The altitude and climate around Luang Prabang was perfect, and the people needed a new crop. Today Saffron Coffee is partnering with 784 farming families in 18 villages in growing their coffee. They make specialty coffees with the highest quality Arabica beans.

Coffee and it's lovely crema being extracted through a bottomless or naked portafilter.

Coffee and it’s lovely crema being extracted through a bottomless or naked portafilter.

The traditional Lao brew has been an important part of the country’s coffee culture for years – but Saffron Coffee doesn’t see why specialty coffee can’t find a home in Northern Laos as well.

9 Emperor Gods Festival – Pt 4

A medium cracks the serpent whip to begin the ceremony.

A medium cracks the serpent whip to begin the ceremony.

This is the last in a four-part series on the 9 Emperor Gods Festival that took place at the Tow Boo Kong Temple in Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia.  You might find it helpful if you read the FIRST,  SECOND and THIRD parts of this story before continuing.

On this the final night of the nine-day festival Taoists gather to pay homage to the nine gods and send them back to heaven. More people gather on this one night than any of the previous nights. This is special. The evening started with my crew arriving at an already packed temple. Everyone was standing in the courtyard holding three or four long joss sticks. If you don’t know what a joss stick is, think large incense sticks. These are usually lit and then placed in a sand laden urn as a prayer offering. But tonight they will be carried in the procession of the gods to the sea.

After we had waited for some time, the mediums, who by now we know by sight, come out and sit on their stools to ready themselves to be possessed by the spirits of the children and the monkeys.

I want to pause here. I have heard people criticize other reports of this and other festivals for being inaccurate. Let me say; this information is straight from the participant’s mouths. Every night I would ask questions of devotees and record their answers when I could. These are stories that these followers have lived with for their whole life, yet everyone I asked seems to give me a different response. So to be clear, these are not my words, but theirs.

Back to the mediums. They sit and readied themselves and then the leader again, cracks the serpent whip. Each of the nine mediums starts to sway and move and then eventually stand up and take on the attributes of a child or often a monkey.

  • Each of the nine mediums starts to sway and move and then eventually stand up and take on the attributes of a child or often a monkey.
  • Cracking the whip to start the ceremony.
  • All the mediums seem to be energized by the cracking of the whip.
  • Another medium cracks the whip. Note the pacifier in the mediums mouth.

They ready themselves and the crowd to meet the veiled gods. Each god is removed from the inner sanctum of the temple and brought ceremoniously to a waiting float in the shape of a boat. After they are loaded onto the boat no time is wasted, the floats proceed out the temple and onto the route of the procession. A huge crowd follows each float always holding up the burning joss sticks. The route wanders around and then ends at the ocean side.

The boat/float that contains the gods is met by a huge crane that is quickly attached to it.  The crane then lifts the boat from the transport and slowly swings it over to the shoreline. Here after some effort, the boat is eventually disconnected from the crane and attached to another boat by a cable.

 

  • A medium makes a pathway for the gods.
  • Note the pacifier.
  • The gods are removed from the temple under a cover. Here a flag is used to create a barrier.
  • The gods are moved through the crowds.
  • The under cover the gods make their way to the boat where they will ride to the sea.
  • The dragon figurehead of float as it leave with the gods to the sea.
  • The crowds of devotee following the floats.
  • The crowds of devotee following the floats.
  • Alway eager to have their photos made.
  • Even the mediums want their photo made by Simon Bond.
  • This medium blessing a devotee whiel waiting for the boat/float to arrive.
  • Riding atop the float.

 

At this point we were told the ship with the gods would be pulled out to sea and set on fire and that would be the end of the festival. But to our surprise, they lit the vessel on fire right there on the beach. It went up in flames in a matter of seconds. The gods were released back to where they came from as the crowd prayed and worshiped.

  • The boat waits to be hoisted to the beach.
  • A crane hoists the boat with the gods to the seaside.
  • Floating through the air like something out of Peter Pan.
  • Easing the boat to the shoreline.
  • One of the lead mediums giving direction.
  • Securing the boat.
  • Last minute blessings.
  • Fighting the surf while trying to tie the two boats together. The motorboat will pull the other out to sea.
  • The fire being lit.
  • It only takes seconds for the boat to be consumed in flames.
  • It only takes seconds for the boat to be consumed in flames.
  • Clearing he debris so the boat can leave.
  • Saying farewell to the 9 Emperors.

 

After some time the flames had died down, and the smoldering craft was pulled out to the open sea. The festival ended, and we were left to walk back to the temple and our car sandy and wet.

In closing, this festival was one of the most spectacular festivals of the year. We covered the events from one temple. But there were dozens if not more temples in the area that were doing all of the same events but on different nights.

 

9 Emperor Gods Festival – Pt 3

As if walking through hell, these devotees walk over burning coals and paper.

As if walking through hell, these devotees walk over burning coals and paper.

 

Just a suggestion, but you might want to read the the first two parts of this series before continuing. You can read the first part HERE and second part HERE.

Click on the photos to see them at full size.

At this point in my saga, I am just over half way, day seven of the 9 Emperor Gods Festival. On this evening participants walk on live coals and fire. I say coals and fire because in some ways it is like two different events.

By the time we arrive (I photographed this with Pete DeMarco and Simon Bond) the bricks in the Tow Boo Kong Temple courtyard have been pulled up and a shallow fire pit has been made. The fire has been burning for some time by now. It is mostly coals with only a few burning embers.

Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed.

Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed.

 

Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed. This action effectively readies the bed by compacting the coals and stamping out any flames. After they get it looking they way they want temple officials start throwing salt on the red hot coals. For some reason, this changes the surface to black with the red embers under it. My thoughts are it also drops the temperature of the surface or insulates it.

 

The first to cross the coals where the mediums. This was while the coals seemed to still be very red.

The first to cross the coals where the mediums. This was while the coals seemed to still be very red.

 

However, with that said, while the coals are still very red a whip is cracked and one of the lead mediums takes off running over the coals. He does this two or three time as if to test it for the rest of the soon-to-be walkers.

Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals.

Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals.

 

One of the mediums casually walking across the coals.

One of the mediums casually walking across the coals.

Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals. Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk the coal by one of the “baby” mediums.

 

 Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk.

Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk.

 

By this time any red coals on the surface were long gone. If one ever did appear someone would stop the procession and toss salt on it and then let it continue. The line of participants seemed to be endless. Some did it two or even three times. Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.

 

Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.

Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.

 

Then without any notice, several members of the festival committee started tossing folded paper money onto the coals. The paper was not real currency, but money printed for the spirits. The money, of course, smoldered and soon burst into flames.  While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.

 

While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.

While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.

 

The last bow to the fire before it was all over.

The last bow to the fire before it was all over.

 

Soon it was over. The fire burned itself out, and people wandered away. Already thinking about Sunday evening, the last night. The night they send the emperors back to heaven.

 

9 Emperor Gods Festival – Pt 2

The medium must now walk the long distance of the parade route.

The medium must now walk the long distance of the parade route.

If you are reading this before reading the first part HERE, then you might be at a slight loss as to what this festival is about. Do yourself a favor and go back and catch up before reading on.

The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is at its core a Taoist festival that focuses on nine emperor gods that are now celestial stars. On this, the 5th night of the festival, spiritual mediums skewer their cheeks with long sharp stainless steel poles. The poles look to be 4 to 4.5 meters (around 15 ft) in length.

  • A guest performers from Taiwan.
  • Guest performers rest before the show starts.
  • Prayers are offered at the temple alter.
  • A dragon sculpture and fountain at the Tow Boo Kong Temple.
  • Prayer are offered non-stop throughout the night.

 

I asked Philip, one of the festival organizers at the Two Boo Kong Temple, who are these mediums? He said they had been born for this as if it is a unique gifting.

As the long poles are lined up in readiness for the event, oranges are stuck on the end of each pole’s point. Partly to keep people from playing with them as well as to act as a type of disinfectant.

  • The mediums begin to shake after the serpent whip is cracked.
  • Then one by one they start to get up and move and sway.
  • They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.
  • They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.

 

The mediums need to get ready for the piercing by allowing a spirit to enter their body. They sit and pray. Then as soon as another medium cracks a serpent shaped whip the group starts to convulse and the spirits enter their bodies. They take on different personalities, mostly of children or babies. These are obvious by the baby talk and pacifiers (or dummies) they start sucking on. Other turn into monkeys with whooping, and squealing.

The scars from the piercing are real and last a lifetime.

The scars from the piercing are real and last a lifetime.

They are then lead to a stool and very quickly but carefully the skewers are pushed through one side of their cheek. Here in Penang, they don’t seem to put anything other than the pole through their cheeks, unlike in Phuket where mediums push large objects through their cheeks.

9_emperor_gods-10-05-07-07-53

Some of the mediums had their left cheek pierced, others their right.

The mediums then carefully rise and bow before the temple and it’s gods.   Then slowly move to the front of the parade. This ritual is done nine times with each of the nine mediums.

  • Oranges are uses to both protect the public from the pear tips as well as a way to disinfect the spear.
  • The orange is removed and the spear is pass down to the men who will be placing it through the medium's cheek.
  • A medium himself, this man hold one of the younger men as he get ready to have the spear placed through his cheek.
  • The right spot is carefully found.
  • The sharp spear brought carefully up to the correct spot.
  • Then the spear is pushed through to the middle.
  • Once completed...
  • the medium rises...
  • bows to the temple and then leaves to join the parade.

 

The parade itself is unremarkable. It is like any other parade in the U.S or around the world. It is made up of everything from  pom-pom dance teams to floats and dignitaries. The only difference between this parade and the Belton, Texas 4th of July parade, is Belton doesn’t have men with 15 ft  steel poles running through their cheeks.

  • As if it were obligatory, the parade like so many others around the world has it's own pom-pom team.
  • Floats with local dignitaries and clubs made up the parade.
  • The mediums with their spears through their cheeks walked the long route of the parade with help.
  • Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
  • Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
  • The parade route was long and slow. The mediums needed to rest frequently.

 

The parade does a huge loop and ends back at the temple where it started from. Those people who didn’t want to walk the many miles in the parade were left at the temple grounds with a live theatrical production to watch and plenty of food to eat.

The next big event happens on the 7th night: Fire Walking.

9 Emperor Gods Festival – Part 1

The mediums dip their hands in the hot oil without any perceived ill effect.

The mediums dip their hands in the hot oil without any perceived ill effect.

Living in Penang is sometimes like living in Epcot Center. Many different cultures, and parties and festivals all the time. Seriously, it seems every month there is a festival or a holiday. Many of these are visually spectacular like Thaipusam or Chinese New Year. No other festival in Penang is more visual and varied than the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods.

The Nine Emperor Festival is complicated, to say the least. I love to get as much info about what I am shooting from the local community when possible. It seems everyone, even folks that are associated with the festival are unclear of the details. It is at this point when I lean heavy on Wikipedia.

In short, what the festival is about is disputed by more traditional Taoist. In popular belief, according to Wikipedia it goes something like this:

“On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine emperors. Since the arrival of the gods is believed to be through the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea shore or river to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies.

A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. It is believed that there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration.

The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession which draws scores of devotees sends the deities back home.” Wikipedia

As a photographer, the important part of all this is knowing the schedule. There is no point in showing up after an hour’s drive to find that the only things happening are speeches by dignitaries. Fortunately, I found this schedule at the Tow Boo Kong Temple website. Tow Boo Kong is the largest Nine Emperor Gods Temple in the area.

Festival Event
  • 1st Day Deity Nan Dou Birthday Celebration
  • 3rd Day Deity Bei Dou Birthday Celebration
  • Playing with Hot Oil Ceremony
  • 5th Day Spear Skewing Celebration
  • Float Procession
  • 6th Day Selection of new Urn Trustee
  • 7th Day Fire Walking Ceremony
  • 8th Day Fort Crossing Ceremony
  • 9th Day Deity Dou Mu Birthday Celebration
  • Sending-Off Ceremony

 

My first day to visit this year was on the third day. Having only read about the “playing with hot oil” I was intrigued.

 

The Chinese drama under the yellow lanterns. Not the best lighting.

The Chinese drama under the yellow lanterns. Not the best lighting.

When we arrived ( I was photographing with two other photographers from Penang, Simon Bond and Pete DeMarco) things looked rather tame. There was some drama being performed in the temple under, of all things, yellow lights. I had packed light. I brought my Cactus RF-60 flash, but that was completely manual. I also had my very tiny Nissin i-40. The Nissin is almost half the flash the Cactus is, but it is TTL and allows for rear curtain sync. If you read my blog you know I love to use rear curtain sync at events like this. But, I soon realized the limitations of the Nissin. 1. The flash just could not overpower the yellow lights from where I was forced to be. 2. The recycle speed seems to be very slow. I am not sure how much of that is the flash or how much the batteries.

Pouring the oil into the wok to heat it once they start the fire under it.

Pouring the oil into the wok to heat it once they start the fire under it.

After awhile it was time for the hot oil ceremony. The men from the temple organizing committee started to build small brick like ovens, but more like a chimney. They placed a huge wok on top of each oven and made fires under them. They had it barricaded off. However, I noticed several photographers with the local press inside the barricades so we joined them. No one said anything.

It was good that we did. The makeshift ovens had an opening that faced away from the crowd, and this is the opening where the spiritual mediums would eventually spit the hot oil and make massive fireballs.

Possessed by spirits of children, the mediums dance around the fire playfully.

Possessed by spirits of children, the mediums dance around the fire playfully.

After the fire was roaring, the men poured oil into each wok. Then after about 20 minutes of being heated by the fire the mediums arrived. They were hooting and squeaking like monkeys. When I asked about this, I was told that most of them receive the spirit of a child or a baby. But some get the spirit of a monkey.

The medium reached into the hot oil with their hands and then scooped it into their mouths.

The medium reached into the hot oil with their hands and then scooped it into their mouths.

The mediums went right away to the oil and began reaching into the hot oil with their hands and then putting a handful into their mouths. They would walk around and then spew it into the fire resulting in a fireball.

This dancing and spitting went on for about 15 to 20 minutes and then ended quite quickly. Just as soon as the mediums left the committee members added large branches of herbs into the oil to cook them.

 

9_emperor_gods-10-03-09-10-24

Blowing the oil into the flame to ignite it.

The whole purpose of the playing/dancing and spitting of the oil is to bless the oil. The oil will then be sold to locals over the next few days as medicinal and the funds raised will help the temple.

All this and it was only our first night. Next visit will be on day 5, the spear skewing celebration and float procession.

 

Nine Emperor Gods Festival: Playing with Hot Oil Ceremony from Matt Brandon on Vimeo.

 

Announcing the 2nd Location Portraiture & Lighting Masterclass in Varanasi, India

banner Masterclass

 

I am pleased to announce the second Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass in Varanasi, India. Well, ok it’s really the second time we’ve run the class, but the first time we’ve used this name. I am teaming up again with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Guru and Wizard of Light Piet Van den Eynde. We will be releasing full details in the days to come. But let me assure you this will be an amazing class! Piet and I have been working all winter hammering out the details to make this class one that will be both highly educational, exciting, challenging and memorable and I think we have succeeded. We will be covering techniques and skills that are often skipped over on other workshops of this price or length. We will be covering the broad topics of: Continue reading

Postcard from New Zealand

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind. The heather looking grass is actually an invasive weed, called pampas grass. Much of New Zealand's native species are being over run by outside species. This is exactly what conservation organizations like A Rocha are at work to combat.

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind.

I have been in Raglan, New Zealand for the past two weeks teaching several classes for the On Field Media Project. Our host is a Christian Conservation organization called, A Rocha (read my past post on A Rocha here.). A Rocha New Zealand’s main project is the restoration of the habitat of the many seabirds around a mountain called Karioi Maunga and it’s coastline. It is a fascinating project and one in the days to come I want to tell you more about. Continue reading

Kacchpuri: Home of the Dhobi

f/11, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Scrubbing clothes on the bank of the Yamuna.

In India, just down the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal is a small village called Kacchpuri. A village filled with the poorest of the poor trying to squeeze out a daily living in a myriad of ways. Many of the villagers sell used saris. They go around the area buying old worn-out ones. They mend them, wash them and  sell them to people who can’t afford new ones. The whole village seems to be involved in the process. We visited the Dhobi Ghaat where dhobies wash the used saris. A dhobi (male) or dhobin (female) takes the old saris and boils them, scrubs them and then rinses them in, of all places, the Yamuna river.

Scrubbing old saris clean.

Scrubbing old saris clean.

 

A child draws in the sand of the Yamuna as the dhobis work rinsing the old saris in the background.

A child draws in the sand of the Yamuna as the dhobies rinse the old saris in the background.

 

A camel in the background hauls off sand for concrete, while dhobies wash in the foreground.

A camel in the background hauls off sand for concrete, while dhobies wash in the foreground.

f/9, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Of course, as the villagers live on the river, the children play in and around the river as well. From flying kites to drawing in the sand, the Yamuna is home to these people.

Children play on the banks of the Yamuna flying kites.

Children play on the banks of the Yamuna flying kites.

 

f/10, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Kite flying can be a competition. Where glass string is used to cut the other team’s kite string.

Another part of the village makes bullwhips. They string scraps of leather together to make a whip and then sell them wholesale to a middleman who sell them to shopkeepers who in turn sell them to tourists.

 

Weaving bullwhips to sell to tourists.

Weaving bullwhips to sell to tourists.

 

cleaning fenugreek for the meal later.

Cleaning fenugreek for the meal later.

 

Like so many places in India, these people are poor, they have almost nothing, yet when you look at their faces you see smiles and joy. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite preachers, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” – Charles Spurgeon

Chinese New Year in 15 Photos

The Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, Malaysia all lit up for Chinese New Year.

The Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, Malaysia all lit up for Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year in Penang

My wife and I have been back in Malaysia 10 days now. In that time we have been working frantically on our new visa to allow us to reside here. Without going into details – let’s just say it is complicated.  Our visit has coincided with Chinese New Year. Since arriving the shops and public offices have been close for Chinese New Year. It was the worst possible time to come to work on something like a visa. Especially when you have a small window to work in. I leave Sunday to host a 10 day workshop in India. But the upside is with the offices all closed it has given me ample opportunity to get back into the city and photograph this amazing place. Oh how I have missed Penang.

I hope you enjoy some of these images.

A Buddha in the upper floor of the pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

A Buddha in the upper floor of the pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

I found this arched door way on the first level of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si to be a true blend of Malay (read Muslim) and Chinese architecture.

I found this arched doorway on the first level of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si to be a true blend of Malay (read Muslim) and Chinese architecture.

The same group of arches, but facing a different direction and thus with a different backdrop. Not as symmetrical but more colorful.

The same group of arches, but facing a different direction and thus with a different backdrop. Not as symmetrical but more colorful.

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

More Chinese lanterns. These were hanging at Kek Lok Si, in Penang.

More Chinese lanterns. These were hanging at Kek Lok Si, in Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

A view back over the city from Kuan Yin Teng Temple at sunrise.

A view back over the city from Kuan Yin Teng Temple at sunrise.

A temple volunteer pick up the older josh sticks. He needs to leave room for the hundreds more that will be left by the worshipers to come. Early morning at Kuan Im Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭).

A temple volunteer picks up the older josh sticks. He needs to leave room for the hundreds more that will be left by the worshipers to come. Early morning at Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭).

A worshiper at the worshiperKuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭) rases his josh stick in prayer.

A worshiper at the Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭) raises his josh stick in prayer.

Lanterns in a Taoist temple neat Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia.

Lanterns in a Taoist temple near Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia.

 Meet Mr Lim. A retired factory worker who now volunteers at the temple to stay busy.

Meet Mr Lim. A retired factory worker who now volunteers at the temple to stay busy.

One of the fun events of Chinese New Year are the Lion Dances that happen all over the city. A troop of dancers and musicians dance to give a prosperity blessing to a shopkeeper in return for Aung Pow or a offering or gift.

One of the fun events of Chinese New Year are the Lion Dances that happen all over the city. A troop of dancers and musicians dance to give a prosperity blessing to shopkeepers in return for Aung Pow or a offering or gift.

Albert, the Chee Cheong Fun hawker, sneaks a peak at the man behind the lion mask.

Albert, the Chee Cheong Fun hawker, sneaks a peak at the man behind the lion mask.