Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Round of Ports: Busan, Shimonoseki, and Hong Kong

I was asked to fly out during the weekend a couple weeks ago for work in Korea. I regretted my decision to sacrifice my weekend but really had no reason to refuse. As I took on the much dreaded trip (departing Saturday morning, arriving Sunday night, then starting work Monday), I was met with the pleasant surprise that there is going to be a factory-wide shutdown the following week and all other factories in nearby countries are in Golden Week holiday. I've never really had more than one day of weekend when traveling for work, let alone whole 3 days! (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

I wanted to see a little bit more of Korea, but also didn't want to miss the chance to go to Japan. So instead of flying out directly, I took a train to the closest major city, Busan, then rode a ferry from Busan to Fukuoka.

Since work ended early on Saturday, I had most of the afternoon to walk around Busan and enjoy the beautiful weather. I didn't expect Busan to leave much of an impression on me, since I figured it won't be much different from other Asian port cities I've been to. Boy was I wrong... Busan was surrounded by hills offering stunning backdrop to the busy port and numerous high rises. I tried to find a walkway closer to the waters and somehow ended up on an empty stretch of walkway along the piers. (there was exactly 1 person that went by in the one hour I was standing there) He muttered something in Korea (which I took to be along the lines of "oh what you're drawing here?!") and I returned a polite laughter of approval. 

I was under the impression that large ships dock forever, which was wrong, as the giant tanker left just as I was putting finishing touches on the distant hills. Throwing fist and protesting in its direction certainly did not help. Soon I looked like an idiot hallucinating of a large ship, so I quickly packed up and went on my way finding dinner.

 I arrived in Fukuoka around noon the next day. I was worried about the ferry ride because of my pathetic ability against seasickness, but the hydrofoil boat felt more like a bus than a boat when it was at speed. More than anything, I was glad that I could finally order food without guessing! I was never so happy when I saw the Kanji written on buildings as we approached the port.

After dropping of my suitcase and finishing up some shopping, I departed for Mojiko/Shimonoseki, along the strait separating Kyushu and Honshu. There weren't many tourists, even though it is the beginning of Golden Week in Japan, probably because most of them are heading to eastern Kyushu where there are hot springs and resorts. I quickly located my target: Kanmon Bridge, and set out painting this piece with a boat in the foreground.

The tour of ports ended in Hong Kong, where I met up with my parents in the last day of China Golden Week (Tuesday) After they set off to the airport to catch their afternoon flight, I decided to scout out one of the lesser known attractions of Hong Kong, Checkerboard Hill, usually associated with the old Kai Tak Airport. There was no clear signage for the place so I poked around online blogs and google reviews. Unfortunately most of the directions for the vista point were from 3+ years ago, and every single one of them contained explicit instructions to jump over fences and find holes in wires. It took me 3 hikes up the same mountain to find the actual checkerboard! I almost gave up after my 2nd attempt and decided to just look up at the hill from the nearby tennis court. However, right after I refilled my water bottle at the tennis court and was enjoying the gentle breeze, I saw somebody descending down the hill behind me. The hill was so clearly fenced off that I thought there was no way that person could make it...but he just bent slightly and walked through a barely noticeable hole in the fence!! (There was so much vegetation behind the fence that you can't see the hole unless specifically looking for it) I basically stared at him open-mouthed as he headed down to the tennis court. He then noticed me and told me something in Cantonese (I didn't understand him, but I assume it's along the lines of "you can reach the top of the hill from there"). I asked if this is checkerboard hill, but he seemed to not know the name. So I thanked him and walked gingerly up the steep stairway. I admired the spectacular view above the trees and paid my respect to the peeling colors of the original checkerboard pattern. After hearing and seeing it so many times online, I finally was able to see it with my own eyes (albeit not touching it, because I'm slightly afraid of height lol)

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Car Week!

I sorted started a car painting spree last week, experimenting with different color combinations. The first 3 are all Subaru STI's, specifically referencing the 22B. Last one is a Lotus Esprit. All done in Photoshop w/ Intuos

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Spring in San Jose: Rose Garden and Rosicrucian Park

It has been quite a while since I was last at the San Jose Municipal Garden. I vaguely remember a unsatisfactory ink drawing of the fountain and being jokingly asked to include a portrait when I was working on a rose. Even though it is really close to where I live, I still preferred driving 1 hr one way to San Francisco than staring at roses and trees all day. That said, I was still looking forward to painting with fellow sketchers in South Bay.

There were a lot of merry-making people in the park, including families and friends taking commemorative photos. I thought most of the flowers would be gone after the rain storm the previous day, but the flowers were surprisingly resilient and I saw plenty still fully blooming.

We moved over to the Rosicrucian Park/Egyptian Museum a block away after lunch. It is an entirely different gardening style from the Rose Garden, with several walkways criss-crossing the foliages. I sat down on a bench in the shade (because digesting lunch was taking up too much of my energy) and chose a scene that is of my weakness. (not a lot of clear shapes, complex details) But since I was sitting and sunlight was consistent, I patiently worked my way through the layers of plants.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Gardens of Alcatraz

I was fortunate enough to get a spot to join the SF Sketchers in the Alcatraz tour over the weekend. When I signed up for the event 1 week ago, I was dead last at 18th on the waitlist. But by some divine intervention, I was confirmed to go the afternoon before the day of the event!

It was such a short notice that I had no time to rethink my decision to get up at 6am. To catch the staff boat we had be ready at the dock by 8am. Given 1 hr driving time, no prior experience parking around Pier 33, and the need to get breakfast and snack for the day, I gave myself a full 2-hour buffer. I was brutally awaken by my alarm, scrambled my stuff together, and then drove a couple minutes in the dark amidst light drizzle to a nearby donut shop (which opens at 5am for some unknown reasons...) I was expecting a dreary little place with no customers, but was pleasantly welcomed to a brightly lit and spacious diner with a handful of people already eating! Although I still have no idea what they're doing at 6am on a Saturday... I got my breakfast (tea and donut) and snack (breakfast burrito), then headed off North as the skies slowly brightened up. 

I scouted a parking location w/ good review the day before at nearby Pier 27. I did notice the side note saying no public parking is allowed if a cruise ship is docked there, but ignored it nonetheless since I don't recall seeing a single cruise ship in all my years in the Bay Area! As luck would have it though, I saw a cruise ship docked at SF for the first time that morning.. and that means of course that I had to find somewhere else to! (I did find an unlimited time meter on Lombard street in the end)

A volunteer guide from the Golden Gate Park Conservancy walked us through 3 gardens on the island. Two of which are normally off-limits to visitors. You could still see the gardens from usual walking paths, but getting down a level to the garden itself really offers an entirely different view! This one, for example, has the garden, Warden's House, and the Bay bridge! This piece alone justifies the early morning Odyssey from South Bay for me.

Here's the piece with the actual view. It was really when we got on the island that the sun started poking out of the cloud, which came as a total surprise to all of us. Given the rain storm the other night, I packed all my rain gear and brought my most waterproof bag!

When I was drawing this, I heard a mom telling her son, "No, she's not a prisoner, she's a painter!" The part in the audio guide about prisoners painting must have really got into his head haha.

In the end I had to head back on an earlier ferry because I thought the event end time is the time we get back to the mainland... so I didn't put enough time into the parking meter... oh well~

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Before the shops are open: morning stroll through Yanaka, Tokyo

I successfully negotiated my way to a 20-hr layover in Tokyo. (a full-day stopover would have costed +4k to change, and it took a whole night of sleep for me to figure out that I could achieve a similar result by having a super long layover instead!) The only catch is that I needed to pack very carefully so as to bring just the right amount in my carry-on bag because I wouldn't have access to my suitcase until 30+ hrs later in the US. 

Minus sleeping time, I really only had ~6 hrs of free time in Tokyo. The extra long queue at immigrations the night before had left me exhausted. It was probably the longest I have waited at the NRT immigrations: close to 1 hr in a line snaking multiple loops. This is because my choice of day unfortunately fell on the eve of the tomb-sweeping long weekend... (I was expecting crazy crowd in Tokyo because of the insane line, but the town was actually quite normal otherwise) Thankfully I still managed to get up, eat, and check out of the hotel before 10. I made a point to eat more than I felt like because given my schedule I'm fully aware my next meal will probably be on the plane. 

This is my first time intentionally stay in Nippori neighbourhood, given its proximity to my first destination Yanaka/Sendagi and being endpoint of an airport express. Yanaka is known as one of the last Shitamachi's of Tokyo where small shops and grocers still line the street. In fact, when I was sketching at a street corner, I can hear neighbours greeting each other as they set up their shops or running morning errands on their bikes. 

Looking down at Yanaka Ginza (main shopping street of Yanaka) from the top of the stairs. A steady stream of tourists and locals huffed and puffed their way up the stairs.

The delivery guys were so incredibly efficient that I was only able to capture a quick silhouette. (Guy in the red cap was doing some morning deliveries in his van)

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Drawing in the rain and ... Portraits!

Since this weekend's event with the SF sketchers was later in the afternoon, I actually had the time to arrive in the city early enough to stop by somewhere else to paint first. Mission Creek Park was just a couple of blocks away from Arch Art Supplies, so I parked my car by the neighbourhood and strolled along the creek looking for good vantage points. 

I was planning to draw the other side of the creek (since I did the boat side last time), but on closer inspection, it is really just new condos and trees - nothing too eye catching. Then I spotted the bridge (on 4th street) and the view at the end of it gave a wonderful view of the creek, distant hills, and the criss-crossed ramps. Just as I pulled out my drawing supplies though, I felt something light and cold on my head and thought uh-oh... the ripples on the water surface really left no doubt that it *just* started to rain. I half debated to take shelter in Philz next door and just wait it out, but in the end decided to hell it, I'm going to draw in the rain and just see how it turns out. 

I hid under a medium-sized tree, which stopped the constant drizzle, but just had bigger droplets of water coming down once-in-a-while (hence the blobs on the bottom right corner) In the brief intermission between the drizzle, I was able to put in most of the details. The wet climate really made the reflections in the water blend in beautifully. As the drizzle started again, I quickly packed up and walked to my car in the awkward position of holding my watercolour pad upside down.

The portrait party at Arch was fun as well. We took turns posing for each other and it was a huge relief that I can finally stare at/sketch people without any fear of retaliation. It is a long-time weakness of mine that I could not sketch people in public without worrying about being discovered.