Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Visual Scavenger Hunt: Wall Art

Hipsta-WallArt05 Today was one of those "hurry up and wait" kind of days. I have pending assignments, but all I could do was make phone calls and send emails and just wait for a response. Instead of just sitting in the office I decided to get out the ol' iPhone and go on a scavenger hunt.
We have some pretty cool murals gracing the walls of some of our local buildings so I thought I would go and find a few new ones. I'm not talking about the big murals that are easy to find along the major thoroughfares, the ones easily accessible from the comfort of an air-conditioned car, but the artwork you have to get out and look for. This is what I found. Hipsta-WallArt06 Hipsta-WallArt03 Hipsta-WallArt04 Hipsta-WallArt01 Hipsta-WallArt02

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

High School Golf: District 3-5A Girls Tournament

CHSgolf01 A day out of the office at a golf course equals... pure bliss and a sunburn. Unfortunately, I wasn't playing a round of golf, I was shooting it. The Central Lady Cats were participating in the second round of the District 3-5A girls tournament at Bentwood Country Club. The format for this district meet is really different from what I was used to when I was playing in high school. I don't know if it is the same with all Class 5A schools, but this tournament takes place over four days at four different golf courses. I guess it's done this way so that each team has a chance to play on their home course. Back when I played, the district tournament was held over two days next to a cotton field in Idalou, a small town about 10 miles northeast of Lubbock and named after early townsfolk Ida and Lou... no joke. At least these kids get to travel a little bit and play on different courses. CHSgolf03 While shooting golf is not all that exciting, like I mentioned before, at least I'm out of the office and not stuck behind a computer screen and on the phone. And the parents are always grateful to see us there covering the kids. Well, at least most of them are. There's always that one parent who's attitude is that we never cover their kid enough so their going to complain every time they see us out there. But, like I said, most of the parents are awesome. One in particular, the father of Christian Garcia (the above photo on the right), was very friendly and was very appreciative that we were out there to cover the Lady Cats. Those are the people that make this job worthwhile.
I ended up staying out at the course longer than I thought I would just because the round was taking so long. It's not uncommon to have a girls round take almost six hours. But there was some good play and the Lady Cats moved up in the standings to take second place in district. There are two more rounds to play with the next one in Midland. Who knows, maybe we'll see them at the regional tournament. CHSgolf02

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cambodia 2011: A Day With The Family

Cambodia84 (WRITER'S NOTE: This series of blog posts is about a trip I took to Cambodia to report on a story for the San Angelo Standard-Times that took place between Sept. 27 - Oct. 17, 2011.)

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011: For whatever reason I was able to sleep past 8:00 a.m. I don't know if its because we have been going non-stop since we landed in this country, or maybe it was the glasses of brandy from the night before, but I didn't wake up until 9:00 a.m. I got up, took a cold shower, drank a few cups of instant coffee to get my fix and got dressed. Toro was already up with the rest of the family and had decided that he wanted to go and visit a local temple that was originally, and is still used from time to time, deep inside a cave in a nearby mountain. We hired a few locals to give us a ride on the back of their motorbikes up to the temple. Those things are so much fun.
We made our way to the outskirts of town to the base of the mountain. There was a long, steep driveway leading up to the living quarters of the monks who care for the temple. Toro, Sokny, and all the others with us made quick work of their trip up the driveway on the back of their motorbikes. I was not so quick. My driver had to keep the bike in a lower gear just to have enough power to up the steep grade. God, I need to lose weight.
Once we finally made it to the top, we met up with the head monk of the temple who agreed to take us on a little tour of the grounds. As we continued our way to the top we passed the rest of the living quarters where monks were hanging their saffron-colored robes out to dry and I was trying desperately not to slip on the moss-covered stones. Being 200+ pounds means there's no graceful way to fall. Besides, it would be inconsiderate to take out two pretty Cambodian girls (Sokny and her friend from the States) in an uncontrollable tumble down the mountainside. Needless to say, I stayed behind everyone so if I did slip I wouldn't cause injury to anyone but myself. Cambodia80 Cambodia83 Cambodia82 Cambodia81 We finally made it to the top of the mountain and got a better view of the town and the surrounding countryside. The expansive flooding was still evident from the heavy monsoon rains and Toro told me that those rice farmers will more than likely lose their entire crop. And I doubt that there is any government aid coming to help them out. We lingered there for a while as the cool breeze blew across the mountain. The jungle canopy is so thick on the way up that the wind wasn't able to get down to us. My shirt had just finished drying out as we made the turn to head back down the mountain to the cave where the original temple was placed. Sokny and her friend had visited the cave temple the day before and decided to leave and run a few errands for the funeral, leaving just Toro and I with the monk to show us around. When we arrived at the mouth of the cave, the monk led us down a steep stairway that had been carved right out of the rock. There obviously was no handrail to grab hold of to keeping from plummeting to the bottom of the cave and the stairs were just as moss-covered and slick as the ones leading to the top of the mountain. Add the fact that I'm no lover of heights and you can probably tell what was going through my mind right about now. But, I made it to the cave floor where it opened up into several large rooms. The sound of dripping water echoed off the cavern walls and the sounds of chirping bats reminded us that we were not the only living beings down here. A massive bowl that must have measured five feet across and five feet deep was carved right out of the rock to catch water dripping from the ceiling. This was truly one of the coolest places I've been. Cambodia85 Cambodia86 Cambodia87 Cambodia88 Cambodia89 Cambodia90 After Toro said a quick prayer at the shine in the cave, it was back to the top where the monk wished us well on the rest of the trip. We jumped on the back of the waiting motorbikes and made our way back through town to the house. What a great morning! That temple is something I may never come across in my life again, but I get to tell people that I saw it and that I was there. And even though I don't share the same religious beliefs as the patrons who would frequent that temple, I could tell that it was a special place, a place of rest and peace. I would most definitely go back if given the chance.
When we got back to the house we were greeted by all the young children playing about and I lost track of Toro. After a few minutes of playing with the kids I decided I would head upstairs and take a nap to rest up for the afternoon activities. As I reached the second floor I found Toro and his mother Lor seated on the old wooden floor together around what appeared to be a green stone. Indeed it was a green stone, but it also contained the ashes of Toto's father Sanet. It was his urn and it had just been delivered to the house in time for the funeral. I quickly, but quietly, grabbed my camera to document the moment. It didn't last very long, but it was a tender moment between Toro and Lor, one I won't soon forget. "This is him, this is my father," Toro said. "This is all that's left of him."Cambodia91 Cambodia92 After lunch and a few hours rest, the kids in the house all decided that they wanted to go swimming in a popular swimming hole outside of town. We had to jump-start Vireak's old Nissan pickup truck before everyone eventually piled into the back. What we didn't know was that there were flood waters still raging across the road blocking the path to the swimming hole. And, there were reports that an alligator seen earlier in the day in the area. So, with that little tidbit of information, we turned around to head to the other side of town to the second favorite swimming area. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was already beginning to get dark. Toro jumped in just to say he did it, but the rest of us stayed dry. We would have to wait until tomorrow. We gathered back at the truck and headed home, but not before picking up a few snacks at a street vendor on the side of the road.
After a casual dinner, we held an impromptu English lesson in the upstairs room with everyone before going to bed. Everyone wanted to her how certain objects around the house sounded in English. Banana, basket, leaf and pencil were some of the items they brought me and they, in turn, would say the names in Khmer for me. My favorite Cambodian grandmother, Me La, took a liking to the sound of the word 'pillow'. And as I was reaching up to turn off the light after our session had ended an hour later, I could hear Me La quietly reciting 'pillow' as she went to sleep. It was a very sweet ending to a great day. Cambodia93 Cambodia94 Cambodia95

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

High School Soccer: Central vs. Midland Lee Girls

CHSvsLee01 I ended up working a split shift yesterday, ending with a soccer game at San Angelo Stadium between the Central Lady Cats and Midland Lee. Judging from my last post on Central soccer you might think that I have it out for the school or for the sport in general. Not true. I just prefer a good clean game. To tell you the truth, I much prefer shooting women's soccer games over the men. Game fundamentals and team play don't take a backseat to poor attitudes and foul-mouths. The girls just seem to be able to let things roll off their shoulders a little better. Monday night's game was great, though I wish I would have been there for the whole thing. I had to leave early to get photos in on time for deadline.
The first half of the game was really slow, some would say that is the downfall of the sport in general and the reason why it doesn't have as big a following as other sports. The half ended with a tie score of 0-0. Central had a few looks at a goal, but failed to capitalize on the opportunities. The second half would be a different story. Midland scored a goal early in the second half and Central was now down 0-1. This is when I had to leave. Crap. It was getting to be about 9:30pm and I needed to have something in by 10:00 for deadline. Unfortunately, I was not there for all the exciting stuff at the end. Central's Lauren Bateman scored a goal to tie things up at 1-1 and that's how the game would end setting up a shootout. Central goalkeeper Hannah Jones took control of the game smothering 3 attempts by Midland Lee to score and scoring a goal herself to help win the game 3-2 for Central. The Lady Cats cannot finish any worse than a tie for second in district play and will advance to the playoffs. I'm looking forward to shooting at least one playoff game for these girls. CHSvsLee02 CHSvsLee03

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cambodia 2011: Back Home in Sisophon

Cambodia58 (WRITER'S NOTE: This series of blog posts is about a trip I took to Cambodia to report on a story for the San Angelo Standard-Times that took place between Sept. 27 - Oct. 17, 2011.)

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011:  Today was dominated by yet another long bus ride. But instead of the Greyhound bus ride from hell, we chartered our own 14-passenger bus for the trip back to Sisophon. Toro's nieces made an excellent breakfast for everyone at the house, we packed our bags and and hit the road. We made routine stops along the way to grab a snack or use the bathroom. And the bus is, my opinion, still the best way to see the countryside. Cambodia is a land of flowing water, eternal green and the eternal smile, a smile that graces the face of just about everyone you meet. The people here are so gracious and friendly and would do just about anything for you. And Toro's family is no exception. Cambodia59 Cambodia57 I received a warm reception again when we arrived back at Lor's house in Sisophon. This time there were more people to be introduced to and another meal to eat, but I noticed we were missing someone. My sweet little Cambodian grandmother, La, was not with us. I followed a few people up the stairs to the second floor and noticed that everyone was congregating in a tight circle around someone laying on the floor. It was La, looking weak, pale and shaking in pain. A few days earlier La had gotten an infection in one of her back teeth and it had started to spread to the rest of her body. Now she had a serious fever and was too weak to take food or water. A local nurse was summoned to the house and promptly arrived on her motorcycle with the necessary medical supplies. Antibiotics were administered along with an IV drip. La looked so frail and weak, almost to frail to touch without causing her any more discomfort. But the nurse said that the medication should start to take affect soon and she should be feeling better in the morning. Convinced that the nurse knew what she was talking about we left La to sleep and headed back down stairs to fellowship with the rest of the family. A bottle of brandy was being passed around that had been picked up at one of the little markets we stopped at earlier in the day. After a few hours, I picked myself up off the floor and headed upstairs to my spot on the hardwood floor and let the sound of the nocturnal wildlife and the whirring floor fan sing me to sleep. Cambodia60 Cambodia56 Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011: We got up this morning with a very specific mission from Lor: Find my lost luggage. In a rush, or just plain forgetfulness, I miscounted the checked baggage when we got into Siem Reap almost a week ago. For some reason all the baggage was checked under my name and I should have counted six, but only counted five. We didn't realize we were short one bag until after a few days in country. So Toro, Vireak and myself piled into the Toyota Camry and headed back to the airport about two hours away.
Vireak is a very cautious driver and what should take anywhere from one and a half to two hours could have taken almost four hours if Toro hadn't taken the wheel. Along the way we stopped a few times so Toro could get in a few photos and a conversation (I swear he can't go more than 10 minutes without having to talk with someone), but finally got to the airport. Finding and claiming the lost bag was surprisingly easy and hassle free. I had visions of going through copious amounts of government paperwork and a series of 20 questions about why I was in the country, but instead we walked right up to the baggage claim window, saw the bag sitting in the far corner of the room and simply asked if we could get it back. "Sure," the guy said, "but you'll have to sign a few papers first and then it's all yours." Honestly, I thought the bag was long gone. Someone thought that no one was going to come back for it, there was no contact information it and they just walked off with it. I'm so glad we found it because there were a few things in it for the funeral as well as a DVD player that Lor uses often. Cambodia67 Cambodia68 After about 10 minutes in baggage claim I walked out the front door, handed the bag off to Vireak and started looking for Toro.  Naturally, I found him in some deep conversation with a few young adults, but that conversation ended fairly soon as I approached. I'm like that big, white elephant in the room that nobody can stop looking at. One of the young girls said to Toro, "When you go back to America and then come back to Cambodia, bring me a white man for a boyfriend." "Okay," Toro said, "What size?" She looked back at me pointing and said, "He'll do." Flattered, I had a good laugh at that.
Having successfully retrieved Lor's bag, the rest of the day was left up to our own devices. Vireak wanted to show us a massive man-made reservoir surrounded by rice fields as well as pick up some lunch. The reservoir was really nothing special, I was just glad to be in the good company of Vireak and Toro. I've seen fake bodies of water before. Actually, there is only one or two natural lakes in Texas. But the real interesting thing is that no matter how hard local officials try, they can't seem to populate the water with any plant or animal life. We learned this little fact through one of Toro's 30-minute conversations with a couple of guys sitting on a boat docked on shore. While Toro was doing his thing, I was approached by a young Buddhist monk, clad in the usual orange robes, who asked if he could practice his English with me. "Sure," I said. We exchanged all the usual pleasantries, "Hello, how are you?", "What is your name?", "Where are you from?", "How old are you?" I had a good time.
With food in hand, we started back down the road to Sisophon, but before eating, we decided to visit a local Buddhist temple. The temple was located on a the grounds of a school which was holding class, so we were instantly the center of attention when we drove onto the property. Or, I should say, I was the center of attention. It was a beautiful area and the monks in residence were gracious enough to show us around and explain all the paintings in the temple. After about an hour or so, we paid our respects and left to find a shady spot to have lunch. Cambodia79 Cambodia76 Cambodia73 Cambodia70 First, let me say that Cambodian food is not for everyone, especially the everyday food that is eaten by ordinary Cambodians out in the countryside. The food is heavily spiced and herbed and can be found everywhere you look. What I mean by that is Cambodians eat just about every natural resource they can find. You could walk down any path, pluck a leaf from any tree and the next person you found could tell you 10 different recipes that leaf could be used in. Going to an open market is a brave decision because you will find out how the food you are eating is stored and preserved. If you do go to the market I would advise staying away from the meat and seafood sections. This ain't H.E.B. Fortunately, I'm an adventurous eater and I have come across some amazing food in this country.
After driving back halfway to Sisophon, we found a covered pavilion overlooking a small pond and ate lunch. On the lunch menu this afternoon was the ever present steamed rice, dried and grilled fish (heads on), fresh vegetables, a dish called amok (fermented fish paste that has the same scent and taste of a smelly cheese) and stuffed frog bodies. I don't know what was in the stuffing, probably didn't want to know or I might not have been bold enough to eat it. Cambodia71 Cambodia72 Cambodia75 After lunch and a video interview, we piled back into the car and decided to drive through the vast expanse of rice fields. Toro told me that during the rainy season Cambodians have control of the of the fields, but during the dry season, the fields are leased out to a Japanese company who can afford to irrigate the fields. As we navigate the dirt road, we make our way through a small village en route to another side of the expansive reservoir we visited earlier. At this particular site there was a large dam that allowed water to flow evenly into the rice fields. Vireak left Toro and I to wander around for ourselves while he drove back to the village to invite more friends to the funeral in a few days. As we walked the dam, Toro and I can across a group of young Buddhist monks taking a break from their studies. While Toro held another of his epic conversations, I took photos. After about an hour we started walking back toward the village, waiting for Vireak to return to pick us up. We arrived back at the house suitcase in hand much to Lor's excitement. It was a great day, ending in a family meal of more dried fish, fresh snails and greens and a few glasses of brandy with the guys. Cambodia77 Cambodia78

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

High School Soccer: Central vs Permian

CHSvsOPHsoccer02 I have a tough time photographing soccer. Not that I can't do it, but because I have a hard time standing on the sideline listening to all the bickering and arguing from fans and players. Yesterday's District 3-5A match between Central and Odessa Permian was a prime example of everything that's wrong with the sport. Over-zealous, penalty-happy officials (six yellow cards were dished out in the game) mixed with disrespectful attitudes from players and fans made for one excruciatingly long match.
It never failed, as soon as the official would blow his whistle, he was immediately surrounded by complaining players and a barrage of verbal obscenities from the stands. I was embarrassed. I was kind of hoping that there was a school district official there to witness what was going on. I don't know, maybe it was just me, but I've never seen a spectacle like that in my eight years of shooting high school sports. There was one bright spot in the game though, and I wish I could remember the names of the two players, but about halfway through the first half a player from Central and Permian got tangled up and both hit the ground pretty hard. If the two of them were to stay true to the theme of the game they both would have thrown their hands up in the air in protest as they fought to get up and run to the official to plead their case. But they didn't. After regaining their awareness the two players simply looked at each other, stuck their hands out and helped one another up off the ground and went on about the game. A simple act of sportsmanship amid the mass debauchery of unsportsmanlike conduct that was yesterday's game. To those two players, I salute you. CHSvsOPHsoccer01

A Mile High Wedding

AndyBeth05 A few weeks ago my wife and I took a quick trip up to Denver, Colorado to attend the wedding of my step-brother Andy and now sister-in-law Beth. Brooke and I had only been to Denver once before and that was back in 2009 when we were driving through on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days of camping and hiking. We were not going to be in Denver for very long, just about 48 hours really, before we needed to be back in Texas for another wedding that weekend.
Andy and Beth got married on Leap Day, February 29th, which was a Wednesday. They found a cool facility situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that overlooked the city of Denver. The original plan was to have the wedding ceremony outside and then move the party inside. "So, you're telling me that the wedding was is Denver, outside in February on a Wednesday?" Yep, and it couldn't have gone better. As it turned out, Wednesday was the nicest day of the entire week. There were clear blue skies, calm winds and a temperature of 57-degrees that day.
Andy and Beth had asked Brooke and I if we would take pictures for the wedding and of course, we said yes. I'm not a wedding photographer, not that I haven't done them before, but I just get so nervous that I'm going to screw up something awful and ruin this special day. Fortunately, the wedding went smoothly and fun was had by all. Now I'm editing through some of the photos and these are a few of my favorites so far. AndyBeth07 AndyBeth04 AndyBeth06 Another great thing about this wedding was that I was able to see my aunt and uncle who live in Denver and a few of my cousins. I only get to see them maybe once every 10 years. So, after all the food, drinks and dancing everyone could handle, the party broke up to head it's separate ways. I was going back to the hotel to kick off my dress shoes (arguably the most uncomfortable shoes I own), pour myself a drink and sit in the peace and quiet. Man, what a long day. But it was a good one. Congrats Andy and Beth! AndyBeth03 AndyBeth02 AndyBeth01