Doing the DU – Kathmandu in Hours

On our return trip from our Body & Soul Ministries eye surgery camps in Sumatra, Indonesia, Danny Carrigan and I stopped through Nepal to visit three of the nine human trafficking safe houses that we help sponsor with Save Asian Souls. In the context of that, we had a free morning to see some of the sites in the capitol Kathmandu. We hired a driver and traversed this rather large city to visit the three main “holiest” sites: Swayambjunath Buddhist “Monkey Temple”, the Hindu Pashupatinath temple complex and the Tibetan Boudhanath Stupa temple. It was quite the whirlwind tour! Here are a few iPhone pictures and video clips…

Tokyo Sumo Stable: Up Close and Personal

When they're not competing, sumo wrestlers train year round in designated sumo stables. These stables, which are mostly based in Tokyo's Ryogoku neighborhood, are where the city's wrestlers live, eat, sleep and practice on a near daily basis. I have wanted to visit one of these for many years. In early October, on my way to Indonesia and Laos for mission work, I finally had the chance. Seated on a raised floor with another 15 to 20 people, I watched silently for an hour and a half while the wrestlers pounded, grunted and chanted mere feet away (and sometimes less) – close enough to see and smell their sweat. I had been to a stadium tournament before (which only happen six times a year), but this was amazing – to experience it up close and personal!

Photo Philter Phun

Here are a few of my photographs after playing with them a bit – a filter that transposes them into illustrations – Inuyama, Jerusalem, Venice, Kenya, Nagoya and Ethiopia. Kinda’ phun!

428 Eyes Given Sight in Sumatra

Just returned from another successful Body & Soul Ministries/Caris Foundation eye surgery camp in Northern Sumatra – 428 eyes now see! We had a chance to follow up on 10 year old Rinaldi, who had both eyes operated on last year in the town of Dolok Sanggul in Batakland. It was wonderful to see him walking up to the house unassisted. Thanks to all who donate to this great work – you’re making a life-changing difference – all for only $125 per eye! We have performed over 7,000 cataract eye surgeries here in Sumatra in the last ten years.

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

I stopped by Japan enroute to Indonesia and had just enough time to bullet train up to Nagano to see the famous wild snow monkeys in the Yokoyu River valley. The Japanese macaques are known for bathing in the onsen (natural hot springs) during the cold winter months. And it was definitley one of those months – my Nikon trigger finger nearly broke off from frostbite – I sure wish I could've joined them in the hot spring. Fun to watch them playing with each other, picking at each other and pretending we weren't around.

Whirlwind Southeast Asia Foray

In early October, a fellow Body & Soul Ministries board member and I did a quick trek to Indonesia and Vietnam to check-in on two of our projects in this part of the world. In just eight days we went on twelve flights – almost 60 hours in the air – using Singapore as our central hub. Our team accomplished 231 cataract eye surgeries on the island of Nias in Northern Sumatra and we had the opportunity to see our new English school in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Here are a few representative images from a fast-paced journey.

Investing in Filipino Youth

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2012, killing thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The Body & Soul Ministries Tree of LIfe program provides educational support to affected poor children in the northern part of the island of Cebu, giving them an opportunity for personal advancement that would otherwise be difficult, at best. With the help of generous donors sponsoring students in this program, we assist over 100 children who are in need of clothing, books, tuition and food. BandS fellow board member Danny Carrigan accompanied me on a visit to our school in August to monitor and document the progress of a program that is making a huge difference in the lives of these kids and in the community at large.

Rinaldi Can Now See!

This is Rinaldi Banjor Nahor. He is an 11 year old boy from outside the town of Dolok Sanguul, who has had two cataracts since the age of one. Rinaldi's eyes are two of the 446 eyes that Body & Soul Ministries, in partnership with Caris Foundation International, completed the week of March 20-25 in the Batak area of Northern Sumatra. A BandS’ fellow board member Danny Carrigan and I were there with the medical team we use from Medan. Drs. Pinto and Jusni do a remarkable job as do the entire team. We are proud to be associated with them. BandS has completed over 6,000 cataract surgeries here in Sumatra since 2005. Thank you to all of our generous and loyal contributors. BandS founder Dr. John Bailey and all of us that are blessed to play a part in this great work truly appreciate the difference you are making in the lives of thousands of Indonesians.

Ankoku Butoh in Nagoya

My friend Kiyoko took me to the Autumn Festival in Nagoya while I was there in October visiting her and her family. One of events at the festival was an interpretive street dance performance called "Ankoku Butoh." It is a rather surreal, nihilistic form of dance that had it's genesis post-WWII in response to and rejection of societal norms. Painted gold, sparsely clad, grotesque/distorted movements and seemingly nonsensical – suffice it to say, it was interesting.

What a Difference a Year Makes...

My son Gregory Jr. and his wife Cecilia celebrate one year since our little bundle of pure joy, Emery, came into the world. What a blessing she is! We went back to the Japanese Gardens at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens to recreate a few shots – here’s one...

October Odyssey

Just returned from a fortnight visiting Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan. Here are a few images: Can Tho City on the Mekong River in the southern part of the country and a brief layover in Tokyo and Nagoya. 

Indonesia Eye Surgery Camps Reach 6,000

I just returned with fellow Body & Soul Ministries board member Danny Carrigan from another very successful eye surgery camp on the island of Nias, Indonesia. Drs. Pinto and Jusni performed 238 surgeries this camp – bringing our total to just over 6,000 eyes that have been operated on in the eleven years since Dr. John Bailey first got involved with this mission. The biannual camps are financed by BandS Ministries and Caris Foundation. Please consider donating to this great work – it is truly making an immediate difference in the lives of these people, their families and their communities. Here are a few images that I hope help tell the story:

New English School in Vietnam

The Body & Soul Ministries Vietnam English school mission is expanding! The school that was established two years ago to assist children around Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta area now has 200 students. Poor children here can't afford to take the supplemental English that is necessary to pass their tests and move on. They only take one hour per week in school. Learning English here is important to advance in school and vocationally going forward in life. The need is so great that we are now starting a new English school about 45 miles from Can Tho. Our BandS school director Ngan Huynh has done an amazing job establishing and operating these schools. Please consider donating to this work and feel free to share this post with your friends. Here are a few pictures showing the new building and some of poor children who will benefit greatly from this new school:

The Slow Train to Narita

I think the local train from Ueno Station in central Tokyo to Narita City near the airport must have stopped at every station. What should have been an hour ride turned into two. Here's a brief synopsis...

Sunday Morning at Compass

Compass Christian Church offers the worship experience to everyone – young, old, churched or unchurched. The mission is “Navigating People to God”, and that is accomplished in the local church, online and through domestic and international mission work. As a member of the volunteer photography staff, I was tasked to capture a typical service – here are just a few representative images.

509 Eyes Now See!

The annual eye surgery camps sponsored by Caris Foundation and Body and Soul Ministries took place from March 19 through 24 in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. We operated in three cities outside of Medan: Simalungun, Balige and Sidikalang. 509 surgeries were performed in three very busy days. It is truly wonderful to see such immediate results and witness the joy and appreciation of people who have been given sight!

Everyday Life in Northern Sumatra

Here are a few images of life in the Lake Toba area of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. I was there to document the annual eye surgery camps of Caris Foundation and Body and Soul Ministries. The Batak people are very friendly and welcoming.

Snapshot of a Kenyan Town

I recently ran across several images that I shot a few years ago around the town of Malindi, on the coast of Kenya. We were there for the Caris Foundation’s annual surgery camps that operated there for many years. Seeing these pictures again brought the experience back, so I thought I’d share them.

Vietnam School for Poor Children

The English school in Can Tho City that Body & Soul Ministries sponsors is making a real difference in the community – offering an opportunity for poor children to learn English. Learning English makes a huge difference in getting into college in Vietnam and also in the type of career path that will be available for them in the future. As a board member, I had the opportunity to visit and document the good work being done there in November.

30 Hours in Tokyo

It’s a glorious day outside as I speed along on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Hakone. The sun is shining on the land of the rising sun today. Last night, not so much.

I’m on my way to the “Culture Day” festival that happens to be today, November 3rd. Oh, and I just saw Mt. Fuji race by in the distance between the blur of high rise office monoliths and endless rice paddies.

Navigating the trains from Narita City, where I stayed last night, is becoming second nature for me. The local JR train into Tokyo Station is just over an hour, with multiple stops to let on black-uniformed school kids and blue-suited business men.

The first time I stayed at Kirinoya Ryokan in Narita was 30 years ago and I’ve been back at least another four times since. A family run minshuku for over 120 years, it is the epitome of old traditional Edo Japan. Tatami floored rooms, rice paper sliding doors, weathered wood and traditonal baths. My bill was only ¥3750 ($31) -- AND they chauffeured me to and fro. Nice place, nicer people. I will be signing their guest book once again in the future I’m sure.

Dinner at a fresh eel restaurant I had seen a year ago on the winding road up from the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in the old town was just what I was craving for. The grilled unagi was divine and went down deliciously, though I was almost sleep eating -- middle of the night back home, you know.

And this 30-hour layover on my way to Vietnam is just enough to whet the appetite and remind me of why I fell in love with this land almost 35 years ago.The 30-minute bullet train ride is the perfect vantage point to take it all in all over again. A flood of memories race by of the many times I have been a welcomed guest here.

From Otawara Station it’s a quick transfer to the local Hakone Tozan Railway to begin a slow, winding climb into the mountains. I’m pleasantly pleased and surprised -- I had no idea of the beauty. There are vestiges of Fall foliage painting a vibrant palette on the peaks and valleys en route – a cornucopia of color.

The town is situated along the Hayakawa River, wending its way over bridges and up and down the valley, hugging the rocky shores. And that’s exactly the course the parade has taken -- a several hour meandering through the twists and turns of this popular hot springs town.Traditionally clad geisha, war lords, Daimyos samurai warriors and princesses recreate an era gone by in a streaming procession past hordes of eager spectators. After a couple stops along the way for festival food offerings of yakatori, octopus balls and mongi sweet cakes its back to the station for the decent down the mountain.

It’s still early so I have more than enough time after riding the local to Odawara, Shinkansen back to Tokyo Station, and the JR Yamamoto Line to Kanda, where I transfer downstairs to the Ginza Subway six stops to my destination, a must go-to every time I’m here -- Asakusa.

I love the approach to Asakusa Kanon Temple -- an avenue of mini shops selling trinkets, souvenirs, sweets and all things Japan. The crowds are enormous, more than I’ve ever experienced. No doubt Culture Day is being celebrated here also.

And before I know it a parade breaks out near the enormous temple. The steady beat of drums accompany a flock of people-sized swans dancing with choreographed precision. I was able to squirm my way through the masses to a vantage point close enough to capture the procession as it migrated towards the 1000 year-old building.

Antique searching is always one of the main reasons I like coming here. Asakusa has retained its old town ambiance with much of its history still intact unlike the ultra modern rest of Tokyo. There are a few favorite little shops I hit that I scour in hopes of bringing home an addition to the collection.

I haven’t eaten much today since I got such a early start, so a quick bite is a must prior to heading to Haneda for my 1:30 a.m. flight. Some grilled mackerel, miso, pickled-cucumber and a Kirin hits the spot.

I’m pretty well worn out with all the leg-walking and jet-lagging, but I still have 6 or 7 hours. But, I’m really just too tired and don’t know what else I could muster up enough energy to do. So, I’m off to Haneda Airport via the circuitous train, subway and monorail route.

Settling into a guest lounge now to wait out my departure is dragging by and I’m wishing I had taken full advantage of my brief Nihon foray. Who knows when my path will come this way again. 

And once again I am immensely impressed with this place – their sense of the aesthetic, fastidiousness for cleanliness, exacting efficiency, and propensity for politeness. There’s no place like it anywhere I’ve been around the world. And the contrast will be dramatically illustrated the moment I land at my next destination – Saigon, Vietnam.

Simply put, I simply can’t wait to come back – already.