May-June 2014 Trip Highlight #1

Okay, so for this trip, I finally decided to invest in a nicer camera (a compact sensor one). I don’t want to make this a review of the camera (I will ramble much, and not all of it will be good), so I’ll skip that part. But I’ll post some of the nicer photos here, just because … why the hell not?

Hong Kong, walking from train station to Airport Express station. Beautiful night!
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Hong Kong: I’d never before been able to take a good photo of this boat. Now, it showed its best side…
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Seoul, beautiful colors…
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Seoul, old palace.
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Seoul, a neat “pot,” with what was my inspiration for the “scholar stones” in one of my stories after the first time I visited South Korea (and a utterly scandalized face in it, for the more imaginative ones out there).
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Seoul, view to the south.
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Seoul, view to the north (this was about 15 minutes before a thunderstorm kicked up behind those mountains).
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Seoul: and to finish this … apricots. Yum.
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Finally Home…

Was on a longer business/time-off trip again, and it’s good to be back.

So good, I have the inexplicable desire to write about the trip.

I’ve decided to split the posts into topics, in the hope that that will help me post at least a couple of the ones I intend to post as of right now — before I get bored. =D

Highlights of Yesterday

So, first and foremost — I wrote last night! And I don’t mean that I nibbled at a story. I actually sat down and the scenes unfolded, easily and naturally, like they do when I CAN write. This is a big deal, because it had been a while. I think I needed to get some of that piled up lelf-brain energy off my chest before I could dive back into writing.

So — yey!

Other things that are happening:

1. I’m not a big tech-geek. I know my way inside and out of a computer, I generally follow new developments in electronics for the hell of it, but you won’t see me getting all excited about gadgets. Well, ok, you might, but it wouldn’t be in the “I-want-one” sort of way, unless it’s, lets say, a spaceship. Or a teleport. Or a time machine. Or an eternal youth generator. You get the idea.

BUT! I just ordered a Entourage Edge, and I’m hyper-excited about it. Now, I wouldn’t call it a cutting-edge technology device. It’s pretty much a tablet netbook combined with an e-reader.  It’s not even that fancy. Or sleek. Or even feature-loaded. But, you see, when e-readers first started coming out, I said “What a neat concept!” I have a tough time reading on backlit screens, so this promised to be the perfect solution for me to go paperless without going blind. Then, however, came the blow. What do you mean, I can’t store or edit my stories, or see or touch up my artwork / photos in color on the damn things? Or, considering it’s the 21st century, what do you mean I can’t access Wikipedia or my online dictionary, or search the net, or check my email, or, or…

You get the idea. I didn’t want yet another dedicated piece of electronics sitting around my place. Yes, modern e-readers have a lot more flexibility and features nowadays, but they still feel like limited purpose devices with some bells and whistles to make the marketing team happy. The Entourage Edge promises to be a different story. I can’t wait to play with it!

2. I’m going on a trip kick. Traveling to Asia and not having any free time to explore maybe reawakened the bug. Or maybe wrapping up some stressful projects at work has given me the peace of mind to think about wandering around the world again. Don’t know. Anyway. Right now, I haven’t even settled on a destination yet. But I’m starting to look into it. More to come.

Back From the Great Industrial Wilds of Asia

So, I’m back, in one piece.

This was an interesting trip, both work-related (which I can’t discuss here, and wouldn’t even if I could) and general culture-wise.

For one, my perception of China changed quite a bit. Until this trip, I had traveled to only a couple of Chinese provinces, both with a long history as trading/industrial centers. For many reasons, these places are greatly polluted and overpopulated.

I hold a special love for Hong Kong – I’m a HK action flicks addict and the place feels like an (n+1)th home to me — and, considering Hong Kong’s history, I have a hard time thinking of it as part of China. But I’ve been to several other cities in the Guangdong province, and they’ve been pretty depressing to me. I experienced about the same thing in Shanghai and its outskirts.

But on this trip, I visited a central China city (an aerospace and metallurgy center for China) — and, boy, what a difference. This was probably one of the best maintained large cities I’ve seen in my whole life. Sure, traffic was as bad as anywhere else in China (and that’s pretty bad), but, otherwise, it was a different — and very clean — world. I was impressed. Also, I had a chance to visit some cultural spots there, including an active archeological dig, and I was also pretty glad to see a respect and pride in history.

So, all in all, very interesting trip.

On the writing side, I didn’t do much. I had very little downtime on this trip. And, to my surprise, most of it went into developing a “written script” for my “Common” language for one of my fantasy worlds (All Things Made Of Shadows and Broken Circles take place in this world). It’s a silly, fairly pointless exercise (mostly for the sake of brainsturbation), but it turned out to be incredibly fun.

So, now the “Common” language has grown to have a set grammar, an about 100-word vocabulary, and a written script that needs a little more ironing out, but I’m generally happy with.

I’m not doing it for a specific purpose (if any of the stories of this world get published, you won’t be seeing actual Common appearing in them — except that in one place, I use the Common grammar with English to show one of the characters mixing up foreign — to them – languages). Way back when, the whole thing started as a vague idea for a puzzle in a game module. The game module idea has since gone into the closet, buried under hundreds others like it, but I’ve found that occasionally playing with the language is fun. And fun things don’t die in my world.

I don’t know if I’ll share more of the language here or on my website. I’m often tempted to make some of my story background processes or “fun” activities public (even if the traffic through this blog and my website is tiny and consists mostly of spambots). I usually resist the temptation – because, after all, what’s the point — but, who knows. I occasionally get organizational and presentational impulses, so maybe one day, I’ll publish the Common vocabulary or script, for the hell of it.

Most importantly, I’m back. Yey!

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] The Fighting Thirteen

I’ve just returned from the Viable Paradise XIII workshop — and, wow, what an experience!

I wasn’t certain what to expect, so I was hopeful, but prepared to find it a waste of time and money. So, I was very happy when I found my hopes fulfilled and my preparations unjustified.

Viable Paradise is an intensive week of critiques, lectures, collegiums, writing, and interaction with other aspiring and established authors and editors (and some mandatory fun). It was exhausting. It was very hard on the ego. But it was also very insightful, fulfilling, and, boy, were there some really excellent folk there, both on the student and on the instructor/staff sides!

I originally intended to write a detailed report of the week, but I’ve decided against it. (As they say, what happens on the island, stays on the island). So, that’s that.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] Excuses, excuses…

I’ve been a sporadic entrant into the Writers of the Future contest (and sometimes the Illustrator part too) for the last two years. Today is the last day to submit for the 4th quarter for this year’s round. I had considered submitting both art and writing. But, my printer decided to not cooperate and printed everything purple (I just moved, so I probably need to reset and recalibrate the thing), and I didn’t finish the story I planned on sending till 1:20am last night — and I usually need it to sit for a few days before I can give it a final edit and have the confidence it’s not complete garbage.

So, I’m not entering anything this quarter. Ah, well.

I still haven’t heard on my submission for last quarter. I know my art submission bombed (my friend, the super-cool M.O. Muriel, got finalist, so I know the winners have been contacted — and I’ve heard zilch), and my story was on the sucky/experimental side, so my expectations for it aren’t high.

On the other hand, after the final edit on the short, I can go back to my longer writing. I expect I’ll come back from Massachusetts with a serious amount of notes for the Viable Paradise piece (the beginning of my novel Brief Horizons), so I’ll probably end up on focusing on this. But I guess I’ll see when I get there.

[From “Nothing Much — And Then Even Less”] So, now that the first post is out of the way …

Four more days, and I’m flying out to Massachusetts, to attend the Viable Paradise XIII workshop.

Needless to say, I’m duly panicked. I’ve never attended an official workshop before, and I’m not really sure what to expect. I understand there will be some tearing apart of the writing I sent as my application, and also tearing apart other people’s writing. I attend (and currently host and organize) a writing group, so I’ve had some experience with critiquing fiction, although my group uses more of a conversation style, rather than “the reviewer talks and writer stays quiet” format I’ve seen recommended across the internet. But I also understand there will be on-the-spot writing, which I’ve never had to do and I’m really nervous about. And I tend to be intimidated by Names. And Names there will be.

So, I’m counting days and fretting away. I’ve let the piece of writing I used for my application sit untouched, and it’s taking quite a bit of willpower to do so. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’ll think it’s the worst piece of crap under the sun when I hear other people talk about it or read it at the workshop. Harboring severe lack of self-confidence makes life fun. I can’t wait!

Either way, I’ve decided to start this blog to follow my experiences at the workshop, my adventures as an aspiring author, and more or less anything else that strikes my fancy. I’ve attempted other blogs before, but have never been good at keeping them up to date. I sincerely hope I’ll do better with this one.

So, to get my “introduction” to the whole wide world out of the way: My given name is Irina Ivanova. I’ve been contemplating using a pen name for a long time, and think I’ve finally settled on adopting “Rilan White.” All my decisions are subject to change, of course, but right now, this name feels right for several different reasons that I won’t go into here. (if you’re still curious: for one of the reasons I don’t want to use my given name, do a Google search for “Irina Ivanova” — I’ll just tell you that I’m not Russian, and then you’ll probably understand)

I’m an engineer by profession. I wrote my first science fiction story just over twenty years ago. I drew my first fantasy scene at around the same time. I think all history before steam engines is fascinating. I’m cautiously hopeful and love speculating about the future. However, in my own fiction I tend to put aside the likely and instead explore the unlikely. I love adventure and I love stories about overcoming (or manipulating) the odds. I also have a very soft spot for lone wolf tales. Generally, I’m attracted to grittier stories with realistic, darker characters in extraordinary (from our point of view) situations. That’s where I like to keep most of my writing, though I’ve also tried my hand at high concept shorts, hard sci-fi, and lighter tone prose.

Until about two years ago, writing was only a hobby for me. Since then, I’ve grown hopeful it may become more. Whether this notion is at all realistic remains to be seen, of course. And I hope to use this blog to show my progress.

[From “Behind Ya”] Bulgaria Trip 2005

Ok, decided to revive this… This is how far I had gotten the first time I tried to do my trip report. Hopefully, putting it up again will motivate me to finish it (I’ve got the pictures and the notes, I just need to get off my lazy fat ass and wrap it up!)

Two years ago, I took a trip to Bulgaria. I had a camera with me. This will be the place I’ll post the pictures.
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Pleven, Bulgaria.

The city I was born in. A concrete paradise… Actually, one of the cities that is recovering pretty quickly from the turbulent times in the last decade+ … Still remaining one of the ulgier ones, unfortunately.

View from the hotel room:

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Now, one of these amazing things that can happen to you in BG is the following. You’re wandering about aimlessly. You decide to check out a little old church. You look into the main room, it’s actually kind of boring, just another church room thing, an altar, the thingies for the candles, a few icons (it’s an orthodox christians church). But you happen to notice some stairs leading up. You’re bored, no signs that say you can’t walk up, so you do. It’s dark up there. Hell, whatever.

But you’re curious now, and on the way out, you ask the dude that’s hanging out at the entrance what’s up there. Blankly, he tells you that for 1 lev ($0.60), he’ll turn the lights on. Why the hell not. The pitiful old place can use the donation anyway.

So, you walk back upstairs. And you suddenly find yourself in a very pretty little room, with beautiful wall and ceiling paintings… And you read, on a little plaque, that these are paintings preserved from the 12th century! And they are right there, right in front of you, and you can touch them if you want!

I guess I’ll leave out any commentaries I’ve got about Bulgarians and their attitude towards their history and cultural heritage… Here is one of the better pictures I took in the place (disregard the cheesy modern icon hung on the wall):

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One of the trips I took was to a little village in an ethnographic reservation. It’s pretty much a village where houses from the Bulgarian Revival (end of 19th century / beginning of the 20th century) are preserved. The village is called Bojentsi, and it’s simply a beautiful place.

On the way to the village, I passed through another ethnographic museum in the open, Etara in Gabrovo. Another very nice place to visit, in the less populated hours of the day/week. I actually did go back to Etara, and I had a chance to visit right after closing hours (I’m not sure if I was supposed to be able to enter, but hell, the gate was still open, and nobody was there to get on my case for it! =)… And that was one of these experiences where words aren’t enough. It wouldn’t do it justice to say it was as if I were transported back in time. The sun hit just right from over the mountain, the air was fresh, there was a lingering scent of burning wood in the air, and nobody but me… I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

Pictures from the first trip:

Trying to get a shot with as few people as possible… The only place where there was no crowd was on the road behind the houses, by a small river running through the village:

The bridge over the river:

The meadow next to the houses (you can see the inn I stayed at next time I visited):

This is from Bojentsi. Typical houses from the early 1900’s…

This is the house where I ended up eating lunch. They also give the room to guests, but I never got a chance to sleep over in the village. Next time, I will.

The view from the house (during lunch):

A typical path between the houses:

My dream house. ‘nuf said:

A house restored and touched up to a semi-modern look. I believe they rent the house out or something… I’m not sure I like the look that much (see picture above for my idea of perfection), but I took the picture for my mom, who was trying to figure a way to modernize this type of architecture…

Pretty sky:

Actually probably one of my favorite pictures… Just a ruined wall in the middle of nowhere…

After looking around Bojentsi, I took a hike to the nearest larger town (with the idea to catch a train to the nearest big city, from which I was to take the bus back to the capitol… that didn’t quite work to plan, but the hike was amazing).

I actually had a really interesting meeting and conversation with a couple of the old folk who still live in the village. There were an elderly couple watching over a couple of grazing sheep. It was very nice, and, unfortunately, very sad, talking to them. I left them with the feel of a generation, no, a mentality of an entire nation, dying out. There is a certain beauty in simplicity, an inherent warmth and personabilty in people who have grown up and lived their lives so close to nature.

But enough of that, and back to the photos.

A meadow in the forest:

The path through the forest:

And more greenery:

And more… You can guess what floats my boat, no?

Pretty wild rose bush, with the Balkan ranges in the background:

And the final destination (the town of Tryavna, another very nice place to visit). I ended up missing the train by a few minutes, so I had to take a taxi… That was NOT a fun ride.

The clock tower:

A town square (please ignore the cars):

The main street in the old part of town, painted by a nice sunset:

And the last treat of the night… Veliko Tarnovo (the Tsarevets fortress) at night. Veliko Tarnovo is the historic capitol of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (there are actually some people who strongly believe it should be capitol once again =). Also a very nice place to visit. I returned for a day exploration of Tsarevets later and took some better pictures.

A poor quality, standard angle, photograph of the fortress at dusk (I was running out of batteries ~ a story which would once again bring me to a discussion of modern Bulgarian mentality, but I won’t go there ~ so the only way I could take a picture was to run the camera without any auto functions… and it was a cheap ass camera anyway):

I returned to my hometown a week or so later, and this time was able to squeeze in some sight-seeing between running errands.

The community (and later fortress) Storgozia is the original establishment in this location. It is located in the Kailuka park just outside of Pleven (another nice place to visit).

The inner fortress:

The entrance:

Greenery (the path which leads from the fortress to where my family used to own a piece of land). Kailuka park is in the canyon below:

And more greenery:

And more…

Can’t ever get tired of it, really:

Have I bored you to death yet?

And now? =)

The outer wall entrance:

A close-up of the sign explaining the history of the fortress (used for target practice… more temptetion for social commentary I will resist):

My next outing was pretty randomly chosen. I went to the bus station, saw the first bus taking off for some place that sounded interesting… and ended up in Troyan.

First stop was the Troyanski Monastery.

The main church:

Some wall paintings in a part of the church that I know has a name but can’t think of it right now:

Another shot of the inner yard (whatamacallit =) of the monastery. I really could do my research and actually make these captions informative too:

And then, I decided to do some hiking through the mountain.

I didn’t have any sleeping arrangements, so I decided to walk to a chalet and stay the night there, then maybe walk to a town on the other side of the mountain and catch a bus back to HQ from there. Needless to say, no plan survives enemy contact. I was at most an hour into true wilderness when the Balkan weather showed its teeth: one minutes I’ve got blue skies, next minute I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere in pouring rain.

Maybe about thirty minutes before, I had passed a shelter (a log hut with a bed and a blanket and a key on the inside =); I waited for a while, hoping that the rain will let up. That didn’t happen, and even though I had good boots and all, I didn’t know the trails well, didn’t want to chance it, and decided to go back to the shelter and wait out the rain.

The rain finally started subduing in a couple of hours, and I snapped a picture from the shelter (ignore power lines, please):

Well, not for a moment am I sorry I was stupid enough to take this trip — the beauty of the mountain after the rain was beyond words (I didn’t remember to take pictures, sorry). I had lost too much time to try to get to the chalet before dark, so I decided to go back to Troyan. But not willing to just backtrack my steps, I took another trail, which led by another monastery.

I met some very interesting people up there — the lady who took care of the monastery (the Zelenikovski Monastery, which was not functioning as a monastery at this point) and a British lady with a broken leg who was boarding at the monastery. I ended up renting a bed in the monastery and spent the night there. No electricity makes for great conversations, I tell you!

After a glorious thunderstorm during the night, badly flea-bitten yet rather happy, I was back on my way to civilization.

The day after, the weather gloating:

A house on the way (note the dog; I walked on this road for maybe an hour and not a single vehicle drove by):

(to be continued)