Photo Essay

Insidious disease grips the Far East

White knuckling it

Catching the flu or a bug can be a frightening experience. This is especially true if your living overseas as an expatriate. Here in Far East Asia, the fear of SARS and Bird Flu come readily to mind. Even the simplest bug, of the non-lethal variety can lay you up for anywhere from a couple of days to more than a week. Add the language barriers associated in communicating with medical people, even in your native tongue, and it's a scary situation to say the least.

One bug in particular tends to afflict people living on or traveling to Okinawa more than any other. It's quite insidious and is extremely frightening for older folks. This is especially true if you're a retiree living on a fixed budget. If one catches this disease, expenses can quickly run into the thousands of dollars. The worst part of it all is that there is absolutely no cure presently known to medical science available to treat it.

The bug I'm talking about is even more terrible if you live in a place with amazing beauty and natural wonderment like Okinawa. You could even say that if you happen to live here, it may even mean that you're doomed! That's because if you happen to come down with this bug, you're not going to be able to resist the temptation and lie down and wait out the fever. The particular bug I'm talking about is the camera bug.

In the days of film cameras, this disease used to be kept in check by having to constantly to run to the store for rolls of film or from having to wait to get your pictures developed. Back then, only the really hard core junkies developed their own. These days with the advent of digital cameras and personal computers, all you need to get your daily fix satiated is to snap a couple of quick pictures and plug your camera into your computer. You might be forgiven for asking "Who needs the camera store anymore?"

To compound this acute non-medical condition, my good friend of many years and fellow expatriate living in Okinawa caught the bug too. The bad part was, when he caught it, it hit him extremely hard. Usually this disease hits the average person and progresses from the digital pocket camera, to the advanced point and shoot, to the digital SLR and on up to the professional variety. When it hit him however, it went straight up to the digital SLR stage of the disease.

Even then experts tell us that this disease manifests its progression by moving from shooting portraits of family and pets around the house to the flowers in the wife's garden. From there it progresses from macro shots of bugs to wide angle shots of scenery and wildlife during the family vacation. Soon people are calling you and enabling your addiction by inviting you to bring your camera and asking you to shoot portraits of their family and friends. My good friend having been hit with a more advanced form of the disease, nearly knocked me off my feet when he told me that he enrolled in an online course in professional photography.

Having such a close friend so severely afflicted in turn drew me deeper into the disease. Soon we were getting together at least once a week to get our fix. It started with shooting scenery and wildlife along the beach near his house. It was only a few weeks later we were driving around the central part of the island looking for opportunities to shoot photographs; me for my newspaper stories and he for his school assignments. Like any addiction, this disease knows no bounds. Soon we were both posting photos and photo essays on websites like JPG and Everywhere Magazine.

Now I find myself visiting camera stores every chance I get. The Base Exchange has a camera section with a fair selection of beginner cameras, advanced point and shoot as well as the occasional DSLR but even that was quickly found to be insufficient to satisfy my lust. I started sneaking around to visit camera stores off base to see what they had. I knew I was doomed when I found one that had English speaking staff and cameras that could be programmed in English. Even worse, I could purchase a whole new camera ensemble or accessories for my old one here for less than I could get on base.

Wanting not to touch my credit card for fear of what that might do for my addiction; I started looking at accessories for my old camera. The first one was the tri-pod. It was really too short for me and since I tended to shoot action photos in crowded situations, I thought a monopod might suit me better. Then because of the brilliant sunlight here, a circular polarizing filter came next. After that came the 1.7 teleconverter for those long distance shots. Before I new it, my $395.00 investment in my advanced point and shoot camera had grown to well over $600.00.

Even then it wasn't enough. My friend and fellow camera junkie insisted that I needed a real tripod instead of just using my monopod or as he called it, my "camera on a stick." After all, if I really wanted to shoot clear landscapes, telephoto and long exposure shots, the tripod was the only way to go! Like a junkie looking for that next fix, I was not only hooked, I was going over the edge and headed for a fall.

I found myself in a conundrum and knew that I was in need of serious help. Going cold turkey might mean cutting off my supplemental retirement income. I began looking through the newspaper ads and online to see if a 12 step program for those afflicted with the camera bug existed. Unable to locate one, it looks as though I'll be white knuckling it for the time being. Continuing on in my disease means that next year's tax refund will be all blown on a new Digital SLR. What a bitter sweet dilemma. Now the questions arise, do I remain brand loyal or do I switch from Sony to Nikon or Cannon? Decisions, decisions!

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