Round the World Traveling – Taking it all in

Taking it all in. By now – they are looking forward to being home. In ten months, they have traveled through 10 countries, they have experienced almost everything that the local culture has to offer, they have hiked on the highest mountains, crawled through caves, swam in Indian Ocean, ate fresh croissants in Paris, and deep fried grasshoppers in Cambodia. They have made many friends along the way, and have already made plans to visit those friends in another 8 years. During that time, they have visited many extraordinary places – the temples in Angor, seen re-creations of Roman era battles in a Roman era arena, have seen 1500 year old churches/mosques, visited the sites of ancient battles, and the beaches of Normandy. They have seen the best in human civilization and have seen some of the worst at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The past 10 months have been an extraordinary journey. Soon we head back to our home in Yellowknife and settle back into a routine to work and school. It simply won’t be the same. They have changed – their world now extends beyond the border of Yellowknife, and most importantly, it includes an understanding of other cultures, other people, other languages, other foods, and how they all blend and work together in our daily lives.

 

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Hot Air Balloons in Goreme (Turkey)

Selected photos of hot air balloons in Goreme, Cappadiccia (Turkey).  All photos taken either while in a hot air balloon, or balloons in-flight – me on Terra Firma.  If you get the chance – do it !

Click on a photo to make it bigger, then click on the small arrows to move to the next photo.

 

 

Around the World with Fuji-X series (X-Pro & X-E1)

A post about camera gear.

I’ve dreaded writing this post for fear of being ‘labelled/classified’ as one of those camera gear – type people.

This post in reply to the emails and Facebook messages lately asking what camera gear I am using while travelling around the world for 10 continuous months. I have both the Fujifilm X-series X-Pro and X-E1 cameras, and the answer to the other question. No – I am not selling my Nikon camera gear. There, two questions answered !.

Those that know me, know that I have a large collection of Nikon camera gear. So – why not bring my usual Nikon gear ?. Travelling for 10 months to foreign places is the ultimate photo opportunity. By experience, I have learned to always carry two camera bodies – each body with a different lens; one body with a wide angle lens, and the other body with a telephoto lens. Having two bodies, also provides the security of a backup if one camera breaks (lesson learned). Although the D700 and with a (14-24mm /17-35mm) wide angle lens, and (85mm / 70-200mm) telephoto lens combination is absolutely fantastic, I did not want to be burdened with the size and weight of all that camera gear. I wanted to travel relatively light, and not be overly noticeable as a photographer with camera gear dangling from my neck, or carried in a specialized camera bag that seems to advertise ‘steal me / rob me’.

Based on the anticipated use during the travels; predominantly street, with some landscape and general travel documentary photography, and after researching other brands, I settled on the Fuji X system since these cameras are an excellent compromise between size, weight, features, and quality. As per usual I bought two cameras – the (at the time flagship model) X-Pro, and the X-E1. Between the X-Pro and X-E1 there are a lot of similarities; both use the same sensor (I cannot see any difference between the images taken using the X-E1 or X-Pro), both use the same battery and flash, the camera controls are almost the same, and both cameras are roughly the same size and weight (although the X-E1 is a little smaller and lighter). The biggest difference is that the X-E1 has a tiny (but effective) pop-up flash, and the X-Pro is slightly larger and has a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder.

For lenses, I brought the Fuji 14mm f/2.8, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. I would have loved to have brought the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 as well. Enroute, bought a Samyang 8mm fisheye mostly for panoramas and street photography (this lens is manual focus; whereas Fuji lenses are all fly-by-wire and re-set each time the camera is turned on/off). Compared to the Nikon lenses, the Fuji (and Samyang) lenses are light-weight. The two cameras fit in a non-descript, black Timbuk2 saddle bag with room to spare for one extra lens, extra batteries, extra memory cards, filters, lens cleaning cloth, a water bottle, notepad and pen, water bottle, sunglasses other smaller items …and a 6-pack of beer !.

Complete list of camera gear:

  • Fuji X-Pro (with hand grip)
  • Fuji X-E1 (with DIY hand grip)
  • Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 55-200mm lenses
  • Samyang 8mm lens
  • Fuji flash X20
  • 5x batteries, and charger
  • UV filters for all lenses, except 8mm
  • Hoya 8xND and circular polarizer
  • Manfrotto tripod head (494RC2), Cullmann tripod (Nanomax 260) – carrying it almost got me shot !
  • MacBook Pro + 2x external hard drives
  • Lowepro soft lens case
  • Lowepro hip pack (fits inside the Timbuk2 bag)
  • Timbuk2 shoulder bag
  • SD card reader, lens cleaning cloths, Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush

Thus far, at 7 months into the journey my camera gear has travelled through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard busses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). I have leaned a lot about how well the X-E1 and X-Pro perform in these diverse environmental conditions – for the most part they performed well, although not without flaws. On a couple of occasions gigantic blobs of dust appeared on the sensor, and could not be removed by the built on sensor-shake-cleaner, requiring a cleaning with an Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush. Autofocus is slow, though this has been greatly improved in X-E2 and X-T1 – so do not plan to use the X-E1 or X-Pro for sports or nature (e.g. flying birds) photography. Both the X-E1 and X-Pro have EV-compensation dials that are easily rotated off ‘0’, resulting in over or under exposed images. Neither cameras weather sealing (X-T1 does), so use a clear plastic bag when photographing a water ballon fight (e.g. Holi – Festival of Color in Nepal). Burst shooing at six frames/second ? – forget it, unless you want your camera to lock up for several minutes while the camera writes the images to the memory card. The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Using a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro is unlike using a DSLR; the entire process and feeling is different. Simply- you have to enjoy using the cameras, and know what you are doing, and adjust your photography technique. Read other blogs, and read that some people have a ‘Love Hate Relationship’ with their X-E1/X-Pro. For me, it is the right tool for the job; I love the size, I love the weight (or lack of weight), I love the ergonomics of the X-Pro (whereas my D700 feels like a 5 pound brick), I love the colours of the photos, and I love that the images do not need much post processing. An added advantage of the smaller X-Pro and X-E1 cameras is that they are far more discrete that a full-size DSLR, I never stood out as a photographer, and blended into the role of tourist giving me far more freedom and access than if I had a large DSLR around my neck.

Will I sell the Fuji cameras when I get home and go back to Nikon DSLR, or keep the X-E1/X-Pro and sell the Nikon ?.

Neither – I will keep both the Fuji cameras and the Nikon. My style of photography is quite diverse; ranging from landscape, portrait, sports, wildlife, private and commercial work. Both the large Nikon and small Fuji are capable cameras, though both are completely different in capabilities. Choosing one or the other depends on the requirements of the situation. One blogger even referred to the “thoughtful” shooter – that is, you take the time to compose your image properly, check your settings, etc.

Should you buy a X-E1/X-Pro ?.

No – I’d recommend getting either the X-E2, X-T1 or waiting until the X-Pro2 is released.

Bottom line. I am very happy with my Fuji cameras and lenses, they may not be the ‘best’ travel cameras – though they are significantly smaller, and lighter than large DSLRs, and produce beautiful pictures time after time.

 

Foreign Travel & People Pictures

SHSB7122During the past 8 months we have traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Nepal and Turkey.

I have taken 100’s of thousands of photos; landscape, architecture (modern to ancient), street photos, markets, farmers fields, cows, horses, farm machinery, beaches, sunrises, and sunsets.

In amongst all those photos, there are a couple of people pictures – a couple. Early on, back in Thailand (November 2014) I had the balls to smile at people on the street and point to my camera and to them. Usually, they would get the idea and smile while raised my camera and photographed them. By February (2015) in Nepal I had virtually stopped photographing random people – Why ?. People represent the culture of a nation …… Why did I stop ?.

The people in Thailand and Cambodia were friendly and so beautiful. In Australia, the people we so friendly and beautiful too – though very similar to my own culture (I am Canadian). People in Nepal seemed shy – on many occasions they would turn away, or use their hands to wave me away. I suspected, that they were tired of being attacked by camera toting tourists (paparazzi). I could have switched to a longer lens and stood back – though I don’t feel comfortable being a sniper.

Now, here in Turkey, I am trying to build up my courage to ask – either with words, or hand signals. Why not – Turkish people are beautiful too, and they – their personality and their clothes tell so much about the culture and spirit of the nation. Wish me luck !.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This collection of images were taken at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (the capital the United Arab Emirates). Architecturally stunning and large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, the mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007. There are 82 roof-top domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers, and contains marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Photo technique: All photos were taken handheld (tripods are not allowed), with the camera braced against a wall or column. Three long exposure photos (-1, 0, +1 exposure) were combined to ghost the other visitors. Photos combined in PhotoMatrix Pro. Fuji X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens.

Click on an photo to make it larger, and use the arrows to move to the next photo.

 

 

 

Rainy day Randoms – on the streets of Kathmandu

This small collection of images is from a walk in the Thamel district of Kathmandu (Nepal) in the rain (March 2nd, 2015). Most of my walks in Kathmandu have been in hot-dry and dusty conditions, walking in the rain was so refreshing, though slightly treacherous on the muddy streets.  All photos taken using a GoPro Hero 2 and (over) processed in Lightroom. Images were intentionally not rotated to ‘level’- random images at random orientation.

Click on the first thumbnail and it will enlarge. Form there you can scroll through the larger images to see the whole collection.

 

After the strong (7.8) earthquake that struck the Kathmandu Valley on April 25, 2015 and the many aftershocks, many of the modern and historic buildings and roads shown in these photos have been extensively damaged or destroyed, and thousands of deaths and injuries.

 

Being away…what happens when I come back ?

I am almost three months into a 10 month journey.

Long flights, bus rides and train trips have given me time to think

Sometimes to think about nothing, let my mind decide

Sometimes conscious effort and thought.

I’ve thought about home, friends, where we have been  and where we are going

Also, in a selfish way, I’ve been thinking about me.

What do I want to remember about this trip, how will it change me, and will I simply slide back into my past life  after leaving for 10 months ?

Travel and Social Privilege: Inspire others to Do Great Things

By Canadian standards, we are  am not rich – more like middle of middle class. A family with two kids, living in a 1000 square foot house, drive a small car, and a couple of bicycles. In September 2014, my wife and I put our jobs on hold, rented out the house, sold the car and many other possessions, and started a year long travel adventure.  Why ?. We were getting fed-up with the day-to-day routine of going to work/school, and the rat-race of driving the kids to/from activities, tired of endless comparisons to other families  (’they do this, and that, and their kids are super awesome athletes…’), and also we wanted our kids to get a better understanding of the world, and a better appreciation for what they have. Career wise, I need a break. Sitting in front of a computer for 7 hours a day has a way of sucking the life out of me. A year long is what my soul needs to get a new perspective on your life and to see if I want to get back to my  old job or make a career shift.

So – back to the here and now in Cambodia. We are staying in a small village along a rural road. It is really sinking in. As I walk the street, I see how people live. There is garbage along the street, many people wear worn out clothes, the houses look dirty, the air is the smell of sewer and burning household waste, and fresh drinking water is non-existent. There are few cars – nothing more fancy that a beat-up old Honda. Most people have motorcycles and there is enough room for a family of four, or a large pig on the back, several large bags of rice or corn. It seems that no load is too much – if it still runs, than load more bags of rice. Despite all this, people still say ‘Hello’ and wave at me. I politely wave back, though deep in my gut I feel this horrible sickening feeling. Guilt makes my stomach cramp. Why do I have clean clothes, a choice of food (other than rice everyday), a car, municipal garbage pickup, and a decent house with clean water, flush toilets and a septic system; yet they have none of this. In a better frame of mind, I would like to photograph what I see, though pulling out my camera makes me feel like some ignorant tourist looking at them as if they were in a zoo.

The local school does not have any computers (even though one class is called ‘the computer room’), hard wooden benches, no craft materials, no text books, no workbooks, only a well used whiteboard and a couple of very faint markers, no resources for teachers and often no teachers. During this year away, my kids are home schooling (some call it road schooling). They have their school curriculum on their iPads (one for each kid), a pencil case full of markers, pencils, notepads and access to the internet.  For the first time in my life, I feel very rich and privileged. Not simply because I have money to travel here (airfare from Canada), and accommodation is $10-15 USd per day, and food for a family of four another $10-15 USd per day, more importantly, I feel enriched and very privileged to be on this journey and living these experiences. Here rural in Cambodia, the average annual income is a mere $135USd (Farming – Resource Development International www.rdic.org/farming-page.php). They would certainly never have the opportunity to travel as I do. I am indeed privileged — born to middle class parents, got a good education, am endowed with skills, talents and desires unlike anyone else on the planet.

 

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Social Privilege and Guilt…

It is a real privilege to travel like we do and the inequality of this privilege is something I consistently struggle with. I am assuming you are privileged too, with access to a computer and the internet to read this. When it comes down to it, most people in rural Cambodia do not even have computers, approximately 75% can read or write their own language and a tiny percentage can read or write english (Dec 04, 2014: http://www.voacambodia.com/content/cambodia-facing-ongoing-literacy-challenges-128470623/1356695.html).

I know I should not make comparisons with my own lifestyle and should not feel guilty, though is gets to you. Being here and seeing this it gets under your skin. Yes, it is a luxury to be able to have all the comforts that I have at home, and to have sufficient disposable income to visit travel to other countries.  I am not saying that travel is a bad thing. Tourists (like me) traveling to and within other countries are buying airline tickets, staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, traveling by taxi, and taking adventure tours (zipline, elephant rides, white water rafting etc). Each one of these activities means that local people are getting money, money to feed their families and supporting the local economy and improve the quality of life of those people less fortunate than yourself.

But – we all know that most money goes to the company, and only a small percentage of the money filters down to the staff. The folks behind the hotel facade, those that clean the rooms, do the laundry, wash the dishes, get the groceries etc..they are missing out on what they really need. Yes, they have a job, and your money does help them to feed their families and pay their rent. Is this sustainable ?. Yes, sort of.

Using Social Privilege to Inspire others to do Great Things…

Think back to those families in rural Cambodia. I could give them money to buy some new clothes, or money to buy clean drinking water.  Would this solve the problem ? For one, I would also be poor, and my money could only help a small number of the needy people. There has to be a better way. What can WE – the privileged world travelers do?. Being privileged is not my fault. We can sit on our rear ends and do nothing (and feel guilt about it), or find a way to help others.  I like to believe that if we, the privileged, travel with a purpose that we can make a difference in people’s lives. One way, is to find ways and means to expand freedom and opportunities for others by volunteering. Some folks call this ‘volunteer tourism’. Volunteering in a school, and passing on your skills accomplishes so much more than simply giving money. Back to the here and now; I am in a small village in rural Cambodia teaching English to children ages 5 to 12.  It is an amazing way to soak up the local culture while also providing a benefit that is better than renting a room in a hotel. One day, these children will be able to read and write english and have the opportunity to get well paying jobs, instead of simply making enough money to provide for their families. That being said, we are not teachers, although we have both taught children (including our own) on a add-hoc basis. We are both fluent in English so there is nothing extra to learn or research before class. The children are keen, and motivated, and in many ways more enthusiastic to learn than kids in my own hometown. Here, there are no computers, no text books, reading books, a chronic shortage of whiteboard markers and a seat-of-your pants curriculum. Despite this, this is by far one of the most rewarding experiences, particularly when the kids still want to be your friend, and actually thank you for teaching them.

Like many people we are traveling to foreign destinations to better understand and appreciate other cultures, and gain a better appreciation for what we have. We are privileged to be able to travel to foreign destinations, though what we see, and smell may bring on a feeling of guilt – why can we travel, whereas these citizens in those lands may hardly have enough money to buy enough food, or clothing. The feeling of guilt can be erased by providing opportunities for the people (and not simply making a donation). Take the time to make a difference in their lives by teaching them a skill so they they can be inspired to do great things. Before your next trip, consider ‘volunteer tourism’ as a way of using your privilege in a in positive and meaningful way, so that one day, those people can have the opportunity to get well paying jobs, instead of simply making enough money to provide for their families.

 

 

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Stewing

In culinary terms ‘stewing can best be described as the process of combining solid food ingredients that have been cooked in liquid and served in the resultant gravy. Ingredients in a stew can include any combination of vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peppers and tomatoes, etc.). While water can be used as the stew-cooking liquid, wine, stock, and beer are also common. Seasoning and flavourings may also be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled), allowing flavors to mingle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stew).

No – this isn’t a blog post about cooking, though the analogy can be used to describe my emotions and physical state.  Although I have taken a Thai cook class and a basic sense of what ingredients and spices are added to the typical Thai meal, in this case, the solid food in this stew is me and my and my family (and mother in-law), traveling for a month in Thailand. We are not used to the heat in south east Asia, to the analogy for stewing in the heat is quite true.

Add some Thai spices; shallots (Culture), garlic (language), green and red chilies (history), dried or fresh coriander (religion), Thai chili powder (festivals), galangal (wildlife-elephants, poisonous snakes and giant insects), green peppercorns (interactions with other tourists), lemongrass (soldiers in the streets – carrying flowers and bottled water (not guns), turmeric (missing friends), kaffir lime leaves,  and fresh basil (incredibly gently and polite people).

As in a typical stew, we have added large amounts of bottled water to the broth, and beer ;>

All those spices need time to simmer and blend to allow the flavors to mingle.

Even after a month in Thailand, the flavor of the stew is not quite right. Too Spicy or Too Sweet ?.  My taste buds can’t seem to get it right; and my heart and emotions need more time to stew and enjoy all of the Thai spices and flavors.

Day 56: Beautiful Bangkok – in black & white and color.

Three days in Bangkok is definitely not enough. Add in some serious jet-lag after a flight from Toronto (Canada) to Abu Dhabi (UAE), then onward to Bangkok.

Wow – Bangkok is absolutely amazing. We only saw a tiny part of the City, and what we saw is so diverse and sensory stimulating; sight, smell, taste, sounds and touch.

The tiny part of Bangkok that we experienced was the Pranakorn district, and we explored Khao san Road and the cultural sites in the Rattanakosin area including The Grand Palace, The Temple of The Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), The Royal Ground,  The Democracy Monument and the Chatuchak Weekend Market.

The next post will have photos from Wat Pho, ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’.

All photos taken with a Fuji X-series X-Pro1 with Fuji 18-35mm, or Fuji X-series X-E1 with Fuji 14mm lens. Some of the photos are in black  & white, and some are in color,  with notes below.

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A typical food stall on a side street in Bangkok. On the original color photo, the sun was shining through a blue tarp causing the man’s skin to have a blue tinge. In color, the blue tinge was unacceptable and the image could not be used. Converted to black and white the blue tinge is gone, and the photo is quite usable.

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A small side street in Pranakorn district.

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Good luck trying to cross the Prachathipatai Road, and remember to look Right – then Left (opposite from North America).

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Authentic Pad Thai at a food stall on Khao san Road, in central Bangkok. In former times the street was a major Bangkok rice market, and had now become a “backpacker ghetto”; with cheap accommodation, tour buses depot, many pubs and bars, and small shops that sell everything from handcrafts, paintings, clothes, local fruits, pirated music on DVDs, and second-hand books. At night, the streets turn into bars and music is played, food hawkers sell barbecued fish, insects, and other exotic snacks.

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One of the many food stalls on Khao san Road

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Fish in bags at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets and contains more than 15,000 booths selling goods ranging from Amulets, antiques, art, books, collectibles, clothes, food shops, furniture, handicrafts, home décor, household appliances, and pets. We saw many species of exotic birds, squirrels, and large turtles selling for 60,000BHT.

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Pet food ?? at the Chatuchak Weekend Market

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Delicious home-made Thai food at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Food stalls are an orgy of color, which can sometimes look good in black in white, though how would you tell the food apart if they were all shades of grey ?.

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Boy selling ducks at Chatuchak Weekend Market. The original color version of this photo was had a overwhelming range of color, all of which was too distracting to the story – a boy selling ducks at the market.

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I am not sure what the sign says. Any one read Thai ?

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Pan fried Quail eggs at a food stall in the Chatuchak Weekend Market

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Inside view of the chaos inside the huge Chatuchak Weekend Market

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The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. The palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782.

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View from the ‘Bearing’ BTS station

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Above ground BTS track, and MBK Shopping Center in the distance. There wasn’t much color in the original photo – shades of bleck grey concrete. In black and white, the tones, and shades are more powerful.

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‘Old and New’. Wooden Wat (Temple) from several 100 years ago, with a modern structure (apartment building). In black and white, the orange-red-gold colors on the temple are now the same shade as the more modern, and drab colored building in the background.

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Traditional Thai show. Not sure that the show was about ??

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Boat taxi. In many ways, similar to a city bus on a scheduled route, though speeding through the canals and the fee collector wears a life jacket and a helmet.

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A busy street in Central Bangkok. I love the colors of the cars and taxis; bright pink, and bright yellow. This photo would also look Ok in black and white, showing the range of shades of gray, though in color the insane colors of the cars would be lost.

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A fancy building in downtown Bangkok – Of course, the ‘Anti-Money Laundering Office’.

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