Saturday, June 21, 2008

Xi'an: Bell Tower and Drum Tower

Xi'an, one of the ancient capitals of China. Resplendent with the Bell Tower (foreground) and Drum Tower (background). When we arrived it was hot, desert like, much much cleaner than Shanghai. While Shaghai had been deafeningly loud with motorists laying on their horns at every possible opprotunity, Xi'an's drivers seemed to exercise restraint.

Now, what kind of music would you imagine to be playing the background?
(p.s. do you notice the construction equipment in the far background? While the city and the tourist attractions are quite old, circa 1300s, a lot of new construction is "relocating" peasants to highrises to sell the land to universities who want to capitalize on the "culture")

So, what music is playing in the background?

Did you guess club style techno? Well, I wouldn't have guessed either. Across the street (where a mall is) there were huge loud speakers blaring techno music. It was actually quite fun, though a bit like S. California.
The drums are big and as people walk by they tap on them (and then get yelled at) but do it again anyways. Like I said in the Water Village, there's a different sense of "cultural preservation"

I wanted this to be a super cute picture... but it isn't. shucks.

I quite enjoyed how much more casual the Chinese were in terms of sitting where ever seemed convenient. Perhaps that isn't so weird really... but it is in Japan where high schoolers sitting on the floor on the train has led adult student to the conclusion that they are capable of murder (e.g. if you break one societal rule where will you stop....)

OK... But here's the big question.
So, I'm going to enter some photos in a photo contest because I think it will help me learn how to use my camera better. (I'm absolutely not shooting to win. I'm using it as an exercise to get better. The following are all ones I'm considering for the "dusk to dawn" low light category.

What's your favorite? why? (and I did straighten the last one so that the tower was horizontal, but it threw off the light posts. hmmm?)
What do you think would make any of these pictures better?

F4.0, 1/180, ISO 1600
F 4.0, 1/180, 1600
F 4.5, 1/60, ISO 1600

F5.6, 1/20, ISO 1600

Friday, June 20, 2008

Poverty is, like, so exotic

Although they are in China, I'm not going to blog much about malls.

I'm not going to blog much about Starbucks and McDonalds and all the Westernization. I will mention that WalMart is becoming popular.

In general, I and I think most travelers to China, prefer to talk about the "exotic" things. The peasants with water buffalo (yes, there is a picture of that on it's way)the chickens on the rice terraces (also coming) the dirty alleyways (in Shanghai) the crazy bike traffic, etc. In general, I took more pictures of the poverty than the wealth of China. But I don't want to cast too much of a skewed view. China and the Chinese there, are indeed, probably doing better than you think. (Ummm... that is if you weren't one of the 87,000 dead after the earthquake or one of the over 10million left homeless.... )

This post was much more to illustrate there is quite a middle class these days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Zhou Zhong Water Village near Shanghai

For our second day traveling in China, Joe and I booked a tour of a water village. Why did we book a tour? Aren't we savvy enough travelers that we can get from point A to point B in any foreign language without a scuff on our shoes? Well... no. Our hostel booked us a nice tour and because it was cheap it was going to all be in Chinese. I copied down a useful phrase of "When do we meet you back at the bus?" and we decided to go for it.

So, in the morning we piled into a tiny mini bus with some Chinese and some French tourists and proceeded to pray for our lives as the drivers sped as fast as possible laying on the horn every chance he got for an hour to the village. Apparently the speed limit is slightly less than whatever will cause immediate death and not only is swerving between slower cars acceptable, but so is driving on the sholder of the road where the bicycles and farm animals walk and spliting lanes if you think you can fit. whoa.

Soon, we arrived at the beautiful and slightly more peaceful village.

(I quite like the guys on their lunch break sitting one the top of the circular bridge)

Only *slightly* more peaceful?!?! you ask? Well, dozens of Chinese tourist groups, all preceded by a guide with a bullhorn or yelling at the top of his/her lungs tramped around showing us through the beautiful old houses.

Hmm... I think I like pictures with doorways...

Not only was photography allowed in the old historic houses but people had no problem sitting in the old chairs, posing at the old desks, and TOUCHING the historic bronze relief!YOU CAN TOUCH IT???? I thought. Wow. If museums were like this, I might go more... except for the bullhorns. China seems to have a very different sense of how things are to be preserved vs. used.
Later we wandered to a part of the village that had an old Taoist temple. I love the colors.

Prayers are written on the red slips that are tied to the trees.
I'm still just in the very beginning of understanding anything at all about Taoism, but it seems really interesting.

There are so many ways (religions etc) that people seek order and peace, I think....

And a question: Which one is your favorite picture?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Best of Shanghai 2

In the end, this was the crop I liked best. Check out that bike! These sorts of gerry-rigged bikes were super common in China, many times piled high with all sorts of things.
Indeed, I'd say the traffic was about 30% two wheeled in the city.
In a park near the French Concession in Shanghai, people practice Tai Chi.
Not only in front of cherubs but also under the watchful eyes of Marx and Engles.
The Bund at night. I might have well been on Mars.

A peddler sells long strings of kites at night.
Oh the glitz.
Oh, the communism. Lovers sneak a little alone time in one of Shanghai's "citizen's squares"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Best of Shanghai 1

The noise! the color! the smell.... definitely not in Japan anymore.
Who's face would you like on a T-shirt? Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the Osama Bin Laden T-shirts... Or would a panda suit you better?
Old Shanghai, preserved for tourists, was beautiful.
Ahhh. I love pictures like this but I know they might be boring to others. I think I need to learn the best way to crop them. So first check out the awesome guy and his awesome bike. Notice the reflection in the window of modern cars and people. Then check out the women in the window above. How would you crop/present this?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Chinese Food

"So did you eat Peking Duck?" everyone asks.
"Um... well Peking is the name for Beijing and actually I wasn't anywhere close to there and well, um, no."

I ate things that I pointed at generally without the use of "real" language. I was quite happy that I didn't get sick in the two weeks despite eating street food. I'll chock it up to not taking more than a bite or two of anything I found slightly sketchy and ordering hot street food whenever possible. All that said though, Joe and I ate almost all the same things and he was not so lucky... poor guy.

A few thoughts on MSG:
It's everywhere. I probably ate more than I would in years and years in America. People like this guy below who sell tiny strips of meet on wires cooked to oblivion sprinkle the stuff on like crazy. The general strategy for cooking the meat seems to be first coat with "flavor" and cook thoroughly. Once cooked, set aside. When a paying customer comes, cook again till very hot and add more "magic" flavor several times.

Ok, but what's wrong with MSG, really? I ask. I tend to think people overreact to things like this. According to some Shanghai couchsurfers, who seemed to know the word on the street, there have been a rise in cases of a kind of hyperactivity that is thought to be related to all the MSG.

and a word on CHICKEN

so... when I order chicken I generally think of tasty hunks of flesh. Perhaps if it's deep fried I expect some bones... but really, think about a chicken for a moment. ((((((((((())))))))))))) especially a free range chicken that's running around on the rice patties as the ones above on the Longji Rice Terraces were doing. Now really think(((((()))))))how much succulent flesh will be on this bird.

not much. actually. most of the times I ordered chicken , it seemed someone had cleaned out the organs and then taken a clever to the thing, throwing the bones with the tiny bits of meat into the stew/pot/dish. Now, China, being China, used to just spit all the bones on the floor but now they are attempting to be more cultured and spitting is being frowned upon recently (like in the last few years, i.e. Olympic bid etc).

Ah, yes. And there is the omnipresent chicken foot too. In the future, the Chinese apocalypse will include purposefully growing chickens with more than one foot. But for now, as most inedible things are, it's kind of a delicacy. Or something.And check out this menu! The English is about as suspect as the speculation (which I think means seasonal). Theoretically if you click it, it'll get really big.... And for reference, there about 6.5 or so "kuai”元 to a dollar. so the 30元 is what? 4 bucks. This was actually really good food--despite the names.

The adventures continue.