Tag Archives: china

24 Hours in Beijing

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here, but I’ll hopefully be getting the camera out again as I’m back in Taiwan. I recently went through Beijing and was “stuck” with a 24-hour layover. This allowed my wife and I to explore some of the city through the subway. We only spent a few hours really exploring as we were a bit jet lagged after a 13-hour flight. Shots below.

Above: Tienanmen, translated as the “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” the iconic red central building at the heart of Tienanmen Square.

The Imperial Ancestral Temple in the Forbidden City (above and below).

Above: Tiananmen Square from across the street near the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Visible is the “Monument to the People’s Heroes,” (foreground) and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

Above and below: more street scenes around a large market/shopping district. Near Donghuamen and Wanfujing.

  

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Falun Gong Demonstration, Jhubei

Last Saturday, I was sitting inside my apartment when I heard a marching band go by. Looking out to see what it was, I saw people exercising in the street and a costumed drum group. Soon enough, I saw the familiar expression “Fa Lun Da Fa Hao” (法輪大法好) or “Fa Lun Da Fa is Good” – a message often repeated in Taiwan where this “new religious movement” is free from persecution, unlike in mainland China where practitioners of this blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and exercise have been tortured, imprisoned, and killed. Also known as Fa Lun Gong (法輪功), the movement itself is very peaceful and lacks any real controversy on the surface. While there are claims of wrongdoing made by the Chinese Communist Party, it seems that the group’s exponential growth in the 90’s is what most concerned the communist government.

While I did not follow the parade very far, I did catch all of it as it went through central Jhubei being protected by the Taiwanese police. This was not a political demonstration primarily, although there were some politically-oriented signs. Instead, it simply seemed like a way to show off what the movement is about. I was welcomed by some of the people following and covering the march as they answered any questions I had with a great deal of respect and excitement that I would be interested in their march.

Above: a set of banners proclaiming that the next group would be an exercise team (seen on top).

Above: this banner states the fact that in 1999, Falun Gong had more members than the Chinese Communist Party. 1999 was the first major year of crackdowns against the movement in mainland China.

Above: a policeman watches as the parade goes by. Religious and political freedoms are heavily protected in Taiwan, and seeing this is gratifying.

I have to say that as China grows and becomes a world power, it has to deal with the fights it wants and the fights it needs. It will be interesting to see how and if Taiwan influences China in the coming years as we see the two countries creating economic ties. While one can always hope for more freedom anywhere in the world, it’s important to keep these things in mind as we as Western countries decide who to deal with when it comes to international politics.

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Tian Tan Giant Buddha, Hong Kong

This image is from nearly a year ago. As I’m hoping to get out of Taiwan for a few weeks this summer, I’ll have another post outside of Taiwan coming up in the near future, I hope. I’m looking at flying to Thailand in July. I would LOVE to do a Thailand-Cambodia trip, but a mix between Yuling’s preferences and the amount of time we have might constrict us. Oh, and I might be stopping in the Philippines, so I’ll wave hello to Odee!

Anyway, I was thinking about my photography when looking at this shot. It was taken with my then newly-purchased 70-300mm VR. This has been a great lens for me and got me into some bird/wildlife photography and gave me a closer look at shows. Unfortunately, the aperture is f/4.5-5.6, but it works fine for daylight shooting.

I like the image in that it’s pretty simple. The Buddha is a “giant” Buddha (see more images here) and is a massive sight to behold – yet quite touristy.

With that said, I was looking at what could’ve been done better. Processing sticks out as an issue. My shadows have little contrast and the top of the head is blown out by the sun. The sky gives an awkward range of colors and there could be more detail in the bronze of the statue.

On top of that, a giant shadow covers the face. While I can’t reshoot, it’s good to keep in mind for next time.

Perhaps I’ll retry the RAW file. It’s always good to breath new life into old photos.

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Dragon/Lion Dances and Drum Competition

Last Saturday, I had a chance to see a drum competition mixed into some dragon and lion dance performances.  I’m pretty sure this included some dance troupes from the mainland, and needless to say all of this was impressive.

This was also a good chance for me to get better with photographing moving objects.  I flipped on my AI-servo functions for the autofocus along with the continuous shutter and had a blast trying to get the performers jumping.  The first image is an example of that:

While I’ve got a little bit of blur on the feet, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.  I do wish that I had a more neutral background with some bokeh, as my lens isn’t an f/2.8 or anything (it was at 70mm f/4.5) and since hindsight is 20/20, I could have used more zoom to fix that – this image is obviously cropped a little.

Some shots that did come out a little better is a series of jumping lions.  These guys work in teams of two and have to jump on very small platforms – no more than the size of each foot.  Include some acting that the “lion” must perform, and you have a very stressful situation:

I did manage to get both “parts of the lion” with their feet up in the air, but not as dramatically as I would have liked:

I think I prefer the first of the two, because you can see the concentration in the faces – some flash might have worked, but a correct exposure would’ve been tricky.  I’m still getting assimilated with fill-flash on sunny days – this was a tough day to measure for.

Something that also helps me is to judge timing by the rhythm.  It’s easy to tell if a lion will jump based on the sound of the gongs played by the musicians in the back.  With drummers, I was able to pick up this pattern:

While I had seen dancing lions before (in Houston’s Chinatown, no less), I hadn’t had a chance to see these “lion trainers” and the act they brought.  The very first picture is a shot of the first lion trainer I saw – a guy who plays with the lions with a large ball and has them do tricks.  This was also done by a woman who put a lot of personality into the show as she interacted with her “animals.”

The male “lion trainer” was less interactive, but more acrobatic.  The very first photo on this post shows his backflip – he landed on the back of a lion and rode it for a few seconds.

Another event which I hadn’t seen before was a dragon dance.  This involved a leader which carried a ball on a stick which the dragon – handled by about 15-20 people – followed around.  I was pretty impressed by the contortions needed to make the dragon do different tricks.

The above shot is one of my favorites from the day.  The handlers were yelling the whole time – which, along with the drums, added to the atmosphere.

The above shot shows some of the crazy contortions needed to get a dragon to do what you want.  Sure looks painful.

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More from Hong Kong

Last August, I went to Hong Kong with Yuling and posted about it quite a few times.  You can see my previous posts here:

This was taken at a pretty famous temple and I just got around to processing it with an Aperture 3 filter I thought brought out the photo best.  I like how it seems to texture the smoke and tries to capture the mood.

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Jhubei Night Market

While I have already made a post about the ShiDa Night Market, I was recently excited to visit a market here in Jhubei which is obviously easier to get to, still very large, and occurs weekly.  As I said before, night markets are pretty common here in Taiwan, and you can expect some very good food to go along with your visit.

Above, we have some common scenes: crowds and food.  Both of these are huge things to contend with… and when I mean “content with” food, I mean that you have to choose.  One of the choices, below, is known as Chou Dofu, or “Stinky” Tofu (臭豆腐).  臭豆腐 is a form of tofu which is first fermented – so you can imagine it lives up to its name of being “stinky.”  I had the chance to try this in Houston and hated it as mine smelled and TASTED like feet, and was quite apprehensive to try it again here in Taiwan.  I certainly smelled it… Yuling wasn’t fooling me extremely well when she tried to feed it to me as I finished off my barbeque corn.  I told myself, though, that I’d give it another go, grabbed it with my chopsticks… and…

…it wasn’t too bad, actually!  I even like it more than the Taiwanese “kimchi” or cabbage, which goes pretty well with it… if you ever eat it, though, do yourself a favor and DO NOT, repeat, DO NOT read the Wikipedia article on how it’s made before you do.  I thought about this while eating it, and it almost ended very, very poorly. I can at least add this to the pig intestine, duck blood, chicken feet, chicken gizzard, and beef tongue that I’ve had so far… and with the exception of that tofu, I apologize to any vegetarians out there.  Just make sure you hang around the Buddhist monasteries for food if you come to Taiwan… everyone else is a definite carnivore here.

Anyway, on to some more photos…

Again, a reminder: sometimes photos are heavily cropped to make them more interesting – to see this photo, just click on it and you’ll see a larger size in Flickr.

So the above photo is representative of some of the carnival-style games they had.  In the front of the rows, you’ll see some basic items… snacks, soda, whatever.  If you can throw a ring around it, you’ve got it.  Further back?  Beer bottles.  With beer.  A little bit more?  A full bottle of whiskey.  Hmmm.

…gotta love the flavored corn.  I tried my BBQ corn at a different stall, but will be visiting this one in the future.

…and another stall cooking stinky tofu on skewers with cabbage…

…sashimi, anyone?

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Po Lin Monastery (Hong Kong Post 5)

This is ACTUALLY the last Hong Kong post… these photos come from Po Lin Monastery, which is located right next to the Tian Tan Buddha.

The monastery was interestingly void of most foreign tourists, as I was the only non-Asian I noticed inside the actual temple complex.  In what I noticed as a Hong Kong fashion for temples, there was a place to grab a bite at a vegetarian restaurant – which I’m guessing is directly connected to the temple as opposed to the Starbucks and Subway less than a kilometer away.

One of the first things I noticed were these GIANT incense sticks.  Yuling actually took one and compared it – they were bigger than her arm… while she doesn’t have huge arms, this is still impressive for an incense stick.  If I remember right, they were for sale for about $35 USD, which makes the following photo NOT cheap for the people who placed these…

As you may/may not have noticed through my photos, I’ve always been intrigued by this temple incense.  It really draws you in to this world that is outside the hustle and bustle of daily life and more focused.  I have visited a lot of temples between here and the US, and I can’t count how many people I’ve accidentally run into who were carrying this around some altar.  Something about it fascinates me as being very similar – but very different – from the Christianity I know.

In addition, they provide the perfect subject for a photographer – something still yet moving… something you can focus on… something that is both not too colorful and full of character.  You’ll see more of these in my blog.

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From the Peak (Hong Kong Post 2)

On the second day of our Hong Kong trip, we took a walk around the city as I searched high and low for a Nikkor 70-300mm lens, the second of my collection since purchasing my DSLR.

While I didn’t get the lens at first, we did get to tour the Lower Manhattan-esque Central District of Hong Kong. I honestly wasn’t enthralled as other than the fact that I was walking up steep hills and sharing narrow sidewalks, it felt as if I’d seen it all before. However, we did get to a series of ridiculously long escalators, which took us most of the way up the mountain. Closer to the top, we eventually encountered the “Peak” cable trolley – which took us to the top of the city for a spectacular view. Photos below.

The two above photos show our trolley on the way up (first photo) and the way down.  You can see the grade on this hill – it was actually very steep… I tried not to think about that too much…

…an HDR of a lion “guarding” the city…

…and the city itself, with a regular single exposure.  Too bad it was a dreary day, as it didn’t help my lighting at all…

…and the trolley going down the mountain.

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Hong Kong Skyline (HK Part 1)

While I included a photo of the Tian Tan Buddha in the last post, I’ve decided to just do this trip in chronological order, so that basically means starting with some city-scapes I took during the first night Yuling and I arrived in this massive city.

We ventured out on a few boatrides, and I had the chance to see a beautiful sunset along with a nice, partly cloudy night for getting photos of the city itself.  Of course, I had to be careful – these long exposures are not my thing and they are especially not my area of specialty on a moving boat.  The good news is that I did have a small tripod for night landscapes, so I did get some usable shots.

First, starting off early-evening with a shot of the famous Peninsula Hotel.  This is an HDR image, and I see why the only thing most people can afford is a hoity-toity tea party during the day:

…the photo above is what I’m sure is a hotel near the Peninsula – not sure on the name, but I liked it.

In the above, a ferry much like what we took is heading across the harbor.  I was happy to get the focus on the boat, but would’ve been happier to have my newly-purchased 70-300mm Nikkor lens with me to get some shots of the old-style Chinese “junks” also sailing in the harbor.

…as to why that building on the left is bending, you can blame my camera lens.  While there are special lenses for architecture shots, I’m not rich enough to worry about it – I almost like the slight fisheye effect we get at wide angles such as this.

…and on the other side, looking at Kowloon at sunset.  Our hotel was in Kowloon and was VERY nice compared to what we payed – located in the Tsim Sha Tsui district.

The Golden Bauhinia, a golden representation of the flower on Hong Kong’s flag, was a gift by the Chinese government to the city of Hong Kong as a result of the 1997 declaration of sovereignty from Britain.  I could tell the Chinese see this as a symbol of pride, as tourists were taking photos of it and paying for professional photos of the statue.  Along with this were some Beijing 2008 logos, interestingly enough… good marketing for a Communist country!

The above is an HDR of the HK convention center.  Overlooking the harbor, its area provides great views of the main island’s skyline AND Kowloon.

…which is where I got this shot.  I set up my tripod on a very convenient base for a floodlight.  I really need to get a bigger tripod though – I could have gotten more direct shots of the city itself.

…and the last was taken during our harbor boat ride.  Notice the glassy water – I had to take at a longer exposure and took a LOT of photos trying to get this to match a crisp-looking city.  Of course, the city isn’t perfect, but passable, and I got the colors I wanted.

More HK photos will be coming in the next few days.  As you can see, it’s a beautiful city… and I haven’t even included photos of mountains yet.  At the same time, Yuling and I are both glad to be back on Ilha Formosa – the Portuguese term for Taiwan… which perfectly translates to “beautiful island.”

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