Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

Pingyao Old Town

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Yamen Government Complex

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Pingyao City Wall

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Group of senior citizens relaxing outside the city wall

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Street seller on south street

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Main tower on Pingyao’s south tourist street

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So… mind made up, and ready to go.

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Shanghai, China: Shanghai Film Park


It is difficult to write about something 5 months after. For one, I can hardly remember how I got to the Film Park. But I still remember how it happened, I’ve read about this place in Shanghai where many movies were shot, especially the ones that depict Shanghai pre World War II, and for completeness sake, let’s just place that in the 1930s. I can recall Kung Fu Hustle. So, there was no real direction available on the internet, and I had the GPS coordinates only. I remembered taking the Shanghai metro to the southwest, changed into a bus, a wrong bus, and then having to walk a bit and one more bus before I got to within 1km of the park by GPS.

Shanghai Movie Park

As of writing, maps of China on Google Maps has to be viewed in map view and no satellite. There is a little 500m offset on it. I did a little internet sleuthing and came up with this address, copied and pasted (shall I say plagiarized?) without much though:

Shanghai Film Park, Chedun Town, 4915 Beisong Gong Lu, near Cheting Gong Lu
车墩镇北松公路4915号,近车停公路
Coordinates: 31.01228, 121.31037

Now that I have, hopefully, given enough instructions to get there, let me first start by saying that this is one of the hidden gems in Shanghai. Sure, the internet has plenty of day tours, but do you REALLY need a tour guide in a movie studio? I was there late in the afternoon, and there was a movie that was being shot at that time. I can’t imagine another studio where you could just walk up to the set, and watch the film crew doing their stuff.

There is an entry fee, but it is a pittance, a little less than lunch for a tourist. Since a local can eat for less than 10RMB I’d make that clear first. I can’t recall the entrance fee, lets just say its between 10-15RMB at the most. Could even be less.

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Shanghai, China: Hengsha Island

View of Chongming Island Bridge from Hengsha Island
This farming island is not too far away from Shanghai. A fast ferry from Wusong Port in Baoshan will get you there in 1 hour and a bit. A full circumnavigation of the whole island will take more than a day along the coast, but highlights of it can be done in a day. I’ve about had it with long blog posts, so this time for once, only pictures, no words. Enjoy…

Please do not reproduce these pictures without permission. Thanks.

Wusong Port

Fast ferry service between Wusong Port and Hengsha and other islands on the Yangzi River delta

Fishing trawlers on Hengsha Island

Farms

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Henan Province, China: Anyang, Luoyang and Song Shan


On the second part of this Henan trip, I will go up north to Anyang from Kaifeng and then swing to the east towards Puyang, a city that seems to be historically important. Right after that, it’s a long bus ride southwest to Luoyang where I plan to spend the longest stay of my Henan trip this time, a mere two nights. And on the way back to Zhengzhou, Song Shan lies on the way and this is where Shaolin Temple is.

2 October 2009:
The bus from Kaifeng took close to 4 hours to make the 200km to Anyang. Having a GPS at the bus window showed why it took that long. We took the small road, went through small towns where the main activity is to dry corn kernels on the road and just about any bitumen or concrete surface that is available. People should be poor. And the toilet is everywhere, and it seems to be quite obvious even from the bus. All transports here has 3 wheels, motorcycles, cars and tractors. Every active shop has in front of it, again corn drying. Petrol station, the same story. Everywhere corn, and more corn. If you’re not sick of corn, you will be after coming to Henan.

The bus arrived in Anyang at the long distance bus station next to the train station. Anyang looks much more modern and prosperous than Kaifeng by far. Less farm vehicles on the street, and things look a little more orderly. Not too much so, still a little messy as usual. Everything is so modern I don’t expect to see too many ancient relics here.

1908hrs: Walked the back streets of old Anyang after visiting People’s Square earlier on. Its a relatively long walk from the Train Station where I stay. Started off with a 2km walk to People’s Square on Jiefang Dadao passing modern shops on both sides. Switched the film on my Leica M2 to Neopan1600 in anticipation of night shooting. There is just this sliver of sunset light remaining, so the Leica M6 loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 comes along as well. There are not too much on the street that is particularly specific to Anyang. Rather similar to other large cities in China. People’s Square may also be called a park, perhaps it is called so. There are lakes, half moon bridges, etc.

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Henan Province, China: Zhengzhou, Zhoukou and Kaifeng

Street Performer in Kaifeng
Night Market in Kaifeng

Hanging around in Kaifeng

No phone while driving? Nice one...

National day in China is special. For the party member, this is the 60th such celebration and from what I’ve heard, there will be more fireworks burnt tonight than during the Beijing Olympics and the giant footsteps will make its way to Shanghai, if what I heard is correct. To me it’s quite obvious they will use more fireworks for the 1 Oct celebrations, especially when you consider it will be celebrated country-wide.

Debate aside, along with the midautumn festival, I get to have 6 days off. All of it public holidays.

Now I’ve been fixated on Henan province since early this year when I read about it. Early golden dynastic years of the Chinese empire happened here. Out of the 8 ancient capitals of China, 4 are located here. That would be Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, Luoyang and Anyang. After the first emperor set up camp in Xian, the capital quickly moved to Henan (I believe it was Luoyang, but wikipedia will tell you what it was). Of course Longmen grottoes/caves are here. So is the very commercialised Shaolin temple at Song Shan. Better still, my chinese surname, Chen, the top 5 most common chinese surname, originated here in Henan. The article I read indicated it was in Puyang. My search on the web says another town to the east of Henan which I doubt I will visit due to time constraints. More googling says that it began when Chen state was established, and so on, and the town inside Chen State is today Zhoukou, not too far from Zhengzhou and Kaifeng.

Retro province requires retro equipment. Leica M6 and M2 doing the duties for Henan Province along with 15 rolls of film.

So, the masterplan is to fly into Zhengzhou and cover all 4 ancient capitals and their most important sights and cover two thirds of the cities which are the possible origin of my surname. All these in 6 days.

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Shanghai, China: Changxing Island


The term “non-linear” applies especially to this post. I have made 2 trips to Changxing island over a few weeks, both times armed only with black & white film. As usual, I would type out this blog post on my Nokia E71 and then combine and edit them on a Macbook when I’m back in the comforts of my living room. However, somehow I got the post on Hengsha up and I forgot about this one till March 2010. So here I am, working on getting it out of my clogged up draft box.

As I originally wrote: after Hengsha, it is only natural the next island on the Yangzi River Delta to visit would be Changxing island, a lot bigger than Hengsha and slightly to the west. Not the biggest of course, that honour would go to Chongming island, subject of a future trip which I planned but never got to carry out before this post went online. It is not too difficult to get to Changxing. Same bus or metro to Wusong port and a boat to Majiagang, which is the only pier on the island, I was told. There are a lot more boats to Majiagang than to Hengsha, and the same for the return trip, so it shouldn’t be any issue to get there and back and advanced ticket is not necessary.

There are not too much information about Changxing Island on the internet, at least not the English internet that I can search for. I was told that this island contains many orange farms, of the green skinned type. Lokam, some call it. Shanghainese would go there in their car in autumn and pick them, like a novelty item as if reminding them of the agricultural origins of Pudong. As the ferry passes by Changxing Island on the way to Hengsha, all I saw on Changxing was a lot of shipyards, so I have expectations of orchards, four-stroke tractors and shipyards.

Eventually I would spend a total of two weekends to survey two sections of the island, the middle  and the far western end. It would be total nuts to walk the whole island. Changxing is at least 30km long from one end to the other.

First Survey: 15 August 2009

GPS Plot for 16 August hike

Tried to wake up early, as I expect a long long walk on Changxing. Left home at 0700hrs after packing my own lunch, as I don’t expect to waste time to look for a restaurant when on the island. After a quick breakfast, it was the usual bus 952 from People’s Square to Wusong port. At the Baoshan ticketing office, the next fast boat I could find was at 1000hrs. This means I have at least one and a half hours to waste at the waiting room. I plug in my iPod and Fring on my Nokia E71 and tried to get productive going through some podcasts.

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Life in Shanghai: Shanghai Railway Station

Since I have a lot of projects lined up on documenting Shanghai on film, I will put some of them up on this website about ‘Life in Shanghai’ as it is. Deviating from my standard long post, I hope to write less and put more of the commentary in the photo caption itself. This should make it easier and a lot quicker to post as I don’t need to check for grammatical or spelling mistakes; not that I do in the past anyways.
First up, a day roaming around the Shanghai main Train Station. Stations make very good photo assignments. You get all types of people here, and in China you get people waiting outside the station for their train and all types of activity known to man.

Shanghai Metro Station

How appropriate, a mega video screen, public toilet and phone booth in a compact space.

It was a hot day in summer. Whatever ways to cool down when out in the hot sun.

The railway station is also a place for Shanghainese to hang around. This boy was running all around while his grandmother chats with someone.

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Shanghai, China: Nanjing Rd at night

Late night shoppers hanging around Nanjing Rd way after all shops have closed.
The standard tourist to Shanghai makes a pilgrimage to the perennially packed Nanjing Road. The picture of thousands of shoppers compressed through the use of telephoto lens is all over brochures of Shanghai. I could copy those, and maybe I would in the future for my project, but I was more interested in what Nanjing Rd looked like late at night, when most of the shops have already closed.

In every major city there is always that one place where you will find more out-of-towners than locals, and this is where touts, conmen, and the general unlicensed street traders hang around. So naturally, I had my iPod on with sound isolating Shure headphones so I can ignore most of them coming up to me. I’m sure I will have to spend some time waiting so I packed a book with me so I can find a bench and read it until the crowd thins down.

In my small bag, 2 cameras. A Leica M6 fitted with a Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH, my favourite lens for night time shooting, and a second Leica M2 with Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH with Tom Abrahamsson’s Rapidwinder IXMOO. Both cameras are loaded with Fujifilm’s Neopan 1600. There are no meter on the Leica M2 so I was expecting quite a number of rejected shots.

And here are the results…

The standard shot of Nanjing Road, but this one close to 11pm. There are noticeably quite a number of people still wandering around, along with touts selling underwater goods.

This is a large tidbit shop. With the shutter closed, it is still possible to see the workers cleaning up and getting ready to return home.

This private proprietor is clearly a late night worker.
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Shanghai, China: Wusong Pier And Hengsha Island

Flower fields blossom at Wusong Park, yes strange way to start a post, but thought starting with a little colour might be appropriate here...
Summer is finally here. While I’d like to think that I have compiled a list of places to go in China, I rarely adhere to such lists anyway, and most destinations are off the seat of my pants. Last winter was reserved mainly for discovering new interesting back streets in Shanghai. Because of the cold, and the fact that most of my trip requires hours outdoors, it is a lot more comfortable to be close to home.

The first one the list, which has been on my want-to-do-list for some time, is a survey trip to Hengsha island. It desn’t really have to be Hengsha, Changxing is fine as well. The former is one of the larger islands on the Yangzi river mouth, where the Yangzi and the smaller Huangpu rivers meet. I’m not a geologist, but it does seem to form part of the Yangzi river delta, the famous Yangzi River Delta! Trip there requires a public bus to one of the ports where the two rivers meet, as I wrote this, I had no idea which port the boats leave, but Google maps does suggest that I start with Wusong pier and so it shall. Taking a taxi there would be the easiest, but since when has adventure about taking the easiest path? Buses are not really that dodgy in Shanghai, but just for the fun of it, why not the bus? There are many places to board buses that goes to Wusong pier, and I settled on the closest one so that I can avoid taxis.

The Yangzi river from Wusong battery park

Port of Shanghai at Pudong

Over the course of weeks I made a few trips to Wusong port and it took till the third trip before I made it to Hengsha Island, but none of the trips were a waste at all.

30 May 2009

Unlike most other trips I have made, I woke up a little late at 10 am this morning. Has to be the latest waking up time for me on a Saturday! After lunch and a little gear tinkering and packing, and just utter time wasting on twitter, I started leaving my apartment at 1 pm, knowing full well I might have missed the last boat to be able to return on the same day. Let’s face it, staying the night on some island I’ve never been to before in China is not exactly part of the plan today.

So what is in the bag today? Plenty of water since it is a hot day today. Took with me a innocent looking tote bag bought in Tokyo, filled with a Nikon D300, 12-24mm DX, 10.5mm DX and of course a 105mm f4 Macro AI in case the opportunity of insects, details and flowers present itself. Since there will be people to shoot as well, packed in my Leica M3 as well, along with a new 5cm Summitar collapsible lens. I just got this one back from a little repair work by John van Stelten from Focal Point in Colorado about a month ago, and it is time to see if this lens is any good for the price you pay (one of the cheapest Leica lens you can buy!). Film is of course, ERA100, and like I always say – chinese film for chinese people. Packed a Garmin GPS as well, and I can already feel that this unit is getting a little creaky old!

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Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang
Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I’m lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it’s famous because it’s famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

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