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: 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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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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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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Travels: Guangxi Province, Guilin, China

Eroded landscape along Li River
The eroded landscapes around Guilin is one of those sceneries that one would think about when China comes to mind. The picture of many little karst hills in the countryside, and a calm river in the foreground with a lone fisherman. This is one of those areas I wanted to go before leaving China, and as famous as it is (meaning many tourists) I guess this is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. So then it is, I have managed to organize a trip to Guanxi province just after the Sichuan trip on the way back to Shanghai just to see it with my own eyes. Will be flying into Guilin directly from Chengdu.

20 November 2008: Landed in Guilin at 9 pm after an hour and a half from Chengdu. Small airport, obviously so compared to Chengdu and probably not a good comparison at all. Slept during the landing and since it was late at night, it was probably impossible to see anything. Temperature is a nice 13C at night. Balmy compared to Chengdu in the single digits.

Film used during the trip, including Sichuan Province

My luggage is one of the first to appear, good considering I was the last to check in! In 1 minute I was out of Guilin Liangjiang airport (yup, the official name) and into a Golden Dragon brand bus bound downtown. I’m not a guide book so I have no idea where this bus ends but it does go to Guilin Train Station and its where I am going. Dumped my backpack into the luggage hold and its time to wait 30 minutes. The cost of the bus to the train station from airport is 20 RMB. According to what people tell me, as long there is a flight arriving, there will be an airport bus.

Within 30 minutes the bus dropped me at Shanghai Road with a finger pointing to the direction of the train station, quite obvious it requires a bit of a walk. Looking at the GPS maps on my E71, I managed to find a signboard leading to the Flowers Youth Hostel in Guilin. I will have to walk through little alleys and small restaurants selling dodgy food (i’m sure it tastes good though) and mini travel agents. Hostel is on the second floor of a maze of buildings. No fanfare, I’d arrive, get the room, get a shower and do a little blogging and sleep to prepare for the next day to Yangshuo.

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 3 (6 Sept 2008)

Free Range Chicken at Xidi (Ricoh GR Digital)
Tunxi Youth Hostel lobby wall (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Kodak Tri-X)

Anhui Province: Up at 6am after sleeping 8 hours to worry about whether my stuff are all dry. Doesn’t help that my hostel room already starts to smell damp, not from my airing, but just a general matter of things when you don’t pay too much for a room. Considering the night before was a bed made of board with 1cm of cushion, the one last night was a lot better.

0714hrs Huangshan Youth Hostel, Anhui Province: Up for breakfast. Looks like it will be another cloudy day. Since I have been out for some days now, thought I’d indulge in a little coffee and english breakfast, which here probably means bacon and many eggs with toast. Waiting for my lazyman tour to the villages so I can take things easy today before catching the 9pm train back to Shanghai.

I have also realised I might need a larger camera bag as I cannot store my extra 105mm lens in the Thinktank Speeddemon bag. It sits right in my left pocket in my cargo shorts. Not exactly very comfortable. Maybe a lens drop in case will do next time.

Water Lilly Leaves Hongcun Village (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

0823hrs In tour bus at Tunxi, Anhui Province N29.71073 E118.30611: Someone please remind me why in China it is a lot better to go on your own than to join a tour. This is a small bus with a dozen people in it, all locals except for me I guess, there are a couple with Beijing accent, and complete with the stereotypical always-smoking chinese male in his 30-40s. No chinese with rolled up long pants yet… I can’t do that as I’m on bermudas. So we are going around Tunxi city picking up passengers. My GPS are not getting the full signal it should be getting because of the dense buildings in the city. And I do have a tour guide as well, too bad she speaks only Chinese. This will be fun… Looks likely we have picked up all the passengers, and should be on our way out thru the south west of Tunxi…

Drying Chillies (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 2 (5 Sept 2008)

Morning in Xiao Likeng (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)
Morning in Xiao Likeng (Ricoh GR Digital)

Jiangxi Province: Had a nice long 8 hour sleep last night here in Xiao Likeng in Jiangxi Province, afraid of the mosquitoes because of the countryside, but the sleep last night was peaceful enough with the windows wide opened and sound of cascading water outside all night long as the room was just next to the fast flowing canals. There doesn’t seem to be too much to do here so most inhabitants are asleep before 9pm, which you can tell by the lights all going off. Villagers walk around at night by bring along torch lights as there are no street lighting. What do you expect from a little village like this, right?

So here I am waking up at 6:30am, ready and packed up to go. The good thing about packing light is that I can check out of the inn I was staying in and could just go around the village to take pictures of the morning activities. Other than kids walking to school, the majority of villagers crowd around the pavillion square in the morning. There is a motorcycle with a big basket on its back full of chicken, and 2 guys with large chunks of pork, presumably you ask for a certain size and he will cut it to scale. It was not busy like a typical market, so I guess its just catering to the few hundred that live here. 

Villager doing morning shopping for live chicken (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)

Likeng Pork Seller (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)

0815hrs Jiangwan, Jiangxi Province N29.37054 E118.04676: Met up with my motorcycle driver at 0730hrs sharp, and this guy has been a good tour guide (Mr Yu, mobile number: 1387 0330 588). On a cold and misty Friday morning, he first stopped me at a concealed lookout on the road, to take a nice lanscape view of Wengkou Village. He was probably surprised to see a guy with 3 cameras. Took a couple of photos of the village situates at a bend of the river, the wind still calm so you see perfect reflection. Too bad for the thin fog, but i took many photos from the same spot.

View of Wankou Village from the highway (Ricoh GR Digital)

Square top (Ricoh GR Digital)

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 1 (4 Sept 2008)

Day 1: Xiao Likeng (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)
GPS Plots for Jiangxi and Anhui Province trip

Xiao Likeng Village (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Kodak Tri-X)

This is another one of those quick decisions. Before I know it, I’m already on the 2235hrs N418 train to Huangshan. This is an overnight train that will take 12 hours to get to Huangshan City, also known as Tunxi. I’m no stranger to Chinese hard sleeper trains.

As usual, picked up the middle bunk. Hard sleepers have compartments with 6 beds, 2 columns of 3 bunks. The cushion is at least 5cm thick, enough for me. The trick is to get the middle bunk, for me at least. Top bunk smells of smoke (someone is always smoking in the non smoking train) and there is always someone sitting on your bunk at the bottom. Ticket cost 169RMB one way and it is now possible to buy return tickets in Shanghai.

Untitled (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Packing was quite difficult. On one hand I wanted to pack light as I could be village hopping a bit, but I’d want to also pack quite a number of photo gears. At the end, decided not to pack long pants, purely shorts, 3 t-shirts, socks and underwear, of course, and premium disposable toileteries from my many trips to Tokyo. The D2H comes along with spare EN-EL4a battery, 40mm ULTRON, and 105mm AIS lens. Thought about my new 12-24mm lens but had to cut down on weight. theres also the Leica M6 with 8 rolls of film and a 50mm Summicron lens. And the trustworthy Ricoh GRD.

Blades of Grass (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Anyway, train is zipping along now and it should be time to sleep. And then I had another eureka moment with this system. When you board the train, a conductor comes along and switched your train ticket for a credit card thingy. I then realised that is how they keep track of who is going where. Between every stops they will come to wake you up and exchange your card thingy widget back to your ticket. That way they know who has a ticket, where they are going and will be able to catch fare dodgers! Genius!

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