Gyeonggi Province, South Korea: Suwon City Fortress

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Suwon old city wall

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Architectural detail: An old door with armored metal sheets taken at one of the secret entrances into the city along the wall.

Alright, I’m here now in a new country, ready to explore the place out and what a better place to do this than during the golden weekend. We are now around end of September, and this is what the Korean calls their Thanksgiving and what happens is that the whole of Korea goes on holiday for a whole week. Equivalent to the lazy christmas week for the Americans and a shorter version of the French summer holidays. Offices will be closed. Everyone will either go home to visit their elders or gravitate towards the summer playground of Jeju Island. Whatever it is, I’m not about to go far on this long week, in fear of highway traffic jam, lack of return tickets on trains and flights, and overpriced hotels. Hell, I’ve not even had time to visit any place around Seoul yet. So its time to do a little research on Wikipedia and Google Maps for the best place to visit for this long weekend.

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Suwon City, nothing special about it. This is the view from the top of the hill where the wall passes through.

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Old city walls separate the ordinary residents from the Kings that live inside the wall. Not true of course, just cooking things up.

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Map view of the walk. Train station is on the bottom left. Wall is that baloon formed by the orange line.

The old town of Suwon looks interesting. What it is, in short, a town with a core that has its ancient city walls intact. From the map it looks a lot smaller than the city walls of, say Nanjing or Xian in China, but perhaps they don’t have as crazy an enemy to protect against; who knows. Best of all, Suwon is just an hour or two out to the South of Seoul allowing travel by Metro in the morning and returning late in the evening. So the plan was hatched. I will need to plot a GPS course this trip while walking the whole circumference of the city wall, which looks achievable in a day.

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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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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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