Saturday, September 13, 2008

I received some pretty awesome news the other day. One of my photographs from The Daily Californian was selected as a finalist for the 2008 ACP Photo Excellence Award in the category of "Environmental Portrait." The ACP (or Associated Collegiate Press) sponsors awards for college student publications such as magazines, newspapers, and yearbooks. Out of 774 total photograph entries, 29 finalists were selected. This was my picture that was selected:

Staff/Alan Wong
©The Daily Californian
Click here for the actual article!

Winners will of all the contests will be announced at the ACP/CMA National College Media Convention in Kansas City on October 29th to November 2nd. At this point, I don't even care if I win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place; it's pretty darn cool just to make it as a finalist. Mad props to my photo editors for submitting this picture as an entry!

The really funny thing about it all is that I never thought it was that great of a photograph.  I still remember how nervous I was about this particular photo shoot. It was the first time I had ever used an external flash unit. (For those of you who don't know, DSLR cameras can control off camera flash units that can manipulate the lighting in a picture.) I literally spent all day practicing with those stupid flashes.

Like a death row inmate making his way to the chair, I walked to the meeting place. We ended up doing the photo shoot inside an empty classroom in the UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law. It made the most sense; he was a law student after all. He says that he's really busy and he's got to leave after 15 minutes.  So here I am in an empty classroom with only 15 minutes to get "the picture." And how the hell am I going to make this empty classroom look interesting? Luckily the reporter is there with me to help me buy some time. I ask her to make some small talk to distract him while I brainstorm and set everything up. Luckily the guy brought his big studio-style headphones with him. I decide to ask him to draw some pretty musical notes on the whiteboard behind him. I know it's cheesy, but it's better than nothing. I get him in position and take the first snapshot...

"What the hell are those weird reflections off the whiteboard??  Ugh, it's those stupid external flashes."

I end up having to completely scrap the whole external flash idea.  All that time studying and practicing with them was for naught. I look at the clock. I'm running out of time, so I quickly try a bunch of different poses:

"Why don't you try standing up this time?"
"Now I want you to look directly at the camera."
"Do you think you could put the headphones around your neck now?"
"Try reclining in your chair with your feet on the table."

Personally, I like to shoot candid photographs; I hate having posing people. But I have no choice because coming back without any photographs is not an option. I'm going for the quantity over quality approach. At least I'll have a bunch of pictures to choose from.  Hopefully at least one of these pictures will do the trick. And out of the fourty or so pictures I took, this was the one that was chosen.  And now you know the whole story.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm a Los Angeleno, born and raised in the City of Angels. (Or an Los Angelean; I'm not exactly sure what you call a person from Los Angeles). Los Angeles is the land of sunshine with 325 sunny days and only 27 rainy days on average per year (quoteth wikipedia).

Compared to Los Angeles, the weather in China has been bizarre. The Guangdong Province has a humid subtropical climate; it's basically like living in a sauna. The temperature is about 91 degrees without the humidity. And when it's not blazing hot, its pouring outside.

Rain has pretty much been following me everywhere I've been.  It was greeted by rain on my first day in China, during my first trip to Hong Kong, and the first day I arrived in Foshan.  This is picture of the basketball courts outside my dorm drying off after a fresh rain storm:

Monsoon season is starting to wind down, but there are still frequent thunderstorms.  I've never heard/seen thunder and lightning like this before in my life.  I swear it must rain at least a couple times a week.  And it always come out of nowhere and catches me off guard.  My coworkers are prepared for it though; they always bring their umbrella with them everywhere.  Me on the other hand...well I don't have the best memory.  I can't tell you how many times I've been caught outside without an umbrella.

One time it happened while I was having dinner with coworkers; it started raining on our way to restaurant.  I didn't have my umbrella, but luckily, the place had a worker with HUGE umbrella to escort people from the car/taxi back to the restaurant.  It was the largest umbrella I had ever seen in my life, so I had to take a picture:

The worst was during last Sunday in Guangzhou.  It looked pretty clear outside, so I didn't bother to bring my umbrella.  It decided to start raining at about 6:00 PM.  At the time I was out exploring with my friends, but had to meet my coworkers at 7:00 PM.  Is still had to make my way to the metro station and ride it down a couple stop.  I took this picture while waiting for a taxi to take me to the station.  There was no way I was going to try to walk five blocks through that without an umbrella:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One of the other prime attractions of Guangzhou is the Museum of the Nanyue King. It's an almost 2000 year old tomb built for King Wen of Nanyue. Nanyue was an ancient kingdom that incorporated much of Southern China and Northern Vietnam. The tomb's claim to fame is it's accidental discovery when digging apartment foundations back in 1983. It was found hidden in the center of Elephant Hill. Being inside a hill, the tomb was never robbed and was still intact during excavation. It must have been like an Chinese archieologists' wet dream.

Anyway, here's your personalized tour of the museum!

This first picture is of the street outside the entrance to the museum. (I was just messing around with low shutter speed and purposeful blur):

Like I said earlier, the tomb was built into a hill, so you have to climb like 5 sets of stairs just to get to the original site. This is a picture of the tomb taken from above:
Each sign on the floor labels the name of each chamber. All together, the tomb consists of seven rooms. A protective glass pyramid was build around the entire tomb complex.

The first chamber you can enter is the ante chamber. It's the portal to each of the other rooms. Each chamber had a particular purpose or "theme." Except for the main coffin room, the others were used to store different types of stuff: food, animals, human sacrifices, concubines, medicine, weapons, etc. It's kind of crazy to think that the king's wives, cooks, servants, etc. were all buried alive with him. I guess it's good to be king! Anyway, here is a picture of the ante chamber from above:

This is a picture of my friend taking a picture of me taking a picture of him taking a picture of me taking a picture...(infinite loop). We were just fooling around while walking through the tomb:

The ancient Chinese must have been really short. I mean like even shorter than Chinese people are now. I just had to get this picture of me walking through one of the portals. (And yes, I am wearing a USA shirt. It's my Olympics shirt. I like to stand out as a tourist with my huge backpack and giant camera around my neck):

In addition to the tomb, the museum showcases all the relics from the mausoleum. There's over a 1,000 treasures unearth from the mausoleum. After awhile it all just started looking the same though: "Oh that's cool because it's well...just really old."

My favorite was his jade burial suit. Chinese people believe(d?) that jade could preserve the body from decaying. They buried him in a jade suit. They took over 2291 pieces of jade, drilled little holes in them, and sewed them together with silk thread. They went the whole nine yards; we're talking about shoes, pants, a shirt, gloves, and a face mask all made of jade. I would totally weak that. It's must be heavy as hell, but that's the price you pay to look fly. Anyway, as if that weren't enough jade, they buried him with dozens of jade disks and jewelry placed all over his body and coffin.

I don't think that the jade worked that well though; all that was left was part of his jaw and skull.

Click here for my Guangzhou album!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an aeroplane, or swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."
-Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II

That's actually a real quote; you can't make that kind of stuff up. So is it true? I'm still not sure, but I'll present the evidence and let you decide for yourself. Today is all about the Qingping Market in Guangzhou, China.

The Qingping Market is a world famous street market known for its wild animal trades. Here you can find all sorts of animals, dead and alive. Everyday, 60,000 people come to this 1 km long street market to do their shopping. Here a picture of one of the blocks of the Qingping Street:

My journey started in the Chinese medicine section. Here you can find vendor after vendor selling bags of unidentifiable traditional Chinese medicine. It was probably best that I couldn't read the Chinese characters; I didn't really want to know want each medicine was made of. Supposedly, some of these medicines are made from the by-products of endangered species. Below is a picture of some of these shops. Look at all the different medicines!:

There definitely were some clearly identifiable medicines such as the dried starfish or animal paws. This next picture shows dried snake skins:

I'm not exactly sure what snakes are used cure. From my research, snakes are supposedly good for stiffness (because snakes are so flexible), chronic skin problems (because snakes shed their skin), and convulsions (because snake venom can paralyze). I should have bought some snake for my eczema :(

The really shocking traditional medicine for me were dried sea horses. Sea horses are really popular here and are supposedly an aphrodisiac. Check out this picture. (And yes, those are all sea horses):

After awhile, all the medicine shops started looking the same, so I moved further down the street. Suddenly, the medicine market turned into a live animal market. On the surface, the place just looked like it was full of pet stores after pet store. This market had it all: bunny rabbits, kittens, puppies, starfish, turtles, birds, etc. It actually reminded me a lot of the Goldfish Market in Hong Kong. Here are three cute kittens in a cage:

So the big question I'm sure you're all wondering is, "Alan, do people really eat those animals? Is it really a live animal food market?" Honestly, I'm not sure. That whole idea didn't even cross my mind until my friend pointed out some "sleeping" animals. I couldn't actually tell if they were dead or just sleeping. I just wanted to believe that they were just sleeping; it would just be to weird to have both dead and alive animals in the same cage.

For the record, I didn't see any animals being slaughtered or cooked, although I've read one account of the Qingping Market that said:

Hawkers shout out prices and hold out handfuls of writhing flesh in front of you, cell phones rings, and the smell of fresh blood hits your nostrils as it mingles with the strong scents of ginger and other spices.

I did see one person buying a live dog. It was a big white dog in a cage. The cage was so small that the dog couldn't even sit up straight. At the time, I thought it was sweet that someone was giving the dog a home. Now I'm just wondering whether or not the dog found a home in someone's stomach.

The surprising thing is that recently this market has been toned down. I've heard that it was even more graphic and intense. They had to tone it down during that whole bird flue pandemic. Oh, and FYI, this was one of the markets that was been blamed as the source of the proliferation of SARS.

So what do you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sorry, but the Guangzhou entry will have to wait until tomorrow night. It'll be about the Qingping Market, an exotic animal for food and medicine. (Mmm, delicious). Tonight, I ended up skyping with one of my best friends. He's working in India and that was the first time that I actually got to talk with him. I'm just to lazy to edit pictures now.

Anyway, today's entry is about the strange English names here in China. From my understanding, Chinese people aren't usually given an English name at birth. They just come up with their own English name. Often, they choose a name that sounds similar to their Chinese name. Makes sense right?

For example, I knew one Taiwanese coworker who was also named Alan. He told me that chose the name "Alan" because it sound similar to his Chinese name is "bo wen" (Pronounced: bow when). It guess sounds kind of like Alan. Personally, I think it's a great name. (He also chose Alan because that was the name of one of his English teachers.)

But not every English name is as normal as "Alan." There's also the really oddball English names. It's like someone chose some ridiculus name as part of a terrible practical joke. I've actually been keeping a list of these names. Here's a sampling:

Jeason (I swear that this is the strangest spelling of "Jason" that I've ever seen)
Hunk (I've never met the guy; can't tell tell you if it's an apt description)

My personal favorite is "Popper." Some of my "veggie bird" coworkers wanted to introduce me to him. Apparently he had been bugging them for weeks because he wanted to meet "the American." He really wanted to practice his English with me. I remember being really confused when he introduced himself. I thought I had misheard him. I mean Popper?? What kind of English name is that? Does he really like popcorn or something? Actually, my first thought waso of "jalapeno poppers." I really wish they had those here in China :(

Anyway, when I asked him about it, he explained that he picked the name Popper because he likes popping. You know, like the dance? Pop lockin'? Pretty cool! I guess that almost makes Popper an acceptable name.

(I actually haven't talked to him since. I got the feeling that he just wanted to practice English, not teach me Mandarin. I didn't mind helping him, but I really should be practicing my Mandarin.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last week, my coworkers asked me if I knew what these Chinese characters meant:


I didn't know the meaning, but I was able to read the characters!  (You have no idea how happy that made me.)  Translated literally the words are jibberish: 老鸟 (lao niao) means "old bird" and 菜鸟 (cao niao) means "vegetable bird."  They refer to the types of coworkers I have at the factory: the rookie newcomers and the experienced veterans.

I'm a "veggie bird;" I'm one of the new guys who just joined.  There's a sizable amount of us because my company has an extensive new college graduate program that's been going on for many years in China and Tawian.  (I'm one of the guinea pigs from the newly created US version of that program.)  Typically, us "veggie birds" have either just started or have only been working for a few years.  The average age is somewhere in the mid to late 20s.  Even though I'm the youngest of the group at the tender age of 22, I feel really old around them.  I mean I'm hanging out with people a few years older than me and treating them like peers.

Now the "old birds" are the veterans of the company; they're the people who've been there forever.  Here you'll find the "Gods" of the company who've been working  for 20+ years.  Obviously, they're a much older; they're usually in their mid to late thirties at least.  When I'm around this group, I feel like a little kid.  In fact, I get treated like the 弟弟 or "di di" (Chinese for younger brother).

Anyway, that reminds me of a funny story from my Satuday night dinner with the "old birds."  They were commenting on how the HR person was like my babysitter.  She was translating for me and putting food on my plate.  (She's really nice and she's been taking care of me since I got here.)  Anyway, I wasn't sure what to call her: I didn't know how to say babysitter and she seemed too old to be called older sister.  So I called her 阿姨 or a yi (Chinese for auntie).

In China, auntie doesn't have to refer to a relative/family member.  It's a very commonly used name for women who are older than you.   In fact, it's a affectionate, respectful title.  However, I must have used it in the wrong context.  The moment I said that, she scowled and gave me the evil eye.  I'm thinking, "Oh shit, what did I say wrong?"

She must have been too young to be called auntie . (I'm not exactly sure how old she is.).  I guess that it would be like calling a woman in her early twenties "Mrs."  Luckily she took it in jest and we had a good laugh about it.  From here on out though, I'm just going to call every woman older than me 姐姐 or "jie jie" (Chinese for older sister.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chinese people love eating food. It's a very symbolic part of their culture. For me, I find that eating Chinese food with Chinese people is one of the best ways to bond. After two weeks in Foshan, I'm finally getting to know my coworkers. I've actually had dinner with them this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (In fact after dinner on Friday, we went to a bar. I use the word bar loosely; I only had 0.5 L of beer and I was the only one who drank.)

Now the food in Foshan is definately different. As I've mentioned before, Foshan is not as Western or modern as Shenzhen. There aren't a lot of expensive high class restaurants. Needless to say, I haven't found any imported American steak here. As a result, I've been eating more "authentic" Chinese food. So what does that mean exactly? I guess that this Chinese food is more stereotypical and traditional. You know, like chicken feet, pigs blood, dumplings, rice porridge, etc. These pictures are from Friday's dinner.

This first dish is a green onion pancake. It's basically a fried flat bread that folded over with green onions in the middle. I've seen this dish at pretty much every Chinese restaurant I've been to so far:

These next ones are steamed dumplings. I forget what exactly was inside them; probably some sort of combination of meat. (I usually just call them by their Japanese name: gyozas. My coworkers thought I spoke Japanese.):

Not exactly sure what this dish is. Some sort of sliced beef. I wasn't a fan of the taste, but I thought it looked pretty with that "carrot flower":

This is a picture of a pot of rice congee. Also known as jook or zhou, rice congee is a very popular traditional food in Asia. It's a type of porridge made by boiling rice with water. Actually, this restaurant was popular because of it's rice congee. In fact, this dish was the main course of dinner. (I'm used to calling it by its Cantonese name: jook. My coworkers also thought that I could speak Cantonese):

This next one is some sort of deep fried pork rib dish. They were alright. I'm not sure how authentic or common they are:

The most interesting thing part of dinner was this person playing the guzheng. It was like a Chinese version of a person playing the piano at a restaurant during dinner. For those of you know don't know, the guzheng is a traditional Chinese musical instrument; it's kind of like a zither. Like a spy, I took this picture inconspicuously to avoid being noticed. (That's why you can't see her full body and face. Yay for intentional blur!):
Anyway, I kind of like real Chinese food. I had real Cantonese dim sum today in Guangzhou. I've never had a better cha shao bao. I'm not a fan of the exotic dishes, but overall it's pretty good. It's very from Chinese food in the US. I'm not exactly sure how to describe why; maybe they just have different types of dishes here. There definately isn't any Orange Chicken. Man I could so go for some Panda Express though; I wonder if they deliver...

Last Sunday I went to the Foshan Museum with some coworkers.  I've just been too lazy to edit photos and write about it...until now.  Anyway, it's this very interesting museum that contains an ancestral temple, a Confucian temple, kung fu museums, shops, and really old statues and sculptures.  Neato combination huh?

The first of these kung fu museums was dedicated to Yip Man, who's known as the first master of the Wing Chun branch of Chinese martial arts.  Oh, and he had this one student named Bruce Lee.  Seriously, this guy was Bruce Lee's master.  (FYI, Bruce Lee's hometown is in a district of Foshan.  I need to check that place out.)  Anyway, I'm not sure if Yip Man practiced/trained here at this location, but there was this small museum decidated to him.  It was filled with some of his possessions and pictures/biographies of him and his students from all around the world.  I wasn't allowed to take any pictures :(

We walked out the building and though the Baochong Archway.  I'm not sure what's so special about it; it just looked really old and interesting:

One of the main attractions of the Foshan Museum is the Ancestral Temple.  This temple was originally built during the North Song Dynasty over 900 years ago, but it was burnt down and reconstructed in 1372.  (Even that's still pretty old.)

Anywho, this is a picture of a huge stone turtle from the Jinxian Pool.  The Jinxian Pool is this huge pond that separates the two courtyards outside of the temple.  It's filled with dozens and dozens of turtles swimming around:

The funny thing is that the "Ancestral Temple" is not actually an ancestral temple per se.  It was originally built for worshipping Beidi, the Northern Emperor and god of the waters.  People believed that he had magic powers against floods.  When the temple was rebuilt, it was renamed and locals began to use it to pay tributes to ancestors.

One of these tributes involves these red ribbons.  I'm not exactly sure about their meaning.  My coworkers mentioned something about writing wishes or prayers on them.  (If you happen to know, feel free to fill me in!):
And of course there is always incense.  Offering incense is a key part of Chinese religious ceremonies.  Plus Chinese people just believe that its good for your health and well being.  Here is a low depth of field picture of a girl offering incense.  (I felt so awkward about taking this picture, but I really like it!)"
This next picture is from the interior of the temple.  Note that the parts of the ceiling are open to the sky for lighting.  (These are the blown out parts of the picture.)  I feel like the wind and rain can't be good for the temple:
Along the walls of the temple are a series of gold colored guardian deities.  I felt really bad because after I took this picture, my coworkers told me that I should probably not take anymore.  Ya know, Chinese superstitions:

One of the other highlights of the Foshan Museum is the Huang Fei Hong Memorial Hall.  According to wikipedia: "Huang Fei Hong was a martial artist, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, and revolutionary who became a Chinese folk hero and the subject of numerous television series and films."

Honestly I've never heard of the guy.  But when I told people I was going to Foshan, the first thing they always mention was Huang Fei Hong.  Aparently, Jet Li got his start acting as Huang Fei Hong in the Once Upon a Time in China movie series.  Oh and Jackie Chan also portrayed him in the Drunken Master movie series.  (They're awesome movies if you haven't seen them.  I mean it's drunk kung fu.  Come on!)

Anyway, they had an entire section dedicated to Huang Fei Hong at the Foshan Museum.  The memorial hall was supposed to recreate the type of folk residence from his time.  There were all sorts of displays about his life and the movies based on his life.  This is a picture from the outdoor courtyard where people practiced kung fu:
I'm going to Guangzhou tomorrow to meet a friend from UC Berkeley who's studying abroad this semester!  Finally, an entire day where I can just speak English at a normal pace.  My brain could use a rest from Mandarin.