Friday, September 19, 2008

I love 2 day weekends. As I mentioned earlier this week, I had this Monday off because of the Mid Autumn Festival. I spent the day with some coworkers at the Qinghui Garden in Foshan. I'm still not exactly sure how to translate it to English; the characters are 清晖园. Rough translated, it sounds something like Clear Sunshine Garden. What can I say, the names of Chinese places don't really translate that well to English.

Anyway, Qinghui Garden is pretty famous garden. It's one of the 10 major gardens in China and one of the 4 famous gardens of Guangdong from the Qing Dynasty. Plus it's got this really interesting history too. It was originally the mansion of Huang Shijun, a Zhuangyuan. For over 1300 years, Imperial China used this imperial examination process. This "fair and unbiased" process was used to make appointments in the Imperial bureaucracy. Anyway, as Zhuangyuan, this dude was ranked number one out of the entire country! More additions were made after it was later purchased by another successful candidate named Long Yingshi. (I'm still trying to imagine what that must have been like to have your entire life determined by one countrywide test.)

Anyway, onto the pictures!

The Qinghui Garden is located in the Shunde District of Foshan City. One of Shunde's claims to fame is that it's known as the original birthplace of dragon boating. For those of you who don't know, there's a famous festival here in China during May called the Duanwu Festival. (I've always called it the "Dragon Boat Festival" though; that's kind of what it's most notable for.) Anyway, they had a large exhibition there explaining about it's origins. Here's a model dragon boat that is half-sized. Wow!

This is a low depth of field shot of some willow leaves. I felt like being particularly artsy that day :p

This is picture of the interior of Liufen House, the tallest building in the garden.  Etched into these blue stain glass panels are images of the Eight Immortals. The Eight Immortals are legendary figures from Chinese mythology:

This is a picture of one of the bridges in this expansive garden. Those kids were posing for a picture for their parents. I figured I'd take the picture of this bridge with them in the frame. Makes it more interesting right? That's what I tell myself so I don't feel like a creeper:

One of my favorite parts of the part of park were the koi fish. There were ponds spread throughout the garden filled with koi fish. For 3 RMB, you could buy a bag of fish food to feed them. This is a candid picture of a child feeding the fish.  This picture's my favorite: (I had to do MAJOR photoshop exposure correction on the original overexposed picture; I was shooting on manual and I forgot to bump the shutter speed.  Thank heaven I was shooting in RAW):

Here's a close up of the feeding frenzy:
Click here for more images of the Qinghui Park in my Foshan album.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent last Sunday at Thousand Light Lake. It's this cool little urban park in the middle of Foshan. Parks are really different here in China. I guess in the US, I always think of parks as quiet and idyllic places. But here, they're always crowded, noisy, and bustling. Anyway, here are some pictures:

This is a a wide-angle picture of the lake. You could rent paddleboats and motorboats to explore the lake. In fact, some of the mini islands were only accessible by boat:

This is the first of my "creeper images." It was really crowded at the park this day because of the Mid-Autumn Festival. (Pretty much everyone has the day off.) I just wanted to take some pictures of people having fun and enjoying themselves. Photographs of people are always more interesting:

For this next "creeper shot" I actually took the picture with my camera held at my waist. I didn't want to make it obvious I was photographing them so I pretended to accidentally press down the shutter LOL:

People in China love to have their picture taken at famous or pretty places. You can always find vendors who will take your portrait. For a nominal fee, they'll take your picture and print it our for you on the spot! They even bring a printer and some photo paper. This is a picture of a sign advertising the service:

There were also other types of vendors there too. This guy was selling his artwork. I snuck between two people in the crowd to take this picture:

Here's a picture of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the lake. It's all lit up at night. How pretty! I should have had my picture taken on the bridge :(

Lastly, since I was at Thousand Light Lake on the day of the Moon Festival, I decided to try to take some sort of picture that involved the moon. Here are some Chinese pavilions with a full moon in the background:

Anyway, click here to see the full gallery with more images!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Much to my surprise, I ran into my boss from Shenzhen today. It was the first time I had seen him or heard from him since I left for Foshan. As I was getting lunch, someone came up behind me and said, "Hey Alan." It threw me for a loop; I quickly threw together some Mandarin and said, "好久不见" ("hao jiu bu jian"), meaning literally long time, no see. (It's cool that it means the same thing in English and Chinese.) He was impressed.

Anyway, it got me thinking about working back in Shenzhen. I actually kind of miss the place. I've actually come to consider it my "home" in China. It's where I started my journey, ultimately it's where I'll end my journey. (I'll be coming back to Shenzhen for my last month in China.) 

Anyway, I was sorting through some pictures and I found these ones from Shenzhen that I never uploaded. Well I actually have way more, but I like these ones in particular:

Here's a picture of a local steet vendor located down the street from my apartment in Shenzhen. I remember waiting at the bus stop and secretly turning around to take this picture. At that point, I was still embarassed to take pictures out in the open:

This is a picture of the downtown Shenzhen skyline. Look at the sky! The clouds are so white and fluffy and the color of the sky is so vivid. It must be surprising because I live in Smogsville, USA (AKA Los Angeles):

This is a picture people jaywalking outside my apartment. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of jaywalking here in China. Here everyone jaywalks all the time. It doesn't matter how dangerous or busy the street is. I'm so used to it now. My coworkers here in Foshan said, "Wow, you really are Chinese now!"

Here is a picture of the interior of a Shenzhen taxi.  Look some have television screens in the back of the headrests!:

As I prepare to leave for Taiwan in a week from Friday, I wonder how I'm going to feel about Foshan. I have really mixed feelings about it now; it's a love/hate relationship. But then again, Shenzhen started out the same way. I guess absence does makes the heart grow fonder...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Much like the "Jordan" store, I found another weird basketball related store here in China. Everyone knows Spalding right? They make sports equipment like basketballs, softballs, baseballs, volleyballs, etc. We're talking about a lot of balls.

But you probably didn't know is that they also sell clothes and shoes. Just like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, or any other sports clothing store. Here's the proof:

Maybe it's just me, but I had no idea that they sold things other than sports equipment. I swear I had to do a double take when I saw this store.  Yay for another cheap clothing store in China!

Oh and this picture were taken in Guangzhou at the Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. I've uploaded some more images here

Monday, September 15, 2008

NOTE: This is part 1 of my entry on the Mid-Autumn Festival.  Click here for part 2.

For those of you who didn't know, yesterday was the Mid Autumn Festival here in China. It's also known as the Moon Festival, as it coincides with a full moon in the middle of the Autumn in the lunar calendar. It's got something do with a love story involving a princess who lives in the Moon. (It's not just you, it sounds pretty cuckoo to me too.)

I don't know that much about the Moon Festival because I never celebrated it in the U.S. So, I've been asking my coworkers questions all week to figure out what's the big deal about it. What do people do exactly to celebrate? My investigation has revealed that the Mid Autumn festival is the Chinese version of the United States' 4th of July.

No, I'm serious! It's a 3-day weekend where people like to have BBQs with family and friends. I had coworkers tell me vivid memories of being back in Taiwan as a child and having family BBQs. And at night after the BBQ, they'd have fireworks. Think about it: BBQs, family/friend gatherings, fireworks? China stole America's birthday!

Sadly though, I saw very little of that stuff. I spent the afternoon exploring this place called "Thousand Light Lake" with some coworkers. (I'll have more on that later this week.) The whole time that we were there I was expecting to see people BBQing in the park and lighting fireworks; there was none of that. At most I saw spotted chimney starters on the sidewalk during drive over and I heard/saw some fireworks outside my room at 2:00 A.M.

From my observations, the Mid Autumn Festival just makes China extra crowded. You have to keep in mind that practically the entire country has a 3-day weekend. And after Chinese New Year, it's the second most important holiday here in China. Plus, they don't have as many 3-day weekends here in China as we do in the United States.

But, the one thing I could count on was mooncakes.  Click here or see below for the next entry on the Mid Autumn Festival.

NOTE: This is part 2 of my entry on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Click here for part 1.

Now as I was saying in the previous entry, there was one thing that I knew I would find here in China during the Mid Autumn Festival: mooncakes. I think that mooncakes as the most central part of the Moon Festival. In case you've never seen them, here is a boxed set of mooncakes that my Shenzhen coworkers gave to me as a parting gift:

People eat mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival to commemorate a famous uprising against the Mongolian rulers of China duing the Yuan dynasty. The Chinese people noticed that the Mongols didn't like mooncakes. Unable gather in public to plan their rebellion, they filled mooncakes with a hidden message to coordinate the revolt. They spread some rumor about the mooncakes being able to prevent a deadly plague to distribute them to everyone. Now people eat mooncakes to remember the day of that revolt.  Pretty funny huh?

Mooncakes are baked round or rectangular pastries.  They're slightly sweet, but very oily. Traditionally, they're filled with a salty duck egg yolk. These yolks are supposed to symbolize the moon. Here's a picture of one of those traditional mooncakes that's been cut open: (FYI, the orange center is the yolk.):

Mooncakes can very tremendously in flavor and texture. I've been to stores that green tea and strawberry mooncakes. Last week, for desert they had these wierd mooncakes that tasted like a protein bar. Even Cold Stone Creamery sells ice cream filled mooncakes! Personally been a fan of traditional mooncakes; too oily and not sweet enough. I really want to try some of these modern mooncakes.  I've heard that they're really cheap now that the Mid Autumn Festival is over; they're usually about $10 U.S. each!  (I guess it's kind of like buying bags of candy the day after Halloween.)

It's been a feeding frenzy here in China as people have been buying mooncakes. You could preorder them months ago (as I've mentioned in a previous entry). Luckily I brought my camera with me to dinner on Saturday, the night before the Mid Autumn Festival. Of course the one day that I don't bring my wide angle lens, I'm stuck in a cramped place where I need it. I had to shoot all these with a 50mm prime lens. Anyway here was my attempt to capture the madness:

Here is a crate of mooncakes that people were sifting through:

Mooncakes are also sold in boxed sets.  It just looks prettier when you give them as gifts to people:

This place was basically a parking lot where dozens of vendors set up tents to sell mooncakes. We're talking a couple dozen pop-up tents all crammed into the same location. Here is a picture of some people shopping for mooncake: (I've been trying to come up with a good speech bubble for each person but I can't think of any.  Anyone have a good one?)

And lastly, here are my coworkers sifting through crate after crate of mooncakes:

And that was my Mid Autumn Festival in China.  How was your Moon Festival?