Friday, September 26, 2008

Of course I would put off packing untill the last moment... again. It's about 2:00 AM and I'm just about done. Actually, this time around I finished pretty early. The shuttle is picking me up at 8:00 A.M. to take me to the Macau Airport. That means I can still get in a rock-solid 5 hours of sleep.

For those of you who don't know, I'm heading to Taiwan for the next month. I would love to write an entry about my worries, concerns and hopes, but I'm just too burnt out from packing all night. (I'll probably get around to writing one tomorrow after I land.)

Anyway, I'm really excited about finally getting a proper haircut. It's been about three months since I've gotten my hair cut. That's a lot considering I usually get it cut every month or so. Check out these gnarly photographs:

And in case you forgot what my hair used to look like, here is a side by side comparison:

You're probably wondering why I've been waiting to go to Taiwan to get my haircut. It's not like people don't get haircuts in China. (Although, that might be the case with some Chinese people I've seen around.) I've been advised not to get my haircut here in China. I work mainly with Taiwanese coworkers and they've all told me to just wait until I get to Taiwan:

"Trust us, you don't want to get your hair cut in China."

So I've been putting it off for the longest time. But this Saturday, I have an appointment to get my hair cut. The funny thing is that now I want to grow out my even more! I've never had my hair this long; I'm curious what it would look like even longer. Then when I get back to the US, I'll just shave my head. I could film it and put it on youtube! That's a "top viewed" video for sure.

Anyway, I hope I don't end up looking like a FOB. It's still Taiwan after all; it's not the US. I'll have some pictures posted later this week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last weekend, I went to the Star Lake National Park in Zhaoqing, China. It's one of the top national parks in China and probably the most beautiful place in all of Southern China. It's main claim to fame are the Seven Star Crags. These seven crags are naturally arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper constellation. Legend says that these pillars grew from stars that fell from the skies. Ah, how poetic. What can I say, Chinese people love these kinds of stories and myths.

I thought it was a really cool place. I would totally love to go back, but I probably won't get the chance. It's a good 2 hours away from Foshan. It would take some serious organization to plan another trip like this. Furthermore, I'm leaving for Taiwan on Friday!

Anyway, now for my favorite part, the pictures!

The first place we visited was this bird island. The highlight was the red-crowned crane sanctuary:
(I got really lucky with this particular picture. Just as I was about to take the picture, it yawned for just a split second. It's way more interesting than the usual closed mouth picture huh?)

The red-crowned crane is an incredibly rare and important animal to the Chinese people. This species is the second rarest crane in the world and they are indigineous only to East Asia. In China, they are featured in myths and legends as a symbol of longevity and immortality. They're often called fairy cranes because immortals are depicted riding on them. They were going to be selected as the national animal of China but the decision was deterred because the crane's Latin name is "Japanese Crane." (Neato facto: The official logo of Japan Airlines is a red-crowned crane.)

Our next stop was the Thousand Years Ancient Temple in the Running Rice Cave. (Again, Chinese names just don't translate that well to English.) It was looked cool because they had tons of incense coils hanging from the ceiling of the cave. (Makes for a nice black solid background.) Check it out:

Here's a picture of an incense altar located outside of the cave. Yay for a fat Buddha statue in the background.

Now this is a picture of one of the bridges connected to the Thousand Years Ancient Temple island. If you look closely, there's a couple dressed up in wedding clothes:
In fact, there were a total of five couples having their wedding pictures taken here. (Note that in China, people often have their wedding pictures taken before the actual wedding. They'll go to some scenic place and get all dressed up in their wedding clothes.) Anyway, people came to this bridge because it's named "que qiao" meaning the bridge of magpies. It's a reference to this Chinese love story related to Chinese Valentine's Day. In the story, there are these lovers who are only allowed be together once a year on the night of Chinese Valentine's Day. On this night, all the magpies in the world fly up to heaven to form a bridge to unite the lovers. How oddly romantic.

On our way to the next stop, I got my telephoto lens out and snapped this picture. (There's something about using a telephoto lens to take candid shots that makes me feel especially creepy.) Anyway, as you can see Chinese people love taking pictures at scenic places like this:

The highlight of the day were the Seven Star Crags. We ended up only hiking up the Tianzhu Crag (天柱岩). At 114 meters, it's the tallest of the bunch. Tianzhu roughly translates to "Sky Column." Here's what it looks like:

It's funny because people here refer to this kind of hiking as "mountain climbing." I dunno, I always think of mountain climbing as involving ropes, harnesses, and carabiners. In China, the hiking can get pretty precarious though. Many of these staircases are very steep, narrow, and uneven. I can't even remember how many times I slipped. Check out this one:

And just when you thought it couldn't get any narrower:

It was about a 15-20 minute walk to the peak. The hike was worth though it because the view from the top was great! At the top there was this little pavilion where you could rest and take pictures. Here's the view of the Shishi Crag, an other one of the Seven Star Crags:

And here is a view of one of the lakes. The "y-shaped" grove of trees is actually a bridge walkway:

One of the park's other claims to fame are these stone inscriptions. Here you can find carved inscriptions made by historical figures in every dynasty since the Tang Dynasty. These inscriptions contain poems, travel notes, autographs, and depictions. Because the written Chinese language hasn't changed, people can still read them. (Well, I can't read them, but my coworkers could. Haha.) This particular inscription dates back to the Qing Dynasty:

Next, this is a picture of the interior of another temple at the park. That large golden statue is a Chinese deity. I'm not sure how kosher it is to take pictures of Chinese Gods, but hey, it makes fore a cool picture. Notice the interesting looking beam and ceiling architecture?

Finally, here is another water relection picture of some Chinese pavilions:

As always, you can find the rest of my gallery here. I was particually trigger happy on this day, so there are plenty more photos where this came from.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alright, enough of these wordy entries. It's time to get back to my love: photography. I just finished preparing a gallery of sixty images from this past month in Foshan. It's a Facebook gallery, but you don't need to have Facebook to see it. Check it out!

Alan's Facebook Gallery of Foshan

That gallery actually includes some new pictures from my adventures at the Star Lake National Park from last weekend. I literally spent all day editing and updating metadata for those images. I'd love to write about it, but I'm way to burnt out right now. I promise I'll have an entry about it tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's a little something to grab your interest:

Monday, September 22, 2008

My full name is Alan Michael Wong. That's the name I've always been called and that's the name that I'm used to hearing. Here in China though, sometimes people call me by my Chinese name: 黄仲贤 or Huang Zhong Xian. (Note that with Chinese names, the last name always comes first.) But wait, how is it that my last name is "Wong" in the US, but "Huang" here in China? And what exactly is the difference between Wong, Huang, and Wang?

It always kind of irked me growing up. I was never really sure if I was ever pronouncing my own last name correctly. Now that I've been here in China for about 2 months, I think I've finally got it figured out. (Well kind of at least.)

There are two main complications:

1) First of all, there are multiple ways to romanize the Chinese language. (By romanize, I mean represent the Chinese language with the Roman alphabet.) Let's face it, Chinese characters were never really designed for our alphabet. As Russell Peters put it: "Our alphabet ... is not set up for songs like that. There's never going to be a Chinese YMCA."

2) Secondly, there are many different dialects of spoken Chinese. Some of these can be as different as English and German. Sure they might have some words that sound alike, but no one would ever consider them the same language.

The largest of these dialects is Mandarin, which is the official spoken language of China. Even within Mandarin, there are different geographical accents. I guess it'd be kinda of like having a Boston accent or Southern twang. The other major language is Cantonese. It tends to be the main language in overseas Chinese communities in the United States. Cantonese is particularly popular in southern China and Hong Kong, so I've been hearing a pretty good amount of it. Luckily one of the Emperors of China had the foresight to unify the Chinese written language. (Ugh, I can't even imagine a world with multiple written Chinese languages.)

Anyway, two of the most common surnames in China are 黄 (meaning "yellow") and 王 (meaning "king"). (FYI, I'm yellow; I'm not a king.)

According to standard Mandarin romanization, 黄 is spelled as "Huang."
According to standard Cantonese romanization it's spelled as "Wong."

According to standard Mandarin romanization, 王 is spelled as "Wang."
According to standard Cantonese romanization it's spelled as "Wong."

(As a pronunciation guide, Huang is pronounced as "who-ah-ng" and Wong and Wang are both pronounced as "w-ah-ng")

So I guess the reason it's so damn confusing is because both characters are spelled the same in Cantonese as Wong, but differently in Mandarin. It gets even crazier because because of the romanization and dialect problem. For example, my last name 黄 can also be spelled as Houang, Hoang, Wong, Vong, Hung, Hong, Bong, Eng, Ng, Uy, Wee, Oi, Oei or Ooi, Ong, Hwang, or Ung.

Whatever, it's good to know that I haven't been pronouncing my name the "wong" way.

As part of my new "eat right in China" plan, I've been trying to cut starch from my breakfast. It's harder than it sounds. My breakfasts here usually consists of:

粥 (zhou) - A type rice porridge that's basically just boiled rice and water
油条 (youtiao) - A long deep fried stick of dough
包子 (baozi) - A steamed bun filled with vegetables and/or meat
馒头 (mantou) - Another type of steamed bun without any filling

You get the idea. (We also have soymilk and scrambled eggs, but I don't like those foods.) My only option has been milk and cereal. I know it's not the healthiest choice per se, but it's better than the alternative. But all last week, we didn't have any milk! Yesterday, I finally figured out why...

While taking a break from my writing my report, I started browsing through Google News. This one particular headline caught my eye: China seeks public trust after milk scandal. For those of you who didn't know, there's this huge tainted milk scandal going on here in China. Basically, some dairy companies were watering down baby formula and liquid milk. Furthermore, they were also adding melamine to the milk to rasie the protein levels. Melamine is a chemical used in making plastics. When ingested, it can cause kidney stones, which can lead to kidney failure.

The worst part is that a lot of cheap baby formula was tainted. Infants are particularly vulnerable to melamine poisoning. Thousands of babies are sick and a couple of babies have died already. I figure those numbers should start rising slightly though. A lot of poor familes really depended on this cheap baby formula to feed their babies. How sad.

Anyway, when I first heard about this scandal, they said that only baby formula was tainted. Whew. But as I started reading the article, they mentioned that it spread to fresh milk as well.

HOLY CRAP. Fresh milk?? I've been drinking a small carton of milk just about everyday here in China. And lately, I've been eating like two bowls of milk and cereal a day! The worst part was that I was chugging down on a carton of delicious(?) strawberry yogurt milk as I was reading the article. I wish I was kidding about that last part.

Kidneys, don't fail me now! I don't want to have to go to a Ch1nese hospital. They might take one of them to sell it on the bl4ck market :( JUST KIDDING

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So as I mentioned in my last blog post, my favorite picture took some major photoshop contrast adjustments. See for yourself:

Geez, they're like two completely different photographs! I think this is proof that I spend way too much time edit photos.

(I know this is a lame short post. I was burnt out from working out last night. BUT I'm going hiking today, so I'll have some new photos up in the coming days!)