Saturday, November 8, 2008

Today is yet another installment of my adventures in Taiwan. Last time, I wrote about Liberty Square, a large public plaza in Taipei. Today, it's all about the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall that flanks the square.


As I mentioned last time, within the last year or so there was a big controversy over the renaming of the CKS Memorial Hall. I'm not an expert, but it sounds like it was a huge waste of time and money. A big fuss over nothing. It began when the former president of Taiwan decided to unilaterally rename the structure the "Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall."

The situation is kind of complicated because of the differing views on Chiang Kai-shek. On one hand he's seen as the popular first president of Taiwan who was a champion of anti-communism. After losing the Chinese Civil War, he lead the movement from the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan. However, during his reign, the government was a single-party state consisting of non-Taiwanese mainlanders. Martial law was enforced and dissidents who supported Chinese communism or Taiwan independence were jailed.

Some saw the renaming process as an attempt to dilute his image and eliminate Chinese influence. It led to legal challenges and protesting. Arguments developed between the central government and the Taipei city governement. Ultimately, the next president just restored the hall to its original name, inscription, and purpose.

Anywhoo....here's the memorial hall. I was there during the Double Ten Holiday, so they had Taiwanese flags all over the place. (Yay for windy days and motion blur!):


A lengthy 89 step staircase leads to the main entrance of the memorial hall. These 89 steps represent Chiang's age at the time of his death. Couldn't they have done one step for every 2 or 3 years of his life? Talk about tiring:


The main entrance opens up into an spacious main hall with an elaborately deorated ceiling and a gigantic statue of Chiang Kai-shek.  Yay for the wide angle!  (I actually came back to CKS after I got my new camera/lens specifically to take this picture.):


Aparently this archictural feature is known caisson ceiling. They are common in the East Asian architecture of temples and palaces. This particular caisson is decorated with the emblem of Taiwan:


However, the main hall is pretty much dominated by the large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek. It kind of reminds you of the sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial, huh?


He's shown smiling, seated and wearing traditional Chinese dress.  (Okay, well maybe the same as Lincoln except for the whole Chinese wardrobe thingy.)


Oh and finally, sunset time at the memorial hall:

So what else is in the memorial hall?  Well the ground level houses a museum documenting his life. It's got all sorts of personal artifacts like his clothing, car, etc. That kind of stuff.  Oh! and a Wooly Mammoth exhibition. Gotta love those woolys.
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Again, you can click here to see more pictures from my trips to CKS.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today I'm going back in time...to the days of my stay in Taiwan. I've gotten back on the horse and I'm starting to edit photos again.  Right now I'm in the midst of working my way though my Taiwan photos. These next couple of entries will be about one of my favorite places in Taipei: the Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Square and Memorial Hall.  (For those of you who don't know anything about Chinese/Taiwanese history, Chiang Kai-shek was the first president of Taiwan. After losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists, he and the remaining KMT forces fled to the Taiwan.)

The CKS Memorial Square is also known by its current name Liberty Square. This expansive public plaza is flanked by the National Concert Hall to the north, the National Theater to the south, and the National CKS Memorial Hall to the east. A number of parks and ponds surround these memorial and cultural centers. The place is very popular site for mass gatherings. Just from my own experience, I've seen protests, soldiers practicing drills, dancers rehearsing, and people out for a jog.


Anyway, enough history, onto the pictures:

This is the main entrance to the square. It's a good ol' night time shot. Pretty!:


And for comparision, here is a daytime picture.  (Note that the flags were added as part of the Double Ten Day national holiday of Taiwan):



And here's a close-up the sign that currently reads "Liberty Square" ("自由廣場"). Back in December of 08' there was a huge controvery over the renaming of the plaza.  It was originally called the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square.  And that sign used to read "Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness" ("大中至正"):


This is the main gate and the National Concert Hall at around sunset time.  (Used the ultra-wide angle lens and put the camera on the floor.  There was this cool circular stone pattern in the flooring):


And this is a refection of the National CKS Memorial Hall in a puddle of water.  I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but I didn't come up with it.  I saw a bunch of photographers sitting on ground next to this puddle.  For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what the heck they were taking pictures of:


Finally, here is another view of the memorial square.  This picture was taken at the top of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall staircase.


Click here for more pictures from the CKS site.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The votes are in and the results are out:

2008 ACP Photo Excellence Awards
Environmental Portrait: Second Place
Alan Wong, Univ. of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif.



Yeah, this was part of the results from that contest I mentioned in a previous entry. It's crazy how time flies; that post was from two months ago!

Honestly, after looking at the competition, I'm surprised that I won second place. As I've mentioned before, I've never thought this was a particularly outstanding picture. But the judges did! And that's all that really matters in a contest. I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Regardless, it still feels pretty good to win an award. Technically, I can now claim to be an award-winning photojournalist! Wow, I'm surprised at how nicely that rolls off the tongue. The sad thing is that it's probably going to be first and only photojournalism award.

My brother asked me the other day, "So you didn't win some sort of prize? I guess you could put it on your resume." I could add it to my resume...if I was trying to break into that field. (And that's a huge if.) Don't get me wrong: I'd love to work for a newspaper and be a photojournalist. I miss the thrill, the chase, the high of it all. I miss getting assignments. I miss seeing my pictures actually published. I miss having VIP access to basketball/baseball/tennis/etc matches. I even miss having to talking to people for quotes and cutline.

But honestly, I don't think I have the heart for it. It seems like a tough life. It's really something you'd have to do for the love of it because I don't think the pay is spectacular. Plus newspaper readership is plummeting as people go online for their news. And with the way things are going, I'm not ready to dive into video. That's a completely different animal. (Although, I could buy a D90 and start working with video now...)

As it stands, photography is still #3 on my list of what I wanna do for a living:
1) Engineering
2) Teaching
3) Photography

Who knows what will happen down the line. But for now, it's just a backup plan for my backup plan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"How do you say Obama in Chinese?" I asked my coworker during lunch.

“奥巴马。” [Spelled "ao ba ma" and pronounced OW (as in when you hurt yourself), BAH (as in the sound a sheep makes), MAH (as in ma like the mother]

I couldn't help but laugh; that's a spot on transliteration of Obama into Mandarin Chinese. All this time I thought my coworkers were speaking English when they referred to him. Turns out that's how you actually say Obama in Chinese.

Anyway, people didn't seem to make a big fuss over the US elections here. I'm not qualified to speak for the entire country of China, but as far as I could tell, it was like it never happened. At most, I overheard coworkers mention Obama during lunch because there was a segment on the news about the election. However, everyone's lack of enthusiasm didn't stop me though. It was a slow day at work, so I spend most of the day on CNN.com clicking refresh to get my live updates. (Ironically, I didn't even vote.)

Honestly, I'm not sure how the Chinese people will react to Obama winning the US presidency. It's not like I can speak enough Chinese to carry on a conversation about US politics. At most, I had some Taiwanese coworkers ask me if I was excited about him winning. (And I am! I'm not a fanatic, but I would have voted for him and I'm happy he won. Now it's time for the Democrats to get to work though.)

From what the international news that seen and read, it seems that people generally prefer Obama over McCain. But it's not like they're out rioting in the streets. A lot of people here have other things to worry about...like melamime poisoning from eggs, cookies, chocolate, and milk.

Anyway, on a side note that the characters in his name don't actually mean anything. They don't create new Chinese characters when new words or names come along. Thus, they have to use the same ol' characters. Often these sounds of these new words are translated directly into Chinese. (Another example, hamburger is "ham bao bao")

Monday, November 3, 2008

"Do they celebrate Halloween in China?"

I've had a couple of people ask me this question lately. I don't think they do. Last Friday, no kids knocked on my door shouting, "Trick or Treat." I didn't see any jack-o-lanterns (or even any pumpkins around for that matter.) And there weren't any scary movies playing on state-controlled China Central Television. Plus, the Chinese have the Ghost Month! That's like a whole month of Halloween...well minus the candy trick or treating part.

Anyway, I was kind of bummed because Halloween was the first major US holiday that I've missed here in China. (Sorry, but I wouldn't exactly call Labor Day a 1st tier holiday. Although, I do love the 3-day weekend!)

A couple of my coworkers mentioned that they were going to downtown Shenzhen to go ice skating for Halloween. Apparently, every year this one ice rink has a Halloween "party." I decided to tag along because it sure as heck beat sitting home alone on a Friday night.

Here's a picture of the rink. Interestingly enough, it's an indoor rink inside one of the most upscale malls in Shenzhen. Man this would be the place to be in the summertime:


At least they tried to make the place seem festive. All the televisions were playing the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller. The people working there were all dressed in costumes. And they even had a haunted house that you had to walk through to enter the place. Here's Bonesy:


As you can see, it it wasn't really much a party. Only a few people were wearing masks and costumes while ice skating:


And here is a picture of cute girl wearing a mask. (This was shortly before they kicked me off the rink. Apparently it's unsafe to take pictures while skating. Who knew?):


The funny thing was that they had this Halloween promotion: if you were wearing a mask or costume, admission was half price. (That is, 30 RMB instead of 60 RMB.) Being in opportunistic China, they were selling these cheap masks at the ice skating rink. But the cheapest mask was 30 RMB. So it didn't matter if you didn't have a mask or bought a mask, admission was the same price. It was a way for the place to make even more money because most of the masks costs more than 30 RMB!

All in all, a good night.