The Li River

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Daily Photo – The Morning Fisherman

Now, getting to this place was not easy!

I arrived about 1 AM at a tiny family-run inn by the river. I was meeting a local guide (see Jack’s website) at 5 AM, so I didn’t get a lot of what I would call “quality sleep”. Anyway, I got up very early and went downstairs in pitch black. There seemed to be a big white cloth box I had to go around to find the front door. My guide was outside. The door was locked and we could not figure out how to get it open. Everyone at the little inn was sound asleep and I was totally confused. Then, from inside the big white box, a body flew out of it! There was a 60-year-old Chinese guy inside that was sleeping until I woke him up with all my lock-manipulations. His naked limbs in the white sheets scared the bejeezus out of me and woke me right up!

And then we were on the river about 5:15. It was still completely dark outside. And I mean COMPLETELY DARK. It was a thin bamboo raft with an outboard motor.

I turned around to ask my guide, “How the heck does the boat driver know where he is going?!?”

He calmly said, “Oh, no worry. The river is very wide.”

I not-calmly said, “Well, that’s great and everything, but I can’t even see the edge to the river!”

He calmly said, “But it is so wide.”

This line of questioning was not getting me anywhere, so I just decided to sit back and enjoy my possible last moments on Earth. Then the sun started to rise, and we moved the boat over to the best bank for the angle.

Want to hear something amazing about these fishermen? You won’t believe it… but maybe others can confirm this! The fishermen use these two trained cormorant birds that have their throats tied. The birds dive into the water, eat a fish, but then can’t swallow it because of the rope. The fisherman rudely pulls the fish from the bird’s throat and drops it into that basket behind him. The bird then goes over to a tiny keyboard and sends out the tweet, “WTF”.

The Morning Fisherman

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/2.8
  • ISO1000
  • Focal Length20mm (20mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

Feng Huang Cheng

Stuck In China Update

From my post yesterday, I’ve gotten all kinds of interesting response – thanks!  It looks like there are a few uber-powerful political types that stop by the blog from time to time and some strings are being pulled.  We’ll see if I can get out of the country in a timely manner!

(NOTE:  Do not ever run at full speed through an embassy.)

Three Days of China

I’ve been in China now for what is approaching a month. It has been a wild and adventurous time! I’ve been so busy shooting, and internet has been so hard to get in places — it has been hard to do regular, timely updates. So, obviously, I’ve been posting some new pieces from other photo adventures, but this is how things generally work around here.

But, for the next three days (including today), I’ll show you some brand new stuff from apart of my trip here!

Daily Photo – Ancient Feng Huang Cheng

As many cities in China quickly leapfrog American cities into one technopolis after another, there are still many old, ancient places across the countryside. So, in an effort to find some of the more unique and classical Chinese places, I had to go pretty deep beyond the major cities.

This is an old place that maintains its classic charm. It’s called Feng Huang, and the old buildings along the river are still up on stilts. They don’t build right along the river, since they know every 50 years or so, a major flood clears everything away. In the meantime, locals go on about their business, going down to the river to wash clothes, prepare food, and the like.

The entire time I was here, I never saw another white person and did not meet anyone that spoke English. I also suffered a fairly significant injury one morning… will talk about that another time. I’m going to hit a hospital here in Beijing to see what exactly happened! But, most importantly, even though my cameras hit the ground pretty hard, they are all in perfect working condition. Sweet Nikon.

HDR Photo

Stuck in China – Really!


Now I have made it out of China. Thanks to all the nice people that worked so hard to get me through the process! I appreciate it very much!

Calling in All Favors ??

So, I was supposed to fly out of China today to meet my family in New Zealand on Air New Zealand. When packing for the airport, I discovered my passport had been stolen! I can’t believe it… this has never happened and made me feel totally lame.

Now I am stuck here in Room 1716 of the XiangDa International Hotel (not the one where my passport was stolen). The problem is that it could take up to two weeks (or more!) to get a new Visa out of the country! Madness!

I have now experienced a new level of bureaucracy. Wait till you hear this.

I started at by finding my way to the US Embassy in Beijing because I figured the US Consulate could help get me home. There was a big picture of Hilary Clinton on the outside (seriously), so I knew I was in trouble from the start (seriously).

Outside the US Embassy were a ton of Chinese people. A ton. They seemed to be waiting for something while sitting on bags, shuffling about holding plastic sacks of whatnots, and this sort of thing. After wading through some (with all my luggage, mind you), I got up to a rather serious looking Chinese guard. They are all rather serious, really… they don’t hire guys that look like William Hung (of “She Bangs” fame).

Anyway… I have a VERY VERY long story to tell but I am mentally drained… After some serious form-filling-out and an interview with a very nice customs official, I was given a new 3-month passport.  So despite my worry about the US Embassy, I actually got my new passport in about 3 hours!  Great! But now, the problem is the Visa.

To get the Visa, it can take from 5 to 10 business days. This is infuriating because I already got a Visa, and I even have a copy of it. But this is useless. I don’t know why! It was just a sticker in my passport, and I have a photocopy of it. The Visa has a unique number, which happens to be the same on my photocopy! Anyway, I don’t know why it just doesn’t just key off the Visa number, and they can update their 1960’s system when I exit the country.

To get the new Visa, I need to visit Public Security Bureau (which was closed right at 5 PM when I arrived) and take: 1) The Lost Report issued by the Exit/Entry Department (a Department within the PSB), 2) a police report by the local police department, 3) One photocopy of the lost passport (thank Mao I have one!) 4) Temporary Residence Certificate (don’t ask… this is an annoying document to get), 5) an Introduction Letter by Relevant Parties (huh?) and 6) One 2-inch photo.

Now, I can get all this stuff, at major annoyance, but it’s confusing as to WHY I even need to do it just to leave the country! Why can’t I just use my existing Visa number? t’s just that I’ve never felt so trapped by absolute nonsense… especially while my family is waiting on me…

I promised the kids I would hug them in the airport when their plane landed in NZ… dammit.

Mid-Daily Photo: Hangin’ out in China

HDR Photo

Bustling Beijing

Thanks again Beijing!

When I called for some assistants here on the blog to help me out in China, I did not expect so many people to contact me! Thanks again for all the emails. I’m not sure I was able to contact everyone back, but I did my best. I ended up with a great gentlemen who was already at the airport with a driver holding my name card! His name is Woo and he’s studying international relations. His English accent is extremely-proper British, so it’s a bit like having a non-stop Jeremy Irons voiceover. He’s been great… even though I think I am wearing him out.

Daily Photo – Bustling Beijing

Getting this photo was not easy at all!

I knew of this area of Beijing called the CBD, or Central Business District. I notice that they have all these catchy names here, much like the building I took this photo from: “China Merchants Building.” At any rate, I had the driver circle the business district a few times so I could find a good angle. We found one in this building, but did not know if we could take a photo from the top floor. Woo went in first. This might have been a mistake because during the shoot he admitted he had a dreadful fear of heights. But he said it in such a charming British accent I thought it could have been my subconscious.

We went up to the 32nd floor. No windows no dice. We then went to the 31st floor, but the confused secretary would not let us through. Then we tried 30. The secretary said yes and let us into a boardroom, but the angle was not right and the other offices were busy. So we went to 29.

The secretary on 29 was confused so I instructed Woo to tell her, firmly, “We are with the Government.”

After that, we rushed in to set up, since the light was fading. People in the office were having some sort of light party at the end of the workday and were very confused by our presence. While I was setting up, Woo gave them the full story about how this was for an organization that had approval from the government and we were trying to get a fun shot of the city, etc etc. And then he pulled out my iPad to show the managers some of my work. Then they all got excited and came over to get their photos taken with me. All of that was fine and well, but I had to convince them to stop doing that and turn off all the lights because the reflections were killing me.

Bustling Beijing

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/4.8
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length15mm (15mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

Secret Treasures of Beijing

Daily Photo – Secret Treasures of Beijing

These little finds are everywhere! Sometimes, while stumbling around from alleyway to alleyway, I appear right in the middle of these perfect little scenes.

It was very close to the National Day, and crews were out freshening-up the city. There were about four Chinese painters that were busy putting a fresh red coat of paint on this perfect little bridge. By chance, they were just finishing up as I approached. This little boat from the painters was pulled up beside the bridge in a wonderful way, so I set up my tripod along the bank for a photo.

They all looked at me in a confused way. They had no idea why I would want to take a photo of their little boat and the bridge. I imagine they find this so commonplace as to be hardly worthy of a photo… and it makes me wonder about all the non-photographers (or fans of this site) out there. Perhaps they just go through life and don’t even notice anything interesting pretty and nicely composed. What an empty visual life this must be!

HDR Photo

Entering the Forbidden City

Hi to Gernot!

It’s such a small world! I was standing at this very spot below when my friend Gernot walked up and said hello! I first met Gernot at my workshop in Tokyo, and he had flown in from Shanghai. He’s an Austrian that’s been living and working in China for the past few years. In fact, besides other things, he’s just started giving motorcycle sidecar tours of the city. He’s trying to convince me to do it here in Beijing… and I’m not sure i have the time but will try!

You can see a video about the motorcycle sidecar service at Looks kinda fun, eh?

Daily Photo – Entering the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City sits in the middle of Beijing along an imaginary line called “The Central Axis”. Many of the important buildings, temples, and monuments are along this line. It might seem convenient just to walk along this line to see everything you need to see, but this idea only works if you have the mobility of the Genghis Khan cavalry.

I had a delightful tea inside the Forbidden City at a secluded and secret tea house with my contacts. It all sounds somewhat cloak & dagger, doesn’t it? But this ancient tea house was so hard to find that Google Maps street view would have just shown a black starfield instead. There was a tiny and old looking building in an aged arched alleyway that had a long line of antique windows. Upon pushing on one of the windows in a certain direction, you would suddenly discover it was a door that would open into another set of richly decorated rooms. There were rich wood surfaces everywhere, each full of antiques, ornate bowls, delicate tea service, and Chinese women clad in traditional garb running about whilst preparing tea in the old way.

After spending a few hours in here getting lost and having tea, I emerged around sunset to move around the fortress area. Arriving at the corner tower just in time (and with my slight Chinese assistant buckling under the pressure of my Lowepro), I snapped off this HDR of the setting sun.

HDR Photo

The Wormhole

Back to China

I’m going back to China for quite a while.   This will be a fun trip, and I’m getting access to all kinds of incredible places. I’m not totally sure about the details of my adventure, but I’ll be sure to share them with you here.

I’ve also recently gone through the trouble of getting another Chinese Visa. These things are not terribly easy or cheap to get! The first thing that is horribly unnerving is the requirement to send my actual passport through the mail. It’s a major worry to do this! Furthermore, it’s not cheap — in order to get everything back and forth to me as quickly as possible, fees + Fedex costs over $300.

I like the “softcore Visas”, where you stand in line after arrival and then pay some shifty-eyed Indonesian customs worker $20 US cash and he stamps you through right away.

Daily Photo – The Wormhole

Shanghai has this incredible tunnel that goes under the river to the Bund. It’s just wild inside!

They have a series of robotic trains that shuttle people back and forth. Robotic doors whir open then shut again. The front of the capsule has a bubble-window that allows for a stunning view as you dip below the river and back up again. Colored lights in every lighting configuration fly by in beautiful colors. This is an amazing experience that I recommend if you ever get to Shanghai!

HDR Photo

Climbing to the top of Hong Kong (and an interview on NPR)

This is an HDR from a single RAW file! I shot it while on an escalator inside a building… while the escalator was moving! I would have to say that one of the top three questions I get is “How do you make an HDR out of a moving subject?” Well, that is covered in page 3 of the HDR Tutorial here… Maybe some people don’t make it to page 3? I don’t know. It’s easy! :)

Also, I was recently interviewed on NPR for a the station WUKY. You can listen to the NPR interview here online. Enjoy!

Climbing to the top of Hong Kong (and an interview on NPR)

The Curious Old Chinese Village (and a BorrowLenses Review)

If you all want to try out “Netflix for Lenses”, read my new review of Lens Rental from BorrowLenses. I think it’s a great service. I gave the service a full run recently and came away happy!

This pic below was taken in China. It’s curious isn’t it? I’ll open it up for discussion… see who can figure out what exactly is happening in the photo… (don’t forget you can zoom into the original size on Flickr)

The Curious Old Chinese Village

Connecting in Hong Kong

Hong Kong airport is a great one, as are many Asian airports. They put US Airports to shame. The security is actually nice to you there, and you don’t get all the attitude of the TSA. The TSA looks so important with their little uniforms. I think they are just silly… but it is remarkable how people react to uniforms.

I was going to find a pic of the silly uniforms so we could all make fun of them, but then I found out that the TSA has a blog! How boring. It makes me real happy that my tax money is going for the TSA’s social media operation. Look at this TSA blog entry on the Fourth of July and the YouTube videos they provided (especially the charmer about the dangerous “Sparkler”). Don’t worry everyone, the US Government is now blogging for you.

Connecting in Hong Kong

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