Pingoramas

I have started to go through some of my shots from China, which seemed like it was years ago when I went, because it was. Still one of the coolest places I have ever visited. These two panoramas were taken near the highest overlook of Longshen in the Ping’an area. Both were taken in the evening as a storm was passing by. Of course both are quite underwhelming unless you click on them to see the larger size in flicker..

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Back in the Day

I cannot believe it has been over 14 months since we were in China, seems like it was the other day. I still have thousands of shots to go through; it is kind of overwhelming, and then I have my wife’s thousands of shots as well! I think I processed these almost a year ago. Another couple from my archive.

This was taken near the beginning of Mt. Huashan. I was expecting the bus to drop us off up on the mountain, but it dropped us off at the very base of the mountain in a little town. The locals would point way off to the top of the mountain and laugh when trying to ask if we were anywhere near Mt. Huashan. It was pretty hot out and it was kind of daunting at first, but it sure was a pretty trail beginning at this point.

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The Temple of Heaven at Beijing. I definitely struggled to clean up the sky and have it not look overly garish. The Beijing smog was in full force on this day!

Temple of Heaven

Birds Nest

I sure loved out our visit to China, even Beijing was a lot better than I thought it would be, but man… I do not have fun processing the sky in my Beijing shots. Even at night it is kind of a dull grey and very noisy result. The sky in my posted image is still rather bland, but I had to use a lot of blur tool on the sky to clean it up. I would definitely look into getting a polarizing filter for any lenses you take with you to Beijing.

Birds Nest

Xingping

Cruising down a windy road amongst huge karst limestone formations jutting out of the ground like stalagmites reaching hundreds of feet high. The bulging eyes of a chicken are staring straight at me as it is in an old lady’s iron-choke hold grip, possibly about to be cooked and served to me for my nightly meal, some of the best meals I am about to ever have. We are on our way to Xingping on a small, yet intimate bus. I will let the scenery speak for itself.

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From Xi’an we hopped on a 元320 one-way flight (roughly $193) to the South China city of Guilin. Our fellow passengers provided great entertainment. They are proof that using cell phones during takeoff, en-route, and landing will not cause a crash. I have also never seen people crawl over other passengers so they can get a better look out the window, but it was fun to watch! Once we arrived in Guilin airport we caught the shuttle into the city for 元25, which was about 20 minutes away. Make sure you get off at the bus stop, otherwise you’ll end up in some random place in the city. From the bus stop we caught a 元30 non-express bus into Yangshuo.

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Yangshuo had some pretty landscapes, but anything the town touched seemed to just ooze tourist trap in a real bad way. We rented bikes and rode out to Moon Hill which was very nice (and extremely humid), but after being pestered by super touts, we decided to head into Xingping for the remaining nights since we read it was nice and quite over there. Xingping was only a 元5.5 ride from Yangshuo bus station, which was a real bargain because it magically transported us back in time about 100 years.

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Xingping was an entirely different world, a special place that I kind of feel guilty divulging such a gem to the Internet. The streets and buildings looked ancient, but they were very well kept. In the evening, there wasn’t a single car, truck, or motorcycle; about as tranquil as a town can get. We stayed at This Old Place youth hostel. If you are around in the evening, grab a beer and your camera and head to the upstairs deck for one of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see.

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The owner was extremely nice, he even upgraded us for no reason after our first night. When it was raining, we spent time on the front porch facing the street sitting in rocking chairs, 55-200mm lens in hand watching the interesting passers by. For eats, head down one of the alleyway streets to This Old Place restaurant.. Try the sechuan beef in spicy oil… Some of the best and definitely the freshest food I have ever had. The Li River also happens to be a short walk down the street, although, I cannot recommend the raft cruises; slow, noisy, and loud. I would get a bike or hike along the banks instead for better views.

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After Xingping, we ended up back in Guilin to catch a bus for the rice fields of Ping’an, but that is for another post.

Look, But Don’t Touch

When we were in Beijing, we took a quick trip on the subway to see some of the more prominent Olympic venues. The buildings were definitely out of this world, especially at night, with all of the progressive designs that were implemented into these buildings and the amazing color they are lit at night, they were very photogenic. However, Every single building is blocked off with an unsightly fence. This is the best picture I could get of this building, and the closest as well. Maybe they open the gates up at certain days, but this is one of the few dissapointments I had on our trip. I really wanted to get some good up-close shots of some of these venues.. The Blue Cube, Beijing- Look, But Don't Touch

Topographic

Here is another shot from Amber taken at the rice terraces of Ping’an. When her back is turned or she is distracted, I have been secretly putting ISO into her meals that I prepare for her, and this plan is starting to work out better than I had planned. I might cut back on her ISO soon since she has requested I order her a Gorilla Pod for her D40. I actually had to wipe a tear from my eye to hear she would like one, although, I may have talked her into it a bit. Nevertheless, my plan is still working and I couldn’t be happier! Topography

Horsey

What would a picture blog be without the obligatory picture of a lonely horse? Well here it is. Found this lonely guy in the middle of the rice paddies. I think he needs a friend. Amber surely wanted to be that friend being from Idaho and possessing two X chromosomes and all. She absolutely loves horses.

I have been playing around with the Nik Software Suite trial and this is another one of the results, the first being the previous picture in my blog. I am really enjoying this software.. A lot! I use a lot of layers to experiment with my pictures before moving on to the next step, and now I basically just scroll through a ton of filters that automatically show me what it will look like. The best part is that is applies the filters as a layer, so you can adjust the blending to your hearts content using this method. The sharpening plug in is so far the best sharpener I have used yet. Definitely expensive, but I think this is going to be worth it.

Spook

Rice Terraces

I started the process of going though our worthwhile pictures that were taken in the rice fields of Ping’an and thought I would post a couple up before I put together a little trip report page for that area. This area is simply a photographers dream. Not only is it quite and completely distanced from the crowds in China, it is also a place where you could find one spot in the rice terraces and set up your camera 365 times throughout the year, and always come away with a completely new shot depending on the season, irrigation, weather, time of day, and slight angle variances of each shot. If you are ever in the Guilin area and have an interest in amazing scenery or photography, do not pass this area up!

The clouds never left us and we were drenched a few times, but I think the clouds provide a neat backdrop in the pictures I am starting to work on-
Never Done

Taken during our first run up to the terraces after arrival as darkness was quickly setting in-
Ninety Five Layers of Heaven

Trike Bike

Meet Karen Gao. She is a 35-year-old lady that has been living in Xingping for the last 10 years. She moved here because of the hard-core trike bike scene that is so prevalent amongst many Xingpingers. She enjoys riding her trike bike in all conditions, and preferrably with the back of it piled high with premium Magnum ice cream bars–her trike bike sponsor–which helps her beat the heat and humidity on her long trike bike journeys, not to mention, helps her make lots of new friends. She dislikes unicycles and despises the color green.

Trike Bike

*This may or may not be a completely erroneous story filled entirely with fiction!

The Legend

What can you say about the Great Wall that has not already been said? I can really only give you some facts about this section and let you know that some things in life are so talked up into this mythical stature that there is just no way they can live up to the hype. The Great Wall, however, this exceeded the hype and was everything and more that I thought it would be. Constructed in 1570, this section of Jinshanling is 10.5 km long and ended at the Simatai section of the wall. As we were passing all 69 towers and 5 passes during the hike, I realized that I could not slow time down enough to make this last long enough to finally come to grips with the magnitude of such an undertaking, during a time when a pulley was about the only invention that could help lighten the load from the tallest order ever undertaken in human history.

I always thought that making the 6,400 km journey to traverse the majority of the wall would be fun, and now I know it would be necessary to truly appreciate everything that it is. Needless to say, I really enjoyed our day at the wall, but it was much, much to short and only left me with one of those feelings in the back of my mind that tells me that 15 days in China is just not going to cut it. Eventually, I will need to find an excuse to get back there.

I have to give my wife Amber some credit here. This was her shot. I processed the RAW file for her, but she was all over this wall with her D40 in tow. Excelllllllent!

The Legend

華山 Mt. Huashan

Here we are, 2,160 meters up on the tallest of five peaks of Mt. Huashan in the Shaanxi Province of China, South Peak. The layout of the upper mountain makes it easy to summit all five peaks within about an hours worth of time if you have some spring to your step. The mountain is basically surrounded entirely by sheer cliffs accessed by a couple of narrow, often sketchy trails that would excite any lawyer in the states within a 500-mile radius. Taoist temples are sprinkled about this massive, flower-shaped spire of rock, lined with iron links of chain to accentuate the thousands of steps carved into the skin of the mountain.

Mt. Huashan South Peak Sunrise

The main trail is actually lit in a lot of areas, full of handrails, and has steps carved or paved anywhere that it is steep. It is still breathtaking in many areas, but this is not the crazy part. For 元30 per person you can strap on an old chest harness and take a walk on wooden planks that cross a section of sheer cliff that is well over a 1,000 foot drop straight down. It is kind of short and delivers you to a little shrine that has been carved into the side of the mountain.

This is the entrance to the plank walk, and in person it seriously looks sketchy. In some countries, just because you are allowed to do it, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That thought made this very interesting, but those springs along the cable you run your carabiners across looked like they would do a great job of padding your fall. I just hoped that the anchors would hold. I was actually fine walking down the ladder with my back to the wall and my face towards the cliff.

Plank Entrance-
Dropping In

Once I reached the planks where you walk across the cliff, things started to change, my boys became light headed, and I started concentrating on the precipice directly under me and it was beginning to whig me out enough to have to consciously not look down for more than a few seconds at a time. The entire time we were doing this, we all had frozen hands from the strong winds and rain that was constantly falling. My wife and the lone Canadian badass from Canada we came across in our mountain top dorm room, Sam, were both completely devoid of any worries. I felt like a wuss, but it sure was fun, albeit a bit short with only about 50 meters of plank each way.

Sam-
Good Time For Teetolering

Amber-
Trust Your Chinese Engineer

Me (Notice how I am making sweet love to the wall)-
Loving the Wall

We felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. For Sam and both me and wifey, this plank walk is the reason we booked tickets for China. There is a gate that opens at 9am to let you into this area, and we were worried it would be closed due to the strong winds and rains. Not in China. I love that country! For those interested in the logistics, you can take a train or bus from the Xi’an train station to the base of the mountain. The buses (East side of train station) head up for the West Gate entrance of Huashan (120km) at regular intervals and will cost 元30 per person each way. It was about an hour and a half and you are dropped off at the very base of the mountain and it surely looks more intimidating than it is. Entrance fees are 元120 per person. The first 4km are easy going, then you start getting into spectacular scenery and some perilous sections of trail from there.

Bottom Half of Entrance-
Where Is Your Protractor?

Lodging on mountain is plentiful with at least 6 Inns, and during the weekday they were all but vacant and ran us 元100 per person in a cold, and very stale 6-person dormitory. There are private rooms, but they cost a lot more. We stayed on the East Peak since that has the best view for a sunrise. Don’t miss the breezy chance to drop trou, literally off the side of a cliff as the wind caresses your ass cheeks. A bucket of ramen will set you back 元15 and water about 元10. In case you were wondering, 元100 is roughly $15 US dollars, so this is really dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but expensive by Chinese standards. There is a cable car that takes you near the top of North peak and we elected to take that down just for the hell of it. That was 元60 for a one-way trip, although, I wished we had hiked down the trail below the tram, it had amazing waterfalls that Maynard, my trusty and sometimes fogged over Nikon, missed out on.

Our trusty outfitter who puts your harness on and motions that you can clip your carabiner to a cable, but in an optional sort of manner-
Love the Coat

Getting back to the bus stop at the base of the mountain will cost another 元10 for a quick bus, and another 元10 taxi ride to the West Gate to meet the 元30 bus that heads back for Xi’an. If you are ever in Xi’an, do not miss this climb! It can safely be done at night, in the rain, or even in the snow as long as you are dressed right and bring a head lamp while carefully holding the hand rails and methodically placing your steps on the really steep sections. Do not miss this!

Amber and Sam-
Crux of our Travels

A Leisurely Curiosity

Our timing for our China trip was perfect if you like rain. We heard from fellow travelers that they had not come across rain for over a couple of months while in country. Most days it was okay since it would let up for most of the day. We had one day in Xingping, which is near the tourist trap of Guilin, that pretty much kept us inside or under an umbrella or awning all day. I took out my rarely used 55-200 lens and had a lot of fun taking pictures of the locals under the protection of our hostels’ porch.

Usually I am a bit timid when it comes to photographing strangers, but as a Westerner in China, everyone will stare, stop and take pictures, and all around be very excited to see you. That makes it a lot easier to reciprocate the curiosity with my own camera.

A Leisurely Curiosity

Change

For a little over the past 2 weeks I have been in China with the Wifey. In short… China.. Is.. Badass.. Way more badass than we could have imagined. I could easily live there for a couple of years, and even then, there would not be enough time to properly explore such a vast, amazing country.

I promise to write a chronological travel page for each area we visited, but together we amassed thousands of photos, so this could take some time. I will also be in the process of moving in the coming weeks, so it will definitely be a while until I have processed even a quarter of my own photos, let alone my wife’s! My Malaysia travel page is easily the most popular page on this blog, so hopefully a China version would be helpful to anyone thinking of going.

Turkish Flag at Bodrum Castle

What the hell? You moron! That is a Turkish flag.

Yeah I know. I had to put a Turkish flag up since I signed on to work in Turkey for an indefinite amount of time while I was away in China. This opportunity was completely unexpected given the current economic climate, but exactly where me and the wifey wanted to end up. She will be some months behind me in arriving there, but we are both extremely excited to be going back to such a great location. Hopefully I will be able to capture some photos for this blog that will do the country justice. I am not sure how long it will take to obtain the proper working permit, but I already have visions of ekmek and kalesi grandeur in my head.