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October 2010 Archives

Fun with Vehicles in Guilin

From my hotel in Yangshuo, I watched a lot of bikes, scooters, and motorcycles. Here's an overloaded freight bike and a lady with a lot of corn! (The second was actually shot in Guilin.)

Overloaded freight bicycle in Yangshuo, Guilin  Woman on a scooter with a lot of corn in Guilin

But I was mostly fascinated by all the adults driving multiple children around:

Man with helmet and two kids on a motorcycle in Yangshuo, Guilin  Woman and two kids on a scooter in Yangshuo, Guilin

The most amazing was this motorcycle with two adults and two kids on it:

Two adults and two kids (!) on a motorcycle in Yangshuo, Guilin

It was in the afternoon, so I assume these are parents picking up their kids from school?

At night, I had fun with the cheap bent window in a van:

Glare from cheap van window in Yangshuo  Glare from cheap van window in Yangshuo

I saw these all over the place:

Tractor truck in Guilin

I had to ask what they were. Why is the engine exposed? Turns out they're tractors! They sure don't look like tractors I've seen!

And finally, one more street scene, a man selling electronic cigarettes:

Electronic cigarette salesman in Yangshuo

The World's Largest Emergency Glass-Breaking Mallet and Other Guilin Hotel Hijinks

This was my view at the Guifu Hotel in Yangshuo. The foreground is kind of bland, but look at those pretty mountains! Click it to view a full-sized zoomable Gigapan, or you can just take a look at the larger Flickr view.

View from my hotel room at the Guifu Hotel in Yangshou, Guilin

"But wait," you say. "Yangshuo? I thought you were in Guilin." Well... Apparently, Guilin is a city; we left it, traveled down the Li River, and arrived at Yangshuo, which is both a county and a town within that county. Meanwhile, there is also Guilin the prefecture-level city, which isn't like a city at all! Prefecture-level cities are larger than a county but smaller than a province. So Yangshou is part of Guilin the prefecture-level city, but it's not part of the Guilin urban core (more what we would normally think of as a city). I'm still kind of confused. :P

Anyway, back to the hotel in Yangshuo. I like how the hotel lobby had the Chinese character for "fortune" written in a billion different fonts:

Fortune on the lobby wall in Guifu Hotel

Here's something else I found in my hotel room:

Condom public service sign in my hotel room

STDs are a rising problem in China, but fortunately awareness and education are on the rise as well. Also, that's a huge condom! I can fit two people inside! :P

The next day, back at my hotel in Guilin (urban core), I noticed that one corner of the bathroom had "uncomplimentary" products that you have to pay for if you use, including innocuous shaving kits, but also these:

Buy a pair of underwear, get a condom free!

This is a pair of men's underwear with "condominclosed" for 10 RMB.

My best guess is that the underwear is there to ease your conscience. "I'm really just buying a pair of underwear," you might say to yourself. I asked a young Tianjin couple in my tour group what they thought, and they agreed with my interpretation. There is still a stigma against condom use in China, and people feel the need for an excuse to buy condoms.

For 10 RMB, you could also get this:

Mei Fu Antibacterial Lotion

The label reads:

Man use only

Mei Fu Man's Antibacterial Lotion

Specially designed for the health of man's genitals. Used for relieving the itching, klling germs and usual nursing of the private parts. Please apply to genital area gently. Rinse well with water.

Something tells me that if you're using this, you had better be buying the underwear with free condom instead.

The best part is that the "Woman use only" one on the right has the exact same description (swapping "woman" for "man"), and it has the exact same active ingredient (Benzalkonium Bromide).

Okay on the more family-friendly side is this awesomeness:

In case of emergency, break the glass door!

The sign reads:

"DEAR GUEST:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PLEASE USE THE HAMMER ASIDE TO BREAK THE GLASS DOOR FOR EMERGENT EXIT.
HOTEL MANAGEMENT"

In case it's not clear, the door is chained shut, thus necessitating the use of a GIANT MALLET. Just try to tell me this is not the best "in case of emergency break glass" ever. So awesome. :)

Speaking of safety, I bet you couldn't get away with these concrete lotus pads in the US:

Concrete lotus pads in the Guishan Hotel

They'd probably be required to wrap each one with a fence. :P

On the Li River in Guilin

Many consider Guilin (桂林) to be the most beautiful place in China. I like to call it "that place where the mountains look like the mountains in Super Mario Brothers". Here's my panorama:

Panorama on the Li River in Guilin

And a couple more pictures with boats in them:

On the Li River in Guilin

On the Li River in Guilin

Well, that second one is more of a raft.

So while we're on the top deck of our large 60-passenger boat, we see one of those bamboo rafts on a collision course toward us. "Look out!" one of my fellow tourists screams. "Be careful!" But it was all in the rafter's plans...

Boarded… by a salesman!

The raft was perfectly aimed to lightly tap our side as he looped some rope over a tire (see bottom left). We were boarded! Luckily, he wasn't a pirate. He just walked alongside and tapped on windows, hoping to sell some trinkets. In time, he unhooked his rope and quickly drifted off.

The next two times we were boarded, no one hollered any warnings.

Here's my obligatory photo proving I was there, and then an amusing one of a tourist showing another tourist how to pose:

Me on the Li River in Guilin  Tourist showing another tourist how to pose on the Li River in Guilin

A couple more silly photos: I'm mostly bored by Chinglish now, but I couldn't resist this one, which I call, "Poor Jiang!" And the second one shows one of the many antenna and cell photo towers that sadly ruin the landscape.

Poor Jiang!  Antenna on the Li River in Guilin

After the boat ride, we went to the Reed Flute Cave. It would've been a perfectly nice cave, except they had to go and light it with horribly gaudy primary colors! I did like this picture I shot of my uncle, though:

Shooting a photo in the crazy lighting

Also, the following sign amused me:

But Michael Jackson told me to!

.. But Michael Jackson told me to! :P

Shanghai: 2004 vs 2010

I thought I'd compare pictures I took in Shanghai of the same landmarks, 6 years apart.

Jin Mao Tower, 2004 vs 2010:

Jinmao Tower Jin Mao Tower as viewed from the observation level of the Shanghai World Financial Center

The 2004 photo of the Jin Mao Tower was the first picture I took that made me go, "Hey! That actually looks like a nice photo!" I also like how it's actually in color, but it just looks kind of black and white. I was extra proud of the fact that I just snapped it out the window of my taxi on my way from the airport. :) My 2010 shot is pretty mediocre, but saved a bit by the post-processing. I had to manually remove the color this time because the haze made everything dreary otherwise.

Pearl of the Orient, 2004 vs 2010:

Oriental Pearl Tower + Tunnel Pearl of the Orient

I really like the lucky timing of my 2004 shot, catching the tower just before I went into a tunnel, thus getting a double-exposure look on a single shot. The 2010 one lets you see some people walking around the observation deck, though, especially if you zoom in.

Shanghai cityscape and the Bund, 2004, another 2004, then 2010:

Shanghai city center from the Jinmao Tower

Panorama of the Bund

The Bund and Downtown Shanghai

In this last case, I think there's no question that my 2010 camera did a better job than my 2004 camera, especially if you zoom in to take a closer look. Click the 2004 shots, and you'll see that dark parts lose all detail and are just pitch black.

So I guess the upshot is that sometimes having a fancy camera doesn't matter, but sometimes it does!

M50: Art and Development in Shanghai

Darth Vader and the Pandas

Where a textile mill once stood on the banks of Suzhou Creek in Shanghai, there is now a blossoming art district known as M50 (for 50 Moganshan Road). Warehouses have been converted to artist studios, galleries, and graphic design and architecture firms. On its outskirts are buildings with sanctioned graffiti, as seen above. Hundreds of artists work here, and I spent hours exploring the galleries, even though more than half were closed for the holidays.

The amazing thing is the apparent artistic freedom these artists have, compared to official government-run museums. You can see overt politics here, like a gallery full of propaganda poster-style paintings of Chairman Mao and others, except everyone other than Mao has a pacifier in their mouth. It wasn't really my cup of tea, but it's notably more overtly critical than the typical kitschy faux-propaganda posters I saw all over town of Workers Uniting with Coca Cola or of Chairman Obama.

There's some of that commercial stuff here, including a photography shop that had some pretty nice photos of Shanghai until I started seeing the same exact photos everywhere; it's apparently a chain. Most of the art seems quite original, though. There is some traditional art, but the majority is modern, and of all styles, photo-realistic and abstract, Gothic and manga, creepy and cute. A few of my favorites:

  • A painting of leaves on water where the paint from the leaves are all 3-dimensional, so that they lift off of the painting and look real. Really neat.

  • A series of realistic paintings of city road scenes, with cars driving back and forth, except that there are traffic lights hanging above (all red), and there's a modern person sitting casually on top of the traffic light: a business woman on her laptop, a business man eating lunch, a hip young kid just leaning back. I liked the vague surrealness, and I think the idea was that these people are actually in quite a precarious position, but they don't even realize it. I felt its social commentary was much more subtle and effective than that in-your-face Mao-and-pacifiers stuff.

  • There was a room with a series of 25 giant head-shots of people laughing, all shot in identical poses in the same studio. (Even though they were posed, you all know how much I like photos of people laughing.)

If any of you plan to go to Shanghai any time soon, I highly recommend swinging by M50. I don't think this kind of art scene has existed in China, out in the open, until recently. And if you're stuck here in San Francisco, there are open studios the next two weekends! I've been to some a few times, and they're often a treat; very similar to what I was just talking about, just less surprising because it's not in China.

Sadly, it's not clear how long the area will last. All around M50 are far more lucrative residential high-rise apartments. I think a mixture of city planning and existing landlords have kept it going for now, but some of the nearby warehouses have already been demolished to make way for new development. So try to go soon! On the flipside, the only reason I even heard about it is because I have relatives who live right across the street. I made the following panorama from their stairwell, and you can see the more typical scene in the area. M50 is off-screen, just off the right side.

Suzhou Creek in Shanghai at Night

(Click above to view the full-screen zoomable Gigapan version, or just visit the Flickr page.)

The Chinese Match.com

I was on my way to visit some museums in Shanghai when I passed through People's Park. There were a ridiculous number of people packed there, nearly all middle-aged or older. I wondered if there was some sort of exercise activity or performance going on there. Then I saw a man wearing a sign around his neck like a political prisoner or something, but the sign actually had information about his adult son. What was going on?

The Chinese Match.com

It turns out that this is where all the parents come together to look for matches for their kids! (There are also some folks who are looking for themselves.) There's a special area for older folks, and there's an "overseas corner".

Each parent sits there with a sign with their son or daughter's year of birth, height, job, and sometimes salary. A few have pictures. In China, another important stat is your hukou, or city of residence registration (sort of an internal passport and immigration system). Some signs advertise that their kids have a car, or that they have a house in a nice area, both highly-sought prerequisites among the middle class these days.

I overheard a conversation where one mother said to another (in Shangahainese):

*sigh* Kids these days don't even want you to look for them. I had to sneak over here! They'd raise such a fuss if they found out. But what else are we gonna do, right?

Expo 2010

I dropped by Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The big country pavilions all had lines of at least 2-4 hours! So I didn't bother going to any of those, and I only went to the stuff no one cared about. :)

My favorite building is one of the few that will actually stay after the rest are torn down: The UFO-shaped Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center (next year to be renamed the Mercedes-Benz Arena; so much for culture):

Shanghai World Expo Cultural Center

I thought the South Korean Pavilion was quite clever, with Hangul integrated into the geometry of the building:

Hangul integrated into the South Korea Pavilion at Expo 2010

I'm not sure if these kung fu kicking sculptures were even part of the expo, but I thought they were awesome:

Kung Fu Kick.. Augustus Caesar?

Kung Fu Kick a Rocket!  Kung Fu Kick the Arc de Triomphe!  Just a Whole Lot of Kung Fu Kicking

And last, but not least, the Oil Pavilion!

Oil Pavilion at Expo 2010

Oil Pavilion at Expo 2010

Those walls are actually giant video screens. At one point, they displayed, in English, the Expo 2010 motto "BETTER CITY BETTER LIFE" followed by "OIL EXTENDING CITY DREAMS".

:\

See the full set here.

End of the road

While on the Big Island, I had my first helicopter ride, to check out areas where fresh lava is still flowing. Later, my friends and I visited Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, where you can actually walk on recently hardened lava and see a road that has been buried under lava.

It is quite literally an apocalyptic landscape, where nearly all traces of human civilization were wiped out in days, inspiring me to take the following shots.

The Apocalypse:

The Apocalypse

"The Road":

"The Road"

You can see the rest of the national park set here.

E&A's Wedding Panoramas in Hawaii

The rehearsal dinner at the Fairmont Orchid:

E&A Rehearsal Dinner at the Fairmont

Click the above to view a larger version on Flickr. Stitched from 5 photos.

And here is the ceremony at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai:

Double-click to zoom in. Or you can view it full-screen.

70 Megapixels, from 15 photos stitched in Photoshop CS5. I had to manually tweak the tree trunks a bit to get them to line up. :P

The Future of Food

I recently brought Paolo Bacigalupi's Nebula Award-winning science fiction novel The Windup Girl to read on vacation in Hawaii and China. On the first page, the author describes a fruit:

Anderson turns the fruit in his hand, studying it. It's more like a gaudy sea anemone or a furry puffer fish than a fruit. Coarse green tendrils protrude from all sides, tickling his palm. The skin has the rust-red tinge of blister rust, but when he sniffs he doesn't get any stink of decay. It seems perfectly healthy, despite its appearance.

And on the second page:

He mimes that he would like to taste and the peasant woman takes back the fruit. Her brown thumb easily tears away the hairy rind, revealing a pale core. Translucent and veinous, it resembles nothing so much as the pickled onions served in martinis at research clubs in Des Moines.

I hadn't heard of any fruit like this. They sounded like lychees, but lychees don't have "tendrils", so I assumed it was fictional. But then, the very next day after reading those pages, I saw these in person:

[mystery fruit]

They're real! I had just never seen them before! These must be what the author was talking about! In the novel's future, they hadn't existed in the wild for decades, wiped out by man-made, cross-species diseases that killed countless people by contaminating their food supplies.

* * *

While on a plane to a destination wedding to Hawaii, I read this novel that depicts a world made bigger again by peak carbon, where coastal cities have been smothered by climate change, and where air travel is no longer possible except by blimp.

While being driven around by upper-middle-class friends and relatives in China, where private car ownership has soared in the last decade, I read about a future where cars are flamboyant toys of the richest, and bicycle rickshaws once again rule the land.

While dining on starfruit, dragonfruit, and durian in Guangzhou, I read about a future where the only fruits left are genetically-engineered varieties made by the same companies who had sabotaged the natural ones.

Robin Sloan wrote a post this same book over at Snarkmarket; he titled it: Michael Pollan meets William Gibson. And he started his post with the same point I've made when explaining this book to people: Science fiction is always about the present. Golden Age science fiction from the 40s and 50s were about dreams of rocket-fueled futures. In the 70s and 80s, it was about nuclear holocaust and computers. And in the last decade, it's been about genetic engineering. This book also talks about peak oil, climate change, and, as Robin points out, food. These are the concerns of today.

* * *

Have you ever had a rambutan? They look like spiky lychees and taste a lot like them, too. Pretty good. Try one while you still can.

About October 2010

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in October 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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