Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Why Success Is More Likely If You Love What You Do (Guest Blog by Rory Alexander).


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Seven Links is a concept that has been doing the rounds in blogging circles and I was just nominated by Nicole from Third Eye Mom.

The idea is that you choose the best post from seven different categories and then nominate other bloggers to do the same. It is a great way to highlight some older posts that readers may have missed as well as promote some of the blogs I like to follow. This is also particularly apt as I have completed my contracts in China and this blog will soon come to an end as I move on to my next experience. Until then here are my Seven of the Best:

NB: Clicking on the link or image will open the original post in a new window where you will be able to enlarge the images/watch the videos.

1.  Most beautiful post: My 100th Post – Night lights of Shanghai

Whether it was the bright lights, tall buildings or the fact that there were more people who spoke and understood English in Shanghai I really loved Shanghai as a city. This post includes a panorama of The Bund at night viewed from the Pudong side of the Huangpu River and the image is over 5600 pixels wide.

2.  Most popular post: You’re never too old to do Tai Chi 

Based on statistics and number of views – receiving over 5000 views in 72 hours thanks to being Freshly Pressed. This post features some great candid shots from Fuxing Park with hundreds of people out enjoying the morning, each in their own way.

3.  Most controversial post: Wedding Bells in China

Being more of a journal than an opinion piece I don’t think  I have written anything too controversial but this title was misinterpreted by lots of people assuming I was making an announcement of my own. Perhaps I should have gone with the alternative title, “Wedding Bangs in China

4.  Most helpful post: Teaching my first class…

This may not be all that helpful but it helped me cope with the stress of teaching my first English as a Foreign Language class and perhaps it will help other first time TEFL teachers out there.

5.  Most surprisingly successful post: Suzhou, the “Venice of China” or is it?

This was not the most popular by views but it was quite high up the rankings of most visited posts. I was surprised as I thought it was quite controversial and rather scathing of Suzhou as a tourist destination however lots of people found it from searches while planning vacations and hopefully I merely tempered their expectations without putting them off completely.


6.  Most under-rated post: Mounting Yellow Mountain

This was a trip our school took us on to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and I was busy at the time getting to and from Beijing to run the Great Wall Half Marathon that I used the write-up of Roux Van Zyl, a colleague of mine who used to be a journalist, which I thought was good and slightly different from my very factual style. The post also included lots of pictures but they were in a gallery format and perhaps that’s why it didn’t get the response I expected.

7.  Post I am the most proud of: Revisiting the Great Wall Marathon 2010

I was asked by a friend to rewrite my experience of running the Great Wall Half Marathon for his new online Trail Running Magazine which was challenging but fun at the same time and it included some of the official photos and videos that had arrived in the post. It was also no mean feat to get the video uploaded from China where YouTube and a whole host of other social media websites are blocked.

And now here are my nominations:

Allan’s Journeyhttp://allansjourney.wordpress.com/ – Some amazing photography and stories from Asia.

Angela’s adventures in wonderland: http://thaimeofmylife.wordpress.com/ – Someone I met when I first started teaching who started in China and is now in Thailand. Great photos and a unique style of writing.

Little Miss Medic: http://little-miss-medic.blogspot.com/ – A South African doctor living in London. Trying her hand at travelling around Europe, whilst working part-time. Book lover, fashion follower and eternal pessimist. All the stories are true, but names have been kept anonymous.

Magic of Mine: http://magicofmine.wordpress.com/ – Some beautiful photography here above and below water.

ShortFinal.tv: http://www.shortfinal.tv/ – A friend of mine, Hilton, is the brainchild behind ShortFinal.tv and claims the title of a self-appointed unofficial video reporter for aviation in South Africa. A fantastic vlog for any aviation enthusiast like myself.

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On our third full day in Yangshuo we decided to ditch the mountain bike idea and hire an electric scooter. You don’t need a license for them and I had owned one back in Xiaoshan so felt comfortable driving one despite the large numbers of cars, bicycles and people on the roads. At just 80 Yuan for the day and our passports as deposit we collected our scooter from a hotel near the river. First up was breakfast.

Locking up the scooter we hired for the day

We went back to one of our favourite restaurant Lucy’s where for 30 Yuan you got a set breakfast of eggs(any way you want), toast, fresh Yunnan Coffee, fresh squeezed juice and a banana pancake with real maple syrup – almost too much to finish. After that we headed out-of-town on our scooter to the Moon Water Cave some 10 kms outside the town.

NB: If you go, buy your tickets from your hostel or a travel agent for 80-90Yuan otherwise at the ticket office by the cave they try to sell the same tickets for 320 Yuan.

I was more enthusiastic in my approach to the mud bath

suffice to say I was still cleaning mud out of my ears 3 days later

The cave itself was quite rustic, not very well-lit ( a rather nice change from the tawdry lighting of other caves) but the mud bath was a unique experience. Cold at first you soon got used to it and if you laid down in the pool you actually floated which was weird feeling. After that it was down a passage to a clean river flowing through the cave to wash the mud off. This was also cold but invigorating at the same time. Then on the way out of the cave there is a series of natural hot springs that were great to just lie down in and enjoy. and then it was a short boat ride back out of the cave to the pool at the entrance where you were free to swim and dive into from a platform which I did and got this cool photos to match what you see on the cave brochure.

diving into the pool at the entrance to the Moon Water Cave

I'll admit, not the best form.

Moon Hill which we didn't climb but got this HDR photo from the cave ticket office

The cave is nothing spectacular but well worth it for the experience of the mud bath and hot spring. It took longer than expected so we headed back into town for a late lunch but stopped along the way to get a picture of these rice paddies.

Rice paddy and karst peaks HDR

just to show you how many cyclists and bikes were on the roads

We wanted to try find a nice spot for sunset across the river looking back at all the peaks that surround Yangshuo itself and after some off-roading on the scooter, which thankfully held up we ended up next to the river where we went horse riding and after buying some cold drinks from a nearby restaurant nestled amongst the bamboo we sat back to enjoy the sunset.

sunset over Yangshuo from across the Li River HDR

me trying to get the best sunset photo

After sunset it was back into town for dinner and to return the scooter. Along the was we walked along West Street which is the big tourist attraction of Yangshuo. It’s actually just a pedestrian street with little souvenir and curio shops all along it and at night every other entrance is a nightclub. Interesting to walk along but crowded and unless you are looking for curios or a bargain not much fun. Parallel to it though was a street we refered to as the eating street as it had a lot of our favourite restaurants/cafes with extensive Chinese and Western menus.

had to take a photo of this three-wheeled car we saw in the village across the river

The crowds along the famous West Street in Yangshuo

Night view of our restaurant street HDR

Having handed back the scooter we walked off our dinner on the way back to the hostel but stopped at a Cafe called Nature’s Cup along the river for a night-cap. The owner was there and after hearing him speak I had a suspicion that he was from South Africa and indeed he was. We talked some more only discover that he came from the neighbourhood next to mine in Cape Town. And as if the world isn’t small enough his name was Rory. He had some interesting insights on living and particularly running a business in China but he also makes a delicious Malibu Dom Pedro, probably the only Don Pedro you will find in China. They were so good we would end up going again the following night.

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These photos are all the end result of combining several photos together. I am not going to show you the before photos and if you want to know more about process you can look at my earlier post on HDRI. Still new to this type of photography I made some mistakes but here are a few of the ones that I thought came out pretty well and I hade fun creating. Enjoy!

NB Click on the images to enlarge

Sunset and vapour trail over Guilin HDR

Guilin & Solitary Beauty Peak viewed from Fubo Hill HDR

The Li River at the exit of the Crown Cave HDR

Elephant Trunk Hill landmark in Guilin HDR

Looking through the Elephant Trunk up the Li River HDR

Margaurita & I at dusk in front of Elephant Trunk Hill

Sunset behind the Sun & Moon Pagodas HDR

Margaurita & I at sunset on the roof of Ming Palace Hostel HDR

OK, the last one is a bit over-processed. I discovered that taking HDR images with people is difficult but I’m having lots of fun experimenting with this process. Most of these were taken hand-held without a tripod and I’m still learning how to tweak the various settings. However these photos make the normal photos look so boring it makes me want to take HDR all the time and I hopefully my photos will improve even more as my technique improves.


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After a decent breakfast in the hostel our tour guide arrived and spoke no English which didn’t bode well for the rest of the day, oh well. After stopping to collect a few other groups from different hotels we headed out first to an old village with some temple or other (they really don’t interest me), a street of curio sellers where I bought a painting of Guilin mostly because it was so cheap and some that was about it when we were herded back onto the bus.

Old lady selling salty hard-boiled eggs

Me not excited about another temple with souvenir shops in the background

An old street through a traditional village

Traditional Chinese buildings

As we were walking to the bus the tour guide came up and was asking us for money and we tried to explain we had already paid at the hostel. However it appeared she wanted 65 yuan more for the next part of the tour and she made out like it wasn’t optional and the others had already paid this. A little annoyed at we just shrugged our shoulders and said no to whatever the extra was for. She seemed frustrated but we just couldn’t communicate. We then stopped and everyone got off the bus the lady again came to us to try an explain, with no English, why we should pay the money. It would appear that the whole group couldn’t continue unless we paid and could all stay together. Then a Chinese girl nearby who spoke English helped translate for us and we established that the money was for an extra part of the tour and it would take 2.5 hours so it wouldn’t really work if we just wanted to wait for the group. Frustrated we paid the extra and hoped it was worthwhile and it was as you will see.

The entrance area to the Crown Cave, Guilin

Stands of curios as we enter the Crown Cave

This train ride was quite cool but went too fast to appreciate the cave

More tawdry lighting and curios deep in the Crown Cave

a nice boat ride on a river at the bottom of the Crown cave

Low ceilings and beautifully clear water in the depths of the cave

An underground waterfall (It cost an extra 5 Yuan to see this)

Mold growing on the limestone at the bottom of the cave - probably not helped by all the curio sellers and all day tawdry lighting

Exiting the Crown Cave by boat onto the Li River (this is what we had to pay the extra 65 Yuan for)

Worth it I think for this panorama from the dock

Despite the mold, tawdry lighting and endless curio sellers throughout the Crown Cave it was a worthwhile visit with lots interesting things between two boat rides, a train ride and a barge trip back to our bus. Next was lunch (not included in the tour price) at a farmers restaurant (really just meaning fresh produce) on the edge of a rice paddy and thankfully for us our Chinese was good enough to order some well-known dishes together with just pointing at some other tables dishes saying we wanted what they had. After lunch it was back onto the bus to travel to the Gudong Scenic Area, a National Park of China. Here there were a few more surprises like 5 Yuan for some bamboo sandals and a helmet to climb through a waterfall and optional zip-line and rollercoaster activities which was actually pretty fun.

The waterfall we climbed up in bamboo sandals

A cool suspension bridge after climbing up through the waterfalls

The optional (25 Yuan p/p) rickety but fun roller coaster we took down from the top of the mountain

Our bamboo raft guide back to the entrance of the Gudong Scenic Area

Although there were some extra costs that it would have been nice to know about before hand it was a fun afternoon and we were quite tired by the time we got back to the hostel, just in time to catch sunset on the roof before going down for the buffet dinner special the hostel was putting on.

sunset from the roof top of the Ming Palace Youth Hostel

We met an Australian couple at the buffet function who gave us some great advice on what was worthwhile to see and what to skip. So the next day we decided we would do our own thing and avoid Chinese lead tours. Itinerary was Fubo Hill in the morning, Reed Flute Cave in the heat of the day and Tunnel Hill Park in the afternoon.


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We don’t seem to have much luck with trains and despite leaving the apartment early we waited for more than 20 minutes for a bus to the station and so were cutting it fine. When we arrived at the station we went to the normal entrance only to discover the we had to go to waiting room 2 which was one building down and predictably had a massive queue outside. With 15 minutes to our scheduled departure we became Chinese and ignored the line pushing, and I mean pushing, to the front of the line and into the building. We found our boarding gate with a mass of people all standing and waiting but as the time ticked by they didn’t open they gate. Not being able to read Chinese characters we could only guess our train was delayed and while we stood waiting for some 30 minutes we had a chance to breath and take in just how many people were in the station whose air conditioning wasn’t coping at all in the 35°C heat. All you could see was people’s heads from wall to wall.

Wall to wall people in Waiting Room 2 at Hangzhou South Train Station

The train itself wasn’t so bad, not quite as spacious as I remembered the Soft Sleeper to Beijing being but it was decent and we seemed to get quite lucky as the father and son we shared our compartment were nice and most importantly didn’t snore or eat stinky food.

Corridor of the Soft Sleeper car of the T77 train from Shanghai to Guilin

Our side of the slightly cramped Soft Sleeper compartment

Eighteen hours later [including an hour of accumulated delays] we pulled into Guilin after the scenery had noticeably changed with limestone peaks in the distance and clean rivers, which you just don’t see in the big cities of China anymore.

Crossing a clean river on the way into Guilin

We followed the directions and caught a bus easily enough to our Ming Palace Youth Hostel. It was a fairly new hostel having only been open for 5 months but it was adequate and in a fairly nice situation, away from the city centre but close to some major attractions. As the name would suggest, turning left they are 100m from the Ming Palace (which we didn’t visit) and turning right 100m from the Li River. After checking in and dumping our bags we set off to see the river and explore the city while we tried to plan our next few days.

Panorama of the Li River in Guilin


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Today I collected my passport from the Hangzhou Police Bureau after my application for a tourist visa as my Residency Permit has expired. The tourist visa is valid for 30 days from the date of application but they take a week to process so despite applying for it on the 24th June, it was only issued today, the 1st July and expires on the 23rd July. Add to that the fact that whenever you stay in a hotel in China you must have your passport it makes life a little difficult.

My 30 day tourist visa only really usable for 22 days.

With that out of the way it is time to be a tourist and see some of the sites of China. The only place in China that I really want to see and still haven’t is Guilin and especially Yangshuo just to the south of it. For those of you who don’t know anything about it here’s a little teaser. It is said to be one of the most beautiful areas of China because of its characteristic karst peaks that rise up on either side of the Li River. You may well have seen some of these images in picture books about China and it is so beautiful it is also the illustration found on the back of the 20 Yuan bank-note.

So tomorrow, Margaurita and I catch an overnight train for the 20+ hour journey to Guilin where we will spend 3 days and hopefully get to view some of the must see sites including the Elephant Trunk Hill.

Elephant Trunk Hill, Guilin (Wikimedia Commons)

After that we will head a little further south, probably on a river cruise, to Yangshuo for 4-5 days which is a smaller village and backpacker haven with lots of activities like biking, bamboo rafting, fishing with cormorants, rice terrace tours and more amazing views of the karst peaks rising up all around.

Karst peaks along the river (Wikimedia Commons)

Bamboo rafting on river (Wikimedia Commons)

Hopefully it lives up to these pictures and expectations. I probably won’t be posting much while travelling, I’ll be too busy trying to take as many pictures as possible of the landscape but rest assured there will be full reports on the trip with lots of pictures when I get back. Maybe even some more HDR images so stay logged on.

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