Josh's Photo Blog

July 29, 2010

July in Photos

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 4:36 am

Some favorites from the past month:

4th of July @ Northridge

Border Field State Park – that’s Tijuana in the background

The lake that snakes down the highway from me

The best view I got of Mt. Rainier in Seattle

and the Seattle Public Library, probably one of my most favorite buildings ever

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July 5, 2010

Shanghai

Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 8:11 pm

(last in a 4-part series on China)

I’ve heard this city described many ways, but the most thought-provoking description I’ve heard was one I heard from my uncle some time after I’d left China:

“The place has no soul. It has all the money but none of the history or the roots that other places in China do. But it’s one place I’ll definitely be coming back to”

He had a point.  A couple of centuries ago, the place was a sleepy fishing village; it was only after colonial powers began slicing up China that Shanghai became a noteworthy settlement. Because of this, it hasn’t got the kind of historical heritage that other places like Beijing or Xi’an do. What it does have, though, is money.

And yet, I don’t think there’s any better place to see China’s ambition, or the march of globalization.

Shanghai’s impressive Pudong skyline, dotted with huge buildings and animated signboards out of Blade Runner, is even more impressive once one realizes that it basically didn’t exist 2 decades ago. All of Pudong’s tallest buildings are recent constructions on top of what used to be rice fields, and more of them are going up by the day.

Like anything noveau-riche, there’s an element of gaudiness to some of Shanghai’s architecture and decor. The city’s government seems to love neon enough to deck its highways out in the stuff. While of questionable taste and even worse from an environmental standpoint, the overall effect turns out well on camera.

Shanghai’s famous Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings filled with soup and a meatball) are definitely worth lining up for – and the sheer number of tourists in the city guarantee that there will be lines, especially at the most famous places. Other street treats to check out include noodles in stir-fried and soup form, and hotpot skewers and veggies.

All the guide books and websites loved to gush on about Xintiandi (above), a commercial development built around one of Shanghai’s old housing districts.  I didn’t see what all the fuss was about – the place is comparatively tiny, and stuffed with expensive boutique chains and Western restaurants, both reeking of hype and inflated prices. While it’s certainly classy, I was hoping for something with a little more local charm. As it is, the old shikumen (housing units) are the only things separating this place from any other outdoor mall in any wealthy city of the world.

Shanghai takes great pride in its Maglev, the first commercial line of its kind in the world. The ride is exhilarating, if short, and the seats are comfier than those on the plane, even in “economy class”. You can get a VIP Maglev ticket for double the cost, though why anyone would spend more to get a slightly comfier seat and a soda for a 7-minute train ride is beyond me.

Shanghai left me wanting to come back with some local knowledge and some more time for a closer look. I am sure that I’ll cross paths with this city again in the future.

June 29, 2010

Shanghai World Expo

Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 4:01 pm

(part 3 of a 4 part series on China)

The World Expo was the reason I decided to travel to China. There were quite a few other destinations I had in mind, but the Expo was the crucial factor that made me decide to go back to China and travel.

It wasn’t till I got into the country, though, that I realized what an ordeal the Expo would be. In retrospect, it’s something I should have expected – there are crowds everywhere for anything worth seeing in China. But as people I met in Beijing and Xi’an started recounting their tales of hours-long waits and complicated reservations processes to get into any reputable pavilion, I began to get a little worried that I might not see anything. Fortunately, I did muscle my way into some of them (having a good book and an iPhone loaded with movies makes your time in line feel a lot faster), whereupon I realized that a lot of them mostly repeated the same “we’re awesome, we’re green, come visit us and give us your money” message. Almost all of the pavilions were extremely heavy on video screens and movies, and extremely light on the one-of-a-kind cultural experiences and technological feats that used to typify World Expos.

Nevertheless, I did find quite a few pavilions that didn’t disappoint, and that made the tedium worthwhile. Some of the most noteworthy pavilions include:

Saudi Arabia (4-9 hour wait) – the most expensive pavilion in the expo, and the second largest after China. Its claim to fame is being host to the world’s largest IMAX screen. No chance of catching Avatar in it though – the projectors are set to loop ultra high-res scenes and aerial views of Saudi Arabia, to breathtaking effect. It’s no surprise that the lines for this pavilion are quite possibly the longest in the entire Expo!

China (2-4 hours WITH reservation – I didn’t bother to try getting in). From what I hear, it’s thoroughly average inside, but the building is quite stunning at night. At least this one is a permanent exhibition, so anyone coming to Shanghai can come and see it even after the Expo has ended.

 

The UK (1-hour wait) – probably the best bang-for-buck in my opinion. Short wait for such a major country, and host to the Seed Pavilion, probably the most striking piece of architecture on site. Mad props to the Brits for resisting the temptation to load up on video screens and conveyor belts, and on spending their money on a beautiful building and an open courtyard with great views and pulsing British techno music instead.

Canada – gets points for having stuff to do outside the pavilion, without anyone having to line up to get in. If you hang out long enough in the open courtyard, you too can have some fun with the Canadian mimes!

Philippines – the first one I visited, partly because I’m from here, and partly because there was no line.

Above, the Stamp Stampede, a distinctly Chinese phenomenon where hordes of people rush to get their Expo passports stamped at the soonest possible moment after entering the pavilion, often before having viewed any of the exhibits, before rushing out of the pavilion to the next one to grab another stamp. After a while, I realized that many of the stamp stampeders were there not to see the actual pavilions or learn about their host countries, but cared more about grabbing the stamps to take home to their friends and family to show just how much ground they “covered”. This annoys many of the pavilions, to the point that some of the more understaffed and/or easy-to-enter ones have stopped stamping passports altogether. Quite a few of the stampeders have huge stacks of passports, to bring home in varying states of completedness for their friends and family who couldn’t make it to the expo. Like many other distinctly Chinese things, it’s great fun to watch… until one gets caught up in the pushing and shoving.

Above, some of the thousands of volunteers who keep the expo running. They’re all extremely friendly and try their best to be helpful, in spite of the language barrier.

Phew, that was exhausting. The Expo is an extremely tiring experience, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood (East Asia), it’s definitely worth checking out, though not for the reasons you’d think. I know some of you are thinking of going, or will be going, so e-mail or comment if you’ve got any questions about the event!

 

 

June 27, 2010

Xi’an

(second in a series of 4 posts on China)

I had a choice of several cities in China to visit after Beijing but before Shanghai. Xi’an was the most far-flung I could realistically get to for cheap, which is probably the main reason I went. I figure, I can go see the closer sights later, but having a few extra days to visit the Terracotta warriors is a luxury I might not enjoy in the future.

It’s hard to imagine that some clay soldiers and horses would be worth so much fuss and muss, but after seeing them, I have to agree that they’re actually pretty amazing. The mammoth first dig (above) is the most impressive from a visual standpoint, the museum’s managers having lined up the soldiers to look as they did right before they were buried by a slightly paranoid, slightly megalomanic, extremely powerful Chinese king.

The future potential of these treasures is incalculable: it’s been almost 40 years since some farmers first found the site, and the Chinese are still digging up more warriors, in various states of repair…
…ensuring that legions of (mostly Chinese) tourists will continue to be awestruck by them for generations to come.
Unfortunately, the rest of Xi’an isn’t quite as impressive. It’s a great little city (if you can call a place with over 8 million residents “little” – and in China you just might be able to) but much of its history and legacy wasn’t buried under several feet of soil and clay like the Terracotta Warriors, and so failed to survive for us to view today. While there’s quite a bit to do on paper, in practice, you’ll probably run out of things to see and do within a few days like I did. Especially given how impressive the warriors are, some of these places feel like tourist traps hanging on to the reputation of their more famous terracotta neighbors, a feeling which isn’t helped by the gaudy Hollywood spotlights some of them sport. That said, some of the highlights include:
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda (don’t ask where they got the name) which is big, but not too wild architecturally. Originally the center of Buddhist worship in Xi’an, it’s now surrounded by tons of bars, restaurants and shops, and (God knows why) the “largest fountain show in Asia”. A bitter irony given Buddhism’s ascetic virtues, perhaps, but it looks pretty awesome at night. And yes, it is leaning like a certain other tower in Pisa.
The Little Wild Goose Pagoda, which is actually probably more architecturally interesting than its larger brother, and less cheesy to boot

The Xi’an Mosque, China’s first. Also probably the most interesting and peaceful place of worship in this city, since most tourists get lost trying to find it.

The walls of Xi’an, which you can bike on top of with gleeful disregard for other tourists, old people and signs telling you to “please don’t bike down this long steep ramp that’ll make you go slightly faster than is safe on your rickety old rental bike with no brakes”.

The “Forest of Steles”, which isn’t much of a forest, and not too interesting if you can’t read Chinese (I can’t), but extremely important culturally for the people who can. You get to see the roots of the language, and a written history of the numerous kingdoms that preceded China’s current communist reign

and my hostel (not pictured), which is easily the nicest place I’ve stayed at while backpacking. Amazing staff (go get Tom to do his coin trick for you) and great amenities for dirt cheap.

Check this place out, but don’t stay too long or you may get bored.

Next stop: Shanghai!

June 24, 2010

Beijing

Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 4:03 am

(part 1 of a 4-part series on China)

It wasn’t my first time to Beijing – I’d been twice before on school and holiday trips. But this city is just so huge and so interesting that what I’d originally thought would be a short stopover turned into some of my best photography from this trip.

Of course, I spent time at the requisite tourist destinations, the top among them being the Forbidden City (above). Fortunately, China’s burgeoning middle class means that many of these tourists are also Chinese, holding at bay the swarm of foreigners that often overwhelm smaller, poorer countries that depend on tourist money. Of course, since China’s so big and has so many people in it, this means that many destinations are clogged with people, especially on the weekends. Any concept you might have of what a crowd, queue or mass gathering pre-China pales in comparison to what you’ll see over here.

Visiting the Bird’s Nest was a top priority for me – I’d hoped to have been here 2 years ago for the Olympics, but plans fell through at the last minute and I couldn’t go. The place is a giant park now – people come from all over to see the bird’s nest, then stay to chill out, eat and fly kites with their families. As with many things in China, it’s difficult to overstate just how huge this place is – even though it’s all flat land with no tall buildings, the smog and the vastness of it mean you can’t see from one end of the Olympic Park to the other except on a rare clear day.

The 798 arts district was also a big highlight for me. The place was a top-secret weapons facility until the ’80s, when it was abandoned and artists began taking up residence. The quality of the work varies, but one can’t deny that the place is pulsing with life and creative energy.

Houhai lake is probably the place I spent the most time in, mainly because I just kept happening to wander there after letting myself get lost in the city. The area around the lake is more modern, with tons of overpriced bars and touristy shops, but it’s surrounded by one of the last remaining hutongs (village-like communities) in the city, leading to this wonderful blend of old and new.

I loved hanging out with the older Chinese people – they grew up in a time when personal, private space didn’t exist and community bonds were much tighter. Even though China is richer now, they still keep their old habits and pleasures like going out for a swim with mates, or getting involved in a neighborhood game of Mahjong, pollution, tourists and snooty young’ins be damned!

Because it’s such a huge sprawl, there’s a ton of walking to do in this city. Though development is moving at an extremely rapid pace – between when my guidebook was printed and when I came, they’d added 4 or 5 new subway lines – the fact remains that Beijing is just huge and flat. Many places either require a roundabout subway ride AND a long walk to get to, or just don’t have a subway stop at all, and require you to take a (to be fair, affordable) taxi. Even if your destination has a subway stop, there’s no guarantee that it will have a stop conveniently located next to an entrance or exit of the place.

Next stop: Xi’an via overnight train!

May 7, 2010

Not long for this town…

Filed under: travel, Uncategorized, updates — Tags: , , , , — joshuaps @ 4:40 am

As some of you may already know, I’m going to be moving to San Diego for work in July. It’s been an amazing four (well, 3,5) years in LA and I’m a little sad to be leaving such an interesting place.

I’m going to be quite mobile over the next 2 months, with stops in 3 national parks, Beijing, Shanghai and Manila, among other places. Rest assured that I’ll continue to post as best I can while on the road

November 24, 2009

Paris Life

Filed under: travel, updates — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 12:22 am

Things are getting hectic out here as far as schoolwork/job searching/Christmas planning goes, which is why I’ve not been 100% current with my blogging. I’ve yet to begin editing from a trip I went on this weekend, but here are some shots from Paris to tide y’all over in the meantime.

November 12, 2009

Italy

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 12:18 am

One nice thing about being in France is that you get to take breaks when the French do… which is quite often! Barely a month and a half into the semester, I got a week off from school and went to Italy with a big bunch of friends. It was quite the adventure – we did 4 cities in 7 days (down from 10), half of us got sick and I broke a lens somewhere between Florence and Venice (above) – a $500 repair!

We were in airports a lot, thanks to airport strikes and weird connections screwing us over.

This is the Sistine Chapel. You aren’t supposed to take pictures in it. Good luck stopping people, though..

The Vatican City (above 3 photos) had some amazing collections of Catholic-inspired art and architecture. As the world shifts towards secularism, the lowest common denominator and what is most profitable, we might never again see an era where people would be motivated to build such monuments to a higher power

Not much to see in Pisa beyond the tower that bears its name, though it is quite funny to see people trying to get their picture with it.

Florence (above) is quite nice. It’s one of those large cities that succeeds in having a rustic, small-town feel. Like many of the other places we went to, it was quite easy to get around on foot as most of the major sights are clustered together in the city center

There’s a LOT of art in this city, particularly Christian art. It’s quite overwhelming, but I actually found some of the art to be surprisingly inspiring.

Many of the churches we went to charged admission, with the result being that most of the people in them show their adoration and veneration with a camera rather than with prayer

Gondolas abound in Venice (there are about 400 licensed gondoliers), and they reminded me of my time spent on USC’s Dragonboat team.

Venice away from the canals is a maze of pathways and alleys, amazingly easy to get lost in. Wandering through these alleys alone and away from the rampant tourism in Italy was probably the most peaceful I felt the whole trip.

The parts of Italy I saw were beautiful, but I wish I had more time to get to know the place on a deeper level. My overall impression of it was a country rich in culture and tradition, but with a hugely commercial, touristy side that got in the way of its beauty.

October 19, 2009

Things I learnt last week

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 8:11 pm

I took advantage of a rather sunny weekend in Paris to roam around, go to some conventions and do some exploring. Some things I found out:

1. There IS Chinese food in Paris, but it’s way too expensive. 14-20 E for a decent meal per person. They do get the Hong Kong-style ambience down, though.

2. Finding free passes to photo shows on the RER (train) rocks. I saw the very latest camera releases – let’s just say I have more than a few new Christmas wish list items now.

3. Corsets are hot, especially chocolate ones. Also, fashion shows are EVERYWHERE in Paris. Also, you CAN eat too much chocolate, medically proven!

4. Sacre-Coer is probably the touristy-est place in Paris. Even more so than the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been here 3 times in 8 days for no real reason aside from it being pretty.

5. The Moulin Rouge is just a red windmill. So overrated.

6. The Louvre closes late. And it’s pretty at night. Pyramids make anything look cool!

7. Antiques are cool. The shops at Montmarte have everything from 17th-century setpieces to antique watches and cameras in amazing condition, to French books and posters from the earlier part of the last century. I’m definitely coming back for some of this, despite how shady it can be at times.

8. So is graffiti.

9. Kids kicking you in the shin on the subway are less cool. Paris subways can get really packed, even on weekends when nobody is supposed to have work.

I also got the chance to sit down, look at what I’ve been shooting over the past 1.5 months and use some of it to update the site. Y’all can check it out at joshuasyphoto.com.

October 14, 2009

On the streets where I live

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , , , — joshuaps @ 10:52 pm

This is where I live – a sleepy little suburb about 45 minutes out of Paris by train.

Didn’t jet (drive) off to any locations last weekend – I decided to stay in Ile-de-France, the coolest destination in Europe instead.

Below, Vaux-le-Vicomte, the inspiration for the famous Chateau Versailles and a good 2-hour drive from Paris. The place exudes decadence.

I got lost a fair bit this weekend, too.

“8 Days of Gold” – a rare sale at Printemps, one of the most famous department stores in Paris…

…but the Gallerie Lafayette (above) is where I ended up spending my money. It helps that it’s prettier by a fair margin.

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