Josh's Photo Blog

July 5, 2010


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


(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


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!

June 2, 2010

Jade and Mike

Filed under: Shoots, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 1:36 am

Here’s another shoot from May.

We had a hell of a time running around LA finding shots, and got EXTREMELY lucky to find a bright yellow locomotive sitting out in the open on public property

Of course, we had to take advantage.

Thanks for a great shoot, guys.

May 30, 2010

Amber and Dhalib

Filed under: friends, Shoots, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — joshuaps @ 5:36 pm

Phew, this was a while ago, when the poppies were still in bloom. I’m still catching up on posting old shoots up before I get on my plane to China

May 28, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized, updates — Tags: — joshuaps @ 10:08 pm

Graduation was pretty anticlimactic for me. I think that it (and the college experience) have been hyped up so much that it’s pretty easy to get disappointed, especially with today’s economic conditions. Lots of time and energy goes into making you feel special and unique, even though you’re surrounded by literally thousands of other people with the same degree and qualifications as you.

I honestly can’t say I felt any different before and right after I walked across that stage to get my diploma. My parents, though, were another story. I really think that graduations are for them more than for us, to make them feel like something enormous has been accomplished and to give a sense of closure to their child’s youth. A lot of people (myself included) celebrate their graduation, but sometimes I feel that to do so is kind of like giving Obama the Nobel Peace Prize – a little premature, and based more on the promise of what will be accomplished rather than what has actually been done.

It was quite a hectic day, and I might not have fully grasped its importance. There are lots of people I saw then that I probably won’t see for a very long time, if at all. But I’m certainly no stranger to moving around, and I am sure most of my classmates feel the same way.

After here, I’m off to China and the Philippines for a month, and then to San Diego in July to start up my new job.

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

April 26, 2010

The place where trees bear my name

Filed under: Uncategorized — joshuaps @ 7:30 pm

Joshua Tree National Park, April 24-25

I’ll be coming back here soon.

March 23, 2010

On the (Philippine) campaign trail with Dick Gordon

Filed under: Stories, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 7:49 am

Over spring break, I had the opportunity to follow Philippine presidential candidate Richard “Dick” Gordon (guy on the truck) on one of his campaign trips to the province.

Philippine presidential campaigns are at once much more personal and fun than those in the United States. There’s much less physically standing between the candidate and the people – no Secret Service or bulletproof glass. The candidates are also much more playful, with pastel-colored campaign vehicles, pop-py jingles and lots of candy getting tossed around.

You see things that simply wouldn’t fly in the US, like pickup trucks loaded to the hilt with loudspeakers blasting campaign jingles at deafening volumes.

The Gordon-Bayani ticket is running with “The Transformers” as their slogan. As in, the cars that turn into robots. They even painted a bunch of trucks (“Optimus Prime” is in the photo above, and yes, that’s what they really call it) in hot-rod colors and loaded them up with lights and loudspeakers to drive around the countryside in.





All in all, a very interesting couple of days. Quite frankly, he’s a long shot to win, but I had a lot of fun tagging along with these guys regardless.
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