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


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!

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.

February 24, 2010

Upcoming Travel Photography Workshops

Filed under: news, Uncategorized, updates — Tags: , , , , — joshuaps @ 5:24 am

For those of you who are interested in learning more about photography in general, and the stories and concepts behind some of my photographs, I will be holding two upcoming travel photography workshops in March: a FREE 2-hour workshop in Los Angeles and an extended 6-hour workshop in Manila. Information below:

The Big Trip:

Fundamentals of a Successful Photo Excursion

Los Angeles:

Sunday, March 7, 12:00-2:00 PM

Location: USC Campus, TBA

Free Workshop


Saturday, March 20, 2010 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Manila Polo Club Saddle Room

Workshop Fee: PHP 3,000

Join travel photographer Joshua Sy as he shares his insights on travel photography, acquired from 4 years of photography experience across 5 continents. This workshop will teach intermediate-level photographers the key elements to making your next “Big Trip” – the long excursions into distant lands that yield amazing photographic opportunities – a success. We will discuss everything from pre-planning to on-the-ground shooting to post processing.

About the Instructor

Joshua Sy is a Los Angeles-based freelance photographer. Since getting his start in photography at age 18, he has photographed scenes of life in over a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe and northern Africa. His coverage of natural disasters and rallies in the Philippines placed him in the finals for the SportsShooter Student Photographer of the Year for 2008; his portrait work placed in the Top 20 at the 2008 Hearst Photojournalism Awards.

For more information, contact Joshua at

For reservations (Manila workshop), contact Ms. Jo De Leon at 0917-537-4359

The Manila workshop includes free lunch and “merienda” (snacks)

November 12, 2009


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 7, 2009


Filed under: travel, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — joshuaps @ 3:00 pm

When I imagined myself traveling around Europe, I didn’t think that I would be in cars as much as I have been over the past couple of weeks. On another whim, another group of friends and I rented a car to drive to Belgium, which is a little more distance- and time-wise as driving from LA to San Diego.

After some kayaking in Dinant (above) we hit up Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union and home to some of the top culinary delights in Europe

Above, the European Commission, one of the high offices of the European Union. Unlike the ornate houses of government in many of the EU’s member states, the EC’s offices are exactly that – towering skyscrapers that exude bureaucracy.

The Atomium was built for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. The structure is in the shape of an iron molecule and about 10 stories tall – pretty impressive for the fifties

Beer and chocolate abound in Belgium  – you can even get chocolate beer, which is a little like mixing pizza and ice cream. Skip those and buy peach beers instead – the best alcoholic drink ever.

Above, the Manneken-Pis, probably the most over-hyped tourist attraction in existence. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a statue of a peeing boy. My main problem with it is that it’s life-size i.e. it’s too bloody small! If you’re going to have a big tourist attraction in your city, make sure it’s BIG!

Bruges (Brugge) was our final stop on the trip, and possibly one of the most underrated attractions in Belgium. Pretty much nobody out of Europe’s heard of the place, but it still has its fair share of tourists from around the EU and elsewhere.

It’s a nice little town with lots of great architecture, an interesting canal network and…

…surprisingly good nightlife. Above, Willy sings along in his private bar, a beautifully decorated, if cramped, masterpiece built underneath his house and only open on Saturday nights.

Pommes frites (french fries) taste great when you’re drunk!

Overall, Belgium was worth the visit, but I have to say that it’s a little too touristy for my taste, and probably can’t compare to some of the other things I’ve seen in Paris and Munich. A weekend was enough for us to see most of the things in the country. The food, though, definitely makes up for the sometimes underwhelming sights.

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