To accompany my more exhaustive listing of over 1800 photos from Japan and China on my 2006 trip, here I present a bit more personal tale of that trip by highlighting some of my favourite pictures, and some videos as well.
A quick bit of context to begin with: my trip started in Melbourne, shot up to Hong Kong and had an overnight stay, before continuing up to Asahikawa in the middle of the northern island of Japan. For ten days the every-two-years Boomerang World Cup (my second one, and first representing Australia) took my attention, and then it was over to China, starting at Beijing and over five weeks I worked south towards Hong Kong before returning home. Most of that Chinese travel was with two (linked) tours (here it is, if you're bored).
So to start at the start, and no, I'm not going to replicate the estimated 20,000 words in my travel diary: what would a Hong Kong trip be without the obligatory shot from Kowloon of the main island at night? Maybe the light and music spectacular every night at 8pm isn't quite as great as it's billed, but the view is still stunning. As you'll probably have guessed from viewing some of my photos, I had the aid on my trip of a tripod, albeit a tiny "ultrapod" one (less than 15 centimetres long), and it allowed a lot of very pretty shots that were impossible otherwise…
To Japan and the Boomerang World Cup, and we have some little slices of activity to showcase here. First off, the man many think is the world's best thrower (he won the 2000, 2002, and 2004 individual championships): Manuel Schütz. In this little video clip he's throwing something a little different: 7 juggling balls. He does it as part of his warm-up, and as entertainment otherwise, and the reason I like this clip is the shaking-head disgust he expresses at the eventual drop — this kind of perfectionism is why he is the best at what he does!
(All the videos on this page are compressed using the MPEG-4 H.264 codec — use Quicktime, or a player like VLC, to view them. Funny thing is that the pictures on this page are generally larger than the videos — haven't times changed?)
Our next movie looks eerily similar in some ways, though it happens in the dark, deep in the earth (well, in the Snow Museum) rather than on the field, and again involves something other than boomerangs whirling around our protagonist. It comes from the opening ceremony for the Boomerang World Cup, held in the aforementioned stunning Snow Museum, and musically and physically we got a lovely introduction to Japan. Here's a tiny snippet of the show…
Time for some actual relevant footage, and some narcissism to boot: it's me during the Trick Catch event, about to complete my one-handed-behind-the-back catch. I like it purely because it makes me look like I know I'm doing!
Perhaps that's a little bit rough, as I actually had a very nice round, making my second-best score ever despite the very strong winds, and earning my best placing in the six events contested at this World Cup. Unfortunately I utterly bollocksed up the following final two events (the ones I thought were my best!) and ultimately ended up a lot lower than I had planned. I have plenty of work to do before Seattle in 2008! Thanks to my German "Australian for a week" friend H.G. Hoffman for taking this photo (he "documented" my Trick Catch round very well!)
We didn't have a huge number of spectators watching the competition, but arguably those few made up for it in quality. Take this example, as he watches, and physically commentates, a throw in the Aussie Round event (in this case, the boomerang has probably flown 50 metres towards him before turning and returning, hopefully, to the original thrower). You can't make stuff like this up.
Well, now we leave Japan, but there is still one last touch of the boomerang show to go… I flew to Beijing, where I would ultimately join the tour that would take me here, there, and everywhere (not really) throughout China. As you can see in the fuller display of photos, I took in features such as the Temple of Heaven, the Yong He buddhist temple, and Longtan Park beforehand, but our first video for China is in grand old Tiananmen Square, where I completed one of my few set goals for the trip: you have to have a throw there! Lovely Louise, my fill-in camera worker, didn't really know where the boomerang was headed, but yes, she caught up with it at the catch, and a few of the locals were most impressed, or bemused. Hell, my hat alone — made in America —was enough to throw a few locals off!
(And before you ask: yes, there are plenty of cops and other "authority figures" in China, but at no stage did I ever feel threatened or inhibited by their presence — which is more than I can say about quite a few other countries!)
Well, if an Australian can do boomerang tricks, the Chinese must be able to respond with a bicycle trick or two, right? Indeed, they would, as the accompanying video from 'Acrobatics Macrocosm' shows. Despite the rush to "modernise" and emulate most of the transport stuff-ups of the Western world, the bicycle still plays a large role in both urban and rural China. Just keep a sharp eye out for the bicycles at night — as virtually none of them sport lights, you can cop a few surprises!
We took the overnight train (the "soft sleepers" were comfy enough, and my "gang of four" included the aforementioned Louise and Dinshaw from England, and Antony from New Zealand) to Zhengzhou, and one of the attractions we visited was the Iron Pagoda. It was amusingly angled after a thousand years of standing there, and provided some nice views from inside if you climbed its narrow staircase — but the main attraction (well, for Carolyn, Antonia, and Deidre) was the little lizards on it. The second one we found had just grabbed its lunch and was very slowly edging it down his throat…
There were quite a few fireworks on display at the Boomerang World Cup (most notably by the French throwers on the night before Bastille Day) but none quite as memorable as the unscheduled display out the window of the hotel in Louyang. I don't know if the welder was doing work on the top of the drain, or merely using it as a convenient way to dispense of the sparks, but let's hope the rest of the drain gets fixed one day too!
(A lot of the road is virtual "public space" in China, whether that be for commerce or leisure. I did have to laugh at one similar example in Hong Kong on Jaffe Street (basically a kilometre-long series of tiny home improvement stores) where an angle grinder was being used on the narrow footpath, throwing off a shower of sparks. But this was OK, as his mate was standing next to him holding up a large sheet of cardboard to protect passing pedestrians… Every now and then, though, a stray spark would catch him on the hands or face!)
Our travel then took us to the Yellow River (our national guide, Kerry, had never been there, and was extremely excited to finally see the "Mother River of China" and "the Cradle of Chinese Civilisation"). For the briefest of moments the sun actually popped its head out from behind the perpetual haze. But our focus here is looking away from the river itself, to the world's stupidest sheep dog…
We took another overnight train to Xi'an, which was a very pleasant place, and a prime example of how easy it could be to turn the corner and instantly switch between "old" and "new" China. Our first video from this city is some music and dance from within the Bell Tower, which sits within a large roundabout at the dead centre of the city. Look closely at the rear to note there are always at least two people playing a bell set like this — one for the high notes, and another with the huge pole to strike the booming low notes.
Our "Gang of Four" never did get to the Great Mosque (thanks to Antony's map-reading skills!) but the narrow street market that led to it had all sorts of neat things to haggle over, including lots of variations on the Most Wanted Iraqi playing cards. One evening, we set off down to the southern gate to the old walled city, and ran across huge communal dancing (which was quite normal, apparently). Age seemed to be no barrier, with young and old equally involved — and if you stepped too close, you too would end up involved, with Lou, Dinsh, and I all dragged into the maelstrom. The one dance we were in must have gone a good fifteen minutes; it was very good exercise!
While in Xi'an I also visited the Xingqing Palace Park (I'm a sucker for Japanese/Chinese parks), which includes a huge avian enclosure. It didn't really occur to me till later what the potential implications of that were! Outside the main enclosure were some show-off birds chained to their perch — but I reckon this cockatoo will be flying back to Australia soon…
Following Xi'an, we progressed to our Yangtze River cruise, starting at Chongqing (a huge city notable for really hot weather and very few bicycles, thanks to its hilly environment) and heading downstream. After passing through the first two of the Three Gorges (don't let the damming of the river stop you coming — it'll still look spectacular!) we transferred to a series of smaller boats to head up Shennong Stream. Along the way we got some local singing, and here it is. Chinese singing, especially by the women, is an acquired taste — after a while, you start to appreciate it as more than just random caterwauling… no, really!
A side digression: the "no horn" sign was a common one around China, and like some of the "no car" signs, was rarely obeyed… Traffic flow in China (Hong Kong excepted) is usually chaotic, but not in the same way as (for example) Italian traffic — for the moment, on many roads, there's a reasonable balance between cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, and the horn (or bell) is simply used to say "I'm coming through (or past)" in a non-threatening manner. And whoever created this sign should remember to put the horn behind the red cross next time!
More worrying was the glib acceptance by all that a road's centreline marking is merely a very gentle suggestion — there were plenty of examples of (say) a car overtaking a bus overtaking a truck overtaking a bike/pedestrian.
Off to Shanghai, a city of 10 million people that needs a "Chinatown" to remember its origins. And yes, our photo and video here will be just of the Huangpu River area (ie. the Bund and Pudong). First off, under the Huangpu is a ride between the Bund and Pudong — there's supposed to be some story/educational aspect about plunging into the depths of the earth and going through levels of crust and magna, but it doesn't really come through on the sparkly trip.
(Flashing a CITS badge around — thanks Kerry! — does wonders: with no earlier deal, it got us 40% off the underground trip, and 30% off the observation deck entry. So keep that in mind next time you're evaluating the cost of that optional excursion!)
So under the river, and walk through Pudong to the rather ugly Jin Mao Building, as the sun began to set. Our slovenly appearance made a visit to the 87th floor bar impossible, so we settled for the observation deck one floor higher, and I went silly photographing everything (the internal view all the way to the 54th floor and the lobby of the Grand Hyatt amused me, especially when, with the help of my tripod, you could say "you see that guy over a hundred metres below us with the gold watch?").
The first tour was over; the second tour was just beginning. I flew to Kunming, where I was a little surprised to find our tour group, including the guide, was just four in number. Personal service!
In Dali I visited the Three Pagodas and the Chongsheng Monastery — yes, the latter is a modern re-creation, but still: pretty. If you're a little confused about some of the photos of the aforementioned pagodas: yes, they do lean a little haphazardly, it's not an optical illusion. I love this little video, both for the music and the horribly cheesy ending — which actually works in this case.
Rather than the little walk back to town, I took a tuk-tuk down the just-being-built 4-lanes-each-way road. Fun, if rather suspension-less.
Our next stop was the much anticipated trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge, and stunning indeed it was. People talk about the Three Gorges being spectacular, and yes, with up to a few thousand feet of cliff besides the Yangtze River, it is. But at this earlier point in the Yangtze River, there's a few thousand metres rise beside the river!
We walked along the northern side of the river, climbing to an altitude of around 2700 metres. The mountains on the other side were much higher though, as you might guess from the photo here.
The trek is a notable one because not only do you get fabulous views like that, but your environment constantly changes: from scrub to rocky cliffs to dense forest to terraced farmland. We stayed at the Naxi Family Guesthouse the first night.
And waterfalls! I was glad to come across this waterfall, as it resolved a questions about the kilometre-plus-long steel pipe along our path. This pipe went up and down, with peaks and troughs, and remained chilly even when exposed to the sun for many hours. The temperature I could cope with, the irregular slope less so — how was the water continuing to flow through such a non-downhill slope?
Well, look at the high-resolution picture here, and you'll see the pipe snaking up the hillside to the beginning of the waterfall. Based on the tiny blob of a person walking along the track, the water is collected at least 100 metres above its eventual path… so there would be an enormous pressure to start with. The pipe will ultimately rust in one of those troughs, but my question was answered.
We eventually splashed through the waterfall, and my hat proved its worth once more: local guide Jack dared to start a waterfight, and he found out my hat can hold and throw, accurately, huge amounts of water at once!
Down to Tina's Guesthouse for the second night, and to our new-found best friend: Dali Beer. Damn good stuff!
The next day we crossed the Yangtze at the "old ferry" site, and headed to Lijang, with a stop at Yulong Snow Mountain, where we took a(nother) cable car up to the "Yak Meadow" section. I can report yak milk is absurdly sweet (nice though) and the sweet or spicy baba (a flat cake) up there is well worth eating. Here's some video of the baba being prepared (I love the fan!) — you can hear the discussion about the photo developing up on the hill being done with computer systems, which detracted somewhat from the rustic impression they were trying to present up there. In fact, there was even a fake Buddhist temple up there!
Coming down was fun; someone had kicked the speaker system into life, and among the songs we got was a chinese version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'; and what a rocking version it was too — threatened to take the cable cars down with everyone swinging in sync!
We stayed in the 750-year-old section of Lijiang called Dayan, which was an intensely engineered little marvel, where an upstream river was split into three sections and passed through the town.
Occasional "three pit wells" were provided: the first pit was for drinking water, the second for washing vegetables, and the third for washing clothes (the latter two were banned in the early morning, to allow the first to be most safely done) . It also gave me somewhere to "re-stock" my cooling neck wrap (which, unfortunately, did not work in most of China, as it was generally too humid). I have to say, however, that I got (99% of the time) the best run with the weather — it kept storming the day after or before we arrived!
The town was very compact and tidy, rather commercialised, and filled to burst with both foreigners and (mostly) locals. And yes, it looks a lot more varied and interesting from ground level than it does from the top. The Black Dragon Pool Park to the immediate north of the old city was not remarkable, but it did have this rather spooky-looking pond and tree — I'd love to photograph that by moonlight!
On one of our evenings there, we went to a dance and music show put on the local Naxi people. Good stuff, and the old chief had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Outside, paper lanterns floated down one of the three split rivers through the main restaurant area, and the town fairly bustled through to the early hours. "Power shouting"/singing contests were common across the river — this seemed slightly exotic, until the Scotsman amongst us re-classified it as alternating soccer fan chants of 'You're shit, and you know you are…'
All good-natured, though.
We headed off to Guilin, and our timing was pretty good, as we arrived on Ghost Festival night, with lots of little fires (and the odd firework) going off along the many riversides in Guilin. We got a splendid view of that cruising along in a flat-bottomed bamboo boat, too.
That done, I wandered off and eventually stumbled the East Banyan Lake Scenery Area, and damn there was some prettily lit stuff there. This included the Sun and Moon pagodas glittering over the lake, a glass bridge, and fountains lit and synchronised to music (it just happened to be purely white when I took this photo). You can probably tell by now that with the benefit of that little tripod I was exploring long exposures on the new camera!
That's enough of the sparkly night shots, time for more spooky stuff. Just a little further up, I found this straight-out weird angle over a vertical omega-shaped bridge; in some ways it's a plain photo, but then the incongruous lighting does some weird tricks to your brain…
We then headed off for Longsheng and then Yangshuo, but I have no specific examples to show beyond that in my more exhaustive photo listing before, once more, we were on the overnight train, this time heading to Canton/Guangzhou and then Hong Kong.
Due to mainland Chinese citizens finding it more difficult to enter Hong Kong than virtually any other nationality (work that one out), it was time to say goodbye to our guide, and this was done via (look away now) song. Beware: the accompanying video contains 1) really bad singing and 2) brutalisation of the Chinese language…
For any Chinese-speakers trying to work out what the hell we sang, look here.
So I had another four days left in Hong Kong, and while heading to the Star Ferry and hence the Peak Tram the first night (more on that later) we stopped at the pool in front of the old Railway Clock Tower and got another musical fountain show. And when the music in question came on, it was pretty easy to guess this would be the finale!
So across Victoria Harbour we went on the Star Ferry (cost less than 40 cents Australian), a short walk up the hill, and oops everyone else had the same idea. Admittedly it was a Saturday night and the night was very clear (which was why I wanted to go then). So we got to swelter for a while before making it onto the tram as the very last three people — which is a good thing, as you want to be at the bottom of the tram to get the best views. On top of that, I strongly suggest that if you've got the time to go both during the day and the night; when I went up during daytime a few days later, there was no queue, the tram stopped several times to allow photos and general gawping, and there are some nice walking paths to follow at the peak. In fact, that's one of the nicest things about Hong Kong — it doesn't take much to escape the city and be in quiet forest, or desolate hillside.
The Peak Tower was being upgraded at the time, with the top few floors off-limits, but no worries, the best views were gained by exiting the building and walking to the lookout just to the east of the building anyway. Here's the obligatory photo!
As if to prove my point that Hong Kong is not all shopping malls, the next six items just happen to be all of animals (admittedly only two of them were not captives in some form or the other). After spending Sunday mostly with museums and markets in Kowloon, on the next day I travelled to the south of the main island to Stanley Market (don't bother unless you're interested in the Marine Museum; the market sells much the same as everywhere else, just at higher prices) and then to Ocean Park.
It's not the greatest theme park by any stretch of the imagination, being split up into lots of small sections with lots of travel to get between them (which is a good design ploy in a way, as it slightly reduces the queues at the actual attractions). So in my limited time I did almost only the animal attractions there: the pandas were (gasp!) sleeping, but at least the flutterbys (sorry, butterflys) were looking good!
Moving onto more ocean-y things, they had a nice shark display (I went through twice not only for the views, but also the airconditioning). English being one of the official languages in Hong Kong, you can easily get full value out of the displays and documentation at places like this, or museums.
Onto the next aquatic display, and it's amazing the variety of animals you can stick in the one tank and not end up with half of them eaten, or otherwise harrassed. I think the animals had it better than the humans; this aquatic display drove you through a tunnel around their tank several times, descending all the time, and by the end I was wondering how many people have died of heatstroke within it… Photos were generally hopeless, given the lack of light and reflective glass, but I got some nice videos. Here's an example.
Escaping Ocean Park, I headed down to Aberdeen, and with the help of a hired boat travelled through the Aberdeen bay just in time to catch the ferry to Lamma Island. My path across this island would largely follow that suggested by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, whose walks provided some great inspiration for my visit.
The first part of the walk is visually dominated by the power station, which is contrasted by a solitary wind generator on the other side of the island. The second part was dominated by scary animals; first a huge spider, a legit 15 centimetres long, and then, as the night closed in and I approached Sok Kwu Wan, bats zipping around my head just to see how much I'd freak out…
A little further time in "Hong Kong proper" included visits to Flower Market Road (which was a big disappointment, as I had mis-remembered an 'Amazing Race' episode, and mentally placed the Pak Khlong Talad Flower Market of Bangkok in Hong Kong instead) and the adjacent Bird Market, which was rather small but intriuging nonetheless. It particularly amused me to see how many sparrows came to visit!
It was time to leave the bustle behind, as I headed out to Lantau Island and Cheng Chau for my final day (my flight left at 11:45pm). And finally, after six weeks of seeing trillions of dragonflies all around China, I got a decent photo of one, in the bush halfway up the hill behind Mui Wo on Lantau Island.
(Actually, shortly after my trip I learnt better — it's a damselfly instead. I'm sure there were lots of them too!)
I made a rapid visit to Cheng Chau (there's not much of that tiny island to explore!) and stumbled across, of all things, a formal athletics field, which gave me the first chance to throw a boomerang (not counting the paper boomerang I made while on the Yangtze River cruise — the rest of the items in that photo are drying out after I camped out in the rain for the docking process at the Three Gorges Dam) in four weeks. The kids playing soccer barely noticed…
Back to Mui Wo, and a last-minute change of plan as I found out the new cable car from Tung Chung up to the Po Lin Monastery was still not open (by pure luck, I shared a taxi with an American who had spent 13 years in Australia before settling in Hong Kong, and more recently on Lantau Island itself, and she pointed out that during trials in June it had broken down and stranded 500 people in mid-air for three hours!). So I travelled directly to the Monastery and its famous (if recent) Tian Tan Buddha. I took plenty of closer shots, but I like the distance in this shot: more peaceful that way.
From the Buddha, I walked between the peaks down the hill, past the Wisdom Path (which sees the Heart Sutra placed on 38 beams arranged to form the symbol for infinity), and following the densely wooded path all the way to Tung Chung, which is an entirely new town adjacent to the new airport.
A few slightly scary bus trips across the island (a wider and less winding road is currently being built, but for the moment there is a limit of one car per Lantau island household, and strict curfews on when they can use the single — and sometimes single-lane — cross-island road), and it was all over: back on the plane to home.
And as much as I had enjoyed my time, the moment Gate 60 was announced as opened for our flight to Melbourne, this huge silly grin spread across my face. And when I got off the plane, there were was a water bubbler directly opposite, and I drank greedily, because I could, and because it tasted so sweet…
Two years till Seattle!