China/Korea

Discussion in 'Geographic Location' started by mooseontheloose, May 10, 2010.

  1. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    I'm currently planning a trip to South Korea and China in late August and most of September. I originally had North Korea in there too, but there's just not enough time and the expense is more than I would like to spend for the amount of days there.

    So far my basic plan is to catch the ferry/hydrofoil from Fukuoka here in Japan over to Busan, work my way north to Seoul, catch a flight over to Beijing, and then make my way to south/southwest of China (train or plane, depending) and eventually ending up in Hong Kong, where I'll end my trip and then fly back to Japan. North and western parts of China are not on the radar this time around (Tibet might be part of a different trip next year).

    At the moment there's more that I want to see and do than I have time to do it, so it's a matter of figuring out what's essential and what can be cut. I'm really looking for the experiences of other photographers who have been to these countries and what areas they think are worthwhile photographically, and which ones are not, especially at that time of year. As a whole I'm kind of an all-rounder when it comes to travel photography -- people, landscapes, cityscapes, night, IR, etc. In terms of splitting up the trip, it'll be approx. 10 days in Korea, and around 30 days in China (including travel days).
     
  2. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    I've only been in the north and east (and Hong Kong), so won't be much help. The area around Beijing has a lot to see (Ming Tombs, Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Tienamin square etc). The parks in Beijing are nice for people watching, especially early in the morning when the exercise classes occur (ballroom dancing, Tai Chi, Yoga, etc etc.). There are some interesting neighbourhoods in Beijing, but I couldn't find them again without help. Dalian, a coastal city a bit north of Beijing is not as culturally or historically significant, but I found it a beautiful city.
    If you take the train, be sure to buy "soft seat" tickets, take some snacks with you, and don't drink too much beer. The train stations can be a bit confusing, but you will find people helpful and wanting to practice their English. You will get a much better feel for the people on the train than the plane, so I'd go at least part way by train.
    I've never been to Korea except to change planes, and north Korea is not a place I would want to visit.
    I haven't been to China in 8 years (don't know where the time goes) so maybe my advice is a little out of date, but I am sure you will enjoy the people and the country. Try to read Paul Theroux's "Riding the Iron Rooster" before going. I found it a bit negative, but a good read. Learn the words for "bathroom" and "restaurant", and learn the symbol for the ladies' bathroom before going.
    Most of all, enjoy it. I'm jealous.
     
  3. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Thanks John.

    Luckily, many characters are shared between Japan and China, and although I have less than a six-year-old's grasp of them, I do know the basics like bathroom, woman, man, draft beer, etc... ;-) Pronunciation, of course, is an entirely different matter, but I think I should be okay for the most part.

    I definitely want to take the train where I can, and hopefully get some pics both on and off them as well. I really want to slow things down as much as possible while on this trip (temple stays, home stays, cooking classes, longer hikes, etc) which I think will allow better photo opportunities as a result. I guess a bigger issue too will be which kit to bring -- I currently bring 3-4 cameras per trip now (which includes a Holga), but the bags are getting heavy (and not practical for daily use).

    Luckily (or not) I'll be travelling by myself so it's easy for me to get up as early as I want, or stay as late as I want. I just don't want to get so caught up in seeing the sites that I fail to see things photographically, which is what has happened before (I think I'm getting better at that though).
     
  4. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Seoul is a great street-photography and urban-landscape city; it sprawls all over an extremely heterogeneous setting, providing a lot of visual variety, and the people are very friendly and approachable in my experience. The older residential neighbourhoods (e.g., around Namsan Mountain) are quite striking, in particular---in the spring this is also a visually appealing area because there's a lot of greenspace around the old city walls on the southern flank of the mountain. For bar-crawling and college-age nightlife crowds, spend some time in the Sinch'on area.

    The only part of rural Korea I've seen is Jeju Island, which is quite lovely but difficult to fit into an itinerary conveniently. I'm awfully jealous of your opportunity to explore the rest of the peninsula.

    As to China, I've spent a fair amount of time in Beijing over the last six or seven years, and it never seems to look like the same city twice---even people who grew up there say they go back and are immediately lost since everything changes so fast. In general I've found it not to be an especially walkable city, and the most interesting parts are actually the famous tourist attractions. The older picturesque neighbourhoods are a rarity now; a lot of them were obliterated in the run-up to the Olympics. If you do find someplace that isn't completely redeveloped, get up early and walk around to watch the neighbourhood wake up.

    There's a regular train between Beijing and Shanghai; I took it a few years ago and it was quite functional and rather convivial, a good opportunity to do some people-photos if that's your thing. The contrast between urban and rural China can hardly be overstated, even as seen from a train window; in the countryside you'll have trouble communicating without speaking Chinese, of course, but if you can make your way around, you should be able to see a side of the country that most visitors are totally unaware of.

    The train I took was basically an express connecting the two cities---I didn't really look into travelling by more local trains, but even the express didn't really cater to non-Chinese speakers. I think you'll find yourself having to do improvised communication without a common language some of the time, which might be fun as long as you keep your sense of humour about it. (I think it's fair to generalise that Chinese people are on the whole quite willing to help the lost foreigner, and also quite willing to laugh at the lost foreigner. Best to laugh along with them rather than try to maintain your dignity, I find.)

    Shanghai is a big international commercial city, not all that different from any other Pacific Rim megalopolis. I've never substantially been to Hong Kong (though what I have seen is a dumbfoundingly beautiful landscape even in the "bad" seasons, and I can't imagine what it must look like in spring); Shenzhen, its mainland twin, is pretty awful, basically a giant continuous building site, and I'd give that part a miss if I were you.

    A lot of these landscapes seem to "prefer" colour film, to my eye anyway. In the cities, especially Seoul, there are a lot of opportunities to catch contrasts between the "natural" landscapes (actually heavily modified, of course, but at least they *are* landscapes) and the manmade stuff. The rural landscapes of both countries tend to be lush and colourful in a similar way to rural Japan---more tropical and unruly as you move further south, naturally.

    Have fun! It sounds like a fantastic trip.

    -NT
     
  5. Shangheye

    Shangheye Member

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    I live din hina for many years. In terms of locations...these are the must sees:

    Beijing
    Guangxi Province (Guilin, Yangshuo, seven sisters)
    Yunan Province (Lijiang & Shangrila)
    Xian (Shaanxi Province)...only really any use for the Terracota soldiers, so may be too great a diversion


    I assume you are not travelling much further west, buyt Chengdu, Tibet AR, and Sichuan are also amazing)

    Train travel in China is Looong...to give you an idea, I travelled from Shanghai to Kunming (Yunnan province) and it took 36 hours. that is basically the length of the country. Not many stops, but amazing how the landscape changes in front of your eyes. Generally either you are in 4 bed sleepers (1st class) or 60 bed sleepers (Cattle class).....I definitely do not recommend the "Hard Seat" option, both for security and comfort.

    Rgds, K
     
  6. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    In terms of gear, you will be carrying it a lot so I'd try to keep it as light as I can. I found roller suitcases useless for train travel, as the flooring is too rough and there can be lots of stairs. I bought a convertible packsack / suitcase just because of the train stations.
     
  7. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    All good advice, especially the train. I really liked travelling that way in China; it can be a bit baffling getting tickets so if you have a friend who can help you, so much the better. Anyway, I had a neat series of photographs on a day long trip where I set my camera up to shoot out the window, the shot framed by the curtains. I was amazed by the variety of the land changing before me.

    Anyway, Dalian is really pretty and reminds me a lot of Vancouver -- a very un-Chinese city in that it's quite new and relatively unpolluted. I don't think there's much there to photograph, though.

    Of better luck is Beijing - Tiananmen Sq. is one of the world's great people watching places. You can also see the amazing camera mall in Wukesong -- stock up on Chinese film and paper (I really like Era B&W paper) and more. I know it's touristy but I took a day trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu (IIRC) and had lots to photograph there. Ditto for the Forbidden City. General street photography in Beijing is pretty great, especially if you just wander the hutong locales. I had no destination but just roamed and made some great photos and memories. Keep in mind the locals will be pretty hostile to you photographing and poking your nose around hutongs being demolished...they think foreigners are picking on China, basically. Found that out first hand.

    Shanghai and Suzhou are great too, on the way south. Can you go to Henan, in the interior? I saw Bai Ma Si (White Horse Temple), the first place Buddhism came to China. Definitely go out of your way to see Luoyang, and the Ten Thousand Buddha's carved into the cliff walls there...amazing stuff.
    Also Shaolin Temple. The latter was really tourist infested but you can find out of the way places if you try hard enough or arrive at a good time.

    I can back up Shangheye's words about Yunnan province -- I was in Lijiang last year. Bit out of your way and maybe best saved for the Tibet trip next year. Keep in mind as a foreigner you need a special visa for 'actual' Tibet -- what you might want to do is visit Qinghai and Gansu province instead. It was historically part of Tibet, and to this day is very heavily Tibetan ethically and architecturally. Lots of Buddhist temples, etc. and you don't need a special visa to do it...basically it's Tibet without the hassle of Tibet.
     
  8. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    Nathan, Kal, Colin -- thanks for the additional advice, you've given me a few more ideas to mull over.

    I've been looking at Xian (for the terracotta warriors and surrounds obviously), but it puts a big zigzag into my trip, at least the way I have it figured out for the moment. The fact that there are a lot of fast (?!) trains helps, and getting a soft sleeper for the overnight journey seems a lot cheaper than flying+hotel, and makes it a little more feasible. Guanxi and Yunnan are definitely on the list, and at the moment it looks like the majority of my trip will be spent down there. I'm sure Hong Kong will be an interesting contrast after spending some time in the country.

    As for travel, I've been travelling with a backpack for over 10 years, and I personally find it the easiest way to get around (especially here in Japan - major stations may have elevators/escalators, but most others don't). I'll definitely be doing the same on this trip. I usually travel with a bigger pack on my back, and a camera backpack on my front -- I look like a pack-mule, but it spreads the weight pretty evenly and is generally pretty comfortable.
     
  9. jamesgignac

    jamesgignac Member

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    I'm on my way to Beijing on June 7th...glad to see this thread as I'm spending every last hour I have here at home studying up on what I'll need to know.

    I'm backpacking myself and hope to see lots of the country (as much as I can in my 3 month single-entry visa.)

    Should be fantastic...I'm super psyched - it's my first trip overseas ever :smile:

    p.s. - I have a lot more to say (and ask) about all of this but will have to pick it up later - I have to watch Montréal shut down Pittsburgh :smile:
     
  10. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    James -- your earlier posts on where to go also helped me decide that it would be China this summer. It's too bad you'll be at the end of your trip as I'm beginning mine -- keep us updated if you can while there.
     
  11. jamesgignac

    jamesgignac Member

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    Rachelle - I'll definitely be doing so - as for my gear right now I am going with nothing (film wise anyway) but will be visiting that camera market in Beijing I've heard so much about and settling on some sort of rangefinder - I'd love to continue with MF (in that case probably a folder) but may end up with a 35mm as I have a new d*g*tal cam which accepts m-mounts...so perhaps a leica will be on my horizon. Either way I'm bringing my always reliable Luna Pro - it's practically a lucky charm for me at this point :smile:

    Also I should mention that I'm going to try to make this trip last as long as I can and may apply for an extension to my visa if I decide to stick around China. If I happen to still be around when you head out we should definitely keep in touch!!

    p.s. - love the Diane Arbus quote...she's amazing! :smile:
     
  12. Colin Corneau

    Colin Corneau Subscriber

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    The Wukesong camera mall is amazing. Full stop...give yourself at least half a day there, not to mention a big bag of money.

    As to Xi'an -- I didn't know if you'd be open to going that far inland. I went there and I'll say this: incredible. My former professor planned the trip there and I have to admit at first I wasn't keen. I thought it would be too touristy, too cliché, whatever.

    But -- once I saw the place I was really blown away. Not at all what I thought I'd feel beforehand, that's for sure.
     
  13. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    The Wukesong camera mall is amazing. Full stop...give yourself at least half a day there, not to mention a big bag of money.

    Colin, how good is it for film gear and consumables? Should I leave some extra space in my bag or just be prepared to ship stuff home?
     
  14. Andrew K

    Andrew K Subscriber

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    Hi guys

    it's been 7 years since I was in Beijing, but hopefully I can contribute a little..

    Wukesong - definatly go there - great place, and when I was there lots of very cheap Chinese film (Great for shooting in my Great Wall camera I bought there when I was shooting on the Great Wall)..I bought several cameras for my collection. Usable gear was priced about the same as here for Japanese gear....

    YongHugong (sorry my spelling will be wrong) - it's the biggest monestary in Beijing - has the largest wooden Bhudda in the world - fascinating place..

    There is also a Mosque in Beijing - I can't recall it's name, but it was a place of quiet solitue in a hectic city..when we were there we were the first foregn visitors for quite a while - very friendly people..

    Panjaiyuan (the dirt market) - go on a Sunday - this place is amazing - lots of Chinese selling anything and everything - a locals market where some tourists go...saw some great photos there by a photographer called Jack When (bought one), plus lots of great candid photos....we were chased around by a photographer with a M6 who was trying to take candids of us, and we were trying to take candids of him :smile:

    I'd also just go for a walk up some of the side roads - the sights you will see can make great photos....

    And if you are interested in planes the Beijing Aircraft Museum is amazing - its on a old airforce base (one of the hangars goes through a mountain!), and contains a mix of exhibits - restored planes (including some which are one of only 2 or 3 left in the world), and a "boneyeard" of stored plaen out the back you can wander through at your leisure...allow a day if you go, and my advice is to take a taxi or minivan - you can get there by public transport - but it's on the outskirts of town and the trip is not the easiest..

    We also took the train to Tianjin - I don't think anyone has yet suggested going there....There is a big antique market that is open most days (weekends are the busiest, and apparently the local dealers go on a Thursday morning) - it's held in a old part of town that makes for some great photography. Tianjin has been a international port for centuries, so there are Eastern and Western buildings mixed together - again lots of great sights...And look out for the clock in the middle of the round about in the centre of town near the train station - one of the biggest clocks in the world??

    My final suggestion - when visit the Great Wall go to one of the non-touristy (that is not restored) sections - Jinshanling and Gubekou for example - besides there being far less people, the scenery is stunning - you really do wonder how they built the wall up those steep mountaiins..and if you can explore the countryside - head up to Chengdu (I didn't get there, but it has the second largest Tibettan Bhuddist monastary in the worlds - a minature Potola Palace)..

    Have a great trip!
     
  15. jamesgignac

    jamesgignac Member

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    Andrew,
    Thanks for the suggestions - it sounds like you visited some very fascinating areas indeed! I am very looking forward to this trip and the more I read up the sooner I want to go! Anyhow I'll be sure to check out some of the places you have mentioned though I know I'll most likely just move around rather aimlessly most of the time. It sounds like you really enjoyed your trip and I'm only becoming more and more inspired with every post, blog, and conversation I have.

    Thanks once again to everyone who has shared their experiences!
     
  16. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    I spent three weeks in China and HK last autumn. Here's a few comments

    For me, the Terracotta Warriors are well worth a side trip to Xian, though you might be better to realise now that the site is way out of town and you'll need some form of transport to get there, as early as possible in the day. There are other things to see and photograph in Xian, though I wouldn't necessarily put these at the same level as the major sights of Beijing for example. These include the city walls and a rather chinese looking mosque, and the Big Wild Goose pagoda. It really does work out to how much you want to see the Terracotta army, which for me was on a par with the Great wall as the most interesting site we saw.

    We walked the hutongs in Beijing and found little of photographic interest.

    In the south we stayed at both Guilin and Yangshou. Its not difficult to find photographs of peaceful dawns with reflections of spectacular Karst scenery in still waters in the half light. Believe me its a lot harder to find them yourself and it takes a lot of research to find good locations. Guilin and Yangshou are both bigger and busier than you might think and it is not just a question of making your way down to the riverbank at dawn/sunset. IMO the river trip between the two cities is a waste of time photographically. That aside then touristically its an interesting if busy area. There are dawn balloon trips at Yangshou which is quite possibly the best way to see the layers of Karst hills.

    I would suggest the Dragon's Backbone, near Longji, for the rice terraces and old villages that cling to the hillsides. We stayed at a hillside lodge( Li'an) on the edge of a village with stunning views but we had to climb almost 1000 steps to get there though there are porters for you bags.

    Shanghai is huge and not a lot of fun to get in and out of. Staying in Shanghai and visiting Suzhou and the water towns didn't work well for us; The river trip at Shanghai at sunset is a must do IMO , and was especially so for us since they had closed off much of the Bund riverbank to make some alterations in advance of this year's World Fair. You can get up some really tall buildings in Pudong, though whether its worthwhile or not is moot in the context of the murky atmospherics. The water towns were quite interesting though again busier than you might hope and you will not get the standards of accommodation and food that you get in the major cities. Nevertheless if you want to photograph them well, staying there is important IMO.

    In Beijing I got more , photographically out of second tier sites such as the Lama Temple and the Temple of Heaven than I got out of the Forbidden City . Its hard to get sufficient solitude to think "atmospheric" in these places. I second the suggestion of Mutianyu for the Great Wall. Its not a visitor -free experience though the crowds here are less than at the more accessible Badaling. What did make a difference for us was going in the afternoon (apparently most tours do mornings) and going on a day with some rain. Result was that when we got up there we had the place virtually to ourselves and I could make photographs with no visible people.

    I've been to Hong Kong several times and would always recommend it, for the sheer variety of things to do and photograph there.

    Finally we travelled enitirely by air and car. The internal flights were punctual and efficient and not too expensive, with no baggage issues. The flights always seemed shorter than we expected for such a huge country and travelling didn't sap our energy.
     
  17. ethics_gradient

    ethics_gradient Member

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    The Old Summer Palace is nice, basically a park with lakes and some ruins here and there. Had the place practically to myself in February, I don't think it makes it on to many itineraries. Peking and Tsinghua Universities are also pretty cool to walk around in and take photos, you can rent bicycles there (try finding a student who can help you translate).

    nthing Wukesong photo market, it's a really neat place to visit. I wish I'd picked up a Seagull 203 (6x6 folder w/ coupled rangefinder), as it is I got 3 Seagull TLR clones and some Lucky film to give as souvenirs for photog friends back home.
     
  18. mooseontheloose

    mooseontheloose Subscriber

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    So much information...thanks guys!

    At the moment, it looks like my trip will be something like this:

    Cut Korea (mostly due to financial issues, although given the tax refund I just got, I may be able to put it back in the schedule)
    Arrive in Beijing near the end of August, spend one week in the city (with day trips out to the Great Wall, possibly other areas).
    Overnight sleeper to Xian. Three days in that area.
    Fly to Guillin/Yangshou, spend 5-6 days visiting the Li Rivier, Dragon's bone rice terraces, etc. (although I may reconsider this, given David's experience)
    Fly to Hong Kong, spend 3-5 days there, with possible day trip to Macau, before flying back to Japan.

    Within this time frame, I do have around 5 days to play around with -- I could extend time in the various places on the schedule, do a trip to Shanghai, or possibly go to Yunnan province after Xian but before Guillin, although 5 days does not seem to be enough for the latter, given transportation issues once there. It also seems overly touristed which is a concern for me as well (Lijian, Dali, etc).

    Anyway, another concern for me at the moment is camera gear. I'm planning on bringing my Bronica SQA kit - wlf, 50-80-150 lenses, plus two backs. My one concern is that the 150 would not be long enough for certain situations (Terracotta Army for one). I will also be bringing my Nikon FE with 28/50mm lenses, mostly for infrared and low-light/unobtrusive work. The longest lens I have with me here in Japan is the 105mm, which I won't be bringing, however, I am considering buying a tele-zoom lens for the 35mm kit, since a fixed focus lens for the Bronica seems too big and heavy (and probably still too short) for good telephoto work.

    (and yes, I will be bringing a tripod, although I think I will try to upgrade the one I have now, which I love, but is not quite robust enough for the MF kit).

    So...I'd appreciate any advice concerning the gear/itinerary if you see any glaring (or not so glaring) problems with it.

    Cheers.
     
  19. David Henderson

    David Henderson Member

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    At the Terracotta Warriors I was most operating at 1600 ISO and 1/15 second at f8 with IS lenses. I was using a FF slr at between 150mm and 200mm . The latter is close enough for a head to waist view of the nearest figures. I don't think my Bronica could have coped, and it certainly couldn't have coped without a tripod. I did see one guy with a tripod though it was a kind of quiet day and I don't know how you'd fare if it was busy.

    I took a light Manfrotto tripod to China but didn't use it much with significant exceptions such as photographing HK from the Peak at dusk. By default I left it in my hotel room or with my baggage. I could see that in some of the sights there may be too many people to use a tripod comfortably, independent of any prohibitions that may be in place.

    The tele-zoom seems like a good idea to me.

    For Guilin and surrounds, I'm sure the sort of photographs I wanted exist; its just that they're hard to find and probably in twilight and predawn light. I had a guide and still couldn't really get through what I wanted even though I was taken to the top of a hill in Guilin and the top of a nearby mountain pre-dawn with a little success . I think you'd need to find someone who'd done it well and make contact with them (Flickr?) or find some sort of local guide with a special skill in photography. I think much of the stuff with cormorant fishermen at night is a pre-arranged set-up. Once boats start moving about on the water you can forget reflections, and there are a huge number of them.