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Thread: China/Korea

  1. #1
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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    China/Korea

    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).
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

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    johnnywalker's Avatar
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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.
    If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
    Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284

  3. #3
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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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).
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

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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
    Nathan Tenny
    San Diego, CA, USA

    The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
    -The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_

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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
    Kal Khogali

    www.kal-khogali.com


    Visit my Photo Scrap Book

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    "Wake up, dream, and photograph what you have seen.
    Don't wake up, photograph, and dream of what could have been."

  6. #6
    johnnywalker's Avatar
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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.
    If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
    Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284

  7. #7
    Colin Corneau's Avatar
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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. #8
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

  9. #9
    jamesgignac's Avatar
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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

    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
    -dereck|james|gignac
    dereckjamesgignac.com

  10. #10
    mooseontheloose's Avatar
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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.
    Rachelle

    My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. D. Arbus

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